The Goldilocks concept of trace elements, healthy aging and dementia

The Goldilocks Trace element principle of Healthy Aging: not too much, not too little but just right!

Until relatively recently, Medicine has largely ignored trace elements and it has especially overlooked their importance in healthy aging. My recent search of the Medical Literature using the term ‘trace elements’, and ‘aging’ revealed that between 1951 and 1960 only 42 scientific papers were published on this subject while in contrast, 2,171 papers were published between 2013 and 2022. Nevertheless, many of the recent 2,171 papers discuss the lack of knowledge on this critical subject rather than contribute to the solution!

My own interest in trace elements and aging started when during my research for my book “Why We Age”, I started trying to make sense of the huge differences in the rates of deaths from specific causes between different 184 countries of the world as shown on the website world life expectancy.com https://worldlifeexpectancy.com. From my analyses I concluded that the relatively high content of Manganese in Maple Syrup might be protecting Canadians from Stroke (Canada has the world’s lowest rate of death from Stroke) and that the extraordinarily high regulation of plumbing, might be protecting Singaporeans from Copper in their water supply and hence from developing Alzheimer’s?

Let me say here that these associations of Manganese and Copper are supported by extensive medical literature and whilst probably correct, are not proven.

Metals in blood of nonagenarians and centenarians living in Sardinia

A study[i] undertaken in 2014 examined the levels of three metals Calcium, Iron and Magnesium and four trace elements Cobalt, Copper, Manganese and Selenium in the blood of 76 people aged about 90 (average 89 and range plus or minus 6.3 years), 64 centenarians (average age 100 plus of minus one year) and 24 people in their sixties. In both groups of older people, the levels of Calcium, Cobalt, Iron, Manganese and Iron had dropped significantly. Iron and Selenium were most affected by aging and the same results were found in both males and females. This implies that these minerals and trace elements are being used up by the aging process. Neither Magnesium nor Copper changed.

Do higher levels of some trace elements assist healthy aging?

A study that used a slightly different approach to the one above, drew attention to the same minerals and trace elements but examined the relationship with age-related diseases. Alis and his cohorts[ii][1] analyzed the blood levels of Chromium, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium and Zinc in centenarians (men and women) who were free from major age-related diseases) and compared them with a group of younger elderly people. In this study the healthy centenarians had statistically significantly lower levels of Copper but much higher levels of Iron and Selenium than the controls. Their statistical analysis identified that having both lower levels of Copper and higher levels of Selenium were independent variables associated with healthy aging.

It is well known that we have several critical enzymes that are concerned with scavenging and control of cellular damage. These depend on having low, but critical levels of trace elements for their function. The three most important groups of enzymes are the Selenoproteins, the Superoxide Dismutases and the Glutathiones.

My own ‘little’ Selenium story!

(n.b. these are not MY gums!)

I only realized the critical importance of Selenium to healthy aging a couple of years ago. Like many people, I knew it was an essential micronutrient, but I assumed that I would have had sufficient in my normal diet. Nevertheless, I had suffered from inflamed gums from the time I was pregnant with my first child and even though I cleaned and flossed my teeth every day, the inflammation had persisted for over forty years.

Not related to my gums but after reading that many centenarians had higher intakes of Selenium than most people, I decided to find a Selenium-rich food and consume it regularly. I soon found that the richest source of Selenium is Brazil Nuts and so I started and continued to eat up to five Brazil Nuts every day (more could be excessive).

So, here’s the story: I went for a dental check-up a couple of days before starting the Brazil Nut snack and as usual had gum inflammation. The dentist decided that there were a couple of old fillings that needed replacing so I made an appointment for six weeks’ time. When I attended the second appointment, the dentist exclaimed at the improved state of my gums …the inflammation had gone!

Micronutrients, aging and dementia

There are many scientific publications that show that trace elements are disturbed in the brains of people with dementia. At this stage it isn’t clear that excesses of Copper, and some other elements cause dementia but it is clear that metal and chemical exposures are involved in some if not all cases. To avoid unplanned exposures, it is important to monitor air and water quality and filtering all drinking water is an easy way to reduce some of the risk.

Eating enough but not too much of foods that are rich in trace elements is important to healthy aging. Fortunately, you can get most of what you need from dark chocolate and Brazil nuts!


[i] Forte G et al (2014) Metals in plasma of nonagenarians and centenarians living in a key area of longevity. Exp Gerontol 2014.10.016: 197-206

[ii] [ii] Alis R et al (2016) Trace elements levels in centenarian ‘dodgers’ J. Trace Elem Med Biol. 35:103-106


Healthy Oleic Acid in Olive Oil and Sesame Oil

Olives & Olive Oil – Essentials of Mediterranean Diet

Olive oil is consumed in all Mediterranean diets but American researchers overlooked this critical food! Oleic acid in Olive oil slows the aging process by reducing inflammation.

Good research but bad result – Why?

A large number of people in many countries of the world have really poor health. Some of this has occurred because potentially good research results were misinterpreted!

In 1958 an American researcher called Ancel Keys commenced a huge research study called the ‘Seven Countries Study’. In this, Keys and his colleagues tried to identify the dietary nutrients that increased the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in most countries and a major underlying factor is inflammation. Key’s research team made one critical observation that people of the Mediterranean region had much lower rates of cardiovascular illnesses than Americans and Northern Europeans. Furthermore, many people lived beyond the age of 100.

The diet that promised to slow the aging process was named the ‘Mediterranean Diet‘. But here the good research ended. Many investigators have now shown that this early public health data was viewed through what I will call a ‘skewed lens’. Unfortunately, the researchers failed to look at all the evidence objectively.

Keys and his colleagues became obsessed with with cholesterol because their research found that in six countries, blood serum cholesterol levels correlated with the risk of heart attacks. Unfortunately, and against all scientific principles, the data from another 15 countries where this relationship was not so clear, were excluded! The researchers also failed to notice that people living in Mediterranean countries consumed rather large quantities of Olive Oil.

Is there a Mediterranean Diet? Which dietary factor do all Mediterranean Countries have in common?

In Italy, you always have a dipping saucer of Olive Oil

If you have travelled through many of the Mediterranean countries and even in the different regions of each country, you will know that the diets are quite variable. Each region has its own specialties. These are generally locally grown or readily available produce, especially the fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. However, the one notable custom that all these regions have in common is their extensive use of Olive Oil.

Olive trees have been growing the region for thousands of years and since olive oil is very easily produced by mechanical processing of hand-picked olives, it is not surprising that the oil became a staple of the region. A Mediterranean Diet is typically rich in local, fresh produce (whatever that might be) with large lashings of Olive Oil!

Why is Olive Oil so good for you?

Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) has many health benefits. EVOO that has been produced from ripe, undamaged healthy olives has high concentrations of:

  • Oleic acid (that greatly reduces age-related inflammation)
  • Squaline (that protects the heart)
  • Phytosterols and Polyphenols (that have many beneficial effects)
  • Vitamin E and βeta carotene
  • Magnesium
  • More than 100 ‘volatile’ compounds that are lost if the oil is heated.

Despite the loss of volatile compounds with heating, oil that is heated is still beneficial (though not as beneficial) because the most important component of EVOO is the high (55 to 83) % content of Oleic Acid.

Oleic acid is the most important component of all our cellular membranes and our ability to produce it through our metabolism, is greatly decreased with age.

Once we are over age 40, our ability to convert other fatty acids to Oleic acid greatly declines, and when we are over 60, this ability undergoes a further dramatic decline[1]. This decline is associated with increasing inflammation, which can be significantly decreased by consuming Oleic Acid[2].

Long-lived populations of people throughout the world

People who live in Sardinia, Ikaria and Okinawa are reported to be amongst the longest living and healthiest people on the planet. These regions are known as Blue Zones. The longevity probably has a great deal to do with their hard-working and simple (not modern) lifestyle but their intake of fresh local foods and quality oils is almost certainly critical. The Sardinians and Ikarians live in islands in the Mediterranean and have a diet that includes Olive Oil. However, the Okinawans, who live in an archipelago about 580 kms off the coast of Japan don’t eat Olive Oil. Instead, they consume a diet rich in Sesame Oil.

Sesame Oil has a composition that is reasonably like that of Olive Oil. Sesame Oil does not have as much Oleic Acid (average about 49% versus 69%) and more Linoleic Acid (35% versus 12.5%). It has similarly low amounts of the saturated fatty acids Palmitic (8.5% versus 10.4%) and Stearic acid (6.5% versus 2.8%). My own published research has shown why these two saturated fatty acids need to be low.

Is either Canola Oil or Safflower Oil a good substitute for Olive Oil?

Canola was originally grown in Canada (hence its name) to produce feed for dairy, livestock, and poultry. The oil was derived from the somewhat toxic Rapeseed by reducing the toxic element Erucic Acid.

Canola crops were introduced into the USA in 1988. Based on the fatty acid content alone, Canola Oil seems to be a reasonable alternative to Oleic and Sesame Oils. It has an average content of 61% Oleic Acid and 21% Linoleic Acid. However Canola Oil must undergoe a great deal of processing. It is never ‘fresh’ and published research shows that although it has several of the benefits of Olive Oil, EVOO is superior.

Safflower Oil on the other hand is not at all similar. It does contain about 12% Oleic acid but is about 80% Linoleic Acid, which is probably highly undesirable!

Buying high quality Olive Oil

When I was researching this topic, I was alarmed to find that there are many fraudulent practices relating to the production and supply of the world’s Olive Oil. Fortunately, both in Australia and in the USA, there are strict guidelines controlling the industry, so our locally manufactured Olive Oil is reliable. Nevertheless, it seems that quite a large proportion of the Oil labelled as Olive Oil produced elsewhere in the world, and including some coming from Europe, is not what it purports to be.

This is not a reason to avoid consuming Olive Oil but just a reminder to check the label on the bottle very carefully

How much Olive Oil should you consume each day?

No study has been undertaken to determine this but if you go to Italy you will find a dipping bowl of Olive Oil on the table at every meal. I think a good rule is to have at least one tablespoon of room temperature EVOO every day. My own preference is to pour it over my hot or cold vegetables each night. It is good to have this with some Balsamic Vinegar although I personally prefer a brewed Soy Sauce. The important message here is to eat your Olive Oil ‘raw’ so that you can the benefits of the volatile compounds as well as the Oleic Acid.

