Dark chocolate – Jeanne Calment’s secret of Longevity?

When I read that in her last years, Jeanne Calment, the oldest woman to ever live ate a kilogram of chocolate, or more, each week, I wondered whether eating chocolate is the secret of longevity? Jeanne also doused her food in olive oil as well as using olive oil on her skin and if you have read my books or heard my talks, you will know why consuming high quality olive (or sesame) oil daily is critical for healthy ageing.

Is chocolate healthy? How much should we eat?

In 2009, a Swedish study assessed death from heart attacks in a particularly high-risk group of people. These were all nondiabetics who had been hospitalized with a first heart attack who volunteered to keep a food diary for the next five to ten years. The results surprised the researchers who found that after an average of 8.5 years, the patients who reported eating chocolate twice or more per week were 66% less likely to suffer a cardiac death compared to those who reported never eating chocolate. These results were adjusted for possible differences in demographic and socioeconomic variables, consumption of coffee and confectionary and there was a strong inverse relationship between chocolate consumption and death from heart attacks. These researchers did find, however, that total mortality was not associated with chocolate consumption!

So why is eating chocolate so good for you?

There could be several reasons. One might be the high content of ‘phenolics’ but the other might be that chocolate is rich in iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, zinc and selenium, most of which are needed for the function of several of our key ‘defence’ ‘superoxide dismutase enzymes.

One 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
  • 11 grams of fibre
  • 67% of the RDI for iron
  • 58% of the RDI for magnesium
  • 89% of the RDI for copper
  • 98% of the RDI for manganese
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.

In addition to these easily identified elements, Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods. There are a range of organic compounds called flavonoids that include sub-types called catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins. Each of these have been shown to play important roles as antioxidants. The complex tricyclic (3 carbon ring) structure of the flavonoids determines antioxidant effects that scavenge reactive oxygen species. They also bind the iron and copper ions Fe2+ and Cu+, inhibit several enzymes, and upregulate antioxidant defences.

Cocoa is the richest known source of a chemical called Epicatechin, which is also found in Green Tea.

Epicatechin benefits: To date there have been several studies on the benefits of Epicatechin but there need to be more studies undertaken. To date, the benefits have been listed as:

  • It enhances muscle growth and strength naturally
  • Because it Increases nitric oxide production, it improves vascular function including blood flow
  • It improves insulin sensitivity, regulates blood sugar levels and stimulates muscle protein synthesis
  • Through Its natural antioxidant properties, it reduces cholesterol
  • It improves both brain and heart health

Other beneficial cardiovascular effects of chocolate are mediated through the anti-inflammatory effects of various cocoa polyphenols. These antioxidant effects of cocoa may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce risk for diabetes.

In addition, cocoa consumption may stimulate changes in various pathways involved in gene expression and the immune response. Cocoa also protects nerves from injury and inflammation.

Possibly even more importantly than its wonderful physiological effects, there are several studies that show that dark chocolate can improve our brain function as well as making us feel happier!

How much should we eat?

While the research supports that dark chocolate, especially 85% and higher has many beneficial health effects, I would suggest that you wait till you are over 100 before you consume a kilogram a week! Nevertheless, it is clear that a few pieces of dark chocolate is a very healthy snack and besides the fact that I love it, it’s the reason I have some every day!

The Depression Epidemic – Another role for Vitamin D

Anxiety and depression are usually linked together in population statistics but although they may sometimes be found together and some people may suffer from both conditions at the same time, it’s likely that they have different underlying causes.

Depression

The term depression does not refer to those occasional bad periods we all go through where we have a normal response of feeling dejected or extremely disappointed because of an undesired occurrence or outcome. Depression should also not be confused with boredom or lack of stimulation although some of the symptoms are quite similar. Most countries of the world report statistics of about a 6% incidence of medically diagnosed depression but this is probably a gross underestimation of the rate of depression.

Depression is rarely defined but is described by the presence of one or more of symptoms that are listed below. However, before concluding the problem is (clinical) depression, I think it’s important to consider whether the feeling might be justified and whether the issue could be changed by a modification of lifestyle? The following list comprises symptoms that could be depression or normal reactions to your current circumstances.

  • Persistent feeling of sadness: – Is there a reason for your sadness? Are you lonely? Could you join a social group or have a pet?
  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed: – Are you bored? Do you just need a ‘change of scenery’ or a new source of stimulation?
  • Changes in appetite (weight loss or gain): – This could have many causes and a general medical check is probably indicated.
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much: – Check your sleeping conditions and routines and look at serotonin (below). It’s also worth trying the effects of eating different foods at different times of the day. A glass of milk before bed may help you sleep because it is high in tryptophan (see below) but for different reasons, high GI food like white rice will also help you sleep. Unfortunately, eating rice or a similar food in the evening could also cause you to gain weight, but a modest serving may be a good solution to your sleep problem.
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue: – This could be caused by an illness and should be investigated but fatigue can often result from a period of reduced activity. Establishing a regular exercise routine is essential to good health and you should try to exercise to your own maximum (or near maximum) ability.

