Vitamin D, Part 2: Recent Advances in Understanding the Role of This Wonder Supplement in Health and Disease Resistance

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 SUNSHINE IS ESSENTIAL FOR VITAMIN D SYNTHESIS IN THE SKIN

Introduction
In a previous post, the possible importance of vitamin D in the prevention of common cancers, heart and autoimmune diseases, rickets, osteomalacia (bone pain and muscle weakness), diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), and depression was described (see, Vitamin D, Part 1: “Early Warning: Dull Days Of 2012 Will Have Increased Widespread Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic in 2013”). Subsequently, knowledge of the role of vitamin D in disease resistance has significantly increased and important advances made are briefly described in this post.

Vitamin D deficiency
Remember that the diet only provides a limited amount of vitamin D. The main source is from ultraviolet B (UVB) in sunlight, with 2 or 3 exposures to the sun, 20-30 minutes weekly, sufficient for vitamin D synthesis in the skin. It was originally thought that vitamin D deficiency was confined to Northern regions of the World, like Northern Europe, with insufficient sunshine for effective vitamin D synthesis for 6 months from October to April. Surprisingly, Vitamin D deficiency has also now recently been found to be common in hot countries like Australia and Brazil where many people avoid the sun and use sun blockers.

Present status of studies on vitamin D
The list of diseases/conditions associated with vitamin D deficiency continues to grow and now includes diabetes, pregnancy problems, lack of foetal growth, neurological disorders, susceptibility to tuberculosis/leprosy and sickle cell blood disease.

However, evidence finally proving beyond any doubt a relationship between vitamin D and any disease condition is difficult to obtain. This is because proof has to be provided sampling human subjects and such studies are notoriously difficult to carry out with large populations. This is due both to the large variability in the diets and physiological conditions of the subjects used as well as in differences in the analytical techniques adopted by the researchers. A further complication is that the development of any disease condition may involve many environmental and genetic factors acting in concert.

Vitamin D deficiency and multiple sclerosis
One example of problems involved in proving beyond doubt the role of vitamin D deficiency in disease development is with multiple sclerosis (MS). Thus, the link between vitamin D deficiency and MS was first suggested in 1974 but is still is not unequivocally accepted.

Studies have shown a correlation between patients with MS living in temperate and Northern countries and low vitamin D levels. The problem is, however, that in these studies the control “normal” people also have vitamin D deficiency without having MS making any conclusions difficult to justify. Such studies indicate that other environmental and genetic factors are probably involved in the development of MS (Pierrot-Deseilligny and Souberbielle, Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders, 2013:

http://tan.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/22/1756285612473513).

Molecular studies on vitamin D deficiency and disease

Real progress in understanding and confirming the role of vitamin D in the disease process comes from recent studies showing the interaction of vitamin D directly with the genes and DNA. Thus, exciting new techniques for studying the interaction of nutrients, such as vitamin D, with the genes in the cells have been developed.

It is estimated that vitamin D may influence the activity of 5% of the human genes via a receptor, the vitamin D receptor, attached to the DNA of the cell and controlling the action of the genes. These receptors were found to be concentrated near genes involved in auto-immune diseases such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancers like colorectal cancer (Wellcome Trust, press release, “Vitamin D found to influence over 200 genes, highlighting links to disease”, 24th August 2010).

Similarly, in a study of the correlation between vitamin D levels and gene expression in Norwegian women, it was shown that vitamin levels correlated with the expression of genes associated with immunity and inflammation (Olsen and colleagues, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 67, pages 773–778, 2013).

These studies illustrate how the effects of nutritional factors, such as vitamin D, can modulate the immune system and influence the disease process.

Conclusion

The molecular studies, outlined above, are a very important development in our understanding of the role of vitamins and minerals in the body. At last, it is possible to examine, at the gene level, the influence of these factors on the physiology of the human body. Progress can now be made to resolve the controversy and uncertainty that exists over the use of nutritional supplements.

It’s Your Life: End the Confusion from Inconsistent Health Advice

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Beware of McDonald’s and Coca Cola’s Reactions to Sales Drop

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NEWSFLASH!! McDonald’s has just announced that they are reducing the amount of antibiotics in their chicken nuggets. This says it all – an actual confession of the worst kind of additive present in their junk food.  People have been feeding these chicken nuggets to their children for years and eating them too.  DO NOT EAT THESE AWFUL PROCESSED FOODS AS THEY ARE HELPING TO FUEL THE RISE OF ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT BACTERIA THAT ARE THE GREATEST HEALTH THREAT IN THE 21ST CENTURY ACCORDING TO THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION.

