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  • Feeling under the weather? There could be a very good reason

    We all feel ‘under the weather’ at times, but what does this actually mean? Evidence does show that weather can affect in our health in different ways. Climatotherapy is the idea of recommending different weather conditions for different illnesses. Patients with tuberculosis were traditionally sent to the mountains for the lower levels of water vapour and higher ozone levels. Conversely, seaside resorts are considered to be excellent ‘respite centres’ because of the sodium and iodine rich sea air and can help those with respiratory conditions or rheumatism.

    Storms
    Depending on the severity of the storm this type of weather can have a relative affect on our health. This is especially true for asthma and arthritis sufferers. Asthma UK recommends that people with the condition stay indoors with the windows closed during thunderstorms. This is because pollen grains and fungal spores get carried, broken up and concentrated down a narrow column of air. This can cause an attack for asthma sufferers or hay-fever sufferers. Even those without these conditions may feel a heavier feeling in their breathing. Even less dramatic storms can have an effect too, arthritis sufferers can find that rains storms make their aches and pains worse. This is not so much to do with the rain itself but the weather system that creates it; the warm fronts, the cold fronts and the changes in electromagnetic frequencies.

    Cloud cover
    Most people notice that prolonged periods of gloomy weather can affect their mood. However for some the effect is so noticeable that it interferes with their lives. The reduced levels of light can bring about fatigue, depression or feeling low, changes in appetite, apathy and disturbed sleep patterns. Conversely however, it seems that our memories may benefit from cloud cover, studies suggest that people performed better in memory tests when the weather was gloomy.

    Drop the Pressure
    Changes in atmosphere pressure can have an impact on sufferers of headaches and migraines. As the pressure becomes lower this can cause changes to oxygen levels. It is thought that the blood vessels in the head expand or contract to compensate for this.
    Further studies have shown that if you are heavily pregnant there is a chance that your waters may break as your uterus expands in response to the change in atmosphere.

    Feeling the cold
    During the winter months the Met Office works closely with the Department of Health to make sure that they can provide timely information to healthcare professionals and the general public in order to keep people well. In the UK alone there are, on average, 25,000 extra deaths in the winter compared to other months of the year. Blood can thicken in the cold because of the increase in blood clotting factor fibrinogen. The cold can thicken blood, increase blood pressure and tighten the airways, making those who have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions more vulnerable to risk of stroke. Experts suggest that the optimum temperature for the general living area of a house is 21 degree Celsius and 18 degrees Celsius for a bedroom.

    How true is it that the cold gives you a cold? Well according to a study from the Common Cold Centre, when colds are circulating many people are carrying the infection but showing no symptoms. When exposed to the cold weather, the once warm blood, that was supplying the white cells that fight infection, becomes chilled and the infection starts to take hold. So if going out, wrap up warm.

    If you cant stand the heat…
    Sunshine is good for us in small quantities and is needed by the body for the production of Vitamin D which is important for healthy growth. However, in extreme heat our heart rate rises, blood vessels expand to let more blood reach the skins surface and we sweat more often causing dehydration. The combination of dehydration and loss of blood from the central nervous system can lead to fainting. This is a particular risk to young children and the elderly. Check the temperature in your bedroom, hot temperatures over night can make it difficult for the body to cool – experts suggest 18 degrees Celsius to be the optimum temperature to sleep in, and 21 degrees Celsius for the living area.

    The lighter side of health.
    Other, more cheery effects of a sunny day is the impact it can have on our mood. There is a photoreceptive system within the eye that is separate from the visual system. This photoreceptive system is light sensitive and directly attached to the arousal system in the brain. When light passes through this photoreceptive system, the neurotransmitter serotonin is released. This is the chemical that helps us to feel good and uplifted. When there is reduced daylight less serotonin is released and instead the opposing chemical, melatonin, becomes dominant. Melatonin induces the sleep process and can leave us feeling ‘half asleep’. Usually this system works well, as night time falls our body responds naturally by producing melatonin but when it is grey and dark during the day the combination of reduced serotonin and raised melatonin can cause a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is now a widely recognised clinical condition and there are medically proven light therapy products available to support sufferers re-dress the balance.

