Thursday, 13 July 2017

July 2017: the immune system


Our immune system is responsible for preventing and fighting infections, germs and cancer. Located throughout the body, it includes, amongst many others: the thyroid, adrenal glands, and the intestinal system. The appendix, generally thought to be useless, in fact is made entirely of immune tissue and contains the best and most useful bacteria for the gut.

Symptoms of immune disorders are: frequent sickness, allergies, tiredness and fatigue; blood disorders, inflammation or infection of the internal organs; digestive issues, delayed growth and slow development.

Reasons why the immune system may not be functioning properly are, for instance: emotional stress, poor sleep, viral or bacterial infection, drug therapy, blood transfusions, surgery, overtraining, UV and other forms of radiation. Also: smoking, alcohol, excessive use of medicines (antibiotics), a sedentary life, obesity. 
And of course: bad diet!

How we can help
The state of our immune system is of vital importance for our wellbeing - and we can do a lot about it ourselves. 

Even small changes will make a big difference. 
Try ditch processed foods, the usual culprit. Sugary snacks, soda, fried foods and red meats are best avoided. See [1]. 
Most lists of immune-boosting foods contain yoghurt, garlic, honey, mushrooms, tea, coloured vegetables, chicken soup and Ceylon or true cinnamon - see for yourself [2].

We tend to be too hygienic! Both advertising and peer pressure make us clean ourselves and our environment far more than necessary. Not only do we damage the natural protection of microbes on our skin, we also add dangerous substances like triclosan, a carcinogenic pesticide which disrupts our hormone system and normal breast development. It is now found in practically all cleaning products [3].
For children in particular, it is important to come in contact with dirt. If you have been exposed to a variety of germs in your early years, you are far less likely to get allergies and asthma later [4]. 
And do we really need a shower every day? More and more, experts are coming to a different conclusion. 
Some researchers think that by washing our skin on a daily basis we could be scrubbing off a natural shield. The harmless bacteria on our skin help form a barrier against microbes that are potentially harmful, says Elizabeth Grice from the University of Pennsylvania. They protect us, they educate the immune system, modulate the immune and inflammatory response and don't allow pathogenic or opportunistic bacteria“ [5].
As well as getting a tiny bit dirtier, what else can you do? Lemon, cooking oil, vinegar and baking soda are just a few multipurpose cleaning items you may find in your closet. For how to use those, see [6].
As to shampoo - some do it differently. Heard of the No Poo movement? It's not what you think ... [7]. 
And those of us who dislike the smell of Febreze type 'air fresheners' are absolutely right. Like so many similar products foisted upon us by the clean brigade, it produces a fragrance which is both highly poisonous and impossible to get rid of [8]. 

Habits are very important, they keep us together in this life. But change is possible - and babysteps work! 

To read New Scientist article 'Immune Retune’: click
on the right hand side of this page, below July 2017. 

And ... don't shun the sun! I just read in the New Scientist that they have finally discovered that sun is good for you. Unless you rarely venture outside and then, suddenly, go on a sunbathing holiday. But if you catch the sun regularly, you escape many other diseases from which even taking vitamin D won't protect you. 

So no need for all those nasty chemical sunscreens. See 'Don't shun the sun!' on the right hand side of this page.
And if you got yourself a bit burned, apparently there is always sage tea. See Who knew? 


veg: beet, broad beans, carrots, chinese leaves, globe artichokes, kohlrabi, cauli, cabbage, (sugar) peas, beans, lettuce, sweetcorn, turnips, courgettes, broccoli, spring onions, squash, radish, tomatoes, samphire, spinach (beet), chard, endive.
fish: mackerel is at its best in July, cheap and an invaluable source of omega 3. Otherwise: dab, black bream, crab, mackerel, clam, dover sole, megrim sole, grey mullet, flounder and American signal crayfish.
meat: lamb, rabbit, wood pigeon.

