Sunday, 19 November 2017

Vitamin E Deficiency is Disastrous for the Brain

Many would try to tell you that aging is to be celebrated, not feared, but with cognitive decline and clinical pathologies such as dementia being so common among those in their 70s, 80s and beyond, you'd wonder what they're talking about. Unfortunately, a century of dominance by the pharmaceutical industry has kept most people away from real health advice, such as the best ways to prevent neurological aging and correct nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin E and its importance are no exception.

Vitamin E is often added to skincare products.
Source: Lightsnlather (CC:3.0)
A shockingly high 90% of men and 96% of women in the USA have an inadequate intake of vitamin E (I am not too optimistic about Australians either). It is sadly unknown to the general population that vitamin E deficiency also puts us at a higher risk for Alzheimer's Disease; although we fear this illness for valid reasons, we have been told that diet doesn't matter. However, researchers at Oregon State University have found that vitamin E aids the transportation of DHA to the brain. DHA is one of the omega-3 fats found in fish oil, which we also produce from essential fatty acids, and is known to assist in the prevention and even relief from a range of neurological issues.

The liver uses vitamin E to produce substances known as lyso PIs, which not only transport DHA to the brain, but also stay around to help repair brain cell membranes! With vitamin E deficiency, the level of lyso PIs in the brain is 60% lower, setting a course for disaster. Within the term "vitamin E", there are also eight different types: four tocopherols, and four tocotrienols, each with the prefix alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-. Most research has focused on alpha-tocopherol, but research has shown that gamma-tocopherol and beta-tocotrienol are the most important for memory, as well as the total blood tocotrienol levels.

Food sources of vitamin E include hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seed kernels, peanuts and cranberries, but supplementation is often called for in chronic illnesses. Research described by the Linus Pauling Institute describes mixed results with vitamin E supplementation, but this includes many successes. Two of these include significantly slower disease progression and improved survival in patients with Alzheimer's disease, and improved cognitive performance when the supplementation reduced oxidative stress. As the latter only reported benefit when oxidative stress as a whole was lowered, the question is not "does vitamin E work?" but "what other factors should have been addressed when supplementation failed?" They also only regard alpha-tocopherol as "evidence-based" enough, but with the results of the above research, we need a more holistic perspective. Yes, as the LPI writes, vitamin E aids immunity and prevents oxidative stress, but for it to perform at its best we need other nutrients, such as DHA.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Macular Degeneration Is Declining

A loss of independence as one gets older is a common and very valid fear. But when we care for older relatives or work in aged care, it isn't always easy to see the statistical improvements in health and longevity. One of these statistical improvements is a drastic decline in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition which can be very damaging to our personal and loved ones' freedom and independence.

Simulation of AMD.
A cohort study in a Wisconsin town, published on the 16th of November 2017, set out to determine whether or not the risk for AMD had continued to decline among successive generations. Data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study and Beaver Dam Offspring Study, including a total of 4,819 participants, was analysed to compare the 5-year risk of developing AMD across several generations. All of this was adjusted for age and sex, as the risk of AMD rises as one gets older. The generation with the highest prevalence of AMD was the Greatest Generation, born from 1901 to 1924, at 8.8%. The Silent Generation, born from 1925 to 1945, had a 3% prevalence of AMD. There was an AMD rate of 1% among Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964. They and later generations are often criticised for being youth-obsessed, despite the fact that it is obviously reducing their risk of age-related diseases. The generation with the lowest risk is Generation X, who were born between 1965 and 1984, and had an AMD prevalence of only 0.3%. Each generation had a 60% lower risk of developing the condition, after adjustment for age, sex, smoking status, education, exercise, cholesterol, CRP (an inflammatory marker), and use of multivitamins, statins and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

This decline in AMD risk is consistent with study results seen in Europe, and the drop in cardiovascular deaths and dementia. Although conventional medicine use and conservative lifestyle interventions did not have significant effects on AMD, perhaps these improvements are due to greater awareness of natural health and functional foods. In a laboratory study on turmeric extract, the medicinal spice was found to have a dose-dependent protective effect on retinal cells against blue light irradiation. It was able to significantly reduce oxidative damage and the expression of genes involved in apoptosis, which is the process of "cell suicide" initiated in normal cells when they become too damaged. Overall, the results of this cohort study, along with all the research on how to prevent AMD, mean that we have one more reason to embrace a longer life expectancy.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Smoking Alters the Expression of Your DNA

For decades, society has been aware of the dangers of smoking, and more people are quitting the toxic habit every year. For those who haven't already, here's one more reason to quit, and one reason why it causes cancer: smoking can change the expression of certain genes, affecting both you and your children (if you want to have them).

