Sun Protection

More than Sunscreen: Comprehensive Sun Protection

More than Sunscreen: Comprehensive Sun Protection

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

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

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

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

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

1. Lycopene

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

2. Astaxanthin

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

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

Omega-3

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

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

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

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

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Mind and Mood Matters

Health Information Week: Mind and Mood Matters

Mind & Mood Matters

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

Blood Flow

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

Memory

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

Protection

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

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

Stress and Anxiety

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

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

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

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

Mood

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

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

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

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

Sleep

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

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

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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week: The Benefits of Fish Oil

Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Benefits of Fish Oil

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

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

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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

How is it Treated?

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

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

The Benefits of Fish Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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