Red light phototherapy (1/3): The Skin

Red Light Pt1 Skin

In this series of three posts Keir and I will be looking at the huge body of research that is uncovering the remarkable health benefits of red light. I have a red light phototherapy unit in my clinic (see photo above) but have only recently begun to realise how broad its applications are. As there is so much fascinating research to share I’ve decided to split it up into three posts to spare you all from long-post exhaustion!

Part 1: Skin
• Red light and skin rejuvenation, collagen production and wrinkle reduction
• Red light protects skin from photo-aging

Part 2: Muscles, Eye and Hair
• Red light enhances muscle performance and exercise recovery
• Red and infra-red light protect the retina
• Red light increases hair regrowth

Part 3: Pain, Wound Healing and Practical Ideas
• Red-light for pain relief
• Red-light for wound healing
• Practical ways to make use of these ideas


Lets start with a quote from a researcher at the Centre for Vision Research, Upstate Medical University, New York:

Red light had been valued in the practice of medicine since antiquity. The utility of red light appears to be “re-discovered” at the end of the 18th century by Finsen who later became to be known as the “father of contemporary phototherapy” for his astonishing achievements of curing skin disorders such as small blisters using red light and lupus vulgaris using UV light. These successes won him the 1903 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology “in recognition of his contribution to the treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation, whereby he has opened a new avenue for medical science”. – Ivayla I. Geneva, Photobiomodulation for the treatment of retinal diseases: a review (2016)


Photons from the UV end of the spectrum are potentially most damaging (ionising), but penetrate the skin only a fraction of a millimetre. The further one moves towards the red end of the spectrum the deeper the photons penetrate, but the less damaging they are.

Humans evolved outdoors where they were exposed to regular and prolonged full spectrum sunlight. It is not surprising then that our physiology has adapted to make use of this light. The ability of the skin to synthesise Vitamin D is the best known of these interactions, and relies on light from the ultraviolet part of the spectrum (UVB). However, there are many other roles that light plays apart from vitamin D production. The evolution of bare skin in humans suggests that sunlight played a vital role.

Because photons (particles of light) interact with molecules – a process known as photo chemistry – so daylight is able to provide a source of information and energy at the cellular level. Light penetrates the skin just a few millimetres, so it’s chief effects are on the skin, eyes and scalp, but it can also affect the outer those layers of muscles and blood vessels that are close to the surface.

Effects triggered at the surface, however, can have deeper or systemic (whole body) effects. For example, the production of nitric oxide in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight has been shown to produce lowered blood pressure systemically which persists for hours (see our previous post on Human Photosynthesis)

Research in the last twenty years has uncovered a vast array of biochemical actions and physiological effects that different wavelengths (colours) of light can have. Red light is the most studied visible wavelength and has a particularly fascinating range of properties.

The recent development of lasers, narrow band fluorescent tubes and more recently, light emitting diodes (LEDs) has enabled rapid research into the healing effects of individual wavelengths of light, especially red light, which this post will focus on.

Note: The particular source of red light – LEDs, lasers, fluorescent lamps – is immaterial in terms of the beneficial effects observed. The reference to one or another of these devices in the following studies can be ignored as it is the wavelength (colour) of the light, the duration of exposure and intensity that is important, not the source itself. Likewise, whether the light is pulsed or steady appears to have very little bearing, so you can ignore those details.

Skin rejuvenation, collagen production and wrinkle reduction

Red light has been gaining popularity in beauty salons where they claim its regular use can stimulate collagen production and thereby lead to improved skin elasticity and reduced wrinkles. Over the last two decades many experiments have confirmed these purported effects.

Red light penetrates the skin more deeply than shorter wavelengths such as blue, and UV light, easily reaching the lower dermal layers where the collagen matrix gives young skin its plump elastic quality. Incredibly, collagen makes up 70 to 80% of our skin. As we get older collagen becomes depleted and wrinkles start forming – the inevitable signs of ageing. Many topical skin products include collagen, in the somewhat futile hope that it will be absorbed by the skin and replenish its youthful qualities.

What we really need is for the body to produce its own collagen in-situ. Amazingly, this can be achieved with red light stimulation and for many people the results are visible after a few weeks of regular treatment as can be seen in the photos below, whilst increased collagen levels have been confirmed in numerous studies.


Before and after photos showing changes in visible skin ageing improvements following 30 bi-weekly treatments with red light. [ref]

Whilst the above results are quite impressive, some people only notice fairly subtle improvements. Studies typically find that 2 in 10 patients do not see any improvements at all, but some of these studies are short, involving only ten sessions [ref]

As well as red-light therapy, you can improve your skin by making sure you get enough collagen in your diet or from supplements. Dietary collagen has been shown to help protect the skin from ageing (ref). I would recommend making bone broth. Boiling down those leftover bones helps extract the collagen attached to them. Gelatine is also a good source, so check out my jelly recipes. Conversely, avoid high carb diets and vegetarianism which are associated with reduced collagen synthesis (ref).

