Monday, February 28, 2011

What can one say?

Note to say that due to shell shock about Christchurch I haven't been blogging. It would seem unusual to be discussing wellness while one of NZ larger cities is decimated. Will likely return to blogging in a week or so. We morn with you Christchurch. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If you have B vitamins - take them by the fistful

Today's blog post is simple. If you are under physical stress or emotional stress, like so many NZ are as we all deal in our own way with the unfolding Christchurch tragedy, my advice is take lots of B vitamins. The more the merrier. This will help you with both mental and physical effects of this significant stress.  If you are able to purchase B vitamins, just make sure they have lots of B12, which is the most expensive of the B vitamins, so generally is an indicator of quality.

For those not in NZ, or haven't hung out with Kiwi's, NZ'ers are highly related to each other. Buy this mean that our degrees of separation are 2-3 instead of the often quoted 6. For example while our friends are all safe, a person who works at NZ post, were Tiffany works died. My hair dresser this morning has a friend whose brother and mum are missing, along with other friends of friends who have loved ones missing. So something as big as this, effects everyone.

Probably next week I will start a series around healing well and nutrition/vitamins. Until them may God speed your loved ones safely home.  


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Medics we salute you

Medics and all associated staff who are working throughout the South Island stabilizing and treating earthquake victims we salute you. As much as you readers are likely to have concerns how western medical system "treats" degenerative disease we should all be grateful that we live in countries with great emergency systems. Many medics and other health professionals will be pulling very long hours under difficult situations dealing with the Christchurch quake aftermath. We honor and salute you for all the time and effort you put into training so you could be saving lives today. May God watch over you and help you make the best decisions under stress. Thank you for being there to save lives.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unexplained cough - try some vitamin B12 (well actually a potency high multi)

Unexplained conditions are the bane of medical people. Being people who want to help patients it must be very frustrating to be "stuck" when it comes to a patient. One of these unexplained and hence unsolvable issues is unexplained cough which is one of the major reasons people go to respiratory clinics.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause unexplained cough. Interestingly enough deficiency we don't mean the classical signs of B12 deficiency which is pernicious anemia, a very serious disease. The deficiency they talk about is sub optimal vitamin B12 status. It is interesting to see that research is now becoming focused on sub optimal vitamin levels instead of all out clinical disease caused by absence of a vitamin.

Anyway after "supplementation [with B12], symptoms and laryngeal, bronchial, and cough thresholds were significantly improved in Cbl-D [vitamin B12 deficient patients]" Therefore if you know someone who has a chronic or unexplained cough get them on a high potency vitamin and mineral supplement and see if it makes a difference. The reason I don't recommend that you only take a vitamin B12 supplement - like they did in their study is because everything is interconnected in the body and a well balanced supplement is going to make bigger impact in the journey to wellness. Also if someone has suboptimal B12 then it is likely that they have other nutrients that are at sub optimal levels.    

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Variation in food studies. - they are massive !

Most people do not realize how significant errors or variations are in studies. A study has just been published looking at nutrient intake and food tables. The average intakes were displayed as numbers and I quote "The FFQ estimates (mean ± SD) were 315 ± 132 μg for folate, 3.1 ± 2.1 μg for vitamin B12, 15.4 ± 5.6 mg for iron, and 15.1 ± 6.4 mg for zinc."

Did this means anything? Did you just pass over it..... it is because numbers such as these are very difficult to get a handle on. However graph them and it becomes obvious.  Now the error bars are the black lines, they are 2 standard deviations, that means it accounts for 95% of the variation. Or 95% of the results are within the black line region.

Thus is shows that the average (mean) values of the bar graph are somewhat meaningless because the variation is massive. The percentage variation is nearly as large as the mean! Thus results are not very accurate.

