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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The Ketogenic Diet – An Overview

A ketogenic diet is based on animal fat sources.

A ketogenic diet is based on animal fat sources.

Ketosis is an often misunderstood subject. Its presence is thought to be equal to starvation or a warning sign of something going wrong in your metabolism. But nothing could be farther from the truth, except if you are an ill-treated type 1 diabetic person.[1] Ketones – contrary to popular belief and myth – are a much needed and essential healing energy source in our cells that comes from the normal metabolism of fat.

The entire body uses ketones in a more safe and effective way that the energy source coming from carbohydrates – sugar AKA glucose. Our bodies will produce ketones if we eat a diet devoid of carbs or a low carb diet (less than 60 grams of carbs per day).[2] By eating a very low carb diet or no carbs at all (like a caveman) we become keto-adapted.

In fact, what is known today as the ketogenic diet was the number one treatment for epilepsy until Big Pharma arrived with its dangerous cocktails of anti-epileptic drugs. It took several decades before we heard again about this diet, thanks in part to a parent who demanded it for his 20-month-old boy with severe seizures. The boy’s father had to find out about the ketogenic diet in a library as it was never mentioned as an option by his neurologist. After only 4 days on the diet, his seizures stopped and never returned.[3] The Charlie Foundation was born after the kid’s name and his successful recovery, but nowadays the ketogenic diet is available to the entire world and it’s spreading by word of mouth thanks to its healing effects.

It is not only used as a healthy lifestyle, it is also used for conditions such as infantile spasms, epilepsy, autism, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, depression, stroke, head trauma, Parkinson’s disease, migraine, sleep disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD, irritability, polycystic ovarian disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux, obesity, cardiovascular disease, acne, type 2 diabetes, tremors, respiratory failure and virtually every neurological problem but also cancer, and conditions were tissues need to recover after a loss of oxygen.[4]

Our body organs and tissues work much better when they use ketones as a source of fuel, including the brain, heart and the core of our kidneys. If you ever had a chance to see a heart working in real time, you might have noticed the thick fatty tissue that surrounds it. In fact, heart surgeons get to see this every day. A happy beating heart is one that is surrounded by layers of healthy fat. Both the heart and the brain run at least 25% more efficiently on ketones than on blood sugar.

Ketones are the ideal fuel for our bodies unlike glucose – which is damaging, less stable, more excitatory and in fact shortens your life span. Ketones are non-glycating, which is to say, they don’t have a caramelizing aging effect on your body. A healthy ketosis also helps starve cancer cells as they are unable to use ketones for fuel, relying on glucose alone for their growth. [5] The energy producing factories of our cells – the mitochondria – work much better on a ketogenic diet as they are able to increase energy levels on a stable, long-burning, efficient, and steady way. Not only that, a ketogenic diet induces epigenetic changes[6] which increases the energetic output of our mitochondria, reduces the production of damaging free radicals, and favors the production of GABA – a major inhibitory brain chemical. GABA has an essential relaxing influence and its favored production by ketosis also reduces the toxic effects of excitatory pathways in our brains. Furthermore, recent data suggests that ketosis alleviates pain other than having an overall anti-inflammatory effect. [7]

The ketogenic diet acts on multiple levels at once, something that no drug has been able to mimic. This is because mitochondria is specifically designed to use fat for energy. When our mitochondria uses fat as an energetic source, its toxic load is decreased, expression of energy producing genes are increased, its energetic output is increased, and the load of inflammatory energetic-end-products is decreased.

The key of these miraculous healing effects relies in the fact that fat metabolism and its generation of ketone bodies (beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate) by the liver can only occur within the mitochondrion, leaving chemicals within the cell but outside the mitochondria readily available to stimulate powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidants.  The status of our mitochondria is the ultimate key for optimal health and while it is true that some of us might need extra support in the form of nutritional supplementation to heal these much needed energy factories, the diet still remains the ultimate key for a proper balance.