Chinese/spring cabbage, calabrese, carrots, chicory, coriander, endive, florence fennel, kohlrabi, salad onions, (mangetout/sugar snap) peas, mooli, pak choi, turnips, black and white radish (mooli), perpetual spinach, chard, parsley, beetroot, french beans, mini cauliflower, lettuce*.
End of the month: corn salad, black radish, endive, kohlrabi. Sowing kohlrabi late in July should supply them well into the winter. They will stand in the soil until needed.
Plant: kale, sprouts, leeks, winter cabbages, broccoli, calabrese, cauliflower.
*Remember: only crisp lettuce (little gem, cos, webb) germinates well when soil temperature goes above 25C. 


250g French beans, stock, 2 tblsp fresh dill leaves, 2 tblsp chives, smallish onion, butter, pepper
Mince dill and chives. Bring stock to the boil, add beans for 10 mins or until tender. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the butter. Pour the liquid off the beans, stir in chives and dill. Add the bean mix to the sautéed onion, stir for a minute, season. 

TOMATO and BERRY SALAD: an unusual combination, but both Mike and I liked it. 
2 tbsp sherry or balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, 300g really nice, ripe tomatoes, 200g seasonal berries: raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, redcurrants, blueberries, white currants, chopped or left whole depending on size; 100g stale bread, 1 tbsp butter, seasoning. Fresh herbs like basil, dill, tarragon, parsley, chervil, chives, nasturtium.
Cut up the tomatoes, rather fine. Combine vinegar, soy and oil.
Gently toast the breadcrumbs in a hot pan, add butter and keep toasting until golden. Season, let cool. Mix tomatoes and berries with the herbs and the dressing. Scatter with crumbs. (Nuno Mendes, Guardian)

Mackerel and broccoli for two; 3 anchovy fillets, 2 garlic cloves, 1 chilli (or powder), olive oil, (rosemary).
Chop three anchovy fillets, two cloves of garlic and one red chilli - mash to a near-paste. Melt the paste in a small frying pan with 2 tblsp of butter. Meanwhile, grill or sauté the mackerel in oil. Top with rosemary if you have it. Don’t add salt, because the sauce will supply that. Steam the broccoli, drain, then stir it into the anchovy sauce. Serve next to the mackerel.
Best with plain cooked potatoes, methinks.

A lovely cheap and easy dish, as long as you do the work beforehand. Every lamb has a heart, so if you ask your butcher he may well come up with one, if only from the freezer.
450g lamb or beef hearts.
For the marinade: 2 tblsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper and 1tsp thyme.
Trim the heart(s) and cut in 1.5 - 2cm cubes. Marinate for at for least 8 hrs. Grill, spreading out into a single layer, and let brown for a minute or two. Toss and let brown on the other sides for another minute; remove. Delicious.

For more recipes see July issues from former years - click on July 2017 on the right hand side. Or go to (below August), which has more recipes for this year. 

Next issue: did you know?
However: red meat is ok if you eat it with all the bits and pieces: organs and fat. It’s the 'steaks only' habit which messes you up, see

and many others. Just search for ‘healty cleaning agents’. Or buy them from a wholefood shop.

New Scientist: Immune Retune.

