Some questions on healthy living and ageing, food and supplementation, answered by Dr Paul Clayton, author of “Health Defence”.
A: A few people already achieve this! The real question is whether we can make this option more widely available. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that we can do this via enhanced nutrition, which can slow the appearance of many of the signs of ageing — such as the run-down of the immune system, or the furring of arteries.
A: NO. I believe that the whole A to Z concept is a bit of a con-trick, as the implicit promise is that they will give you all you need. That just isn’t true.
A to Z’s generally contain the RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) of the vitamins and minerals that have RDAs — but RDAs are designed to prevent deficiency diseases (such as scurvy, beriberi and pellagra); they are not high enough to give you the best chance of long-term health.
Perhaps even more worryingly, we now know of many new micronutrients that are critically important to protect your health — such as lutein, lycopene, isoflavones, Omega 3 oils and prebiotic fibres — but these do not yet have RDA values, so are not included at all.
A: Diet is not primarily responsible for acne, but the following combination seems to be useful in some cases: Omega 3 oils, combined with Vitamins C and E, and high dose flavonoids (ginger, turmeric or bilberry). This provides a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, and may also reduce the effect of testosterone on the sebaceous cysts which are involved in the acne eruptions. Silicic acid applied topically has also been reported to be helpful.
A: UNDOUBTEDLY. Many of the signs of the ageing process (furring of the arteries, thinning of bone, the run-down of the immune system, etc) are nothing to do with ageing itself, but are caused by progressively worsening nutrition; eating habits, and nutritional status are well known to deteriorate with age. Intensive micro-nutritional support can slow and even reverse many of the symptoms of ageing.
A: Aluminium is not the only or even the most important cause of Alzheimer’s.
However, it is in principle a good thing to reduce your exposure to aluminium, as certain forms of this mineral are very toxic to the brain — and anything that kills brain cells will contribute to reduced brain function. Therefore, do not cook acid fruits in aluminium saucepans — the bright metal which shows after cooking shows just how much aluminium has been dissolved, and eaten!
If the drinking water in your area is surface water (ie from rivers or lakes), then consider a silicic acid supplement. This binds to aluminium salts and turns them into aluminium silicates — or sand.
A: A combination of anti-inflammatory agents such as turmeric, ginger or MSM (methylsulphonylmethane); with cartilage builders glucosamine hydrochloride and manganese. To protect against developing rheumatoid arthritis, try to reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections (see Health Defence for details). You can do this by incorporating cranberry juice into your daily regime.
A: Yes. You need a variety of anti-inflammatory agents, and I would include fish oils (which must be combined with Vitamins E and C), turmeric and ginkgo. These will help to make the airways less twitchy; and once the inflammation has been dampened, a lecithin preparation may give additional help. Finally, the smooth muscle of the airways can be made to relax somewhat by switching from salt to low-sodium, high magnesium/potassium salt.
A: YES. Unless you are a full-time athlete, you can’t eat enough food to provide sufficiently high levels of all the micronutrients you need. Government surveys carried out in America and Europe show that the vast majority of people don’t even get the RDAs of all the vitamins and minerals from their diet — and are therefore suffering from multiple micronutrient depletion.
If you eat a lot of processed foods, and/or smoke, or are elderly or diabetic, you are likely to be even more malnourished.
A: Betaine is not a classical vitamin, although it has many vitamin-like qualities, and for that reason is sometimes known as Vitamin B10. Basically an amino acid, and one which occurs in many foods (although generally at low levels), this compound is the most effective methyl group donor known. For this reason it is added to pig and cattle feed to give the animals all-round protection against stresses and toxins.
From our point of view, the ability of betaine to reduce homocysteine levels makes it an essential component in any nutraceutical programme designed to protect against coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s and probably osteoporosis as well.
A: Lose weight if overweight. Switch from table salt to a potassium-based salt substitute. High dose flavonoids will, over a period of several weeks, restore your arteries’ normal ability to dilate, lowering blood pressure further.
A: Calcium on its own – or even when combined with magnesium and Vitamin D – is not very effective at preserving bones.
To gain better protection, you need to combine these minerals with a number of other micronutrients, including Vitamins K, C and B6; the minerals copper, zinc and manganese; and the amino sugar glucosamine hydrochloride. In my opinion glucosamine hydrochloride is preferable to the sulphate form.