However it gets worse. Further one they state "The deattenuated energy-adjusted correlation coefficients ranged from 0.41 (dietary folate equivalents) to 0.60 (folate). Significant correlations between biomarker and nutrient intakes were found for folate (r = 0.37, P < .01) and vitamin B12 (r = 0.27, P < .01)"  

Let me decode this. What they are saying is that dietary folate and folate are related to the food table, by and r = 0.41 and 0.6 respectively. Someone who has done statistics, knows R^2 (R squared) is a much better indication of error. Therefore the correlation between food table and folate levels in blood are 0.17 and 0.36 respectively.

Now if you haven't done maths since you left school this is still likely meaningless. Therefore lets draw a graph...... I have trolled around the internet and found a graph that has the R^2 of 0.176, this is shown below. (picture credit). Don't worry about what is on the axis, just look at the red line and the data spread (each grey dot) around the line.

The spread of data around the line has the same errors as the relationship between the estimation of dietary folate equivalents in the blood using food tables and what the dietary folate equivalents were in the blood. Most people wouldn't say there was a correlation..... yet the paper concludes there was.

The following four graphs are also very useful. The relationship between estimation of folate in the blood using food tables and what the dietary folate were in the blood had an R^2 of 0.36. The graphs below (credit) have R^2 on them, which are for A = 0.86, B=0.63, D = 0.78. These three graphs have what we would call correlations. However the R^2 for graph C is 0.36, the same as the correlation of estimated folate and actual folate. Most people wouldn't think that where was a correlation for graph C ! 

So when people stand up and say that food tables are a useful tool in estimating vitamin intake..... they might mean that their correlations are as good as the above graphs - ie terrible!!!!!


Confused - now wonder - so am I !

I have been wrestling with vitamin D studies over the last day or so....... my goal is to take complex science research and make it understandable for the average person - so hopefully they can change their lifestyle for the better. However understanding vitamin D studies is quite a maze...........

Vitamin D studies seem to take pride in using different terminology which makes interpretation challenging. For example, the level of vitamin D in a supplement or food can be measured in:
  • International Unit (IU)
  • Micro grams (µg)
  • Milli Centi grams (mcg) - this is the same as micro grams but written differently. For the life of me I don't know why they do it.
To convert between then 1 micro gram = 40 IU or 0.025 going back the other way (1/40th)

Then they have a term called minimal erythemic dose (MED). This is the maximum amount of vitamin D you will produce in a single exposure to UV rays. This occurs at the point just before you are going to get sun burnt. Typically it is 10 - 20 000 IU's which is a rather large range.

Then you can measure vitamin D in the blood. The following are units are ones used in papers:
  • nano grams per ml (ng/ml). This is the weight of vitamin D in a ml of blood. Clearly this is a low amount. 
  • nano mole per liter. (nmol/L). This is the number of vitamin D molecules in a liter of blood. To convert between ng/ml and nmol/L you multiply by 2.496. (or multiply by 1/2.496 going other way)  
Type of vitamin D in the blood. Most studies measure 25-Hydroxyvitamin D which is commonly know as vitamin D3. Yet other studies measure  1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D which is vitamin D2. Both of these are biologically active and in the liver vitamin D2 is changed into vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is made in your skin, where as vitamin D2 comes from plant matter in your diet. So some studies look at both types, others just one. That said D2 is at lot lower levels with units of pico grams / ml (pg/ml) and pmol/L with conversion factor of 2.6 

Then to make things even more complex there doesn't seem to be an agreement on what blood levels constitute deficiency state or optimal levels.......

Therefore is it no wonder that the general public are confused. I would argue that even doctors would be confused by all this, given that they are pressed for time and don't have the energy to labor through such conversions.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Worried about pregancy and fruit juice - don't be !

I tend to ignore newspaper articles about nutrition. This is because they are typically trashy and often misleading. Yesterday's head line about fruit juice harming unborn babies was no exception. I didn't read the article cause I new that eating fruit is good for you....... so an article like this was likely to be misleading. Turns out I was right. If you want the truth MacDoctor has an excellent post about this sensationalist article. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

We look after our dogs better than ourselves !