Red light protects skin from photo-ageing caused by UV light

There is some evidence that red light can reduce the damage done by UVA. UVA is the main ultra-violet component of sunlight and UVA is used in sunbeds. UVA is considered to be the chief cause of photo-ageing, causing oxidative stress and directly damaging DNA in skin cells. Interestingly, in the lab, it has been shown that pre-treatment with red light ameliorates these effects.

One of the effects on skin cells of ultra-violet light is that the chromosomal end-caps called telomeres shorten. Cells can no longer reproduce once these telomeres become too short, so ageing is directly associated with telomere length (see pic below)

Telomere shortening is the primary cause of ageing. Each time cells divide for growth or tissue repair telomere length reduces. When it reaches zero the cells can no longer divide and die.

There is growing evidence that red light exposure prior to UVA reduces telomere shortening, and hence reduces skin photo-ageing [ref]


In one recent study, human skin cells were grown for five days, exposing them each day to no light (control), UVA or UVA + red light. The graph opposite shows the changes in telomere length. With UVA alone the telomere length decreased by 40%, but with red light the photo-ageing effect was significantly reduced. In the words of the authors:

The red light intervention tremendously attenuated the cytotoxicity of UVA

What is notable is that this protective effect was induced with a relatively low level of red light – approximately one tenth that of the UVA. Perhaps as a consequence of research like this some tanning salons now use a mix of UVA and red light tubes in their sun beds. Even so, I don’t recommend UVA sunbeds as they still lead to photo-ageing without the significant benefits associated with full spectrum light. The regular use of red light alone, on the other hand, would help protect one from daily sun damage.

There are indications that red light will not only slow, but reverse photo-ageing of the skin. In one test, 93 human subjects with a wide range of skin types were treated with pulsed red LED light. “Results showed improvement of signs of photo-ageing in 90%. The majority of patients demonstrated improvement in peri-ocular wrinkles, reduction in Fitzpatrick photo-ageing classification, global skin texture and background erythema, and pigmentation” [ref, full text pdf]

Some studies show that preconditioning skin with red or infra-red light makes it more resistant to subsequent UV exposure. Daniel Baroleta, of the Department of Medicine, Dermatology Division, McGill University, Montreal suggests “This is understandable from an evolutionary standpoint since exposure to these early morning red and infra-red wavelengths in sunlight may ready the skin for the coming mid-day deleterious ultra violet radiation.” [ref]

All of this research confirms and extends the benefits claimed by beauty therapies that employ red light for collagen production and wrinkle reduction. The indication is that getting more red light on the skin would be beneficial for all of us, especially those of us who spend too much time indoors!

Coming soon: even more reasons to love red light!


July News Round-Up


Sleep and health: inflammation and ‘intestinal jet-lag’

The Mail (6th July) explains why ‘Too little and too much sleep is as damaging to your health’.

Dr Irwin concluded: ‘Together with diet and physical activity, sleep health represents a third component in the promotion of health-span.’

The importance of sleep is further flagged up in Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News (July 11th) in a detailed article discussing the growing body of evidence linking disruption of the body’s circadian clocks to changes in the gut lining and liver metabolism that contribute to inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s) liver diseases and other gastro-intestinal ailments.

Children who suck their thumbs and bite their nails suffer fewer allergies

The Telegraph (11th July) reports on a study that found that the protection afforded by thumb sucking and nail biting was life-long and present even where the child’s parents suffered from allergies. Prof Bob Hancox, the lead author of the study said the findings “suggest that being exposed to microbes as a child reduces your risk of developing allergies”. This is in line with observations that children brought up on farms or those with access to vegetable gardens have fewer allergies. Increased diversity of gut microbes is thought to be responsible.

Artificial sweeteners make you crave sugar

A great article in The Mail (12th July) explains why diet drinks may actually be contributing to overeating.

‘When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain re-calibrates and increases total calories consumed… The pathway we discovered is part of a conserved starvation response that actually makes nutritious food taste better when you are starving.’

We, like many others, have an instinctive distrust of the whole ‘artificial sweetener’ industry so it is great to find further science to back up our stance. Fans of the ‘just eat real food’ tendency will be right with us here I am sure.

Why fat isn’t the enemy but sugar and refined carbohydrates are

The Evening Standard (25th July) has a nice piece about cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who recommends a diet with more olive oil, full fat dairy, nuts and vegetables. However, in the comments section there is an interesting counterargument by another cardiologist Dr Khan that challenges Malhotra’s advice.

