June 2017 News Round-Up

4 cups of coffee or tea per day can protect against liver disease

Daily Mail (Jun 8th) explains how coffee and herb teas can protect the liver.

Drug trials ‘skewed by the pharmaeutical industry,’ GPs say

So ran the headline in The Telegraph (Jun 20th). The Academy of Medical Sciences is calling for an overhaul of patient information following a string of controversies over the risks and benefits of common drugs. Continue reading

May News Round-Up

In_the_News_May · Cancers and sugar
· Nuts reduce colon cancer
· Bone broth keeps skin young
· Cinnamon reduces belly fat
· Ketogenic diet controls diabetes
· Cheese is (un)surprisingly healthy
· More protein for elderly
· Tick born diseases on the rise

Some cancers are more dependant on sugar

Very low carb diets have shown some efficacy in cancer treatment as many cancers have a high dependence on glucose and low metabolic flexibility, making ketogenic diets a potential treatment adjunct. A new study has found that some cancers have higher reliance on glucose than others. (News Medical May 26th) . Lead author Dr. Jung-whan, said:

“As a culture, we are very addicted to sugar. Excessive sugar consumption is not only a problem that can lead to complications like diabetes, but also, based on our studies and others, the evidence is mounting that some cancers are also highly dependent on sugar. We’d like to know from a scientific standpoint whether we might be able to affect cancer progression with dietary changes.”

It still amazes me that such authors say ‘sugar’ when they mean ‘glucose’. The above quotation would lead most people to think that added sugar was the issue, whereas all carbohydrate – especially grains and potatoes – raise blood glucose and should be avoided if such diets are to be helpful.

Tree nuts, but not peanuts, linked to lower colon cancer recurrence

A study tracking patients with stage 3 colon cancer found that those eating more tree nuts had half the incidence of recurrence and half the chance of death, than those that ate few tree nuts (Business Insider UK, 17th May)  The effect was not observed for peanuts which are not a true nut, but a legume.

Bone broth & collagen

The Huff Post (9th May) has a nice article about bone broth, collagen and skin ageing. The recipe they give at the end is more chicken soup compared to my own bone broth, and it omits vinegar – a crucial ingredient if you want to extract the maximum mineral content from the bones.

Cinnamon improved antioxidant status and reduced belly fat in mouse study

The Mail Online (8th May) reports on a study that feeding mice cinnamon along with an obesogenic diet reduced inflammation, weight gain and accumulation of abdominal fat. The cinnamon also reduced stomach temperature by 2°C which aids digestion and “This in turn avoids damage to the stomach’s lining, reducing inflammation and many diseases of the guts, said experts at RMIT University’s School of Engineering in Melbourne.” Well I never!

Pasta sales down as Italians avoid ‘for health reasons’

The Express (May 25th) explains that pasta sales in Italy have fallen as many Italians now avoid carbs and gluten. I am not surprised as Italy is at the epicentre of gluten research with many of the worlds leading studies being carried out by their researchers  (See our post Why No One Should Eat Grains Part 2: the definitive guide to Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity)

Ketogenic diet ‘naturally controls diabetes’ (you don’t say!)

The Express (May 16th) has a surprising little article explaining that a high fat, low carb (ketogenic diet) can reverse diabetes. Yes. I have implemented it successfully with my patients and it works.

Cheese – a rising health star

A nice article in the Mail Online (May 23rd) explaining the research around cheese. A similar article is also available in The Times (May 26th – subscription)

Vitamin D round up

Tick born infections set to explode

The US is predicting a bad year for tick born infections. Such infections, including Lyme disease, is on the rise in the UK too. News Medical (May 27th) explains how to check for ticks after being outdoors. “Everyone who spends time outdoors, even just playing in the backyard, should perform a daily check.”

Study finds fennel is effective in reducing postmenopausal symptoms

Science Daily (May 17th) reports on this placebo controlled triple blind study, along with a subtitle that is a rare admission:

Herbal medicine grows in popularity because of its effectiveness without serious side effects

Despite being a well run study, the authors fail to say which part of the fennel plant they are using. Duh! The seeds, leaves, roots, flowers, bark… that’s herbal medicine 101. All parts are not equal! In the case of fennel all parts are at least non toxic (but with something like rhubarb, think again, roots, stems and leaves all have very different compounds and effects).

RDA of protein for older people is too low

There is a growing body of evidence that points to reduced mortality in the elderly when daily protein intake is increased – primarily because it reduces muscle loss which otherwise contributes to falls. Stuart Phillips of McMaster University in Canada argues for improved guidelines. ‘He argues that there should be a stronger focus on leucine; an indispensable amino acid and building block for proteins. The elderly have a higher need for leucine to build muscle proteins, and milk-based proteins (e.g. milk and whey) are a good source for this.’  News Medical (May 24th) Interestingly, Dr Phillips discusses his own diet:

“I enjoy a variety of foods, and the only thing I specifically focus on is limiting my intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. But of course, given the benefits of proteins, they are a big part of what I think about when planning my meals.”

