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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Sensitive Skin

Living Nature: Looking After Sensitive Skin

How to Look After Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is thought to affect millions of people worldwide. A recent report by the American Academy of Dermatology indicated at least 50% of the US population experience some kind of skin sensitivity, with increasing concern over this situation.

Here in the UK, incidences of skin sensitivity are also widely reported as being on the rise, with sensitive skin now viewed as a common skin condition. It’s also more likely to affect women than men, with about 50% of women and 30% of men suffering from sensitive skin. So what exactly is sensitive skin and why do people suffer from it?

What is Sensitive Skin?

Sensitive skin is described as skin that has reduced tolerance to cosmetics or personal care products. This is an everyday term rather than a medical diagnosis and is characterised by reactiveness, redness or blotchy appearance, burning, tight or dry sensation, blushing or permanent flushing, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis or rosacea.

It should be noted that allergic skin is different from sensitive skin. Allergic skin will react immediately to a specific ingredient, whereas sensitive skin may simply show a little irritation or redness. This can build up over time or come and go depending on lifestyle and other factors.

Why is Skin Sensitive?

Skin sensitivity can be caused by numerous factors, including genetic predisposition, diet (for instance a lack of essential fatty acids), hormonal fluctuations, smoking, medication, excessive shaving, compromised immunity, the use of irritant skincare products or ingredients, or other products such as washing detergents, fabric softeners, fabrics, etc. that come into contact with the skin.

Skin that is constantly exposed to the elements, air conditioning or heaters can also become sensitive due to dehydration, moisture loss or sun exposure.

Living Nature Certified Natural Sensitive Skin Range
Living Nature Certified Natural                  Sensitive Skin Range

Caring for Sensitive Skin

Our skin reflects our inner health as well as the care we give it, so it’s important to look after your skin from the inside and the outside.

From the inside:

  • Drink lots of water to help flush away toxins and rehydrate
  • Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol as both are very dehydrating
  • Eat lots of nutrient rich vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids
  • Manage stress levels as stress can compromise the immune system and make skin more sensitive
  • Avoid smoking as it damages collagen and elastin fibre, contributing to wrinkles and decreased circulation, making skin dull and lifeless

From the outside:

  • Cleanse and moisturise morning and night to help keep skin clean, clear and nourished
  • Always remove makeup before going to sleep to allow the skin to breathe and renew
  • Minimise the risk of sun damage by wearing a large hat or protective clothing
Living Nature Gentle Makeup Remover
Living Nature Gentle Makeup           Remover

What to Use

As stated above, skin sensitivity and allergic reactions can be caused by the synthetic and chemical ingredients used in many popular skincare and makeup brands. Often it’s difficult to isolate the exact ingredient that’s causing the sensitivity, especially since we are estimated to place 168 different chemicals on our skin each and every day!

However, here are some of the main culprits to avoid:

  • Parabens – an estimated 70% of makeup as well as skincare and other cosmetic products contain parabens . They prevent spoilage and inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. These synthetic ingredients have been directly linked to incidences of skin irritation and dermatitis.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MI) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone/Methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI) – there is concern these chemical preservatives are causing an ‘epidemic’ of contact dermatitis. Both are found in moist tissue wipes, cleansers, shower gels, deodorants and shaving foams, as well as household products such as washing up liquid.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) – these cleansing and foaming agents have been linked to incidences of irritation of the skin and eyes. Many mainstream cleansing products contain SLS and/or SLES, such as shampoos, shower gels, soaps and facial cleansers.
  • Oxybenzone – this chemical sunscreen agent is used in some foundations and is a known skin irritant.

Anyone with sensitive or reactive skin should also avoid products containing the following:

  • Harsh surfactants
  • Petrochemicals
  • Silicones
  • Mineral oils
  • Artificial fragrances
  • Grain alcohols
  • Chemical sun protection filters
  • Irradiated or genetically modified ingredients

What to Use on Sensitive Skin?

For reassurance, opt for certified natural and organic skincare products using only natural preservatives, fragrances and ingredients. They are gentle and safe to use on sensitive skin and work in harmony with skin’s natural processes, so they are good for the beauty and health of your skin and body.