Introduction

Many people were pleased to learn that both McDonald’s and Coca Cola’s sales dropped significantly in the recent year. These two purveyors of junk food have sold their fat and sugar-laden products throughout the World to generations of gullible people. There have been no boundaries to the low levels to which they have stooped in order to hook their customers. Thus, McDonald’s gave free toys to bribe children while Coca Cola used green lorries to deliver their evil brews and pretend to care about the environment. Coco Cola has also jumped on the “Zero” bandwagon label to fool people into thinking that their “Zero” drinks can help weight loss.  These two companies alone have significantly contributed to the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the World. For example in Brazil, as soon as the economy improved around 2008, McDonald’s and other junk food merchants opened numerous outlets in Rio de Janeiro so that the once ”beautiful people” now rival the USA and the UK in terms of their obesity rates and the size of their bulging waistlines.

Brainwashing and addiction

Yes, people have a free choice to choose what to eat, but when they are constantly exposed to advertising from giant hoardings, trains covered in logos, and enormous symbols at sporting events sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola then it is not surprising that they become brainwashed into buying junk foods. There is even evidence that high-fat/sugar food is addictive and that junk foods stimulate the brain’s reward system in the same way as drugs like cocaine.

Reduced sales

So what is happening now and are the reduced sales good news for the health of people throughout the World?  Recently, sales of Coca Cola products have fallen in the USA, Mexico and Europe resulting in a profit decline of 25%. This has probably been due to a combination of factors including increased taxes on sugary soda in Mexico, several widely publicized lawsuits in the USA over undisclosed chemicals present in Coca Cola, and increased health awareness of younger people.  With McDonald’s, the income shrunk last year by 15% and practically every month showed negative sales. The reasons for this reduction in sales are complex and involve young peoples’ disillusion with the food on sale, competition from other smaller companies, political and economic crises in Europe and Asia, concerns about food safety in China and, hopefully, an increasing awareness of the harm that the McDonalds high-fat foods can have on health.

Companies responses to reduced sales

  1. Coca Cola’s response to reduced sales shows a hint of desperation as people turn away from its traditional products. Not content with drowning Nations in chemical-laden and nutritionally defunct drinks for decades, it has now turned its attention to the dairy industry by producing highly processed milk called “Fairlife”. According to Coca Cola, Fairlife contains no lactose and has 50% more protein, 30% more calcium but 50% less sugar than normal milk. The sugar and lactose are removed by a special filtration system which also concentrates the protein and calcium. There is also a chocolate version of Fairlife which is fat-free (?) and with reduced sugar. It sounds too good to be true and, unfortunately, probably is.

Advantages of Fairlife

i. Low fat

ii. Free of lactose Fairlife is therefore of interest to overweight and lactose-intolerant people but weight watchers beware as it contains artificial sweeteners which may stimulate the appetite.

Disadvantages of Fairlife

i.  One disadvantage is that it will probably cost twice as much as ordinary milk.

ii. The main disadvantage, however, is that Fairlife has only been given a score of 6 out of 10 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG, ewg.org. see: Toxic chemicals in Fairlife milk EWG) on the basis of nutrition, ingredients and processing concerns.  EWG is a USA non-profit organisation whose mission is “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.” The highest concern of the EWG was over the ingredients which include 6 additives: bisphenol A from plastic liners, potassium phosphates, artificial flavour, natural flavour, sucralose, acesulphame potassium and carrageenan. Concerns were also expressed over the amount of processing that was used in the production of Fairlife since the more the processing the higher the use of artificial additives.

iii. The final disadvantage of Fairlife is the fact that it is produced by Coca Cola whose reputation has been undermined by lawsuits concerned with undisclosed chemicals used in its products such as phosphoric acid, artificial flavour and chemical preservative.

Conclusion on Fairlife

The relatively high price, content of artificial sweeteners and undisclosed flavourings should make most people chose natural skimmed cow’s milk. For the price of Fairlife, it is possible to buy organic cow’s milk that is free of all additives, including the antibiotics often used in cow husbandry in the USA.