Cauliflowers are tasty and nutritious (plus recipes)

Hardly news, but thank you to The Telegraph (May 4th) for reminding us that it improves brain health, reduces cancer risk, unclogs arteries and helps with weight loss. The best bit is they provide some great recipes at the end!

Recipe of the month

Here’s a recipe that makes good use of a couple of the ideas in this month’s post. Bon appetite! –

April News Round-up

This month: Great British Beef Week Ketogenic diet in diabetes Low fat foods cause weight gain MUFA’s may extend life Olive oil helps reverse insulin resistance Fewer arterial plaques with Med diet BMJ article triggers saturates fat spat The perfect cuppa Conventional thinking on salt challenged again Health benefits of cheese

St George’s Day and Great British Beef Week

I held a St George’s Day party on Sunday 23rd (which is also, rather appropriately, Shakespeare’s birthday), and I served a traditional roast beef joint with parsnips and carrots. Turns out, without knowing it at the time, I was right on the money as April 23rd was the start of the Great British Beef week!

According to the Grimsby Telegraph (April 30th) this year was the seventh annual Great British Beef Week, run by The Ladies in Beef, an organisation of female beef farmers who care passionately about British beef. It’s purpose is to support the hard working British beef farmers, which is exactly what I did by purchasing a 3.5 kg organic beef joint from Goodwood – our local producer.

My St Goerge’s day roast beef looked like the one above (but without the Yorkie puds (wheat) and taties (American originally). Interestingly, the Goodwood butcher suggested that I do not season the joint – “Let the flavour of the meat speak for itself” he said, and it certainly did! The unseasoned joint was placed on a bed of thickly sliced onions rings and popped in an oven that had been pre-heated to its highest temperature. Once in, it was turned down to 140°C for 1hr 25 minutes. My guests were full of praise … very gratifying.

If you missed out during this year’s Great British Beef Week, don’t worry, you can cook it all year round!  The Telegraph (April 26th) has a range of British Beef recipes to inspire you (just avoid the ones that use gluten)

Ketogenic diet valuable in diabetes

Diabetes.co.uk (Mar 28th) reports on a trial, conducted by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek who placed 262 overweight participants with type 2 diabetes on a ketogenic diet for 10 weeks (carb intake < 30g per day, increase fat, and modest protein). Key findings:

  • HbA1C levels dropped an average of 20%, with half returning to normal (non-diabetic) levels by the end of the study
  • 7.2% weight loss; 20% reduction in triglycerides
  • 60% had one or more medications reduced in number and dosage or, in some cases, discontinued altogether

A two year trial is in the pipeline.

Volek and Phinney have been working in this field for a couple of decades and have an excellent track record in low carb high fat science. They have at least two books on the subject, so please look at their work online.

Low fat foods can cause weight gain and lead to fatty liver disease

Low fat yogurt packaged as heart healthy, but it contains nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving (see chart of sugar in other low fat foods)

In 2014 The Telegraph undertook a study which found that many low fat diet foods contained high levels of sugars. In one case a “low fat” meal contained almost six times the sugar levels of its “full fat” equivalent dish. Many people have suggested that the sugar may be less healthy than the fat it replaces, and now a new study reported in Medical Daily (April 26th) confirms this.

In the study mice that were fed a high-sugar, low-fat diet had an increase in liver fat, body weight, and body fat, despite consuming the same amount of calories as the control mice. Compared to mice fed a high fat diet, sugar calories were found to cause twice as much fat accumulation as the fat calories they replaced.

“Most so-called diet products containing low or no fat have an increased amount of sugar and are camouflaged under fancy names, giving the impression that they are healthy, but the reality is that those foods may damage the liver and lead to obesity as well,” said the study’s lead investigator, Krzysztof Czaja

Monounsaturated fats extend life in animal study

Eureka Alert (April 5th) reports on an intriguing study from Stanford University published in Nature, of longevity in roundworms which found that feeding them monounsaturated fat increased lifespan in a similar way to calorie restriction, despite the fact that they put on weight.

Monounsaturated fats are found in high levels in olive oil, rape seed and avocado oils, and also in beef fat and lard. Whilst mentioning olive oil a recent study has also shown that…

Olive oil helps reverse insulin resistance

The Express (April 11th) reports on a mouse study that showed a compound found in olive oil (hydroxytyrosol) can reverse insulin resistance and fatty liver induced by an obesogenic diet. This adds to research published in December 2016 that showed this compound also reduced oxidative damage in cells and may contribute to explaining some of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet…

Fewer arterial plaques with real-world adherence to Mediterranean Diet

Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet showed a dose-dependent protective association with the presence, number, and thickness of atherosclerotic plaques independent of other risk factors, in a new study (Medscape, April 26th).

BMJ article triggers saturated fat spat

The Guardian (April 25th) gives a good account of the controversy taking place amongst scientists over recent claims and counterclaims over the health credentials surrounding saturated fat. Worth a read: Good for a laugh.

