Saturday, January 30, 2010

And I'm back

Have finished a very busy and draining period of my life. Therefore I should be posting more regularly as I have the energy, both mentally and physically to be blogging more often. Look forward to discussing research and life with you'll once again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Breastfeeding - It's normal, get over it facebook

As a male heterosexual I like breasts. One could wax eloquently about these wonderful creations. However as a health expert I am very aware of there created function in providing babies with miracle food.

It is ironic that the country that gives us Britney Spears, (or Madonna for us 80's fans) and R16 movies with amble breast in love making scenes can't cope with a babies face pressed against a breast. I don't think I have seen any pictures of breast feeding mums that are even vaguely pornographic. This comes from the guy who once was a member of International Lactation Consultants and went to national and international conferences about breast feeding. (as an aside my male work colleges enjoyed hassling me about all the pictures of breasts at these conferences - except that watching photographs of breast inflammation/mastitis/swelling/post operation breast was about as exciting as reading about how prostrates are operated on)

Furthermore mum's who breast feed in public are normally very discrete. They use a soft cuddle draped around baby, between that and babies head there is virtually no cleveage shown, let alone any breast tissue. Walking downtown on any street in NZ on a Friday or Saturday night there would lots more breast shown in a far more sexy way.

Any way as you would have notices I support public examples of breast feeding. Facebook and Myspace stop making a big fuss over it.

For those who want to know the top picture is Victoria (now 9), then Trinity (now 7) and Yasmin (now 5). The last photo is Yasmin minutes after she was born. Naturally after the previous two were C-sections.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

If you can't get it up - its a sign of heart disease

Heart disease is caused by blockages in blood flow cutting off blood flow to heart. erectile dysfunction (impotence) is caused by a lack of blood pressure to the organ in question. The lack of blood flow to either the heart or the penis has the same root cause. Therefore it could be expected that men with erectile dysfunction could be at higher risk of heart disease.

A new study has looked at traditional indicators of heart disease. What the trial found was that erectile dysfunction was well correlated with risk of heart disease. It however was not better than traditional indicators such as the Framingham Risk Score. This is a risk assessment based upon cholesterol, HDL, age, blood pressure, smoking.

So even though it is no better than a medical examination (assuming your doctor does analysis such as the Framingham Risk Score) it is a valuable indicator. This is because erectile dysfunction is a visible sign of what is going on in your body, a sign that both partners can observe. I don't like getting blood tests hence I haven't had any in about 5 years. This is typical of males - avoid seeing doctor, she'll be right - that is one of the major reasons we have a lower life expectany than females.

So in conclusion if you or your partner have trouble in the bedroom, they also have trouble in their heart.

Image ref.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hearing loss - preventable and reversible ?

Was asked a few days ago about age related hearing loss and if there were any nutrients that would help prevent or even reverse this process.

The first thing we should cover is wear decent ear muffs or ear plugs. You can purchase very cheaply very high quality earplugs from your local health and safety store, go for the highest grade they have. I use air plugs that are designed to be worn at airports. Use them always in places were it is loud. This includes, parties, concerts (ok I go for less noise reduction at concerts), using any power tools such as lawn mowers, chainsaws, buzz saws. Even heavy traffic noise, tractors idle or working can damage your ears. The rule of thumb is if you struggle to hear a normal conversation you should be wearing ear protection. This means most people in bands (both classical and electric) should be wearing air protection and as you can expect there are air plugs designed especially for musio's.

The other thing to remember is that noise hearing loss is noise loudness and how long you have the noise. Therefore a loud thunder clap may cause a small amount of damage but a 8 hour shift in a somewhat noisy factory is much worse. This means if you are going to listen to loud music, enjoy a song or two, then turn the volume down so you don't do damage to your ears.

A great graphic and article is found here.

Don't forget some sounds, for example hammering in a closed space or kids yelling next to a wall reflect the sound which greatly increases the sound volume, hence wearing air protection is needed.

If in doubt wear your plugs/muffs. When you are older you will reap the benefits.

Now onto age related hearing loss.

You hear by sound vibrating small hairs in your inner ear. These vibrations are picked up by nerves which then send the signals to the brain. These hairs are shown in the false color electron microscope picture to the left  As people age they loose the hairs that vibrate and thus they loose hearing, this process is called presbycuis. The higher frequencies are lost first. This loss of frequency can occur from the 20's onwards, but most people are not aware of there hearing loss until if affects their lifestyle eg can't hear little johnny (kids have higher pitched voices than adults) or some other annoying hearing loss.

