Can Vitamin C guard against colds?

Vitamin C is often touted as a natural cold remedy. The nutrient is featured in supplements aimed at the immune system.

About vitamin C

Our bodies can’t make vitamin C, but we need it for protection of cells from oxidative stress.* It contributes to normal nervous system, psychological function, and helps reduce tiredness and fatigue through involvement in energy yielding metabolism.* Vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation, and the normal function of bones, teeth, cartilage, gums and skin.* In regards to aiding the use and absorption of other nutrients, Vitamin C helps utilise vitamin E and increases iron absorption.*

We get vitamin C from our diet, usually in fruits and vegetables, but also potatoes provide a useful contribution to the diet. The recommended daily amount is 80mg per day in adults.

The impact on colds

The best evidence to date comes from a 2013 review of 29 randomised trials with more than 11,000 participants. Researchers found that among extremely active people—such as marathon runners, skiers, and Army troops doing heavy exercise in subarctic conditions—taking at least 200 mg of vitamin C every day appeared to cut the risk of getting a cold in half. But for the general population, taking daily vitamin C did not reduce the risk of getting a cold. So if you’re really active you may benefit from taking a vitamin C supplement all year round.

Taking at least 200 mg of vitamin C per day did appear to reduce the duration of cold symptoms by an average of 8% in adults and 14% in children, which translated to about one less day of illness. That could be really important for some people, since the common cold causes millions of lost days at work every year.

What you should do?

Should you take a supplement? Of course it’s better to get vitamin C from food, because you also get other important nutrients. Eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day for general health, and you’ll get enough vitamin C to meet your 80mg target.

If you exercise vigorously or want to reduce cold duration you may need to take a supplement to get a higher dose. If you want the benefits of vitamin C, you’ll need to consume it every day, and not just at the start of cold symptoms.

What about claims that massive doses of vitamin C can help prevent a cold? Some studies have suggested there may be a benefit, but they required doses of 8,000 mg per day. The problems is that at doses above 400 mg, vitamin C is excreted in the urine- see our blog about Altruvita using sensible doses of vitamin C. A daily dose of 2,000 mg or more can cause nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and it may interfere with tests for blood sugar.

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS

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Diet and male fertility research

We recently wrote about the effect of a low selenium blood level in men causing male infertility, and the positive effects of supplementation.* Perhaps it is not a surprise that the rest of the diet can also play a role

A team in Spain examined the diets of men who were analysed within 35 studies. Their paper was published in Human Reproduction Update.

Generally, the results indicated that healthy diets rich in some nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, some antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, β-carotene, selenium, zinc, cryptoxanthin and lycopene), other vitamins (vitamin D and folate) and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids were inversely associated with low semen quality parameters.

In terms of specific foods, the diets high in fish, shellfish, poultry, cereals, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and skimmed milk reflected in good sperm quality parameters.

Diets rich in processed meat, soy foods, potatoes, full-fat dairy and total dairy products, coffee, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets were detrimentally associated with the quality of semen in some studies.

The analysis also showed that a high intake of alcohol, caffeine, red meat and processed meat by males has a negative influence on the chance of pregnancy and fertilisation rates in their partners.

Although this review may show links or associations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something causes or prevents infertility. However the study is helpful to couples planning a pregnancy so they can be generally aware of what could be good, and what could be bad for their chances. As suggested in the first blog post, if possible, micronutrient screening blood tests of males can be done to see if deficiencies are present prior to conception.

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS

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Hop it!

10 years ago researchers discovered a potent antioxidant in beer that gives new meaning to the traditional toast: “to your health.”

Antioxidants are substances that protect against the damaging effects of oxygen and nitrogen in the human body.

Hops, used in most beers to provide flavouring, contain substances known as prenylated flavonoids. They are a better source of antioxidants than red wine, green tea and soy products, according to researchers in Oregon State University who run clinical trials on hop extracts.

But to maximise the health benefits of hops, you’d have to drink about 450 litres of beer per day. The most likely outcome for the research, therefore, is a pill that captures their enhanced antioxidant activity.

