Thursday, 7 December 2017

Air Pollution May Contribute to Bone Loss

By now, we know that air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths and many more cases of chronic illness around the world. As if the more commonly known list of problems associated with it wasn't enough, we can now add to that an increased risk of bone fractures and loss of bone density.

An analysis of Medicare beneficiaries in the USA set out to determine if air pollution, specifically levels of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), contributed to bone loss and fractures. In the areas they analysed, there were a total of 62 million people, 9.2 million of which were using Medicare. During the study period of 2003 to 2010, 763,630 of the Medicare beneficiaries were admitted to hospital with osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Each 4.18mcg/cubed metre increase in PM2.5 was associated with a 4.1% increased risk of osteoporotic fracture, when variables were controlled for. This may not seem like much, but 4.1% of a thousand people is 41. And for each of them, the risk of death rises by 10-20%, and most - 60% - will not fully regain their independence. They will need an unpaid family member, home carer or aged care centre. The same increase in PM2.5 was linked with a 0.08% drop in femoral neck bone density (the femur is the thigh bone) and a 0.06% drop in radius bone density per year.
A sunrise is much more beautiful when the air is clean.
Source: Sam311 (CC: 3.0).

This is not the first time that air pollution has been linked to bone fractures, at least in non-smokers. A previous study on almost six hundred men in their 70s found that long-term exposure to higher levels of both PM2.5 and PM10 (10 microns or less in size) was linked to lower total bone mineral density. In others, women living in urban areas had a 29% greater risk of forearm fracture compared to women in rural regions. Some cities in other countries are far more polluted than anywhere in the northeast mid-Atlantic region where the above study was conducted. What their levels of air pollution must be doing to bone health is most likely shocking. The reason why PM pollution has so many harmful effects is because it causes inflammation and oxidative stress, much like smoking.

There are of course more types of pollutants than particulate matter, which may also reduce bone mineral density. These include carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. A study in Taiwan compared data from the country's Environmental Protection Agency and their health insurance research database, to see if there was a relationship between these pollutants and osteoporosis. They divided concentrations of air pollution into quarters for the analysis. Compared to the lowest quarter (Q1) for carbon monoxide, those living in Q2, Q3 and Q4 were at a 5%, 78% and 84% greater risk for osteoporosis respectively. As for nitrogen dioxide, those in Q2, Q3 and Q4 were at 35%, 24% and 60% higher risks compared to Q1.

It may sound terrible, but we have more than just hope. In 2015, half a million solar panels were installed around the world every day, and four wind turbines were installed each hour. With the growth of solar energy, it would be more than half a million now. Twenty-three percent of the world's electricity came from renewables that year, which would be a little higher now, particularly as clean renewables make up the majority of new capacity installed. Although it is only one factor contributing to healthy bones, it's all the more reason to help protect the environment in any way you can - when you reach your 80s, which would you prefer? Looking forward to more years of a great life, or sitting in an institution without much time?

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Vitamin E Deficiency is Disastrous for the Brain

Many would try to tell you that aging is to be celebrated, not feared, but with cognitive decline and clinical pathologies such as dementia being so common among those in their 70s, 80s and beyond, you'd wonder what they're talking about. Unfortunately, a century of dominance by the pharmaceutical industry has kept most people away from real health advice, such as the best ways to prevent neurological aging and correct nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin E and its importance are no exception.

Vitamin E is often added to skincare products.
Source: Lightsnlather (CC:3.0)
A shockingly high 90% of men and 96% of women in the USA have an inadequate intake of vitamin E (I am not too optimistic about Australians either). It is sadly unknown to the general population that vitamin E deficiency also puts us at a higher risk for Alzheimer's Disease; although we fear this illness for valid reasons, we have been told that diet doesn't matter. However, researchers at Oregon State University have found that vitamin E aids the transportation of DHA to the brain. DHA is one of the omega-3 fats found in fish oil, which we also produce from essential fatty acids, and is known to assist in the prevention and even relief from a range of neurological issues.

