Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why home made jam tastes better

We have got to know a wonderful grandma, called Lynette, here in Huntly. She is a wonderful baby sitter and has a heart of gold. One of the things she does is make homemade jam and preserves and sells them. The money she raises is then donated to a charity she is passionate about. We now only purchase jam for her. Two reasons, firstly it a way of supporting her and her charity and secondly there is minimal price difference between the supermarket brands and her jams.

I have been trying to figure out for about a year why her jams taste divine and heavenly.

The reason that they taste so wonderful is that they have so much fruit in them. She is donated or picks her own fruits and materials. For instance after my hunter gather days we send her off with a bucket or bag full of fruit.

So she is not worried about recouping the cost of her fruit, thus she can sell at a very reasonable price. In commercial operations it is about minimize the cost to maximize the profit. This is not particularly a bad thing, if I had a million dollars tied up in a jam bottling plant I would want a decent return on my money..... However what happens is that the fruit is the most expensive part of the jam. Sugar, gelatin and water are rather cheap last time I checked! Hence where colorings, favouring etc can be used without loosing sales, they are used.

So commercial jams have minimal amounts of fruit. This results in minimal amounts of vitamins and nutrients. Where as Lynette's jams have heaps of fruit and therefore heaps of nutrients.

I suggest you go to you local farmers market and find some wonderful grandparent who is selling jams and make the switch to locally produced, high fruit, high nutrient preserves.

Thought is was from lord of the rings set

When I saw the first picture I thought that we were in a world created by Tolkien, but scrolling down realized that these living bridges are for real. More photos are with original the article.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

mmmmm strawberries

Strawberry season is close. We have already had strawberries from our wild plants, both the white and red wide variates. These grow like weeds, but have very small berries. The white taste divine, the red are acceptable and nice if they have enough water. However you would need a massive garden to get a cup full.

We have a "proper" strawberry patch with two varieties, with a red ripe strawberry ready to be picked - which is will be once this post is written. Definitely cut this one in half and share with Tiffany!

The reason for this rambling is that a study published overnight (NZ time) shows the value in eating strawberries. Apparently in general population studies eating of strawberries reduces cardiovascular disease, one of the big killers in the Western world. This study looked at feeding freeze dried strawberry powder to obese women. They found over the 4 week study that bad cholesterol significantly decreased and evidence of oxidative stress decreased. All great indications that strawberries are working magic.

Freeze dried strawberries - never heard of them until today. It comes in a powder form, and one teaspoon gives equivalent of 1/3 cup of strawberries. The levels used in the above study gave approximately 1 1/2 cups of strawberries a day. This puts a new perspective on the study. I might suggest that strawberries out of your garden, you wouldn't have to eat so many. However if you purchase yours from a store, you might have to eat less due to the depredation of the strawberries in storage.

What this shows is that you need to eat large volumes of nutrient rich foods to obtain significant health benefits. This is where food concentration is helpful. Taking the water and cellulose (fibre) out of food to increase the ease in which we can consume this level.

Reference: Basu, Wilkinson, Penugonda, Simmons, Betts and Lyons. Freeze-dried strawberry powder improves lipid profile and lipid peroxidation in women with metabolic syndrome: baseline and post intervention effects Nutrition Journal 2009, 8:43

Friday, September 25, 2009

What is the level of carotene in your carrots?

I purchased the other day a handful of Niche seed packets. One of these packets was carrot seeds that included purple, white, yellowish and of course orange carrots. So it is with interest that I read yesterday about variation in carotene levels in carrots.

The data is shown in the graphs below, clicking on them will make them bigger. The first one shows variation between years in the same location. the difference between 1985 carrots had 50% more carotene in them than 1984 carrots.

The next graph show variation between geographical locations. The California carrots had approximately double the carotene of the Wisconsin ones.
The graph below compares the different species of carrots. Each breed type is labeled with some letters and numbers. One breed stands out the HCM (High Carotene Mass) breed. Clearly this is the one you want to eat!

The last graph below is a break down of the HCM carrots, for there composition of alpha, beta and delta carotenoids. Take note that the California1986 (middle bunch) had nearly equal amounts of alpha and beta carotene. One of my concerns about carrot juice is that it has really high levels of beta carotene and not much else. However this breed, in this year has a better level of alpha and beta carotene.
What is startingly obvious is that we want to be sowing, and buying the HCM breed of carrots.
Now this study is 25 years old, so there has been decades since this work was undertaken so this should have been ample time to move this breed to market. However this does not seem to have happened.

I would have thought the drive for healthier food would have resulted in the HCM strain becoming a premium carrot strain sold as a “healthier” carrot. There could be a great opportunity in NZ, and maybe other countries to important and grow this more nutritious strain. Also importing this seed to sell as high nutrient carrots could also be a possibility.

Excuse me my brain is full

My lack of posting over the last day, and probably today and tomorrow is because I feel like the kid in this far side cartoon. After printing out nearly a ream of paper in science jargon about vitamin A, my brain has been melted then deep fried.

