Saturday, 16 September 2017

How Zinc Could Fight Age-Related Immune Decline

Many people sadly lose their elderly loved ones during the flu season. While it is still a tragedy regardless of age, we're taught to believe that it cannot be prevented and they couldn't have lived at least another few years. Fortunately, conventional wisdom is not necessarily wisdom, as there are ways to fight age-related immune decline.

One of these ways is right under our noses - literally, for users of certain sunscreens. It is not an exotic herbal remedy yet to be discovered, it is the mineral zinc. Zinc is required by the body for thousands of biological functions, but deficiency in the elderly is very common. This contributes to immunosenescence, meaning age-related immune decline, leading to an increase in infections and inflammation as the number of immune cells and their functioning falls.

An expensive source of zinc. Source: Guido (CC: 2.0).
What does zinc do for the immune system? Research has found that it can restore the abilities of killer cells to destroy virally-infected and cancerous cells; improve the immune response of white blood cells in older adults and increase survival rates in older mice. Clinical trials have shown a benefit of high-dose supplementation, with a 45mg daily dose reducing the incidence of all infections in the elderly adults in one study. Another using 80mg daily doses yielded the impressive result of a 27% reduction in mortality over 6.5 years! Zinc must never be taken at doses beyond 90mg a day, however, as this has damaging effects.

Food sources of zinc include beef chuck roast, baked beans, chicken and cashews, containing 7, 2.9, 2.4 and 1.6mg per serving respectively. Elderly people are likely to need supplementation, up to a total of 80mg each day according to Life Extension. But would supplementation just be treating symptoms of another, greater cause? If left alone, people experience a decline in stomach acid production as they age, which is very important for zinc absorption (among other things). This leads to poor digestion in general, greater vulnerability to digestive tract infections and loss of appetite. Many older people are taking antacids for heartburn, which worsens the problem and is not the best way to treat reflux (many say the best way is to boost levels of stomach acid and enzymes - see a qualified naturopath). To manage poor stomach acid and enzyme production, treatment options include supplementation with betaine hydrochloride; digestive enzymes or bitter herbs like gentian.

Friday, 15 September 2017

How EFT May Help with PTSD

Mental illnesses such as PTSD cause tremendous suffering and loss of life for millions of people around the world. They are often difficult to treat, with a laundry list of side effects caused by conventional therapies, and to make things even worse there is often a stigma surrounding mental illnesses. But what if there was a natural way to relieve them, that didn't come with side effects and could be used by anyone?

This can be avoided in at least some cases.
There is a way, among others: emotional freedom technique, also known as EFT, tapping or "emotional acupuncture". EFT combines the elements of exposure and cognitive therapies, which have been established in the West for many years, with tapping on acupressure points. In this study, 16 veterans with clinical PTSD experienced a 53% reduction in their symptoms after ten hour-long sessions, and there were significant differences in the expression of six genes. Follow-ups found that participants maintained these gains. In a meta-analysis of seven trials mentioned by the study, EFT resulted in strong treatment effects against PTSD again. Then, in a trial of 764 active duty service members, EFT produced significant reductions in PTSD, depression and anxiety.

So why isn't EFT more widely used? There seems to be a poor level of understanding, with many people thinking there is no way that "simply" tapping on points and talking about your issues could work. However, there has been research conducted on the mechanisms behind EFT. Two studies using EEG testing, one on car crash survivors and one on claustrophobic people, found a regulation of the frequencies associated with fear. In another, fMRI testing found that acupuncture can downregulate the amygdala and limbic system's responses to fear. A triple-blinded controlled trial compared the effects of EFT on psychological symptoms to its effects on cortisol, the main stress hormone. Overall psychological symptoms dropped by more than twice as much in the EFT group, compared to a supportive interview or no treatment. There was also almost twice the drop in cortisol levels among those who received EFT. On top of all of this, EFT has demonstrated effects on the expression of genes controlling the stress response, inflammation and immunity.

If we want total and disability-free life expectancy to continue rising, it may be time to give EFT the recognition it deserves. High levels of perceived and chronic stress has been found to increase oxidative stress and the shortening of telomeres, which are protective caps on chromosomes that allow them to keep dividing. Keeping telomeres long is one way that we can fight aging and live longer. However, women with the highest levels of perceived stress have telomeres shorter to the equivalent of aging ten years, compared with women the same age who report low stress. Just because EFT doesn't look like serious therapy to everyone, doesn't mean that it can't add years to our lives and save millions of dollars in healthcare costs.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

How Diet May Help With Endometriosis

Endometriosis is an unfortunately common condition where the tissue which makes up the uterine lining (the endometrium) grows in other areas of the body, usually in the pelvic area. The severity of its symptoms, which may include pelvic pain, period pain or infertility, can be anything from mostly silent to constantly debilitating. Conventional treatment includes surgery to remove inappropriate tissue (also the only way to diagnose it), pain relievers and hormonal medications, but these are not without their side effects. Thankfully, there are natural methods that may help to prevent endometriosis if you are at risk, or reduce the severity of its signs and symptoms, such as changes to your diet.

Source: Gunawan Kartapranata
We all need fat in our diets, but one way of reducing the risk of endometriosis, or possibly reducing its severity, may be by changing the types of fat we eat. To investigate whether fat intake has any relation to endometriosis, researchers analysed 12 years of data from the Nurses' Health Study II that began in 1989. Total fat consumption had no relation to endometriosis risk, but women in the top fifth for long-chain omega-3 fat intake had a 22% lower risk of endometriosis, compared to women in the bottom fifth. Omega-3 fats are found in foods such as oily fish, flax and hemp (to be legally sold as food in Australia from November 2017). On the other hand, women in the top fifth of trans-fat intake had a 48% greater risk of being diagnosed with endometriosis. Trans fats are found in margarine and many other packaged, processed foods. Intake of palmitic acid, a type of fat in animal products, was linked with a 52% increase in endometriosis risk when the top and bottom fifths were compared. It is suggested that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fats may be behind their benefits, as a 1995 study found a reduced risk of period pain linked with fish oil consumption. Trans fats, and too much saturated animal fat, is pro-inflammatory. 

Increasing intake of green vegetables and fruit may also be protective against endometriosis. In an Italian case-control study, women in the highest thirds for green vegetable and fruit intake had a 70% and 40% reduced risk of developing endometriosis, respectively. These results were consistent after adjusting for affecting factors. The folate, methionine (an amino acid) and vitamin B6 found in green vegetables can regulate gene expression and detoxification. While another study disagreed, vegetables and fruit do often contain pesticides linked to reproductive problems such as endometriosis. Fruit and vegetables also contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, which protect cells from damage and thus reduce inflammation.

These are just a few ways that nutrition can protect against endometriosis, but further research is needed. An optimal treatment plan for conditions such as this must involve professional support, and communication between practitioners regardless of treatment modality. But as you can see, complex does not mean hopeless.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Disgusting! The Extent of Plastic in Water

Humanity has a disgusting addiction that could not be stopped soon enough: the use of petrochemical plastics. What we have already been told is bad enough, that your average bag or bottle will take centuries to degrade, but new research shows something even worse: where the breakdown products go. It turns out that they end up in our water, air and at least some food items.

So, what is the damage? Pollution by microscopic pieces of plastic (microplastics) is so widespread that 94.4% of US tap water samples tested positive for the breakdown products. In Lebanon, the contamination rate was almost 94% despite drinking water coming from natural springs. In India, the figure was 82.4%, in Uganda, it was around 80%, and in Europe, it was around 72%. Other research has found that beer is almost always contaminated with microplastics, as well as honey, flour, sea salt and other common foods. Our air is contaminated by microplastics from carpets and clothing made from synthetic fibres.