  1. McDonald’s response to falling sales so far, in contrast to Coca Cola, does not seem to have resulted in diversification into other relatively healthy food products like milk. Instead, the CEO of McDonald’s, Don Thompson, has resigned and a $100 milion cost-cutting exercise is underway at company headquarters. Many areas of McDonald’s operation will need the attention of the new CEO including:-

i. Simplifying the menu so that service is improved. At the moment, the menu is so complex that customers are confused and kitchen staff take too long to respond to orders. This has particularly affected drive-thru customers who have gone to other more efficient restaurants.

ii. Some of the McDonalds prices at the higher end of the menu have become too expensive and will need to come down.

iii. Updating marketing and technology to create a better image and facilitate ordering, payment and mobile offerings.

iv. Probably the biggest challenge is to change the image of McDonald’s and rebrand from cheap fatty food and burgers to fresh food to appeal to more  health aware customers.

This latter rebranding will take some time to implement as many people would never be seen dead in a McDonald’s restaurant except to use the WC. Certainly, the complexity of the menus makes it difficult to find healthy alternatives so that simplification and introduction of healthy alternatives would be welcomed.

In conclusion, falling sales are probably good news for McDonald’s customers if the company responds by introducing healthy options. In contrast, the response of Coca Cola to meddle with one of the most nutritious and relatively cheap foods available is worrying due to the extremely poor track record of this global giant.

It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice

10 Health Tips You Should Ignore

Learn To Distinguish Good From Bad Health Advice


1.   Take antibiotics to treat a cold

WRONG! Coughs, colds and flu are usually caused by viruses against which antibiotics do not work.

H1N1_navbox

Avian flu virus, Attribution: Cybercobra at en.wikipedia*

 

Many people upon developing symptoms of a cold immediately visit the doctor for medication. Unfortunately, doctors in the past have too often prescribed antibiotics for simple coughs and colds, especially for children, claiming pressure for this comes from overprotective parents. This oversubscribing has resulted in an alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria so when true bacterial infections occur, as after an operation, the antibiotics given no longer work. The World Health Organisation has described the rise of antibiotic bacteria as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century. The best way to treat a cold is to stay at home, keep warm, drink plenty of fluids and take a vitamin C supplement (500mg to 1g).


2.   Over-weight or obese people should start running to lose weight quickly

WRONG! If you are overweight then the chances are that you have done little exercise for some time. Only work out to lose weight after assessment of your heart and blood pressure by your doctor.

Every day overweight and obese people can be seen running, often on hard concrete surfaces, in order to rapidly shed pounds. Hectic exercise to lose weight is also seen in TV programmes like “The Biggest Loser”. Such sudden changes in lifestyle from massively overweight to hectic exercise freaks can be dangerous and even fatal. Obese people often have heart disease and high blood pressure so the last thing they need is bullying by an ambitious personal trainer into excessive aerobic exercises and weight training. Another problem with jogging by obese people is the extra stress this puts on the knee and hip joints. Overweight people often have mobility problems even before starting high impact exercises (see: It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of low impact exercises).


3.   Don’t take vitamin supplements as they are a waste of money

WRONG! There is very good evidence that certain groups of people benefit from taking vitamin supplements.

Recent calculations have indicated that in the USA, UK, as well as other countries, as many as two thirds of the population would benefit from taking some form of vitamin supplementation (see It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of which vitamins to take for your age group). For example, if you live in Northern Europe which has insufficient sunshine for effective vitamin D synthesis for 6 months from October to April then you probably have a Vitamin D deficiency. Surprisingly, Vitamin D deficiency is also common in hot countries like Australia and Brazil as people often avoid the sun and use sun blockers. This deficiency can lead to autoimmune diseases, rickets, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and depression. Many other examples of people likely to benefit from vitamins supplements include pregnant women who need folic acid (vitamin B), the elderly who should take multivitamins, and vegetarians/vegans who need vitamins B12 and D.


4.   Missing breakfast will help you lose weight

WRONG! Missing breakfast will lead to unhealthy snacking of high sugar and high fat foods mid-morning and will contribute to weight gain and obesity.

As the name implies, the breaking of the overnight fast is essential in order to raise the blood sugar levels and increase your metabolic rate. You will be more active throughout the day, burn more calories and be less likely to crave unhealthy foods. Missing breakfast will result in rapid rises and then falls in blood sugar levels leaving you feeling listless and tired. In addition, children going to school without breakfast have lower concentration and energy levels, worse behaviour as well as memory and attention span problems (see: It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of healthy breakfasts).


5.   The healthy over 50s have no need for an annual health checkup

WRONG! Regular health checkups are important at any age but are particularly important for the over 50 year olds.

