Melatonin for women

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that regulates many physiological processes.

MELATONIN supplementation is a controversial issue and I hope to help readers understand the facts so that they are not misled by wild claims.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is situated at the base of the brain. Although this hormone is best known for regulating the sleep and wake cycles, it also plays many other important roles in the body, including maintaining a healthy immune system, serving as an antioxidant, and regulating the menstrual cycle.

Functions of melatonin

Let’s look at the functions of melatonin in greater detail. Like all hormones, melatonin sends chemical messages to various parts of the body and tells the different organs or tissues to produce more hormones or carry out certain tasks. Without melatonin, other hormonal activity in the body would be interrupted.

Production of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light. This is what makes the pineal gland our “internal clock”, as it controls our body’s circadian rhythm – our body’s own 24-hour time-keeping system that plays an important role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up.

It may sound like a simple function, but if this internal clock is disrupted, many other neuroendocrine functions go haywire. The body’s internal functions, as well as mental well-being, can be adversely affected. For example, you may find yourself unable to think clearly, and forget key facts if your melatonin production is upset.

Children and healthy young adults have higher levels of melatonin. As they advance beyond middle-age, the amount of melatonin produced by the body decreases. This may explain why elderly adults tend to have difficulty sleeping at night.

The level of melatonin in the blood appears to trigger the adrenal glands to increase or suppress the secretion of male and female sex hormones. In this respect, it controls the timing and release of reproductive hormones in a woman’s body. It is instrumental in determining when menstruation begins, how long the cycle lasts, and when menopause occurs.

Melatonin also affects the production of pituitary gland hormones, including human growth hormone. This hormone plays a role in muscle and bone growth, as well as energy metabolism, among other essential functions.

Finally, it is believed that the immune system can be strengthened by melatonin. This is because melatonin is recognised as a strong antioxidant, which is a substance that protects your cells from the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or are generated through environmental exposure to tobacco smoke and radiation.

Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.

There is a theory that melatonin levels in the population are decreasing because of light “pollution”. This phenomenon, also called urban sky glow, is where the sky is unnaturally bright at night due to artificial lighting from highways, streets, malls, stadiums and homes.

A study published in 2007 in the Journal of Pineal Research stated that exposure to low-level incandescent lightning for only 39 minutes can suppress melatonin levels by up to 50%.

Benefits of melatonin

Sleep is as important as food and air, and the quantity and quality an individual gets is also extremely important. According to data from the Cancer Prevention Study II, individuals who average seven hours of sleep each night have a lower mortality rate than do those who sleep eight hours or more.

Interestingly, research shows that sleeping more than eight hours may have deleterious effects, although the reasons for this are less clear.

A paper recently published in Neuroendocrinology Letters says that disruption of the circadian rhythms caused by over-exposure to light at night – because of both night work and as a personal choice and lifestyle – has been associated with cancer in humans. And there’s evidence of increased breast and colon cancer risk in shift workers.

Melatonin is most popularly known in its supplement form, which is touted for all sorts of conditions, ranging from sleep disturbance to anti-cancer and anti-ageing effects.

There is still a lot of debate within medical and health circles about the safety and efficacy of melatonin supplements. As melatonin is a hormone, you should be very cautious about taking such supplements.

Below, I will describe some of the common claims made by proponents of melatonin supplements. Many are still not validated by indisputable scientific evidence, so be sure to always ask your doctor’s advice first.

Sleep disturbance is the most common reason why people seek out melatonin supplements. In many cases, it is due to external factors, such as jet lag or shift work. Jet lag occurs when you cross time zones during long-distance travel, so night becomes day and day becomes night for you.

Shift workers also have trouble regulating their circadian rhythms because they go to sleep in the daytime, but the bright daylight disrupts their melatonin production.

Some people suffer from insomnia, which is the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep for a reasonable period during the night. Melatonin supplements are believed to be able to induce sleep in these people who either have low melatonin levels or have had their internal clocks disrupted.

Melatonin supplements are also claimed to be powerful antioxidants that help protect us from infection, inflammation, and act as immune enhancers because the immune system works less efficiently as we age.

Melatonin has also been shown to be beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease, especially for coping with the period called “sundowning”, when patients become agitated during late afternoon and early evening; gastric ulcers; hot flashes in menopausal women because melatonin suppresses luteinizing hormone (LH) in postmenopausal women; cardiovascular disease, since melatonin helps regulate nitric oxide production, which plays a vital role in ensuring proper cardiovascular function; and also for attention deficit disorder and insomnia in children.

Some small studies have looked at the use of melatonin to reduce high blood pressure, enhance the efficacy of cancer treatment, and reduce radiation-induced side effects in cancer treatment.

And in studies done on animals, it has been shown to improve immunity and extend lifespan by 20%.

Practise caution

Melatonin supplementation is not to be taken without care. Aside from the fact that there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support its long-term use, it can also have unpleasant side effects for some people.

Some people have reported vivid dreams or nightmares when they take melatonin. Its sleep-inducing effects may also extend into the daytime and cause drowsiness during the day. It is best to avoid driving or operating machinery if you are taking melatonin.

You should also be aware of other side effects, such as stomach cramps, dizziness, headache, irritability, decreased libido, as well as breast enlargement and decreased sperm count in men.

A word of caution for women: melatonin could interfere with fertility. It also should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women, who are already producing abundant melatonin in their bodies.

Children and teenagers also have ample melatonin in their bodies, so supplementation could lead to overdose.

If you take certain antidepressants, such as Prozac or Nardil, do not take melatonin supplements, as both medications could interact to cause a stroke or heart attack.

Going natural

Before deciding to take melatonin supplements, you can try to look for natural sources of melatonin to increase the level of the hormone in your body.

Melatonin is found in some foods, although in small amounts. Oats, sweet corn and rice are rich in melatonin, as are ginger, tomatoes, bananas and barley.

If, like many other people, you resort to melatonin supplementation for sleep problems, then you could try the following methods first to regulate your sleep cycle:

● Get eight to nine hours sleep per night.

● Get to bed by 10:30pm each night.

● Sleep in a comfortable bed – make sure the mattress is not too saggy, too hard, or creaky.

● Make your sleep and wake times the same each day, even on weekends.

● Avoid exposure to bright lights, directly before and during sleep.

● Avoid TV and reading before bed, as both stimulate the brain.

● Make your room completely dark, especially if you are a shift worker who sleeps in the daytime. Use dark curtains to block out sunlight.

● Avoid taking stimulants, like coffee, cigarettes or alcohol, before bed.

● Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature, not too warm or too cold.

● Avoid electromagnetic fields in the bedroom, such as TVs, clocks, radios and lights. If you must have them in the room, move them far away from the bed.

● Avoid eating before sleep.

● Move the clock out of sight and avoid loud alarm clocks.

● Try keeping a journal – write down your thoughts before sleeping, so that they are not racing through your mind.

● Limit drug use – some prescription and over-the-counter medications can inhibit sleep.

● Exercising can release stress and help you sleep better at night – but don’t exercise too close to bedtime as the body needs time to relax.

● Take a hot bath or shower before bed.

● Keep your work out of the bedroom, so that your body doesn’t recognise it as a stressful environment.

Many people will claim that melatonin supplements are safe because they are “natural”. However, everything carries potential risks and side effects, especially if you do not know whether the manufacturers are to be trusted.

Whether you need help sleeping through the night, feeling good while traveling across time zones, or just want to boost your immunity, and possibly add some years to your life, always check with your doctor before taking melatonin supplements. Tell her about your other health conditions and medications, so that you can avoid any adverse complications.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care.

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Hormones help in sex

The interplay of hormones in the body is crucial in enabling physical intercourse.

