Natural Supplements

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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Vitamin D supplements should be taken by everyone.

Everyone should consider taking vitamin D supplements to counter the lack of sunshine in the UK, government experts are proposing.

Everyone should consider taking vitamin D supplements to counter the lack of sunshine in the UK, government experts are proposing The draft Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition guidelines suggest, from the age of one, 10 microgram pills be taken to ensure people get enough.

Current advice is only at risk groups – including pregnant women, under fives and over 65s – should take supplements.

But as there is no easy way of assessing who is getting enough vitamin D, SACN has proposed a blanket recommendation for everyone because of the benefits it would bring.

The risk of getting too much vitamin D is considered to be extremely low.

It comes after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which advises the NHS on treatments, has already suggested vitamin D should be given more widely to counter a hidden epidemics of deficiency.

Official estimates suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels.

People get most of their vitamin D from the action of sunlight on their skin. But the amount in food is small, unlike many other vitamins.

The low level of sunlight during winter months means people in the UK are at risk.

The NICE guidelines called for more free supplements and for supermarkets to sell low-cost tablets.

Deficiency can result in rickets and brittle bones.

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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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Chokeberries may help cancer therapies

Chokeberries may have a role in helping cancer therapies- according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.

Chokeberries may have a role in helping cancer therapies- according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.Scientists suggest chokeberries could work in combination with conventional drugs to kill more cancer cells, but the UK research is at an early stage, with experiments carried out only on cancer cells in laboratories.

Researchers from the University of Southampton and King’s College Hospital London, tested a berry extract on pancreatic cancer samples.

Pancreatic cancer is particularly hard to treat and has an average survival period of just six months after diagnosis.

The study found that when the berry extract was used, together with a conventional chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine, more cancer cells died than when the drug was used alone.

But the scientists say the chokeberry had no effect on normal body cells tested in this way.

They believe compounds known as polyphenols in the chokeberries may reduce the number of harmful cells.

And the team previously carried out similar early work on brain cancer cells.

Henry Scowcroft, at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s far too early to say from this small laboratory study whether chemicals extracted from chokeberries have any effect on pancreatic cancer in patients.”

“And the findings certainly don’t suggest that the berries themselves should be taken alongside conventional chemotherapy. But innovative approaches are urgently needed to improve treatment for people with pancreatic cancer – a disease for which there has been precious little progress over recent decades.”

Chokeberries grow on the eastern side of North America in wetlands and swamp areas.

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Curry spice may boost and repair brains

A spice commonly found in curries may boost the brain’s ability to heal itself, according to a report in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy.

Curry spice may boost and repair brainsThe German study suggests a compound found in turmeric could encourage the growth of nerve cells thought to be part of the brain’s repair kit.

Scientists say this work- based in rats, may pave the way for future drugs for strokes and Alzheimer’s disease, but they say more trials are needed to see whether this applies to humans.

Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, studied the effects of aromatic-turmerone – a compound found naturally in turmeric.

Rats were injected with the compound and their brains were then scanned.

Particular parts of the brain, known to be involved in nerve cell growth, were seen to be more active after the aromatic turmerone infusion.

Scientists say the compound may encourage a proliferation of brain cells.

In a separate part of the trial, researchers bathed rodent neural stem cells (NSCs) in different concentrations of aromatic tumerone extract.

NSCs have the ability to transform into any type of brain cell and scientists suggest they could have a role in repair after damage or disease.

Dr Maria Adele Rueger, who was part of the research team, said: “In humans and higher developed animals their abilities do not seem to be sufficient to repair the brain but in fish and smaller animals they seem to work well.”

The research found the higher the concentration of aromatic turmerone, the greater the growth of the NSCs.

And the cells bathed in the turmeric compound seemed to specialise into certain types of brain cells more rapidly too.

Dr Rueger added: “It is interesting that it might be possible to boost the effectiveness of the stem cells with aromatic-turmerone. And it is possible this in turn can help boost repair in the brain.”

She is now considering whether human trials may be feasible.

Aromatic turmerone is the lesser studied of two major compounds in turmeric that may have an effect on the human body.

Previous studies suggest the other compound, curcumin, could reduce inflammation in the body and have anti cancer benefits.

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Vitamin D- NICE advice to take supplements

People should be given vitamin D supplements according to the UK’s official health watchdog NICE.

People should be given vitamin D supplements according to the UK's official health watchdog NICE.The NHS advisory body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), says 10 million people across England could be deficient, and many are unaware.

Its report says children should get free supplements and calls for supermarkets to sell low cost tablets.

NICE focused on groups most at risk of having low levels of the vitamin.

The chief medical officer in England has already urged doctors to prescribe tablets to these populations, and similar advice has been issued in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

But experts are concerned many are still not getting the Vitamin D they need. Official estimates suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels.

People get most of their vitamin D from the action of sunlight on their skin. But the amount in food is small, unlike many other vitamins.

The low level of sunlight during winter months means people in the UK must rely on stores built up during the summer.

Professor Mike Kelly, who was involved in producing the NICE guidelines, said: “Around 10 million people in England may have low vitamin D status and so could be at risk of health problems – and they may not know it.

“People with darker skin are particularly at risk – during winter months nearly 75% of adults from Asian or African and Caribbean backgrounds may have low vitamin D levels.”

