A startling fact about British wintertime and vitamin D…

Do you feel a little gloomy and run down in the winter? It might interest you to know that the lack of sunshine during those colder months of the year doesn’t just impact our mood, it actually can impact on our physical health too. Direct sunlight acting on the skin provides the majority of our vitamin D requirement, so when there’s less sun, we make less of this essential nutrient.  

The link between certain health problems and a Vitamin D deficiency has been noted through comparisons between regions with relatively low levels of sunlight, and those that enjoy more hours of sunshine. Incidence of various cancers, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease have all been linked to low exposure to sunlight and a reduction in the potential of vitamin D production.

You might be deficient in vitamin D if you cover your skin, or if you spend the daylight hours indoors. For individuals living above the north latitude of 35 degrees (which is all of the United Kingdom!), the sun cannot not reach the necessary angle for UVB penetration for all of the winter months. That means that for UK residents there is no opportunity for winter vitamin D production, unless you head to warmer climes for a holiday! 

Vitamin D levels are also strongly linked to mental illness, with a Swedish study showing 58 percent of people who had attempted suicide were vitamin D deficient. They concluded that testing vitamin D levels in mental health care is of vital importance.

Thankfully, vitamin D can also be consumed through dietary sources! There are certain foods that are very rich in vitamin D. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna are not only excellent sources of vitamin D, they also contain omega-3 fats that deliver benefits to the cardiovascular system. Among the other foods that can boost your daily vitamin D intake are fortified milk, mushrooms, egg yolks, liver and fortified breakfast cereals. 

Sunlight is our main provider of vitamin D, so over the winter months especially, vitamin D supplementation is recommended for adults and children in the UK.

Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

Weighing Up Veganuary

2020’s Veganuary is set to be the biggest yet. This initiative aims to inspire people to go vegan for the first month of each year, spreading the word about veganism and educating people on plant-based ingredients and recipes. But is going vegan actually good for our health? Let’s take a closer look by weighing up Veganuary…

Done badly, a vegan diet is the same as any other poor diet. Technically someone who is following a vegan diet could live on crisps!

The good bits

People who decide to try a new diet at the beginning of the year are often trying to improve their health and or lose weight. Whilst it is important to know that one month of adhering to a strict vegan diet (or even a lifetime of veganism!) isn’t a cure for every known health issue, vegetarians and vegans are at lower risk of a range of health conditions. These include obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and some cancers. 

Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, soya products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fibre and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels and improve serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease.

The not so good bits

Despite what some press might suggest around the carbon footprint of meat versus plant-based diets, a vegan diet is not the answer to our environmental and food sustainability issues. Some ingredients loved by vegetarians and vegans have a hefty carbon footprint of their own, but a sustainable and locally sourced diet (meat or plant based) can ease the pressure on the environment.

People may not find a vegan diet easy to follow if it’s not what they have been brought up on. It can be especially complicated if you have a dislike of vegetables and pulses! Thankfully the rise in popularity of vegan diets means there are plenty of recipes and ideas online to help participants decide what to cook.  

There are certain nutrients that a wholly plant-based diet will struggle to provide. That means if you follow a vegan diet it’s important to consider supplementation to prevent any deficiencies.  Remember that some deficiencies can take months, even years to present with symptoms so don’t wait until you have an issue to take action. Let’s take a look at them:

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a good example of this.  You may have good bodily stores of B12 when you begin a vegan diet, and these stores can keep you going for several months before they drop and you start to notice symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and poor memory. The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal sources.  It plays an important role in brain and heart health, nerve cells, and red blood cell function. Top sources include shellfish, lamb, and beef. 

Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements. Spirulina and other edible cyanobacteria (commonly called blue-green algaes) contain a poorly bioavailable B12 which isn’t converted to B12 in humans.  We can’t absorb it, so consider using a B12 supplement if you plan to be wholly plant-based for more than a few months.

