The answer is actually yes, but the question is how? Well there are three main steps in the processing of that large gin and tonic that is placed in your hand in the back room of the “Six Bells” on a Friday night. Firstly alcohol (AKA ethanol) isn’t actually all that bad for you. However when we drink, ethanol is processed in the liver and converted to acetaldehyde, a toxic and highly reactive compound. Acetaldehyde is then further converted into acetate, a harmless form of acetic acid (the acid which gives vinegar its sour taste and pungent smell). There are two enzymes involved in this process, alcohol dehydrogenase (converting alcohol to acetaldehyde) and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (converting acetaldehyde to acetate). Ideally we would want to convert alcohol to acetaldehyde slowly to avoid build up, and then convert this toxic product as quickly as possible to harmless acetate. However, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase needs another substance called glutathione (a potent antioxidant), which contains high quantities of cysteine. Together, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the glutathione reduce acetaldehyde to acetate. Our bodies can cope efficiently as long as we don’t consume too many drinks too quickly. However, the liver’s stores of glutathione can quickly run out if large amounts of alcohol enter the system too quickly and the body struggles to keep up with the conversion of acetaldehyde to acetate, levels of acetaldehyde rise and result in that nasty hangover headache, feeling of fatigue and rather unpleasant dodgy tummy feeling! Cysteine is an amino acid found in most high-protein foods such as pork and eggs. So if you found yourself in a position of a little too much too quickly the night before the Sunday morning fry up (use olive oil, not vegetable oil) will provide the building blocks needed for the liver to replenish its depleted glutathione stores and help mop up those left-over toxins. But as I’ve said before, moderation is really the key to drinking. Make sure you line your stomach well (alcohol is an irritant), pace yourself, drink plenty of water and try to remember that a healthy liver can get rid of about one unit of alcohol an hour. So remember, that whilst that double gin and tonic may have only taken fifteen minutes to drink, your poor liver did not finish processing it for around another two hours!!
So the coffee debate continues. Today’s headline in The Telegraph shouts an enthusiastic message that drinking coffee could reverse the signs of Alzhiemer’s disease. The trial led by Dr Gary Arendash, an American neuroscientist presents evidence that indicates that caffeine not only helps to stave off the disease, but can actually treat it. The defining hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of β-amyloid protein plaques in the the areas of the brain responsible for memory (the cortex and hippocampus). These ‘sticky’ deposits are known to damage nerve cells, interfere with nerve signalling and therefore memory. Caffeine, it appears, actually reduces the production of β-amyloid protein and therefore would reduce the production of plaques. So that’s the good news folks. The bad news is that this groundbreaking research was conducted using mice. Not bad news as such if you’re a coffee drinking mouse who can’t remember where you’ve left your cheese. These findings do however support an earlier study published in January this year. Led by Marjo H. Eskelinen the study found that among 1,400 Finnish adults followed for 20 years, those who drank three to five cups of coffee per day in middle-age were two-thirds less likely than non-drinkers to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. So for the time being I shall continue to enjoy my morning cafetière, not only because I enjoy the ritual and the taste but because it may, just may help me retain my memory in years to come.
I seem to have witnessed recently several identical conversations regarding coffee drinking. Is it good or bad for you? It’s not the coffee debate per say that intrigues me but this need for something to be so black or white, good or bad. I think it depends in part on where or from whom we get our information and the message that source wants to portray. It is true that coffee has well-documented side effects including anxiety, insomnia, tremor and palpitations. But on the plus side drinking coffee appears to improve alertness and some reports suggest that drinking 3 cups a day may even, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, protect against cancer and offer protections against dementia including reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. So we have the good and the bad.
Coffee, however, like the majority of food stuffs we consume, is a complex composition. The side effects often associated with a steaming cup of java are actually the result of caffeine, which belongs to a group of stimulants called xanthenes. In moderation, caffeine can have very positive effects. It gives us more energy, heightens our ability to concentrate and makes us think more clearly and can even elevate our mood. That doesn’t sound so bad. But as with most things it merely boils down to moderation. If we drink caffeinated coffee in moderation it can increase alertness and mental stamina. If we drink too much too quickly, however, we are faced with the unpleasant side effects: nausea, confusion and excitability, which can be wholly unpleasant.