Those with extreme sensitivity or those suffering from eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and other allergies, should also take extra precaution by using natural skincare products that are fragrance-free. This is because some natural fragrances can irritate those with severe sensitivity. Those experiencing sensitivity around the eyes should also opt for fragrance-free skincare products and cosmetics.

Living Nature Firming Eye Cream
Living Nature Firming Eye Cream

Look out for these key features and benefits when sourcing a natural and organic skincare and cosmetics range that’s suitable for your sensitive skin:

  • Certified by a recognised certification body such as BDIH Germany, Soil Association, Eco-Cert and Cosmos amongst others
  • Clinically proven to be non-irritating
  • Dermal tested
  • Hypoallergenic
  • No added fragrance or allergens
Living Nature Mascara
              Living Nature Mascara
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Heart Health

Heart Health: How healthy is your lifestyle?

Heart Health

This month we turn our attention to heart health. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) still remains the biggest killer, accounting for 155,000 deaths per year, costing the National Health Service 8 billion pounds (1). The most common types are Coronary Heart Disease (narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries) and Stroke (rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain).

The heart is responsible for pumping blood around the body, carrying all the essential nutrients to distal tissues and organs and collecting any waste products to the liver and kidneys for excretion. We often associate heart disease with old age, taking multiple medications and risk of serious complications or even death. However, even before this stage, suboptimal function can affect our general wellbeing. Poor circulation may lead to fatigue, memory problems or muscle pain for example. If they get overlooked, more serious complications can develop, so it is crucial to look after your heart with a healthy lifestyle.

Cholesterol – friend or foe?

Over the past 50 years, cholesterol has been demonised as the major cause of heart disease. The newest research however, has largely disproven this statement and we now know that although it is a factor, other elements should be taken into consideration. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is produced in the liver but we can also get from animal foods (eggs, meat, dairy). It is actually essential for the body, as a component of cell membranes and nervous tissue as well as a precursor to vitamin D, bile and some hormones. If the arteries get damaged, the body uses cholesterol as a protective plaster to patch up the walls and repair them. However, in the long term, this can lead to a build-up of plaques that could potentially be dangerous. As with everything, we need to keep it in balance. Although a low fat diet isn’t advisable, if your cholesterol levels are too high, there are ways to support your body to bring them down naturally.

Omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA) found in fish oils, have long been known for their benefits to heart health and unfortunately our diets are often lacking in those essential fats. Combining them with specific types of plant sterols provides an even better heart friendly combination. Plant sterols contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.

Most studies often use doses that would be very difficult to get from your diet alone, so if you have a problem with cholesterol it may be worth supplementing with a good quality product.

BioCardio - Concentrated Liquid Fish Oil
BioCardio – Concentrated Liquid Fish Oil

Protection against free radicals

We often hear about antioxidants and free radicals, but do we really understand what they are?

Free radicals are simply unstable molecules that result from everyday physical or physiological processes or come from our environment. They are unstable because they are missing an electron and they are looking to ‘steal’ one from another molecule, damaging them in the process. This ‘other molecule’ can be your DNA, other cells or cholesterol for example. Oxidative stress is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease through damage to LDL cholesterol and increased inflammation. Our body has many ways of protecting itself from free radical damage, but for this to be effective it needs several nutrients like vitamin E or C. Many plants contain very powerful antioxidants that have numerous health benefits.

One of the most researched for cardiovascular health is proanthocyanidins found in grapeseed and pine bark extracts. They help to maintain healthy blood vessels and capillary integrity and are up to 50 times more effective at scavenging free radicals than vitamin E and C.

The secret lies in colour and flavour. Plants produce different chemicals that protect them from predators, these are often pigments, so the brighter the colour the better it is for you. Great examples include bilberries or turmeric. Anthocyanosides in bilberries can help with elasticity and integrity of blood vessels making them stronger and less prone to the harmful effect of free radicals. On the other hand, curcumin found in the orange spice turmeric helps to support the immune system.

PhytoCell - Antioxidant Blend
     PhytoCell – Antioxidant Blend

Eating for your heart

The heart never stops, so providing a steady supply of nutrients and antioxidants from a healthy diet is key to optimum function. Foods that are specifically great for the heart include: pomegranate, beetroots and almonds. Beetroots not only contain many micronutrients, but are also a source in nitrates that help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

Increasing fibre intake from vegetables, flax seeds, chia seeds and grains such as quinoa or millet will help with healthy cholesterol excretion and blood pressure.