On the positive side I have completely re written the segment in the book about optimal vitamin A levels. It is a rather anticlimactic few paragraphs that I have written, but least it now has some closure.

Will post again once I have recovered.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Weeds on your plate

This newspaper article is well worth a read. I regularly pick things from our gardens, that most people don't consider, as salad "greens". My current favorites are purple pansy's and violets. I want to put some dandelion flowers (not green bits as these are bitter).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Its there but you can't have it: Vitamin B3 bioavailability

The clinical deficiency disease caused by lack of vitamin B3 (niacin) is pellagra. The diagnosis is the four D's: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and eventually death. This showed up in cultures that had a subsistence diet based upon corn.

Tests in the 80's showed that 27.3 micro grams of niacin per gram of corn. Although this is not a great source of niacin (broccoli has 930 micro grams per gram), it should be enough to stop pellagra. However if this corn is feed to rats only 7 micro grams were available for the rats, thus showing that somehow that the niacin was not bioavailability.

It turns out that corn gets a double whammy with vitamin B3/niacin decrease. First the level in the corn drops as the it matures and the level unavailable increases. This is shown in the graph below (day 49 the corn is deemed mature)
So combing the loss and the rise of unavailable can be combined to show the overall decrease. The graph below shows this. This decrease is rather rapid over the 30 days were measurement were taken. Starting at 50 micro grams and ending up at just under 10, this is a 80% decrease.
The reason for these changes are two fold. Vitamin B3 is used by an enzyme to produce energy, therefore when the corn is rapidly growing after pollination the vitamin B3 levels will be high. As the corn starts to slow down its growth as it is maturing the enzyme is no longer needed and thus so vitamin B3 also decreased. Also as the seed matures it starts to "shut down" getting ready for hibernation, so to speak, it modifies the vitamin to a more stable form so that it can survive until the seed starts to sprout and needs the vitamin B3 again.

Update: What this means is that you want to eat your corn as young as possible. So if you are growing your own try and pick it as soon as possible. That is not to hard as fresh season corn is one of the highlights of growing your own vegetables. As for purchasing from the store, I would suspect that the corn is picked once it is quite mature so no damage is done to the softer corn pieces, but young enough age that the kernels haven't started to dry out.

Reference: Joseph S. Wall, Michael R. Young, Kenneth J. Carpenter Transformation of niacin-containing compounds in corn during grain development: relationship to niacin nutritional availability September 1987 Volume 35, Issue 5

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Metals from your salad

Have been discussing zinc and its importance in the human body. You may have heard that celery and sometimes other vegetables take more energy to chew and digest than the energy contained in the vegetable. I don't know if this is true of not...... but it makes a good story. However this is not to say that these vegetables are low in nutrients as this post discusses.

I purchased on trademe over the weekend a already open 25kg of zinc sulfate of trademe for $1. From the weight of the bag I would suspect at least 15kg in it. Undertaking some calculations I only need 1kg every year to apply to all areas of our section. This was recommended to be sprayed on. As I only have a sprayer unit for nasty poisons (eg stuff to kill bamboo and prickles in lawn) I wasn't going to use this sprayer on my fruit and vege's. Therefore I mixed the zinc in with some sand to make it easier to spread and loosely sprinkled it around the fruit trees and over vegetable areas. So if you ever need any zinc feel free to ask!

So it was interest that I came across an article about zinc in lettuces. Zinc levels in lettuce were found to be 8.5 micro grams or zinc per gram of lettuce leaf. I don't know if this is a high level compared to other plants.... but if you eat a cupful (250ml) of lettuce as one of your 6 vege servings that you should be having, it would give 2 milligrams of zinc. Given that the RDI is in the 10-15 mg a day range, this is about 20% of your RDI intake.

However this is assuming that your soil has zinc in it that the plants can use! I know my vege patch has zinc in it now! How about the vege's that you purchased this week, do you know if the soil they were grown in had adequate zinc levels?

Along with the zinc, there were other trace elements like copper, boron, manganese, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Although the levels were not given, this is good news.

On the down side they found cadmium and lead in the lettuce, both toxic heavy metals as above the levels was not stated. This is concerning to me as have your food been grown in contaminated soil. I regularly drive past on my commute to Hamilton a organic vege sales at the gate "farm" however they grow the vege's very close to the road, so for decades as the traffic has bene pumped out lead from the fuel, this would have been building up in the soil. Traveling north the motor way runs through feilds of vegetables at Pokekoe where produce is grown for Auckland and NZ.

When we were clearly the section we live one there was a pile of burnt rubbish. This rubbish included a burnt car battery, plastic and other rubbish. Clearly we removed this rubbish. However it concerns me that the soil could be contaminated, and the contamination being transported into the vege's we eat. The good news is that a section of our house covers about half of the area were the rubbish was burnt. And remainder has thick layer of mulch and is covered by my mint garden so hopefully between the mulch and the lower intake of mint compared to my vegetable patch will minimize any heavy metal accumulation in our food.

