The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

With the popularity of the 5:2 Diet in the mainstream media, Intermittent fasting is all the rage!

But what exactly is it and is it good for you. In this article I aim to review it and give you my thoughts on my own personal experience with it.

Fasting has been part of all of the major religions in the World today and as a practice probably pre dates all of those religions by quite a long way.

Early humans probably had periods where they went without food. Tesco and refrigerators weren’t around back then! So our DNA is probably hard wired to adapt to periods of not eating.

The practice today stems from a detoxification benefit whereby the digestive system is given a break from the constant processing of food. It also takes quite a load off of the liver.

It is generally accepted that intermittent fasting can be split into 2 different types: whole day fasting and time restricted feeding. Whole day fasting really involves what it says on the tin – you go the whole day without eating any food. Alternate day fasting just means you do this one day and then eat normally the next. You keep alternating between thse two for as long as you require. The 5:2 Diet is a variation of this and is a gentler way to do intermittent fasting. This rationale involves fasting for two days a week (usually not consecutive days) and eating normally for the other 5 days – hence the title 5:2.

Time adjusted feeding doesn’t necessarily mean you eat less calories per day it just reduces the eating window. For example, people may fast for 16 hours each day and then eat all their calories in the remaining 8 hours. Both types of intermittent fasting have shown health benefits which certainly include weight loss.

There are studies that suggest that calorie restriction leads to an organism living longer (although the studies aren’t based on humans) so in theory fasting can help you live longer, although no one knows conclusively how or why? There are also studies that show fasting can help reduce the risk of both cancer and cardiovascular disease. I think a lot more research needs to be done before we can say with 100% accuracy that intermittent fasting will in fact do any of these things and certainly for every person who embarks upon it.

I have been doing the 5:2 protocol for the last few weeks. While I am not really trying to lose weight I am more interested in the health benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels and ultimately living longer, I can say that going two days on fewer calories is very doable. I tend to skip breakfast on my fast days and have a soup or bone broth for lunch. Throughout the day I have lots of water and herbal tea and then I eat a small evening meal, giving me around 600 calories for the day. I try to do this on a Wednesday and a Sunday as this works best with my current schedule.

intermittent fastingMy stomach rumbles for much of the afternoon, but as long as I’m busy or distracted the day goes quite fast. I haven’t tried exercising in a fasted state but I know people who have and they say you quickly become adjusted. I feel that 5:2 is certainly a protocol I can stick to in the long run and I may adjust it to 6:1 as my schedule dictates. I would suggest you give it a go, particularly if you want to lose weight, but also if you want to improve your health as studies suggest it will.

 

Why Hypertension is Bad For You

If you’re interested in learning more about why high blood pressure is bad for you, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’m going to highlight some of the negative effects that can occur when your blood pressure becomes higher than it should, so you will understand why this is a troubling condition that you should address straight away if you are diagnosed with it.

First of all, high blood pressure is also known as hypertension. It’s worth noting that the condition will often have no obvious symptoms at first, and this can continue for quite some time. However, this does not mean that it is not causing damage to your body. In fact, it can be a highly dangerous condition if it is left untreated for a long period of time.

In some cases, people may begin to experience dizziness which can lead to a loss of coordination, although this does not always happen with everybody who suffers from hypertension.

One of the biggest problems with high blood pressure is the damage it can cause to your arteries. In general, your arteries need to be strong and flexible, but high blood pressure can cause the narrowing and tightening of your arteries which can cause a whole host of problems and can even lead to a life-threatening aneurysm for some people.

Furthermore, high blood pressure has a significant impact on your heart health, leading to coronary artery disease, an enlarged heart, and even heart failure if you subject yourself to high levels of stress.

You may be aware of various brain-related problems that high blood pressure can pose, and studies have shown that high blood pressure can lead to strokes, dementia, or even simple cognitive impairment.

Another common problem that people with high blood pressure face is damage to their kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure in the worst cases, as well as milder, yet still troublesome issue that can cause scarring or kidney related aneurysms.

When it comes to your eyes, hypertension can have several unwanted effects that can quickly impair the quality of your vision. For example, nerve damage to the optical nerve can be disastrous, leading to bleeding on the eye and eventually blindness. What’s more, high blood pressure can also cause fluid to build up around your retinas, and this can lead to blurred vision or even vision loss, particularly if the condition is associated with diabetes.

In some circumstances, high blood pressure can lead to emergency situations that will require immediate medical attention, such as heart attacks, strokes, sudden loss of kidney function, and even cognitive issues such as memory loss. Regular exercise can help lower blood pressure but when this doesn’t work long term medication is required.

In conclusion, it is clear to see that high blood pressure can pose a variety of unwanted and potentially life-threatening health conditions, so if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, it’s certainly a good idea to get the issue under control as quickly as possible.