Immune Retune - Jessica Hamzelou,  New Scientist 03 April 2012 

"ACHOO!" A sniffling friend is sneezing just inches away. You would love to cover your face or run away, but in the interests of politeness all you can do is try not to inhale in their direction and hope your immune system is on the case.
Some people seem to catch everything that is doing the rounds, from coughs and colds to stomach bugs. Other people never seem to get ill. What's their secret?
A lot is down to dumb luck. There are some things affecting the performance of your immune system that you cannot change: your age, your gender, your genes, and most importantly, whether or not you have had a previous brush with an invading bug.
But there are plenty of factors you can control. I'm not talking about downing supplements sold as "immune boosters"; the claims for most such pills are not based on hard evidence. But there are plenty of other ways you can keep your immune system revved up and raring to go.
It's not all about boosting activity, though. Many common conditions are caused by the immune system reacting to things it shouldn't. When it attacks parts of the body the result is autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. When it responds to molecules that are foreign but harmless, like those from pollen or peanuts, the result is asthma, eczema or allergies. Again, there are ways of encouraging your immune system to behave. So help it out by following these tips.
From an old-fashioned faith in the healing powers of chicken soup to more modern obsessions with so-called superfoods, we like to think some things we eat can help ward off infections. The vast majority of these beliefs have little evidence to back them up, but there are dietary interventions that appear to work.
Numerous supplements are sold on the basis of supposed immune-boosting powers, but their health claims usually stem from tests done on cells in the lab. That is just the first stage of gathering evidence, though; the only way to know for sure if something will work is a randomised, controlled trial done on people, preferably several trials.
By that measure, zinc supplements probably come out best, with evidence they can both prevent colds and shorten their duration if started within 24 hours of the symptoms first appearing (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3). Zinc may work by stopping the cold virus from replicating or preventing it from gaining entry to cells lining the airways.
That old favourite vitamin C doesn't seem to prevent colds, although as a treatment it might reduce symptoms slightly. The only other supplement with any credibility is echinacea, an extract of the purple coneflower - although again only as treatment, not prevention, and even then the evidence is mixed.
Vitamin C boosts immune cell activity in theory so why does it perform so poorly in practice? It seems that while vitamin supplements help people who are malnourished avoid diseases caused by vitamin deficiency, such as scurvy, there is no extra benefit to exceeding the recommended levels, which most people in the west hit anyway. In fact, popping vitamin pills - including vitamin C - may even be harmful overall (New Scientist, 5 August 2006, p 40).
If you really want to support your immune system the best approach is simply to eat a plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables. They contain not just vitamins but thousands of other compounds called phytochemicals, which have numerous beneficial effects we are only just starting to understand.
It is also important to focus on the quantity of food, not just its quality. People who are obese are more likely to get a range of infections, including respiratory, skin and urinary ones (The Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol 6, p 438). Piling on the pounds not only makes it harder to breathe, which predisposes people to colds and flu, but the excess fat releases chemical signals that interfere with immune functioning.
Think carefully about how you shed the pounds, though, because yo-yo dieting is also harmful. Frequent cycles of weight loss and regain seem to reduce the performance of natural killer cells, an important branch of the immune system that targets cancerous cells and those infected with viruses (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol 104, p 903).
The human gut is riddled with bacteria. That is a good thing - as well as helping you to digest food, these friendly bugs are essential for a healthy immune system.
The gut flora, as it is known, competes with harmful microbes for nutrients and physical space. It also releases antimicrobial compounds and communicates with the immune system in complex ways that we are only just starting to unravel.
Given all this, it is not surprising that damaging your gut flora can leave you prone to bacterial infections. That's why when you take antibiotics for one infection, you are sometimes hit by another; the friendly bacteria are collateral damage. The superbug Clostridium difficile, for example, often strikes hospital patients after a round of antibiotics and is arguably just as big a medical headache as antibiotic-resistant species such as MRSA.
Instead of nuking your friendly bacteria you should nurture them. That is the aim of probiotics, daily yogurt drinks designed to boost the number of goodguys. After initial doubts that this approach would deliver enough microbes to do anything useful, studies now support the idea that probiotics can help treat gut infections, including diarrhoea associated with C. difficile, and even ward off coughs and colds (Cochrane Database of Systematic ReviewsDOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006895.pub2).
