Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Raw Milk Debate

The sale and consumption of raw, unpasteurised milk remains controversial. It is illegal here in the UK and in many European countries. However, it has been legalised in over 40 states in the US. There has been an effort to introduce two federal bills aimed at relaxing the regulations that are associated with this product. Raw milk advocates tout its health benefits, while many in the public health and traditional dairy industry claim it is unsafe. So what is the basis for these claims and why the debate?

The FDA boldly prints warnings that raw, unpasteurised milk can carry dangerous bacteria. But supporters of the drink call it real milk and swear by its incredible health benefits. It may well be that the most popular form of milk in the US being UHT (ultra high treatment) and homogonised radically alters the taste of milk and pasteurised milk is difficult to source. Could it be that raw milk with its vastly distinct flavour to UHT is so nice that many disregard its risks for the sake of taste? Many claim that raw milk is 'lifesaving' with numerous health benefits, calling it 'real milk' because it comes from pastured animals and is unprocessed and full fat, she said it promotes overall health. European studies have shown that raw milk also protects against asthma, allergies, and eczema, and it is beneficial to babies, instead of formula, if mothers cannot produce enough breast milk. But not everyone is convinced about raw milk’s benefits. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many public health officials, and the dairy industry say raw milk is unsafe.

According to the FDA, raw milk contains numerous illness-causing pathogens, including E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, which they say are killed by pasteurisation. The FDA states that raw milk is particularly dangerous for babies, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Not to mention brucellosis, a bacterial infection that spreads from animals to people — most often via unpasteurised milk, cheese and other dairy products. More rarely, the bacteria that cause brucellosis can spread through the air or through direct contact with infected animals.

Brucellosis symptoms may include fever, joint pain and fatigue. The infection can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics. Treatment takes several weeks to months, however, and relapses are common. The disease affects hundreds of thousands of people and animals worldwide and avoiding unpasteurised dairy products and taking precautions when working with animals or in a laboratory can help prevent brucellosis.

Raw milk is inherently dangerous, no matter how it is sold. Even those states which allow raw milk sales typically will warn consumers that, even while raw milk is regulated and allowed to be sold, it is still dangerous.Based on CDC data, the FDA reports that from 1987 to 2010, raw milk caused more than 2,600 illnesses and three deaths. However, some argue that the rate of illness related to other raw foods, such as oysters and lettuce, and pasteurised dairy products is much higher than that of raw milk products.

Since 2007, when his organisation began tracking raw milk statistics, there have been three deaths attributed to pasteurised milk, five related to pasteurised cheese, and none based on raw milk or cheese. To cite CDC statistics, more than 10 million raw milk drinkers in the US, there are about 50 reported illnesses each year. Aside from the health benefits of raw milk, advocates say consumers should be allowed to make their own decisions about which products they purchase and consume.

Public health officials largely have not recognised the health benefits of raw milk, and the dairy industry is in fact afraid of raw milk because raw milk farmers are paid more per gallon for their products than traditional dairy farmers. The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation recently announced their opposition to two federal bills to relax raw milk regulations.

Interestingly, a number of states require warning labels on raw milk, but the FDA does not require labels. The agency states that labels do not sufficiently protect consumers, because label information may not be understood by those most susceptible to illness from raw milk. Consumers can evaluate the safety of their raw milk by visiting dairy farms and asking if farmers regularly test milk for somatic cell count, standard plate count, and coliform levels. Ultimately, consumers have the right to make their own decisions about raw milk and like any other food, if an illness occurs, consumers have recourse from anyone in the distribution chain, including farmers and retail outlets.

Here are some of the pros and cons of consuming raw milk:

CON: Unpasteurised milk can carry bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
According to the FDA, raw, unpasteurised milk can carry dangerous bacteria which are responsible for causing many foodborne illnesses. While supporters of raw milk cite that this is incredibly rare, that doesn't negate the fact that you can become very ill from bad bacteria in raw milk. It's the reason pasteurization was invented. The process of heating milk above 161 degrees helped curb such illnesses as Tuberculosis.

PRO: Raw milk proponents claim it tastes better.
Because raw milk has not been heated or homogenised and often comes from pasture raised animals, it tends to be sweeter and richer. Some of the country's best chefs swear by its flavour superiority.

PRO: Raw milk contains no additives.
Raw milk is milk that comes straight from the udder and is then directly cooled and bottled. Since raw milk hasn't been processed it has nothing in it but the milk that was taken from the cow. For food purists, this is a major plus.

CON: Raw milk is especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems.
According to the FDA, raw milk is especially risky for older adults, pregnant women and children. There have been documented cases where children who were given raw milk as a healthier dairy option ended up extremely ill.

PRO: Raw milk is responsible for some pretty amazing cheeses.
Raw milk contributes to the flavor of some of our favorite cheeses. The raw milk imparts unique characteristics of the land in which the cheese is made, giving it a distinctive terrior.

CON: There is no strong scientific evidence that raw milk is healthier, so why risk it?
While many raw milk enthusiasts cite studies that claim raw milk can help prevent asthma, lactose intolerance and allergies, those who are against raw milk consumption point out that these studies have been small and inconclusive.

For more information visit: 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Revisiting Sutherlandia (cancer bush)

Some years ago, there was much speculation and interest in a South African indigenous medicinal plant which was thought to hold the key to the treatment of millions of poor people living with HIV and Aids, helping them relieve the symptoms of Aids. Sutherlandia frutescens (commonly referred to as cancer bush) is an indigenous Southern African shrub that has a traditional African and settler folklore history.

It has previously been hyped as a treatment for a ridiculously long list of mostly improbable conditions and as a treatment, even cure, for cancer and AIDS, which action is specifically forbidden by law, for the good reason that it may raise false hopes and even lead to substitution for effective treatment of life-threatening illnesses. Sutherlandia moreover, contains significant concentrations of canavanine, an analogue of a conditionally essential amino acid, which in ill and or protein deficient individuals, erroneously enfolds into their proteins, only to have these tissues, even entire organs and or systems, eventually rejected and attacked by their own immune system. Canavanine moreover, is distinctively immunosuppressive of critical cellular immune responses against cancer cells and infectious organisms, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, helminths and fungi. Sutherlandia is therefore potentially an extremely dangerous substance and ought not to be fraudulently sold as a safe and efficacious panacea.