No place for plastic. Source: Andres M. Panti
This is not acceptable, as chemicals in plastics can raise the risk of illnesses such as cancer. And not all of the effects of plastic are terminal illnesses, either. Research on animals has found that environmentally relevant levels of exposure to BPA is linked to early puberty, disrupted oestrous cycles (the animal equivalent of the menstrual cycle) and structural problems with the ovaries. Older mice have exhibited problems such as increased occurrence of ovarian cysts. More serious reproductive issues, including uterine fibroids and tissue overgrowth have also been demonstrated, which cause symptoms such as painful, heavy periods. Phthalates, which are other chemicals found in plastics, can create problems with age at puberty and the oestrous cycle too. These can suppress the levels of our sex hormones. In humans, research has found that higher levels of phthalates may be associated with endometriosis. This disease causes infertility and heavy, painful periods, among other issues.

Although more regions of the world are banning more plastic items, change takes time. So how can we detoxify from the chemicals in plastics? One way, at least in the case of BPA, is through sweating. In a study of 20 people comparing BPA levels in blood, urine and sweat, researchers were more likely to find BPA in sweat than the other samples. Probiotics may also help to detoxify from BPA. Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei were shown to speed excretion of BPA in an animal study; these are commonly found in probiotics. Bacterial species found in kimchi, a fermented food from Korea, could actually help to degrade BPA too, to prevent it from causing further harm. As for phthalates, sweat could be a way to help remove them from the body too. Supplements such as resveratrol (from dark red grapes) and curcumin (from turmeric) may aid detoxification, but more research on humans needs to be done. Dietary changes, e.g. increasing intake of cruciferous vegetables, and medicinal herbs like milk thistle, can be beneficial too, but it is best to consult with a qualified naturopath first. Overall, we need to collectively kick our plastic habit, but there are things we can do while we wait for the world to catch up.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Are Parabens a Breast Cancer Threat?

There is no denying it, we live in a toxic world. Fortunately, people are waking up to just what it is that we are doing to our health, longevity and the environment, as the first step is always awareness. One type of artificial chemical that the world is now turning its attention to is parabens, and it turns out that they are a cause of one of our most common types of cancer - breast cancer.

Parabens are primarily used for their anti-bacterial and antifungal properties. As preservatives, they are found in many personal care products such as makeup, deodorants and other skincare items in order to extend shelf life. But if they're legal, they must be safe, right?

Source: KaurJmeb (CC:3.0).
Actually, parabens may contribute to breast cancer development in many ways. Research has found parabens in 99% of breast tissue samples, and that they can behave like oestrogens and stimulate cancer cell growth at realistic concentrations. In a dose-dependent manner, they can also help damaged cells to survive instead of committing the "cell suicide" necessary to stop them from turning cancerous. Long-term exposure increases the ability of breast cancer cells to invade tissues. And if you are a breast cancer survivor, you may need to know that parabens have been shown in lab studies to block the effects of tamoxifen.

Similar results were found in another study using oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer cell lines. Exposure to parabens over 20 weeks resulted in worsened ability of these cells to migrate and invade other tissues. Use of long-term exposure more closely matches the real lives of women, as we are around parabens all the time. When growth factors are included, which are naturally present in human breast tissue, parabens can stimulate the oestrogen receptors at levels that other lab studies have deemed "safe".

Who is most at risk? Pregnant women, foetuses and children are at the greatest risk of harm from parabens, as tissue growth is at its fastest. In the USA, women, high-income individuals and African Americans have the highest concentrations of parabens in their bodies because they use the products that contain them most often. You do not have to go makeup and deodorant-free, however, as there are plenty of natural products that do not contain parabens. Always read the label, and do research on labeling requirements, before making decisions. We have choices, we have control, often even when it doesn't feel like the case.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

One Humble Herb May Be an Effective PMS Treatment

If you're a woman, especially a woman of childbearing age, you are likely to be told that problems such as PMS and menstrual difficulties are to be expected and accepted as "part of being a woman". But do we really have to put up with all of this? There are herbal remedies that, depending on your individual needs, may be able to help, and chaste tree (Vitex angus-castus) is one of them.

In 2012, the results of an Iranian clinical trial were published in Acta Medica Iranica, which aimed to find out if chaste tree is an effective remedy for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It involved 128 women between the ages of 25 and 34 who were not pregnant or breastfeeding, and did not have serious medical conditions or issues with drug and alcohol abuse. All women answered a self-assessment questionnaire listing headache, depression, anger, irritability, breast fullness, bloating and tympani during the week before their menstrual periods. While the potency was not mentioned, treatment consisted of 40 drops of chaste tree extract before breakfast, every day for the six days leading up to their period. This is not a high dose, as 40 drops is a much smaller amount than recommended in books such as the Phytotherapy Desk Reference (Thomson & Gennat). It may help to reduce costs to the patient. After six months, the women recorded significant improvement in their PMS symptoms, both compared to the beginning of the study and compared to the placebo.

A moth enjoying chaste tree. Source: jeffreyw (CC: 2.0)
In another study, chaste tree was used alongside St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) to see if they could help "PMS-like" symptoms in perimenopausal women. Late-perimenopausal women were given either the herbal tablets or a placebo to be taken twice daily over four months. After the four months, the herbal combination was found to be superior to placebo in reducing total PMS-like symptom scores, along with the PMS-D (depression) and PMS-C (cravings) symptom clusters. Scores for anxiety and water retention clusters demonstrated relief too.

Chaste tree has a long history of use in Europe for reproductive system complaints. It has been known for many years to have effects on menstruation and pre-menstrual symptoms, but how does it work? Chaste tree works by binding to the receptors of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which plays a role in mood regulation. This also has effects on reproductive hormone production, smoothing out ovarian function and the menstrual cycle. Chaste tree can improve melatonin secretion at night, which helps us sleep. As some regions, such as Queensland in Australia, do not allow the sale of melatonin supplements, chaste tree could be a more accessible and possibly gentler alternative.

Chaste tree is just one of the herbal remedies that can be used to relieve menstrual complaints. You don't have to accept it as "part of being a woman", there are options, although it is always best to consult a qualified naturopath first.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Some Bad News on E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes are commonly seen as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately for those who see them as a way to avoid the dangers of smoking, this is not really the case. A recent study has found that even one use of an e-cigarette may negatively affect blood vessel function.

Source: Dave1185
So what happened? Increasing popularity of e-cigarettes led researchers in West Virginia University to study the effects of short- and long-term exposure to flavoured vapour in female mice. They focused on artery diameter, aortic stiffness and the blood vessels' ability to widen when necessary. Aortic stiffness and the other factors are age-related complications that can indicate cardiovascular disease, and raise the risk of dangerous events. What is the aorta, you ask? It is the largest artery in the body, which all blood passes through after exiting the heart, and before it branches off into other arteries that service different areas.

The researchers found that after five minutes of exposure, the short-term group's arteries were 30% narrower, and vasodilation (widening of the vessels when needed) was impaired too. This affects the ability of the circulatory system to provide oxygen and nutrients to tissues, as well as to remove toxins. It also puts increased pressure on the cardiovascular system and therefore increases the risk of damage. As for the long-term group, 20 hours of exposure per week over 8 months doubled aortic stiffness compared to only breathing normal room air.