As with most things in life it’s not as simple as black or white. We need to look at the diet as a whole. Most foods we eat will have positive and negative factors, of which we are constantly being reminded by the tabloid headlines. Often telling just one side of the story, these messages can be somewhat confusing and frequently leave people rather bewildered as to what to consume and what to avoid. It’s a case of being sensible, taking everything in moderation and listening to the messages your body tells you. If you get the shakes after your morning espresso then that’s your body saying stop now, that’s enough.
Today’s Daily Mail headline announced the question “should all over 50s get anti-cholesterol drugs?” Normally statins are only prescribed to people who are considered to be at significant risk of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, it seems that these drugs can cut the risk of heart attack by 30% even in healthy people. So what are statins exactly? These are drugs that are known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. HMG-CoA is an enzyme that is involved in the production of cholesterol in the liver. Ruducing or inhibiting the function of this enzyme therefore prevents cholesterol production. Statins (usually synthetic) are similar to HMG-CoA and mimic the actions of this enzyme but prevent the pathway progressing to the production of cholesterol and more than six million adults in the UK use them.
So far so good, until I open up the paper to page two where I am met with the words “although side effects are rare, they can include muscle pain and damage to the liver and kidneys.” I guess this is what infuriates me. With the majority of pharmaceuticals there will be the downside list of side effects or contraindications that steal some of the glamour from a treatment programme. Take NSAIDs, for example; these are common over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, like Ibubrofen.
Whilst one of the most common over-the-counter drugs and used by millions, NSAIDs are associated with several side effects, of which many are probably not known by the common user. Whilst the frequency of side effects varies among NSAIDs, the most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, rash, dizziness and headache (interesting that we often take them when we have a headache!). NSAIDs may also cause fluid retention, leading to oedema. The most serious side effects are kidney failure, liver failure, ulcers, an increased risk of heart attack and prolonged bleeding after an injury or surgery.
So why is it that if there is a natural alternative which we can take for both of these drugs and without the associated side effects, that we are not advised? Let me speak firstly about cholesterol. In the 1970s Danish researchers discovered that in spite of their high-cholesterol, high-fat, diet Greenland Eskimos had an astonishingly low incidence of cardiovascular disease (as well as arthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases). When analysing blood samples it was discovered that they had low levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and low levels of VLDL (triglyceride), but high levels of HDL (good cholesterol). It appeared that their high intake of omega-3 was responsible for this low risk of heart disease. Since this research emerged, much focus has been centred on the role of omega-3 fatty acids and, more recently, specifically the role of EPA in lowering cholesterol levels. EPA reduces cholesterol production by inhibiting the activity of another enzyme called acyl-CoA but without the side effects associated with statins. EPA also acts as an anti-inflammatory in a similar mechanism to that of NSAIDs, but again without the side effects. So my message today is to boost your EPA levels on a long-term basis and you may well lower the possibilities of having to resort to pharmaceuticals with all sorts of side effects.
Increase your fish intake and adopt a more Eskimo-like diet! For those who don’t like fish, you can opt for a high-EPA supplement. Purified fish oils actually are a useful alternative to oily fish consumption and, unlike most oily fish, are contamination-free.
You might already be aware that of the many deteriorative conditions related to diabetes; ‘peripheral neuropathy’ is perhaps the most common, with an estimated 60-70% of diabetics reportedly experiencing symptoms. ‘Neuropathy’ describes damage, whether moderate or severe, to the peripheral nervous system (the ‘external’ portion of the nervous system, situated beyond the brain and spinal cord), which transmits information directly from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.
Our nervous system acts very similarly to an electrical cable; with the nerve’s ‘impulse’ adopting the role of the electrical wire itself, and the ‘myelin sheath’ (the ‘skin’ of the nerve), mimicking the insulation surrounding the wire. If the wire becomes damaged, then the nerve signal will not travel efficiently along the wire, nor will it transmit the intended messages as instantaneously. This delay results inevitably in the ‘classic’ symptoms of neuropathy; namely; tingling, numbness, ‘burning’ and pain.
A causative link has been drawn between neuropathy and deficiencies of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids within the body. Indeed, insulin itself plays a pivotal role in the metabolism of EFAs (essential fatty acids), by alerting the genes necessary for enzyme-conversion to begin the process of converting short-chain fatty acids into a bio-available (i.e. usable by the body) long-chain fatty acid.
Where insulin is absent, or enzyme-activity impeded, the enzymes needed to create specific fatty acids cannot be produced and a deficiency results. Of the myelin layer which protects our vulnerable nerves, an estimated 75 % is composed exclusively of EFA’s (these are termed ‘essential’ because the body cannot generate them independently, but must instead source them externally from the diet). Depletion of this fatty, insulatory layer, leads to severe nerve damage (Neuropathy).