However, many reports remain contradictory and it is clear that further research and clinical trials are needed to refine the safety reports and concerns of scientists. The traditional use of this medicinal herb has been long established and a balanced view is required in the absence of clinical efficacy and safety reports.

Traditional Uses of Sutherlandia in Folk Medicine
This South African herb has been used traditionally by the natives to treat a number of ailments including:

  • cancer, which is the reason for its local nickname as the 'cancer bush'
  • to help improve the overall health of patients suffering from HIV/Aids
  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • as a pain reliever
  • to fight viral infections
  • to reduce inflammation

What Are the Health Benefits of Sutherlandia?
There have been a number of studies into the health benefits of Sutherlandia. Scientists have been especially interested in determining whether this plant can actually fight aids, diabetes, cancer and a host of other dreaded diseases. Here is a summary of research into Sutherlandia's health benefits as published in various peer reviewed journals:

A paper entitled "In vitro culture studies of Sutherlandia frutescens on human tumor cell lines", published in the Journal of of Ethnopharmacology, 2004 Jul;93(1):9-19 found that sutherlandia inhibited the proliferation of specific cancer cells by as much as fifty percent. This study only tested sutherlandia in vitro, which is to say in a test tube, and did not use animals or humans.

A study published in Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2004 Jul-Aug;26(6):409-16. found that Sutherlandia frutescens had anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation), analgesic (is a pain killer) and lowered blood sugar levels. The researches concluded that the experimental testing lent credence to the traditional medical uses of this plant as a treatment for arthritis and type 2 diabetes.\

In "The antioxidant potential of Sutherlandia frutescens" published in J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Nov;95(1):1-5., researchers at the University of South Africa concluded that the plant has strong anti-oxidant activities which may explain its reported effectiveness in treating inflammation.

In "Anti-HIV activities of organic and aqueous extracts of Sutherlandia frutescens and Lobostemon trigonus" J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Jan 4;96(1-2):113-9. researchers published the results of testing to determine if sutherlandia as well as another local plant called Lobostemon had any effect on the HIV/AIDS virus, as claimed by the natives and traditional folk medicine. The researchers concluded that "The study shows that Sutherlandia extracts contain inhibitory compounds active against HIV target enzymes, while aqueous Lobostemon leaf extracts contain a potent HIV-1 RT inhibitor, thus showing a potential mechanistic action of these plants in aiding HIV-positive patients."

A study conducted by the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University in Ontario, Canada conducted research relevant to determining Sutherlandia's usefulness in fighting AIDS. Their research was published in an article entitled "Impact of African herbal medicines on antiretroviral metabolism" in the journal AIDS. 2005 Jan 3;19(1):95-7. concluded that: "Sutherlandia showed significant effects on cytochrome P450 3A4 metabolism and activated the pregnane X receptor approximately twofold. P-glycoprotein expression was inhibited, with Hypoxis showing 42-51% and Sutherlandia showing 19-31% of activity compared with verapamil. Initiating policies to provide herbal medicines with antiretroviral agents may put patients at risk of treatment failure, viral resistance or drug toxicity."

In a study at the University of South Korea published as "Inhibitory effects of the extracts of Sutherlandia frutescens (L.) R. Br. and Harpagophytum procumbens DC. on phorbol ester-induced COX-2 expression in mouse skin: AP-1 and CREB as potential upstream targets." in Cancer Lett. 2005 Jan 31;218(1):21-31 concluded that compounds made from Sutherlandia as well as another plant commonly known as Devil's Claw inhibited certain cell activities associated with cancer spread.

A study has confirmed that Sutherlandia frutescens extracts can kill carcinoma cells. It concluded that "These findings warrant further research with a view to develop Sutherlandia frutescens extracts for use in anti-cancer therapy." -- See: J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Apr 8;98(1-2):163-70. It should be noted that this study only looked at the effect of Sutherlandia on cancer cells growing in a lab, and not its effect on cancer growing in a human being.

A  published study conducted by the University of Johannesburg (J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Aug 2.) concludes that "Sutherlandia frutescens and S. tomentosa extracts show promise as apoptosis-inducing anti-cancer agents." In plain English, Sutherlandia was found to cause Oesophageal cancer cells to die. This study did not use human subjects, however.

Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that Sutherlandia extract "revealed a decrease in malignant [breast] cell numbers when compared to their controls." See: J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jul 6;124(1):45-60. Epub 2009 Apr 14.

Dennis Lubahn, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and child health, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Botanical Center, University of Missouri-Columbia and a team of researchers noted that Sutherlandia  can help to cut down on the risk of prostate cancer. This was based on the evidence that in mice results were very promising. Sutherlandia is an adaptogen that has been known to improve the immune system, manage stress, reduce symptoms of HIV infection, reduce cancer risk and treat diabetes symptoms. However, he noted no modern clinical evidence shows Suterlandia’s benefits to human. A 2007 study did show it was safe for healthy adults at a 400-mg/d dose for three months (PLoS Clin Trials. 2007 Apr 27;2(4):e16).

A 2012 study investigating the potential apoptosis-inducing effects of two S. frutescens extracts and one Sutherlandia tomentosa extract on the SNO oesophageal cancer cell line showed promise as anti-cancer agents via the mechanism of apoptosis (death of cancer cells): Skerman NB, Joubert AM, Cronjé MJ (2012) The apoptosis inducing effects of Sutherlandia spp. extracts on an oesophageal cancer cell line. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 137(3): 1250-60

Preliminary scientific testing seems to be confirming what the indigenous people of South Africa have known for centuries. It appears that this multi-purpose plant is indeed a sort of miracle pharmacy with positive effects on cancer, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and arthritis.

Frustratingly, none of these preliminary studies on Sutherlandia have been followed up with double blind clinical trials involving humans. Most of the testing has been done on cancer cells and the HIV virus growing in a test tube, so it is not known for sure whether Sutherlandia would have any effect on humans. However, the fact that the preliminary research tends to confirm the traditional uses of this plant, which of course were discovered by local medicine men who did not have the benefit of laboratories but rather derived their knowledge from the practical use of the "Cancer Bush" on their patients, is very intriguing and warrants further study.