What is wrong with e-cigarettes? Other research has shown that they can produce dangerous levels of carcinogens such as formaldehyde. The level of this and other toxic aldehydes was dependent on the amount of flavouring, which decomposed into these chemicals when it was heated up. This is what the vapour is made of. But in all concentrations and all flavours, the level of toxic aldehydes produced was higher than the limit for chemical exposure set by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. There are thousands of flavours on the market where e-cigarettes are sold, and they may be attractive to younger people and other non-smokers, so there is a risk of harm instead of them being a quitting aid. While yet another study found that e-cigarettes were 95% less dangerous than smoking, it is clear that they are not harmless. They may be a useful short-term aid in quitting smoking, but should not be used forever.  

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Your 'Elderly' Parents Aren't 'Too Proud': Redefining Old Age

Decades ago, many countries decided to classify a chronological age of 65 or above as "old age", including Japan. However, there is no medical evidence to support this increasingly outdated benchmark. Many so-called "elderly" are healthy, active and don't even look over 65 these days, and do not want to be seen as "old". This may include your parents, although you may see them as old. Based on this, a recently published study shows that maybe it's time, at least in Japan, to move the "elderly" category up to 75.

When Japan's Geriatric and Gerontological societies analysed data on the health of older adults, they found that decline in walking speed and grip strength, two markers of biological aging, had improved significantly from 1992 to 2002. These changes were equivalent to a delay in aging of 5-10 years! When men and women were divided into 65-69, 70-74, 75-59 and 80+ categories, each group in 2002 could walk at least as fast as the group five years younger than them in 1992. Women over 80 could walk as fast as women over 70 in 1992. The same applied for grip strength in women, except in the 80+ category, though they were almost as strong as the women aged 74-79 in the early 1990s. In men, these gains were only significant in the 65-69 and 80+ groups. Because of these results, it is now proposed that the 65-74 age group be classed as "pre-old age", 75-89 as "old age", and 90+ (up from 85+) as "super-old". Although Japan does have the longest life expectancy out of all fully-independent nations, it is expected that the global improvements in living standards and lifestyles will create a need for this re-classification everywhere.

These changes, if they are implemented, will benefit Japanese society as a whole. Currently, so many are pushed into retirement at 60 or 65, regardless of their health, which does not benefit the younger generations as it increases pressure on the welfare system. And in a cabinet office survey, only 5% thought that people reached "old age" at 65. With stroke rates also declining among over 65s since the 1990s, the authors of this study state that these changes are long overdue. Before he died in mid-2017, we should have asked the 105 year old Shigeaki Hinohara, who continued to practice medicine after he turned 100 and advocated for other older Japanese people to maintain their own interests. He was one of the nation's 65,692 centenarians, who made up more than 1 in 2,000 Japanese citizens for the first time. It's time for change.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Could Vitamin C Help Prevent Cancer?

We know that we need to consume foods containing vitamins every day (preferably natural, unprocessed food), and in some cases take supplements for specific health issues. We are told, especially by natural health circles, that vitamins can help prevent disease and benefit our longevity overall. But how do they work? Recently, a study has uncovered one of the mechanisms behind how vitamin C may prevent at least some cancers.

This study found that vitamin C could "communicate" with faulty bone marrow stem cells, triggering them to die once the damage becomes too great. Damaged cells that cannot repair or kill themselves may "immortalise" themselves and ramp up proliferation, leading to cancer. Vitamin C in high doses was found to act like an enzyme known as TET2, which helps limit the number of times a marrow stem cell can divide as part of regular cell turnover. About 10% of patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) have genetic issues which impair TET2. This figure is around half for those with chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia. As for all cancers, about 2.5% of patients in the USA may have developed TET2 issues, including those with solid tumours and lymphomas.

Research on humans has already found that vitamin C may help to prevent and beat cancer. An epidemiological meta-analysis on lung cancer found that, compared to the lowest category of intake, people with the highest vitamin C intake had a 17% lower risk of developing the disease. Each 100mg increase in daily vitamin C consumption was linked to a 7% lower lung cancer risk. While this may not seem like much, remember that the best ways to prevent lung cancer are to avoid smoking and, as a global community, reduce air pollution. A review of the cases of nine cancer patients in Singapore found that intravenous vitamin C was safe, compatible with other treatment choices, led to improved quality of life and extended life beyond the original prognosis. In the 1970s, research by Linus Pauling found that 10g (10,000mg) of vitamin C every day, administered by injection, increased survival by about five times among terminally ill patients. By 1978, all 1000 control patients receiving conventional treatments had died, but 13 of the 100 vitamin C patients were still alive. A study in Japan showed that those taking 5-30g of vitamin C daily lived six times longer, and one in Canada found that they lived ten times longer on average. Unfortunately, the Mayo Clinic "discredited" all of this research, by stopping vitamin C after 75 days and only using oral supplements as opposed to intravenous therapy. Perhaps it's time to bring back the correct use of vitamin C for serious illness into the world of research, and at least eventually, clinical practice for the first time.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Epigenetic Memories May Be Passed Down for Up To 14 Generations

For several decades, the popular belief was that everything about our health and even our nature as individuals was controlled by our DNA. This century, fortunately, the effect of our environment on gene expression, known as epigenetics, is becoming more widely known and understood. The epigenetic changes to our gene expression can even be passed down generations, and new research has found that this effect can be stronger than we thought.

To see how long epigenetic changes may be able to hang around in an animal's DNA, researchers genetically altered worms to carry a protein that made them glow under ultraviolet light. Then, they put them in containers with different temperatures to see what effects heat or cold had on their ability to glow. Worms in the container that was constantly 20 degrees Celsius barely glowed, as this temperature decreased the expression of their new gene. When they were moved to a container that was 25 degrees, the gene was much more active and they glowed brighter.

We have power over our health!
The usual expectation would be that once the worms were put back into the cooler container, they stopped glowing so much. However, they continued to glow, likely meaning that their genes kept a "memory" of the warmer temperatures. This persisted for seven generations, even though these worms never experienced the warm climate. The researchers then kept worms in the warmer container for five generations and transferred the next set of offspring to the cooler one. Their glowing gene was able to persist for fourteen generations - the longest time that scientists have ever documented the passing down of epigenetic changes! While these worms do have a very short lifespan, and 14 generations only took 50 days, this brings us another step closer to understanding epigenetics in all animals, including humans, and how we can use it to our benefit.

This phenomenon has already been documented in humans. Rachel Yehuda, whose specialty is the inter-generation effects of trauma, studied the effects of living through the Holocaust on survivors and their children. Among both survivors and children, stress hormone profiles were different to your average person. Both generations had low levels of cortisol, a stress hormone which helps you recover from trauma, especially in children whose mothers had PTSD. The children had higher than usual levels of an enzyme which breaks down cortisol. These changes may be intended to protect against the harmful effects of chronically high cortisol. The mind has powerful effects on our physical health, as demonstrated in research on meditation where the practice has even been found to make our cells younger. In conclusion, genes are not destiny. We have power over our health, but if we choose to have children, we must keep the health of future generations in mind.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Startup Brings Clean Electricity, Water...and Health...to Those Without It

Electricity and clean water are behind so much of the improvements in health and life expectancy that we have seen over the past 100-200 years. However, some people in the world still do not have access to either, due to poverty and remoteness. This has led to the rise of decentralised solutions, which are turning out to be far more cost-effective, environmentally friendly and health-promoting.

