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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Health Secrets Your Body Is Trying to Tell You

If you’re indulging in a milk shake and I think it’s high in fat and calories, levels of my hunger hormone ghrelin will dip a lot lower—and leave me feeling more satisfied—than if I believe I’m sipping on a healthier shake, even if the two have the same calorie count, a study in the journal Health Psychology showed. Check out these science-backed foods that help you stay full.

According to MRI scans, the hippocampus—the part of the brain in charge of learning and memory—thickens after only a couple of months of mindful meditation. Brain-cell density also decreases in the amygdala (responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress). Those physical brain changes can alter your mood. Try one of these mini meditations to zap stress and anxiety.

A group of Tibetan nuns can increase their core body temp to about 100 degrees F in subzero weather just by doing a specific type of meditation called g-tummo. Yes, that’s a rare group, but scientists taught Western people a similar technique and found the subjects could raise their body temp. The breathing caused thermogenesis, a process of heat production. This could help people function better in frigid environments. Or try one of these tips to trick your body into feeling warmer.

By keeping a positive attitude about aging and continuing to feel useful and happy, I’ll most likely live about seven extra years, according to Yale University surveys. On the other hand, these daily habits are aging you prematurely.

Sip one can or more a day, and I could pack on three times more belly fat than if you hadn’t (not exaggerating). Researchers in Texas did the testing and measuring: People who drank diet soda daily gained 3.2 inches over nine years; those who didn’t have any gained only 0.8 inches (the occasional drinkers: 1.8 inches). Choosing diet over regular soda to save calories can backfire—a study showed people who tried that ended up consuming more calories from food throughout the day. Just stick to fizzy water, please.

Would you hang four bowling balls from my neck? Before you say that’s a stupid question, consider this: Sixty pounds (or about the combined weight of those balls) is the same amount of force exerted when you tilt your head forward at about a 60-degree angle to text or e-mail from your smartphone. And you do that for up to four hours (hours!) a day. For the love and integrity of my cervical spine, raise that phone up to your sight line. Oh, and avoid these texting habits that are super annoying.
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Will a sugar tax solve SA's obesity problem?

Sugar is fast becoming the world’s number one public health enemy. It’s even been called the “new fat” and the “new tobacco”. The effects it has on the body have been described as similar to those of alcohol.
Too much of a sweet thing
Our bodies need sugar to function properly. All of the carbohydrates (including a variety of sugars) we consume are converted into glucose which provides cells, tissues, muscles and organs with an efficient energy source.
The World Health Organisation recommends that added sugar (i.e. extra sugar that is put into food products during processing) should contribute no more than 10% to a daily diet. Depending on size, age and physical activity, this is equivalent to a maximum of approximately 70 grams for men and 50 grams for women.
With as much as 35 grams of sugar in a single can of cooldrink, many South Africans consume considerably more added sugar than that every day. 

Read: 10 foods with hidden sugar 

Unfortunately, any excess consumption beyond the body’s needs can cause a range of health problems, including:

• Obesity
The body stores surplus glucose as glycogen, but once its storage capacity for this substance is exhausted, it’s turned into fat. 

In addition, excess fructose (a main component of the kind of sugar added to food and drinks) is linked to an increase in resistance to a hormone called leptin, which tells the body when it has had enough food, resulting in chronic overeating.

While the food and beverage industry has consistently denied the connection, a number of studies have established a strong relationship between high sugar consumption and obesity, particularly in children. Well over half the South African population is overweight or obese.
Obesity in turn increases the risk of a number of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
• Cholesterol
Some studies suggest a link between excessive sugar intake and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, a strong risk factor for heart disease.
• Diabetes
Eating large amounts of sugar can result in resistance to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels, which is believed to be a main cause of type II diabetes as well as other disease, such as metabolic syndrome, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
• Liver overload
A sustained oversupply of sugar, especially fructose, can have toxic effects on the liver and result in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver damage.
• Memory
A recent animal study suggests that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) can impair learning ability and memory, especially during adolescence.
Taxing sugar
A number of countries, including France, Mexico, and more than 30 US states currently levy taxes on SSBs and the Department of Health is reportedly considering this as a possibility for South Africa.
In a paper published in August, scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand estimate that a 20% tax on SSBs could lead to over 220 000 fewer cases of adult obesity in the country – a significant figure for a nation considered to be the most overweight in sub-Saharan Africa.
Professor Karen Hofman, one of the authors explains that: "drinking just one SSB a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27% for adults and 55% for children."