As well as probiotics there are prebiotics. The idea here is to feed up your existing friendly bacteria with certain nutrients, often forms of soluble fibre. In one study, people in hospital who took prebiotics were less likely to succumb to further bouts of C. difficile infection (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, vol 3, p 442).
For people whose gut flora is beyond help, there is another option: a faecal transplant. Unappealing as it sounds, transferring someone else's faeces into a bowel severely infected with C. difficile has produced some striking successes. This is one immune booster, however, that you won't consider unless you are seriously unwell.
Close your eyes. Count to 10. Whatever you do, stay calm. Stress can weaken the immune system transiently but significantly.
Despite its New-Age associations, studying the links between mind and body is now a respectable field of research, sometimes termed "psychoneuroimmunology". Some of the classic studies have looked at immune responses after getting a vaccine. For instance, one of the pioneers in this field, Ronald Glaser at Ohio State University in Columbus, showed that people stressed out by looking after a relative with Alzheimer's disease had worse antibody and T-cell responses to a flu vaccine. Their wounds were slower to heal, and they also caught more throat infections (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol 840, p 649).
While there are myriads of signalling pathways between the brain and the immune system, the key players seem to be the stress hormones cortisol and noradrenalin. These bind to receptors on immune cells and interfere with their ability to respond to antigens, leaving us more susceptible to infections.
On the other hand a little of the bad stuff might be beneficial. A recent analysis of over 300 studies found that a short stressful experience, like public speaking, boosted blood levels of immune cells (Psychological Bulletin, vol 130, p 601). "A slight elevation of stress hormones is good for you," says Bruce Rabin at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
He doesn't recommend setting out to get stressed, but instead advises learning how to cope better with any stress that comes along. "Be optimistic,fit, have a sense of humour," he suggests. Most important of all is to keep your friends. "Loneliness is the killer."
This could be why women cope with bereavement better than men. "Women have friends that they talk to about personal issues," says Rabin. "It's a buffer."
How much shut-eye did you get last night? Even a moderate lack of sleep can put you at greater risk of catching a bug. In a seminal study, the sleeping habits of 153 healthy adults were recorded before they were given a sniff of a cold virus. It turned out that people who slept for less than 7 hours a night were almost three times as likely to catch a cold as the rest of the group (Archives of Internal Medicine, vol 169, p 62). It suggests people should make sure they are well rested before getting vaccinated, says Mark Opp, a neurobiologist at the University of Washington.
Opp recommends at least 8 hours and 20 minutes a night. That sounds a lot, but he reckons it is what everybody would get if left to their own devices. "If you take healthy subjects and let them sleep as long as they like, they sleep a little more each night, until it levels off at this duration," he says.
Sleep quality is also important, and that means making sure you are snoozing in a cool, dark and quiet place, says Opp. Living near a noisy place such as a train station is no good, even if you think you are used to the clatter. "People will say they're accustomed to the noise, but studies show that their sleep has been disturbed," says Opp. "If I put electrodes on their head, the brain activity would change to an awake pattern every time a train went by."
Having a healthy immune system isn't all about cranking up the dial to maximum. There is a large class of conditions caused by immune cells attacking things they should leave in peace - namely the body itself. Known as autoimmune disorders, the list includes type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
These conditions have been linked to a lack of vitamin D - the so-called sunshine vitamin. Some foods such as dairy products and fish contain vitamin D but most is made in the skin when it is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Vitamin D appears to play a key role in keeping the immune system in check so that it doesn't react to things inappropriately. The first clue that this was the case was the higher rate of autoimmune disorders in parts of the world with less sunlight. Since then, researchers have found that vitamin D suppresses the immune system by inhibiting the proliferation of immune cells and the signalling factors that spur them into action. The compound is even being investigated as a way of stopping people rejecting organ transplants.
Sunshine's effects stretch beyond those of vitamin D. Melatonin - a hormone secreted by a gland in the brain in response to changes in light - stimulates certain kinds of immune cells.
Vitamin D is also vital for calcium absorption and bone health. Unfortunately, growing awareness of the risks of skin cancer has led some people to shun the sun, hence a recent resurgence in childhood rickets.
Skin cancer aside, vitamin D appears to protect against many other common types of cancer, including those of the breast, prostate and colon. One research group has calculated that in the US, more people die from internal cancers caused by lack of sun exposure than from skin cancer itself - possibly four times as many (New Scientist, 9 August 2003, p 30).
