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.