Friday, 31 March 2017

Could This Be The Best Anti-Aging Exercise?

Too many of us would rather give up and resign ourselves to the eventually crippling aging process than do one of the most potent anti-aging therapies currently known: regular exercise. For those of us who have been won over by the rest of our lives becoming so much more enjoyable as a result of regular physical activity, the question is: what type of exercise has the most bang for our buck? Well recently, a team of scientists in the USA have found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a relatively new exercise technique, may be the most effective type of physical activity in the fight against aging.

HIIT involves alternating between short, vigorous bursts of exercise and going at a lighter, slower pace. This can be done with a variety of exercise types, such as cycling, running or swimming. For this study, healthy (without chronic illness) participants from both an older and younger age group were assigned to one of three types of exercise for twelve weeks. Some did HIIT with cycling and running, others did weight training, and others still did a moderate amount of both. In total, there were 29 adults aged 18-30 and 23 adults aged 65-80 who completed their assigned exercise program. The researchers measured a range of health and fitness parameters both before and 72 hours after these exercise programs.

They found that all three types of exercise increased muscle mass and strength for both groups, especially with weight training. This is important because unchecked biological aging causes a progressive loss in muscle mass and strength, which is not only unsightly, but also dangerous to our health and independence. All groups also showed an increase in insulin sensitivity, which is likely to mean a reduced risk of diabetes (and the very pro-aging process of glycation). In addition to this, both groups who did HIIT, whether alone or in combination, saw a boost in the amount of oxygen they consumed at peak intensity, which is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. The younger volunteers who did HIIT alone increased it by 28%, while the older group saw an increase of 17%. For the mixed program, it was 17% and 21% respectively. This could mean that a combination of exercise types is best for people over the age of 65. Those in the HIIT groups also experienced improvements in the ability of their mitochondria to produce energy. These are small "organelles" (meaning "little organs") in our cells that produce all of our energy. In the HIIT-only groups, the younger volunteers had a 49% increase in mitochondria capacity, and the older volunteers saw a very impressive 69% improvement. In the mixed groups, only the younger volunteers saw their mitochondrial capacity improve, by 38%. Biological aging causes a decline in mitochondrial function too, which could at least partly explain why older people usually lose energy. HIIT also boosted the function of the protein-producing parts of our cells, known as the ribosomes.

It has been known for many years now that exercise can increase lifespan and reduce mortality rates, with one earlier study in the 1980s showing a 1-2 year benefit to longevity. This may have been an underestimation, as many of the volunteers may have decided to improve their health habits after signing up for the study. Exercise was also found to be more important than family history. Overall, HIIT has added benefits that other exercise types do not seem to possess, but if you want to start and have a medical condition, always consult your doctor first.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Three Herbs and Spices That May Relieve Anxiety and Depression

Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are sadly common, affecting about 18% of the American population. The mainstream perspective is that anyone with one or more of these disorders has a "chemical imbalance" in their brains, and therefore they must take pharmaceutical drugs to manage it. However, these drugs are often ineffective or come with side effects that may be worse than the actual illness. Then, there is also the question of what exactly this "chemical imbalance" is, and where it came from. These causes can actually be the quite preventable problems of nutrient deficiencies, inflammation or hormone imbalances, and thankfully there are natural medicines that can help without being so debilitating.

Botanical illustration of saffron.
Once again, one of these is turmeric, more specifically, curcumin, its main "active ingredient". In a study of 60 people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), everyone was assigned to either fluoxetine, 1000mg of curcumin, or both for six weeks. After the six weeks, it turned out that all three interventions were roughly equal in effectiveness. This ranged from about a 62-78% response rate, but the differences were not seen as significant. The average improvements in the HAM-D17 depression scores were also similar. These results mean that the choice between natural, pharmaceutical or integrative treatment can be entirely up to the individual, based on their beliefs and values, in at least some cases. In another study on 108 Chinese men, adding curcumin to their usual antidepressant use resulted in significant benefits to their depression scores. Levels of salivary cortisol (the primary stress hormone), as well as some inflammatory immune chemicals, also fell significantly.

Another of these is rosemary, a common staple of kitchen gardens. While we know the herb as an ancient memory aid, one much more recent study tested its effects with lavender on nursing students about to sit an exam. Use of these two oils together resulted in improved anxiety scores, which were backed up by personal statements and pulse measurements. Research on mice has also found anti-anxiety effects of rosemary, possibly by reducing cholinesterase enzymes, some of the enzymes that break down neurotransmitters.