On careful reading though, I found less conflict than there first seemed. Both cardiologists agree that refined carbs and processed foods must go, but that fish, vegetables and olive oil are good. ‘Eat real foods’ is the undisputed starting point, again.

The areas of conflict seem to hinge on (1) the use of butter, and (2) meat v plant proteins (beans). Taking butter first: I think that butter is no problem once the rest of the diet is based around real food. However, if you are still eating lots of refined carbs, adding butter won’t magically make you healthier. With regards meat v beans, surely there is room for variety? My feeling is that the greater the diversity of real foods, the better. Which brings me to this piece:

The Mail (21st July) covers research that found a reduced risk of diabetes among people that ate a wider variety of foods. In particular: ‘people eating the widest variety of fruits and vegetables and dairy products also greatly reduced their risk of diabetes compared with people who had a less varied diet’

Another aspect of health appearing in both the Mail and Evening Standard articles is that both advise against jogging as a ‘healthy’ activity, recommending brisk walking instead.

Brisk walking, better than vigorous jogging

In the Evening Standard article Dr Malhotra says that orthopaedic surgeons are seeing people in their forties needing hip and knee replacements, and that no one should run on the pavement or treadmills. Meanwhile the Mail article reports on a new study by Duke Health, which has found that walking briskly on a regular basis improves pre-diabetes more effectively than intense treadmill exercise.

Recipes: Grain and sugar free biscuits, cakes, crackers and treats

So after you have taken that brisk walk, how can you start to replace your refined carbs with real whole foods?

‘Saying no to processed flour and grains doesn’t have to mean an end to the delicious homeliness of baking.’ says author Karen Thomson, in her article in The Mail (5th July) which has a great set of recipes along with advice on kicking the sugar habit.

I am looking forward to trying some of her great sounding recipes:


Spiced-up nuts, four ways to make your own super-snacks


Nuts are a healthy snack, but virtually all commercially available salted, spiced, ‘dry roast’ or coated nuts have unacceptable industrial ingredients added to them, such as sugar, vegetable oils or xanthan gum. So it’s good to know you can spice up your own nuts quickly and easily to make something special for a party, evening in, or wine and nibbles with friends.

The method I use begins with oven roasting, then coating the roasted nuts in a hot frying pan using a liquid (fruit juice or vinegar) to carry the spices. The liquid ‘boils’ off almost instantly, coating the nuts, leaving them a little bit sticky, as you can see in the image above.

Total preparation time 20 minutes.


I’m trialling several different recipes here, so have spread each kind out on a baking tray. Clockwise from top: cashews, macadamia, mixed nuts, pecans

Take your favourite mix of plain, raw, unsalted nuts. Spread them out on a baking tray, and place in a preheated oven at 170°C for eight to ten minutes, shaking them around a bit after five mins as most ovens seem to be have hot spots and you want them evenly roasted. Check towards the end to make sure they are not burning.

Meanwhile, make up the flavouring mix, which consists of a liquid (vinegar, tamari or lemon juice for instance) with spices mixed in (piri-piri, cinnamon, curry spices or black pepper for example)

Transfer the nuts from the oven to a large fairly hot frying pan. Put the extractor fan on ready…!

Pour the flavouring over, and stir the nuts rapidly as it sizzles and reduces, coating the nuts.


If you don’t add too much liquid at once you should find that it almost instantly turns sticky and coats the nuts. This stage only takes a minute. BTW If you do add too much liquid then your nuts will end up being boiled and going soggy. Not so good :( but still tasty :)

Once coated, remove them from the pan and spread them out to cool.

Below are some of the flavouring mixes I have tried.

Cashews with lemon and black pepper

These are very moreish. Unfortunately, cashews are relatively high-carb nuts, so I tend to avoid them, but this flavouring would work well for most nuts.

Tamari 5-spice

Use a gluten-free tamari and add Chinese 5-spice.

These make a nice snack to nibble while watching a movie.

Curried Macadamias

Curried macadamias

Using vinegar of any type will give your nuts a nice sweet tangy flavour. I used white wine vinegar. Any curry powder should work. Macadamias have a buttery crunch that suits this flavour combination well. A little salt could also be added.

Balsamic pecans


Balsamic vinegar is sweeter than other vinegar as it contains grape juice. When used to make a coating for nuts it goes well with sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger. I added one tea spoon of honey for good measure! Even so, these nuts are much lower in sugar than any commercial ‘honey coated’ nut.

So there you are, nutty variations on a good old stand by. I recommend these as treats rather than everyday foods, as there are concerns about the oils in nuts becoming inflammatory to us when they are heated, but if you are not particularly vulnerable to inflammation and want a bit of a change then this won’t hurt you. Making them yourself is fun, and is not like a factory ‘product’. Rather it is an artisan food, in my opinion.

