Tag Archives: vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 – the story continues

Marcus Webb

Observations and comments by Marcus Webb

Vitamin B12 has always been associated with fighting fatigue and supporting nerve function. However, this complex vitamin with many biological functions that new research indicates extend beyond simple physical wellbeing.  

Vitamin B12 has an established key role is the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system as well as for the formation of healthy blood cells and is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the body. For such an essential nutrient it may come as a surprise that the human body is unable to produce its own B12 and is completely reliant on dietary sources. While some may quote authorities who state that our bowel bugs generate some vitamin B12 it has been shown that this tiny trickle is not absorbed from the colon and serves as no real nutritional source. We vitamin B12, albeit in small amounts, but we have to get it from our diet. Some key dietary sources are describe later on but in essence there is no reliable non-animal source of vitamin B12 making it very difficult for strict vegetarians or vegans to obtain significant amounts.

Interestingly, vitamin B12 was initially discovered due to its relationship with the condition pernicious anaemia. This is an autoimmune disease whereby the cells in the stomach responsible for secreting intrinsic factor (IF), which is crucial for the absorption of B12, are destroyed.

Taking vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is often used to treat nerve pain. In most cases, the reported benefit of B12 is related to the injected form of B12 in people suffering from nerve pains in relation to diabetic neuropathy or shingles pain.

There have been some news stories relating to poor B12 absorption in people taking gastric acid blocking drugs. These drugs take effect on the same cells within the stomach that produce IF. In regular users, regular tablets or capsules of B12 will not help much because the absorption of B12 has become impaired as a consequence of the drug action. This is where the suckable/chewable tablets (B12 Infusion tablets from Enzymatic Therapy) come into their own. Vitamin B12 can be effectively absorbed across the delicate membranes of the mouth in sufficient amounts to readdress any deficiency without the need for injection therapy in most cases. For those with true pernicious anaemia who need regular injections of B12 every 3 months a top-up using the B12 Infusion tablets in the month leading up to the next injection can offer a great ‘lift’ for those who notice a general low energy phase before their next injection. So long as the B12 is in the biologically active form known as methylcobalamin and in a chewable/suckable form dosing up on one tablet per day for a month or so could make all the difference to fatigue or ‘brain fog’. Even if you have not been using the acid-blocking drugs, it may be worth trying a course of sublingual B12 for a month especially if you are over 50 years old or follow a strict vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Vitamin B12

Scientific studies into the causes of fibromyalgia (FM) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are always interesting, especially when they appear to support what we notice in the clinic. In the case of vitamin B12 many FM/CFS sufferers report improved energy and overall well-being following a course of high-dose B12 supplementation over 4-6 weeks. Lending some scientific evidence to this anecdotal observation, a study carried out in Sweden back in 1997 gave support to the use of B12 in FM/CFS cases when it was shown that the fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord (the cerebrospinal fluid of CSF) was significantly lower in vitamin B12 than expected. Having such a low CSF B12 level was closely associated with increased levels of a metabolite known as homocysteine. This in turn was linked to profound symptoms of fatigue. The study concluded that these findings were probably contributing to the FM/CFS in their study group. Sadly, since then, little work has been performed in this area of vitamin B12 research but a team from Kings College did provide preliminary evidence of reduced functional B vitamin status in CFS patients. It’s not often practical to perform routine blood testing for B-vitamin status in cases of FM/CFS let alone sampling of the CSF, but in the holistic management of this complex spectrum of disorders, a trial of vitamin B12 or a good vitamin B complex often yields impressive results and is well worth considering.

Product link: BioActive B12 infusion 1000mcg vitamin B12 in the sublingual methylcobalamin form

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Hair today… gone tomorrow

Did you know that 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 hormone effect…

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. We covered the issue of border-line thyroid deficiency in a previous blog post entitled; The Missing Link in Low Energy.  In essence, the thyroid needs an adequate supply of iodine, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese and molybdenum along with vitamin B12 and amino-acids. These are all found in a food supplement called Thyroid and Tyrosine Complex, Metabolic Advantage. It is true that a good diet should deliver all these nutrients but sometimes even the best diet can benefit from a boost up for a few months.