A: Increase your intake of tomatoes, soy and Brazil nuts. In terms of supplements, take the carotenoid lycopene, the soy isoflavones, and the mineral selenium; all of which are linked to a reduced risk of this particularly unpleasant form of cancer.
A: Include anti-oxidants such as Vitamins C, E, and the minerals selenium, copper, zinc and manganese. Carotenes such as lycopene (tomatoes) and alpha carotene (mangoes, carrots) isoflavones such as genistein (soy), prebiotics (FOS) and inulin. Also sulphur compounds in vegetables such as broccoli and kale.
A: Many studies show that higher intakes of various micronutrients are associated with a reduced risk of various cancers, but there is relatively little information on the efficacy of nutraceutical programs in cancer. One exception to this are a couple of trials in which the carotenoid lycopene was given to men with prostate cancer — with positive results. Another clinical trial will shortly proceed in the UK, giving an advanced nutraceutical programme to patients with a particular form of cancer, but this is still at a very early stage.
However, some micronutrients have been shown to have anti-cancer effects in various animal models of cancer, and in in-vitro systems.
Given the safety of these micronutrients, if I was diagnosed with cancer, I would personally take the following : lycopene, genistein, selenium, berry flavonoids, and high dose Q10.
Beyond this it is hard to make recommendations, as cancers in different sites may respond to different interventions; for example, in the case of colo-rectal cancer, I would personally consider taking a prebiotic which is broken down in the colon to produce butyrate, a compound with significant anti-cancer effects.
A: Depends on the chocolate. Dark chocolate (the good stuff) contains flavonoid compounds known as cocoa red, similar to the flavonoids in red wine or green tea. These molecules are cardio-protective and vaso-protective. Milk chocolate contains less of these valuable molecules, and white chocolate is a flavonoid-free zone. Don’t forget the calories though!
A: YES. Cod liver oil tastes bad enough to seem like a medicine, but it is an old-fashioned and relatively ineffective remedy.
Omega 3 fish oils are more powerfully anti-inflammatory, as are many of the flavonoid preparations. To actually rebuild the damaged joint(s), you should look at glucosamine (the hydrochloride form), together with manganese. Many people find that MSM can also help.
A: Strictly speaking, Q10 is not a vitamin because we can produce it in the body, where it is essential for energy production and is also a key anti-oxidant. However, as we age our ability to make Q10 is reduced (as also happens after liver damage.) In these circumstances the shortfall in Q10 can contribute to many health problems, and accordingly a Q10 supplement may confer significant health benefits.
A: With very few exceptions, micronutrients work best in combination — and most people are so malnourished they need more than one micronutrient anyway. Micronutrients are not like drugs (ie ‘magic bullets’, best used as monotherapies); instead, they are best used in combinations specifically designed to rectify the complex metabolic imbalances which are the main cause of the degenerative diseases.
A: Cut down on potatoes, confectionery and baked goods (breads, cakes, biscuits). Switch to less refined carbohydrate foods, ie beans, pulses, coarse flours and oat products. If you need sweetness, switch from sugar to oligofructose, and intense sweeteners such as aspartame and xylitol. Stop smoking!
Take Vitamins C and E, a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, and high dose flavonoids to prevent excessive glycosylation (damage) to proteins in the arteries, kidneys and lenses of the eye. Try chromium also, which may help reduce sugar cravings in some cases. Finally, take more exercise, or alternatively try a cold exposure programme. (See Brown Fat, on this website).
A: A difficult question, as it depends on the cause of the eczema. However, try a combination of anti-inflammatory agents (such as high dose turmeric, with fish oil and the anti-oxidant vitamins). In some cases, additional glucosamine hydrochloride supplements may offer further benefits.
A: No. It was formerly thought that the cholesterol in eggs made them a heart hazard, but it is now known that the cholesterol they contain boosts levels of the good form of cholesterol in the body, namely HDL cholesterol; which is cardio-protective.
Furthermore, the deep coloration of organic eggs indicates that they contain carotenes, valuable micronutrients that protect our health in many ways.