You can’t cure a disease by drinking beer, but it might just help in the tiniest way. The bottom line is that you’re going to get some, but not preventative, levels of antioxidants by drinking beer.

Different beers have varying levels of antioxidants, ranging from a high of four milligrams per liter for some lager beers to negligible levels in some microbrews.

Previous research indicates that beer has other characteristics as well as antioxidant properties. The current research identifies the heretofore-unknown reason for these healthful qualities and suggests, for the first time, their source: the prenylated flavonoids in hops – specifically, the compound xanthohumol..

Xanthohumol is found exclusively in hops, is six times more effective than antioxidants found in citrus fruits and almost four times more effective than antioxidants found in soy products, Combined with vitamin E, xanthohumol has even greater antioxidant activity.

The compound’s chemical structure could explain its added potency.  As a prenylated flavonoid, xanthohumol has an additional layer of protection that allows it to survive longer in the body than other known flavonoids. A prenyl group has a particular arrangement of carbon and hydrogen molecules that have protective properties.

Flavonoids have been known to be antioxidants for years. Flavonoids are widely sold in pill form in health food stores and supermarkets, where they are presented as nutritional supplements.

Xanthohumol has higher antioxidant activity than previously known flavonoids- It takes less of these to do the same job as others and they do a better job with the same amount.

Xanthohumol protects the body cells from harmful free radicals which damage cells*. Xanthohumol protects them from oxidation induced cell stress and reinforces cell protection*.

* EFSA Article 13.1 botanicals on hold list.

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Multi-tasking plants in combating air pollution

Air pollution is on the rise. When indoor and outdoor air pollution are combined, WHO estimates that in 2012, some 14% of deaths were due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or acute lower respiratory infections, and 14% of deaths were due to lung cancer.

Emissions from vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution. They release nitrogen dioxides and fine particles, leading to local pollution especially in urban areas. The most damaging type of outdoor air pollution is fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5 ).
Other sources contributing to PM2.5 concentrations can come from afar however, as there have been many occasions where ‘Saharan dust’ has triggered respiratory problems in the UK population, but the dust has been found to contain these fine particulates and ammonium nitrate from Europe.

Air pollution reduces overall life expectancy in healthy individuals, but in combination with other existing health conditions can also cause early death.

A study from 2017 looked at the role of woodland, grassland, moorland and crops in removing a suite of air pollutants which are known to have substantial impacts on human health. The study looked at levels of PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide, ground level ozone, and sulphur dioxide in these areas. 

The study showed that plants are great at removing pollutants right across the UK and this overall reduction in the levels of pollutants leads to a substantial health benefit.

Several groups got together and estimated the health benefits of removing each pollutant and calculated the economic value. The main health impacts originate from respiratory and cardiovascular health effects, and deaths. The benefits are greater in urban areas because that is where most people live.

Plants remove air pollution by providing a large surface area for particulate matter to settle on, and by active uptake of gases into the leaves or chemical reactions with the leaf surface. Collectively these processes are called ‘dry deposition’. The amount of pollution a plant can remove depends partly on its leaf area and size, but also varies greatly depending on the weather, the time of year (for deciduous species which drop their leaves in winter), and on the other pollutants present in the atmosphere.

The health benefits calculated were substantial, with estimated avoided health costs of one billion pounds in 2015, the majority of this is from removal of PM2.5. The study also estimated 5,800 fewer respiratory hospital admissions, 1,300 fewer cardiovascular hospital admissions, 27,000 less life years that were lost, and 1,900 fewer premature deaths.

So it looks like if we are filling our garden or hedges with plants, we want those with big surfaces that don’t drop leaves Autumn-Winter.

Meanwhile, indoor air pollution is also a constant problem and a threat to health. So looking further into the idea of how houseplants can fend off the potentially harmful effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a main category of air pollutants, a team of researchers have made some new discoveries. They found that certain plants are better at removing specific compounds from the air – this is especially meaningful for indoor air, as studies have shown that interior air can have three to five times more pollutants than outside (apart from in high traffic areas).

VOCs include things like acetone, benzene, formaldehyde and tolulene – they are emitted as gases and can cause short- and long-term health effects. People with asthma and COPD are especially sensitive. They are invisible to the eye and come from common things many of us have around the house, things as innocent-seeming as candles, furniture, copiers and printers, cleaning chemicals.