Read: Taxing sugary drinks may reduce obesity in SA

No quick fix solution
Few experts believe that a sugar tax on its own will be enough to stem the growing epidemic in obesity and other sugar-related health problems.

A “soda tax” would only be effective if the resulting revenue would be used to fund public initiatives like school-based nutrition programmes and the promotion of physical activity.

Several additional measures have been proposed as part of a multi-pronged strategy, including:
• a commitment from food producers to reduce the added sugar content of their goods
• mandatory health warnings on advertisements and packaging of sugar-rich foods, similar to those for alcohol and tobacco
• laws to regulate the sugar content of processed food
• an age-limit for the sale of food containing added sugar; and
• laws regulating the marketing of sugar-rich foods, especially to children, for example by limiting or banning TV ads or guaranteeing equal advertising time for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Read: Is sugar a baddie?

While critics may complain that introducing a tax on sugary food will be inefficient, disrupt beneficial market forces and increase the reach of the meddling “nanny state”, research suggests that as part of a comprehensive public health policy, such a tax represents a valuable tool in the fight against obesity and its consequences.
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2015 Budget lacklustre on the health front

We are concerned by the lack of focus on health in the budget speech,” comments SECTION27’s health and education team.  “Neither the health priorities as outlined in the State of the Nation Address (the management of tuberculosis and the creation of a State pharmaceutical company), nor the Ministerial priorities in the Negotiated Service Delivery Agreement are addressed in the budget speech.”
Most of the focus is on talking up South Africa’s ARV programme for health, and the three million people on it, but questions about its sustainability need to be addressed – what use is it to have so many people on ARVs if their access to drugs is intermittent, for instance?
SECTION27 says the “shift of responsibility for NHLS [the stricken National Health Laboratory service] to the National Department of Health is to be welcomed. This is an institution that requires significant investment to ensure its recovery from its near collapse due to non-payment by provinces. In particular, the NHLS [has] lost many staff members and needs both financial and human resources to effectively play its role in the health system, specifically with regard to HIV and TB testing.”
From a practical point of view, it’s good that the Office of Health Standards Compliance has received its own budget. It should play a vital role in ensuring the success of the National Health Insurance (NHI) project.
On that note, once again we’ve received a promise of the elusive White Paper on NHI.
“Treasury still has not released its paper and this appears to be holding up the policy making process,” says SECTION27. “No business plans for the piloting programme were published last year, making the tracking of progress near impossible.” We’re in the fourth year of this process, and so much is still up in the air.
We need to have some bullet points about progress, money already spent and how money should be spent this year and next – having this hanging over our heads as an amorphous shadow is untenable, love it or loathe it. 
One of the huge elephants stomping round the healthcare room is inefficiency in various spheres of public sector management. “The statement that non-payment of suppliers (a huge challenge in health) is to be remedied through a requirement in performance agreements of accounting officers is already an obligation in the Public Finance Management Act, so is unlikely to address the problem,” says SECTION27. 
It’s nice to see that the Eastern Cape – a poor performer on public health, and one where there are huge gaps – get so real with its planning that it gets a nice juicy chunk of additional spend. How is it going to be managed and accounted for?
All in all, an unenlightening budget for the healthcare system which leaves one wishing for more – not more money, perhaps, but a tighter sense of how it will be spent, and how we will achieve more efficient spending which allows for more to be dedicated to some serious but neglected needs.
Main take-home points*
 The health department's budget allocation for 2015/16 is R157.3bn (around 8% up from 2014)
 The ARV treatment programme now reaches 3m patientsThe mother-to-child transmission of HIV has decreased from 20% a decade ago to two percent last year, and is expected to decline further over the period ahead.
 A pack of 20 cigarettes will now cost around R36.62, an effective R13 366.30 per year for someone who smokes one box a day. For someone who smokes 40 a day, that amount soars to over R25 000.00
 Beer goes up by 15,5 cents a quart, a bottle of wine by 15 cents, a bottle of sparkling wine by 48 cents and a bottle of whisky by R3.77.
 A substantial part of the budget was for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, and maternal and child health.
 R1.5bn was being shifted from provincial budgets to the national health department to enable the National Institute of Communicable Diseases to be directly funded. This shift would be offset by lower tariffs for services provided by the National Health Laboratory Service.
 The Office of Health Standards Compliance had been listed as an independent legal entity. This office would be responsible for inspecting and accrediting all public and private health facilities.
 The department was in its fourth year of the phased 15-year roll-out of the National Health Insurance (NHI). A NHI fund would be established over the medium-term to purchase health care services on behalf of the population.
 There had been a marked reduction in child mortality in the past five years, supported by improved access to antenatal services.
 With effect from 1 April 2015 the old age, war veterans, disability and care dependency grants will increase by R60 a month to R1 410; child support grants increase to R330; foster care grants increase by R30 to R860.
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Tea really can calm your nerves

