Health Supplements

Tax on sugary drinks backed by MPs

A tax on sugary drinks should be introduced as part of a “bold and urgent” set of measures to tackle child obesity in England, MPs say.

A tax on sugary drinks should be introduced as part of a "bold and urgent" set of measures to tackle child obesity in England, MPs say.

The Commons’ Health Committee said there was now “compelling evidence” a tax would reduce consumption.

Its report, which puts pressure on ministers who have so far been resisting a tax, also proposes a crackdown on marketing and advertising.

Food industry representatives say a new tax would be unfair on consumers.

The government will be setting out its plans early next year when it publishes a child obesity strategy, but has said a tax is not something it favours.

The cross-party group of MPs acknowledged no single measure would provide a solution to the problem.

But the committee’s report said calls for a tax could “no longer be ignored”.

It pointed to evidence from Mexico which introduced a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks of 10% and saw a 6% reduction in consumption.

The MPs urged the government to use the strategy to take strong action on the issue, pointing out that a fifth of children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to a third by the time they leave.

As well as a tax, the committee called for:

A crackdown on price promotions of unhealthy foods Tougher controls on marketing, including the use of cartoon characters to promote unhealthy food A ban on advertising unhealthy foods on television before 21:00 Clearer labelling of products showing sugar content in teaspoons A drive to force industry to reduce sugar in food and drink as has happened with salt

The MPs said the government in England should work with its counterparts in the rest of the UK on these points.

There has been growing concern about the damaging impact of sugar on health – from the state of people’s teeth to type-2 diabetes and obesity Sugar has been dubbed “empty calories” because it has no nutritional benefit Government advisers recommend no more than 5% of daily calories should come from sugar That is about 1oz (25g) – six or seven teaspoons – for an adult of normal weight every day. For children, it is slightly less The limits apply to all sugars added to food, as well as sugar naturally present in syrups and honey To put this in context, a typical can of fizzy drink contains about nine teaspoons of sugar

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: “This government is committed to turning the tide on childhood obesity. That is why we are developing a comprehensive strategy looking at all the factors, including sugar consumption, that contribute to a child becoming overweight and obese. This will be published in the coming months.”

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Are chilli peppers good for you?

Now research indicates that the chilli peppers may make our lives more interesting as well as also make them longer.

Now research indicates that the chilli peppers may make our lives more interesting as well as also make them longer.

We now know that chillies are also a good source of antioxidants. Forty-two grams of the spice would account for your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, although admittedly that would make for a pretty strong curry. They are also rich in vitamin A, as well as minerals such as iron and potassium.

Capsaicin has even been touted as a potential weight-loss tool. Research conducted this year by the University of Wyoming on mice that had been fed a high-fat diet found that the molecule increased metabolic activity in the animals, causing them to burn more energy and preventing weight gain. In another study, published last month in Plos One, researchers at the University of Adelaide found that the receptors in the stomach that interact with capsaicin play a role in sensing when we are full.

But what about heart disease and cancer? The recent study in China found a correlation between the consumption of spicy food and lower rates of death from those diseases – and laboratory research from the last 10 years suggests some possible reasons for that too.

In 2012, a team of nutritionists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, working with hamsters, found that capsaicin helped break down so-called “bad” cholesterol which might have clogged up the animals’ arteries, but it left alone the “good” cholesterol which helps remove it. There was a second benefit for cardiac health too – the capsaicin appeared to block the action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting blood flow.

Several studies have also indicated that capsaicin has powerful anti-cancer properties. It has been found to be helpful in fighting human prostate and lung cancer cells in mice, and there are also indications that it could be used as a treatment for colon cancer. It may also improve drug resistance for bile-duct cancer sufferers.

But before people make any radical changes to their diet, they are advised to wait for a clinical trial to be conducted using humans, not rodents.

“There are a lot of reports that say that capsaicin may be good for human health, especially with cancer,” says Zigang Dong at the Hormel Institute of the University of Minnesota. “However, there are other reports that show totally the opposite result.”

Dong is the co-author of a 2011 review, published in the journal Cancer Research, titled The Two Faces of Capsaicin, in which claims about the spice’s benefits for health are laid alongside a long list of counter-claims, pointing to negative effects.

The report details six studies on rats and mice in which the animals developed signs of cancer in the stomach or liver after their diet was changed to include more capsaicin. Meanwhile, studies examining the effects of capsaicin on the human stomach have delivered wildly divergent results. While one showed visible gastric bleeding after consumption of red pepper, another showed no abnormalities, even when ground jalapeno peppers were placed directly in the stomach.