Unfortunately, as you age, the body is more likely to develop health problems. Fifty year old women will be entering the changes associated with the menopause and will need health advice. They should already be having regular smear tests for cancer of the cervix and examinations for breast cancer. Men should also have regular checks throughout life for testicular cancer but after 50 years old may begin developing enlargement of the prostate gland and need a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test annually. Both sexes after 50 years old would also benefit from regular checks for cancer of the colon. In addition, in the 40-50 year old, the results of the lifestyle adopted in the previous decades will begin to show. Thus, smokers and drinkers may have respiratory, cardiac and neurological problems needing attention, while sedentary and obese people may have diabetic, cardiac and mobility issues. Fortunately, sometimes, new-found health awareness may occur in 50 year olds and may partially reverse some of the damage done. Giving up smoking and drinking to excess and adopting a healthy diet and exercise will pay dividends although excess abuse with carcinogens (cigarettes and alcohol) will have already taken their toll.


6.   You can get good advice from personal trainers about health and nutrition

WRONG!  In most cases, the one thing missing in many gyms is someone with knowledge of health and nutrition. Direct experience with numerous personal trainers confirms their knowledge of weights and exercise but also often their lack of understanding of health and nutrition.

Unfortunately, this lack of training can have dangerous consequences. For example, recently, a middle aged man who had just recovered from a cardiac bypass operation began exercising with a personal trainer. The trainer was inexperienced and immediately put the man on a treadmill and increased the speed until the man was exhausted with chest pains. Luckily, the man survived but took advice to switch to another trainer. In addition, without advice on diet and nutrition there is little point in overweight people going to a gym to lose weight without being placed on an appropriate diet. Finally, since anabolic steroids do such harm to the body, why are personal trainers sometimes seen instructing steroid freaks? The trainers involved either have no understanding of basic physiology and the havoc inflicted by steroids or else they do not care and just train for short-term results.


7.   White bread and white rice are highly nutritious and should be eaten every day

WRONG! White bread and white rice have had most of their essential fibres, vitamins and minerals removed and are therefore nutritionally inadequate.

We have been brainwashed into thinking that any white food is superior and healthy but this is not true. White flour and white rice are made by removing the outer layers of the wheat and rice seeds that contain over 90% of the bran fibre and most of the vitamins and minerals. This produces white flour for making white bread and pasta as well as the polished white rice that most people buy. White flour is worse than white rice as it is also bleached with poisonous chemicals. White flour is commonly eaten by people who go on to develop heart disease, cancers and type II diabetes. Just think of the number of cakes and biscuits made with white flour. Even “fortified” white bread with added synthetic vitamins and nutrients is inferior to whole meal and organic bread. White rice, however, does still contain some protein, vitamins and minerals.


8.   Eating organic food is a total waste of money

WRONG! There is good evidence that certain organic foods not only contain lower levels of toxic pesticide chemicals but also have higher levels of essential nutrients.

The debate about the advantages/disadvantages of organic food versus conventionally grown food has raged for a number of years. The author previously reviewed this topic and concluded that some organic foods did indeed have lower levels of pesticides and contain higher levels of several antioxidants, vitamins and flavones (see: It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details). This conclusion has now been verified in a recently published review which looked at 343 previous publications and concluded that there were significantly higher levels of a range of antioxidants, such as polyphenolics, in organic crops (Baranski and colleagues, 2014). Many of these latter substances have previously been associated with reduced incidences of diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases as well as some cancers.  The Baranaski review (2014) also showed that the occurrence of pesticide residues was four times higher in conventional than in organic crops and that levels of toxic cadmium were also significantly higher. The debate regarding the efficacy of organic foods should now be ended and scientists should be looking at the reasons for these differences and their potential benefits to people eating organic produce. The Baranski review (2014) also explains why the previous Food Standards Agency report of organic versus conventional foods had  incorrectly concluded that their were no significant differences. These latest findings do not mean that you should buy everything organic as this can be expensive and some organic foods are difficult to find. Consult It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice for details of which organic foods should be a priority to buy.

Baranski and colleagues, “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops : a systematic literature review and meta-analyses”. British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 112, pp 794–811, 2014.


