Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Coenzyme Q10 and Shilajit

Ever since coenzyme Q10, an essential molecule for cellular energy production, was first discovered in 1957, those of us in antiaging and longevity circles have been crazy about it: what it can prevent, how to supplement it, and how to increase the body's production of it. For example, the form of coenzyme Q10 known as ubiquinol is much easier to absorb and is therefore more effective. More recent research has shown that a "nutrient-rich biomass" called shilajit, found in the Himalayas, can boost CoQ10 efficiency (Life Extension Foundation, February 2016).

What is Shilajit?

Shilajit has been used for centuries by Ayurvedic practitioners to treat or prevent a range of health problems. Preserved in Himalayan rocks, it is a rich organic material that forms in the rhizosphere, a thin layer of the earth where living roots and microbes interact with deeper layers of the earth's rocky crust. Traditionally it has been prized for its antiaging, immunity enhancing and energy boosting properties, and now science has vindicated its reported effects on energy, inflammation, cognitive function and more. Technically it is classed as an adaptogen, a category of natural medicines that increases the body's ability to maintain its integrity under stress. Shilajit enhances the body's production of a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is almost always how the body stores energy for instant use - much like money. This is partially by its fulvic acid content, which stimulates energy production and boosts its efficiency. Fulvic acid has been shown to inhibit the buildup of dangerous tau proteins that damage neurons from the inside out in Alzheimer's disease (all references in the LEF issue above). Shilajit may also increase levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which is essential for life and the prevention of "grumpy old man/woman syndrome".

Model of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which coenzyme Q10 and shilajit have been shown to increase.
A model of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)

What About Coenzyme Q10, or Both Together?

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is particularly well-known for its ability to protect the brain and cardiovascular system, mainly because these demand relatively large amounts of energy to function. It is involved in pathways that produce the majority of the body's ATP, and when its levels are low, accelerated aging, increased oxidative stress and earlier death can ensue. One study on rats showed a 11.7% increase in lifespan with CoQ10 supplementation, which translates to an over nine-year increase in lifespan for humans (you can do a lot in nine years!). Why do we need to supplement at times? Aging and statin drug use significantly decreases CoQ10 production. "Normal" aging can result in a 72% decrease of CoQ10 in the heart muscle wall, a 75% drop in the skin, and a 69% drop in the pancreas, for example. Together, shilajit and CoQ10 have been found to significantly boost energy production in mice, while when they were used separately they both had similar levels of efficacy.

Monday, 28 March 2016

This Substance in Edible Fungi May Have Surprising Benefits

Surprise! Research has found that some edible fungi may have significant protective effects against radiation, specifically those that contain melanin, yes, the same pigment responsible for skin colour in humans. In a time when radiation exposure from a number of sources, including air travel, nuclear power and former testing grounds seems unavoidable, and we're constantly being told that North Korea/Fukushima/something will destroy us all, news of any radioprotective substance is good news.
An early report of this possibility came from Russia in 2001, on the discovery of a melanin-rich species of fungi seeming to thrive within the walls of the Chernobyl meltdown reactor site. Three years later, the same observation was made for the surrounding soils. In 1961, another study found that melanin-rich fungi were growing in a Nevada nuclear test site, surviving doses of up to 6,400 Grays (Gy)! That is around 2,000 times the lethal dose for humans. Amazingly, a study published in PLoS from 2007 revealed that melanised fungal cells showed increased growth relative to non-melanised cells after ionising radiation exposure. The electronic properties of the melanin also changed, raising questions about a role for melanin in energy use.

Close-up image of jelly ear mushroom, a rich source of melanin which has shown radioprotective effects.
Jelly-ear mushroom. Source: Stu's Images
If melanin could protect fungi from radiation, could consumption of mushrooms containing it protect humans and animals? Research published in 2012 found that melanin isolated from the fungus Gliocephalotrichum simplex and administered at a dose of 50mg/kg of body weight increased the 30-day survival of mice by 100%! Melanin up to a dose of 100mg/kg had no adverse effects. Additionally, a second 2012 study on another species of fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae (Jelly ear), suggests that these Radioprotective abilities may be mostly melanin-specific. This time, mice were fed jelly ear, a part of East Asian cuisine, an hour before receiving a 9 Gy dose of radiation from Cesium-137. In comparison, anything over 0.1 Gy is dangerous for humans. All control mice died within 13 days, but 80-90% of the mice that ate jelly ear survived. Those fed white porcini mushrooms died nearly as fast as the controls, but had similar survival rates to the mice fed jelly ear if the white mushrooms were supplemented with melanin.