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 MaxiHair 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.

Treatment link

Trichology service at Hadley Wood Healthcare

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B vitamins slow brain atrophy in people with memory problems

B-vitamins delay Alzheimers disease… this is the latest study to hit the headlines. The work was performed at the University of Oxford where the lead resarcher, Prof Smith, commented that “This is a very striking, dramatic result. It’s much more than we could have predicted.
Support for this work is reflected with comments such as those from Paul Matthews, Professor of Clinical Neurology, Imperial College, London who said: “This well-conducted study adds substantial new data to previous information suggesting that dietary B vitamins could have beneficial effects on neurodegeneration with ageing.
The study demonstrated that, on average, taking B vitamins slowed the rate of brain atrophy by 30%, and in many cases reductions was as high as 53% were seen. Prof Smith proposes that the treatment with B vitamins lowers homocysteine. Lower homocysteine reduces brain shrinkage and that is associated with a reduced cognitive decline.
The does of B vitamins in the study were;
  • Viramin B6 20mg
  • Vitamin B9 (folate) 800mcg (0.8mg)
  • Vitamin B12 500mcg (0.5mg)
In some papers, folate was described as vitamin B9. This notation is not commonly displayed on vitamin labels but vitamin B9 = folate!
Further Reading
Product Link
  • Energy B-Complex (1 capsule a day supplies all the levels listed in the study)

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Managing Mouth Ulcers.

Mouth ulcers are painful and inconveniencing lesions in the mouth. They are fairly common with evidence suggesting 75% of the population will suffer from mouth ulcers at some stage in their life.
Mouth ulcers are small cuts or lesions. The top layer of the skin inside the mouth is removed to reveal the sensitive nerve endings. The exposure of the nerves is what makes mouth ulcers so painful. Mouth ulcers are made worse by food and bacteria which can infect the sore and increase the size and duration of the mouth ulcer. Aloclair stops this from happening by forming a strong and protective barrier over the ulcer.
Aloclair has a unique non stinging, soothing action which relieves the pain of mouth ulcers within minutes and lasts for up to 6 hours.
Mouth ulcers occur when a trauma removes the top layer of skin. This exposes the nerve endings causing pain and discomfort.
Aloclair works by forming an invisible barrier over the ulcer which covers up and protects the exposed nerve endings. (The barrier can’t be felt once it is applied.)
Aloclair is available in three forms – an easy to use mouthwash, a handy spray and a NEW gel – all easy and quick to apply. There is no need to use fingers or applicators, which means no mess and no germs!
Move the cursor over the pictures to find out more or click here to view the instructions as text only.
Suitable for use in adults, children and babies. Aloclair is safe if swallowed and has a very mild liquorice flavour. Aloclair will not have any effect on other medication you may be taking.
Could your toothpaste be causing mouth ulcers?
If you are a sufferer of mouth ulcers you’ll know how painful and inconveniencing they are. But what if your toothpaste that you use twice a day, everyday was causing these ulcers?
The majority of toothpastes contain an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), in fact a large proportion of all cosmetic and personal care products contain this ingredient. SLS is an inexpensive, abrasive detergent used to enhance the foaming properties of products which allows for better distribution whilst washing and brushing teeth.
There are mixed thoughts on the effects of SLS. The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) state that belief in the carcinogenic properties of SLS is urban legend yet the Environmental Working Group have found SLS and SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulphate) to contain 1-4 dioxane which the US Environmental Protection Agency consider to be a probable carcinogen! As they say in America… “go figure”
It is well known that SLS removes moisture from the top layers of skin drying it out and causing flare ups of dermatitis, acne, eczema, psoriasis etc in people prone to these conditions. But what is its effect in the continually ‘wet’ area of the mouth and what does it mean for mouth ulcer sufferers? A Norwegian study looked at the effect of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and recurrent aphthous ulcers and has published evidence to support a link between the use of toothpaste with SLS and the incidence of mouth ulcers.
The study took recurrent aphthous ulcer sufferers and monitored the number of ulcers experienced over a 3 month period when using a toothpaste containing SLS. The patients had a 1 week washout period before changing to a toothpaste without SLS and monitoring the number of ulcers for a further 3 months.
The results showed almost 3 times the number of ulcers occurred when using a toothpaste containing sodium lauryl sulphate. But why does this happen? The study suggests that the SLS in toothpaste has a destructive effect on the lining of the mouth. It removes the surface cells by destroying the protein in the cell membrane and exposes the more sensitive underlying layer. The incidence of ulcers then increases as the inside of the mouth becomes more easily damaged.
So if you are a sufferer of regular mouth ulcers it could be due to Sodium Lauryl Sulphate in your toothpaste. Aloclair will help heal and relieve the pain of any ulcers you do get.