Some other symptoms that are often listed and may be symptoms of more serious depression or other mental illness are:

  • Slowed movements and speech; Increase time spent in purposeless tasks
  • Feeling guilty or worthless; Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Decreased confidence and self esteem
  • Negative, bleak, or pessimistic attitude
  • Self-harmful or suicidal thoughts and/or actions
  • Anger
  • Confusion, sadness, or hopelessness
  • Unexplained body aches and pains

Thyroid Disease and Depression

An underactive thyroid gland can cause depression and mild to severe fatigue. This condition (sometimes autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease) is also usually associated with weight gain, increased sensitivity to hot or cold, bowel changes and menstrual cycle irregularities in females. This contrasts with an overactive thyroid that causes unusual nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, and irritability.

If you are experiencing this group of symptoms, and especially if you have a family history of Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune diseases, do see your doctor immediately.

An underactive thyroid is often caused by lack of dietary Iodine. In the 1970’s and 1980’s an Adelaide doctor, Basil Hetzel found that endemic goiter and cretinism in Papua New Guinea was caused by Iodine deficiency. He was largely responsible for introducing Iodine to salt to overcome the international problem of Iodine deficiency. These days, however, we are discouraged from eating salt and most diets (except perhaps in Japan where Iodine is obtained from eating seaweed) are deficient in Iodine. Since Iodine has now been demonstrated to play many important biochemical roles as well as its critical role in the thyroid, you might consider speaking to a nutritionist about some form of supplementation. You might find that you feel much happier!

Vitamin D, Tryptophan and Depression

In recent blogs I’ve referred to the worldwide deficiencies in Vitamin D that are largely caused by migration, changes in lifestyle, especially much more time spent indoors and over-zealous sun avoidance to avoid skin cancer. I have also referred to the range of health problems that have resulted from this deficiency but especially the reduction in immunity. Here I want to talk about yet another role of vitamin D in preventing Depression. Several recently published studies have shown convincing evidence that supplementation with Vitamin D reduces depression.

Vitamin D doesn’t affect mood directly – despite the positive effects of sunshine – but Vitamin D is an important regulator of the conversion of an amino acid called tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is important in regulating your sleep-awake daily cycle while serotonin is your mood-regulating ‘happiness’ hormone.

Milk is the best source of the amino acid TRYPTOPHAN, but tryptophan can also be obtained from eating leafy greens, broccoli, peas, mushrooms, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and watercress. But the important new information is that vitamin D plays an important role in the chemical conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and plays several different roles in maintaining optimal serotonin levels.

So, as I have advised before, most modern lifestyles do not give us enough exposure to sunlight to create sufficient Vitamin D and we either need to eat large amounts of fatty fish and/or seaweed or supplement with Vitamin D capsules.

This message is important for people of all ages but perhaps especially the elderly.

Vitamin D Deficiency – A Modern World Epidemic with Huge Consequences

Nature intended that enough Vitamin D is produced by exposure of skin to sunlight

Vitamin D is critical to good health

Many of us know that our bodies can make Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight and in a previous blog, I discussed how human migration has been a major factor in our current epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.

Here, I’m going to discuss some of the critical roles of Vitamin D and why we should all make sure that we are making or taking enough.

What is enough Vitamin D?

Oops! Unfortunately, the answer to this question is that no-one knows that answer!

In a recent publication called ‘Trends in Vitamin D Status around the World’[1] the authors noted that although guidelines for Vitamin D levels have been published by the Institute of Medicine, the Endocrine Society, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Calcified Tissue Society, there was no consensus between these august bodies on what constitutes Vitamin D deficiency.

Moreover, a recent publication[2] entitled ‘The big Vitamin D mistake’ refers to two other major findings: (a) There has been a major statistical error in the calculation of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin D and that 8895 IU/day are needed for 97.5% of individuals to achieve values of more than or equal to 50 nmol/L. (b) Levels of less than 75 nmol/L (which are commonly regarded as above average) may be too low for safety and may be associated with high ‘all cause’ mortality! The new suggested target Vitamin D level for optimal health is given as 100 nmol/L

Dietary Sources

Unfortunately, there are few foods that contain much Vitamin D. Significant amounts are only present in fatty fish (especially wild fish) and fish liver oils. There are small amounts in beef liver, some cheeses and egg yolks. Some foods are fortified with Vitamin D to attempt to counteract this.

Vitamin D Deficiency, Illness and Mortality

Vitamin D plays critical roles in almost every one of our organs, including our SKIN and our BRAINS.