Two thoughts spring immediately to mind. The first is that free radical damage / antioxidants are likely to be involved and the same thing that causes hair loss on your head, or other body parts, may be involved.

According to Wikipedia things that reduce oxygen delivery to the hair follicles cause increased hearing loss. This includes heart disease (Atherosclerosis causes reduction in blood flow to all parts of your body), diabetes which can cause thicker "skin" around the hair follicles reduction their effectiveness.So antioxidants prevent heart disease therefore would indirectly prevent hearing loss. Also antioxidants and magnesium directly protect against noise induced hearing loss. 

I am also aware that lack of B vitamins are associated with hair loss. Between the antioxidant nutrients and B vitamins we have nearly all the vitamins. Hence I have compiled a list of the nutrients that may help prevent age associated hearing loss.
Other B vitamins have not appeared to be studied in relation to hearing loss.

So in conclusion - keep you cells healthy by high antioxidant intake along with optimal vitamin intake will help prevent hearing loss. 

There is much interest in ways to reduce age related hearing loss due to the number of baby boomers who are now experiencing a decrease in enjoyment of life due to loss of hearing. However there a very few successful studies that resulted in improvement of hearing. Both of these centered around antioxidants. One study stated:
Rebamipide (300 mg/day), alpha-lipoic acid (60 mg/day), and vitamin C (600 mg/day) were given orally for at least 8 weeks to 46 patients..... Hearing levels after treatment were significantly improved at all frequencies.
Rebamipide is a drug that acts as an antioxidant and the use in improving hearing is a off label use eg it has not been robustly tested for improvement of hearing and thus the effects are not well documented. Before I would try this I would try having 300IU's of vitamin E, general multi carotene and Co-enzyme Q10 as these may have similar effect.

Another study looked at feeding carnitine to rats. They feed rats at 50 mg/kg l-carnitine for 30 days.  Carnitine works in your cells as an antioxidant and in process of fatty acid transportation. The dose for humans would be different from that in rats. Therefore I suggest you visit a health food shop and read the label on the carnitine, I would go for the higher recommended dose.Also you must us the l-carnitine instead of d-carnitine. Both the l and the d carnitine have the chemical make up but the d has a different shape to the l molecule and thus the d-carnitine is completely biologically inactive so will have no effect.  

As a quirk it has been noticed that one of the side effects of being under general anesthetic may improve hearing, however no one has yet determined why this is and how common this occurs!

Removal of ear wax may also help. I often wear ear plugs. This prevents the natural removal of wax from my ears. Over time this builds up, I get the ear wax removed by suction every few years. This is normally precipitated by a airplane flight as lots of wax can inhibit ear decompression. After was removal I notice a distinct improvement in the high frequency hearing. 

So in conclusion prevent age related hearing loss by eating lots of high antioxidant foods, suppliment with lots of antioxidants and these may also improve your hearing loss. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Industrialization of food - complexities of strawberry storage

We live in ironic times, the selection of foods available has never been as diverse. You can walk into a supermarket and obtain "fresh" produce from the other side of the world, the range is huge from fresh dates to radishes, from lychees to pumpkins.

Because of the ability to source these "fresh" foods we don't see clinical deficiency diseases. 150 years ago in the middle of the industrial revolution due to the poor living conditions in cities having infants with scurvy was not uncommon.

So let us be grateful for the modern world we live in.

However the flip side is that our "fresh" food is no longer sourced locally and is in storage for a considerable length of time, thus our fresh produce is not really fresh at all. So even though we don't get scurvy we have a much reduced vitamin intake compared to if you grew your own food.

There is a lot of money to be made by making fruit and vegetables last longer. This enables the produce to be shipped further, kept on shelf longer and reduces wastage. Therefore there are lots of research projects around maximizing the life of fresh produce.

To give you an idea of how industrialized this process is, here is a case study on strawberry longevity.

Strawberries are picked before they are ripe, typically with a touch of white still on the end. This is because fully ripened strawberries go off very quickly and are more easily bruised. This also results in strawberries that need to be sweetened before eating as the natural process of sweetening is interrupted. Also the flesh is more white than natural ripened strawberries. This would imply a higher antioxidant level in the naturally ripened fruit.

Often strawberries go off due to grey mold growth (Rhizopus stolonifer) shown above. A very cool time lapse video shown here shows grey mold overtaking strawberries.

