The Happiness Molecule

For as long as I remember, I’ve always hated winter, apart from when it’s cold and sunny; that I can somehow cope with. To this day, I’m convinced I should really be living in the tropics, or…

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The Happiness Molecule

For as long as I remember, I’ve always hated winter, apart from when it’s cold and sunny; that I can somehow cope with. To this day, I’m convinced I should really be living in the tropics, or, at the very least, the Mediterranean. I love summer – I love the heat, the brightness of the light, the intensity… The only time that I really seem to embrace winter is when I go skiing. The strength of the sun at altitude energizes me; it always has done. There’s a reason for this of course. It’s all down to a little molecule called serotonin.

Serotonin is a fairly unassuming molecule when you first meet it. It’s also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), and is made in the brain and the intestines. It is formed from tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. “Essential” here refers to the fact that you have to acquire tryptophan via your food, because the body cannot manufacture it.
Serotonin is classified as a neurotransmitter, and is known to affect mood, body temperature and other important vital functions. An important aspect of serotonin is that it is converted to melatonin, a hormone which gives us good quality sleep. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression and undesirable mood fluctuations. More recently, other “trace amines”, as they are known, have been found to have similar relationships with mood disorders and addiction (1).

Serotonin is produced when we are exposed to bright light, and it has been indicated that low serotonin levels are associated with chronic fatigue, which I discuss at length in my forthcoming book (due for release in March 2017). However, it is so far not known if it is the fatigue which reduces the serotonin, or the low serotonin which causes the fatigue. What is known is that low serotonin levels have a negative effect on mood, which is why certain antidepressant drugs have been developed which keep serotonin levels higher for longer. These drugs are the SSRIs, which I wrote about in my book Love Your Bones, because they have a negative effect on bone health.

The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin requires magnesium and vitamin B6, so if you are deficient in either of these important nutrients, you could easily end up with a poor conversion rate and low serotonin. Magnesium deficiency is rife in the developed world, with some authors suggesting that 80% of the population is deficient. Because serotonin makes us feel good and it is converted to melatonin, which helps us to sleep, what happens if you interrupt those conversion pathways? The potential for depression and poor sleep patterns. How many people do you know who are affected by these problems?

The enteric nervous system (the network of nerves that are found in the gut, and often referred to as the “second brain”) uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the intestines. So if our probiotics are out of balance, serotonin levels can be adversely affected and this in turn affects mood. Talk about a gut reaction! Can you see how all of these factors interrelate with each other? And how deficiencies of even one or two micronutrients can have such wide-ranging effects? As always though, there is never “just one thing” that makes the difference. If you are following a diet that includes daily green juices (including wheatgrass), lots of sprouted food, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables and whole food-based supplements, you’re unlikely to be deficient, but remember that stress runs magnesium out of the body like you wouldn’t believe. So get out in the sun this summer, run around and enjoy it, and pay attention to reducing your stress levels. It’s all important.

1. Pei Y, Asif-Malik A, Canales JJ. Trace Amines and the Trace Amine-Associated Receptor: Pharmacology, Neurochemistry, and Clinical Implications. Front Neurosci. 2016 Apr 5;10:148

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Embracing Uncertainty

We have been hearing a lot about uncertainty in the UK over the past week as a result of the EU vote, and will no doubt hear plenty more in the weeks to come, but we all face uncertainty in our lives every day. Some of this we have control over, some we do not. This is significant in our relationship with food, to which many of us have emotional attachments.

When we start to upgrade our food choices, we begin to change emotionally and physically. We are, in effect, becoming better versions of ourselves; our cells become healthier and more vibrant, we think more clearly, and we might realise that we have been repeating behaviours which no longer serve us. This can feel threatening – not just to ourselves, but also those around us. Change can be a good thing, but we have to be ready not just for the physical improvements it brings, but also for some temporary emotional disturbances. Being ready to deal with this is going to have a big impact on whether we see the change as positive and stick with it, or see it as negative, and lapse back into old habits because they are “safe”.

Beware of the crabs

In a recent personal development meeting that I attended, the speaker gave an illustration of “the crabs” – outside forces that are trying to hold you back. Think of crabs in a pot, destined, poor things, for market. One crab starts to climb up the inside of the pot, not necessarily realising that therein lies the route to freedom, but dissatisfied with being stuck at the bottom, being clambered over by all the others. Rather than cheer him on, the other crabs start to grab his legs with their pincers, trying to drag him back down again to where it is “safe”. Down there, as it turns out, isn’t safe, but they believe that the status quo is less scary than the possibility of freedom, and want everyone to be in the same boat (or pot).