Reference: Colin D. Walker, Ross M. Welch Low molecular weight complexes of zinc and other trace metals in lettuce leaf. J. Agric. Food Chem., 1987, 35 (5), pp 721–727

Sunday, September 20, 2009

By the hair on my chinny chin chingg

One of the problems in wellness is the lack of hard data to make personal decisions on. To say a person needs 50mg of Vitamin X (or whatever) is like saying the average shoe size of people liking in NZ is 9. Therefore we are only going to make size 9 shoes. Clearly this is absurd, so why do we stick to a particular does of vitamin when we are all so different.

Part of the reason is because determining vitamin/mineral levels in the body is very challenging. The most common tool is a blood test. There are two problems with this. Firstly blood levels may not give an accurate representation of your nutrient levels and secondly people don't like having blood extracted !

However there are a number of non intrusive things that could be tested, including:
  • Urine
  • Feces
  • Hair on head, body hair, underarm and pubic hair
  • Saliva
  • Finger and toe nails
  • Tears, iris and retina analysis
  • Another test that is non invasive is shining light through fingers or other tissue such as cheeks or ear lobes.
Most of these are in use to some degree. Take a urine test for kidney problems and get your blood oxygen level monitored with a gadget that clips on your finger and measures how red your blood is. Blood carotene levels can also be measured using modified form of this method.

I was reading an article about sheep's wool and the impact that nutrition has on wool. This reminded me of a student I new at university. He had a long term sickness that took quite some time to get to the bottom of. He had extremely white hair that hardly grew at all, and was quite wirery. Once they got onto of his health problems his hair started to grow again and it changed from extreme white to a more natural blond color.

Clearly this is an extreme example but it got me wondering if hair could be used as a indicator of internal health. Hair can be used to indicate various metal levels although there is debate about repeatable the tests are. Hair can be used as a test for alcohol consumption. The body produces a specific fat only when alcohol is consumed. This fat is then Incorporated into hair and can be measured.

Back to the wool article, in making hair the hair cells are rapidly dividing. In cell division you use the following vitamins:
  • Folic acid - B9
  • Cyanocobalamin - B12
  • Pyridoxine - B6
So one could hypothesis that lack of these B vitamins would cause hair growth to slow.

Vitamin A is used in production of keratin which is a tough protein that helps give hair its strength. Therefore thin and breakable hair might be an indication of sub optimal vitamin A levels. It would also appear that feeding more vitamin A to sheep increases speed of hair growth.

Vitamin D and E have also been implicated in wool quality. Vitamin D3 is Incorporated into the hair. Therefore it could lead to a marker for vitamin D status.

Reference: Masters DG, Hynd PI. Nutrition and wool quality. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia 2000; 24:66-74.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bugs in your bowel

You have lots of bugs living in your bowel, infact you have about 10 000 000 000 000, that is 10 trilllion bugs.

This includes 400 different types of bacteria from 50 families (genera). Now there is debate about if some of these bacteria are bad for you. Some are thought to cause sickness of the bowel (cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease etc) but there is no conclusive proof.

These bacteria seem to help absorption of fluid and electrolytes, increase blood flow to bowel and helpful in increasing muscular activity so your waste moves through quicker.

Now some questions spring to mind:
  • Where to these bugs come from? I remember a talk I once heard about breast milk, how it contained bacteria. The types of bacteria in the milk only varied slightly across cultures. Thus breast milk may help populate babies digestive tracts
  • What happens when you take antibiotics? It is likely that antibiotics don't kill all bacteria species. However what enables the bacteria that is killed to re populate the bowel.
  • Do the bacteria we eat with our food helpful in digesting that type of food? I have noticed that fruits such as apples often have some "mold" looking stuff on the outside when they are picked from the tree. Does this contain bacteria that is helpful in digesting apples?
Probotics are bacteria that is thought to be good for your bowel bacteria. The most commonly known strains are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. These are the ones printed on yogurt containers. It seems to be taken for granted that these bacteria grow and multiply in the bowel and they are benefitial to your body. Both of these do not seem to be backed up by scientific studies. Firstly these two bacteria do get to the bowel, but seem to only produce a transient colonisation. Thus these bacteria do not make a long term difference to the bowel bacteria. This would imply that these types of bacteria are not needed by adults or adults do not eat enough "healthy" foods to support these benefial bacteria.

I find it amazing that I have believed these bacteria to be good for you without seeing any scientific study to justify this. Once again we have assumptions about our food that is not backed up by science.

I do however recommend that you get into lactic acid fermentation (I haven't quite got to this myself!) as you are preserving food by growing up bugs. So even though nutrients might be decreasing as it is aging, the bacteria are increasing. These bacteria have B vitamins and other goodness. So to be it is a wise way to preserve food.