The Perfect Cuppa

The Mail Online (April 18th) reports on a study that found the beneficial compounds in tea are most available when the tea has been brewed for longer. The study author also found that adding milk does not reduce the availability of these compounds. He recommends drinking three cups per day.

Conventional thinking on salt challenged again… and again.

We have written several posts challenging conventional thinking on the supposed harms of salt (see here and here). So we were interested to read in The Independent (April 17th) that a study investigating a simulated mission to mars which kept 10 men sealed in living quarters and given a strictly controlled diet for a period of 205 days. Unexpectedly, when given a high salt diet the participants drank less but were also hungrier. The results were confirmed in mice too. It appears that although salty food leads to an initial thirst (hence salted peanuts in the pub) over the long term the total intake of water is less.

More news on salt front came in on April 26th, in The Express, with an article on a recent study looking at blood pressure and sodium intake. The researchers found the participants who consumed less than 2,500 milligrams of sodium a day – about the equivalent of 6g of salt, had higher blood pressure than participants who consumed higher amounts of sodium.

“We saw no evidence that a diet lower in sodium had any long-term beneficial effects on blood pressure. Our findings add to growing evidence that current recommendations for sodium intake may be misguided.”

Salt – good or bad?
Seems that worrying about it is more likely to raise your blood pressure than eating it!

Health Benefits of Cheese

Wow. April 2017 was quite the month for cheese news. Goggle (April 28th) celebrated the 256th birthday of Marie Harel, the creator of Camembert in 1791, with a Google Doodle which provided a slideshow showing the steps involved in making this famous cheese (take a look here). As an aside, I think Brie and Camembert are the same thing, just in different shapes. Any comments anyone…?

Meanwhile, yet another study showing the benefits of cheese made the headlines with The Mail (April 24th) claiming “Eating cheese could prevent you from getting liver cancer – and it may even help you to reach 100!” – weirdly due to it containing spermidine (?!?)

Spurred on by the spermidine The Telegraph (April 25th) went further, pushing out the cheese boat with ‘5 surprising health benefits of cheese’. Here are their headings to tempt you to read more…

  1. Boosts your immune system
  2. The secret to longer life?
  3. Prevents tooth decay
  4. Helps with weight loss
  5. Makes you smarter

Finally, The Huff Post UK (April 25th) went just a bit too far with “7 Perfectly Valid Reasons To Eat More Cheese”. But really, that’s just showing off. Lets just gaze at a picture of lots of lovely cheeses…

An important and often overlooked benefit of cheeses, is that many – especially aged varieties – contain the precious vitamin K2, also known as menaquinone 7. This is not the same as vitamin K which is found in green vegetables, but is bacterially produced in cheeses during fermentation, and is particularly high in Brie and Gouda.

In the body K2 functions to guide calcium to the skeletal tissue, and prevent it being deposited, or rather, dumped, in soft tissues such as the aorta and other blood vessels where it contributes to atherosclerosis (sclerosis means hardening)Calcium in the wrong place leads to ‘calcification’ and having enough K2 to prevent this is one of the reasons for cheeses being a ‘top food’ in my reckoning.

Although some people are allergic to cows milk, many find they can tolerate goat and sheep milk cheeses which are increasingly available. The true unfortunates are those that cannot even tolerate these dairy products and they will need a regular K2 supplementation. Without sufficient K2 osteoporosis and calcification will occur. Clearly not a good state of affairs, so bring on the cheese trolley!

The three wise herbalists brought… Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh




Everybody knows the story of the three wise men bringing gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the infant Jesus in the Christmas nativity. There is plenty of symbology around these iconic gifts allowing a host of interpretations. What I want to focus on here are some very real medical uses of the herbs Frankincense and Myrrh, and if you allow me a little bit of poetic licence, Saffron (as gold)…



Whilst the metallic element, gold, does have some medical uses, as a Medical Herbalist I do not use it, so I am going to talk about the golden herb saffron, which can literally be worth its weight in gold. [Daily Mail: How an ounce of saffron is more expensive than gold: Cultivation of exotic spice returns to Essex for the first time in 200 years]

Saffron is made from the stamen of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Each crocus produces just three of these delicate strands per year, and they must be laboriously picked by hand before drying, at the right temperature and duration.

When used in cooking – such as saffron loaf or saffron rice – it adds a strong golden colour and has a distinctive aroma and flavour. I always add half a dozen strands of Kashmiri saffron when making a small pot of special gunpowder green tea. When used medicinally it has serotonergic (mood enhancing) effects, is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulscent, has anti-timor effects, neuro-endocrine (hormone engaging) influence and has neuro-protective properties [ref].