A: YES. There is good evidence that both cataracts and macular degeneration are largely due to free radical damage, and therefore appropriate anti-oxidant supplements are recommended. Lutein has had a lot of publicity, but should on no account be used on its own. It should always be combined with Vitamin C, riboflavin, and the anti-oxidant minerals zinc, copper, selenium and manganese. In advanced cases, or in cases of diabetic retinopathy, berry flavonoids should also be included.
A: Whole grain cereals are now known to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, and everyone knows a higher fibre diet helps to prevent constipation. Some of the cereals (especially oats) also provide prebiotic fibres; and are in general a good source of B vitamins. They also have anti-oxidant activity, although it is not yet known whether the anti-oxidant elements in fibres offer health benefits.
A: Free radicals are reactive particles, which can be atoms or molecules. If these are formed inside the body, they can attack cells and tissues, damaging and destroying them in a way which is now strongly linked to the development of various disease states. We can reduce the damaging effect of free radicals by neutralising them both with anti-oxidant enzymes, and anti-oxidant compounds such as Vitamins C and E, the flavonoids etc.
A: Garlic has a long tradition of medicinal use, and there is some scientific data which backs this up. A combination of various effects (including a slight reduction in LDL cholesterol, some anti-oxidant activity, and a reduction of platelet stickiness) would seem to offer a degree of cardio-protection — although this has never actually been proven.
The other effects so often cited (anti-bacterial, anti-viral, etc) almost certainly do not occur at normally ingested doses. But apart from that, it tastes great.
A; Glucosamine is involved in tissue repair; so anyone practising contact sports may want to take this to speed recovery from injury. In addition, it is involved in the regeneration of cartilage — so arthritics often gain benefits with glucosamine. Our ability to make glucosamine in the body slows down after the age of 40 or thereabouts, so a prophylactic glucosamine hydrochloride supplement can slow or even prevent the emergence of arthritis.
A: This is a rich source of flavonoids, which have a variety of health benefits. Cardio- and vaso-protection is combined with anti-inflammatory and a degree of anti-cancer effects. If you suffer from a chronic inflammatory condition, this is one product that you should try. (It is a cheaper equivalent to Pycnogenol, the pine bark extract).
Q: I am 50 and have been diagnosed with a HEART CONDITION. Is it too late to start taking vitamin and mineral supplements?
A: NO. As long as tissue is viable, it may be possible to salvage it, and restore function. This means that if an artery is still open, despite atheroma build-up, it may be possible to reverse this aspect of the disease process and restore normal blood flow. It is only very late in the disease sequence, ie after an irreversible event such as a heart attack with consequent death of heart muscle, that tissue renewal is no longer possible. Even at this late stage, however, there are things we can take (such as Omega 3 oils and flavonoids) which will reduce the risk of subsequent arrhythmias and blood clots.
A: Fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish, onions, oats and soy bean products. Learn to drink your tea black, or switch to green tea; and move over from white wine to red. Cut down on saturated fats, processed foods and sugars — and if you are a smoker, STOP!!
A: If your LDL cholesterol level is very high, bring it down with soy protein, prebiotics such as FOS, and/or citrus juice.
Protect the HDL cholesterol with anti-oxidants, beginning with Vitamins E and C, and a good multi-mineral supplement. Boost HDL (‘good’) cholesterol with exercise, betaine, and moderate alcohol!
Finally, protect your arteries with flavonoids, as in berry fruits, green tea, dark chocolate and red wine; and cut down on deep fried foods and salt. If you smoke, try to stop.
A: These are vegetable oils that have been boiled and altered chemically to turn them into fats. When eaten they mimic normal fats, and obstruct their normal metabolism. They are linked to heart disease and possibly other health disorders.
A: Peppermint oil is often used; and may be combined with a glucosamine supplement (hydrochloride form) for longer-term benefits. Prebiotics can be extremely helpful in some cases; it is important to start with small doses, and gradually increase them until benefits are noticed, as a sudden high dose of these fibres can make the short-term problems worse.
A: Do you want a stimulant, or an immune support? If the former, then Echinacea (Purple Cone Flower) is one well-documented herb. If you want an immune support, then a comprehensive vitamin and mineral supplement is required, together with a methyl group donor like betaine. If your immune system is suppressed by either over-exercise or stress, you need the amino acid glutamine or an adaptogen such as one of the ginsengs.