So how much time should you spend in the sun? Michael Holick, a vitamin D researcher at Boston University in Massachusetts, reckons you should expose your hands, arms and face for a quarter of the time it would take to cause reddening two to three times a week.
Dermatologists tend to argue in favour of taking supplements instead, but multivitamin pills may not provide a high enough dose.
It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise, but now there is yet another reason to do so: even short bursts of exercise give your immune system a temporary boost.
When 500 adults were tracked for 12 weeks, those who were the most physically active - five sessions or more of aerobic exercise a week - spent nearly half the number of days sick with an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or tonsillitis (British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 45, p 987).
As your heart gets pumping, immune cells usually stuck in the blood vessel walls are washed into the circulation where they can do their stuff, says Mike Gleeson, an immunologist at Loughborough University in the UK. Levels of these cells in the blood double during exercise, upping the immune system's ability to respond to pathogens, says Gleeson. "Exercise increases immunosurveillance."It is possible to overdo it, but you would have to be extremely dedicated. Last year, Gleeson's team looked at how many colds athletes got compared with people who just kept fit in the conventional sense. Those who trained for 11 hours or more a week got more infections than those who worked out for between 3 and 6 hours per week (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2011.01422.x).
Too much exercise has a similar effect to stress, raising levels of stress hormones such as cortisol that alter the functioning of immune cells (see "Take a deep breath"). "Even though there's an increase in cells, their function is depressed," says Gleeson.
He recommends exercising little and often, for no more than 2 hours at a stretch: "Restrict yourself to moderate exercise such as jogging or swimming."
What better way to engineer the perfect immune system than to start from scratch? While you can't do that for yourself, you can with your children. In the womb, babies automatically share their mother's antibodies, which cross the placenta. This antibody donation can continue after birth through breastfeeding.
Breast milk is chock-full of immune-boosting ingredients. There is lactoferrin, for instance - a protein that inhibits the growth of bacteria - and sugars that block bacteria from binding to the body's cells. Breastfeeding reduces infection rates, particularly in the developing world.
There is another way of furnishing a child's immune system with first-class defences that is quick, relatively cheap and arguably one of medicine's greatest achievements: vaccination against a dozen or more fatal diseases, available at a clinic near you.
Unfortunately, some anti-vaccine campaigners claim this amounts to "overloading" the immune system - an idea that has no basis in fact considering the millions of microbes we face down in every speck of dirt. The few antigens within a vaccine, even multiple vaccines given at once, are a hardly appreciable added burden, according to the World Health Organization.
Some childhood diseases, though, are caused by immune defences going into overdrive, including asthma, eczema and allergies to pollen or foods. We know that children are less likely to get such allergic conditions if they grow up on farms or have pets, lots of siblings or spend time in daycare.
Like most parts of the body, the immune system weakens with age. That is why older people catch more infections, are more likely to get cancer, and are more prone to shingles, a painful rash caused by the chicken pox virus reactivating after lying dormant for years.
You can't stop yourself from growing older but that doesn't mean you have to just sit there and take it. At the moment the only option is to take a leaf out of the kids' book and get fully vaccinated. As well as annual flu shots, older people can get a one-off vaccine for pneumococcal disease, which causes pneumonia and meningitis, and the "childhood" jab against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. A vaccine giving partial protection against shingles has also recently been developed.
In future there may be more high-tech countermeasures, such as rejuvenating the thymus - a gland in the chest where an important class of immune cells called T-cells mature. From puberty onwards the thymus gradually shrinks and is taken over by fat, and then it is downhill all the way.
There may be ways to reverse this decline, though. One candidate is injections with growth hormone, which has shown promise in people whose immune system has been depleted by AIDS.
Visible ageing is also seen at the cellular level. Every time immune cells multiply in response to a bug they recognise, parts of their chromosomes called telomeres shorten until there are none left. At this point they lose the ability to divide and become useless. As people age, more and more of their circulating immune cells approach the end of their lifespan.
This is unavoidable, but there is one microbe it might be particularly helpful to steer clear of: cytomegalovirus (CMV). Most people have a long-standing dormant infection with CMV which reawakens every so often, perhaps due to stress. This causes unusually widespread activation of immune cells, so hastening their decline. One theory is that CMV plays a key role in immune ageing. If that's true, then there is good news - a vaccine against CMV is on the cards (The Lancet, vol 377, p 1256).
Jessica Hamzelou is a science writer based in London

