SAD

SAD: Tips for a Happier and Healthier Winter

SAD: Tips for a Happier and Healthier Winter

At this time of year, as the days become darker, many of us find that we are travelling to and from work in the dark. This lack of sunlight can have a tremendous effect on us, affecting our mood and appetite, and creating a greater need for sleep. These symptoms are typical of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder affecting around 1 in 15 of us in the UK.

SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight, which in turn affects the body’s production of mood-balancing hormones melatonin and serotonin. These hormones also affect our sleep cycle and appetite, leaving those affected feeling tired and prone to weight gain.

While anti-depressants are sometimes prescribed for SAD, there are a number of natural measures thought to be effective in addressing SAD.

1. Vitamin D and Omega-3

Vitamin D and omega-3 are commonly in low supply in the UK diet. The British National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicates that 25 per cent of British adults have low vitamin D status (1). Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, because this vitamin helps to regulate levels of both serotonin and melatonin.

SAD has been found to be less common in people who have a higher intake of omega-3, present in fish oils and some plant oils. Icelandic and Japanese populations have a high intake of fish, and a low prevalence of SAD. Seafood consumption has also found to be linked to lower rates of major depression (2). Like vitamin D, omega-3 helps to modulate the mood hormone serotonin.

2. Physical Activity

Exercise is well-known to boost levels of endorphins, lower stress levels and improve sleep quality. Regular exercise is therefore recommended. A recent Cochrane review concluded that exercise is effective in reducing symptoms of depression, with aerobic exercise being particularly effective. Michael J Rice, a professor of psychiatry at Nebraska Medical Centre, advises that those with SAD should make a concerted effort to exercise throughout the winter months, and that exercising outdoors is particularly beneficial (3).

3. Light Therapy

Thought to be the most effective treatment for SAD, light therapy has a beneficial effect on levels of melatonin, and increases blood flow to areas of the brain affected by SAD. Light therapy is also thought to affect levels of serotonin and the stress hormone cortisol. There have been more than 60 randomized, controlled trials of light therapy for SAD, and almost all of these studies have shown positive benefits.

Light boxes can be bought for home use, and are most effective when used daily and in the morning for around 30 minutes. For those experiencing SAD, the positive benefits should be felt after just a couple of weeks.

Anyone choosing light therapy should ensure that they are using an effective device, as some devices may not emit light at an effective intensity. In light therapy treatment, the intensity of the light is directly linked to the effectiveness of the treatment. Compared with placebo, bright light at levels of 6000 lux was found effective for patients with depression. Patients received bright light for 1.5 hours each day, while the placebo group used a sham device. More recently, a randomized trial published earlier this year found that just 30 minutes exposure to a bright light device is effective in treating depressive symptoms (4).

For anybody experiencing SAD, the dietary, lifestyle and light therapy measures above are possibly the safest and most natural ways of bringing the body back into balance. For those beginning to feel the winter blues this month, taking action early can help to ensure a happier and healthier winter.

References
1. National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) Rolling Programme. May 2014. Food Standard Agency.
2. Hibbelm JR (1998) Fish consumption and major depression. Lancet 351:1213
3. SAD no more: preparing for seasonal affective disorder. www.everdayhealth.com. Visited 31/10/2016.
4. Lam et al (2016) Efficacy of bright light treatment, fluoxetine, and the combination in patients with nondeasonal major depressive disorder. A randomised clinical trial.

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Winter Wellbeing

Winter Wellbeing – Key Health Support Tips

Key Health Support Tips for Winter Wellbeing

The darker nights and drop in temperature means we need to prepare ourselves and our bodies for winter.

At this time of the year it’s essential to provide the relevant ingredients to (naturally) fuel our bodies so that we can stay healthy and keep our immune system in good order.

Homemade soups and stews are often thought of as essential winter foods, so experiment with traditional produce such as root vegetables, squashes, seasonal greens, beans and other items such as whole grains to create delicious flavour combinations. Don’t forget that you can also make nourishing dishes using cooked apples, pears and citrus fruit – all key to your body’s maintenance.