Amongst nuts, almonds prove to be true superfoods. A study from 2014 showed that a daily portion of 50g can reduce blood pressure and increase blood levels of vitamin E (2).

One heart friendly nutrient that is relatively difficult to obtain from diet is Coenzyme Q10. It is not considered as a vitamin because our body can make it, however the levels tend to decline with age.

Microcell CoQ10 200
              Microcell CoQ10 200

References
1. British Heart Foundation, 2014.
2. K. Choudhury, J. Clark, H. R. Griffiths. An almond-enriched diet increases plasma α-tocopherol and improves vascular function but does not affect oxidative stress markers or lipid levels. Free Radical Research, 2014; 48 (5): 599

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Cholesterol and Statins

Optibac: High Cholesterol and the Problem with Statins

High Cholesterol and the Problem with Statins

Understanding our bodies and how what we do on a day-to-day basis may improve or prevent long-term health issues, has never been a more pertinent subject. We are constantly bombarded with articles and information concerning diets we should follow, exercise regimes we should adopt and health conditions that we can avoid.

High cholesterol is one such condition that we are hearing more about, and understanding how high cholesterol affects our health, as well as what we can do to manage and prevent this condition is of paramount importance. According to the British Heart Foundation, 60% of adults in the UK have high cholesterol. The prevalence grows year-on-year and increases the risk of:

  • Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries)
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

When reading statistics like this, one realises that high cholesterol is a serious condition that needs to be understood and dealt with effectively in order to prevent serious health issues from developing.

Cholesterol is a waxy fat that is carried through the bloodstream and is required (among other things) to repair blood vessels, create hormones and process vitamins. In other words, we need cholesterol. We often hear it broken down into ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL).

The great news is that having high cholesterol can be managed, but with all conditions, one must understand how it can be managed. Knowledge is power and with that in mind, we must look at what treatments are currently being used to reduce high cholesterol and whether there could be a better option out there…

The usual medical treatment for lowering high cholesterol is to be prescribed statins. Statins lower the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood and are viewed as the ‘go-to’ medication for those members of the population who are suffering with high cholesterol. As a consequence, the UK is the world’s 2nd highest statin dispensing nation.

OK, so there is a way of treating this condition that reduces the amount of harmful cholesterol in our bodies, therefore this is where we have to focus our energy when looking for a treatment or prevention, right? Well, not exactly…

Like many medicines, when embarking on a course of treatment we cannot simply focus on the benefits, we also need comprehensive information so that we can understand and avoid the risks. Statins, like many pharmaceutical medications, come with a worrying list of side effects. These need to be considered and understood before beginning to take them.

It has been reported that 25% of people on statins suffer with side effects (NHS, 2012) they commonly include:

  • Muscles & joint pain
  • Nosebleeds
  • Headache-like symptoms
  • Digestive problems
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

There are also less common but more unpleasant side effects associated with taking statins, including:

  • Sickness
  • Blurred vision
  • Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)
  • Ringing in the ears

Statins can also interact with other medicines that you may be prescribed such as antibiotics and warfarin. And many of those prescribed statins are often on the medication long-term, which, when you consider that high cholesterol isn’t merely a condition of the older population, could entail many years of statin use. For many people, long-term pharmaceutical use is something that they wish to avoid if possible, and they may be looking for a more natural option.

Optibac – For Your Cholesterol

This is where ‘For your cholesterol’, a new cholesterol-lowering probiotic from Optibac Probiotics may help you. Clinical trials have shown it to have health benefits for high cholesterol, but none of the less desirable side effects of statins.

Along with the specific probiotic strains that are contained in this product (Lactobacillus plantarum CECT 7527, Lactobacillus plantarum CECT 7528, Lactobacillus plantarum CECT 7529), it also includes Omega 3 which, in combination with the probiotics reduces inflammation in the body, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. Alongside this, the inclusion of Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in ‘For your cholesterol’ has been shown in many clinical trials to reduce LDL cholesterol and inflammation. This combination of live cultures and omega 3 supports blood cholesterol levels by utilising 6 different mechanisms of action – including acting on both the liver’s natural production of cholesterol as well as on the absorption of dietary cholesterol in the gastro-intestinal tract. A clinical trial(1) showed total cholesterol levels lowered by an average of 14% in just 3 months of taking ‘For your cholesterol’.

