Neurotransmitters: gut health, mental health, sex life & well-being

Gut feelings may be a real indication of state of mind

If you feel depressed, undermotivated or have headaches, you might need to boost your dopamine and/or serotonin?

What have depression, headaches, pleasure & gut problems in common?

Recent research suggests that almost everything we experience is strongly influenced by our gut bacteria! We refer to our deep intuitional feelings as ‘gut feelings’ and some have suggested these are our guardian angels. But this awareness of emotions in the gut reflects the inter-connectivity of the brain and the gut rather than any angels.

During our embryonic development, the nervous system develops via the gut and the gut itself ends up with more than 100 million nerve cells that are arranged in two thin layers from the oesophagus to the rectum. As far as we know, these gut nerve cells aren’t capable of thought, but they communicate with the brain with profound results.

This is still a new field of research, but it is well established that gastrointestinal problems can cause mood changes and that anti-depressants can calm gut symptoms (such as irritable bowel) by acting on the nerve cells in the gut. With attention to your diet and lifestyle, you may be able to boost your dopamine and serotonin to an ideal balance.

Neurotransmitters: why should you be interested?

Our bodies are full of chemical messengers of various types that perform many different critical roles in our bodies. Neurotransmitters are one group of such chemicals, and they conduct, boost and balance chemical messages between nerve cells (neurons) and their target cells. The target cells are distributed throughout the body and may be inside glands, muscles, or nervous tissue.

Most of the neurotransmitters are produced in the gut by bacteria. We have literally billions of these neurotransmitters that have roles rather like those of the conductor in an orchestra. They keep our brains functioning, our hearts beating and our lungs breathing. Neurotransmitters also influence our feelings such as pleasure, joy, fear, our moods, and our sexuality.

Mental health & Neurotransmitters

The two neurotransmitters that we currently hear most about are Dopamine and Serotonin.

Dopamine is involved in memory, attention, motivation, and reward. It is the neurotransmitter that is essential for sex. It creates desire for sexual activity and in a man causes his erection and ejaculation. It is critical to sex drive!

Serotonin is another important neurotransmitter, but high levels of Serotonin inhibit sexuality. Too much Serotonin inhibits both sexual behaviour and a man’s ability to ejaculate. The diverse benefits of Serotonin are that it is important to efficient blood clotting, it enhances sleep, and it makes you feel positive. People with low levels of Serotonin are more likely to feel stressed. They may feel depressed and have panic attacks. Interestingly, Serotonin speeds up bowel function and pushes food through the intestine faster.

How to boost your dopamine & serotonin

Pineapple or Coffee – this could make the difference on whether you switch on Dopamine or Serotonin!

When you look at the foods that boost each of these neurotransmitters, you will see that they are rather similar.

Foods to boost Dopamine

  • Protein foods that are rich in the amino acids, tyrosine, and phenylalanine. Examples are Turkey, Chicken, Fish, Beef, Dairy, Soy, Legumes
  • Probiotics (gut bacteria play an important role in Dopamine synthesis)
  • Fava beans (these inhibit Parkinson’s disease, which is at least partly caused by low Dopamine)
  • Iron, Niacin, Folate, Vitamin B6
  • Nuts especially almonds and walnuts
  • Pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Milk and dairy
  • Caffeine

High levels of saturated fats (full fat dairy, coconut oil and palm oil) can disrupt Dopamine

Foods to boost Serotonin

Foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan boost Serotonin levels. Many are the same foods that boost Dopamine because proteins often contain both tryptophan and phenylalanine. Some of the top foods for boosting Serotonin are:

  • Salmon
  • Nuts (especially almonds) and seeds
  • Turkey and other poultry such as chicken but turkey is the highest
  • Eggs
  • Soy and foods made of Soy, such as Tofu
  • Dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt, and cheese
  • Pineapple
Sunshine beats depression!

Both Serotonin and Dopamine levels are enhanced by spending plenty of time exposed to sunlight. They are also increased by exercise, listening to music and meditation. It seems likely that music might stimulate Dopamine more effectively than other neurotransmitters.