Daily EVOO will significantly reduce inflammation throughout your body!

[1] Bolton-Smith C et al (1997) Evidence for age-related differences in the fatty acid composition of human adipose tissue, independent of diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 51: 619-624

[2] Ford JH (2019) Why We Age – Solving the Puzzle of Aging. Published by Expert Genetic Services – available from this website https://drjudyford.com


Dark chocolate – Jeanne Calment’s secret of Longevity?

When I read that in her last years, Jeanne Calment, the oldest woman to ever live ate a kilogram of chocolate, or more, each week, I wondered whether eating chocolate is the secret of longevity? Jeanne also doused her food in olive oil as well as using olive oil on her skin and if you have read my books or heard my talks, you will know why consuming high quality olive (or sesame) oil daily is critical for healthy ageing.

Is chocolate healthy? How much should we eat?

In 2009, a Swedish study assessed death from heart attacks in a particularly high-risk group of people. These were all nondiabetics who had been hospitalized with a first heart attack who volunteered to keep a food diary for the next five to ten years. The results surprised the researchers who found that after an average of 8.5 years, the patients who reported eating chocolate twice or more per week were 66% less likely to suffer a cardiac death compared to those who reported never eating chocolate. These results were adjusted for possible differences in demographic and socioeconomic variables, consumption of coffee and confectionary and there was a strong inverse relationship between chocolate consumption and death from heart attacks. These researchers did find, however, that total mortality was not associated with chocolate consumption!

So why is eating chocolate so good for you?

There could be several reasons. One might be the high content of ‘phenolics’ but the other might be that chocolate is rich in iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, zinc and selenium, most of which are needed for the function of several of our key ‘defence’ ‘superoxide dismutase enzymes.

One 100-gram bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:
  • 11 grams of fibre
  • 67% of the RDI for iron
  • 58% of the RDI for magnesium
  • 89% of the RDI for copper
  • 98% of the RDI for manganese
  • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.

In addition to these easily identified elements, Cocoa contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods. There are a range of organic compounds called flavonoids that include sub-types called catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins. Each of these have been shown to play important roles as antioxidants. The complex tricyclic (3 carbon ring) structure of the flavonoids determines antioxidant effects that scavenge reactive oxygen species. They also bind the iron and copper ions Fe2+ and Cu+, inhibit several enzymes, and upregulate antioxidant defences.

Cocoa is the richest known source of a chemical called Epicatechin, which is also found in Green Tea.

Epicatechin benefits: To date there have been several studies on the benefits of Epicatechin but there need to be more studies undertaken. To date, the benefits have been listed as:

  • It enhances muscle growth and strength naturally
  • Because it Increases nitric oxide production, it improves vascular function including blood flow
  • It improves insulin sensitivity, regulates blood sugar levels and stimulates muscle protein synthesis
  • Through Its natural antioxidant properties, it reduces cholesterol
  • It improves both brain and heart health

Other beneficial cardiovascular effects of chocolate are mediated through the anti-inflammatory effects of various cocoa polyphenols. These antioxidant effects of cocoa may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce risk for diabetes.

In addition, cocoa consumption may stimulate changes in various pathways involved in gene expression and the immune response. Cocoa also protects nerves from injury and inflammation.

Possibly even more importantly than its wonderful physiological effects, there are several studies that show that dark chocolate can improve our brain function as well as making us feel happier!

How much should we eat?

While the research supports that dark chocolate, especially 85% and higher has many beneficial health effects, I would suggest that you wait till you are over 100 before you consume a kilogram a week! Nevertheless, it is clear that a few pieces of dark chocolate is a very healthy snack and besides the fact that I love it, it’s the reason I have some every day!


Vitamin D Deficiency – A Modern World Epidemic with Huge Consequences

Nature intended that enough Vitamin D is produced by exposure of skin to sunlight

Vitamin D is critical to good health

Many of us know that our bodies can make Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight and in a previous blog, I discussed how human migration has been a major factor in our current epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.

Here, I’m going to discuss some of the critical roles of Vitamin D and why we should all make sure that we are making or taking enough.

What is enough Vitamin D?

Oops! Unfortunately, the answer to this question is that no-one knows that answer!

In a recent publication called ‘Trends in Vitamin D Status around the World’[1] the authors noted that although guidelines for Vitamin D levels have been published by the Institute of Medicine, the Endocrine Society, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Calcified Tissue Society, there was no consensus between these august bodies on what constitutes Vitamin D deficiency.

Moreover, a recent publication[2] entitled ‘The big Vitamin D mistake’ refers to two other major findings: (a) There has been a major statistical error in the calculation of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin D and that 8895 IU/day are needed for 97.5% of individuals to achieve values of more than or equal to 50 nmol/L. (b) Levels of less than 75 nmol/L (which are commonly regarded as above average) may be too low for safety and may be associated with high ‘all cause’ mortality! The new suggested target Vitamin D level for optimal health is given as 100 nmol/L

Dietary Sources

Unfortunately, there are few foods that contain much Vitamin D. Significant amounts are only present in fatty fish (especially wild fish) and fish liver oils. There are small amounts in beef liver, some cheeses and egg yolks. Some foods are fortified with Vitamin D to attempt to counteract this.

Vitamin D Deficiency, Illness and Mortality

Vitamin D plays critical roles in almost every one of our organs, including our SKIN and our BRAINS.

SKIN: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many inflammatory skin diseases and this big topic is discussed in detail in an article titled ‘Vitamin D and the Pathophysiology of Inflammatory Skin Diseases’[3]. This article explains the very important functions that Vitamin D plays in the skin, and I recommend that anyone with skin problems downloads it and shows it to their doctor!

BRAINS: In our brains, Vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and brain cancer.

HEART AND BLOOD VESSELS: In our cardiovascular system, Vitamin D deficiency is associated with strokes and ANY heart disease!

IMMUNE CELLS: Our immune function is highly dependent on Vitamin D and Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be the cause of many if not all the now commonly diagnosed autoimmune diseases. The strongest evidence is for Multiple Sclerosis and Type 1 Diabetes!

Although not an autoimmune disease, Type 2 Diabetes is also associated with lowered levels of Vitamin D.

CANCER: Almost all CANCERS are associated with Vitamin D deficiency, but the evidence is strongest for BREAST CANCER, OVARIAN CANCER, COLON CANCER, PROSTATE CANCER, PANCREATIC CANCER and as mentioned earlier brain cancer.

Vitamin D deficiency is also very strongly associated with INFECTIOUS DISEASES, especially COVID 19!

MUSCLES & BONE: Finally, there is a strong association between low Vitamin D and loss of muscle strength but only a slight relationship with bone health – which is the major reason Vitamin D is given as a supplement! For bone health, Vitamin D is only proven to have an effect when it is taken in conjunction with Calcium.

Indoors, Covering-up, Sunscreens and

Vitamin D deficiency

For us to synthesize our own Vitamin D, our skin needs to be exposed to sunshine! This should be very easy in countries with sufficient sunshine but modern ‘indoor lifestyles’, shift work, religious rituals of covering up and over-zealous protection against sunburn with the goal of preventing skin cancer – have all contributed to Vitamin D deficiency.

Most sunscreens still allow enough exposure to sunlight for us to produce Vitamin D, but it is important to allow yourself enough but not too much exposure to sunlight. For most of us it might be easier to either focus on eating more fatty fish, sipping cod liver oil (ugh) or taking a Vitamin D supplement.

[1] Lips P, de Jongh RT, van Schoor NM 2021: Trends in Vitamin D Status around the world JBMR Plus (Special Issue) 1-6

[2] Papadimitriou DT 2017: The Big Vitamin D Mistake, J of Preventative Medicine & Public Health. 50:278-281

[3] Umar M et al (2018) Vitamin D and the Pathophysiology of inflammatory skin diseases. Skin Pharmacology & Physiology 31: 74-86


Seven reasons why the world still hasn’t beaten COVID-19

The poor of the world have no chance to escape the ravages of a pandemic

1. Human factor 1: Vaccines have been given as a priority in wealthy countries when spread is likely to be greatest amongst the poor

It is well recognized that the world does not treat its inhabitants equally. There are of course many different factors underlying this including wars and corruption not to mention uncontrollable factors like earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. Nevertheless, it should be obvious to everyone that the poorest and most destitute people have the most squalid living conditions, the smallest personal space, inadequate nutrition and the most liklihood of contracting and passing on an infectious disease.

Crowding itself is a major risk factor so we should always expect that a new virus (one to which the population doesn’t already have high levels of immunity) will both INFECT more people and as a result, MUTATE faster in crowded living spaces than in regions with more dispersed populations.

Crowding is usually associated with poor living conditions and each independently and especially the two together ensure that diseases will spread rapidly. In the case of viruses, where the ‘virus’s life’ depends on spreading to a host, there will be both high rates of infection and viral evolution.

2. Human Factor 2: Vaccines have been given as a priority to the old first instead of the young
Our incorrect strategies are allowing the virus to ‘play’ with world health

There is no doubt that older people usually have less robust immune systems than younger people. This is a natural side-effect of the ageing process itself[1] but older people are also far less mobile and, generally have personal habits that are far more restrained than those of younger people!

Vaccines have not been given to children in the first instance because of fears about vaccine safety but children are usually avid spreaders of viruses and recently published medical journal articles have shown that Covid 19 is NOT an exception. Yet, here in Sydney, most adults are doubly vaccinated and constantly masked while the children are free to run around ready to SPREAD any new form of the virus!

Children generally do NOT know how to wash their hands effectively and have no sense of ‘personal space’ and yet, governments have decided to prioritize immunization to those 70 year and older!

3. Human factor 3: ‘Unequal manufacturing advantage’ by giant pharmaceutical companies.

There are many other anti-Covid vaccines that have been developed by reputable scientific laboratories that the pharmaceutical ‘cartels’ (often government regulated) have excluded from the ‘marketplace’. We have no way of knowing what the possibilities may have been had appropriate competition been allowed.