One of the latest products on the market is the OffGridBox container. It can provide 16 kilowatt hours of clean energy and 24,000 litres of filtered, sterile water every day, which can provide for up to about 300 families (or 1500 people). All in a six-foot cube, it's designed for remote use, off-grid living, disaster relief and backup power. As it is modular, more units can be added, and different add-ons are available such as Wi-Fi, desalination and drip irrigation. So far, 28 units have been sold and installed, and there is an upcoming pilot project in Rwanda that will see 18 more put to use. Hopefully, this will improve the lives of millions of people around the world, who cannot or do not want to deal with large corporations and the grid.

Why is this so important? The use of fuel instead of electricity is actually responsible for the deaths of millions of people every year. Pneumonia, stroke, lung cancer, COPD and ischaemic heart disease can all be caused by indoor air pollution. There is also evidence that it can increase the risk of tuberculosis, low birth weight and other cancers. Burns and other injuries can be caused by open fires and kerosene lamps. To make things worse, the greater amount of time spent on gathering fuel and unpaid caring work negatively affects gender equality and wealth, keeping people trapped in the cycle. Outdoor air pollution, although usually less dangerous, also kills millions every year by causing similar diseases. As for access to clean water, lack thereof (as well as poor sanitation) takes many lives too, by diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and even polio.

Fortunately, things are changing, and the energy situation in Africa may even turn out better than in the West (at least until we catch up). Progress towards renewables is happening, with thousands of people every day skipping fossil fuels and heading straight for solar and other clean sources of energy. This is likely to help with continuing rapid increases in life expectancy and quality of life. Overall, there are so many positive developments in the world, which we just don't know about because they do not fit the interests of the corporate media.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Three Herbal Remedies for Cellulite

Cellulite is one of the most common aesthetic complaints, with 85-98% of women affected at some point after puberty. It mainly occurs anywhere between the upper hips to the thighs, where young women typically gain fat during adolescence, and can be difficult to get rid of. With the beauty industry making millions off supposed "cures" for cellulite, many wonder, what actually works? Turns out that, once again, nature may be able to do what technology can't. Instead of high-tech machines, licorice root, horse chestnut and gotu kola may be three of the best remedies for cellulite.


Nam bai bua bok, a juice containing gotu kola.
Source: Takeaway (CC: 3.0)
Women are prone to cellulite because fat around the hips, thighs and buttocks is stored in a vertical chamber arrangement. This is reserved for nourishing a foetus in hard times, so it usually doesn't respond to diet and exercise. But while cellulite is common, it is true that not all women have it. The Nurnberger-Mulle Scale classifies cellulite into four stages: stage 0 is no dimpling, even on pinching; stage 1 is dimpling on pinching (where I sit on this scale); stage 2 is on pinching and standing; and stage 3 is constant dimpling regardless of standing or lying. To reduce the appearance of cellulite, we must first find the root causes of its visibility. These are the stress hormone cortisol; connective tissue integrity and blood vessel health.

Cortisol aggravates cellulite by increasing fat storage under the skin. A constituent of licorice, glycyrrhetinic acid, blocks the enzyme that allows cortisol to deposit fat. In a study testing a cream containing this compound (at 2.5%), the treated women saw a reduction in superficial thigh fat by 10%. Topical usage of licorice extracts or compounds allows a therapeutic dosage without the risk of sodium retention or raised blood pressure, which contradicts its use in some people.

Gotu kola is a medicinal herb that has been used for centuries to help fight aging. It can reduce inflammation and support collagen production, which benefits both the skin and blood vessels. In a study of oral gotu kola extract on cellulite, it was able to both shrink fat cells and reduce the fibrous tissue between them. Gotu kola may even help with capillary circulation in diabetic patients, with research showing significant improvement on ultrasound and less leakage.

Horse chestnut is another herbal remedy that can reduce inflammation and improve circulation. One constituent of horse chestnut, known as escin, can boost circulation by increasing blood vessel tone, which allows blood to flow unrestricted. A randomised trial even found that taking horse chestnut extract was as effective as compression stocking therapy. While this is a common intervention for venous insufficiency, it can be inconvenient and inappropriate for hot climates. A Cochrane review, considered to be the highest standard of evidence, also found that oral horse chestnut extract improves blood vessel insufficiency.

While cellulite is annoying and hard to shift, it is not impossible. Nature, once again, seems to hold more answers than we give it credit for, even though high-tech beauty treatments are expensive and ineffective.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Guernsey's Journey to 100

In the United Kingdom's channel islands, a new frontier of health and longevity is being sought: a life expectancy of at least 100, and better health to go with it. The ambitious island of Guernsey has begun their journey towards a much longer, better life, and hopes to be the first area of the world to break the 100-year barrier.

On Friday, the 30th of June, the small island held a "Journey to 100" conference, which kicked off a ten-year project aimed at breaking the 100-year barrier. All day, twenty leading health, lifestyle and longevity experts shared their ideas on how we can extend our lives and improve our health, without massive costs to the system.

A castle in Guernsey.
So, what did we learn? First, we know that longevity is possible but challenging, as a multitude of individual and community factors have to be addressed. Fortunately, Guernsey's small size and population of about 63,000 makes it a good testing ground for new ideas. Other good news is that the longest-lived communities are not all that technologically advanced or dependent on pharmaceuticals and other medical interventions. Sense of purpose and meaning; little to no processed foods; moderate physical activity as an inseparable part of life and strong social connections form the foundations for their health. This is why reliance on drugs and technology does not equal longevity. People need a wide range of plants available as both food and medicines, which also means removing the barriers to their access that have been imposed by pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

It's not just what we should do, but how we should do it. In the case of growing our plant foods and medicines, we need sustainable forms of agriculture that preserve and improve the soil microbiome in the same way that natural health practitioners now care for the gut microbiome. As for our health, prevention and dealing with the underlying causes of disease is far better than treating symptoms as they appear. Personal responsibility and helping children develop healthy habits for life are key.

Guernsey may be the most ambitious, but other communities have taken up the challenge to live longer, healthier lives, such as Albert Lea in Minnesota. Adopting principles from the world's "blue zones", where you have the greatest chance of living to 100, has greatly improved the future of its citizens. People are picking up old dreams or finding new ones, and according to one measure, life expectancy has risen by just under three years. Living longer has never looked so good.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Is Niacin the New Folate?

In the 1990s, the discovery that folate (vitamin B9) deficiency causes many neural tube defects led to a dramatic fall in these conditions. Now, another B vitamin, known as B3 or niacin, has recently been shown to help prevent miscarriage and other types of birth defects such as heart conditions.

Source: Atigobina (CC: 4.0)
Niacin performs many functions in the body, often in a form called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). Having low levels of this molecule can be incredibly damaging to tiny embryos when they are first forming organs, leading to birth defects or even death. However, supplementation of niacin increases the embryo's levels of NAD, which may significantly cut down the rate of miscarriages and birth defects. It is estimated that 3% of babies around the world have significant congenital defects, and one in four women will have a miscarriage at least once in their lives. While 3% doesn't look like much, for the families affected it means everything.

How did they find that a "simple" vitamin could do so much? First, they sequenced the genes of four families with a history of miscarriages and birth defects, such as heart, vertebral and kidney problems. They found two genetic mutations that affected the pathway which produces NAD. This is serious because some of NAD's functions are in gene development and repair. Next, they used CRISPR to mimic these mutations in mice. Just like the human families, the mice had offspring with all the same birth defects and NAD deficiency. When they put niacin in the drinking water of pregnant mice, they prevented the birth defects. Niacin is found in many meats and vegetables, as well as multivitamin, prenatal and energy supplements. However, a US study found that one third of women taking pregnancy multivitamins were still low in niacin. Some pharmaceuticals and medications, such as diabetes, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases and obesity can also impair NAD pathways, so these must be addressed or be answered with supplementation.