Radiation – a Health Risk in Putin’s War on Ukraine?

ancient armor black and white chivalry
War – no win for all

Putin’s aggressive attack on the Ukraine puts Europe at high risk of another radiation catastrophe. Ukraine has many nuclear power plants and damaging any one of them could release clouds of lethal radiation.

In some ways the current assault is just yet another in centuries of assaults on the Ukraine and near-by countries. I’m a scientist, not a historian and don’t pretend to understand the politics. However, it is remarkable to read of the number of wars that have affected the Ukraine region. As one example, in 1919 the city of Kyiv changed ‘hands’ five times in a period of less than 12 months.

The recent news that Putin’s troops shelled the Ukraine and Europe’s largest power station Zaporizhzia last week was of great concern to the whole of Europe. Fortunately, no radiation seems to have been released. There are conflicting news reports as to who currently controls of the facility. The Russians had announced that they had taken over the plant but more recent reports – this one from India – report that the plant is now back under Ukrainian control.

Billboard outside our ‘camp’ in April 1991

5 years after Chernobyl – conference at Chernobyl in 1991

Putin’s current assault reminds me of my visit to Chernobyl in late April 1991, five years after the ‘radiation accident’ to attend an international conference of radiation ‘experts’ at the Chernobyl site. I’m not sure who the organizers were (someone who can read Russian might be able to read this billboard) but we were housed outside the 30km exclusion zone in a former army camp. It seemed to me that the conference organizers were ‘pro-Kyiv’ but nevertheless during our visit we were made to wear Russian army uniforms (including ‘underwear’) and were constantly watched by KGB officers. Putin may well have been one of these senior KGB?

The photo below shows the ‘international scientists’ standing in front of the Sarcophagus, the shelter built around the faulty reactor 6.

Apparently, the Sarcophagus has now greatly deteriorated and may soon leak radiation. This isn’t very surprising as the standard of construction in the USSR in those years was atrocious!

International scientists in fromt of the Chernobyl Sarcophagus. Dr Judy Ford in front (when her hair was still black!)

The lack of adequate equipment at the conference was remarkable. In my talk I am pictured giving below, someone is trying to hold the slide in place. Even this ancient projector is broken and given this is an international meeting, it is the best they have!

Dr Judy Ford giving her talk at the Chernobyl conference in 1991

Were we at risk of high radiation exposure?

The answer is ‘no’. There were very strict regulations about travelling within the ‘exclusion zone’ and several of my colleagues carried Geiger counters with them. As we stood in front of the Sarcophagus, I asked ‘How much radiation exposure am I being exposed to?’. My colleagues told me that it was less than half a ‘chest X-Ray’ and that I probably would have received more radiation on my plane trip from Australia!

So, given the different types of radiation exposures we might receive, I have adapted a Table sourced from to give an overview of relative risks. Exposures to high levels of ionizing radiation can cause mutation (changes in genes), radiation sickness, various types of cancer and it can kill. However, radiation is also able to give us clean power and when used in various medical applications it can be used to prolong life. Radiation is measured in milli Sieverts (mSv).

Occasion of exposure  Radiation dose (mSv)
Single dose, fatal within weeks10,000
Typical dose Chernobyl workers who died within a month6,000
Accumulated dosage to cause fatal cancer in 5% of people1,000
Recommended limit for radiation workers every five years100
Dose received in full-body CT scan10
Airline crew flying New York to Tokyo polar route, per year9
Natural radiation most are exposed to each year2
CT Scan Head2
Spine X-Ray1.50
Mammogram Breast0.40
Chest X-Ray0.10

If you click the link below, you can learn more about my background and work experience. Please contact me if this blog has raised any questions?

Ageing, Telomeres, & Chronic Inflammation

Chronic Inflammation

We often hear discussions about inflammation but what exactly is chronic inflammation and why does ageing cause it?

We’ve all seen ‘acute inflammation’. Usually, we recognize it as a swelling that is red and warm to touch. Often this will follow an injury of some sort – perhaps a cut, a burn, or a twisted ankle? Our body reacts to the injury by sending in several different types of defender cells, some of which release a range of chemicals. This promotes cell division so that new cells can heal the broken or damaged tissue.

Acute inflammation usually heals our external wounds. However, when serious, ongoing, chronic inflammation occurs inside our internal organs, it can lead to our death.