Here is some evidence of medical efficacy:

  • Depression
    A 2014 review of the scientific literature [ref] identified six high quality studies that demonstrated  a positive effect, similar to that seen with anti-depressants drugs, and without the dependence or side effects.
  • Psychological and behavioural
    An excellent 2015 review paper from an American research team [ref] concluded: “Findings from initial clinical trials suggest that saffron may improve the symptoms and the effects of depression, premenstrual syndrome, sexual dysfunction and infertility, and excessive snacking behaviors.”
  • Cardiovascular
    It is reported that regions of the world that regularly consume saffron have lower levels of heart disease. The anti-atherosclerotic, antioxidant, anti-diabetes, hypotensive, anti-ischemic, anti-platelet aggregation effects of saffron suggest it is cardio protective and animal studies show this to be the case. [ref]
  • Diabetes
    Saffron has a hypoglycaemic effect and has been shown to raise insulin levels in diabetic rats with low insulin, whilst enhancing glucose uptake. Its antioxidant properties may reduce diabetic vascular complications too [ref].
  • Obesity & Weight Loss
    Saffron has been shown to reduce body weight in rats, whilst in humans it has been shown to reduce appetite and increase satiety [ref] “After 2 months, the subjects using the saffron extract reported a decrease in snacking and lost more weight than the control group”

Safety: The widespread use of saffron as a culinary spice suggests it is safe at those doses. This superb paper, published in 2012 by an Italian team of researchers reviews the known biological effects of this amazing herbal medicine [ref] and it concludes: “To date, very few adverse health effects of saffron have been demonstrated. At high doses (more than 5 g per day), it should be avoided in pregnancy owing to its uterine stimulation activity.” Well that’s fine, as it is therapeutic well below that dose. It is a significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and since these processes a known to be the drivers of most major diseases I think it worth revisiting the use of this herb more widely. The problem is just the cost!



As well as being burned for incense in religious ceremonies this gum distinctly medicinal. Chewing on bobbles of frankincense is good for mouth ulcers and gum disease, but tastes like soap or turpentine. Mostly it is therefore used either as an essential oil or powdered and encapsulated. One can also concentrate the 5-Loxin component to optimise the anti-inflammatory properties, as in one of the products I stock.

This traditional medicine of the Middle East has expectorant, antiseptic, and even anxiolytic (i.e. calming) and anti-neurotic effects as well as the well recognised anti-inflammatory ones. Indeed recent studies have shown it has analgesic, tranquilising, anti-bacterial and anti-tumour effects too, which gives it a role in the treatment of quite a range of common conditions. [ref]

The following medicinal effects come from a 2016 review:

  • Gastro-Intestinal
    Its anti-inflammatory effect gives it a place in inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, bronchitis and sinusitis. In human studies of colitis patients, the resin was far more effective than the standard drug: “Out of the patients treated with Boswellia gum resin, 70% went into remission while in the case of sulfasalazine [the standard drug it was compared to] the remission ratio was 40%”
  • Anti-fungal
    Frankincense is strongly anti-fungal towards candida species. As well as many other moulds including food borne moulds. (One wonders if it would be effective burned as incense to reduce mould spores in houses… )
  • Asthma
    Severity and risk of asthma attacks is reduced by consumption of Frankincense gum, or by inhalation of the smoke when burned.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis Multiple lines of evidence suggest that frankinscence could help via anti-oxidant and potent anti-inflammatory effects. One researcher noted that “at a dose of 200 mg/kg, B. serrata extracts shift the balance of cytokines towards a bone-protecting pattern”

Memory, Dementia, Alzheimer’s
There is considerable interest in the role of Frankincense gum in cognitive impairment as it has been shown to improve memory in animal models of Alzheimer’s [ref]. In fact recent studies have shown that it increases neurone formation in the hippocampus [ref], i.e. that part of the brain that is essential for new memory formation. A recent human study of cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis found that it “showed significant improvement in visuospatial memory, but had no effect on verbal memory and information processing speed.” [ref]. I would not be using simply frankincense for dementia, as there are other very valuable measures that should be employed, but this resin, depending on the case, could play a significant role in a rounded treatment approach.

In my clinical practice I find Boswellia particularly useful in autoimmune disorders, and when inflammation suddenly occurs, such as polymyalgia rheumatica, for example, which can come on over night and cause severe joint pain, disability and exhaustion. The usual drugs used by doctors have real problems associated with them, as they are aimed at suppression of the immune system, which you cannot do without negative consequences, whereas taking a deeper look at what may have triggered the condition, and treating in a more thoughtful way with medicinal herbs, including frankincense, has been very successful to date with no long term adverse effects.



Another aromatic resinmyrrh, (Commiphora mol mol) also comes from the Middle East, in fact Yemen originally and it has been used in the Western Herbal Medicine tradition for hundreds of years. I prefer the alcoholic extract (tincture) to the resin itself for ease of use, and offer it as part of my Home Herbal set in a dropper bottle as shown above. It is part of the Home Herbal range of medicines that I encourage my patients to keep in their medicine cupboard at all times because it is so reliable, effective and practical to use.

