Rethink Health - November 2010

News through the GoodHealthKeeping lens

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Light Yields

As the clocks go back for another winter, light has been on my mind. I realised I had forgotten much that was in John Ott's classic (Health and Light, 1973) so I re-read it on the plane back from Hong Kong.

If we rank the essentials for life, radiation of various sorts comes in the top three. The visible part of the light spectrum and its neighbours, the infra-red and ultra-violet, are the driving force of starch and oxygen formation, and disposal of carbon dioxide. They also give warmth, and delight us by illuminating and colouring what we see. They set our body clocks and tune us to the seasons. They even sway the gender of our offspring. And they probably affect our health in many other ways.

Ott was a victim of arthritis. One day he broke his glasses and had to manage without for several weeks. His joints improved dramatically. He subsequently demonstrated many similar benefits from direct, unfiltered sunlight. 

Deterrence of cancer through the production of vitamin D is easy to explain. Other light effects are more mysterious, and seem to depend on direct illumination of the brainstem or pineal gland, or possibly their stimulation through ultraviolet detectors in the eye - even perhaps all of the above.

Meanwhile x-rays from television sets - especially colour receivers - and intense microwaves are capable of great insidious harm. The jury is out on the effects of overhead power lines, radio and microwave transmitters.

I now make a point of taking off my glasses when I am out of doors, to soak up as much ultraviolet as possible. I leave my head bare, to let a little light filter through to my pineal gland. Window glass and polycarbonate stop most ultraviolet, so indoors the best you can do is use full spectrum light bulbs. Unfortunately these are not necessarily the same as low-energy bulbs! Brief daily exposure to the light from a domestic ultraviolet insect trap may be a practical substitute, but can be over-done.

So, here are a few hot tips to keep the family happy this winter:-

Supplements Knocked 

Glucosamine, chondroitin and probiotics all took some stick from scientists this month. Acceptable evidence of benefit is lacking, apparently. Meanwhile Prozac gets a plug for PMT, and genetic manipulation is being promoted for pain relief.

In my experience, context matters. Chondroitin and glucosamine are only any use if a decent amount of cartilage remains in the joint. If it is severely damaged or worn away completely, these supplements cannot help. And in any case, eating the cartilage and glue from fish and bones is a cheap and effective alternative.

I notice no mention was made of fish body oil (containing EPA and other omega-3 essentials) as a remedy for inflammation and pain in joints. Acceptable evidence does exist of benefit from 3 gm daily or more. But that doesn't help drug sales!

With probiotics the problem is shelf life. Live bacteria consume sugars and turn them into lactic acid, hence the sourness of yoghurt.  But eventually they perish for lack of sugar, and choked by the acidity. Only live bacteria can be helpful - the milk solids convey no benefit at all. Yoghurt has to be freshly home-made to be a reliable source of germs, and what counts for more is that you provide (through your diet) the internal climate in which they thrive. In that case, one carton should be enough, for ever - you multiply the germs  inside you, and don't need to buy any more.

And by the way, progesterone has since the 1960s been the only sensible cure for PMT. Why doctors ignore it - a prescribable medicine - I do not know. 

(Genetics are just the great white hope now that new, effective and safe pharmaceuticals are an endangered species.)

Tasteless Noise

I quite enjoyed the food on my recent long-haul flights, but new evidence from Manchester University shows that the noisy environment in airliners interferes with the sense of taste, particularly of sweet and salty flavours, giving the food its reputation for drabness. Presumably the same goes for loud musak in restaurants or shopping malls. Conversely, soft and relaxing music promotes a mellower mood which certainly improves digestion and the general enjoyment of a meal.

So, it's ear-plugs during the in-flight meal, but a well-chosen CD before dinner at home.

Sleep Helps You Lean

Sleep promotes fat loss, according to Dr Plamen D. Penev of Chicago University. If you diet but sleep too little, you lose the same weight but it's muscle, and you feel hungrier. 

Not what you'd expect, and all the more welcome to overweight Americans and British. Not of much interest in China, however, where fat people are very rare. 

The centre of gravity is moving west, just when the East is rapidly becoming the centre of everything else. Some element of cause and effect, perhaps?