4. Human factor 4: People who have access to vaccines are not necessarily adopting them.

Some of the people who have chosen not to be vaccinated are the so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’, but some people who are not usually averse to vaccination have been seriously concerned by the huge publicity given to very rare but serious reactions to vaccines. It is of course possible that the people who reacted to the vaccines might have had extremely adverse reactions to the virus itself should they have been infected but this area of news-reporting has tended to be unbalanced and irresponsible. Some journalists (and even some politicians) urgently need to attend a course in basic statistics!

Vaccination is the proven way to prevent (most) pandemics
5. Virus factor 1: The mutations (changes) that occur in the COVID-19 RNA immediately affect their host.

Unlike flu virus that needs to translate another strand of RNA to have impact on the host, COVID-19 infects with its ‘sense’ strand. This is a bit complicated, but this is a characteristic that makes COVID-19 extremely infectious. The common cold virus also works in this way.

6. Virus factor 2: Mutations are random and can’t be predicted and many can occur simultaneously. A virus has no plan, and its apparently random behavior defeats our planned attacks.

When we fight viruses, we are essentially fighting a war where we can’t predict the enemy’s movements with any confidence. This is especially true of COVID-19, which when compared to influenza (for example) is a very big virus. This means it has many more ‘genes’ that it can mutate, and these can’t all be anticipated by the scientists who are designing vaccines.

For now, the vaccines seem to be coping quite well with the mutations, but time will tell whether we can ever control this virus.

7. Virus factor 3: A virus can only survive in another’s animal or human’s body but until we control the human factors, the virus will continue to infect and evolve. We must have world-wide unified response or the virus will WIN!

Because a virus relies on the host’s genes for its replication and metabolism, it cannot function outside a host organism. It some senses they can be regarded as non-living however outside a person, animal or plant’s body, the viral genetic material is wrapped up as an independent particle called a ‘virion’. These can remain independently in the environment for variable periods of time: for several days indoors on several surfaces, including skin but they die almost immediately when exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, respirator and surgical masks, which are both porous are associated with some of the longest survival times! However, cleaning most surfaces with soap or detergent will control the spread.

Most of the world is reacting to the latest cases of the OMRICON COVID variant by shutting their borders for at least one or two weeks but if we want to win this war, we need to vaccinate the world’s poorest people, especially including young people and children as soon as possible. I would also like to see the results of testing of several of the other vaccines that have thus far been suppressed by unfair trade practices.

[1] ‘Why We Age’, J.H. Ford (2019) – available from geneslifestyle.com or Amazon


Vitamin D Deficiency: A Major Health Side effect of Human Migration

More than just bones!

pile of human skulls
Photo by Felipe Hueb on Pexels.com

Vitamin D may be our most important ‘vitamin’. Although it has long been known that Vitamin D plays a critical role in the body’s ability to absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, which are both critical for the formation of bone, recent research has now revealed that Vitamin D plays critical roles in the control of infections, in mental health and in the reduction or perhaps prevention of cancer.

I personally became aware of the probable role of Vitamin D in mental health when I noticed that several of our darker-skinned Indian students were becoming seriously depressed during South Australian winters. When I discovered this, I suggested that they took some Vitamin D rather than the anti-depressive drugs they had been prescribed but I didn’t realize then that Vitamin D deficiency might be associated with major depressive and anxiety disorders.

People migrating

Major increase in worldwide Vitamin D deficiency caused by modern lifestyles and migration

Vitamin D deficiency is present in millions of people throughout the world. Some of this is due to changes in lifestyle where people spend a great deal more time indoors than they ever did before. This overall alteration in behavior has many causes that include loss of traditional types of work, innovation, and mechanization of transport such that walking is less of a necessity, modifications in buildings that encourage more time to be spent indoors and general loss of traditional lifestyles


Under our most natural environments, that is living in the region of the world where our ancestors evolved, our skin color should be adapted to allow it to synthesize adequate amounts of Vitamin D, when it is exposed to sunlight. Those of us whose ancestors lived far away from the equator generally have pale skin with low amounts of the pigment melanin whilst those who evolved to live near the equator have much darker skin, with higher concentrations of melanin.

One apparent exception to this is the Eskimos or Inuits. This race of people initially originated in Asia from where they migrated. In their new home Alaska in the frozen north, they adopted a diet of raw fish and sea animals, the meat of which is exceptionally high in Vitamin D. Their practice of eating the food raw also insured that they had sufficient intake of Vitamin C.

Skin Cancer

White skinned people moving to latitudes with higher amounts of sunshine, can do well in terms of producing Vitamin D in the sun but there is a significant trade-off in the form of sunburn and skin cancer. The good news is that the studies that have been undertaken on sunscreens to date do NOT show that wearing sunscreens prevents our skin from manufacturing Vitamin D. However – be cautious – studies have not yet been undertaken on the sunscreens offering very high levels of protection!

People with black skin can still develop Melanoma but not too surprisingly, white-skinned people are 25 times more likely to suffer from it. But Melanoma is relatively rare compared to other types of Skin Cancer of which there are well in excess of a million diagnoses each year worldwide, mostly in people with lighter skin.

Dark-skinned people living in countries with less sunlight

‘Pre-vitamin D’ or its full name 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) is a chemical that has been conserved through animal evolution. It is produced as part of the synthesis of cholesterol and with the help of sunlight it is converted to Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in the skin. Vitamin D should probably be regarded as a pro-hormone rather than a ‘vitamin’ because of its diverse biological roles and its evolutionary role in insect metamorphosis.

Vitamin D synthesis is highly influenced by the concentration of melanin in the skin. Melanin actually absorbs and then scatters the Ultra Violet (UV) ‘B’ rays and the this results in far less efficient conversion of pre-vitamin D to D3. Consequently, dark-skinned people synthesize vitamin D far more slowly than lighter-skinned people and need more time in the sun to produce equivalent amounts of this critical vitamin.

Ageing reduces Vitamin D production

Thin aged skin and joint deformity – common signs of aging

Not surprisingly, clothing inhibits the production of Vitamin D in the same way that it protects against sunburn but what is not so well known is that ageing also decreases our ability to produce Vitamin D. Aging affects the production in two ways. It both reduces the synthesis through the skin in sunlight by about half and then there is probably a further decline in the renal production of the active hormone! So, as you age, you either need to spend a lot more time in the sun making your Vitamin D or you need to eat Vitamin D rich foods or take a supplement.

If you have sufficient intake of Vitamin D, you can expect to have stronger bones, heightened immunity, less risk of cancer as well as feeling much happier. But this might not be all the advantages? The fact that almost all cells in our bodies have what are called Vitamin D ‘receptors’. This means that Vitamin D plays at least some role in all our cells!

You might also enjoy watching my YouTube video for some more information about Vitamin D: Vitamin D and 14 health benefits


Can eating Seaweed prevent Breast Cancer?

asia carrot chopsticks delicious

In Japan, seaweed is a common dietary component which gives Japanese adults an average daily intake of 5280 micrograms (µg) of Iodine each day. This is very different to the rest of the world where the average intake of Iodine is only about 209 µg/day. Now there are obviously other dietary differences between traditional Japanese people and the rest of the world, not to mention many lifestyle and cultural differences, but could eating seaweed, and in particular consuming relatively high amounts of Iodine, be an important protective factor against breast cancer?

You can see in the following figure whose data has been taken from a collaborative study between Australian and Japanese researchers, published in 2020[i] that although the rate of breast cancer has increased dramatically in both countries between 2006 and 2015, that the age-specific rates are approximately double in Australia when compared with Japan.

Breast Cancer rates in Japan & Australia in 2006 and 2015

It’s likely that you know about the importance of Iodine to the health of the Thyroid gland. You might even be aware of the pioneering work in public health performed by the Australian Dr Basil Hetzel (1922-2017), who improved thyroid health worldwide through the addition of Iodine to household salt. I was lucky enough to know Basil as a colleague and friend and I’m sure he would have been extremely excited to know that Iodine’s critical roles are not just limited to the thyroid but that it also has important roles outside the thyroid gland as an ANTIOXIDANT, DIFFERENTIATION FACTOR AND IMMUNE MODULATOR [ii]  However, there is a major difference in the chemical form of Iodine that is critical to thyroid function with that in cancer prevention: The thyroid gland uses ‘Iodide’ salts whereas cancer suppression occurs with ‘elemental Iodine’. In fact, elemental Iodine probably plays a preventative role against all cancers, but few have been studied. Nevertheless, there are several well-controlled scientific studies that demonstrate Iodine’s role in controlling breast cancer.

The studies on Iodine and cancer prevention are mostly very new and it will probably be a long time, if ever, before we see Iodine being recommended as a ‘cancer cure’. Furthermore, there is other strong evidence that Iodine itself is not enough! For example, in a well-designed ‘prospective’ Italian study, the researchers found that Iodine intake alone did not reduce breast cancer risk and that Iodine needed to be combined with adequate Selenium to be effective. Indeed, women who had intakes of each of Iodine and Selenium that were above average, reduced their breast cancer risk by at least 25%. This supports an hypothesis linking Iodine and Selenium to cancer prevention that was first proposed in 2000[iii].

The study result fits with the protection offered against breast cancer by dietary seaweed because seaweed is high in both Iodine and Selenium, and it also fits what is known about the biochemistry of Iodine in the breast in that it requires the activity of Selenium-dependent enzymes for its function. Selenium is indeed a very important trace element that is essential to the function of several of our critical ‘defense enzymes’ in most cells. But – a WARNING – it must always be remembered that Selenium is a ‘trace element’ and too much is as bad as or worse than too little! 

Another nutrient that is strongly associated with breast cancer is Vitamin D. Almost all studies show that higher levels of Vitamin D confer a lower risk of breast cancer and you’ve probably guessed that seaweed is a nutritional source of Vitamin D – although you probably need more than you will consume in your seaweed! You can synthesize your own Vitamin D very effectively from sunshine (when your skin is exposed to it) but nowadays because of the number of hours most of us spend indoors together with our use of sunscreen and clothing to protect ourselves against skin cancer, most of us are deficient in Vitamin D (for some or all the year). Having a dietary source of Vitamin D or taking a supplement is thus often necessary.

How does Vitamin D intake fit with Iodine and Selenium? Well, without going into the details there is plenty of biochemical evidence to show that Vitamin D plays a role in ‘up-regulating’ the Selenium-dependent enzymes that are involved in many defense and scavenging activities in our cells. So, although there is some Vitamin D in seaweed, sufficient Vitamin D is important to in addition to the protection offered by Iodine and Selenium.