If you think your diet alone is not providing sufficient nutrients during the cold snap, try using food supplements to support the immune system. Typical winter supplements are vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc. A good preventative supplement for winter colds is taking beta glucan to strengthen your immune system. Meanwhile horseradish and garlic are both rich in compounds with immune boosting, antibacterial and antiviral activity. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can also help support healthy immunity.

Don’t be discouraged from going outdoors because of the cold weather. Doing at least 30 minutes daily exercise – such as a brisk walk – will keep your circulation going and help keep the viruses at bay. Also try to keep a healthy mind as well as a healthy body by considering some stress management practices such as yoga or meditation.

There are simple measures to help reduce the risk of becoming susceptible to winter bugs: drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration and remember to regularly wash your hands to prevent infecting others.

Most importantly take time to relax, rest and recover as the cold and darkness urges your body to slow down.

Winter is a great opportunity to reflect on your health, replenish and conserve energy levels by eating the right foods and adapting some lifestyle changes.

Remember, it’s a combination of all the above factors that will help you stay well.

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vitamin D

Vitamin D Awareness Week: Dealing with vitamin D deficiency

Dealing with vitamin D deficiency

Celebrity chef Tonia Buxton sprays her way to health after realising ‘you can’t eat your way out of vitamin D deficiency’

Are you tired? Feeling low? Suffer from headaches, aches and pains? You could be suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

When nutrition expert Tonia Buxton discovered she was deficient in vitamin D, despite an incredibly healthy lifestyle, it came as a huge shock. “If I can be vitamin D deficient – then so can you” says Tonia.

“I decided to look into which supplements I should be taking and hands down the best option for me was BetterYou’s DLux Oral Vitamin D Spray, for formula as well as absorption. I love using the spray; I can use it on the go and have peace of mind that I’m getting an optimal level of vitamin D with just one spray a day.”

Watch Tonia’s story below:

Vitamin D Awareness Week

Vitamin D Awareness Week is a major public awareness campaign to elevate the nation’s understanding of the health issues associated with declining levels of vitamin D. Timed to coincide with the clocks going back and days getting shorter, it aims to show how we can easily improve our family’s intake and eradicate deficiency once and for all.

Visit the website

New Government guidance

Earlier this year, new guidance was released to the Government by Public Health England (PHE), recommending that everyone take a daily vitamin D supplement to protect bone and muscle health during autumn and winter.

Even during summer months in the UK, we simply are not getting enough vitamin D. We tend to cover up with a high factor sun cream and wear clothing to protect skin and therefore the UVB rays do not reach or penetrate the skin.

Faster absorption than tablets – guaranteed

Luckily, supplementation is easy and cost-effective. BetterYou’s DLux Vitamin D Oral Sprays offer superior absorption and absolute convenience for adults and children alike. Research by Cardiff University has shown that by applying it directly onto the inner cheek it is absorbed through the soft inner mouth tissue and immediately enters the blood system. This bypasses the digestive system and guarantees a level of uptake which traditional tablets and capsules cannot. Keep the deficiency away with BetterYou’s DLux Vitamin D Oral Spray.

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Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis – Love Your Bones; Protect Your Future

Osteoporosis: Protect Your Bones – Three Key Nutrients You May Be Missing

October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day. This year, the theme of the campaign is Love Your Bones; Protect Your Future, encouraging all of us to take early action to protect bone health.

From the age of 50, one in every three women and one in five men will suffer a bone fracture as a result of poor bone health. “The progressive bone loss that occurs with osteoporosis may be invisible and painless, but this ‘silent’ disease results in fractures which cause pain, disability, and ultimately loss of independence or premature death,” states Prof. John Kanis, President of the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

Fortunately, taking care to adopt a healthy diet and undertake regular exercise is well-known to help protect bone health in later years. Vitamin and mineral supplements containing key nutrients for bone health – such as calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K, and boron – can also be a sensible way of providing additional protection.

While many of us are aware of the role of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D in bone health, it is important to note that healthy bones are dependent on a whole host of nutritional factors. Below are the top three commonly overlooked bone-boosters.

1. Protein

In the past, there has been concern over the link between protein intake and bone loss. It was believed that high protein intake might result in loss of bone mass by causing calcium to be leeched from bones.