On the more expensive side is saffron, a spice that is essentially part of a flower's tiny reproductive area. A meta-analysis of 2 placebo-controlled trials and 3 antidepressant-controlled trials studied what effects it may have on major depressive disorder, a condition where the expense is likely worth it for a safe, effective natural therapy. It was found that saffron performed significantly better than placebos, and had similar efficacy to antidepressant pharmaceuticals. The average Jadad score was 5, meaning that these were high-quality trials. Overall, there are effective natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals for depression and anxiety, we just have to keep our minds open, and enlist the help of qualified practitioners.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A High-Starch Diet May Prevent Type I Diabetes

Type I diabetes is usually seen as unrelated to diet and lifestyle, and therefore something that cannot be prevented, unlike Type II diabetes. Fortunately now, a new Australian study is gaining significant attention, as it may hold the key to finally preventing the disease in significant numbers of at-risk children.

Type I diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease; that is, it involves the immune system "turning against" the body and attacking the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Most cases appear before the age of 14, and those diagnosed must have daily injections of insulin in order to survive for the rest of their lives. Working with the CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, researchers at Melbourne's Monash University developed a diet rich in a certain type of fibre, resistant starch, that is broken down in the intestines to produce short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids, butyrate and acetate, have previously been found to help balance out the immune system, preventing it from creating too much inflammation and related damage. For this preclinical study, the researchers compared mice on a normal diet and mice on the high-resistant starch diet. All were bred to develop the mouse equivalent of Type I diabetes. The mice on the normal diet had a 70% chance of developing diabetes by 30 weeks; however, those eating significant amounts of resistant starch were almost completely protected against the disease.

"We think our study establishes the concept that we can stop a disease with natural medicinal food", immunologist Charles Mackay says, when in fact he is finding out for himself what naturopaths and other practitioners of traditional systems of medicine have known for years, even centuries. The next step is clinical trials in humans, and although he says it's "too early to tell" whether or not this diet works in people, we should be eating foods high in resistant starch anyway. These include potatoes, bananas, cashews, oats, white beans and lentils. Research has already shown that foods and probiotics that would increase short-chain fatty acid production can improve cognitive control, such as working memory, ability to multitask and focus, as well as reduce anxiety. This is most likely caused by the complex interactions between the digestive system, immune system and the brain.

There has also already been research on what may cause type I diabetes to develop, and in humans too! Multiple studies have found that cow's milk consumption in genetically vulnerable people can raise the risk of developing type I diabetes. In one of the newer studies, Finnish researchers tracked 1,113 babies who were at risk of developing diabetes during childhood, and were assigned to receive one of three formulas whenever breast milk was unavailable. These were cow's milk formula, whey-based hydrolysed formula and a whey-based formula free of cow insulin. Antibodies to the children's own pancreatic beta-cells (insulin-producing cells) were measured up until three years of age. Compared to the normal cow's milk formula, the whey-based hydrolysed formula was linked to a 25% lower risk of autoantibodies, and the bovine insulin-free formula was linked to a 61% reduced risk of having autoantibodies. The cow insulin may have "taught" their immune systems that insulin is a "threat" that must be eliminated, especially as other components of cow's milk may be pro-inflammatory. Overall, type I diabetes is not something we are helpless against, even if we do have to change long-standing habits.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Lactic Acid May Affect Cancer Development, According to a New Study

Just in time for another round of disempowering nonsense, telling us all that cancer is caused by "bad luck", a new study appears that may help to vindicate the Warburg effect. At the beginning of the 20th century, the German scientist Otto Warburg found that cancer cells have a higher demand for sugar than normal cells. They are more reliant on glycolysis than healthy cells, which is far less efficient at turning sugar into cellular energy than aerobic (oxygen-dependent) respiration. All cells use glycolysis as the first stage in energy production (Principles of Anatomy and Physiology - Tortora and Derrickson, 2012), but in the presence of oxygen a healthy cell will then use the breakdown products of glycolysis to begin aerobic respiration. Without oxygen, these breakdown products will enter the Cori Cycle to produce lactic acid, or lactate. A buildup of lactic acid in the muscles causes them to become tired and stiff; you may notice this during intense exercise. Warburg found that even in the presence of oxygen, cancer cells seem to produce more lactic acid than healthy cells.

Source: Steve Barnes (CC BY-SA: 2.0)
In this new research led by Inigo San Millan, director of the Sports Performance Department and physiology laboratory at the University of Colorado-Boulder's Sports Medicine and Performance Center, he and his team set out to understand why the Warburg effect happens. They found that common changes to gene expression, found in most cancers, also seem to deregulate lactic acid production. The researchers also explain that lactic acid helps to create an acidic environment outside the cancer cells, which helps them to spread around the body. In fact, San Millan and colleagues suggest that lactic acid is the "only metabolic compound involved and necessary" in the five stages of cancer development after carcinogenesis, the transformation of healthy cells into cancerous ones. It could also help to explain why regular exercise helps to prevent cancer. Regular workouts help to train the body to efficiently recycle lactic acid into something that actually can be used for energy, which prevents harmful accumulation (why you eventually grow accustomed to that workout). High sugar intake combined with a sedentary lifestyle may be even worse for cancer risk. It may also explain why regular exercise has been shown to increase cancer survival rates.