Ten to twenty drops added to a glass of water makes an excellent gargle for sore throats, gingivitis (inflamed gums), receding gums, loose teeth, mouth ulcers, and as a general antiseptic mouth wash which can be swished between the teeth where toothbrush bristles may not reach. A few drops can be put onto the toothbrush along with toothpaste (or my favourite alternative – salt and sodium bicarbonate). Tincture of myrrh can be dabbed neat onto small cuts or bites as it is strongly antimicrobial, antiseptic and astringent, thus helping to defend against any nasty bugs that can get in when bitten by a mosquito or whenever the skin barrier is breached, and as an astringent it helps bring swelling down [ref]. It has been used successfully in the treatment of intestinal worms, as have certain other herbs, most of which, like myrrh, taste bad (to humans and to worms, clearly)!

Myrrh has many similar properties to Frankinscence, including analgesia (pain relief), anti-inflammatory and anti-obesity properties [ref]. I find it has a vital place in the treatment of most infections, including gastroenteritis, ‘flu, colds, sore throats, bronchitis, pneumonia etc, as well as ulcers in any tissue (incl legs, stomach and mouth) and in arthritis. As an anti-inflammatory it has a role in cancer [ref] along with other herbs and dietary measures.

Apart from the above uses, myrrh has also been used in leprosy and syphilis too, which, though it may sound far fetched is quite reasonable. It is a powerful antimicrobial herb, so any bacterial infections can sensibly be treated with this age old defender of health, including common candida albicans and staphylococcal infections. They didn’t give it to the Messiah for nothing! In fact midwives used to dab myrrh onto the cut umbilical cord of new born babes in the less hygienic environment of the past [ref].

  • Gastro-Intestinal
    The anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects of myrrh are of great value when treating inflamed gut disorders [ref]. As myrrh raises white blood cell numbers it assists in ulcer and wound healing too [ref]
  • Skin
    Myrrh has been shown to be effective at treating fungal infections of the skin [ref] including ringworm, and systemic fungal problems caused by candida albicans (once treated, maintenance through a low carbohydrate diet would be wise too).
  • Liver
    Myrrh has been shown to protect the liver from lipopolysaccharides (a major gut endotoxin) and “might be sufficient to combat cellular damage caused by various conditions that resemble fulminant hepatitis” according to researchers in Saudi Arabia [ref].
  • Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
    Myrrh “has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity and delay the development of insulin resistance… and may be used as an adjuvant therapy for patients with insulin resistance.” [ref]
  • Parasites
    Here is an in-depth paper: Myrrh: A Significant Development in the Treatment of Parasites (pdf) by a colleague of mine, the Medical Herbalist Kerry Bone. Two of the most studied areas are for the treatment of schistosomiasis (a flatworm) and fasciola (a liver fluke) – two common parasitic infections in the tropics and subtropics [ref].

So, in wishing all my readers and patients a very Merry Christmas, I also want to encourage you to use your gold, frankincense and myrrh as wisely as those three wise men. Or rather, if you have any sort of medical problem or niggle, book an appointment with me and we will see what how best to approach it using medicinal herbs and nourishing foods. Chances are you will find me to be a wise woman too.

January News Round-Up

Which is worse for the heart, sugar or saturated fat?

It’s amazing isn’t it? For anyone who checks literature the answer to this question has been clear for years, but for much of the public and medical community they can’t quite believe it. Medical Daily (January 14th) explains that a review of a half century of data shows that “sugar consumption, particularly in the form of refined added sugars, are (sic) a greater contributor to (coronary heart disease) than saturated fats.” Uh ha. A good one to email to any doubting Thomas you know. The funniest bit of this ‘no sh*t sherlock’ review is that it is came from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine! Who’d ‘ve thunk it?

High Carb v High Fat diet for endurance athletes

As it happens, I’m meeting a young endurance athlete this weekend who is excited about the possibilities of a high fat diet to improve his performance. The work of Jeff Volek (The Art and Science of Low Carb Performance) has demonstrated that high fat diets can offer considerable performance advantages compared to the high-carb approach recommended by traditional sports scientists.

The debate amongst performance athletes has been heated. The Guardian (January 19th) has a nice blog piece on this topic should you want to learn more.

Low fat v high fat weight loss diets

On the general theme of high fat v low fat, BBC Health (January 5th) had a good article considering both. They referred to recent researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in the United States who reviewed 53 weight loss trials involving 68,128 people.

The results, published in the Lancet medical journal, showed that both low-carb and low-fat approaches led to decent weight-loss. But those eating relatively more fat actually lost marginally more weight. Dr Deirdre Tobias, who led that study, said “Fat has been villainised because there’s a mentality that ‘fat makes you fat’. I think our evidence pretty much puts a nail in that coffin.”

Baby develops scurvy from ‘vegan milk’

A highly cited article in The Telegraph (January 21st) reported on a Spanish baby that developed scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), after being raised on almond milk instead of breast milk or formula milk. Breast milk contains vitamin C, and it is added to formula milk but not to almond milk. Glad we know that now.

Modern diets may be destroying our gut microbes ‘over generations’


National Geographic: An introduction to the microbiome provides a good primer on this revolutionary field

The discovery of a new human organ – the microbiome –  is profoundly changing our view of medicine. As one medic recently said: “Who would want to go to mars when we have the microbiome to explore?”

