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.

Share
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.

Share
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.

Share
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

Share
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.

Share
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.

Share
Healthy Gut, Healthy You

Gut Health: The key to all round good health?

Healthy Gut, Healthy You

Just as the gut is the centre of our bodies, we’re also starting to think that it might be at the centre of our health too. The gut is far from being just an organ that simply digests food and excretes the waste. It also produces more than 20 kinds of hormones, contains more than a thousand species of bacteria and is controlled by its own nervous system that is almost as complex as the brain’s. An unhealthy gut can contribute to a wide range of diseases including: obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, autism, depression, as well as joint and heart problems.

Good Digestion for Good Health

Ensuring good digestion is vital. Good chewing prepares the food, mixing it with enzymes that help to break it down. In the stomach, stomach acid and pepsin released from the liver thoroughly work on the food, simplifying the proteins with great efficiency. Many people experience problems with stomach acid ‘reflux’ where it is pushed up into the food pipe or throat, causing burning and an unpleasant taste. This can be helped by some natural herbs to calm the stomach down and help it heal any damage. Slippery elm, marshmallow, aloe vera and licorice are all especially important.

Once food passes through the stomach it enters the small intestine, where additional enzymes break down food groups into the simplest molecules to make them both absorbable and usable by the body. If this does not happen very well – perhaps it is a rushed meal, lack of preparation or the concentration of acids/enzymes are compromised by age or medication (possibly the overuse of Omeprazole and other Proton Pump Inhibitors), then larger particles of food are propelled through the system to cause mischief. They may be fermented by bacteria in the gut causing wind and/or they may get through the gut wall’s strategic defences. The body’s protective immune system (mostly seated in the gut) may even decide that they look similar to a potential enemy and attack them, causing inflammation. To help the body digest difficult proteins like gluten and other foods, it may be useful to take supplementary digestive enzymes. Gluten digesting enzymes may be particularly useful as well as certain beneficial or probiotic bacteria.

Bacteria in the Gut: Our little friends

Our friendly bacteria have been living with us all of our lives, resident in our gut like billions of bacterial pets. The beneficial ones play a very important role in maintaining health. They help to keep the immune system on a low-level alert and therefore support its function. In some studies, when babies do not develop this layer of good bacteria properly, they are more likely to develop an allergy or have an immune system that doesn’t work efficiently. The best and safest way to support beneficial bacteria is to take a high-strength daily probiotic with carefully selected and well-researched bacterial strains. If the balance of bacteria is disrupted, then certain plant oils can help to speed up the recovery. Garlic is king here, and is nature’s best natural antibiotic, but also consider using clove oil, cinnamon and oregano oil for a multi-pronged approach on a short-term basis.

While it is true to say that gut problems are on the increase, and that sub-optimal gut function seems to be having wide ranging effects on health beyond the digestive system, we can also do a great deal to help ourselves. Take good care of your gut, and you will reap the health benefits for years to come.

Share
National Vegetarian Week

Vegetarian Lifestyle: Supercharge Your Diet

National Vegetarian Week: Supercharge Your Vegetarian Diet

May 16th marked the beginning of National Vegetarian Week, a campaign aimed at promoting the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.

A balanced vegetarian diet is an extremely healthy choice. Vegetarians have lower mortality rates than the general population. A balanced vegetarian diet tends to provide higher levels of vitamin C, folate and thiamine than a carnivorous diet. It is also high in fibre, boosting digestive health and potentially lowering the risk of both type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer (1).

Alongside the many benefits of a vegetarian diet, there are also some potential pitfalls. Some essential nutrients are absorbed more poorly in vegetarians, while other nutrients may be less readily available in a meatless diet. Being aware of these factors can help vegetarians to achieve the full health benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.

Iron and Zinc

A balanced vegetarian diet actually contains a fair amount of iron, with iron intakes similar to that of meat eaters. Chickpeas, beans, lentils, whole grains and green leafy vegetables are all good vegetarian sources of iron.

The daily RNI for iron is 14.8mg for women and 8.7mg for men. However, an American study has suggested that the dietary recommendation for iron should be raised to 14mg for vegetarian men and to 33mg for vegetarian women (2). This is because the vegetarian diet is rich in phytates – compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – which inhibit iron absorption.

Meat eaters on the other hand tend to get much of their iron in the form of haem iron from meat, fish and poultry, which is better absorbed.

For this reason, vegetarians should be careful to optimise their iron intake. Eating iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can enhance iron absorption. Some food preparation techniques, such as soaking and sprouting beans, grains and seeds, can break down phytates, making iron more bioavailable. An iron supplement may also be a sensible measure to ensure optimum intake.