Our modern world’s staple energetic source is sugar which needs to be processed first in the cell soup before it can be passed into the energy factory of the cell- the mitochondrion. Energy sources from fat don’t require this processing; it goes directly into the mitochondria for energetic uses.  That is, it is more complicated to create energy out of sugar than out of fat. As Christian B. Allan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, MD said in their book Life Without Bread:

Carbohydrates are not required to obtain energy. Fat supplies more energy than a comparable amount of carbohydrate, and low-carbohydrate diets tend to make your system of producing energy more efficient. Furthermore, many organs prefer fat for energy.

The fact is you get MORE energy per molecule of fat than sugar. How many chronic and autoimmune diseases have an energy deficit component?  How about chronic fatigue?  Fibromyalgia?  Rheumatoid Arthritis?  Multiple Sclerosis? Cancer? Back to Allan and Lutz:

Mitochondria are the power plants of the cell. Because they produce most of the energy in the body, the amount of energy available is based on how well the mitochondria are working. Whenever you think of energy, think of all those mitochondria churning out ATP to make the entire body function correctly. The amount of mitochondria in each cell varies, but up to 50 percent of the total cell volume can be mitochondria. When you get tired, don’t just assume you need more carbohydrates; instead, think in terms of how you can maximize your mitochondrial energy production…

If you could shrink to a small enough size to get inside the mitochondria, what would you discover? The first thing you’d learn is that the mitochondria are primarily designed to use fat for energy!

In short, let fat be thy medicine and medicine be thy fat!

You will think that with all of this information we would see ketogenic diets recommended right and left by our health care providers, but alas, that is not the case. Mainstream nutritionists recommend carbohydrates AKA sugar as the main staple of our diets. The problem with this (and there are several of them) is that in the presence of a high carb diet we are unable to produce ketones from the metabolism of fats, thus, depriving ours bodies from much healing ketone production.  The fact that we live in a world which uses glucose as a primary fuel means that we eat a very non healing food in more ways than one.

I have been doing the low carb diet for about a week and a half now and I must say, I am really starting to feel amazing!!!  The first few days my head hurt, I felt lethargic, and my legs felt so heavy. But after I got past that, I have so much energy. I don’t get tired anymore around 3pm. The best part is, I am not constantly thinking and obsessing about food. I feel a real sense of inner calm. My skin looks better, my hair looks better too. I have been having bacon and eggs for breakfast, a pork chop or other piece of meat for lunch, and usually some pork and sometimes some green beans for dinner. I have also lost some weight!  Woo hoo!!! -Angela, United States. Sott.net forum.

 

We have been on a ketogenic diet for nearly three million years and it has made us human. It was the lifestyle in which our brains got nurtured and evolved. But not anymore, unless we all make an effort to reclaim this lost wisdom. Nowadays the human brain is not only shrinking, but brain atrophy is the norm as we age and get plagued with diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, senile dementia and so forth.

In the mean time new research is starting to elucidate the key role of our mitochondria in the regulation of the cell cycle – the vital process by which a single celled fertilized egg develops into a mature organism, as well as the process by which hair, skin, blood cells, and some internal organs are renewed. In the complicated and highly choreographed events surrounding cell-cycle progression, mitochondria are not simple bystanders merely producing energy but instead are full-fledged participants.[8] Given the significant amount of energy needed to make all the nutrients required for cell division, it makes sense that some coordination existed. This long ignored and overlooked connection between the mitochondria and the cell cycle is something that is worthy of considerable more attention as we understand the role of diet in our bodies. We’ll have to take a closer look to this subject of ketosis, as it really holds the key to unlock our transformational pathways that will lead us to an outstanding healthy living.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Mitochondria are best known as the powerhouses of our cells since they produce the cell’s energy. But they also lead the genetic orchestra which regulates how every cell ages, divides, and dies. They help dictate which genes are switched on or off in every single cell of our organism. They also provide the fuel needed to make new brain connections, repair and regenerate our bodies.

Whether we are housewives, sportsmen or labor people, energy is a topic that concerns us all, every day and in every way. Our well being, behavior and ability to perform the tasks in front of us to do is our individual measure of energy. But how we derive energy from the foods that we eat?