Take-home message! Either eat seaweed on a regular basis or find other reliable sources of Iodine and Selenium and make sure your intake of Vitamin D is sufficient. I strongly suggest that if you are intending to eat seaweed on a regular basis that you research your seaweeds carefully. Different seaweeds contain very different amounts of Iodine and Selenium and you do want to make sure you have the ‘goldilocks’ amounts – not too little and just as importantly not too much!

[i] Mizukoshi MM et al (2020) Comparative analyses of breast cancer incidence rates between Australia and Japan. Asian Pacific J of Cancer Prevention 7: 2123-2129

[ii] Acerves C et al (2021) Molecular Iodine has extrathyroidal effects as an Antioxidant, Differentiator and Immunomodulator. Intl J of Molecular Sciences 22: 1228-1243

[iii] Cann SA et al (2000) Hypothesis: iodine, selenium and the development of breast cancer. Cancer Causes Control 11: 121-127


Our genes and our diet

Vegetarian, omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian – which is the correct diet and what does logic, our genes and our anatomy tell us?

Suppose you came across an object you’d never seen before, and you wanted to work out its purpose? What would you do? I think most people would look at its general construction and ask questions such as:

  • How is this object constructed and of what materials?
  • What are its major parts?
  • What are its most likely functions?
  • Where in the world did it originate? If its location is/has been changed, does it need or has it needed some special adaptations to adapt to its new location?

If we applied these questions to ourselves, we might more readily understand how to differentiate between the accurate and vastly inaccurate so-called ‘health information’ that is readily available today. Clearly this is an enormous topic so to start I just want to focus on the most basic elements of diet and on the role of the head. I will address many specific sub-topics in the coming weeks.

Today’s question: What can we learn about our diet from our heads?

The construct of the HEAD

ONE HEAD has the five major organs brain, ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. The most notable moving parts are the eyes, which allow us to see food and the jaw which allows us to bite and chew food.

Each organ of our entire body, and the head is no exception, is composed of nerve, blood, bone, and skin cells (of which some are external and some internal). There are also specialized structures in the mouth called teeth, which are composed of enamel and unlike bone, do not contain living (potentially replacement) cells as bone does. The mouth also contains another specialized muscular organ, the tongue, that is vital for taste, chewing and swallowing as well as creating sounds, especially speech.

From an evolutionary perspective, almost every part of the head has played an essential role in nutrition. The eyes, ears and nose have allowed us to detect the presence of potential food and after we hunted or gathered our tasty morsels, our tongue and teeth then allowed us to eat it. However, since relatively few of us have been involved in food gathering and/or production for some generations, our teeth may be our foremost guide to the foods that best suit us today.

Our incisors (eight – four in the upper and four in the lower jaw) are in the middle of the front of our mouths and each has a flat edge that is adapted for shearing and cutting food. Being in such a prominent position, this may be the most important function.

Our canines or cuspids (four – one on the jaw side of each pair of incisors) have a sharp edge and are for tearing food.

Our pre-molars (eight – two pairs in the upper and lower jaw on each side) have flat surfaces with ridges for crushing and grinding food into smaller pieces to make it easier to swallow.

Our molars (twelve – three pairs, upper and lower on each side of the jaw) have a large surface that helps them to grind food.

What our HEADS would lead us to conclude about our diet?

It’s not necessarily logical to conclude that because we have such a high proportion of our teeth adapted for crushing and grinding food that crushing and grinding should be our primary dental activity. Nevertheless, I think that the very large number of grinding teeth attests to the fact that some types of plant-based diet has been consumed by humans over most if not all their ancestry. Furthermore, the high proportion of this type of tooth strongly supports this ancestry and plants should form a major proportion of our diets.

Nevertheless, the presence of canine teeth, which are in a very prominent position strongly suggest that cutting and tearing teeth are still required by humans and that foods, such as animal flesh that require cutting and tearing should also be part of our healthy diets.

Chimpanzee and Human Diets

Our DNA is only 1.2% dissimilar to the Chimpanzee and it’s logical to think that our dietary adaptations might be similar. Chimpanzee in the wild have a diet that is mostly vegetable/fruit and not surprisingly always those that are in season! They are now known to dig up small crustaceans from mud, to eat insects and to hunt and kill smaller monkeys, whose flesh they eat. So, meat forms only about 3% of their diet in the wild and is eaten on only about 9 days each year.

Taken together these facts suggest that humans have evolved to eat some meat and crustaceans but mostly a diet of fruit and vegetables. However, these facts don’t tell us which dietary proportions are optimal and in the coming blogs we are going to move past the head to try to piece the facts together!

So, till next time ……….

Your New Year’s Resolution: NO SHOES INDOORS


Wearing shoes in the house is just plain gross. The verdict from scientists who study indoor contaminants

A selection of ‘average’ shoes – but WHAT IS UNDERNEATH THEM?

Mark Patrick Taylor, Macquarie University and Gabriel Filippelli, IUPUI

You probably clean your shoes if you step in something muddy or disgusting (please pick up after your dog!). But when you get home, do you always de-shoe at the door?

Plenty of Australians don’t. For many, what you drag in on the bottom of your shoes is the last thing on the mind as one gets home.

We are environmental chemists who have spent a decade examining the indoor environment and the contaminants people are exposed to in their own homes. Although our examination of the indoor environment, via our DustSafe program, is far from complete, on the question of whether to shoe or de-shoe in the home, the science leans toward the latter.

It is best to leave your filth outside the door.

A woman removes shoes at the front door.
Leave pesticides, herbicides and general ‘filth’, outside your door.

What contaminants are in your home, and how did they get there?

People spend up to 90% of their time indoors, so the question of whether or not to wear shoes in the house is not a trivial one.

The policy focus is typically on the outdoor environment for soil, air quality and environmental public health risks. However, there is growing regulatory interest in the question of indoor air quality.

The matter building up inside your home includes not just dust and dirt from people and pets shedding hair and skin.

About a third of it is from outside, either blown in or tramped in on those offensive shoe bottoms.

Some of the microorganisms present on shoes and floors are drug-resistant pathogens, including hospital-associated infectious agents (germs) that are very difficult to treat.

Add in cancer-causing toxins from asphalt road residue and endocrine-disrupting lawn chemicals, and you might view the filth on your shoes in a new light.

A woman rests her feet on the couch
Please don’t do this. Shutterstock

A roll-call of indoor nasties

Our work has involved the measurement and assessment of exposure to a range of harmful substances found inside homes including:

A strong focus of our work has involved assessing levels of potentially toxic metals (such as arsenic, cadmium and lead) inside homes across 35 nations (including Australia).

These contaminants – and most importantly the dangerous neurotoxin lead – are odourless and colourless. So there is no way of knowing whether the dangers of lead exposure are only in your soils or your water pipes, or if they are also on your living room floor.

The science suggests a very strong connection between the lead inside your home and that in your yard soil.

The most likely reason for this connection is dirt blown in from your yard or trodden in on your shoes, and on the furry paws of your adorable pets.

This connection speaks to the priority of making sure matter from your outdoor environment stays exactly there (we have tips here).

A recent Wall Street Journal article argued shoes in the home aren’t so bad. The author made the point that E. coli – dangerous bacteria that develop in the intestines of many mammals, including humans – is so widely distributed that it’s pretty much everywhere. So it should be no surprise it can be swabbed on shoe bottoms (96% of shoe bottoms, as the article pointed out).

But let’s be clear. Although it’s nice to be scientific and stick with the term E. coli, this stuff is, put more simply, the bacteria associated with poo.

Whether it is ours or Fido’s, it has the potential to make us very sick if we are exposed at high levels. And let’s face it – it is just plain gross.

Why walk it around inside your house if you have a very simple alternative – to take your shoes off at the door?

Why walk muck around inside your house if you have a very simple alternative – to take your shoes off at the door? Shutterstock

On balance, shoeless wins

So are there disadvantages to having a shoe-free household?

Beyond the occasional stubbed toe, from an environmental health standpoint there aren’t many downsides to having a shoe-free house. Leaving your shoes at the entry mat also leaves potentially harmful pathogens there as well.

We all know prevention is far better than treatment and taking shoes off at the door is a basic and easy prevention activity for many of us.

Need shoes for foot support? Easy – just have some “indoor shoes” that never get worn outside.

There remains the issue of the “sterile house syndrome,” which refers to increased rates of allergies among children. Some argue it’s related to overly sterile households.

Indeed, some dirt is probably beneficial as studies have indicated it helps develop your immune system and reduce allergy risk.

But there are better and less gross ways to do that than walking around inside with your filthy shoes on. Get outside, go for a bushwalk, enjoy the great outdoors.

Just don’t bring the muckier parts of it inside to build up and contaminate our homes.

Mark Patrick Taylor, Chief Environmental Scientist, EPA Victoria; Honorary Professor, Macquarie University and Gabriel Filippelli, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences and Executive Director, Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Environmental chemicals, mental health & dementia

Chemicals and Mental Health

Early life exposure to heavy metals and ‘environmental chemicals’ may not only reduce IQ but also cause schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. It is now recognised that these also cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Changes in the brain with Alzheimer’s Disease

Psychological studies have suggested that cognitive decline may well have been cast at the dawn of the industrial age! Early studies showed that significant personality differences were found in people living in regions where large numbers of men were employed in coal-based industries from 1813 to 1820. This was the time when the Industrial Revolution was peaking. Neuroticism (for example) was, on average, 33% higher in these areas compared with the rest of the country. But mental diseases continue to increase, and the rate of age-related dementia has already reached epidemic levels.

In the late 1990’s my genetics laboratory performed many studies on the chromosomes of men and women who had been exposed to high levels of agricultural and industrial chemicals. We found that all those with documented exposures had cells with broken chromosomes and we suggested that this probably gave them an increased risk of developing cancer. However, it was also obvious that most of these people had high levels of anxiety and some degree of mental instability but we didn’t understand that it was ‘cause and effect’. Indeed, the mental instability that was caused by the exposures, probably led to some of their claims being ignored by conventional medicine.