9.   Probiotics have no beneficial effects on health

WRONG! There is mounting scientific evidence that probiotics (live beneficial bacteria) are useful for the treatment of a number of human conditions including gastrointestinal disorders like diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

The human body contains 100 trillion cells of which 10 trillion are human cells and the remaining 90 trillion are  microbes (O’Hara and Shanahan, 2006). Many of these microbes are found colonising the gut where they may have major influences on digestion, development of immunity, and control of dangerous and pathogenic microbes. In the gut, the microbes and the immune system are in close contact so that any upset in the microbial flora due to antibiotic treatment, alcohol misuse or food poisoning may have widespread results throughout the  body. When the delicate balance between the normal gut microbes and the immune system is disturbed then conditions such as diarrhoea, bacterial infection, colitis (includes irritable bowel disease, IBS), asthma, and respiratory infections (colds and flu) may occur. Trials have been carried out on the influence of probiotics (friendly bacteria normally found in the gut) given in  dairy products or directly as pills, containing intestinal species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium  bacteria, on  these conditions. The results showed evidence that probiotics are effective in shortening acute infectious diarrhoea, in preventing travellors diarrhoea and diarrhoea caused by  the hospital pathogen, Clostridium difficile, as well as in relieving the symptoms of IBS. In addition, probiotics have been reported to shorten the length of respiratory infections in children and indicate that feeding  Lactobacillus bacteria to mothers in the prenatal and early postnatal periods may both treat and prevent asthma in children. However, beware, as yoghurt manufacturers have rapidly jumped on the probiotics band-wagon as a way of marketing their products when there is little idea about doses or guidelines for use.

A.M. O’Hara and F. Shanahan, “The gut flora as a forgotten organ,” EMBO Reports, vol. 7, no. 7, pp. 688–693, 2006.


10.   Sex, chocolate and alcohol can seriously damage your health

RIGHT and WRONG! It all depends on how much and how often!

Almost every day articles are being published on the evils of sex, chocolate and alcohol with possible health and social benefits of these pleasures poorly publicised. In moderation, these activities may actually be beneficial. In a recent book entitled Sex, Chocolate and Alcohol Can Be Good For You I explain both the benefits and risks of these activities if indulged in moderation and in excess. I recommend the book to people of most ages in the hope that it will be informative and help to provide a more balanced view of pleasures that are an integral part of most people’s lives.


*   “H1N1 navbox” by Cybercobra at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

Health Briefs 4. Are You a Potential Serial Killer? Poor Personal Hygiene Spreads Fatal Bugs and Kills Vulnerable Young and Elderly People.

Poor personal hygiene kills untold 100s of thousands each year by spreading diarrhoea, flu, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals.

Basic Hygiene

Mothers used to train their children to avoid sneezing over other people and to place their hands over their mouths when coughing. Nowadays, such training seems to be a thing of the past with important infectious diseases being readily spread by poor personal hygiene. Personal hygiene involves a series of simple behaviours to protect the people around you from infections and includes, not only using a handkerchief when sneezing, but, most important too, washing your hands after going to the bathroom and after arriving at work or home. In the UK, a survey found that only 32% of men and 64% of women washed their hands after going to the bathroom.

Why is Personal Hygiene so Important?

It is estimated that 1 million lives would be saved each year from diarrhoea and deaths from childhood pneumonia would be cut by 25% if people washed their hands. In the UK, faecal bacteria are present on 25% of hands. Many years ago, scientists believed that most germs, including the flu virus, were rapidly killed outside the body on foreign surfaces by desiccation and sunlight. However, it has now been shown that many infectious and dangerous viruses and bacteria can survive for long periods on surfaces such as door handles, taps, food, money, keyboards and unwashed hands. Therefore, washing your hands thoroughly after arriving home or at work and using the bathroom is vital otherwise you will kill vulnerable people with weak immune systems, including the elderly and young. Personal hygiene, however, does not end with hand washing but should also include the use of a handkerchief to contain sneezes and coughs.

800px-Sneeze

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: “This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of saliva droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure”. Author: James Gathany CDC Public Health Image Library ID 1162 (http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/details.asp?pid=11162).

This advice is so simple but is largely ignored. The next time you use public transport observe people and see how many sneeze and then use a clean tissue or handkerchief to wipe their noses. Normally, people either sneeze, completely uninhibited by anyone near them, or else they sneeze into their hands and then wipe the contents of their noses on their trousers or skirt. They then leave the bus/train supporting themselves using contaminated hands with which they open doors, call lifts, shake hands and pay for newspapers, spreading germs everywhere. Public transport should therefore, if possible, be avoided during a flu outbreak as this will significantly reduce chances of infection. A small bottle of alcohol hand gel in work and the home is also highly recommended.