People at risk include of Vitamin D deficiencies:
  • Children and babies
  • Pregnant women
  • People with darker skin, including many people from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds
  • Over-65s
  • People who don’t get much exposure to the sun, such as those who cover up their skin for most of the year
  • People who are housebound.

The NICE report sets out a number of measures, including encouraging local authorities to provide tablets free of charge to children.

The advisory body also urges manufacturers to ensure supplements are sold at the recommended dose – 10 micrograms a day for adults.

And NICE recommends supermarkets stock low-cost vitamin D tablets and promote them to those at risk.

Doctors and other health workers are encouraged to take every opportunity to discuss and record vitamin D intake with any patients who are at risk.

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Coffee is good for your heart

Drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help people avoid clogged arteries – a heart disease risk factor.

Drinking a few cups of coffee a day may help people avoid clogged arteries - a heart disease risk factor.Researchers studied more than 25,000 male and female employees who underwent routine health checks at their workplace.

Employees who drank a moderate amount of coffee – three to five cups a day – were less likely to have early signs of heart disease on their medical scans.

The findings reopen the debate about whether coffee is good for the heart.

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the effect of coffee on heart health- as some studies have linked consumption to heart risk factors, such as raised cholesterol or blood pressure, while others suggest the beverage may offer some heart protection.

But there is no conclusive evidence either way, and the latest research from South Korea, which is published in the journal Heart, only adds to the discussion.

In the study, the researchers used medical scans to assess heart health. Specifically, they were looking for any disease of the arteries supplying the heart – the coronary arteries.

In coronary heart disease, the coronary arteries become clogged by the gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.

The scan the researchers used looks for tiny deposits of calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries to provide an early clue that this disease process may be occurring.

None of the employees included in the Korean study had outward signs of heart disease, but more than one in 10 of them were found to have visible calcium deposits on their scans.

The researchers then compared the scan results with the employees’ self-reported daily coffee consumption, while taking into account other potential heart risk factors such as smoking, exercise and family history of heart problems.

People who drank a few cups of coffee a day were less likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries than people who drank more than this or no coffee at all.

The study authors say more research is needed to confirm and explain the link.

Coffee contains the stimulant caffeine, as well as numerous other compounds, but it’s not clear if these might cause good or harm to the body.

So how much caffiene should one drink?

In the US, experts say up to 400mg a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. There is no recommended daily upper limit for caffeine consumption in the UK, except for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, you should limit the amount of caffeine you have to 200mg a day – equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee.

Caffiene per serving:
  • one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
  • one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
  • one mug of tea: 75mg
  • one can of cola: 40mg
  • an espresso contains about 50mg of caffeine However, please note- coffee shop caffeine levels can vary widely.
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Spices- are they good for your health?

Spices have been revered for their health benefits throughout history- but are they really good for your health?Spices- are they good for your health?According to Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient belief system in Hinduism, spices can be warming or cooling and are used to affect the balance of the digestive system.

“They act as a stimulus to the digestive system, relieve digestive disorders and some spices are of antiseptic value,” explains Dr Krishnapura Srinivasan, a scientist at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India.

It is not surprising that spices have become associated with dieting. As far back as 2500 years ago, the Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius recommended eating ginger at every meal to improve digestion. But there is still no scientific consensus on how spices affect our health.

“There’s a perception that spices are good for dieting as this is often covered in the media; women will often latch on to anything that sounds as though it’s an easy way to lose weight,” explains Azmina Govindji, an award-winning dietician from the British Dietetic Association.

Scientists at the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, North Carolina, US, recently studied whether culinary doses of red pepper and turmeric would reduce chronic inflammation in overweight females aged 40-72.

They hypothesised that inflammation in overweight people could be caused by oxidative stress. This is a process when chemically reactive molecules known as free radicals trigger physiological events or damage tissues.

But the results of the month-long clinical trial were negative. No evidence was found to suggest that red pepper or turmeric alters inflammation by influencing oxidative stress.

This could point to the need for higher doses and longer testing periods, scientists say. Or that the spices simply have no effect.

Cayenne pepper is another spice touted as a weight loss solution. You might have added it to poached eggs or corn on the cob, but how about eating it with maple syrup? Deep fried calamari with garlic and lemon mayonnaise Crispy calamari deep fried with cayenne pepper, salt and paprika

The cayenne pepper and maple syrup diet made headlines in 2007, when US singer Beyonce Knowles reported losing 20lb (9kg) after following it for two weeks.

So why is the spice hotly tipped as a solution to weight loss?

“There have been suggestions that red cayenne pepper may be a useful aid to weight management, especially in people who don’t normally eat chilli peppers,” says Ms Govindji.  “But this remains to be confirmed.”

The effect of red pepper on thermogenesis, a process which affects metabolism and appetite, was studied by scientists at Purdue University, Indiana in the US.

The study found that as body temperature increased, metabolic rate increased, and the desire to eat fatty foods was decreased in participants who ate red pepper as part of a meal compared to those who didn’t.

Another study by researchers at Kyoto University, Japan found that males in the country who consumed a normal diet along with a red pepper extract known as “CH19-Sweet” experienced slightly decreased body fat and weight loss after two weeks.

But can we draw any real conclusions from studies such as these?  Whether you’re taking a leaf out of the Hairy Dieters book and roasting some cumin-crusted vegetables, or cooking up a spiced apple and raisin crumble, ultimately it is not the spices alone that help you lose weight but how you cook with them.

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