This research may lead to therapies that reduce the accumulation of lactic acid, in order to prevent cancer cells from spreading and avoiding the immune system. Although the effects of improved stress management on immunity are a likely factor, it could also help explain why living in the greenest spaces has been linked to a 13% lower risk of cancer death compared to living in an urban jungle. This Harvard University study on 110,000 women also found a 12% higher risk of all-cause mortality among the urban jungle dwellers. Overall, any evidence that can point to methods of natural cancer prevention is a good thing, and hopefully the health industries will stand up and take notice of these findings.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Is Ibuprofen Dangerous?

Most people think that because something is legal and easily accessible, it is safe to use in "recommended" amounts and methods. However, new research shows that one of the most accessible pharmaceutical drugs, ibuprofen, may in fact be killing thousands of people every year.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, sudden cardiac arrest - literally, your heart stopping - is a leading cause of death in adults over 40 around the world. In the USA alone, 326,000 people suffer from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, and around 90% of them do not survive. Last year, this included the actress Carrie Fisher, but sadly nothing seems to have changed in the average person's consciousness in regards to cardiac event prevention. The conventional medical world still points the finger at vague, often uncontrollable risk factors like family history, previous heart problems or high LDL cholesterol.

Studying how to treat cardiac arrest, although prevention
is vastly superior.
Finally, a recent press release issued by the European Society of Cardiology titled "Harmless" Painkillers Associated with Increased Risk of Cardiac Arrest attempted to alert the health industry of a not-so-obvious but easily preventable cause of death. This was based on a study published on the Christmas Eve of 2016, a few days before Carrie Fisher died. The study is no joke: the cases of 28,947 people on the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry were analysed, which was everyone who had suffered an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest from the years 2001-2010. Of these, 3,376 had used NSAIDs up to 30 days before cardiac arrest. Their cases were compared to 115,788 people, matched for age and sex, who did not have a cardiac arrest. Ibuprofen and diclofenac were the most common NSAIDs, representing 51% and 21.8% respectively of total NSAID use. Ibuprofen was linked with a 31% increased risk of cardiac arrest, and diclofenac was linked with a higher risk. Naproxen, celecoxib and rofecoxib were also linked with higher risk of cardiac arrest, but these were not seen as significant (caused by use of the drugs). However, these groups only had a few cardiac events.

The authors wrote that this was not the first time that NSAID use, especially the selective COX-2 inhibitors, have been linked to adverse cardiac events (there are two versions of the inflammatory cyclo-oxygenase enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2). One meta-analysis they described, by Bhala et al., reported double the risk of major coronary events with the use of ibuprofen, a 70% higher risk of major coronary events with diclofenac and a 65% higher risk of vascular deaths with diclofenac use. When Trelle et al. compared ibuprofen use with placebo, they found a 30% higher risk of heart attack, cardiovascular death and death from any cause. With diclofenac, they found a higher risk of cardiovascular death with a rate ratio of four. However, these analysed high-dose use of ibuprofen, at 2,400mg a day, but this may be more common than we think. Other research had found harmful effects of rofecoxib, which was withdrawn from the market in Denmark in 2006.

All of this means that it's now time to look at more natural ways of controlling pain. Depending on the cause of pain, a qualified naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor or osteopath can help to uncover the root causes of pain and put together a treatment plan so you can truly heal, not just mask the symptoms.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Is Staying Inside a Public Health Emergency?

Vitamin D is unique among the nutrients, as it is the only one that we can produce by sun exposure. It is made from cholesterol molecules, so naturally-occurring food sources of the vitamin are always from animals, but there are many products fortified with vitamin D such as milk. This is why so many people do not consider the possibility of vitamin D deficiency being found in a wealthy country. However, the best way to "consume" vitamin D is still by sun exposure without burning. But the sun is dangerous, the government says. So, is there a problem?

Unfortunately, yes there is. After the Industrial Revolution and before foods were fortified with vitamin D, rickets (severe deficiency) affected 85% of children in European and American cities. But despite these public health measures, recent research has uncovered more subtle deficiencies at unbelievably high rates. For example, over half of certain elderly populations and 30% of healthy young adults in Boston have been found to be vitamin D deficient. In one Boston study, half of the women admitted to hospital for hip fractures were deficient. Older people do not produce vitamin D at the same efficiency as younger people, while our society seems to encourage them to stay inside. However, low vitamin D has been linked to weaker quadriceps, reduced postural stability, slower reaction times and overall poorer physical function in people admitted to fall clinics. On the other hand, a large placebo-controlled study found that giving adults aged 65-85 100,000 units of vitamin D every three months reduced the risk of any fracture by 22%, and osteoporosis by 33%. This was without an additional calcium supplement. Society tells us that when someone is infirm, we must "look after" them by keeping them shut inside and away from "doing too much". It looks like it's time to re-evaluate our ideas, and the way our lives are structured. Our previous struggles for survival may have led us to associate nature with danger, and so favour the indoors, but the way we work, play and even build our houses possibly should be restructured to enable the right amount of exposure to sun and air.