Natty ceramic egg holders -review

If, like me, you have a lot of eggs in your kitchen, you might get fed up with the ordinary cardboard egg boxes which are hardly the last word in style, and often lead to eggs being stashed away, ignominiously, out of sight in a larder or at the back of the fridge.

But eggs deserve more. There is no food as complete, nutritious and versatile as the egg, so lets display them proudly, front and centre on the kitchen worktop!

For several months now I been using these ceramic egg trays which I purchased on line and they have proved themselves to be thoroughly practical and stylish.

Each one holds a dozen eggs of all but XXL size. The white ceramic finish is fresh and glossy and to my eye looks very smart. They are very easy to clean and are dishwasher safe.

You can find them on Google Shopping, often advertised as ‘porcelain egg holders’. The price varies between retailers from £4 to £10 plus postage, which I reckon is good value. They would also make great presents for any foody friends.

My mistake was to only buy two, as I get my eggs by the tray (30), so always have half a dozen which end up in a normal cardboard egg box – the very thing I was trying to get rid of!

June news roundup


Toxic chemicals in our food, plastic and air are poisoning our children, warn leading scientists

The Independent (30th June) reports that US scientists, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the International Neurotoxicology Association, and the US National Medical Association, have issued a “call to action” over common toxins.

They warn that 90% of pregnant women are contaminated with dozens of potentially harmful substances such as heavy metals, organophosphate pesticides, PBDE flame retardants and phthalates found in plastic, which are all known to interfere with the development of the unborn brain. They link these observations to the alarming rise in autism spectrum disorders.

Emulsifiers and Artificial Sweeteners

The Sun (27th June) reports on Professor Tim Spector who claims that emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners in processed foods and zero-calorie drinks disrupt gut microbes and contribute to obesity.

For improved gut diversity Professor Spector recommends the following foods, all good sources of prebiotic nutrients to keep the microbiome happy.


(I have to add here that there is one joke food on that list, as far as I am concerned, and that is the Jerusalem artichokes. Don’t even ask!)

Coffee is good for the liver

Our recent post on the benefits of coffee looked at the huge range of research pointing to coffee’s health promoting properties. So I was pleased to spot an article in the Coventary Telegraph (30th June) reporting on a review by the British Liver Trust (!), who said:

“The evidence in this report shows that drinking coffee can protect you from developing liver disease and in addition reduces the risk of progressive disease for those already affected. We have an epidemic of liver disease in the UK. The numbers affected are growing at an alarming rate. It is the third biggest cause of premature death in the UK.”

Eating protein with every meal

Dietary protein has multiple benefits: reducing snacking, helping with weight control and reducing age-related muscle loss, which shockingly, for most people begins after the age of thirty.

Most people’s daily protein consumption tends to be focused in a single meal at the end of the day, but because protein cannot be stored in the body this single large dose does not allow optimum protein utilisation. Spreading the protein out over three meals is far more effective.

So it is nice to see Time magazine (29th June) tackling this subject with an article titled “Nine simple ways to eat protein at every meal”.

High fat Mediterranean diet does not cause weight gain

The Guardian (6th June) reports on a study which found that people whose diets were rich in olive oil and nuts lost more weight than those on low-fat regime.

“Fear of fat is misplaced and guidelines that restrict it in our diets are wrong, say the Spanish researchers”

No link between butter and heart disease

Many papers, including Time magazine (29th June) reported on the latest study by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts in Boston. The researchers looked at people’s butter consumption and their risk for chronic disease and found no link to heart disease. In four of the nine studies, people who ate butter daily had a 4% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In April, Mozaffarian published a separate study in the journal Circulation that analyzed the blood of 3,333 adults and found that people who had higher levels of three byproducts from full-fat dairy had a 46% lower risk of getting diabetes than people with lower levels.

Here is Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian reading his 2015 JAMA paper “The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines: Lifting the Ban on Total Dietary Fat”

Does the Ketogenic diet have a place in Multiple Sclerosis?

A news item from the Multiple Sclerosis Trust (25th May) reports on research indicating that an ketogenic diet eaten for one week per month is well tolerated and led to improvements in symptoms and quality of life in a small study. Professor Valter Longo, who led the research, was optimistic about the results but cautioned, “What we don’t want is patients trying to do this at home without involvement of their specialist”.

TV’s Dr Mosley sees the light after reversing his Diabetes with diet

The Mail (18th June) ran an article by TV’s Dr Michael Mosley, titled “You CAN eat to beat diabetes – so why isn’t the NHS telling you how?”