However, more recent research has found that, provided calcium intake is sufficient, adults with the highest protein intakes have the lowest rates of bone loss (1). Protein makes up about 50% of bone, and so bone requires a constant intake of protein to maintain its mass.

Ensuring a good intake of foods high in both calcium and protein is essential, especially for older people whose protein intake tends to be lower. For those who drink protein shakes, try adding in some calcium-rich kale, Greek yoghurt or a spoon of tahini or almond butter. Aside from dairy, good sources of both calcium and protein are canned salmon (with bones), tofu, almonds, white beans and sesame seeds. The top choice however, is tinned sardines which are cheap, easily available and also provide another little-known bone builder, omega-3.

2. Omega-3

Osteoporosis has strong links with inflammation, because inflammatory compounds have a direct effect on the cells that form and break down bone.

It is widely understood that omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect. While larger studies are needed to confirm this benefit, research to date is promising. For example, combining exercise with omega-3 supplements has been shown to improve bone density better than exercise alone (2). In a second study, a test diet with a higher amount of omega-3 fats was found to reduce bone breakdown, when compared with a typical Western diet (3).

Taking care to include sources of omega-3 in the diet is recommended to fight chronic inflammation. Omega-3 fats are abundant in oily fish, and are also present in leafy greens, chia and flaxseed.

3. Antioxidants

Oxidative stress is damage that occurs when free radicals attack our body. This can include damage to bone, by reducing bone formation and increasing bone resorption.

Women with osteoporosis have been found to have lower levels of antioxidant nutrients in their blood than women with healthy bones (4). Fortunately, antioxidants in both whole foods and supplements have been found to protect bone health (5,6).

Including antioxidant-rich foods would therefore appear to be a sensible way to help keep bones healthy. While some might choose an antioxidant supplement, key antioxidants are also easy to include in our daily diet. For example, blueberries and green tea supply flavonoids, tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene and red grapes provide resveratrol.

References
1. Thorpe et al (2008) Effects of meat consumption and vegetarian diet on risk of wrist fracture over 25 years in cohort of peri- and postmenopausal women. Public Health Nutr. 11(6):564-572
2. Tartibian et al (2011) Long-term aerobic exercise and omega-3 supplementation modulate osteoporosis through inflammatory mechanisms in post-menopausal women: a randomized, repeated measures study.” Nutr & Met 8:71
3. Griel et al (2007) An increase in dietary n-3 fatty acids decreases a marker of bone resorption in humans. Nutr J.16;6:2.
4. Maggio et al. (2003). Marked decrease in plasma antioxidants in aged osteoporotic women: Results of a cross-sectional study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 88(4), 1523-1527.
5. Peters, B. S., & Martini, L. A. (2010). Nutritional aspects of the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Arq Bras Endocrinol Metab, 54(2), 179-185.
6. Rao et al (2007). Lycopene consumption decreases oxidative stress and bone resorption markers in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int, 18(1), 109-115.

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PMS

Women’s Health: Tips to beat PMS cravings

Tips to beat PMS cravings

Why do women suffer with cravings when suffering with PMS?

As many as 85% of women experience at least one symptom of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), the disruptive physical and emotional changes that can strike anytime in the last 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle. A common symptom women suffer from is PMS related food cravings, which has the potential to sabotage your diet.

Fortunately, a better understanding of PMS in general and food cravings specifically can keep women from getting caught in a diet-destroying cycle. When food cravings do hit its generally for high fat sugary foods and/or salty foods; like chocolate, sweets, ice cream or crisps.

The hormonal ups and downs that occur throughout a woman’s cycle are the major culprits in PMS. As levels of oestrogen go up and down, so do levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And when cortisol levels are high enough, the body turns on its fight-or-flight response, a woman becomes more metabolically charged, and her appetite is stimulated. This, in turn, causes a woman to seek out carbs and fat, the fuels needed for the fight-and-flight response.

Other research has linked PMS to low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia that occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle.

Whether it’s blood sugar or cortisol levels that are out of whack, experts say eating huge servings of ice cream, chocolate and chips are the worst ways to bring levels back in balance. Proper nutrition and lifestyle habits will achieve a better balance, with long-lasting results.

Is there anything in terms of diet and lifestyle that a woman can do to reduce such cravings?

