Friday, 21 July 2017

The Benefits of Eating Hemp Seeds

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brain Damage Reversed By Oxygen Therapy

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

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

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

Friday, 14 July 2017

Vitamin K2 May Help Those With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Can a Diet Reverse Wrinkles?

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 July 2017

Magnesium Supplementation May Help Relieve Depression

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Progress in Reviving the Brain Dead

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Ageless Generation Appears

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Don't Want Coffee? Try Cocoa Instead

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

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

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

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