    Sometimes the effect is physiological or sometimes psychological, either way we cannot deny the inextricable link between our wellbeing and natures environment. So much so, the MetOffice have a dedicated service, Healthy Outlook. This service was designed specifically to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, stay well throughout the year.

    If you have any concerns the effect the weather has on health refer to the met office website http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/health/public.

     

  • Can B vitamins improve your memory?

    Can B vitamins improve your memory?

    Results from a comprehensive double-blind* clinical study on the effect of B vitamins on mild cognitive impairment (MCI) gained media focus last week. The study concluded that those with MCI experienced clinically significant improvements after taking B Vitamins.

    MCI was defined by the following criteria:

    • Objective memory impairment for age
    • Largely preserved general cognition
    • Essentially normal activities of daily living
    • No dementia.

    Mild cognitive impairment is common and thought to be caused by reduced blood flow causing a physical shrinking of the brain. This is largely due to raised levels of a natural chemical, or amino-acid, called homocysteine. Too much homocysteine can encourage the arteries in the body to harden, fur-up and, in turn, reduce the free flow of blood to the brain and other areas such as the heart. This reduced blood flow causes the brain to ‘shrink’ making it hard for the brain to function optimally, especially for cognitive tasks such as memory and problem solving. Research shows that these patients may also be at an increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
    For the purposes of the study the participants received a mixture of the B vitamins B12, folic acid and B6 or placebo, for two years. The results showed that B vitamins appear to slow cognitive decline by reducing this raised homocysteine and equally, due to the duration period, illustrated the ability of B vitamins to intervene in disease progression and development of dementia or alzheimers.

    This is just one of many studies that have suggested that B vitamins could help to reduce memory loss as we get older. In fact, previous research has shown that high homocysteine has a direct correlation to low folate (folic acid) or vitamin B12 levels in the blood. As a result improving the body’s provision of these nutrients, including Vitamin B6, can slow the rate of brain shrinking by up to 50% by converting homocysteine into other non-harmful substances.

    What can you do to reduce your homocysteine levels?

    The good news is that, whatever your homocysteine level is, you can lower it with the right combination of nutrients, dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.

    • Eat less fatty meat, more fish and vegetable protein.
    • Eat your greens. Have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Vary your selections from day to day
    • Have a clove of garlic a day or take a garlic supplement.
    • Don’t add salt to your food
    • Cut back on caffeine
    • Limit alcohol to four glasses of wine a week or two pints of beer.
    • Address your stress levels.
    • Stop smoking
    • Supplement with a B vitamin complex and a Multivitamin & Mineral combination supplement each day.
    • Get exercising at least three times a week
    • Balance your hormones, if post-menopausal, with soya foods and herbs such as black cohosh.
    • For extra memory support consider well-researched natural supplements such as gingko biloba and 1000mg of Fish Oils.

    *where neither the researchers nor the participants knew whether they were being given the placebo or the B vitamins.

  • What are antioxidants and why do I need them?

    In the natural process of our day out body breaks down nutrients, absorbs them and uses them for repair and growth. This happens every minute of every day and is the way in which we survive. However this process, albeit natural, also causes some damage; Free Radical Damage and here is how. Oxidation uses oxygen and is the same process that turns butter rancid and metal to rust, if left to its own devices it can cause degeneration of body tissue and premature ageing. In humans, oxidation is an essential part of normal metabolism but oxidation is also caused by environmental factors too. These include exposure to the suns rays pollution, smoking and a poor diet and speed up the development of free radical damage if left unchecked. Your body has a sophisticated method of keeping this in check by using a group of nutrients called anti-oxidants. These anti-oxidants swoop around the body soaking up and destroying any free radical molecules before they can cause any damage. Thankfully anti-oxidants can be found in abundance if we eat a nutritious whole-food diet, By this I mean a diet rich and varied in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.