SKIN: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many inflammatory skin diseases and this big topic is discussed in detail in an article titled ‘Vitamin D and the Pathophysiology of Inflammatory Skin Diseases’[3]. This article explains the very important functions that Vitamin D plays in the skin, and I recommend that anyone with skin problems downloads it and shows it to their doctor!

BRAINS: In our brains, Vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and brain cancer.

HEART AND BLOOD VESSELS: In our cardiovascular system, Vitamin D deficiency is associated with strokes and ANY heart disease!

IMMUNE CELLS: Our immune function is highly dependent on Vitamin D and Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be the cause of many if not all the now commonly diagnosed autoimmune diseases. The strongest evidence is for Multiple Sclerosis and Type 1 Diabetes!

Although not an autoimmune disease, Type 2 Diabetes is also associated with lowered levels of Vitamin D.

CANCER: Almost all CANCERS are associated with Vitamin D deficiency, but the evidence is strongest for BREAST CANCER, OVARIAN CANCER, COLON CANCER, PROSTATE CANCER, PANCREATIC CANCER and as mentioned earlier brain cancer.

Vitamin D deficiency is also very strongly associated with INFECTIOUS DISEASES, especially COVID 19!

MUSCLES & BONE: Finally, there is a strong association between low Vitamin D and loss of muscle strength but only a slight relationship with bone health – which is the major reason Vitamin D is given as a supplement! For bone health, Vitamin D is only proven to have an effect when it is taken in conjunction with Calcium.

Indoors, Covering-up, Sunscreens and

Vitamin D deficiency

For us to synthesize our own Vitamin D, our skin needs to be exposed to sunshine! This should be very easy in countries with sufficient sunshine but modern ‘indoor lifestyles’, shift work, religious rituals of covering up and over-zealous protection against sunburn with the goal of preventing skin cancer – have all contributed to Vitamin D deficiency.

Most sunscreens still allow enough exposure to sunlight for us to produce Vitamin D, but it is important to allow yourself enough but not too much exposure to sunlight. For most of us it might be easier to either focus on eating more fatty fish, sipping cod liver oil (ugh) or taking a Vitamin D supplement.


[1] Lips P, de Jongh RT, van Schoor NM 2021: Trends in Vitamin D Status around the world JBMR Plus (Special Issue) 1-6

[2] Papadimitriou DT 2017: The Big Vitamin D Mistake, J of Preventative Medicine & Public Health. 50:278-281

[3] Umar M et al (2018) Vitamin D and the Pathophysiology of inflammatory skin diseases. Skin Pharmacology & Physiology 31: 74-86

Health and environments: Should men and women live together?

Apart from the obvious differences in interests and daily habits, many of us are aware that ‘he’ generally feels warmer and ‘she’ cooler, that men and women often disagree about whether a room is too hot or too cold, and that one of a couple often needs to compromise in some way. As well as gender, there is often quite a marked difference in preferred temperature in people of different ages and many of us will have suffered from feeling very hot in the homes of elderly relatives or friends.

I started writing this article today because I was feeling a bit depressed and wondered whether it was just because the sky was grey and it was drizzly, or whether it was because I was bored?  As it turns out, it may have been both but in my research on the weather and mood, I found a Japanese study from 2018[1] that thoroughly studied ‘health symptoms’ associated with the weather in males and female of different ages.

The study included 4548 Japanese people and their reactions to changes in temperature and humidity in the whole month of October 2013. The average age of the participants was 44.7 years. There were slightly more females than males and 60% were aged between 18 and 65 years. Dew point was used as the measure of humidity rather then relative humidity as this measures the temperature when the air is fully saturated with water vapor. The analysis considered and adjusted for differences in ongoing health in individuals so that the conclusions were not biased by such health issues.

I expect some readers will have different experiences to these, but the important point is that the weather really does affect our health and general feeling of well-being. It is not just someone’s imagination.

We, humans like average!

Both low and high temperatures and low and high humidity are associated with aches, pains, and mood changes but these differ between males and females and between age groups. If nothing else, the results give us a good explanation for why we often disagree about which temperatures and which levels of humidity are most comfortable? So, let’s consider the problems that can be influenced by the weather as well as gender-based similarities and differences.

Joint pains                         

Joint problems – especially arthritis respond to weather

Both men and women are likely to suffer from increased joint pain on days of either increased temperature and/or increased humidity. This occurs at ALL AGES but especially in those aged under 18!

Headaches

Headaches are less commonly associated with the weather although older people (65 and older) suffer from more headaches on colder days and women are more likely to experience headaches when the humidity is high.

Respiratory problems

Allergy or virus? Respiratory symptoms respond to the weather

The researchers asked participants whether they had ‘a runny nose’, ‘sneezes’, ‘coughs’, ‘sore throat’, ‘fever’ and/or ‘chill’ on any of the monitored days. There was considerable variation in the responses of the different groups, but overall – sneezing was quite strongly associated with lower humidity in both males and females aged over 18 years but with lower temperature in those aged under 18! Lower temperature was also likely to be associated with coughing but especially in those aged 65 and older.

