The coronavirus presents many uncertainties, and none of us can completely eliminate our risk of getting COVID-19. But one thing we can do is eat as healthily as possible.
If we do catch COVID-19, our immune system is responsible for fighting it. Research shows improving nutrition helps support optimal immune function.
Micronutrients essential to fight infection include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.
Here’s what we know about how these nutrients support our immune system and the foods we can eat to get them.
Read more: What is a balanced diet anyway?
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A maintains the structure of the cells in the skin, respiratory tract and gut. This forms a barrier and is your body’s first line of defence. If fighting infection was like a football game, vitamin A would be your forward line.
We also need vitamin A to help make antibodies which neutralise the pathogens that cause infection. This is like assigning more of your team to target an opposition player who has the ball, to prevent them scoring.
Vitamin A is found in oily fish, egg yolks, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.
Further, vegetables contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert into vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in leafy green vegetables and yellow and orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots.
2. B vitamins
B vitamins, particularly B6, B9 and B12, contribute to your body’s first response once it has recognised a pathogen.
At a football match, this role would be like security guards intercepting wayward spectators trying to run onto the field and disrupt play.
B6 is found in cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat.
B9 (folate) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds and is added to commercial bread-making flour.
B12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in animal products, including eggs, meat and dairy, and also in fortified soy milk (check the nutrition information panel).
3. Vitamins C and E
When your body is fighting an infection, it experiences what’s called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the production of free radicals which can pierce cell walls, causing the contents to leak into tissues and exacerbating inflammation.
So the role of vitamin C here is a bit like cleaning up the football ground after the game.
Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and capsicum.
Vitamin E is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables and vegetables oils.
4. Vitamin D
Some immune cells need vitamin D to help destroy pathogens that cause infection.
Although sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D (meaning extra has been added).
Most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.
People with vitamin D deficiency may need supplements. A review of 25 studies found vitamin D supplements can help protect against acute respiratory infections, particularly among people who are deficient.
5. Iron, zinc, selenium
We need iron, zinc and selenium for immune cell growth, among other functions.
Iron is found in meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian sources include legumes, whole grains and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.
Zinc is found in oysters and other seafood, meat, chicken, dried beans and nuts.
Nuts (especially Brazil nuts), meat, cereals and mushrooms are good food sources of selenium.
Putting it all together
It’s true some supermarkets are out of certain products at the moment. But as much as possible, focus on eating a variety of foods within each of the basic food groups to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals.
While vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended for the general population, there are some exceptions.
Pregnant women, some people with chronic health conditions, and people with conditions that mean they can’t eat properly or are on very restrictive diets, may need specific supplements. Talk to your doctor, Accredited Practising Dietitian or pharmacist.
And beyond diet, there are other measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible in the face of coronavirus.
Stop smoking to improve your lung’s ability to fight infection, perform moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking, get enough sleep, practise social distancing and wash your hands with soap regularly.
The trillions of bacteria living in our gut (called the gut microbiota) can help determine our risk of cancer, as well as how we might respond to cancer treatment.
Each person’s unique gut microbiota is in constant communication with their immune system. This ensures good bacteria can thrive in the body, while bad bacteria and foreign material are eradicated.
The gut microbiota is therefore critical to making sure the immune system is in the best possible state to fight diseases – from the flu, to serious ones like cancer.
Researchers are now exploring how your unique gut bacteria determine your cancer risk, and whether modifying its composition can control cancer progression and predict response to treatment.
He wants to sell you a $300 ‘fasting diet' to prolong your life. It might not be as crazy as it sounds
LOS ANGELES - He knows he sounds like a snake-oil salesman. It's not every day, after all, that a tenured professor at a prestigious university starts peddling a mail-order diet to melt away belly fat, rejuvenate worn-out cells, prevent diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer - and, for good measure, turn back the clock on aging.…
Michael Thomsen is very familiar with the concepts discussed in this article and is working on bringing the Fasting Mimicking Diet to Australia.
Fasting may improve cancer treatment, but needs further exploration
The gold standard treatment for cancer in the last few decades has been a combination of surgery – to remove tumours – and chemotherapy and radiotherapy – to kill cancer cells. With the progress of personalised medicine, where identifying specific mutations in the tumour guides treatment selection, there has been increasing success in survival rates.