Dr Mosley is promoting a low-carb, Mediterranean diet, which he used successfully to reverse his own diabetes. He has made his own version of the ‘eat-better’ plate, which, apart from the grains, is pretty good by my reckoning, and certainly a million times better than the Government’s version. Here it is:

This is pretty close to what I eat, and what I recommend to my patients (except, grain-free). The slow-carb section, for me, would include nuts – including ground almonds – and seeds such as sunflower and linseed, and lentils in moderation. But the rest of the plate I am happy with. The rest of the article is pretty good too. Certainly worth a read.

Seperately, many papers reported that the The Government’s carb-heavy healthy eating guide could be CAUSING obesity and type 2 diabetes (Mail, 13th June). However, I think that The Huffington Post (14th June) is bang on the money with it’s headline: “Guide Promotes Industry Wealth Not Public Health.Government-eat-well-plate

The official UK government Eatwell guide shows a plate stuffed with processed food products, and heavily dominated by refined carbs.

Gluten induced psychosis

Live Science (22nd Jun) has an interesting story about a young woman who was institutionalised due to psychotic episodes, but recovered fully on a gluten free diet.

The differences between how the woman behaved on a gluten-free diet and after being exposed to gluten was like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,”

Three generations of one family diagnosed with Coeliac. The disease is particularly prevalent among Celtic people – red hair, blue eyes, pale skin.

While on the personal gluten story theme, there was a good one I missed last month in the Mirror (May 30th) that tells how three generations of one family were all diagnosed with Coeliac disease.

Why popping vitamin pills may be doing more harm than good

This article in the Mail (21st June) is pretty good, ending with the rather obvious statement that ‘it’s better to get your vitamins from food than pills’. Most people only need vitamins where there is an identified deficiency, taking more as an ‘insurance policy’ is increasingly being shown to be counterproductive. The exceptions are vitamin D, selenium, iodine and B12 as deficiencies in these are widespread in the UK. Regular fish consumption can help with all of these, especially selenium and iodine.


Why the EU is bad for herbs, supplements and vegetable seeds


I wouldn’t usually use this blog for personal political musings, but as a herbalist, nutritionist and organic gardener there have been multiple assaults on my freedoms which have been a direct consequence of Britain’s EU membership. In each case the directives in question have had a corporatist, big-business agenda behind them and have clearly been designed to close down competition from the smaller, and generally more ethical and natural companies.

Products derived from natural materials are problematic for big businesses for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they often cannot be patented. Secondly, it is relatively easy for start-up companies to manufacture such products, increasing competition, and while this might be good for consumers, shareholders of big-businesses are not so keen. It is not surprising, therefore, that big business interests form the lions share of high level (and closed door) lobby meetings with EU commissioners.


Below are four areas of EU natural products regulation that have affected me and the public directly or indirectly. Each of them play’s to this corporatist agenda:

1. Herbal medicine regulations (Directive 2004/24/EC)

The public has had access to herbal medicines, over the counter or from apothecaries and chemists since Victorian times and earlier. Indeed in the 1920’s you would have seen such striking sights as huge black bryony roots hanging in the windows of grocers shops. Throughout the 20th century health-food shops and supermarkets could stock any herbal medicine they liked.

All of that changed with the EU Herbal Medicines directive. Whilst there were some good points about the directive – reducing exaggerated health claims, insisting on purity of product etc – the market was already moving this way under UK domestic legislation. For example, herbs which were shown to have toxicity if used incorrectly, such as Datura (Jimson’s weed) and Convallaria (Lily of the Valley) were already banned for over the counter sale to the public, but were still legal for fully trained Medical Herbalists if deemed appropriate following a one to one consultation.

The 2004 directive, which came into force fully in 2011, banned herbal medicines that had not been registered. Like with the seeds, this directive has a clear anti-competitive measure, requiring manufacturers to adopt a raft of EU legislation. There is a vast and complex system of fees for registering a herbal product, which can quickly add up to tens of thousands of pounds per product, which favours larger manufacturers and popular products. This has led to a contraction in the market, and reduced choice for consumers. It has also wasted vast amounts of committee member time, money and effort in the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (the oldest Professional body of Medical Herbalists in the world, of which I have been a member since I completed my four year full time course in Western Herbal Medicine in 1993).

2. Registered vegetable seed (Directive 2002/55/EC)

The EU directive on vegetable seeds requires all seeds that are sold in the EU to be registered for purity of variety. This was sold on the basis of consumer protection – after all, no one is going to be happy if they buy a pack of Big Boy sweet pepper seeds, expecting plump bell peppers, but after months of careful tending are faced with a crop of inedible misshapen chilli peppers, right?

The first problem with this directive is that small manufacturers simply couldn’t afford the registration process, especially for rare varieties that they only sold in small quantities. Many went bust, or reduced their range. On the other hand big seed companies could easily afford the registration fee, and were happy to focus on their most profitable seed lines. Such anti-competitive behaviour is not good for the public, as choice has been seriously limited, whilst the multi-nationals have been laughing all the way to the bank.

