Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Five Ways to Protect Your Gallbladder

As the Southern hemisphere summer begins, many of us are focused on getting and keeping that amazing beach body. However, many would not consider the role that our gallbladders have to play in all of this. Besides the now-small but still unsightly scar that a bikini would reveal if you needed it removed, your gallbladder lets you store bile until you eat, instead of the liver drip-feeding bile to the intestines. This is important because insufficient bile means you cannot absorb fat or fat soluble vitamins very well. These are needed for their antioxidant, immune-protecting, mineral-regulating properties, as well as fats being needed for the base structure of many hormones. Fats give you sustained energy, which can prevent sugar cravings. But how can you protect your gallbladder against developing stones?

Source: Simon A. Eugster
It seems like an over-hyped trend with all of the research articles coming out, but turmeric may be one way to prevent gallbladder congestion. A small, randomised trial tested the ability of 20mg of curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric, against placebo for its ability to keep the gallbladder contracting well. While the fasting gallbladder volume was about the same, after eating the volume was reduced by 12%, 17%, 22% and 29% respectively after 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes respectively. Another small trial also tested curcumin, but at different doses. At 2 hours after taking 20mg of curcumin, gallbladder volume was 34% lower; after 40mg of curcumin, it was 51% lower and after 80mg, it was reduced by 72%.

Additionally, going vegetarian (or at least eating more plant-based foods) has been linked to a lower risk of gallstones. When 632 meat-eating women were matched with 130 vegetarian women, the meat eaters had a 2.5 times higher risk of developing gallstones! When age and body weight were controlled for, this risk was only 1.9 times higher, but still significant (that's a 90% increase).

One specific plant food that could protect you against gallstones is nuts. Looking at the over 80,000 women of the Nurses' Health Study, eating a serving (about 28 grams) of nuts more than five times a week was linked with a 25% reduction of the risk of needing gallbladder removal, compared to less than one serving a month.

On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be more readily available in fish, may also prevent gallstone formation. This was suggested in a study where obese women given omega-3 supplementation had more stable cholesterol saturation and nucleation times during rapid weight loss. While more research is needed, the authors also mentioned reports of omega-3 fats reducing bile cholesterol saturation.

Good old-fashioned tea could also help to prevent gallstones. In a Chinese study of 1,037 patients with gallstones, 627 with cancers of the gallbladder or bile duct, and matched controls, regular tea consumption reduced the risk of gallstones by 29%. The risk of gallbladder or bile duct cancer was cut down by half. Beginning regular tea consumption at an earlier age, or having kept it up for longer, was associated with stronger protection. It has also been found in an animal study that EGCG, a substance in green tea, could prevent gallstone formation by altering cholesterol pathways and reducing inflammation. Overall, there are many ways to protect the health of your gallbladder, but it is always best to consult a naturopath who knows your individual health and history.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Maybe It's Time to Focus on Heart Health

With the decline in heart disease deaths, more attention is now focused on other, more difficult to prevent diseases such as cancer and dementia. However, with the recent death of Florence Henderson (the Brady Bunch mum - nutrients, herbs etc. don't care if you're 82 or 22!) and the beginning of the Southern hemisphere summer (when going to the beach or pool is fun in every state), maybe it's time to focus on longevity and heart health.

Heart failure is the number one cause of hospitalisation in people over 65 (at least, in the USA), and the risk of developing it increases with age. Nearly 5 million people in the USA suffer from congestive heart failure (CHF), where the heart cannot pump blood with enough strength. High blood pressure, lung disease, heart muscle damage, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and obesity are some causes of CHF. Even with the "best" in conventional therapy, quality of life is usually poor, with 20% of patients dying after one year and half after five years.