But there has been little improvement in reducing side effects on healthy cells caused by chemotherapy, which also limit the dosage that can be administered.
Over the last two decades, research in animals has shown restricting calories - with alternating periods of fasting and feeding – promotes protection mechanisms for healthy cells, while increasing white blood cells that kill cancer cells.
A 2008 study showed mice with neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer, that had only water for two days before receiving a large dose of chemotherapy, experienced less or no side effects compared to mice fed normally. In another study, tumour cells were killed more efficiently in mice who weren’t fed than in those that were.
Since then, further animal studies and early trials in humans confirmed short-term fasting prior to, and after, chemotherapy treatment reduced side effects. It also protected healthy cells from the toxicity of the drug, while killing cancerous ones.
So does this mean we can use fasting to help with cancer treatment?
Glucose and cancer
Cancerous cells are known to rely on glucose, a type of sugar, for their energy metabolism, rapid growth, and resistance to chemotherapy.
That cancer cells thrive on glucose was first shown by German physiologist Otto Warburg in the 1950s. He also showed they were unable to use fatty acids as efficiently for energy, or at all. This idea of cancer being a disease reliant on rapid glucose metabolism, has reemerged recently.
Under total fasting conditions, where someone only has water, the body initially uses carbohydrate stores, called glycogen, to maintain blood glucose levels, and for cellular energy production. When these stores are depleted, protein from muscle is used to produce new glucose, and fat stores start to be used for energy production.
Body cells that would normally use glucose as their main energy source have the ability to gradually switch to a different fuel: a product of fat metabolism called ketone bodies. This is to spare muscle mass so it is not used too much to make new glucose.
Cancer cells are unable to use ketone bodies efficiently, because the mechanism that would convert ketone bodies to energy does not function well in cancer cells. So under low blood glucose conditions, cancer cells are in effect being starved, becoming more vulnerable to chemotherapy.
Healthy cells on the other hand, can use ketone bodies for energy. They are also protected from chemotherapy side effects because fasting stimulates the expression of genes that promote cellular clean-up and defence systems, called autophagy. This means larger doses of the drug can be administered to better kill cancer cells.
In a case report of ten patients, those who fasted between two and six days prior to, and between five hours and two and a half days after, chemotherapy reported greater tolerance to treatment and less fatigue and weakness. They also reported less gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Fasting didn’t impair the impact of treatment.
But fasting to aid cancer treatment is a difficult balancing act, because malnutrition is a significant problem for many with specific cancers such as head and neck, pancreatic, colon and lung cancers.
Malnutrition in cancer patients is estimated to be as high as 88% depending on the stage of the cancer. This is due to a number of factors, including appetite loss as the disease progresses, side effects of treatment, and cancer’s increased demands on metabolism.
Malnutrition and related weight loss are associated with lower survival rates. Further, the side effects of chemotherapy, which may include severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea increase the risk of malnutrition and related weight loss.
So practice guidelines recommend patients receive enough energy and protein to counter weight loss. For head and neck cancer patients, for instance, the aim is to have 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, which is higher than what’s recommended for an average healthy adult male.
But clinical trials are underway that investigate various fasting protocols, including something called the fasting mimicking diet. This protocol addresses the difficulty of hunger discomfort experienced by patients who fast with water only.
The fasting mimicking diet is a seven-day fasting protocol tailored around chemotherapy treatment. It ensures the provision of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), while significantly reducing the energy intake, in particular from carbohydrates (which become glucose once absorbed) and protein. Patients return to a normal diet after the seven days, thus limiting the impact on weight loss and malnutrition over time.
Less may be more when it comes to dealing with certain cancer cells. Suppressing the specific energy supply that uses an inborn protective mechanism in human physiology to prevent cancer development deserves close investigation.
“A glass of red wine a day could keep polycystic ovaries at bay,” said a news headline this week. This and similar reports were based on research from a team in Poland and California that showed high daily doses – 1,500 mg – of a natural compound found in red wine, called resveratrol, could lower steroid hormone levels in women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This, in effect, should lower symptoms of PCOS including weight gain, excess hair, infertility and abnormal menstrual cycles.