ONE of the things that I like to tell my patients is that the brain is the most powerful sex organ of all.

Women – and their partners who come to the clinic with them – are always taken aback by this statement.

Many of them know, of course, that hormones can affect their sexual desires, as well as many of the emotions and sensations related to sex. But few people realise just how central hormones are to every aspect of sexual desire, arousal, intercourse and recovery – never mind the penis or the vagina, it is the hormones that are doing all the work.

And the brain? Well, that’s because the brain is one of the main hormone control centres in the body. Therefore, without the brain, there would be no sex at all!

Let us take a look at how each hormone plays a role in every phase of a woman’s sex life.

Hormones that control desire

Everything to do with sex begins with desire. You start off by being physically attracted to your partner, which is a form of chemical reaction triggered by hormones like catecholamines, dopamine and noradrenaline, as well as some neurotransmitters, which sometimes behave like hormones.

Sexual desire gradually increases with the help of hormones like DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and testosterone (yes, even women have testosterone, as we have previously covered in this column).

Your brain also produces a type of neurotransmitter called serotonin, which activates various areas of the brain to provoke erections of the nipples, clitoris, and penis.

During the foreplay stage of sex, your body also produces specific hormones to arouse sexual desire in your partner. These hormones are called “pheromones”, and they are secreted from the sweat glands in your armpits and your pubic area.

Pheromones produce a subtle sexual fragrance that your partner inhales, and they send a signal to his brain that you are sexually aroused.

When you are aroused, your body produces oestrogens, which stimulates certain neurons in the brain and prompts the release of more pheromones.

You may be wondering why some hormones affect the release of others. Our hormones work in a feedback system, so they are continuously sending signals to one another that say “Produce more!” or “Stop producing!” Again, this happens with two hormones produced in the pituitary gland, LH (luteinising hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), which stimulate the production of more sex hormones like oestrogen and testosterone to further increase desire.

After foreplay, comes…

At this point, the hormones continue on this loop, as physical contact increases. More pheromones are triggered by DHEA and oestrogens, are secreted through the skin and saliva, and further enhance pleasure.

During this stage, several hormones play a role in helping to maintain energy and endurance to prolong intercourse. Cortisol is a hormone that keeps the energy and excitement up, by maintaining a man’s erection for a longer time, and providing energy to the muscles, including the heart, for endurance.

Growth hormones also help to maintain a firmer and more prolonged erection of the penis and clitoris, so that intercourse can last longer.

Other hormones that come into play are vasopressin, which also helps to make the penis and clitoris more erect.

At the peak

As the excitement reaches its climax, the nerves and adrenal glands produce a hormone called noradrenaline, which allows the body to react quickly to unexpected stimulation. Then, the body releases adrenaline, which triggers orgasm and ejaculation.

In a woman, the uterus and vagina muscles contract due to the hormone oxytocin. This same hormone also appears when a woman is breastfeeding, as it is responsible for signaling the milk glands to release milk when the baby suckles. This may explain why breastfeeding produces a pleasant feeling, similar to the after-effects of an orgasm.

During recovery

In some novels and movies, the female character always complains that her partner falls asleep after sex. Well, women may be relieved to know that there is a perfectly good hormonal reason for this.

After orgasm, the hormone progesterone is released to subdue the levels of desire. This leads to a state of serenity, relaxation, drowsiness and passivity. In fact, as women produce much more progesterone compared to men, this effect is strong in women.

Another hormone with a similar effect is prolactin, which is also produced in greater amounts in women (just like oxytocin, prolactin also plays a role in milk production for breastfeeding mothers, so nursing mums may find their breasts leaking a bit of milk during and after sexual intercourse).

Endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter, will be released to make you feel drowsy, but good. The hormone melatonin is also produced, which causes deep sleep after sex.

Some people feel a little down after they have recovered from the orgasm phase – this may be due to a dramatic drop in all the neurotransmitters and hormones that were involved in intercourse, causing a sudden sadness.

Nutrition for better sex

What does food have to do with sex? Plenty, because certain nutrients in food have a direct effect on hormone levels in the body, and can therefore improve your sex life!

Protein and certain fats (the healthful types) increase the level of sex hormones in the body, which improves libido and erections.

Some people believe that spicy and salty foods act as aphrodisiacs, and there is some truth to this, as they enhance the effects of testosterone, DHEA and cortisol.

Animal protein, which are highest in animal meats, increases adrenal hormones, such as cortisol, oestrogen, progesterone and adrenalin.

As we have already seen above, these hormones all play crucial roles in maintaining sexual desire, excitement and function throughout intercourse.

Fruits are sexy too! They increase the level of the thyroid hormones in your body, which are believed to improve your vivacity, intelligence and reaction rate.

Now you have a better understanding of how hormones work in their subtle ways to affect sexual desire, arousal and pleasure.

If you experience problems with any aspect of your sexual relationship, the cause may lie in your hormones. Talk to your doctor to find out more.

> Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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The youth hormone

Human growth hormone maintains the health of many organ systems, and also acts as a biomarker of ageing.

THIS is the second article on hormones that are important for good health. In the first installment (Hormones for health, Fit4life, Feb 17), I wrote about insulin, testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone. I also explained about bio-identical hormones.

Today, I will share about the most important hormone in anti-ageing (maintaining our health and youthfulness) – human growth hormone (HGH).

HGH, DHEA (dihydroepiandrosterone) and pregnenolone are hormones and pro-hormones (ie hormone precursors) which maintain the health of many organ systems, and also act as biomarkers of ageing.

Their levels in the blood peak in early adulthood (around age 20-25 years) and then decline steadily as we age. The current level and rate of decline influences our overall health, as they influence many organs.

The level and rate of decline may be determined by genetic factors, lifestyle, diet, exercise and weight. They can further be modified by supplementation and medical therapy. I call them the “youth hormones”.

Of these, HGH is the most important.

The sex hormones are also youth hormones. Testosterone is a reliable bio-marker for men (if the blood sample is taken in the morning), but estradiol is not a reliable bio-marker due to its marked (menstrual) cyclical variation, although the trend (if tests are done on the same day of the cycle, usually at the end of the third week, in a woman with regular cycles) may be useful. After menopause, when there is no menstrual cycle, the level becomes a reliable indicator.

For post-menopausal women out there: most of you probably do not know that your estradiol (the main oestrogen) level is probably even lower than that of the average man of the same age who is not fit and healthy (and most men above 50 are in this category).

These men tend to have higher estradiol levels than they should (which is not good for them), in contrast to menopausal women who have lower levels required for good health.

If your estradiol level is even lower than a man’s, how can you expect to be healthy, feminine and sexy?

Human growth hormone

HGH is the “master” hormone of the body. As the name implies, it is crucial for growth in children. Children who are HGH-deficient will become stunted, while those who have excess HGH (usually due to a pituitary gland tumour) will become “giants”.

All the world’s tallest men and women recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records were likely to have suffered from this problem (acromegaly). They have a myriad of health problems and do not live long.

What we are concerned here is the role of HGH in healthy ageing. After age 25, HGH levels decline by about 13% every decade in the average person (more in the unhealthy, and less in the fit and healthy).

This means that you will have about 50% left by the age of 60.

Since HGH, as the master hormone, directly or indirectly (through increasing the production of many growth factors) influences all the organ systems, its decline is responsible for most of the signs and symptoms of ageing.

The decline in the level of oestrogen after menopause only accelerates the ageing process, which has been going on for at least three decades previously (mainly due to the HGH decline).

The different tissues and organs age at different rates. For example, while most women are wary of their bones becoming brittle (osteopenia/osteoporosis) after menopause, the bone density (and strength) actually starts to decline from about age 35 onwards, about 15 years before menopause, while their hearts usually become unhealthy only after 50 (because oestrogens are excellent protectors of the heart).