There are many man-made myths surrounding energy production in the body and which foods supply energy. Mainstream science says that carbohydrates are what mitochondria use as fuel for energy production. This process is called oxidative metabolism because oxygen is consumed in the process. The energy produced by mitochondria is stored in a chemical “battery”, a unique molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Energy-packed ATP can then be transported throughout the cell, releasing energy on demand of specific enzymes. In addition to the fuel they produce, mitochondria also create a by-product related to oxygen called reactive oxygen species (ROS), commonly known as free radicals. But what we are not told is that mitochondria were specifically designed to use fat for energy, not carbohydrate.

Source: Christian B. Allan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, MD, Life Without Bread.There are several very complicated steps in making ATP within mitochondria, but a look at 5 major parts of ATP production will be all that you need to know in order to understand how energy is created within our mitochondria and why fats are the key to optimize their function. Don’t get focused on specific names, just try to see the whole picture.Step 1 – Transportation of Food-Based Fuel Source into the MitochondriaFuel must first get into the mitochondria where all the action happens. Fuel can come from carbs or it can come from fats. Fatty acids are the chemical name for fat, and medium and large sized fatty acids get into the mitochondria completely intact with the help of L-carnitine. Think of L-carnitine as a subway train that transports fatty acids into the mitochondria. L-carnitine (from the Greek word carnis means meat or flesh) is chiefly found in animal products.Fuel coming from carbs needs to get broken down first outside the mitochondria and the product of this breakdown (pyruvate) is the one who gets transported inside the mitochondria, or it can be used to produce energy in a very inefficient way outside the mitochondria through anaerobic metabolism which produces ATP when oxygen is not present.

Step 2 – Fuel is Converted into Acetyl-CoA

When pyruvate – the product of breaking down carbs – enters the mitochondria, it first must be converted into acetyl-CoA by an enzymatic reaction.

Fatty acids that are already inside the mitochondria are broken down directly into acetyl-CoA in what is called beta-oxidation.

Acetyl-CoA is the starting point of the next step in the production of ATP inside the mitochondria.

Step 3 – Oxidation of Acetyl-CoA and the Krebs Cycle

The Krebs cycle (AKA tricarboxylic acid cycle or citric acid cycle) is the one that oxidizes the acetyl-CoA, removing thus electrons from acetyl-CoA and producing carbon dioxide as a by-product in the presence of oxygen inside the mitochondria.

Step 4 – Electrons Are Transported Through the Respiratory Chain

The electrons obtained from acetyl-CoA – which ultimately came from carbs or fats – are shuttled through many molecules as part of the electron transport chain inside the mitochondria. Some molecules are proteins, others are cofactors molecules. One of these cofactors is an important substance found mainly in animal foods and it is called coenzyme Q-10. Without it, mitochondrial energy production would be minimal. This is the same coenzyme Q10 that statins drug block producing crippling effects on people’s health. Step 4 is also where water is produced when oxygen accepts the electrons.

Step 5 – Oxidative phosphorylation

As electrons travel down the electron transport chain, they cause electrical fluctuations (or chemical gradients) between the inner and outer membrane in the mitochondria. These chemical gradients are the driving forces that produce ATP in what is called oxidative phosphorylation. Then the ATP is transported outside the mitochondria for the cell to use as energy for any of its thousands of biochemical reactions.

But why is fat better than carbs?

If there were no mitochondria, then fat metabolism for energy would be limited and not very efficient. But nature provided us during our evolution with mitochondria that specifically uses fat for energy. Fat is the fueled that animals use to travel great distances, hunt, work, and play since fat gives more packed-energy ATPs than carbs. Biochemically, it makes sense that if we are higher mammals who have mitochondria, then we need to eat fat.  Whereas carb metabolism yields 36 ATP molecules from a glucose molecule, a fat metabolism yields 48 ATP molecules from a fatty acid molecule inside the mitochondria. Fat supplies more energy for the same amount of food compared to carbs. But not only that, the burning of fat by the mitochondria – beta oxidation – produces ketone bodies that stabilizes overexcitation and oxidative stress in the brain related to all its diseases, it also causes epigenetic changes that produce healthy and energetic mitochondria and decreasing the overproduction of damaging and inflammatory free radicals among many other things!