Omega-3 oils

Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have plenty of omega-6 oils, but struggle to provide adequate with omega-3.  Nuts and seeds provide what is known as the ‘parent’ omega 3 fat, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA).  This needs to go through several conversion steps before it becomes EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). DHA and EPA are the omega-3 fats we use in the brain and heart. They are ready formed in fish oils. The conversion steps rely on co-factor nutrients like magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C, and a lot of ALA gets lost during the process.  It is therefore important that vegans include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and/or pumpkinseed oil every day for their rich ALA content, and to enjoy plenty of food sources of the co-factor nutrients too;

– Magnesium: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, dark green leafy vegetables

– Zinc: nuts & seeds

– B-vitamins, excluding B12: sweet potatoes, brown rice, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and dark green leafy veggies are especially useful.

– Vitamin C: peppers, broccoli, berries, kiwi, papaya, peas, watercress

Iron

Iron deficiency is a particular issue for pre-menopausal female vegans due to regular monthly iron loss from periods.  Haem iron in animal products is much better absorbed than non-haem iron from plant sources so if you are relying on non-haem iron, make sure you include sources of vitamin C too, as this helps the absorption of plant-sourced iron.

Vitamin D

If you’re doing Veganuary, you’re starting it in the middle of winter when light levels are poor. Many of us, whether vegan or not, are low in vitamin D simply because we don’t get enough regular sunshine here in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately for vegans, the optimum dietary sources of vitamin D3 (the most active usable form) are eggs, liver and butter, with plant sources like mushrooms providing a little D2 which has to be converted. It is advisable for everyone to take a vitamin D supplement during winter months (October to April) and vegans may need to continue it all year round.  

If you’re experimenting with Veganuary this year, this blog should have helped give you a steer on the nutrients that may be missing form your day to day diet. Nutrition is a complex subject but if you’re up to the challenge, enjoy a plant-based start to 2020! 

Add a green tea extract to your new year health kick for additional benefits!

If you’ve made a commitment to kick off the brand-new decade with focus on a healthy diet and more exercise, this blog will certainly be of interest! You’ve probably heard of green tea and know that it’s good for you, but do you know why? Altruvita’s expert nutritional team takes a look at how adding a green tea extract to your routine can deliver a range of additional benefits and what they are. 

What is green tea? 

Green tea is made from unoxidized tea leaves from the Camilla Sinesis bush (whereas black teas are made from totally oxidized tea leaves from various plants) and it has been enjoyed as a drink for centuries. Green tea is widely believed to have a variety of health benefits, so where do they come from? Polyphenol antioxidants called catechins comprise the majority of green tea’s antioxidant content. Among the catechins in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most researched and thought to provide the most health benefits. All of these things are found in more concentrated doses within green tea extracts, rather than diluting these key ingredients within green tea beverages.

How do green tea and green tea extracts support our health? 

Green tea helps to maintain women’s and men’s health* and it helps to reinforce the antioxidant defences of the body, including skin and eyes.* It also maintains healthy gut flora*, which means it feeds the bacteria in our gut, which in turn keeps our immune system functioning.  All of these things are important at this time of year when you’re trying to look and feel better at the same time as fighting off colds and flu.

Recent green tea supplement research

If you are one of the many thousands who are kick starting their year with a regular exercise routine, with a plan to lose weight, you may be interested in some research which was published in September of last year. 

Considering the relationship between cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke) and obesity, the study investigated the effects of a green tea supplement and high-intensity interval training on blood cholesterol, triglycerides, maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) and other risk factors in overweight women.

Thirty overweight women (aged 20-30), were chosen and randomly divided into three equal groups (green tea alone, or exercise + green tea, or exercise + placebo). They worked-out for 10 weeks doing 40m shuttle runs at maximum effort. Women took 500 mg per day of green tea extract or placebo tablets. 

After 10 weeks, triglycerides, LDL (bad cholesterol), weight, and body fat percentage decreased in all groups. HDL (good cholesterol) and VO2max significantly increased in the exercise + green tea and exercise + placebo groups; whilst in the green tea group they did not, which would be expected without exercise.

It suggests that to get the full health benefits, a green tea extract combined with high intensity interval training exercise is probably the best way to go. Green tea and exercise both have their own unique way of improving different measurements and so collectively provide the best option.