Since many men enter andropause even earlier than age 50 (if low testosterone levels are used as the criteria), their accelerated ageing also starts earlier.

In 1990, the New England Journal of Medicine published a landmark study by Rudman and colleagues on the effects of HGH (injection therapy) on men above 60 years old (NEJM July 5, 1990). They reported improvements in body composition (less fat, more muscle), strength, exercise tolerance and wellbeing in the subjects tested.

Although it was a small study, this in fact started the anti-ageing revolution. Since then, there have been over 20,000 studies on HGH. Some of the benefits of having healthy levels of HGH shown in these studies include slower senescence (ageing), reduced adiposity (body fat composition), improved blood lipids, reduced blood homocysteine (a marker of inflammation and heart disease risk), reduced atherosclerosis, improved heart function, improved diabetes, increased lean body mass, improved exercise tolerance, improved immune system, better quality of life, better sleep, less fatigue, better sexual function, improvement from depression and anxiety, improved memory, improvement from memory loss in Alzheimer’s, improved rheumatism and fibromyalgia, improved osteoporosis, and many other benefits (references available on request).

Controversies

However, there are some controversies. Naturally high IGF1 (insulin-like growth factor 1, which is the marker for HGH in the blood) has been associated with some cancers (eg breast and prostate), but a causal relationship has not been established.

The higher IGF1 levels have not been shown to be the cause of the cancers, and instead, could be due to the cancer, as cancer cells are known to produce many growth factors to sustain their growth and spread.

In people with acromegaly, HGH production is 10-100 times more than normal. Yet, overall they do not have more cancers (although they have slightly more colon cancers than others). So it is more likely that in cancer patients, the high IGF1 levels is due to the cancer itself.

Another controversy is that HGH can worsen diabetes. IGF1 levels increase with HGH. Insulin-like growth factors have glucose-lowering effects like insulin, and improve insulin-sensitivity. Thus, more studies show improvement in diabetes rather than worsening.

The controversy arises because diabetes occurs more in HGH-treated children, and in those with acromegaly. There are other explanations for these.

There is no doubt that having healthy levels of HGH means better health, and those with severely low levels need treatment. What is controversial is whether those with lower levels within the “normal” range when tested (and have any of the parameters mentioned above which can be improved by HGH) should be interfered at all; and whether high HGH levels predispose to cancer (see above).

The answer is simple – if you want better health and you have low HGH, you can try to improve its level and feel the benefits yourself. Make sure your doctor explains to you all the pros and cons, including possible side-effects (eg edema, which only happens if you take excess doses in the injection form).

If you don’t get any benefit after three to six months, then you can stop. If you are convinced of the benefits (especially if there are measurable improvements in your weight, body composition, and obvious improvements in your skin texture), then you can continue.

How to improve HGH levels

There are natural ways to improve your HGH level. The best ways are:

● Make sure you have sufficient deep sleep (six to seven hours of good sleep), and go to sleep not later than midnight because the HGH is released in spurts at about 2-3am (peak spurt) and again at about 5am, provided you are in deep sleep. Those who are chronically sleep-deprived, and those who work shifts, therefore miss on these spurts.

● Have a healthy nutrient-dense, high-protein, low-calorie diet. HGH is a peptide hormone and requires amino-acids for its production. Avoid caffeinated and milk products, alcohol and the empty calories in cakes and cookies.

● Intense exercise, which must include muscle-building (weights and/or resistance) training.

● Maintain a lean body (body fat below 20% for men and below 25% for women).

There are also supplements that can improve natural HGH secretion. These are called “secretagogues” and contain the component amino-acids which also act as HGH secretion-boosters. They are available in powder form (most effective) or tablet/capsules.

There are also sublingual sprays which contain homeopathic formulas or even HGH encapsulated in patented “delivery systems” to allow for its absorption (HGH is a large peptide which cannot be absorbed when taken orally). However, the effectiveness of these formulations has not been scientifically validated.

Then there are also supplements which provide the growth factors (including IGF1) directly instead of inducing HGH secretion, which then increase the growth factors production in the body.

Medical therapy by HGH injection is given only to children and older people with proven deficiencies after appropriate tests are done. These patients must be strictly monitored by their doctors.

The older patients may first try supplementation, and switch to injections only if these fail. For the majority, injections are not necessary.

The dangers and side-effects of overdosing only apply to those getting HGH injections. You need not worry about getting any side-effects if you are taking supplements to improve your HGH levels, which is why you can continue these for as long as you like if you get the benefits, while your doctor monitors your IGF1 level at suitable intervals.

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Hormones for health

Hormones are of vital importance for good health, both in men and women.

HORMONES are vital to our health. They instruct our cells to do important metabolic functions. Too much or too little hormones can cause cells and organs to malfunction. Since our organs are not independent of one another, any upset in one system will soon affect many or all other organ systems.

There are many hormones that regulate the body. Of these, about a dozen need to be monitored and fine-tuned if you want to be really healthy.

Unfortunately, the role of hormones has not been properly understood by many doctors. This is reflected in the fact that when you do your comprehensive medical check-up, the blood tests will only include one hormone (TSH or FT4).

How can the doctors give an accurate assessment of your health when they don’t even check the other important hormones?

Anti-ageing doctors, on the other hand, will investigate at least 10 other hormones to have a better estimation of the state of the body, and to be able to optimise these hormones should they be at sub-optimal levels.

Other doctors have written about the subject, but I would like to share my perspective on this.

How important are these hormones? And how do they function? Let me give three illustrations:

Insulin

On the first day of the fasting month, most Muslims who fast get very tired, and their productivity at work suffers. Then at breaking-fast time, just a glass of syrup water or air bandung will recharge and revitalise them. Of course, they get used to the fasting in the next few days.

This is to illustrate that as we fast, our glucose (and other nutrients as well) level declines and that makes us lethargic, since glucose is the main source of energy for the body. When we consume a sugar-laden drink, the glucose level is promptly restored, and so is our energy level.

But have you ever wondered why those people with diabetes, whose sugar levels are several times higher than ours, are not also several times more energetic? In fact, they are less energetic, and are prone to many diseases (eye disease, heart disease, kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, infections, etc.) because of the high glucose level.

The reason is that while the blood is loaded with glucose, the cells are starving because of lack of instructions by the hormone insulin for the cells to assimilate (take-in) the glucose. Diabetes type 1 patients lack insulin, while type 2 patients have abundant insulin, but their cells have become insulin-resistant.

Insulin regulates glucose and lipid intake by the cells. Insulin resistance is currently believed to be the underlying reason for diabetes, hypertension, central obesity and dyslipidemia (abnormal blood lipid levels). These will in turn predispose to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, other organ diseases, and possibly cancer, too.

The earliest step towards becoming diabetic is when your fasting insulin level is elevated even though your fasting blood glucose is normal. This may indicate insulin resistance (confirmed after repeated tests). But your doctor will not be able to advise you on this if the fasting insulin level is not tested.

The next step towards becoming diabetic is when your blood glucose becomes slightly elevated, despite the high insulin. You are now “pre-diabetic”.

When the glucose level gets even higher, you will then become diabetic. The insulin level is expected to become higher than before (though not always).

Oestrogen

A woman may not be going through any change in her lifestyle, diet and exercise routine, but when she goes into menopause (average age 50-51), she will start ageing at a faster rate than before. Every organ in her body will be affected – especially her brain, heart, bones, skin, and sexual organs. Her libido and sexual activity will be adversely affected.

All these are due to the sudden rapid decline in her oestrogens (female sex hormones). There are three important oestrogens (estrone, estradiol and estriol), but it is sufficient to monitor estradiol only, since it is the most abundant and most important.

