Friday, 23 December 2016

Vitamin C and Exercise May Share the Same Benefits

We sometimes find that beneficial foods, lifestyle interventions and medicinal herbs share the same mechanisms of action. Now it seems that this is also the case for exercise and vitamin C, as they have been found to share one of the same pathways for protecting cardiovascular health. While this doesn't mean you can swap exercise for supplements, it could mean that using both together is best.

As a high-risk group for cardiovascular diseases, overweight and obese people are strongly urged to exercise regularly, although more than half ignore this advice. For those who do, however, one of the benefits is a reduction in a protein known as endothelin-1 (ET-1). This constricts the small blood vessels, making it harder to deliver oxygen and nutrients, as well as clear out toxins, in every tissue, including the heart, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Recently, Colorado researchers revealed their findings that 500mg of time-released vitamin C reduced ET-1 just as much as walking for exercise. Of course, this does not mean you can use vitamin C to get out of exercising, as it has many other benefits to muscle and bone health, among other parts of the body (and we are designed for physical activity!). However, this does build on the research of Linus Pauling, who hypothesised that our usually low intake of vitamin C (he recommended 10-12 grams) is behind the epidemic of cardiovascular disease.

Other research has also shown a protective effect of vitamin C against cardiovascular issues. An earlier case-control study (100 cases, 198 controls) aiming to see if vitamin C and other nutrients could protect against heart attacks found that, compared to the lowest quartile for vitamin C intake, those in the highest had an 80% lower risk of heart attack! Vitamin E and fibre both reduced heart attack risk by 70%. Vitamin C may also protect against repeat cardiovascular events. In a study of 800 people who already had heart attacks, those given vitamin C supplementation suffered a collective total of 55 events, compared to 75 in the placebo group. High doses of vitamin C can have fast-acting effects too. When healthy male volunteers were given 2000mg of vitamin C, arterial stiffness was reduced by almost 10% within hours! This may have been because it protected nitric oxide against oxidation. With these studies and more showing the benefits of vitamin C, why not combine vitamin C-rich foods and exercise for the best results?

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Have You Seen This Method of Keeping Kids Healthy?

Several videos depicting Russian school-children running around wearing nothing but swimsuits as they play with snow and buckets of water in freezing winter temperatures have pretty much gone viral, because of social media users curious to see what Those Crazy Russians are doing now. But is it really crazy? Or, are Western parents the crazy ones for wrapping their children in cotton wool?

Source: Radziszewski.Marek
Olesya, head of Kindergarten Number 168 in Barnul, south Siberia, says that accusations of cruelty are entirely wrong. About 18 years before she was interviewed for this 2012 article, she and other teachers were concerned about their students' health. Influenza was common, and at times half of the children were sick. Now, much of these illnesses are prevented by children first doing exercises inside with their teacher, and then spending a minute and a half scrubbing themselves and playing with snowballs and buckets of water. It is said that in general, 95% of the children who participate in this are healthy during the flu season, compared to 75% among those who don't. The "dousing" goes on all year round, summer (which can reach temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius) and winter, unless it gets below -30C.

But is there any research to back this all up? Well, yes; for example, this small study suggests that swimming in cold water may "toughen" the body. Ten healthy people who regularly participate in winter swimming were found to have higher levels of glutathione, the "master" antioxidant, than usual. This may be because of mild, acute oxidative stress caused by the cold water exposure. In another study on winter swimmers, the swimmers had higher levels of glutathione, and lower levels of oxidized glutathione compared to healthy controls. This time, there were 36 winter swimmers and 40 "normal people" (who wants to be normal anyway?) The winter swimmers also had much higher levels of the antioxidant enzymes catalase and superoxide dismutase. Interestingly, their levels of non-oxidized glutathione, vitamin C and uric acid, which are all antioxidants, dropped significantly during swimming. All of this could mean that the stress caused by swimming in cold water triggers the body to produce more of its own antioxidants, in order to protect itself from damage. In fact, previous research found that winter swimmers suffered 40% fewer upper respiratory infections, validating Olesya's observations. On the other hand, if left alone, levels of antioxidant enzymes fall with age. Overall, perhaps a teaspoon of cement to harden up and a cold shower or swim could be the best "flu shot" for you, but if you have any cardiovascular or other chronic health issues, it is best to see your doctor first.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Vitamin O - Outside!

Did you know that, before pharmaceutical medicine, spending time in and near the ocean was considered a treatment for many ailments? It works for me in the case of skin and respiratory health, but it isn't outdated nonsense in the eyes of science either. Spending time outside has been shown in research to have health benefits!

What is this talking about? One example of this is a 2009 study from the Netherlands. It showed that living within one kilometre of a green space was linked with a lower incidence of 15 diseases, the strongest associations being for anxiety and depression. Asthma, migraines and diabetes were some of the other conditions where going outside had a protective effect. Some of the benefits come from the production of vitamin D when you are exposed to sunlight, which aids absorption of calcium, iron and zinc. It also helps to balance the immune system and strengthen muscles; actually, all tissue types have receptors for vitamin D and therefore need it for healthy functioning. Additionally, some swear by the benefits of exposure to negative ions, which are said to be in higher concentrations in environments such as the beach or countryside. A book by Professor Robert E Thayer cited research showing that negative ion exposure "increased energetic feelings as well as improved reaction time". Natural light is also known to lift people's moods. Compared with exercising inside, physical activity in natural environments is linked with better self-esteem and increased energy. Poor natural light is linked with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which may be caused by a drop in serotonin and melatonin associated with darkness.