This is not the first time resveratrol has been linked to health benefits. Back in 2006, headlines announced a “natural substance found in red wine” could extend lifespan in mice. The internet soon became flooded with online sellers of resveratrol supplements ranging from highly pure, to pills containing mashed up grape skins with very little resveratrol.
The fact resveratrol is naturally found in the skin of red grapes then led to the happy idea that drinking lots of red wine can make you live longer. But unfortunately, resveratrol is found at only trace levels in red wine - so you would need to drink over a thousand bottles per day to obtain the amount of resveratrol found in two 250 mg pills.
The 2006 reports - based on a paper published in the esteemed journal Nature – were exciting for science though. Resveratrol turns on an enzyme called SIRT1, which is thought to enhance the age-delaying benefits of diet and exercise. The Nature study showed resveratrol extended lifespan in a mouse, an animal far more complex than the simple organisms the compound had previously been tested on, such as yeast, worms and flies.
When it is taken as a pill, the liver quickly degrades the majority of resveratrol before it can make it into the rest of the body. This means only a very small amount actually gets to other tissues where it could have an effect. So it would have to be given at very high doses.
But at doses where it can have an effect, resveratrol can cause gut problems such as diarrhoea. Despite this, small clinical trials using resveratrol in humans have shown some benefits to their metabolism, markers of inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease.
There has also been controversy as to how resveratrol actually works; in particular whether it activates SIRT1, the enzyme thought to delay the ageing process.
David Sinclair, an Australian based at Harvard Medical School, first showed resveratrol could “turn on” SIRT1 in 2003. With a series of papers in quick succession, Sinclair showed resveratrol extended lifespan in yeast, worms, flies, fish, and mice.
Controversy struck when it was suggested resveratrol was working through “off target” effects, meaning it was interacting with enzymes other than SIRT1. As a small molecule with a simple structure, it is likely resveratrol has non-specific interactions throughout the body, especially at higher doses.
But then in 2012, these doubts were assuaged, when mice genetically engineered to be missing the SIRT1 gene were found to be immune to the effects of resveratrol. In 2013, it was found resveratrol binds to and activates SIRT1 in a very intricate manner. So that part is clear.
There are still uncertainties as to how specific it is; such as with the recent study involving women with PCOS. PCOS is a common endocrine condition that occurs when follicles in the ovary, which contain egg cells, swell up and the egg cell itself does not mature properly. The eggs contained in these cysts fail to be released at ovulation, which can cause infertility in women.
PCOS is thought to be caused by high levels of male steroid hormones known as androgens. Key risk factors for PCOS are metabolic problems such as high insulin levels, obesity, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes. Body weight reductions can therefore reduce PCOS risk.
Women suffering from PCOS experience irregular or no menstrual cycle, acne, hair growth and elevated levels of the male steroid hormone testosterone. In the recent study, resveratrol treatment lowered levels of testosterone, and its precursor DHEAS – two key steroid hormonal markers of PCOS.
But it’s actually not clear whether the testosterone reduction was due to a direct effect on the release of the hormone itself. This is because insulin, which at high levels can cause metabolic disease, was also reduced. As with other studies, it may be that resveratrol is actually improving metabolism, with reduced PCOS severity as a secondary side-effect. So there is still a lot we don’t know about the compound.
Should people want to go online and buy resveratrol, be aware it has not yet been approved as a drug by regulatory authorities. Also, plant-based resveratrol extracts such as Japanese knotweed contain a crude cocktail of compounds, some of which may be harmful, with only a small amount of resveratrol. Meanwhile, red grape skin pills are likely to contain vanishingly small quantities.
Stay tuned though: efforts to formulate resveratrol so greater proportions actually reach the rest of the body are underway.
Natural therapies are likely to actually save the government more money than what they will save. Many of our patients are light users of the public health care system because of the care we provide.
This is just so wrong. Speak up if you think this is wrong!
PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE REBATES
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen announced on Friday that from July 1, 2017, taxpayer-funded private health insurance rebates would no longer be available for natural therapies.
The measure would save $180 million over four years, and $704 million over the decade.