Nutrition, as all Diabetics are painfully aware, is central to the manufacture of insulin and for creating the right ‘biological environment’ to encourage enzyme conversions to take place. By boosting or supplementing our dietary levels of long-chain fatty acids we can essentially sidestep the risk that the enzyme-mediated conversions will fail to progress past the initial hurdle.
Fatty acid supplementation nourishes the myelin sheath, and prevents further degeneration of inter-cellular communication; it reduces the risk of developing Neuropathy, and actually reinvigorates nerve endings to overcome numbness and the likelihood of eventual tissue loss. However, EPA, a specific omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil that appears to have significant beneficial effects on diabetic neuropathy and serum lipids as well as other diabetic complications such as nephropathy (kidney damage) and macroangiopathy (damage to the blood vessels). EPA plays a role in the compaction, stabilization, and maintenance of myelin sheaths by regulating the production of proteolipid protein or PLP. PLP is literally the ‘glue’ that hold in place the sheets of protective fats that cover the nerve axon. Loss of PLP is associated with many conditions that have nerve damage including Multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington chorea.
OmegaForce is a patented formulation of omega-3 and 6 long-chain fatty acids with a multitude of health-enhancing properties, including anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving actions. For more information on the relationship between EPA deficiency and the pathogenesis of Diabetic Neuropathy, please go to www.igennus.com
According to a new study from Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran, daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce levels of a trigger substance linked to heart disease in diabetics.
Results published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease suggest that high doses of omega-3 fish oil daily (3 grams per day) cut levels of the amino acid homocysteine by 22%, compared with less than 1% in the placebo group.
81 diabetics took part in this randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial, which lasted two months with participants randomly assigned to either receive 3 grams of omega-3 or a sunflower oil placebo daily.
Previous research has linked increased levels of homocysteine with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. By lowering levels of this amino acid in the blood, scientists believe it is possible to reduce their heart disease risk, providing support for the inclusion of omega-3s as part of the diabetic diet. Evidence is not yet conclusive however, and further research needs to be conducted before firm conclusions may be drawn.
The number of diabetics diagnosed with the disease soared by 70,000 in the UK between 2006-7, according to a report by the Information Centre for Health and Social Care.
According to their report, people affected by diabetes in the UK has climbed to 3.7 per cent, with a record number of 1,986,200 people diagnosed with the condition; a further 750,000 people are likely to have diabetes and not be aware of it. These figures paint a worrying picture for the health of the nation.
The Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, Douglas Smallwood, commented: “These figures are truly alarming as diabetes is a serious condition, which can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and nerve damage that can cause amputation . We need to do all we can to raise awareness of the condition and to encourage people to follow a healthy diet, and pursue an active lifestyle to help them reduce their risk of developing diabetes.”
When you consider that the impact of our 24/7 culture is that we tend to drive to work, drink a little too much, eat too few freshly prepared meals (not to mention that most of us are probably short on dietary fibre) you can appreciate why diabetes is becoming a real problem.
This is not to say that there’s nothing we can do about it, however. Simple changes to our diet and lifestyle and dramatically decrease our chance of developing diabetes and, if you’re affected already, it is definitely possible to influence the likelihood of associated health problems as the condition advances. As a nutrition scientist I would advise a diet with increased fibre, whole grains, few sugars, as well as cutting out the bad fats – this is actually a good approach for anyone.
I’d also add to the diet highly concentrated omega-3 fish oil containing pure EPA, an active component of fish oil which is especially beneficial for reducing the risk of complications in the cardiovascular system. OmegaForce is ideal in this respect, as it combines with pure EPA the omega-6 GLA (highly anti-inflammatory) with the omega-9 oleic acid from olive oil, its benefits associated with the healthy Mediterranean diet.
For more information about omega-3 fatty acids and how they can be included as part of the diet, click here.
Isn’t it strange that whilst we would probably all consider ourselves as reasonably tolerant and open minded that there is still such a huge stigma when we think about depression. If we haven’t experienced depression directly it’s highly probable that we know someone, be they a friend, relative or workmate, who suffers. I have a friend myself who was diagnosed with major depression just under a year ago. Slowly she has become quite reclusive – mostly because, she tells me, she’s ashamed and embarrassed. She talks about her black days. Days with no focus, and with very little meaning or purpose. “They come less often”, she had said to me, “but nevertheless they still come. You just learn to deal with it Nina, It’s like there’s a wall between you and the world but someone’s turned the lights off too. So what’s the point of living in isolated darkness? Oh and there’s pain too. Just to top it. Immense and unbearable pain. So there we have it. Pain, darkness and isolation that is the be-all and end-all of your life.”