In the Netherlands study, a total of 345,143 people from 195 general practitioners' medical records were involved, making it nothing to sneeze at. Both green space within 3 kilometres and 1 kilometre of a person's residence were analysed in relation to disease prevalence. For those living within 3 kilometres of a significant amount of green space, there was a reduced incidence of anxiety, digestive infections and Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms (MUPS). Although a "significant" reduction in disease prevalence was only 2-5%, these conditions are very common. The mechanisms behind these benefits may be due to more physical activity (such as in diabetes, musculoskeletal pain and heart disease), better air quality (asthma, COPD and respiratory infections) and the mental health benefits of a natural environment (depression and anxiety).

Robert E Thayer's 1990 book, The Biopsychology of Mood and Arousal, discusses many studies which show a benefit of negative ions and natural light. One study by Cunningham (1979) showed that hours of daily sunshine was positively linked with people's willingness to help out with weather readings. He then found that sunshine and warm weather was correlated with waitresses earning more tips. Negative ions, which he said are concentrated around natural bodies of water, have also been linked to better mood. One 1981 study showed increased tension and irritability around positive ions, and another showed faster reaction times and improved energy around negative ions. Buckalew and Rizzuto (1982) found increases in positive mood and decreases in negative mood with exposure to negative ions. Baron, Russell and Arms (1985) also found that negative ions improved the moods of volunteers. Overall, spending time outside is good for you!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Fight Stress This Holiday Season with Adaptogens

Unfortunately for many, the holidays, whether it be Christmas, Chanukah or something else, can be more stressful than actually enjoyable. Travelling to visit relatives, family conflicts, all of this can have a nasty impact on our health. As Life Extension states, before listing some of the effects of stress, as many as 75-90% of visits to primary health care providers could be related to acute and chronic stress. It is chronic stress that is particularly horrible. Chronic stress causes harmful changes to the intestinal bacteria, which help to regulate not only digestion but also immunity and inflammation. Psychological stress has been found to be the strongest risk factor for cardiac events (e.g. heart attacks) in people with coronary artery disease. It can also impair immunity, increasing vulnerability to viral infections and even cancers. Another alarming study showed that stress can even shorten telomeres; these are protective caps of DNA on our chromosomes, which contribute to aging as they shorten.

Bacopa. Source: JM Garg
Where do adaptogens come in? Adaptogens are a type of medicinal herb that improve our resistance to stress, and increase our mental and physical strength. They each work in different ways, and have varying effects, but can all help protect us from the harmful effects of chronic stress.

Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a rasayana, an antiaging, pro-longevity remedy. Its 'specialty' is physical performance. In a study of healthy, athletic adults, taking 300mg of ashwagandha twice a day doubled their oxygen consumption after 12 weeks, compared to the placebo group. Increased oxygen consumption indicates better cardiovascular endurance. In a second study, volunteers taking 300mg twice daily showed greater improvements in muscle strength compared to the placebo group. After only eight weeks, the men taking ashwagandha could bench-press 101 pounds, compared to 58 pounds; they could also lift 31.9 pounds in leg-extension exercises, compared to 21 pounds. Biochemical test results showed that men taking ashwagandha had a greater reduction of exercise-induced muscle damage, a greater reduction in body fat and...a 4.3 times increase in testosterone levels! This could mean a lot for women going through menopause, and men going through andropause.

Bacopa monnieri, commonly known as brahmi or water hyssop, 'specialises' in cognitive function. One trial showed that taking 125mg of brahmi every day led to significant improvements in memory, learning and mental control. Sounds like the perfect remedy for students! Another demonstrated its ability to improve cognitive performance and mood soon after multitasking, a bad habit of students and nearly everyone else! Multitasking is inherently stressful, and does affect mental performance. It is not an "adulting" badge of honour.

Cordyceps sinensis, a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine, has a few specialties, such as immunity. In a study on mice, cordyceps was shown to have antioxidant activity and increase production of immune chemicals that, while inflammatory, are helpful in acute infection. Fortunately, it does not overstimulate the production of these chemicals. In fact, although it can boost the functioning of immune cells, other research has shown anti-inflammatory ability, and even an ability to help anti-rejection drugs protect transplanted organs! Overall, you don't have to let your health suffer during times of stress, even when it feels like you have to put yourself last, you owe yourself proper self-care.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

New Evidence That Fat Isn't Bad

Billed as good news for everyone who likes to stuff their faces during Christmas, a new study has found that fats, even saturated fats, aren't necessarily bad for you. But not all Christmas dishes have been given a free pass, as high-carb foods were shown to be the major contributor to obesity.