Reference: Topping SDL, Brown IL, Bird AR. Probiotics, prebiotics and the large bowel. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia 2000; 24:39-42.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not much vitamin C left in dried fruit

I loved dried fruit. Dried apricots, grapes, currents, bananas, apples, pears are all so yummy. The concentration of the both the sugars and the flavors yield scummy food. However vitamin C is no well preserved in these fruits. The graph below shows the loss in vitamin C with increasing drying temperature. What is disturbing is that the lowest drying temperature only preserves 40% of the vitamin C. If the highest temperature is used only a quarter of the vitamin C is preserved.
I don't eat the dried fruit of its nutrition - I eat it cause is tastes yummy. However it is another example about how processed food looses its nutrients.

Reference: Banga and Singh Optimization of Air Drying of Foods. Journal of Food Engineering Vol 223 1994 pg 201.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to read articles about health

Dr Alicia White has written an article about how to read articles that appear in the news about health. PDF is here, and html version in over here. You can ask me to comment about anything in the news and I can untangle the spin from the facts.

leptin and weight loss

Leptin is a human hormone that regulates appetite and energy expenditure. This hormone was only discovered in 1994. Leptin is mostly produced by the bodies fat cells, with levels being proportional to body fat. It is the binding of leptin in the brain which signals when you are full. For those who have a genetic defect so they don't produce leptin are extremely obese. However injecting leptin helps cure this.

You would expect obese people would eat less as they have a higher level of leptin, and the leptin binding in the brain is signal that you have the "full" feeling (the full feeding is know as satiety). However this is not the case. It is hypothesised that obese people have leptin Resistance, analogues to diabetics having insulin resistance.

It's not just appetite that leptin controls. When females are of very low body fat, the leptin levels drop, and thus they do not ovulate.

In 1999 a placebo double blind trial was undertaken in looking at effect of injecting leptin into obese subjects. They found that the higher the leptin dose the more weight loss that obese people lost. The graph below shows that those on the highest two levels of leptin (0.1 mg/kg and 0.3mg/kg lost significantly more than those who were on lower levels and placebo. What is fascinating is that all these subjects should have been eating the same number of calories a day. Over approximately half a year, some lost no weight, while some lost 7kg.

However what was noted that individual results varied significantly. The graph to the left looks at weight loss with respect to leptin dose. At least one person in both the 0.1 and 0.3 dose group gained between 5 - 10 kg. Now assuming that all subjects followed instructions (some might not have been honest in their reporting of food consumption) there is a massive difference in individual results. For example someone on 0.3 dose lost nearly 20kg, while others lost close to nothing. Infact compared to the placebo whose results varied between gain of 5 kg to loss of 10kg would indicate that for most people the leptin didn't enhance weight loss by much.

So we can conclude that leptin might help with weight loss - but it is no silver bullet.

References: Collier GR, de Silva A, Walder K. Leptin and the future of obesity treatment? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia 2000; 24:22-30.

Heymsfield S et al Recombinant Leptin for Weight Loss in Obese and Lean Adults: A Randomized, Controlled, Dose-Escalation Trial
JAMA. 1999;282:1568-1575.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The importance of zinc in weight reduction

The latest International Journal of Obesity has a interesting study regarding Zinc. Zinc is found in many parts of the body, and I have already blogged about zinc and depression. Zinc is a key factor in the enzyme (Zinc-alpha2-glycoprotein for those who want to know). It would appear that this enzyme, called by its acronym ZAG, is important in weight regulation. It was found that the higher the ZAG levels in blood, the thinner a person is, and lower blood levels we found in obese people.

It is not yet completely understood why this is but it is throught that ZAG reduces or stops the enzymes that eat up body fat.

Without zinc being available for the body to use, you cannot produce ZAG. Therefore you are likely to come obese. And if you are trying to loose weight and you don't have enough zinc then you are fighting an uphill battle so to speak.

Reference: F-Y Gong, S-J Zhang, J-Y Deng, H-J Zhu, H Pan, N-S Li1 and Y-F Shi Zinc-alpha2-glycoprotein is involved in regulation of body weight through inhibition of lipogenic enzymes in adipose tissue. International Journal of Obesity (2009) 33, 1023–1030;

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Obesity spreads like a virus

Over at wired they have reveled that becoming obese spreads like a virus. My musings to date have been on the biochemistry of obesity (here and here). However this study clearly demonstrates that your peer group has a big impact on whether you will become obese. And that obesity spreed the same way a virus spreads, in clusters and from person to person.

If your spouse becomes obese then you have a 37% higher probability of being obese, if your close friends come obese your probability of developing obesity increases a whopping 171%.

Check out the article - it has some wonderful illustrations showing how the epidemic spreeds.

There are many implications of this, including if you want to loose weight make sure you have thin friends!

In 30 years a lot can change - for the good

Slowly working through the local video store obtaining the education I never got as a kid (and I am rather grateful that I didn't!). Anyway under the B section of the action series (I am working in a slight random but systematic way) . Got out Breaker Breaker a film staring Chuck Norris, and released in 1977. (Don't bother about seeing it - take it from me it is not a classic)

Now I was around in the seventies but don't remember much. I was struck by how other worldly the movie was. The trouser flairs looked like you could use them as parachutes, the hair styles looked like my hair style when I haven't had a hair cut in a while and the cars looked like classic cars.