If niacin becomes the new folate in preventing birth defects, the benefits to our world will be significant. A review of 13 studies found that folic acid at 0.2mg/day could reduce neural tube defects by 20%, but a dose as high as 5mg could reduce their risk by 85%. With 0.2mg/day the US level of fortification, prevalence of spina bifida dropped by 31% with compulsory fortification, and anencephaly by 16%. Zinc deficiency, alcohol abuse and hallucinogen use are other factors behind neural tube defects. MTHFR mutation, which is now widely discussed in natural health circles, can also raise the risk of these defects. We take vitamins for granted too often - for our most vulnerable, a short-term deficiency can mean losing everything.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Which Diets Benefit Health and Longevity?

As we know, life expectancy is continuing to increase around the world, and as growth-oriented individuals with nothing better to do but live we want to keep this continuation. Cost-effectiveness and lack of side effects are also priorities. So the question is, what diet and lifestyle factors are most conducive to longevity and health? Despite many variations in the lives of longer-lived people, research has recently found consistent patterns that can mean a difference in lifespan of several or more years.

Source: G.steph.rocket (CC: 4.0)
What should we eat? The healthiest diets showed a similar pattern: high intake of vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and fish, with low processed food intake. The worst were high in sugar, altered fats, processed food, refined foods and oversized portions. This is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which actually also involves eating more slowly, socialising and using local, fresh ingredients. In France, where the average life expectancy is a couple of years longer than the USA, smaller portion sizes are common. Wine also contains antioxidants such as resveratrol, and cheese made from raw milk often has anti-inflammatory substances and probiotics. The Okinawans have the greatest proportion of centenarians (people aged 100 and over) in the world, and their traditional diet is very high in the antioxidant-rich sweet potato. Unfortunately, many have switched to a Western diet, and their health is suffering for it. Anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and chilli can greatly improve health outcomes in India and other regions of the world (lower living standards, such as reduced sanitation access, mean that their life expectancies are still poorer). For those who can afford it, the traditional diet in Chad is also very healthy, rich in a wide range of fish, fruits, vegetables and other plant foods. Once again, it is the poor living standards, such as clean water, sanitation and electricity access, that compromises their life expectancy.

Other individual factors that significantly affect life expectancy are smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption. Research on 14,000 people found that avoiding obesity and smoking led to an increased life expectancy of 4-5 years that were free of disability. This runs contrary to the popular (and ageist) belief that living longer drains society with a larger proportion of infirm people. For men and women who were not overweight, never smoked and drank alcohol moderately, they lived an average of 11 and 12 years longer respectively than overweight smokers who drank excessively. They even beat the national statistics for Japan, which is only bested in life expectancy rankings by Hong Kong. Once again, they did not spend this many more years with disabilities. Smoking reduced life expectancy without increasing years with disability; alcohol abuse impacted both and so did obesity, but it had the greatest effects on years with disabilities.

And now for another study tying it all together, where over 4000 people over 60 were assessed on several factors: non-smoking; alcohol intake of under 30 grams daily; exercise at least weekly; low intake of processed meat; weekly fish intake; daily consumption of fruit and daily consumption of vegetables. Over a follow-up time of about 11 years (5000 days), the all-cause mortality risk was reduced by 65-75% for those who fit 6-7 out of these 7 criteria, compared to those who fit one or none. This was after controlling for educational level and body mass index (BMI), which can also affect health and longevity. Overall, longevity doesn't necessarily call for high-tech, cutting-edge science to save you, there are things you can do today.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Benefits of Eating Hemp Seeds

Hemp is one of the most misunderstood plants used by humans. Although it does not contain enough THC to cause a psychoactive effect, unlike the cannabis strains, guilt-by-association has meant that hemp seeds were actually banned as a food substance in Australia until April 2017! Even its many industrial uses, such as safe, natural bioplastic, have been thrown under the bus, despite its versatility, water efficiency and benefits in farmland management. Thankfully now, we Australians can enjoy the health benefits of hemp seeds legally and without unnecessary, condescending labels.

Hemp seeds are one of the only complete sources of plant protein. They contain 20 different amino acids, and nine of them are the ones that our bodies cannot produce. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contains ten grams of protein, so it is a perfect food for vegetarians and vegans. Hemp is particularly high in the amino acid arginine, which is beneficial for heart health. A higher dietary intake of arginine is associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker that helps to indicate cardiovascular disease risk. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds also contains one gram of fibre, which many people do not eat enough of. Eating enough fibre can prevent constipation without the use of laxatives, and aids detoxification.

Many people also do not consume enough of the essential fatty acids; the omega-6 linoleic acid and the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid. These are present in hemp at a ratio of 2-3:1, which is considered the ideal proportion for a healthy diet. The dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is typically far out of balance, with proportions of 20-30:1 common. Why is this harmful? While necessary in small amounts, omega-6 fatty acids feed into a pathway that produces pro-inflammatory chemicals, and inflammation is known to fuel many chronic illnesses. Omega-3 fats feed the anti-inflammatory pathway but compete for the same enzyme as omega-6s, so these can help to prevent illness. In fact, studies on hemp seed oil or the essential fatty acids it contains have found that they can improve some markers that indicate cardiovascular disease risk.

Hemp seeds are also high in some minerals and vitamins, especially calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamin E. Magnesium deficiency is particularly common, and it is estimated that if everyone had an optimal intake of the mineral, millions of deaths worldwide would be prevented every year. Why? Well, it is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions, from heart rhythm to energy production. Overall, the nutritional value of hemp means that it could save and improve millions of lives if it were treated like just another food. Why did the Australian government, among others, jump to such illogical conclusions about the fear of "getting high" in the first place?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brain Damage Reversed By Oxygen Therapy

Brain injuries are currently notoriously difficult to treat, and so usually result in death or permanent disability. Fortunately now, researchers and clinicians are looking into regenerative therapies, such as the BioQuark team who are soon to publish their initial results on reversing brain death with a stem cell-based treatment. Another essentially natural therapy that shows potential in reversing brain damage is oxygen therapy, which managed to save an American toddler from a life of severe disability.

Oxygen therapy could mean freedom for many with brain injury.
Source: Shahriar Sovon.
Eden Carlson, a two-year-old girl whose heart did not beat for two hours after drowning, showed deep injury to the grey matter of her brain, and cerebral atrophy involving both the grey and white matter. She could no longer speak, walk or respond to others talking, but would uncontrollably shake her head and squirm around. In what could be described as a miracle, a course of oxygen treatments was able to reverse the vast majority of this damage. While her very young age and early intervention played a role in her recovery, this may pave the way to a better life for so many others. The extent of her injuries inspired one of her doctors to give her hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT delivers oxygen to a patient at a higher than atmospheric pressure, through a sealed and pressurised chamber. This is aimed at increasing tissue repair beyond what would occur normally. As HBOT was unavailable at the time, doctors gave her oxygen therapy at air pressure for 45 minutes, twice a day, starting at 55 days after her accident. After three weeks, Eden became more alert, squirmed less and had more movement in her arms and hands. She was able to laugh, speak short sequences and regained some ability to eat normally. Then, she relocated to New Orleans, where she could receive hyperbaric oxygen. After only ten treatments, her mother saw that she was back to "near normal, except gross motor function", so she began physical therapy alongside HBOT. After 39 treatments, her walking improved, her speech was even better than before the accident, and overall she showed near normal motor function, cognition and scan results. The team studying Eden say that they have never seen any therapy reverse brain damage in this manner before. They don't fully understand it either, but it is clear that oxygen therapy can fight inflammation and boost cellular survival and repair.