“Probably it is harmful in the stomach or oesophagus because capsaicin itself can cause inflammation,” says Dong. “And if anything can cause inflammation or so-called burning effect, it must cause some cell deaths and therefore the long-term chronic inflammation is maybe harmful.”

Far from seeing the chilli’s piquancy as an evolutionary “trick” that we are clever enough to see through, as Joshua Tewksbury does, he sees it as a hint to eat the food in moderation – a hint that many of us are ignoring.

Capsaicin – and the chilli pepper – remains enigmatic. But whether it is a friend or foe, we’re exposing ourselves to it more and more. Between 1991 and 2011, global consumption of dry chillies increased by 2.5% per year, while our per capita intake increased by 130% in that time.

“There’s a worldwide huge consumption of this spice, or vegetable, or whatever you want to call it,” says Dong. “It’s consumed everywhere in the world. Therefore its impact is huge for human health.”

Capsaicin – a natural painkiller

Capsaicin creams and patches are available in chemists to ease pain. But it’s only in the past 20 years that we have come to understand the contradiction of how something that causes pain can ease it too.

Capsaicin binds to the pain receptor TRPV1, which our brains also use to detect changes in temperature – that’s why we think chillies are hot.

But after being over-stimulated the neurons stop responding, killing the pain. This process involves the release of endorphins, which can give us a “rush” not dissimilar from the feeling of having exercised well. This may explain why some people believe that hot food is addictive.

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In search of the perfect sweetener

Too much refined sugar is blamed for a wave of obesity and ill-health, so the search is on for the perfect sweetener.

Too much refined sugar is blamed for a wave of obesity and ill-health, so the search is on for the perfect sweetener.

Derived from a plant called Synsepalum dulcificum, it is unlike any artificial sugar – because it works not by making foods sweeter, but by making them taste sweeter.

The so-called miracle berries contain a molecule called miraculin which binds to receptors on your tongue, changing their shape. This makes sour foods taste sweeter. One advantage of temporarily changing your taste buds, rather than the food itself, could be the effect this has on your gut bacteria.

For years now there has been a vigorous debate as to whether using artificial sugars will help you lose weight or not. A recent meta-analysis which looked at the results of more than 100 different human studies concluded that when artificial sweeteners replace sugar in the diet (rather than simply being added on top) then this can lead to weight loss.

The Harvard School of Public Health, however, points out that there are lots of conflicting studies, including those which suggest that drinking artificially sweetened drinks may increase your risk, not just of weight gain, but of type 2 diabetes.

No-one really knows how artificial sugars could do this but a study done by a group in Israel suggests it might be via the impact of artificial sugar on your gut bacteria.

In this study, published last year in the science journal, Nature, the Israeli researchers asked a group of lean and healthy volunteers who didn’t normally use artificial sweeteners to consume the maximum acceptable dose for a week.

At the end of the week half the volunteers were showing signs of glucose intolerance, an early step in the journey to type 2 diabetes. The researchers think this could be because the bacteria in their guts reacted to the artificial sugars by secreting substances that cause inflammation. This is certainly what they have seen in animals.

As one of the researchers, Dr Eran Elinav, put it: “Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the foods we eat affects us.” Clearly not a fan of artificial sweeteners, he went on to add that there should be a “reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances”.

Whatever the health effects or otherwise of artificial sweeteners, consumers are wary of them, which is where those promoting the joys of natural miracle berries hope to score. The trouble is that the berries are expensive to grow and don’t last long, so scientists in Japan (where the berry is popular) are now trying to produce the all-important miraculin molecule by genetically engineering tomato plants. That is obviously some way off. For now the simplest and cheapest way to get a dose of miraculin is to buy tablets which contain the dehydrated pulp of the fresh berries.

So what are they like? Eagerly I put one on my tongue, waited about five minutes for it to dissolve and then I was good to go. I had read enthusiastic claims that it would make foods, such as oranges, taste as if they had been ‘freshly plucked from the Garden of Eden” and kill my sugar cravings stone dead.

That was not my experience. The tablet I tried certainly took the bitter edge off licking a lemon, but the aftertaste was flat and remarkably unpleasant. An expensive red wine was transformed by the tablet into a sweet, fizzy abomination. I tried eating a segment of orange. Far from making the orange irresistible, the tablet made it inedible. The only good thing, as far as I was concerned, is it put me off eating anything at all until the effects had worn off (about an hour).

