Filmjölk’s health benefits

In a previous post we covered fraudulent milk products being at the top of food cheating. Today we turn it around by covering the health benefits of consuming filmjölk. Never heard of filmjölk? Just read on.

First you need to know that people in Scandinavian countries are masters of food preservation because of the historic need to guarantee food supply during harsh winters. By necessity a range of cultured, naturally fermented foods were born. They include gravlax, pickled herring, cheeses and sourdough breads, pickled beetroot and, of course, filmjölk.

Filmjölk is similar to cultured buttermilk or kefir in consistency but is not the same as it is a unique product. It is sometimes translated as “sour milk” but there is a wide range of such products. So in the absence of an official English translation the name filmjölk or filmjolk is getting international tracking.

Different varieties of filmjölk are commonly found in the Scandinavian countries, but are also popular in neighbouring Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Somewhat surprisingly, filmjölk has found its way into supermarkets in the USA, the United Kingdom and Australia.

How is it produced

Commercial filmjölk is made from pasteurised, homogenised, and standardised cow’s milk by fermenting the milk with a variety of bacteria from the species Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. The bacteria metabolise lactose into lactic acid so filmjölk is easier to digest if you are lactose intolerant. The acid gives filmjölk a sour taste and causes proteins in the milk to coagulate, thus thickening the product. The bacteria also produce a limited amount of diacetyl, a compound with a buttery flavour, which gives filmjölk its characteristic taste.

Prior to the commercial production of filmjölk, many families made their own filmjölk at home. A filmjölk-like product has probably been around since the Viking Age or longer. Nowadays it is possible to buy the bacterial cultures to make your own filmjölk if you want to.

Potential health benefits of filmjölk

The bacteria in filmjölk produce folic acid, an important vitamin for the development of growing cells. Filmjölk is also high in lactic acid, which is known to improve the nutritional value of food, and may alleviate intestinal infections and improve the digestion of lactose. 

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that when consumed confer health benefits on humans. Particular probiotic versions of filmjölk on the market usually add various strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis.

Probiotic foods have gained a lot of attention in both research and mainstream media lately. There has been a huge growth in interest in probiotic products over the last decades around the world. There is a growing body of evidence to support their importance in our diet; both to treat and prevent specific diseases and as part of a healthy diet. 

Possible benefits include:

  • improving heart health
  • counteracting lactose intolerance
  • increasing iron levels in the blood
  • lowering the risk of yeast infections
  • improving the symptoms of diarrhea and constipation
  • reducing cholesterol levels
  • boosting the immune system
  • reducing the symptoms of certain allergies
  • fighting inflammation

An impressive list should it be true. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has evaluated several claims in relation to probiotic foods. In 2011, it agreed that certain probiotic strains could assist in the digestion of lactose. Other applications for health claims on probiotics have been submitted for evaluation to EFSA but no further application has received a positive opinion. 

What to believe

Unfortunately, many of the positive health effects of probiotics are strain-specific, which is one of the reasons these effects are so complicated to evaluate. A “strain” refers to a specific group within a species and there are often many such strains.

This strain specificity of probiotic properties has made research into the health benefits of probiotics and labelling of probiotic microbes much more difficult.

But why worry about that? Irrespective of the belief in potential health benefits you can enjoy filmjölk just for the taste of it. With some unspecified health benefits on the side.


Dietary supplements questioned

pillsThe best the experts can say is that the most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements don’t cause any harm. That is as they barely provide any consistent health benefits at all. Still in the latest Australian diet survey almost a third of the participants reported that they had taken at least one dietary supplement on the survey day. Are we so gullible?

Or rather, some of you must be gullible. I haven’t taken any dietary supplements since my mum forced me to swallow a daily spoon of cod liver oil many, many years ago.

Our crusade

Thus we’ve been on a crusade now for some time to have people understand that it is money wasted to be buying most dietary supplements. And we have repeatedly directed an evil eye towards food supplements on this blog site, being it herbal supplements or micronutrients.

Sure, in cases where specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies have been identified by healthcare providers, they might be treated by taking an appropriate dietary supplement. Or, probably even better, diet adjustments to get the right nutritional balance from the food and drink consumed.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to the experts.