How does melanin work? In one study, ionising radiation was found to alter the oxidation-reduction potential of melanin, not causing destruction, but instead keeping the melanin intact. The only difference was that melanin was then able to produce a continuous electric current, which may produce energy in living cells. This could explain the increased growth of some gamma irradiated fungi, even in low nutrient conditions. However, this does not mean that it is safe to have radioactive material inside the body. Apple pectin is one substance that can aid in removing radionuclides, with one study showing an over 62% reduction in radionuclides in treated children from the Chernobyl area. Another showed a 28-39% reduction after just 16 days, improving cardiovascular health in the children. However, if used alongside each other, both melanised mushrooms, such as Chaga mushrooms, and apple pectin, and possibly other radioprotective natural medicines, may be a highly effective treatment for radiation poisoning.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Here is One Free Way to Detox

Some of the thousands of synthetic toxins (as in, we aren't evolutionarily designed to deal with them) that we are bombarded with on a daily basis belong to a "family" known as the phthalates. These are often referred to as "plasticisers", and some have been found to maintain colour and scent in various mediums, leading to their presence in a range of products from nail polish to blood collection bags. Sounds great? Actually, no; phthalates have been associated with problems such as endometriosis (did you know that it is Endometriosis Awareness Month?), allergies and insulin resistance. This has led to the European Union banning certain phthalates in childcare articles and toys, but how do we detoxify from phthalates that we have already been exposed to, or unavoidable items that they're not yet banned from?

Current evidence suggests that phthalates are rapidly cleared, with a half-life of less than 5 hours and minimal accumulation. However, multiple studies have shown exposure in up to 98% of participants, possibly indicating near-constant exposure; whether there are cumulative effects is unclear and it is still entirely possible that phthalates can accumulate. In this study, of the seven unmetabolised "parent" compounds, only 2 were detected at all in sweat and blood samples. While DBP, which was one of the compounds, was found in 16 of 19 blood samples and 4 of 18 sweat samples, only one participant had tested positive for DBP in both. Out of the 11 people who tested for DEHP (the other "parent" compound), none of them tested positive in their blood samples. This may mean that phthalates can be hidden away in tissue, but able to be excreted in sweat. As for their three metabolites, all were found in urine and sweat samples, with MEHP being over four times more easily excreted in sweat, MiBP being 40% more easily excreted in sweat, and MEP being easier to excrete in urine. Five other phthalate metabolites were found in urine samples only.

DEHP and MEHP have been linked with liver toxicity, testicular atrophy, hormone disruption and cardiotoxicity, leading to the bans on DEHP in toys in some countries. As these seem to be more easily excreted by sweat, the results of this study indicate that yes, sweating could be an effective way to free yourself of DEHP/MEHP burden, whether you're in a sauna, steam room or simply outside doing exercise or physical work. You don't need to buy a fancy infra-red sauna, you can just go for a run, which can cost nothing.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Unneccessary Treatments?

As part of the NPS Choosing Wisely campaign, 14 medical colleges in Australia have recently nominated certain common medical treatments as "wasteful" in an effort to reduce healthcare costs. Naturally, some are happy with the changes, and others are furious. Headlines in today's newspapers are carrying on about children being "left to suffer" instead of being allowed antibiotics for ear and upper respiratory infections, as well as paracetamol or aspirin to relive fever.

So what are the medicines and tests that doctors are now calling "unnecessary"? Here is the list:
1) Antibiotics for ear infections (especially 2-12 year old children)
2) Paracetamol or aspirin to control fever
3) X-rays of ankle or foot trauma
4) Chest X-rays for uncomplicated bronchitis
5) Routine colonoscopies
6) Antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections
7) Long-term anti-inflammatories for elderly patients
8) X-rays for lower back pain
9) Repeated blood tests for people with fatigue
10) CT scans to check for appendicitis

Some of my classes had already discussed 1), as many ear infections are self-resolving, but I would say that they are sometimes necessary if the pain and inflammation haven't resolved in 2-3 days. There were a few natural remedies that we did talk about, but often there isn't much available for young children and their underdeveloped immune systems. I would also agree with 2), unless the fever is over 39 degrees Celsius or it's a baby under 3 months old (that is when you go straight to hospital, no baby under 3 months should be allowed to have a fever). As for 3), 4), 8) and 10), diagnostics are not my specialty, but with 5) I would also agree with their admission of the dangers of colonoscopy. It's invasive and you can disrupt the gut bacteria, which help to regulate immunity and may even make or break the effectiveness of new immunotherapy drugs for cancer. However, I would not say that antibiotics for upper respiratory infections are always unnecessary, I have needed them in the past and depending on age (ie children) and severity, antibiotics may be needed alongside natural medicines. Anti-inflammatory drugs can have devastating side effects because of their suppression of protein synthesis, so I agree with 7) as there are plenty of natural alternatives that can be very effective. This includes but is not limited to turmeric, frankincense and ginger, but please see a Bachelor-qualified naturopath if you want to heal inflammation naturally and especially if you want to stop corticosteroids. For 9) I would say that often the wrong things are tested for when someone presents with fatigue, what needs to be tested for is up to the individual.

