Super selenium, the lesser-known immune system hero

At the moment we are all keen to maintain good health and do our best to support our immune systems. There’s adhering to lockdown rules, washing our hands, not touching our faces and getting plenty of sleep. But what are the nutrients and vitamins hidden in our food which enable our bodies to effectively fight bacteria and viruses if we get exposed to them? You’ve probably heard of vitamin C in relation to immunity; perhaps vitamin D too… but what about selenium? Is this lesser-known micronutrient something you need to be aware of in these challenging times?

What is selenium and which foods is it found in?

Selenium is an essential trace element with a number of biological functions. Selenium levels affect the ability of the body to repair DNA by protecting cells from oxidative stress. Selenium is also heavily involved in the endocrine (e.g. thyroid function) and immune systems. Selenium occurs in organic and inorganic forms. The organic form is found predominantly in grains, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products and enters the food chain via plant consumption.

What happens if you are deficient in selenium? 

Selenium deficiency has also been associated with increased incidence, severity (virulence) and/or progression of viral infections such as influenza (flu), HIV and Coxsackie virus. For example, flu infections are known to cause significantly greater lung problems in selenium‐deficient mice compared with selenium adequate mice. Another study found the amount of inflammation and severity of illness was significantly higher in selenium deficient mice.

It has been suggested that increased severity of viral infections in selenium‐deficient mice could be the result of increased oxidative stress caused by impaired antioxidant enzyme activity. Excessive inflammation may be the result of viral‐induced tissue damage and an increased expression of NF‐kB, which controls inflammatory responses, because of increased oxidative stress.

What can you do to help ensure optimum selenium levels? 

Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. For that reason, it’s essential to eat a balanced diet so that you are giving your body the best chance of getting all the nutrients it needs. If you are concerned that you don’t eat enough of the foods listed above, perhaps because you are adhering to a strict vegan diet, it could be worth exploring a selenium supplement. 

Altruvita's selenium supplement

Selenium deficiency, or simply having low levels, can affect health. Altruvita’s selenium is from selenomethionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) and provides over 180% of the adult daily requirement for health (nutrient reference value). We are also vegan and vegetarian approved by the Vegetarian Society, so this is the perfect selenium supplement for those sticking to a plant-based diet.

How to support your immune system

There has never been a more important time to be proactive with our nutrition, with the aim of supporting the very best immune system defence.

Our immune systems play a role not only in fighting off infections, but also in promoting tissue repair to recovery. To function properly, our immune system requires plenty of both macro and micronutrients.

To help support your health over the next few months, we’ve put together a few diet and lifestyle pointers to keep you going in this worrying time.

Avoid strenuous exercise

Moderate-intensity exercise can be protective against illness by boosting the immune system, whereas high-intensity sessions actually compromise the immune system. Our immune system takes a hit for up to 72 hours following high-intensity training, making this a key time for susceptibility. This is especially important to note if you exercise in a class with others, where you’re more likely to pick up bacteria and viruses.

Let yourself sleep, rest and recover

Rest and recovery are key to prevent getting ill and further unwanted illness. If you’re always on the go with minimal rest, your immune system can be compromised long term. Poor sleep can affect the immune system and make you more susceptible to infection or illness. Sometimes it’s hard to stop, particularly when the future feels so uncertain, but don’t ever underestimate the importance of rest and relaxation! Run a hot bath, read a book, get a massage or listen to relaxing music every now and again.

Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol

Excessive chronic intake of alcohol can decrease the number of a few white blood cells types, which means that your immune system will not be as able to fight off any bugs. Keeping within the alcohol guidelines will help, which in the UK is currently set at 14 units per week. That’s 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine if that’s your preferred tipple. If you do prefer to round off the week with a few drinks you could pick drinks with healthy, vitamin-packed mixers such as orange, tomato or pineapple juice.

It’s not the time to diet

If you are unlucky enough to pick up an infection, you will need plenty of energy to fight it off. That means that it might not be the wisest time to start a calorie reduced diet – unless of course you have a pressing health issue that means you need to lose weight urgently. Low intakes of carbohydrates such as bread, rice and potatoes, which end up as glucose in the blood, can be a contributing factor to impaired immunity.

Keep well hydrated

Unfortunately, being dehydrated can also contribute to a compromised immune system. Still at this time of year when there’s still a bit of a nip on the air, it’s easy to forget to drink. One of the front-line defences in our immune systems are the immune proteins in our saliva. When we’re dehydrated, the levels of these proteins decreases, meaning our initial defence to bugs entering through the mouth is also decreased. Make sure you don’t wait to feel thirsty before you drink up, carry a water bottle with you (everywhere!) and keep sipping throughout the day.

Taste the Rainbow

Fruit and vegetables contain a wide range of different micronutrients with varying roles within the body. Many of these nutrients are involved in immune function such as iron, vitamins C and D, selenium and zinc. Anyone with even mild deficiencies in any of these micronutrients can have an altered immune response.

The easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and other phytochemicals is to consume a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables. Taste the rainbow- choose different coloured and textured fruit and veg every single day!

Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin C, vitamin D and selenium all help to support a healthy immune system. Not everyone can eat enough to get these micronutrients (or get enough sun in a UK winter), so consider taking a food supplement if you are lacking some antioxidant or immune protection. Contrary to popular belief, huge doses of vitamin C are not required in winter. At doses of say 400-500mg a day, the excess vitamin C is simply excreted in urine, making it literally money down the toilet!

In summary: consume enough antioxidants to support your immune system, sleep well, drink plenty (but not too many drinks of the alcoholic kind), avoid strenuous activity and wash your hands before eating to stay well.

Could curcumin support patients with liver disease?

Between 2015 and 2017 there were 26,265 premature deaths due to liver disease in England, a rate of 18.5 per 100,000 population under the age of 75. Liver disease includes cirrhosis, which is the scarring and hardening of liver tissue in response to damage. The causes of cirrhosis include drinking lots of alcohol for many years, hepatitis C infection and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Cirrhosis can’t be cured, so treatment is focused on managing symptoms and complications, whilst preventing the condition worsening. 

Researchers have explored the food supplement curcumin for its beneficial effects supporting patients suffering from other liver diseases, but it is only recently that studies have focused on cirrhosis. Curcumin is a yellow polyphenol isolated from the rhizome of Curcuma longa, more commonly known as turmeric, a characteristic plant of tropical and subtropical regions. Turmeric has been used as a spice and traditional medicine in Asia for centuries, and it’s now a popular food supplement in the West.

The new study aimed to investigate the effects of curcumin supplementation in patients suffering from liver cirrhosis. In this clinical trial, 70 patients with liver cirrhosis aged 20-70 years were randomly divided into two groups to receive 1,000 mg/day curcumin or placebo for 3 months. End-stage liver disease scores were used to assess the severity of their cirrhosis. 

60 patients (29 in the curcumin group and 31 in the placebo group) completed the study.  End-stage liver disease scores decreased (improved) significantly in the curcumin group after a 3-month intervention, whereas they increased (got worse) significantly in the placebo group. Significant differences were only observed between the two groups after a time frame of 3-months.  Similar doses are used in other liver diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This is exciting news for medical professionals looking for ways to support people suffering from liver disease.

If you would like to explore the powerful anti-inflammatory support of curcumin for yourself, why not take a closer look at our curcumin food supplement? 

Altruvita Curcumin+ comes in 250mg capsules and is the most absorbable form on the market.

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.

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.

Alternative treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) remains a common and difficult to manage gastrointestinal condition. There is growing interest in the use of traditional medicine to manage IBS, as prescribed drugs often fail after time and revolve around symptom management of cramps and diarrhoea rather than addressing the cause of the problem. In particular, curcumin, a biologically active phytochemical, has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in several studies. 

Last year a group of researchers looked at all the studies available with IBS and curcumin. 3 studies were included in the final analysis this included treatment of 326 patients.

They found curcumin to have a beneficial effect on IBS symptoms. With its unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, and ability to modulate gut microbiota, curcumin is a potentially useful agent for IBS. It also appears safe and well-tolerated, with no adverse events reported in the available trials. 

There are more studies on the way looking at even more benefits that it may have in the gut and elsewhere in the body, so watch this space!

Altruvita’s Happy Tum supplement contains highly absorbable curcumin, green tea and vitamin D. Take a closer look at Happy Tum here.

Suffering from stiff and creaky joints?

Stiffness and aching joints are often associated with winter, in particular the dropping temperatures and increase in wet weather. The exact science behind why colder weather increases joint pain is still slightly unclear, but there’s plenty of evidence to show levels of discomfort rise when it’s cooler. For those living with arthritis or stiff, aging joints it’s worth exploring natural support to get through the winter in comfort. Introducing turmeric, a vibrant yellow spice that could be a secret weapon in the battle against join stiffness and pain. 

Turmeric has traditionally been used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis. Curcuminoids within turmeric are collectively called ‘curcumin’ and we are confident in the science which shows that curcumin blocks inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), in the same way as the common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) painkiller ibuprofen. A study on knee osteoarthritis patients compared the ability of curcumin and another NSAID called diclofenac to inhibit cyclo-oxygenase 2.Both the groups showed significantly reduced cyclo-oxygenase 2 secretions, meaning inflammation levels were lower after the use of a painkiller, but also after the use of curcumin.

Several recent studies show that turmeric/curcumin has noticeable anti-inflammatory properties and it also modifies immune system responses related to arthritis.  A 2006 study showed turmeric was more effective at preventing joint inflammation than reducing joint inflammation. However, a 2010 clinical trial found that a turmeric supplement provided long-term improvement in pain and function in 100 patients with knee osteoarthritis.

One study compared the effects of ibuprofen (2 × 400 mg/day) with those of curcumin (4 × 500 mg/day) in patients who were over 50 years of age, had severe knee pain and their radiography showed the presence of osteophytes. Both the groups showed improvements in all assessments but the curcumin group was statistically better in patient satisfaction, timed walk or stair climbing and pain during walking or stair climbing. 