Source: Inaquim
General natural health advice for patients with CHF is to limit intake of alcohol and sodium; maintain an optimal weight and to have a high intake of essential fatty acids, fruits, vegetables and fibre. One more specific natural therapy for CHF could be coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). In a study performed in the 1980s, 137 patients with stage II-IV cardiomyopathy (heart muscle damage) were given CoQ10 with their conventional therapy, while 182 were only treated conventionally. Forty-three of the patients given CoQ10 had ejection fractions (EF) of under 40%, and their average EF was 25%. After three months of taking CoQ10, the average EF of these 43 patients rose to 41%! Then, at four following periods up to 36 months, this ranged from 43% to 49%. The survival rate of the CoQ10 group was 75%/46 months, compared to 25%/36 months for the conventional-only group. However, CoQ10 as ubiquinol has been found to be far more effective than "conventional" CoQ10, ubiquinone.

While not an "official" vitamin, as we can produce it ourselves, carnitine may be very important for patients with CHF. In a study of 60 people with stage II or III CHF, the 30 who received 500mg of proprionyl-L-carnitine three times daily experienced significant improvements in heart function. At one, three and six months, there were progressive improvements in exercise time and heart ejection fraction, instead of a decline. These were 16.4%, 22.9% and 25.9% respectively for maximum exercise time, and 8.4%, 11.6% and 13.6% for ejection fraction.

Additionally, the herbal medicine known as hawthorn, or Crataegus, could also help to fight CHF. A German study of 1,011 patients tested it as a standardised extract, and it showed great results for a "mere" plant! Ankle swelling and night-time urination were reduced by 83%, and exercise tolerance, fatigue and difficulty breathing all improved. More patients showed normal heart rhythms, and problems such as arrhythmia were less common.

Of course, there are other nasty heart conditions too, such as angina. Pomegranate juice may be one way to fight this one. A trial comparing pomegranate juice to conventional medicine alone found that the pomegranate group experienced a 50% decrease in stress-induced angina episodes after three months, but the drug-only/placebo group saw a 38% increase. When they measured coronary artery blood flow, the drug-only group worsened by 17% after three months, but the pomegranate group improved by 18%. Another study on atherosclerosis found that pomegranate juice reversed artery wall thickening by 35%, but the drug-only group worsened by 9% a year. Of course, while pharmaceutical drugs did not reverse their conditions, unlike the natural therapies tested, they can keep you going while your natural protocol builds you up enough to reduce or stop them.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pollution, Smoking and Longevity

The field of antiaging and longevity typically focuses on what we can do as individuals to live longer, healthier lives, as well as the more "glamourous" interventions like stem cells and medicinal herbs. But what about public health initiatives, such as ways to reduce air pollution? As news recently coming out of Boston states, the rate of people reaching the age of 85 is not equal across all regions. This could be down to environmental factors, including particulate matter (PM) air pollution, which is a known health risk, but has not been previously investigated in terms of longevity.

Researchers from the School of Public Health conducted a US-wide analysis of around 28 million adults in 3,034 counties to see whether levels of PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5mu in diameter) affected the longevity of older adults. Specifically, the rates of people aged 55-64 in 1980 living to be 85-94 in 2010, and 70-74 year olds living to be 100-104, were measured. On average, 2,295 per 10,000 people aged 55-64 lived to be 85-94, and 71.4 per 10,000 people 70-74 years of age lived to be 100-104. PM2.5 pollution levels were measured and put into quartiles, that is, the range of different levels were divided by four. One quartile's worth of increase in PM2.5 levels, which was 4.19 parts per million, was linked with 93.7 fewer 85-94 year olds and 3.5 fewer people over 100, out of every 10,000 people studied. These associations were "linear", meaning that the risk of dying before 85 or 100 increased in line with PM pollution, and were stable as the models were made more specific. They were also present even when levels of PM pollution were within the US standard for safety. Perhaps the electric car and renewable energy revolutions will fight this issue. When I was in Amsterdam at the end of a Contiki tour, several of us found a charging station and even took pictures as it isn't something you see in many parts of Australia yet.

Perhaps a solution? Source: Ludovic Hirlimann
Other factors were also measured in terms of their effects on longevity, such as smoking. For every 4.77% increase in smoking rates, there were 181.9 fewer people over 85 and 6.4 less people over 100, once again, per 10,000 people originally studied. It makes sense that smoking had an even stronger effect on death rates, because cigarette smokers are essentially applying air pollution directly to their lungs. Rates of obesity and poverty also negatively affected longevity; in the case of poverty, it affects access to healthier foods.