The liver uses vitamin E to produce substances known as lyso PIs, which not only transport DHA to the brain, but also stay around to help repair brain cell membranes! With vitamin E deficiency, the level of lyso PIs in the brain is 60% lower, setting a course for disaster. Within the term "vitamin E", there are also eight different types: four tocopherols, and four tocotrienols, each with the prefix alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-. Most research has focused on alpha-tocopherol, but research has shown that gamma-tocopherol and beta-tocotrienol are the most important for memory, as well as the total blood tocotrienol levels.

Food sources of vitamin E include hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seed kernels, peanuts and cranberries, but supplementation is often called for in chronic illnesses. Research described by the Linus Pauling Institute describes mixed results with vitamin E supplementation, but this includes many successes. Two of these include significantly slower disease progression and improved survival in patients with Alzheimer's disease, and improved cognitive performance when the supplementation reduced oxidative stress. As the latter only reported benefit when oxidative stress as a whole was lowered, the question is not "does vitamin E work?" but "what other factors should have been addressed when supplementation failed?" They also only regard alpha-tocopherol as "evidence-based" enough, but with the results of the above research, we need a more holistic perspective. Yes, as the LPI writes, vitamin E aids immunity and prevents oxidative stress, but for it to perform at its best we need other nutrients, such as DHA.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Macular Degeneration Is Declining

A loss of independence as one gets older is a common and very valid fear. But when we care for older relatives or work in aged care, it isn't always easy to see the statistical improvements in health and longevity. One of these statistical improvements is a drastic decline in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition which can be very damaging to our personal and loved ones' freedom and independence.

Simulation of AMD.
A cohort study in a Wisconsin town, published on the 16th of November 2017, set out to determine whether or not the risk for AMD had continued to decline among successive generations. Data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study and Beaver Dam Offspring Study, including a total of 4,819 participants, was analysed to compare the 5-year risk of developing AMD across several generations. All of this was adjusted for age and sex, as the risk of AMD rises as one gets older. The generation with the highest prevalence of AMD was the Greatest Generation, born from 1901 to 1924, at 8.8%. The Silent Generation, born from 1925 to 1945, had a 3% prevalence of AMD. There was an AMD rate of 1% among Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964. They and later generations are often criticised for being youth-obsessed, despite the fact that it is obviously reducing their risk of age-related diseases. The generation with the lowest risk is Generation X, who were born between 1965 and 1984, and had an AMD prevalence of only 0.3%. Each generation had a 60% lower risk of developing the condition, after adjustment for age, sex, smoking status, education, exercise, cholesterol, CRP (an inflammatory marker), and use of multivitamins, statins and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

This decline in AMD risk is consistent with study results seen in Europe, and the drop in cardiovascular deaths and dementia. Although conventional medicine use and conservative lifestyle interventions did not have significant effects on AMD, perhaps these improvements are due to greater awareness of natural health and functional foods. In a laboratory study on turmeric extract, the medicinal spice was found to have a dose-dependent protective effect on retinal cells against blue light irradiation. It was able to significantly reduce oxidative damage and the expression of genes involved in apoptosis, which is the process of "cell suicide" initiated in normal cells when they become too damaged. Overall, the results of this cohort study, along with all the research on how to prevent AMD, mean that we have one more reason to embrace a longer life expectancy.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Smoking Alters the Expression of Your DNA

For decades, society has been aware of the dangers of smoking, and more people are quitting the toxic habit every year. For those who haven't already, here's one more reason to quit, and one reason why it causes cancer: smoking can change the expression of certain genes, affecting both you and your children (if you want to have them).