I didn’t really know what to say to that. Who would? She’s been taking Prozac for the last 6 months and she tells me that whilst she sees a difference she feels sick most of the time. That’s not unusual though, because that’s the trouble with most anti-depressants – the side effects. And so we got talking and I asked what was it she did with her time, did she go out, what did she eat? “I can’t be bothered” was the main theme of her answers. Not because she was lazy, there was just a lack of motivation. She’d got into a negative pattern of not going out or doing much more than watching T.V. But it was her eating patterns that really made me think. She didn’t cook at all. Everything she ate (if and when she ate) came out of a packet. Her whole diet was pretty appalling really and she seemed to have very little understanding that the food we eat really can affect our mood. So I found myself asking more and more questions. One of them was “do you ever eat fish?” The answer was a straight no, well not since it was forced on her as a child (at this point she actually laughed). So we sat and talked about changes she could make and how certain foods could help. I told her how omega-3 from fish oils can benefit people with depression. In fact the American Psychiatric Association actually recommends treatment with at least 1 gram daily of fish oil for depression, as an addition to standard treatment. We don’t get offered that here. In fact there are probably very few GPs in the UK who know about the benefits of fish oils as an alternative or as an add-on, even though more and more trials are showing that EPA (the active omega-3 in fish oil) has a distinct anti-depressant role. If you compare EPA with Prozac, just 1gram daily can equal the benefits of a standard 20 mg Prozac dose and there are no side effects!
“But be fussy” I said. “Not all fish oils are the same, don’t go for cheap like most people do. There’s meaning to the saying that ‘you get what you pay for’. Interestingly, as the link between fish and depression risk strengthens, with it comes products formulated specifically to help. Remember that it’s EPA that you need to look for on the product label, and if you combine this with a good source of gamma linolenic (GLA) then you’re laughing, literally.
Recommended reading material:
An eminent psychiatrist and researcher, Professor Basant Puri, proposes an alternative option to conventional treatments for depression, arguing that standard treatments often fail to address the underlying biochemical factors. I thoroughly recommend his book The Natural Way to Beat Depression – The Groundbreaking Discovery of EPA to Change Your Life – a well-written, concise and informative read for anyone affected by this debilitating condition.
New research conducted by researchers at the University of Navarra, Iceland and University College Cork, published in the journal, Appetite, [i] suggests that taking omega-3 whilst following a weight loss programme makes people feel fuller for longer, helping to reduce appetite.
The results of this research provide useful information for the nutritional treatment of obesity, in addition to encouraging changes in dietary habits to increase and maintain weight loss.
With hundreds of weight loss products on the shelves of every supermarket and health food shop, the food industry now clearly recognises the needs of the increasingly overweight population for solutions to weight loss and weight management. This category of health supplement is already estimated to be worth $7bn, and growing fast. Clinical research studies linking obesity and other life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer are another driving force behind this growth.
Over 200 volunteers were recruited to this study, who were classified as either overweight or obese. Participants were randomly allocated to an energy restricted diet and supplemented with either low (260 mg per day) or high dose (1300 mg per day) omega-3 for eight weeks. The researchers measured appetite during the last two weeks of the study.
The interesting findings of the study relate to the hunger-influencing properties of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Subjects fed dinners rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids felt less hungry and remained fuller for up to 2 hours after meals compared with those who ate a low omega- diet. The researchers hypothesise that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids must modulate hunger signals. Whilst these findings suggest a potential weight-management role for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, further research must be conducted in order to fully understand this mechanism.
Blood sample analysis also showed that a higher omega-3 concentration, and a greater ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 ratio were associated with higher satiety. With the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the region of 2:1, the average diet is now quite significantly out of balance, with an average ratio of approximately 25:1. Changes in the Western diet, modern food processing techniques and increased consumption of refined vegetable oils have been blamed for this shift, which has been linked to increases in a range of problems including emotional problems, difficulties with the circulatory system, obesity, skin problems and inattention in children.
A wealth of research already attributes increased consumption of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids to improved learning and development, better memory, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, depression and dementia. Vegepa, available in most good health food shops and online at www.igennus.com, is a patented omega-3 supplement used widely by medical practitioners for a variety of conditions. Containing 280 mg ultra-pure EPA, just two capsules daily provides the optimum dosage of omega-3 fatty acids to help maintain health and wellbeing.