A: Lycopene is found in tomatoes and tomato products such as ketchup and passata. It is related to beta carotene, but appears to be very much more cancer-protective; an increased consumption of lycopene is linked to reduced risk of cancer of the prostate, breast and gastro-intestinal tract. The protection is probably due to the ability of this valuable nutrient to force cancer cells to ‘re-differentiate’, i.e. turn back to being normal, non-cancerous cells. Lycopene is also a strong anti-oxidant, and is thought to be considerably cardio-protective.
A: Start by increasing your intake of the main anti-oxidants, including Vitamins C and E, and the carotenes. Make sure you have enough selenium in your diet or supplement, together with the other anti-oxidant metals copper, zinc and manganese. Add in the B vitamins, and betaine. This combination will give you a head start. To gain an additional level of protection add in lecithin, or phosphatidyl serine. If there are vascular problems, add a high dose flavonoid supplement.
A: The isoflavones and related compounds in soy, flax seed and red clover have all been reported to reduce menopausal symptoms such as mood swings, hot flushes and loss of libido. These can be obtained in supplement forms, or by a switch to a carefully defined vegetarian diet.
A: I recommend a comprehensive formulation – one that crams all the micronutrients into a relatively small number of pills (ie 5-7).
A: Oats are a good source of two different types of fibre. They contain the prebiotic betaglucans, which are cardio- and CChem-protective; they also contain the more old-fashioned fibre known formerly as ‘roughage’, which aids bowel function.
Oats are also a reasonable source of the mineral chromium, which can enhance insulin’s effects in the body, and has been shown to help some adult-onset diabetics.
A: Oily fish such as herring, mackerel and salmon contain Omega 3 oils, which are not found in white fish. These oils are cardio-protective, and have other health benefits as well (See Health Defence for details).
A: It’s not entirely clear yet whether organic food really is better for you, although there are a few studies which suggest it might be.
Organic foods contain lower levels of artificial pesticides (they should really contain none at all), which may have some slight health benefits.
Perhaps more significantly, they generally contain higher levels of some of the more recently discovered micronutrients such as the flavonoids and carotenes, and this may present significant health advantages.
However, agro-industry has learned how to persuade even intensively grown crops to generate the same levels of these compounds — so the differences between organic and non-organic will soon be reduced.
A: Yes. Doctors routinely prescribe HRT, and bisphosphonates, but there are problems associated with both of these approaches.
If you prefer to take a nutritional route, stock up on the micronutrients needed to make osteoid, the precursor of bone. These include the minerals zinc, copper and manganese, the Vitamins C, B6 and K, the amino sugar glucosamine; and Vitamin D. With these micronutrients in place, you will not be so dependent on huge (excessive) doses of calcium and magnesium; and the rate of osteoporosis should be slowed, and perhaps even stabilised. Ipriflavone is also recommended by many practitioners.
A: Probiotics are the so-called ‘friendly’ bacteria’ found in fermented dairy products such as yoghurts. Some strains of bacterium are useful, and may help to protect against stomach upsets, but many others are ineffective.
Prebiotics are a type of fibre, such as FOS, or the betaglucans found in oats, which are not digested but pass through into the large bowel, where they stimulate the growth of the ‘friendly bacteria’ already there.
By and large, prebiotics are cheaper, more stable, and have a greater effect on the bacterial populations in the gut. They are also likely to be cancer-protective, whereas there is little evidence that the probiotics have any similar effect.
A: Iron-deficiency anaemia is the single most common deficiency syndrome, and women of child-bearing age are the highest risk category. However, iron supplements should really only be taken if the symptoms of anaemia are present (ie pallor, fatigue, chronic infections), or if anaemia has actually been diagnosed.
A: YES — but only if the infertility is due to selenium depletion. Infertility caused by other factors (and there are many of them) would not respond to selenium supplements. However, selenium depletion is common in the UK, due to dietary shifts, and is therefore a probable contributory factor in many cases.
A: Stop sunbathing — but if the beach habits are too hard to break, learn the Australian slip/slap/slop routine: slip into a shirt, slap on a hat, slop on the sunscreen.
If you’re a smoker, do try to stop; boost your intake of anti-oxidants, especially the flavonoids, and if you’re over 40 add a glucosamine supplement (in hydrochloride form) to the mix. This will help to slow the development of wrinkles.