Dr Malcolm Cross, a psychologist at City University London, tested the anxiety levels of a group of people following a stressful situation and revealed that even a single cuppa has a significant calming effect.
His team gave 42 volunteers a mental arithmetic exam and afterwards offered half of them a cup of tea and the other half a glass of water.
The water group's anxiety levels soared by 25% compared to before the task, while the tea group actually reported a 4% reduction in anxiety - despite the taxing test, they were more relaxed than when they started.
68% of Britons medicate with tea

According to a survey carried out for the research, 68% of Britons turn to tea in a dilemma, making it Britain's most common response to trouble of whatever kind.

About 60% said the promise of comfort and warmth was the main reason for putting the kettle on, but 48% said they found calm through the drink's association with Britain and cultural icons such as the Queen.
"The ritual of making and drinking tea - particularly during times of stress - is at the very core of British culture," Cross said.
"This study shows that the social psychological aspects of tea enhance the effects of its chemical make-up on our bodies and brains.
"It's possible that this culturally rooted, symbiotic function between mind and body explains why Britons instinctively turn to tea in times of need." 
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Your nervous system may hold the key to weight-loss

Researchers looked at 42 overweight or obese people who took part in a 12-week weight-loss program that cut their daily calorie intake by 30 percent.
The participants' resting sympathetic nerve activity was measured at the start of the study.
The sympathetic nervous system, which spreads throughout the body, regulates many functions, including control of resting metabolic rate and the use of calories from food consumption.
The researchers found that successful weight losers had significantly higher resting sympathetic nerve activity than those who had trouble shedding pounds.
They also found that successful weight losers showed large increases in nerve activity after they ate a carbohydrate test meal. This did not occur in those who were weight-loss resistant.
The study will appear in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
"We have demonstrated for the first time that resting muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) is a significant independent predictor of weight-loss outcome in a cohort of overweight or obese subjects," lead author Nora Straznicky, of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, said in a journal news release.
"Our findings provide two opportunities. First, we may be able to identify those persons who would benefit most from lifestyle weight-loss interventions such as dieting.
Secondly, the findings may also help in developing weight-loss treatments through stimulating this specific nervous activity."
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Diet and your nervous system

The brain and nervous system are probably the most complex and sensitive physiological structures in the human body.
The importance of a healthy diet in the maintenance of these structures should not be underestimated, DietDoc warns.
It is logical to suppose that we need a healthy balanced diet and adequate intakes of all known nutrients to firstly develop a healthy nervous system before birth and also to maintain the delicate web of neurons and nerves during the entire course of life.
However, the complex effect of nutrition on brain function and the health of the central nervous system (CNS) is often a neglected field and most members of the public do not associate the foods they eat with the psychological conditions they develop.
Which nutrients are essential for normal brain and CNS function?
The answer to this question is: “All known nutrients in our diets can influence the function of our brains and CNS.”

Some of the most important nutrients, and how they can affect psychological health, are listed here:
1) Proteins and amino acids
Proteins and amino acids play an important role in normal brain function, particularly before birth when the concentrations in the blood of the developing foetus can be three times greater than in the mother.

We also tend to forget that most of the essential chemical substances in the brain and CNS – the so-called neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin – are produced in our bodies from amino acids. The following amino acids and their related neurotransmitters are vital for a healthy nervous system:
  • Gamma-amino-butyrate (GABA), glycine, aspartate, glutamate
  • Tyrosine - dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline
  • Tryptophan – serotonin
  • Adenosine, ADP, ATP and AMP
  • Arginine - nitric oxide
  • N-acetyl amino acids and peptides
It is, therefore, essential to ensure that the developing foetus, newborn infants and young children have an adequate supply of amino acids, which are derived from proteins.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you need to eat protein foods with a high biological value, i.e. those proteins that contain all the so-called “essential” amino acids.
Protein foods that meet these requirements are: meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products.
If you are a vegan or a strict vegetarian, you may have to take an amino acid supplement to ensure that your baby obtains sufficient amino acids to develop a normal brain and CNS.
In adults, any condition that affects adequate protein intake (very low energy diets, vegan or macrobiotic diets, alcoholism, anorexia) or increases the requirement for protein when intakes may be inadequate (pregnancy, lactation, periods of growth, illnesses that exhaust protein supplies), can lead to an imbalance in the supply of amino acids to the brain and CNS. This can result in neurological fall-out and damage.
2) B vitamins
The B-complex vitamins, a large group of water-soluble vitamins, all play a role in healthy nerve and brain function. In this article, the three main B vitamins, namely thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, are considered.