New Scientist: Don't Shun the Sun

I just read in the New Scientist that they finally, have discovered that sun is good for you. The exception is if you have rarely ventured outside and then, suddenly, go on a sunbathing holiday. But if you catch the sun regularly, you escape many other diseases from which even taking vitamin D won't protect you. 
So no need for all those nasty chemical sunscreens! See 'Don't shun the sun!' on the right hand side of this page.
And if you got yourself a bit burned, apparently there is always sage tea. See Who knew? 


15 June 2015 by Richard Weller
New Scientist issue 3025.  

UNLESS you've been living under a stone, it would be hard not to have heard that sunlight is bad for you. In fact if you are living under a stone, it is probably because of all the messages we get about sunlight and the risks of skin cancer.
This is, of course, quite correct. A vast body of evidence links sun exposure to skin cancer. What is lacking, however, is any evidence that sunlight is bad for you, if by "bad for you" we mean it shortens life. Ask a dermatologist about the evidence that sunshine raises your risk of dying and there will be an embarrassing silence. After a century of knowing the link between sunshine and skin cancer, this is not good enough. In fact, there is increasing evidence that keeping out of the sun may be killing you – and in more ways than you think.
Even the most ardent sun-phobes acknowledge that sunlight has health benefits, but these have largely been put down to Vitamin D. People with the highest vitamin D levels tend to be healthier. They are less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes or heart attacks – in fact, they are less likely to die prematurely of any cause. This raised hopes that a simple vitamin supplement could reduce lots of major causes of death.
Many studies have now tested the effects of vitamin D supplements on health, but the results have been disappointing. The incidences of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are not reduced by these tablets, and although they can boost bone health and possibly be of benefit against some forms of bowel cancer, vitamin D is not the panacea that many believe. It accounts for some of the sun's health benefits, but not all. I believe that it is often a marker of sun exposure, and sunlight has other benefits unrelated to vitamin D.
My group has found another mediator that brings us benefits from sunlight: nitric oxide. Its apparent simplicity belies its importance. Nitric oxide has many roles, but a major one is the Nobel prizewinning discovery that it dilates blood vessels and controls blood pressure. In 1996, we discovered that the skin produces this gas. This is because the skin contains large stores of nitrate, which the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunshine converts into nitric oxide. When this gas enters the circulatory system, it lowers blood pressure by a small amount. This can make a big difference.
High blood pressure is the world's leading cause of premature death and disease, because it leads to stroke and heart disease. Even a small reduction of blood pressure across the whole population will reduce overall rates of stroke and heart attack, and sunlight may well do this, by getting the skin to release nitric oxide into the blood.
Sun-produced nitric oxide may also help explain some blood pressure puzzles – why the average blood pressure of the UK population is lower in summer than winter, for example, and the correlation between latitude and blood pressure, with people living closer to the equator having lower blood pressure than those at higher latitudes.
We are still building up the whole picture of the nitric oxide and sunshine story. For example, last year, my colleagues and I investigated whether irradiation with UVA light could enhance the performance of cyclists in time trials. We found that their performance was significantly faster after irradiation, but only if they took nitrate supplements beforehand. We think this is because of an increase in nitric oxide in the circulation, which dilates blood vessels and allows more oxygen to get to the muscles. I am now starting a British Heart Foundation-funded study to see whether daily UVA can treat increased blood pressure. My work has concentrated on UVA wavelengths of light, in part because this doesn't cause the synthesis of vitamin D, but my group is currently identifying the optimal wavelengths for nitric oxide release.
The dermatology community is hesitant about changing their cautious approach to sunlight exposure, but the wider benefits of sunlight should no longer be ignored. Sunlight is about more than just vitamin D, and nitric oxide may well turn out to be a more important mediator of sunlight's health benefits. Other mechanisms probably also exist.
Too little sun will kill you
But what about skin cancer? How do the risks of developing this disease from sun exposure weigh up against the benefits of UV rays? (See "A life-extending diagnosis") The results of epidemiological studies set up quarter of a century ago to measure the risks of sunlight are now becoming available. The findings have been surprising.
A survey of 30,000 Swedish women recruited in 1990 and questioned about their sun-seeking behaviour found that the more they had sunbathed, the less likely they were to have died 20 years later. In fact those who did the most sunbathing were half as likely to be dead as those who had avoided the sun entirely. The authors calculate that 3 per cent of deaths in Sweden are due to insufficient sun exposure. Other research backs this up. Another Scandinavian study of 40,000 women found that those who went on the most sunbathing holidays were least likely to have died 15 years later.