Was flicking through a dog magazine and saw "Diets for arthritis and joint problems". In this article they suggest making up a special feed for dogs with joint issues and/or senior dogs. This has a number of supplements in the mix. In the table below I list the levels they are recommending for a medium dog (20kg) and compare this to equivalent for a 80 kg person.

 20 kg dog
80 kg person 
 Vitamin E
 200 IU
  800 IU
 Vitamin C
 900 mg
 3 600 mg
 Evening primrose oil
 1 capsule
 4 capsules
 Omega 3 fish oil
 1 capsule
 4 capsules
 Cod liver oil (omega 3's, & fat soluble vitamins)
 1/2 teaspoon
 2 teaspoons
Vitamin B's from yeast
 32 g
 128 g (approx 1/2 cup)
Lecithin (good fat molecule)  
 16 g
 64 g
Calcium carbonate
  8 g
Sea kelp (trace elements)
  4 g
 16 g

On cannot make a direct comparison between dogs (I keep on spelling it a gods) and people isn't possible. The different metabolic rates means that we can only get an indicative comparison. That said this shows how much we will supplement our dogs, yet I would be very surprised that the people making up the dog food would take a supplement that had comparable vitamin/mineral levels. There is something irrational in us looking after pets, in this case dogs, better than we look after ourselves and our families. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The lastest cancer statistics - we have very high rates of some cancers

Update: The site hosting the paper/graphics don't allow the graphs to be linked into another web page.... therefore if you want to the see the graphics - which I highly recommend - then click on the link below.  

A paper that is freely available online has just be published by Wiley. It has some very disturbing statistics. The following make thought provoking reading: 

Cancer rates are higher in developing nations. What really surprised me was that 56% of cancers and 64% of death due to cancer are in developing/emerging nations. If you think about this it is logical. These nations have vast slums or poverty areas which lead to poor diet or carcinogenic occupations such as recycling. Also it is due to the smoking that has very little regulation, hence high uptake in the developing world. Until I read the article I had somewhat naively seen cancer as a Western / Western diet problem.

Although prostrate is the most common cancer in males it is only the 3rd largest killer behind lung and bowel cancers.

Disterbingly Australia/NZ has the highest rate of Bowel/Colorectal cancer, see the graph below. I will definitely now keep an eye out for information on this cancer! I don't even know what the signs are. No wonder my dad who like the classic male had bowel issues which is really uncommon for him, weighted a few days before going to the doctor. And like a lot of trips to the doctor it cleared the day he went! Anyway he got the "pleasure" [NOT] of having a colonoscopy. Good news is all is good. I couldn't figure out why the doctor took it so seriously. Now I know, I will tell Dad that his doctor is a good one ! 

Also NZ has a very high rate of breast cancer. I know most people have been touched by breast cancer, my grandma I never met died of breast cancer and our lovely "grandma" baby sitter last year had a mastectomy, so it is rather common.

And don't feel left out men - we clock in at no 1 in the world for prostrate cancer diagnosis:

And we do pretty poorly with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, coming in 2nd in the world. Now again I have no idea what this is, let alone the symptoms.

The question that sits within me is why is our colon, prostrate, breast and non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer rates so high?  Why isn't the

The lung cancer statistics are somewhat better with males being middle of the road. However females have the 3rd highest rate of lung cancer, so they are disproportionally higher risk.

Good news we have low risk of stomach, liver, cervical (2nd lowest in world), esophageal and bladder cancer.
Even though we have poor statistics for some cancers overall we do well. Below is a graph of death rates for male/female/average for various geographical regions. [note Y-axis is deaths per 100 000 population] NZ is highlighted by the arrow (clicking on graph will bring up bigger version). On the bright side Australia/NZ has one of the lowest cancer death rates in the developed world. Also note the massive difference between male and female cancer death rates. I suspect this is either due to (a) males reluctance to go to the doctor or (b) that males worked in more carcinogenic environments. It has only been in the few decades that all professions have opened up to females, thus cancer rates which might take decades to start changing haven't "kicked in" yet.