Are there any “crabs” holding you back from what you are trying to achieve? Is anyone negative towards you in regard to your desire for healthier dietary and lifestyle habits? This is likely to be a reflection of their beliefs about themselves, not you, but ultimately you are the one who is going to have to deal with it. Are you ready for the challenge?

A word of advice – belligerence, evangelicism and a “holier-than-thou” approach rarely works. It’s far better, in my experience, to explain what you are doing and why, tell people that you value their friendship but are making these changes because you feel it is the best thing for you. If they are really your friends, they will understand. And if they are not, sometimes you have to let things, and people, go when they are not aligned with your true life purpose. This can be painful, but it is the only way that we can ultimately grow.

Have I managed to remain cool, calm and collected on every occasion that someone has challenged my lifestyle? Certainly not; particularly not at the start of my radical lifestyle upgrading, during which time I was more than a little defensive. I’m far from perfect emotionally, and freely admit that. But I can tell you something – explaining who you are, the direction you are moving in and the reasons for it, whilst at the same time remaining open and non-judgmental, gets so much easier with time.

And finally –

Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.  

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The Dangers of Chronic Stress

Although I would never have admitted it, in early 1990 in the lead-up to becoming seriously ill, I was chronically stressed. When your fear, fight and flight mechanism is continuously activated, things can start to go wrong quite rapidly. A lot of this is actually as a result of inflammation, and during chronic psychological stress it has been found that the body loses its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, research at Carnegie Mellon University shows that the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.
The inflammatory response is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol, and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can become out of control. Prolonged stress decreases tissue sensitivity to cortisol, which allows inflammatory processes to escalate. Specifically, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect. In turn, runaway inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases.
Research indicates that experiencing a prolonged stressful event prevents immune cells from responding to hormonal signals which normally regulate inflammation. In turn, those with the inability to regulate the inflammatory response are more likely to develop colds when exposed to the virus which causes the common cold. Additionally, people who are less able to regulate their inflammatory response produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, the chemical messengers which trigger inflammation, upon exposure to viruses such as the common cold. Since inflammation plays a role in a wide range of diseases such as cardiovascular problems, asthma and autoimmune disorders, research such as this suggests why stress can have an impact.
In addition to high levels of cortisol wreaking havoc with the immune system, chronic stress leads to elevated levels of adrenaline. Both of these hormones have an inhibitory effect on an important enzyme called delta 6 desaturase, which you’ll learn more about in chapter 5 of my forthcoming book, where I explain the importance of essential fats.
Great ways of reducing stress include exercise, spending quality time with friends, having a massage or just taking time out for yourself in nature. Get someone to give you a hug too, because hugs increase the secretion of oxytocin, a hormone which instantly calms the nervous system and makes you feel a whole lot better, fast. You can read more stress-busting tips and find out about other benefits of oxytocin in my 2014 book The Whole Body Solution.
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What on Earth are we Eating?

Last week I came across some interesting statistics, which were published in a magazine that, in case you were wondering, I do not actually read.

Published in The Grocer magazine, Britain’s 100 Biggest Brands report gives us the startling information that Coca-Cola became the first grocery brand to make more than £1 billion worth of sales in the UK. Yes, that’s right, over a billion. And people wonder where our so-called “obesity crisis” might have its roots. I’ve blogged about carbonated, sugar-loaded junk before here, aimed at the sports drink industry. But the remaining 9 brands in the top 10 for 2015 don’t make for particularly happy reading either.

Here’s the list. And with it, I’ll give you The Raw Food Scientist’s alternatives – what I would really love to see people eating and drinking instead.

1: Coca-Cola – £1.15 billion in sales. This figure astounds me. Why do people buy so much of this stuff? It doesn’t hydrate you. It rots your teeth and it makes you fat and miserable from the sugar content. It robs you of energy. It depletes your bone strength. I guess they must like the taste then. Either that or it’s cheap. But water is cheaper. Turn on the (filter) tap and it’s right there. Please do spare a thought though for the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, who had his total salary for 2015 slashed by 42%. He only received $14.6 million, down from $25.2 million for 2014, as a result of “disappointing sales” (source: Fortune.com). How will he manage on that, poor chap? And how many more bottles of this stuff, realistically, do they actually want us to buy?