Eating a balanced diet containing complex carbohydrates, vegetables, protein and healthy fats is key in providing the body the nutrients required to balance symptoms associated with PMS. Healthy fat and protein in particular help to balance blood sugar levels as they have a slower digestion and make you feel fuller for longer. Foods high in essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6, such as nuts, seeds and their oils will slow absorption of carbohydrates, stabilize the blood sugar and stop cravings in their tracks. Try a baked sweet potato with tuna and salad for lunch. Drizzle over an organic seed oil such as Udo’s Choice Ultimate oil blend for healthy fats.

Remember to drink plenty of water. 2 litres a day helps to flush the body out and reduce bloating.

It’s best to avoid all processed sugar if you are suffering from food cravings. Simple sugars increase insulin secretion, which lowers blood sugar. If insulin levels shoot up enough, your appetite for carbs and bad fats increases.

Lifestyle wise, you want to get plenty of sleep, with 8 hours per night being ideal. This will make you less tired throughout the day and more likely to exercise and make better food choices. Any form of physical activity should be done for 30 minutes a day, from swimming, brisk walks to jogging, activities that raise the heart rate will lower cortisol levels.

Are there any nutritional supplements that can help?

A well-rounded women’s multi-vitamin is beneficial to get all the nutrients one needs, as well as an omega 3 supplement that contains EPA/DHA, which will help with balancing female hormones.

Additionally, chromium is a mineral needed for blood sugar control and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Liquid chromium supplements are available. Take 1-2 drops under the tongue before each main meal.

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Eye Health

National Eye Health Week: Taking Care of Our Eyes

National Eye Health Week: Taking Care of Our Eyes

The seventh annual National Eye Health Week begins on 19th September. The campaign’s aim is to promote the importance of eye health and help people to understand the best ways to look after their eyes.

According to the campaign organiser Vision Matters, sight is the sense people fear losing the most. While regular sight tests are widely understood to be one of the best ways to prevent sight loss, there are several other ways that we can protect eye health. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of sight loss by preventing high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. Sun protective eyewear is also important to shield eyes from damaging UV rays.

Another important consideration is the effect of nutrition on eye health. Vision Matters emphasise the importance of a good diet in protecting eye health, especially as 60% of people living in the UK are unaware that our diet can affect the health of our eyes (1).

Low GI Diet

A good diet, full of low-GI, antioxidant-rich whole foods is crucial for eye health. Excess sugar in the blood can damage delicate eye tissues. Diets high in refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and sugary treats have been linked to an increase in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (2).

Degeneration of sight is also thought to be linked with diabetes. Sugar in the blood can damage the optic nerve at the back of the eye, as well as the lens at the front of the eye. Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels in diabetes can also affect the blood vessels supplying the eyes, eventually leading to blurred vision and sight loss.

Adopting a low-GI diet can be done with a few simple changes. Go for whole grains rather than refined grains and whole fruit rather than fruit juice. Concentrate on high fibre foods such as beans and vegetables and eat some protein with every meal, including breakfast.

Omega-3

Omega-3 fats are important for all-round eye health. They provide structural support to cell membranes and are also helpful for sufferers of dry eyes. Omega-3 fats are helpful in promoting proper drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye, and they also decrease the risk of glaucoma. Just one portion of oily fish per week has been found to reduce the risk of developing AMD by up to 40% (3).

The best sources are sardines, salmon and rainbow trout, as these oily fish are also low in mercury. Those who don’t like fish can obtain the omega-3 fat DHA from a good quality fish oil or algae supplement.

Antioxidants

Several clinical trials suggest that diets high in antioxidant nutrients are linked with lower rates of AMD (4).

By far the strongest evidence for the value in antioxidants in protecting eye health is for two nutrients called lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin help your eyes to filter out UV light and also protect the macula (the centre of the retina) from damage.

In a study of more than 4000 adults, those who ate the most foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin had a 35% lower risk of developing AMD (5). Consequently, the researchers supported the use of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements in the prevention of AMD.