Our carefully sourced green tea extract is low in caffeine and is composed of 98% green tea polyphenols.

* EFSA ARTICLE 13.1 BOTANICALS ON-HOLD LIST

Photo by Verena Böttcher on Unsplash

Xanthohumol now used in IBD research

Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis are the two most common forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and together they affect more than 300,000 people in the UK. IBDs can trigger a wide range of symptoms including pain, cramps, weight loss, extreme tiredness, diarrhoea and swelling of the stomach. 

Due to the high prevalence of nutrient deficiencies in patients with IBD, routine monitoring of nutrient status and supplementation are recommended. Not only are deficiencies a wider problem, but the resulting inflammation causes pain and intolerance to food during flare ups when the diseases are active.

Xanthohumol is an extract of the hop flower which protects body cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Xanthohumol protects body cells from oxidation-induced cell stress and reinforces cell protection*

A team in Portland, Oregon, who have been running multiple studies investigating the health benefits of xanthohumol hop extracts, have released their latest preliminary study, this time in IBD. The formula contained xanthohumol and curcumin, which is well studied for its anti-inflammatory effects* in IBD. The formula also contained a mixture of micronutrients (including methylated forms of folate and vitamin B12), macronutrients, and phytonutrients including, ginger compounds, and quercetin. Ten adults with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis were recruited from the Portland metropolitan area. Participants consumed a beverage twice daily for 12 weeks. 

The researchers wanted to see if the beverage affected blood nutrients and blood cells involved in immunity. Primary measures were the following parameters: folate, vitamin B12, red blood cell (RBC) count, haemoglobin, haematocrit, electrolytes, and albumin. Exploratory measures included a food frequency questionnaire, circulating blood cell counts, and inflammatory markers.

Nine participants completed the study and one withdrew. Adherence was 98%. Serum folate and red cell distribution width improved in adults with IBD after 12 weeks. Modulation of leukocyte subtypes was also observed, including a decrease in neutrophils and an increase in lymphocytes, with no change in total WBC count. 

The team have planned a bigger study to fully examine the effects of the beverage in IBD patients, exciting news for those who suffer from these conditions.

* EU EFSA ARTICLE 13.1 BOTANICALS ON HOLD LIST.

Photo by zhenzhong liu on Unsplash

Xanthohumol+ SKIN

The quest for clear, glowing and youthful skin has obsessed people for centuries. People invest in lotions and potions, swear by their favourite skincare routines and turn to medical intervention to try and achieve the perfect complexion.

Altruvita’s Xanthohumol+ Skin food supplement contains hop extract in a carefully formulated concentration which works synergistically to support problem-skin. The expert team behind Altruvita believe that healthy skin is best achieved by supplementing our diet with natural ingredients which are backed up by science.

A naturally derived component of hops, xanthohumol has been investigated as an anti-acne compound when it is tested directly on the skin. The tests showed strong antibacterial activity against P. acnesS. epidermidis, S. aureus, K. rhizophila and S. pyogenes, which are bacteria living in the skin and linked to the development of spots. Xanthohumol and humulones, also found in hops, demonstrated action against the enzymes which break down collagen, which supports the structure of the skin. 

Xanthohumol also showed the highest antioxidative potential from all of the plant extracts tested. Antioxidants could play a significant role in delaying the aging process of skin by scavenging free radicals and preventing the activity of collagenase and elastase enzymes.

Altruvita Xanthohumol+ Skin is designed to help protect the body from the ageing effects of a stressful lifestyle. Xanthohumol has a number of therapeutic health benefits and as an antioxidant it protects cells from stress-induced oxidation and premature ageing.*

* EU EFSA ARTICLE 13.1 BOTANICALS ON HOLD LIST.

Tiny particulates from emissions are causing diabetes

It has been suggested for some time that PM2·5 (the smallest type of particulates found in emissions which go unfiltered into the lungs) are associated with increased risk of diabetes; however, nobody really knew how big the effect was. 