Science Daily (Januray 13th) reports on a recent paper that found a low plant fibre diet in mice led to depletion in gut bacterial diversity similar to the differences seen between industrialised peoples and hunter-gatherers. Interestingly, the low-fibre mice microbiomes did not recover fully when returned to a normal diet, and their offspring had less diversity too. All this suggests that simply eating a better diet may not be enough to restore a fully functioning microbiome.

“The extremely low-fibre intake in industrialized countries has occurred relatively recently,” noted Justin Sonnenburg. “Is it possible that over the next few generations we’ll lose even more species in our gut? And what will the ramifications be for our health?” Simple tweaks in our cultural practices — for example, not washing our hands after gardening or petting our dogs — could be a step in the right direction, and steering away from overuse of antibiotics certainly is, he said.

Human trials of one solution, faecal transplants, are soon to start with the aim of reversing obesity, according to MD Magazine (January 20th) . In another article Infants’ Long-Term Health Affected by Delivery Method and Diet they report on a study that found C-section delivery changed the infant microbiome even more than diet!

Gluten introduction raises babies risk of Coeliac disease

The physicians news journal MD Magazine (January 28th) reports on a Swedish study that looked at the quantity of gluten in the diets of 400 babies, followed for two years. They found that the greater the exposure to gluten the greater the risk of coeliac disease.

Results from other studies have been mixed, but a position paper, published this month by The European Society For Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition recommend gradual introduction:

…consumption of large quantities of gluten should be avoided during the first weeks after gluten introduction and during infancy.

Optimum diet for weight loss and muscle gain?

Recently, I have been researching the importance of dietary protein for muscle health and intend to write a post about it soon. So a piece in The Independent (January 28th) caught my attention. The study they report on claims to have found  the perfect way for men to gain muscle and lose fat quickly: 40% reduction in calories, six day workout routine and increased protein, for a month. In the trial, split between normal and high protein intake, both groups lost fat mass, but only the high protein group increased muscle mass.

The authors point out that the diet is probably too extreme to be maintained in a non-supervised setting. Like most crash diets it is also not suitable for long term weight loss with many studies finding that almost all weight lost is regained in the long run, with no overall benefit. However, raised protein diets are now seen as important from middle age onwards, and have been shown to prevent age related muscle loss. Keep a look out for the article that we are working on re protein and muscle retention.

Paleo or Mediterranean diets to reverse diabetes?

Would you Adam and Eve it? You wait all year for a diabetes diet book to come along, then two arrive at once!


The Mirror (January 20th) tells the story of Eddy Marshall, director of BBC’s Holby City and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, who’s diabetes was reversed using a version of the paleo diet, advocated by David Hack, author of a new book ‘The Back to Basics Diet’. I haven’t read it as it is only out this month, but from the Mirror article, it seems to be advocating a proper paleo diet: “organic meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and “plentiful volumes” of vegetables, salads and nuts” to reverse diabetes. Sounds about right to me.

Meanwhile in the DailyMail (January 18th) TV presenter Michael Mosley promotes his new diabetes-busting book. His diet is based around a version of the Mediterranean diet. So what do these two books have in common? Both avoid processed foods, sugar and sweeteners. Both are lowish-carbs. Both encourage real foods such as meat, fish, eggs and vegetables.

BTW: I’m not recommending either of these books – I haven’t read them.

More on diabetes, potatoes and mum’s to be

This month several papers carried the story that mothers that ate more potatoes in the lead up to pregnancy had a higher risk of gestational diabetes. NHS choices (January 13th) critiques the articles. Potatoes or course, are high glycaemic foods, ramping up blood sugar rapidly after consumption. The more portions of potatoes the women ate per week the higher their risk of diabetes. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as it is basic physiology.

Should you avoid nightshade foods?

Some of my patients need to be on a Solanaceous (nightshade-family) – free diet. This means no tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, chillies, potatoes or paprika. It’s rare to see any articles about this subject, but Health Magazine’s website (January 28th) has a pretty good one on the subject this month. Take a look.

Nitrates and eye health

The Daily Mail (January 15th) reported on a study indicating that dietary nitrates reduce the risk of glaucoma, cutting the ‘risk of a leading cause of blindness by 30%’. Whilst this is interesting in its own right, I thought it was telling that the article only referred to ‘nitrates from green leafy veg’. Nitrates are also found in bacon and cured ham. Why didn’t they mention that? (see our post on pork for more about nitrates in bacon)

Guardian recipes Jan 2016


To finish off, here are a few interesting grain-free vegetable dishes to inspire you, courtesy of the Guardian:

April News Round-Up

In_the_News_AprilCheese and Heart Disease

The Daily Mail reported that cheese in the French diet may explain their very low levels of heart attack despite eating high levels of saturated fat – the so called ‘French Paradox’.

This will come as no ‘Quelle surprise!’ to anyone who attended our Malcolm Kendrick talk where he showed that for just about every country in Europe that deaths from heart disease is inversely associated with saturated fat intake! See the graphs yourself on our video here (forward to 21 minutes).