The second issue is a bit more complex to explain, so here goes… Modern seed varieties are produced under carefully controlled conditions so that the parent plants only pollinate each other. No pollen from other varieties is allowed in to the polytunnels where these seeds are produced. Such varieties are genetically ‘narrow’, coming as they do from just two specific parent plants. Such seeds are labelled ‘F1’ or ‘F1 hybrids’ if they are produced this way. Usually some desirable property such as height, flavour or speed of growth is present in these first generation seeds, which disappears if you save the seed for a second generation – even if you only let them pollinate each other. The combination of genes providing the desired trait is lost by further crossing.

For modern seeds not labelled F1, seed can be saved from second, third, forth (and so on) generations, and will retain the desirable genetic traits, as long as they only pollinate amongst themselves. In this case there are a narrow range of genes that despite various combinations from generation to generation tend to retain the traits.

Both of the above are loved by seed companies. Partly because it means they can clearly sell seed varieties with distinct qualities – for example, ‘Resistafly’ is a carrot variety that does not produce the signature chemicals that attract the carrot root fly pest. However, a more important consideration is that they can patent such varieties, monopolising their production. This has an added economic advantage for the seed companies, as growers cannot save the seed each year as is will become genetically contaminated from other varieties if open pollinated. Saving and growing the next year will lead to disappointing results with a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colours or other qualities amongst the vegetables. So gardeners and farmers have to go back to the seed company year after year. Kerching £££!

What few people realise is that there is another way of producing seed varieties – by open pollination. Instead of isolating the plants in polytunnels so they only pollinate each other, this method allows plants to pollinate with whatever pollen is in the local environment. The plants will contain a wide variety of genes and considerable variation in characteristics (at first). This is not desirable, as many of the plants will have sub-standard qualities. The trick in this method is to select the best plants and save their seed, resowing it each year, but again allowing it to be open pollinated.

The effect of this method is that through a kind of manipulated natural selection the percentage of good offspring gradually increases. Unlike F1 and closed pollinated varieties the seed can never promise to come 100% true to type (hence not possible to get on the EU seed register), but it gets closer and closer each year. It achieves this with a broad genetic base, rather than a narrow one. This confers considerable advantages: (1) The seeds are adapted to a wide range of conditions not just one or two key traits, making them particularly robust. (2) growers can save seed from year to year, and this will improve its adaptation to their local micro-climate, soil and weather etc over time. (3) there is no dependency on big agricultural firms. (4) This wider genetic base confers greater resilience to all sorts of threats, climatic, pest, disease etc, and better enables the crop to persist over time, unlike crops like the banana, which has a very narrow genetic base rendering it highly vulnerable to catastrophe or one sort or another. This of course is how all seed was produced up until the 20th century. Until big business started muscling in on the act.

With the introduction of the EU ban, old varieties of seed, often referred to as heirloom varieties, were threatened with extinction. In the face of this threat to genetic diversity the propagation of such seeds fell to charitable bodies. As they were not allowed to sell such seeds they had to come up with creative ways to make them available whilst remaining financially viable. In some cases you can get these robust seeds by paying to join a club. Your membership fee pays for the charity to grow the seed, and they then ‘give’ you a share of the seed they grow. Organisations doing this include Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library (Previously known as The Henry Doubleday Research Association). As they explain, growing heritage seeds has many benefits:

  • supporting the conservation of unusual vegetable varieties for future generations
  • increasing biodiversity in your garden
  • able to save your own seeds from one generation to the next, our open-pollinated varieties, unlike F1 hybrids, will come true-to-type.
  • helping to maintain genetic diversity within vegetable crops, which may be useful to the plant breeders of the future

No thanks to the EU and its anti-competitive big-business agenda.


3. EU Directive on Food Supplements (FSD, 2002)

When this directive was passed into EU law in 2002, the Alliance of Natural Health (ANH) claimed that it “effectively brought about a ban on 300 nutrients included in 5000 health products, most of which were in dietary supplements closest to food forms” (ref).

At that time, EU directives only passed into UK law with a vote by a parliamentary committee. However, there were concerns expressed by some Labour MPS of the day about the handling of that process:

Kate Hoey MP (Vauxhall) revealed what happened: “I was a member of this committee until I said, very honestly, that I would vote against the regulations.” She, together with five other MPs, were “unceremoniously removed” from the committee the night before the vote took place and replaced with MPs who voted in favour of the FSD. This obviously leads to great suspicion about the manipulation of such regulations.

Jeremy Corbyn MP (Islington), said at the time: “The FSD is a product of ruthless lobbying tactics by the pharmaceutical industry which is not keen on the diversity of supply of vitamin supplements available in health food shops.” He backed the ANH move to legally challenge the Directive.