It's a new day.
Epigenetics refers to how a wide range of factors "change" genes by affecting their expression, but without altering the basic code. They are either substances or triggers for the production of substances that attach to genes, turning them on or off. Sometimes, they can even affect future generations, despite these children having no contact with the original expression-altering factor. Negative factors shorten life, speed aging and promote disease, while positive triggers do the opposite. This is now known to be one reason why smoking is so damaging to the body, causing problems including lung cancer; stroke; cardiovascular disease; infertility and diabetic neuropathy. Cigarettes contain over 700 mostly dangerous chemicals, and half of all smokers die as a result of their habit. Second hand smoke raises the risk of lung cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease by 30%, so smokers are not just hurting themselves.

For this study, researchers exposed lung cells to a quantity of cigarette smoke equal to someone smoking one or two packs a day. They found a 2-4 times higher than normal level of an enzyme that suppresses or damages gene expression after three months - and if the genes with suppressed expression were genes that prevented cancer, the consequences could be catastrophic. Surely enough, within the first year to 15 months, researchers found that some of the hundreds of suppressed genes were anti-cancer genes. However, if you do quit smoking, your risk of heart disease halves after one year, among other life-extending benefits.

How powerful are external, modifiable factors on our genes? Well, research has found that even the smallest diet changes are able to change gene expression. In this case, the genes affected by these changes affect circadian rhythm; a well-balanced circadian rhythm helps to guard against inflammation, cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Perhaps it is controversial, but even the genetic disorder Huntington's Disease may be at least somewhat controllable by natural epigenetic means. Oxidative stress plays a large role in disease progression, and the resulting loss of glutathione causes a shortage of the amino acid methionine, which is required for the methylation function that suppresses the abnormal gene. Genes are not destiny, and we are only just discovering how much this is the case.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Dancing as an Anti-Aging Therapy

Two common beliefs around health and aging are that 1) we cannot reverse the physical decline that is "supposed" to come with living longer and 2) any form of therapy, or anything with health benefits, must be unpleasant. However, a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience demonstrates the opposite to be true in both cases.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study and based in Germany. Volunteers with an average age of 68 were assigned to 18 months of dance lessons or endurance and flexibility training. As expected, both groups showed an increased volume of the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, learning and balance. This area of the brain can be particularly vulnerable to age-related decline, even more so in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Even though it has been established that exercise can slow and reverse age-related neurological decline, whether or not certain types of exercise are better than others has still been unclear. Because of this, the endurance and flexibility group were given routines consisting of repetitive movements, such as cycling, and the dance group had something new each week.

Source: Abro22 (CC:4.0)
Volunteers in the dance group were instructed in a range of genres, such as line dancing and Latin American dance. Steps, formations and music were changed every second week. They were constantly learning, and had to recall dance choreographies under the pressure of time and without any help from the teacher. Only dancing caused noticeable improvements in balance, and some areas of the hippocampus only regenerated in the dancers. The superior results are most likely caused by the combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation.

This is not the first time that dancing has been shown to exert anti-aging effects. Another study of 34 people with an average age of 80 aimed to test the effects of dancing on walking speed and pain in the knees and hips. Participants were assigned to either two 45-minutes dance lessons a week, or a control group. After 12 weeks, those who danced had less pain and were able to walk faster, which has significant implications for health and longevity. As the researchers stated, even walking just a little faster can help with crossing the road or walking to different rooms, keeping people independent and maintaining self-esteem. Longevity is for everyone, and does not need to be unpleasant or expensive.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Going Organic Benefits Everyone

Usually when we start eating organic food, it's for our own health, and often also the health of a future baby. However, adoption of an organic diet can benefit people we don't even know, such as those working in the agricultural industry.

Source: Walter Baxter (CC: 2.0)
As part of the Agricultural Health Study, researchers tested 1,234 men who worked with pesticides on farms or other environments. They all filled out extensive surveys on what pesticides they had used throughout their working lives, and how frequently. A total of 48 pesticides, including the now-illegal DDT, were included on the list. Researches also collected cheek swabs, containing old cells, from the inside of their mouths in order to analyse these for telomere length. The more often the men used pesticides, the shorter their telomeres were. Some pesticides were more strongly associated with telomere shortening than others, including DDT, alachlor (sold under names such as Crop Star), permethrin (known as Nix, among others) and toxaphene.

Telomeres are an important marker for aging, as they shorten with each division without the aid of telomerase, and if they get too small the cell can no longer replace itself and the tissue deteriorates.
Some people think that longer telomeres mean a greater cancer risk, but this is an excessively reductionistic idea, as the worst seven pesticides for telomere shortening are linked with the greatest cancer risk. For example, alachlor is linked with a higher risk of lymphatic cancer, and chlorpyrifos is linked with a greater brain cancer risk. Even children of farming families can have higher risks of developing cancer!