To really dig down on what was happening, last year scientists took a group of 1,729,108 US veterans and followed them to see what happened over an 8.5-year period, taking note of the all the fine details, where they live and PM2.5 levels. 

Diabetes was recorded by using the International Classification of Diseases-9 code, diabetes medication prescription or abnormal blood glucose level tests.

A 10 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) increase in PM2·5 was associated with increased risk of diabetes and exposure to PM2·5 was associated with increased risk of death. An integrated exposure response function showed that the risk of diabetes increased substantially above 2·4 μg/m3, and then exhibited a more moderate increase at concentrations above 10 μg/m3.

Globally, ambient PM2·5 contributed to about 3.2million incident cases of diabetes, about 8.2million disability adjusted life year (DALYs) caused by diabetes, and 206,105 deaths from diabetes attributable to PM2·5 exposure, especially in low-income and lower-to-middle-income countries.

Importantly, the study shows that substantial risk exists at concentrations well below those outlined in the air quality standards of WHO and national and international regulatory agencies, meaning targets need to tighten even further.

The biological mechanism underpinning the association is based on the premise that pollutants enter the bloodstream where they might interact with tissue components to produce pathological effects. This mechanism is now supported by evidence both in experimental models and humans that inhaled nanoparticles, which when sufficiently small can enter the bloodstream and interact with distant organs—including liver tissue—and exhibit affinity to accumulate at sites of blood vessel (vascular) inflammation.

Both research studies and human evidence suggest that exposure to ambient air pollutants can lead to clinically significant disturbances in oxidative stress, inflammation, cell division and broad metabolic derangements in glucose and insulin homoeostasis. This includes glucose intolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity and impaired secretion, and increased blood lipid concentrations, thus providing biological mechanistic plausibility to the association of PM2·5 exposure and the risk of diabetes.

The global burden of diabetes attributable to PM2·5 air pollution is significant. Reduction in exposure will yield substantial health benefits, but protecting the body from not only breathing particles in, but also providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents must also become a focus until things that contribute to emissions, such as diesel fuels, are faded out.

Altruvita’s Air Pollution Formula is designed to provide natural support in a polluted world, click here to learn more about this food supplement.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Living in a polluted area is as bad for your health as smoking 150 cigarettes a year

Living or working in the UK’s most polluted cities and towns increases the risk of an early death by the equivalent of smoking three cigarettes a week, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has warned today.

The BHF has called for air pollution to be declared “a public health emergency” following the starling results of a research project funded by the charity. The study in question found that breathing in the particulate matter found in polluted air is a serious risk factor for diseases effecting the circulatory system.

Around 11,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths each year in the UK are caused by particulate matter air pollution. It can also worsen existing health problems such as respiratory illnesses, but in truth it effects every part of our body.

It’s the PM2.5 – the smallest of the particulate matter found in vehicle emissions – that are of most concern, as these cannot be filtered out of the air we breathe by our nostrils or the tube going down into the lungs.

The BHF analysis shows that the Chelsea, Newham, Westminster, Kensington and Islington areas of London are worst hit by air pollution – the equivalent to smoking more than 150 cigarettes a year on average. Those in Waltham Forest, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, Lambeth and Southwark in London are also badly affected, as are people in Slough, Dartford, Gravesham, Thurrock, Portsmouth, Medway and Luton,

The results of studies such as these have led to an increase in demands that the next government should urgently introduce the much tougher World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits in place of EU limits. the current EU limits – which the UK comfortably meets – for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are 25 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average. The WHO limits are much tougher – at 10 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average. The potential health benefits of lowering these levels would allow everyone to live healthier lives for longer.

it’s not all doom and gloom – we’ve recently written about how dietary components can help play a role in combatting the effects of air pollution, which you can read about here. Altruvita’s medical and nutritionist team has also developed Air Pollution Formula, the very first food supplement of its kind and designed to provide natural support in a polluted world.

There are many ways you can try to limit your exposure to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, and to help you out we’ve gathered them together in our insightful Air Pollution Survival Guide. Download your FREE copy here.