Cream. Source: Paul Downey (CC 2.0)
Led by experts from the University of Bergen in Norway, this research involved obese men who had diets high in either carbohydrates or fat. Their levels of body fat in the abdomen and around the heart, as well as other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, were measured and compared between the two groups. Professor and cardiologist Ottar Nygard said that "The very high intake of total and saturated fat did not increase the calculated risk of cardiovascular diseases", going against conventional dietary advice that has been the norm for years (regardless of accuracy). "Participants in the very high-fat diet also had substantial improvements in several important cardiometabolic risk factors, such as ectopic fat storage, blood pressure, blood lipids (triglycerides), insulin and blood sugar", he added. Processed and low-quality foods, however, were also key factors in obesity. Total and saturated fat consumption was examined in context with healthy diets that were rich in fresh foods and favoured vegetables and rice over flour-based products. The fat sources were typically unprocessed, and were mainly butter, cold-pressed oils and cream. Conventional wisdom would tell you that saturated fats raise "bad" LDL cholesterol, but these researchers found no such thing - while there was no significant increase in LDL cholesterol, the "good" HDL cholesterol was higher in people with high fat diets.
"These results indicate that most healthy people probably tolerate a high intake of saturated fat well, as long as the fat quality is good and total energy intake is not too high. It may even be healthy", Professor Nygard concluded.

This research and the mainstream news article reporting it comes soon after Australia's AHPRA has attempted to silence Gary Fettke, an orthopaedic surgeon with an interest in nutrition, because of his support for the same ideas found by this study! AHPRA failed to recognise his thousands of hours of research, from textbooks to journal articles and working with scientists and other health professionals of all types. He is no longer allowed to participate in research or speak in public in Australia, all because of his support for the Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diet. His reasons for being such a bad little boy? Most of his patients had joint issues related to obesity and/or diabetes, and for years, all he could see was these patients get worse on government nutritional advice. Fortunately, Nutrition for Life is setting up a not-for-profit community arm so that their work can continue. And we can all join in to spread the news of diets that actually heal, instead of one-size-fits-all, government-approved ideas that do not. We have more power than what these people would like us to believe.

Monday, 12 December 2016

What is Carnosine and What Can it Do?

If you are interested in natural health and antiaging, you have probably heard of the non-essential nutrient carnosine. But what is it? Carnosine is a dipeptide, meaning that it is made of two amino acids, in this case L-histidine and beta-alanine. It is "non-essential" because it is produced naturally by the body, and is mostly found in the brain, nerves and muscles as these are the most energy-demanding. One of carnosine's most important roles is to defend us against toxic substances and excess glucose. It prevents glucose molecules from reacting with proteins (glycosylation) and prevents proteins from cross-linking in ways that cause excess stiffness and interfere with their functioning. Because of this, carnosine helps to prevent the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that worsen the sugar-induced damage to proteins seen in people with diabetes. Glycation and AGEs are a major cause of aging in everyone, partly because of the inflammation they produce. It can also protect cells from damage caused by AGEs that have already been formed, and even slow telomere shortening! (Telomeres are protective caps on chromosomes that are required for cell division) All of this means that carnosine was one of the first substances to be deemed antiaging at a cellular level.

But how has carnosine performed in clinical trials? In one study, 56 volunteers over 65 were given either chicken meat extract, which is high in carnosine, or placebo, for 13 weeks. After these 13 weeks, the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the carnosine group fell significantly compared to placebo, meaning they lost weight. Only the carnosine group saw significant increases in two of the six Senior Fitness Tests and reported less perceived exertion. They were also the only group to improve their scores in the Short Test of Mental Status, in the areas of construction/copying, abstraction and recall. Another trial also looked at the similar "chicken essence", a traditional Asian remedy for fatigue. Twenty healthy men were assigned to either a drink containing chicken essence or placebo for four weeks, and those taking the chicken essence had significantly better energy levels and cognitive performance. These studies mean well for those of us who prefer food over supplements.

Of course, supplementation of carnosine can also be effective, including in the case of congestive heart failure (CHF). Fifty patients received either 500mg of carnosine for six months or a placebo, in order to test differences in walking distance, quality of life and heart function. Patients getting carnosine saw significant improvements in the distance walked over six minutes, quality of life, peak exercise workload and oxygen levels. As for diabetes, a clinical trial of people at high risk for developing the disease found that although insulin resistance worsened in both groups, it increased 3.8 times more in the placebo group than in the carnosine group. Insulin secretion increased by 36% in the placebo group, but only by 3% in the carnosine group. Therefore, carnosine was able to mostly offset the effects of their current diet and lifestyle. The wide range of benefits that carnosine has demonstrated is because of the fact that high blood sugar and glycation affect every inch of our bodies. However, taking it is not an excuse to eat large amounts of sugary, processed foods all the time - but it can be a good prevention strategy for everyday, lower levels of glycation and during times when you do eat a lot of junk food, such as Halloween and Christmas.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Can Coffee Fight Skin Aging?