It got me thinking about how massively different the world is 30 years on. This then made me think about how our food could be massively improved in another 30 years. As more and more people are moving towards a more wholesome eating there is a strong possibility that in 30 years we will have far more nutritious food available.

This fulls me with great hope. I have a tendency to look at the negative in how our food and nutrients have been destroyed by modern practices. However in the last few years we have seen the rise of farmer markets, protein bars in the supermarket and new fruits and vegetables available for the home garden. So another 30 years into the journey things could be massively better, as all the small steps that you and I take sum up into an incredible journey.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The skinny on fat (again)

Burning off fat is not as simple as it first appears. I have blogged already about this subject and today I have found further evidence that weight loss is more complex.

Both protein and carbohydrate metabolism are precisely regulated by the body. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly carbohydrates are essential for every cells in the body, as they burn carbohydrate for energy. This is especially true of the brain. It is the break down of this carbohydrate regulation that makes the complications associated with diabetes. These include burst blood vessels in your eye through to gangrene in your legs. The protein regulation is important as it controls muscle replacement/gain and if some of the protein by-produces are poisonous to the body.

However fat regulation is not existent, thus allow fat to build up in the body as layers of fat. If the body could be manipulated to break down this fat into energy (oxidize it) then the body would increase the removal (or non deposition) of body fat.

Capsicum, in this case not the fruit called capsicum but the molecule called capsicum. It is this molecule that causes the irritation/burning sensation. This molecule has been showed to stimulate the energy and fat metabolism in rats. Also chilli sauce and mustard sauce in a meal increased fat break down for energy in the body.

Caffeine is thought to increase fat burning and energy expenditure and decrease the amount of food eaten.

So a study looked at feeding capsicum and caffeine to a group of men and measuring any changes that might show that the body was losing (or not gaining) weight. Over the test day it was found that the test group:That energy intake was lower and energy output was higher. Thus not only did the caffeine and capsicum help the body burn more energy, it also reduced appetite/food intake. Wrapping some numbers around this using the Energy balance the test group 7480 kJ/d (1780 calories) vs 11 480 kJ/d (2733 calories). This is a substantial 35% drop in energy intake (and this is good).

So the body can be manipulated by what it eats into increasing the metabolism and increasing fat. This aligns with discussions I have had with friends who find changing a diet can cause significantly more weight gain than what would be expected to occur just through eating that naughty treat. For an exampling eating a 250 gram block of chocolate might cause a 1 kg wight gain. This doesn't seem logical until you realize that this might have a significant effect on fat deposition and energy consumption.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Selenium bioavailability

As I have mentioned before metals have increasing bioavailability from oxide(s) to salt(s) to metals bound to protein, amino acids or other biological compounds.

Selenium is no different. There at at least three different types of selenium oxide. Two of these types (SeO3 and SeO4) were studied for their bioavailability in adult men. This was undertaken to determine if any differences in selenium oxided in baby formula. This has the assumption that babies absorb selenium like adults, which I know is not true for some compounds.

They found no difference in the retention of selenium in either source, there was 41 and 46%. selenium retention. What is interesting is that one of the selenium oxides (SeO4) was absorbed at a significantly high level of 91% absorption vs 50% absorption. It has been shown in animal studies that the SeO4 selenium oxide was actively transported across the intestinal walls, where as SeO3 selenium passively diffused over the walls and had a tendency to get stuck trying to go through the intestinal wall.

And as stated above we would expect the organically bound selenium to be more useful to the body. Studies have shown that Se-rich yeast or selenomethionine (selenium bound to a amino acid, which is a small bit of protein) have a retention rate of 89-90%.

There is no difference between selenium salts an organically bound selenium and creation of the GSH-Px enzyme (more on this later) . However organically bound selenium results in high plasma and red blood cell selenium levels.

In summary I would like to ask a questions:
  • Why are we feeding our babies the best form of selenium, we feed then substances that they can't use?
  • What type of selenium in your supplement are you taking? If you have any questions about reading your supplement label please email me or leave a comment.
  • Are you using a fertilizer or additive in your garden that contains selenium? I live in NZ were it is well known to have selenium deficient soils and it is proving challenging to find such a fertilizer that I can purchase in smaller than a truck load!
Reference: Peter Van Dael c1, Lena Davidsson †, Rafael Muñoz-Boxa1, Laurent B. Faya1 and Denis Barclaya Selenium absorption and retention from a selenite- or selenate-fortified milk-based formula in men measured by a stable-isotope technique. British Journal of Nutrition (2001), 85:157-163 Cambridge University Press

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nearly 20 years ago - vitamin E and heart health

In 1991 a study was published in the lancet that clearly showed vitamin E was correlated to heart health. Low vitamin E levels in the blood resulted in higher risk of angina pectoris (pain in your chest as heart not getting enough oxygen).