This, however, is not the first time that hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been shown to promote healing in brain injury. Multiple studies have found improved survival and clinical outcomes, with the earliest dating back to the 1960s. Unfortunately delayed treatment, subjective assessment and inappropriate paradigms are preventing oxygen from becoming a mainstream therapy, but hopefully the case of Eden will trigger more demand for it.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Vitamin K2 May Help Those With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most debilitating chronic illnesses known to humanity. It is an inflammatory disease that affects the whole body, but mostly the joints. We know it is most likely an autoimmune disease, but so far research into causative factors has been centred around genetic predisposition; microbes; allergies; abnormal gut permeability; and diet and lifestyle factors. Now, new research is showing that vitamin K2 may play a key role in fighting the disease.

Natto on rice. Source: Shades0404 (CC: 2.5)
There are several forms of vitamin K. Vitamin K1 is also known as phylloquinone and comes from plant foods, while there are several types of vitamin K2, all known as menaquinone. They come from animal foods and are produced by bacteria. The most important form of K2 for commercial use is MK-7, and is known for its benefits in cardiovascular health and bone strength. It is more bioavailable than MK-4, which has been found in a clinical trial to improve the symptoms and biochemical markers of RA. To see if MK-7 would be even better, researchers divided 84 patients with RA into two groups: one receiving 100 micrograms of K2's MK-7 form, and the other getting a placebo. After three months, markers of inflammation were significantly lower in the treated group, as well as RA disease activity scores. Active levels of osteocalcin, an important marker of bone health, also improved, and all of these benefits were seen in relation to increased levels of MK-7 in the blood. These results are very important partly because of the side effects caused by drugs prescribed for RA. While the disease itself is debilitating, the drugs can be worse enough that many people have to stop taking them.

So where exactly can we get vitamin K2, especially the MK-7 form? Besides supplements, natto and some types of cheese are sources of MK-7. Natto is a fermented soy food from Japan, and although it's very much an acquired taste, it is the best source of the best vitamin K. Some types of meat, cheese and eggs contain the MK-4 form, which is still effective, although less active. Green leafy vegetables contain vitamin K1, and are our main source of dietary vitamin K in the West. This is much less active than vitamin K2 and mainly supports homeostasis. Finally, the MK-10 and MK-13 forms of vitamin K2, which are produced by colonic bacteria, are poorly absorbed and do not provide much activity. While more research on vitamin K2 and RA are probably needed, its use against the disease looks promising, and maybe it's time to suck it up and learn to like natto.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Can a Diet Reverse Wrinkles?

Millions of dollars every year are spent on creams and cosmetic procedures in the hope that they will banish wrinkles, puffy eyes and overall poor skin quality. But what is the point when you are still aging on the inside? Aging is a systemic problem, and one of the best tools in the fight against it is changing your diet. As two women found out for themselves, what improves your health on the inside can also benefit you on the outside.

A blood orange would have more power against AGEs than a
typical orange. Source: Dvortygirl
We already know that smoking and excessive sun exposure speed up skin aging (and physical decline overall in the case of smoking). Many of us know that oxidative stress speeds up aging and contributes to disease. However, it has only recently become known that advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are a key driver of aging throughout the body. These are produced by high blood sugar, which tangles in tissue proteins, and by certain cooking methods. The average daily diet in countries like the UK and Australia contains 15,000 kilounits of AGEs, but we should aim for no more than 5,000-8,000 kilounits. They are hard to clear once formed, and cause a vicious cycle of oxidative stress, inflammation and damage. As nutritionist and skin specialist Karen Fischer found, wrinkles and sagging skin are caused in part by these nasty little compounds. To reduce their formation, it is best to limit your intake of red meat, dairy, processed foods and added sugar, and to increase your intake of red, purple and black plant foods.

To test out Fischer's diet, some at The Daily Mail enlisted the help of two women willing to try it for 28 days. Both before and after they started, skin wrinkling, sagging, redness and pore size were measured with a Visia scanner, and AGE damage was measured by a TruAge scanner. Their diet began with a three day detox, where meat and caffeine were forbidden but unlimited fruit and vegetables were allowed. Then, they got into a pattern of eating where some fish, poultry and caffeine were permitted again (but not sugar, dairy or alcohol). Fischer recommends that half of lunch and dinner plates be filled by vegetables, one quarter by low-AGE protein (fish, poultry, beans or lentils) and the remaining quarter by low-AGE wholegrains (such as quinoa, basmati rice or sweet potato). She recommends that most drinks be limited to water, herbal tea or vegetable juice, and advises supplementation with purple juice shots and anything else, such as magnesium, that is needed by the individual. The way we cook matters too: baking, grilling, frying and barbecuing increase AGE formation - the browner it is, the more AGEs there are - while steaming and making stews, curries, casseroles and soup inhibit them. Spices such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cloves reduce AGE production, as do acids like lemon and lime juice.

So how did it work? One of the women, 42 year old Kate Habberley, went from a TruAge score of 39 to 33. Her Visia scan showed a 9% reduction in redness, smaller pores and an overall improved skin texture. She also lost 12 pounds (about 6kg), and has no plans to return to her previous diet. Debra Cull, 54, went from her TruAge score of 49 down to 46 in 28 days. Her Visia scan showed a 6% improvement in skin texture and an 11% reduction in open pores, as well as less redness. She did notice that her skin was fresher, clearer and less "crepey" around the eyes; lost 5 pounds; and to her surprise, her hot flashes disappeared! The only thing she really misses from her old diet is wine. If these are the results you get from AGE-counting rather than kilojoule-counting, why not change our way of thinking about food for health?

Friday, 7 July 2017

Magnesium Supplementation May Help Relieve Depression

Depression is a sadly common mental health condition that affects millions of people in Australia and around the world. To make things worse, assumptions about a person's competency if they are mentally ill in any way often stops people from being diagnosed and treated. And then there is the side effects from socially-sanctioned antidepressant drugs, prescribed after being given the even more disempowering explanation of 'you have a chemical imbalance so you need medication'. However, there are many natural therapies for depression that give you back your power, as they are more preventive in nature and help your body to heal itself. One of these, as a recent study shows, is magnesium.

Food sources of magnesium.
This study involved 126 men and women who suffered from mild to moderate depression. Sixty-two were given a supplement containing 248mg of magnesium (as magnesium chloride, not the best supplemental form) for six weeks, and then spent six weeks with no supplementation. The others first spent six weeks taking no magnesium, and then swapped with the first group for the second half. All volunteers were given questionnaires to evaluate their depression and anxiety at the start of the study and every two weeks during treatment. During supplementation, depression and anxiety scores improved significantly, and participants were less likely to suffer from headaches. During the control period, however, depression scores did not change and anxiety worsened. As their symptoms showed improvement in two weeks, magnesium could be a rapid-acting remedy for mild and moderate depression, with a wide range of side benefits. And if you are worried about negative social attitudes towards depression, magnesium is indicated for so many health complaints that a supplement implies nothing.