A word of caution: there are many websites that are promoting Sutherlandia as a wonder drug for the treatment of cancer and HIV/Aids and I suspect that many people are self-medicating. Though the early research is encouraging, there is no evidence that Sutherlandia actually cures cancer or AIDs. In addition, the lack of human or animal testing means that we do not know whether Sutherlandia is safe, or how it might interact with other medications.

Useful Links:

  1. Sutherlandia frutescens at Sutherlandia frutescens capsules powerfully assists the body to mobilise its own immunological and physiological resources to combat disease and physical and mental stress.
  2. Sutherlandia frutescens and Cancer. More information about the possible uses of Sutherlandia
  3. Sutherlandia Frutescens - Cancer Bush. Information about Sutherlandia as well as many other medicinal herbs.



Friday, 1 August 2014

Listening to our genes

Knowing that you have a family history of major illnesses can prove invaluable in reducing or even preventing the same risk. Recent interest in double mastectomies as illustrated by the 'Angelina Jolie Effect' shows us that resorting to drastic surgery may be the only solution left for those with a proven predisposition to certain diseases. However, it is not as simple as knowing the genetic risk as this is only part of the story as genetics risk is a complex interplay between the impact of genetic influence, diet, lifestyle and environmental stresses. There may also be gaps in family history as the culture of talking about these issues was not a feature of previous generations. However, working with what we know could prove useful in taking certain steps to prevent illness. So let's examine some of the diseases where there is a known element of genetic influence:

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer has been the most common cancer in the UK since 1997, despite the fact that it is rare in men. It is by far the most common cancer among women in the UK (2011), accounting for 30% of all new cases of cancer in females. Although many women will have an affected female relative, in 9 out of 10 cases, this will be due to bad luck rather than an inherited tendency. Women  at high risk of carrying the breast cancer gene can now be referred to a breast cancer family history clinic. Much can be done to prevent the risk:
  • eat at least 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day 
  • raise concerns with your GP about your family history worries, particularly if more than one relative is affected by breast or ovarian cancer
  • talk to your GP is a relative has developed breast cancer before the age of 50
  • be breast aware - know what is normal for you
  • go for regular check ups via mammograms from the age of 50 onwards
  • consider stopping HRT once menopausal symptoms have finished
Ovarian Cancer
Although ovarian cancer isn't common, it is the fifth most common cancer among women in the UK (2011), accounting for 4% of all new cases of cancer in females and about 1 in 20 sufferers have a family history of the disease. Blood tests and scans are used to screen women at higher risk and there is an ongoing discussion as to whether these tests should be offered to all women. Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer in UK women, with nearly 7,000 cases diagnosed every year.

The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, and having a strong family history of the disease also increases a woman’s risk. Women who are overweight or obese or are taking HRT also have a higher risk. Women who have not had children have a greater risk of the cancer than those who have given birth. But taking the contraceptive pill for a number of years reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.

Cancer Research UK is one of the major funders of ovarian cancer research in the UK, investigating ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease, funding research into screening programmes which have the potential to detect the disease at a much earlier stage and save lives.

Prevention Strategies
  • the contraceptive pill, pregnancy and breastfeeding cut the number of ovarian cycles and reduce ovarian cancer risk. It is not clear why but hysterectomy surgery may also be protective
  • report any persistent pelvic or abdominal pain, bloating, difficulty eating, feeling full easily or changes in your menstrual cycle
  • talk to your GP is your family history is worrying you, especially if a close relative developed ovarian or breast cancer before the age of 50
  • talk to your GP is you have several relatives affected by ovarian, breast or bowel cancer; a referral to a clinical geneticist is likely
  • until possible links between HRT and ovarian cancer have been clarified, it is best to discontinue with HRT once menopause is finished. Discuss this with your GP
Dementia affects 820,000 people in the UK. Around 23 million of the UK population have a close friend or family member with dementia. As well as the huge personal cost, dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer and heart disease combined. Despite these figures, dementia research is desperately underfunded. 1 in 5 of us has dementia by the age of 80 with more than half the cases being attributed to Alzheimer's and another quarter due to vascular dementia (poor brain circulation). No cause has yet been found though it may be due to a genetic defect. Lifestyle may also be a factor which could account for vascular dementia. However, there are tantalising new possibilities for predicting the onset.

Research in more than 1000 people has identified a set of proteins in the blood which can predict the start of the dementia allegedly with 87% accuracy. The primary goal of the test was to predict whether people with mild cognitive impairments (usually age-related memory problems) would go on to develop 'full-blown' Alzheimer’s disease over approximately a year. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, so people may question whether an early warning system for the disease is of any practical use. However, having a relatively reliable method of identifying high-risk people who will develop Alzheimer’s could be useful in recruiting suitable candidates for clinical trials investigating future treatments. An important point is that, while the test accuracy rate of 87% sounds impressive, this may not be a good indicator of how useful the test would be if it was used in the wider population.

Prevention Strategies
  • consider genetic testing if 3 or more close relatives have early-onset Alzheimer's
  • eat 5-7 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day
  • eat oily fish once a week. Read my blog post on important fats:
  • watch your weight
  • exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • cut out smoking and reduce alcohol intake to a moderate level
  • keep your brain active by socialsing, reading, mental challenges etc...; it really is a case of 'use it or lose it'
  • ensure healthy blood pressure levels with a good diet and exercise regimen
  • wear a helmet if you cycle
Bowel Cancer
Bowel cancer is also called colorectal cancer and includes large bowel cancer (colon cancer) and cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer or cancer of the rectum).  The most up to date figures (2011) showed that 41,581 people in the UK were diagnosed with bowel cancer. It is the UK's second biggest cancer killer and the fourth most common cancer. 75% of people who develop bowel cancer have no family link but your personal risk is more than doubled if your parent, child, brother or sister had bowel cancer especially if they developed it young. Discuss your concerns with your GP if there are genuine worries about your risk.