Managing Mouth Ulcers.
Mouth ulcers are painful and inconveniencing lesions in the mouth.They are fairly common with evidence suggesting 75% of the population will suffer from mouth ulcers at some stage in their life.
Mouth ulcers are small cuts or lesions. The top layer of the skin inside the mouth is removed to reveal the sensitive nerve endings. The exposure of the nerves is what makes mouth ulcers so painful. Mouth ulcers are made worse by food and bacteria which can infect the sore and increase the size and duration of the mouth ulcer. Aloclair stops this from happening by forming a strong and protective barrier over the ulcer.
Aloclair has a unique non stinging, soothing action which relieves the pain of mouth ulcers within minutes and lasts for up to 6 hours.
Mouth ulcers occur when a trauma removes the top layer of skin. This exposes the nerve endings causing pain and discomfort.
Aloclair works by forming an invisible barrier over the ulcer which covers up and protects the exposed nerve endings. (The barrier can’t be felt once it is applied.)
Aloclair is available in three forms – an easy to use mouthwash, a handy spray and a NEW gel – all easy and quick to apply. There is no need to use fingers or applicators, which means no mess and no germs!
Move the cursor over the pictures to find out more or click here to view the instructions as text only.
Suitable for use in adults, children and babies. Aloclair is safe if swallowed and has a very mild liquorice flavour. Aloclair will not have any effect on other medication you may be taking and will help heal and relieve the pain of any ulcers you do get.

April 16th blog post discussed the potential therapeutic power of vitamin B12 in combating recurrent mouth ulcers. The data from the American study does indicate that a 1,000 mcg daily dose of B12 helps prevent and speeds the recovery. It’s worth a thought combining Aloclair therapy if and when they occur with a daily dose of B12. However, feel free to post your comments and suggestions.

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Recurrent mouth ulcers and vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 treatment, which is simple, inexpensive, and low-risk, seems to be effective for patients suffering from recurrent mouth ulcers,(aka: aphthous stomatitis or RAS for short), regardless of the serum vitamin B12 level.

According to lead researcher Dr. Ilia Volkov, “the frequency of RAS is as much as 25 percent in the general population, however, until now, there has been no optimal therapeutic approach.”

Dr.Volkov is a primary care physician in the Clalit Health Services and lecturer in Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Family Medicine in its Faculty of Health Sciences.

The researchers tested the effect of vitamin B12 on 58 randomly selected RAS patients who received either a dose of 1,000 mcg of B12 by mouth at bedtime or a placebo, and were tested monthly for six months. Approximately three quarters (74 percent) of the patients of the treated group and only a third (32 percent) of the control group achieved remission at the end of the study.

Recurrent aphthous stomatitis is a common phenomenon in Primary Medicine. Frequency of the phenomenon can be as high as 25% of the general population and the recurrence of the problem can be up to 50%. Different approaches for treatment are described: treatment with various natural vitamins, local ointments , disinfectant agents for local treatment , local antibiotic ointments , NSAID, local cortisone-steroids , and even medication on the basis of immune-depressants of the immune system and systematic steroids .