It's a new day.
Epigenetics refers to how a wide range of factors "change" genes by affecting their expression, but without altering the basic code. They are either substances or triggers for the production of substances that attach to genes, turning them on or off. Sometimes, they can even affect future generations, despite these children having no contact with the original expression-altering factor. Negative factors shorten life, speed aging and promote disease, while positive triggers do the opposite. This is now known to be one reason why smoking is so damaging to the body, causing problems including lung cancer; stroke; cardiovascular disease; infertility and diabetic neuropathy. Cigarettes contain over 700 mostly dangerous chemicals, and half of all smokers die as a result of their habit. Second hand smoke raises the risk of lung cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease by 30%, so smokers are not just hurting themselves.

For this study, researchers exposed lung cells to a quantity of cigarette smoke equal to someone smoking one or two packs a day. They found a 2-4 times higher than normal level of an enzyme that suppresses or damages gene expression after three months - and if the genes with suppressed expression were genes that prevented cancer, the consequences could be catastrophic. Surely enough, within the first year to 15 months, researchers found that some of the hundreds of suppressed genes were anti-cancer genes. However, if you do quit smoking, your risk of heart disease halves after one year, among other life-extending benefits.

How powerful are external, modifiable factors on our genes? Well, research has found that even the smallest diet changes are able to change gene expression. In this case, the genes affected by these changes affect circadian rhythm; a well-balanced circadian rhythm helps to guard against inflammation, cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Perhaps it is controversial, but even the genetic disorder Huntington's Disease may be at least somewhat controllable by natural epigenetic means. Oxidative stress plays a large role in disease progression, and the resulting loss of glutathione causes a shortage of the amino acid methionine, which is required for the methylation function that suppresses the abnormal gene. Genes are not destiny, and we are only just discovering how much this is the case.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Dancing as an Anti-Aging Therapy

Two common beliefs around health and aging are that 1) we cannot reverse the physical decline that is "supposed" to come with living longer and 2) any form of therapy, or anything with health benefits, must be unpleasant. However, a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience demonstrates the opposite to be true in both cases.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study and based in Germany. Volunteers with an average age of 68 were assigned to 18 months of dance lessons or endurance and flexibility training. As expected, both groups showed an increased volume of the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, learning and balance. This area of the brain can be particularly vulnerable to age-related decline, even more so in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Even though it has been established that exercise can slow and reverse age-related neurological decline, whether or not certain types of exercise are better than others has still been unclear. Because of this, the endurance and flexibility group were given routines consisting of repetitive movements, such as cycling, and the dance group had something new each week.

Source: Abro22 (CC:4.0)
Volunteers in the dance group were instructed in a range of genres, such as line dancing and Latin American dance. Steps, formations and music were changed every second week. They were constantly learning, and had to recall dance choreographies under the pressure of time and without any help from the teacher. Only dancing caused noticeable improvements in balance, and some areas of the hippocampus only regenerated in the dancers. The superior results are most likely caused by the combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation.

This is not the first time that dancing has been shown to exert anti-aging effects. Another study of 34 people with an average age of 80 aimed to test the effects of dancing on walking speed and pain in the knees and hips. Participants were assigned to either two 45-minutes dance lessons a week, or a control group. After 12 weeks, those who danced had less pain and were able to walk faster, which has significant implications for health and longevity. As the researchers stated, even walking just a little faster can help with crossing the road or walking to different rooms, keeping people independent and maintaining self-esteem. Longevity is for everyone, and does not need to be unpleasant or expensive.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Going Organic Benefits Everyone

Usually when we start eating organic food, it's for our own health, and often also the health of a future baby. However, adoption of an organic diet can benefit people we don't even know, such as those working in the agricultural industry.

Source: Walter Baxter (CC: 2.0)
As part of the Agricultural Health Study, researchers tested 1,234 men who worked with pesticides on farms or other environments. They all filled out extensive surveys on what pesticides they had used throughout their working lives, and how frequently. A total of 48 pesticides, including the now-illegal DDT, were included on the list. Researches also collected cheek swabs, containing old cells, from the inside of their mouths in order to analyse these for telomere length. The more often the men used pesticides, the shorter their telomeres were. Some pesticides were more strongly associated with telomere shortening than others, including DDT, alachlor (sold under names such as Crop Star), permethrin (known as Nix, among others) and toxaphene.

