Saturday, 28 May 2016

How Dogs Can Improve Your Health

That little face, those little paws, that personality...dogs are the best! But dogs are more than just cute, playful little (or big) balls of energy; research has shown that they can boost health and life expectancy at any age, in a multitude of ways.

My dog, Charlie
First, regular exposure to dogs can make children healthier by "training" their immune systems to be less sensitive to allergens. In a study on 285 babies, regular contact with dogs resulted in an allergen sensitisation rate of 19% instead of 33%, and an atopic dermatitis rate of 30% instead of 51%. Babies with the 159TT genotype had a 5% risk of atopic dermatitis if they were exposed to dogs, and a 43% risk if they weren't. Exposure to dogs also resulted in a higher IL-10 and IL-13 response at the age of one; these are two anti-inflammatory interleukins (as opposed to pro-inflammatory interleukins such as IL-6). It seems as though dogs hold more sway over respiratory health than the anti-atopy 159TT genotype, which contradicts the over-simplified "it's aaaaall in the geeeenes" high school biology classes I had. I myself have become less sensitive to my dog's fur over time. Dogs can also help children with autism, by reducing problematic behaviour and levels of stress hormones through their companionship.

As for adults, dogs can also reduce the risk of illness, with owners making 15% fewer doctor's appointments and taking less time off work (which means less catching up to do later!) Physical activity increases, and social bonds with other dog-owning friends strengthen as we are reminded to not be constantly working. The average dog owner walks approximately 5 hours a week, which is the Australian physical activity guideline for adults, and for empty-nesters, a fur kid can fulfil the need to be needed. "Elderly" dog owners have also been found to have healthier blood pressure and cholesterol (most likely from more walking); less stress, better nutrition and increased parasympathetic nervous system function - the side of the autonomic nervous system which stimulates digestion. There was even a small study of elderly patients hospitalised for heart issues which found that pet owners were more likely to survive! Owning a dog or other pet comes with a wide range of health benefits, but if you cannot afford or keep one yourself, perhaps volunteering or taking on an on-the-side job with dogs will bring the same benefits.

Friday, 27 May 2016

More On Telomeres and Antiaging

Previously, I have written about gene therapy experiments and natural substances that have been shown to fight telomere shortening. Telomeres are protective caps on the ends of chromosomes which protect the DNA from damage or rearrangement; no telomeres means no cell division, and thus more biological aging. Two more telomere-protecting substances, to add to the previous list, are epithalamin and the carotenoids.

Epithalamin is a naturally occurring peptide, produced by the pineal gland in the brain. A peptide is a very short protein; the synthetic version of epithalamin, known as Epitalon, is made up of only four amino acids: alanine, glutamine, aspartate and glycine. Epithalamin aids in the hormone and blood-regulating roles of the pituitary gland, and may also be an antioxidant and adaptogen (a substance which increases resistance to stress). The synthetic version, Epitalon, was first studied in the 1980s by Russian professor Vladmir Khavinson. In his subsequent research, he found that cells treated with Epitalon were able to divide for a total of 44 times before their telomeres became too short, ten more divisions than the control cells. Other effects of Epitalon that Prof. Khavinson and his team have found are: normalisation of the hormones LH, FSH and prolactin; neuroendocrine regulation; normalisation of T cell (a class of immune cell) function and regulation of cholesterol and uric acid levels. Epitalon can be administered orally, nasally or by injection.