Heavy metals, IQ and mental disorders

Exposure to heavy metals, especially lead, is well known to reduce IQ in children. Populations in towns with lead smelters, such as Port Pirie in South Australia, are regularly monitored to evaluate these effects. The effect on intelligence (IQ) is well established but what isn’t well known is that exposure to metals early in life can also cause schizophrenia[i] and other serious mental and behavioural disturbances. Lead exposure in early life also causes autism[ii].

Several of the studies that are now demonstrating these clear associations are using ‘baby teeth’ to measure the levels of heavy metals and these have the advantage of evaluating exposures over time. Although there is also a genetic predisposition to most mental disorders, heavy metals – especially lead, clearly cause serious mental problems.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Age-related dementia has now reached epidemic levels. People who already have autism are 2.6 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s but we don’t need to have earlier mental problem to develop Alzheimer’s as we age.

There is considerable research relating the development of Alzheimer’s to exposure to heavy metals, especially lead and copper. Finland has by far the highest rates of death from Alzheimer’s at 54.65 deaths/100,000 whereas Singapore has the lowest rate at 0.43 deaths/100,000.

In my book Why We Age[iii] I argue that much of the increase in the rate of Alzheimer’s is related to the introduction of copper pipes in plumbing. Finland’s extremely high rate of Alzheimer’s may be at least partially explained by the problems they have with pipes in their extreme weather conditions. In contrast, Singapore’s very low rate of Alzheimer’s may be associated with NOT using copper in their pipes and having extraordinary vigilance in their plumbing regulations.

While copper could be a major cause of Alzheimer’s and other serious mental decline, there are many other chemicals and metals that are also known to have effects. I have adapted the table found in the table published by Genius & Kelln (2015)[iv] and although some of these substances are still only ‘strong suspects’, it is easily seen that we are all frequently at risk of exposure to many of these chemicals.

MetalsLead; Mercury; Copper; Arsenic; Aluminium; Zinc or Manganese overload; Tin
PesticidesDDE; Aldrin; Chlordane; Heptachlor; Rotenone; Dieldrin; Methyl parathion; Organophosphates; Maneb; Paraquat; Pyrethroids
Flame retardantsHexabromocyclododecane; Tetrabromobisphenol-A; Brominated Decabromodiphenyl ether; Chlorinated 2,2,4,4,tetachloromodiphenyl; 6-hydroxy-2,2,4,4 tetabromodiphenyl ether; Trichloroethylene; Carbon disulphide
SolventsToluene; Perchloroethylene.
PharmaceuticalsAnaesthetics; Benzodiazepines
Air PollutionAir Pollution: Particulate matter; Ozone; Nitrogen dioxide; Cigarette Smoke; Carbon monoxide
PlasticizersPhthalate esters Bisphenol A
OthersPFOS and PFOA Organochlorine compounds Acrylamide Dioxins Formaldehyde Methanol
Exposures that are potentially associated with nuerodegenerative diseases. Data from Genius & Kelln (2015)
There is chemical contamination everywhere but especially in our food and in beautiful environments like golf courses

Is it too late? Are there any actions we can take?

There is a great deal written about healthy foods and there is little doubt that an everyday diet that incorporates a wide range of fruit, vegetables, high quality protein, nuts and seeds will supply most of the minerals and nutrients we need. We must make sure that we also consume enough of the ‘trace elements’ that are necessary to support all our detoxification systems and these are discussed in Why We Age.

Beyond eating a healthy diet and exercising, we need to try to avoid pollutants in both indoor and outdoor air. Apart from avoiding the use of chemicals that are in the list above, our most accessible defences against pollutants are indoor and outdoor plants. If we live in an area where the outdoor air is polluted, we need to protect our home by growing leafy plants at least around the borders of our property. But indoor plants are also strong weapons against indoor pollutants. Don’t have them in your bedroom at night because they will compete with you for oxygen but use them in all your living areas.

NASA has undertaken extensive experiments that demonstrate the value of indoor plants in removing pollutants. If your indoor plants die, they might well be saving your life and your future sanity!

Indoor plants but especially the Peace Lilly (which is not shown here) can remove indoor pollutants that are constantly outgassed from furniture, furnishing and building products

[i] Modabbernia A et al (2016) Early Life metal exposure and schizophrenia. Eur Psychiatry 36: 1-6.

[ii] Arora M, Reichenberg A, et al 2017. Fetal and postnatal metal dysregulation in autism. Nat Commun; doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS15493

[iii] Ford JH (2019) Why We Age (Solving the Puzzle of Aging) – available from this website or from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082KPSFR2.

[iv] Genius SJ & Kelln KL (2015) Toxicant Exposure and Bioaccumulation: A Common and Potentially Reversible Cause of Cognitive Dysfunction and Dementia. Behavioural Neurology http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/620143

Magnesium-Critical roles in all body organs

Magnesium supplementation can cure many ‘illnesses’ but you may need to supplement every day. From your muscles to your brain, magnesium can improve your health and vitality.

Magnesium crystal (needs to be converted into an appropriate salt before consumption!)

Adequate intake of Magnesium is critical to good health and can cure many ‘illnesses’. On the other hand, inadequate intake of Magnesium can lead to problems of the nervous system, cramping muscles, migraines, and depression as well as serious cardiovascular and metabolic problems. A search of the medical literature on the terms ‘magnesium deficiency’ found 7,440 publications and there are also thousands of publications that demonstrate that Magnesium supplementation usually has beneficial effects.

If you experience any of the problems listed below, I wonder why your doctor hasn’t mentioned Magnesium supplementation to you? Taking Magnesium might be a simple and inexpensive cure for your health problem.

I have used the publication by Kostov & Halacheva (2018) to provide the critical information in the following Table. The Table summarizes the large number of negative health symptoms that can be caused by Magnesium deficiency and might be cured by simple supplementation.

General problems  Anxiety, agitation, irritability, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea
Muscles  Muscle spasms, tetany
Nervous System & Brain  Migraine, depression, poor memory, nervousness, low stress tolerance, tremor, seizures  
Cardiovascular System  Hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, coronary spasm, atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, arterial calcification and/or stiffness, vascular aging, increased platelet aggregation.  
Electrolytes  Sodium (and fluid) retention, low potassium, low calcium
Metabolism  Insulin resistance, decreased glucose tolerance, increased risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes, Disorders of Vitamin D metabolism, Osteoporosis, Resistance to Parathyroid Hormone.  
Pregnancy & Reproductive  Pregnancy complications including eclampsia; Reproductive problems including polycystic ovarian syndrome (POCS).
Gastrointestinal tract  Constipation
Table: Health Effects of Magnesium Deficiency

Why are we becoming deficient in Magnesium?

Soft water

Water with low mineral content is easier to lather and probably better for our pipes but it doesn’t supply as many minerals as harder water and so we are more likely to become mineral deficient.

Deficiency in soils

Chorophyll requires magnesium so magnesium deficiency causes yellowing.
Yellowing of leaves typical of Magnesium deficiency

Many soils are deficient in nutrients. A magnesium deficiency should be obvious because it is a key component of green chlorophyll. Magnesium deficiencies are most common in sandy soils but is also caused by the over-use of potassium fertilizers. If the soil pH is not correct, then magnesium might not be available to the plants. This problem can occur in both hydroponic and soil nurseries.

Eating the wrong foods

All green vegetables are rich sources of magnesium as are cereals, nuts, and legumes. There are also moderate amounts of magnesium in chocolate, fruits, meat, and fish.

Over-cooking and processing of foods can destroy magnesium.


Women: Epidermal growth factor (an important stimulator of cellular growth) and Estrogen are both described as ‘magnesiotropic’ i.e. they regulate levels of magnesium in the blood and brain. This means that lowered estrogen levels in postmenopausal women can lead to increased loss of magnesium from the body and consequently, any of the problems listed in the table.

Age itself can lead to reduced absorption of magnesium from the intestine in both men and women. Find out much more about ageing here.

Gastrointestinal malabsorption and/or Caffeine

Any of the conditions that affect intestinal nutrient absorption can affect magnesium absorption so if you have sensitivity to gluten, fructose, or any other food, you are likely to have reduced absorption of magnesium.

Consuming caffeine also reduces your absorption of magnesium!


Alcohol comes in many forms but all have the same health consequences.
Drinking alcohol depletes Magnesium

There are many medical publications that discuss magnesium and other nutrient deficiencies in alcoholics but it’s likely that even regular light drinking can lead to lowered levels of magnesium and other electrolytes in many people.

Sport and Sweating

Leg cramps are usually caused by magnesium deficiency.
Soccer player experiencing leg cramp

Any activity that makes you sweat will deplete your electrolytes. This will be obvious in anyone who works out with high intensity but it’s also a problem in less energetic, prolonged activities such as golf. If this is you, you are likely to need to supplement your Magnesium and other electrolytes.

Medicinal drugs

A variety of drugs including antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents, diuretics, and proton-pump inhibitors can cause magnesium loss and hypomagnesemia

Types of Magnesium Supplements

There are many Magnesium supplements available on the market and to date, the research on the efficacy of the different formulations is sparce. One thing that is sure is that both magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide have significant laxative effects! Be careful that these haven’t been added to other formulations.

Most of the research undertaken on Magnesium supplementation has been performed on rodents. These might be applicable to humans but there’s no doubt that the average rodent’s diet and lifestyle is less complex than the average human! Nevertheless, there are a great many physiological similarities.

In general, the research suggests that organic forms of magnesium are more effective than inorganic, and the three best supplements are (1) magnesium acetyl taurate, (2) magnesium malate and (3) magnesium glycinate.

It’s likely that the different forms of magnesium might be absorbed differently by our various organs and at this stage the research suggests that magnesium acetyl taurate might be taken up by the brain more efficiently than the other forms. It seems that despite magnesium being so important to our overall health, the research on effective supplementation needs a great deal more work.

Magnesium supplements can overcome deficiencies.
Magnesium supplements may be helpful but take care which one you take.

In general

A high proportion of people who exercise, who are older, who drink alcohol and/or who have any type of food malabsorption will find that they benefit from taking a magnesium supplement. However, not all supplements are equally effective and many – especially magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate cause diarrhea or loose bowel motions in a high proportion of people. I suggest that you choose a highly reputable brand and test the three listed organic types to see which one suits you best.