Telomeres are an important marker for aging, as they shorten with each division without the aid of telomerase, and if they get too small the cell can no longer replace itself and the tissue deteriorates.
Some people think that longer telomeres mean a greater cancer risk, but this is an excessively reductionistic idea, as the worst seven pesticides for telomere shortening are linked with the greatest cancer risk. For example, alachlor is linked with a higher risk of lymphatic cancer, and chlorpyrifos is linked with a greater brain cancer risk. Even children of farming families can have higher risks of developing cancer!

Increasing adoption of an organic diet may shift the availability of agricultural work to safer jobs, or change the nature of the work to something that won't poison business owners and employees. While chronic illnesses are the result of years of personal or familial exposure, it doesn't always take long to begin clearing pesticides from the body. In a small study of thirteen people, just one week of eating an at least 80% organic diet resulted in an 89% reduction in the level of urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites. Of course, some types of pesticides and other chemicals may take longer to be cleared from the body, but this does show how rapidly things can start to improve. Overall, going organic is the right choice for the health of humanity and the world, not just the individual, but it will take a major shift for everyone to reap the full benefits.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Can We Trust Health Rating Systems?

Many people who are only just starting to think about healthy eating want something simple, yet effective, to show them how to properly plan their diets. This is one reason why governments, such as the Australian government, issue guides like the Health Star Rating System (HSR). The HSR is claimed to be an official guide, rating foods from one half to five stars, on how healthy a food is. So, what is the problem?

Source: Amin (CC: 4.0)
The problem with government ratings is that food corporations can and do influence what the barely-aware are told to eat. For example, plain milk gets four stars, but a processed "liquid breakfast" product gets four and a half stars. There are at least four sources of added sugar on its long list of ingredients, while an unprocessed breakfast you make yourself may have none. However, plain Greek yoghurt only gets one and a half stars, and smoked salmon gets three and a half.

It gets worse. Some packets of chips (or crisps) have a four star rating, and so do beer-battered frozen "steakhouse" chips (fries). A chocolate-ish drinking powder, which is about half sugar, gets four and a half stars, and so does a breakfast cereal that is around a third sugar. Commercial fruit juice will have anything between four and five stars, depending on the brand. On the other hand, even the middle-of-the-road World Health Organisation (WHO) states that fruit juice contains free sugars which must be restricted. The HSR is based on an algorithm including a handful of nutrient-based criteria. It does not take into account added sugar, processing, nutrient quality or potential toxic contaminants.

A truly health-promoting, life-extending diet is not the same for everyone, and the HSR also completely ignores food intolerances by its nature. Additionally, another guide formed by over 150 surveys among the world's longest-lived people paints an entirely different picture. To start, 90-95% of your diet should be unprocessed plant foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans and legumes, with a liberal amount of herbs and spices. Beans and nuts should be eaten every day, with fish kept to three times weekly and meat less often. Dairy products from sheep and goat milk can be eaten in moderation, but cow's milk should be avoided. White (refined) grains and food more than minimally processed (five or more ingredients) are also advised against. As for drinks, keep it to water and unsweetened teas and coffee. This advice doesn't come from corporations, it comes from people who commonly live into their 90s and beyond without the chronic illnesses and loss of independence and vitality that we have been taught are "normal". How about a new normal, where reaching triple digits is expected?

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Vitamin D Could Help Patients with NAFLD

Vitamin D, otherwise known as the "sunshine vitamin", seems to be one of the most versatile nutrients out there, with study after study showing benefits in immune function, neurological health and other areas. Now, another observational study has found that it could also help patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This study included almost 11,000 men and women enrolled in the NHANES III study, which was conducted from 1988 to 1994. Follow-up mortality data was collected up to 2011. Just over four thousand people had mild, moderate or severe NAFLD as determined by ultrasound imaging, and nearly five thousand of them had vitamin D deficiency.