It turns out that treating the strawberries with a yeast (Rhodotorula glutinis) delays the mold onset. This yeast is rather distinctive for its bright pink or yellow colors (see picture to the right) 

Well new research shows that if you treat the yeast with chitin it is even longer before the grey mold takes over. Chitin is a carbohydrate, insect shells/exoskeletons along with shells of crabs are made of chitin. 

So in theory we pick strawberries before they are ripe then spray them with a yeast. This yeast has been grown up in solution containing insect shells (well chemically same chitin). Furthermore this type of process goes on with the "fresh" fruit and vegetables that we purchase. Any wonder that we are not getting enough nutrients in our diet. 


Friday, January 8, 2010

Paw paw even nicer than passionfruit

Harvested my first mountain paw paw this week. Yummy! The middle flesh was sweet and wonderfully tasting - think of a passionfruit but sweeter. I am amazed that we can grow them here in the Waikato/NZ.

They are smaller than normal paw paw as you can see they are slightly larger than a passion fruit. Once cut open you can see the black seeds in a white flesh. There is yellow flesh lining the skin. The white flesh was delectable the sweetest flesh that I have ever tasted. The yellow flesh was quite hard and no particularly sweet. Reading the notes on the fruit this outside flesh is typically cooked. So next time I will try steaming this flesh with some other vegetable. 

These fruit have been on the tree for nearly a year now. They grew before winter and haven't grown much in size this summer, just ripening. There are quite a few on the tree as this photo shows

The larger fruit at the bottom will ripen up this summer and new fruit is being set at the top of the trunk.

Looking forward to eating more of them.

Zinc in pregnacy - possible link to fertility issues?

Trouble conceiving seems to be endemic in the Western culture. I'm sure that there are a raft of reasons for such issues. I am convinced that one of the factors is dietary related. So in stumbling upon a 1983 paper discussion zinc levels in pregnant rats I found it fascinating that rats on a zinc deficient diet (1% of abundant levels) put 240 – 330% more zinc into becoming pregnant than they were eating.

Know this shows two things. Firstly that the body has zinc stored in it that can be used. Secondly it shows the importance of zinc to conception and pregnancy....... therefore the question I have is could long term low zinc intake be part of the problem with pregnancy? I hope to find the answers as we journey in the adventure of life.  

Zinc in plasma - a reliable indicator of intake?

Zinc is a very important nutrient, to quote the Linus Pauling Institue
Numerous aspects of cellular metabolism are zinc-dependent. Zinc plays important roles in growth and development, the immune response, neurological function, and reproduction.
You get the picture ! Did some searching and found that in 1978  a test was done in rats putting them on a zinc deficient diet. The zinc in the rats plasma dropped within 48 hours and stayed at 25% of "normal" levels for the rest of the study (65 days). So knowing how important it is I checked with my year 2000 Medlab test catalog. The good new is that they can do a blood test to measure your zinc plasma levels. However they stated:
Plasma levels are a indifferent measure of body stores
 To put this in normal speak, your plasma levels do not reflect how much zinc you have stored in your body. This is likely to be true, but I don't care about how much zinc my body has in storage I want to know if my body is getting enough. The rats plasma level dropped 75% when they didn't get enough so what is enough for humans? However I would suspect that if you went to the doctor they would say don't need to get your blood level tested for zinc because it doesn't tell how much you have in storage. This is confusing adequate intake with adequate storage. You want both to be at optimal levels. No good have good stores of zinc if my blood plasma levels are low. I would dig a bit deeper however medlab have some good advice:
Health food shops sell zinc supplements to boost the immune system and cure colds and topical preparations may premote healing of wounds and ulcers. Plasma level do not give useful information in these situations - better to try the products and see if they work. 
 I like that philosophy, try it and see if it works. I know my life was much better with extra zinc. So if you wonder if you might benefit from zinc try taking some (10-15mg a day preferable in a multi) and see what happens.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Seek and you will find: Unique fruits and better health

One of the highlights of Christmas holidays is going to garden centers over in Tauranga / Mt area. We have a warm micro climate that is more like the Bay of Plenty than the Waikato. Therefore they have different plants over there.... and they are on special as it is post Christmas.

This year I picked up to passion fruit vines I have never seen for sale in NZ. A Sweet Granadilla Passionfruit
 and a red banana passionfruit. Also a tea plant - so feel free to pop over for a cuppa and lastly a Davidson Plum which is not a plum at all, it is an Australian native that fruits on its trunk, with the fruit kind of looking like a plum.The photo below is the Davidson plum in flower.