So, why? What does magnesium do? Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, from energy production to the synthesis of neurotransmitters that control mood. If you are deficient, and many people are, then these chemical reactions are limited. Of course, magnesium is not the only nutrient that we need to make neurotransmitters. B vitamins, particularly B12, folate (B9), B6 and niacin (B3), are essential co-factors in neurotransmitter production. Deficiencies do not just affect mood, but overall brain function and memory. A balance of omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids is also important, as they are a part of nerve cell membranes and play a role in communication between cells. Impaired communication affects things like mood, memory and function in general. Vitamin D deficiency is another common problem, which can contribute to depression by altering gene expression and the ability to control inflammation. Overall, the 'chemical imbalance' is more complex than conventional medicine tells you, and we have far more control over it too.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Progress in Reviving the Brain Dead

So many of us have lost relatives or friends to accidents and conditions resulting in brain death, and even if we haven't, many would like to see the end of such tragedies. Fortunately, some good news is developing. Revita Life Sciences, a company focused on advancing regenerative medicine, has announced that its clinical trials on interventions for brain death will continue. This comes after their study was inappropriately removed from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) database, despite the fact that this council has no regulatory oversight on such research in India.


Bringing back those who have
drowned was once a new idea!
Source: Wellcome Images
So-called "moral crusaders" accuse Revita Life of "playing God", and assumed that the removal meant that the Indian government was on their side. However, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), Drug Controller General of India, had no objection to the trial. Regulatory approval is not required for research on those who are legally dead, although consent from the IRB and family members is still necessary. Death is defined as the cessation of the biological functions that keep us alive. Brain death is the loss of brain function, including involuntary processes such as breathing, and is the legal definition of death. It is also the final pathological process that over 60 million people suffer each year, and it is hoped that at least some of these people will be saved in the future by this research.

What this study primarily involves is the intrathecal administration (injection into the spinal canal) of the patient's own stem cells, derived from their fat and bone marrow tissue, twice a week. Of course, a list of other interventions is being used too, hence the study title of “Non-randomized, Open-labelled, Interventional, Single Group, and Proof of Concept Study with Multi-modality Approach in Cases of Brain Death Due to Traumatic Brain Injury Having Diffuse Axonal Injury”. It sounds like a mouthful, but a more pleasant one than hospital staff telling you to say goodbye to someone you love. So far, initial outcomes range from minor blood pressure changes with painful stimuli, to eye opening and finger movements with temporary or permanent EEG pattern changes. This is impressive for the first human trial on reversing "irreversible" damage to the most difficult to heal organ. But perhaps a simple natural intervention could complement it? There have been at least a couple of cases where high doses of fish oil were able to promote healing from brain injury, by both stopping the inflammation which continues to kill neurons, and stimulating cell growth. Both of these patients were in a coma.

While essentially resurrecting the brain dead is controversial now, consider this: resuscitation of people who had drowned was once a very new and probably controversial concept. In the 1760s (when learning to swim would have been out of reach for most), a few wealthy Dutch men decided to form a society focusing on recovering drowned people. With the techniques and ethical changes they began to develop, they saved many lives, perhaps including someone you know. Like me, you may have also had to learn them yourself. Life extension has a much more human face than the popular fear that we will all be forced to become cyborgs or androids. In fact, humanity is strengthening as a result.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Ageless Generation Appears

Usually when we hear about life expectancy rising and death rates falling, the good news is accompanied by handwringing about living in a "greying world" and a supposedly increasing proportion of people who must depend on others for health reasons. But times are changing, as life at certain age groups is not what it was even one generation ago.

The sun rises on a new era.
Source: vonderauvisuals (CC: 2.0)
Who would have thought that this could be a 51 year old woman's life: teaching yoga at a hip hotel and club; sharing clothes and yoga challenges with her 19 year old daughter; and in love with travelling? Such is the life of Polly Kemp, and it's becoming increasingly common. While she is "under no illusion" that she is or looks 19, she knows that she is far more youthful than her mother at the same age. She says, "When I hear the term “middle-aged”, I have to stop and think, 'Is this meant to be me?' I don’t polish silver or plan menus, and I’m not interested in housework. I am also spontaneous  and I don't think that's a quality traditionally associated with middle age". Even the author of the article adds that 40 years ago, she would have pictured her 53 year old self as having much shorter, greyer hair, and wearing "frocks and face powder" instead of jeans and CC cream. And it isn't just these two women, either. In a survey of over 500 women performed by the UK Telegraph, 96% of women over 40 do not consider themselves to be "middle-aged". Ninety percent said they had a younger attitude than their mothers at the same age; 84% used products and services aimed at younger women; and almost two thirds said they felt as vibrant and young as they ever had. Unfortunately, the media hasn't caught up to these changes, choosing to hold onto the old ways. Women over 40, 50, 60 and sometimes even older are no longer confining their lives to, as the Telegraph describes, "lawnmowers and Rotary Clubs, cheese and wine parties, elastic waists, river cruises and walking tours of Madeira". I myself could not imagine my friends of those ages living in such a restricted way!

The "ageless generation", also referred to as "perennials", is also gaining ground in a literal sense. As far back as 1939, British statisticians Major Greenwood and J.O. Irwin found that aging seems to stop at around 90! Even they were confused, stating that "At first sight this must seem a preposterous speculation". Not only did their findings seem counterintuitive, but 1939 was also a bad year to attempt making scientific history because of other world events. Much more recently, Michael Rose has done more research on the matter, with even data from other species showing that there is a point where aging stops if you live long enough - at about 90 for humans, but at different times for other animals.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Don't Want Coffee? Try Cocoa Instead

In many countries, most people drink coffee on a regular basis, whether we like to pair the buzz with work or socialising. Some people, however, are addicted to caffeine or just can't tolerate it, and so are looking for an alternative that boosts brain function and energy without being so stimulating. One such alternative could be cocoa, especially when paired with spearmint.

Cocoa pods and seeds. Source: Lolay (CC: 2.0)
While coffee does contain polyphenols with a wide range of health benefits, even decaffeinated beverages can cause heartburn and overstimulation in some people. Too much coffee can deplete levels of noradrenaline, which helps us with energy and cognition. Other natural compounds, such as those in cocoa and spearmint, boost cognition by preserving neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, so they may be a better alternative. Cocoa also protects and improves the health of our blood vessels, right down to the capillaries, which ensures delivery of oxygen and nutrients both now and in the future. Many dementia cases are in fact caused by poor microvascular health.

Of course, it is the quality of the cocoa that makes all the difference. In a study of sixty older adults, with an average age of 73 and all with either hypertension or type II diabetes, volunteers had two cups every day of a cocoa beverage that was either rich or depleted in flavonols. Everyone had their cognitive function and neurovascular coupling measured before the study, on day 1 and on day 30, the last day. Neurovascular coupling is the ability of blood vessels to increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to areas of the brain that suddenly become more active while you're doing something. After 24 hours, volunteers with previously poor neurovascular coupling had this parameter improve by 10.6%, and at 30 days their scores on a test measuring attention significantly improved. Before the study, they took an average of 167 seconds (2 minutes and 47 seconds) to complete the test, but after 30 days this was shortened to 116 seconds (just under 2 minutes). Surprisingly, both flavonol-rich and poor drinks had the same effects. Another study on younger adults, with an average age of 33, found that it may be the small amount of caffeine in cocoa together with another phytochemical, theobromine, that is responsible for its cognition-boosting effects. It is most likely to be the result of all phytochemicals in cocoa working together.

As for spearmint, some of its phenolic compounds inhibit the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, thus increasing levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This is critical for cognitive function and memory. One phenolic, rosmarinic acid, has been shown to protect neurons in the brain's memory centres against oxidative stress, which can kill cells if severe enough. To make things even better, rosmarinic acid and some other phenols in spearmint can even increase the growth factors required to make new brain cells! The old paradigm of "no new neurons" is gone. Overall, perhaps hot chocolate isn't so bad after all, but watch for quality and sugar content.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Could Pomegranates Help Menopausal Women?