Chronic inflammation involves the same cells and same processes as acute inflammation, but since it occurs within our internal organs, it is hidden from view. We usually don’t know that this chronic inflammation is present until it has caused some serious, perhaps life-threatening illness.

But chronic inflammation isn’t usually caused by injury. Rather, it is caused by the cell division of the ageing cells in our internal organs. Cell division occurs throughout our livespan because all tissues have to be continuously renewed in order to function. However, because each cell can only divide a limited number of times. When it reaches its ‘telomere limit’ (see below), it will create inflammation unless you take ‘dietary action’. Unfortunately, normal cell division itself causes chronic inflammation as a side effect of replacing old cells.

Inflammation defined

Cartoon showing cell interactions in Inflammation

The Medline ‘MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia’ defines inflammation as the response that occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or ‘any other cause’. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues which in turn causes swelling.

When chronic, ‘low grade’ inflammation occurs within our bodies it can have dangerous long-term effects. Apart from possibly damaging internal organs, the stimulation of cell division can both reduce lifespan and increase the risks of cancer. Some scientific publications are now referring to this process as ‘inflammageing’ and authors are starting to write about our ‘Inflammation Clock’ (see image below) rather than our Biological Clock!

Many scientific publications now suggest that inflammation of the endothelium is the most important problem. The endothelium is the name given to the single layer of cells that lines our various organs and cavities of the body. The term is mostly used to refer to the cells that line our veins and arteries, our hearts and our lymphatic vessels.

Ageing and Inflammation

Ageing per se is arguably the most important cause of this low-grade chronic inflammation that is ultimately the controller of lifespan. People who live longer, especially centenarians, have lower levels of chronic inflammation than average! There are probably several reasons for this but dietary factors can help us.

You will find a full explanation of how and why ageing cells become inflammatory in my book ‘Why We Age’, which you can access from this website or as a book or Kindle from my Amazon page.

There are also detailed and easy descriptions of this process in each of the two courses that are available on this website.  

Put simply, each of our cells has a limited capacity to divide. This is determined by the length of telomeres (the ends of chromosomes). A small piece of a telomere is chopped off each end of each chromosome every time a cell divides. When telomeres become too short, the cell can no longer divide. The two options are then either self-destruction (cells undergo ‘apoptosis’) or senescence.

Unfortunately, the state of senescence causes inflammation in all the tissues in which it occurs. Moreover, since the inflammatory process stimulates more cells to divide, inflammation itself ultimately leads to more inflammation.

For this reason, ageing is always associated with chronic inflammation! However, the way our bodies deal with this chronic inflammation is determined firstly by our own specific genes and secondly by our lifestyle.

We can’t do anything about our genes but there is a lot we can do about our lifestyles. In the next few weeks, I will write more about reducing inflammation but in the meantime, you can check out my blogs on Olive Oil, Selenium and Dark Chocolate!

In addition, you should make sure that you are avoiding other ageing accelerants.

Major ageing accelerants

Stress, anxiety, and other emotional factors

Experiencing childhood trauma: emotional, physical, or sexual abuse reduces lifespan because these induce inflammation through direct effects on Tryptophan and Phenylalanine metabolites.

Acute stress in adult life can also cause inflammation (and thus shorten life) in a similar way – so do try to avoid acute stress if possible.

Being very overweight and/or having low physical activity shortens telomeres. If this is you, take some action before it is too late!

Exposure to environmental pollutants, including cigarette smoke also shorten telomeres. Try to avoid all exposures if you want to live a longer, healthier life.

Selenium – the secret of a healthier life and longevity?

Critical roles in cancer prevention, healthy thyroid, heart & mind

You might never have heard about the importance of consuming Selenium. However it is critical that you eat enough, but not too much Selenium rich food to live a longer, healthier life!

Selenium is a critical trace element and a recent study of blood donors in Australia suggested that deficiency (or borderline deficiency) could be widespread even in healthy younger people!

Several studies have shown that Selenium is very important in healthy ageing.