Mr Bowen was quick to insist there was nothing wrong with seeking natural therapies like aromatherapy, herbalism or iridology.
“I myself use them from time to time — my personal favourite is the Bowen treatment, I can recommend it to you,” he said.
“But in times of difficult budgetary situations, it is not appropriate for taxpayers to have to fund and subsidise private health insurance cover for these treatments.”
Mr Bowen also announced Labor would continue the threshold freeze for private health insurance rebates for another decade to 2026, saving $2.3 billion.
Well it’s over a month now, since we returned from our fantastic 10 days in Japan!
The Japanese are renowned for their longevity and good health; including so far avoiding the obesity crisis that is the scourge of so many other cultures today.
So we’ve decided to recap some likely contributing factors to this phenomenon.
Firstly, the Japanese have a diet high in fermented foods. Miso soup, pickled vegetables and fermented soy products are a daily consumable for Japanese on a traditional diet. The research into fermented foods, GIT health and the link to helping prevent overweight and obesity is very promising.
The Japanese diet is fairly low in fat. Fried foods exist but are not regularly consumed apart from specialty dishes such as tempura and some street foods.
The diet is also high in seaweeds which are high in iodine; a nutrient important for thyroid health.
The diet is also high in soy products. Good for hormonal health, bone density, anti-cancer properties and a great low-fat protein.
Portion sizes tend to be quite small. A lot of meals consist of simply small “tastes” of a variety of dishes. And the Japanese practice Hara Hachi Bu: Eat Until You Are 80% Full.
Most of us have no idea what 80 percent full feels like. We do know that if we eat until we are full, in 20 minutes we are likely to feel too full, as it takes about that long for the stomach to communicate with the brain just how full it is. But how do you tell when you are “80 percent full”?
It takes sometimes 15-20 meals to reset the muscle memory of the stomach to get used to less food and people need to trust that will happen. Most are used to eating until full, which is past satiation and which keeps weight on. We suggest eating just half of what you normally eat and then checking in to see how you feel. Once we begin to feel any stomach pressure we are at the “80 percent full” stage.
The Japanese are also quite physically active. In the cities, the majority of people seem to cycle, walk and use public transport. We saw septuagenarians still cycling and gardening frequently.
So it’s probably not a bad idea to introduce some Japanese “ways” into our daily routines.
On another note, as always with winter coming it’s always good to consider looking out for your immune health.
Coughs and colds are around again, but a healthy immune system will either help you avoid them altogether or seriously limit their longevity and severity.
Herbs such as Andrographis, Echinacea, Holy Basil, Astragalus and Baical Skullcap among others are renowned for their ability to support the immune system.
These are available for convenience in several good tablet formulations as well as our trusty liquid formulas.
Adequate vitamin D is also important for immune function, especially in Tasmania where it is simply not possibly to get enough winter sunlight to produce sufficient vitamin D.
The episode broadcast on Four Corners was a wholly-US program that examined the use of dietary supplements from a US perspective, but with limited relevance to the situation in Australia.
The fact is that there are significant differences between the way the US and Australia regulate these products.
In Australia, complementary medicines are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is considered one of the most rigorous systems for regulating supplements in the world, and companies marketing complementary medicines must comply with a range of TGA requirements.
Features of the Australian regulation of complementary medicines include:
- Complementary medicines (e.g. fish oil, vitamins and mineral supplements) are regulated as medicines in Australia and must be manufactured to medicinal standards in TGA approved sites
- The TGA conducts a safety assessment on ingredients in Listed (displaying an AUST L number) complementary medicines
- Complementary medicines must contain the ingredients listed on the label and no other active ingredients, and they must only be produced from ingredients approved as low-risk by the TGA
- The TGA routinely conducts manufacturing site inspections, sampling and testing of products in the market to monitor compliance
- Companies marketing complementary medicines can only make limited claims regarding their effectiveness and are required to hold evidence supporting those claims
- All complementary medicines legally available for sale in Australia must be included on the TGA's publicly accessible database, the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG)
- The TGA maintains a rigorous system for recording, monitoring and responding to adverse events for all medicines, including complementary medicines.