Since the NASA research in the 1980s, a number of studies have looked into how plants improve air quality, but most of the research has looked at the removal of single VOCs by individual plants from the air; but one groups wanted to compare the efficiency of simultaneous removal of several VOCs by a number plants. The team used a sealed chamber in which they monitored the VOC concentrations over several hours with and without a different type of plant. For each plant they measured the VOCs the plants took up, how quickly they removed these VOCs from the air, and how much of the VOCs were removed altogether. They gathered five plants (spider plant, dracaena, Caribbean tree cactus, bromeliad and jade plants) and gave them 8 VOCs.

They found that all of the plants were good at removing acetone, but the dracaena plant took up the most, around 94 percent of the chemical. The bromeliad plant was great at removing six of the eight VOCs, taking up more than 80 percent of each over a 12-hour sampling period. Likewise, the jade plant was very good for toluene.

Particular botanicals and nutrients from food have been tested in combatting all sorts of nasty bits floating around in our air, so take a look at our products!

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Sea of change

Microplastics found as microbeads within cleaning, beauty and dental products are so small they cannot be sived out through water plants and these tiny particles often end up in the sea. Microplasics are one type of pollution that we come across in everyday life, we can’t always see them, just like many types of air pollution. These pollutants are present throughout the marine environment and ingestion of these plastic particles (<1 mm) has been demonstrated in a laboratory setting for a wide array of marine organisms. Like plastics of any size, they look like food, but end up clogging up the insides of the animal, leading to starvation.

A study published 5 years ago investigated the presence of microplastics in two species of commercially grown shellfish: Mytilus edulis (blue mussel) and Crassostrea gigas (pacific oyster). Microplastics were recovered from the soft tissues of both species. At time of human consumption, M. edulis contained on average 0.36g plastic, while a plastic load of 0.47g was detected in C. gigas.

As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 microplastics per year. What is the effect of this pollution on our bodies? The presence of marine microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety, however, due to the complexity of estimating microplastic toxicity, estimations of the potential risks for human health posed by microplastics in food stuffs is not yet possible.

Microbeads will eventually be banned, however it will take generations to leave the seas. In the meantime do we avoid shellfish and fish, and all the other pollutants they contain, like heavy metals? Or do we protect our bodies from these pollutants with a diet high in antioxidants compounds which can help prevent oxidative damage to our insides?

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Vitamin E

Vitamin E is one of your most powerful fat-soluble vitamin which relies heavily on fat absorption to get sufficient blood levels. The majority of vitamin E is stored in your fat cells with smaller amounts found in the heart, muscles, reproductive organs, and the adrenal and pituitary glands. D-alpha-tocopherol is the natural form, and the most abundant and biologically active form of vitamin E (the synthetic version of vitamin E is less biologically active).

Vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.* Vitamin E is a key player in the body’s antioxidant network where it prevents free radical damage and oxidation from occurring, and once it has been used to neutralise free radicals, it can be recycled over and over again with the help of other antioxidants such as curcumin, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, glutathione and alpha Lipoic acid. 

Short term high doses of vitamin E can be useful in treating deficiency and a number of health problems which are caused by oxidative damage to a variety of body cells.

* EU REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS 

Vitamin D

We all need vitamin D, not only to live but to help prevent a variety of medical conditions and diseases including osteoporosis, depression, brain functioning problems, bowel inflammation and related issues. If people exposed their skin to daily sunlight there would be no need for a dietary or supplementary intake, however as our skin ages, consumption is more and more important as skin becomes less able to react to sunlight.

Our current European recommendation is to consume 5μg of vitamin D3 a day, however the new draft from the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition guidelines suggest that everyone should take 10μg as a supplement every day, that’s 400IU of vitamin D3. It is possible to overdose and people should not exceed around 10,000 IU per day.

Although supplements supply a guaranteed whack of vitamin D, other sources that are promoted most frequently are fish because of their beneficial oils. Does anyone really know how much is in a fish and what fish to choose though?