Top 10 Foods for Lutein & Zeaxanthin (per 100g):

Kale (raw) 39,550 mcg
Kale (cooked) 15,798 mcg
Spinach (raw) 15,798 mcg
Collards (cooked) 8,091 mcg
Spinach (cooked) 7,043 mcg
Lettuce (cos or romaine) 2,635 mcg
Broccoli (cooked) 2,226 mcg
Corn (cooked) 1,800 mcg
Peas (canned) 1,350 mcg
Brussels sprouts (cooked) 1,290 mcg

References
1. Eyecare Trust ‘Healthy Eyes Report’.
2. Mares JA and Moeller SM. Diet and age-related macular degeneration: expanding our view. Am J Clin Nutr 83:4 pp. 733-734.
3. van Leeuwen R, Boekhoorn S, Vingerling JR, et al. Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of age-related macular degeneration. JAMA 2005;294:3101–7.
4. The Relationship of Dietary Carotenoid and Vitamin A, E, and C Intake With Age-Related Macular Degeneration in a Case-Control Study Archives of Ophthalmology September 2007, Vol. 125 No. 9.
5. Seddon JM, Cote J, Rosner B. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts, and fish intake. Arch Ophthalmol 2003;121:1728–37.

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Optimum Nutrition for Breastfeeding Mums

Optimum Nutrition for Breastfeeding Mums

Optimum Nutrition for Breastfeeding Mums

August 1st marked the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, an awareness campaign organised by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) to protect, support and promote breastfeeding.

As natural as breastfeeding is, it can often be challenging for new mums. Breastfeeding is an energy-intensive business, requiring an additional 300-500 calories each day. Night feeds can leave breastfeeding mums with little rest, and being the sole provider of your baby’s nutrition can feel like a huge responsibility.

The benefits of breastfeeding are widely studied. Breastfed babies are healthier all round. They have a lower risk of infection and auto-immune disease, and are less prone to allergies later in life. Studies have also found breastfed babies to have higher IQs than their formula-fed counterparts.

For mums who are able to breastfeed and choose to do so, looking after your own nutritional needs is crucial. A well-nourished mum is better able to cope with the demands of a new baby, and better positioned to support the health of their baby. Here are the top three supplements for breastfeeding mums, to support the health of both mother and baby.

1. Probiotics

Breast milk from a healthy mum contains several strains of beneficial gut flora. If mum has a healthy gut, then beneficial gut flora can actually move from her gut into her breast milk via a process called ‘vertical translocation’. Mums can encourage healthy bacteria in their breast milk by taking a probiotic supplement. Ensuring a good intake of gut-healthy prebiotic foods such as bananas, asparagus, garlic and onions is also helpful. Finally, including probiotic foods such as probiotic yoghurt, and fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut and sourdough bread is beneficial.

During breastfeeding, probiotics are beneficial both for the mother and the baby. In the mother, probiotics can aid digestion, and they are believed to speed up recovery from mastitis, and to prevent thrush which sometimes occurs after antibiotic treatment for mastitis. In babies, there is evidence that probiotics present in breast milk help to protect against colic, eczema and asthma (1).

2. Omega-3

It is believed that children who are breastfed have higher IQs than formula-fed infants. A recent long-term study of more than 3000 children found that on average, those who were breastfed had an IQ score of 7 points higher than those who weren’t (2).

The main reason for this effect appears to be the levels of essential fatty acids in breast milk. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is vital for brain development. Of course, in order for DHA to be present in breast milk, it is important for the mother to ensure that she is getting enough omega-3 fats in her diet. Two servings of oily fish each week would provide a good level of DHA. Alternatively, DHA supplements are available for breastfeeding mothers. Vegetarians may benefit from taking a DHA supplement, as breast milk from vegetarian mothers is lower in DHA (3).

3. Maternal multi-vitamin and mineral formulations

Breastfeeding can take quite a nutritional toll on mothers. If the mother’s diet is lacking in nutrients, then stores may be drawn from her own body in order to fortify her breast milk. For example, a lack of protein may result in breakdown of muscle tissue, while a calcium-deficient diet could result in loss of calcium from bones.

Other vitamins and minerals cannot simply be drawn from the mother’s body to supply breast milk. A deficiency of any vitamin in the mother’s diet will have an adverse affect on levels in breast milk. It can also, of course, affect the mother directly. For example, low levels of magnesium, zinc and iron have all been linked with postnatal depression (4).