     

    Perhaps the most well known antioxidants are Vitamins A, C and E but there are also a very important group of nutrients; Carotenoids. These are the chemicals that give fruit and vegetables their rich colour for example orange and yellow colours found in squashes and carrots are from the caretonoid Beta Carotene. Beta Carotene is converted into an active form of Vitamin A, known as Retinol, when in the body which is a potent antioxidant. Lycopene is also a strong antioxidant and gives tomatoes their wonderful red colour. Lycopene has been shown to be especially effective at protecting from and repairing skin damage as well as supporting the prostate. Lutein and zeanthinin are also caretonoid’s receiving a lot of recent positive research. They demonstrate health promoting benefits for the eyes and for strengthening the immune defences. Their names are derived from their natural hue, with lutein derived from the Latin word luteus meaning golden yellow, zea referring to the corn genus and xantho derived from the Greek word for yellow. While these carotenoids both have yellow pigments, they are found concentrated in foods of others colors, notably leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, brocolli) and including eggs, courgettes, corn and peas. Another great source of Zeanthinin is Krill oil. The eyes are repositories for carotenoids with lutein and zeaxanthin concentrated in the retina and lens. Observational studies have noted that higher dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is related to reduced risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Researcher suggests that these carotenoids may promote eye health through their ability to protect the eyes from light-induced oxidative damage and aging through both their antioxidant actions and an ability to filter out UV light.

     

    Flavanoids are another important group of antioxidants found in red wine and tea among others. Epidemiologists suggest that the reduced rates of heart disease in France may be due to the regular and moderated intake of red wine. These flavanoids are thought to protect the genetic material, or DNA, from free radical damage. Damage to DNA contributes to degenerative diseases such as alzheimers and advanced cognitive decline. Green tea contains the highest amount of flavanoids of all tea varieties and exert many health benefits including repairing skin damage and reducing the risk of some cancers.

    Another less talked about antioxidant is a nutrient called Alpha Lipoic Acid. It is the only antioxidant that can easily interchange between the blood stream and the brain and has therefore been noted as being important in the prevention of a stroke for those at a high risk. A similar antioxidant, acteyl L Carnitine can delay the onset of age related cognitive decline. This is where the cognitive functions of memory, moos and logical thinking decline with age and is the very result of an increase of free radical damage. As our bodies produce less of our own supply of antioxidants, the damage outweighs the repair and physical deterioration occurs. In a study conducted with mild age related cognitive decline patients significant improvements (memory, mood and response to stress) were seen in those that had been given acetyl L carnitine. The antioxidant Co Enzyme Q10 also looks promising for its protective role in the cardiovascular system which include the heart and arteries as well as slowing the progression of Parkinsons or Huntingtons disease.

     

    Recent research has shown that antioxidants must work together to prevent free radical damage. For example when vitamin E has been neutralized it then becomes a very weak version of a free radical itself. However if it is taken in combination with Vitamin C, the vitamin C will ‘recycle’ it so that Vitamin E becomes an active antioxidant once again. Similarly Vitamin C must be recycled by a antioxidant called glutathione so the same does not happen to it too. Antioxidants also need other team players in the nutrient group such as zinc, magnesium, copper and manganese to do their job optimally. Researchers have in fact found that a combination of vitamin C, E, Betacarotene and zinc slows down the progression of age related macular degeneration by 25%.

     

    You cannot stop the process of oxidation but you can limit the amount of degenerative damage that occurs as a result of it. As you age it becomes increasingly vital to ensure an optimum supply of antioxidants either through diet and supplementation or both. Remember to keep up the variety to get a cross section of these wonderful health promoting nutrients or if taking a supplement is the most practical solution, take a combination product such as a multivitamin and add on an extra antioxidant boost such as Vitamin C or Mixed caretonoids.

  • Something we have hoped for all our lives!

    Chocolate and Red Wine Make You Smarter

    Scientists have come to the conclusion that a limited amount of dark chocolate and red wine consumed together may actually be good for the brain, enhancing its capacities of resolving complex matters.

    Recent studies led by a research team of experts at Northumbria University Medical School in North East of England. The starting theory was that polyphenols affect the brain's capacity to function. And they wanted to check if it was true and how it happens. So they gathered a group of volunteers of different ages and intelligence state. They asked every participant to take a supplement of polyphenols found in wine and then they gave them a series of tests. In addition they did brain scans to all volunteers in order to see if there was any change at a neural level.

    What they found out confirmed their suspicion: there is a connection between the level of polyphenols in the brain and the brain's activity. Polyphenols increased the brain activity, pumping more blood into the vessels. This is how they work actually. They relax the blood vessels, making them wider and thus increasing their capacity. This way, blood runs faster through the veins and gets faster to the brain, as well. The relaxing of the vessels inside the brain not only increases the amount of blood in the head, by also the amount of oxygen and other nutrients, which are highly important to the brain.