Some doctors monitor the “free” or active estradiol levels (usually from saliva), but I have found this unnecessary in my practice.

It is also important to monitor progesterone (the only natural progestogen, which is important for fertility and pregnancy, and also “balances” out many of the negative effects of the oestrogens at other times).

For example, vaginal dryness will become evident during the “peri-menopausal” stage (ie in the months or even years before cessation of menses). This will make sex uncomfortable if untreated.

Libido is likely to be low, and often it is the husband who complains (provided the husband also does not suffer from low libido due to male menopause/andropause).

Women rarely get heart attacks before menopause because her oestrogens protect the heart. After menopause, the woman joins the “heart attack club” because her risk starts rising.

In fact, after 10 years, her risk equals that of men; and after 15 years, her risk exceeds that of men.

So for several decades, doctors were recommending HRT (hormone replacement/replenishment therapy) to women, with the promise of reversing all those problems brought about by menopause.

However, that almost came to a halt due to damning results published by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI, US National Institutes of Health) a decade ago and later by The Million Women Study (UK). The WHI studies showed that the most popularly prescribed HRT drug – a combination of horse oestrogen (conjugated equine oestrogen) and a progestin (a synthetic progestogen, the other group of female sex hormones) – caused more harm than good.

This HRT formulation increased heart attacks and stroke; increased breast cancer; and increased blood clots, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. It did however, decrease colorectal cancer and fractures. Almost immediately, HRT became unpopular.

The WHI studies have since been severely criticised as being flawed. Last year, a study on over 1,000 postmenopausal women in Europe showed that there was no increase in heart disease, stroke or breast cancer among HRT users. So the debate continues.

What is clear is that women age and become diseased faster as their oestrogens decline. What is not clear is what is safe and effective to delay or reverse this. We know that horse oestrogens and synthetic hormones may cause more harm than good. So I and some other doctors resort to using natural (human) “bio-equivalent” or “bio-identical” hormones to treat our patients.

These are hormones derived from plants, which are then modified in the lab to become exactly the same as the human hormones.

Since what causes menopause (and andropause) is the decline in the natural hormones that flow inside us, it makes sense to replace them with the natural or bio-identical hormones (BIH). The benefits and risks associated with BIH are expected to be the same as in women who have late menopause (who continue to have higher levels of natural oestrogens compared to menopausal women of the same age).

However, evidence-based medicine demands that every claim must be backed by scientific study. Unfortunately, no company is willing to spend the millions to do research on BIH since the natural formula is not patentable and the money spent cannot be recouped.

So, although using natural human hormones or their equivalents makes more sense than using horse hormones or synthetics, we are not allowed to make any claims.

Those of us who prescribe BIH to our patients do so based on the collective experience of BIH experts worldwide, our own experience, and the positive results seen in our patients.

In fact the Malaysian Menopausal Society (MMS) is against doctors using BIH. In contrast, the Society for Anti-Aging, Aesthetics and Regenerative Medicine Malaysia (SAAARMM) and the Society for Advancement of Hormones and Healthy Aging Medicine Malaysia (SAHAMM) both encourage the use of BIH and conducts seminars and courses to improve the doctors’ understanding of this controversial subject.

The debate will surely continue among the doctors.

Androgens

Just as oestrogens are required by women for the health of most of their organs, the same applies to androgens and men. And just as the oestrogens decline at menopause, the androgens also decline with age, but not as suddenly as the oestrogens in women.

Partial Androgen Deficiency in Ageing Men (PADAM) is the other name for andropause/male menopause.

The decline of androgens in men is gradual, starting from about age 25 onwards (after the peak growth and stabilisation stages). The rate of declines varies among men due to genetic, lifestyle, diet, body weight, exercise and other factors.

Since we are generally leading less healthy lifestyles and do less physical work than our predecessors, the decline is expected to be faster. Indeed, many men in their 40’s already have low testosterone levels.

While women know they have become menopausal by the cessation of their periods, men are clueless. They attribute their weakness, muscle loss, lethargy, obesity (especially central obesity), poor libido and poor erections to various reasons, but very few realise that low testosterone could be the main reason behind many or all of these.

The main androgens are testosterone and DHT (dihydrotestosterone). Testosterone is more abundant, although DHT is more powerful. DHT is also more responsible for male-pattern baldness, and is blamed for prostate disease. Once you have prostate disease, both will worsen it.

Andropause is defined as having low levels of testosterone accompanied by one or more of the symptoms. It is sufficient to monitor just the testosterone. I find that monitoring the free or active testosterone is also important as some men with symptoms have normal testosterone levels but low free testosterone.

Unfortunately, both free testosterone and DHT tests are expensive.

I have listed four hormones (insulin, estradiol, progesterone and testosterone) that you should get tested for if you want to know what’s really happening in your body.

Women should also test for testosterone as this may be too low (and may affect their libido) or too much (and may cause infertility, excessive hair growth, and other masculine features), and men should get tested for estradiol because this may be excessive (and may cause fat accumulation and gynecomastia or “man boobs”) in some of them.

I will continue with the other hormones in the next article.

> Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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The longevity hormones

In this third part in the series on hormones for health, we continue with other hormones that are not only ‘youth hormones’ in that they help maintain health and youthful biological age, but may also impact our lifespan.

ABOUT a year ago, I wrote about the Okinawans, who are famous for their longevity (Holistic ageing, Fit4Life, April 1, 2012). The secret of their longevity, according to Prof Emeritus Makoto Suzuki, who is the leading expert on the Okinawa longevity phenomenon, lies in their diet, culture and lifestyle.

While much has been written about their diet, culture and lifestyle, the only glaring difference in their blood tests is that they continue to have youthful levels of the hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) as they age past 50.

DHEA

DHEA is the most abundant hormone in the body. It is produced by the adrenal glands. It is required by both sexes and levels decline with age. At age 60, the level is only about 40% of its peak.

It improves sexual function, increases muscle mass, reduces fat, stimulates bone growth, improves sleep, mobility, memory, immunity and reduces pain. It may help improve arterial disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, lupus, and possibly cancer.

It is also the precursor for the sex-hormones (oestrogens and androgens).

While the direct effect of DHEA is relatively weak compared to the sex hormones, a healthy level of DHEA is crucial because it is needed to manufacture the sex hormones.

Strenuous physical exercise and stress increase DHEA secretion, as do high protein and high fat diets. Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle and diets high in carbohydrates, cereals and sugar reduce secretion.

In anti-ageing hormone management, DHEA is among the most important hormones monitored and corrected/optimised (if necessary).

Pregnenolone

While DHEA is the mother of the sex hormones, pregnenolone is the grandmother of all the steroid hormones, which include DHEA, the sex hormones, glucocorticoid adrenal hormones (eg cortisol and other steroids responsible for stress and glucose management), and mineralocorticoid adrenal hormones (eg aldosterone, responsible for salt and water regulation).

Pregnenolone is manufactured from cholesterol. This is one example of the vital role that cholesterol plays in the body. So cholesterol itself is not bad. It is the excess and the “bad” cholesterol that is harmful.

Even that concept (that high cholesterol is bad) is controversial and I hope to write about this in the future.

Pregnenolone level declines with age, and is indirectly responsible for the decline of the steroidal hormones. A serious deficiency in pregnenolone affects many organ systems because it is the precursor of so many hormones which influence so many organs.

While the main function of pregnenolone is as a precursor or pro-hormone, it is also a neurotransmitter. It has been used with some success to improve memory and to reduce stress/depression.

Since memory decline is a constant and worrying feature of ageing, anti-ageing doctors often use pregnenolone to alleviate the problem, and about half of the patients report some improvement.