Some flowers also contain carotenoids. Source: Rjcastillo

Sources: Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine; 2003, PMID 12937682; and 2002, PMID 12577695
Modulating Aging and Longevity, SI Rattan

Carotenoids are a much more affordable and accessible group of substances, found in a wide range of fruit and vegetables, that may fight telomere shortening. One of these, beta-carotene, can be converted to vitamin A. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) demonstrated that doubling blood levels of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin was associated with 2% longer telomeres, possibly good for at least one extra cell division. Alpha-carotene was associated with a 1.76% increased telomere length, beta-cryptoxanthin with a 2.02% increased telomere length, and beta-carotene with a 2.22% increased telomere length. From the lowest to highest levels of these carotenoids, telomere length increased by 5-8%. Of course, not everyone even consumes foods high in carotenoids, which leaves much room for benefit. This is only an association, so more research is likely needed to determine a direct causation (though it is most reflective of the real world), and how carotenoids may work synergistically to provide a greater benefit. Should we be eating carotenoid-rich foods every day for their health benefits? Yes! Sweet potato chips (fries) taste much better than white potatoes!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Melatonin Superior to a Drug in Migraine Prevention

Migraine disorder is a debilitating, chronic neurological condition that affects between one in eight and one in five of the world's population. Despite this, it is estimated that half of patients stop seeking conventional care for their migraines, because of the side effects of pharmaceuticals such as amitriptyline. These can range from neurological symptoms, such as unusual thoughts or behaviour; gastrointestinal, such as vomiting or constipation; or genitourinal such as impotence. Fortunately, a randomised clinical trial investigating the effects of melatonin, a hormone produced by our pituitary glands, points to this hormone as a likely effective alternative. Previously I have mentioned that melatonin may keep telomeres at a more youthful length; these are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes which guard the DNA and allow cell division, and are therefore important in keeping biological aging away.

Melatonin release can be stimulated by darkness. Source: Hakon Dahle
A total of 178 patients experiencing migraines, with or without an aura, completed this study, where they were assigned to receive either 3mg of melatonin, 25mg of amitriptyline or a placebo. Melatonin was chosen because people who suffer from migraines are more likely to have low levels of the hormone. After three months of treatment, the number of migraine headache days dropped by 2.7 in the melatonin group, 2.1 in the amitriptyline group, and 1.1 in the placebo group, all from an average of around 7.5. Both melatonin and amitriptyline reduced the duration and intensity of migraine attacks, as well as the number of analgesics taken. However, while 39.1% of those taking amitriptyline experienced a greater than 50% reduction in migraine frequency, this figure was 54.4% in the melatonin group. The melatonin group also experienced fewer side effects, including less daytime sleepiness, which surprised me because melatonin is known as the "sleep hormone". Melatonin may also bring many side-benefits as opposed to side-effects, as it can stabilise cell membranes; reduce inflammation; modulate the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, GABA and glutamate; and fight oxidative damage. Unfortunately, it may cause trouble in those taking opioid painkillers, and patients with diabetes or hypertension may also need to be monitored as it can reduce blood pressure and blood sugar. With careful monitoring, I would say that diabetic patients should look into it, as it does reduce inflammation and convert harmful white fat to the more beneficial brown fat, but seeing a qualified naturopath along with your doctor is necessary for a full consultation (I can't see you through the screen). Molecular doses of melatonin are not available in my state, only homeopathic doses (which may do something entirely different, such as in the case of bryonia extract vs homeopathic bryonia), and of course the nutritional cofactors. Hopefully I will be able to find others willing to fight for greater health freedom.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Avoiding The Flu This Winter, Or Summer

Some of my blog posts, and my interest, lies in natural means to reduce mortality rates, so I was pleased to hear recently that falling death rates in the UK have been significant enough to affect the shares of funeral parlours. Unfortunately, this article also stated that there was a recent rise in mortality rates because of a particularly nasty flu season. With winter arriving in Australia soon, I would like to share some ways to reduce the risk of catching influenza, which kills many immunocompromised each year.