    Polyphenols can be taken as supplements, but they can also be found in some foods, among which there are the dark chocolate and the red wine. They work well separately, but work even better when tasted together. Scientists warn, however, that a small quantity was all it took and that this shouldn't be used as an excuse to over do it. (there's always one isn't there)
    The studies have shown that polyphenol consumption does not increase intelligence in young people as they seem to have the brain already working at full capacity. (Every parent knows that teenagers are already smarter than everyone else) However, polyphenols helped widening their blood vessels in the brain, too. Instead, there have been differences registered in older people who seem to benefit more from eating chocolate and drinking wine.

    At last!

  • Sleep: Why You Need It and What to Do if You Can't Get It

    During sleep our body goes through a sophisticated and organised programme necessary to undertake some major restoration and recuperation activity from the days ‘going-on’s’.

    Your brain cycles through two different stages, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. REM sleep happens intermittently throughout the night and is associated with dreaming where as non-REM sleep has more levels including deep sleep. During the REM stage the brain is thought to ‘back up’ all its information on to a hard drive, getting rid of information it doesn’t need and restoring what it does. Links are built across the brain to do so. It is thought that during this deep sleep or non-REM sleep that most of the restorative work around the rest of the body happens.

    So what happens when you don’t get the quality of sleep needed to complete these stages?
    Insomnia is a disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or both. It can leave you drained the following day. Insomnia can deplete not only your energy and mood but also affect your health, work performance and quality of life.

    The amount of sleep you need is very individual and is often relative to age and activity. For example a teenager during the ‘growing years’ may need to sleep a lot where as someone in the latter part of their lifespan may need considerably less. Insomnia actually becomes more common with age. As you get older, changes to activity, medication, health problems become more pronounced and therefore make you more susceptible to poor quality sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours but no matter how much sleep we get it is the quality of the sleep not the quantity. Anxiety, stress, and depression, eating late and fatty foods, drinking and sleeping environment can all disrupt the quality of your sleep.

    You can get away with the odd night of poor-quality sleep but after a while the accumulation can start to affect you physically and mentally. Your body quite simply isn’t getting the chance to rejuvenate and repair. Cognitive abilities like memory, mental performance, mood and coordination can become significantly compromised. It can increase the risk of getting drowsy during the day in high-risk situations such as driving or reduce your competence at work or school for example. You may feel anxious about this and the cycle of poor sleep may be perpetuated. Or you may rely too heavily on poor nutrient foods such as caffeine or sugary foods simply to ‘get you through the day’. On a physiological level the immune system is suppressed with a lack of quality sleep, and eating nutrient poor foods only increases your vulnerability to infections and slowing down recovery.

    What causes it?
    This is varied and individual but with most cases of sleep concerns, it is due to mental concerns such as worry or depression or a diet rich in fatty foods or stimulants and low foods that promote serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone produced in the body and is involved in inducing sleep by enhancing the production of melatonin. Melatonin is triggered through periods of darkness or reduced sunshine (hence feeling a little more sluggish in the winter). The balance of these two hormones is essential for anyone on shift work where their circadian rhythm can be disrupted making it harder to gain quality sleep.

    Snoring can the result of a diet high in fats, and affects nearly half of the adult population, where as alcohol intake in the evening may make you drowsy but it can prevent you from falling into a deep, quality sleep.

    Waking up early and not being able to get back to sleep can be sign of mental concern such as anxiety of depression. Chemical imbalances in the brain can make falling asleep or staying asleep much harder as well as finding it difficult to relax.

    What can you do about it?
    Eat a small snack a couple of hours before going to bed. A late evening snack of whole-grains, bananas or nuts and seeds may help to raise serotonin and melatonin levels. Ideally don’t eat a large meal or drink stimulants such as caffeine, sugary drinks or alcohol within 2 hours before going to bed.

    Don’t eat a big meal late at night. This can put extra strain on the digestive system and make you feel more physically uncomfortable or vulnerable to heart burn when lying down.