  • All the centenarians who have been studied have had high body levels of Selenium.
  • A recent study in China showed that the longest living people had the highest levels of Selenium.
  • The European EVA study of aging also showed a very strong statistical association between higher levels of Selenium and longevity.
  • Using slightly different criteria, numerous published medical studies show that healthy elderly people have higher levels of Selenium than those who require ongoing living support or are institutionalised.

I think it is best to obtain your nutrients from ‘natural’ food. So here is a list of the top 10 food sources of Selenium. The recommended daily amount varies between different sources but 100 to 200 micrograms each day is probably ideal for older people. This should NOT be exceeded because being a ‘trace element’ it is as dangerous to have too much as it is to have too little!

OrderMicrograms SeleniumPer 100 grams Food
11917Brazil Nuts
2354Four or more nuts other than Brazil nuts but without peanuts!
3181.5Lamb Kidney
4168Beef Kidney
5160Dried Atlantic Cod
6124.4Cooked Sardines
7100Veal Kidney
897Cooked Mullet
996Boiled Mussels
1093Canned Tuna
(data taken from the AUSNET 2011-2013 list of 53 nutrients in 5,740 foods and beverages)

It’s easy to see that Brazil nuts are by far the highest source of Selenium and about five nuts a day will give you all you need. If you ingest Selenium from other foods, eat less Brazil nuts!

Trace Elements

Our bodies’ trace elements include Selenium, Iron, Cobalt, Nickle, Chromium, Zinc, Vanadium, Copper, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Iodine, which are all engaged in major body functions.  You need some of each of these – so more about the others in a future blog.

Among the trace elements, Selenium (Se) represents a concentration of 0.2–0.3 µg/g body weight. Along with other micronutrients, such as oligo-elements, vitamins, and antioxidants, Se is a vital element for the body’s health, and its LOW or HIGH intake can lead to serious disorders!

The Science: Antiviral, Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory Roles

Selenium is necessary for the structure and function of 25 key body enzymes. There are 12 known “selenoproteins” that are important components of the antiviral, antiproliferative, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory defence systems.

The Science: Thyroid Function, Cancer Prevention, and Immunity Roles

Selenium is a component of three “Iodothyronines” that are critical to the normal function of the Thyroid gland. It also contributes to a further three “Thioredoxin” enzymes that play critical roles in cancer prevention. Selenium is also critical for the normal function of the Thyroid gland through one Iodothyronine deiodinase and three Iodothyronine deiodinase enzymes. It also plays another critical role in immunity via its part in the production of Actin in Macrophage cells.

If this weren’t enough, Selenium also forms part of five known Glutathione Peroxidase enzymes that play critical roles in defending our bodies against ‘oxygen radicals’.

Because of all these diverse roles, Selenium positively intervenes in preventing a wide range of diseases but especially cancer, thyroid disease and cardiovascular diseases.

Selenium and Diseases of the Ageing Brain and Nervous System

Some of the Selenium proteins are also engaged in various functions of the central nervous system. These include cognitive performance, memory, and motor coordination. For this reason, Selenium is thought to play a beneficial role in preventing several very serious neurodegenerative disorders associated with ageing including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases!

Roles in earlier stages of Life

In earlier life, Selenoproteins play an important role in both female and male reproductive function in both males and females. Many problems of infertility and foetal development are caused by Selenium deficiencies, but this will be discussed in a separate blog.

Crush nuts if necessary!

When I spoke about Selenium in one of my recent talks, one of the audience members was concerned that some older people might have difficulty chewing nuts. Another person wisely suggested that nuts can easily be ground up and added to other foods. There are many possibilities but always remember to eat Selenium rich foods for a longer healthier life.

Much more information is given in my online courses on this website.

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

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!

The Depression Epidemic – Another role for Vitamin D

Anxiety and depression are usually linked together in population statistics but although they may sometimes be found together and some people may suffer from both conditions at the same time, it’s likely that they have different underlying causes.


The term depression does not refer to those occasional bad periods we all go through where we have a normal response of feeling dejected or extremely disappointed because of an undesired occurrence or outcome. Depression should also not be confused with boredom or lack of stimulation although some of the symptoms are quite similar. Most countries of the world report statistics of about a 6% incidence of medically diagnosed depression but this is probably a gross underestimation of the rate of depression.