July 2016: food and mood

What we consume, not only affects our health: it also greatly influences our mood.
What we eat determines how we feel and, on the other hand, how we feel can also determine what we eat. 
Let's take a look at this. It is a huge subject, so I can only touch on the basics here.

* To be alertwe must have enough protein [1]. Whole grains like bread; cheese, yoghurt, fish, meat, eggs, legumes are all good. As long as we don’t eat too much, for this will diminish our performance, regardless of carbohydrate or protein content.

To feel safe, content and pleasantly filled, we need to boost our serotonin production [2]. Serotonin also helps us control our impulses. For best results, combine carbs and proteins to make it more available.
To achieve this: 
1) healthy fats are vitally important. They are in fatty fish, walnuts, flax seeds. Too much of the wrong kind of fat, on the other hand, makes us sluggish [3].
2) vitamins B12 and D, calcium, magnesium and folate help us use serotonin [4].
A deficiency in serotonin causes, to name just a few: migraines, insomnia, panic attacks, anorexia/bulimia, depression, alcoholism, and over-eating, particularly of carbohydrates.

* To calm our brain and relax, we should eat a meal high in proteins, carbs, and calories: for instance poultry, seafood, dairy, nuts and seeds. 
Carbohydrates have long been demonized, but we need them to produce serotonin, see above. However, only complex carbs, that is, food in its natural state, have a positive effect on mood. Such as: whole foods (brown bread, wholemeal pasta etc), unprocessed veg and fruit, and whole, ideally unpasteurized milk. 
Refined carbs cause blood sugar to spike and then drop quickly, which leads to mood swings and fatigue [5].
If you particularly suffer from anxiety, see [6].

We must eat something every 4-5 hours, to prevent our blood sugar from plummeting. Breakfast is particularly important, especially for children: they perform better and get into less trouble in school. Eating breakfast leads to improved mood, calm, better memory, more energy throughout the day.
And what makes a good breakfast? Lots of fiber and nutrients, protein, good fats, and whole-grain carbohydrates.

* Both skipping meals and overeating are bad. They will only cause cravings, especially if the food you did have was, what Michael Pollan calls, an 'edible food-like substance' [7]. 
1) If you think you just need more impulse control, go for the serotonin, see above.
2) If you want to find out what is behind the craving, you might like to look at the June 2012 Thought for Food: “cravings” [8]. Or for a different approach, see 

* Are you tired or depressed, or do you have a short attention span? You may be getting too little iron. Iron-rich foods include red meat, egg yolks, dried fruit, beans and liver.

Depression can also be caused by low thyroid function. Oily fish, dairy, eggs, oats, nuts, whole grains, sesame seeds, bananas, avocados, and almonds all help. So do fresh fruit and veg, but if you suffer from hypothyroidism, limit the brassicas [9] unless very well cooked [10].
For depression, see also the Thought of February 2014 [11].

* You can also lift your mood by adding foods that are rich sources of tryptophan to your diet, like turkey, chicken, beef, brown rice, nuts, fish, milk, eggs, cheese, fruit, and vegetables - again [11a]. 

Hyperactivity, caused by too much sugar or certain additives, is a well-known issue, especially in children. Here are some good websites: [12].

Trans fats affect our mood: inflammatory responses interfere with mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin. Avoid packaged pastries and crackers and fast food.

* And, without eating or foregoing anything at all, you can increase your general sense of well-being by laughing! Laughing triggers the release of natural painkillers. It also lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and boosts immune function. [13]

See also

PS It’s important to know that certain kinds of foods interact badly with some psychiatric medications [14].


Fancy a nice long article to chew on? The New Scientist,  of 11/6/16 has some interesting things to say about the influence of diet on diabetes 2. Click on "Fat vs. Carbs", in the sidebar. 

Veg: beet, broad beans, carrots, chinese leaves, globe artichokes, kohlrabi, cauli, cabbage, (sugar) peas, beans, lettuce, sweetcorn, turnips, courgettes, broccoli, spring onions, squash, radish, tomatoes, samphire, spinach (beet), chard, endive.
Fish: mackerel is at its best in July, cheap and an invaluable source of omega 3. Otherwise: dab, black bream, crab, mackerel, clam, dover sole, megrim sole, grey mullet, flounder and American signal crayfish.
Meat: lamb, rabbit, wood pigeon.