    Avoid spicy, rich, fatty foods. This too can make you feel uncomfortable if eaten late at night but fatty foods may also encourage the chances of snoring.

    Don’t drink too much liquid just before bed. This will get your bladder bursting to be emptied during the night. If this is a concern of yours, drink small amounts throughout the evening, stopping at least an hour before bed. Alcohol is a diuretic so avoid this too at least 2 hours prior to going to bed.

    Avoid caffeine or sugary foods. These are stimulants to the nervous system and can make it harder to relax. Alcohol is also high in sugar and can cause you to wake in the middle of the night.

    Certain herbal and nutrient supplements have also been shown to be especially effective. Valerian, hops and lemon balm have shown to relax the nervous system and induce sleep naturally, avoiding the drowsy feeling the next day associated with prescription sleeping pills. The minerals calcium and magnesium help the muscles to relax. Digestive enzymes can support the breakdown of rich and fatty foods thereby reducing the potential to snore. Rhodiola is a wonderful all round herb that is used for the relief of symptoms associated with stress such as anxiety, fatigue or exhaustion and is therefore a great choice if it is worry that is keeping you awake. 5 HTP is a natural amino acid that stimulates the production of melatonin.

    Remember too to make sure your bedroom is low in geopathic stress such as televisions, computers, digital clocks, mobile’s. Have these as far away from your bed as possible and keep a window open to let in some fresh air. And don’t forget the relaxing wonders of lavender, a hot bath and some relaxing music.

    Remember that even if you can only achieve 3 hours sleep at a time at the beginning it is indeed progress and you will get there with the right approach.

  • Should I take Acai?

    What is Acai?

    The acai berry is an inch-long reddish, purple fruit . It comes from the acai palm tree (Euterpe oleracea) native to tropical Central and South America and has been a traditional food of the native people of the Amazon for hundreds of years. Acai derives from a word of indigenous peoples of South America meaning "fruit that cries." The fruit is used as a natural ink or dye and the wood is used in house construction (palm thatched roofs). Ethnobotanists have recorded no less than 22 different uses for all parts of the Acai tree. Due to what is being called the 'acai craze' in the United States, one proposed project in Brazil has called for the planting of five billion acai trees in the next 10 years.

    How does it work?

    The acai berry has been shown to contain a number of antioxidants (3) , including anthocyanins (4) which may boost the skin's ability to prevent oxidants from harming connective tissues. It also contains phytosterols which may protect epidermal collagen, and flavonoids, which may exert anti-inflammatory properties.  omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, which are vital to proper cell contraction and regeneration; monounsaturated oleic acid, which may help the body to absorb omega-3 oil through the cell membrane more effectively; as well as phytonutrients and minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus and calcium. Acai berry purportedly posseses more proteins than an egg, and the vitamins B1, B2, B3, C and E. The oleic acid content of açaí has been reported to be the same as in olive oil.

    What do we use it for?

    In recent times, research on acai fruit has been centered on its potential antioxidant properties. Acai fruit has also shown anticancer (1) and anti-inflammatory activity (2)diseases casued by oxidative damage such as heart disease. It has also been used as immune stimulant, energy enhancer. Anthocyanins and flavonoids found in Acai fruit are powerful antioxidants that help defend the body against life's stressors. They also play a role in the body's cell protection system. Free radicals are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may interfere with aging and the disease process by neutralizing free radicals. By lessening the destructive power of free radicals, antioxidants may help reduce the risk of some diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. Some studies state that the antioxidant capability of the acai fruit is even greater than that of cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, or blueberry. It has been reported that the antioxidant properties of Acai berries may also be effective at promoting weight loss although further research is still needed to confirm this.

    How should we take it?

    No typical dose has been set for acai berry as yet but effective doses appear to be 2000mg of whole acai berry. No contraindications are known.