Fish and fish products are regarded as the major dietary source of vitamin D. National food composition databases show values in the range of 0 to over 300 μg/kg of fish and fish products. A fish liver has the highest content with some as high as 1200 μg/kg of vitamin D.

The highest non liver amounts were found in fresh eel and shiokara, a Japanese fish product. The lowest are seen in highly processed fish. The vitamin D-3 content of the frozen fish and fish products ranged between <2 (shrimp) and 196 μg/kg (roe of vendace)

Contrary to general belief, vitamin D content may depend on the diet (i.e., the vitamin D-3 content of zooplankton and there is no significant correlation between fat and vitamin D content of fish ie it doesn’t matter how ‘oily’ the fish is!

So how much fish would you need every day to get the newly recommended 10 μg /400IU extra vitamin D3 per day?

  • ½ tsp codliver oil
  • 1.5 ounces of pink canned salmon
  • 2 ounces of cooked fresh swordfish
  • 2 ounces of fresh mackerel
  • 2.5 ounces of rainbow trout
  • 3 ounces of fresh sockeye salmon
  • 6 ounces of canned tuna, drained
  • Over 8 ounces of cod
  • 17 sardines, canned in oil and drained

So have a look at the above and you’ll see it’s quite hard and also expensive to attain extra vitamin D! This is probably why the government state a supplement and not food!

#reduceyourrisk

Happy Brain, Happy Tum

If you’ve ever uttered the words, ‘I’ve got a gut feeling about this’ or ‘I’ve got butterflies in my stomach’, you’ll understand the connection between your gut and your brain. What you may not know is that there is a real biological link between them.

The gut is home to an important part of the nervous system, and contains over 100 million nerve cells. These line the gastrointestinal tract, and help digest food and control blood flow. They are the reason we can ‘feel’ what is happening in the gut.

The gut is also home to part of the immune system, in the form of gut bacteria. These bacteria also communicate with the nerve cells.

One of the most common causes of discomfort during the digestive process is stress. Typically, once the stressful stimuli go away, your gut will return to normal. But ongoing stress can cause chronic inflammation, increasing the harmful bacteria in your gut.

Inflammation is a leading cause of many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, which is why it is so important to control it. The right nutrition can be very helpful in reducing inflammation in the body, but how do you achieve it?

A good place to start is with your levels of vitamin D3. Vitamin D is responsible for the normal function of the immune system, so see your GP for a blood test if you suspect you have changes to your gut health or you don’t get enough sunshine. You may be advised to take a supplement if deficiency is found.

Botanical extracts like green tea are known to have antioxidant properties and may maintain healthy gut flora. It can be drunk as tea, or taken as a green tea polyphenol supplement.

Curcumin, the extract from the Indian spice turmeric may contribute to digestive comfort and is an excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Turmeric, in the form of powder or fresh root, can be added to stews, curries and vegetables, and also to nut milk for a warming, latte-style drink.

Altruvita Happy Tum contains vitamin D, curcumin and green tea. Click here to find out more.

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Our 10 Top Tips for Digestive Comfort

If you’ve ever suffered from bloating after a big meal, you’ll know how uncomfortable and unpleasant it is. Bloating happens when the gut stores up excess gas, produced by bacteria. It can affect anyone, but it needn’t make you change your plans or affect every day activities. Take a look at our top tips to support gut health and digestive comfort.

  1. Trial avoiding vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and leeks for a week.
  2. Cut back on pulses like dry roasted peanuts, beans and lentils for a week.
  3. Take a probiotic for four weeks: put some lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in your gut.
  4. Avoid sweeteners like glycerol, sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol as gut bacteria love to munch on them!
  5. Slow down and avoid swallowing air! Take at least 15 minutes to eat a meal.
  6. Get tested for vitamin D3 deficiency.
  7. Drink green tea or peppermint tea. Green tea may maintain healthy gut flora.
  8. Try lactose-free milk and dairy products for 2-4 weeks: large doses of lactose may cause wind and bloating in a small amount of the population. 
  9. Add curcumin to your diet: it’s known to contribute to digestive comfort.
  • Don’t go too long between meals or chew chewing gum: an empty stomach produces more gas.

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