This paper is regarded as the key study that proved vitamin E, an oxidant, was unequivocally important to heart health.

That was nearly 20 years ago. And it has only been in the last few years that vitamin E has become known for heart health. Questions I have:

1) Why did it take at least a decade to become known to the public?

2) Do doctors tell patients who have heart disease or are at risk of heart disease to increase their supply of vitamin E? (though supplimentaiton of natural vitamin E or increase vitamin E food sources)

3) What research is being published at the moment that would help our health?

The domino effect

In conjunction with my earlier post about reaping what you sow, have been thinking about the domino effect in health. For the first time I have experiences this in the medical field.

I am on large doses of antidepressants (I fully endorse herbal medicine for depression, why I changed may be posted sometime).

Antidepressants have the side effect of giving me a dry mouth. The oral hygienists that I went to yesterday told me that I have a higher risk of cavities because I have a dry mouth. This is because saliva contains anti cavity enzymes that "clean" the teeth, thus reducing bacteria and plack build up. A dry mouth inhibits these good enzymes.

Probably due to the reduced enzymes is responsible for the bacteria and fungal infection on the side of my lips (not a cold sore so my dentist told me). So now I am applying topical cream. This hopefully will not lead to further issues.

Tha antidepressants have slowed my metabolism, therefore I have put on weight because I didn't reduce my calorie intake. Because I have put on weight I have started to get heart burn due to over eating and tight pants. Therefore I should be on another medication to heal this. I instead have used the pain to motervate me to reduce energy intake.

Thus one medication has side effects, these side effects need another medication to reduce them, and the cycle goes around and around as your wellness decreases at every step.

The good news is that you can reverse the cycle, and that once the cycle is reversed the domino effect works in your favour helping you get better.

Three juicy morsels: Wine confusion and kids

Hot off the press, here are three interesting bits from the latest Food Quality and Preference journal.

Firstly a study looked at what level of sweetness people liked in white wine. They thing correlated that with personality type. They found:
Sweet taste preference was associated with a higher level of impulsiveness but lower openness
This is very interesting as I am a self confessed sweet tooth and so does Tiffany. We would also so that we both have a level of impulsiveness, though I would definitely be more impulsive. Also over the last year of so we have been working on being more open with others (within the cultural norms of being open). Thus we realize that we have not been very open. So personal experience backs this up.

Another article looked at parents and their interaction with nutritional information, unsurprisingly they found:
Parents seldom use nutritional information when they seem to sense an overflow of information, information that is too technical and a problematic presentation of energy distribution, and/or when their health consciousness is limited. Having to deal with information overflow, technical information and energy distribution makes parents more likely to prefer food labels with concise information and more visual aspects.
No surprises here. When I get something I can't easily understand I tend to ignore it. Food labels can be incredibly confusing as they contain heaps of information that you have to sort through. A tip that I got once (thanks Robin Farmer) was that if more than 10g of sugar or fat per 100 g then this is not good. This gives a simple and easy to remember rule that declutters the food tables.

Lastly researches presented kids with various tastes and then analyzed their facial expressions. It was found that:
For disliked liquids, the majority of the AUs displayed were negative, whereas for neutral and liked liquids the number of positive and negative AUs was similar. On the basis of our results, we conclude that facial expressions are suitable to measure dislike...
So when your young ones screws up their faces - it could mean that they like it! This is because the neutral or liked food gives approximately the same number of negative faces and positive faces. I would do well to remember this and ask if the kids liked the food, instead of assuming the worst.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vitamin E RDI humans, vs animals

Sparked by my previous post, I got wondering how our RDI for vitamin E (22.5IU/day) stacked up against other animals RDI.

There is a wide range of suggested values for animal RDI's. Most fall in the 5-50 IU per kg of diet the specification relates to amount in feed, because animals are feed specific volumes a day, thus you want your feed to have the right level so animals get enough vitamin E. Therefore we need to transform our RDI into a IU per kg amount.

It is estimated that a person in the Western world has approximately 2kg of food a day, so adult RDI is approximately 10 IU/kg food intake.

Comparing this to specific data we find that this 10 IU/kg food intake is the same as chickens, but less than quails, turkeys (25). Less than fish (30), less than mice (20), rats (30), rabbits (40) and less than a guinea pig (50), but more than a hamster (3).
Non human primates RDI is 50IU/kg. So in a zoo the monkey you are staring at gets 50IU/kg of food, yet you on the outside of the cage is recommended to have 10 IU/kg. This is 5 times less, yet we are very similar genetically, and one would conclude that there might be some similarities between our bodies need for nutrients!
So humans have one of the lowest recommended in takes for vitamin E! If we set the IU to 50 IU/kg like that of monkeys we would have and RDI of approximately 100IU.

Thus we need to suppliment our diet with vitamin E, or radically change our dietry habits.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Placebo effect

Fascinating article on the placebo effect has just been published at the Wired web site. Well worth a read. Make me think about my depression med's. I would be more skeptical as I was already very aware of the placebo effect and the issues with antidepressants being as good as placebo. Yet I have noticed a big difference in mood.