According to the research, “The average outbreak duration and the average number of ulcers per month decreased in both groups during the first four months of the trial. However, the duration of outbreaks, the number of ulcers, and the level of pain were reduced significantly at five and six months of treatment with vitamin B12, regardless of initial vitamin B12 levels in the blood. During the last month of treatment a significant number of participants in the intervention group reached ‘no aphthous ulcers status’ (74.1% vs 32.0%; P < .01).”

The treated patients expressed greater comfort, reported less pain, fewer ulcers, and shorter outbreaks during the six months while among the control group the average pain level decreased during the first half of the period but increased during the second half.

I can get you a copy of the original paper, for personal use, if you email me at Hadley Wood.

For those wishing to try the B12 supplement please see this link for a 1000 mcg supplement.

Interestingly, vitamin B12 is currently undergoing clinical trials in then US. The study is following the classic double blind placebo controlled approach using the 1000 mcg dose of B12 reported in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine article outlined above.

Anyone who has used B12 for mouth ulcers please leave a note below regarding your experiences…

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Feeding your Brain

Food, Mood, the Brain and Beyond
“We used to think our future was in the stars. Now we know it’s in our genes”
James Watson Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of DNA

There is growing evidence that eating the correct diet may help prevent many disorders of the mind such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, dementia and autism but just how powerful is our diet compared to our genetic constitution? Viewed another way, maybe we should be considering the combined power of our genetic make up and diet since genes for certain disorders may only express themselves in special situations. For example, I think many psychiatrists agree that certain people have addictive personalities. In the presence of excess alcohol the gene expresses itself and the person becomes an alcoholic. What is interesting is the fact that most reformed alcoholics often turn to another addiction such as smoking or eating to fill the gap in their lives. Those who win through and turn their backs on destructive addictions may find themselves following strict religious or work-based pursuits. Just as humans can become addicted to alcohol so to can they become addicted to drugs. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests our genetics are at the root of these evils.

Studies of brains from alcohol addicts show that they have fewer dopamine receptors than non-alcoholics; maybe this was genetically determined. Genes have also been implicated in smokers. In one study of 283 smokers over one third had an unusual gene that was not present in non-smokers. The gene, named D-2, was also found to be responsible for the low number of dopamine receptors discovered in the brains of alcoholics. Now we can start to see a strong genetic link developing between the two addictive personalities. With one gene defect we can see two very different addictive behaviours and potential life style and health outcomes. Our addicts may be viewed as “medicating” themselves since both alcohol and smoking will elevate the dopamine levels (by blocking its re-uptake) and stimulate the pleasure centres deep within the brain. So to will certain foods such as carbohydrates since the release of another happy hormone, serotonin occurs.

When it comes to a discussion on diet and health the human brain must feel a bit left out. We are all aware that certain foods and vitamins feed our skin, a low animal fat diet is good for the heart, drinking plenty of water helps our kidneys and our bones benefit from extra calcium whilst the joints often feel better for a oiling up with a daily dose of cod liver oil. What about our brains – they have very special needs but how many of us give this amazing structure a second thought?

Compared to the lightweight brain our closest ancestors, the monkeys, which weigh about 105 grams the average human brain weighs in at a colossal 1350 grams. From a developmental point of view it is the first tissue to develop, at about 16 days after conception. Eating well is vital if you are trying to conceive since you may not be aware that you are pregnant by the time your babies brain has started to develop!

Even though the adult brain forms only 2% of our body weight it receives over 15% of the blood pumped from the heart and consumes well over 20% of the total body oxygen and glucose used each day. Such a high blood supply and fuel consumption shows how essential fresh supplies of brain food are for healthy brain function. However, don’t forget that the feeding of a healthy brain starts before birth!

