Monthly Archives: February 2012

Vitamin-D – All you need to know

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the intestine and is crucial to the development and maintenance of sturdy bones. It is also required for healthy nerve and muscle function, a strong immune system and successful cellular growth, repair and differentiation.

The body is able to manufacture Vitamin D through a complex pathway. Initially, a non-active version called calciferol is produced in the skin on stimulation by ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Calciferol is then altered first in the liver and then in the kidneys to its potent form called 1, 25 dihyroxyvitamin-D or Vitamin D3. It is this molecule that acts on cells to exert its effect. Continue reading

Help for Seasonal Allergies

Atchoo! Sneezing, runny eyes and rashes, otherwise known as allergies are “over-reactions” of the immune system. Most symptoms result from the direct stimulation of mast cells, located in tissues throughout the body including the skin, lungs and eyes. When an allergen, such as dust or pollen, attaches itself to a mast cell, it stimulates the cell to release histamine, a chemical that causes those unpleasant allergy symptoms.

There are several supplements that can help. Bioflavinoids, such as quercitin, decrease the sensitivity of mast cells, making them less likely to secrete histamine in the presence of an allergen. Stinging Nettle and bromelain, possess natural decongestant properties to help decrease stuffiness without drying up the nasal passages or skin.

Changing your diet to avoid foods such as strawberries, peanuts and shellfish, which stimulate additional histamine release in everyone, may also be helpful.

Decreasing your exposure to airborn irritants like dust and moulds is equally important. Always keep pillows and sheets clean, use an air purifier, and maintain a balanced humidity level in the house.

With these small changes you can greatly reduce allergic reactions and enjoy a healthy, normal lifestyle.

Summer Skin Care

Summer is just around the corner and most of us are more than ready to shed the hats, gloves and coats and trade them for tank tops and running shorts. Although the heat is a welcome relief after several months of hibernation, it does bring with it a number of potential insults to our skin. This is particularly true for athlete who not only spends more time outside, but also wears less protective clothing and may rapidly sweat off sun-screen.

Skin Basics
The skin is the largest organ in the body by weight and surface area. In fact, the skin comprises 16% of the total body weight of an average adult, this being equal to 1.5 to 2 meters of skin. That is a lot of skin to expose to the sun!!!

The purpose of the skin is to separate the body’s internal world from the external environment, including bacteria, dirt and inflammatory insults such as free radicals, molecules that can damage and mutate the DNA within our cells. The skin also provides a barrier to prevent of dehydration and helps to regulate body temperature.

The skin consists of three main layers. The epidermis, which comprises the layers directly exposed to the environment. Here cells continually divide, mature and migrate to the surface where they die leaving a tough, protective topcoat. Below this is the dermis, rich in collagen and elastin to provide strength and flexibility and finally the hypodermis, containing fatty tissue for shock absorption and insulation.

UV Basics
There are two main summer factors that cause damage to the skin. By far the most important is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, but dehydration can also be detrimental.

Types of UV Radiation

  • UVA Originally thought to have only a minor effect on the skin, UVA is now thought to be a major contributor to skin damage. It penetrates deeper than UVB and its intensity is more constant during the day. It is not filtered by plain glass.
  • UVB Affects the outer layers of the skin and is the primary cause of sunburn. Intensity is highest during the summer and between 10am and 2pm. It is filtered by plain glass.
  • UVC Absorbed by the ozone layer and does not affect skin.

UV Skin Damage
UVA and UVB damage the skin resulting in wrinkles, aging, skin cancers and reduced immunity. UV radiation bombards the oxygen atoms in skin cells resulting in the loss of an electro and creating a very unstable reactive oxygen species (ROS). The ROS attempts to regain its electrical balance by stealing one or more electrons from neighboring atoms, which creates another electron deficient atom that then steals from another. The result is a chain reaction in which atoms are changing their structures and forming bonds that would not otherwise occur. The net effect of this chaos is damage to cell DNA with potential to cause cancer, degradation of collagen and elastin molecules and the activation of enzymes that break down collagen, leading to aging and wrinkles.

UV radiation damages collagen and elastin through a process called glycation, which involves the attachment of glucose and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) to these long chain protein molecules. The resultant Advanced Glycosylation Endpoints (AGE’s) are highly reactive and induce collagen cross-linking, an irreversible process responsible for deep wrinkles. AGE’s are a universal feature of aging and one of the leading causes of inflammation in the skin, lungs, blood vessels and organs.

Finally, UV radiation induces the release of chemicals that impair the ability of immune cells in the dermis to function, increasing susceptibility to infection and cancer. There is also evidence that it prevents severely damaged cells from dying (a process called apoptosis), allowing them to continue to divide with potential for cancerous change.