There are currently no official guidelines for vitamin and mineral supplementation in breastfeeding mothers. The exception is for Vitamin D. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that breastfeeding mothers should supplement 10 micrograms (or 400 units) of Vitamin D each day, to ensure the baby’s healthy bone development.

However, most adults in the UK also fail in obtaining the recommended amounts of minerals such as zinc and iodine through diet alone – minerals important for babies’ growth, immune system and cognitive development. For this reason it could be a sensible measure to supplement vitamin D as part of a good quality multivitamin and mineral formula, in order to ensure that both mother and baby are meeting their nutritional needs.

References
1. Lara-Villoslada et al (2007) 2007 Beneficial effects of probiotic bacteria isolated from breast milk. Br J Nutr. Oct;98 Suppl 1:S96-100.
2. Caspi et al (2007) Moderation of breastfeeding effects on the IQ by genetic variation in fatty acid metabolism. PNAS; 10.1073. 0704292104
3. Brzezińska et al (2016) Vegetarian diets in the nutrition of pregnant and breastfeeding women]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 40(238):264-8.
4. Etebary et al (2010) Postpartum depression and role of serum trace elements. Iran J Psychiatry. 5(2):40-6.

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Sun Protection

More than Sunscreen: Comprehensive Sun Protection

More than Sunscreen: Comprehensive Sun Protection

Most of us welcome the summer months. After all, a healthy dose of sunshine has been linked with better bone health, higher levels of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, and improved sleep quality. However, we can have too much of a good thing. A sensible approach to sun protection is essential to prevent premature skin ageing and other damaging effects from too much sun exposure.

Surprisingly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has reported that sunscreens are linked with a higher risk of melanoma (1). A recent review has supported these findings, linking sunscreen use with increased risk of moles and malignant melanoma (2). The agency suggests that this could be partly because those who wear sunscreen do so in order th48at they can spend longer in the sun. The protective effect of sunscreen is then outweighed by overexposure to the sun, meaning the idea of sun protection for the individual is compromised. The Working Group concluded that sunscreens do indeed protect against skin cancer, but only if consumers use it sensibly, and as only one part of their sun protection strategy:

“Use of sunscreens should be one part of a comprehensive sun avoidance strategy that includes moving into shade when the sun is near zenith and the use of protective clothing.”

Clearly, staying out of direct sunlight when the sun is at its strongest – between the hours of 10am and 2pm – is a sensible measure. Covering up with a light linen shirt and a wide brimmed hat can also offer good sun protection whilst allowing the wearer to stay cool and comfortable.

Recent studies have also investigated ways of protecting the skin from the inside – especially with nutrients that help to protect the skin from free radical damage, increase natural resistance to UVA and UVB light and fight inflammation. Here are three top supplements for inside-out protection:

1. Lycopene

Naturally present in tomatoes, red peppers and grapefruit, lycopene is a carotenoid that neutralises the harmful effects of UV light. Human studies have found that lycopene offers protection against sun damage: women supplementing just 16mg lycopene each day experienced significant sun protection (3). Eating plenty of tomato-based meals can provide a good amount of lycopene each day. Some multivitamin formulas are also fortified with lycopene for additional antioxidant benefits.

2. Astaxanthin

Even more potent than lycopene, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with multiple health benefits. It is produced by microalgae, serving as a protective shield against UV radiation at times when water is sparse and sunlight is strong.

Known as the ‘King of Antioxidants’, astaxanthin is hundreds of times more powerful than other antioxidants such as vitamin E when it comes to quenching oxidative damage from sunlight. Lab studies have confirmed that astaxanthin offers protection from UVA damage, and preliminary human trials have shown that just three weeks of supplementation with 4mg astaxanthin resulted in significant sun protection (4,5).

Omega-3

When your skin is at risk of sun damage, a bodily process called ‘p53 expression’ is triggered to protect it. When this process goes awry, this can result in melanoma. Omega-3 oils appear to protect the skin by regulating this process. Several studies support the sun protection benefits of omega-3 supplementation. People with higher levels of omega-3 in their blood show less sun damage, and 4g of omega-3 daily has been found to reduce sunburn and reduce damaging p53 in the skin (6,7).