Increasing adoption of an organic diet may shift the availability of agricultural work to safer jobs, or change the nature of the work to something that won't poison business owners and employees. While chronic illnesses are the result of years of personal or familial exposure, it doesn't always take long to begin clearing pesticides from the body. In a small study of thirteen people, just one week of eating an at least 80% organic diet resulted in an 89% reduction in the level of urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites. Of course, some types of pesticides and other chemicals may take longer to be cleared from the body, but this does show how rapidly things can start to improve. Overall, going organic is the right choice for the health of humanity and the world, not just the individual, but it will take a major shift for everyone to reap the full benefits.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Can We Trust Health Rating Systems?

Many people who are only just starting to think about healthy eating want something simple, yet effective, to show them how to properly plan their diets. This is one reason why governments, such as the Australian government, issue guides like the Health Star Rating System (HSR). The HSR is claimed to be an official guide, rating foods from one half to five stars, on how healthy a food is. So, what is the problem?

Source: Amin (CC: 4.0)
The problem with government ratings is that food corporations can and do influence what the barely-aware are told to eat. For example, plain milk gets four stars, but a processed "liquid breakfast" product gets four and a half stars. There are at least four sources of added sugar on its long list of ingredients, while an unprocessed breakfast you make yourself may have none. However, plain Greek yoghurt only gets one and a half stars, and smoked salmon gets three and a half.

It gets worse. Some packets of chips (or crisps) have a four star rating, and so do beer-battered frozen "steakhouse" chips (fries). A chocolate-ish drinking powder, which is about half sugar, gets four and a half stars, and so does a breakfast cereal that is around a third sugar. Commercial fruit juice will have anything between four and five stars, depending on the brand. On the other hand, even the middle-of-the-road World Health Organisation (WHO) states that fruit juice contains free sugars which must be restricted. The HSR is based on an algorithm including a handful of nutrient-based criteria. It does not take into account added sugar, processing, nutrient quality or potential toxic contaminants.

A truly health-promoting, life-extending diet is not the same for everyone, and the HSR also completely ignores food intolerances by its nature. Additionally, another guide formed by over 150 surveys among the world's longest-lived people paints an entirely different picture. To start, 90-95% of your diet should be unprocessed plant foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans and legumes, with a liberal amount of herbs and spices. Beans and nuts should be eaten every day, with fish kept to three times weekly and meat less often. Dairy products from sheep and goat milk can be eaten in moderation, but cow's milk should be avoided. White (refined) grains and food more than minimally processed (five or more ingredients) are also advised against. As for drinks, keep it to water and unsweetened teas and coffee. This advice doesn't come from corporations, it comes from people who commonly live into their 90s and beyond without the chronic illnesses and loss of independence and vitality that we have been taught are "normal". How about a new normal, where reaching triple digits is expected?

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Vitamin D Could Help Patients with NAFLD

Vitamin D, otherwise known as the "sunshine vitamin", seems to be one of the most versatile nutrients out there, with study after study showing benefits in immune function, neurological health and other areas. Now, another observational study has found that it could also help patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This study included almost 11,000 men and women enrolled in the NHANES III study, which was conducted from 1988 to 1994. Follow-up mortality data was collected up to 2011. Just over four thousand people had mild, moderate or severe NAFLD as determined by ultrasound imaging, and nearly five thousand of them had vitamin D deficiency.

Increasing levels of vitamin D were linked with decreasing levels of fatty liver disease severity. The level of liver fibrosis, a serious result of liver disease, was also lowest with the highest amounts of vitamin D. Compared to participants with healthy vitamin D levels, people with a deficiency were three and a half times more likely to die from diabetes, and four and a half times more likely to die from Alzheimer's disease. All-cause mortality rates were 16% higher.

Besides vitamin D, there are other nutrients that could help people suffering from NAFLD. In one study, researchers tested the effects of vitamin E and an insulin-sensitising drug on NASH, the advanced middle stage of NAFLD. This is because fatty liver disease has both insulin resistance and oxidative stress as root causes. Patients taking both 400IU of vitamin E and the drug saw better results than those on vitamin E alone, because of the disease's multifactorial nature. In a follow-up study, patients took either 800IU of vitamin E, the same insulin-sensitising drug or a placebo for almost two years. Both treatments were able to reduce inflammation, liver fat and liver cell injury markers. However, only vitamin E could produce significant improvements in the appearance of liver tissue upon biopsy. Why? Vitamin E has multiple effects, as it can reduce inflammation, quench oxidative free radicals and prevent cells from dying. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect people with NAFLD. These reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and lower levels of triglycerides, tackling several root causes at once. Long-term human trials have shown that supplementation with omega-3 fats, at about 1,000 mg a day, can also both reduce blood markers of liver damage and improve the appearance of the liver on ultrasound exams. While prevention is better than cure, you don't have to despair if you have been diagnosed with fatty liver disease.