Dehydration not only affects the skin’s appearance in the short term. Prolonged periods with inadequate fluid intake may affect the quality of the matrix that maintains elasticity and smoothness in the lower skin layers.

Protect Your Skin!
First of all, dress appropriately. Wear a hat such as a baseball cap, long-sleeved, breathable tops (especially those that provide UV protection) and sunglasses. Use a good quality sunscreen that limits the absorption of both UVA and UVB. Ensure that it is waterproof and sweat proof. If you sweat excessively, and tend to wipe your face and skin during your sport, bring a small amount of sunscreen with you to reapply during training.

Keep well hydrated at all times. Take water with you and remember to adjust your intake dependant on weather and training intensity. Most athletes drink far too little to replace their losses!

Excess sugar in the blood increase formation of damaging AGE’s, so maintain a stable blood sugar level throughout the day by combining protein with your carbohydrates at every meal and reduce the ingestion of simple carbohydrates. Adequate protein is also required to help rebuild skin and other tissues and may need to be increased with vigorous training. Proline, glycine and lysine are amino acids (break down products of protein) that are essential, in a specific ratio, for the production of new cells and collagen in the skin, essential in building strength and resistance to prevent damage from environmental elements.

Natural Supplements
Hyaluronic acid (HA), used topically or taken internally in supplement form is vital to the health of our skin. HA is one of the main building blocks of the matrix that fills the collagen/elastin framework – think of the matrix as the cement and collagen as the reinforcing rods in a new building. The matrix holds water, essential for fullness and elasticity and vital for the transport of nutrients. In addition, HA prevents collagen breakdown and stimulates immunity.

Anti-oxidants such as R-alpha Lipoic Acid, CoQ10 and vitamin C protects the skin, as well as increasing oxygen delivery throughout the body and reducing levels of inflammation. R-alpha lipioic acid is an anti-oxidant that decreases the production of inflammatory immune cytokines known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukins (IL’s) that also degrade collagen in the skin upon UV or free radical contact. In addition, R-alpha lipoic acid decreases glycation and the formation of UV-induced AGE’s.

CoQ10 protects the outside membrane barrier of every cell, maintaining its strength and integrity and helping fight damaging free radicals. It is also essential for the efficient formation of energy within mitochondria (the cell’s “powerhouses”).

Finally, vitamin-C is required to stimulate the enzymes that convert immature pro-collagen into collagen. Thus it is essential in the formation and maintenance of cells and matrix. A severe deficiency results in scurvy!

These are several easy ways to protect your skin from the elements when exercising outdoors. These suggestions can reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, minimize the onset and development of wrinkles and maintain that healthy glow to your skin. Remember that the skin is a protective barrier to your tissues inside. If you weaken this barrier, you can allow further damage, inflammation and increase the onset of disease. So you don’t have to shy away from that glorious feeling of sun on your skin, just protect your body first!

Pomegranate – anti-oxidant and more

In ancient times pomegranate fruit was regarded as a symbol of fertility, primarily due to its round, voluptuous shape bursting with ripe seeds. However, due to the myriad of health benefits it offers, this exotic fruit is now the centre of attention within the medical community.

The name “pomegranate” comes from the Latin, “pommum” meaning “apple” and “granatum” meaning “seeded”, in reference to its shape and content of multiple sweet seeds. The fruit is native to the middle-east, growing in regions ranging from Iran to the Himalayas and cultivated extensively throughout the Mediterranean.

Pomegranate provides an excellent source of antioxidants, chemicals which neutralize destructive free radicals in the body. Free radicals form during the body’s normal metabolic processes, such as converting food into energy, or the destruction of a virus, but are greatly elevated in smoking, obesity, poor diet and stress. Research has linked free radical oxidation to many degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and alzheimers. Each pomegranate seed is surrounded by a juicy pulp rich in potassium, vitamin C, folic acid, alkaloids and polyphenols, many of which possess antioxidant properties. Its antioxidant strength is almost three times that seen in red wine or green tea.

In several human studies, pomegranate juice has been found to reduce cardiac risk factors that lead to artherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants in pomegranate can reduce plaque build up in artery walls and reduce damage to the cells lining blood vessels. These lining cells produce nitric oxide, a chemical that helps to relax and dilate the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow particularly to the heart. Researchers have found that when treated with pomegranate juice, heart cells increased their nitric oxide production by 50%.

Further studies performed on 22 diabetic patients taking pomegranate juice for eight weeks showed significant reduction in total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), with no significant change in HDL (good cholesterol). The study concluded that pomegranate consumption could modify this particular risk factor especially in hyperlipidemic and diabetic patients and should therefore be included in their diets.