Menopause comes to every woman, and unfortunately it is almost always accompanied by unpleasant symptoms and degenerative age-related changes. But do we have to just accept this? No, while we can't have children forever, there are many plant medicines which can help us avoid the aging effects of menopause. Now joining the more well-known remedies such as black cohosh and soy, is the pomegranate, a fruit that bears a striking resemblance to our ovaries.

The traditional Doctrine of Signatures uses the appearance of some fruits, vegetables and herbs as a rule of thumb when remembering their health benefits. This may also apply to pomegranates, which look like the ovaries of a woman on the inside, as experiments have found that they contain a phytoestrogen functionally similar to oestrone (one form of oestrogen). In a study on rats, those that had their ovaries removed and were given nothing suffered the same problems as menopausal women: bone loss, depression and atrophy of the reproductive organs. However, administration of a pomegranate extract (of the juice and seeds) reduced depression and prevented atrophy of the bones and reproductive system. Bone volume was greater, and bone tissue was less porous, in rats given pomegranate extract. Markers of bone tissue breakdown were also normalised by the pomegranate extract, but remained higher in the control group. Although there are some differences between rats and humans, this study suggests that pomegranate fruit extract could protect us against some of the worst problems caused by menopause. But unlike hormone replacement therapy, there isn't a risk of the extract over-stimulating oestrogen receptors and causing overgrowth of breast and reproductive tissue. Pomegranates are known as selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), which are strong enough to benefit us without toxic effects.

On top of this, pomegranates are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C. We typically associate antioxidants like vitamin C with the protection of our cells and their DNA against free radicals, but hormones are not exempt from oxidative damage. One lab study has found that vitamin C can restore the function of hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone after oxidation. This may mean that we do not need to produce as much of these hormones to bring about the same beneficial effects. Of course, antioxidant-rich fruits including pomegranates have significant effects on our cardiovascular health too, which is important for post-menopausal women as the risk of heart and blood vessel problems dramatically increases. Overall, it looks like pomegranates are yet another natural alternative to just "putting up with" the annoying and damaging effects of menopause, but more research on human women needs to be done.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Vegetarian Diets May Be More Effective for Weight Loss

On the Internet, being vegetarian can earn you a lot of vicious criticism for daring to be different, but it turns out that, at least in some situations, vegetarians may have the last laugh when it comes to health. A new study shows that people needing to lose weight may be better off going on a vegetarian diet, as it not only helped them lose weight more effectively but also improved their metabolism.

A labeled Tamil vegetarian meal.
Source: KARTY JazZ (CC: 4.0)
For this study, 74 people with type II diabetes were randomly assigned to either a conventional anti-diabetic diet or a vegetarian one, high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, legumes and seeds. The only animal food allowed was one portion of low-fat yoghurt a day. Although both diets had the same caloric restriction, the vegetarian diet was twice as effective in reducing body weight, resulting in an average of 6.2kg of weight lost compared to 3.2kg. It wasn't simply weight loss, either. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the doctors performing this study then looked at how fat tissue was stored in the patients' thighs. Fat tissue in our limbs can be stored under the skin (subcutaneous), on the surface of muscles (subfascial) and inside the muscles (intramuscular). Both diets resulted in a similar reduction in subcutaneous fat. However, only the vegetarian diet reduced subfascial fat, and was far more effective in reducing the amount of intramuscular fat. Why is this important? Subfascial fat is associated with insulin resistance in type II diabetes, so reducing it could benefit sugar metabolism in ways that "regular" weight loss cannot. Reducing intramuscular fat could also help to improve muscle strength and mobility, which is particularly important in older people.

But is a vegetarian diet beneficial for everyone all the time, especially in the case of antiaging and longevity? There is conflicting evidence. Research does show that being vegetarian does significantly reduce heart attack risk in under-65s by 45%, but this drops to only an 8% reduction after 80. Some studies do not show that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, but two studies on people who rarely eat meat found an average life extension of 3.6 years. Another on Seventh-Day Adventists found a lifespan increase of about 7 years in men and 4 years in women. However, other research has found that vegetarians are very low in a nutrient called carnosine. Carnosine plays a key role in reducing the harmful glycation reactions which are known to be responsible for so much of aging. But how to the animals that give us carnosine through food obtain it themselves? Carnosine is made of the amino acids beta-alanine and L-histidine, and research on older adults (55-92) does show that beta-alanine supplementation improves physical working capacity. Additionally, sprint training increases the level of carnosine in muscle, because just like herbivorous animals, we make carnosine ourselves. In conclusion, yes, vegetarian diets are best for at least some people, and there are ways to make up for what you miss out on with a meat-free diet.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Too Many Are Unaware of the Obesity-Cancer Link

Prevention skeptics would tell you that if cancer was preventable and we knew what caused it, then no one would be developing it. This is, however, not the case, and it isn't just about people continuing to smoke despite knowing the risks. After smoking, obesity is the second most common cause of cancer, but the message doesn't seem to be getting through to people! Cancer Research UK has recently found that 75% of people don't know that obesity contributes to several types of cancer, including breast cancer. Men and members of lower-income families are less likely to be aware of the connection. In the UK, one quarter of people are obese, even though it is now common knowledge that staying active and eating a healthy diet, high in vegetables and fruit, can prevent and reverse obesity. We are told this since childhood, but obesity rates haven't fallen as much as they should. Many naturopaths point out that diet and exercise aren't always enough because of environmental toxins, but is there any evidence to back this up?

Even makeup may contain phthalates.
Source: Tiffany Bailey (CC: 2.0)
Actually, both human and animal studies have found that environmental toxins, such as BPA, can dramatically raise the risk of becoming obese. After animal studies found that BPA could raise the risk of being overweight or obese, researchers set out to see if it had the same effect in humans. Over 1300 boys and girls from grades 4-12 at several Shanghai schools had their urine levels of BPA tested and compared to their body weight. Girls aged 9-12 with a higher than average level of BPA (over 2 micrograms/litre) had twice the risk of having their body weight in the top 10th percentile. If their BPA levels were over 10 micrograms/litre, they had five times the risk of obesity. Thirty-six percent of the girls with above-average BPA levels were overweight or obese, compared to 21% with below-average levels. Boys, however, did not seem to be affected by BPA, most likely because it is oestrogenic. The authors then suggested that BPA could increase weight gain and accelerate pubertal development for girls during their pre-teen years. BPA also reduces adiponectin, a hormone that increases insulin sensitivity, along with other negative effects on the pancreas, thyroid hormone pathways and brain function. All of this may worsen the severity of food cravings and reduce the energy and motivation needed to get active. To minimise your exposure to BPA, use plastic and cans as little as possible for food preparation and storage; and use plastic in general as little as possible too.

Besides BPA, another hormone-disrupting class of chemical called phthalates has also been shown to increase obesity. These are found in personal care and cosmetic products; plastics and even in medication and supplement coatings. While phthalate exposure is near universal, one study has shown that children with the highest levels of DEHP, one of the phthalates, had five times the risk of obesity compared to children with the lowest levels! Together with BPA and other hormone disrupting chemicals, this may help to explain why the rate of childhood obesity in the USA has grown from 7% in 1980, to over 40% in 2008, with 15% of 6-19 year olds classed as "obese". In conclusion, if diet and exercise aren't shifting unwanted weight in you or your child, it may be time to look at what chemicals you are being exposed to.