Eggs and Diabetes

Meanwhile, the Telegraph was one of many papers reporting on a study showing that eating four eggs per week ‘can reduce risk of diabetes’. Only four per week? I eat two per day!

Vitamin-D and Sunlight

Many papers, including The Independent, reported that NICE is considering a proposal that all children under 4 should be given free vitamin D supplements “as lack of direct sunlight causes rise in rickets cases”.

In response to these proposals, Alastair Sutcliffe, one of Britain’s leading experts on vitamin D deficiency and a consultant paediatrician at University College London Hospitals, is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying:

“Sunblock is so powerful, it does work but you end up with no exposure to the sun. People are perhaps overdoing it. They are putting all of this stuff on in our climate. The outcome is that you are blocking out sunshine and you have a secondary effect of reduced exposure to sunshine which the human race needs.”

[I will write a post on sunblocks shortly as there is growing evidence that they do far more harm than simply reducing vitamin D production.]

Exercise, Diet and Obesity

For editorial variety, lets turn to Medpage Today for their take on the report that “Obesity epidemic can’t be stemmed by exercise alone”. Which came from an editorial opinion piece in the British Journal of Sports Medicine which slammed the idea that you can get away with eating high-carb junk food and sweetened drinks as long as you are physically active. It is interesting to see how the contributors to the Medpage piece react to the ‘low carb’ message inherent in the original editorial.

Iodine deficiency widespread

Next up, Iodine – a trace mineral essential for infant brain development and IQ – is increasing in public awareness, making the news three times this month:

  • In the UK there are warnings that organic and UHT milk contains less iodine than regular milk which may affect infant IQ. (Daily Mail)
  • Whilst in India iodine impregnated bindis are helping fight deficiencies (The Times of India)
  • In the USA iodine status has fallen 20% due to use of non-iodised salt – according to the Houston Chronicle.

Livestock and carbon sequestration

Finally, “Organic farming can reverse agriculture from a carbon source to sink” – the use of livestock and manure on crops instead of artificial fertilisers has been shown to sequester large amounts of carbon – just as we have been saying in our posts on food and the environment!

Sleep & Health: part 1 – Sleep’s central role

Afifah presenting at the 2015 Fibromyalgia Conference

“Accessing your Energy and Improving Sleep” – Afifah presenting at the 2015 Fibromyalgia Conference

I spent this weekend at the National Fibromyalgia Conference at Chichester, where I was one of the guest speakers.

The focus of my talk was on sleep. People with fibromyalgia often suffer with very poor sleep quality. Furthermore, chronic sleep deprivation causes all of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, so it is not clear which comes first, the sleep problems causing the generalised pain and fatigue, or the other way round.

However, you don’t need to have fibromyalgia to benefit from improvements in sleep quality. What I am going to lay out here is the central importance of good sleep in health:

Along with diet, sleep quality is perhaps the most significant health factor within your control. Overlook it at your peril!

Sleep, Stress and Health


We can all laugh, but the joke only works because poor sleep patterns are so ubiquitous.

Sleep is more important to health than many people realise, yet it remains a scientific mystery.

Whilst it is not clear why organisms need sleep, it is certain that a lack of sleep is detrimental to health. Its importance is underscored by the fact that it is a highly conserved evolutionary trait: virtually all organisms either sleep or cycle between more then less active phases. Even some bacteria have internal clocks [ref] and diurnal activity.


The image above illustrates the broad variety of effects caused by sleep deprivation. It is sobering to realise just how many organ systems inadequate sleep can disrupt.

‘Sleep deprivation’ may sound extreme and suggest the negative effects only apply if you miss a whole night’s sleep, or are regularly awake most of the night. However, even small reductions in sleep can be significant.

A study in 2004 involving 25 healthy young subjects, restricted sleep to six hours per night for 1 week. All subjects felt sleepy in the daytime, performed worse on psychomotor tests, and had raised inflammatory marker IL-6. In addition males had raised TNF, (another inflammation marker) and cortisol was disrupted too (more so in males) which is a cardinal sign of inflammatory processes at work and a key stress hormone.

Disrupted sleep affects the endocrine system, leading to raised stress hormones. For example, shift workers, whose natural sleep patterns are disrupted by their work pattern, have changes in melatonin, cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin, and are at increased risk of insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity [ref]. The reverse is also true: increased stress levels results in poor sleep – a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.

Sleep deprivation can affect appetite and meal regularity. In fact, disturbed sleep alone can result in an additional daily energy intake of around 350–500 kcal primarily derived from snacks [ref] Hence predisposition to weight gain.

There is evidence that sleep clears away neurotoxic waste products from the brain which accumulate during the day. [ref]

Knowing all this it seems crazy that we voluntarily mess with our sleep patterns, so next time you are thinking about burning the midnight oil or staying out partying it is worth remembering:

“humans are the only creature to voluntarily change their period of activity to nonhabitual times, forcing misalignment between activity phases and biological rhythms.”  [ref]

Improving your sleep habits

Good sleep hygiene includes keeping regular meal and bed times, and sleeping in a dark, cool and quiet room. A relaxing evening bath, avoidance of computer screens and 60bpm music can help sleep.