Overall? I see these new guidelines as a mixed blessing. They may benefit some, may harm others and may open up some more minds to natural therapies.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Aging Skin and Proteins

When most people think of aging, the first thing that jumps into their minds is the aging of the integumentary system - the hair, skin and nails. While most people don't want to see themselves physically fall apart, and the amount of pressure to erase or embrace wrinkles is roughly equal, methods of managing skin aging are usually just that, managing, i.e. treating it as a cosmetic issue. What skin (plus hair and nail) aging really is, however, is a visible sign of connective tissue breakdown throughout the body. Connective tissue provides support to epithelial tissue (such as the outer layers of skin), and certain proteins, especially keratin and collagen, are integral to its integrity.

For many, the most logical solution to keratin loss is to replace it. However, many keratin preparations are made from heavily processed animal parts such as horns and feathers, and so have no biological activity. Scientists have recently developed solublised forms of keratin, which are bioactive and digestible, and include the necessary sulphur-containing amino acids (J Biomed Mater Res A).

It sounds great, but is it proven? In 2010, a study was released showing the effect of a supplement containing 500mg of solublised keratin, zinc, copper, and vitamins B3, B6 and B7 (biotin). The hair shafts were visibly healed when looking under a microscope, the number of hairs lost during washing was reduced by 30% and the hair strength increased by 12% (Farcoderm). In another, published in 2014, found that the same formulation was effective in improving the health of hair and nails (Scientific-WorldJournal). After 90 days, there was a 47% subjective improvement in hair appearance, a 5.9% improvement in hair strength, a 9.2% increase in hair follicles in the growth phase, and a 47% reduction in the number of hairs that could be removed in a hair-pull test. All four amino acids tested were found to be increased significantly after the 90 day test period. As for nail health, participants in the supplement group showed an 87.5% improvement in nail breakage, a 50% improvement in hardness, a 54% increased resistance to bending and breaking and a 37.5% improvement in nail smoothness. Keratin has also been found to improve skin appearance. This same formula improved skin elasticity by 16.8%, improved smoothness by 17% and reduced roughness by 9% (Int J Cosmet Sci).

Unfortunately, as a patented formula, this is most likely to be difficult to access for most people, so I am posting these studies to show how overlooked keratin can be and the other nutrients required to support its production. In student clinic consultations, we always look at the severity of vertical and horizontal ridging as an indicator of protein deficiency. Recently I have noticed an improvement in my own nails as I am recovering from 20 years of eating gluten when I shouldn't have. Keratin has high levels of the amino acid cysteine, which contains the sulphur necessary for strong disulphide (two sulphurs) bonds; this is a similar idea to the non-protein sulphur bridges that stabilise vulcanised rubber. Collagen, perhaps the most well-known connective tissue protein, makes up about 70% of the structural support. Injections and patented supplement formulas are also commercially available to increase collagen levels, but the most important amino acids in collagen are glycine, alanine and proline. As amino acids are widely available from food (they are the building blocks of proteins!), I would say that ensuring sufficient protein intake and absorption is the first priority before supplementation should be considered. They might sound quite simple and old-fashioned, but bone broth and gelatin can be effective in improving health of connective tissue. Bones are connective tissue, just like the dermis of the skin, and also provide glutamine, another amino acid that can heal damage to the intestinal lining, which can affect nutrient absorption. Even with skin aging, sometimes the simpler remedies are the best.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Do Green Oats Have Anti-Aging Effects?

In the 1980s and 1990s, published studies in Europe showed incredible increases in the lifespan of animals given a drug called deprenyl, which reduces the breakdown of dopamine. For example, treated elderly rats had their remaining lifespans doubled (Mech Aging Dev), and immune-suppressed mice in another study lived up to around 200% longer of deprenyl (Arzneimittelforschung). This led to a surge in demand for the drug, which was originally approved to treat Parkinson's disease, for anti-aging purposes, however, it was very expensive for US consumers. Fortunately, a cheaper alternative exists: an extract of green oats, otherwise known as Avena sativa. This herb in extract form is available in the student clinic at my college, and until now very undervalued by me. (References in original Life Extension article, The Most Sought After Anti-Aging Drug).