Not surprisingly, there was a bias towards pharmaceutical products containing synthesised vitamins, and away from food extracted (called ‘organic’) vitamins. According to the Institute of Science in Society at the time:

The EU Commission has designated a list of permissible nutrients called ‘The Positive List.’ Specialist vitamin manufactures have expressed concern that their products containing organic ingredients, excluded from the ‘List’, are being compromised by synthetic or inorganic equivalents that are on the ‘List.’ All attempts to include a number of organic vitamins and minerals have been refused. Not only that, but to register their high quality products for sale could cost up to £250,00 per nutrient plus evidence of their safety. All nutrients must be paid for and registered by August 2005, putting small, large and medium suppliers of food supplements under intense pressure.


Maximum doses or Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamins and minerals will be negotiated over the next 18 months. Levels are to be set by the EU Scientific Committee to Food (SCF), who are not accountable to any government or parliament and have banned 300 nutrients so far (See box 1). Two commonly occurring vitamins, which have a wealth of scientific study to support their validity, are vitamin C and vitamin B6. The ANH fear RDA doses will be rendered so low that consumers will have to buy much more of the product to receive their current nutritional dose or that they might disappear from the shelves altogether.

4. Registration of Pesticides

Like the three preceding examples, the EU directive requiring the registration of pesticides is promoted on a consumer protection basis, which is hard to argue against. And yet again, the casualties of this ‘reasonable’ policy have been the smaller producers, often providing products that were suitable for organic gardening.

One such was Rotenone, commonly sold in the form of Derris dust. It was made from the dried roots of a Southeast Asian plant, and provided control of sap sucking pests. Like all pesticides, there were health concerns around its use, and it may have eventually been banned anyway as so many ‘traditional’ pesticides have been, but in the case of Derris, it was removed from the market because the small manufacturer couldn’t afford the registration cost.

Another natural product that has suffered from this EU directive is Armillatox – manufactured from plant compounds, it was originally used in gardens as an effective control for fungi, such as the highly destructive honey fungus. The manufacturers website says:

Under European legislation the active ingredients of all pesticides have to be reviewed, the cost of raising the data for the review is estimated to be £3 million – to a small company the cost is prohibitive. Therefore as from 25th July 2003, Armillatox has become ‘Armillatox Soap Based Outdoor Cleaner‘ so taking it out of the pesticides regulations – the formulation remains the same.

Regardless of your views on pesticides, these are yet further examples of EU directives giving big-business a competitive edge.

This, in part, is why I will be voting to leave the EU on June the 23rd.


May News Round-Up

In_the_News_May· Potatoes and hypertension
· Antibiotics, depression and phages
· Gluten debate
· Low-carb diets good for diabetes
· Salt does not raise BP (yet again)
· Medical errors – high death toll
· Vitamin D & sunshine
· 50y of changing UK food habits

Potato consumption linked to raised blood pressure

The Guardian (17th May) covered this story as well as any, after a study found that those who ate potatoes four or more times per week had a small, but significant, increased risk of hypertentsion (high blood pressure) compared to those eating them less than once per week. This link applied to boiled, mashed or baked potatoes and chips (aka French fries), but weirdly, not to crisps (aka potato chips in the USA). The study authors, suggest the effect is caused by the high carb content raising blood sugar. Interestingly, they point to trials that show high protein and high fat diets lower blood pressure. (See BMJ paper here).

Grass-Fed Nation: Book Review

The Telegraph (26th May) reviews a new book by Graham Harvey, script writer of The Archer’s agricultural story lines and one of the excellent speakers at our Grass Fed Meat Revolution in 2014.

Unfortunately, British dairy farming is moving in the opposite direction with the creeping introduction of US style mega-dairies (now numbering 100+), where cows are raised permanently indoors. The Telegraph (1st June) reports on this disturbing trend.

Antibiotics, depression and resistance – Phages to the rescue?

The Mail (24th May)  reports on Israeli research showing that just one course of antibiotics is linked to an increased incidence of depression, probably due to changes in gut microbes.

Even more depressing is the news that a woman in the US was found to have a bacterial infection that is resistant to colistin – the antibiotic of last resort (BBC News, 27th May).

The belated fightback by British doctors, however, is starting to bite with The Telegraph (25th May) reporting that GPs have slashed their use of antibiotics in the last 12 months. Was this due to their growing awareness of over-prescription and a public spirited determination to tackle the problem? Or was it because the government brought in financial incentives to encourage them? Oh… the latter. Well I never.