It seems as though coffee has a never-ending list of health benefits when used correctly and in moderation. Yet another one of these could be an ability to fight skin aging. While aging may be a universal complaint, it is still a complaint, and one factor in skin aging is ultraviolet light exposure. The fine lines, wrinkles, discolouration and loose skin that just can't seem to hold moisture reflects the deterioration of the connective tissue which makes up the dermis. A healthy dermis will contain a strong framework of the proteins collagen and elastin, as well as water-binding glycosaminoglycans (which means they are made up of amino acids and sugars). The elasticity, strength and ability to bounce back is what gives skin a youthful appearance. Large amounts of ultraviolet light and other toxic substances produce free radicals that break down this framework and cause cell damage, which leads to skin aging.

Source: Kenny Louie (CC BY SA: 2.0)
Fortunately, researchers around the world have found that some phytochemicals extracted from coffee beans can rejuvenate aging skin. When applied topically, green, unroasted coffee beans provide many benefits. In a randomised, double-blinded trial, 40 women were assigned to receive either a high-antioxidant skin care set of facial wash, day lotion, night cream and eye serum, or a placebo set, for 12 weeks. Evaluations of efficacy were performed by a board-certified dermatologist at the beginning, at 6 weeks and at 12 weeks. It was found that the high-antioxidant set, which contained coffee extract, gave significant benefits to photo-aged skin. Almost every parameter showed improvement: wrinkles, level of firmness, pigmentation, roughness, redness and clarity. In another trial studying the seed oil of Coffea arabica, researchers found a 1.5 times increase in elastin production and a near doubling of collagen production compared to the controls. As stated above, these are the main connective tissue proteins that support the skin. There was also a doubling of glycosaminoglycans, and a increase of aquaglycerolporins by seven times! As the name of the second type of protein suggests, these work together to trap moisture in the skin, which promotes firmness and prevents uncomfortable, possibly harmful drying out.

Coffea robusta, which is native to West Africa, contains a greater amount of caffeine and other active constituents because of how it is processed. In a study of 35 women aged 30-70, they were instructed to apply a caffeine-containing eye cream to the area around one eye twice a day, and not to the other half. After four weeks, there was a significant improvement in smoothness and wrinkle depth in the treated halves of their faces. This was measured with a 3D optical imaging technique. In research on mice, caffeine was also found to prevent damage caused by UV light.

If you are having trouble with dry, rough skin that doesn't seem to be protecting itself enough, coffee may be best paired with honey. Honey is a humectant, which means it helps trap moisture, much like the glycosaminoglycans that coffee supports the production of. As it is sticky, it also makes a great addition to any home-made face masks because it would help keep the other ingredients stuck to your face.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Arianna Huffington and the Self-Care Revolution

When it comes to self-care, including sleep, we are often caught between two lines of thinking. Doctors, naturopaths and other health professionals recognise a good night's sleep as essential to health, for reasons such as the fact that sleep is when your immune system is restored. On the other hand, the dominant cultural norm is currently that sleep deprivation is a pre-requisite to achievement and success, especially if you are an entrepreneur. This is something that Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, used to believe, especially in university. After graduation, she continued on this inadvertently self-destructive path, and tried to get by on just three or four hours of sleep a night until she collapsed from "sleep deprivation, exhaustion and burnout" in 2007. While she had learnt her lesson, she saw that others had not, and so was inspired to write The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. In an interview with Life Extension, Arianna explains the importance of healthy sleep, and the dangers of pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Source: Kemal ATLI (CC:2.0)
How dangerous is sleep deprivation? Well, Arianna starts with the statistic that less than six hours of sleep a night has been linked with a 15% greater chance of dying. Seven to nine hours a night is the ideal range, but less than six hours is associated with a greater risk of obesity as it increases levels of appetite-stimulating hormones. In other research, healthy adults were found to have higher blood pressure after only being allowed to sleep four hours a night instead of eight. These factors could raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, one of the world's biggest killers. In fact, a recent study found that men with sleep disorders had 2-2.6 times the risk of heart attack, and 1.5-4 times greater risk of stroke over the 14-year study period. Those who associate death with sleep in an attempt to make it sound less awful really have it the wrong way around.

Sleep deprivation can also endanger the lives of others, as found in a study of around 3,000 first-year medical residents (reference in book). While their working week is "capped" at a massive 80 hours, individual shifts can last as long as 24 hours. In months where interns had at least five 24-hour shifts, patients deaths increased by 300% and fatigue-related adverse events increased by 700%! An Australian study also found that being awake for 17-19 hours impaired cognition just as much as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which also counts as legally drunk in Australia.

However, in her research Arianna has uncovered the dangers of sleeping pills. Harvard medical school professor Patrick Fuller explained to her that the chemical imbalances caused by these drugs can limit restorative sleep and often only create a state between sleep and being awake, leading to side effects such as sleepwalking. Additionally, she found that use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease after 3-6 months of use. Taking them for more than six months raises the risk by 84%. It is best to look at what diet and lifestyle factors are causing a lack of sleep, and using nutritional and/or herbal medicines such as valerian or lavender, instead of pharmaceutical interventions. Sleep is essential, but replacing one consequence for another is not the way to go.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Fighting Aging With Magnesium

With the conventional side of medicine looking for the next blockbuster drug, and the world of natural health often chasing rare and exotic herbs, simpler interventions are frequently overlooked. This is especially the case with magnesium, which is the fourth most abundant element in the body and has hundreds of functions. Even though volumes of research shows that magnesium can guard against high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, kidney disease, blood sugar dysregulation, cognitive decline and even migraines, most Americans (and probably Australians) don't get enough magnesium from food sources.