Taking ‘For your cholesterol’ may help:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve ratio of ‘good’ fats to ‘bad’ fats consumed
  • Down regulate your genes for cholesterol production

For those of us who may wish to continue with statin use, the good news is that ‘For your cholesterol’ can be safely taken alongside statins and any other medication you may already be on. However, this extensively researched product is safe to take on an ongoing basis with none of the side effects associated with cholesterol lowering medicine.

By Alexandra Ravenscroft, Nutritional Therapist

References
1. Fuentes MC et al. (2006) Cholesterol¬ lowering efficacy of Lactobacillus plantarum CECT 7527, 7528 and 7529 in hypercholesterolaemic adults. British Journal of Nutrition; pp 1 ¬- 7.

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Heart Disease

Heart Disease: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk

Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

February is National Heart Month, a campaign run by the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness of the UK’s biggest killer. Heart disease is responsible for around 75,000 deaths in the UK each year, and many of these deaths are preventable.

The single biggest modifiable risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. One of the most common disorders in the UK, hypertension is defined as persistent raised blood pressure above 140/90mmHg.

Unfortunately hypertension, often referred to as ‘the silent killer’, typically has no outward symptoms. Around 13 million people in the UK suffer with hypertension, but 6 million of these remain undiagnosed (1).

Rule of 3: Everyday changes to protect your health

Taking control of our health means identifying those factors within our control and taking positive action to eliminate them. Unfortunately, dramatic lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming. While your GP can advise on medications, exercise and dietary changes to address heart health, there are simple changes you can begin to make every day to kick start healthy changes.

Here are three simple snacks and three supplements which have been shown to reduce blood pressure.

3 Simple Snacks

1. Snack on almonds and cashews

Replacing your usual savoury or sugary snacks with a handful of cashews or almonds will help to regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure. These nuts are among the best sources of dietary magnesium, a mineral responsible for dilating blood vessels and preventing spasms in the heart muscle. They also help to lower cholesterol levels. Studies have found nut consumption to be linked with an 8.3% reduced risk of heart disease (2).

2. Drink Hibiscus tea

A cup of hibiscus tea before breakfast lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure by more than 10%. A recent study found that one cup of hibiscus tea each day for four weeks was as effective as the drug Captopril in reducing blood pressure (3).

3. Get juicing

A daily juice or smoothie containing nitrate-rich vegetables offers a simple way to help reduce blood pressure. Nitrate-rich vegetables such as beetroot and kale are important for healthy blood flow, and lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels (4). Pomegranate enhances this effect by enhancing the activity of nitrates. Beets blend well with apples and berries, while kale blends well with tropical fruits such as pineapple or banana.

3 Key Nutrients for a Healthy Heart

1. Garlic

A recent meta-analysis provides evidence that garlic supplementation significantly reduces blood pressure in those with hypertension. In this study, doses ranged from 600mg to 900mg daily (5). The active component of garlic, called allicin, is destroyed during cooking, so supplements are a good choice for maximum benefit.

2. Fish oil

Several studies have linked fish oil supplementation with reduced blood pressure in those with hypertension (6). As well as lowering blood pressure, fish oil supplements reduce inflammation and platelet aggregation (‘sticky blood’). The American Heart Association recommends that those with coronary heart disease should take 1g of EPA plus DHA from fish oil supplements each day.

3. Magnesium

Diets high in sugar and low in plant foods tend to provide insufficient levels of magnesium. This is a concern because magnesium is important for the dilation of blood vessels. A recent meta-analysis found that magnesium supplementation does indeed lower blood pressure, but that larger studies are needed to confirm these findings (7). Those interested in supplementing magnesium have a number of options. Magnesium can be supplemented as a topical oil applied to skin, as magnesium salts in the bath or as a traditional oral supplement.

