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.

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

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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!

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