One final consideration when using sunscreen is that these protective sun creams also block synthesis of vitamin D. This might be a particular concern for those of us who are careful to use sunscreen regularly – especially as many of us spend a lot of time indoors, and are based in the UK where UV light is not as strong. When using a sunscreen of SPF15 or above, or if regularly using cosmetics and moisturizers with added UV protection, it may be wise to supplement vitamin D in order to ensure sufficient levels throughout the year.

Topical sunscreens are certainly a sensible measure to protect the skin, but the Cancer Research Agency agrees that it is only part of the story. Adding a healthy diet rich in protective antioxidants and skin-healthy nutrients will also help to ensure that your skin is protected from the inside out.

References
1. Vainio H, et al. Cancer-preventive effects of sunscreens are uncertain. Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health 2000;26(6):529-531
2. Autier P. Sunscreen abuse for intentional sun exposure. Br J Dermatol. 2009;161 Suppl 3:40-5
3. Stahl W et al (2001) Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. J Nutr 131(5):1449-51.
4. Lyons NM and O’Brien NM (2002) Modulatory effects of an algal extract containing astaxanthin on UVA-irradiated cells in culture. Journal of Dermatological Science 30(1):73-84
5. Clinical Trial Indicates Sun Protection from BioAstin Supplement. http://www.cyanotech.com/pdfs/bioastin/batl33.pdf
6. van der Pol JC et al (2011) Serum omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and cutaneous p53 expression in an Australian population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 20(3):530-6.
7. Rhodes LE et al (2003) Effect of eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, on UVR-related cancer risk in humans. An assessment of early genotoxic markers. Carcinogenesis 24(5):919-925

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Mind and Mood Matters

Health Information Week: Mind and Mood Matters

Mind & Mood Matters

The brain is a vital, fascinating organ which has immense requirements to keep it functioning healthily. Mental health often alters when the brain lacks the adequate support it needs, meaning memory and mood may be affected. Certain circumstances may also leave the brain with additional needs, so what can be done to support your mental health?

Blood Flow

The brain is one blood-thirsty organ, with over 20% of blood leaving the heart going straight to the brain alone! Blood supplied to the brain carries vital oxygen, glucose and other important nutrients, so supporting circulation can be key to getting these nutrients to the brain. Compounds such as arginine pyroglutamate, gingko and periwinkle may aid healthy circulation.

Memory

Acetylcholine is a brain chemical that is linked to many brain processes, including memory. There are many nutrients that are used in the manufacture and release of acetylcholine including: choline, phosphatidyl serine, DMAE and vitamin B1. It is thought that memory issues may be related to high levels of inflammation, so taking a natural approach to reducing inflammation could prove wise. The omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish are linked with regulating inflammation. Low levels of omega 3 may lead to an impaired ability to think effectively.

Protection

Protecting the brain is essential for preserving its ability to function healthily. Certain antioxidant nutrients not only offer protection, but may also play a role in keeping inflammation in check.

A good variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables are important. Some of the most beneficial antioxidants for protection of brain tissue include the fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin E, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid. Extra vitamin C may also be beneficial as it could support the regeneration of vitamin E. Zinc helps our body to produce antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), and a low level of zinc has been linked to memory loss. Supplemental zinc may contribute to good memory retention.

Stress and Anxiety

Psychological stress is often down to how each individual perceives an event or consequence. The way in which a person responds or reacts can be a result of alterations in brain chemicals or co-factors.

Supplying what is needed to balance the brain and body can be essential for stress relief. Vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins are all readily used during stressful times. Vitamin B5 in particular is required for the production of anti-stress hormones.

Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, which offers support during times of stress and may help to relieve symptoms such as fatigue and mild anxiety. As stress may often be associated with anxiety, nutrients such as magnesium and theanine could be of use in reducing or controlling anxiety.

There are other herbs which may also be of use. Passionflower is often thought to be as effective as some anti-anxiety medication. More recent research has shown that magnolia may also be of use, with recent studies finding it contains specific compounds that could help to aid in the reduction of anxiety.

Mood

Mood pattern alteration may be down to several factors including imbalanced neurotransmitter levels. The neurotransmitter serotonin may be altered during times of low mood and supporting this pathway may be beneficial. The amino acid tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and low levels are thought to affect one’s mood.