2.1) Thiamin
A deficiency in thiamin (vitamin B1) can interfere with the production of certain neurotransmitter amino acids, such as glutamate and aspartate (see 1 above), as well as glucose metabolism, which the brain is highly sensitive to.

Pronounced vitamin B1 deficiency causes beriberi, which is characterised by oedema, shortness of breath and sensory disturbances with paralysis. Muscle weakness, irritability, loss of memory, convulsions and permanent brain damage may also develop.
Nowadays, outright thiamin deficiency is rare in populations that follow a western diet, but subclinical vitamin B1 deficiencies occur and certain conditions such as alcoholism (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome), and epilepsy treated with phenytoin, are known to be associated with a high risk of developing thiamin deficiency. The use of certain diuretics can also lead to higher losses of thiamin with associated deficiency.
Treatment of diet-deficiency-induced beriberi, thiamin-deficiency associated with alcoholism and drug-induced lack of B1, usually consists of B-complex injections or high doses of thiamin supplements.
Foods that are rich in thiamin include:
  • Unrefined, unsifted or minimally processed cereals and grains (brown rice, wholewheat or brown bread, crushed wheat, Maltabella, and all cereals and breads that are fortified with thiamin)
  • Organ meats (liver, kidneys), and pork
  • Nuts and legumes (dry beans, peas and lentils)
2.2 Niacin
Niacin (nicotinic acid) is another one of the B-complex vitamins that may be linked to neurological damage. Mild niacin deficiency is associated with weakness, tremor, anxiety, depression and irritability. In severe niacin deficiency the patient may develop delirium, dementia and death - the dreaded three D’s of pellagra, which is the deficiency disease caused by a severe lack of niacin in the diet.
Once again, severe niacin deficiency is rare in modern times, but sub-clinical niacin deficiency symptoms may be more prevalent than we suspect.
Immediate treatment of serious niacin deficiency is usually done by means of B-complex injections or high doses of niacin supplements.
The human body is capable of manufacturing niacin from the amino acid tryptophan. Thus patients with a niacin deficiency will benefit from adequate intakes of high-quality protein foods (see 1 above), as well as sources of niacin, such as:·
  • Meat - a good source of niacin and tryptophan
  • Unsifted cereals and grains, like oats, brown rice or crushed wheat, and maize treated with limewater (like the type used for making tortillas)
It is interesting to note that pellagra (niacin deficiency), which used to be common among populations that ate highly refined cereals combined with a low protein intake, did not occur in countries like Mexico, where the population was also mainly dependent on maize as their staple food.
The disease was relatively common among the black population of South Africa, which subsisted on sifted, white maize meal.
The reason for this is that the indigenous population of Mexico has always made tortillas by soaking the maize in limewater. The soaking process liberates the tryptophan (an amino acid) in the maize and makes it available for niacin production in the human body.
2.3 Riboflavin

A lack of riboflavin, or vitamin B2, can cause retarded growth of children and infants with typical symptoms such as anaemia, rash around the nose, cracks on the outer edges of the mouth and a red, inflamed tongue.

Diets deficient in riboflavin or conditions such as anorexia, malabsorption, chronic alcoholism and biliary atresia (narrowing or blockage of the gall duct leading to jaundice and death in the newborn), can cause riboflavin deficiency. It has also been suggested that there is a critical period during foetal development of the digestive system when a deficiency in the maternal diet may cause permanent damage.
The most important dietary sources of riboflavin are:
  • Dairy products - milk, yoghurt, cheese, maas
  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs
  • Broccoli, spinach and asparagus
  • Cereals and bread fortified with vitamin B2
While a riboflavin deficiency is not as directly linked to neurological fallout and damage as thiamin and niacin, the anaemia associated with a lack of B2 can have neurological consequences.
In addition, the B-complex vitamins tend to work most efficiently when the intake of all these vitamins are at an optimum level. Treatments for thiamin and niacin deficiency will, therefore, usually also include an adequate supply of riboflavin. – (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)
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What are neurotropic vitamins and why do we need them?