- The features of the Australian regulatory environment are very different to those in the US that were featured in the Four Corners program, and they should give Australian consumers a high level of confidence in the safety and efficacy of their medicines.
The Four Corners program also raised issues in relation to omega-3 fish oil supplements.
The majority of Australian do not eat enough fish, and omega-3 supplements play an important role in helping people to consume adequate marine-sourced omega-3s.
Companies that market fish oil products in Australia must comply with TGA requirements including strict manufacturing standards that maximise the purity of these products.
Australian consumers can be confident that fish oil products available in Australia are of the highest quality as they are required to comply with medicinal manufacturing standards.
As with all medicines, fish oil products must be labelled with an expiry date, and products are required to comply with content standards for the duration of their shelf life.
Source: Australian Self-medication Association
Prescribed herbal and nutritional medicines
We consider the safety of our patients the highest priority. We only prescribe medicines from reputable sources, and only in very limited situations do we recommend medicines produced overseas.
The majority of the herbal and nutritional medicines we prescribe are known as practitioner-only medicines. They are not available directly to the public and need to be prescribed by a qualified health practitioner. These products are often of a higher quality and strength compared to retail products.
As health professionals, we prescribe these medicines in a much more targeted and focused way. We check against potential drug interactions with any pharmaceutical medicine a patient may be taking and we monitor and adjust the combinations and dosages carefully.
We constantly review the prescription ensuring a patient is taking the appropriate medicines and only for as long as necessary.
You are in safe hands when using practitioner-prescribed herbal and nutritional medicines.
Imagine if the amount of sugar you consumed in things like soft drink had nothing to do with how much weight you put on.
Remarkably that is what two of Sydney University's leading researchers found in their 2011 study, The Australian Paradox.
But their much-cited paper has raised questions in the health world and beyond, with many waiting for The Australian Paradox to be revised.
Lateline's Emma Alberici investigated the case for and against sugar.
In The Australian Paradox, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller and Dr Alan Barclay claimed sugar intake had declined for the 30 years to 2010, while at the same time obesity and diabetes had tripled.
The research has been cited 81 times by various academics and journals and it has even been referred to in Federal Parliament.
It has been used to argue against a sugar tax, with the Australian Beverages Council quoting its findings on its website.
Recently, Professor Brand-Miller presented her theory about the harmless nature of added sugar at Sydney University's annual gathering of the world's best science students.
"Something to think about. If it's not the sugar, what is it?" she said.
Australian Paradox graph
But it turned out Professor Brand-Miller and Dr Barclay's data was not quite right. In fact, what they had reported as a fall in consumption of sugar was actually a significant rise.
They had claimed sales of sugary sweetened beverages were down by 10 per cent, but the chart used in their own research actually shows a 29 per cent increase.
After being questioned about it on the ABC's Background Briefing, a correction was issued in the online journal in which The Australian Paradox was published.
In 2014, an external inquiry into The Australian Paradox by one the country's top scientists, Professor Robert Clark AO, cleared Professor Brand Miller and Dr Barclay of misconduct, but it did observe that Dr Barclay's acceptance of a fee from Coca-Cola might not have demonstrated good judgment.
The inquiry recommended a revised paper be published, clarifying the key factual issues examined.
Two years later, the paper still has not been revised.
Professor Brand-Miller says that is because she is waiting for new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that will analyse sugar consumption from national health surveys.
The former 'fatty' turned anti-sugar advocate
Five years ago, Rory Robertson was a self-described "fatty".
Soft drink and junk food were regular parts of his diet and he struggled to keep up with his two young sons.
That was until someone suggested he cut out sugar. In the space of eight months he dropped 10 kilograms.
"Take the sugar out of your diet, you lose the weight easily and you have a happy life. That's where I am today," he said.
When he read an article about The Australian Paradox he was shocked and decided to investigate further.
Mr Robertson is a respected economist with one of the country's biggest banks and he was recruited to work for the Reserve Bank under its Governor Glenn Stevens.
He saw big problems with the data used in The Australian Paradox and has spent the past five years trying to understand why two of Sydney University's most high-profile scientists continue to argue that there was a consistent and substantial decline in sugar consumption.