I will start with a vitamin that has for a long time been associated with the prevention of infections...not vitamin C, but vitamin D. Researchers from Winthrop University Hospital found that giving vitamin D supplements to women of an Afro-Caribbean background (darker skin reduces vitamin D production) reduced common cold and influenza infections by 70% over three years. These researchers stated that the additional vitamin D increased stimulation of innate immunity, that is, the immunity that you don't have to take days to "learn" whenever your immune system meets a new disease-causing microbe. The drop in vitamin D production that comes with spending less time in the sun is a likely trigger of the "flu season", and partly why the elderly are more vulnerable to influenza as other health problems can mean spending less time outside. The news article describing this study also discussed research showing protective effects of vitamin D against multiple sclerosis, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Giant kelp, a vegetable rich in iodine.
Older research, published in 1945, shows a protective effect of iodine against influenza. When mice were exposed to the influenza virus, the disease was prevented by putting iodine solution on the snouts of the mice. It is said that students in some classrooms were once protected from influenza by iodine aerosol sprays, so why not the elderly in nursing homes? It is likely that many elderly people have suboptimal iodine levels, because while it is added to table salt, many doctors advise against salt consumption. A quote attributed to Dr Volney S Cheney also describes an ability of sodium bicarbonate to either prevent influenza or turn an often serious disease into a mild infection, while living in the shadow of the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-19. In animal studies, another mineral, selenium, has been found to significantly cut down the severity of influenza infections. Selenium is one of the nutrients required for glutathione production, an antioxidant produced by our bodies which can prevent damage, to our immune cells and other tissues, caused by infection-induced inflammation. The top food source of selenium is Brazil nuts. While there are many herbs which can fight influenza, such as Pelargonium sidoides, I focused on affordable nutrients in this post because of the financial restrictions of many elderly people, who are usually the worst affected during the flu season.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Good News From The Pharmaceutical Industry

I never thought I would ever say this, but: Congratulations Pfizer!

Source: Predrag Stakic/
Why am I saying this? Well, a few days ago, the drug giant Pfizer announced that it will impose tight controls on the sale of drugs used for lethal injections, in order to prevent their products being used for the barbaric practice. As a fan of the Undertale PC game, I would like to say, thank you for choosing Mercy. While more than 20 other pharmaceutical companies in the USA and Europe have taken similar measures, Pfizer is the second largest such company in the world and the last FDA-approved manufacturer of execution drugs, making this news even more significant. Now, it will be almost impossible for states in the USA to obtain them. The reasoning behind this is that Pfizer and others want their products to "save or improve lives", and while patients go to naturopaths like me for better and non-toxic results in that department, I do sympathise with their reasons. Using something meant to heal in order to kill is sick, it is disgusting, and it does not make you more "humane"; I will only trust you less. If you support the death penalty: I make no apologies to those who I may offend by saying this; I am valid and have a right to what I say and value, and I value human rights. No I am not being "emotional", I am standing up for myself and my values because I have to. Also, I am Australian. The last execution in Australia happened more than 20 years before I was born, and my state ended it almost 100 years ago. And yes, these measures are already making a difference. States are finding it harder to find ways to execute inmates, and approval of backup plans is generating yet more backlash against the death penalty. Ohio has been repeatedly delaying executions; conservative lawmakers are beginning to turn against the practice when in the past they were the least likely to do such a thing. It is about time that the 31 US states which retain the death penalty put an end to it, so the country can join the majority of the world's countries that have either banned it or have not practised it in years.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Anxiety May Speed Aging, Probiotics May Slow It

Previously, I have covered underlying physical problems beneath depression and anxiety, as well as the role of telomere shortening in aging. Anxiety and depression are already very serious issues, with one in ten Americans on an antidepressant (Life Extension, March 2016, like the rest of this article), but to make things worse, anxiety has been found to shorten telomeres and thus speed cellular aging! This knowledge may cause yet more anxiety, I know, but fortunately there are natural, effective treatments that can target the physical causes of anxiety.

First, some good news: I have recently seen good results in an 18-year-old student clinic patient with anxiety, who I have put on a St John's Wort tablet along with some diet changes. Over the past two weeks, his anxiety and issues with sleep have halved in severity. However, the research I am talking about today is about two strains of probiotics that have been shown to halve anxiety and depression scores in clinical trials. At college, we haven't been warned about drug interactions with probiotics like we have with St John's Wort, so they may be a safer alternative if you are on medications such as the oral contraceptive pill.