Poverty has a negative effect on life expectancy around the world (which is on average now 71.4 years), including in the case of the three billion people worldwide who have to use fuels for cooking instead of electricity. The resulting indoor air pollution is responsible for 3.9 million deaths worldwide every year, including 16,000 from lung cancer. Indoor, or household air pollution (HAP) has also been linked to cancers other than smoking. Even when controlled for HPV infections, HAP is linked with an almost 10 times greater risk of cervical cancer, which is around 6 times greater without controlling for them. The risks of oral, laryngeal and nasopharyngeal cancers were roughly doubled by HAP, and pharyngeal cancer risk was increased by 3 and a half times. More extreme cases of poverty mean that, at last official count, 650 million do not have access to clean water and 2.3 billion do not have access to sanitation. This means that 315,000 children under 5 die every day from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and lack of sanitation (that is 900 every day). But even being able to wash your hands with soap halves the risk of diarrhoea! If infectious diseases aren't horrible enough, insufficient/dirty water and sanitation can also cause cancer. In some regions of Asia and Africa, the liver fluke parasite is present, which can cause liver cancer. In northern Africa, the schistosoma parasite, which can cause bladder cancer, is present. Overall, there are still so many deaths and diseases which could be prevented by fighting poverty and changing to clean energy (as well as quitting smoking), so you don't have to be a scientist, naturopath or doctor to fight the dragon-tyrant.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Can Neuroblastoma Be Prevented?

In recent weeks, photos of a 4-year-old girl suffering from neuroblastoma and its government-approved treatments went viral, and if that wasn't horrible enough, she sadly died this week. But instead of accepting The Way Things Are, why don't we look at ways to prevent it?

Since neuroblastoma strikes very young children, prevention may start with the parents, before they are even born. When one study aimed to investigate this, cases of children diagnosed with neuroblastoma over a period of two years from Children's Cancer Group and Pediatric Oncology Group institutions were compared to random matched controls. This yielded 538 cases and 504 matched controls. Daily use of multivitamins was linked to a 30-40% reduced risk of neuroblastoma, both during pregnancy and in the month before conception. For example, use in the second trimester was associated with a 40% lower risk. It did not seem to matter about specific vitamins or minerals, and age at diagnosis or amplification of cancer-related genes didn't have much effect on the results either.

Eat your spinach. Source: cyclonebill (CC BY SA: 2.0)
However, folate may be one specific nutrient that could prevent neuroblastoma development. In 1997, Canada began to fortify flour with folate in order to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. When the rates of neuroblastoma were examined before and after its implementation, using cases registered by the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, it was found that incidence rates of infant (under 1 year old) neuroblastoma fell from 1.57 cases per 10,000 births to 0.62 cases! This remained significant after adjustment for age at diagnosis and disease severity. Another study looking at cancer rates for children up to 9 years old did not find such associations, but still found a 26% reduction in the risk of Wilm's tumour in children under 5 (from 1.94 to 1.43 cases per 100,000 children). These results may mean that folate and multivitamin use affect cancer development before birth, but have less effect afterwards as children are exposed to or become deficient in more things. Some examples of foods rich in folate are lentils, asparagus and spinach, which contain 358, 268 and 262 micrograms of folate per cup respectively.

Actually, it may be best to see pregnancy multivitamins as just a complement to consuming a diet of nutrient-rich, whole foods, which contain substances that aren't found in multivitamins, but may have a preventative effect on neuroblastoma. For example, a study on mice found that DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, caused stable disease or partial response in rats with grafted human neuroblastoma cells and no immune system to try fighting it. DHA is found in oily fish, and to a lesser extent from other animal foods especially when grass-fed. This really needs further study, especially as a preventative, with neuroblastoma being such a terrible disease. Additionally, ellagic acid has also been shown to kill off neuroblastoma cells in test tube research. This is found in some berries, other fruits and nuts, and should also be researched for preventative abilities. Something else that needs follow-up research is another lab study where ketones, produced for energy when one is on a ketogenic diet, reduced viability of neuroblastoma cells by more than half. Unlike the normal cells they were compared to, the neuroblastoma cells were not able to use the ketones for energy. Overall, research on this and natural ways to prevent neuroblastoma do look promising, and "we don't know how to prevent it" is no excuse to neglect them in cancer research.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Vitamin K2 May Fight Atherosclerosis