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – coconut water. It tastes great. It’s good for you. It hydrates you and gives you electrolytes. There are a lot of brands, so how do you pick one? I’d go for the raw one every time. My favourite brand is Mighty Bee, and second favourite is Unoco. Not cheap, but totally worth it. Alternatively, if you don’t mind pasteurised, Vita Coco would be my choice.

2: Warburtons, with 2015 sales of £695.3 million. People obviously love their bread. And surely bread can’t be that bad, can it? Well… yes, actually. Particularly if it is made from processed, bleached, white flour that even cockroaches won’t eat… So let’s look at some upgrades. Firstly you could make your own bread, with ancient, sprouted grains such as spelt, which you then dry gently in a dehydrator (or in the sun, like the Essenes used to do, if you have the climate for it). Or you could embrace Paleo and eliminate grains altogether. Many have done, and feel great for it.

Another Raw Food Scientist upgrade – raw bread. Try this. It kept me going for hours when I was climbing Kilimanjaro.

3: Walkers, with 2015 sales of £599.3 million. Just because they get a famous retired footballer to advertise their products, it doesn’t mean they’re good for you! Walkers make crisps (potato chips, for my American readers). Now, there’s a product that really doesn’t need to exist at all!

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – make your own crackers. There are some excellent recipe ideas for crackers in Good Raw Food Recipes, by Judy Barber. Try them out. Alternatively, look at Inspiral or Raw Health for their crackers. But both have too much added salt in my opinion, and they will leave you thirsty and dehydrated if you’re not careful.

4: Dairy Milk, with total sales of £528.5 million. Oh, seriously? You know my opinion on dairy products. If not, read Love Your Bones. So this company combines cow mammary secretions with vast amounts of sugar and heat-treated chocolate powder. That isn’t going to create health, but so many are addicted to chocolate that they just don’t care.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – raw chocolate bars that do NOT contain agave or other sweeteners (stevia is permitted). But they’re still chocolate, and feeding your addictions. Limit your intake. And with the price of raw chocolate bars, you’ll need to.

5: Bird’s Eye (total 2015 sales £490.2 million). Processed and frozen food. Fish fingers. Junk food aimed at kids. Well done Captain Bird’s Eye.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – how about a proper meal, prepared from scratch, with fresh vegetables at the heart? Heck, I don’t even mind if you cook it. It’s got to be better than this.

6: McVitie’s, with total sales of £464.5 million. McVitie’s “bake a better biscuit”, apparently. Maybe they do. But better than what, exactly? This biscuit company feeds you with sugar, deranged, heat treated fats that favour inflammatory processes and heart disease, and that’s somehow “better”. Just like with crisps, biscuits don’t really need to exist, do they?

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – try Snackaroons, made by RawLicious. They’re high in sugar from the dates and raisins that are part of the recipe, but they’re still a far better option. They’re expensive too, but maybe that means you’ll eat fewer of them, which would be better for you. Or make your own – again, Judy Barber has the answers in Good Raw Food Recipes.

7: Nescafé, with sales of £432.7 million. Instant coffee, brought to you by one of the world’s most unethical companies. Although many people can’t seem to start the day without it, drop the coffee and you’ll feel hugely better as soon as the headache disappears. Coffee overworks your adrenal glands, raises your cortisol levels and messes up your bone health (see Love Your Bones for how).

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – caffeine-free herb or fruit teas, or percolated dandelion coffee, which contains no caffeine. Go on – you know you want to!

8: Lucozade, with 2015 earnings of £426.7 million. See Coca-Cola above. See my separate blog Anyone for a Sports Drink? Enough said.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – see above.

9: Pepsi (£423.2 million). I bet they’re really annoyed that they don’t have the market share of Coca-Cola. They pay a “nutritionist” well over £100,000 per year to tell people that their products are not bad for you (source: LinkedIn). I could go on. I won’t.

The Raw Food Scientist’s upgrade – see above.

10: Andrex (£350.3 million). Aah, it’s all down to that cute Labrador puppy isn’t it? Personally, as loo roll goes, I prefer to buy unbleached, made from recycled paper. Less environmental impact. But that’s just me.

Which brands have the most market share in your country? I hope they’re not as depressing as in mine!

 

 

 

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Is a plant-based diet cancer protective?

Cancer rates are soaring worldwide. Cancer has now overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in Canada (1). The “War on Cancer”, commenced by the Nixon administration in 1971, has been …

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Is a plant-based diet cancer protective?

