Can Stress Be Good For The Health?

Stress is often considered detrimental to the health and this can be true. Certainly chronic stress that becomes unmanageable is the cause of detrimental health outcomes. However, stress is a requirement of all life as it is the stress applied to cells and tissues that allows them to adapt to different environmental conditions and this makes the organism more efficient. Exercise is one form of stress that is clearly beneficial to the health and regular exercise diminishes the overall detrimental effects of subsequent bouts of physical stress. Other stresses that can be good for the health include fasting and exposure to detrimental weather conditions. Both of these stresses, if manageable and acute in nature, can increase general resistance to detrimental environmental conditions. Any applied stress will generally improve stress tolerance, and the tolerance gained will be specific to the stress applied. Therefore exercise generally improves exercise tolerance, whereas fasting will improve tolerance to periods of abstinence of food. 

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Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are trace elements that have a specific gravity at least 5 times higher than that of water and inorganic sources. Heavy metals commonly found in the diets of humans and animals include lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. For example a wide range of heavy metals have been identified in honey, and the concentration and profile of these heavy metals varies depending on the location of the hives the honey is collected from. Heavy metals cannot be eliminated completely from the diet because they are present in most plant and animal foods and also in drinking water. There are three main ways that heavy metals can affect the health of humans. 

  1. Heavy metal accumulation can interfere with normal metabolic functions of the body because the heavy metals can displace trace elements in enzyme systems. 
  1. Heavy metals can cause the generation of free radicals which increases oxidative stress and causes inflammation. This inflammation can then damage DNA, potentially triggering cancer. 
  1. Heavy metals can prevent the absorption of essential trace minerals and thus cause a deficiency of various elements required by the body for normal metabolic function. 

Avoiding the potential damaging effects of a heavy metal overload is therefore a priority for those that wish to maintain their health. Eating a high quality diet containing high quality food is one step in this process. Diets high in fibre may bind heavy metals in the gut and prevent their absorption, and certain compounds in plants, such as vitamin C and other antioxidants have the potential to prevent the oxidative stress caused by heavy metals. Vitamin C may also chelate heavy metals in the body and increase their excretion rates. 

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Fu, Z. and Xi, S. 2020. The effects of heavy metals on human metabolism. Toxicology mechanisms and methods. 30(3): 167-176
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Fasting and Mood

Evidence suggests that fasting may have particular benefits on mood. The association between mood and fasting is not fully understood but a number of mechanisms have been suggested to explain why fasting may affect the brain. One explanation involves a possible increase in the uptake of serotonin to the brain that might occur as glucose and amino acid transport into the brain changes. Another explanation is that the ketone bodies that are synthesised in place of the absent glucose are able to alter brain chemistry in some way. One way this might occur is through the ketone bodies affecting transcription of the cellular signal molecule brain derived neurotrophic factor. Higher levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor are associated with improved mood as the peptide is associated with improved plasticity and resistance to stress in neurons. Even short periods of fasting, perhaps as short as 12 hours, appears to show some benefit toward elevating mood in those with mild to moderate mood disorders.  

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Gudden, J., Arias Vasquez, A. and Bloemendaal, M. 2021. The Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Brain and Cognitive Function. Nutrients. 13(9): 3166
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Are there Nutritional Advantages to Being a Vegan?

Veganism has become popular in recent times and there is a lot of information and misinformation regarding the benefits of the diet. Clearly there are certain parts of the diet of a vegan that become deficient compared to an omnivore and these need to be carefully considered. Shortfalls in iron, carnitine, creatine, vitamin B12 and total energy have been identified as being potentially detrimental in a vegan diet. However, there are some advantages to consuming a vegan diet. One of the main advantages is that the amount of plant foods increases and this causes a concomitant increase in the main nutrients in plants, particularly fibre and phytochemical antioxidants. Vegan diets therefore tend to be much higher in fibre and antioxidants compared to non-vegan diets. Another potential benefit is the avoidance of toxins and pesticides in animal foods. Plants tend not to accumulate environmental toxins to the same degree as plants and this reduces the toxic burden on the consumer. 

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The Cost of Supplements

Certain supplements appear to provide significant health benefits. Some of these benefits are only available through supplementation and not through the diet. The herb milk thistle shows clear protective effects against liver damage for example, but it would be hard to incorporate the milk thistle plant into the diet as it is not readily available commercially and would necessitate individual harvesting their own produce. Taking certain supplements is therefore justified under certain circumstances. When choosing supplements there is a wide variety in the cost of most supplements, and people assume this reflects quality. However, there is little indication that cost is related to quality for most supplements, but rather the cost reflects the brand image of the supplement and the price is indicative of the target market. Therefore the discerning consumer can make great savings by shopping around to find less expensive versions of supplements without compromising on quality and this approach is recommended.  