Depression is rarely defined but is described by the presence of one or more of symptoms that are listed below. However, before concluding the problem is (clinical) depression, I think it’s important to consider whether the feeling might be justified and whether the issue could be changed by a modification of lifestyle? The following list comprises symptoms that could be depression or normal reactions to your current circumstances.

  • Persistent feeling of sadness: – Is there a reason for your sadness? Are you lonely? Could you join a social group or have a pet?
  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed: – Are you bored? Do you just need a ‘change of scenery’ or a new source of stimulation?
  • Changes in appetite (weight loss or gain): – This could have many causes and a general medical check is probably indicated.
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much: – Check your sleeping conditions and routines and look at serotonin (below). It’s also worth trying the effects of eating different foods at different times of the day. A glass of milk before bed may help you sleep because it is high in tryptophan (see below) but for different reasons, high GI food like white rice will also help you sleep. Unfortunately, eating rice or a similar food in the evening could also cause you to gain weight, but a modest serving may be a good solution to your sleep problem.
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue: – This could be caused by an illness and should be investigated but fatigue can often result from a period of reduced activity. Establishing a regular exercise routine is essential to good health and you should try to exercise to your own maximum (or near maximum) ability.

Some other symptoms that are often listed and may be symptoms of more serious depression or other mental illness are:

  • Slowed movements and speech; Increase time spent in purposeless tasks
  • Feeling guilty or worthless; Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Decreased confidence and self esteem
  • Negative, bleak, or pessimistic attitude
  • Self-harmful or suicidal thoughts and/or actions
  • Anger
  • Confusion, sadness, or hopelessness
  • Unexplained body aches and pains

Thyroid Disease and Depression

An underactive thyroid gland can cause depression and mild to severe fatigue. This condition (sometimes autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease) is also usually associated with weight gain, increased sensitivity to hot or cold, bowel changes and menstrual cycle irregularities in females. This contrasts with an overactive thyroid that causes unusual nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, and irritability.

If you are experiencing this group of symptoms, and especially if you have a family history of Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune diseases, do see your doctor immediately.

An underactive thyroid is often caused by lack of dietary Iodine. In the 1970’s and 1980’s an Adelaide doctor, Basil Hetzel found that endemic goiter and cretinism in Papua New Guinea was caused by Iodine deficiency. He was largely responsible for introducing Iodine to salt to overcome the international problem of Iodine deficiency. These days, however, we are discouraged from eating salt and most diets (except perhaps in Japan where Iodine is obtained from eating seaweed) are deficient in Iodine. Since Iodine has now been demonstrated to play many important biochemical roles as well as its critical role in the thyroid, you might consider speaking to a nutritionist about some form of supplementation. You might find that you feel much happier!

Vitamin D, Tryptophan and Depression

In recent blogs I’ve referred to the worldwide deficiencies in Vitamin D that are largely caused by migration, changes in lifestyle, especially much more time spent indoors and over-zealous sun avoidance to avoid skin cancer. I have also referred to the range of health problems that have resulted from this deficiency but especially the reduction in immunity. Here I want to talk about yet another role of vitamin D in preventing Depression. Several recently published studies have shown convincing evidence that supplementation with Vitamin D reduces depression.

Vitamin D doesn’t affect mood directly – despite the positive effects of sunshine – but Vitamin D is an important regulator of the conversion of an amino acid called tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is important in regulating your sleep-awake daily cycle while serotonin is your mood-regulating ‘happiness’ hormone.

Milk is the best source of the amino acid TRYPTOPHAN, but tryptophan can also be obtained from eating leafy greens, broccoli, peas, mushrooms, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and watercress. But the important new information is that vitamin D plays an important role in the chemical conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and plays several different roles in maintaining optimal serotonin levels.

So, as I have advised before, most modern lifestyles do not give us enough exposure to sunlight to create sufficient Vitamin D and we either need to eat large amounts of fatty fish and/or seaweed or supplement with Vitamin D capsules.

This message is important for people of all ages but perhaps especially the elderly.

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

Health and environments: Should men and women live together?