Kostov K & Halacheva L (2018) Role of Magnesium deficiency in promoting atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction and arterial stiffening as risk factors for hypertension. Int J Mol Sc 2018, 19: 1724

Cod liver oil for COVID prevention?  – an old remedy revisited

Is Vitamin A deficiency one of the reasons why many people suffer serious complications from Covid infection? Could Cod liver oil supplementation prevent Covid or its complications? Cod Liver Oil is a health remedy that is many centuries old. Should we all be taking it again?

Early Cod Liver Oil advertisement – presumably Magee was trying to make it taste better!

Ask any older person who grew up in the UK or northern Europe whether they had Cod Liver Oil as a child and they will generally pull a face! So, yes, they did take it. Yet, however distasteful the raw product may be, Cod Liver Oil was, (and still can be), a great and inexpensive preventative medicine – including against Covid 19.

I personally didn’t suffer from the daily spoonful of cod liver oil, but I did have plenty of coughs and colds as a child. However, it was in 1977, when I took my then 18-month-old daughter to Europe, that I discovered the benefits of cod liver oil. My baby daughter, like most other Australian children at the time suffered from recurrent ear and chest infections and so, when we reached Scandinavia, Northern England and Scotland, I couldn’t believe how well the children looked even though they were playing outside in rather dreary, cold weather. I asked the mothers their secret and they told me that the children took Cod Liver Oil every day!

The spoonful or the capsule of Cod Liver Oil – an easy choice

Since I was still breast feeding, I decided to take the Cod Liver Oil myself – but in the form of a capsule – not on a spoon! Once my daughter was weened, she took her own capsules – in fact she was happy to chew them (ugh). Anyway, this simple supplement worked like magic. My own respiratory health improved and so did my daughter’s – in fact neither of us experienced a chest or ear infection in the following years.

When I returned from the 1977 trip, I happened the speak with a professor who had undertaken extensive research on the cells that line the lungs and I asked him about Cod Liver Oil. He told me that the Vitamin A in Cod liver Oil would protect the endothelial cells that line the lung as well as all the other epithelial (skin and organ lining cells) of my body. So, I have taken one capsule daily ever since and haven’t suffered from any chest infection!

The History of Cod Liver Oil

Although historically Cod Liver Oil was widely used in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries to prevent ‘rickets’, which is a bone deformity caused by deficiency of Vitamin D, widespread fortification of milk with Vitamin D in the 1930’s led to many physicians stopping recommending Cod Liver Oil.

Although we tend to hear about children taking Cod Liver Oil, it was also taken by many adults, especially fishermen.

Excess Vitamin A is toxic and may be experienced by people who take excess Vitamin A supplements or who eat high amounts of liver which is high amounts of Vitamin A). This makes ‘getting the level of Vitamin A right’ complicated because overall it seems that many more people are Vitamin A deficient than sufficient or suffering from excess.

Are you likely to be deficient in Vitamin A?

If you live in Africa or Southeast Asia, you are likely to be deficient in Vitamin A because the foods commonly eaten in your countries do not contain much Vitamin A. If you live elsewhere in the world and you don’t eat liver and/or you are not eating foods in which Vitamin A is added, you could well be suffering from mild or even moderate Vitamin A deficiency. It is estimated that over 20% of the population in the developed world doesn’t reach at least two thirds of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A and have blood and liver concentrations that are less than optimal.

Factors that affect your ability to absorb dietary Vitamin A

In addition to inadequate dietary intake, risk factors for Vitamin A deficiency include stress – which affects the intestine’s ability to absorb fat and/or very low-fat diets including vegetarianism – because dietary fat is necessary to absorb Vitamin A.

Excessive alcohol consumption also reduces the liver’s reserves of Vitamin A so like several other vitamins and minerals, if you regularly consume alcohol, you need to be conscious of your intake of vitamins, including Vitamin A.

The benefits of Vitamin A for good lung function

The benefits of Vitamin A have largely been ignored by medical researchers. There was considerable research undertaken into Vitamin A and lung development in the 1980’s but until recently this research area has been largely overlooked. I have referenced a couple of relevant publications below that each stress the importance of adequate Vitamin A for normal lung function. Some of the critical points listed in these publications are:

  • “During moderate vitamin-A-deficiency, the incidence for diseases of the respiratory tract is considerably increased and repeated respiratory infections can be influenced therapeutically by a moderate vitamin-A-supplementation” (Biesalski & Nohr, 2004)
  • “Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a remarkable public health problem……In fact, chronic VAD has been associated with histopathological changes in the pulmonary epithelial lining that disrupt the normal lung physiology predisposing to severe tissue dysfunction and respiratory diseases” (Timoneda et al. 2018).

Recently, however there has been a resurgence of interest in Vitamin A and Cod Liver Oil, especially with respect to Covid 19 infections. In Oslo (Norway) a clinical trial led by Arne Vasli Søraas is underway to test whether Cod Liver Oil prevents Covid and/or its complications. If this trial has positive outcomes, and cod liver oil supplementation again becomes popular, we may see many beneficial outcomes in overall respiratory health.

Biesalski & Nohr (2004) Importance of Vitamin A for lung function and development. Molecular Aspects of Medicine 24(6):431-40

Timoneda J et al (2018) Vitamin A deficiency and the Lung. Nutrients 10 (9): 1132

Please contact me with you comments and any questions about this post. I am available to give talks on this and related topics.

Water: flow and essence of life

Earth – a saltwater planet!

Water is the essence of life. We, humans, can live for some time without many nutrients but we die quickly if we cannot consume water. Surprisingly, although our planet earth is about 71% water, over 96.5% of this is salt water. Furthermore, of the 3% fresh water, only about 1% is available for drinking!  

Sensational but undrinkable water – ‘water water everywhere and not a drop to drink’ (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

If, like me, you live somewhere where there is currently frequent flooding, we are reminded that we need to work out the best ways of collecting the excess water so we can use it in drier times. Unfortunately, this is often given far too little attention!

Our need for high quality drinking water is also a major reason why we need to curb earth’s population growth.

Which parts of our bodies need water?

When we think of our bodily fluids, we usually think of blood, saliva, and urine but although these are critical reservoirs of fluid, they are only part of the picture. Our whole bodies are composed of about 60% water, and this is broken down into:

  • Lungs: 83% water
  • Muscles and kidneys: 79% water
  • Brain and heart: 73% water
  • Skin: 64%
  • Bones: 31%

It’s easy to see from these figures that water is truly the essence of life!

Water – beautiful water – so critical to health

Brain (Hypothalamus) controls body fluids through Vasopressin

Our fluid balance and blood pressure are controlled by a small hormone called Vasopressin. This is primarily located in the part of the brain called the Hypothalamus although its effects are caused in many organs. Messenger RNA (the specific code that is translated into the active hormone) for Vasopressin has also been found in the adrenal and thymus glands as well as in the gonads.

The Hypothalamus is stimulated to produce Vasopressin in response to the osmolality (level of salts) of the blood and this causes a change in arterial blood pressure. Elevated levels of Vasopressin can cause high blood pressure.

Kidney (Renin-Angiotensin System)

Our fluid balance is so important that it is also controlled by a second system that is in the kidney. This is a very complex system that is concerned with the volume of blood we have in our body as well as with the salt levels in our blood and our blood pressure.

The hormone produced in this system is known as Angiotensin-II and it communicates with the Hypothalamus to create the feeling of ‘thirst’.

How we lose water

Under normal circumstances we lose water through sweating and urination. If we are ill, we can also lose water through vomiting and/or diarrhea. Increased sweating, whether due to illness, high external (weather) temperature or exercise, all require us to consume more water.

We can also lose more fluid than usual through frequent urination. This can be caused by medicines such as diuretics, illnesses such as diabetes and drinking alcohol.

Daily Total Water Intake (TWI)

How many glasses of water do you drink each day?

The amount of water we need to consume each day is influenced by our age, our gender, our activities, and the composition of the rest of our diet. For adults the recommended intake is slightly less than 4 liters for men and slightly less than 3 liters for women. One source gives this in ‘cup equivalents’, which is 15.5 cups for men and 11.5 cups for women. If you drink sugary drinks or eat salty food, you are likely to need more so it’s better to avoid both!

Many people find that this recommended intake of water seems rather high. This is because a very large number of people don’t drink enough and  suffer from chronic dehydration! Sadly, chronic dehydration is the cause of many chronic diseases including cystitis and other urinary tract infections as well as kidney stones. Acute dehydration can lead to seizures and even a very serious condition known as hypovolemic shock.

In hot weather, insufficient fluid intake can lead to heat cramps, exhaustion, and heatstroke. If you play sport in very hot weather, you must have a high intake of both water and balanced electrolytes.

If you feel confused, you might just need to drink more WATER

Too little fluid intake can lead to mild neuroendocrine diseases. This is especially common in the elderly and can lead to people experiencing confusion, constipation, dizziness, and weakness. Some older people drink less because they are worried about their bladder control. However, strangely enough not drinking sufficient water is more likely to lead to bladder problems. It is critical that we drink enough water every day, regardless of our age.

Always remember how essential water is to every part of our body. If necessary, count the number of glasses you are drinking. You can take some of it in the form of soups, cups of tea and other liquids but plain, high quality water is probably best

Chew your way to good health

Eat an apple a day for your dental health

Did you know that your teeth can easily undermine ALL your other efforts to be healthy? Good dental health is critical at all stages of your life and will promote healthy ageing and well-being.

There are several reasons for having great dental health but this could be the most important! Because your teeth are the only ‘non-shedding’ surfaces of your body, bacterial levels can reach more than 1011 (i.e. 100 billion) microorganisms per mg of dental plaque. Can you even start to imagine just how many bacteria and other microorganisms that is?

Rod-shaped bacteria – just one of the many types you might have in your mouth

Rates of tooth decay vary between countries and races but as an estimate, in the USA the rate of periodontitis is 47% in 30-year old’s and 70% in 65-year old’s! As you get older, you need to visit the dentist every six months for a thorough cleaning.

As well as causing tooth loss, decay and some painful hours in the dentist’s chair, infections originating in the gums can cause or at make many other illnesses worse. These low-grade infections also put a load on our immune system, which then enhances the rate at which we age.

