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A Growing Problem

One of my keen areas of interest is bone health or more specifically the thin bone disease known as osteoporosis.

It is an area of consistent research interest and the influence of diet, nutrition and vitamins is gaining a lot of press. We have come a long way from the idea that bone strength is all about calcium but the message is slow to leak through to the conventional medical community and general public alike. Personally, I feel that many people view bone as a hard, inert and brittle substance similar to the skeleton that use to hang in the corner of the school biology lab. In reality, living bone is a very different. Our skeleton is a highly active metabolic tissue and undergoes a regular process of renewal known as ‘bone turnover’. This process changes with age and is influences by many lifestyle factors.

I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to an article written by Kate Miller on the subject of bone and joint health; thanks to Natural Product News, you can read the final article here A Growing Problem. By Kate Miller, Natural Product News July/August 2016.

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Spice up your life to cool down inflammation

There has been quite a lot of press interest in the adverse effects of certain anti-inflammatory drugs and their potential to trigger a host of unwanted side effects including heart attacks. It’s no secret that most anti-inflammatory medications can play havoc with your stomach and gut but the news that taking these drugs could cause heart complications was quite a shock to those who have come to rely on these drugs to get them through the day. Interestingly, research over the years into the spice turmeric has revealed some encouraging results when used to treat pain and inflammation. Turmeric is composed of a complex mixture of organic compounds the principle one being curcumin. Although easily confused with the spice cumin, curcumin is completely unrelated and a unique compound to the spice turmeric. It belongs to a group of compounds called curcuminoids that are responsible for the typical yellow colour of turmeric. Anyone who has seen natural turumic root in the supermarket may notice a similarity to another culinary spice, ginger root. However, this is no coincidence because turmeric and ginger both belong to the same botanical family; Zingiberaceae. Both of these spices accumulate pharmacologically important compounds within the root tissue. In the case of turmeric the compounds are known as curcuminoids where as in ginger the compounds are called gingerols. The key fact that interests us is the ability of these compound to effectively reduce inflammation and pain while sparing other tissues the hazardous side effects commonly associated with anti-inflammatory medications. This may sound a bit to good to be true but to understand how turmeric, or more specifically the curcumoid known as curcumin, achieves this we will have to discuss the inflammatory process and a bit of biochemistry!

Inflammation – the basics.

When ever we injure ourselves the body has to mend the damage. To do this, chemicals need to be released that enhance blood supply, neutralise any invading bad bacteria and stimulate the local immune reaction. Over this early (acute) phase inflammation is accompanied by pain, swelling and some heat. In the majority of cases this process is self-limiting and once the injury has been mended all the levels settle to normal along with all the related symptoms. However, this is not always the case especially if there is an ongoing irritant present such as arthritis, joint damage or autoimmune disease. In these cases the inflammation becomes chronic and the sufferer experiences daily pain and disability. Anti-inflammatory drugs can offer great relief but often at a price and their safe long term use has become questionable.

Inflammation – the chemistry

The cascade of events that eventually causes inflammation kicks off within cell membranes. A specific fatty acid, known as arachidonic acid (AA), is released from it’s bound state within the cell membrane by an enzyme (phospholipase-A2). Two key players in the inflammation story, COX and LOX, then act upon the now freed AA. The COX enzyme comes in two forms, COX1 and COX 2. When AA interacts with COX1 it produces a mixture of compounds (prostaglandins; PG’s) that protect the stomach and maintain the ability of the blood to clot. When AA interacts with COX2 in produces PG’s that signal pain and enhance inflammation. The LOX enzyme converts AA into another powerful group of inflammatory compounds known as leukortrines. Drugs that block the COX and LOX enzymes are known as anti-inflammatory drugs for this reason; they block the inflammatory cascade. However, by blocking the COX1 enzyme these drugs also block the stomach and gut protective PG’s and cause thinning and blood vessel leaks as they also block the PG’s that maintain blood clotting. As a result, specific drugs were developed that selectively block the COX2 enzyme but leave the COX1 alone. In theory, this sounded great but in reality the drugs did leave the COX1 enzyme alone in the majority of tissues except the COX1 found within the cells that line the blood vessels. These cells are called endothelial cells and the COX1 enzyme within these cells produces a special compound known as prostacyclin, which in turn maintains the smooth flowing of the blood within the blood vessels. By blocking the action of endothelial COX1 and the production of prostacyclin blood becomes stickier and prone to clotting, which explained the increased heart attack risk associated with drugs that have COX2 inhibitor action.