If you don't have time to read the article, skip to the last page and read the illustration that discusses pill colors and other such important things for placebo effect.

Reaping what we sow

The law of reaping what you sow also applies to wellness. Six years ago we were eating 9+ a day, growing lots of our own food. Eating lots of raw nuts and were wellness disciples through and through.

Then some upsets came our way and from a health point of view things started going down hill. This winter would have been our most unhealthy season with respect to eating well. We been eating loads of white sugar, foods high in refined fats we have indulged in loads of processed foods and know we have reaped what we have sowed. We all have minor and annoying health complaints:

Me: Put on 15 kg of weight, have random rashes/itchy sensations on patches of skin and wake up with a snooty nose and have unsuccessful battled cold sores
Tiffany: Asthma has been worst it ever has been, even though our house is the warmest and driest it has ever been. She also has some other health complaints...
Victoria: Runny nose, looking sickish and headaches
Trinity: Runny nose and wart like things appearing randomly.
Yasmin: No health issues (may it stay this way!)

We hardly ever have a runny nose over winter in our house, nor do we often suffer from any ill complaints. But we have observed other families whose kids are often coughing and noses running, we have now joined these families with low level health complaints.

It is funny that spending months eating badly and now reaping the result we want to be back in full health in a few days of eating well. It has taken us months to wear our bodies out yet we want a change in lifestyle to yield instant results. The body takes time to adjust to health, just like it took time to adjust to sickness.

The human body takes time to adapt to any new environment, even if this new environment is a better one. It reminds me of a biography I read as a kid regarding a solider in WWII. He had spent such a long time eating field rations that when he back home and ate a real meal - I think it was a festive meal (aka lots of rich foods) and he was violently ill. He had to go to hospital and be slowly introduced to "real" food again. A more modern example is that if you have a large dose of vitamin C your body levels only rise a little bit and it takes weeks for your body level to rise. This is even more unusual because most vitamin C is absorbed into your blood stream and disappears out your urine. So your body is only taking a little bit of the vitamin C at a time, yet over the weeks of high doses your who body level rises to a new level. This is likely why taking vitamin C when you have a cold/flu doesn't help, but if you take it before you get the cold/flu it helps reduce the number of days you are sick.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Vitamin E suppliments are used by the body

One of the most despicable comments I hear is "vitamin supplements give you expensive urine." This is totally untrue and yet is made by people who appear knowledgeable on the subject. Thus some people believe that they shouldn't be supplementing as it does no good.

There is no scientific basis for the comment that vitamin supplements are not absorbed or used by the body. It is based upon the urine color, which is just one vitamin, vitamin B2 /riboflavin. This vitamin is water soluble, and there are no body stores. Thus the body takes all it needs and removes the rest.

Thus when I read a study that has measured vitamin or mineral levels increasing in tissues as response to supplementation, it is yet another nail in the coffin about how supplements are a waste of time. Today's post is about how vitamin E is taken up into selected body tissues.

In the early 90's a study was undertaken investigating dogs and vitamin E deficiency. It was found that dog's are a much better model of human vitamin E deficiency than rats, which had bee used up till this time. They study also looked at supplementing vitamin E to dog's above the dogs standard laboratory diet.

Now the standard laboratory diet for dogs is 74IU/kg of feed. The high vitamin E diet was 114IU/kg of feed. This increase in feed corresponds to a 150% increase in vitamin E intake.

It is estimated that a person in the Western world has approximately 2kg of food a day, so adult RDI is approximately 10IU/kg food intake. In terms of specific vitamin E supplementation a 200IU supplement would be on the low side, and 400IU on the high side, (typically multivitamins have around 22.5IU as this is the RDI.) So with vitamin E supplements would be at 100 - 200 IU per kg of food.

Now vitamin E deficiency, which may take decades to occur in humans, is associated with nerve damage such as shaking, loss motor control etc. Therefore this study looked at vitamin E levels in the nerve areas. (Part of the study was looking at dogs on vitamin E deficiency diet, but this does not concern us). The results are shown below (click on the graph to make it bigger), it is the percentage of increase (or decrease) from the normal to higher vitamin E diet. A result of 100%, would mean that there was no increase from the normal to the higher diet. 200% would indicate that the higher diet resulted in twice the vitamin E level and so on.

What is fascinating is that the higher vitamin E diet was 150% of that lower diet, yet all the nerve systems increased by at least 200%, that is twice the level, and the highest difference was 5 times the level. This means that the brain and the nerve systems are proactively taking up vitamin E. If it was a passive uptake we would expect to only see a rise of 150%. The same can be said of muscle and heart tissues.

What is equally fascinating is that there was a drop in fat tissue (adipose tissue) and liver levels. This is fascinating as vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, thus the vitamin E in the body fat stores would be expected to rise. The liver is thought to store "excess" vitamin E so the body can use it if it needs to. However this result would indicate that liver does not store vitamin E, or that it stores a small amount, that that increasing vitamin E intake, does not increase storage, but increases the amount used by the body.