Apart from the obvious differences in interests and daily habits, many of us are aware that ‘he’ generally feels warmer and ‘she’ cooler, that men and women often disagree about whether a room is too hot or too cold, and that one of a couple often needs to compromise in some way. As well as gender, there is often quite a marked difference in preferred temperature in people of different ages and many of us will have suffered from feeling very hot in the homes of elderly relatives or friends.

I started writing this article today because I was feeling a bit depressed and wondered whether it was just because the sky was grey and it was drizzly, or whether it was because I was bored?  As it turns out, it may have been both but in my research on the weather and mood, I found a Japanese study from 2018[1] that thoroughly studied ‘health symptoms’ associated with the weather in males and female of different ages.

The study included 4548 Japanese people and their reactions to changes in temperature and humidity in the whole month of October 2013. The average age of the participants was 44.7 years. There were slightly more females than males and 60% were aged between 18 and 65 years. Dew point was used as the measure of humidity rather then relative humidity as this measures the temperature when the air is fully saturated with water vapor. The analysis considered and adjusted for differences in ongoing health in individuals so that the conclusions were not biased by such health issues.

I expect some readers will have different experiences to these, but the important point is that the weather really does affect our health and general feeling of well-being. It is not just someone’s imagination.

We, humans like average!

Both low and high temperatures and low and high humidity are associated with aches, pains, and mood changes but these differ between males and females and between age groups. If nothing else, the results give us a good explanation for why we often disagree about which temperatures and which levels of humidity are most comfortable? So, let’s consider the problems that can be influenced by the weather as well as gender-based similarities and differences.

Joint pains                         

Joint problems – especially arthritis respond to weather

Both men and women are likely to suffer from increased joint pain on days of either increased temperature and/or increased humidity. This occurs at ALL AGES but especially in those aged under 18!


Headaches are less commonly associated with the weather although older people (65 and older) suffer from more headaches on colder days and women are more likely to experience headaches when the humidity is high.

Respiratory problems

Allergy or virus? Respiratory symptoms respond to the weather

The researchers asked participants whether they had ‘a runny nose’, ‘sneezes’, ‘coughs’, ‘sore throat’, ‘fever’ and/or ‘chill’ on any of the monitored days. There was considerable variation in the responses of the different groups, but overall – sneezing was quite strongly associated with lower humidity in both males and females aged over 18 years but with lower temperature in those aged under 18! Lower temperature was also likely to be associated with coughing but especially in those aged 65 and older.

‘Chill’ is a term that is often used to describe a feeling of being cold and unwell for a relatively short period of time. The authors of this paper found that chills were quite strongly associated with decreases in temperature or humidity in all but the youngest group of subjects. Similarly, lowered temperature and/or humidity were also strongly associated with contracting a common cold in all groups but especially in those aged under 18.

Muscle pain, Backpain, Itchiness and Eczema

Surprisingly to me, males and female of all ages are much more likely to suffer from muscle pain as the temperature rises. However, unlike joint pain, muscle pain is not affected by humidity. Back pain isn’t influenced by the weather in people aged under 65 but those aged 65 and older experience more back pain in both high temperatures and in high humidity.

Increased temperature is strongly associated with Eczema in those under 18 and over 65 in whom it is increased nearly 30 times. Surprisingly to me, Eczema is only increased by increasing humidity in those aged between 18 and 64 but not by temperature in this age group.

Psychological effects of weather: Anxiety and Depression

Both temperature and humidity affect mental health

In people over the age of 18, increases in temperature elevate anxiety by a factor of five and increased humidity also caused a similar effects on anxiety in those aged 65 and older. Unfortunately, the publication doesn’t show us the breakdown for males and females by age but the ‘men’ versus ‘women’ table for subjects at all ages, shows that men’s anxiety increases seven times with increasing humidity whereas women’s anxiety increases with increasing temperature! Even more inconveniently men’s risk of becoming depressed is increased more than ten times with increasing temperature whereas women are opposite – women are ten times as likely to become depressed when the temperature decreases.


The differences between men and women’s responses to weather and temperature are REAL. He or she is not just being difficult! I’m not quite sure where you go from here in setting the temperature of the air conditioner but at least understanding the differences should help the discussion!