Pregnenolone testing and supplementation are not readily available here. Therefore most of the anti-ageing doctors test for, and correct/optimise the other hormones instead as an indirect way of addressing suspected pregnenolone deficiency.

Melatonin

Most of you may be aware that melatonin is used to counter the effects of “jet-lag” after long-distance travel, but you may not be aware that it is also a youth/longevity hormone.

Its level also declines with age like the other hormones previously mentioned, and its impact on health goes beyond normalising the sleep rhythm.

Melatonin is a neuro-hormone produced in the pineal gland, which is a small gland almost diagonally opposite the pituitary, in the mid-brain. In the esoteric world of mysticism, metaphysics and occultism, the pineal gland is variously believed to be the “seat of the soul”; the centre of the “sixth sense”; or even the “third eye” (connected to the Ajna chakra, which is important in spiritual awakening, clairvoyance and higher states of consciousness).

Circulating levels of melatonin vary in a daily cycle, and influences the circadian rhythm of several biological systems. In animals, it even influences sexual development, hibernation and seasonal breeding.

Melatonin production decreases with age. The reduced and delayed melatonin production/release (at night) as we grow older partly explains the later sleeping and waking times.

While the sleep-inducing effects of melatonin is well known (it also improves quality of sleep by relaxing the muscles and calming the nerves), our interest here is its health and anti-ageing effects.

Melatonin improves HGH (the youth hormone) secretion and also improves thyroid function. It calms down excessive stress, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol.

Melatonin is a powerful broad-spectrum antioxidant that does not itself become a free radical once it has been oxidised, unlike other antioxidants. Each melatonin molecule, through its metabolites, can neutralise up to 10 free radicals (reactive oxygen/nitrogen species).

The other powerful antioxidant that mops up many free radicals without itself becoming a free radical is silica hydride.

Melatonin is especially useful in protecting DNA from free-radical damage. It has been shown in animal experiments to protect against brain injury and Parkinson’s disease. As a longevity hormone, it has been shown to increase lifespan by 20% in mice. Let us hope human studies will be done too.

Melatonin is readily available over-the-counter in many countries and even in some aeroplanes for the convenience of travellers. Unfortunately, it is not available here, so we have to get it from overseas to prescribe to our patients who need them.

Cortisol – the stress resistance hormone

Cortisol is the most important glucocorticoid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It also has a circadian rhythm (highest in the morning) and decreases with age.

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone (breaks down tissues to provide energy) in contrast to HGH, DHEA and the sex hormones, which are anabolic (build and preserve tissues/body).

Cortisol allows us to respond adequately to stress by making energy available (increased blood glucose), maintaining or raising blood pressure, and fighting inflammation.

Cortisol and its derivatives are therefore widely used as anti-inflammatory drugs (for all forms of inflammation and pain), and are widely abused in sports to enhance performance and manage the stress of competitions.

The overuse and abuse can give rise to dangerous side-effects.

The abuse has given a bad name to cortisol and steroid hormones because the public only know the bad side of the story. In reality, those with low levels of cortisol can easily be helped with their health and behavioural problems such as poor memory, emotional lability, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, irritability, poor reaction to stressful situations, negativism, being quarrelsome, paranoia, excessive emotions, hair loss, being underweight, inflammatory skin conditions, muscle and joint pains, fatigue, dark eye circles, and a host of other problems.

There are many people who can benefit from cortisol therapy (if their problems correlate with low cortisol levels), but many are reluctant and aghast because the doctor prescribes a steroid (hormone) drug!

Correcting and optimising cortisol levels can result in mood enhancement, more energy, better work performance, better stress management, and improved immune system.

The natural ways to increase cortisol are by exercising in the morning sunlight and by consuming certain foods (eg licorice).

Since cortisol level decreases with age, and the aged are the ones most likely to have problems of inflamed and damaged joints and other tissues, their ability to cope with the damage is compromised. Thus many end up with chronic injuries and have to consume all sorts of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs.

This is worsened by the decline in the anabolic hormones that are needed to preserve and build tissues.

The right balance and synergy of hormones are required to maintain optimum health. Even during the day, there is a programmed symphony among them. The “active” hormones like cortisol and testosterone peak in the morning, while the hormones like melatonin and HGH work quietly at night while we sleep.

In the next article, I will discuss hormone therapy in more detail.

Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Is a Good Night’s Sleep the Best Prescription for Depression and Pain?

sleep14Depression and chronic pain are two common conditions that are also associated with poor sleep quality. While it is often thought that the sleep issues are secondary to these conditions, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama indicates that depression and pain due to osteoarthritis could be the result of poor sleep quality instead of the other way around.

Background Data:

Prior research has shown that people with hip and knee osteoarthritis (OA) are more likely to have insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and depression, than those without OA. The obvious relationship is that the arthritis pain affects sleep and makes people depressed. However, a 2012 study published in the journal SLEEP looked at sleep quality in people who were in chronic pain, including those with osteoarthritis and researchers found:

  • The amount of pain that people were in before they went to bed had little to do with how well they slept.
  • A person’s sleep quality predicted how much pain they were in the next day. People who slept poorly had more pain the following day.

Other studies have shown that poor sleep quality can trigger inflammatory pathways that make arthritis pain worse, and poor sleep also make people more sensitive to the feeling of pain from any cause.

New Data:

To better examine the relationship between OA, pain, and depression, 367 patients with OA of the knee from a variety of sources were recruited to participate in a trial. The participants completed a detailed questionnaire that identified overall health, depression, pain, joint function, and sleep quality. One-year follow-up was available for 288 patients.

Analysis of the data collected from the questionnaires indicated that comparing the initial baseline with 1-year follow-up data, sleep disturbance at baseline was linked with increased depression and further loss of joint function, but interestingly not more pain.

Since the questionnaire used in the study was not specifically designed to identify the exact sleep issues in OA patients, further research is needed to more fully pinpoint what is abnormal about OA patients’ sleep. Nonetheless, the conclusion from the study is the disturbance in sleep definitely precedes the depression, loss of joint function, and likely increased pain associated with OA. Hence, the takeaway message is that improving sleep quality is a key goal in preventing the progression of OA as well as the associated depression.

Commentary:

Early on in my clinical practice, I realized that improving my patient’s ability to get a good night’s sleep was usually the quickest way to help them feel better in every way. Over the years I have used a number of natural products that can help to improve sleep quality. The specific product that I now recommend as a first step is the one that I developed: Tranquil Sleep from Natural Factors. This formula provides the combination of melatonin (3 mg), 5-HTP (30 mg), and L-theanine (200 mg) in a great tasting chewable tablet or soft-gelatin capsule. These three ingredients work together to decrease the time required to get to sleep and to decrease the number of nighttime awakenings. Here is a brief description of each ingredient as it relates to improving sleep quality. If you don’t use Tranquil Sleep, you can get the same effect by combining them on your own

Melatonin is the most popular natural aid for improving sleep quality. Supplementation with melatonin has been shown in several studies to be very effective in helping induce and maintain sleep in both children and adults and in both people with normal sleep patterns and those with insomnia. Typical dosage is 3 mg at bedtime.

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is converted in the brain to serotonin – an important initiator of sleep. It is one step closer to serotonin than l-tryptophan and has shown more consistent results in promoting and maintaining sleep, even though used at lower dosages. One of the key benefits of 5-HTP is its ability to increase REM sleep (typically by about 25%) while increasing deep sleep stages 3 and 4 without lengthening total sleep time. Recommended dosage for improving sleep quality in combination with melatonin is 25 to 50 mg at bedtime.