Inflammation – the natural answer

Research into the anti-inflammatory actions of curcumin has revealed that curcumin is a safe and effective inhibitor of COX2 and of the LOX enzyme that is responsible for the generation of the powerful inflammatory actions of leukortrines. What’s more, curcumin has also been shown to block the initial release of AA from the cell membrane. By doing this curcumin may have an effective preventative action as well as a powerful anti-inflammatory effect when used on a regular basis. To date, there have been no indication or suggestion that curcumin inhibits the endothelial COX1.

One factor that goes against curcumin is it’s poor absorption from the digestive tract. To get around this problem manufacturers have produced a highly bio-available extract; Theracurmin. This innovative ingredient uses a microscopic particle (100 times smaller than regular curcumin powder) size to enhance the curcumin absorption from the gut. Studies using Theracurmin have shown that the microscopic curcumin particles are absorbed up to and reach concentrations 300 times higher than regular powders.

How to take curcumin supplements

Theracurmin is simple and easy to use; take 1-2 capsules daily around a meal time. Because of the lack of available information, those who are pregnant or breast feeding or taking warfarin should only use curcumin based products after taking medical advise.

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50% improvement in pain-related questions by the end of the study (60 days)

NEM paper

A new study was conducted at six different clinical sites throughout Germany to evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of NEM® for the relief of the pain and discomfort associated with osteoarthritis of the knee and/or hip.

NEM® is a natural source of collagen, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid, each of which is known to support joint health. Much of the benefit with NEM® is thought to be the result of its nutrients boosting the production of critical joint molecules.

Forty-four patients were treated with a daily dosage of 500 mg of NEM®. Clinic visits were scheduled for subjects at study initiation and at 60 days following the onset of treatment. Statistical analysis revealed that supplementation with NEM® produced a significant pain relieving effect within 10 days. On average, nearly 1/4th of the subjects experienced a 30% improvement in pain-related questions within 10 days and almost 20% of the study population experienced a 50% improvement in pain-related questions by the end of the study (60 days). Significant improvement for stiffness was noted at 30 and 60 days after treatment.

An indication of the pain relieving effect of NEM was a drop in analgesic use. For the 30 days prior to study commencement, patients consumed on average 7 doses of acetaminophen. Analgesic use had dropped considerably to 2.43 doses per 30 days after 30 days of supplementation with NEM®.

No side effects were noted with NEM®.

Product link: NEM® capsules

Study link: NEM Brand Eggshell Membrane Effective in the Treatment of Pain Associated with Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis: Results from a Six Center, Open Label German Clinical Study. 2014

Naturopathic Physician, Dr Michael Murray comments on osteoarthritis: What is osteoarthritis?

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Regulate the bowel and the body will follow

When considering digestive health its interesting to note that for as long as medical writings have been in existence the concept of ‘health starting in the colon’ has always been around. We know that a healthy bowel (colon) is essential for a healthy body but we do expose our gut to a daily barrage of potentially damaging toxins and harmful organisms. In a way, its testament to the effectiveness of gut and its immune system that we are all not ill on a daily basis but we all could do a lot to help this system along and reduce some of the detoxification burden. Its worth considering that an over-burdened intestinal tract is often the trigger for a flare of IBS which in turn can have wider implications on the healthy functioning of the immune system and any background inflammatory conditions that may co-exist. Bowel ‘toxicity’ can be related to poorly digested foods that decay in the colon. This process inevitably aggravates the delicate balance of bowel microbes and can shift the digestive process to one of breakdown too fermentation. Over time, the absorption of nutrients can be impaired and the overgrowth of opportunistic gut organisms such as Candida albicans can occur.