Further confirmation

publicationsThe negative view of dietary supplements was further confirmed by a recent systematic review of 179 existing scientific studies covering single randomized control trials published in English from January 2012 to October 2017. The supplements examined included vitamins A, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), C, D, E, beta-carotene, and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium. Multivitamins were defined as including most of these vitamins and minerals.

In studies testing the four common supplements of multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C, there was no reduction in incidence of heart disease, stroke or premature death. This means there was no benefit from taking them, but also no harm.

They also evaluated less common supplements that did have some positive impacts on early death, heart disease and stroke. Here they found folic acid supplements showed a reduction in heart disease and stroke.

While a small benefit for taking folic acid was found, researchers also found some adverse effects from supplementation. Among those taking statin medication to lower blood cholesterol, slow or extended release vitamin B3 (niacin) increased the risk of early death by 10 per cent.

For studies testing “antioxidant” supplements, there was a marginally significant increased risk of early death.

Surprised scientists

The authors actually expressed surprise to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements consumed. Therefore they concluded that in the absence of significant positive data — apart from folic acid’s potential reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease — it’s most beneficial to rely on a healthy diet to get your fill of vitamins and minerals.

diet2_(Masahiro_Ihara)So far, no research on supplements has shown us anything better than healthy servings of less processed plant foods including vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Most people in Western countries don’t have an optimal diet. This review shows taking supplements as an “insurance policy” against poor dietary habits does not work. If it did, there would have been a reduction in early deaths.

Eat whole foods

Taking supplements is very different from eating whole foods. Complications or health problems due to nutrient intakes are virtually always due to taking supplements, not eating foods. When you concentrate on one vitamin, mineral or nutrient in a supplement, you miss out on the other phytonutrients found in plant foods that contribute to overall health.

Convinced now? Thought so.

Beetroot might delay dementia

I know, it is all too early. But I get easily carried away when I see some potentially good news in relation to food. In this case it is the heavily coloured beetroot. So here we go.

A little background

old_coupleSomeone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. There were an estimated 50 million people in 2017 living with dementia. This number will almost double every 20 years. Much of the increase will be in developing countries. Already 58% of people with dementia live in low and middle income countries.

There are over 100 forms of dementia. The most well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 50-60% of all cases. We all know about the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Its incidence rises with age.

Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes this progressive and irreversible brain disorder. But one prime suspect is beta-amyloid, a sticky protein fragment, or peptide, that accumulates in the brain, disrupting communication between brain cells called neurons. Much of this damage occurs when beta-amyloid attaches itself to metals such as iron or copper. These metals can cause beta-amyloid peptides to misfold and bind together in clumps that can promote inflammation and oxidation in nearby neurons, eventually killing them.

Beetroot to the rescue??

beetrootPrevious research have suggested that beetroot juice can improve oxygen flow to the aging brain and possibly improve cognitive performance. There are some indications that the positive effects could be mediated by betanin, the compound in beetroot that gives the vegetable its distinctive red colour.

Building on the previous work, scientists at the University of South Florida wanted to find out if betanin, a compound that readily binds to metals, could block the effects of copper on beta-amyloid and, in turn, prevent the misfolding of these peptides and the oxidation of neurons.

In laboratory studies, the scientists measured oxidative reactivity of beta-amyloid only, beta-amyloid bound to copper, and copper-bound beta-amyloid in a mixture containing betanin.

On its own, beta-amyloid caused little or no oxidation. However, as expected, beta-amyloid bound to copper induced substantial oxidation. But when betanin was added to the copper-bound beta-amyloid mixture, the researchers found oxidation dropped by as much as 90%, suggesting that misfolding of the peptides was potentially suppressed.

A little beetroot in the diet wouldn’t hurt

Now that sounds like some good news, although remember that this was very early pure chemical laboratory studies. Anyway it can be good to know that the concentration of betanin in red beetroot can reach 300–600 mg/kg. Other dietary sources of betanin include the Opuntia cactus, Swiss chard, and the leaves of some strains of amaranth.

Betanin is also allowed in unlimited amounts as a natural red food colouring agent (E162). It can be found in ice cream, some sugar confectionary and fruit or cream fillings. Betanin is also used in soups as well as tomato, bacon and other meat and sausage products.