Magnesium is essential for the chemical reactions that produce energy from sugar, among many others. Around half of our bodies' magnesium is stored in the bones, for both later use and to aid their strength and integrity. Deficiency is unfortunately so common because of our soils and water being depleted through poor farming practices and over-treating. To make things worse, many people just don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, and some drugs such as PPIs increase deficiency. So what's the problem? Well, a laboratory study found that human fibroblast cells grown in magnesium-deficient conditions lost the ability to divide faster than cells grown with enough magnesium. This was at least partially by speeding up telomere shortening - telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that allow cells to divide. However, the cell's ability to survive was not affected, as a moderate deficiency was simulated over a period of months. What this means for us may be that long-term magnesium deficiency speeds up aging, and therefore promote disease, in a way that sneaks up on us after many years. You may just get muscle cramps now and then for now, but things could get more serious than that. It is possible that magnesium protects telomeres from oxidative damage, aids in their structural integrity, or both.

Magnesium has also shown benefits for cardiovascular health. In a study of over two and a half thousand participants in the Framingham study, increasing magnesium intake by just 50mg a day was linked with 22% lower coronary artery calcification. The chance of having any coronary artery calcification was 58% lower in the highest category of magnesium intake compared with the lowest. These results were controlled for many factors, from age and sex to intake of calcium and vitamin K. Additionally, low magnesium has been associated with kidney disease in people with cardiovascular issues, but could be an independent risk factor for it too. In an adjusted analysis, low blood levels of magnesium were linked with a 58% increased risk of chronic kidney disease, and more than double the risk of end-stage renal disease. Migraines, on the other hand, are a condition that won't kill you, although some would say it sure feels like the case. In a 1996 trial, 81 adults suffering from an average of 3-4 migraines per month were assigned to receive either 600mg of magnesium a day or a placebo. In weeks 9-12, the final month of the study, patients who received magnesium experienced a 41% reduction in migraine attacks, as well as shorter attacks and less need for pharmaceutical pain relief. This should be common knowledge by now. Overall, with so many health benefits, it is surprising that magnesium intake is so overlooked. Spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and black beans are some of the many food sources of magnesium.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Exercise For Life Extension!

Want to not die? Or, in other words, live longer? Well, swimming, dance aerobics and racquet sports have recently been linked with the strongest life-extending effects in a recent British study. Researchers found that different sports were associated with different levels of benefit, and urged both doctors and government workers to incorporate their findings in public health interventions.

Doing a cute and staying healthy. Source: Tommy Wong (CC2.0)
So what exactly happened? The study was an analysis of 11 annual health surveys conducted in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008. A total of 80,306 adults were included, with an average age of 52. The survival of each person was tracked for an average of nine years, and during this time, 8,790 of them died. They were asked about how much exercise, and what type, they had done in the last four weeks, and if it made them sweaty and breathless. This means whether or not the exercise was moderate to heavy. Compared to those who had not done any type of physical activity, those who did racquet sports had a 47% lower risk of death from any cause over the average 9-year period. Swimmers and dance aerobic fans had a 28% and 27% lower risk respectively, and cyclists had a 15% lower risk of dying. These effects are pretty impressive considering the age of participants and the long study period. It may also control for other healthy habits commonly seen in people who exercise regularly, as they would be common across exercise types. Running and playing football were not linked with a reduced risk of death, unlike other studies where running was shown to be protective. However, it may be because of the nature of these sports, and the climate of the UK, as football is seasonal and neither are all that compatible with colder seasons that would prevent one from going outside. Lower risk of injury and possibly greater mental stimulation may be other factors.

Another long-term study also showed a significant benefit of exercise on mortality rates. This was the second part of the Oslo study, that followed thousands of men born between 1923 and 1932. Over 5,700 of the surviving men chose to participate again in a second health check in the year 2000, and were monitored for another 12 years. In 2000, their ages were between 68 and 77, older than the participants of the above study. After 12 years, the results showed that exercise of any intensity for at least 30 minutes, 6 days a week, was linked with a 40% reduced risk of dying from any cause - even though they were now aged between 80 and 89. Regular moderate-vigorous physical activity was shown to add 5 years onto their lives! Less than one hour a week of light exercise did not reduce the risk of death, but the same amount of vigorous exercise reduced it by 23-37%. The death rate for people who did more than an hour of light exercise per week was 32-56% lower. The overall results were said to match the health benefits of quitting smoking. Actually, a 2002 study of over 877,000 Americans showed that quitting at age 35 extended life by 6.9-8.5 years in men, and 6.1-7.7 years in women. Quitting at age 65 extended life by 1.4-2 years for men and 2.7-3.7 years for women. Another found that quitting extended life in women by 10 years; this was a long-term study of over one million women. On top of this, quitting smoking can make exercise more enjoyable by allowing the lungs to repair themselves.

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!

Monday, 14 November 2016

What? Eggs May Reduce the Risk of Stroke?