What Does The Length of Your Telomeres Tell You?

The length of your telomeres can shed light on many things related to your longevity. But what are telomeres and why are they so important?

Telomeres are the caps on the end of our DNA, a little like the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces. Our DNA contains our genetic material and each time a cell replicates our DNA is copied over to the new cell. As our telomeres shorten this impacts how successfully our DNA is transcribed and therefore how quickly our cells age. The cells reach a point where they are unable to carry on replicating properly, known as the Hayflick Limit, and they become senescent. A vital enzyme called telomerase is involved in maintaining the length of your telomeres, to stop them wearing out as fast. Amazing discoveries have been made over the past couple of decades about different ways you can increase your telomerase levels. These include different types of meditation, certain types of diets and exercise. In this article we’re going to focus on the exercise portion and look at the best ways you can maintain your telomere health.

regular exerciseNumerous studies have shown how shortened telomeres have been linked with accelerated cellular aging. In fact, one study from Belgium showed that moderate intensity physical exercsie (45 mins on a stationery bike) was enough to increase the levels of a molecule (nuclear respiratory factor 1) that protects the length of the subjects telomeres. Interestingly enough this factor is also associated with starvation and may go some way to explaining why fasting or lowering caloric intake has been associated with increased longevity.

Another study out of the US showed that people that did the most amount of exercise (30 -40 minutes at least 5 times per week) had the longest telomeres and that there was little difference in telomere length between sedentary individuals and those who performed moderate amounts of exercise. The authors quoted a difference of around 9 years in telomer length between the most active individuals and the most sedentary. The authors believed that the benefits of high levels of exercise protecting telomere length may be to to anti-inflammatory effect and reduction in oxidative stress. Although they concluded that more research was needed to prove this theory.

Another study used High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to illicit improvements in the levels of the enzyme telomerase and also telomere length as well. Strength training didn’t seem to have any effect on telomere legth in this study.

After reviewing the various studies on physical activity and telomere length, it appears that moderate to high intensity exercise done regularly (3-5 times a week) has been shown to improve the length of your telomeres. This would also indicate that these levels of exercise will be enough to slow down cellular aging and therefore extend your life.

 

 

Can Your Gut Bacteria Help You Sleep?

Many of you will have watched the BBC health documentary about getting more sleep. It was another report by health author Dr Michael Mosely and for many people a lot of the information wasn’t particularly new, however, it was probably a great reminder of our need to sleep more. The interesting part for me and many others was the suggestion that gut bacteria and the eating of a pre biotics could positively help your sleep. In fact, Mosely himself tried the suggestion over the course of a couple of weeks and noticed a significant improvement in his sleep quality.

 

 

What I wanted to do in this article was explore the idea in more depth and discuss both the science and the research behind the findings on the BBC show. I started off by looking at what exactly pre biotics are and how they differ from pro biotics. Pre biotics are broadly defined as the food that pro biotics feed on. Pro biotics are the various strains of bacteria in our gut. This gut bacteria, or micro flora, reside in a healthy gut and form a symbiotic relationship with us that keeps us healthy. Pre biotics, which are generally found in plant foods, are digested by the probiotics which helps them thrive. Short chain fatty acids such as butyric acid and acetic acid are formed during the fermentation of these pre biotics and are released into the gut lumen. Several studies have identified a relationship between levels of butyric acid in the colon and incidence of colon cancer. It appears that higher levels of buytrate are associated with lower levels of colon cancer.

 

But how does this help our sleep? Well one theory is that the energy produced by the short chain fatty acids can be used at night which off sets any blood sugar issues and can lead to a more restful nights sleep. Short chain fatty acids, particularly butyrate also modulate the immune sytem and can control inflammation. In fact, specific cytokines have been shown in studies to specifically effect the stage of sleep called non rapid eye movement sleep (nREM sleep) which are the 4 main stages in which we sleep.

 

Through these two mechanisms, it appears that taking pre biotics as a supplement can in fact have a positive effect on how we sleep. I’m sure over the next few years, research will shed light on the full effect of both pre biotics and pro biotics on human health including the positive effect on sleep.

 

Tips on Solving Skin Problems

Many people suffer from one type of skin disorder or another. The two most common types are eczema and psoriasis (acne is most prevalent in teenagers). I have suffered from psoriasis for over 30 years and have managed to keep it at bay with some of the tips I’m going to discuss in this article.

In skin conditions, adequate hydration is very important. Hydration is needed to aid digestion and to allow your body to sweat (one of the main pathways of detoxification). Water is also needed to help you pass stools and prevent a toxic build up in the colon. The usual recommendations of 6-8 glasses of clean water every day is a good place to start.