So go for some extra beetroot in your diet.

A glimmer of hope for red wine connoisseurs

1024x1024 mobile phone wallpapers download - www.wallpaper-mobile.comIt is not easy to be balanced when you have just seen some good news you want to believe of beneficial health effects. As on the other hand there are already plenty of incontroversial harmful health effects documented. What to do?

Let’s start with the negative side. And it is clear that you should take it easy on alcoholic drink consumption, as alcohol can be harmful to health. In the liver, enzymes convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Competing with its use to metabolise fat, a molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is reduced to NADH during the conversion. Unfortunately, in people who drink daily, the body might not be able to detoxify acetaldehyde fast enough to counteract the negative effects. To make matters worse, heavy drinking can exhaust the levels of NAD, which can lead to accumulation of fat in the liver and often liver cirrhosis over time.

And that’s not all. The energy content of alcohol can lead to obesity in those who drink excessively. Being obese, in turn, carries a lot of health risks, including heart disease and diabetes.

So the alcohol itself in alcoholic beverages can clearly be damaging to health.

The other side

But just so you know there is not all doom and gloom.

We have written about beneficial compounds found in a range of alcoholic beverages before. There are a number of antioxidants like resveratrol in wine, ellagic acid in oak barrel aged whisky and xanthohumol in beer.

As antioxidants can help prevent the initiation of cancer they might at least partly counter the effects of acetaldehyde. Problem is that to ingest sufficient amounts of such compounds the alcohol you consume might negate the benefits.


But there is a further brighter side.

Alcohol consumed in moderation can actually be beneficial in itself. It has long been known that consumption of small amounts of alcohol may lower the risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.

old_coupleWhile a couple of glasses of wine can help you relax after a busy day, new research shows that it may actually help clean the mind as well. The new study shows that low levels of alcohol consumption reduce brain inflammation and helps the brain remove waste, including the proteins beta amyloid and tau that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Thus the new study showed for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health.

These finding adds to a growing body of research that point to the health benefits of low doses of alcohol. While excessive consumption of alcohol is a well-documented health hazard, many studies have linked lower levels of drinking equivalent to approximately two to three drinks per day with improved overall brain health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases as well as a number of cancers.

Adding to doom and gloom

As we enjoyed the good news linked to having a couple of glasses of red wine on a weekly basis further bad news on the impact of heavy alcohol consumption was published.

According to a nationwide observational study of over one million adults diagnosed with dementia in France, more than half of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia before the age of 65 were related to chronic heavy drinking of more than 60g of pure alcohol on average per day for men and 40g  per day for women.

So what can we learn from science?

Say that a normal size bottle of red wine contains about 80-85g of pure alcohol and that is true for a typical alcohol content varying between 13.5% and 14.5%.

Therefore, enjoying a bit more than half a bottle of a good red wine a few times a week for men and a little less than half a bottle for women might be beneficial to both body and soul.

More and that balance might be damaged as there is a further guide indicating that the weekly consumption should not exceed 170g of pure alcohol for men and 110g for women.

So dare I say again that as usual the adage “everything in moderation” holds true.

Drink responsibly!

Iron – best in moderation


You can eat fruit and vegetables to your heart’s content.

I like to promote a varied and balanced diet – all in moderation. But no, I get criticised for recommending and not defining a balanced diet. I think it’s self evident, a bit of everything without overindulging in any particular food or food group, possibly with fruit and vegetables a free for all exception.

But food “nazis” want to air their opinions. They used to say that you should seriously reduce your fat intake, particularly saturated fat. Then they changed their tune and gave the all clear to fat, but instead banned carbohydrates in general and plain sugar in particular.

Extreme ketogenic diet

According to the latest fad you should try to get your metabolism into a ketogenic state by removing almost all carbohydrates from your diet. That way you force the body to burn its own fat and produce ketones that the brain can use for its energy needs. You will easily lose weight, mainly through water loss, and feel energised, they say.