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Why a stir-fry diet could protect against osteoporosis

A diet rich in soy could help protect against brittle bone disease.

A diet rich in soy could help protect against brittle bone disease

A stir-fry diet, rich in soy, could protect women from bone weakening and osteoporosis in older women, a new study suggests.

Women become more susceptible to the brittle bone disease after going through the menopause as levels of protective oestrogen fall.

Since soybean foods contain plant chemicals called isoflavones that mimic the hormone, it has been suggested they might combat some effects of the menopause.

“Supplementing food with isoflavones could lead to a significant decrease in the number of women being diagnosed with osteoporosis” said Dr Thozhukat Sathyapalan, University of Hull

To test the theory, 200 women in early menopause were either given a daily supplement containing soy protein with 66 milligrams of isoflavones, or one only containing soy protein for six months.

Women on the soy-plus-isoflavones supplement had significantly lower levels of a blood protein marker of bone loss, suggesting a reduced risk of osteoporosis. They also had less risk of heart disease than those taking soy protein alone.

Lead researcher Dr Thozhukat Sathyapalan, from the University of Hull, said: “We found that soy protein and isoflavones are a safe and effective option for improving bone health in women during early menopause.”

“The actions of soy appear to mimic that of conventional osteoporosis drugs.”

“The 66mg of isoflavone that we use in this study is equivalent to eating an oriental diet, which is rich in soy foods. In contrast, we only get around 2-16mg of isoflavone with the average Western diet. Supplementing our food with isoflavones could lead to a significant decrease in the number of women being diagnosed with osteoporosis.”

Bones grow and repair themselves rapidly during childhood and youth, but the process slows down with age and bone density begins to diminish from the age of 35. Women lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause which can lead to osteoporosis and the risk of fractures.

Around three million people suffer from osteoporosis in the UK and more than 300,000 people receive hospital treatment for fractures every year because of the condition.

Exercise and eating foods which are rich in calcium and vitamin D, and getting enough sunlight, are essential for healthy bones, but this is the first study to show that soy can also help prevent fracturing.

Next the scientists plan to investigate the long-term effects of taking soy protein and isoflavone supplements and whether they have benefits beyond bone health.

The findings were presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual meeting in Edinburgh.

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Is the chilli pepper a friend or a foe PT1?

Now research indicates that the chilli peppers may make our lives more interesting as well as also make them longer.

Now research indicates that the chilli peppers may make our lives more interesting as well as also make them longer. “Humans come into the Western hemisphere about 20,000 years ago,” says Paul Bosland from New Mexico State University. “And they come into contact with a plant that gives them pain – it hurts them. Yet five separate times, chilli peppers were domesticated in the Western hemisphere because humans found some usefulness – and I think it was their medicinal use.”

The potential for both health and harm has always been a defining characteristic of chilli peppers, and among scientists, doctors and nutritionists it remains a matter of some dispute which prevails.

A huge study, published this summer in the British Medical Journal, seemed to indicate that a diet filled with spices – including chillies – was beneficial for health.

A team at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences tracked the health of nearly half a million participants in China for several years. They found that participants who said they ate spicy food once or twice a week had a mortality rate 10% lower than those who ate spicy food less than once a week. Risk of death reduced still further for hot-heads who ate spicy food six or seven days a week.

Chilli peppers were the most commonly used spice among the sample, and those who ate fresh chilli had a lower risk of death from cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

One of the authors of the study, Lu Qi – who confesses that he is very keen on spicy food – says there are likely to be many reasons for this effect.

“The data encourages people to eat more spicy food to improve health and reduce mortality risk at an early age,” says Qi, a nutritionist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, though he adds that spicy food may not be beneficial for those with digestive problems or stomach ulcers.

While the health-promoting properties of chillies may not be fully understood, at least we have a good idea where to look to find the source of them. Cut a chilli open and you will see yellow placenta-like fronds that attach the seeds to the inside of the fruit. In most types of chilli, this is the location of the spice’s secret weapon – capsaicin.

It is capsaicin that makes chillies hot. The heat is measured in Scoville heat units, which is the number of times a sample of dissolved dried chilli must be diluted by its own weight in sugar water before it loses its heat. For a green bell pepper this is zero. But habanero peppers have a Scoville value of between 100,000 and 350,000. For pure capsaicin the figure is 16 million.