I have wanted a Davidson plum for three years now. How did I know about them. Invested in a expensive book (it was actually purchased with gift vouchers - thanks Sensortec). I then read the books lots and made a list of all the fruit trees I would like. Then I have often visited garden centers, looked at trees, prices availability. Then when I found what I was looking for I bagged it....

Amazing what you aim for you often achieve.

The same could be done with wellness. If we make wellness a priority we put ourselves into the position of achiving it. It doesn't matter how "unwellness" today was, if we focus on long term goals of living life to the fullest we can every year get more well. May you focus on your wellness lifestyle this year and move you and your family to a place of better health.

Picture credit wikipedia.

Monday, January 4, 2010

If you look old - you probably are

The NZ Herald sideswipe last week reported on a fascinating study that looked at how old twins looked and showed that the twin that looked older more likely to die.

To me this makes intuitive sense. Your outside is a reflection on what is going on in the inside of the body. So if your insides are getting old and weary then your body is aged, thus you will look aged. .I personally think that this also extends to your eyes. I find eyes very telling, are they clear and bright or dull and can see if someone is sick by watching their eyes (both physically/emotional or spiritually) but this is off the topic!

Thanks to Sideswipe comments I was able to track down the scientific paper, (you can download it for free here if you are interested). There was some additional fascinating information...  The "average" of 10 faces is shown in Fig 1. Clearly they can't give an example of an actually twin set. Therefore an average of 10 sets was created for illustrative purposes, that shows the difference in perceived age.

  • All though it was a study done on twins >70 years, the authors point out that it might be even more useful at a younger age. This is because you wouldn't say a 80 year old person looks like a 100 year old, yet there are some 40 year olds that look 60. This is the same age jump in terms of actually number of years, yet one is more likely to occur.
  • Perceived age related to physical and mental performance. Various tests were undertaken to measure physical and cognitive performance. In summary if you look young, you have better physically functionality and mental capabilities.
  • No surprises that expose to sun and smoking causes you to look older than your biological age. However a low body mass (BMI) [eg your skinny] is correlated to looking older than you are. This is very interesting because you don't hear about the dangers of being skinny - yet there is clearly a health danger. This is because low BMI makes you look old, looking old means you die sooner! 
  • High social status, low depression score and being married makes you look younger (although this is different between male and female). So pass the prosaic and stay married! 
  • There test panel was made up to female nurses who worked in geriatric care so it hypothesized that these nurses would be very good at judging age because they work with the elderly. Another group was elderly females - the peer group of the twins, who again would have good judgment as they were part of this age group. Also included were young male student teachers (22-37 years old). They were included because the study was interested if there was any differences in perceived age between those who should be good at perceiving age and those who might be very poor at perceiving age. Fascinatingly enough there was no statistically difference between the results across these three people groups. One could conclude from this that most people are good judgments of age, so your judgment of age is likely to be accurate. This is important because our friends and family who look older than there age in years, are likely to be higher risk of dieing.
  • I have graphed some results from a table in the paper. These graphs are grouped according to three biological age groups 70-74, 75-79 and > 80 years old. The perceived age of the study participants were then grouped into three equal categorizes, the first category was the youngest looking third, the middle category is the middle third and the oldest third is the last category. As the study was undertaken using photographs taken in 2001 hence the mortality data is known over the last 8 years. Thus a mortality rate is known for each of these groups. You can see from the graphs (clicking makes them bigger) that being in the oldest third results in a much higher mortality than the first third. Interestingly enough the trend is much stronger for females than males (P value lower for female results. As we would expect the older you get in biological age the higher the mortality rate is.

What also I find fascinating is that for non identical twins as the perceived age difference between them increased, the probability of death in the older looking twin increased. See the figure below. This data was created from the non identical twins who had died since 2001. The changes across the x-axis are the perceived differences grouped into four groups. The first point is 100 % of the twins. The last data point is the top 25% of twins who had the most difference between them. So as you can see as the differences between the twins increased so did the probability that the older looking one died first.

What is even more fascinating is that identical twins did not show this trend. This indicating that there is another effect going on that we are not yet aware of.

The paper then rounds off with the following statement
So far, however, no biomarker of ageing has been able to challenge chronological age as the best predictor of future survival. Our study shows that in a group of people aged ≥70, perceived age is a strong predictor of mortality after adjustment for chronological age.
That sums it up - make sure you look younger than your age (and although good skin care can make you look younger I would seriously doubt if it reduced your probability of death)

Reference: Christensen et al Perceived age as clinically useful biomarker of ageing: cohort study BMJ 2009;339:b5262  doi:10.1136/bmj.b5262