Why must man play God in the food chain?

There was a time when the phrase ‘cloning’ only really existed in science fiction novels and the minds of small boys. However, our ability to progress scientifically blossomed in 1996 in the form of Dolly the cloned sheep; hitting the headlines, she caused quite a stir, highlighting the endless possibilities of such a feat as well as many ethical dilemmas. Dolly was cloned from a single mammary cell (and therefore very aptly named after the singer Dolly Parton) by a process called ‘nuclear transfusion’ in which the nucleus of one cell is injected into the empty shell of another, creating a ‘new cell’ with the ability to divide like a normal developing embryo. Dolly lived for 6 years and produced 6 lambs of her own, remaining the most famous sheep in the world. Whilst cloning of animals can be viewed as a viable tool for preventing the extinction of species, and even possibly for reviving extinct species, it seems that such a procedure is being vastly misused. I awoke this morning to the news that milk from the offspring of cloned cows has made its way into UK supermarkets. As a result the Food Standards Agency, the authority responsible for accepting novel food applications, is currently investigating such claims, as the sale of milk from such cows is currently illegal under UK food regulations. It both amazes and concerns me that we don’t seem to have enough dairy cattle in the first place, and that as consumers, we have no say in such processes, and no ways of identifying such products on our shelves as, apparently, the milk in question is neither labelled nor identified in any way.

There are huge ethical concerns over the long-term health consequences that arise from such procedures as cloning, and consequences that we should really have learn from past errors in playing God in the food chain. Take transfats for example. The hydrogenation process by which trans fats are formed was first discovered around the turn of the 20th century, and so with it was born the first man-made fat to join the food supply. American kitchens were the first to introduce partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in 1911 with a product called Crisco®. The incorporation of transfats in to many food products soon became popular with consumers and food manufacturers because they acted as a preservative, giving foods a longer shelf life but also giving foods a more appealing taste and texture. The devastating effects of these fats are now abundantly clear, with links to cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, and consequently we are now desperate to deplete these fats completely from our diets. So it seems we have learnt very little from past mistakes.

Cloning is one form of genetic manipulation to suit a dietary ‘need’; another is the genetic modification of plants to produce genetically modified (GM) end products. This process isolates and modifies genes, usually so that they function better, before inserting into a new species. The end result is to develop an organism that expresses a novel trait that is not normally associated with that species. GM foods first hit the market in the early 1990s and were restricted to transgenic plant products such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton seed oil. The objections that are raised against GM foods include possible safety issues, ecological and economic concerns – all of which are still prominent and, consequently, use of GM in the food chain is still of great concern.

Another such potential use of a GM plant species is to genetically modify plants to produce essential omega-3 fatty acids that are usually only associated with fish and fish oils. The drive behind such a process is an attempt to increase omega-3 in human diets without adding pressure to fish stocks. If successful, the resulting plants are aimed at feed for farm animals, and for incorporation into the food chain through direct inclusion in food products as an indirect way of increasing our omega-3 levels. Consequently, the consumer may be completely unaware of such processes, and that GM products are even being incorporated into every day food products. Whilst GM omega-3 may not be the next trans fat, and that it is hoped that the heath positive benefits outweigh any heath negative attributes, we do not know at this point the long term heath consequences of such actions.

I would like to have the choice to make up my mind and not have to actively seek out foods that are free from GM. Would you?

The mood food connection

Each year on 10th October, the Mental Health Foundation marks the day by raising awareness about mental health and well-being. Whilst we would probably all consider ourselves as reasonably tolerant and open minded, there is still quite a significant stigma about depression. If we haven’t experienced depression directly, it’s highly probable that we know someone, perhaps a friend, relative or workmate, who suffers. Mental Health Statistics report that 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year and 1 in 6 of us experiences this at any given time. In 2001 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that approximately 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem, of which 154 million are affected by depression.One of the major side effects of depression is that the way we think about food changes and this can influence how we eat – both the types of food and how often. Because food can directly influence our mood, our diet is even more fundamental when we’re feeling low.

The Glycemic Index

The brain needs energy supplied at an even rate in order to function optimally. Sudden peaks in blood sugar will adversely affect behaviour, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, so it is particularly important for people with depression to keep their blood glucose levels even. Although commonly known for its diabetes and weight loss benefits, the glycemic index (most commonly referred to as GI index), which ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood glucose levels, is a good guide to informing us which foods to include as part of a healthy diet, and indeed which foods to limit.

While all carbohydrate foods are eventually broken down into glucose, quick-release simple carbohydrates (such as high sugar foods, glucose and fructose) are broken down more quickly into glucose than complex carbohydrates (such as wholemeal grains), releasing glucose rapidly into the bloodstream. Repeated ‘spikes’ of glucose can decrease insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as promoting oxidative stress in the veins and arteries – a cause of coronary heart disease. After the highs come the energy-sapping blood sugar lows and, frequently, strong urges to reach for another sugary carbohydrate snack to perk us up. Indeed individuals who suffer from atypical depression (a subtype of depression) often overeat and report an almost irresistible craving for carbohydrates.

White sugar and other refined carbohydrates, such as those found in processed white bread and white pasta, white rice and most convenience foods, supply few nutrients to the body but use up important B vitamins, which are essential for our nervous and immune systems, as well as healthy digestion. Avoiding refined foods and sugar, as well as consuming foods with a low GI value, will help to keep blood sugar levels even. Perhaps a more accurate reference guide to prevent blood sugar spikes is the Glycemic Load(GL) ranking system, which is based on a food’s GI value and average portion size. For example, whilst an apple is not low GI, it has a low GL and will barely influence blood sugar levels.

Micronutrient deficiencies

It is extemely common for depression sufferers to have low levels of B vitamins and essential minerals such as zinc, selenium and magnesium. These water-soluble vitamins and minerals must be consumed daily to avoid depletion. Deficiency can, in turn, hinder the body’s ability to utilise specific omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lift our mood by elevating serotonin and regulating levels of this important neurotransmitter.

EPA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, not only influences serotonin and dopamine in the brain, but is also converted to powerful anti-inlammatories via a series of enzyme-mediated steps. It is these enzymes that rely on the presence of B vitamins and essential minerals in order to function, without which the body’s production of natural anti-inflammatories is minimal, and can even result in the production of inflammatory substances. Combining a good nutritional vitamin and mineral supplement with 1 gram EPA daily (or 4 capsules Vegepa) can help to balance serotonin levels and alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Carbohydrate cravings are also linked with low levels of chromium, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce cravings. This is because for blood sugar to provide energy, it must be escorted into each of our cells where the energy conversion takes place. Insulin then ‘unlocks’ the cell, allowing glucose to pass in. But there is a missing link. Insulin doesn’t work properly unless biologically active chromium is present as a cofactor (much like a catalyst).

With many modern food processing methods, up to 80% of chromium is lost – particularly with whole wheat and raw sugar when they are processed to white flour and refined sugar. If we regularly opt for these refined foods over their healthy wholegrain relatives, chromium levels within the body can easily become depleted.

Whilst it is likely a low priority during episodes of low mood to concentrate on our eating habits, following a few general guidelines can help to restore healthy brain chemistry and minimise sugar-induced mood swings.

– Avoid processed foods.

– Keep red meat to a minimum or eat organic (red meat is high in inflammatory omega-6 unless animals are fed on natural grass).

– Drink plenty of water, as the brain needs to be hydrated to function at its best.

– Don’t forget your ‘five a day’. Make sure you get plenty of vitamins and minerals by eating a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you eat them raw they’ll supply even more nutrients.

– Eat two portions of oily fish weekly to top up on omega-3, containing the natural antidepressant EPA, or take 2 capsules of Vegepa morning and night.

If you found this article interesting, you might like to read more about anti depression foods.

A diet rich in fish oils could extend your life, research shows

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.