It is sometimes said that people in hot countries use more chilli because it makes them sweat, which cools them down. But in 1998, researchers at Cornell University pointed out that the greater use of spices in countries such as India, Thailand and China was likely to be linked to their anti-microbial function. By studying recipe books from all over the world, the researchers found that spices including chilli were more likely to be used close to the equator, and were also used more in humid valleys than on high plateaux.

This correlation with climate, and the attendant risk of infectious disease, was greater than the link with the right growing conditions for the spices. In other words, humans in dangerous climates developed a taste for chilli which, as Joshua Tewksbury puts it, “probably saved them a lot of death”.

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Can seaweed really help you lose weight?

Jamie Oliver has credited adding to seaweed to his diet as one reason for his weight loss, but does it actually work?

Jamie Oliver has credited adding to seaweed to his diet as one reason for his weight loss, but does it actually work?

Jamie Oliver has revealed how he shed almost two stone after learning about “simple foods that are nutritious and delicious”.

As well as switching to cutting out white, unprocessed foods and eating more vegetables, he has also added seaweed to his diet.

But can this coastal plant really help you shed those pesky post-summer holiday pounds?

Last year, research from Newcastle University suggested that seaweed could be a key ingredient to losing weight as a compound found in it stops the body from absorbing fat.

Research found that alginate, which is found in sea kelp, can help to suppress the digestion of fat in the gut. The researchers believe that if the alginates can block the fat digesting enzyme, the body will absorb less fat and stop people from becoming obese.

However, the NHS warned that the research did not “draw any definitive conclusions” and that it was “unclear whether any potential effect from from seaweed extract would lead to an improvement in weight-related health issues, such as a reduced risk of diabetes.”

They also say that blocking fat is not always beneficial for you: “Fat plays an important role in metabolism; it’s just the intake of excessive fat that is a health problem. This means that the potential for alginate to stop excess fat being absorbed by the body has its downsides, and the excess fat will have to come out in come capacity.”

It looks the jury is still out on seaweed’s weight-loss properties – but it’s so delicious, so we reckon it’s worth adding a little extra to your diet anyway.

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Eating fish could prevent depression

Eating a lot of fish may help prevent depression, research suggests.

Eating a lot of fish may help prevent depression, research suggests.An analysis of 26 studies of more than 150,000 people in total indicated a 17% reduction in the risk of depression among those eating the most fish.

One potential reason given by the researchers was the fatty acids found in fish may be important in various aspects of brain activity.

Mind, the mental health charity, said the study supported other work showing links between diet and mood.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the Chinese researchers said many studies had been done looking at fish consumption and depression, but the results had been mixed.

When they looked at different study types, they found that the apparent protective effect of eating lots of fish was specific to studies done in Europe and not those from other areas of the world.

To try to come to a conclusion on what they said had been a controversial issue, they collated the data from all the relevant studies they could find conducted since 2001.

Their calculation did show a significant link between the two, and it was true for men and women.

While the results could not point to any conclusions about cause and effect, there were interesting theories as to why fish may be good for mental health, the researchers said.

One possible explanation is that the omega-three fatty acids found in fish may be key in the activity of dopamine and serotonin – two signalling chemicals in the brain thought to be involved in depression.

Another possibility is that people who eat a lot of fish may have a healthier diet in general – which in turn could help their mental health.

Prof Dongfeng Zhang, from the Medical College of Qingdao University, said: “Higher fish consumption may be beneficial in the primary prevention of depression.

“Future studies are needed to further investigate whether this association varies according to the type of fish.”

Rachel Boyd, information manager at Mind, said they had recently published a guide, Food and Mood, which included advice on eating the “good fats” such as those found in fish.

“It is important not to oversimplify the results as there are lots of different factors in the development of depression,” she said.

“But we really agree that having these fatty acids in your diet can be helpful, and it’s something where people can make quite small changes that could have quite a big impact.”

She pointed out that for vegetarians or others who did not want to eat fish there were other sources of fatty acids, such as seeds and nuts, as well as supplements.

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Raspberries- why are they so good?

Raspberries- also known as Rubus idaeus, they belong to the same botanical family as the rose and the blackberry.

Raspberries- also known as Rubus idaeus, they belong to the same botanical family as the rose and the blackberry

Raspberries contain more vitamin C than oranges, are super high in fibre, low in calories and supply you with a good dose of folic acid.

Further to that, they are high in potassium, vitamin A and calcium. Who would have thought that you could find so much goodness in one humble berry?

They are thought to help pregnant women- it has been suggested that drinking raspberry leaf tea shortens the second stage of labour.

Scotland is famous for its raspberry growing. In the late 1950s, raspberries were brought down from Scotland to London on a steam train known as the Raspberry Special.