Phages attack a bacteria (Wikimedia)

With few new antibiotics on the horizon, research is turning to alternative means to treat infections, including bacteriophages – viruses that target and kill specific bacteria. The Independent (26th May) reports one such advance, with a phage found in a pond which attacks a type of multi-drug resistant bacteria. Interestingly, phage therapy was widely developed in the former USSR during the cold war, as they did not have access to western antibiotics. Phage therapy is still widely used in Russia, Georgia and Poland. You can read more in this 2014 Nature article.

Gluten controversy

The gluten-free ‘fad’ comes in for criticism with headlines such as “Gluten-Free Diets Are Not Necessarily Healthier, Doctors Warn” (Live Science 25th May, ). Yes indeed, gluten-free bread, biscuits, cakes and other simulacra are often chock-full of additives in an attempt to recreate gluten’s unique glutinousness. Additionally, gluten-free flours (like rice and corn) can be high in heavy metals such as arsenic, which has resulted in at least one recorded case of arsenic poisoning. So, yes, we concur: avoid all grains and don’t go shopping down the gluten free aisle! Eat more fish, meat, fruit, nuts and vegetables, i.e. real food as opposed to ‘products’ or as I like to call them ‘food like substances’.

The Mail (16th May) reports that supermarket gluten free bread is high in fat (shock horror), suggesting that this is a problem. To my mind, it’s not the fat you should worry about (although I wouldn’t reckon on the quality of their industrial oils), it’s the grain and chemical concoctions that are dodgy. My coconut keto-bread recipe is mega-high fat and grain free. Alternatively, my almond bread is versatile, delicious and can be toasted and made into sandwiches. Both are low GI, nutrient dense alternatives, not fake food.

In the same Mail Online article is a video reporting on links between gluten and depressions. Worth a click:


High-fat, low-carb diet takes on the mainstream – round two, ding ding!

The National Obesity Forum came out fighting this month with “Official advice on low-fat diet and cholesterol is wrong, says health charity” the Guardian (23rd May). They argue (as do I), that type 2 diabetes can be better managed on a low-carb diet, rather than the recommended low-fat approach. However, this has lead to a string of pugilistic condemnations from the nutritional orthodoxy. Public Health England weighed in calling the report “irresponsible” while The British Dietetic Association, warned that advising people to eat more saturated fat “could be extremely dangerous”. (The Observer 28th May)

However, we think The Telegraph (31st May) gets in the final knock-out punch with “Low-carb diet helps control diabetes, new study suggests”.

That study was conducted after an online revolt by patients in which 120,000 people signed up to the “low-carb” diet plan launched by in a backlash against official advice.

By rejecting guidelines and eating a diet low in starchy foods but high in protein and “good” saturated fats, such as olive oil and nuts, more than 80 percent of the patients said that they had lost weight, with 10 percent shedding 9kg or more.

More than 70 per cent of participants experienced improvements of blood glucose, and a fifth said they no longer needed drugs to regulate blood glucose by the end of the ten-week plan. (my emphasis)

KERPOW! Take that British Dietetic Association. WHAM! Stick that in your low-fat pipe National Health England.

U turn on salt recommendations? Probably not…

Further challenges to the orthodoxy were found in Mail Online (20th May) reporting on a study published in the lancet, in which “a global study found that, contrary to past belief, low-salt diets may not be beneficial. Rather, they can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death, compared with average salt consumption.”

Of course this led to the usual condemnatory remarks from WHO representatives who labelled the study as ‘bad science’.

My view is that lowering salt may be beneficial for some individuals with hypertension, especially those with genetic SNPs for salt metabolism, but for most of the population their is little evidence of benefit. You can see the numerous conflicting studies linked to salt here, and read our post on salt here.

Iatrogenic deaths

Medical errors have been identified as the third leading cause of deaths in the US, causing over 251,000 deaths annually, after heart disease and cancer, respectively, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. (Care2, 5th May, BMJ, 3rd May)

According to the study, “Medical error has been defined as an unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient.” Amazingly, no form of medical error ever appears as a cause of death on a death certificate.

The situation is no less rosy on this side of the pond, with the Mail Online (10th May) reporting “Thousands of heart victims killed by poor care: More than 33,000 people died needlessly over the past few years because of shocking flaws in NHS treatment”. I don’t need telling about the hundreds of patients that have come to me over the years after being so poorly served by an incompetent NHS, indeed my own mother died from heart surgery that ‘went wrong’. Her surgeon humbly admitted to me personally that if he hadn’t done the operation she would still be alive. For all that, he still absconded from the hospital presumably back to Egypt, and I have not pursued that story further!

Vitamin D and Sunshine

Well, we had a handful of sunny days in May, so I suppose we can’t complain…

Our related post: Human photosynthesis – Beyond vitamin-D

Info-graphic of the month: Changes in British food shopping, 1974-2014


The above graph, courtesy of The Mail (4th May), shows changing UK food habits over the last half century. Interesting! What do you think?

Tweet of the month