You read it correctly! Close to the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which places no limit on cholesterol intake, new research shows that eggs are actually linked with a 12% reduction in the risk of stroke. These new guidelines, instead of condemning eggs for their cholesterol content, state that they are an easily accessible, affordable source of high-quality protein.

Source: Timothy Titus
Published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the researchers found that consuming up to one egg per day had no effect on coronary heart disease (CHD) risk, and a 12% lower risk of stroke. These results came from a systematic review and meta-analysis, using research conducted between 1982 and 2015 with a total of 276,000 people in the studies examining CHD risk and 308,000 in the studies on stroke risk. The principal investigator, Dr Dominik Alexander, stated that more research is still needed on exactly how eggs may be protective against stroke. However, he did note that eggs are not only a source of protein, but also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids with a yellow pigment and present in the (yellow) egg yolk. Eggs also contain the vitamins A, D and E. His research also builds on another 2015 meta-analysis where eggs were not linked to any increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. As stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the USA, a 12% lower risk means a lot of people. According to MedicalNewsToday, the choline in eggs plays an important role in breaking down homocysteine, which has been linked to cardiovascular issues. The lutein and zeaxanthin has also been associated with protection from macular degeneration. On top of this, the fact that eggs give sustained, satisfying energy may help with weight management, as you are less likely to want sugary snacks. Eggs are another source of DHA, which is an anti-inflammatory product of omega-3 fatty acids.

Cholesterol itself may not be that bad either, in fact it may even be beneficial! A 1988 study trying to find a relationship between blood levels of cholesterol and cancer risk found that, compared to the lowest quintile of cholesterol levels, men in higher quintiles had a 19-54% reduced risk of cancer, with the level of protection rising alongside their cholesterol levels! Women did not have such a dose-dependent reduced risk of cancer; compared to the lowest quintile, women in the second quintile had a 25% lower risk, a 16% lower risk in the third, a reduced risk of 22% in the fourth and a 30% lower cancer risk in the highest quintile. These results were not linked to higher levels of vitamin A, E or selenium. They weren't too much to laugh at either, as the study involved over 39,000 people aged 15-99, and had a follow-up of ten years. The strongest protective effects seen were in the first few years of follow-up, especially for fast-growing cancers. GreenMedInfo, in fact, has curated several studies showing that statins may increase the risk of cancer. One of these also linked statin use to accelerated aging and increased mortality, links which increase in strength with age. As cholesterol is a necessary component of cell membranes (Principles of Anatomy & Physiology - Tortora & Derrickson), these associations should not be shot down just because an "authority figure" in the media says that statins are safe and cholesterol is evil. The idea that cholesterol is evil began with animals who are not usually natural meat eaters being fed cholesterol (dogs did not develop cardiovascular issues). Then in the 1950s, Ancel Keys studied 22 countries to find a link between cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases, but used the results from the seven countries that showed the results he wanted. Overall, eggs (and cholesterol) aren't the awful things we once thought, although more research may be needed to see what happens to people's health before and after adding eggs to their usual diet.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Olive Oil May Fight Wrinkles

We want to look our best, especially during summer, which is just beginning in the Southern hemisphere, but products marketed as having antiaging properties are often expensive with no promise of results. But what if a cheap, widely available plant oil was actually effective in fighting the aging process? Research has suggested that the ubiquitous olive oil may not only benefit cardiovascular health, but also fight wrinkles.

Source: Nick Fraser
The health benefits of olive oil are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities, which prompted research into what effects it may have on skin aging. A cross-sectional study was then performed on 1,264 women and 1,655 men between 45 and 60 years old, who were part of the SUVIMAX cohort. Dietary intake of mono-unsaturated fats was estimated through diet records, and severity of skin photoaging was graded by trained investigators using a 6-point scale. "Photoaging" is what it sounds like, it is the aging that results from too much UV radiation. Overall, a higher intake of mono-unsaturated fats (MUFAs) (highest vs lowest quartile) reduced the risk of severe photoaging by 24%. For MUFAs in vegetable oils, being in the highest quartile of consumption resulted in a 37% reduced risk for women and a 45% reduction for men. No association was found between MUFAs and skin aging if they came from animal products. Additionally, only olive oil had a significant effect on skin aging. Therefore, increasing your olive oil intake, in salad dressings and dips to prevent heat-related oxidative damage, could be a good idea over the Southern hemisphere summer. If you don't like olive oil, you can always make your own skincare products rich in the oil or apply it straight to your skin.

How does olive oil work, if it's just an oil? One "active ingredient" may be oleuropein. In a study on elderly mice, oleuropein significantly increased collagen production and growth of epithelial tissue over several days. It was found that the oleuropein raised levels of VEGF, a growth factor which promotes wound healing. Olive oil could also change the expression of what was once thought to be untouchable: our genes. In a double-blind, randomised crossover trial, volunteers with metabolic syndrome were given olive oil-rich breakfasts with either a low or high phenol content. They all followed the same diet during this period too. The phenols in olive oil were found to modify the expression of 98 different genes, some of which were directly involved in inflammation. Aging is now sometimes known as "inflammaging", because most, if not all, age-related diseases have underlying inflammatory causes.

