Let the sunshine in! Vitamin D and health

Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin” as it can be synthesised from cholesterol if adequate sun exposure if forthcoming, is actually a group of fat soluble steroids that functions as hormones. The reference to hormones simply means that they are used as chemical signallers in a complex chain of instructions that we will refer back to shortly.  From a scientific standpoint, Vitamin D does not truly own the name “vitamin” because it does not have to be obtained from the diet. The study of Vitamin D rose to prominence when it was discovered that an abject lack of the substance led to a bone deficiency affecting children- known as Rickets. This brings to mind that fact that Vitamin Ds play a vital role in mineralisation and bone health. Vitamin D in the blood reflects both sunlight exposure and dietary intake. An important point to grasp is, whereas the sunlight –driven synthesis of Vitamin D operates in a feedback loop to prevent toxicity (e.g., it is self regulating), this does not apply to supplemental intake. In fact, little is understood about the potential for toxicity following over supplementation.  Of course, a debate still rages about the cancer risk that may or may not be caused by sunlight exposure, which renders it difficult for health bodies to make recommendations on the amount of time that should be spent in the sun to maximise Vitamin D synthesis. Calcitriol, the biologically active form of vitamin D produced in the kidneys circulates as a hormone in the blood, and thus regulates the concentration of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream and promotes bone growth and deposition. Other functions include controlling inflammation and the natural cycle of cell repair. In terms of the proposed health benefits of supplementation, the evidence is contradictory. The most reliable finding is that taking Vit-D supplements may contribute to...

Garlic… It doesn’t just ward off vampires!

Garlic, like olive oil, is one of the key components of a “Mediterranean diet” often associated with health and longevity. This article is about the potentially beneficial effects of Allicin- the active ingredient in garlic. This compound was first isolated and studied during the second world war and is notable for a distinctively pungent smell. The MotivatingMax take on Allicin is that the odour of Allicin may actually be the key to its positive effects as it serves as a mildly toxic phytochemical (plant substance) which promotes an immune response. It may be that the bitterness of Allicin is part of the plant’s natural defence mechanism against attack from pests, but the dosage is negligible to humans and so may have a positive impact. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Allicin has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects. The evidence of the anti-inflammatory properties of Allicin is particularly strong; especially in the case of animals. In rodents and other test animals, Allicin may reduce atherosclerosis and fat deposition, and lower blood pressure, while exerting anti-thrombotic effects. While blood cholesterol levels have been positively affected in animals, a 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine study cast doubt on whether it would have the same effects in humans; the results stopped short of being statistically significant. As we stated at the top of the article, Allicin is a mild toxin. Hence, excessive ingestion may have negative effects- such as the irritation of stomach lining cells. However, this is extremely unlikely to occur in the sort of quantities that are ingested by those taking Allicin supplements or consuming garlic as part of a balanced diet. When preparing garlic, is worth bearing in mind that (as with many fruits and vegetables) when the skin around each clove is cut or crushed then the antioxidants inside have a very short lifetime, some of them decomposing in...

The evidence for olive leaf oil

Olive oil has long been celebrated for its flavour and health benefits, often being presented as the core element of a healthy “Mediterranean” diet. Yet for this article we turn our attention to the leaf of the plant, which has been used medicinally over several centuries. Extracts from the olive leaf (OLE), are now sold as natural antibiotic, ageing retardants, and stimulators of the immune system. Let’s examine the clinical evidence for these claims; which appears to be mixed on first appraisal. Clinical evidence has been somewhat contradictory regarding the question of whether olive leaf extracts lower blood pressure to a significant degree. At a laboratory level – that is, through direct experimentation at a cellular level – research has lent to support to its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects. In terms of its anti-oxidant capacity, a 2006 piece of research led by Dr Lesley Stevenson (manager of the Natural Products Pharmacology Unit at Southern Cross University, Austrialia), found that a liquid extract made directly from fresh olive leaves was shown to have an antioxidant capacity almost double green tea extract and 400% higher than vitamin C. As you may know from reading other posts on the MotivatingMax site, we feel that substances trumpeted as providing natural antioxidants confer a benefit through stimulating an immune response rather than preventing oxidative damage. Yet the Australian finding still bears some consideration as the phytochemicals in olive leaves may be of similar value to those found in green tea extract. These phytochemicals are thought to include oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, as well as several other polyphenols and flavonoids such as oleocanthal. There is some limited evidence to suggest that, when combined with other substances noted for their supposed anti-oxidant properties, OLE may be effective in controlling cancerous tumours. However, full clinical trials are lacking at this stage. In terms of anti-inflammatory effects, OLE...