References
1. Blood pressure UK. http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/mediacentre/Bloodpressurenews/UKhighbloodpressurerisesbutmorediagnosed. Accessed 18/01/2016.
2. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ (1999) Nut consumption and risk of coronoary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. CurrAtheroscler Rep 1(3):533-40
3. Harrera-Arellano et L (2004) Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardised extract from Hibiscus sabdariffa in patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomised trial. 11(5):365-82
4. Kapil et al (2015) Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomised, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Hypertension 65(2):320-7
5. Reid et al (2008) Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. B
6. Breslow (2006) n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Am J ClinNutr. 86(6):1477S-1482S
7. Jee et al (2002) The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. Am J Hypertension 15(8):691-6

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Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D Builds Muscle in Menopausal Women

A new Brazilian study suggests that post-menopausal women may benefit from vitamin D supplementation to increase muscle strength and reduce frailty (1). The study, conducted at Sao Paulo State University, found that older women given vitamin D supplements were stronger and had fewer falls.

Menopause and Muscle

It is well known that going through menopause increases women’s risk of bone loss, as a result of hormonal changes that influence bone health. However, many women are less aware of the effect of menopause on muscle strength.

During and after menopause, a decline in oestrogen levels leads to a gradual and ongoing decrease in muscle mass, known as sarcopenia.

This type of muscle loss is a key health concern for post-menopausal women for several reasons. Post-menopausal muscle loss puts women at risk of frailty, falls and reduced mobility. It can reduce their independence and quality of life. Additionally, a reduction in muscle mass also leads to a lower metabolism, putting older women at risk of unwanted weight gain.

Vitamin D and Muscle Mass

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy muscle function. It acts on special receptors in muscle, helping to boost muscle mass and strength. Vitamin D also plays a role in protein synthesis and works with calcium and magnesium to enable more powerful muscle contractions.

Unfortunately many adults in the UK have low levels of vitamin D. In fact, 39% of adults have low vitamin D levels in the winter months and older adults who spend more time indoors are particularly vulnerable to deficiency (2).

Trial Results

The double-blind trial tested the effects of vitamin D supplements versus a placebo on the muscle strength and muscle mass of post-menopausal women. Muscle mass was estimated by the use of a total-body DXA (an X-ray scan), as well as tests of hand grip strength and fitness tests.

At the end of the 9-month study, the women receiving the vitamin D supplement showed a 25% increase in muscle strength, while the placebo group actually lost muscle mass. Over the 9 months, the women receiving the placebo supplements also had twice as many falls as those taking vitamin D.

“We concluded that the supplementation of vitamin D alone provided significant protection against the occurrence of sarcopenia, which is a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle, says Dr. L.M. Cangussu, one of the lead authors of the study.

Supplementing Vitamin D – Do’s and Don’ts

The ideal way to optimize vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure. This can be difficult in the winter months and can be especially challenging for those with darker skin who have a harder time converting sunlight to vitamin D.

Current recommendations are that anybody over the age of 65 should be supplementing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D3 is widely considered to be a better form to take than synthetic D2.  Taking vitamin D supplements alongside a fat-containing meal will also enhance absorption. Finally, many people prefer to take vitamin D alongside vitamin K as these two vitamins work synergistically.

References
1. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). “Vitamin D3 supplementation helps women build muscle even after menopause: New study demonstrates vitamin effectiveness in reducing degeneration and risk of falls.” September 2015
2. NICE. Vitamin D: increasing supplement use in at-risk groups. November 2014. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph56 Accessed 30/10/2015.

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Beating Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis: Is Calcium the Key?

Is Calcium the Key to Preventing Osteoporosis?

World Osteoporosis Day takes place every year on October 20. The campaign, organised by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), aims to raise global awareness of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease.

Our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt in a process known as ‘bone turnover’. In our early years, bone is built faster than it is broken down, and we reach our ‘peak bone mass’ at some point during our 20s. After this time, preserving healthy bones becomes a vital health concern. If bone is broken down more quickly than it is remade, then osteoporosis may occur.

This condition is of particular concern to postmenopausal women who produce less of the bone-protecting hormone oestrogen. Women lose more bone during their menopausal years than at any other time in their life [1]. However, men are under-diagnosed when it comes to osteoporosis and are more likely to go untreated.

The Key Three: Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D

Calcium is widely understood to play a key role in bone health and in preventing osteoporosis. After all, 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bone. However, a calcium-rich diet in the absence of other bone-building nutrients is not effective in building healthy bones. Good quality studies have even linked high calcium intake with increased risk of bone fracture. This is most likely because calcium must work alongside other nutrients to build and maintain healthy bones.