Among naturopathic circles, the gut-brain axis, i.e. the relationship between the digestive and nervous systems, is a familiar concept, but can raise eyebrows in mainstream society. Animal studies, which serve as a model of human physiology, have demonstrated that the makeup of the intestinal microbiome (ecosystem of bacteria) can not only influence brain development and mental health, but early life stress can dramatically alter intestinal bacteria composition. For example, mice with sterile intestinal tracts showed exaggerated stress responses, including higher cortisol levels, but administration of Bifidobacterium species normalised the stress response. Disease-causing E. coli bacteria worsened their response to stress.  Probiotics can improve neurological health by reducing inflammation, balancing hormones such as cortisol (the main stress hormone), improving intestinal integrity (reducing leaky gut) and crowding out the bacteria which can produce toxins that may negatively affect mental/neurological health.

Pickling can require Lactobacillus species. Source: Nevit Dilmen

The two species of bacteria in question are Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum, which are available in the practitioner brands that the student clinic sells. In one study involving 55 participants with mild depression or anxiety, a prescription of this combination for 30 days significantly benefitted mental health. There was a 49% drop in the global severity index of psychological distress; a 50% decrease in depression scores; a 60% decrease in anger-hostility scores; a 36% drop in the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Score and a 13% drop in urinary free cortisol. Supplemented participants also reported less self-blame and better problem solving. In another, participants aged 18 to 60 who reported at least two symptoms of stress (irritability, nervousness, anxiety, trouble sleeping and gastrointestinal disturbance) were also assigned to either receive this combination of probiotics or a placebo. Those in the supplement group experienced a 7.6-fold greater reduction in stress-induced abdominal pain, and a 2.1-fold greater reduction in nausea and vomiting related to stress. Of course, diet and lifestyle changes, possibly along with herbal medicine initially, are still things that I would recommend alongside the probiotics, especially if you are looking for freedom from pharmaceuticals. A consultation with a qualified naturopath, which I will soon be, is essential. Mental health has not been my strong point in the past, but it is essential in antiaging and longevity.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Building Muscle Without Exercise

While many people struggle with losing weight, some of us need to gain weight in order to improve our health. You may be dealing with, or recovering from, a chronic condition, such as those from years of gluten-induced damage like myself, or may want to avoid or reverse frailty caused by aging. Particularly for those who are severely damaged and cannot exercise too much, or if you are like me and are very insecure about being underweight (and are just beginning to put something together to do at home), you might be interested in whether or not building muscle without much exercise is possible.

Typical protein sources.
Fortunately, a study published in JAMA in 2012 suggests that building muscle without much additional exercise is possible. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of different high-energy diets: one with low protein (5% of energy), one with normal protein content (15%) and one with high protein (25%). It involved 25 male and female participants, all with a BMI in the normal or overweight range. For 13-25 days, all participants were put on a weight-stabilising diet, and then for the next eight weeks were then put on one of the three excessive-energy diets as described above. These provided about a 40% increased energy intake compared to the stabilising diets. After the eight weeks, those on the low-protein diet gained just over 3kg, while those on the normal or high-protein diets gained just over 6kg. However, while resting energy expenditure and body protein/lean mass did not increase for the low-protein group, those on the normal protein diet gained 2.87kg of muscle, and those on the high-protein diet gained 3.18kg, and both increased their energy expenditure. With the low-protein diet, 90% of weight gain was fat, while in the other groups fat accounted for 50% of weight gain. Neither sex nor race significantly affected weight gain.