Inspired by the US president who in early 2018 used the “shit” word I will indulge in some profanity and say “bullshit”. While a ketogenic diet may be an appropriate short-term solution under strict supervision for some, and will result in weight loss, it could lead to serious health complications over time. In the long run, a keto diet will do more harm than good for a majority of the population, especially if they have any underlying kidney or liver issues.

Ketogenic diets practically eliminate an essential food group from your diet, which means you are not going to be getting all of your daily nutritional needs from this diet. This diet is also very low in fibre, which can cause your digestive system to slow down. You will be forced to take mineral supplements or vitamins to hit your daily needs that you will not be getting from a ketogenic diet.

The essential iron

red blood cells

Our red blood cells need iron to function.

That’s a long winded introduction to get us to iron and the important balance of iron intake. Iron is an essential component of life. It is responsible for transporting oxygen in red blood cells, for activation of enzymes involved in DNA production and for energy production in the cell. Iron deficiency impairs oxygen transfer throughout the body, cell division and energy production yet, excess “free” iron that is not bound to any protein may trigger oxidative stress that can be toxic to the organism.

So it is not the case of the more the better. Both iron deficiency or overload may lead to damaging effects by mediating inflammatory diseases, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. And remember that all bugs, including the disease causing pathogens, love iron. Acquiring iron is crucial for the development of any pathogen.  Too much iron through food or supplements encourage pathogen growth.

Complex mechanisms have evolved that illustrate the longstanding battle between pathogens and humans for iron access. Ferritin is one of the central factors regulating cellular iron content and protecting the organism from iron toxicity.

We learn more about iron balance all the time. A recent study looked at the distribution of the ferritin protein within cells and the mechanisms underlying its secretion from the cell. They found iron rich extracellular ferritin strongly implying that ferritin is not merely a vessel for secure and available storage of iron within the cell, but also a key player in tissue and systemic iron distribution.

Always more to learn

Even if we learn more about our complex metabolism all the time, there is still a lot of uncertainty remaining. So the safe bet is still to eat a balanced diet all in moderation, be it iron intake or any other nutrient.

And by all means reduce any excessive sugar intake as long as you maintain your fibre consumption.

Please sir, can I have some more bananas

Heart3New evidence points to the importance of vascular calcification in hardening of the arteries, predicting adverse cardiovascular outcomes in several diseases, often with overlapping complications such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.

Clearly something to avoid so we need to know more about the underlying causes.

Vascular calcification was previously considered to be a passive, unregulated, and degenerative process, but has now been shown to be a highly regulated process of osteochondrogenic differentiation of vascular smooth muscle cells, the main cell type that determines the vascular tone, or simply blood pressure.

Sounds very complex, but just think hypertension and associated harmful effects.

So what’s happening here?

Well, epidemiological studies, but remember they can sometimes be suspect, have suggested a role for potassium. Low serum potassium levels have been linked to cardiovascular calcification and risks of chronic kidney disease and metabolic syndrome.

Even better we have further proof in that more reliable prospective cohort studies have shown that reduced potassium levels are associated with cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and chronic heart failure. And providing an appropriate dietary potassium intake reduced the disease incidence.

So all good so far, but what is actually happening here?

Looking at the details

To better explain the findings, researchers at the University of Alabama explored the mechanism of vascular disease three ways: living mice were fed diets that varied in potassium, mouse artery cross-sections were studied in culture medium with varying concentrations of potassium, and mouse vascular smooth muscle cells were grown in a culture medium.

And they found that a reduction in the potassium concentration to the lower limit of the physiological range increased intracellular calcium, which in turn promoted vascular smooth muscle cell calcification in all models tested. Their findings provide molecular insights into the previously unappreciated regulation of vascular calcification and stiffness by low potassium intake and emphasise the need to consider dietary intake of potassium in the prevention of vascular complications of atherosclerosis, the researchers said.

And how do we do that?

Here is the good news

bananas_(Joey_Yee)We can eat more bananas. Bananas, and for that matter avocados, are foods that are rich in potassium. A banana a day (or two) might keep the doctor away and prevent hardening of the arteries.

But unfortunately that’s not the whole truth as one peeled banana weighing 120 g, good as it is, will only provide 422 mg of the European Food Safety Authority recommended 3,500 mg daily intake of dietary potassium. So you will have to eat eight bananas to be close to the recommended intake. That’s a lot.