Another important consideration for vegetarians is zinc intake. Again, plant-derived foods that are rich in zinc are also high in phytic acid, an inhibitor of zinc absorption. For this reason, vegetarians may benefit from a raised zinc intake to ensure that a sufficient amount is absorbed. A good vegetarian multivitamin containing iron and zinc will help to guard against any insufficiency. Including zinc-rich foods such as yoghurt, cheese, tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in your diet is important.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK, in both vegetarians and meat eaters. While some foods contain small amounts of vitamin D, the main source of this vitamin for vegetarians and meat eaters alike is sunlight.

Unfortunately, many of us in the UK do not get enough sun exposure throughout the year. For this reason, vitamin D supplementation is commonly recommended. Current UK recommendations are that babies, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, elderly people and those who are confined indoors or cover up for cultural reasons should all supplement vitamin D.

An additional consideration for vegetarians is that many vitamin D supplements are sourced from animals. Some vitamin D supplements are sourced from fish oil. In addition, strict vegetarians often prefer to avoid supplements containing vitamin D3 which is made from sheep’s wool. Fortunately, alternative vitamin D supplements sourced from lichen provide well-absorbed vegan vitamin D3.

DHA: Essential Brain Food

Vegetarian sources of omega-3 include green leafy vegetables and flaxseeds. This type of omega-3 fat, ALA, is helpful for cardiovascular health.

Unfortunately, the vegetarian diet is very low in DHA, which is another type of omega-3 fat needed for optimal brain function. The main source of dietary DHA is oily fish and organ meats, though dairy and eggs also provide small amounts. A vegetarian diet with dairy and egg products only supplies around 20 mg/day of DHA (3), which is far below recommended levels.

Because of its role in brain function, DHA intake has been linked to improving both learning and memory. It is also implicated in the slowing of cognitive decline (4,5).

The simplest way for vegetarians to meet the recommended amount of DHA is to take a marine algae supplement. Omega-3 supplements made from algae are just as effective as fish oil supplements, and provide a simple and direct source of vegetarian DHA.

The Vegetarian Lifestyle

The advantages of a vegetarian diet are well studied. Vegetarians have been found to have lower blood pressure, a lower BMI and a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Although some nutrients may be less available in a plant-based diet, being aware of these potential pitfalls can help to optimise your nutritional status while reaping the many benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

References
1. Davey G et al. (2003) EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes in a cohort of 33,883 meateaters and 31,546 non meat-eaters in the UK. Public Health Nutrition 6: 259–68.
2. Hunt J (2002) Moving toward a plant-based diet: are iron and zinc at risk? Nutrition Reviews 60 (5): 127–34.
3. 41. Sanders TA. DHA status of vegetarians. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009 Aug-Sep;81(2-3):137-41.
4. 10. Su HM. Mechanisms of n-3 fatty acid-mediated development and maintenance of learning memory performance. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 May;21(5):364-73.
5. 28. Hashimoto M, Hossain S. Neuroprotective and ameliorative actions of polyunsaturated fatty acids against neuronal diseases: beneficial effect of docosahexaenoic acid on cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. J Pharmacol Sci. 2011;116(2):150-62.

Share
Vitamin D & IBS

Vitamin D: a better life for IBS sufferers?

Vitamin D improves quality of life for IBS sufferers

April is IBS Awareness Month, a campaign aiming at improving diagnosis and treatment of IBS, and heightening awareness of both the condition and its affect on sufferers.

IBS impacts severely on quality of life, with patients commonly suffering with pain, discomfort and social embarrassment. Previous studies have found that IBS patients demonstrate significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression than healthy individuals (1). Research in this area is desperately needed, as IBS affects as many as 1 in 5 of us, and many people struggle to manage the condition.

The relationship between IBS and mood disorders is a complex one. Stress, anxiety and depression can cause digestive issues because the nervous system and the digestive system are linked. In addition, IBS symptoms can cause anxiety and stress for sufferers.

Fortunately, some recent promising research has revealed that vitamin D supplementation may improve the quality of life of IBS sufferers (2). This pilot study will hopefully lead to further research in this area.

The Study

The recent study, published in the British Medical Journal, was a double-blind, randomised trial. It compared the effects of a placebo, vitamin D, and a combination of vitamin D and probiotics on IBS patients.

Each patient was randomly assigned to receive a placebo, a vitamin D supplement, or a vitamin D and probiotic supplement. Over the course of 12 weeks, each patient completed several health questionnaires to monitor symptoms and quality of life.

The study found that 82% of the IBS patients were deficient in vitamin D. As expected, at the end of 12 weeks, the final results showed that those who had supplemented vitamin D had improved blood levels of vitamin D. In addition, the results also showed a strong link between vitamin D status and quality of life. Those who had supplemented vitamin D felt that their IBS symptoms had less influence on wellbeing compared to their vitamin D deficient counterparts.