As the participants of this study still gained fat, I would still recommend exercising in order to build muscle; this just shows that you don't have to solely rely on exercise. The type of protein also matters too, i.e. the amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. There are around 20 amino acids, but the three branched-chain amino acids are most important for muscle growth, especially leucine. Leucine works with insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) to regulate muscle growth, partly by increasing the activity of mTOR, which often carries a negative image. However, mTOR has its place, in the context of building muscle, especially if you need to do this in order to avoid frailty. Additionally, even though I have written in support of lowering IGF-1 through the Paleo Diet, I have also said that increasing it is necessary to speed fracture healing. Context is key, just as you need some cortisol to live. I would also like to add the importance of glutamine, if you have considerably aged biologically or have/had another condition that results in gastrointestinal damage, as we often recommend this to rebuild the gut lining. The contribution of inflammation to age-related muscle loss is another topic for another post; that would be chronic inflammation, not the acute inflammation we often need to fight infection or initiate healing. Antiaging and longevity require control of various factors, not an all-or-nothing approach.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Exercise Can Grow Your Brain

As this blog focuses on antiaging and longevity, I have previously covered interventions that may at least somewhat reverse age-related cognitive decline. But what about the prevention of issues such as Alzheimer's disease? Of course, particularly in situations as dire as neurological decline, prevention is better than any treatment, which brought me to a new study that I want to share with you.

Source: Mike Baird
This new study, published this year in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, discusses a "supplement" that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease by half. By "supplement", I mean exercise. Over 30 years, researchers followed 876 adults over the age of 65 and recorded the amounts and types of exercise that the participants reported. They also agreed to brain imaging under MRI. The researchers found that among those who engaged in higher levels of exercise, there was a 50% reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease compared to those who were sedentary. In the orbital frontal cortex of the brain, there was an approximately 55% lower risk of cognitive decline. There was also a substantial increase in the amount of grey matter in multiple regions of the brain. The lead author of the study stated that this is the first study where the predictive benefit of various types of physical activity could be associated with protection against Alzheimer's through specific relationships with increased brain volume. So if you were considering beginning a regular exercise routine this summer (or winter, if you're in the Southern hemisphere with me), I would definitely recommend it.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Seven Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a succulent plant belonging to the lily family and very easy to grow in subtropical Australia. In my experience, you can just stick it into the ground, and water it if the weather has been very dry and you want to keep the "leaves" green. But what can it be used for, besides a remedy for sunburn?

One benefit of aloe vera gel is that it may be a safe, affordable treatment for wrinkles, which I have covered in a previous post. In a study involving 30 women over 45, the participants were divided into two groups: those taking 1.2 grams of aloe gel daily and those taking 3.6 grams. After 90 days, both groups saw improved facial elasticity, and the higher dose group saw improved facial wrinkles. It was found that aloe is able to both increase collagen production and reduce the activity of genes that cause collagen damage.
Psoriasis may be another skin complaint that aloe vera can treat. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 patients, 25 of the 30 patients given the aloe vera extract cream were deemed “cured”. Only 2 of the 30 patients in the placebo group were “cured” after the 16 weeks of treatment, where the prescribed cream was meant to be applied for 3 times a day, 5 days a week.
Aloe barbadensis plants
Aloe barbadensis. Source: Thamizhpparithi Maari
On top of these benefits for skin health, aloe vera may also protect against skin cancer. A lab study on skin cells found that aloe-emodin, a phytochemical in aloe, significantly prevented growth of skin cells that were likely to become tumours. It was also able to help repair normal cells. Additionally, a study on women with pre-cancerous cervical lesions found that a cream containing aloe vera, along with amla, curcumin and reetha, was able to increase the chances of clearing the infection. A total of 287 women were in the trial, and were split into four groups to receive either the aforementioned cream, a placebo cream, curcumin pessary capsules and placebo pessary capsules. After 30 days, 87.7% of women using the cream cleared the HPV infections responsible for the pre-cancerous lesions, compared to 73.3% of the placebo group. 81.3% of those taking curcumin cleared their infections, but this was not seen as clinically significant.