Mr Robertson wants a retraction of the paper, saying it is a menace to public health, and he has even offered $40,000 to anyone who can prove he is wrong. The money has gone unclaimed since 2012.
"It's true I've been a determined pest on this matter but it was shocking to me that the highest levels of nutrition science in Australia not only can publish whatever nonsense they want, but no-one really has helped me in promoting a retraction of the paper," he said.
Mr Robertson is also concerned that Professor Brand-Miller and Dr Barclay defend sugar in their best-selling diet book promoting Sydney University's Glycemic Index Foundation.
The GI Foundation receives $6,000 from food companies every time they want a low GI health tick on one of their products, and some of the products that carry the tick include Milo, breakfast cereals and raw sugar.
The health experts
Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, is one of the world's leading health experts.
"Sugar is just as bad for you in Australia as it is here in the US. There's no Australian Paradox," she told Lateline.
Earlier this year, Professor Nestle spent two months at Sydney University's Charles Perkins Centre delivering lectures on the perils of food industry-funded research.
She was surprised to learn that the scientists working with the University's GI Foundation were receiving money for giving products the low GI "tick".
Can you beat our sugar quiz?
We're supposed to limit our sugar to six teaspoons a day, but do you know how much of it is hiding in some of our most popular groceries?
"I don't know what to say about the Glycemic Index. People don't eat individual foods, they eat mixes of foods and that changes when you mix foods you get some kind of mixture of glycemic indices," she said.
"When I was in Australia I was extremely amused to see a logo from the Glycemic Index Foundation on a pound of plain ordinary sugar... it had a sticker on it saying it was "better for you".
"Better for me than what? Than white sugar? [It] just doesn't make any nutritional sense to me."
Dr Rosemary Stanton is a nutritionist who has more than 50 years experience.
Lateline asked Dr Stanton what she thought of The Australian Paradox.
"I'd say, ignore it," she said.
Wavne Rikkers analysed the data in The Australian Paradox in her role as a senior researcher at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth.
"Our research shows that the Australian Paradox paper was based on inaccurate data," she said.
Lateline has been in contact with Professor Brand-Miller since early last year about her research. She has not been available for an interview, but she did answer some questions by email.
She said the findings in the Australian Paradox paper were "more valid than ever".
Lateline also sought comments from Sydney University Vice Chancellor Michael Spence and Dr Barclay, but had no response from them.
The Four Corners’ programme of the "danger of supplements" also managed to scare people in regards to vitamin D supplementation claiming that high doses cause soft tissue calcification, and increase risk of cardiovascular disease and even that it increases the risk of dying (increase in so-called all-cause mortality).
We are now going into winter, and you cannot make any vitamin D during a Tasmanian winter. We recommend all Tasmanian take 3000 IU vitamin D3 daily.
Vitamin D3 is available in capsules, liquids and in sprays.
The spray we recommend is a nano particle vitamin D3 which is rapidly absorbed in the mouth. Simply spray it into the cheek and let it absorb.
Every single cancer patient I have seen who is not taking a vitamin D supplement, has been deficient in vitamin D.
Higher levels of vitamin D - specifically serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D - are associated with a correspondingly reduced risk of cancer, new research shows.
"We have quantitated the ability of adequate amounts of vitamin D to prevent all types of invasive cancer combined, which had been terra incognita until publication of this paper," said Cedric Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and member of Moores Cancer Center at University of California, San Diego Health.
Garland and his late brother, Frank, made the first connection between vitamin D deficiency and some cancers in 1980 when they noted populations at higher latitudes (with less available sunlight) were more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, which is produced by the body through exposure to sunshine, and experience higher rates of colon cancer. Subsequent studies by the Garlands and others found vitamin D linked to other cancers, such as breast, lung and bladder.
The new PLOS ONE study sought to determine what blood level of vitamin D was required to effectively reduce cancer risk. The marker of vitamin D was 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the main form in the blood. The researchers employed a non-traditional approach, pooling analyses of two previous studies of different types: a randomized clinical trial of 1,169 women and a prospective cohort study of 1,135 women. A clinical trial focuses upon whether a specific test or treatment is safe and effective. A prospective study looks for outcomes during the study period, in this case incidence of cancer among participants.