Cancer rates are soaring worldwide. Cancer has now overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in Canada (1). The “War on Cancer”, commenced by the Nixon administration in 1971, has been a catastrophic failure. There are many hundreds of cancer charities worldwide, and we are told in TV advertisements by Cancer Research UK, that if we just wear pink in “Race for Life” and do more fundraising for them, we will “beat cancer sooner”. Will we? That, of course, remains a possibility. But what if the answer were much more straightforward? What if it were true that just by changing what we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner could dramatically improve our chances of avoiding this most feared of diseases, and could even allow us to reverse the pathology and heal ourselves?

The role of diet as a potential causative factor in the development of cancer is now understood by many, and is widely researched. However, and as I state in my CD The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Treatment, there is no one “ultimate cause” of cancer (although folic acid deficiency, and depriving cells of oxygen, have both been stated by some researchers to be “ultimate causes”).

Cancer is, no doubt, a multifactorial disease – i.e. many factors coming together to stimulate the abnormal growth of cells. Poor diet, lack of adequate antioxidant intake, low vitamin D status, lack of exercise, stress, high sugar consumption, high fat intake, exposure to environmental chemicals and pollutants, smoking, exposure to ionising radiation, low self-esteem, genetic predisposition; all these and more have been demonstrated over time to be involved in that most complex of processes that ultimately manifests as a tumour. Scientists from Manchester University recently performed a comprehensive examination of hundreds of mummified bodies from ancient Egypt and beyond. Their conclusion, published in a 2010 issue of Nature Reviews Cancer was that nearly all cancer is a modern, human-made disease caused by poor diet and pollution.

As you can imagine, I am frequently asked if a plant-based diet is really the most health-giving. I am covering this huge subject (in as much detail as I can in a 45-minute slot!) at Bristol VegFest on 22nd May, so do join me if you’re free. For now, let’s have a look at the evidence which supports the move from beef to broccoli; from pork to pine nuts, from milk to mung beans and from eggs to eggplant. The dietary recommendations on the websites of several cancer charities do not appear to support such a radical shift. Are they missing a trick?

Many studies are now making the connection between meat intake and the incidence of many cancers. These studies are relevant in that they are performed on humans; animal models are not always accurate representations of what will happen in the human body. T. Colin Campbell summarised his epic “The China Study” thus:

“Without any doubt, those who consumed the most animal products had the highest incidence of degenerative disease. Those who consumed the least animal products had the least degenerative disease and were the healthiest.” Degenerative disease here incorporates not just cancer but also heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and other “Western” diseases. Campbell has his critics of course, as all researchers do, but he’s not the only one coming to these conclusions.

Red meat and processed meat consumption is a strong correlator for colon cancer (2, 3, 4), and red meat is a causal factor for oesophageal and liver cancer (4). The cooking method of meat also seems to have an impact on both the initial cause, and subsequent recurrence, of malignant bowel cancers (5). High cooking temperatures in grilling and frying of meat increases carcinogenic compounds in the meat such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)(6).

But what about other cancers? For sure, bowel cancer is unpleasant and has a nasty habit of recurring despite radical surgery and intensive chemo. And there were over 40,000 new cases of it in the UK in 2013 alone, representing 12% of all diagnosed cancers (source – Cancer Research UK).

Hormonal cancers (breast and ovarian in women, prostate and testicular in men) have a strong link to dietary fat and animal protein intake. As I state in my CD The Real Truth about Food, a high consumption of dairy products increases the risk of prostate cancer, and makes metastasis (spread to other parts of the body), more likely. In one study, milk was most closely correlated with the incidence of prostate cancer, followed by meat and coffee (7). As for testicular cancer, cheese was most closely correlated with incidence in the 20-39 age group, followed by animal fat and milk (7). Another study in the Netherlands indicated that the greatest risk for prostate cancer was posed by consumption of cured meat and milk products (8).

Amongst women, breast cancer is probably the most feared of all cancers. The emotional effects of the disease can be massive, and some authors actually describe breast cancer as primarily an emotional disease (9). Meat and fish consumption is linked to a higher incidence of breast cancer (10) as is the consumption of a diet high in fat, notably animal fat (11).

Similar findings and correlations between animal protein and animal fat intake exist for many other cancers, including pancreatic, kidney, lung, bladder, and leukaemia. As I explain in my CD The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Treatment, one Swedish study indicated that there was a zero recurrence rate of breast cancer when a plant-based diet was adopted, in contrast to a 37% recurrence rate on a “standard” diet.