The bacteria in your mouth don’t usually enter your bloodstream unless the gum tissue becomes broken. This of course can happen if your gums start to bleed and you can be at risk soon after having a dental procedure, especially an extraction of a bad tooth. One study of 735 children undergoing dental treatment for extensive tooth decay found that nine per cent of them had detectable infection in the bloodstream prior to the dental treatment.

It’s been known for a long time that some dental procedures and oral infection itself can cause an infection of the heart valves called bacterial endocarditis. This is a rare disease in people with normal hearts but people with some pre-existing heart defects are at risk if bacterial infection occurs. Unfortunately, the connection between the oral cavity and endocarditis was originally missed because sometimes the oral infections occur months or even years before the endocarditis is obvious.

But oral infection is also extremely likely to be a causal factor for some but not all affected people for the following serious illnesses:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Stroke
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Premature labor and pregnancies that result in low birth weight babies. Since dental health is compromised by the raised hormones in pregnancy, attention to dental health during pregnancy is important.
Have teeth like a tiger

How to (mechanically) minimize oral infection and gum disease

As we grow older our gums recede because the number of cells that can divide is reduced. So, whilst excellent oral hygiene is important at all ages, it is imperative as we age. Daily tooth flossing or some other type of interdental cleaning is advisable as well as very thorough tooth cleaning AT LEAST TWO or more times EVERY day. For people who are unable to floss, mouth washes can help a great deal, but long-term use of mouth washes might have some negative effects and mechanical techniques are probably safer.

Daily flossing and twice a day thorough cleaning (or more if you like) will help retain the health of your gums and thus reduce the need for the gum cells to divide. This will in turn help you retain your teeth as well as enhancing your overall health.

Evidence that there is a massive benefit of having healthy gums as you age comes from many studies such as the following one conducted in California. In this study (results published in 2011) the investigators examined the relationship between dental health and death (by any cause) in 5611 older Californian adults, over a period of about nine years. Those who never brushed their teeth at night had a 20-35% increased risk of death compared to those who brushed every day. Never flossing increased the risk of death by 30% compared with flossing every day.

Not visiting a dentist at least every 12 months increased the risk of death by 30-50% and mortality was also higher in people who had less than 20 teeth!

Regular dental check-ups every six months are important.

The importance of keeping and using your teeth

Apart from avoiding the pain of tooth ache and avoiding the often, lethal infections that originate in the mouth, retaining and using your teeth has other huge benefits. These are driven by the acts of biting and chewing, which are of course the purpose of teeth.

  • During chewing the salivary glands secrete saliva that is mostly water. However, saliva not only enhances digestion, but it also acts as a solvent for substances that confer taste. So, without saliva, foods not only can’t be digested properly but they also don’t have appropriate taste. Saliva also initiates swallowing.
  • The act of chewing itself has a very important effect on the brain. When we chew, we activate many different regions of the brain so just receiving nutrition – through (say) liquid meals – will result in reduced brain function.
  • There is far more to chewing than just the nutrition that usually results. Recent research has shown that the loss of the ability to chew, acts as a source of chronic stress and can exacerbate Cognitive impairment, Cardiovascular disorders and even Osteoporosis

So older people with low numbers of teeth should be fitted with dentures as this not only greatly improves chewing and hence nutrition but has also been shown to increase prefrontal brain activity.

Even chewing non-sugar gum is good for your brain. Mastication can improve working memory and alertness as well as considerably reduce depression and anxiety!

Gluten Problems in Non-Celiacs

How might gluten harm our health?

Is Gluten giving me pains and bloating?

Gluten can cause digestive problems in non Celiacs as well as those with Celiac Disease. Although gluten is well known to cause the serious and debilitating symptoms of Celiac Disease and affected people have four different types of antibodies, many others have gluten sensitivity. Many of us, who suffer from considerable discomfort, receive an unhelpful descriptive ‘diagnosis’ such as ‘Irritable Bowel’, which tells us nothing that we didn’t know already!

In 2004, a research group from Monash University published research about FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) that are common constituents of many fruits and vegetables. The research has now been refined and the results have been widely applied since 2007. This helpful research describes which foods contain moderate or high amounts of FODMAPS. Use of the APPS that are now available, allows affected people to choose small or no exposures to a large range of fruit and vegetables that might cause them discomfort.

Avoiding FODMAPS helps me greatly, but despite this, I was still experiencing considerable discomfort at night and decided to change to a different type of bread. The sough dough bread I chose reduced my discomfort further but I still had some discomfort until by chance I changed the Soy Sauce I was using most nights to a gluten-free Soy Sauce. Suddenly I seemed to be completely cured!

I’m not suggesting that removing gluten will compensate for FODMAP issues but rather that it might be one more thing to consider for those who are still experiencing some discomfort.


Bread – the greatest source of gluten

From an evolutionary perspective, humans have only recently been exposed to grains and gluten. Our human ancestors existed about 2.5 million years ago, yet wheat and grains were only introduced into our diets about 10,000 years ago! Rice, by contrast is a common carbohydrate staple for more than half of the world’s population and does not contain gluten. Rice was grown in India as early as 5000 BC.

Gluten is a protein that is found in most grains, especially wheat, barley, and rye so in most modern, western diets it’s commonly consumed in foods such as bread, biscuits, cereal, pasta, and pizza.

Since the two world wars, agronomists have developed grains that have much higher amounts of gluten than the original strains. Furthermore, since the misguided advice from 1970’s research that urged us to eat more and more grains, there has been a huge increase in the consumption of grains and gluten. For these two reasons, many people are now consuming very high amounts of gluten, and this might not be advisable.

Gluten – a gut antagonist?

Bloating, discomfort and diarhoea often accompany consuming gluten

Some people cannot tolerate any gluten and if they do, develop an autoimmune disease known as Celiac Disease. But many people have a condition diagnosed as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity where they may have antibodies to Gliadin but not the other three antibodies that are also diagnostic of Celiac Disease. Nevertheless, only about 50% of people who have Gluten Sensitivity have any positive antibodies.

Celiac Disease versus Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac Disease is a serious ‘autoimmune’ disease that has a genetic predisposition. Approximately one in 10 people with an affected relative, develop Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease doesn’t have simple inheritance in the same way as most other genes, but identical twins show abut 75-80% concordance. When a person with Celiac Disease eats food containing the grain-derived protein ‘gluten’, they suffer serious intestinal problems and damage to the cells of the small intestine. If this is untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to other serious health problems. However, since it’s thought that either early exposure to gluten and/or an exceptionally clean early home environment might increase the risk of a susceptible person developing the disease, identical twins would be particularly at risk.

Celiac Disease only occurs if a susceptible person ingests gluten so in countries like Japan and sub-Saharan Africa, where gluten consumption is very low, the incidence of Celiac Disease is also very low. In many other countries, however, and especially the USA, the rate of Celiac Disease is rising quite rapidly. It is thought that this might be due to absence of exposures to bacteria in early childhood, but it might also be caused by the current increased likelihood of exposure to gluten.

What foods should I avoid if I am gluten sensitive?

Take care with all leavened foods. These are made by fermenting yeast with the purpose of creating a light, slightly honeycombed dough. Gluten is used to create elasticity, which enables the bread or other baked food to retain its shape. Gluten is the Latin word for ‘glue’, but gluten is usually made from two proteins named glutenin and gliadin that are blended together.

Different types of flour have different amounts of gluten. Low gluten cake flour is about 7-8%, pastry flour is 8-9%, all purpose flour is 11-12% and bread flour is about 13% gluten.

The way a bread is made also changes the final gluten content. Most sour dough breads have almost zero gluten and are often tolerated well by people with gluten sensitivity – probably the 50% without positive antibodies.

If you are gluten sensitive you should avoid wheat (including varieties like spelt and durum as well as wheat products like semolina), barley, rye, triticale and possibly oats. I find that I can eat a very small amount of oats but am more comfortable without them. Oats contain another protein called Avenin that causes a cross-reaction: one in five people with Celiac Disease reacts to oats. Compounds in Barley and Rye, called Hordein and Secalin respectively cause reactions in people with Celiac Disease but can be tolerated by some people with gluten sensitivity.

Grains that are gluten-free and can be safely eaten are corn, millet, rice, and sorghum while cereals that are safe include amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.

Life is so much more enjoyable when you feel well

Food Standards and Labels

It is common now to buy food in supermarkets that is clearly labelled ‘gluten free’. Similarly, it is not uncommon to find a menu that allows the customer to choose a gluten-free meal, even if that meal contains foods such as pasta or pizza. In Australia and New Zealand, foods such as oats cannot be labelled or promoted as gluten free. This is because current tests can only measure Gliadin, Hordein and Secalin but not Avenin.

If ‘oats’ claim to be ‘gluten-free’ it means that they are not contaminated with grains other than oats. It does not mean that they do not contain Avenin.

For all other breads, cakes, biscuits, and pastries, we should assume that they DO contain gluten unless they have an authentic label stating that they are gluten free.

If I can help?

If I can help you with advice or perhaps give a talk, or write something for your organisation, please contact me.

The dangers of sitting

Sitting – a major occupational hazard

Sitting too much and with poor posture is killing us!

Could sitting too much reduce our lifespan? When we are young, we are taught to sit quietly. Later, we learn that sitting in a state of quiet reflection is highly desirable for our mental and physical health. Sitting, itself is inherently good but is too much sitting undesirable? Is how we sit important?

Sitting has been the subject of many scientific investigations on thousands of people of many different nationalities and the overall results are similar. Not surprisingly the studies are somewhat general in nature because the number of possible combinations of behavior are huge. Nevertheless, there are consistent findings that sedentary behavior is bad for us.

Sitting and viewing poses compress the abdomen as well as straining the shoulders

Sitting in our graves?

Many research teams have examined whether there is a relationship between the hours spent sitting (i.e. sitting too much) and cardiovascular ‘disease events’ and/or death or deaths from all causes? The researchers also consider whether the time spent sitting can be compensated by moderate or high intensity exercise. Overall, the studies have remarkably consistent findings, so I’ve chosen the results from just one to explain the findings.

In a recently published large study from Australia that involved more than 120,000 participants, the results were adjusted for people’s ages, their marital status and whether they lived in the city or a rural location. Their health status, smoking status and dietary intake of fruit and vegetables were also accounted for. People who died in the first 24 months of follow-up were excluded from the analysis because their health in the last stage of their lives might have precluded exercise. The remaining participants were then classified into four groups.