In order to help this process reverse and stimulate healthy digestion over the more unhealthy fermentation process digestive enzymes can be used with great effect. For example, when polysaccharides (the starchy or fibrous part of vegetables) enter the digestive system and are not correctly processed they arrive in the lower bowel (colon) where bacteria and other fermentation orientated organisms set about generating gas as an end product of their actions. Abdominal bloating, colicky cramps and upset bowel actions can be a direct result of this process. Using a specific enzyme that splits up the indigestible type of polysaccharide that is found in dietary fibre, for example, will help reduce the amount reaching the lower bowel and ease the IBS symptoms. These enzymes are known as hemicellulase and cellulase. What makes the story interesting is the fact that the human gut does not make any cellulase which is the reason why cellulose (plant fiber) based foods, although being ‘healthy’ do not digest well in some people. However, certain bacteria within the human bowel actually produce the enzyme known as hemicellulase. Bowel toxicity is a common environmental change that can damage these bacteria to a point where the enzyme is almost absent within the bowel. This, along with other digestive issues can be viewed as another contributing factor causing an aggravation of IBS symptoms.

In addition to the fiber splitting enzymes another specialist ingredient, also an enzyme, can help prevent the inevitable Candida overgrowth that accompanies a toxic colon. Known as chitosanase, the enzyme specifically breaks down chitin, a key structural component that forms the cell wall of fungi and years including Candida. By punching holes in the cell wall chitosanase and other enzymes may effectively digest and eliminate these organisms. Enzyme actions can also go further than the digestive process by beneficially influencing the inflammatory reaction that can occur within the body. A protein splitting enzyme called Peptizyme SP (serratia peptidase) can exert a powerful anti-inflammatory effect that not only eases digestive inflammation but can ease the inflammation related to arthritis and even some skin inflammations such as acne and rosacea.

Supporting enzymes also play an important part in overall digestive efficiency. Adequate levels of fat splitting enzymes (lipase) are required to help process even the small amount of fat found in the leanest of meats. If you are a vegetarian the oils found in nuts and dressings (eg olive) may be healthier options but still require lipase to digest them effectively. Proteins commonly accompany fats in a meal so the need for proteases (protein splitting enzymes) along with sugar splitting enzymes (amylase) is important in a balanced enzyme supplement.

Most enzyme preparations are considered safe to use but following the manufacturers instructions is important since potency and blends will change from brand to brand. Colon ClenZyme (from the Canadian manufacture Natural Factors) contains all the key enzyme ingredients mentioned above; hemicellulase, cellulase, chitosanase, Peptizyme SP along with amaylase, lipase and protease. The vegetarian capsules can be taken with meals or opened so that those who find swallowing capsules difficult can sprinkle the enzyme powder on their food. Adjusting the level of enzyme needed can be quite a personal thing. Starting off with 1 capsule with small-medium sized meals would be a start. This can be increased to 2 capsules if needed or if the meal is larger. Enzymes only have an action for that meal. Once they have passed through the digestive tract they are naturally broken down and eliminated, they do not accumulate over repeated use. Unless otherwise stated, enzyme supplements are suitable for daily and long term use.

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Don’t lose your hair

by Marcus Webb

 

Out of 1000 women surveyed, 33% reported to suffer from noticeable hair loss, that’s around one in three. We tend to take hair for granted but when it starts falling out who do you turn to for help?

It’s interesting how we can be unaware that our hair can be saying a lot about us simply by how we choose to style it. Hair is often a good predictor of our self-image and chosen lifestyle. Hair that is cut short and carefully styled may reflect a hidden artistic personality while hair that required regular cuts, colouring and maintenance suggests that the person cared deeply about their appearance which in turn could signify inner insecurities. More radical hair styles and colours also indicate an artistic aspect to the persons personality combined with more adventurous, rebellious tendencies sometimes spiced with a desire to taunt authority figures such as parents or employers. Hair has always been an important statement of health and status so when we start loosing our hair deep set worries besiege us; will I go bald, will it ever grow back, how can I go our in public, will my partner still love me? These are all very real anxieties and worries that those suffering hair loss face and often deal with for a long time before seeking advice.