The adrenal gland and kidneys level increased by approximate 150% (162% and 179%). This indicates these organs passively increase their vitamin E level, that is not actively like the nerve system above. Thus adding more weight to the hypothesis that vitamin E was being actively pumped into the nervous tissues.

Now as dogs are seen as a better model than humans, it is surprising that the standard dose of vitamin E of 74IU/kg of feed is much higher than the standard human dose of 10IU/kg of food. The difference is even larger when the dogs are feed the 114 kg/IU dose. This would imply that if you take a vitamin E supplement you will obtain a significant increase in the vitamin E levels in your muscles, brains and nerve system.

S hreekumar R. Pillai, Maret G. Traber, Janet E. Steiss, Herbert J. Kayden and Nancy R. Cox α-tocopherol concentrations of the nervous system and selected tissues of adult dogs fed three levels of vitamin E. Lipids. Volume 28, Number 12 / December, 1993, link

Shreekumar R. Pillai, Maret G. Traber, Janet E. Steiss and Herbert J. Kayden Depletion of adipose tissue and peripheral nerve α-tocopherol in adult dogs. Lipids. Volume 28, Number 12 / December, 1993 link

Accident prevention around the home

Slightly off topic, but a worthy of a link, is MacDoctor's 10 rules for reducing accidents at home. Given that more people dies last year from home accidents then motor accidents in NZ, this blog post is a very worthwhile read. No point having a perfectly well body that is messed up or destroyed by some DIY. I am guilty of doing some of these things - ok all of these things, will make sure I am less blazay about my DIY. Most interesting comment - that test for electrical aliveness inside palm will kill you, where as the back of the hand only get pain. This is because electrical shocks cause muscles to contract. So inside palm your wingers will contract and hold the object, where as the back the muscles contract to pull your hand away. Personally I loath electric shocks so I always use a multi meter.

Once when I was at university I was working on a piece of equipment that we had be warned about, as it's electrode was "open" for touching. We had to unscrew this electrode as part of the experiment, so told make sure that it is off. However I forgot that this electrode had stored electricity on it (acted like a capacitor for you tech's). Thus I got shocked, not once but twice (dooh!). The second time I had a large wrench in my hand to undo the electrode. Due to the muscle contraction the wrench went flying across the lab at great speed. We were very fortunate that no body, or no thing was hurt.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Smoking actually has a health benefit!

Yes you did read the title correctly. I though that I would never write a post about the benefits of smoking ! Well it turns out that if you smoke you have a lower incidence of Parkinson's disease.

To bad that smoking also causes an early slow and painful death.

Reference: Aurélie Kas Decrease of nicotinic receptors in the nigrostriatal system in Parkinson's disease Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism (2009) 29, 1601–1608; doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2009.74; published online 3 June 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Zinc, depression and brain cell creation

Blogged yesterday about new brain cells being created. That post was sparked trying to understand a paper that has was published in June this year. The paper investigated and found out that lack of zinc reduces brain cell creation in the Dentate gyrus. As I discussed yesterday the lack of brain cell creation can be caused by depression and anti depressants increase the creation of brain cells.

This as answered a question that I have had for four years! Early on in my search for wellness I discovered that I had massive zinc deficiency. There is a simple and qualitative (that is approximate) test for zinc which is the taste test for zinc. Zinc sulfate in liquid form in help in the mouth and the level of disgusting taste is an indicator of zinc levels.
When I took the test I could taste nothing, it was just like water. The tester was amazed that I was already taking 15mg a day in my multivitamin. She had never seen anyone register so low that was on a multivitamin. So I took an extra 30mg a day on top of my multivitamin.

It made an immediate and substantial difference in my mental health. Nearly overnight I had a improvement of mood. However there was very little, if any, studies that linked depression and low zinc levels. Hence I have always wondered why this worked.

As it turned out as my mental health improved, my need for zinc decreased. In opening the zinc tablet bottle if I could easily smell the metalic and slightly revolting smell it meant that I didn't need any that day. My need for extra zinc (that is above the 15mg that is in my double X) has passed.

As an aside, the reason why males tend to be low in zinc is because they loose between 10-15 mg every time they ejaculate, and 15mg is men's RDI. They clearly set the RDI based upon studies were the men were not sowing their wild oats so to speak. The other interseting point is that suddenly food had much more flavor. It disapointed me how gross vege's now tasted, and didn't enjoy strongly tasting food such as blue vein cheese as much.

Anyway back to the main point. The paper showed that low zinc levels, resulting in low brain cell creation. Low brain cell creation is linked to depression. This is why my depression improved with the extra zinc. Question answered.

Reference: Sang Won Suh Decreased brain zinc availability reduces hippocampal neurogenesis in mice and rats Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism (2009) 29, 1579–1588; doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2009.80; published online 17 June 2009