Common Diseases Spread by Poor Hygiene

Many common diseases are spread by poor hand hygiene including diarrhoea which is caused by parasites, such as Entamoeba histolytica and Cryptosporidium, by bacteria,  Campylobacter, Clostridium difficile, E. coli, and Salmonella, and viruses, such as noroviruses, rotaviruses and Ebola. In addition, in hospitals and care homes, outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Clostridium difficile have been traced back to poor hand hygiene by health “professionals”. Unguarded sneezing and coughing are also responsible for spreading diseases of the respiratory system (lungs, and airways) such as influenza and whooping cough. Influenza alone caused a major pandemic (World-wide epidemic) in 1918 which killed 50 million people while 2-3 million people die each year from diarrhoea-related diseases. Influenza is caused by unguarded coughing and sneezing and is also picked up from contaminated surfaces followed by touching the eyes, nose or mouth. In 2009, there was another pandemic which killed between 284,000 and 579, 000 people.

Simple Personal Hygiene Techniques

Hand washing is simple and should use soap or liquid soap, if possible, and warm running water which is impossible in many public bathrooms/restaurants. Antiseptic soaps are not necessary but rubbing all surfaces of the hands and thumbs together in water for at least 20 secs is optimal. AFTER WASHING, DRY WITH A TISSUE AND TURN THE TAP OFF AND THE EXIT DOOR HANDLE USING A TISSUE. I HAVE NEVER OBSERVED ANYBODY USING TISSUES FOR THESE PURPOSES BUT THESE SURFACES WILL BE CONTAMINATED BY UNWASHED HANDS MAKING YOUR ATTEMPTS AT HYGIENE A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME. Alcohol hand gels (rubbing in all surfaces of the hands for 20-30 secs) are gaining popularity in restaurants and hospitals and are also effective against many bacteria except the dreaded Clostridium difficile, causing diarrhoea outbreaks in hospitals, and norovirus outbreaks often occurring on cruise ships. Regarding the use of handkerchiefs, do not use re-usable handkerchiefs as they simply store up the germs in your pocket for spreading to other people. This is especially important when you have a cold or flu as these viruses are highly contagious. Use disposable paper tissues and throw them away immediately after use and wash your hands regularly. Also, regularly clean shared surfaces like door handles with alcohol wipes or disinfectant.

You Have Heard All This Before So What’s New???

What is new is the fact that more and more contagious diseases, like bird flu and Ebola viruses, are appearing each year. Although personal hygiene will not guarantee freedom from infection, it is an important step in helping to avoid certain diseases and spreading them to others. Influenza is a constant threat each year and personal hygiene, avoiding crowded places and having a flu shot each year are highly recommended. Finally, make sure that your health professionals wash their hands before they examine you and never buy pastries and unwrapped bread or food handled by a shop assistant not wearing disposal gloves.

Reference

Jumaa, P. A. 2005. Hand hygiene: simple and complex. International Journal of Infectious Diseases vol. 9, pages 3—14.

Propolis-A Folk Medicine from Bees with Promise as an Important Modern Drug

Products from bees, wasps and ants, including honey, propolis, Royal Jelly and venom, have been used in Folk Medicine for thousands of years for treating wounds, ulcers, inflammation, allergies, pain, cancer, neurological disease and infections. For example, in ancient Egypt, honey was recognised for its healing properties and used to treat wounds as well as for embalming dead bodies. Many recent studies of the potential of bee products for development as modern drugs have focused on honey and, in particular, on Manuka honey. Research on other bee products, however, such as propolis, is not only expanding but also revealing an ever wider range of possible therapeutic uses.

This article focuses on propolis as the author, while travelling abroad, successfully treated himself with a propolis/calendula spray to heal a lesion which resembled a mole undergoing the early stages of development into a malignant melanoma (type of skin cancer). Since the lesion was never diagnosed by a doctor as a possible early stage cancer, and only represents one particular example, then obviously it only provides limited evidence for the use of propolis as an anti-cancer drug. The rapid speed with which the lesion disappeared, however, was so impressive that this article has been written to draw attention to the origin of possible new drugs from ancient Folk Medicines which are only now being developed for clinical use.

Composition

The chemical composition of propolis and its properties vary according to the plant species from which it is collected and therefore to the geographical location. The preparation of propolis often involves ethanolic extraction although some varieties are soluble in water. Trials of propolis therefore have to take account of the possible effects of alcohol on the results. So far over 300 components have been identified in different types of propolis and these chemical constituents include flavonoids and phenols. It is these latter components that responsible for the beneficial properties of propolis.