Increasing levels of vitamin D were linked with decreasing levels of fatty liver disease severity. The level of liver fibrosis, a serious result of liver disease, was also lowest with the highest amounts of vitamin D. Compared to participants with healthy vitamin D levels, people with a deficiency were three and a half times more likely to die from diabetes, and four and a half times more likely to die from Alzheimer's disease. All-cause mortality rates were 16% higher.

Besides vitamin D, there are other nutrients that could help people suffering from NAFLD. In one study, researchers tested the effects of vitamin E and an insulin-sensitising drug on NASH, the advanced middle stage of NAFLD. This is because fatty liver disease has both insulin resistance and oxidative stress as root causes. Patients taking both 400IU of vitamin E and the drug saw better results than those on vitamin E alone, because of the disease's multifactorial nature. In a follow-up study, patients took either 800IU of vitamin E, the same insulin-sensitising drug or a placebo for almost two years. Both treatments were able to reduce inflammation, liver fat and liver cell injury markers. However, only vitamin E could produce significant improvements in the appearance of liver tissue upon biopsy. Why? Vitamin E has multiple effects, as it can reduce inflammation, quench oxidative free radicals and prevent cells from dying. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect people with NAFLD. These reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and lower levels of triglycerides, tackling several root causes at once. Long-term human trials have shown that supplementation with omega-3 fats, at about 1,000 mg a day, can also both reduce blood markers of liver damage and improve the appearance of the liver on ultrasound exams. While prevention is better than cure, you don't have to despair if you have been diagnosed with fatty liver disease.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Going Vegetarian May Help with Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a very common condition, where stomach acid backs up into the oesophagus or throat. Most people only know of the first type, referred to as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD or GERD), but laryngopharyngeal reflux also affects many patients worldwide. This differs from GORD in that it does not cause heartburn, but instead symptoms such as hoarseness, persistent cough and a constant need to clear the throat. However, it is still treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which may be effective but can cause poor digestion and related issues such as osteoporosis; kidney problems; heart attacks and even dementia.

Source: GracinhaMarco Abundo
This is why even some doctors of conventional medicine are looking for dietary approaches to treat reflux. One of these doctors, Dr. Craig Zalvan, studied almost 200 people to compare the use of PPIs and a mostly vegetarian diet in treating laryngopharyngeal reflux. He began to advise patients to eat a 90% plant-based diet, focusing on vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruit and nuts. Meat and dairy intake were limited to two or three moderate-sized servings per week. For this study, he and other researchers looked at the records of 99 patients given the new dietary advice, and 85 others who were only prescribed PPIs and standard advice between 2010 and 2012. After six weeks of both treatments, relief of symptoms was shown. Almost two-thirds of patients, 63%, advised to go mostly-vegetarian had an at least six-point drop in their scores on the reflux symptom index, considered to be a clinically significant improvement. As for the PPI group, 54% had an at least six-point drop in their symptom scores. Patients who changed their diet lost an average of eight pounds, which may have explained some of the effect. On the other hand, there is a growing understanding that reflux may be an inflammatory disorder, and these dietary changes are known to reduce inflammation.

It has been known for years now that a plant-based diet can significantly benefit our health and longevity. The Seventh-Day Adventists of Loma Linda live an average of 4-10 years longer than expected for Californians, and one reason why is their mostly vegetarian diet. Most of their average diet is made of vegetables, grains, beans, fruit and nuts. They avoid alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and pork; have healthy social lives including volunteering; and regular exercise isn't uncommon for those in their 90s. It's time to take this to the mainstream.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Good News: More Research Shows a Decline in Dementia

Dementia is considered to be one of the greatest enemies of antiaging, and one of the worst things that can happen to a person. With life expectancy rising, one of the worst things a person can say is that those living instead of dying are a burden. None of this is necessary, however, as yet another study is showing that dementia rates are falling in successive generations.