It has been said that the seeds of good adult health are sown before conception, during pregnancy and during infancy. The seeds of health being the specific nutrients contained in our daily diet. It has been recently been discovered that certain oils (belonging to the fat family known as “omega-3’s”) are essential for the normal development of the brain and nervous system during pregnancy. This reliance on the omega-3 fats continues for the first couple of years of life. One specific member of this fat family known as docosahexaenoic acid or DHA for short, has the ability to stimulate the growth of the retina (the light sensitive inner part of the eye) and the brain itself. DHA can, therefore, be considered to be a specific brain nutrient. Apart from the brain DHA plays an important function in the correct functioning of the immune system.

The developing baby is reliant on it’s mother for an adequate DHA supply. Dietary intake accounts for the majority of DHA used by the baby and obtained through the placenta and later on in the breast milk. Many formula milk are very low in DHA. In fact the fat content of most formula feeds are based in commercially processed oils which contain high levels of potentially damaging fats known as “trans fatty acids”. It has been estimated that breast milk contains over 30% more DHA than formula feeds; breast is always best!

Just take a trip around any supermarket and you will be confronted with an enormous and ever-growing variety of low-fat or fat-free food products. These foods are being aimed at our obsession with low fat diets promoted by the media. With our ever growing knowledge about the importance of essential fatty acids it is questionable if this new style of eating is the healthy option it is made out to be. However, this is not an invitation to throw caution to the wind and pig out fatty foods. I would still advise moderation in animal (saturated) fats while increasing oily fish, and foods high in monounsaturated fats – the good fats!

The shift in modern eating habits is causing serious concerns regarding the growing followers of the low-fat culture. This diet trend is causing a drop in the essential fatty acid intake in the general population. Most worrying is the potential adverse effects this may have on mothers to be and their babies developing nervous system.

Recently, an item of news announced the fact that the brains of pregnant women shrank over the cause of their pregnancy. The study was carried out at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. The scientists were investigating the causes of pregnancy related blood pressure problems when they stumbled across the unexpected finding showing that the brains of the women they were studying were shrinking. The investigating team discovered that the mothers were deficient in essential fatty acids that were needed by the developing babies brain and nervous system. Such was the demand that the stores contained in the mothers brain were mobilised into the general circulation for delivery to the developing baby. The adult brain is a rich reserve pool of these special fats. Happily, however, the brains returned to normal after 6 – 10 months but the fact remains that the reserve pool was tapped into demonstrating the absolute necessity for these fatty acids.

It is common knowledge that folic acid is essential for the healthy formation of the nervous system. Most pregnant mothers are now given tablets of 400 mcg folic acid to prevent spina bifida, but what about oil supplements?

Deficiencies of the omega 3 family can lead to learning difficulties because of their importance in the development of the nervous system but because learning and behavioural problems are only normally noticed some years after birth and are not life threatening, unlike spina bifida, it has not prompted much attention. There is a popular misconception that fats act as nothing more than storage systems for energy or as packing material. Only recently has it become acknowledged that fats have a very significant role in the metabolism and development of the body. There is a clear need for a greater understanding of the role of fatty acid metabolism in the maintenance of cell membrane health. There is evidence accumulating that any dietary programme aimed at helping an autistic child should involve a balance of both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids rather than gross overloading of one form . Evening Primrose Oil consists largely of Gamma Linolenic Acid, an Omega 6 acid. There are other, richer sources of Gamma Linolenic Acid, such as Borage (Star Flower) Oil but it is claimed that this is less well tolerated than the oil from Evening Primrose. Fish oils such as Cod liver oil have the added advantage of including supplementary Vitamin A, which is likely to be, is short supply in people with autism.

Flax seed oil is a rich source of Omega 3 acids. A daily dose of flaxseed oil will re-balance the situation. Taken at a dose of 1 – 2 grams a day it will provide all the necessary fatty acids needed for health. Flaxseed oil is a richer supply of omega 3’s than fish oil, almost twice as concentrated in fact. From the high content of linolenic acid contained in flax oil the body can make all the DHA it needs.