In a similar study, mice were given pomegranate extract while being fed high fat diets. Despite the increase in dietary fat, their total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL significantly dropped, along with overall body weight and caloric intake. Investigators found that this was due to inhibition of pancreatic lipase activity by the pomegranate extract. Pomegranate juice or extracts may be of benefit to those at risk or suffering from obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

Interest in pomegranate extract as an anti-cancer agent is increasingly identified in the literature. Research indicates that extracts of pomegranate juice contain phytochemicals, which are known to have anti-cancer activity. It has been demonstrated that pomegranate juice extract interferes with tumour cell proliferation and growth, as well as disrupting the angiogenic (blood vessel formation) processes so vital to tumour survival. Other research has found that the polyphenol extracts of pomegranate can block endogenous oestrogen formation and promote tumour cell death in certain breast cancers.

Further research on men with prostate cancer treated with pomegranate juice over a 54-month period showed remarkable results. Mean PSA doubling time significantly increased due to 12% reduction in prostate cell proliferation and a 17% increase in apoptosis (cell death) with a 23% increase in anti-oxidative nitric oxide production.

Finally, pomegranate juice appears to have yet another powerful benefit, an anti-viral effect. Studies have shown activity against herpes (HSV-1) and HIV-1.

Pomegranate appears to contain a number of medicinally useful chemicals with properties ranging from anti-oxidant through anti-cancer and anti-viral.

De Nigris F, Williams-Ignarro S, et al, Pomegranate juice reduces oxidized low-density lipoprotein down regulation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase in human coronary endothelial cells. Nitric Oxide 2006 Nov;15(3):259-63

Esmaillzadeh A, et al, Cholesterol-lowering effect of concentrated pomegranate juice consumption in type 11 diabetic patients with hyperlipidemia. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2006 May;76(3):147-51

Lei F, Zhang ZN et al, Evidence of anti-obesity effects of the pomegranate leaf extract in high-fat induced obese mice. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Feb 13

Lansky EP, Newman RA, Punica granatum (pomegranate) and its potential for prevention and treatment of inflammation and cancer. J Ethnopharmacol 2007 Jan 19;109(2):177-206

Kim ND et al, Chemoprotective and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2002 Feb;71(3):203-17

Pantuck AJ, Leppert JT et al. Phase 11 study of pomegranate juice for men with rising prostate-specific-antigen following surgery or radiation or prostate cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2006 Jul 1;12(13):4018-26

Jeune MA, Kumi-Diaka J, Brown J.

Anticancer activities of pomegranate extracts and genistein in human breast cancer cells.

J Med Food. 2005 Winter;8(4):469-75.

Holiday in a Bottle

Nature’s Answer to Stress.

Human milk contains a high concentration of peptides or chains of amino acids. The trypsin hydrolysate decapeptide is one particular sequence of amino acids that is 10 units long and has been shown to possess strong anxiolytic properties. In the infant with an immature digestive system there is only a trace amount of the enzyme pepsin, which normally breaks down long peptide chains. As a result they absorb more of the longer chain molecules including trypsin hydrolysate decapeptide. This may account for additional soothing effect a mother’s milk has on a child beyond simply satisfying the stressful situation of being hungry.

Adults have a high level of the pepsin enzyme and the small amount of trypsin hydrolysate decapeptide found in cow’s milk is rapidly broken down. However, by increasing the ingested amount of the decapeptide through natural supplementation, the capacity of pepsin to break it down is exceeded and a certain amount is absorbed. In this way adults can also experience the anxiolytic effect of this naturally occurring peptide.

Clinical research has demonstrated the effectiveness of this milk peptide as an anxiolytic. One comparative, randomized, double blind controlled study evaluated healthy volunteers according to the Cattell Anxiety Scale under stressful circumstances with and without the consumption of the milk peptide. Subjects had to complete mental tasks, dexterity tests and anxiety questionnaires while being monitored for blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol and ACTH levels. Besides performing better at the tests, those without the milk peptides had significantly higher cortisol and CRH levels, as well as higher blood pressure as compared to those with the peptides.

Other studies have revealed that milk peptides exhibit diazepam-like effects on the stress response and activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The decapepetides demonstrate partial binding to the GABA receptors, which allows for relaxation without sedation or grogginess.

Milk peptides, not only are clinically effective and are also safe to use with children, adults, those allergic to lactose, and can be combined with any pharmaceutical anti-anxiety or anti-depressant. Take control of your stress by taking a mini-holiday from a bottle.