Food allergies are common among people who suffer from both psoriasis and eczema. The two most common ones are wheat and dairy. The protein in wheat (gluten) and the protein in milk (casein) are hard to break down and can cause intolerance to some people. These proteins can lead to skin disorders, particularly if the individual concerned has compromised digestion. So removing these types of food from the diet can often bring about an improvement in peoples skin.

Two types of herbal tea that help heal the digestive tract and therefore improve the symptoms of both of these skin conditions are slippery elm tea and American Saffron tea. These herbs are anti-inflammatory and sooth the gastro-intestinal tract which heals a leaky gut – one of the contributors to both psoriasis and also eczema. For more information about the benefits of these herbal teas visit Dr Pagano’s website.

skin disordersVitamin D is vitally important for the health of the skin and most psoriatics (myself included) will tell you that their skin improves in the Summer. Vitamin D can control the rate of skin turnover that is particularly affected in the condition of psoriasis. Along with getting safe natural amounts of sunlight I recommend taking a supplement of around 5000 IU per day all year round.

The previous tips in this article have all been internal resolutions to these skin conditions. There are topical applications that you can use to ease the symptoms of each ailment. I particularly like Virgin Coconut Oil to be rubbed onto my skin but Vitamin D lotion is also good. In terms of eczema oats are supposed to be very soothing on the skin and can be placed in a bath where the person soaks in the water for a period of time.

The tips I have shared in this article should help give you some relief (as they have me) to the two chronic skin ailments – psoriasis and eczema. They often require patience and persistence in order to pay off but are very worth it in the end.

 

 

What Are Natural Killer Cells?

Natural Killer (NK) cells are part of your immune arsenal and help protect you from bacteria, viruses and cancer! NK cells are a type of lymphocyte which are a type of white blood cell. They are unique amongst our many white blood cells and work in tandem with T cells to attack and destroy pathogenic invaders and cancer cells.

NK cells roam the body looking for the bad guys and when they find them they have two very potent weapons. The first is a substance called interferon, which actually prevents viruses from replicating. The second type of weapon at their disposal are poisonous chemicals such as nitric oxide which destroys the internal machinery of any invading cells or organisms.

NK cells also produce cytokines which are an immune system communicator which allow NK cells to help regulate other cells of the immune system. It is an incredibly clever and fine tuned system that helps us recover from illnesses of all types.

NK cell activity declines with age and also when you are subjected to stress but the good news is you can boost NK cell, and therefore your immune response, through some very simple and inexpensive ways which we will explore in detail in this article.

The first way is through the hormone melatonin, which is discussed in detail in one of ourĀ previous blog posts. It appears that as we age and our melatonin levels decline so does our NK cell activity. This is believed to be because the thymus gland shrinks as we age and a great number of NK cells are produced, along with other types of T cells, in the thymus. Melatonin appears to maintain the size of the thymus which means more NK cells are produced in order to fight off disease and infections. The key takeaway is to get more quality deep sleep (which improves melatonin production naturally) or take an oral melatonin supplement to augment the amounts produced naturally in your body.

Exercise is a great way to boost NK cell activity along with boosting the whole immune system in general. While too much exercise, like that done by marathon runners, can suppress the immune system, the correct type and intensity of exercise can stimulate NK cell production. Exercise helps the immune system in a number of ways. The first one being the contraction of muscles aid in moving lymph around the body. Unlike the circulatory system which has the heart in order to move blood around the body the lymphatic system doesn’t have an equivalent to the heart.

Cortico-steroid hormones, often produced by stress, can lead to shrinking of the thymus gland which is a power house of the immune system. Vigorous exercise helps burn off these cortico-steroids helping maintain the strength of your immune army. According to Dr Michael Colgan:

“Trained athletes in good health have a higher number of NK cells, and a higher level of NK cell activity then sedentary folk.”

Exercise that is vigorous but not exhausting, performed 3-4 times a week will ensure that your NK cell army stay in peak condition.

Meditation has been shown to significantly increase the levels on NK cells in the blood. This deep form of relaxation has also been shown to raise melatonin levels which helps you sleep more easily.

Certain vitamins and minerals along with various herbs are all associated with boosting the NK cells and therefore your bodies ability to fight disease. Echinacea, which is a herb, has been shown to increase NK cell activity, which is probably why it is used as a common cold remedy along with Vitamin C and zinc. Garlic has also been shown in studies to improve NK cell response.

Why You Should Be Taking Fish Oil

Fish Oil is a common supplement you’ll see in the shops and online. Fish Oil is mainly made up of Omega 3 Fatty Acids which are polyunsaturated Fatty Acids that have many health benefits. The three types involved in human nutrition are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA). ALA is mainly found in plant oils while EPA and DHA are usually found in cold water fish.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids have several proven health benefits for humans. These include improved cognitive function, improved metabolism and reduction in heart disease risk. One of the main mechanisms through which Omega 3 oils produce their benefits is through their anti inflammatory effects. Inflammation can cause a number of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease and Omega 3 fatty acids can help significantly with the management of these conditions.