Many of us now seem to fear the sun because of its association with skin cancers. However, this may be an all-or-nothing approach, taken to extremes. Dr David Hoel writes:

"The body of science concerning the benefits of moderate sun exposure is growing rapidly, and is causing a different perception of sun/UV as it relates to human health. Melanoma and its relationship to sun exposure and sunburn is not adequately addressed in most of the scientific literature."

Research has also shown that outdoor workers may actually have a 14% lower risk of melanoma than people who work inside. It is not as one-sided as the PSAs tell you: non-burning sun exposure has been linked to a reduced risk of melanoma, while sunburn doubles the risk of developing the cancer. Many others have shown that vitamin D reduces the risk of different types of cancer such as breast, colon and prostate cancers. Some of these benefits are only seen with sun exposure, not vitamin D status in general which includes supplementation.

High blood levels of vitamin D are also linked with lower all-cause mortality. When 32 studies were analysed in a meta-analysis (research on research), vitamin D levels under 9ng/mL were associated with a 90% higher all-cause death rate compared to people with levels over 50ng/mL. In a study involving women in Sweden, avoiding sun exposure was linked with double the risk of death over the research period, compared to those who embraced the outdoors. Looking at all of this, it's no surprise that researchers have now said:

"Insufficient sun exposure has become a major public health problem, demanding an immediate change in the current sun-avoidance public health advice. The degree of change needed is small but critically important."

Let's change things sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Some of Aging May Be Man-Made

Our lifespan and many other aspects of our quality of life have greatly improved over the centuries. We came from a world where almost all of us lived in extreme poverty and half died by 30, to a world where global life expectancy is 72 and counting, less than 10% of us are extremely poor and an increasing number of us have the freedom to live on our own terms. But some of our progress isn't really progress, as it has come to the detriment of our health. What went wrong, and how can we live a more balanced life, with the best of both worlds?

Rainforest in Bolivia. Source: Elias Bizannes
Recently, a study emerged on the Tsimane, a hunter-gatherer society in the Bolivian Amazon. At about 16,000 people, they are a small culture, but one of the most researched indigenous groups in the world. For this study, 705 people first spent a day canoeing, as usual, then took a 6-hour drive to the nearest city so doctors could take computer scans of their hearts and measure their weight, heart rate, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. In exchange for their time, they were given small gifts such as thread and yarn, things they can actually use. After all this, it was found that the average middle-aged Tsimane has arteries that are 28 years younger than those of average Westerners! When compared to over 6,800 Americans, they were one-fifth as likely to have heart disease, and 9 out of 10 had absolutely no risk of developing it. The Tsimane don't drink or smoke often, their traditional diet is low in added fat and sugar, and they exercise four to seven hours daily on average. However, those using motorised canoes and eating processed foods are showing signs that they are at risk of heart disease, such as higher blood cholesterol. Fortunately this means that lifestyle has power over genetics. Unfortunately (for some), it means that we do have to restructure our lives and society to allow for more incidental exercise. Perhaps cycling to work and other places should be made easier; and workplaces should be re-imagined in a way that physical activity is built-in to the job.

Similar situations have been seen around the world, when people switch from traditional, unprocessed foods to processed, "modern" diets. Often, significant degeneration has taken place within one or two generations, and people of different towns or islands were found to have radically different states of health depending on whether they continued to eat traditional foods, or adopted modern products. In conclusion, the overzealous modernisation of the past century really does need to be tempered by an acknowledgement of the nature of our bodies; we are not meant to be entirely dependent on machines.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

UN Admits Pesticides Aren't Necessary

Since World War Two, the idea of "better living through chemistry" has remained persistent throughout the world. We have been told that we can't live without chemicals, that we would starve without those such as pesticides, but it's becoming common knowledge now that this is not the case. Even the United Nations is now waking up to this, with a new report due to be presented to the UN human rights council.

The new report is strongly critical of the corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of unethical marketing, systematic denials of harm and lobbying governments to prevent regulations against chemical usage. It describes catastrophic effects on the environment, human health and society, including 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. "Acute" does not include whatever chronic illnesses that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals may cause.

Organic farmland growth, 2000-8.
About the supposed "benefits" of pesticides, “It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.” Many of these pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as soy and palm oil, which are not typically used in food. Elver has visited Paraguay, the Philippines, Morocco and Poland in order to write this report, and says that while corporations will always deny the harms of pesticides, the testimony of the people still stands.

Some of the diseases belong to one of our biggest killers: cancer. Multiple studies have shown that pesticide exposure, whether at home or after parental exposure at work, is linked with an up to three, even four or six, times increased risk of childhood leukaemia. For brain cancer, exposure during pregnancy has been linked with the greatest increased risks, as well as home and garden use. There is also some evidence linking pesticide use to other childhood cancers such as Wilm's tumour, retinoblastoma (eye cancer), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and neuroblastoma.