Calcium must be absorbed and retained effectively to benefit bones. This requires two more nutritional helpers: magnesium and vitamin D. These three nutrients work synergistically – none is effective without the others.

60% of the magnesium in our body is stored in our bones. Magnesium works hand in hand with calcium by stimulating the hormone calcitonin which helps to draw calcium into bone and keep it there. Magnesium is also required in order to convert vitamin D to its active form.

Unfortunately many of us fail to meet the recommended daily intake of magnesium. Deficiency in this mineral is a particular concern for girls. In a recent national survey, more than 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 18 had inadequate magnesium intake, putting them at risk of osteoporosis in later years.

Vitamin D is also essential for calcium absorption, helping to transport calcium out of the intestine and into the bloodstream. An estimated 60-70% of the UK population are low in Vitamin D. Elderly people and darker skinned populations are at particular risk of osteoporosis due to this. It is difficult to obtain sufficient Vitamin D from diet alone. Supplements or sun exposure (around 15 minutes each day) are the best ways to obtain the daily requirement of this vitamin to support healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis from occurring.

Nutrients for Bone Retention

Building healthy bone is only one part of the picture. Once healthy bone has been built, it is important to ensure that it is retained. Preventing bone from being broken down is essential in warding off osteoporosis. Special compounds in plant foods play a key role in preventing bone from being broken down. These compounds have ‘bone resorption inhibiting properties’. They support bone health by ‘turning off’ osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone tissue.

Dried plums, a source of phenols, have been shown in human studies to improve bone density by preventing bone breakdown. Other phytonutrients such as quercetin and hesperidin, present in fruits and vegetables such as onions, broccoli and citrus fruits, show similar benefits. Including these fruits and vegetables regularly alongside sources of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D is the key to nourishing strong and healthy bones, therefore preventing osteoporosis in later life [2].

Bone Boosting Recipes

Dried Plum ‘Bone Booster’ Snack Bars

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Serves: 8

Special phenolic compounds in dried plums increase levels of a hormone linked to bone formation. These compounds also help to prevent bone from being broken down. Dried plums, or prunes, are also high in antioxidants and provide an excellent source of potassium, boron and copper – essential nutrients for bone health. Soy flour provides a source of ‘bone boosting’ phytoestrogens, while almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are useful sources of calcium and magnesium. [3]

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • ¼ cup Dried Plum (Prune) purée
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup soy flour
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup whole almonds
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds

Directions

Heat oven to 160°C. Spray an 8×8” baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving the paper overhanging on 2 sides. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dried plum purée, honey, orange juice, egg white and orange zest. In small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon and baking powder. Fold flour mixture, oats, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds into dried plum mixture.

Press mixture evenly into prepared pan. Bake about 30 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool on rack; remove from pan, using paper to lift it out. Cut in four, then cut across in half to make 8 bars.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 212
Cholesterol: 0mg
Total Fat: 12g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Sodium: 41mg
Carbohydrate: 22g
Protein: 6g
Fibre: 3g
Potassium: 159mg

‘Better Bones’ Banana Oat Bars

Makes one 9×9-inch pan. 6 Servings.

Oats and flaxseed provide lignans which support bone and hormonal health after menopause. Bananas provide potassium which helps to prevent loss of calcium from the body. Anti-inflammatory omega 3, in the ground flaxseed and walnuts, is linked with improved bone density. Special phenolic compounds in dried plums increase levels of a hormone linked to bone formation. These compounds also help to prevent bone from being broken down. Dried plums, or prunes, are also high in antioxidants and provide essential nutrients for bone health such as potassium, boron and copper.

Ingredients

  • 2 large, very ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup pitted, chopped prunes
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

Directions

Heat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square baking dish with olive oil.

Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl until no large chunks remain. Stir in the vanilla, if using. Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the prunes and nuts.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. Sprinkle the top lightly with cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up.

Per serving:

Calories: 200
Fat: 4.9g
Fibre: 5.6g
Sugar: 10.7g
Protein: 5.5g

Written by Nadia Mason

References
1. Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.
2. Hooshmand et al (2011) Comparative effects of dried plum and dried apple on bone in postmenopausal women. Brr J Nutr 106(6):923-30.
3. Gunn et al (2015) Nutrients Increased Intake of Selected Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit may Reduce Bone Turnover in Post-Menopausal Women 7(4): 2499–2517.

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