If you are interested take a look online and have a read of the article.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

$1 million and ethics of homeopathic products

I try to keep an open mind about wellness (and other) products. I accept that there is vast amounts that we don't understand about this world and about how our bodies operate. There are many things that people rubbished that decades later turned out to be true. I also accept that there is a "otherness" a spiritual dimension to people and this world. Therefore some things will always be unmeasurable or unquantifiable. Miracles wouldn't be miracles if we could explain them away!

So I say all that, to communicate that I don't often take the role of the skeptic and I disagree with the skeptics fundamental presupposition that unless you can explain it it can't be true. That said a known skeptic James Randi is offering US $ 1 000 000 dollars to anyone who can prove that homeopathy works. Prove in the sense of placebo double blind study...... Now my position on homeopathic remedies is that the placebo effect works well. I don't criticize anyone who takes them. My comment isn't going to change their mind, and if they are tricking themselves  into getting well, then they are still getting well. I cannot come up with any theory or evidence that would support homeopathic remedies. Apart from placebo (which can sometimes get higher than 60% success rate) the only avenue that these medications could have a benefit could be from a blessing that is spoken over them as they are made. This is really clutching at straws!!!!!

However James in his you tube video, linked below raises an interesting ethical question. He questions the ethics of selling these "medicines" When I see homeopathic preparations in a store I just ignore them. However how can pharmacies sell them, when in good conscious they know they don't work? A very interesting question. This raises an ethical question for me - can I be quiet when people talk about  homeopathic preparations? I will definitely ponder this questions. Thanks James for raising this question and I think your $1 million is safe.         


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Immoral advertising - good food my a#@

Traveling back from Auckland the other day I followed this truck for a section. The advert made me very mad, so mad that I whipped out my phone and took a photo. Now apart from the poor resolution as there is no optical zoom on my camera and I don't like traveling to close - especially when taking photos !!! So let me point out a few things.....

  1. Good food fast at home. This is the slogan in white underneath the plate of food. Good food ???? !!! what is good about it ??? Sure it might be good food if you were a poverty stricken person  who lived a subsistence life. But in the Western world it is very rare to find someone who is starving. Let me explain why it is not good food:
    • Chicken - assuming it is chicken inside the things (from memory there was a chickeny logo thingy top middle, this chicken would be battery raised. That is it flesh would be very low in nutrients such as carotenoids and other fat soluble vitamins
    • Coating. To make the coating taste nice it will be white flour or something similar. Therefore this is empty calories, nothing good here. 
    • Fat in coating. To make them cook quick and taste nice there will be fat in the coating. This fat will either be margarine (don't get me started) or a highly processed, heat extracted cheap oil. Again no nutrients in it. To hide the fat they likely put in casein into the mixture. The casein holds onto the fat, so they look less fatty out of the oven. By the casein makes it to your table, I would be very surprised if any nutrients left in it. 
    • So in conclusion I can't find anything good about this product
  2. The plate is full of processed meats, and very small amount of vegetables. The picture doesn't show the vegetables very well. On the top right of the plate there is some corn (looks like frozen corn) some tomatoes (red section) and avocado (virtually unrecognizable in the picture). Vegetables are supposed to be the dominate thing on your plate. Not the minor after thought. 
  3. The white writing in the top left also got on my goat, but I can't remember what this is and the photo isn't good enough to read. 
Why does this make me mad? Because it implies that bad food is good food. I don't mind if you eat poorly - we often do - but we are under no illusions about how healthy the food is. People are affected by advertising, especially ones like this which take unhealthy food and try and make it healthy.

There is a term, greenwashing, were a company pretends to be green, but in reality isn't or they haven't changed to become green. Maybe there should be a term called nutrientwashing where companies make something to be nutritious when in fact it isn't.