 

Mitochondria regulate cellular suicide, AKA apoptosis, so that old and dysfunctional cells which need to die will do so, leaving space for new ones to come into the scene. But when mitochondria function becomes impaired and send signals that tell normal cells to die, things go wrong. For instance, the destruction of brain cells leads to every single neurodegenerative condition known including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and so forth. Mitochondrial dysfunction has wide-ranging implications, as the health of the mitochondria intimately affects every single cell, tissue and organ within your body.

The catalysts for this destruction is usually uncontrolled free radical production which cause oxidative damage to tissues, fat, proteins, DNA; causing them to rust. This damage, called oxidative stress, is at the basis of oxidized cholesterol, stiff arteries (rusty pipes) and brain damage. Oxidative stress is a key player in dementia as well as autism.

We produce our own anti-oxidants to keep a check on free radical production, but these systems are easily overwhelmed by a toxic environment and a high carb diet, in other words, by today’s lifestyle and diet.

Mitochondria also have interesting characteristics which differentiate them from all other structural parts of our cells. For instance, they have their own DNA (referred as mtDNA) which is separate from the widely known DNA in the nucleus (referred as n-DNA),. Mitochondrial DNA comes for the most part from the mother line, which is why mitochondria is also considered as your feminine life force. This mtDNA is arranged in a ring configuration and it lacks a protective protein surrounding, leaving its genetic code vulnerable to free radical damage. If you don’t eat enough animal fats, you can’t build a functional mitochondrial membrane which will keep it healthy and prevent them from dying.

If you have any kind of inflammation from anywhere in your body, you damage your mitochondria. The loss of function or death of mitochondria is present in pretty much every disease. Dietary and environmental factors lead to oxidative stress and thus to mitochondrial injury as the final common pathway of diseases or illnesses.

Autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, brain aging are all linked with mitochondrial dysfunction from oxidative stress. Mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders, aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Whereas the nDNA provides the information your cells need to code for proteins that control metabolism, repair, and structural integrity of your body, it is the mtDNA which directs the production and utilization of your life energy. A cell can still commit suicide (apoptosis) even when it has no nucleus nor nDNA.

Because of their energetic role, the cells of tissues and organs which require more energy to function are richer in mitochondrial numbers. Cells in our brains, muscles, heart, kidney and liver contain thousands of mitochondria, comprising up to 40% of the cell’s mass. According to Prof. Enzo Nisoli, a human adult possesses more than ten million billion mitochondria, making up a full 10% of the total body weight.[9] Each cell contains hundreds of mitochondria and thousands of mtDNA.

Since mtDNA is less protected than nDNA because it has no “protein” coating (histones), it is exquisitely vulnerable to injury by destabilizing molecules such as neurotoxic pesticides, herbicides, excitotoxins, heavy metals and volatile chemicals among others. This tips off the balance of free radical production to the extreme which then leads to oxidative stress damaging our mitochondria and its DNA. As a result we get overexcitation of cells and inflammation which is at the root of Parkinson’s disease and other diseases, but also mood problems and behavior problems.

Enough energy means a happy and healthy life. It also reflects in our brains with focused and sharp thinking. Lack of energy means mood problems, dementia, and slowed mental function among others. Mitochondria are intricately linked to the ability of the prefrontal cortex –our brain’s captain- to come fully online. Brain cells are loaded in mitochondria that produce the necessary energy to learn and memorize, and fire neurons harmoniously.

The sirtuin family of genes works by protecting and improving the health and function of your mitochondria.[10] They are positively influenced by a diet that is non-glycating, i.e. a low carb diet as opposed to a high carb diet which induces mitochondrial dysfunction and formation of reactive oxygen species.