In spite of its role in blood clotting, scientists have recently found powerful evidence that vitamin K2 could slow or prevent atherosclerosis, which is the blockage of arteries that often leads to heart attacks and stroke. It has been known for years that vitamin K2 plays an essential role in activating the proteins that keep calcium where it belongs - in the bones - and not roaming around the bloodstream where it may harden arteries. Other data has shown that people consuming higher levels of K2 have a 57% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and even an 81% lower risk of non-vertebral (spinal) bone fractures.

Not this K2. Source: Kogo
In this new 2015 study, researchers investigated the progression of atherosclerosis in 42 patients with chronic kidney disease. Patients with chronic kidney disease are known to experience rapid losses of bone mineral density, and excessive levels of calcium in places where it shouldn't be, such as the arteries. While both groups received 400IU of vitamin D3 every day, one group was given 90 micrograms of K2 as well. After nine months, the thickness of the carotid artery increased by 13.73% in those just taking vitamin D3, but it only increased by 6.32% in those who were taking both vitamins. Patients who took a combination of both vitamins also showed a reduction in calcification scores, except for those with the highest scores at baseline. Other experts in the same field noticed that, despite random assignment, the patients who were prescribed both vitamins had more severe kidney disease. This means that the effect of vitamin K2 may be stronger than it appeared!

As I said above, this isn't the first time that vitamin K2 has been shown to prevent cardiovascular issues. The Rotterdam study, on 4,807 men and women over the age of 55, found that intakes of vitamin K2 over 32 micrograms was linked with a 50% reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease, and a 25% drop in all-cause mortality rates. In another, using 16,000 people from the EPIC cohort, every 10 micrograms of dietary vitamin K2 was linked with a 9% reduction in coronary heart disease. Additionally, a randomised, controlled clinical trial tested the effects of supplementary K2 on 244 post-menopausal Dutch women for its effects on bone and cardiovascular health. These researchers found that a daily dose of 180 micrograms could improve cardiovascular health, bone mineral density and bone strength, but at least two years of supplementation was required for a clinically relevant effect.

It is important to notice the difference between vitamins K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is found in green leafy vegetables, and was not associated with significant effects on cardiovascular health, only K2 was. The diets of people in industrialised countries do not seem to contain much vitamin K2, except for the Japanese diet where K2-rich foods such as natto (a fermented soy product) are eaten. Vitamin K2 is primarily found in organ meats, egg yolks, cheese, and of course, natto. All things we have been told to avoid for years, because of the big bad cholesterol.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Could Blood be Anti-Aging?

It may scare the living daylights out of anyone who isn't all that into life extension, but research has found that injecting the blood of young humans into those with older bodies may physically rejuvenate them back into a younger state. The surprising thing? Young blood seems to work in inter-species transfusions too.

In this study, researchers gave blood samples from 18-year-old human volunteers to one-year-old mice, which is roughly the equivalent of a person in their 50s. The mice received twice-weekly injections of blood plasma for three weeks, and were then compared to 3-month and 12-year-old mice who hadn't had any injections. Amazingly, the plasma made the older mice act like the young mice, now running around in open spaces. They also showed improvements in memory. The treated mice were put into a Barnes maze, which tests spatial memory and learning, and they navigated it as well as a young mouse would. It is most likely that the regenerating properties of young blood plasma are down to differences in protein content. A young person's blood contains many proteins that promote rejuvenation, but someone who is older has less of these and more damaging, inflammatory molecules. Unfortunately, the researchers aren't sharing information on what these proteins are yet, but it is known that some are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The treated mice also had more neurons (brain cells) than the untreated older mice, suggesting that the young plasma proteins trigger the growth of new neurons.