Update:Thanks to my sister who emailed me the link to the product packaging so you can see it in all its awful glory. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Milk and cheese

Very excited yesterday had real milk on my breakfast as we now have a standing order for raw milk.... very pleased to finally have a regular supply. To be honest I was a bit nervous, cause you hear all the bad stories..... but it tasted sweet with a more smooth taste and feel. Likely due to the larger fat globules. Also got "given" some fresh feta cheese, again from unpasteurized milk. 

With my scientist hat on I wonder what the SCC levels of this milk are..... but part of me doesn't want to know..... funny how our logic and emotions can conflict.

I have blogged before on why pasteurization is not longer needed in NZ (maybe it never was). To briefly summarize, the benefits of raw milk are:
  • Better absorption and uptake of calcium and magnesium (and likely zinc) 
  • Higher carotene levels (and likely other vitamin levels)
  • Bioactive - that is any enzymes/positive bits in the milk will still be "alive" or active 
My basic assumption in all things is the less processing the better.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Supplementing with vitamin D helps regulate blood sugars

Your body is amazingly complex with compounds like vitamins have all sorts of effects that aren't obvious. For example did you know that low vitamin D status is associated with "impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes". Thus a paper investigated supplementing diabetic patients with either vitamin D, or vitamin D + calcium. They hide these supplements in yogurt and had a control group that just consumed the yogurt. The vitamin D supplement was 500 IU, calcium was 250mg. These yogurts were consumed twice a day for 12 weeks. Therefore total vitamin D supplementation was 1000 IU a day. This is a high level of vitamin D supplementation.

There were no difference between the vitamin D, and vitamin D + calcium groups. However there were a number of improvements of these two groups compared to the placebo group.
  • Significant increase in blood vitamin D levels   
  • Fasting serum glucose levels were reduced. High fasting blood sugar levels is one of the indicators of type two diabetes. It is this high blood sugar levels which damages the eye, kidneys, heart and nerve systems. Thus reducing the blood sugar level would decrease the problems associated with type two diabetes 
  • Hemoglobin when exposed to the glucose in the blood binds to the glucose forming glycated hemoglobin ( Hb A1c).Thus long term trends / levels of glucose in the blood can be determined by the level of glycated hemoglobin. The vitamin D groups had a significantly lower glycated hemoglobin thus showing over the long term vitamin D reduced blood sugars.
  • Insulin resistance decreased (as measured by HOMA-IR)   
  • Waist circumference and body mass index decreased. This is fascinating as the energy intake wouldn't have changed. Thus by changing nutritional status, in this case increasing vitamin D levels, the body naturally shed weight. I have heard a number of anecdotal stories about people loosing weight when put on a optimal daily allowance (ODA) vitamin. Remember that in this study they were taking 1 000 IU of vitamin D a day. Here in NZ the RDI is only 200 IU a day.
So we can conclude that vitamin D supplementation is an excellent move for people with type two diabetes. The question I know wonder is, would 1 000 IU of vitamin D help prevent type two diabetes?!   

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A use / recipe for mountain paw paw

Have found a use / recipe for mountain paw paw (Vasconcellea pubescens).... enjoy

Friday, February 4, 2011

You need to supplement with vitamin D over winter

During the winter months we get less sunlight. Therefore we get less vitamin D. Therefore it is logical to supplement with vitamin D. I have already post a number of articles on supplements and vitamin D. Well another study has come out, yet again showing the benefits of supplementing with vitamin D over winter.

This study looked at supplementing healthy adults with vitamin D over the winter period. These adults lived in the northern hemisphere at higher latitudes where winter sunlight isn't as strong as NZ sunlight. The supplement level of 200 IU and 400 IU was not high enough to maintain summer vitamin D levels. However 600 IU (15 micro g) maintained the summer levels of vitamin D.

As I have previously mentioned adults need 400IU to give an increase in vitamin D blood levels and that some researchers now recommend women take 400IU per day as a supplement. So the result of 600 IU is higher than these studies, as the sunlight received by the people at higher latitudes would be less. So once again we have a study that shows supplementation is an important part of staying in optimal health.