Another thing that contributes to mitochondrial dysfunction is latent viral infection such as the ones of the herpes family. As I mentioned in On Viral “Junk” DNA, a DNA Enhancing Ketogenic Diet, and Cometary Kicks, most, if not all of your “junk” DNA has viral-like properties. If a pathogenic virus takes hold of our DNA or RNA, it could lead to disease or cancer.

Herpes simplex virus is a widespread human pathogen and it goes right after our mitochondrial DNA. Herpes simplex virus establishes its latency in sensory neurons, a type of cell that is highly sensitive to the pathological effects of mt DNA damage.[11] A latent viral infection might be driving the brain cell loss in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.[12] As I speculated in Heart attacks, CFS, herpes virus infection and the vagus nerve , a latent herpes virus infection might drive more diseases than we would like to admit.

Members of the herpes virus family (i.e. cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr virus which most people have as latent infections!), can go after our mitochondrial DNA, causing neurodegenerative diseases by mitochondrial dysfunction. But a ketogenic diet is the one thing that would help stabilize mtDNA since mitochondria runs the best on fat fuel. As it happens, Alzheimer’s disease is the one condition where a ketogenic diet has its most potential healing effect.[4]

The role of mitochondrial dysfunction in our “modern” age maladies is a staggering one. Optimal energetic sources are essential if we are to heal from chronic ailments. It is our mitochondria which lies at the interface between the fuel from foods that come from our environment and our bodies’ energy demands. And it is a metabolism based on fat fuel, a ketone metabolism, the one which signals epigenetic changes that maximizes energetic output within our mitochondria and help us heal.

I am incredulous at how my body is responding.  I think I am totally carb intolerant.  I’ve struggled with extreme fatigue/exhaustion for so many years, even with improved sleep in a dark room that I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and not long to crawl back in, going through the day by will mostly.  Also chronic long-standing intestinal issues are finally resolving.  A couple of people at work have made comments to the effect that I’m a “different woman”, calmer, no more hyperness under pressure, stress seems to roll off of my back as well.  I’ve lost a little weight and although I don’t weigh myself, my clothes are definitely looser.  I’ve had the round middle for so many years I was resigned to struggling to bend over to pull my shoes on!  -Bluefyre, 56 years old, United States. Sott.net forum

 

Ketosis – Closer Look

The presence of ketones in the blood and urine, a condition known as ketosis, has always been regarded as a negative situation, related to starvation. While it is true that ketones are produced during fasting, ketones are also produced in times of plenty, but not plenty of carbohydrates since a carb metabolism suppresses ketosis. In the absence of most carbs in the diet, ketones will form from fat to supply for energy. This is true even if lots of fats and enough protein are eaten, something that is hardly a starvation condition.

As we already saw, a ketogenic diet has been proved useful in a number of diseases, especially neurological ones. Strictly speaking, a ketogenic diet is a high fat diet in which carbohydrates are either completely eliminated or nearly eliminated so that the body has the very bare minimum sources of glucose. That makes fats (fatty acids) a mandatory energetic fuel source for both the brain and other organs and tissues. If you are carb intake is high, you’ll end up storing both the fat and the carbs in your fat tissue thanks to the hormone insulin. A ketogenic diet is not a high protein diet, which as it happens, can also stimulate insulin. It is basically a diet where you rely primarily on animal foods and especially their fats.

I recently had my annual blood work done (cholesterol, etc.) During the review, my doctor said that everything looked great! He then encouraged me to continue on my great ‘low fat, high fruit and veggie diet’ that I must be following! I just smiled. Next visit I’m going to tell him about my real ‘diet’. Lol  -1984, United States. Sott.net forum.

 

Among the by-products of fat burning metabolism are the so called ketone bodies – acetoacetate, β-hydroxybutyrate and acetone – which are produced for the most part by the liver. When our bodies are running primarily on fats, large amounts of acetyl-CoA are produced which exceed the capacity of the Krebs cycle, leading to the making of these three ketone bodies within liver mitochondria. Our levels of ketone bodies in our blood go up and the brain readily uses them for energetic purposes. Ketone bodies cross the blood brain barrier very readily. Their solubility also makes them easily transportable by the blood to other organs and tissues. When ketone bodies are used as energy, they release acetyl-CoA which then goes to the Krebs cycle again to produce energy.