Source: Jeff Kubina (CC:2.0)
For this 22-year study, almost 1,400 participants were grouped into several categories: those born before 1920, those born between 1920 and 1924, people born between 1925 and 1929, and finally, people born after 1929. All were over 70 and did not have dementia upon enrollment. Among the 369 participants born before 1920, 73 developed dementia, or 19.8%. In the 1920-24 group, it dropped to 43 out of 285, or 15%. Then, in the 1925-29 group, dementia rates fell again to 31 out of 344 - 9%. Finally, for those born after 1929, dementia rates were only 3 out of 350, which is less than one percent! Dr. Sam Gandy, who specialises in cognitive health, says that "This is not unexpected...Similar trends have been documented in Europe", but why? The most likely cause of falling dementia rates is better cardiovascular health, leading to fewer stroke and dementia cases as blood vessel health improves.

So how can we improve our blood vessel health? Antioxidants, such as those found in blueberries, may be one of the keys. In a clinical trial, 26 people between the ages of 65 and 77 were given either 230g of blueberries in concentrated form or placebo. None consumed more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Before, during and after the trial, all had their cognitive function and resting brain blood flow tested. Researchers found that participants taking blueberry extract saw significant improvement in both cognitive function and blood flow, as well as other markers of brain activity. Previous studies have also shown an association between higher fruit and vegetable intake, and lower risk of dementia. This is most likely caused by increased consumption of antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals, which may explain the results of the study that showed falling dementia rates. When you look at works from the 1920s and 30s, such as Agatha Christie novels, you see characters smoking in front of each other and described meals devoid of fresh fruit and vegetables. Those participants born after 1929 spent less time in such a culture, and saw increased awareness of healthy lifestyles at earlier points in their lives. Overall, the future looks encouraging for older adults, but not if there is complacency surrounding nutrition and lifestyle.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Ayurvedic Anti-Aging Principles Extend Animals' Lives Too

The field of antiaging and longevity may have gained recognition in recent years, with new techniques and concepts such as stem cell therapy and epigenetics. However, life extension has its roots in ancient times, including in the South Asian tradition of natural medicine known as Ayurveda. Considering that worldwide life expectancy was under 30 until the beginning of the 20th century, do these traditional practices actually work? They may, as poor life expectancy was tied to high poverty and low literacy rates, not the use of herbal medicine.

In a 2010 preclinical study, researchers set out to find whether or not this was the case, by comparing Drosophila flies on a standard yeast diet versus the addition of a rasayana supplement. The Shushruta Samhita, Ayurveda's second great text, describes rasayanas as designed to "retard ageing as much as possible, even to zero”. The Sushruta also describes rasayanas as “reversing naturally occurring senility” (swabhava vyadhi nivarana) and so “preventing death” (marana nivarana).  The study of longevity is said to be "only achievable at the most refined levels attained during intense meditation". The species Drosophila melanogaster is commonly used to study human aging and longevity, as we share many of the same genes that affect these issues.

In the control group of the first experiment, lifespan ranged from 40 days at minimum to a maximum lifespan of 53 days. In the group given the rasayana supplement, lifespan ranged from a minimum of 81 to a maximum of 91 days. The second experiment used more flies, in order to see if there were any sex-specific effects. Male flies given the supplement lived just over 80 days, compared to 52 days in the control group. Female flies in the control group lived only 53 days, but if they were given the supplement, their average lifespan increased to 80 days too. This was an average increase in lifespan by 51-55%, which was even longer than the 35% increase attributed to the breeding of "Methuselah" flies.

If this were to be successful in (very long-term) trials, this could have profound benefits to our health and the costs of healthcare. Traditional herbal formulas, along with diet and lifestyle changes, may be less expensive than pharmaceutical medicine, carry far fewer side effects, and are more focused on prevention. Improved length and quality of life by several decades would mean so much to so many people, as you cannot replace an individual or lost time.

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 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?