Hair basics

Humans are all very individual and the same can be said about our hair. So many things influence hair growth ranging from ethnic differences and genetics through to less well-understood influences like stress and even seasonal changes. When we look at the effects of ethnic differences its becomes clear that the three major geographical origins (Asian, Caucasian and African) all reflect variations in hair type, growth and character. For example, African hair is known to be more fragile than Asian or Caucasian, probably because of the thin ribbon-like cross sectional structure of the follicle that underlies the more tightly curled appearance of this hair type. African hair typically needs careful maintenance to avoid unnecessary damage and premature loss.

As in so many aspects of our life and health genetics plays a powerful controlling part. A BBC news story in December 2009 highlighted this following the reports that scientists have been studying the genes that underlying hair greying in twin sisters. The results of the study confirm that genes do significantly influence hair greying in identical twins who share the same genes compared to non-identical twins where there are differences in the genetic code. The twins studied were aged between 59 and 81. The effects of genes on hair colour were also seen to be independent to levels or stress and type diet.

When it comes to stress the research is shakier as to the exact cause and mechanism but the reality is clear to see. Stress and hair loss go hand in hand! We know that the hair follicle is surrounded by a dense network of nerves – just try and pull one hair out and see how sensitive it is! All nerves, no matter how small, connect up with the spinal cord and all roads lead to Rome; the brain. Stress, anxiety and depression are brain centred issues that ultimately effect the nervous system in general. One known effect of stress affects the oil producing glands of the scalp known as the sebaceous glands. Hair becomes oiler when a person is stressed. Continued stress causes the hair follicle to age quicker and forces it into a ‘resting’ phase during which no more growth occurs. This may be seen as hair loss when infect its more likely to reflect a reduction in growth than an actual loss. The good news is that once the stress passes the hair follicle wakes up and starts growing again. In health, around 10% of our hair follicles are always in the ‘resting’ phase that lasts around 3 months after which new hair starts growing and the old ‘rested’ hair shaft falls out. The hair cycle, as it is known, is carefully controlled by the nerve networks at the base of the follicle along with a delicate orchestration of hormonal influences any one of which could alter the growth cycle.

The dreaded hormones…

It has been said that we are slaves to our hormones and this is very true in the case of hair growth. Even though the fundamental biology of men and women are characterised by testosterone and oestrogen respectively both sexes have biologically significant amounts of the other genders hormones to make things difficult for the hair if the levels go out of balance. This can be seen in men who need oestrogen hormone therapy for prostate cancer. In this case hair growth is boosted. In men and women however, an excessive amount of testosterone can cause problems.

Biologically active testosterone, known as dihydrotestosterone, or DHT for short, is produced by the action of a key enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase that is found in the hair follicle. The conversion of testosterone to DHT is a toxic reaction to the hair follicle which shrivels up over extended exposure to DHT and dies causing hair thinning and eventually hair loss. However, help could be at hand in the form of a herbal remedy known as saw palmetto. The way it works is simple, saw palmetto lowers levels of DHT in the body by blocking the key enzyme that fules the conversion of testosterone to DHT; 5-alpa-reductase. The other effect of saw palmetto is more direct, it appears to blocks the effects of DHT on the various DHT sensitive cells of the body. Saw palmetto has not been studies as a remedy for testosterone related hair loss but one could assume that there is compelling evidence for trying it!

The other key player in the hormonal effects on hair is the thyroid hormone known as thyroxin. As a major regulator of metabolism thyroxin deficiency slows our ‘tick-over’ and slows hair growth by forcing the follicle into an extended resting phase. Only when this hormone deficiency been corrected will the follicle wake up again. Border-line low thyroid function could be addressed with the use of certain nutrients that are known to help support the glands function before thyroid hormone replacement is needed. In essence, the thyroid needs an adequate supply of iodine, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and molybdenum along with vitamin B12 and amino-acids.