Prevention Strategies
  • limit meat intake especially processed meats such as sausages, burgers and bacon
  • regulate weight by taking moderate exercise on a regular basis; it is thought that exercise may halve the risk
  • eat plenty of fibre
  • make sure you get plenty of folic acid which is found in chick peas, cereals and dark, leafy green greens
  • eat foods rich in selenium such as Brazil nuts and the mineral calcium (found in dairy foods)
  • give up smoking as this is thought to double the risk
  • 5-10 years of HRT use is thought to halve the risk
  • report any changes in bowel habit and rectal bleeding to your GP 
  • request regular screening every 2 years especially if you are over 50
A family history of diabetes increases the risk as does being overweight or 'apple-shaped'. Recently (June 2014), it has been discovered that a genetic susceptibility that gives a tenfold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes has been discovered. The gene mutation, found in the population of Greenland, will give clues to the different causes of the condition. Several susceptibility genes have been linked with diabetes, meaning that if an individual is carrying one of these genes they face a greater risk of developing diabetes. Complications from this condition include heart attacks, strokes, blindness and kidney failure amongst other symptoms.

Prevention Strategies
  • early diagnosis can reduce the risk of complications so watch put for symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, weight loss, excessive urination or blurred vision
  • keep your weight to within healthy levels for your height and age although this is not always the best indicator of risk. For women, they should aim for a waist circumference below 80cm (31.5in) and for South Asian men (who are particularly at risk), aim for below 90cm (35in) and 94cm (37in) for all other men
Heart Disease & Circulatory Disorders
Coronary heart disease (CHD) include heart attacks and angina, strokes, heart failure, poor circulation, high blood pressure (hypertension) and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) are the biggest causes of premature death and disability in the UK. Genetic risk plays a part but is by no means the sole factor. If a first-degree male relative (e.g. father, brother) has suffered a heart attack before the age of 55, or if a first-degree female relative has suffered one before the age of 65, you are at greater risk of developing heart disease.

If both parents have suffered from heart disease before the age of 55, your risk of developing heart disease can rise to 50% compared to the general population. However, you can protect yourself by taking care of your heart, as the development of cardiovascular disease involves many different factors, not just your family history. Your chance of having a stroke is increased if first-degree relatives have had strokes. If they were young when they had their stroke, then the risk is slightly higher.  Studies have shown that the risk increases if you are a woman and your mother has suffered a stroke.

Studies have shown a genetic component for both hypertension and abnormal blood lipids, factors related to the development of cardiovascular disease.One of the inherited factors is high cholesterol level, known as familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH).  If you have inherited this condition then you will experience a build up of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood. This can lead to coronary heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes also has a genetic component, so if one of your parents developed the condition you are at greater risk of developing it too.  Type 2 diabetes is another risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. In the case of stroke, it is believed that inheriting hypertension is a key factor in the familial link of ischemic stroke. There are several ways you can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), such as lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Prevention Strategies (NHS recommendations)
  1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet: A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains. You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful.See below for general guidelines on good nutrition to reduce risk....
  2. Be more physically active: Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way of maintaining a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure. Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
  3. Keep to a healthy weight: Your GP or practice nurse can tell you what your ideal weight is in relation to your build and height. Alternatively, find out what your BMI (body mass index) is by using a BMI calculator.
  4. Give up smoking: If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing CHD. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (furring of the arteries). It also causes the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis in people under the age of 50. Research has shown you are up to four times more likely to successfully give up smoking if you use NHS support together with stop-smoking medicines, such as patches or gum. 
  5. Reduce your alcohol consumption: If you drink, stick to the recommended guidelines. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for men is three to four units a day and two to three units for women. Always avoid binge drinking.
  6. Control blood pressure: by eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising regularly, and, if required, taking the appropriate medication to lower your blood pressure. Your target blood pressure should be below 140/85mmHg. If you have high blood pressure, ask your GP to check your blood pressure regularly.
  7. Keep your diabetes under control: If you are diabetic, you have a greater risk of developing CHD. If you have diabetes, being physically active and controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level. If you are diabetic, your target blood pressure level should be below 130/80mmHg.
  8. Take any medication prescribed for you
General Guidelines on a Healthy, Balanced Diet
There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase your cholesterol levels. A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains. You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful.There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase your cholesterol levels.

Foods high in saturated fat include:
  • meat pies 
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat 
  • butter 
  • ghee, a type of butter often used in Indian cooking 
  • lard 
  • cream 
  • hard cheese 
  • cakes and biscuits 
  • foods that contain coconut or palm oil
However, a balanced diet should include a small amount of unsaturated fat, which will help reduce your cholesterol levels. Foods high in unsaturated fat include:
  • oily fish 
  • avocados 
  • nuts and seeds 
  • sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils
You should also try to avoid too much sugar in your diet as this can increase your chances of developing diabetes, which is proven to dramatically increase your chances of developing CHD.

Useful Links:
Alzheimer's Society:
Cancer Research UK:
British Heart Foundation:
Diabetes UK: 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Credit Crunch Blues - Herbs for Mind & Mood

It is hard to escape the depressing picture of the UK economy and the wider global crisis affecting employment, job losses, redundancies, mortgage payments, escalating cost of utility bills, repossessions and the general financial state of the country. One would have to be pretty resilient to withstand these changes, particularly a change in job status, inability to pay the bills and the threat of losing one's home. National debt in the UK has been estimated at £612 billion and is forecast to rise to 44% of the GDP. it is not surprising that many are facing an uncertain future with an inevitable consequence on health, particularly mental health & well-being.

To address these symptoms of the 'credit crunch blues', one must free oneself from the numerous constraints of modern living and a Western decadent lifestyle that has created an unhealthy dependency on material gain and one which has become far too familiar to most. Losing a job, losing one's home and living in a poverty trap is never great but to cope with such life changes, it is imperative to generate a mindset and a fundamental shift in attitude to what is real, what is important, having a healthy perspective and a practical approach to tackling the problems. Granted, this is not easy and this is why so many suffer the ill effects of it which causes a profound and potentially permanent damage to their mental health & well-being.

Mental illness is an extremely complex issue which encompasses a gamut of symtoms and remains a constant challenge to the psychiatrist. Given that so many are affected by mental, neurological and behavioural problems, it is unfortunate that there is still a stigma attached to many of the conditions that fall within the category of mental illness. The most common form of mental illness that many will have heard of is depression - a profoundly debilitating illness that is often a long-standing condition for those affected, accompanied by severe sadness or melancholy and a feeling of hopelessness. Sufferers can experience an overwhelming desire to self-harm and to even commit suicide. Categories include clinical depression and bipolar disorder as well as SAD (seasonal affective disorder) amongst others:
  • clinical depression
  • bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • personality disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia)
  • attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
A proper assessment of psychiatric function and mental acumen is a must as is an accurate diagnosis before any treatment can be considered. The field of mental health has mushroomed in the last few years, partly owing to advancements and developments in the way certain illnesses are viewed but also because of the many benefits seen with alternative, non-invasive and non-prescription drug therapies. There has also been a combined and concerted effort by campaign groups, charities, therapists and patient groups not fogetting high profile celebrity cases to raise awareness and make available the suitable help for mental health disorders and illnesses.

Herbalists have an array of plant remedies to combat the many and varied symptoms of mental illness, particularly mild to moderate depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, irritability, mood swings, tiredness/lethargy and loss of appetite. Much of how it is prescribed and choice of preparation will depend on the patient and the condition being treated. Some conditions require conventional treatments depending on the severity of the symptoms and in order to access the talking therapies which can only be acquired through the GP route. However, the following herbs are just a handful of plant medicines that have proved their worth in mental illness:

St. John's Wort - antidepressant; given for depression (mild to moderate conditions only)
Skullcap - nerve tonic and sedative; given for nervous tension, hysteria & epilepsy
Damiana - nerve tonic, antidepressant & stimulant; given for mild to moderate depression, nervous debility
Wood Betony - sedative & nerve tonic; given for nervous headache, nervous exhaustion, anxiety & mild depression
Oats - nerve tonic & nutrient; given for nervous exhaustion, debility, convalescence, nervous insomnia
Ginsengs - Indian, Siberian & Chinese ginsengs are all nerve tonics, they help cope with stress & exhaustion
Verbena - nerve tonic; given for mild depression, nervous exhaustion, convalescence, hysteria

There are numerous other herbs that are incredibly useful and have been covered in previous posts. These include, chamomile, lavender, rose, valerian, lemon balm and passion flower. Seek advice and help from a qualified and registered practitioner of herbal medicine before self-administering. Diet & nutrition is also vital so seeking the help of a nutritionist may alleviate some of the symptoms. It is also important to recognise key symptoms that are indicative of mental illness and therfore an initial appointment with a GP may be necessary in order to make and confrim a definitive diagnosis. This may require referral to a specialist.

There are many organisations, charities and groups that are dedicated to serving the needs of sufferers of mental health disorders and they provide much-needed clarity, information, support, advice and help. They can also put you in touch with certain professionals and therapists who specialise in certain conditions. Contact the following for specific help and advice on mental health & well-being:

MIND - a mental health charity providing help, support, advice, useful contacts & information:

SANE - a mental health charity providing help, support, advice, information & useful contacts:

CPP - professional body for medical herbalists and holds a comprehensive register of qualified & registered practitioners both nationally and internationally:

BANT - a professional body for nutritional therapists and holds a register of qualified & registered practitioners:

BJW (The British Journal of Mental Health Nursing) a journal promoting a positive approach to mental and physical health. Aimed at practitioners, therapists and patients who have an interest either personally or professionally in all aspects of mental well-being.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Time to scrap the statins?

Statins have been hailed by many in the conventional medical establishment as wonder drugs, with some doctors going as far as suggesting they should be added to the water supply. But are statins really the wonder drugs they have been made out to be? A group of doctors, including the head of one royal college and the former head of another, is calling for a rethink on an NHS proposal that people at low risk of heart disease should be prescribed statins. Extensive evidence shows that industry-funded trials systematically produce more favourable outcomes than non-industry sponsored ones.

Before we dive into the statistics on statins, a brief explanation into the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction is needed. Researchers and pharmaceutical companies often use relative risk statistics to report the results of drug studies. For example, they might say “in this trial, statins reduced the risk of a heart attack by 30%”. But what they may not tell you is that the actual risk of having a heart attack went from 0.5% to 0.35%. In other words, before you took the drug you had a 1 in 200 chance of having a heart attack; after taking the drug you have a 1 in 285 chance of having a heart attack. That’s not nearly as impressive as using the 30% relative risk number, but it provides a more accurate picture of what the actual, or “absolute” risk reduction is.

With that in mind, a closer look at the efficacy of statins can be examined in two broad groups of people: those with pre-existing heart disease, and those without. In the medical literature, these groups are referred to as “secondary prevention” and “primary prevention”, respectively. Secondary prevention (those with pre-existing heart disease).There’s little doubt that statins are effective in reducing heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in people who already have heart disease. Several large controlled trials including 4S, CARE, LIPID, HPS, TNT, MIRACL, PROV-IT and A to Z have shown relative risk reductions between 7% on the low end in MIRACL and 32% on the high end in 4S, with an average risk reduction of about 20%.

However, absolute risk reductions are much more modest. They range from 0.8% in MIRACL on the low end to 9% in 4S on the high end, with an average of 3%.
An analysis by Dr. David Newman in 2010 (published again in the Lancet in 2012: 
which drew on large meta-analyses of statins found that among those with pre-existing heart disease that took statins for 5 years:
  • 96% saw no benefit at all
  • 1.2% (1 in 83) had their lifespan extended (were saved from a fatal heart attack)
  • 2.6% (1 in 39) were helped by preventing a repeat heart attack
  • 0.8% (1 in 125) were helped by preventing a stroke
  • 0.6% (1 in 167) were harmed by developing diabetes
  • 10% (1 in 10) were harmed by muscle damage
A heart attack or stroke can have a significant negative impact on quality of life, so any intervention that can decrease the risk of such an event should be given serious consideration. But even in the population for which statins are most effective—those with pre-existing heart disease—83 people have to be treated to extend one life, and 39 people have to be treated to prevent a repeat heart attack. Moreover, these results do not apply to all populations across the board. Most studies have shown that while statins do reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) events and deaths from CVD in women, they do not reduce the risk of death from all causes (total mortality). Nor do these results apply to men or women over the age of 80. Statins do reduce the risk of heart attack and other CVD events in men over the age of 80, and especially at this age, these events can have a significant negative impact on quality of life. However, the bulk of the evidence suggests that statins don’t extend life in people over 80 years of age, regardless of whether they have heart disease, and the highest death rates in people over 80 are associated with the lowest cholesterol levels.

Primary prevention (those without pre-existing heart disease)
Statins do reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in people without pre-existing heart disease. However, this effect is more modest than most people assume. Dr. Newman also analysed the effect of statins given to people with no known heart disease for 5 years:
  • 98% saw no benefit at all
  • 1.6% (1 in 60) were helped by preventing a heart attack
  • 0.4% (1 in 268) were helped by preventing a stroke
  • 1.5% (1 in 67) were harmed by developing diabetes
  • 10% (1 in 10) were harmed by muscle damage
These statistics present a more sobering view on the efficacy of statins in people without pre-existing heart disease. They suggest that you’d need to treat 60 people for 5 years to prevent a single heart attack, or 268 people for 5 years to prevent a single stroke. These somewhat unimpressive benefits must also be weighed against the downsides of therapy, such as side effects and cost. During that hypothetical 5 year period, 1 in 67 patients would have developed diabetes and 1 in 10 patients would have developed muscle damage.

In addition, while statins do moderately reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attack in people without heart disease, they have never been shown to extend lifespan in this population. This is true even when the risk of heart disease is high. In a large meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, statins were not associated with a significant reduction in the risk of death from all causes.

This trial included 65,000 people without pre-existing heart disease but with intermediate to high risk of heart disease. It was important because it was the first review that only included participants without known heart disease. Previous studies suggesting that statins are effective in reducing death in people without pre-existing heart disease included some people that did have heart disease, which would have skewed the results.

The lack of significant effect on mortality is even more interesting in light of the fact that LDL cholesterol levels did decrease significantly in the statin group; the average LDL level in those taking placebo was 134 mg/dL and the average in the statin-treated patients was 94 mg/dL—roughly 30% lower. Yet in spite of this marked reduction in LDL cholesterol in the statin group, there was no difference in lifespan between the two groups. This is yet another line of evidence suggesting that the amount of cholesterol in LDL particles is not the driving factor in heart disease.

A meta-analysis of statin trials in people without heart disease by the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration came to a similar conclusion.  They also observed that all but one of the clinical trials providing evidence on this issue were sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. This is significant because research clearly indicates that industry-sponsored trials are more likely than non-industry-sponsored trials to report favourable results for drugs because of biased reporting, biased interpretation, or both.

Adverse effects of statins
If statins were harmless and free, then it wouldn’t matter how many people need to be treated to prevent a heart attack or extend someone’s lifespan. But statins are not free, nor are they harmless. Statin use has been associated with a wide range of side effects, including myopathy (muscle pain), liver damage, cataracts, kidney failure, cognitive impairment, impotence and diabetes.

Unfortunately, studies show that doctors are more likely to deny than affirm the possibility of statin side effects, even for symptoms with strong evidence in the scientific literature.  Assuming that doctors would likely not report the adverse reaction in these circumstances, it’s probable that the incidence of
statin side effects is much higher than the reported rates.

One of the most troubling side effects of statins that has only recently become apparent is their potential to increase the risk of diabetes, especially in women. A study by Dr. Naveed Sattar and colleagues published in The Lancet in 2010 examined 13 randomized clinical trials involving over 90,000 patients taking statins. They found that statin use was associated with a 9% increased risk in developing diabetes. Note that this is a relative risk, so the absolute risk of developing diabetes while taking a statin is very low. That said, observational data from the Women’s Health Initiative found a 48% increased risk of diabetes in healthy women taking statins after adjusting for other risk factors.

To summarise:
The only population that statins extend life in are men under 80 years of age with pre-existing heart disease. In men under 80 without pre-existing heart disease, men over 80 with or without heart disease, and women of any age with or without heart disease, statins have not been shown to extend lifespan.
Statins do reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in all populations. A heart attack or stroke can have a significant, negative impact on quality of life—particularly in the elderly—so this benefit should not be discounted. However, the reductions in cardiovascular events are often more modest than most assume; 60 people with high cholesterol but no heart disease would need to be treated for 5 years to prevent a single heart attack, and 268 people would need to be treated for 5 years to prevent a single stroke. Statins have been shown to cause a number of side effects, such as muscle pain and cognitive problems, and they are probably more common than currently estimated due to under-reporting.

The intention here is not to suggest that statins have no place in the treatment of heart disease, but rather to give the objective information needed to decide (along with the doctor) whether they are appropriate for the individual in question. The decision whether to take them should be based on whether there is pre-existing heart disease, what the overall risk of a heart attack is, how healthy the diet and lifestyle is, what other treatments have been attempted, and individual risk tolerance and world view. It’s clear that statins reduce heart disease as well as the risk of death in those that have already had a heart attack, so if you’re in this group and you have already tried diet and lifestyle interventions without much impact on your lipid or inflammatory markers, you are more likely to benefit.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Keep Calm - take lemon balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
We could all do with a little herbal help when it comes to de-stressing. Lemon balm has long been 
considered a ‘calming’ herb, used in the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease the pain and discomfort associated with poor digestive function. 
The herb is also an excellent antiviral and often used in conjunction with St John’s Wort or Echinacea to combat the herpes virus, against which lemon balm is particularly effective. Studies conducted on the effects of topical application of Melissa in the treatment of cold sores associated with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) further supports the herb’s powerful antiviral properties. It is therefore considered in most treatment rationales for shingles and chicken pox. Other notable functions of the herb are in inhibiting thyroid function so is useful in hyperthyroidism and in lifting enhancing mood so it is often considered in depressive states. With regard to mental health, there has been growing interest over recent research into the effects of lemon balm in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions. 
Lemon balm - used for thousands of years for its
medicinal properties including its ability to calm and
soothe a stressed and troubled mind and spirit.
Though many of the studies remain inconclusive, there is strong supportive evidence that would 
encourage the use of Melissa in alleviating many of the common symptoms associated with 
dementia, particularly memory loss. Clinical studies on adults show effective doses vary from 100-
600mg/day. Equivalent doses of liquid preparations or capsules of standardised extracts could also 
be considered as an administrative preference. There are a number of reputable commercial brands 
of the topical cream formulated with strong doses of the herb and often in combination with other 
potent antivirals. 

In general, lemon balm is sold in products that contain a combination of several herbs. The authors report that no human studies have been done to evaluate the effects of ingesting lemon balm alone. One study found that aromatherapy with lemon balm essential oil reduced agitation and increased social interactions in patients with severe dementia. The active ingredients in lemon balm that may be responsible for such effects include several monoterpenoid aldehydes, flavonoids, polyphenolic compounds, and monoterpene glycosides.

It has been suggested that lemon balm might have potential for treating Alzheimer's disease, because of the herb's possible central nervous system acetylcholine receptor activity and antioxidant activity. Thus, the authors decided to evaluate the cognitive effects of lemon balm in human subjects.

The current randomized, double-blind, crossover study evaluated the acute effects of lemon balm on mood and cognitive function in healthy adults. The lemon balm used in this study was a standardized commercial extract of M. officinalis manufactured by Pharmaton of Lugano, Switzerland. Young healthy volunteers (15 women and 5 men aged 18–22 years) each took single doses of lemon balm or placebo on five different study days. The study days were separated by seven-day washout periods. On the first of the five study days, subjects received no treatment but underwent a battery of cognitive tests in order to be familiarized with the procedures. On the next four study days, each subject was randomly allocated to receive either placebo or 300, 600, or 900 mg of M. officinalis extract. Five identical testing sessions were completed by each subject on each study day. The first testing session was before treatment (lemon balm or placebo) was ingested, to evaluate baseline performance, and the other four testing sessions were 1, 2.5, 4, and 6 hours after treatment.

The tests included immediate and delayed word recall, simple reaction time, a digit vigilance task, choice reaction time, spatial working memory, numeric working memory, delayed word recognition, delayed picture recognition, and serial subtraction tasks. The scores were collapsed into four global outcome factors, namely accuracy and speed of attention and accuracy and speed of memory.

The results showed that only one of the global outcome factors, accuracy of attention, improved after ingestion of lemon balm. This cognitive function was enhanced at all time points after subjects took the 600 mg dose of M. officinalis. ‘Accuracy of attention is derived by calculating the combined percentage accuracy across the choice reaction time and digit vigilance tasks with adjustment for false alarms,’ the authors explain. However, several measures of memory performance were reduced after all doses of lemon balm, indicating that the herb interfered with memory processes. Compared with placebo, alertness was reduced after the 900-mg dose of lemon balm at all time points, and calmness was increased after the 300-mg dose at several time points.

The pattern of results can be viewed as largely consistent with both the contemporary use of Melissa as a calming agent and mild sedative…and demonstrations of similar effects in both rodents…and sufferers from severe dementia,’ the authors conclude. They note that the lowest dose of lemon balm, 300 mg, had the most beneficial effect on mood (by increasing calmness) and also did not reduce memory performance. This suggests that therapeutic doses may fall at or below the lowest dose used in the current study. In contrast, the highest dose used in this study (900 mg) was detrimental overall to cognitive function and provided no benefits. The middle dose (600 mg) improved the accuracy of attention but impaired memory with no effects on mood.

The results suggest that low doses of lemon balm may enhance calmness and high doses may have a mild sedative effect. However, no evidence was found to support the historical use of lemon balm for enhancing memory by modulating the cholinergic neurotransmitter system. Therefore, according to the authors, this specific extract of M. officinalis did not show potential for alleviating the cholinergic disturbances of Alzheimer's disease, but a different extract, oil, or leaf of this herb might still produce these effects. The authors conclude that this study was the first to show modulation of cognitive performance and mood after ingestion of lemon balm, and further research is warranted.

Although no side-effects or symptoms of toxicity have been reported with Melissa, it should not be 
used by regnant or breastfeeding women. Equally, it should not be taken with conventional 
sedatives or prescription drugs for an overactive thyroid condition owing to potential herb-drug 
interactions. It is highly recommended that specialist advice is sought from a qualified medical 
herbalist prior to any self-medication. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014


Endometriosis is a complex and debilitating disease that can affect any woman. It is a chronic and progressive condition characterised by acute episodes. It is one of the commonest benign gynaecological conditions in which tissue that would normally grow only in the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus), is found elsewhere in the abdominal and pelvic cavities, accompanied by cyclical bleeding of these tissues and the formation of painful cysts. Subsequent rupture of cysts and the resultant inflammatory process often leads to the formation of multiple adhesions. In more severe cases, endometrial tissue can migrate to other parts of the body and this presents a complicated clinical picture, particularly if there are other systems involved.

Summary of herbs commonly indicated in the symptomatic approach to endometriosis:

Phytochemical properties/ Pharmacological actions
Herbs of Choice
Chronic abdominal or pelvic pain
  • pelvic tonic & astringent
  • anti-inflammatory
  • analgesic
  • antispasmodic
life root
cramp bark
Jamaica dogwood
Ovulation pain
(pain mid-cycle)
  • hormone balancer
  • ovarian tonic
false unicorn root
chaste berry
Painful periods
  • antispasmodic
  • analgesic
  • anti-inflammatory
cramp bark
black cohosh
Heavy periods
  • anti-haemorrhagic
  • astringent
beth root
squaw vine
Menstrual irregularities
  • hormone balancer
(oestrogenic or progesteronal)
chaste berry
wild yam
Pain on intercourse
  • anti-inflammatory
  • analgesic
Pain on passing urine
  • astringent
  • demulcent
  • anti-inflammatory
shepherd’s purse slippery elm
Pain on bowel movement
  • anti-inflammatory
  • astringent
witch hazel
Aggravated PMS
  • hormone balancer
(oestrogenic or progesteronal)
chaste berry
milk thistle
Chinese angelica
Pelvic congestion
  • decongestants
  • circulatory stimulants
  • uterine tonics
false unicorn root

By far the most important adjunct in the management of endometriosis is addressing nutrition, since dietary factors have been shown on many occasions to be very closely linked to health. Hormonal imbalances in endometriosis can be addressed on a nutritional level and controlling oestrogen is essentially a nutritional process.

Infertility and pain are two major symptoms that can be effectively addressed through diet; certain nutrients possess pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties which correspond to conventional medicines without the side effects. Essential fatty acids such as fish oils, evening primrose oil (EPO), starflower oil, borage oil and linseed oils are important as is Vitamin B6 which encourages the production of progesterone and this helps re-balance the 2 main sex hormones. Other supplementary nutrients that are suggested have been summarised below.

Selected nutrients of value and relevance in addressing manifestations of endometriosis:

 Vitamin C
  • reduces inflammation
B complex

  • anti-inflammatory, analgesic and hormone balancer
Magnesium deficiency
  • causes muscle cramping in abdomen & joint pains
(Magnesium acts on nerves that influence the relaxation of muscles & reduce the cramping pains during menstruation)
Dioxin (pesticide)
  • thought to cause immune system damage and endometriosis through its build up in fat cells
  • weak oestrogenic effect (good at reducing symptoms)
  • broccoli, French beans, pomegranates & fish oils encourages production of oestrogens in the body

Anemone pulsatilla (anemone) - a common
herbal remedy for tackling some of the
symptoms of endometriosis
The psychological well-being has equal emphasis in herbal management as is dealing with the physical symptoms. Effective herbal treatments using a range of nervines to address the psychological and emotional aspects of endometriosis remains an essential component of the management approach. Herbs such as skullcap, vervain and wood betony are all considered. A consultation with a herbalist is highly recommended in order to work out the best prescription options for each case.

Endometriosis UK, a leading charity dedicated to providing information, support and sadvice to sufferers of endometriosis are taking part in a charity . For more information, see and see their website at

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The 'Devil's Nectar'

I have previously written about sugar alternatives and the current issues surrounding them (see post on stevia and whilst cane sugar has been used and refined for a good many years, we are all too aware of the health risks associated with excessive refined sugar consumption. However, the desire to manufacture, transport and store cheaper alternatives spawned the birth of a controversial food additive which has now become firmly embedded in the staple diet of the average American consumer. The health risks of this food substance has been reported to be numerous and severe yet the powerful lobbyists with vested interests ensure that this additive remains readily available and there is little prospect of this ever changing.

We are referring to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which is present in numerous foods, mainly processed since ninety cents of every dollar in America spent on food is spent on processed foods. But surprisingly HFCS is also found in a number of innocuous items such as salad dressings, yoghurts, soups, bread, cereal, mustard, 'health bars' and even beer among so many others. So what is HFCS and why is this so bad for us?

There is evidence shows that it may be linked to obesity, diabetes, and increased risk of heart problems. For the past 30 years the U.S. obesity rate has risen, along with the increase in consumption of HFCS. The synthetic and highly processed sweetener is used in everything from sweet foods like soda and cookies to savoury products like tomato sauce and salad dressing. Other health risks include the following:
  1. Increased Inflammation: HFCS has been shown to interfere with a key enzyme in our body that delivers copper to the vital organs. This leads to copper deficiency in some, but adversely affects organ systems in many: heart, liver, testes, pancreas...which increases inflammation in the body....which equates to disease and symptoms.
  2. HFCS has been strongly linked to the sharp rise in both obesity and diabetes.
  3. Furthermore, fructose is twenty to thirty more times glycating than glucose. This means more free radical production and advanced or premature ageing. Animals fed a high-fructose diet in lab studies developed livers that of chronic liver damage and cirrhotic. 
  4. Weight Gain: There's another controversy resulting between the HFCS and sugar industries, and again, it's just another moot point. A Princeton University study has claimed that HFCS causes more weight gain than refined sugar does.
Industry-sponsored scientists have been quick to criticise the methodology of the research but scientists argue that the work was designed to demonstrate the long-term effects of HFCS. This is a critical point because high fructose corn syrup is consumed every day over a long period of time and in many instances, since childhood resulting in long-term exposure to the food additive.

Additionally, HFCS has been linked to the following:
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Gout
  • Advanced/accelerated ageing
  • Weakened immune system
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Elevated cholesterol 
  • Anaemia
  • Mineral deficiency
A 'Natural' Food Additive?
This has been argued that given the origins of corn (being a natural food), surely HFCS is therefore natural and what's the harm? HFCS is anything but natural simply due to its highly processed nature. HFCS never exists in nature and can never be harvested as a natural product. The controversy between whether high-fructose corn syrup or sugar being natural is just a smokescreen -a distraction that attempts to blur the negative health consequences associated with both of them. The Sugar Association and the Corn Growers and Refiners associations have been able to indulge in this controversy because the FDA had never created a standard for what is or isn't 'natural'. Although the standard still hasn't been set, the FDA has decided that the synthetic fixing agents used to produce HFCS does prompt the agency to object to the use of the term 'natural' on a product containing HFCS.

More worrying is that HFCS is all manufactured from genetically modified corn. GMO corn has been linked to an increased incidence of corn related allergies. It has also been recently revealed that HFCS contains trace amounts of mercury - an extremely powerful and dangerous neurotoxin (despite this revelation, the FDA continues to nothing about it). Autism has huge correlations to mercury. Autism now effects 1 in 90 children, and it continues to rise.

What of the European & UK Scenario?
In the UK, foods containing HFCS include McVitie’s HobNobs, McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes, Carte D’Or ice cream and Mr Kipling Bakewell Slices. It often appears in ingredients lists as ‘glucose-fructose syrup’, ‘high fructose corn syrup’ or ‘HFCS’. Although this syrup can be found in many of our processed foods and drinks, this varies enormously from country to country.’ He said there was relatively little fructose consumed in the UK, with Hobnob biscuits being an exception, the level of consumption of refined sugar increases the risks of consuming foods with HFCS (neither of which are good!).

Tips to avoid HFCS
It's simple - as far as possible exclude all processed and pre-packaged foods and read all food labels carefully avoiding those containing this ingredient. Further, it is eminently moire sensible and healthier to cook from raw, fresh ingredients which you have sourced yourself and cook from scratch. This will mitigate the worst effects of the health risks associated with HFCS.