In children who were treated with the ketogenic diet to treat their epilepsy, it was seen that they become seizure-free even long after the diet ended, meaning that not only did the diet proved to be protective, but also it modified the activity of the disease , something that no drug has been able to do.[13] In Alzheimer’s disease, as levels of ketone bodies rise, memory improves. People’s starved brains finally receive the much needed fats they need! In fact, every single neurological disease is improved on the ketogenic diet.

The benefits of a ketogenic diet can be seen as fast as one week, developing gradually over a period of 3 weeks. There are several changes in gene expression involving metabolism, growth, development, and homeostasis among others.

The hippocampus is a region in your brain that is very vulnerable to stress which makes it lose its brain cells. The hippocampus has to do with memory, learning, and emotion. As it happens, a ketogenic diet promotes the codification of genes which creates mitochondria in the hippocampus, making more energy available. A larger mitochondrial load and more energy means more reserve to withstand much more stress.[14]

In some animal models, there is a 50% increase in the total number of mitochondria in the hippocampus, resulting in more brain ATP.[15] Other animal studies show how communication between brain cells in the hippocampus would remain smooth for 60% longer when exposed to a stressful stimulus compared to their counterparts who didn’t had a ketogenic diet.[16] This is very important since too much stress can damage the hippocampus and its capacity to retrieve information, making you “absent-minded” or “brain-scattered”, as well as affecting the ability of your prefrontal cortex to think and manage behavior.

A ketogenic diet also increases levels of the calming neurotransmitter – GABA which then serves to calm down the overexcitation which is at the base of major neurodegenerative diseases, but also anxiety and other mood problems. A ketogenic diet also increases antioxidant pathways that level the excess production of free radicals from a toxic environment. It also enhances anti-inflammatory pathways.

Ketosis also cleans our cells from proteins that act like “debris” and which contribute to aging by disrupting a proper functioning of the cell.[17] It basically does this by what is known as autophagy which preserves the health of cells and tissues by replacing outdated and damaged cellular components with fresh ones. This prevents degenerative diseases, aging, cancer, and protects you against microbial infections.A ketogenic diet not only rejuvenates you, it also makes a person much less susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections.[18] This is very relevant due to the increasing number of weird viral and bacterial infections that seem to be incoming from our upper atmosphere[19] (for more information see New Light on the Black Death: The Viral and Cosmic Connection), or due to high levels of radiation that creates more pathogenic strains (see Detoxify or Die: Natural Radiation Protection Therapies for Coping With the Fallout of the Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown). Either or, we are more vulnerable than ever due to the state of our mitochondria. But we can prepare for the worst with ketosis.

Ketone-enhanced autophagy is very important because autophagy can target viruses and bacteria that grow inside cells which are very problematical.[20] Intracellular viruses and bacteria can lead to severe mitochondrial dysfunction and ketosis remains by far our best chance against them.

fig 1 ket rev.pptxKetone bodies production through intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet is the most promising treatment for mitochondrial dysfunction.[21] The longevity benefits seen caloric restriction research is due to the fact that our bodies shift to a fat burning metabolism within our mitochondria. With a ketogenic diet, we go into a fat burning metabolism without restricting our caloric intake.

Ketosis deals effectively with all the problems of a diet rich in carbs – the one recommended by mainstream science: anxiety, food cravings, irritability, tremors, and mood problems among others. It is a crime to discourage the consumption of a high fat diet considering that a ketogenic diet shrinks tumors on human and animal models, and enhances our brain’s resiliency against stress and toxicity.