"Don't leave me out!" - this pu-erh tea. Source: PanShiBo
This research follows earlier studies that were reported in 2014, where the blood of younger mice regenerated the brains and muscles of older mice, partly because of an increase in neural stem cells. The protein GDF11 increased muscle strength and endurance. However, this year's study looks like the first to show the same effect with human blood. The researchers have now begun a clinical trial on 18 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, and want to see if the effects of young plasma proteins will fight the inflammation that leads to diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. If successful, they will produce synthetic versions of the young plasma proteins, to ensure a steady, sufficient supply. Or, perhaps the blood of animals killed for meat would contain these same proteins, making the treatment cheaper (and more difficult to patent), or there may be plant analogues of them.

The last point, about the plasma proteins being able to fight or reverse the effects of inflammation, also opens the door for traditional natural medicine to either integrate with the potential new therapy or to develop a "poor man's" version of it. Inflammation is a key driver of aging, and some natural products such as reishi mushroom and Pu-erh tea extract have shown powerful effects against it. One way that they can fight inflammation is by reducing the level of interleukin-6 (IL-6); in fact, Pu-erh extract was able to lower it by 43% in one study! Elevated IL-6 has been linked to a 118% increased risk of death from any cause in people over 80, and nearly triples the risk of knee osteoarthritis. The Pu-erh extract also increased a type of bone marrow stem cell by 42%, which could improve immunity. While reishi doesn't seem to stimulate bone marrow like Pu-erh, it may improve the functioning of already existent immune cells. Overall, there are some exciting (or terrifying, if you're not into it, but then again I'd want to scare you) developments in the field of anti-aging, with even the future of current nursing home residents looking more uncertain - in a good way.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Why Sweating Isn't That Bad

It may mean that your makeup runs, but breaking a sweat is the most cost-effective way to boost your natural detoxification abilities, no fasting or expensive protocols required! Whether you're working out inside or outside, or spending some time in a sauna, it doesn't matter, as long as you're sweating it seems to make the elimination of certain nasty toxins much easier (but stay hydrated!)

Sweating is a particularly good way of eliminating a class of toxins known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These include solvents, pesticides and fumigants - one of these pesticides being DDT, now banned in many countries. A study with 20 volunteers found that sweat contained a range of POPs, including DDT, DDE, endrin, endosulfan and methoxychlor. Sweat samples showed higher levels of POPs than blood or urine samples, which suggests that it may be the ideal way to detoxify from them. Some, such as DDT, were not found during blood or urine tests! Inconsistent, poor detoxification could mean that these are lingering inside the body, causing small but accumulating amounts of damage.

You don't have to join the navy, however.
Another type of toxin that sweating could help to remove is the phthalates, which are found in plastic products. In another study, also with 20 volunteers, sweat samples showed different amounts of phthalates compared to urine or blood samples. All volunteers had MEHP in their blood, sweat and urine, but its concentration in sweat was double its concentration in urine. Some had the phthalate DEHP in their sweat, but not in their urine. Bisphenol A (BPA) is another increasingly unpopular toxin. In 16 out of the 20 participants, BPA was found in sweat, where 14 of the urine samples and 2 of the blood samples were positive for it.

Heavy metals are also of a great concern to many people. Once again, a study showed that many of these were excreted through sweat more than anywhere else. On average, when compared to urine, sweat contained 24 times more cadmium, 19 times more nickel, 16 times more lead and nearly triple the amount of aluminum. Sweat was more effective than urine at removing 14 of the 18 heavy metals. While any physical activity can make you sweat, even swimming, there is a difference between infrared and steam saunas in terms of their effects on heavy metal detoxification. Sweat from infrared saunas was found to contain more bismuth, cadmium, chromium, mercury and uranium. Steam saunas had more aluminum, arsenic, copper, cobalt, manganese, nickel, tin, thallium and lead. Overall, working up a sweat is worth smelling a bit and needing a shower afterwards. Just research the effects of these heavy metals!