So how do green oats work against aging? By preserving levels of dopamine. "Normally", dopamine levels in the brain decrease by about 13% each decade after the age of 45. Once dopamine levels drop to 30% of (youthful) normal, symptoms of Parkinson's disease may appear; a drop to 10% is fatal. As people age, levels of Monoamine Oxidase-B (MAO-B) increase, which degrades dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a "feel-good" neurotransmitter, and it wouldn't be surprising if a decline in this is behind the negativity that is often radiated by many elderly people. Negativity is bad for your health, and the negative older people in your life are not more "realistic", they are likely to have low dopamine and therefore cannot psychologically respond as well to whatever it is you've done to make the world better. Specifically, motivation and reward are what dopamine is involved in, so low dopamine means you are less able to see the point or positive side in things.  MAO-B also decreases acetylcholine, an essential neurotransmitter for cognitive function; Alzheimer's disease also features a loss of acetylcholine.

This sounds frightening - who would want to lose their youthful levels of dopamine, acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters? It isn't really, as the quite accessible green oat extract has been found to protect against it. One study of people aged 30-60 years showed increases in electrical brain activity during concentration tests after supplementation with green oat extract. After two hours, delta and theta brainwave activity were increased by 38% and 25% respectively compared to placebo. Delta and theta brainwaves are associated with raised focus, concentration, perpetual speed and executive functioning. Another trial with 36 elderly people found a 65% improvement in cognitive function compared to placebo, and even those with a mild cognitive impairment showed an over 26% improvement on their test scores. A third study involving 42 people with self-reported cognitive decline, with an average age of 59 years, showed an amazing 180% increase in scores of a test called "global speed of performance" compared to the placebo group. There were also small but significant improvements in executive function, working memory and episodic memory.

When people come to me with signs of low dopamine, or are looking for something with anti-aging effects on the nervous system, I will recommend green oat extract more often. Just because it sounds less exotic than Ashwagandha or reishi mushrooms doesn't make it less effective.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Turmeric May Protect The Brain Against Fluoride Toxicity

Australia is one of the (un)"lucky" countries where the government thinks they have the right to decide for us that we should be drinking fluoridated water. While there are ways to take back control (filters, fluoride-free toothpaste, tanks etc.), it is always best to have an insurance policy of sorts against the damaging effects of fluoride.

One such substance that can protect us against fluoride is the much-researched turmeric, more specifically, the "main" (widely-researched) component of turmeric known as curcumin. Why is this so important? Well, the authors of this study cite reports of cancers and damage to the neurological, cardiovascular and reproductive systems as a result of fluoride exposure. The major mechanisms behind the destructive effects of fluoride on the nervous system are oxidative stress and excitotoxicity, where neurons are fatally overstimulated. Fluoride was found to affect the fatty acid composition of the brain, as oxidative stress caused a decrease in the type of fat called phospholipids. Curcumin, on the other hand, is able to directly fight the free radicals that cause oxidative stress, as well as increase levels of glutathione, which is an antioxidant produced by the body (and very important among anti-aging circles). In this study, curcumin was found to partially prevent fluoride-induced increases in malondialdehyde, which is a marker for oxidative stress, as well as increase the viability of neurons exposed to fluoride. However, it did not offer full protection, as the level of fluoride administered to the rats was extremely high at 120ppm; only a level of 1ppm is forced on us here if I remember correctly. Tamarind is also protective against fluoride, as it can increase urinary excretion. In this small study (18 boys in a social welfare home), consuming ten grams of tamarind daily resulted in a significant increase in the rate of fluoride excretion from 3.5mg per day to 4.8mg per day, while there was a decreased excretion of magnesium and zinc. Magnesium excretion dropped from around 23mg to 7mg daily, and zinc loss dropped from around 332 to 253 micrograms per day.

If possible, because the effective ones are expensive, I do still recommend the use of filters because of the other contaminants that can be found in tap water, but remineralisation is essential. The processes of diffusion and osmosis mean that pure water can draw out minerals from places such as, well, you. When looking for a fluoride-free toothpaste, it should have a high mineral content and contain antibacterial oils or herbal extracts, such as tee tree oil or peppermint oil (especially tee tree oil). Since I started using fluoride-free toothpaste, I may or may not bruise less easily now (fluoride may be damaging to collagen).

Regardless of how many ways there are to protect ourselves against fluoride, no one has the right to try to make decisions about our bodies for us. Visit for more information and updates; so far, there have been three victories this year.