    Refs:

    1. Pozo-Insfran, D., Percival, S. S., and Talcott, S. T. Acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) polyphenolics in their glycoside and aglycone forms induce apoptosis of HL-60 leukemia cells. J Agric.Food Chem 2-22-2006;54(4):1222-1229.
    2. Schauss, A. G., Wu, X., Prior, R. L., Ou, B., Huang, D., Owens, J., Agarwal, A., Jensen, G. S., Hart, A. N., and Shanbrom, E. Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (acai). J Agric.Food Chem 11-1-2006;54(22):8604-8610.
    3. Jensen, G. S., Wu, X., Patterson, K. M., Barnes, J., Carter, S. G., Scherwitz, L., Beaman, R., Endres, J. R., and Schauss, A. G. In vitro and in vivo antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacities of an antioxidant-rich fruit and berry juice blend. Results of a pilot and randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover study. J.Agric.Food Chem. 9-24-2008;56(18):8326-8333.
    4. Rodrigues, R. B., Lichtenthaler, R., Zimmermann, B. F., Papagiannopoulos, M., Fabricius, H., Marx, F., Maia, J. G., and Almeida, O. Total oxidant scavenging capacity of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (acai) seeds and identification of their polyphenolic compounds. J.Agric.Food Chem. 6-14-2006;54(12):4162-4167.
  • Hydrochloride Vs Sulphate: What is the truth about Glucosamine products?

    Glucosamine products are taken widely and are in fact the most popular supplement taken for joint health in the UK.

    Many people prefer to try a natural alternative ­especially for treating arthritis. Where NSAIDs can only damp down inflammation and pain, food supplements such as glucosamine have the potential to halt the degenerative effects of conditions such as osteoarthritis. It does this by stimulating the formation of proteoglycans (protein molecules) important for strengthening cartilage so it can resist compressive forces; it is also thought to have an anti-inflammatory action. A pivotal trial published in the Lancet showed that taking 1,500mg of glucosamine sulphate per day produced significant improvements in pain and disability, with no significant loss of joint space seen over the three year trial period. In contrast, those taking placebo developed worsening symptoms with increased narrowing of the knee joint space . Subsequently a systematic review of 20 randomised controlled trials found that, in people with osteoarthritis, glucosamine was more effective at relieving pain (28% improvement) than placebo.

    Products are certainly plentiful but how do you know which one is right for you?

    Glucosamine is a product derived from shellfish and used for the repair of damaged joint tissue and reduce the pain associated with it.Glucosamine is unstable by itself and so needs to be partnered with another compound to stabilize it. This is the reason for the use of sulphate and hydrochloride ions; they serve as carrier molecules for the glucosamine to be absorbed. There is some debate over which ‘carrier’ system provides the superior absorption rate. The truth is, clinical evidence suggests that so long as the amount of glucosamine is the same, both forms will deliver the same amount. With the Hydrochloride (HCL) carrier system, less HCL is needed to ‘carry’ the glucosamine than the sulphate version . HCL is slightly cheaper too, making it the carrier ion of choice for some food supplement manufacturers.

    However, it is the Glucosamine sulphate version that has stolen the clinical limelight. It is the more widely tested form and comprehensive clinical trials have shown it to be a highly effective alternative to non steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDS) for joint pain and inflammation. Experts also rightly question the therapeutic role of sulphate within a glucosamine sulphate product. Natural forms of sulphate are used by the body for the synthesis of proteins and the regulation of inflammation . Therefore some experts might argue that although it works as a wonderful carrier for glucosamine, the presence of sulphate may in fact enhance the regeneration of joint tissue and reduce inflammation as well. If you chose a Glucosamine Sulphate product ensure it is no less that 20% 2KCL. Anything more than this will dilute the amount of glucosamine in the product.

    References:
    Reginster jy et al. 2001. long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. lancet 357(9252):251-6
    Towheed te et al. 2005 glucosamine therapy for treating osteoarthritis. cochrane database syst rev. (2):cd002946.

  • Do we really need to take multivitamins?

    For some time taking a daily multivitamin supplement has been highly recommended for certain target groups such as vegans, vegetarians, those who skip meals or those on restricted diets. However statistics are fast showing that in fact taking a multivitamin should be part of everyone’s daily routine. There are many within the natural health industry whom claim that we simply cannot reach the necessary levels of micronutrients we need with a modern diet of 2000 calories per day, regardless of how healthy that diet may be. The USA Food and Drug Administration already recommends a multivitamin for all American adults, perhaps the UK will not be far behind.