Those supplementing vitamin D also showed improvement in all IBS symptoms as their vitamin D levels improved, although the study was too small to draw a firm conclusion about this. Lead researcher Dr Bernard Corfe stated that these results nevertheless “justify a larger and more definitive clinical trial.”

More research is needed to clarify the link between vitamin D and IBS. The gut is home to millions of vitamin D receptors, and vitamin D helps to protect the gut lining, preventing ‘leaky gut’, and it also reduces levels of inflammation in the digestive tract. Its role in the immune system means that vitamin D is also believed to be helpful in protecting against digestive infections and overgrowths.

Dr Corfe added: “Our data provides a potential new insight into the condition and more importantly, a new way to try to manage it.”

The study certainly suggests that those with IBS should ensure that they have adequate levels of vitamin D, especially if they are suffering with stress and anxiety. “It was clear from our findings that many people with IBS should have their vitamin D levels tested” says Dr Corfe, “and the data suggests that they may benefit from supplementation with vitamin D.”

References
1. Hyun Sun Cho et al (2011) Anxiety, Depression and Quality of Life in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gut Liver. 5(1): 29–36
2. Tazzyman S et al (2015) Vitamin D associates with improved quality of life in participants with irritable bowel syndrome: outcomes from a pilot trial. BMJ Open Gastro 2:e000052.

Share
Water

Water: Just how much do we need it?

Water: The Vital Nutrient

This week is National Nutrition and Hydration Week, a global movement aimed at promoting the importance of optimum nutrition in avoiding malnutrition and hydration related illnesses.

While the focus of this campaign is on health and social care settings, anyone can be vulnerable to the effects of dehydration, which can range from fatigue and mood swings, to increased risk of kidney stones and hypertension (1).

Are you dehydrated?

A recent national study found that 30% of adults and 50% of children in the UK fail to drink the recommended amount of fluid each day (2). The effects of mild dehydration are therefore likely to affect many of us in the UK. The most common symptoms are:

  • Tiredness and fatigue – Fluid losses mean that your heart has to work harder to pump blood round your body (3).
  • Low mood and anxiety – Mild dehydration affects mood, possibly as a result of altered neuronal activity in the brain (3).
  • Headaches – Just 1% dehydration has been found to lead to headaches in young women (4).
  • Poor cognitive performance and memory – Being dehydrated by just 2% impairs attention span and short term memory (5).

These symptoms are felt at just mild levels of dehydration, which can occur even before you start to feel thirsty.

The amount of water needed to avoid dehydration depends on your height and weight, activity level, and the current climate. A general guideline is that men should drink at least 2 litres of beverages each day, while women should aim to drink at least 1.6 litres – and more if it’s a hot day or if you are exercising.

Choose your drinks wisely

While all beverages count towards your fluid intake, some drinks offer more benefits than others. Sugary drinks can lead to unwanted weight gain, while caffeinated drinks have diuretic properties and can upset energy levels. Good choices are herbal teas and of course, fresh water.

Pukka Teas

Water Enhancers

Those who don’t enjoy drinking plain water can add a squeeze of lemon or lime, or some crushed mint. Alternatively, filtering tap water can improve the taste by removing chlorine, as well as filtering out other contaminants such as copper, mercury and cadmium.

If you are upping your water intake, be aware that most bottled water is supplied in bottles made with a material called bisphenol-a (BPA), a toxic substance that can leach into the water. Drinking from glass bottles, or using a BPA-free water bottle is a sensible measure.

BPA-Free BRITA Filter Range

Daily Hydration Strategies

It can be easy to forget to drink water on a busy day. However, simple habits can go a long way towards ensuring you are properly hydrated. Try the following tips:

  1. Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up in the morning.
  2. Ask for a glass of water every time you order a tea or coffee in a cafe or restaurant.
  3. Carry a bottle filled with filtered water every time you leave the house.
  4. Keep a bottle of water on your desk at work.
  5. During exercise, drink every 10-15 minutes.

Water is an often overlooked nutrient, and yet it makes up around two thirds of our body. Paying proper attention to water intake is one of the simplest and most effective ways to look after our everyday health and wellbeing.

References
1. Man (2007) Hydration and disease. J Am Coll Nutr 62(5):535-541
2. Gandy J (2012) First Findings of the United Kingdom Fluid Intake Study. Nutrition Today. 40(4):14-16
3. Ganio et al (2011) Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. Br J Nutr 106(10):1535-43
4. Armstrong et al (2012) Milk dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. 142(2):382-8
5. Adan A (2012) Cognitive performance and memory. Am J coll Nutr 31(2):71-2

Share