Before resorting to any medication – including herbal varieties – it is always worth working on improving your sleep habits.

Diurnal rhythms are generated by an internal biological clock that is synchronized to the 24-h day by environmental cues, primarily the light:dark cycle.

Getting back to your body-clock’s natural rhythm should be a first step to improved sleep.

  1. Avoid screens late at night – the blue light from mobile and computer screens is associated with the daytime ‘wake’ signal. Use software such as flux to make your screen redden after dark. Red light in the evening (think sunsets and open fires) helps the body clock register approaching sleep. Oh, and no TVs in the bedroom!
  2. 60 bps music – listening to music with a rhythm close to 60 beats per minute near bedtime helps get your brain into sleep mode. To get a taste try Albatross by Fleetwood Mac then google 60bpm music and build a playlist you like.
  3. Dark & quiet bedroom – install back out blinds, tape over electronic standby lights and turn gadgets off. Try using ear plugs if it’s not silent in your room.
  4. Cool but comfortable– bedrooms should be cooler than the rest of the house, as the drop in body temperature stimulates sleep. Use several thin layers to control the temperature so you are comfortable. Your body aims for its own night time set point, which is lower than your day time body temperature – adjust room temperature and bed covers to help it.
  5. Hot evening bath – hot baths an hour or so before bed can be relaxing in their own right, but the fall in body temperature when you get out can signal it’s time to sleep. This effect seems to get stronger as we age.

    “It is suggested that a rapid decline in core body temperature increases the likelihood of sleep initiation and may facilitate an entry into the deeper stages of sleep.” [ref]

  6. No distractions – ban pets from the bedroom; ensure emails and phones are on silent from an hour before bed.
  7. Establish a routine – Regular bed times are important in their own right, but the routines leading up to sleep help train the body too.
  8. Avoid night time eating – over night you are meant to be fasting. The digestive system expects to be ‘off’ – don’t confuse it by eating in the night.

    “We have shown… impaired glucose and lipid tolerance if a single test meal was consumed between 00:00-02:00 h (night shift) compared with 12:00-14:00 h (day shift).”[ref]

  9. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day – such regularity suits this helps your body clock know what’s going on
  10. Avoid oversleeping – Aim for seven to eight hours sleep each night. A recent meta analysis by Professor Franco Cappuccio’s of Warwick University looked at sleep duration and fatal stroke. His team report a U shaped association with an increased risk of fatal stroke amongst regular short sleepers (less than 6 hours) and regular long sleepers (greater than 8 hours). The increased risk was greatest among the long sleepers. [ref]
  11. Avoid late night alcohol and caffeine after 4pm – More than one glass of wine may interfere with sleep. A ‘Night Cap’ may help you fall asleep, but actually reduces the overall quality of sleep [ref]. According to a recent study, the caffeine in one cup of strong coffee taken 6 hours before bed adversely affects sleep, reducing sleep duration by an average of 1 hour [ref].

Keeping it regular


After Oike et al, 2014

This cute (but serious) little graphic comes from a paper called Nutrients, Clock Genes, and Chrononutrition [ref]. The paper explains how regular meals and sleep patterns help maintain strong circadian clocks (central and peripheral), maintaining appropriate hormonal rhythms which promote healthy metabolic functioning (left image). However, nocturnal eating, skipping breakfast and variable sleep patterns lead to a weakening of the circadian rhythm contributing to metabolic disorders. (Right hand)

The authors explain “Because the circadian system organizes whole energy homeostasis, including food intake, fat accumulation, and caloric expenditure, the disruption of circadian clocks leads to metabolic disorders.”

They caution against skipping breakfast as “Breakfast is usually the most effective meal to determine the phase of the liver clock in studies of mice that mimic human eating patterns, because breakfast is consumed after the longest starvation during the day. Thus, late dinners or midnight snacks alter the starvation period and remarkably alter the phase of peripheral clocks” [ref]

These metabolic clocks allow the metabolism to preempt activities, ramping up (or winding down) hormones and enzyme production in advance of expected waking, sleeping, eating or fasting. Messing them about just isn’t fair! Establishing regular meal times and bedtimes, and avoiding night time eating can only help with sleep problems and health in general.

What if its still not working?

If you have tried to get the above tips and you are still not sleeping well then it may be time to see the herbalist. In my next post I’m going to write about some of the herbal tools available for resolving sleep problems.

Sleep & Health – Part 2: Herbal treatment – coming soon!

Is Low-Carb really Normo-Carb?

What fuel is normal for the body? carbohydrate or fats? [image: stock.xchng/Jendo Neversil]

What fuel is normal for the body? Carbs or fats? [image: stock.xchng/Jendo Neversil]

We call any diet that aims to restrict carbohydrates a ‘low-carb’ diet. But it is only low compared to current societal norms, where daily scoffing of chips, cake, coke, bread, crisps and chocolates barely raises an eyebrow. But is this a good benchmark? Continue reading