In addition to increasing the production of our body’s natural valium – GABA – the increased production of acetyl-CoA generated from the ketone bodies also drives the Krebs cycle to increase mitochondrial NADH (reduced nicotinamide adenine nucleotide) which our body uses in over 450 vital biochemical reactions – including the cell signaling and assisting of the ongoing DNA repair. Because the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate is more energy rich than pyruvate, it produces more ATP. Ketosis also enhances the production of important anti-oxidants that deal with toxic elements from our environments, including glutathione.

Mitochondria from the hippocampus of ketogenic diet-fed animals are also resistant to mtDNA damage and are much less likely to commit cell suicide –apoptosis- at inappropriate times.

As Douglas C. Wallace, PhD, Director of the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine says, “the ketogenic diet may act at multiple levels: It may decrease excitatory neuronal activity, increase the expression of bioenergetic genes, increase mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative energy production, and increase mitochondrial NADPH production, thus decreasing mitochondrial oxidative stress.”[21]

Keto-adaptation results in marked changes in how we construct and maintain optimum membrane (“mem-brain”) composition, not only because of the healthy fats we provide through the diet, but also because of less free radical production and inflammatory mediators, along with more production of anti-oxidants. It is really the ideal balanced state.

Moreover, you might want to keep in mind this excerpt from Human Brain Evolution: The Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources[22]:

There are two key advantages to having ketone bodies as the main alternative fuel to glucose for the human brain. First, humans normally have significant body fat stores, so there is an abundant supply of fatty acids to make ketones. Second, using ketones to meet part of the brain’s energy requirement when food availability is intermittent frees up some glucose for other uses and greatly reduces both the risk of detrimental muscle breakdown during glucose synthesis, as well as compromised function of other cells dependent on glucose, that is, red blood cells. One interesting attribute of ketone uptake by the brain is that it is four to five times faster in newborns and infants than in adults. Hence, in a sense, the efficient use of ketones by the infant brain means that it arguably has a better fuel reserve than the adult brain. Although the role of ketones as a fuel reserve is important, in infants, they are more than just a reserve brain fuel – they are also the main substrate for brain lipid synthesis.

I have hypothesized that evolution of a greater capacity to make ketones coevolved with human brain expansion. This increasing capacity was directly linked to evolving fatty acid reserves in body fat stores during fetal and neonatal development. To both expand brain size and increase its sophistication so remarkably would have required a reliable and copious energy supply for a very long period of time, probably at least a million, if not two million, years. Initially, and up to a point, the energy needs of a somewhat larger hominin brain could be met by glucose and short – term glucose reserves such as glycogen and glucose synthesis from amino acids. As hominins slowly began to evolve larger brains after having acquired a more secure and abundant food supply, further brain expansion would have depended on evolving significant fat stores and having reliable and rapid access to the fuel in those fat stores. Fat stores were necessary but were still not sufficient without a coincident increase in the capacity for ketogenesis. This unique combination of outstanding fuel store in body fat as well as rapid and abundant availability of ketones as a brain fuel that could seamlessly replace glucose was the key fuel reserve for expanding the hominin brain, a reserve that was apparently not available to other land – based mammals, including nonhuman primates.

It is indisputable that a ketogenic diet has protective effects in our brains. With all the evidence of its efficacy in mitochondrial dysfunction, it can be applied for all of us living in a highly stressful and toxic environment. Ketone bodies are healing bodies that helped us evolve and nowadays our mitochondria are always busted in some way or another since the odds in this toxic world are against us. Obviously, there are going to be people with such damaged mtDNA or with mutations they were born with, who can’t modify their systems (i.e. defects on L-carnitine metabolism), but even in some of those cases, they can halt or slow down further damage. Our healthy ancestors never had to deal with the levels of toxicity that we live nowadays and nevertheless, they ate optimally. Considering our current time and environment, the least we can do is eat optimally for our physiology.

The way to have healing ketone bodies circulating in our blood stream is to do a high fat, restricted carb and moderated protein diet. Coupled with intermittent fasting which will enhance the production of ketone bodies, and resistance training which will create mitochondria with healthier mtDNA, we can beat the odds against us.