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Cold Weather Foods For Joints

Evidence suggests that there is an association between cold damp weather and joint pain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that moving from an area that has cold winters to a more sunny climate is significantly beneficial on the joints. One aspect of this certainly relates to the heat and warmth in the joint which can free movement and thereby reduce paint. However, there may be nutritional aspects that also relate to the presence of the sun, and in particular the amount of vitamin D in the blood. Vitamin D can be synthesised in the skin in the presence of sunlight but can also be taken in the diet. A diet rich in vitamin D may therefore be beneficial to prevent joint pain. In addition, foods with an anti-inflammatory effect including a diet rich in fish oils, herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables may also significantly reduce joint pains and increase range of motion. Certain foods including pineapple, the spice turmeric and fresh and dried ginger, may have specific effects at protecting joints from inflammation and pain. 

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RdB

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Fruit and Vegetables: Not all Created Equal?

Fruits and vegetables confer a number of health benefits to those who consume them regularly. In particular, fruits and vegetables are associated with protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease, and regular consumption of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may decrease the risk of weight gain. However, clearly not all fruit and vegetables are the same as there is a huge variety and each contains different levels of macronutrients and micronutrients. One of the most interesting aspects of this is the ripeness of the product. Generally as products ripen, particularly with fruit, the sugar content increases at the expense of the starch content. Ripe bananas therefore contain less starch and more sugar than unripe bananas. Further the cultivar in question also plays a significant role in the nutrition of the food. Wild cultivars tend to be lower in sugar as often commercial cultivars are propagated for their increased sugar content. This makes commercial varieties perhaps more palatable, but also less beneficial to the health. 

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Coconuts: Phytochemistry

Coconut seeds are what are colloquially referred to as coconuts (Cocos nucifera). The seeds of the coconut tree are highly nutritious and they have been used traditionally where they grow as a source of energy and as a medicinal food. Coconut seeds consist of a hard shell in which is contained a white flesh. Inside the flesh of the coconut is an opaque liquid referred to as coconut milk. Some of the main phytochemicals in coconut are fatty acids and these are thought to provide coconuts with at least some of their health effects. Studies have shown that the fatty acids in coconuts include  caprylic acid (8.60 %),  lauric acid (41.30 %), palmitic acid (13.00 %), and stearic acid (3.6 %). Other phytochemicals present in coconuts include alkaloid, resins, glycosides, terpenoids, saponins and tannins. Current recommendations are that coconuts are a high quality food and should be incorporated into a healthy diet for their beneficial effects which include antiviral, antibacterial, antiprotozoal and anti-cancer activity. 

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RdB

Odenigbo, U. M. and Otisi, C. A. O. 2011. Fatty acids and phytochemical contents of different coconut seed flesh in Nigeria. International Journal of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. 3(11): 176-182
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Why Would Herbs Provide Useful Substances to Animals?

From a philosophical viewpoint, the synthesis of substances by plants and their transfer to animals is interesting. Clearly the substances produced by plants mostly provide some benefit to the plant. However, in some cases the plant will synthesise chemicals, such as nectar, specifically to attract animals, such that they can then be used to spread pollen. Many substances from plants are useful to animals, and so the question arises, as to why all plants are not poisonous? This would allow the plant to avoid predation by herbivores and this would be a survival advantage. Clearly when animals eat plants they derive some beneficial health effects but at the same time some animals such as grazing animals can cause significant damage to the plants. The synergism in nature that exists between plants and animals is hard to theorise from a scientific position unless you accept the notion that the plants have been provided for the animals to eat. As well as energy, plants also produce medicine for animals and yet there is no reason for them to do this. 

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The Energy Content of Vegetables

Vegetables have been shown to possess a number of health effects. One of the main health effects that relates to regular consumption of vegetables is weight loss. The weight loss effects of vegetables are related to the high water content and low energy content they possess. In addition, the energy present is usually in the form of starch or protein, and this means that rapid rises in blood glucose are not present after eating vegetables, even in large amounts. However, one factor that is often not considered regarding the energy content of vegetables is the use of fibre as an energy source. Humans do not possess the necessary enzymes to digest many carbohydrates in plants and as such they are referred to as non-digestible polysaccharides or dietary fibre. However, the human colonic microflora can digest this fibre and convert it to usable energy in the form of short chain fatty acids. Therefore the label claims for the total energy in vegetables is often underestimated, and the true value is higher than is stated. 

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