As we all know however, correlation does not equal causation. So why don’t we look at whether a plant-based diet really does reduce the incidence of cancer. Whilst there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people who have reversed catastrophic disease, including cancer, via sprouting, juicing, eating raw and living foods etc, there are other factors involved aside from diet alone. Whilst I was studying at Hippocrates in Florida, where for decades people have successfully been able to reverse all manner of cancer processes, I was informed that an outstanding diet alone is often not enough. This is why all guests at Hippocrates also receive psychotherapy, detoxification sessions, exercise programs and many other supportive therapies. A healing diet is only one ingredient in the recipe for success. After all, the body and mind are intrinsically linked, and this may help to explain why some people have gone into spontaneous remission from cancers even when the diet was not optimal. Many such individuals have an incredible mindset of creating wellness, and this, together with a large supportive network, can often get them through.

The Seventh Day Adventist population in California is notable and has been the subject of many studies. These people have close community links, an active spiritual life and many have a plant-based diet. Compared with the “average” Californian, the Adventists who eat a standard diet have a 36% lower incidence of heart disease, and a lower all-cause mortality rate than Californians who likewise eat a standard diet. The Adventists’ cancer incidence is also lower. What is most interesting however is the effect on the reduction in the incidence of degenerative disease, including cancer, when a plant-based diet is adopted. According to the Adventists study, a vegan diet appears to be protective against all types of cancer; more so than a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. Vegan Adventist women also have a lower incidence of hormonal cancers (breast, ovary, uterine) than any other dietary group. Another benefit for the vegan Adventist women is that they weigh on average 39 lbs less than their meat-eating counterparts. Since obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, including cancer, the advantages of a plant-based diet seem too significant to ignore.

Sadly, corporate interest often dictates the information we are given, and vested interest frequently overtakes health. It has been estimated that if subsidies on the production of meat and dairy products were eliminated, and these animal derivatives were actually sold at their true price, we could potentially prevent 75% of all degenerative disease worldwide within 3 years (1). Regrettably, when looking at dietary guidelines from governments and medical charities for numerous degenerative diseases, the over-riding message seems to be that of not scaring people too much; being “moderate”; and perhaps staying within the dietary comfort zone that might have allowed the disease to manifest in the first place.

We are told to “cut down” rather than “cut out”. We are told to “reduce” rather than “eliminate”. We are told that we need a balanced diet, but are not actually informed what the most health-giving diet is. It took a very long time for governments and health bodies to tell people that, to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, they should not smoke at all. Let us hope that this talk of dietary moderation does not take as long to disappear from the vocabulary of our advisers. For my personal health, when it comes to avoiding degenerative diseases including cancer, I’d rather be a radical plant-eater.

References

  1. The Real Truth About Health Conference, New York 2014.
  2. Wang, J et al. Carcinogen metabolism genes, red meat and poultry intake, and colorectal cancer risk. Int J Cancer, 2012 Apr 15; 130(8): 1898-907.
  3. Zur Hausen H. Red meat consumption and cancer: reasons to suspect involvement of bovine infectious factors in colorectal cancer. Int J Cancer, 2012 Jun 1; 130(11): 2475-83.
  4. Cross AJ, Leitzmann MF et al. A prospective study of red and processed meat intake in relation to cancer risk. PLoS Med, 2007 Dec 4(12):e325
  5. Martinez ME, Jacobs ET et al. Meat intake, preparation methods, mutagens and colorectal adenoma recurrence. Carcinogenesis, 2007 Sep; 28(9):2019-27.
  6. Cross AJ, Sinha R. Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2004;44(1):44-55.
  7. Li XM et al. The effects of oestrogen-like products in milk on prostate and testes (Chinese). 2003 Jun;9(3):186-90.
  8. Schuurman AG et al. Animal products, calcium and protein and prostate cancer risk in The Netherlands Cohort Study. Br J Cancer. 1999 Jun;80(7):1107-13.
  9. The Real Truth About Health Conference, New York 2014.
  10. Bao PP et al. Fruit, vegetable and animal food intake and breast cancer risk by hormone receptor status. Nutr Cancer, 2012 Aug;64(6):806-19.
  11. Schulz M et al. Identification of a dietary pattern characterized by high-fat food choices associated with increased risk of breast cancer: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) – Potsdam Study. Br J Nutr, 2008 Nov;100(5)942-6.

 

 

 

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