[i] Dolores Parra, A.D. Ramel, N. Bandarra, M. Kiely, J.A. Martinez, I., “A diet rich in long chain omega 3 fatty acids modulates satiety in overweight and obese volunteers during weight loss”, Appetite, 2008, June. Awaiting publication.
Researchers from Norway and France found that elderly people who consume plenty of omega-3 acids, found in oily fish such as salmon, not only performed better in cognitive function tests than those who do not, but also demonstrated greater longevity than those who don’t regularly consume fish.
Norwegian researchers studied 254 frail, elderly patients and measured their dietary intakes of omega-3 fatty acids using plasma phospholipid concentrations of EPA. Patients’ omega-3 consumption was analysed and they were asked to return for further analysis after a period of three years. The results later showed that those tested with the lowest plasma phospholipid EPA levels were approximately 40 per cent more likely to die.
The French researchers observed 1214 healthy participants over a period of four years, 65 of which developed dementia. The results showed that only those with higher blood levels of EPA were linked with the reduced risk (31 per cent) of contracting dementia.
The omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which occurs naturally in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, is responsible for a range of health benefits, from combating heart disease to boosting intelligence.
Despite this, most people eat just a fifth of the amount recommended for good health. The fact of the matter is that most people do not consume enough oily fish to reap the benefits of fatty acids, so supplementation with fish oils is a more viable option for many.
Vegepa is a patented formulation of completely natural long-chain omega fatty acids. It contains a unique ratio of ultra-pure EPA (the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid) and cold-pressed, non-raffinated, virgin evening primrose oil (containing the omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid). As such, Vegepa combines the benefits that both these natural substances bring to the body.
Fatty acids play an important part in the functioning of every living cell in the body. Specifically they may help the body in several ways including: improving the circulatory system, aiding concentration, maintaining a well-balanced state of mind and keeping joints in good condition.
The EPA in Vegepa is derived from fish oil – the highest yielding source of long-chain omega-3 fats. This fatty acid forms a vital part of the diet as it enables the body to produce many substances that are necessary for health and well-being.
The evening primrose oil (EPO) in Vegepa is derived from the cold pressing of evening primrose seeds. When EPO is unprocessed and unrefined it is a rich source of botanical triterpenes hormone-like substances, which play an important role in immune function. Just two capsules daily provide 560 mg EPA and 200 mg organic EPO, and help to reverse fatty acid deficiencies by nourishing the brain’s phospholipids. Vegepa is available from all good health food shops, or online at www.igennus.com
The Alzheimer’s Society provides a national help line on 0845 3000 336 and website www.alzheimers.org.uk.
According to the data pooled from nine previously conducted studies, published in the June issue of Archives of Opthalmology, [i] the most marked benefits relate to more advanced AMD, although increasing one’s intake of omega-3 is associated with a lower risk of both early and late onset of AMD.
AMD is the prime cause of blindness over the age of 55 in the West, according to AMD Alliance International. Its incidence is not insignificant, with 25-30 million people affected worldwide. Scientists are predicting these figures to increase as the unhealthy generation of baby boomers gets older.
AMD is a degenerative disease of the retina, causing loss of central vision which leaves sufferers with only peripheral vision. Early detection is crucial as it can enable effective treatment to be prescribed before the condition worsens.
This recent study is welcome news because it suggests that we can and should take a proactive approach to our health. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids form building blocks in the layer of nerve cells in the retina, therefore playing an important part in maintaining healthy eyesight. According to the lead author of the study, “a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fish, as a proxy for long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake, has therefore been hypothesised as a means to prevent AMD”.
Additionally, the outer photoreceptor (cell segments of the outer retina) are constantly shred in the normal visual cycle and deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids may initiate AMD. The researchers have also highlighted the protective effect of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids against oxygenic, inflammatory and age-associated pathology of the vascular and neural retina, all of which are thought to affect the onset of AMD. All the more reason, we believe, to ensure that your diet is rich in the important bioavailable fatty acids.
[i]: Chong, E.W.-T., Kreis, A.J., Wong, T.Y. ,. Simpson, J.A, Guymer, R.H. “Dietary -3 Fatty Acid and Fish Intake in the Primary Prevention of Age-Related Macular Degeneration – A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” Archives of Ophthalmology, Vol.126:6 pp. 826-833