Feeding your hair

Just like any other tissue in the body your hair is active and the follicle is living and needs plenty of high quality nutrients for optimal health. Ill health, fad diet’s and generally poor eating habits will take it’s tole on hair health. The food supplement Maxi-Hair was developed to support the general nutritional requirements of hair. It’s formula boasts a range of ingredients including vitamin B6, B12, folic acid along with the trace minerals copper, manganese and selenium. However, one key nutrient that can be over looked is iron. While it is true that iron can be highly toxic it is also true that a low level of iron can have equally devastating effects of health. Iron deficient anaemia is the common association we have when talking about low levels of iron. A simple blood test soon detects this and a course of iron restores the blood so long as nothing else is underlying the problem. However, it’s important to remember that our tissues also need iron but in a different form. This form is stored iron known as ferritin. It is possible to have adequate blood iron (haemoglobin) but only at the expense of drawing on our iron stores (ferritin) to re-dress the bloods deficiency. By topping up the blood levels we tend to deplete the iron store to the point where other tissue that depend on stored iron for health and growth suffer; the hair follicle. This situation can hit women between the ages of 18-50 when their follicles are especially sensitive to ferritin deficiency. Unless a blood test is performed specifically to measure ferritin levels regular blood profiles will only measure haemoglobin. As explained above, this may be well balanced but only at the expense of a depleted ferritin store. There is nom link between low haemoglobin and hair loss unless the low haemoglobin is accompanied by a low farritin as well. In general a low ferritin level usually result from the loss of blood during menstruation, which is just enough to cause a gradual depletion of iron stores in the body. Additionally eating a diet containing little or no red meat is likely to give rise to a lower amount of available iron since the iron in vegetables is often difficult to absorb.

If you obtain a serum ferritin blood test it’s always good to do so along with a general profile covering red and white cells and hemoglobin known as a basic hematology profile. At the same time requesting a serum vitamin B12 levels is a good idea. According to a key study published in the journal Dermatologic Clinics optimal hair growth your results should look something like this; serum B12 between 300 & 1000 ng/L, hemoglobin level of 13.0g/dL or over and a serum ferritin of 70ng/mL or greater. If your ferritin needs a lift and you do not want to increase your red meat intake consider a 6-9 month course of Florisene. This supplement has been formulated specifically for ferritin deficient hair loss. It contains vitamin C, B12, iron (as ferrous glycine sulphate) and the amino acid L-lysine. Because of the dose and type of iron used Florisene is unlikely to cause gut upset.

In general, hair loss can be managed naturally and safely but there can be some underlying medical causes not discussed in this review. Professional advice is always recommended in the first instance to help you follow the right pathway and exclude other more complex causes.

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Vitamin K – a key nutrient for strong bones

Vitamin K is required for the production of the bone protein osteocalcin – a key component in the matrix of bone. Osteocalcin’s role is to anchor calcium molecules and hold them in place within the bone.

A deficiency of vitamin K leads to impaired bone health due to inadequate osteocalcin levels. Despite some studies showing that the lower the level of circulating vitamin K, the lower the bone density,more recent studies indicate that while low dietary vitamin K levels are linked to fractures due to osteoporosis, they do not appear to correlate to low BMD. Vitamin K prevents fractures probably by increasing the tensile strength of bone without affecting BMD.

Background:

Various forms of vitamin K supplements have been used in human trials examining its effects on bone health: vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), menaquinone-4 (MK4, a form of K2) and menaquinone-7 (MK7, another form of K2 ). The results with vitamin K supplementation on bone health have been mixed.

Most of the double-blind studies with vitamin K1 have shown only modest or mainly no effect on bone density and while studies with MK4 have shown positive results in reducing bone loss and fracture rates, the dosage used (45 mg/day) was well beyond a nutritional effect and more likely the positive results are due to a drug-like effect at such high dosages.

Menaquinone-7, or MK-7 (a longer-chain form of vitamin K2), is found in high concentrations in natto (a fermented soy food popular in Japan). MK-7 has been found to be more potent and more bioavailable as well as to have a longer half-life than MK4. MK-7 is also more effective than K1 in activating osteocalcin and stays in the blood circulation much longer.

New Data:

In a major clinical trial, MK-7 supplementation at relatively low dosage levels (180 mcg per day) produced tremendous effects on improving bone health. In the study, 244 healthy postmenopausal women took either the MK-7 or a placebo for 3 years. Bone mineral density of lumbar spine, total hip, and femoral neck was measured by DXA; bone strength mesures of the femoral neck were also calculated. Vertebral fracture assessment was performed by DXA and used as measure for vertebral fractures.

Product link:

Calci-D-Min: formulated for bone health and high in vitamin K1 and K2

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