By combining the two studies, the researchers obtained a larger sample size and a greater range of blood serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D.
The only accurate measure of vitamin D levels in a person is via a blood test. In the Lappe trial cohort, the median blood serum level of 25(OH)D was 30 nanograms per milliliter. In the GrassrootsHealth prospective cohort, it was higher: 48 ng/ml.
The researchers found that the age-adjusted cancer incidence was 1,020 cases per 100,000 person-years in the Lappe cohort and 722 per 100,000 person-years in the GrassrootsHealth cohort. Cancer incidence declined with increased 25(OH)D. Women with 25(OH)D concentrations of 40 ng/ml or greater had a 67 percent lower risk of cancer than women with levels of 20 ng/ml or less.
Recommended blood serum levels of vitamin D have been a source of vigorous debate in recent years. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that levels lower than 12 ng/ml represented a vitamin D deficiency and recommended a target of 20 ng/ml, which could be met in most healthy adults (ages 19 to 70) with the equivalent of 600 International Units of vitamin D each day.
Subsequently, other groups have argued for higher blood serum levels: 50 ng/ml or more. Above 125 ng/ml, there may be side effects. Many vitamin D supporters now advocate 800 to 1,000 IUs daily; more for persons older than 70 and pregnant or lactating women.
Garland does not identify a singular, optimum daily intake of vitamin D or the manner of intake, which may be sunlight exposure, diet and/or supplementation. He said the current study simply clarifies that reduced cancer risk becomes measurable at 40 ng/ml, with additional benefit at higher levels.
"These findings support an inverse association between 25(OH)D and risk of cancer," he said, "and highlight the importance for cancer prevention of achieving a vitamin D blood serum concentration above 20 ng/ml, the concentration recommended by the IOM for bone health."
Garland said a broad effort to increase 25(OH)D concentrations to a minimum of 40 ng/ml in the general population would likely and substantially reduce cancer incidence and associated mortality.
"Primary prevention of cancer, rather than expanding early detection or improving treatment, will be essential to reversing the current upward trend of cancer incidence worldwide," the researchers wrote. "This analysis suggests that improving vitamin D status is a key prevention tool."
PLOS ONE 2016 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152441 Published: April 6, 2016
Soruce: Blackmores Institute
Many types of red meat and red meat products are available, from farmers' markets, to supermarkets, to restaurants. The impacts of their production and consumption on human health, animal welfare and the environment are complex.
So what should we be thinking about when we’re deciding whether or not to eat red meat?
Consuming lean products and different cuts, or muscles, of meat from cattle, sheep, pig, goat and kangaroo is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines as part of a balanced diet. Lean refers to animal muscle tissue that has lower amounts of total fat and saturated fat compared to higher-fat alternatives.
Most lean red meats are cuts, rather than processed products such as hot dogs or canned meat. Cuts provide many beneficial nutrients, including: protein, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and unsaturated fat (such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fats).
In comparison, fattier red meat cuts and most processed meat products provide higher amounts of potentially harmful nutrients, such as saturated fats, salt and sodium nitrate.
In general, horse and kangaroo meats have been reported to have the lowest total fat and highest polyunsaturated fat contents. Beef and sheep meats have the highest total fat and lowest polyunsaturated fat. Grass-fed beef is a better source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats compared to grain-fed beef, although fish provides significantly more omega-3 than any red meat.
Australian livestock is mostly grass-fed in fields, rather than grain-fed in feedlots. This is better for both nutrient levels in the meat and animal and environmental ethics. Feedlots are more common in the United States, for example.
The type of grain that is fed to an animal affects its muscle nutrient composition, as well as shelf-life, taste, colour and quality. For example, pigs can be fed on a certain amount and type of linseed to increase omega-3 polyunsaturated fat in their meat.
Associations with ill health
The links between red meat products and human health are not fully understood, but you may have seen recent media reports about processed meat and cancer risk.
Similarly, if unsaturated fats – especially polyunsaturated fats – replace saturated fats (for example, in red meat) in someone’s diet, the risk of coronary heart disease might be reduced. Further, processed meats have been linked to a higher incidence of coronary heart disease and diabetes.