Olive oil could also have positive effects on another end-point of antiaging: mortality reduction. For this study, the results from the over forty thousand Spanish participants of the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) were used. During 13 years of follow-up, the highest quartile of olive oil consumption was linked with a 26% lower risk of dying when compared to those who did not consume any olive oil. There was also a 44% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. With every increase in olive oil intake of 10 grams, there was a 7% reduced risk of dying from any cause. There appeared to be a greater protective effect in people who did not smoke.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Probiotics May Affect Mental Health

The ability of probiotics to affect digestive and immune health now seems to be mainstream knowledge, with advertisements for over-the-counter brands shown on a regular basis. But did you know that they may also benefit your mental health?

Source: Quijote
One such benefit of probiotics is that they could simply improve mood, in other words, make people happy! A study involving 40 people tested the effect of a probiotic supplement containing several species of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria on negative thought patterns. After 4 weeks, participants who received the probiotics had significantly less aggressive and ruminating thoughts compared to the placebo group. To "ruminate" means to repeatedly go over negative thoughts, which can feel uncontrollable. These results were seen as important because the thought patterns that probiotics reduced are known risk factors for depression. In another study completed by 124 people, volunteers were given either a probiotic milk drink or a placebo for three weeks. Those with low mood who were taking the probiotic were more likely to describe themselves as "happy" instead of "depressed" after the three weeks.

Probiotics may not just prevent depression, but could also reduce its severity if you already have it. A clinical trial of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum tested the two over 30 days for their effects on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and the Hopkins symptom checklist. They found significant decreases in the sub-spheres of depression, somatisation and anger-hostility. "Somatisation" refers to the physical symptoms that can come with depression. The researchers then analysed the results of those with urinary cortisol levels of less than 50ng/mL at baseline. Cortisol is one of the primary stress hormones. Probiotics still significantly reduced these symptoms, as well as the "obsessive-compulsive", "anxiety" and "paranoid-ideation" scores in the Hopkins checklist. It was also pointed out that probiotics, unlike pharmaceuticals, are not addictive, and do not cause memory or learning impairments. Overall, it looks like probiotics could be an effective way to manage mood disorders naturally, but it is always best to consult a qualified practitioner of natural medicine first.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Could Nutrition Affect Motor Neuron Disease?

You probably remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from a couple of years ago, which aimed to raise awareness of ALS (or Motor Neuron Disease, or Lou Gehrig's Disease) as well as money to fund research into the disease. But can we already take control of our risk of developing the disease, and could natural medicine help to fight it?

ALS/MND (let's go with ALS) is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes paralysis and eventually respiratory failure. I remember, at 15, being forced to watch Tuesdays with Morrie in Christian Studies class and being absolutely terrified as well as thoroughly depressed (this was before I knew much about natural medicine and before it was really respected). Discovering Life Extension and others after typing in "what is the meaning of life" as instructed by the teacher on another day was the best possible outcome. The median survival time after diagnosis is between 20-48 months, although 10-20% of patients survive longer than 10 years. As prevention is far better than any cure for diseases like this, there is now interest in nutritional and environmental factors that can affect the development and progression of ALS. In this analysis, reposted by Life Extension, nutrient intake and respiratory function of 302 people with ALS were measured and compared. Fruit and vegetable intake, and intake of antioxidants, particularly carotenoids, were associated with better functioning.
Source: B. Navez

Don't just settle for slower progression or "better functioning", you can reduce your risk of ALS too! Like many diseases, quitting smoking, or to be specific, never touching one, has a protective effect. A case-control study found that ever having smoked increased the risk of developing ALS by 70%! Lead exposure may be another risk factor for ALS. Another case-control study, on 109 ALS patients and 256 controls set out to determine what risk there may be. They didn't just stop at interviews or questionnaires this time; they also looked at blood and bone levels of lead. For every mug/dL increase in blood levels of lead, ALS risk increased by 90%. For every doubling of bone levels, ALS risk was raised by 2.3-3.6 times. A gene that increases the risk of lead poisoning also raised ALS risk by 90%. Fortunately, both smoking and use of lead seem to be falling out of fashion. Vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acid consumption, however, may reduce your risk of ALS by 50-60% when you have a high intake of both. Other nutrients, such as calcium and vitamins C and B2, did not reduce ALS risk. This may be because vitamin E and (omega-3, at least) unsaturated fats are fat-soluble antioxidants and anti-inflammatories respectively, and therefore have a high affinity for nervous tissue, which is fat based. Vitamin C and the others which showed no real effect are water-soluble, so there is less affinity for the nervous system.