[1] Mihye Lee et al (2018) ‘Weather and Health Symptoms”. Intl J of Environmental Research & Public Health. 15: 1670-1685

Vitamin E deficiency, migraines & ‘Visual disturbances’

How I discovered I needed Vitamin E

Gall bladder problems and Cholecystectomy

Six months after I gave birth to my baby Alexia, I became very jaundiced. I had some pain under my right ribs and felt unwell after eating some meals, but it was when my stools turned white and my urine was almost black, that I knew I had a problem!

I was attending a conference when my pain first became quite severe, and I had to leave the conference without giving my talk. At the conference, one of the doctors sitting near me in the lecture theatre told me that I had postnatal cholecystitis, but unfortunately it took some weeks for the doctors I visited as a patient to realize that I had gall bladder issues and not hepatitis! Gall bladder disease is quite common after a pregnancy and the rate is greatly increased with long term use of the contraceptive pill.

The gallbladder is important for the digestion of fats and oils

In the weeks after the operation

Unfortunately, even once in hospital, I continued to suffer from ‘medical diagnostic errors’ and ended up having a major hemorrhage after the first operation that led to several blood transfusions, collapsed lungs then a second operation and six weeks in hospital overall. But after all that I felt very well until I started noticing some odd ‘visual disturbances’.

Fat soluble vitamins and the role of the Gallbladder

My post-operative hemorrhage was almost certainly due to a deficiency of Vitamin K (another fat soluble vitamin involved in blood clotting) – unfortunately for me I had already told the doctors prior to the operation that I seemed to have slow clotting but again my information was ignored.

After I’d been home for some time and was otherwise feeling well, I noticed that whenever I went into a certain shopping mall, I would develop an uncomfortable, dizzy feeling. This feeling would come on in other places that were brightly lit so I decided to research what it might be? Fortunately, I found information in a book on nutrients and vitamins that led me to try taking natural Vitamin E, which completely resolved my symptoms. Interestingly, I found that when I finished the first bottle of tablets and was then sold synthetic Vitamin E that that product did not work! I purchased natural vitamin E again and have been taking this now (symptom free) for over 40 years.

Chatting at lunch last week!

I was chatting with a couple of friends last week when I leant that one of them had recently had her gall bladder removed. So, I mentioned to her that she might need to supplement her fat-soluble vitamins and described my own experience with vitamin E and ‘dizziness’. She was immediately excited as she had already started to experience similar symptoms and here, unexpectantly was her answer.

But the other friend who was with us then spoke about how similar-sounding visual disturbances preceded her migraines and I was immediately intrigued as to whether Vitamin D supplements might reduce migraines.

Vitamin E and Migraine Headaches

The medical literature suggests that migraines have many different causes and that deficiencies in several different vitamins, including those of the ‘B group’ may play a role. However, in females who suffer from migraines that relate to the menstrual cycle, Vitamin E can offer complete relief of the headaches. Vitamin E also offers relief to people who suffer from migraines ‘with auras’ but may not help those with other migraines. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that this little discussed vitamin plays key roles in neurological function: not only is Vitamin E deficiency associated with progressive neuropathy in children, recent research shows that it can play a role in neurological deterioration in aging.

It’s ‘early days’ for this research but some benefits are seen with Vitamin E supplementation in Alzheimer’s disease although not in Parkinson’s.

Low fat diets and Vitamin E deficiency

Vitamin E is readily available in many foods including vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, and many vegetables but especially spinach, red peppers and avocados. Because of its availability, we might expect that deficiencies would be rare.

However, just as with a poorly functioning gall bladder, diets that are too low in fat will not enable sufficient absorption of Vitamin E.

Action: Check out any odd visual and/or other neurological symptoms

If you have odd neurological symptoms, you might need to see your doctor quickly and you could have something serious. Nevertheless, I would suggest that if you develop some mild symptoms, you consider your diet: do you have sufficient intake of fat and/or oil? Are you are able to digest fats and oils without getting uncomfortable abdominal symptoms? If you do have problems eating fats and oils, you might need to see a gastroenterologist, or you could try to get relief with Ox Bile!

Nevertheless, if you do have difficulty consuming fats and oils, your neurological symptoms are likely to be caused by low absorption of Vitamin E and you are likely to find that a quality supplement will reduce your symptoms.

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