Fortunately, organic agriculture is more popular than ever. In 2015, the number of organic farmers stood at 2.4 million, up by 7.2% from 2014. Organic farmland was up to 50.9 million hectares, up by 14.7% from 2014. The highest market share was Denmark, at 8.4%, while Australia has the most organic farmland at 22.7 million hectares (as we are a quite arid country, the quality may not be as high as in other regions). India has more than half a million organic farmers, the most of any country, with Ethiopia and Mexico following at over 200,000 each.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Dementia, Caffeine and Prevention

Dementia is a horrible set of neurodegenerative diseases, affecting not only our physical bodies and abilities, but also our mental health and abilities, to the point of destroying everything that we are. Fortunately, dementia rates among people over 60 years old are declining, at least in the USA. From 1986-1991, 3.6% of people over 60 had dementia. In 2004-2008, it was only 2% of over-60s. Overall, there has been a 20% drop in dementia rates per decade since 1977. Another found a drop in dementia rates among over-65s from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012, benefitting around one million people. But how can we join in with these benefits? Well, a common so-called "vice" may actually be another way to help prevent dementia.

This vice is coffee, not decaf, but the regular caffeinated variety. So how does it work? In a study on mice, which are biologically similar to humans, researchers found that mice genetically "destined" to produce the mis-folded tau proteins seen in Alzheimer's disease did not produce enough of an enzyme known as NMNAT2. Because of this, they tested over 1,280 compounds to see if they had any effects on NMNAT2 production in brain cells. Caffeine was one of the most active substances in increasing NMNAT2, and when they tested it on the mice, they began to produce normal levels of the enzyme. Of course, this is just an animal study; we need human research to confirm these effects.

Source: Julius Schorzman
There in fact have been population studies on the effects of caffeine and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. One of these is the CAIDE study. Previous research found inconsistent results, but 3 of the 5 studies were in agreement that coffee drinking can help prevent dementia and cognitive decline. Another two that combined coffee and tea consumption also found positive effects on cognition. In the CAIDE study, drinking 3-5 cups of coffee every day in "midlife" was linked with a 65% reduction in Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia later in life. Researchers thought that this may be because of the antioxidant, insulin-sensitising benefits of coffee, or the caffeine itself.

Caffeine is more than an intoxicant, in fact, there is a lot of science behind its effects against dementia - this is far from "wishful thinking" by busy doctors who want an excuse for their coffee habit. There is a strong inflammatory component of the development of Alzheimer's disease, and part of this is over-reactivity of the glial cells, which act as part of the brain's immune system. Caffeine's effects on the adenosine receptors in the central nervous system have been found to reduce this over-reaction, and so inhibit inflammation. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) has also been shown to play a role in Alzheimer's disease; if it is too "leaky", it can speed the buildup of harmful proteins. And yes, caffeine may protect BBB integrity, partly by calming the glial cells. Animal studies have shown that all of this reduction in inflammation may translate to the prevention of memory problems. Despite a lack of human clinical trials, all of this helps to validate the benefits of caffeine seen in population studies. In conclusion, it may not be best to completely give up coffee in order to improve your health, as moderate caffeine consumption could prevent you from nasty neurodegenerative diseases later.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Three Herbs and Spices That May Help With Weight Loss

Living in a world of over-convenience and seemingly addictive sugary, processed foods, being overweight or obese is sadly the new normal for many. Conventional methods of losing weight, in other words being told "just eat less" and "cut out fat" just aren't working, and sometimes just finding the motivation to go outside and exercise is a battle itself, with concurrent chronic conditions also common. But what if there was a weight loss tool that could both taste great and work in a holistic manner?

Source: Simon A. Eugster
It turns out that some spices, often simply seen as a way to improve taste and bring another culture into the recipe, may actually aid weight loss. One of these is turmeric, commonly used in South Asian cooking. A randomised, controlled clinical trial tested the effects of curcumin, the "main" active constituent of turmeric, on 44 overweight people with metabolic syndrome who were not doing well with losing weight. After the 30 days, curcumin increased monthly weight loss from 1.88% on average to 4.91%, increased body fat reduction from 0.7 to 8.43% and increased waist circumference reduction from 2.36% to 4.14%. Waistline and body fat reduction is particularly important, as these go beyond simply fitting "beauty standards". Abdominal fat, or visceral fat, is in many ways a functioning endocrine organ. It produces inflammatory immune chemicals, which promote insulin resistance, which promotes abdominal obesity. Abdominal fat can also produce relatively large amounts of an enzyme that activates cortisol, which breaks down proteins (such as that in muscles and bones!) and promotes obesity. Curcumin has other anti-inflammatory effects too, and as inflammation causes pain and fatigue, reducing it may help you gain the motivation to go outside.