But what about people who already have ALS? A 1998 study of 24 people with the terrible disease assigned them to one of two groups: one where they were injected with half a milligram of vitamin B12 for 2 weeks, and another where they got 25mg. No significant improvements were found in the low-dose group, but the high-dose group saw an increase in their average compound muscle action potential amplitudes (CMAPs) after 4 weeks. An action potential is basically a fancy name for "nerve signal". Acupuncture may even be another natural treatment for ALS, as seen in a case study of two patients. After 4 weeks (5 days a week) of acupuncture injection point therapy, both improved; one who stopped the therapy and relapsed, and another who continued and saw more gains. Clinical trials will be necessary to see if these effects can be generalised, and to see how acupuncture therapy could be improved. While much more research into how to fight ALS is needed, whether it's best to go integrative or all-natural, there is hope!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Eat Your Way To Longer Telomeres

One proposed cause of aging is the shortening of our telomeres, which are protective caps of DNA on the ends of our chromosomes. These normally shorten with aging, and when they get too short, the cell cannot divide anymore, which in turn impairs tissue regeneration and our overall health. This is why longer telomere length has been linked to a lower risk of diseases such as dementia, diabetes and coronary heart disease. While some have taken this as meaning that youth and life expectancy are set in stone, research has demonstrated beneficial effects of changes you can make today.

In a Korean study on telomere length, 1,958 participants aged 40-69 were studied from 2001 to 2003. Dietary questionnaire responses were used to measure intake of folate; vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B3 and B6; and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and potassium. At the ten-year follow-up, white blood cell telomere length was measured to compare it with nutrient intake. The adjusted analysis found a link between higher consumption of vitamin C, folate and potassium with a longer telomere length. It was only significant among those who were under 50, which was likely due to a lower intake of these nutrients.
Source: David Monniaux

The authors noted that previous studies have also shown a protective effect of vitamins C and E on telomere length, most likely because of their antioxidant effects. Fighting free radicals, which cause oxidative damage, can protect all parts of a cell, including the DNA. In a study of over 500 women, those who took multivitamins had telomeres that were 5.1% longer than in women who did not. When adjusted for multivitamin use, women in the highest quartile for vitamin C intake had an average telomere length of 5,620 compared to 5,318. Folate and some other B vitamins are involved in DNA repair and chromosome maintenance. It is unclear, however, whether or not supplementation could protect telomeres, but who wants to rattle like a bottle of pills anyway?

Vitamin C, for example, comes from more foods than just oranges. One cup of capsicum (bell pepper) contains 117mg of vitamin C, a cup of broccoli has around 101mg, and a cup of pineapple has around 79mg of vitamin C, for example. A medium orange has around 70mg of vitamin C. But remember to store vitamin C-rich foods properly, and to buy them as fresh as possible! Left to sit out, broccoli can lose 80% of its vitamin C in six days, but refrigeration or freezing can reduce these losses. Folate is also found in a wide range of foods. A cup of lentils contains around 358ug of folate; a cup of asparagus contains around 268ug and a cup of spinach has around 262ug. Broccoli is also high in folate, with about 168ug per cup. Like vitamin C, the amount of folate that you actually get when you eat it depends on cooking and storage methods. A cup of cooked asparagus from the fresh vegetable is expected to have over 265ug, but the same quantity of canned asparagus would have around 170ug. It is, however, quite stable during refrigeration. Potassium is a widespread, common mineral, which we need for many biological functions. It is found in many foods such as spinach, fennel, kale, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, paw paw (papaya) and, of course, bananas. You don't have to take one or two dozen supplements to fight aging; there are some things you can do today just with diet and lifestyle.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Growing Your Own Herbs

If you are new to natural health or self-sufficiency, growing some of your own herbs for cooking and home remedies is a great place to start (or you can be experienced, but interested anyway). Much of our intellectual, spiritual and emotional development as humans has come about because of a millennia-long relationship with plants, which the more recent, but still outdated, "better living through chemistry" philosophy has caused many of us to forget. But herbs can still do more than just look pretty in your house or on a plate, if you care for them correctly.

One of the most essential factors in growing your own herbs is sun exposure. Most will need at least 4-6 hours of sunlight a day, which varies by their origin and the climate in your region. If you're growing them on a windowsill or balcony, it is best to have them facing south or southwest; east or west is okay, but north-facing windows or balconies are least preferred. The majority of herbs can also thrive in containers, but it is essential to use ones that are well-drained and are at least 25 centimetres, or 10 inches, in depth. Otherwise, there are many different items you can use to make cute containers, as long as they are large enough and have drainage holes cut into them.
Source: Sean Freese

It is also best to group together herbs with similar needs. For example, basil, parsley and fennel are sometimes known as "vegetable culture herbs", which need to be watered well in summer and fed with fertilisers containing vegetable-appropriate levels of nitrogen. "Mediterranean climate herbs" include chamomile, sage and oregano. These need very well-drained soil and do best with mushroom compost and sometimes an annual application of lime. Mint, lemon balm and watercress are some "ample summer moisture herbs" that also thrive the best in high-nitrogen (vegetable appropriate) soil and should not be allowed to dry out (surface mulching may be advisable). With short-lived herbs, you can also save seeds.

So which herbs should you grow? Many have their own health benefits, so it is a matter of personal preference. For example, rosemary may boost memory, improve circulation and even help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Oregano can improve immunity and fight some bacteria and viruses. Paprika, made from chilli peppers, may fight the H. pylori bacteria that cause stomach ulcers. Additionally, apigenin, a phytochemical in parsley, has even been found to prevent colon cancer. Although the studies which show these results would be using extracts more potent than culinary use, growing and using your own herbs may help with general health maintenance and complement treatment plans made by naturopaths and other practitioners.