‘Chill’ is a term that is often used to describe a feeling of being cold and unwell for a relatively short period of time. The authors of this paper found that chills were quite strongly associated with decreases in temperature or humidity in all but the youngest group of subjects. Similarly, lowered temperature and/or humidity were also strongly associated with contracting a common cold in all groups but especially in those aged under 18.

Muscle pain, Backpain, Itchiness and Eczema

Surprisingly to me, males and female of all ages are much more likely to suffer from muscle pain as the temperature rises. However, unlike joint pain, muscle pain is not affected by humidity. Back pain isn’t influenced by the weather in people aged under 65 but those aged 65 and older experience more back pain in both high temperatures and in high humidity.

Increased temperature is strongly associated with Eczema in those under 18 and over 65 in whom it is increased nearly 30 times. Surprisingly to me, Eczema is only increased by increasing humidity in those aged between 18 and 64 but not by temperature in this age group.

Psychological effects of weather: Anxiety and Depression

Both temperature and humidity affect mental health

In people over the age of 18, increases in temperature elevate anxiety by a factor of five and increased humidity also caused a similar effects on anxiety in those aged 65 and older. Unfortunately, the publication doesn’t show us the breakdown for males and females by age but the ‘men’ versus ‘women’ table for subjects at all ages, shows that men’s anxiety increases seven times with increasing humidity whereas women’s anxiety increases with increasing temperature! Even more inconveniently men’s risk of becoming depressed is increased more than ten times with increasing temperature whereas women are opposite – women are ten times as likely to become depressed when the temperature decreases.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

The differences between men and women’s responses to weather and temperature are REAL. He or she is not just being difficult! I’m not quite sure where you go from here in setting the temperature of the air conditioner but at least understanding the differences should help the discussion!


[1] Mihye Lee et al (2018) ‘Weather and Health Symptoms”. Intl J of Environmental Research & Public Health. 15: 1670-1685

Vitamin E deficiency, migraines & ‘Visual disturbances’

How I discovered I needed Vitamin E

Gall bladder problems and Cholecystectomy

Six months after I gave birth to my baby Alexia, I became very jaundiced. I had some pain under my right ribs and felt unwell after eating some meals, but it was when my stools turned white and my urine was almost black, that I knew I had a problem!

I was attending a conference when my pain first became quite severe, and I had to leave the conference without giving my talk. At the conference, one of the doctors sitting near me in the lecture theatre told me that I had postnatal cholecystitis, but unfortunately it took some weeks for the doctors I visited as a patient to realize that I had gall bladder issues and not hepatitis! Gall bladder disease is quite common after a pregnancy and the rate is greatly increased with long term use of the contraceptive pill.

The gallbladder is important for the digestion of fats and oils

In the weeks after the operation

Unfortunately, even once in hospital, I continued to suffer from ‘medical diagnostic errors’ and ended up having a major hemorrhage after the first operation that led to several blood transfusions, collapsed lungs then a second operation and six weeks in hospital overall. But after all that I felt very well until I started noticing some odd ‘visual disturbances’.

Fat soluble vitamins and the role of the Gallbladder

My post-operative hemorrhage was almost certainly due to a deficiency of Vitamin K (another fat soluble vitamin involved in blood clotting) – unfortunately for me I had already told the doctors prior to the operation that I seemed to have slow clotting but again my information was ignored.

After I’d been home for some time and was otherwise feeling well, I noticed that whenever I went into a certain shopping mall, I would develop an uncomfortable, dizzy feeling. This feeling would come on in other places that were brightly lit so I decided to research what it might be? Fortunately, I found information in a book on nutrients and vitamins that led me to try taking natural Vitamin E, which completely resolved my symptoms. Interestingly, I found that when I finished the first bottle of tablets and was then sold synthetic Vitamin E that that product did not work! I purchased natural vitamin E again and have been taking this now (symptom free) for over 40 years.

Chatting at lunch last week!

I was chatting with a couple of friends last week when I leant that one of them had recently had her gall bladder removed. So, I mentioned to her that she might need to supplement her fat-soluble vitamins and described my own experience with vitamin E and ‘dizziness’. She was immediately excited as she had already started to experience similar symptoms and here, unexpectantly was her answer.

But the other friend who was with us then spoke about how similar-sounding visual disturbances preceded her migraines and I was immediately intrigued as to whether Vitamin D supplements might reduce migraines.