Hawthorn for health, heart, and happiness

As part of a series examining the metabolic and immunological effects of various plant extracts we turn our focus to Hawthorn AKA the Thornapple, a type of shrub native to warmer regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia and North America. Taking a lead from traditional medicine, there has been a recent surge of studies investigating the effects of Hawthorn in the mainstream medical community. In this piece, we look at these studies in more depth and assess the available evidence. Several species of Hawthorn have been used in traditional and neuropathic medicine, and there has been growing and considerable interest in testing Hawthorn products for evidence-based medical approaches. In traditional Chinese medicine, the dried fruits of certain Hawthorn species (e.g., Crataegus pinnatifida) are used as a digestive aid. The active ingredients in Hawthorn are principally Tannins, Flavonoids (including rutin, quercetin, and hyperoside), Oligomeric ProanthoCyanidins (OPCs, such as epicatechin, procyanidin, and procyanidin B-2), and both Triterpene and Phenolic acids. So what has the evidence revealed? In, 2008 a meta-analysis of study findings was conducted (Pittler and colleagues, see below). This is a kind of “umbrella” study that looks at the results of many other studies and compares their findings using a common yardstick. This process allows us to estimate how large an effect the nutrient in question has on various health measures. The study concluded that there is considerable evidence of potential benefit in treating chronic heart disease. A more recent review by Tassell and fellow researchers, which took place in 2010, acknowledges the promising nature of the evidence base yet identifies the need for additional studies on dosages and treatment regimens. An interesting branch of research on the effects of Hawthorn concerns its use to improve exercise tolerance in people with heart defects. On this subject, the results are somewhat equivocal with some studies showing that Hawthorn...

Green Tea- a fat burner?

Over the last 8 months, we’ve been testing various types of green teas here at Motivating Max.com. We’re very excited about the benefits of this substance so let’s discuss how effective and beneficial this admittedly bitter tasting liquid can be! The proposed benefits of green tea include the stimulation of mental function, fighting allergies, the improvement of digestion, lowering of cholesterol, reduced risk of CV disease, and finally it may aid us losing fat weight. There is good scholarly evidence for all of the above. However, it is the last-named finding that is the most contentious: that green tea aids weight loss. This might be for the reason that there are literally thousands of agents and substances falsely promoted as thermogens. Surely the answer to reduced body fat has to be more complicated? It has to come out of a test tube or be produced by some laser filtration process doesn’t it? As we write in our new book “Scientific Weight Loss”, weight management has much to do with the body’s endocrine systems, specifically, how they respond to stress. Indeed, this is the pathway which almost certainly explains the beneficial effects of green tea as part of a slimming programme: The active ingredient ECGC inhibits the enzyme catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT), which is responsible for the breakdown of noradrenaline (a stress hormone). This in turn may result in higher concentrations of noradrenaline and the stimulation of lipolysis, making more fatty acids available for oxidation. Several studies have indicated that the combination of green tea catechins (major component of the active ingredient ECGC) and caffeine (found in all types of tea) produces a ‘thermogenic effect’, boosting the rate at which calories are burned at rest and also increasing the rate of fat oxidation. Green tea is particularly potent when used in association with exercise- in fact the active ingredient can increase...

The metabolic effects of caffeine

Once banned in the islamic world as a dangerous psychoactive stimulant, Caffeine is part of the daily ritual for many of us in the West and beyond. It is worth bearing in mind that it has a direct action on the synapses of our neurons and, in that sense, is most definitely a “drug”. Let’s explore the substance in closer details and consider its effects, dangers, and uses. What is it? Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid which acts as a stimulant and a reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. It is found in rangeing quantities in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of some plants, where it serves as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants. So, in that sense, it is a poison to lower forms of life that generates a mild response in humans. It is most commonly consumed by us as part of infusions extracted from the seed of the coffee plant and the leaves of the tea bush, as well as from various foods and drinks containing products coming from the kola nut. Further sources include yerba maté, guarana berries, guayusa, and the yaupon holly. Caffeine functions as a central nervous system stimulant, temporarily staving off drowsiness and bringing us back to alertness. It is the planet’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but, unlike many of its counterparts, it is both legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world. Caffeine-containing drinks like coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy beverages are extremely popular. In the US, 90% of adults consume caffeine on a daily basis. Caffeine is toxic at sufficiently high doses. Ordinary consumption brings about minor health risks, even when carried on for years. Caffeine may also exert modest protective effect against some diseases, including certain types of cancer. Caffeine may lead to both positive and negative effects...
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