Short of having a brain transplant, most of us like the idea of smart vitamins that could magically boost our brainpower or rev up our nervous system.
Neurotropic vitamins is a fancy term for biological or chemical agents that combine specific vitamins such as B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin) as well as vitamins D and E.
They claim to nourish and revitalise the nerves and nervous system.
It’s true that several vitamins have been associated with neurological functioning, confirms medical physiologist at Stellenbosch University Dr Derick van Vuuren.
“Deficiency in some of these vitamins has been associated with neurological abnormalities and dysfunction, hence the conclusion that they contribute to normal neurological development and functioning,” he comments.
Dr van Vuuren says multivitamins (especially the B vitamins) are promoted as having beneficial effects on the nervous system.
However, while the name “neurotropic” might make people believe that these vitamins are solely involved in the nervous system, this is not true.
“Several different types of vitamins are important in widely different functions and normal chemical reactions like amino acid metabolism, energy metabolism and normal cell division.
Vitamins are molecules your body cannot produce but are essential for your whole body, not just for your brain,” he explains.
Neurotropic vitamins, says, usually combine variants of Vitamin B (i.e. Vitamin B Complex).
They mainly consist of B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B6 (Pyridoxine), B12 (Cyanacobalamin), B3 (Nicotinamide) and B5 (D-Panthenol).
Read: Foods that make your brain function optimally  
These are essential in central nerve cell metabolism and help to maintain structural and functional properties of the nervous system.
Your brain works hard 24/7 even while you’re asleep, comments Dr Eva Selhub, contributing editor of the Harvard health blog.It sorts your movements, thoughts, senses, heartbeat and breathing, so it makes sense that it requires a constant supply of fuel.

For many years, the medical profession has not fully acknowledged the connection between mood and food. But that has changed with an emerging new field called nutritional psychiatry.
Many nutrients have a clear link to brain health, including omega-3s, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D and amino acids. So says Dr Jerome Sarris from the University of Melbourne and a member of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR).
In an article published in 2015 in The Lancet Psychiatry, Dr Sarris says ‘although the determinants of mental health are complex, compelling evidence shows that nutrition is a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders. ‘
“Diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.”
Read: Your diet and your nervous system
He adds while he prefers people to consume these nutrients in their diet where possible, their ‘additional use as nutraceuticals (nutrient supplements) may also be justified.’
So are South Africans rushing out to buy these smart vitamins?
Well, according to Pretoria pharmacist Gert Venter, Manager of Arrie Nel Serene Pharmacy, they ‘don’t seem to be that popular at the moment.’
He says vitamin B complex tablets are still freely available over the counter. However, all injectable forms of Vitamin B12 have now been ‘reclassified as a Schedule 3 medicine, only available on a doctor’s prescription.’
The Medicines Control Council (MCC) notified pharmacists in 2014 of the schedule change to injectable forms of Vitamin B12. This includes the neurotropic Neurobian, which contains much higher levels of B12 as well as B1 and B6.
“This rescheduling was made because of concern that if a person has excessive amounts of  B12, it can mask an iron deficiency and cause nerve damage,” Mr Venter comments.
What is in those brain-boosting B vitamins?
Vitamins B1, B6 and B12 each play many different roles including supporting your metabolism and helping to produce essential neurotransmitters and red blood cells. Whether you take a good Vitamin B complex supplement or eat foods containing them, your body needs a regular supply of all three vitamins.  
Those who are at risk of vitamin B deficiency, like over-55s, vegetarians, diabetics and pre-diabetics, would certainly benefit from taking neurotropic vitamins. 
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) helps your body convert food into energy, while your brain needs it to metabolise glucose and it is necessary for proper nerve functioning. Women need 1.1mg and men should get 1.2mg of B1 daily.
Vitamin B6 actives enzymes are in charge of producing energy, neurotransmitters as well as red and white blood cells that support your immune system. Make sure that you have 1.3mg of B6 every day.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) helps make neurotransmitters, haemoglobin and DNA, while also keeping nerve cells and red blood cells healthy. The recommended daily intake for B12 is 2.4 micrograms for both men and women.
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