A pilot clinical study evaluated the safety and effectiveness of curcumin alone, and in combination with diclofenac sodium in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Forty-five patients diagnosed with RA were randomized into three groups with patients receiving curcumin (500 mg) and diclofenac sodium, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). (50 mg) alone or their combination. The curcumin product reduced joint pain and swelling in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis better than diclofenac. More importantly, curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not relate with any adverse events.

Another study evaluated the comparative efficacy of two different doses of curcumin with that of a placebo in active rheumatoid arthritis patients. Twelve patients in each group received placebo, 250 or 500 mg of the curcumin product twice daily for 90 days. Patients who received the curcumin product at both low and high doses reported statistically significant changes in their clinical symptoms at the end of the study. These reported changes were backed up by changes seen in patients’ blood tests. 

Curcumin+ is a powerful anti-inflammatory*, antioxidant* formula that helps support inflammatory issues for optimum wellness. It helps protect and support joint comfort and flexibility*.

* EFSA ARTICLE 13.1 BOTANICALS ON HOLD LIST.

Photo by Anna Auza on Unsplash

Banish smartphones and turn WIFI and TVs off for better quality sleep

You may remember the news from last year that the artificial blue light emitted by our smart phone screens is too stimulating for our brains at bedtime, but did you know that there are also plenty of other electronic devices which can impact sleep?

WIFI emits Electromagnetic Frequency radiation (EMF).  In 2013, the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Melbourne published a study on how EMF affects the quality of our sleep, especially in relation to the pineal gland which sits in the brain.

They found that our bodies sense EMF radiation in a similar way to how we perceive light. The pineal gland (the gland responsible for producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and circadian rhythm) slows down production. When we’re unable to get proper sleep, our ability to fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections and repair tissue damage is impaired. Sleep is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle, and EMF radiation dramatically affects our ability to get that sleep- a fact also understood by NASA.

Turn your WIFI off at night.

And it’s not just WIFI that effects the quality of our sleep, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicinedraws a very interesting link between weight gain and sleeping with a television on.

The study followed women between the ages of 35 and 74, and showed that sleeping with the TV on, or any other source of bright light in the bedroom, led to weight gain. The data from a five-year period shows that those who have a TV or other light source on while they sleep gained over 10lbs during the period of the study.

We are meant to sleep in the dark, we are equipped with a pineal gland to wake us up at sunrise.

Getting enough solid sleep every night is one thing essential to health, and lack of sleep has indeed been associated with a variety of conditions. Lack of deep sleep and not getting enough sleep overall are both correlated with obesity.

Artificial light has been shown to hamper sleep quality, and that’s one of the reasons why blue-light-dimming features have crept into our mobile devices and computers. Remember, no phones under your pillow either! Why not buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and banish tablets and smartphones from the bedroom altogether?

As well as embracing darkness and electronic device-free zones to promote better quality sleep, it might interest you to know that hops have been known for their calming abilities for centuries. This is thought to be partly due to the xanthohumol that they contain, which induces mental wellbeing and brings better sleep*. Take a closer look at our Hops and Dreams supplement here

*ESFA Article 13.1 botanicals on hold list

Photo by Mohamed MAZOUZ on Unsplash

Air pollution- At what cost?

Let’s face it, there are no winners when it comes to air pollution. Plants, animals and humans all absorb it one way or another.

If you have ever experienced true smog or breathed in the dirty exhaust fumes when an old car drives past, you’ll know that pollution irritates the parts of your body that comes into contact with it – your chest (lungs), skin and eyes. Wheezing, ageing and itchy skin and sore eyes are really common symptoms of exposure to air pollution. The latest research also shows that much more life-threatening medical changes can happen too.

A team at King’s College London published data from 9 UK cities – London, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton. They found that high air pollution levels in those cities trigger hundreds more heart attacks, strokes and acute asthma attacks each year.

From ambulance call data, they calculated that the days with above average pollution levels would see an extra 124 cardiac arrests over the year. On days with high pollution levels, across the nine cities in total, they calculated that there would be a total of 231 additional hospital admissions for stroke, with an extra 193 children and adults taken to hospital for asthma treatment.

In London, high-pollution days would see an extra 87 heart attacks per year and an extra 144 strokes. 74 children and 33 adults would end up in hospital with asthma-related issues.

Among the long-term risks associated with high pollution levels are stunted lung growth and low birth weight.

The King’s College research also suggests cutting air pollution by a fifth, which is more than attainable over a short period, would decrease incidents of lung cancer by between 5% and 7% across the nine cities surveyed.

None of this should be a huge shock, after all we are breathing in toxic chemicals and particulates and of course air pollution costs lives and causes a range of illnesses, thus impacting more on the financial constraints of the health service.

The UK hosted an international clean air summit earlier in the month with the aim of exploring ways to improve air quality. Along with cleaning up the air in our environment, it may also be possible to support your health with a range of actions and a food supplement which contains ingredients proven to work against pollution. Read our Air Pollution Survival Guide to find out more.