Chinese/spring cabbage, calabrese, carrots, chicory, coriander, endive, florence fennel, kohlrabi, salad onions, (mangetout/sugar snap) peas, mooli, pak choi, turnips, black and white radish (mooli), perpetual spinach, chard, parsley, beetroot, french beans, mini cauliflower, lettuce*.
End of the month: corn salad, black radish, endive, kohlrabi. Sowing kohlrabi late in July should supply them well into the winter. They will stand in the soil until needed.
*Remember: only crisp lettuce (little gem, cos, webb) germinates well when soil temperature goes above 25C. 
Plant: kale, sprouts, leeks, winter cabbages, broccoli, calabrese, cauliflower.



If cooked indifferently, kohlrabi tastes, well, indifferent. However when you mash it, or make it into soup, it tastes delicious and unlike anything else.
Another simple way to make it special is the following: 
2 tblsp butter, 3-4 kohlrabi, 2 minced cloves garlic, 240ml stock or to cover, 1 tblsp lemon juice.
Slice kohlrabi into thin strips. Sauté in butter with garlic for 2-3 mins. Add stock and lemon juice. Cover, simmer for 20 mins, or tender. Season.

4 courgettes, lemon juice, zest, 30g butter, 1 tblsp olive oil, salt, pepper.
Slice courgettes ab. 1 cm thick. Gently melt butter, sauté them until golden. You may need to do this in batches, keeping the cooked ones warm as you sauté the next batch. Return all the courgettes to pan and add lemon juice and zest. You may want to add the juice of up to a whole lemon, but don't make it too sour. Mix and gently reheat. 

BLOTE BILLETJES in het GRAS: Dutch traditional fare. For another version, see August 2014. 
1k floury potatoes, 500g runner beans, 4 shallots, 1 clove garlic, some finely cut rosemary, 1/2 lemon, 1 tin of white beans,  200g tomatoes, 2 tblsp olive oil.
Cook potatoes and runner beans in salted water for 10 mins till nearly done. Chop shallots, Drain white beans and catch the liquid. Chop tomatoes. Saute shalots with rosemary, add chopped garlic. Grate  (untreated!) lemon rind and squeeze out the juice. Add grated rind and and a bit of juice to the shalot mix. Add white beans with tomato pieces and warm through well. Drain potatoes with beans and mash. Add white bean mix while stirring. If necessary, add some cooking liquid. 
Serve with sausage or chunks of nice mature cheese.

450g runner beans, 1 sliced red onion, 240ml crumbs, 6 good quality anchovy fillets, extra-virgin olive oil.
Prepare and precook runner beans for 3-5 mins. Mash up anchovy fillets and saute till they dissolve, add onion, stir for a few mins. Add beans and pepper, cook till practically done. Add breadcrumbs, stir to coat. Cook for one more minute, done.

For more recipes, see former July issues: click on 2016 at the right hand side of this page. 

Next month: NUMBER ONE.

[1] Protein-rich foods increase tyrosine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which help to increase alertness.
[2] Serotonin is a brain chemical that has a calming effect. Perhaps that's why people often crave carbohydrate-rich foods when they are under stress. See also
[3] Processed fats, which result form high-heat commercial processing, (trans fats for example) are always bad. Also refined and partially hydrogenated oils and commercially deep-fried foods. See and
[4] To find in which foods you can get these nutrients, see the Thoughts of March and April 2013: under the current year or the year before, in the column on the right hand side of this page. 
[5] Enriched, bleached, or processed whole wheat does not count as a complex carbohydrate because, during the processing, all the nutrients have usually been stripped. The flour becomes 'enriched' when those nutrients that are considered important are added back in. However, not all nutrients are put back, and for this reason the body doesn't process enriched foods the same way as it does unprocessed foods (
[8] Find this under under the current year or the year before, in the column on the right hand side of this page
[9] cabbage, cauli, cress, brussels’ sprouts, kale, swede, turnip, radish etc.
[11] Find this under the current year or the year before, in the column on the right hand side of this page.