Coming back to European cooking, rosemary is another possible fat fighter. In an animal study, mice were given either a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet on its own or a high-fat diet supplemented with rosemary extract. Compared to the high-fat diet alone, supplementing with rosemary extract reduced weight gain, circulating liver enzymes, liver weight, blood glucose and insulin levels. This means rosemary extract may protect against fatty liver disease and diabetes. Rosemary extract also significantly reduced advanced glycation end-products and the expression of liver receptors for them. These are hard-to-remove substances that get tangled in tissues, disrupting their structure and function while creating a vicious cycle of damage and inflammation. They are thought to be behind much of the aging process. However, this is only an animal study, we need human clinical trials to confirm these benefits.

Now let's go somewhere in between these two regions, Iran. Dill is a now-common herb used in cooking and medicinally for its effects as an aromatic digestive herb (Phytotherapy Desk Reference). Now, a recent study on mice suggests that dill extract could also help with the often-elusive willpower needed to cut excessive kilojoule intake. A significant drop in body weight and food intake was seen over five weeks of dill seed extract administration, alongside a significant rise in serotonin. Serotonin promotes a sense of satiety; if you have enough serotonin, you know when to stop eating. As this was another animal study, we need human clinical trials to confirm these effects in people. Overall, herbs and spices may be an important missing link in your efforts to lose weight, although extracts available from natural health practitioners seem to be the only products of the necessary strength.

Friday, 10 March 2017

New Research On Magnesium

At first, it seems strange that one simple mineral could have such dramatic effects on our health. But three months ago, yet another study was published, showing that optimal magnesium intake could lower the risks of certain chronic illness and mortality.

Released on the 8th of December, 2016, this study is a meta-analysis, in other words, a study of studies. Led by Fudi Wang, a research team from Zhejiang University's School of Public Health analysed 40 studies that involved a total of over one million people. Magnesium intake was determined by food frequency questionnaires and dietary recall. It was found that for every 100mg increase in magnesium intake, there was a 22% reduction in heart failure, a 7% reduction in stroke risk and a 19% lower risk of developing type II diabetes. The risk of dying from any cause fell by 10%. However, while supplementation is indeed effective, the authors noted that boosting magnesium intake by dietary changes can be hit and miss. There are many foods, such as some nuts, beans and whole grains, that are rich in magnesium, but it is best to not rely on only one food source if you want to improve your magnesium status.

If you grow your own food, this is how
 magnesium deficiency looks in plants.
As Dr George Lundberg points out, magnesium deficiency is unfortunately so common in spite of all the research demonstrating its benefits, and could be killing those we love and care about. In his article, Did Carrie Fisher Die From Chronic Magnesium Deficiency?, he raises the very real possibility that she may have died from an undetected mineral deficiency. With the recent study showing a 22% drop in heart failure for every 100mg of magnesium, chances are looking high. Years before this recent paper, it has been known that low magnesium can trigger cardiac rhythm abnormalities, and that magnesium infusions can restore healthy heart rhythms. And sudden, unexpected deaths affect several hundred thousand people in the USA alone, every year. This should concern us all, but half of all Americans, including two-thirds of teenagers and those over 80, do not consume the recommended amount of 300-400mg of magnesium.  Almonds, cashews, shellfish, spinach, peanuts, pecans, whole grains, soy, black beans, edamame, dark chocolate, brown rice, oatmeal, figs, apricots, and bran are some food sources of magnesium, but too many people primarily consume processed foods. Alcohol, cola and some pharmaceuticals such as diuretics and PPIs further deplete the mineral, and use of these are so common, especially in the elderly. Magnesium is used for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including nerve impulse conduction and energy production.

It may not just be what we eat, but how these foods are grown. Magnesium is found in significantly higher levels in foods grown organically, along with other nutrients such as vitamin C, iron and carotenoids. Fortunately, thousands of farmers across the world are turning to organic farming methods in order to improve their health, as well as that of their customers and the environment. And awareness of natural health, both things we can do ourselves and those that require a qualified naturopath (or other practitioner), is growing every day. Sudden death is not fate, it is preventable!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Is Longevity Worth It?

If you've taken an interest in longevity and antiaging as I have, eventually you will have someone say to you that they don't want to live longer as they believe that the world is only getting worse, if you haven't already. One or more of the following will be mentioned: war, the economy, climate change, freedom, or something else. But is this really true? Do we really have to pity the younger generations and wait to die?