Raspberries are thought to been eaten since prehistoric times, but only began to be cultivated in England and France in about the 1600s.

They come in all sorts of colours- but raspberries can be red, purple, gold or black in colour. The gold ones are the sweetest variety, and very tasty.

To form new species, raspberries have been crossed with other berries. The loganberry is a cross between raspberries and blackberries; the boysenberry is a cross between red raspberries, blackberries and loganberries; the nessberry is a cross between a dewberry, raspberry and a blackberry.

Raspberries are deeply symbolic. In some kinds of Christian art, the raspberry is the symbol for kindness. The red juice was thought of as the blood running through the heart, where kindness originates.

In the Philippines, if you hang a raspberry cane from the outside of your house, evil spirits are supposed to be deterred.

In Germany, too, raspberry canes would be tied to the horse’s body in the belief that it would calm them down. So much power in one gentle cane!

They don’t continue to ripen when picked. Unlike many fruits, unripe raspberries do not ripen after they have been picked. There’s no softening up in the fruit bowl for the raspberry – once it’s picked, that’s your lot.

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Herbal food supplement labels may be misleading

Some herbal food supplements do not contain what they claim on the label according to new research.

Herbal food supplement labels may be misleadingThe BBC health series ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’ teamed up with experts from University College London to test a selection of products bought from high street shops or online retailers.

Of 30 ginkgo products tested, eight contained little or no ginkgo extract.  In one case of milk thistle, unidentified substances were present in place of milk thistle.

The UCL team tested around 70 products overall, using two methods – nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and high performance thin layer chromatography – to study their composition.

Herbal products can be sold either as food supplements, or as Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) remedies.

In every THR tested, the product contained what was claimed on the label- however the food supplements showed a wide range of quality.

Whilst many food supplements contained high amounts of the herbal ingredient as claimed, several had none at all.

The manufacture of THRs falls under regulation by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), but herbal food supplements come under the remit of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Trading Standards at local authority level. Their manufacture is not regulated.

Head of the UCL research team Professor Michael Heinrich said: “I think some of the suppliers of food supplements are lying. In other cases I think they don’t know what they’re doing. Many of the botanical drugs come from rare or increasingly rare species, so it makes perfect sense to get something cheaper…which helps to you get a better price at a lower cost.”

He warned consumers that a high price tag was no guarantee of quality.

A spokesman for the Food standards Agency said: “The FSA champions the rights of consumers and misleading them in this way is unacceptable.”

He said a herbal food supplement would be investigated if a complaint was made about a specific product, if members of the public were to fall ill as a result of taking these products, or if evidence of mislabelling were provided.

The results of the BBC/UCL tests have been passed on to the FSA’s Food Crimes Unit.

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Call for better regulation of caffeine diet pills

Caffeine supplements labelled as diet pills should be better regulated according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Caffeine supplements branded as diet pills should be better regulated according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

It follows the death of Chris Wilcock from Darwen, Lancashire, who died on the day that he took the tablets- which were the equivalent to 300 cups of coffee.

A coroner ruled his death in April was due to caffeine toxicity. At least four deaths in the UK have been linked to caffeine pills in the past year.

Neal Patel, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said regulation was a “problem”.

“Unfortunately it does seem to fall between the Food Standards Agency and the medicine agencies and, in fact, it tends to be left to Trading Standards locally to pick out the products and see what’s in them.

“That doesn’t seem good enough given the number of deaths we’ve seen this year.”

Mr Patel added: “There is really flimsy evidence at best that caffeine can help reduce weight.”

Mr Wilcock, who was a pub landlord, died after taking a supplement known as T5, which contained caffeine equivalent to 300 cups of coffee.

T5 is a generic name for products that are often marketed as slimming aids. They are classified as food supplements instead of medicines, are legal and widely available.

Mr Wilcock’s fiancée Heather Thompson said she “tried to talk him out of” taking the pills.

“He just got told to take one a day and avoid alcohol with them – that was it. He didn’t get told of the side effects, he didn’t get told anything. It didn’t even say it on the actual bottle.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said caffeine overdose could lead to symptoms including palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, convulsions and, in some cases, death.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency added: “There is a variety of different ingredients used in the various products with high levels of caffeine being one of the most popular ingredients.

“Such products are typically regarded to be food supplements rather than medicines. In instances where slimming products contain ingredients that are regarded to be medicinal the MHRA will investigate whether there is a breach of human medicines regulations and take action accordingly.”

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