Functions

Propolis is a mixture of plant material and wax produced by the bees and varies greatly from one region to another depending on the composition of the plant material used. Bees use propolis for both structural purposes, filling in holes and repairing combs, as well as for defence against bacteria, viruses and fungi invading the hive.

Recent studies have shown that propolis has numerous properties including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, wound healing, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer functions. The potential of propolis in dental care has also been realised for the treatment of diseases of the mouth, such as gingivitis and periodontitis caused by bacteria, and resulting in inflammation and eventual tooth loss.

Present day therapeutic use of propolis

Most recent studies on the anticancer, antimicrobial and other properties of propolis have been confined to laboratory studies on cells cultures or with rodents and few have ventured into clinical trials with humans. However, propolis has been used externally included in spays, ointments, creams, mouth washes etc for direct application rather than by ingestion or injection although propolis capsules are available and have been used in trials. Ointments have been used for treating genital herpes but long-term application might induce an allergic response.

Anti-cancer properties of propolis

There are many accounts of the anti-cancer properties of propolis. Activities have been reported against human cancer cells including those of the pancreas, colon, breast, leukaemia, prostate, cervix, liver and lungs. All of these used human cells maintained in culture rather than clinical patients. The objective of some of these studies was to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in the propolis anti-cancer activities. Thus, in human breast cancer cells, Chinese propolis was shown to induce a form of cell suicide, called apoptosis, in which the DNA fragments and the cell fragments. Studies have also shown that propolis has activity against skin cancer cells (melanomas) and can inhibit the formation of blood capillaries (angiogenesis) so that the cancer cells are starved of nutrients and oxygen.

Results of self-medication with propolis

The latter reports made the author treat a suspicious skin lesion on his shoulder with a propolis/ calendula spay twice daily. The lesion had been growing for some months, was raised, over half a centimetre in diameter with a ragged outline and uneven pigmentation. Propolis has both antibacterial and antiviral activity, while propolis and calendula have both been reported to be involved in wound healing. After approximately 3 weeks of treatment, the lesion was visibly shrinking so that by 5 weeks it had disappeared completely. It was a great relief as the author was abroad and avoided the need for medical treatment and the possibility of a biopsy for diagnosis. Much more can be read about propolis and other bee products in the references below.

 

References

Norman Ratcliffe et al. (2014). Recent Advances in Developing Insect Natural Products as Potential Modern Day Medicines. ECAM, vol. 2014, 47pp.

Viviane Cristina Toreti et al. (2013). Recent Progress of Propolis for Its Biological and Chemical Compositions and its Botanical Origin. ECAM, vol. 2013, 13pp.

Fabiane Missima et al. (2009). The effect of propolis on pro-inflammatory cytokines produced by melanoma-bearing mice submitted to chronic stress. Journal of ApiProduct and ApiMedical Science 1 (1): 11-15.

Hongzhuan Xuan et al. (2014). Antitumor Activity of Chinese Propolis in Human Breast Cancer MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 Cells. ECAM, vol. 2014, 11pp.

Consultation of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (ECAM) and searching for “propolis”, 2011 to 2014, identifies 95 relevant articles.

Chemical in Colgate Total Toothpaste Linked to Cancer and Developmental Risks

 

Background

It is no surprise that recent reports link a component of Colgate Total Toothpaste to cancer and developmental risks. Total Toothpaste contains a toxin called Triclosan which is a chemical substance added not only to toothpaste but other healthcare products like antibacterial oral care rinses, soft and solid antibacterial soaps as well as some baby products and even natural deodorants to kill bacteria (www.bloomberg.com, Colgate Total Ingredient Linked to Hormones, Cancer Spotlights FDA Process)

Triclosan has been linked to the growth of human breast cancer cells and the disruption of development leading to bone malformations in rats.

How on earth could this occur considering the fact that the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) was involved in the approval process for Triclosan which took place between 1974 and 1994 and ruled that there was insufficient data to make an appropriate ruling. In the meantime, Colgate marketed Total outside the USA and then for some reason, following lobbying by Colgate, the FDA granted approval in 1997. Meanwhile in 2010, the EU (European Union) banned Triclosan from materials coming into contact with food.