Supplementing with tryptophan may raise the levels of serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is first converted to 5HTP and then to serotonin. Supplements of 5HTP are thought to be effective in improving symptoms of low mood. The herb St John’s Wort also demonstrates an action on serotonin levels and has been found to assist in cases of mild to moderate depression.

An area that is gaining a lot of attention recently is that of the link between mood and inflammation. It has been found that levels of inflammatory markers are high in cases of low mood. Curcumin, from the spice turmeric, has long been known to have an effect on inflammation and recent studies show it may be of use for mood patterns.

The omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are incorporated into brain tissue and are known to influence mood. Several studies have backed up their use in cases of low mood.

Sleep

Sleep issues may occur while stressed or dealing with low mood. Whatever the cause, sleep deprivation can be debilitating. Natural support for restoring healthy sleep patterns includes 5HTP. Once 5HTP is converted to serotonin it can then be converted to melatonin during the hours of darkness. Herbal support includes valerian, which may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, as well as improving sleep quality and reducing the number of wakenings. Hops have also been found to have qualities that assist with sleep and a combination of valerian and hops may be effective.

Whatever the problem, rest assured there are natural ways to offer support for the mind and help with mood issues. After all, your mind and mood really do matter.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week: The Benefits of Fish Oil

Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Benefits of Fish Oil

June 13th marks the beginning of Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week, a campaign run by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. One of the main goals of the campaign is to heighten awareness of the early warning symptoms of this condition, and to support those who have been recently diagnosed.

Many people do not recognise the early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis. This is because the symptoms can be blamed on ‘overdoing things’. By recognising the three key symptoms – swelling, stiffness and fatigue – sufferers can take early action to seek help and find the right treatment. Because the disease is progressive, if sufferers are able to recognise and address the condition early, they are more likely to find treatment effective.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Normally the body’s immune system produces an inflammatory response as part of the healing process. If a joint is injured, special chemicals are released that cause short-term pain and swelling, immobilising the joint to give it opportunity to heal. However, sometimes this process can go awry and the immune system creates long-term chronic, painful inflammation that damages the joint tissues.

How is it Treated?

Medications for rheumatoid arthritis tend to work by suppressing inflammation. Examples are corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying anti-inflammatory drugs (DMARDs).

However, recent studies have also highlighted the success of natural agents in modifying the inflammatory response. One of the most promising natural supplements linked to treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is fish oil.

The Benefits of Fish Oil

A study published just last year tested the effects of fish oil versus placebo on 144 patients with recent onset rheumatoid arthritis. Most of the patients were women in their 50s, and were already taking conventional arthritis medication. The group was given either placebo capsules or supplements of high-dose fish oil (5.5g per day).

Those taking the fish oil showed greater improvement in daily function in the first three months. After a year, the women given the high dose fish oil showed double the rate of remission compared with those on placebo.

It makes sense that fish oil should relieve inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. The body uses both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to make chemicals called prostaglandins and leukotrienes. The right balance of these chemicals help to control inflammation, and EPA and DHA promote the anti-inflammatory chemicals.

These omega-3 fatty acids actually have a similar action to medications used in rheumatoid arthritis: they help to block production of several inflammatory chemicals involved in arthritis, including prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4, and peptide mediators, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α and IL-1β (2).

Plant foods such as flaxseed and hempseed are sources are a type of omega-3 fat called ALA. However, the long chain omega-3 fats used in this study are only found in fish and seafood, such as salmon, herring and mackerel, and in algal oil which represents a vegan source.

The study authors concluded that fish oil led to ‘increased rates of remission and decreased drug use’ in those with recent onset rheumatoid arthritis. This study certainly indicates that fish oil supplementation would be a sensible supplement to consider for anyone recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

References
1. Proudman Sm et al (2015) Fish oil in recent onset rheumatoid arthritis: a randomised, double-blind controlled trial within algorithm-based drug use. Ann Rheum Dis 2015;74:89-95
2. Proudman SM et al (2008) Dietary omega-3 fats for treatment of inflammatory joint disease: efficacy and utility. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 34:469–79.

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