Omega 3 fatty acids are also the main constituents of the fluid membranes of human cells. When you don’t have enough Omega 3 in your diet your cell membranes become less fluid and cells can’t communicate with each other as effectively as usual which can lead to problems. Fish oil has also been shown to reduce triglycerides (a strong marker for heart disease incidence!) in the blood and improve insulin sensitivity which can help with the long term deterioration which is Type II diabetes.

Fish oil can be consumed as a capsule or a liquid and research would suggest that most healthy people can ingest from 10-20 grammes a day of fish oil to see the most benefits. One of the brands we recommend to our clients is Eskimo 3 Oil by Nutri. I have personally used this brand for over 10 years and I have recommended it to dozens of my own clients and only have positive things to say about the company and the product.

The Benefits of Stretching

Stretching is a very misunderstood activity and if it is done at all it is performed very poorly – mainly as an after thought. The benefits of stretching are varied and include prevention of injury, reduction of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and lymph return. Stretching can also help your posture which will generally reduce and back or neck pain that you#re experiencing.

There are different types of stretches and they all have their benefits. If you want to stretch in preparation for exercise or sport then dynamic or ballistic stretching is best. This is where you move in and out of stretched positions in a controlled manner in order to prepare the connective tissue (muscles and ligaments) for the activity ahead. Whilst it must always be controlled ballistic stretching can be quite vigorous and used as part of a larger warm up phase. You will see professional sports players perfoming these drills on the side of the pitch when they prepare to come on. What you don’t see is the 30-40 minutes all of the team spend doing these drills ahead of the game!

Static stretching is a slower form of stretching, that is often included in a cool down or post exercise section. This is where the muscles are taken to their maximal stretched position and held for periods of time from 15-60 seconds. The aim here is to restore the muscle length to its former range and reduce muscle soreness post exercise. This type of stretching can also be done separate from an exercise session in order to improve general flexibility and range of motion. For example, gymnasts and martial artists, may perform 30-40 minutes of static stretching every day of the week in order to keep themselves supple enough to perform well in their sports.

stretching routineAside from sports, static stretching can also be used to help improve your posture and relieve back and neck pain. As a society we spend most of our day seated at a desk or in front of a screen of some sort. This leads to a forward head posture with very rounded shoulders. Not only does this not look particularly attractive it can be one of the main contributors of both low back pain and neck pain. By merely stretching the muscles that become shortened and tightened in this position, namely your pecs and sternocleidomastoid (neck) muscles, you’ll help reverse the poor posture and relieve any aches and pains that result from it.

As you have seen from this short post, stretching is very important for a number of reasons. I recommend you invest the time in finding a strech routine that is beneficial to you and adhere to a set number of stretch sessions per week.

What It’s Like Living in “The Zone”

The Zone is a popular diet designed by Doctor Barry Sears. It was originally produced to reduce heart disease through its effect on inflammation but also showed great weight loss results in the patients put on the diet that it became popular in wider circles and is now considered a weight loss diet.

The basic premise of the Zone Diet is to consume 40% of you daily calories in the form of carbohydrates, 30% as protein and 30% as fat. Generally, people are encouraged to eat 3 meals and 2 snacks on the Zone Diet eating plan.

The author claims that the calorie distribution helps control the amount of insulin produced in the pancreas, which he asserts is the major cause of obesity and weight gain in modern Western society. By controlling the amount of carbohydrates in the diet and there limiting insulin production the Zone Diet helps with weight loss.

The reason the Zone diet is controversial is people argue that it is high protein, which it really isn’t, and that it is high fat, which it certainly is compared to either protocols. The benefits of the Zone come from the encouragement of eating healthy fats on a regular basis and limiting high glycaemic carbohydrates.

I really like the Zone template as a good starting point for eating ratios. For some people, particularly if you’re very over weight, the 40% carbs is too much but all in all it is a solid model.

Get More From Your Running

runningMany people love to run but find it very laborious. Unless I have a specific goal in mind like training for an upcoming football season or looking forward to a trekking holiday in the Himalayas I find it very hard to motivate myself to just go out for a run.

What I find helps is having a running buddy or training partner. This keeps you accountable and also adds a social aspect to the session. You can also push each other to improve your running times by adding a bit of healthy competition into the mix. There are various running clubs and groups all across the country so if you’re not able to find your own running buddy go online and find your nearest running club- they are often free!

A great way to keep you motivated throughout a running programme is to vary things up. Not only can you change distances and terrain but you can switch from indoor runs on a treadmill to cross country runs in the park.

You can also change the types of running you do. Instead of just staedy state distance running you could try interval training or Fartlek runs. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions have become very popular recently and can be used to spice up a running programme.