Vitamin E and Migraine Headaches

The medical literature suggests that migraines have many different causes and that deficiencies in several different vitamins, including those of the ‘B group’ may play a role. However, in females who suffer from migraines that relate to the menstrual cycle, Vitamin E can offer complete relief of the headaches. Vitamin E also offers relief to people who suffer from migraines ‘with auras’ but may not help those with other migraines. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that this little discussed vitamin plays key roles in neurological function: not only is Vitamin E deficiency associated with progressive neuropathy in children, recent research shows that it can play a role in neurological deterioration in aging.

It’s ‘early days’ for this research but some benefits are seen with Vitamin E supplementation in Alzheimer’s disease although not in Parkinson’s.

Low fat diets and Vitamin E deficiency

Vitamin E is readily available in many foods including vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, and many vegetables but especially spinach, red peppers and avocados. Because of its availability, we might expect that deficiencies would be rare.

However, just as with a poorly functioning gall bladder, diets that are too low in fat will not enable sufficient absorption of Vitamin E.

Action: Check out any odd visual and/or other neurological symptoms

If you have odd neurological symptoms, you might need to see your doctor quickly and you could have something serious. Nevertheless, I would suggest that if you develop some mild symptoms, you consider your diet: do you have sufficient intake of fat and/or oil? Are you are able to digest fats and oils without getting uncomfortable abdominal symptoms? If you do have problems eating fats and oils, you might need to see a gastroenterologist, or you could try to get relief with Ox Bile!

Nevertheless, if you do have difficulty consuming fats and oils, your neurological symptoms are likely to be caused by low absorption of Vitamin E and you are likely to find that a quality supplement will reduce your symptoms.

Seven reasons why the world still hasn’t beaten COVID-19

The poor of the world have no chance to escape the ravages of a pandemic

1. Human factor 1: Vaccines have been given as a priority in wealthy countries when spread is likely to be greatest amongst the poor

It is well recognized that the world does not treat its inhabitants equally. There are of course many different factors underlying this including wars and corruption not to mention uncontrollable factors like earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. Nevertheless, it should be obvious to everyone that the poorest and most destitute people have the most squalid living conditions, the smallest personal space, inadequate nutrition and the most liklihood of contracting and passing on an infectious disease.

Crowding itself is a major risk factor so we should always expect that a new virus (one to which the population doesn’t already have high levels of immunity) will both INFECT more people and as a result, MUTATE faster in crowded living spaces than in regions with more dispersed populations.

Crowding is usually associated with poor living conditions and each independently and especially the two together ensure that diseases will spread rapidly. In the case of viruses, where the ‘virus’s life’ depends on spreading to a host, there will be both high rates of infection and viral evolution.

2. Human Factor 2: Vaccines have been given as a priority to the old first instead of the young
Our incorrect strategies are allowing the virus to ‘play’ with world health

There is no doubt that older people usually have less robust immune systems than younger people. This is a natural side-effect of the ageing process itself[1] but older people are also far less mobile and, generally have personal habits that are far more restrained than those of younger people!

Vaccines have not been given to children in the first instance because of fears about vaccine safety but children are usually avid spreaders of viruses and recently published medical journal articles have shown that Covid 19 is NOT an exception. Yet, here in Sydney, most adults are doubly vaccinated and constantly masked while the children are free to run around ready to SPREAD any new form of the virus!

Children generally do NOT know how to wash their hands effectively and have no sense of ‘personal space’ and yet, governments have decided to prioritize immunization to those 70 year and older!

3. Human factor 3: ‘Unequal manufacturing advantage’ by giant pharmaceutical companies.

There are many other anti-Covid vaccines that have been developed by reputable scientific laboratories that the pharmaceutical ‘cartels’ (often government regulated) have excluded from the ‘marketplace’. We have no way of knowing what the possibilities may have been had appropriate competition been allowed.

4. Human factor 4: People who have access to vaccines are not necessarily adopting them.

Some of the people who have chosen not to be vaccinated are the so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’, but some people who are not usually averse to vaccination have been seriously concerned by the huge publicity given to very rare but serious reactions to vaccines. It is of course possible that the people who reacted to the vaccines might have had extremely adverse reactions to the virus itself should they have been infected but this area of news-reporting has tended to be unbalanced and irresponsible. Some journalists (and even some politicians) urgently need to attend a course in basic statistics!

Vaccination is the proven way to prevent (most) pandemics
5. Virus factor 1: The mutations (changes) that occur in the COVID-19 RNA immediately affect their host.

Unlike flu virus that needs to translate another strand of RNA to have impact on the host, COVID-19 infects with its ‘sense’ strand. This is a bit complicated, but this is a characteristic that makes COVID-19 extremely infectious. The common cold virus also works in this way.

6. Virus factor 2: Mutations are random and can’t be predicted and many can occur simultaneously. A virus has no plan, and its apparently random behavior defeats our planned attacks.