It's not that bad.
Actually, no we don't, but that doesn't mean that sources like Our World in Data and Human Progress don't have to fight to prove that optimism is in fact the evidence-based worldview. The mainstream media throws tragedy after disaster after more death at us, without a balanced perspective. But this is some of what you don't see: global extreme poverty has fallen from about 95% in 1820 to just under 10% today; largely because of this, the under-5 mortality rate fell from 43% in 1820 to 4% today; and although almost nobody lived in a democracy in 1820, 56% do today. Partly driving these is the increase in literacy and basic education, which rose from 12% and 17% in 1820 to 85% and 86% today. On average, around 130,000 people escape from extreme poverty every day, and the number of children under 5 dying worldwide falls by 455. But this is too normal and too nice for the mainstream media, who seem to prefer showing dead children than children who are healthy because their family just gained access to sanitation. And longer lives don't mean overpopulation: global fertility has more than halved since 1960, a far cry from the situation that inspired Soylent Green and Logan's Run among others. Human Progress also shows other improvements in gender equality, such as a shrinking wage gap, less violence against women (and its acceptance) and more women in leadership roles. However, a major reason why we don't see these improvements is because more recently, so much of it has been outside the West. Extreme poverty is no longer the norm in East Asia, South Asia and even Africa, while it was as late as the 1980s (its no surprise then, that everyone wanted to become culturally Western).

Yes, long-term statistics show improvement, but what about during the last few years? The world has continued to improve overall, including in the case of the environment. Many species of animals, such as the humpback whale, had been taken off the endangered species list last year. Over three million square kilometres of ocean had been declared as marine sanctuaries. In 2015, half a million solar panels were installed every day, and in recent years emissions have stopped increasing. War zones are shrinking, now confined to an arc between Nigeria and Pakistan.

I know I have just bombarded you with numbers, but the size of them shows that overall, the world has gotten better, although there is still much more work to do. Life is worth living and longevity is worthwhile.

Monday, 6 March 2017

What is Teff?

As awareness of gluten intolerance grows, and our diets become more multicultural (so, not boring!), alternative grains such as quinoa and amaranth have gone from unknown to relatively mainstream. Now, we have a new addition to the formerly bland Anglo-Western diet: teff, a gluten-free grain originating from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Although it has been used in African and Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, only in the last few years has there been a market for it in the West.

So, why eat teff? As above, teff is another gluten-free grain, making it safe to eat for those of us with coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity. It has a mild, nutty flavour, and can thrive even in harsh climates, a possible win for Australian farmers who would like to try growing it. Teff is not just a filler food, like white wheat bread, either. Among other essential amino acids, teff is an excellent source of lysine, where most other grains have a low lysine content. As for minerals, teff is rich in potassium, calcium and iron, and is also an unusual grain in the case of its vitamin C content. And unlike conventional, super-processed gluten-free bread, teff is high in resistant starch and has a low glycaemic index (GI).

Injera, a traditional bread made from teff.
Source: Maurice Chedel
And what do these nutrient stats mean for our health? As a nutritious food with a higher tolerance for harsh conditions than most other grains, teff has the potential to benefit everyone, from American hipsters with IT careers to African farmers. First, the fact that it is a tough grain, and considered to be very resistant to insects and storage pests, means that it can be stored using traditional methods instead of those using chemical protection. Therefore, it is easier to grow teff organically. Teff has an estimated protein content between 8.7-11%, and is comparable to wheat, barley, maize and pearl millet; while it is superior to brown rice, rye and sorghum. Its amino acid balance has been described as comparable to eggs, despite a relatively lower lysine and isoleucine content (lysine is still present in higher levels compared to other grains). This is important for poorer people, who cannot always afford animal sources of protein as easily as grains. When compared to other grain in the case of mineral content, teff usually stands out for its levels of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and copper. "Usually", because sorghum contains a similar amount of magnesium to teff. Calcium is necessary to help prevent osteoporosis, as well as colon cancer according to at least one population study. Research in Ethiopia has also found higher haemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein) in the blood of teff consumers, and an association between the grain and lack of iron deficiency-anaemia. It has even been shown that people who eat teff do not develop hookworm anaemia, even when infected with the parasite. Malaria is another issue in many areas of Africa, but a higher haemoglobin status helps to prevent being affected by the disease. And besides vitamin C, which is present at 88mg per 100 grams of teff, the cereal also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3 and plant equivalents of vitamin A.

But are we stealing food from impoverished African families? Several years ago, a similar story about quinoa circulated, shaming anyone who dared to eat quinoa and simultaneously exist in a wealthy nation. But the truth is much more positive and nuanced: farmers usually do set aside some of their quinoa harvest for personal use; and higher prices have led to greater economic, and therefore social, power for these farmers. So many are now diversifying their diets to include more vegetables and meat, and an exit from extreme poverty means an ability to protest for economic and environmental rights. Going back to "staying in your lane" and feeling sorry for rural South Americans could send them back into poverty and powerlessness. And chances are, the growing popularity of teff will have the same benefits as that of quinoa.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

What If the Best Antibiotics are Free?

We hear news of the latest "superbug", resistant to most or all known antibiotics, plaguing our hospitals on a regular basis. And the proposed solution is almost always the same: more medical research to produce more antibiotics, regardless of how long it may take for bacteria to become resistant to those. While antibiotics do save lives, what if there was a more sustainable way to prevent and help fight infections, and prevent "superbugs" from appearing? Well, these sustainable alternatives do exist; you can access them anywhere for free, and they cannot be patented. They are fresh air and sunshine.

A perfect day for us; hell for pathogens.
Source: Mantas Volungevicius
Unfortunately, many people think this is a joke, because of the societal belief that newer and more high-tech = better. But Florence Nightingale didn't promote them because she had no other options, but because they worked. We know that she slashed death rates in hospitals with a list of hygiene improvements, but the fact that she kept the windows open and the long sides of her wards facing south, to let the most sunshine in, seems to be less well-known. By the end of the 19th century, "solar clinics" were a popular way to treat tuberculosis, where people spent much of their time exposed to fresh air and sunlight. If you could afford it, I mean - high poverty rates with resulting crowded, dank living conditions meant that TB caused a fifth of all deaths in Victorian cities.

But what about scientific evidence? An early study about the effects of fresh air on pathogens came from the height of the Cold War, in the 1960s. Biological warfare was a real concern, so microbiologists wondered how long the microbes would stay viable. When they exposed E. coli bacteria to fresh air, all of them were dead within two hours, but controls kept in boxes at the same temperature and humidity mostly survived. They called the mystery ingredient the "open air factor". This mystery factor turns out to be hydroxyl free radicals; while they aren't harmful to larger organisms such as humans, they are deadly to tiny bacteria. However, the open air factor rapidly disappears with increasing degrees of seclusion (The Influence of Sunlight and Ventilation on Indoor Health: Infection Control for the Post-Antibiotic Era). Later research showed that the risk of respiratory infections was 50% higher in US Army recruits who slept in newer barracks, where the windows were more likely to be closed and the air was recirculated more than in the older ones. Another US study in a jail found that during an outbreak of pneumococcal disease, infection rates were 95% higher in cells with the lowest amount of outside air supply. In research on Chinese university students, 35% of students caught at least 6 colds per year if the ventilation rate was one litre per second per person. If the ventilation rate was 5 litres (per second, per person), then only 5% caught at least 6 colds per year.

As for sunlight, we now know that it triggers our production of vitamin D, which has many health benefits such as boosting our immune system. Older research, dating back to the 1870s at the earliest, showed that sunlight can also directly kill bacteria. Robert Koch was the first to announce that sunlight kills the tuberculosis bacteria, and studies in the 1940s found that areas of TB wards exposed to sunlight tested negative for the bacteria, which did not survive more than a few days. Spaces such as the inside of drawers and refrigerators allowed them to survive for months. Even though we now know that excessive sunlight can cause skin damage, spending time in the sun is necessary, as long as it is not enough to burn at all. Overall, we do not have to be at the mercy (or lack thereof) of dangerous bacteria; they have weaknesses that strengthen us.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A Diet That Mimics Fasting May Help Diabetes

If you have diabetes and enjoy eating, scientists have good news for you. A recently published study on mice and human cells has shown that a scientifically-designed diet, which mimics fasting, may trigger the development of new, healthy pancreatic cells to replace lost or damaged ones. While this doesn't mean you can go off all medications on day one, it is progress, and could mean progress for you.

FMD is similar to the ketogenic diet.
Source: Matt Dobson
"Cycles of a fasting-mimicking diet and a normal diet essentially reprogrammed non-insulin-producing cells into insulin-producing cells," said Valter Longo, who led the study and is the director of the Longevity Institute of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. The diet activated regeneration of pancreatic cells, which brought mice back from late-stage type I and II diabetes. An in vitro version also reactivated insulin-producing cells from type I diabetic patients. This is only the latest in a series of studies to show that a brief, periodic diet which mimics water fasting can have significant health benefits. When the mice were put on this diet for four days each week, healthy insulin production returned, insulin resistance fell and blood sugar stabilised. It was found that these diet cycles switched on genes that usually do not do anything past the foetal stage, genes which trigger the production of proteins necessary for tissue regeneration. "Fasting" also triggered production of the same protein in human cells.

How does it all work? Fasting is inherently stressful and damaging to the body, so a return to normal eating patterns (previous bad habits not required!) stimulates tissue regeneration by stem cells and other mechanisms. A fast-mimicking diet done in short bursts of several days avoids the negative side effects while triggering similar regeneration processes. The diet that these researchers developed is low-kilojoule, low-carbohydrate and low in protein, but high in fat, which causes similar changes to glucose, ketone bodies and growth factors compared with water fasting.

There has also been at least one small clinical trial demonstrating the benefits of this diet. When human volunteers completed three cycles, each for five days a month, they had decreased markers for aging and risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Overall, the fasting-mimicking diet looks promising in the fight against diabetes, and possibly other diseases, but larger clinical trials are needed to confirm its effects and how to use it.