L-Theanine is a unique amino acid found in green tea. Clinical studies have demonstrated that L-theanine reduces stress, improves the quality of sleep, diminishes the symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome, heightens mental acuity and reduces negative side effects of caffeine. It is an excellent support agent to melatonin and 5-HTP. Recommended dosage is 200 mg at bedtime.

Reference:

Parmelee PA, Tighe CA, Dautovich ND. Sleep disturbance in Osteoarthritis: Linkages with pain, disability and depressive symptoms. Arthritis Care Res. 2014 Oct 6. doi: 10.1002/acr.22459. [Epub ahead of print]

Dr. Michael Murray
11/11/2014

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Contrary to News Headlines, Robin Williams Was on Drugs at the Time of His Death—Antidepressant Drugs

    “The antidepressant found in Williams' toxicology test, Mirtazapine (Remeron), has 10 drug regulatory agency warnings citing suicidal ideation.”

“The antidepressant found in Williams’ toxicology test, Mirtazapine (Remeron), has 10 drug regulatory agency warnings citing suicidal ideation.”

If news headlines were to be believed about the autopsy findings of beloved actor/comedian Robin Williams, who tragically committed suicide nearly two months ago, no drugs were found in his system at the time of his death, as evidenced by headlines from USA Today, NBC News, the BBC and others proclaiming “no alcohol or drugs” were found. These headlines couldn’t be more wrong.

The medical examiner’s report cites an antidepressant drug was in Williams’ system at the time of his death. The particular antidepressant, Mirtazapine, (also known as Remeron) carries 10  international drug regulatory warnings on causing suicidal ideation.

According to the autopsy results, not only was Williams under the influence of antidepressant drugs, but the powerful antipsychotic Seroquel was also found at the scene and appears to have been recently taken by Williams. While toxicology tests apparently were negative for the antipsychotic Seroquel, the fact remains that a bottle of Seroquel prescribed to Williams on August 4th,  just seven days prior to Williams’ suicide, was missing 8 pills. The Seroquel instructions advise to take one pill per day as needed. Side effects associated with Seroquel include psychosis, paranoid reactions, delusions, depersonalization and suicide attempt.

The question that has to be asked is why the press continues to promote the idea that no drugs were found in Williams’ system? At what point did mind-altering psychiatric drugs, which have side effects rivaling those of heroin or crack cocaine, stop being called drugs? And for those in the press who did “mention” the fact that Williams was found to have antidepressants in his system, the acknowledgement seems to promote the fact that “therapeutic concentrations” of prescription psychiatric drugs “improved his condition and kept him active until his death.”

This is a highly misleading take on the events leading to Williams tragic suicide, especially in light of the fact that not only was Williams receiving mental health “treatment,” he was under the supervision of a psychiatrist, was not abusing illegal drugs and had not “fallen off the wagon.”

The facts regarding antidepressant drugs are these:

  • Food and Drug Administration’s Medwatch Adverse Drug Reports include 470,000 adverse reactions for psychiatric drugs between 2004-2012. The FDA admits only 1% of side effects are ever reported to them, so the actual number of reported side effects is assuredly much higher.
  • Mirtazapine (also known as Remeron) carries the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “Black box” warning for suicidality.
    • There are ten warnings of suicide associated with Mirtazapine alone and suicide is among the top 2 side effects reported to the FDA on this particular antidepressant
  • The FDA’s MedWatch drug adverse event reporting system recorded 411 attempted and completed suicides associated with the antidepressant Mirtazapine alone (and the FDA estimates only 1% of side effects are ever reported to them)
  • 90,000 emergency room visits are attributed to psychiatric drugs each year in the U.S.
  • 23,755 suicides are attributed to psychiatric drugs each year in the U.S. alone.

Given the above data, one can only wonder why Williams’ psychiatric drug use has effectively been dismissed by reporting organizations. A careful review of Williams’ psychiatric “non-drug” use paints a very different tragic story.

What was found in Williams’ system were prescription psychiatric drugs with side effects that not only rival illegal street drugs, but also carry the FDA’s “Black box” warnings—the federal agency’s most serious warnings—about increased thoughts of suicide.

The fact is that two of the drugs Williams had been prescribed list suicidal thoughts as possible side effects. The Seroquel he was prescribed (and appears to have taken in the week prior to his suicide), and the antidepressant that was still in his system at the time of his suicide.  Moreover, considering the FDA’s Medwatch drug adverse event reporting system recorded 411 attempted and completed suicides associated with the antidepressant Mirtazapine alone (and the FDA estimates only 1% of side effects are ever reported to them), it becomes even more bizarre that the world’s press ignore even the possibility that these drugs could be involved in Williams’ suicide.

The much-loved comedian’s death is a great loss, but the tragedy is further compounded by the mainstream press glossing over the serious and well-known association between suicide and the psychiatric drugs Williams was taking. If only the sentiments from one of Williams’ finest roles in Awakenings had been taken literally in his personal life: “The human spirit is more powerful than any drug and that is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. These are the things that matter.”

 

Source: cchrint.org

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Cold sores increase risk of dementia

DementiaInfection with herpes simplex virus increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Umeå University, Sweden, claim this in two studies in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

“Our results clearly show that there is a link between infections of herpes simplex virus and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This also means that we have new opportunities to develop treatment forms to stop the disease,” says Hugo Lövheim, associate professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Geriatric Medicine, Umeå University, who is one of the researchers behind the study.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common among the dementia diseases. In recent years research has increasingly indicated that there is a possible connection between infection with a common herpes virus, herpes simplex virus type 1, and Alzheimer’s disease. A majority of the population carries this virus. After the first infection the body carries the virus throughout your lifetime, and it can reactivate now and then and cause typical mouth ulcer. The hypothesis which links the herpes virus and Alzheimer’s disease is based on that a weakened immune system among the elderly creates opportunities for the virus to spread further to the brain. There this can in turn start the process which results in Alzheimer’s disease.

Hugo Lövheim and Fredrik Elgh, professor at the Department of Virology, have now confirmed this link in two large epidemiological studies. In one study, which is based on the Betula project, a study on aging, memory and dementia, the researchers show that a reactivated herpes infection doubled the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This study had 3,432 participants who were followed for 11.3 years on average. In another study, samples donated to the Medical Biobank at Umeå University from 360 people with Alzheimer’s disease were examined and as many matched people who had not developed dementia. The samples were taken on average 9.6 years before diagnosis. This study showed an approximately doubled risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease if the person was a carrier of the herpes virus.

“Something which makes this hypothesis very interesting is that now herpes infection can in principle be treated with antiviral agents. Therefore within a few years we hope to be able to start studies in which we will also try treating patients to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Hugo Lövheim.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Umeå universitet. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Hugo Lövheim, Jonathan Gilthorpe, Anders Johansson, Sture Eriksson, Göran Hallmans, Fredrik Elgh. Herpes simplex infection and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease—A nested case-control study. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.07.157
  2. Hugo Lövheim, Jonathan Gilthorpe, Rolf Adolfsson, Lars-Göran Nilsson, Fredrik Elgh. Reactivated herpes simplex infection increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.04.522

Source:  sciencedaily.com

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Ebola Could Reach the U.S. By the End of This Month

Eastern Sierra Leone is one of the epicenters of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. Flickr user Cyprien Fabre/European Commission DG ECHO

Eastern Sierra Leone is one of the epicenters of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. Flickr user Cyprien Fabre/European Commission DG ECHO

There is an 18 percent chance that a case of the Ebola virus will reach the United States by the end of September, according to a study published on Tuesday in PLOS Currents: Outbreaks. 

Despite restrictions reducing travel in and out of the infected countries by 80 percent, the study, which analyzes global flight patterns, suggests that a case of Ebola in the United States is becoming increasingly harder to avoid. It also lists the chance of the virus reaching the United Kingdom as between 25 percent and 28 percent.