    Are we facing an irreversibly nutrient poor lifestyle? Convenience foods, snacking on processed foods, decreased soil quality and long term food storage techniques all contribute to the parallel rise in the incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity that we are seeing now. As the pace of life increases, many people find it difficult to eat a well balanced diet and often resort to ‘on the go’ convenience foods. Despite recommendations the average person in the UK consumes less than 3 daily portions of fruit and vegetables instead of the recommended 5 (87% of men and 85% of women), meaning that many people are likely to be suffering from multiple nutrient deficiencies (Department of Health, 2004). In addition changes in farming techniques, decreased soil quality and long term storage have resulted in a dramatic decline in the nutrient content of our foods. Much of the food that we eat has travelled many miles to reach us, and then stayed on supermarket shelves for days meaning that nutrient levels have become depleted over time. Months may elapse between harvesting and eating, not giving the fruit or vegetable its full nutrient potential. Startling declines in the nutrient value of soil in which food is grown over the last decade, particularly in the minerals magnesium and selenium, have left us unable to rely on food for the full spectrum of nutrients that we need.

    Taking a multivitamin does not give free license to eat what you want when you want. It is simply a building block, to provide a base of nutrients to be built upon by a healthy diet. Multivitamin products can also be targeted to specific groups with varying requirements. For example post-menopausal women and men above 50 will require more calcium than other groups. Equally botanicals such as gingko biloba may be in this category to give further support to cognitive function. Younger women may benefit from higher levels of iron, B6 and folic acid. You may be aware that your lifestyle may be especially busy making eating well and regularly harder than average. On top of this your body’s requirements for nutrients becomes even more important the busier you are. For this reason taking a multivitamin targeted at your specific category can carry significant benefits.

    Even the professionals, such as nutritionists who preach the therapeutic value of food, support the use of a multivitamin as a foundation stone for a healthy lifestyle. If you decide to take a multivitamin, don’t sit back and let it do all the hard work. Take responsibility for your health and future, no matter how old you are; eat and exercise well.

    Do you need a multivitamin?

    1. Do you regularly eat less than the recommended minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day
    2. Do you experience stress, have a hectic lifestyle and are regularly ‘on the go’?
    3. Do you often resort to convenience type foods or ready meals?
    4. Do you suffer from constipation, bloating or other digestive problems?
    5. Do you get colds/flu more than three times per year?
    6. Do you live or work on or near a busy road or town, with chemicals or pesticides?
  • Digestion: The cornerstone of good health.

    We often don’t think about digestion unless we’re not feeling great or we’ve eaten something that doesn’t seem to agree with us. The usual course of action is to take well known antacids or indigestion tablets to gain relief until the next time it occurs. What we sometimes forget is that the main function of digestion is to break down the foods we eat and utilise the nutrients for energy, growth, repair and immunity, so it’s no wonder we don’t feel well when we eat things that aren’t good for us. Why is it that we eat too quickly or sometimes don’t chew properly? If only we did, it would make a big difference to digestion.

    Here are some important factors that can contribute to poor digestion:

    • Stress
    • Smoking
    • Caffeine
    • Alcohol
    • Eating rich, fatty or spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cucumber, melon, onions, beans

    The importance of a balanced diet
    Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and water in conjunction with regular exercise can help to maintain good digestion; however, sometimes we need some additional support to improve things. Rather than turning to the medicine cabinet why not try some natural alternatives instead.

    Ask yourself these questions to see if you might benefit from a digestive supplement:

    Probiotics – the good bacteria
    In the small and large intestines there are large amounts of bacteria or ‘intestinal flora’ present. Unfortunately not all of these bacteria are good, but provided you have enough of the good bacteria present they will benefit your health by acting as immune defence against more harmful bacteria and fungal infections.
    Good bacteria also help to:

    • Produce vitamins and digest fibre
    • Repair and promote a healthy digestive tract
    • Fight infection
    • Reduce inflammation
    • Reduce allergic inflammatory reactions

    Sometimes we don’t have enough good bacteria which may be as a result of:

    • Antibiotic usage
    • Poor diet
    • Food allergies
    • Steroid drugs
    • The Pill
    • Non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen

    Do you have enough ‘good bacteria’?

    Are you prone to feeling too full and bloated after eating?
    Sometimes when the body doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes, symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps and wind can occur. Digestive enzymes are responsible for the breakdown of food into much smaller components so that the body is able to absorb it more easily. Therefore, supplementing with digestive enzyme supplement after a meal can help aid the digestion of food in a more natural way and address digestive discomfort.