The adult brain is not a static structure. Our ideas about the brain have changed since the early days of neurology and its plasticity (the ability to change and adapt to different situations) has now been appreciated.

The chemical environment of the brain is all important. Even minor nutritional deficiencies can major implications on healthy brain function. It has been noted that symptoms of dementia can occur long before the levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid are shown to be low in blood tests. The findings of vitamin B12 deficiency is not uncommon in Alzheimer’s disease further supporting the importance for a good nutritional balance. Unfortunately by the time symptoms start to be noticed supplementation may come too late. A long term minor deficiency has been suggested to cause slow and irreversible changes in the nervous tissue that is unresponsive to corrective supplementation.

As with many nutritional substances there is a good deal of interaction between the food chemicals that enter the brain. Vitamin C, for example, plays an essential part in the healthy actions of another important brain food, the amino acid known as phenylalanine. Phenylalanine works to produce nerve transmitting substances (called neurotransmitters) which regulate the electrical activity of the brain.

Neurotransmitters are responsible for an elevated and positive mood, alertness and mental well being, a lack causes many brain disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

As well as vitamin C the mineral zinc has a part to play in mental health. It has been noticed that many people suffering from irritability, nervousness and anxiety have higher than normal levels of copper circulating in their bodies. Copper and zinc have an interesting relationship in that a deficiency of zinc causes an excess of copper to accumulate. Supplementing your diet with zinc can help re-balance the situation but care must be taken to avoid taking too much zinc which will cause a copper deficiency! It is best to take professional advice before taking large doses of zinc but a 15mg daily dose is considered quite safe for general uses.

Zinc has been studied in great detail and a team at the University of Michigan has shown a significant relationship between high academic grades and high zinc levels. Zinc deficiency is prevalent in our society mainly because of poor soil quality, food processing and bad cooking techniques.
Just like a fire an epileptic fit starts with a single spark, but the spark in this case is an abnormal brain impulse. The neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyrate acid or GABA for short plays a key role in controlling brain impulses. GABA is the most prevalent transmitter substance in the brain and has many functions, the most important of which is a calming effect over the nervous system.

The brain of epileptics, hyperactive children, insomniacs, cerebral palsy sufferers, hypertensives, anxiety sufferers and those with learning problems, anti-social behaviour and mental retardation all benefit from elevating the GABA levels. GABA has no serious side effects even in doses of up to 40 grams (the normal dose ranges from 250 mcg – 1,000 mcg daily).

It is interesting to note that zinc again makes an appearance in the natural treatment of epilepsy. Zinc is needed for the production of GABA, along with another amino acid called glutamic acid. Numerous experiments have shown that a zinc deficient diet aggravates epilepsy and causes more frequent fits and seizures.

So far it can be seen that we need adequate zinc, glutamic acid and vitamin C for the correct balanced production of neurotransmitters but the list does not stop there. Vitamin B6 acts as a special co-factor and helps convert the glutamic acid into GABA. If this vitamin is low in the diet, despite of adequate amounts of zinc, vitamin C and glutamic acid, the reactions will not occur and GABA levels will fall.

The major structural fats found in the brain are called phospholipids. One particular phospholipid known as phosphatidylserine appears to be important in the control of mood and mood related problems. Normally this substance is produced naturally in the brain but in individuals who have deficiencies of vitamin B12, folic acid and other essential fatty acids the production of phosphatidylserine is dramatically reduced. Low levels are often found in the brains of elderly subjects but it’s concentration in younger people may be directly related to depressive mood states.

The primary use of phosphatidylserine in nutritional medicine is in the treatment of depression and impaired mental function in the elderly. Very good results have been obtained in a number of studies. Supplementing the diet with phosphatidylserine appears to improve neurotransmitter release (especially acetylcholine), memory and age related changes.

How phosphatidylserine aids in the treatment of depression is unknown. It does not affect serotonin levels like classic antidepressants nor does it interfere with other neurotransmitters. Phosphatidylserine does, however, improve the quality of brain cell membranes and helps control the levels of cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal glands which has been found to be elevated in depressed subjects.