What about if you add an avocado? Not more than another 485 mg I’m afraid. So more effort is needed.

Why not a single medium baked potato to get a whopping 941 mg of potassium or a medium baked sweet potato that has 542 mg of potassium. Or two watermelon wedges with 641 mg of potassium. A cup of frozen spinach provides a respectable 540 mg of potassium, while a cup of cooked and sliced beets add a further 518 mg.

Sounds like a lot of food, but you should know that actual food has proven to be much better than taking a shortcut by adding potassium supplements to your intake.

So stick to the food as best you can. The choice of food is yours.

Better stop now!

pillsComplementary medicines, to use a nomenclature that make them sound really important, or simply homeopathic medicines or in some instances dietary supplements, have been questioned before. And we and many others have repeatedly issued warnings of lack of evidence for claimed effects, illicit adulteration and the use of cheap fillers instead of the claimed substance. But it seems to no avail.

Agreed, some complementary medicines have actually been proven to work.  But what use is that when many of the products as sold do not match the dosages that have been clinically proven. And if they do it’s virtually impossible for consumers to distinguish the real from the fraudulent products.

When 500 complementary medicines out of 11,000 on the market in Australia were checked by the regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, 400 of the products had compliance breaches.

Not particularly good.

The nail in the coffin

Traditional Chinese medicine is widely used all over the world as a form of complementary medicine for various indications and for improving general health. There is also an ever-growing market worldwide for a variety of health products, which contain herbal or other natural ingredients with claimed nutritional, physiological or health-promoting effects.

Such products are widely believed to be ‘natural’ and safe by many consumers, but some can pose severe danger to health in that undeclared compounds are lurking in the supposedly beneficial remedies. Adulterations commonly include prescription drugs, drug analogues and banned drugs.

Scientists in Hong Kong recently examined the files of 404 patients seeking medical attention due to moderate to severe reactions (including deaths) to the use of complementary medicines or other health products. Testing the implicated products  found more than 1200 illicit compounds. The 487 complementary medicines or health products consumed by the patients contained on average three adulterants with a maximum of an astonishing 17 undeclared adulterants.

The details of the findings

The six most common categories of adulterants detected were NSAIDs (17.7%), anorectics (15.3%), corticosteroids (13.8%), diuretics and laxatives (11.4%), oral anti-diabetic agents (10.0%) and erectile dysfunction drugs (6.0%). None of them declared on the packet.

Sibutramine, a slimming agent (anorectic) that has been withdrawn from the market due to its association with increased cardiovascular events and strokes, was the single most common adulterant identified.

Other banned drugs, such as phenolphthalein, fenfluramine, phenformin, phenylbutazone and phenacetin, were also not uncommonly detected in these adulterated complementary medicines. These drugs were usually withdrawn from the market owing to their higher toxicities and potential carcinogenicity.

Drug analogues, for which the chemical structures are substantially similar to those of the original compounds, were also occasionally identified. These drug analogues were probably added to the illicit products in an attempt to evade detection by regulatory authorities. The presumption that these analogues have similar pharmaceutical effects as the original drugs is unproven and, worse still, they may lead to adverse effects that are different or even more severe than those associated with the original compounds.

Psychosis, iatrogenic cushing syndrome, and hypoglycaemia were the three most frequently encountered adverse effects. Other effects included heart palpitations, renal impairment, abnormal thyroid function, damaged liver function and adrenal insufficiency.

Serious warning warranted

pharmacy_(Chis_de_Rham)Disguised as natural and safe products, some complementary medicines are clearly hazardous to the public with the overall area needing new and effective regulatory control.

The Hong Kong scientists stressed that the findings should serve as a serious warning to consumers and health professionals. If still tempted to use complementary medicines, as a short term solution at least make sure that they come from a reputable manufacturer.

In the longer term there is an urgent case for introducing mandatory testing of all complementary medicines both for purity and confirmation of claimed health effects.

In the meantime it might be best to save your money rather than risk your health in filling the pockets of shonky operators.

Happy beer drinkers!

beer_glass_(Tim_Dobson)I am not a big beer drinker but maybe it’s time to switch beverage. That is if you believe the new scientific findings that beer can lift your spirit. And that is not because of the alcohol content or good company. It is due to hordenine found in beer.

Let’s take a step back before you rush off to buy some beer.

I am sure though that you agree that some foods are more pleasurable than others. This effect is caused by the neurotransmitter dopamine — tempting foods stimulate the reward centre in the brain where the dopamine D2 receptor is located.

If not happy and smiling, pleasurable foods at least make you feel good. That is why we cannot stop eating when we have had enough. It is called hedonic hunger — the drive to eat for pleasure rather than to satisfy an actual biological need.

So which food components could be responsible for such an anomaly?

That’s what some German scientists at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg decided to find out. And being German they examined as many as 13,000 food components to see if any of them could stimulate the reward centre in the brain and make people feel good.

Now that could be an enormous task to test in a laboratory setting but help was at hand. The team used a virtual screening approach which is often used in pharmaceutical research. This process analyses food components in a computer simulation rather than in the laboratory. Using computer simulations means that a large range of substances can be investigated.

The objective was to find those molecules that could fit into the dopamine D2 receptor — rather like finding the right key for a lock. They identified a more reasonable 17 of the original 13,000 as possible candidates to be analysed further in laboratory experiments. In the laboratory setting they tested which molecules actually initiated a positive response through the dopamine D2 receptor.

This might sound simple, but in reality the scientists used a range of different and complicated laboratory methods to narrow down the initial list of substances. To their slight surprise the most promising results were obtained for hordenine, a substance present in malted barley and beer.

Just like dopamine, hordenine stimulates the dopamine D2 receptor, however it uses a different signalling pathway. In contrast with dopamine, hordenine activates the receptor solely through G proteins, potentially leading to a more prolonged effect on the reward centre of the brain.

Hold on

Before you get too carried away, a word of warning. Although the findings are promising it is not yet clear if hordenine levels in beer are sufficient to have a significant effect on the reward centre.

But why should that spoil a good news story?

Watch out for milk thistle!

milkthistleMilk thistle is a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family. It is native to Mediterranean countries. It’s ironic that milk thistle is used as a dietary supplement often taken to help protect the liver, while it can be contaminated by high levels of mycotoxins that are potentially harmful to the liver.

This has again been confirmed by a recent report by the European Food Safety Authority looking at the presence of the two mycotoxins T2 and HT2 in the diet. They found that milk thistle contained about five times higher levels of the two mycotoxins than any other product tested, with 220 µg/kg (T2) and 370 µg/kg (HT2) on average for milk thistle compared to oats with 40 µg/kg (T2) and 90 µg/kg, the second highest contaminated product.

And it is not the first time that a dietary supplement of some sort is at the top of the contamination table for a range of harmful compounds. And still people take them to improve their health. What’s wrong?

A little bit of background

Milk thistle is a plant also known as Chardon de Marie, Holy Thistle, Lady’s Thistle, Lait de Notre-Dame, Marian Thistle, Mariendistel, Mary Thistle, Shui Fei Ji, Silibinin, and many other names (in case you are looking for it).

Silymarin is the main active ingredient in milk thistle. Silymarin is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. But it is unclear what benefits, if any, silymarin may have in the body.

Irrespective of clear proof of any beneficial effects, milk thistle has been used in alternative medicine as a possibly effective aid in treating heartburn, or seasonal allergy symptoms. Other uses not proven with research have included treatment for malaria, mushroom poisoning, spleen or gallbladder problems, menstrual problems, liver problems, and other conditions.

Milkthistle-supplementThere is not enough scientific evidence to say whether or not milk thistle can help liver problems. Some early research suggests milk thistle may aid people with alcohol-related liver disease. Other studies show no improvement in liver function in this group of people.

Some studies also show milk thistle may offer a possible benefit for people whose liver is damaged by industrial toxins, such as toluene and xylene.

However, more information is needed before it is possible to say that milk thistle actually benefits the liver.

Thus, let’s be clear that medicinal use of milk thistle compounds has not yet been supported by any regulatory authority. Still they are in common use all over the world.

Possible effect of mycotoxin contamination

Contamination of milk thistle with T2 and HT2 toxins have been reported from several parts of the world. T2 toxin and its deacetylated form HT2 toxin are members of the large family of trichothecenes. Fusarium species are the predominant moulds that invade cereal crops and produce T2 and HT2 under cool and moist conditions. Similar to most trichothecenes, T2 and HT2 not only inhibit protein synthesis and cell proliferation in plants, but also cause acute or chronic intoxication of humans and animals.

Toxic effects include growth retardation, myelotoxicity, hematotoxicity, and necrotic lesions on contact sites.

And this can be serious business.

Alimentary toxic aleukia (in simple terms a decrease in important white blood cells), a disease which is caused by trichothecenes, killed many thousands of USSR citizens in the Orenburg District in the 1940s. It was reported that the mortality rate was 10% of the entire population in that area.

During the 1970s it was proposed that the consumption of contaminated food was the cause of this mass poisoning. Because of World War II, harvesting of grains was delayed and food was scarce in Russia. This resulted in the consumption of grain that was contaminated with Fusarium moulds, which produced the two mycotoxins.

So what to do?

As for many dietary supplements it is probably best to stay away at least until any beneficial effect has been finally proven. There is also very little official oversight of the composition of any dietary supplement product. It has been proven again and again that they might contain several other compounds than what is declared on the label. Some that are themselves directly toxic.

So don’t gamble with your health!

Going nuts!

Sorry about the title. I couldn’t resist as going nuts seems to provide quite a few health benefits. Nothing completely new, but recently published scientific findings strengthen the case for the benefits of eating nuts. All in moderation of course.

The week started with news that eating almonds on a regular basis may help boost levels of the good (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) cholesterol while also improving the way cholesterol is removed from the body.

And it ended with news of a new brain imaging study showing that consuming walnuts activates an area in the brain associated with regulating hunger and food cravings, thus discouraging overeating by promoting feelings of fullness.

The goodness of almonds

almonds2It has previously been shown that a diet that includes almonds lowers the bad (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. But not as much was known about how almonds affect HDL cholesterol, which helps lower the risk of heart disease.

HDL is like a garbage bag that slowly gets bigger and more spherical as it gathers cholesterol molecules from cells and tissues before depositing them in the liver to be broken down and excreted.

The researchers wanted to see if almonds could not just increase the levels but also improve the function of HDL cholesterol.

In a clever trial researchers found that HDL cholesterol levels and functionality improved when participants received 43 grams – about a handful – of almonds a day compared to when the same participants ate a banana muffin instead.

This should reduce the risk of heart disease and in addition almonds also provide a dose of good fats, vitamin E and fibre that might improve health, with the caveat that the research was supported by the Almond Board of California.

The goodness of walnuts

walnuts2Walnuts are not far behind almonds as they too are packed with nutrients linked to better health. Not being enough, it was also previously known that people reported feeling fuller after eating walnuts although not necessarily why.

Now to determine exactly how walnuts stop food cravings scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe how walnuts could change activity in the brain.

During one five-day session, volunteers consumed daily smoothies containing 48 grams of walnuts and during a separate session they received a walnut-free but nutritionally comparable placebo smoothie, flavoured to taste exactly the same as the walnut-containing smoothie. The order of the two sessions was random.

As in previous observational studies, participants reported feeling less hungry during the week they consumed walnut-containing smoothies than during the week they were given the placebo smoothies. And fMRI tests administered on the fifth day of the experiment revealed for the first time details of the neurocognitive impact these nuts have on the brain.

When participants were shown pictures of highly desirable foods, fMRI imaging revealed increased activity in a part of the brain called the right insula after participants had consumed the five-day walnut-rich diet compared to when they had not.

As this area of the insula is likely involved in cognitive control and salience, it meant that participants were paying more attention to food choices and selecting the less desirable but healthier options over the highly desirable but less healthy options.

But again you should know that this study was supported by commercial interest, this time the California Walnut Commission.

Be careful with the calories

So good news on all fronts but how to handle this information? Binge on almonds and walnuts every day?

Well, it may pay off to be a bit careful with the calorie intake as eating a handful each of both almonds and walnuts in the same day would equate to eating two banana muffins daily. And not many nutritionists would recommend that.