Safety issues

The response to the release of the Colgate 35 page study on Triclosan earlier this year, following a lawsuit, has been very critical about this chemical’s safety, the research carried out by Colgate, and the approval granted by the FDA. Bloomberg News, subsequently, enquired into the background and the science behind the approval of Triclosan. A Cochran review of scientific articles published from 1990 to 2012 about Total and Triclosan also concluded that there was evidence that Total was more effective at fighting gum disease than other toothpastes but failed to comment on safety issues. Scientists, however, pointed out that Triclosan has a structure similar to thyroid hormones as well as to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are widely banned due to their carcinogenic and hormone disruption properties. Finally, the urine of 75% of Americans tested contained Triclosan, and many people have, in contrast to numerous other toxic substances, long–term, regular daily exposure to this chemical. Some dental experts even recommend not rinsing the toothpaste away after cleaning the teeth, this means that any harmful chemicals in the toothpaste can readily be absorbed into the body by the extensive blood vessels in the mouth and throat.

What should you do?

First, there is no need to panic or join the heated debate about the pros and cons of corporate financial gains at the price of public safety. Two actions are recommended:-

  1. Unless you suffer badly from gum disease or periodontitis then switch to another brand of toothpaste and rinsing your mouth after cleaning your teeth is probably worthwhile. After all, who knows what chemicals are present in other toothpastes?!
  1. There are hundreds of chemicals added to healthcare and beauty products so educate yourself by reading the labels to identify those which are potentially harmful. Concentrate on those products, such as moisturisers and sun creams, which you use frequently. There are 5 main groups of chemicals causing problems:- Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS or SDS) in soaps causing allergies; phalates (DBP and DEHP) and parabens (methyl- ,ethyl-, propyl- and butyl –parabens), which are hormone disruptors; and polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and propylene glycol that are irritants or contain carcinogens. The following publications will help you to learn about harmful chemicals in your food, beauty and health products, and household cleaners :-

It’s Your Life: End the confusion from inconsistent health advice by Professor Norman Ratcliffe (Jan 1, 2011, $19.95 softback plus Kindle $9.15).

Keeping Mother, Baby and Child Safe from Toxic Chemicals by Professor Norman Ratcliffe (Oct 22, 2013, only $5.69 plus kindle at $4.69).

It’s Your Life – Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Your Food  Paperback by  Professor Norman Ratcliffe (May 1, 2012, only $5.69 plus Kindle at $4.69).

1. A Traveller’s Guide to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. & 2. Sex, Chocolate and Alcohol Can Be Good for You

I wish to apologise for not publishing a new post on this blog for the past two months but I have been involved in writing two new books which you might find useful. These books are entitled:

1. A Traveller’s Guide to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympics

2. Sex, Chocolate and Alcohol Can Be Good for You

1. A Travellers Guide to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympics

 

This book does not seem to be relevant to the usual Health and Fitness theme of this blog. I have, however, been living and working in Rio de Janeiro on and off for over 20 years and am therefore in a unique position to provide information on how to remain healthy and safe in Rio and Brazil.

This guide is relevant to anybody visiting Brazil for the first time to attend the World Cup and Olympics but also for the famous Annual Carnival in February to March each year. It will also assist the ever increasing numbers of business people and workers in the massively expanding oil industry travelling to Brazil.

“Brazil is not Europe or the USA and can seem like a foreign planet to the visitor so be prepared”

Tips on survival and health matters in Rio de Janeiro are given but many of these are also applicable to other cities throughout Brazil. Many of these tips will not be mentioned in standard guidebooks to Brazil as these have been written by tour companies etc. and not by somebody actually living in Rio.

There are health risks associated with parasitic diseases not found in Europe or the USA but these can be sensibly minimised. In addition, there are other health and safety issues which travellers should be aware of and all of which are summarised in this guide. The book also covers other topics such as accommodation and food to provide a comprehensive guide to make your trip of a life to Brazil happy and without undue stress of things going wrong.

9781907962554

To buy me click here

 

 

2. Sex, Chocolate and Alcohol Can Be Good for You

 

This book has been published following the massive response from readers of my blog in which 3 posts were originally written on this subject. Readers suggested that this book would be an outstanding and original contribution to understanding the good and bad aspects of these pleasurable past-times and make an ideal present for their loved ones. Although the title of the book is somewhat controversial, the contents of the book are are based entirely upon the latest published scientific evidence and should be taken seriously.

 

Almost every day articles are being published on the evils of sex, chocolate and alcohol with possible health and social benefits of these pleasures poorly publicised.

This little book presents data that indicates that, in moderation, these activities may actually be beneficial. It is therefore recommended for people of most ages in the hope that it will be informative and help to provide a more balanced view of pleasures that are an integral part of most people’s lives.

9781907962691

To buy me click here