The ethics of consuming food, including animal produce, is a fraught topic for both animal welfare and environmental damage. The vast scale of commercialised livestock production is overwhelming.
Yes, any food that humans consume comes with consequences, especially when that food is mass-produced. However, with red meat, efficiency and cost can outweigh animal welfare when animals become “a commodity, a unit in the production line”. And there is huge environmental damage from livestock production, such as methane from manure and enteric fermentation (that is, farts!).
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations stated in 2006:
The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.
It must be hoped the animal welfare and environmental aspects of food consumption will be highlighted in future revisions of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
What can you do?
You probably care about your health, and hopefully you care about other animals and the environment. Luckily, you can do a few things to try to improve all of these aspects of red meat and red meat product consumption:
When (or if) you eat red meat: choose leaner options that have less total and saturated fat, such as lean beef mince in place of standard beef mince; choose meats that contain more polyunsaturated fats, such as kangaroo or grass-fed beef (I don’t envisage many Australians eating horse, which is also higher in these fats); avoid processed meat such as bacon, sausages and salami; and buy from retailers and eat at restaurants where the red meat is sourced from more ethical, smaller-scale, local and sustainable farms
Eat less red meat (Meat Free Mondays is one good idea)
Join the 4% of the Australian population following vegetarian or vegan eating habits.
Ironically, we have had several patients cancel appointments in recent weeks due to colds or flu.
Thinking on this, we have come up with a service that we can offer to current patients to either help prevent or treat these infections promptly.
Andrographis Compound or Armaforce are both products than can be used to increase immunity generally or taken in high doses at the first sign of colds or infection.
Additionally, we have prepared a couple of liquid formulae to “grab off the shelf” so to speak.
One, a lung formula for coughs and lower respiratory infections, and another mix for upper respiratory infections; sore throats, runny nose etc.
We also have a great herbal throat spray that can assist with the symptoms of sore throats.
All of these products are available without a consultation if you are a patient of the clinic already. Oh and don’t forget to keep up your vitamin D through the winter months!
Please share this blog with anyone whom you think may benefit.
Vitamin D: A Cheap & Effective Weapon Against Chronic Disease?
Health authorities in Europe have now decided that the majority of the population is so deficient in vitamin D that mandatory food fortification is being discussed. Finland started fortification over 10 years ago! However, fortification of milk with vitamin D was found not to be effective in spite of people drinking four glasses of milk daily.
Studies have confirmed that vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in northern latitudes, where the sun during the winter months is not strong enough to trigger the human body into synthesizing “the sunshine vitamin.”
Tasmania has the same problem as the Scandinavian countries. We do not make any vitamin D in winter. Even in summer, we may not produce enough vitamin D because we hide from the sun.
Vitamin D and chronic diseases
Bone tissue requires vitamin D in order to absorb and retain calcium.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with poor immunity and succumbing to the common cold or influenza.
Deficiency is also associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes – deficiency fuels inflammation and insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism.
Prevention Cannot Start Early Enough
A recent study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in February 2015, concluded that low vitamin D levels in childhood may cause excess thickening of the arterial lining, leading to increased cardiovascular disease risk in adulthood.
Furthermore, low birth weight has long been known to correlate with increased risk of coronary heart disease in adults, and a meta analysis led by the University of Zaragoza in Spain revealed that vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy leads to a slight—but nevertheless significant—increase in birth weight.
Babies born to vitamin D-deficient women are usually also deficient in the vitamin, and, after birth, their meager body stores dwindle fast. A study carried out by the University of Iowa and published in Pediatric Research in August 2014 discovered that, at one month of age, infants’ vitamin D levels were just half that of their mothers’, which led the researchers to argue in favor of vitamin D fortification right from birth.
Supplementation is the only answer
Vitamin dosages are counted in international units or IU.
We recommend small children to be given 1000 IU daily and teenagers and adults 3000 IU daily.
Vitamin D: A Cheap & Effective Weapon Against Chronic Disease?
By Ewa Hudson, Head of Health & Wellness Research, Euromonitor International | June 16, 2015 The writing on the wall suggests it may be vitamin D’s time to shine.
Please share this blog with anyone whom you think may benefit.