Group 1 were described as ‘Highly active’ and they exercised for 420 minutes (7 hours) or more each week. Group 2, described as ‘Active upper’ exercised 300-419 minutes (5 to less than 7 hours) each week, Group 3 described as ‘Active lower’ exercised at 150-299 minutes (2.5 to less than 5 hours) per week, Group 4, the ‘insufficiently active group’ exercised between one and 149 minutes (1 to less than 2.5 hours) per week and Group 5 had no physical activity. Groups 4 to 5 were sitting too much and Group 3 was borderline!

Not too surprisingly, those who were classified as Group 5 had about 1.6 times the risk of dying (from any cause) in the next 7 years, and their risk of cardiovascular disease was doubled. Interestingly, people in Group 2 (Active upper) had similar outcomes to those in the highly active Group 1, which were considerably better than those in Groups 3 and 4. Lack of physical activity is clearly the greatest risk factor for poor health and/or death but sitting for 8 hours a day or more is risky, unless this is balanced by at least 300 minutes (5 hours) or more activity each week.

Online technology is reducing children’s activity levels

Unfortunately, today, sedentary behavior occurs during work and school hours, as well as travelling to and from work and at home, watching TV or playing electronic or board games. So, what effective interventions can be made that don’t interfere with work productivity and/or the enjoyment of leisure time? How can we stop sitting too much?

To-date in the workplace, apart from ‘standing meetings, ‘sit-stand desks’, or desks that have some types of treadmill or pedal machine inserted underneath, the solutions to the long hours of sitting are limited. I personally find that reversing the drive towards office efficiency helps me. I used to work in offices at home and at work where everything was within reach, and I still tend to ‘be efficient’. But although it wastes a little time, deliberately placing everything out of reach helps your body. Having to get up and walk to the printer or to your notebook or your glass of water each time you need it, will ensure that you are getting up quite frequently!

Fortunately, my mail is delivered to a post box at the top of a hilly driveway that reaches five stories. I always make sure that I walk up this hill at least once each day. This ‘purposeful exercise’ is similar to always taking the stairs rather than the elevator wherever this is possible. So, although having a regular program of exercise of some type is important, keeping as active as possible while undertaking ‘sitting tasks’ is also a good way of reducing continuous sitting.


Activity is very important but posture, that is the way you stand and use your body is also critical to both mental and physical health.

A typical computer posture in which there is a strain on the neck, back and abdominal organs

Posture and mental health

We can all recognise a pose that indicates victory and one that indicates defeat. Yoga classes even teach students ‘power poses’ and if you have ever adopted one of these poses, you will recognise how much better you feel. Researchers are now finding that upright posture has not only positive effects on breathing and energy, but it also affects mood and mental efficiency. Preliminary findings indicate that keeping an upright posture (while sitting as well as standing) can improve symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety. So, if we sit up straight, we probably won’t have to sit for as long because we will be just that much more efficient!

Posture and physical health

If you are like me, you will have spent many hours with physiotherapists or chiropracters treating a neck, hip, back or shoulder problems. I’ve even had two hip replacements and recently spent over a year nursing a shoulder injury that isn’t quite better! But many of my injuries, especially the shoulder, could have been prevented by better posture.

We all need to understand how to exercise and strengthen all the muscles we use in walking and sitting as well as while exercising and we need to have a routine of performing these strengthening exercises several times each week. We also need to focus time on balance and the older we get, the more important it is to undertake stretching exercises and regularly practice our balance!

Two examples of easy but powerful stretches

A ‘final’ word on sitting

A recent study published by the American Cancer Society showed that 14 causes of death were more likely in people who sat the longest. These include cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, COPD (such as emphysema), pneumonitis due to inhaling something, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders, which you will agree are most of the causes of death! So, the major health message here is to move as often as you can whilst still performing your work and behaving within society’s limitations.

Although being efficient is generally good, building in some inefficiencies that require you to move more, could be a life saver!

Floods, Fungi & Health

Only the roofs remain in this super-flooded town
Fungi love the wet but what are the health consequences?

In Sydney and in the surrounding country areas of NSW, Australia, we have recently experienced several weeks of storms and very heavy rain. In our local area, this was preceded by a weird mini cyclone where a very large number of trees were blown over or uprooted. The sounds of tree lopping fill the air and damage to roads, houses, parks, and recreation facilities has been considerable.

Cities, towns, and homes near rivers have suffered enormous damage and whole towns will have to be rebuilt. The health consequences of this are especially dangerous in areas where sewerage systems have been broken and raw sewerage has seeped into water supplies, crops, and golf courses to name just a few places. But what of the moulds and fungi that flourish in wet environments? Are they a risk to health and if so, what can and should be done?

When we go out into the garden or perhaps walk along a bushland path, we are likely to see mushrooms and toadstools. If like me, you can’t identify the toxic forms from the non-toxic, don’t touch any of them! I had a mass of small, yellow fungi grow up in one of my plant pots last week, but they disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared.

Fungi are classified by scientists as their own ‘Kingdom‘ – they are neither plants nor animals. They include many species that are used in the manufacture of foods, including alcohol, cheeses and breads and many types of mushrooms that are eaten as foods. Many are also used to produce medicines.

Moulds and Mildews
A mould affected wall showing mould fungi of different colours

Moulds and mildews are the more common fungi around and in our homes. We often see mildew growing on the leaves of flowering plants (usually powdery mildew) or on grapes and potatoes (downy mildew). However in very humid conditions, mildew likes to come inside and grow on our clothes and some furniture . Mildew is always flat, is grey or white and has a mild smell that we might call ‘musty’. It can give us a slight respiratory reaction but it’s more a nuisance than of any danger to us.

Moulds on the other hand, can be dangerous to the integrity of buildings and to our health. Apparently more than 10,000 different species of mould can live indoors but most commonly, there are six types: Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium, Chaetomium and Stachybotrys. The last two of these have recently been identified as the cause of serious but underdiagnosed health issues.

Alternaria is primarily an outdoor fungus found in soil. It is blown around in the wind on dry, warm windy days and is often responsible for outdoor allergy reactions. However, like most fungi it grows in damp conditions and is often found on materials such as paper and cardboard when they have been exposed to damp environments. If you find you are coughing and sneezing when you are reading an old book, then this could be the cause! Alternaria also grows on walls and around windows, under sinks and other damp places and especially in shower recesses.

Buildings that have suffered some type of water damage are very likely to have an infestation of Alternaria and this may be one of the causes of ‘sick building syndrome‘. This mould can be coloured black, grey, or dark brown and has a woolly type of texture.

Aspergillus is the most common type of indoor mould. It can grow on bread as well as on walls, paper, and clothing. It can vary in colour from yellow to green, grey, black, brown, or white depending on the species.

Cladosporium differs from the other household moulds in preferring a cool environment. It isn’t likely to grow in the bathroom but prefers to grow on fabric such as curtains and wood surfaces like flooring. It is black or green.

Penicillium is well known because it led to the discovery of the first antibiotic. It grows on materials that have been wet from contact with water. This includes a large range of materials from carpet to mattresses and is likely to be prevalent in flood damaged houses and their contents. It is blue or green and produces strong, musty odours.

In some cases, being exposed to mold for extended periods of time can cause very serious, and even life-threatening, health complications.

Chaetomium mold produces high quantities of toxic substance known as biotoxins or mycotoxins. These toxins can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin and are the cause of many serious mold-related health symptoms.

Chaetomium can cause skin and nail infections, brain infections, serious ongoing allergic reactions, and asthma. Recently, autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis have been linked to exposures to Chaetomium mold.

Stachybotrys chartarum, known as ‘black mould’ is rated as the most dangerous type of household mould. This is the mould that grows in areas that are constantly wet. In your home, this could be mould under the house if there is a place where water collects or areas around leaky pipes or inside air conditioning ducts where condensation collects.

This mould is likely to be Stachybotrys
Risks to houses and their contents

A little like the children’s story of The Three Bears, we and our homes need the humidity to be not too dry, not too wet but JUST RIGHT! If our homes are too dry our furnishings and our health suffer but probably being too wet is more of a problem. Fortunately, most of us can easily equip ourselves with fans, air-conditioners, air-purifiers, humidifiers, or de-humidifiers (whichever is needed) to balance the humidity to a comfortable level. But we should keep aware of the humidity and develop habits to make sure that our homes don’t become mouldy. Simple habits such as always wiping the shower recess area after use and running a fan until all steam and condensation is removed from the bathroom are essential.

Risks to health from moulds

Indoor dampness and the moulds that grow in damp environments cause respiratory problems in many people but particularly in young children. There are a range of allergies, hypersensitivity responses and asthma that are recognized as mould-related health problems throughout the world. Of the common mould types Aspergillus may cause the most indoor allergic reactions. It also causes infections and inflammation in the lungs of people with weak immune systems. Cladosporium can also cause of range of respiratory problems while Penicillium usually causes relatively mild allergic reactions.

Unlike the relatively benign effects of the other moulds, Stachybotrys chartarum and Chaetomium globsum produce mycotoxins. These toxins not only cause the usual allergic types of responses but symptoms that include recurring flu-like symptoms, coughing, chronic bronchitis, sore throat, diarrhoea, fevers, headaches, chronic fatigue, rhinitis, neurological symptoms and general malaise. Approximately 70% of people with confirmed exposure to toxigenic moulds exhibit neurotoxicity. The toxins released by S. chartarum are extremely toxic to nerve cells and in addition to being neurotoxins, they suppress the immune system leading the affected person more vulnerable to other infectious agents.

The mycotoxins released by these moulds underlie a debilitating illness currently known as ‘Chronic inflammatory response syndrome’ but research in this area is limited. One recent publication ‘Fungal toxins and host immune responses‘ attempts to summarise our current knowledge.

Fortunately, it seems that people usually recover once the fungal exposure is removed but this takes time. The key message is to make sure you are not living in an environment that harbours fungi.

Not all bad!

Like most things in life, fungi have their very good and very bad side. We humans need to understand and respect our fungal friends and make sure we are creating living environments where we can all live together in harmony. Building in flood plains is clearly not an option as is having a home with insufficient ventilation.

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