The analysis warns that if the current West African outbreak is not contained the likelihood of the virus reaching Europe and the United States will “increase consistently.”

The study lists just a 5 percent chance of Ebola occurring in the United States today, suggesting that the disease is far from contained to countries in West Africa. According to numbers obtained by the World Health Organization, there have been an estimated 3,685 cases and 1,841 deaths from the virus since the outbreak began.

Although two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol — have been treated for Ebola in the United States, both of them contracted the disease while working in Liberia. Doctors suggested that better medical care contributed to their eventual recovery.

A third infected American working in Liberia,  Dr. Richard A. Sacra, is on his way to the United States for treatment.

 

Source:  http://www.govexec.com/defense/2014/09/ebola-could-reach-us-end-month/93236/?oref=relatedstories

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Big Pharma want to “Protect” the Elderly from “Dangers” of Coconut Oil and Natural Supplements

deaths_in_one_year_due_to_drug

Dr. Taya Varteresian, a board certified psychiatrist working for the Veterans Administration, is the lead publisher in an article in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports titled: “Natural products and supplements for geriatric depression and cognitive disorders: an evaluation of the research.”

According to the abstract, more and more elderly people are starting to use “Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for late-life mood and cognitive disorders.” This obviously concerns psychiatrists, since their main remedies for “cognitive disorders” are powerful anti-psychotic drugs. They are not trained in natural supplements, therefore they apparently felt the need to educate other psychiatrists about the “side effects and indications for various natural products” so that psychiatrists could “protect their patients.”

Unfortunately, the patients probably need protection against the powerful arsenal of psychiatric drugs more than they do against harmless natural supplements and foods!

This is particularly true regarding anti-psychotic drugs prescribed to veterans, where the rate of suicide is far above the rate among the general population. More service members die by suicide than in combat, with 22 veterans killing themselves every single day. Obviously our pharma-based mental health system is not helping veterans, as suicide is a side effect of many anti-psychotic drugs.

So what are these dangerous supplements and “CAM products” that the field of psychiatry feels the need to warn fellow doctors about? According to the abstract they are: “omega-3 fatty acids, ginkgo biloba, SAMe, St John’s wort, B vitamins and vitamin D, huperzine, caprylidene, and coconut oil.” If these supplements are bringing about positive changes in the lives of elderly folks, it is not surprising that they are competing with Big Pharma drugs, which have a multitude of side effects, and little or no effect on cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, Medicare and insurance companies will cover the toxic drugs, which the medical system admits kill over 100,000 people a year (not including suicides or other secondary deaths), but they will not cover natural products that have few or no side effects, but are often far more effective.

If this list is indicative of natural remedies that are effective and present competition to Big Pharma, it might be well worth the time to do your own research into each one rather than trust a doctor who has been trained by Big Pharma-funded psychiatrists to advise you on natural supplements and foods. The largest criminal convictions in modern times are against the pharmaceutical companies selling these powerful drugs through the pseudo-science of psychiatry, often through deception and “off label” prescriptions for conditions the drugs were never tested against. (See: Pharmaceutical companies now among largest corporate criminals in the world: no better than white-collar drug dealers.) Their list of “dangerous” natural products might be unwittingly tipping you off to the most successful natural products to combat mental disease.

We have often reported here at Health Impact News on the testimonials of families who have successfully incorporated coconut oil and a high-fat diet into the lives of seniors suffering from mental illness with great success. (See: New Alzheimer’s Drugs Continue to Fail Where Coconut Oil Shines)

Don’t be fooled by dire warnings made against natural products such as coconut oil by Big Pharma and Big Pharma-funded mainstream media. The scare tactics usually look like this:

1. There is no science to support health claims of natural products like coconut oil.

FALSE. There are plenty of scientific studies regarding coconut oil, the high-fat ketogenic diet, and natural supplements. It is true that rigorous and costly studies as are spent by drug companies to get their products FDA approved will seldom be funded or conducted on natural products. This is because they cannot be patented to obtain a return on such an investment as the lucrative FDA-approved products can provide. However, natural products also do not need such extensive research, since they are not toxic and they are not killing people like pharmaceutical products are. Coconut oil, for example, has been nourishing billions of people around the world for thousands of years.

2. Natural products like coconut oil are dangerous because they are not regulated or approved by the FDA.

FALSE. Just the opposite is true. Nobody is dying from toxic side effects of natural foods and supplements (because there are none), but over 100,000 people a year die from prescription drugs.

There is actually one claim made against natural supplements that is generally true: their interaction with prescription drugs is unknown and potentially dangerous. However, this is true because pharmaceutical drugs are inherently dangerous, even without interactions with other products.

Of course we would disagree with the medical community’s suggested solution regarding potential dangerous drug interactions, which would be to forgo natural treatments in favor of “approved” drugs. Instead, one might want to skip the “approved” drugs and try the natural products first.

But that would put a lot of people out of business, wouldn’t it? If people found natural products to be more effective for mental illness, they might never return to the toxic drugs. It is not likely that  Big Pharma will allow that to happen.

Reference

Natural products and supplements for geriatric depression and cognitive disorders: an evaluation of the research. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014 Aug;16(8):456.

 

Source: Brian Shilhavy  Health Impact News Editor

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Britain Is the Fattest Country in Europe: Here’s the Real Reason Why

Britain’s “obesity epidemic” is mainly caused by the fact that its population are lazy slobs and not because they eat too much, a shock new study called The Fat Lie has found.

The only reason the study – produced by Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) – is shocking is because it contradicts one of the great received ideas of our politically correct times: that fatties are the hapless victims of the rapacious and bullying food and drink industry which pressures them into eating and drinking far too much fat and sugar.

What Snowdon’s research clearly shows that this claim is nonsense. Yes, it is indeed true that British people are getting porkier. Since 2002 the average body weight of English adults has increased by two kilograms, contributing to Britain’s unenviable status as the fattest country in Europe.

But what is rarely mentioned by health campaigners is that this rise in obesity over three decades has coincided with a steady fall in average sugar and fat consumption.

Fat consumption has fallen from 111 grammes per day in 1974 to 81 grammes per day in 2012.

Sugar consumption has fallen by 16 percent since 1992.

Total calorie consumption has fallen from 2534 calories per person per day in 1974 to 1990 in 2012 – a decrease of 21.5 per cent.

Yet obesity has gone on rising. Why? Because, as Snowdon explains, obesity is a simple function of repeatedly eating more calories than you burn off.  And people are taking much less physical exercise than they used to. Britons are walking less (from 255 miles per year in 1976 to 179 miles in 2010) and cycling less (from 51 miles per year in 1976 to 42 miles in 2010). At work, 63 per cent never climb stairs; while 40 per cent never walk. Outside work, 63 per cent report spending less than ten minutes a day walking, while 53 per cent claim to do no sports or exercise at all.

This is worth keeping in mind next time you read some shrill lobby group – such as Action on Sugar – demanding that the government does more to rein in the food and drink industry or pushes for a ban on supersize portions in fast food outlets or higher taxes on fizzy drinks.

The reason these lobbyists get away with such drivel is because they find a ready audience among the panic junkies at places like Mumsnet and in much of the mainstream media which thrives on public health scare stories.

And the reason they find a ready audience in government is because there are few things a minister on the make enjoys more than being seen to clamp down on some greedy industry or other.

With most departmental budgets being cut, ministers can no longer make a name for themselves by spending their way into public favour. But what they can do – because notionally it’s “cost-free”, though of course it’s not really – is introduce more regulations in the name of public health and safety. It has happened to the tobacco industry. Now it is happening to the food and drink industry.