When we fight viruses, we are essentially fighting a war where we can’t predict the enemy’s movements with any confidence. This is especially true of COVID-19, which when compared to influenza (for example) is a very big virus. This means it has many more ‘genes’ that it can mutate, and these can’t all be anticipated by the scientists who are designing vaccines.

For now, the vaccines seem to be coping quite well with the mutations, but time will tell whether we can ever control this virus.

7. Virus factor 3: A virus can only survive in another’s animal or human’s body but until we control the human factors, the virus will continue to infect and evolve. We must have world-wide unified response or the virus will WIN!

Because a virus relies on the host’s genes for its replication and metabolism, it cannot function outside a host organism. It some senses they can be regarded as non-living however outside a person, animal or plant’s body, the viral genetic material is wrapped up as an independent particle called a ‘virion’. These can remain independently in the environment for variable periods of time: for several days indoors on several surfaces, including skin but they die almost immediately when exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, respirator and surgical masks, which are both porous are associated with some of the longest survival times! However, cleaning most surfaces with soap or detergent will control the spread.

Most of the world is reacting to the latest cases of the OMRICON COVID variant by shutting their borders for at least one or two weeks but if we want to win this war, we need to vaccinate the world’s poorest people, especially including young people and children as soon as possible. I would also like to see the results of testing of several of the other vaccines that have thus far been suppressed by unfair trade practices.


[1] ‘Why We Age’, J.H. Ford (2019) – available from geneslifestyle.com or Amazon

Vitamin D Deficiency: A Major Health Side effect of Human Migration

More than just bones!

pile of human skulls
Photo by Felipe Hueb on Pexels.com

Vitamin D may be our most important ‘vitamin’. Although it has long been known that Vitamin D plays a critical role in the body’s ability to absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, which are both critical for the formation of bone, recent research has now revealed that Vitamin D plays critical roles in the control of infections, in mental health and in the reduction or perhaps prevention of cancer.

I personally became aware of the probable role of Vitamin D in mental health when I noticed that several of our darker-skinned Indian students were becoming seriously depressed during South Australian winters. When I discovered this, I suggested that they took some Vitamin D rather than the anti-depressive drugs they had been prescribed but I didn’t realize then that Vitamin D deficiency might be associated with major depressive and anxiety disorders.

People migrating

Major increase in worldwide Vitamin D deficiency caused by modern lifestyles and migration

Vitamin D deficiency is present in millions of people throughout the world. Some of this is due to changes in lifestyle where people spend a great deal more time indoors than they ever did before. This overall alteration in behavior has many causes that include loss of traditional types of work, innovation, and mechanization of transport such that walking is less of a necessity, modifications in buildings that encourage more time to be spent indoors and general loss of traditional lifestyles

Migration

Under our most natural environments, that is living in the region of the world where our ancestors evolved, our skin color should be adapted to allow it to synthesize adequate amounts of Vitamin D, when it is exposed to sunlight. Those of us whose ancestors lived far away from the equator generally have pale skin with low amounts of the pigment melanin whilst those who evolved to live near the equator have much darker skin, with higher concentrations of melanin.

One apparent exception to this is the Eskimos or Inuits. This race of people initially originated in Asia from where they migrated. In their new home Alaska in the frozen north, they adopted a diet of raw fish and sea animals, the meat of which is exceptionally high in Vitamin D. Their practice of eating the food raw also insured that they had sufficient intake of Vitamin C.

Skin Cancer

White skinned people moving to latitudes with higher amounts of sunshine, can do well in terms of producing Vitamin D in the sun but there is a significant trade-off in the form of sunburn and skin cancer. The good news is that the studies that have been undertaken on sunscreens to date do NOT show that wearing sunscreens prevents our skin from manufacturing Vitamin D. However – be cautious – studies have not yet been undertaken on the sunscreens offering very high levels of protection!

People with black skin can still develop Melanoma but not too surprisingly, white-skinned people are 25 times more likely to suffer from it. But Melanoma is relatively rare compared to other types of Skin Cancer of which there are well in excess of a million diagnoses each year worldwide, mostly in people with lighter skin.

Dark-skinned people living in countries with less sunlight

‘Pre-vitamin D’ or its full name 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) is a chemical that has been conserved through animal evolution. It is produced as part of the synthesis of cholesterol and with the help of sunlight it is converted to Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in the skin. Vitamin D should probably be regarded as a pro-hormone rather than a ‘vitamin’ because of its diverse biological roles and its evolutionary role in insect metamorphosis.

Vitamin D synthesis is highly influenced by the concentration of melanin in the skin. Melanin actually absorbs and then scatters the Ultra Violet (UV) ‘B’ rays and the this results in far less efficient conversion of pre-vitamin D to D3. Consequently, dark-skinned people synthesize vitamin D far more slowly than lighter-skinned people and need more time in the sun to produce equivalent amounts of this critical vitamin.