What is considered nowadays a “normal diet” is actually an aberration based on the corruption of science which benefits Big Agra and Big Pharma. If we would go back in time to the days before the modern diet became normalized by corporative and agricultural interests, we will find that ketosis was the normal metabolic state. Today’s human metabolic state is aberrant. It is time to change that.

Source: health-matrix.net

References

[1] A research member of sott.net’s forum has diabetes type 1 and is doing the ketogenic diet. On normal circumstances, diabetics (including type I) report amazing results on a low-carbohydrate diet. See Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetics Solution by Richard K. Bernstein, MD (Little, Brown and Company: 2007).

[2] It varies among each person, but the general range is between 0 and 70 grams of carbs plus moderate intake of protein, between 0.8 and 1.5 grams of protein per kg of ideal body weight. Pregnant women and children should not have their protein restricted.

[3] Ketogenic diets in seizure control and neurologic disorders by Eric Kossoff, MD, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff S. Volek, PhD, Rd and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD. Beyond Obesity, LLC , 2011.

[4]A Paoli, A Rubini, J S Volek and K A Grimaldi. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 67, 789–796

[5] Rainer J Klement, Ulrike Kämmerer. Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer? Nutr Metab (Lond). Oct 26, 2011; 8: 75.

[6] If the genetic code is the hardware for life, the epigenetic code is software that determines how the hardware behaves.

[7] David N. Ruskin and Susan A. Masino, The Nervous System and Metabolic Dysregulation: Emerging Evidence Converges on Ketogenic Diet Therapy. Front Neurosci. 2012; 6: 33.

[8] Finkel T, Hwang PM. The Krebs cycle meets the cell cycle: mitochondria and the G1-S transition. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jul 21;106(29):11825-6.

[9] Matthews C.M. Nurturing your divine feminine. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2011 July; 24(3): 248.

[10] Hipkiss AR. Energy metabolism, altered proteins, sirtuins and ageing: converging mechanisms? Biogerontology. 2008 Feb;9(1):49-55.

[11] Saffran HA, Pare JM, Corcoran JA, et al. Herpes simplex virus eliminates host mitochondrial DNA. EMBO Rep. 2007 Feb;8(2):188-93.

[12] Porcellini E, Carbone I, et al. Alzheimer’s disease gene signature says: beware of brain viral infections. Immun Ageing. 2010 Dec 14;7:16.

[13] Gasior M, Rogawski MA, Hartman AL. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behav Pharmacol. 2006 Sep;17(5-6):431-9.

[14] Maalouf M, Rho JM, Mattson MP. The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies. Brain Res Rev. 2009 Mar;59(2):293-315.

[15] Nylen K, Velazquez JL. The effects of a ketogenic diet on ATP concentrations and the number of hippocampal mitochondria in Aldh5a1(-/-) mice. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Mar;1790(3):208-12.

[16] Bough K. Energy metabolism as part of the anticonvulsant mechanism of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 2008 Nov;49 Suppl 8:91-3.

[17] Finn PF, Dice JF. Ketone bodies stimulate chaperone-mediated autophagy. J Biol Chem. 2005 Jul 8;280(27):25864-70.

[18] Yuk JM, Yoshimori T, Jo EK. Autophagy and bacterial infectious diseases. Exp Mol Med. 2012 Feb 29;44(2):99-108.

[19] Chandra Wickramasinghe, Milton Wainwright & Jayant Narlika. SARS – a clue to its origins? The Lancet, vol. 361, May 23, 2003, pp 1832.

[20] Yordy B, Iwasaki A. Autophagy in the control and pathogenesis of viral infection. Curr Opin Virol. 2011 Sep;1(3):196-203.

[21] Douglas C. Wallace, Weiwei Fan, and Vincent Procaccio. Mitochondrial Energetics and Therapeutics Annu Rev Pathol. 2010; 5: 297–348.

[22] Stephen Cunnane, Kathlyn Stewart.Human Brain Evolution: The Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources. June 2010, Wiley-Blackwell.

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.

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.

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.