Aloe vera may also be an effective treatment for oral lichen planus. This is a chronic inflammatory condition characterised by white patches; red, swollen tissue or open sores. In a Thai study of 54 patients, 81% of patients in the aloe group had a “good response”, compared to 4% of the placebo group. A third of the aloe group achieved complete resolution of burning pain, and 7% had complete clinical remission. I remember seeing this in the student clinic once, and had hardly any idea of how to treat it. I will remember this for next time.
In addition, aloe vera gel, taken orally, may improve inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. In a study of 44 patients with active ulcerative colitis, patients received either 100mL of aloe gel or placebo twice daily. 30% of the treated group experienced remission, and 47% experienced a response; this is in comparison to 7% and 14% in the placebo group respectively.

Aloe vera could also help to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. In a small study of 5 patients with non insulin-dependent diabetes, administration of half a teaspoon of dried aloe sap for 4-14 weeks resulted in an average reduction of fasting blood sugar of 122 points. No change in body weight was reported, meaning that this was independent of weight loss.

Finally, aloe vera gel has been found to improve wound healing among women who recently had caesarean births. After 24 hours, all 45 women who received a dressing with aloe vera gel had a score of zero on a scale measuring redness and discharge, while 35 of the 45 women in the placebo group had a score of zero. Overall, the aloe vera plant has a wide range of therapeutic applications; it is not only a remedy for sunburn, but a “serious” medicinal plant that may be in the ranks of turmeric and ginkgo. As an antiaging phytomedicine, I give it a thumbs up and promotion from "just a sunburn remedy".

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Biotech Company Permitted To Resurrect Clinically Dead

Just in on ScienceAlert: A US biotechnology company, BioQuark, has recently been given permission for a trial involving 20 clinically dead patients, where they will attempt to revive "dead" central nervous systems. If successful in reanimating the upper spinal cord/lower brain stem area, the vital functions of breathing and heartbeat may be restored, which the clinically dead can only do with the help of machines.
Ira Pastor, CEO of BioQuark, stated that "This represents the first trial of its kind and another step towards the eventual reversal of death in our lifetime," after being granted permission for this trial, known as the ReAnima Project. This Phase I trial is a proof-of-concept, non-randomised study meant to determine whether it is actually possible to reverse brain death. Failing that, researchers will be investigating if they can produce any changes in the meninges of the brain (tissue that sits between the brain and skull).
This treatment will involve the following:
-Daily injections of peptides, which are short proteins, into the spinal cord
-Twice-weekly injections of stem cells into the brain
-Transcranial laser therapy, which uses light to penetrate the skull in order to activate the body's natural repair processes, and
-Nerve stimulation, where electrical impulses are applied to the median nerve of the upper limb.

If all goes well, hopefully there will be a place for the natural side of medicine in bringing back the clinically dead, with all our anti-inflammatory, stem cell-assisting, nervous system-repairing tools available now and in the future. However, it will take years for any treatment like this to be available to the public, if it is successful at all. There will, of course, be much ethical debate, but many antiaging and longevity types like myself do approve of such measures. Although, this is the strangest news article I have covered so far.

Salmon, an oily fish. Also what antiaging can feel like.
So what is an example of how natural medicines can help? Well, there is the story of Bobby Ghassemi. After a car crash, this young man was taken to a Virginia hospital in a state closer to death than life. Doctors were surprised that he was even alive enough to be in a coma; his reports stated a Glasgow coma score of three, which is the worst possible. Fortunately, his father found Army Colonel Dr Michael Lewis through his army buddies, who recommended high doses, 20 grams daily to be exact, of fish oil. The omega-3 fats in fish oil are required to both relieve inflammation and promote neuron growth. The first point is equally essential, as when someone is in a coma, their neurological condition often worsens due to the inflammation killing off the remaining brain cells. Within several months, Bobby was able to graduate high school, although he still required therapy for walking difficulty and some weakness on his left side. I just wish cases like this were more widely publicised.