Ageing reduces Vitamin D production

Thin aged skin and joint deformity – common signs of aging

Not surprisingly, clothing inhibits the production of Vitamin D in the same way that it protects against sunburn but what is not so well known is that ageing also decreases our ability to produce Vitamin D. Aging affects the production in two ways. It both reduces the synthesis through the skin in sunlight by about half and then there is probably a further decline in the renal production of the active hormone! So, as you age, you either need to spend a lot more time in the sun making your Vitamin D or you need to eat Vitamin D rich foods or take a supplement.

If you have sufficient intake of Vitamin D, you can expect to have stronger bones, heightened immunity, less risk of cancer as well as feeling much happier. But this might not be all the advantages? The fact that almost all cells in our bodies have what are called Vitamin D ‘receptors’. This means that Vitamin D plays at least some role in all our cells!

You might also enjoy watching my YouTube video for some more information about Vitamin D: Vitamin D and 14 health benefits

Can eating Seaweed prevent Breast Cancer?

asia carrot chopsticks delicious
SUSHI IS OFTEN WRAPPED IN KELP, WHICH IS AN EXTREMELY RICH SOURCE OF IODINE

In Japan, seaweed is a common dietary component which gives Japanese adults an average daily intake of 5280 micrograms (µg) of Iodine each day. This is very different to the rest of the world where the average intake of Iodine is only about 209 µg/day. Now there are obviously other dietary differences between traditional Japanese people and the rest of the world, not to mention many lifestyle and cultural differences, but could eating seaweed, and in particular consuming relatively high amounts of Iodine, be an important protective factor against breast cancer?

You can see in the following figure whose data has been taken from a collaborative study between Australian and Japanese researchers, published in 2020[i] that although the rate of breast cancer has increased dramatically in both countries between 2006 and 2015, that the age-specific rates are approximately double in Australia when compared with Japan.

Breast Cancer rates in Japan & Australia in 2006 and 2015

It’s likely that you know about the importance of Iodine to the health of the Thyroid gland. You might even be aware of the pioneering work in public health performed by the Australian Dr Basil Hetzel (1922-2017), who improved thyroid health worldwide through the addition of Iodine to household salt. I was lucky enough to know Basil as a colleague and friend and I’m sure he would have been extremely excited to know that Iodine’s critical roles are not just limited to the thyroid but that it also has important roles outside the thyroid gland as an ANTIOXIDANT, DIFFERENTIATION FACTOR AND IMMUNE MODULATOR [ii]  However, there is a major difference in the chemical form of Iodine that is critical to thyroid function with that in cancer prevention: The thyroid gland uses ‘Iodide’ salts whereas cancer suppression occurs with ‘elemental Iodine’. In fact, elemental Iodine probably plays a preventative role against all cancers, but few have been studied. Nevertheless, there are several well-controlled scientific studies that demonstrate Iodine’s role in controlling breast cancer.

The studies on Iodine and cancer prevention are mostly very new and it will probably be a long time, if ever, before we see Iodine being recommended as a ‘cancer cure’. Furthermore, there is other strong evidence that Iodine itself is not enough! For example, in a well-designed ‘prospective’ Italian study, the researchers found that Iodine intake alone did not reduce breast cancer risk and that Iodine needed to be combined with adequate Selenium to be effective. Indeed, women who had intakes of each of Iodine and Selenium that were above average, reduced their breast cancer risk by at least 25%. This supports an hypothesis linking Iodine and Selenium to cancer prevention that was first proposed in 2000[iii].

The study result fits with the protection offered against breast cancer by dietary seaweed because seaweed is high in both Iodine and Selenium, and it also fits what is known about the biochemistry of Iodine in the breast in that it requires the activity of Selenium-dependent enzymes for its function. Selenium is indeed a very important trace element that is essential to the function of several of our critical ‘defense enzymes’ in most cells. But – a WARNING – it must always be remembered that Selenium is a ‘trace element’ and too much is as bad as or worse than too little! 

Another nutrient that is strongly associated with breast cancer is Vitamin D. Almost all studies show that higher levels of Vitamin D confer a lower risk of breast cancer and you’ve probably guessed that seaweed is a nutritional source of Vitamin D – although you probably need more than you will consume in your seaweed! You can synthesize your own Vitamin D very effectively from sunshine (when your skin is exposed to it) but nowadays because of the number of hours most of us spend indoors together with our use of sunscreen and clothing to protect ourselves against skin cancer, most of us are deficient in Vitamin D (for some or all the year). Having a dietary source of Vitamin D or taking a supplement is thus often necessary.

How does Vitamin D intake fit with Iodine and Selenium? Well, without going into the details there is plenty of biochemical evidence to show that Vitamin D plays a role in ‘up-regulating’ the Selenium-dependent enzymes that are involved in many defense and scavenging activities in our cells. So, although there is some Vitamin D in seaweed, sufficient Vitamin D is important to in addition to the protection offered by Iodine and Selenium.