If you’re really concerned about the possibility of skin cancer (ie you have pale skin and red or blonde hair, or have experienced bad sunburn on one or more occasions, or have worrying skin symptoms such as an enlarged or bleeding mole), then high dose carotenes, together with selenium, could offer some protection.
A: It floods your body with a toxic mixture of free radicals and other carcinogens, so please try to quit. A more complete explanation, including nutraceutical strategies to reduce the harmful effects of smoking, can be found elsewhere on this site.
A: Vitamin C, the B vitamins (including betaine) and the minerals can be taken in tablets or hard capsules, which are among the cheapest delivery forms. The essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble micronutrients such as Vitamins C, D and K, CoEnzyme Q10 and the carotenes, are generally better absorbed when taken pre-dissolved in oil, in a soft-gel capsule.
A: Try cooking with soy beans, either soaking from dry or using pre-soaked, available in cans from some supermarkets – or use tofu. Other soy products such as the meat substitutes are often more widely available, and will offer some of the health benefits of soy such as cholesterol reduction.
A: The U.S. FDA has accepted the evidence that a diet which provides 25g or more of soy per day can help to lower cholesterol levels, and this is thought to be cardio-protective. The isoflavones in some soy extracts offer additional cardio-protection. The isoflavones are also linked to protection against certain cancers, and a reduced risk of osteoporosis.
A: In the broadest sense, yes. Many nutritionists suggest you reduce your intake of refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol — and I have no problem with this.
However, to gain more significant anti-stress benefits, you really need an adaptogen such as one of the ginsengs. Chinese (Panax ginseng) is the most commonly known, but the Siberian (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and the Indian forms (Withania somnifera) are rather cleaner, i.e. have somewhat fewer side-effects.
A: Not necessarily. It depends on how well the supplements are designed, and how they are consumed (ie in relation to mealtimes, etc). Good supplements have actually been shown to provide some micronutrients more effectively than food.
A: In almost all cases the answer is yes. Very few micronutrients work well as single agents, and some of them (including Vitamin E, the carotenes, and possibly the mineral manganese), may have adverse effects if used on their own. The other point is that most people are depleted in most micronutrients; and their risk of developing a degenerative disease is related to their overall pattern of depletion. In the vast majority of cases, therefore, it is more logical to take a well-designed micronutrient combination.
A: GPs are only trained in conventional medicine, and many of them know relatively little about nutrition. You might recommend them to have a quick look at my book Health Defence!
A: I don’t buy this old-fashioned idea. Tea contains flavonoids, with green tea coming out ahead of Oolong, followed by the black teas. These are thought to be cardio- and chemo-protective.
A: You probably are, although this isn’t necessarily the cause of your feeling tired, which might be due to anything from an uncomfortable bed to noisy neighbours, or stress-related insomnia. However, multiple micronutrient depletion is frequently implicated, so a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, combined with Co-Q10, is often helpful.
A: Natural source is almost certainly better. This is because of the complex structure of Vitamin E; the molecule may take up to 8 different forms, and only one of these (dl-alpha) is thought to be fully effective as an anti-oxidant in the body. Most natural sources provide dl-alpha; synthetic products contain all 8 forms, and may be considerably less effective, or even counter-productive.
A: YES. Some minerals can be toxic in overdose, such as selenium, copper, manganese, and iron; a relatively small overdose of iron (ie 4-6 times the RDA) can kill a small child.
Vitamin A can cause problems in overdose in pregnant women; doses only a few times the RDA have been linked to an increased risk of foetal malformation.
Even small doses of Vitamin K can cause problems in people taking anti-clotting agents. And both Vitamin E and the carotenes can be harmful if taken in large amounts, unless given in combination with Vitamin C. Micronutrients are potent molecules, and can cause harm if taken unwisely. This is why the regulatory authorities have determined Upper Safety Levels (USLs) for most of them.
A: Some live yoghurts are better (than pasteurised yoghurts), but not all of them; it depends on the culture that was used to make the yoghurt. Some, like the Shirota strain in Yakult or LC1 in the Nestlé range, have been shown to persist in the gut and may therefore offer some protection against various GI problems. Other strains of bacterium
used in various yoghurts are killed off in the stomach, and probably don’t do us any good at all.