All in all, there is much evidence to suggest that the brain needs specific nutrients and it responds very well to corrective supplements. Feeding your brain well will make sure that it functions optimally and guarantees that long term deficiency symptoms do not occur. Such symptoms are so slow in developing that they are often written off as being age related changes for which nothing can be done. This is just not satisfactory when prevention is so easily achieved by a knowledge of what to feed your brain with.

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Burning Feet Syndrome

Burning Feet

During my last BBC Cornwall phone-in on Sunday 20th July a lady called complaining of burning feet. This is not an uncommon problem and plagues many people, especially those 50 and over. Sadly, its not a condition that is managed very well.
It is important to remember that burning feet may be the only symptom of a more complex underlying cause and should not be ignored. Among the many causes undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes is one of the commonest causes. In this case the pain is due to a nerve condition known as a peripheral neuropathy. I would urge all burning feet sufferers to get a simple blood glucose check – may pharmacies can perform this while you wait.
Below are a few more causes of burning feet;
• Fungal foot infections
• Poorly fitting shoes
• Vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anaemia)
• Circulatory problems
• Chronic smoking or alcohol use
• Organ disease; kidney or liver
• Glandular problems; thyroid
For most the most common symptom is a burning or stinging pain in the feet that is sometimes accompanied by redness and occasionally swelling.
Studies into burning feet have revealed some interesting findings. In cases of diabetic nerve damage the pain appears to come not only from the nerve problem itself but also from the reduced circulation that accompanies it.

This image to the left (image credit: NASA) clearly shows the cold foot (dark colours) detected by thermography. As you are looking at the picture, its the foot on the left (the patients right foot) that is dark, almost black in colour. This indicates a region of low temperature. Compare this to the other foot and you will see the difference. The reduced circulation appears to be closely associated with the nerve damage. Because nerve pain (neuropathic pain) is such a problem research has been focused on this subject for many years. Not only is neuropathic pain is one of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat and relief is often unsatisfactory or short-term. Since medical treatment options are limited, doctors often prescribe a combination of therapies in an attempt to relieve symptoms. It can be associated with many conditions including Multiple Sclerosis (MS), stroke, cancer, spinal cord injury, physical trauma, post-herpetic neuralgia (shingles), and peripheral neuropathy resulting from diabetes. To read about some interesting clinical trials being performed click here.
Treatment options
Because the nerve pain is perceived in the brain but the circulatory aspect is affecting the foot itself we need to focus attention both centrally and locally. The diagram to the right shows how it all connects.

The foot nerves are connected via the spinal cord to the brain where the messages are converted into the feeling of pain. Our brain then “maps” this feeling of pain to the region where the signals are coming from – the foot. Hence we feel pain in the foot but perceive it in the brain!
I have found that a cream called Alikeine Red offers great relief from the local circulatory aspect of the burning foot syndrome. Not only does it keep the skin healthy and supple but it can help balance the circulation.
From the vitamin point of view I tend to recommend a months course of vitamin B12 in the biologically active form known as methylcobalamin and taken as a suckable tablet rather than a simple tablet or capsule that is swallowed. The suckable form allows the B12 to be absorbed through the mouth membranes. This is a good way to get it into your system especially it absorption from the stomach is in question.
For those who are not on blood thinning drugs an additional boost to the peripheral circulation can be obtained using the combination of Ginkgo (80mg twice a day withn food) and vitamin E 400iu (1 capsule per day with food) I have also had some success using electroacupuncture. This is defiantly worth a try and may help “re-set” the level of central (brain) sensitivity which in turn can ease some of the nerve pain symptoms.

Further reading
The Neuropathy Trust, a worldwide Charity (1071228) that was founded in 1998 by Andrew Keen to provide a lifeline to people affected by Peripheral Neuropathy (PN) and Neuropathic Pain (NeP).
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Journal abstract regarding Vitamin E being effective in chemotherapy induced neuropathy

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