Just add SUNSHINE

Take-home message! Either eat seaweed on a regular basis or find other reliable sources of Iodine and Selenium and make sure your intake of Vitamin D is sufficient. I strongly suggest that if you are intending to eat seaweed on a regular basis that you research your seaweeds carefully. Different seaweeds contain very different amounts of Iodine and Selenium and you do want to make sure you have the ‘goldilocks’ amounts – not too little and just as importantly not too much!


[i] Mizukoshi MM et al (2020) Comparative analyses of breast cancer incidence rates between Australia and Japan. Asian Pacific J of Cancer Prevention 7: 2123-2129

[ii] Acerves C et al (2021) Molecular Iodine has extrathyroidal effects as an Antioxidant, Differentiator and Immunomodulator. Intl J of Molecular Sciences 22: 1228-1243

[iii] Cann SA et al (2000) Hypothesis: iodine, selenium and the development of breast cancer. Cancer Causes Control 11: 121-127

Our genes and our diet

Vegetarian, omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian – which is the correct diet and what does logic, our genes and our anatomy tell us?

Suppose you came across an object you’d never seen before, and you wanted to work out its purpose? What would you do? I think most people would look at its general construction and ask questions such as:

  • How is this object constructed and of what materials?
  • What are its major parts?
  • What are its most likely functions?
  • Where in the world did it originate? If its location is/has been changed, does it need or has it needed some special adaptations to adapt to its new location?

If we applied these questions to ourselves, we might more readily understand how to differentiate between the accurate and vastly inaccurate so-called ‘health information’ that is readily available today. Clearly this is an enormous topic so to start I just want to focus on the most basic elements of diet and on the role of the head. I will address many specific sub-topics in the coming weeks.

Today’s question: What can we learn about our diet from our heads?

The construct of the HEAD

ONE HEAD has the five major organs brain, ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. The most notable moving parts are the eyes, which allow us to see food and the jaw which allows us to bite and chew food.

Each organ of our entire body, and the head is no exception, is composed of nerve, blood, bone, and skin cells (of which some are external and some internal). There are also specialized structures in the mouth called teeth, which are composed of enamel and unlike bone, do not contain living (potentially replacement) cells as bone does. The mouth also contains another specialized muscular organ, the tongue, that is vital for taste, chewing and swallowing as well as creating sounds, especially speech.

From an evolutionary perspective, almost every part of the head has played an essential role in nutrition. The eyes, ears and nose have allowed us to detect the presence of potential food and after we hunted or gathered our tasty morsels, our tongue and teeth then allowed us to eat it. However, since relatively few of us have been involved in food gathering and/or production for some generations, our teeth may be our foremost guide to the foods that best suit us today.

Our incisors (eight – four in the upper and four in the lower jaw) are in the middle of the front of our mouths and each has a flat edge that is adapted for shearing and cutting food. Being in such a prominent position, this may be the most important function.

Our canines or cuspids (four – one on the jaw side of each pair of incisors) have a sharp edge and are for tearing food.

Our pre-molars (eight – two pairs in the upper and lower jaw on each side) have flat surfaces with ridges for crushing and grinding food into smaller pieces to make it easier to swallow.

Our molars (twelve – three pairs, upper and lower on each side of the jaw) have a large surface that helps them to grind food.

What our HEADS would lead us to conclude about our diet?

It’s not necessarily logical to conclude that because we have such a high proportion of our teeth adapted for crushing and grinding food that crushing and grinding should be our primary dental activity. Nevertheless, I think that the very large number of grinding teeth attests to the fact that some types of plant-based diet has been consumed by humans over most if not all their ancestry. Furthermore, the high proportion of this type of tooth strongly supports this ancestry and plants should form a major proportion of our diets.

Nevertheless, the presence of canine teeth, which are in a very prominent position strongly suggest that cutting and tearing teeth are still required by humans and that foods, such as animal flesh that require cutting and tearing should also be part of our healthy diets.

Chimpanzee and Human Diets

Our DNA is only 1.2% dissimilar to the Chimpanzee and it’s logical to think that our dietary adaptations might be similar. Chimpanzee in the wild have a diet that is mostly vegetable/fruit and not surprisingly always those that are in season! They are now known to dig up small crustaceans from mud, to eat insects and to hunt and kill smaller monkeys, whose flesh they eat. So, meat forms only about 3% of their diet in the wild and is eaten on only about 9 days each year.

Taken together these facts suggest that humans have evolved to eat some meat and crustaceans but mostly a diet of fruit and vegetables. However, these facts don’t tell us which dietary proportions are optimal and in the coming blogs we are going to move past the head to try to piece the facts together!

So, till next time ……….

%d bloggers like this: