Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Your daily bread

Ever thought of changing your daily bread? Now is the time to really assess whether eating the same type of bread is working for you or your constitution? Given that many gastrointestinal tract (GIT) disorders are on the increase and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the gamut of symptoms that accompany many of the wheat intolerances, perhaps it is time to review some of the wide array of choices on the market where bread is concerned. Of course, many of the symptoms may be attributed to the wheat and grain type itself (is it GM? Can we be sure? See my previous blog post on the risks of GM here: http://yaso-shan.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-truth-about-gmo.html) A number of other problems are also associated with bread such as bloating, fatigue, headaches, allergies and headaches to name but a few. Here is a selection of alternative choices if you wanted to switch; it may well give your system a refreshing change to the routine and who knows, perhaps prove to be far more compatible with your system and constitution:

Name of Bread
Type of Bread
Country of Origin
Made by frying a mix of cassava root and salt in coconut oil, dipped in coconut milk and then refried.
Banana Bread
Banana Bread
Not known
Dense, made with mashed bananas, often a moist, sweet, cake-like quick bread, but some recipes are traditional yeast breads.
UK (Scotland)
Modern types are made with baking soda or baking powder as leavening agent, giving a light, airy texture. May be baked or fried. Some Native American peoples in North America prepare their own versions of bannock.
Bara Brith
UK (Wales)
Sometimes termed 'speckled bread', raisins, currants and candied peel are added to dough.
Barotta (or Parotta)
South India
A common layered flatbread of Southern India. This is not to be confused with the North Indian Paratha. Parottas are usually available in restaurants and road side shops across Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, southern Coastal Andhra and the Middle East.
Beer Bread
Yeast Bread
Not known
Made with regular beer or other types such as stout or dark beer.
Belgian Waffle
North America
A type of waffle popular in North America, but not common in Belgium. Compared to the standard American waffle, it is identified by its larger size, lighter batter, larger squares, and a higher grid pattern that forms deep pockets.
Black Bread
Rye Bread
Not known
Made of rye grain, usually dark colored and high fiber, ranges from crispy in texture to dense and chewy.
Unleavened Flatbread
South Asia
Thin in size and made with wheat flour; usually eaten with cooked dal (lentil soup), vegetable curry, chicken and mutton curry dishes; pieces are used to wrap around and pick up each bite of the cooked dish.
Chickpea Bread
Albania & Turkey
Made from chickpea flour. The most significant difference of this type of bread is, instead of using regular yeast, they use a yeast made with chickpeas.
Can be baked or fried, has a golden appearance, usually has a moist interior
South India
Fermented crêpe or pancake made from rice batter and black lentils. It is also served with variety of fillings like potato, coconut, paneer, vegetables, dry fruits etc.
Unleavened Rye Bread
Soft, round, thin and dark with a characteristic pattern from the frying pan; traditionally fried in small, heavy cast iron frying pans.
Green Onion Pancake
Savory, non-leavened flatbread folded with oil and minced scallions (green onions). Unlike a true pancake, it is made from dough instead of batter.
Fermented Bread
Sudan & South Sudan
Spongy flatbread made from sorgum or millet with each batch being created with a starter from an older batch almost like a generational bread.
Massa Sovada
Sweet Bread
Made with milk, sugar or honey, subtly sweet lightly textured loaf, traditionally made for Christmas and Easter (when hard boiled eggs often baked in) times, today made year round.
Rounded loaf, often sourdough based
Puran Poli, also called obbatu, bobbatlu, bakshalu
Sweet dessert served for special occasions and festivals, stuffing of boiled chickpea lentils, turmeric, sugar, and spices, cooked on hot griddle, served with ghee and lentil broth soup.
Pane di Altamura
Made from durum flour, often odd in shape.
Fluffy, base round, octagon or star section, takes days to make to cure acidic dough like sourdough, contains candied citrus, raisins, sliced vertically, served with cider or champagne, esp. for Christmas, New Year.
India & Pakistan
Unleavened, made by pan frying whole wheat dough, ghee or cooking oil usually in dough and on done loaves, usually stuffed with vegetables or cheese, served with butter, chutney, spicy sauces or curries of meat and vegetables.
Diced bread
Also referred to as rusks, it is prepared with whole wheat, chick pea or barley flour and is a common bread in Greece.
Eastern Greece
Round with inner pocket
Potato Bread
Leavened or Unleavened
Not known
Potato replaces part of usual wheat flour, ratio of potato to wheat varies much, leavened or unleavened, may have many other ingredients baked in, varied cooking methods.
Potato Waffle
A potato-based savory food in a waffle-like lattice shape. They are common in the UK and Ireland and are also available in some other countries.
Rice Bread
Rice Bread
Made from rice flour
Sourdough Bread
Western Asia, Nile Valley & Nile Delta (Egypt)
A bread product made by a long fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts. In comparison with breads made quickly with cultivated yeast, it usually has a mildly sour taste because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.
Sprouted Bread
Not known
A type of bread made from sprouted (germinated) whole grains
Spelt Bread
Yeast bread
Not known
Made predominately with spelt flour or coarse meal.
Tiger Bread
Rice Bread
Rice paste bread made with sesame oil and with a pattern baked into the top made by painting rice paste onto the surface prior to baking. The paste dries and cracks during the baking process, creating a two-colour effect similar to a tiger's markings, hence the name.

For more information visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_breads 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The History of Herbal Medicine & Cultural Contexts of Practice

The following is an excerpt from my book Modern Living, Holistic Health & Herbal Medicine: http://www.amazon.co.uk/MODERN-LIVING-HOLISTIC-HEALTH-MEDICINE/dp/1609106393

The development of herbal medicine and its practice throughout the world has a strong history, with each country forming its own tradition of herbal pharmacy. This has become incorporated into its culture and what is unique to each tradition has developed through many years of knowledge, skill and practice. Some of the older traditions remain very much intact throughout history and herbal medicine here continues to be practised in a manner of their ancestors and passed on through generations of healers.

Paracelcus (1493-1541); Physician, Botanist, Astrologer
Western herbal medicine as it is today is largely influenced by such history but is also influenced by other practices from other traditions through travel, folklore, colonisation and settlement. The relatively recent revival of herbal medicine in the West is really from the back of a decline in interest, partly due to the reputation and associations it once had with witches and witchcraft, astrology, mystical spirits and magical powers. Fortunately, modern science and drug development and the need to find new cures reignited interest in some of the traditions as well as to explore the rapidly expanding field of phytopharmacology (study of how plant chemicals can exert an influence in the body) and phytochemistry (study of the chemical constituents of plants, particularly medicinal herbs) in addition to current developments in modern medical science. Modern herbal medicine in the West is now very much a science and the art of good practice is to fully understand and respect these traditions as well as to respect the potency of some of the greatest medicinal herbs to benefit mankind.

Putting all this into context, it is important to start at the beginning and to examine the earliest records of how herbal medicine all began.  Wild plants have been used for food and medicines long before records were kept. Medicinal and other uses were undoubtedly uncovered by trial and error, which may not have always been pleasant with probably some disastrous and tragic consequences for some. The plants explored would have been mainly native to the country at first before any ‘foreign’ species being cultivated in herb gardens specifically for the medicinal use (the basis for some of the commercial business now). Establishing when all this began is somewhat difficult since early documented evidence of medicinal use is sparse.

The earliest indication of herbal medicine is suggested from Babylonian records dating as far back as 2000BC which gives instructions for the preparation and administration of medicinal herbs. After that, the ancient Egyptians, renowned for their skills in embalming, started recording the use of herbal remedies on papyrus paper as early as 1600BC. Much of this is still in evidence today with a strong industry in distillation of perfume and medicinal oils as well as other notable products. Some of the herbs of that time included juniper, thyme and fennel, all of them used in Western herbal medicine today.

Other parts of the world like China, India and Native America were developing their own herbal practice, some of which survive to this day. China (Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM) and India (Ayurveda) have the oldest written traditions, dating from around 1000BC. Some of the traditions of the Native Americans (Shamanism) have sadly been lost due to the European settlers who colonised the land. Much of the herbal knowledge that was passed on through generations by word of mouth rather than by a written record of it was wiped out through war and destruction. It is known however that these traditional practices were less scientific and influenced by a belief in magical powers, spirits and rituals. In some rural parts of South America, shamanism is still widely practised and there continues to be great interest within modern science to research into some of the medicinal benefits of certain indigenous plants especially of the rainforests.

In Australia, some aspects of traditional herbal medicine practice still exist in the native Aborigine culture although much of original traditions and knowledge has been lost due to the invasion of the European settlers. In a similar manner to Shamanism, the Aborigines believed that certain spirits held the power over health and disease. Much of this belief system continues to exist in their culture and ritualistic practices of today and though this is less scientific, the native Aborigines have extensive knowledge of the landscape and the indigenous plants of Australia, particularly those possessing medicinal properties.

The history of African herbal medicine has solid foundations in the traditional healers of the time passing on vital information about indigenous plants and those used as medicinal herbs. Most of this information was heavily influenced by the Middle—East and India which had an established trade for more than 3000 years. Again, colonial conquests wiped out much of this foundation knowledge and what remains has been misrepresented or replaced by Western medical principles for solutions to healthcare and hygiene. Traditional practices were not permitted to evolve or flourish. The demonisation of the African traditional approach is supported by the notion that much of it is dominated by voodoo and witchcraft, so much so that even the African people themselves have become somewhat distanced from it. Equally, it could be argued that in much of rural Africa, medical provision is sparse and not accessible to high tech services of modern hospitals and clinics. There is a heavy reliance on such traditions and use of medicinal herbs for many of the common disorders and diseases. Despite this however, in certain parts of Africa, the implementation of health programmes and initiatives from the West have modernised healthcare provision even though the ancient magical and spiritual beliefs of herbal traditions are still evident. As a consequence, what remains today is the coexistence of herbal practitioners who work closely with conventional doctors. It is probably one of those uncommon situations where the integrated approach to healthcare is best illustrated. With modern scientific influences, we are slowly becoming informed about the medicinal uses of the plants that have been used for centuries in Africa and finally understand how they work in curing illness and disease.

Herbal medicine in most of the Caribbean islands originates from the African traditions who brought their practices to the islands during the slave trade. This has survived as part of their long history and herbal medicine continues to be practised as a inherent part of their culture and tradition. Many of the Caribbeans have a high respect for this form of medicine. Herbal knowledge and skill is not confined to the healers or medical practitioners. The most notable herbal practitioners from the Caribbean was a Jamaican woman called Mary Seacole (1805-1881), a pioneering nurse and inveterate traveller who brought her skills as a nurse and herbal healer to the battlefields of the Crimean war to treat the sick and injured British soldiers. Using her own unique herbal formulations and remedies passed on through generations of traditional African healers, she became a real heroine of the war, along with her English counterpart, Florence Nightingale.

The Greeks also have a long tradition in herbal medicine, influenced by considerable knowledge on their cultivation and use. Around 400BC, Hippocrates (the ‘father of medicine’) lists a number of herbs with medicinal properties and makes many recommendations for his patients. The Ancient World honoured Hippocrates as the father of medicine because he considered all aspects of health and illness, some of which form the basis of conventional medicine as it is practised today. This is very much supported by scientific reasoning, research and evidence. Even medical students including qualified practitioners of herbal medicine honour Hippocrates by taking the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ upon completion of their training to signify a rite of passage as a practitioner of healing, whether conventional or herbal.

Galen (129AD-c.200/c.219AD);
Physician & Biologist
The Roman invasion resulted in the spread of herbal medicine in the regions and lands that they conquered because they brought with them the knowledge and uses of the healing plants. As many as 200 different species of herbs may have been introduced to Britain as a result of the Roman influence. This period also witnessed the influential work by the Greek physician Galen (130AD) who characterised medical wisdom at that time with his theories on the humors: “In men, all diseases are caused by bile and phlegm. Bile and phlegm give rise to diseases when they become too dry or too wet or too hot or too cold in the body”. This was later referred to as Galenical medicine and together with the incorporated wisdom of the Arab practitioner Avicenna (980-1037) formed the basis of conventional medical practices throughout the Middle Ages. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, much of the herbal knowledge and practice in Europe was sadly lost but what remained was continued by the Christian monks who grew herbs in their gardens that were attached to their monasteries. This is still very much in evidence today in some of the rural French and Italian monasteries. Physicians such as Paracelcus (1493-1541), marked their own individual stamp on the practice of herbal medicine on the whole. At this time, herbal remedies were very much part of medicine per se and most physicians were also alchemists. They therefore had great skill in investigating natural substances including plant materials and transforming them. They practised this with an early philosophical and spiritual discipline, combining elements of chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, semiotics (study of human communications especially signs and symbols), mysticism, spiritualism and art.

Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654)
English botanist, herbalist, physician,
and astrologer
The period of the Renaissance and the New World were exciting times for herbal medicine which saw the application of a more scientific approach to the study of herbs and medicinal plants. They were periods in time that were hugely influential in shaping the knowledge and practice of Western Herbal Medicine as it is today. Key players such as the English astrologer and physician Nicholas Culpepper (1616-54) and the American herbal practitioner Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) were instrumental in making herbal medicine more accessible to the common people rather than it being exclusive to the elite rich and upper classes. Equally, travellers to and from other parts of Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world also influenced the cross-fertilisation of herbal knowledge between countries, traditions and cultures.

The decline of herbal medicine from the late 18th century saw the persecution of ‘witches’ who came to be synonymous with the practice of witchcraft, the possession of evil spirits, magical powers and the use of herbs. This reputation became hard to shift and coincided with the development and rapid progress of allopathic (conventional) medicine. Modern drug therapy however, is really based on this strong history of herbal medicine (as outlined above) and the study of the chemical constituents of medicinal herbs. Many of the common drugs are synthetic versions or derivatives originating from natural plant chemicals. Examples include aspirin (from salicylic acid extracted from the bark of the willow tree), the chemotherapy drugs vincristine and vinblastine (from the Madagaskar periwinkle herb). Vinblastine is mainly useful for treating Hodgkin's disease, advanced testicular cancer and advanced breast cancer. Vincristine is mainly used to treat acute leukemia and other lymphomas. Another anticancer drug, taxol is from the yew tree and the heart drug digitoxin is from the foxglove. More recently however, there has been a revival of herbal medicine as the long-term effects of conventional drugs is being realised in addition to the unpleasant side-effects of some of the more potent drugs. The gentle nature of herbal remedies and the holistic context in which it is practised is very much in favour as an increasing number of people are becoming disenchanted with modern drug treatments. This is especially the case for conditions that are preventable and are minor and particularly appealing if a natural form of therapy can be more effective in some instances.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Arsenic Levels in Foods

Arsenic is naturally present in the environment, which means it gets into food and water with levels varying in different regions of the world. It’s impossible to eliminate it from food, however, having too much arsenic in our diet could be harmful to health. Rice tends to take up more arsenic from the environment than other cereal crops, although this can vary according to variety and method of production. The arsenic in rice also tends to be predominately the more toxic inorganic form, which has the potential to increase risk of illnesses including cancer. Recent interest following a televised documentary programme on the risks of eating rice has brought this old topic back into the spotlight once again.
There really is arsenic in lots of food. In fact, the proposed new limits from the EU (200 parts per billion in food for adults, and 100 parts per billion in food for children and babies) are supported by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA). Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks, and there's some lying around in the earth from the days when arsenic-containing pesticides were used. It dissolves easily in water, and is absorbed from water and from the soil by plants. It's found in fruit, vegetables and grains. On the whole, levels in grains tend to be lower than in plant leaves, but we don't eat as much plant leaf as we do rice. And rice is particularly efficient at picking up arsenic compared to other grains. What's more, because the arsenic gets in from soil and water, rather than from insecticides used today, organic products are just as high in arsenic as non-organic ones.

As a nation, we eat four times more rice than we did 40 years ago, and rice cakes and baby rice are very widely used as early foods for babies. So these new guidelines probably have more to do with a realisation that even tiny amounts of arsenic can add up in the long term, rather than a sudden increase in the levels of arsenic in rice. It's always been there, but we've only just noticed.
While every doctor knows the risks of serious alcohol poisoning (diarrhoea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, heart problems, dehydration, collapse and sometimes death), far less is known about the long-term effects of exposure to lower levels of arsenic. It has been linked with a possible increased risk of cancer, including bladder, skin, kidney and lung. It may also be a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In pregnancy, there may be a link with miscarriage and low birth-weight babies, and in kids it may have an effect on brain development.

What we don't know is the level at which risks start to rise. We're never going to remove all the arsenic from the soil or from food - just like we're never going to remove all the radiation in the world we live in. We certainly don't have to ban rice from our tables immediately for fear of collapsing, frothing at the mouth. In fact, there's absolutely no need to do anything if your rice intake is limited to a few meals a week.

So what is being done to tackle this issue?
The FSA is contributing to discussions in Europe to set limits for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products. The limits are close to being agreed. There are international efforts to better understand this and develop of code of practice that can be employed by producing countries to mitigate levels of arsenic in rice.
  • The FSA supports setting EU maximum limits for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products. We now have systems available in official labs which will mean that products can be checked to ensure they meet the rules.
  • The FSA is working hard in Europe to ensure that effective, proportionate and enforceable EU maximum limits for arsenic in rice are agreed as soon as possible; that more stringent limits are put in place for rice and rice products for infants and young children; and that these will be subject to regular review. The limits are close to being agreed, and we expect them to apply from mid-next year.
  • EU maximum limits for environmental contaminants are reviewed on a regular basis and are subject to future revision to take account of the latest evidence and data – therefore there may be scope to reduce them further in due course.
  • It is the responsibility of manufacturers to ensure that the food they produce is as low as reasonably achievable in regard to arsenic. This will still be the case once maximum limits are in place.
  • The Codex (Alimentarius) Committee on Contaminants in Food is compiling a Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Arsenic Contamination in Rice, for rice producers to use to control levels. The FSA has ensured that experts have an opportunity to influence the drafting of this document.
  • The FSA is carrying out a survey on infant foods, and this will include looking at the exposure of infants to rice products and arsenic. It’s likely to be published in the new year, and the FSA will consider whether the results indicate any further risk management action is required to compliment the EU maximum limits.
Advice on the consumption of rice drinks
The FSA advise that toddlers and young children (ages 1 - 4.5 years) should not be given rice drinks as a substitute for breast milk, infant formula or cows’ milk. This is because of their proportionally higher milk consumption and lower bodyweights compared to other consumers. There are a number of alternatives to suit those with an allergy or intolerance to cows’ milk or soya. Advice should be sought from a health professional (such as a doctor or dietician) to ensure a suitable milk alternative is sought for a healthy and balanced diet.

Brown rice: Not a health food!
Brown rice, on the other hand, has significantly more arsenic than white rice and should be avoided or consumed rarely. Some of the brown rice brands tested contained at least 50% more than the safe limit per serving, and a few even had nearly double the safe limit. Note that some of the worst offenders for arsenic are made from brown rice: processed rice products like brown rice syrup, brown rice pasta, rice cakes and brown rice crisps. These processed products are commonly consumed by those following a “healthy” whole grain rich or gluten-free diet, but they clearly pose a significant risk of arsenic overexposure, especially if a person eats more than one serving per day. Obviously, brown rice is not a food that should be a dietary staple, or even eaten on a regular basis.

Aside from having a higher arsenic content, there are other reasons to avoid brown rice: it’s harder to digest and nutrient absorption is likely inferior to white rice because of phytates in the rice bran. Despite a higher nutrient content of brown rice compared to white rice, the anti-nutrients present in brown rice reduce the bioavailability of any vitamins and minerals present. Plus, brown rice also reduces dietary protein and fat digestibility compared to white rice. In short, brown rice is not a health food for a variety of reasons, and a higher arsenic content is simply another reason to avoid eating it.

No food is completely safe or without some level of contamination risk: vegetables make up 24% of our arsenic exposure and tap water can legally contain 10 ppb arsenic per litre (some systems even exceed the legal limit.) So while rice may contribute an unsafe level of arsenic, it’s certainly not the only source in our diet, and we need to be cautious about demonising an entire class of food based on a sound bite from a news story. Whilst rice may not be a necessary component of a healthy diet, it can be incorporated safely as a source of starch: just be sure to pay attention to the brand you’re buying, as well as your method of preparation.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A new era in medicine

In July of this year researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine announced that they have regrown damaged livers in mice. It’s just one example of scientists growing tiny versions of organs in animals and in the lab to study development and disease, and test potential treatments. Many of these organs also represent the first steps towards growing whole organs – or parts of organs – for transplant. Why might you want to grow a tiny organ? Small organs, or parts of them, are useful for studying both development and disease, and for toxicity testing or testing new treatments. In some cases, mini organs will be able to replace research using animals and this will undoubtedly sit well with activists who have long campaigned against animal testing for medical research purposes.

But they also offer a tantalising glimpse of a world in which we can grow complex solid organs for transplant. These tiny organs – often more like proto-organs with just some of an organ’s functions – are quite literally ‘starting small’, first seeing if it’s even possible.

Here is a list of eight tiny organs that have been grown so far.

Little livers
Transplanted liver cells: Transplanted hepatic progenitor 

cells can self-renew (yellow) and differentiate 
into hepatocytes (green) to repair the damaged liver 
(Image: Wei-Yu Lu, MRC Centre for Regenerative 
Medicine, The University of Edinburgh’)
The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine researchers used liver stem cells, called hepatic progenitor cells, to regrow damaged livers in mice. After extracting the stem cells from healthy adult mice and maturing them in the lab, the researchers transplanted the cells into mice with liver failure.

In three months the cells had grown enough to partly restore the structure and function of the animals’ livers, providing hope that this technique could one day replace the need for liver transplants in humans. [1]

Itty-bitty intestines
In a study at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, researchers used induced pluripotent stem cells to grow human intestinal tissue in the lab. They then connected the tissue to the kidney of a mouse, providing it with a blood supply to allow it to mature into a piece of human intestine. This technique could provide a useful way of studying and ultimately treating gastrointestinal diseases in the future. [3]

Compact kidneys
Working lab-grown kidneys have been transplanted into rats by researchers from the Center for Regenerative Medicine in the US. The team stripped down a rat kidney to a scaffold-like structure, before introducing rat kidney and blood vessel cells that grew into a new functioning kidney. They then transplanted the organ into rats where it successfully filtered blood and produced urine. [4]

Small skin
Thymus cells (dark blue) against a background 
of kidney cells (pink) (Image: MRC Centre for 
Regenerative Medicine, the University of Edinburgh)

An MRC-funded team led by King’s College London and the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center has grown a 3D piece of skin in the lab. Using induced pluripotent stem cells, they produced an unlimited supply of skin cells, some of which were then used to grow a small piece of skin. The lab-grown skin has a working natural barrier that protects it from losing moisture, and prevents it from absorbing chemicals and toxins. This makes it particularly useful for studying a range of skin conditions, and for testing drugs and cosmetics. [5]

Tiny thymi
The thymus is an immune system organ which sits just in front the heart. Another group of researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine have reprogrammed mouse cells called fibroblasts, which normally become connective tissue, to instead become thymus cells. When mixed with other thymus cell types and transplanted into mice, the cells grew into a functioning mouse thymus. [2]

Teeny tickers
Miniature human hearts have been grown in the lab using a mouse heart ‘scaffold’. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh removed all the cells from a mouse heart, leaving a skeleton-like structure, before reintroducing immature human heart cells. After just a few weeks the cells developed into beating heart tissue [6].

Small-scale stomachs
Three-dimensional human gastric tissue has been grown by a team at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center using human pluripotent stem cells that were coaxed into becoming stomach cells. The structures are only three millimetres in diameter, but could turn out to be useful disease models for understanding how the stomach develops and is affected by different diseases. Plans are already underway to use these tiny organs for studying how the bacterium, H. pylori, causes stomach ulcers and gastric disease. [7]

Bijou brains
A cross-section of a cerebral organoid
(Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)
A team of scientists from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria, in collaboration with scientists at the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, has grown miniature brain-like ‘organoids’ with distinct brain regions, including a cerebral cortex and retina.

The team used human embryonic and human induced pluripotent stem cells that were provided with the oxygen and nutrients needed to mature into brain organoids. No one’s going to be growing brains – or even parts of brains for transplant – but the work will help us to understand the brain and any diseases and disorders that affect it: already, the team has grown organoids with a disorder called microcephaly. [8]

And finally…
It’s worth mentioning that while we’re talking about tiny organs, Prof Martin Birchall at University College London has successfully transplanted stem cell-based tracheas and larynxes into patients. What this will herald for patient care in the future remains to be seen. After all, there is already an inequality in healthcare here in the UK, sometimes dictated by a postcode lottery not to mention the debate of private versus public healthcare provision. The clinical judgements that are going to be required in order to make available these treatment options is going to come under even more scrutiny especially as it promises to mark a new era in medicine.

  1. Hepatic progenitor cells of biliary origin with liver repopulation capacity Nature Cell Biology (2015) doi:10.1038/nbt.3275
  2. An organized and functional thymus generated from FOXN1-reprogrammed fibroblasts Nature Cell Biology (2014) doi:10.1038/ncb3023
  3. An in vivo model of human small intestine using pluripotent stem cells Nature Medicine (2014) doi:10.1038/nm.3737
  4. Regeneration and experimental orthotopic transplantation of a bioengineered kidney Nature Medicine (2013) doi:10.1038/nm.3154
  5. 3D in vitro model of a functional epidermal permeability barrier from human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells Stem Cell Reports (2014) doi:10.1016/j.stemcr.2014.03.009
  6. Repopulation of decellularized mouse heart with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiovascular progenitor cells Nature Communications (2013) doi:10.1038/ncomms3307
  7. Modelling human development and disease in pluripotent stem-cell-derived gastric organoids Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature13863
  8. Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature12517
Adapted from: http://www.insight.mrc.ac.uk/2015/07/20/eight-tiny-organs-grown-by-scientists/ accessed 31 August 2015

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Eat Your Pulses!

Legumes have shed their hippy image and have become a part of every fashionable chef's menu. However, there's more to  pulses than this and their resurgence is amply justified when examining their nutritious value and why we should also include them in our diet.

A pulse, sometimes called a 'grain legume', is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and colour within a pod. Pulses are used for food for humans and other animals. Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They are a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.A pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod. Pulses include all beans, peas and lentils, such as:

  • baked beans
  • red, green, yellow and brown lentils
  • chickpeas (chana or garbanzo beans)
  • garden peas
  • black-eyed peas
  • runner beans
  • broad beans (fava beans)
  • kidney beans, butter beans (Lima beans), haricots, cannellini beans, flageolet beans, pinto beans and borlotti beans

Why eat pulses?
Pulses are a great source of protein. This means they can be particularly important for people who do not get protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products. However, pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to add extra texture and flavour. This means you can use less meat, which makes the dish lower in fat and cheaper. Pulses are a good source of iron. Pulses are also a starchy food and add fibre to your meal. Eating a diet high in fibre is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Pulses are often bought in tins. If you buy tinned pulses, check the label and try to choose ones that have no added salt or sugar.

Pulses and 5 A DAY
It's recommended we get at least five daily portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables, and pulses count towards your 5 A Day. One portion is 80g, which is equivalent to around three heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses. However, if you eat more than three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day, this still only counts as one portion of your 5 A DAY. This is because while pulses contain fibre, they don't give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables. This excludes green beans, such as broad beans and runner beans, which are counted as a vegetable and not a bean or pulse for 5 A DAY.

Don't let flatulence put you off pulses!
Baked beans are renowned for their effect on the bowels. This is because beans contain undigestible carbohydrates. Soaking and rinsing dry beans before cooking, as well as rinsing canned beans in water, can help to reduce these hard to digest carbohydrates. You shouldn't let a bit of wind put you off eating pulses. People react differently to certain foods and may find that symptoms subside, especially if you increase your intake gradually.

Cooking and storing pulses safely
Typically, pulses are bought either tinned or dried. Tinned pulses have already been soaked and cooked, so you only need to heat them up or add them straight to salads if you're using them cold. Dried pulses need to be soaked and cooked before they can be eaten. Dried kidney beans and soya beans contain toxins, so it is important to ensure they have been cooked properly before you eat them.
Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse and how old they are, so follow the instructions on the packet or a recipe.

These tiny treats are a nutritious powerhouse and a great source of protein. They are a wonderfully rich source of fibre as well as protein yet they are naturally low in fat. We all know how important fibre is in out diet, not only for a healthy bowel but also in removing excess cholesterol as it binds to it and eliminates it from the body. Fibre also keeps energy levels consistent and removes cravings for fatty, sweet foods. Lentils are also a great source of minerals and B vitamins, notably folate (folic acid) and therefore ideal for a pregnant mum-to-be. Their protein content is almost as high as in soya beans (very impressive) and an excellent food choice for vegetarians as well as those who want to reduce meat and follow a lower calorie nutrition plan. It's best to combine them with a variety of other grains, beans and pulses (they are a delicious addition to homemade soups and casseroles along with other varieties!) and they are easy to cook as unlike other pulses, they do not need to be pre-soaked.

Cooking kidney beans safely
Kidney beans contain a natural toxin called lectin. This can cause stomach aches and vomiting. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking. Tinned kidney beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away. When using dried kidney beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  1. soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours, 
  2. drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water, 
  3. boil them vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then simmer the beans for around 45-60 minutes to make them tender.

Cooking soya beans safely
Soya beans contain a natural toxin called a trypsin inhibitor. This can stop you digesting food properly. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking. Tinned soya beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away. When using dried soya beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  1. soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  2. drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  3. boil them vigorously for one hour, then simmer the beans for about two to three hours to make them tender

Storing cooked pulses
If you cook pulses and you aren't going to eat them immediately, cool them as quickly as possible and then put them in the fridge or freeze them. As with all cooked foods, don't leave cooked pulses at room temperature for more than an hour or two because this allows bacteria to multiply.
If you keep cooked pulses in the fridge, eat them within two days. It should be safe to keep pulses frozen for a long time, as long as they stay frozen. However, keeping food frozen for too long can affect its taste and texture. Follow the freezer manufacturer's instructions on how long types of food can be kept frozen.