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
    This is an extremely common blanket term given to a wide range of digestive symptoms including diarrhoea, constipation, wind and stomach cramps. It can be set off by a number of things including stress and irritating foods. It can appear as quickly as it can disappear and therefore makes diagnosis difficult. As well as following the tips for better digestion at the end of this article, you could also try taking peppermint oil in conjunction with probiotics to help symptoms. The muscles of the digestive system can become tight and go into spasm during a phase of IBS. Peppermint oil’s therapeutic properties help bring relief from bloating and tightness by reducing muscle spasms.

    Ten tips for better digestion:

    1. Chew your food well to a pulp
    2. Eat slowly and don’t bolt food-the stomach has no teeth!
    3. Try not to eat when stressed as the digestive system is the first system to be affected when stressed
    4. Avoid drinking large amounts whilst eating as it may dilute stomach acid and cause bloating
    5. Avoid eating fruit after meals as it will ferment and cause bloating and gas.
    6. Eat a good variety of fresh unprocessed foods so that your digestive system doesn’t get bored of the same food –that’s how intolerances can start.
    7. Eat at least 5-6 portions of fruit and vegetables a day which are high in soluble fibre. Fibre is essential for detoxification and regular bowel movements.
    8. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol as they irritate the digestive system.
    9. Drink 1 ½ - 2 litres of bottled or filtered water per day
    10. Avoid ready meals and processed foods that contain artificial additives.

    What if you are taking prescribed medication?
    If you are taking prescribed medication for digestion or any other reasons then always consult your GP before taking new supplements.

  • The benefits of odourless Garlic capsules

    People taking garlic supplements acquire significantly fewer colds than people taking a placebo. Garlic has been used for millennia as both a food and medicine. Although most studies of garlic's benefits involve raw or powdered garlic, odourless garlic products now dominate the supplement industry as equally healthy alternatives to their pungent-smelling counterparts. If you are interested in using odourless garlic supplements for any purpose, consult your health care provider about the possible benefits and risks.

     Fewer Side Effects

    According to the National Institutes of Health, bad breath and body odour are the most common side effects associated with garlic supplements. Although odourless forms of garlic still contain trace amounts of malodorous sulfur compounds, these processed products generally cause fewer side effects than conventional forms of the supplement. Odourless garlic is less likely to cause halitosis, or bad breath. It is also less likely to cause the pungent, sulfurous body odour classically associated with garlic. However, there is no evidence to suggest that garlic's other side effects, such as headache and dizziness, can be prevented through the use of odourless supplements.

     Cardiovascular Health

    Garlic works in a variety of ways to promote overall heart health, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC. Compounds in garlic supplements help to prevent platelet aggregation, or the clumping of blood cells. They may also cause modest reductions in total and low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol levels. Additionally, the UMMC notes that garlic can help to reduce blood pressure. Although the American Heart Association acknowledges garlic's potential as a preventative in regard to cardiovascular disease, the association also notes a lack of consistent evidence regarding the relative efficacy of varying preparations. No well-designed studies have compared odourless garlic's benefits to those associated with other varieties.

    Common Cold

    Odourless garlic supplements may play a role in the prevention and treatment of the common cold, according to the UMMC. People taking garlic supplements acquire significantly fewer colds than people taking a placebo. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health report that garlic may help to reduce the severity of upper-respiratory infections, including coughs and colds. These findings are encouraging, but it is important to note that there is no cure for any viral infection. Unless otherwise directed by a qualified practitioner, do not rely upon garlic alone as a treatment for any disease or condition.

     Cancer Prevention

    Daily supplementation with odourless garlic may help to prevent several common forms of cancer. According to the UMMC, people who consume garlic regularly have lower rates of stomach and colorectal cancers. Limited evidence also suggests that garlic can help to prevent cancers of the breast, throat and prostate. The UMMC attributes these benefits to garlic's potent antioxidant activity and its ability to stimulate immune function. These findings are promising; however, it is important to note that most studies have involved raw or fresh garlic as part of a diet. No large-scale trials have investigated the use of aged, odourless garlic supplements for cancer prevention.

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