This is why reports like Christopher Snowdon’s are so unusual and refreshing. They’re one of our few remaining toeholds on reality in a world which finds it more convenient to fall for the cultural Marxist lie that nobody is responsible for their own problems and that it’s the government’s job to sort them out.

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Sunburns and Skin Cancer

Featured photo courtesy of Kelly Sue.

Featured photo courtesy of Kelly Sue.

Introduction:

So far this Sunlight Series has discussed exactly what sunlight is, how it is produced, how it interacts with Earth’s atmosphere, what reaches the surface, and an initial look at what happens when it hits your skin. The last post focused on how UV-B radiation creates vitamin D in your skin, and how ample vitamin D levels are extremely important for optimal human health. Sunlight has other benefits too, such as nitric oxide production and the control of circadian rhythms. Clearly, for optimal health, human beings require sunlight, yet most health advice cautions against intense sunlight.

Almost everybody who is fair-skinned (or even darker skinned) has likely at some point in his or her life received a painful sunburn. It is understandable that many people believe sunlight is dangerous as extreme sunburns are indeed painful and can lead to skin cancers.  Sunlight exposure can be a factor in the development of a skin cancer, but the process is misunderstood. There are three main types of skin cancer, with only one, melanoma, being a real threat to survival. Generally speaking, one can increase one’s resistance to being sunburned, and significantly lower any chance of developing a skin cancer, particularly melanoma, all the while reaping ample vitamin D levels and helping to prevent the development of all cancers. This will be discussed in a later post.

For this post, let’s take a look first at what a sunburn is, followed by the different types of skin cancer.

What is a Sunburn?

In a similar way that UV-B radiation is able to turn 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3 (as explained in the previous post), UV-B radiation is intense enough to cause changes in other molecules as well. UV-B radiation is able to break molecules apart in your skin cells, including DNA, which causes a cascade of reactions.

If enough skin cells are damaged, the body’s immune system will react with inflammation in the form of increased blood flow causing redness and swelling. Pain receptors at the site of damage will also be activated. The skin then needs to be repaired, and one way of doing that is replacing the skin, which the sunburned-individual will experience as peeling. Skin damage also leads to the formation of melanin, which causes the oft-desired tan colour. Individuals with naturally darker skin have naturally higher concentrations of melanin even without UV-B induced production. Melanin also acts as a photoprotectant (protects against sunlight), and when sufficiently concentrated, can disperse up to 99.9% of UV-B radiationOnce enough melanin is produced (either through genetics or UV-B exposure), sunburns, including damage to DNA, become very unlikely.

Conventional medicine believes that unrecognized errors in the DNA repair process are the cause of all cancers in general, and the errors resulting from UV radiation exposure are the cause of skin cancers. It is hypothesized that if DNA is not repaired properly, then mutant DNA can proliferate, which if left unchecked can result in tumours. The work of Dr. Seyfried makes an opposing case that it is damage to mitochondria, and not DNA that causes cancer. Either way, with regard to skin cancer, UV-radiation is almost always implicated as the cause. The below case argues that this is illogical.

Skin Cancer:

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The entire category of skin cancers comprises the most common type of cancer in the US, with more than 3.5 million cases in over 2.0 million people being diagnosed annually. 80% of these 3.5 million cases are of the basal cell carcinoma variety, close to 20% are of the squamous cell carcinoma variety, and less than 1% of all skin cancer cases are life-threatening melanoma. It is estimated that all cancers (not just skin) will be responsible for 580,350 deaths in the US in 2013, of which 12,650 (2%) are the result of melanoma. 

The post on ozone depletion vs. global dimming explained that despite anthropogenic emissions decreasing the concentration of UV-blocking ozone in the stratosphere, the overall amount of sunlight (and accompanying UV radiation) hitting Earth’s surface at has decreased due to global dimming. In addition, it is estimated by the EPA that Americans (and presumably citizens of other developed countries) spend a whopping 90% of their time indoors. From these combined effects, although there has been an overall decrease in average sun and UV exposure, melanoma rates in the UK more than quadrupled from 1975-2010, with similar dramatic increases in the US as well.

Malignant Melanoma: 1975-2000. European Age-Standardized Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Sex, Great Britain.

Malignant Melanoma: 1975-2000. European Age-Standardized Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population, by Sex, Great Britain.

How can UV radiation be the cause of melanoma if UV exposure is decreasing while melanoma rates are skyrocketing? It is the aim of this author to prove that sunlight and UV radiation is not the sole cause of skin cancer and that it has a myriad of health benefits, and that exposure should be encouraged.

First, let’s take a look at the three types of skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), by far the most common type of skin cancer, is rarely fatal (fatal in less than 0.1% of diagnosed cases) although it can be disfiguring if its growth is left unchecked. Basal cells are the inner layer of the epidermis. Current thought has BCC generally associated with chronic ultraviolet exposure with a list of other contributing factors such as inflammatory skin conditions and complications resulting from burns, scars, and infections. Fair-skinned caucasians are the most likely to develop BCC. It is more prevalent amongst older people with a history of intense sun exposure. Although most tumors grow on sun-exposed areas of the body, BCC tumors arise on non-exposed parts of the body (the nether regions…), indicating that UV exposure is not always a factor. A photo of a BCC tumour is shown below.

These guys are reddish and shiny. They can get really gross.

These guys are reddish and shiny. They can get really gross.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common type of skin cancer, is also rarely fatal (fatal in less than 0.5% of diagnosed cases), but can also be disfiguring in serious cases. Squamous cells are the outer layer of the epidermis. As with BCC, UV exposure gets most of the blame for causing SCC, and fair skinned individuals are most at risk. Most of these tumours are on sun-exposed parts of the body, but again, these do pop up in non-exposed areas as well, implying that UV exposure is not the only factor in tumour development. An image of a SCC tumour is below:

These ones look like a deep disgusting scab.

These ones look like a deep disgusting scab.

Melanoma:

Melanoma is by far the least common skin cancer, but also by far the most deadly (death in 12.4% of cases). Melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes, which are responsible for producing melanin (tan pigment). Once again, Caucasians are the most at risk. Treatment is usually surgical removal, and if the tumour returns, then chemo- and radiation-therapy is pursued. Although UV-radiation is generally implicated as the causative factor, one study found that up to 75% of melanoma tumours occur on relatively unexposed body sites. This observation has lead many researchers to hypothesize that when a certain area of the body is usually unexposed and is infrequently exposed to high doses of UV-radiation, that the skin is not “prepared” (ie: tanned) for the radiation assault and thus is more damaged which leads to skin cancer. However, there are exceptional cases where melanoma develops on areas that are almost never exposed to sunlight, including the male scrotum and urethraThe urethra is definitely one area where the sun don’t ever shine. A photo of a melanoma tumour is below.

These look like wacky-shaped dark weird freckles. Beware the wacky freckles.

These look like wacky-shaped dark weird freckles. Beware the wacky freckles.

Conclusions:

Based on the information presented above, the following conclusions can be made:

  1. UV exposure can be a factor in the development of skin cancer, especially amongst caucasians, but skin cancer also develops in areas of the body that are not exposed to sunlight.
  2. The vast majority of skin cancer cases are not life threatening.
  3. Despite the average amount of UV-exposure decreasing in developed countries, rates of skin cancer, including melanoma, are skyrocketing. UV radiation cannot explain the massive increase in skin cancer rates.

There are strategies to increase your skin’s resistance to the damage incurred by sunlight exposure through dietary and exposure habits. These will be discussed in the next post, where these practices will be outlined with the intention of educating on how to reap all the disease preventing benefits of sunlight exposure, while minimizing damage. Sounds like a win-win, and it is indeed possible.

 

Source:  http://sustainablebalance.ca/sunburns-and-skin-cancer/

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