Is vitamin D really a cure-all and how should we get our fix?

Evidence is growing that the sunshine vitamin helps protect against a wide range of conditions including cancers

Vitamin D is having quite a moment. In the past few months, evidence has been growing that the sunshine vitamin not only has an important role in bone and muscle health, but might also help prevent a range of cancers, reduce the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis, protect against multiple sclerosis and cut the risk of colds and flu.

But is vitamin D truly a cure-all? And if the benefits are real, should we all be taking vitamin D supplements or even fortifying our foods?

Vitamin D is not one chemical, but a label that covers a group of substances, including vitamin D2 and D3. The latter is the form made when sunlight hits your skin and is also found in other animals. Non-animal sources such as fungi and yeasts primarily produce the D2 form. Once in the body, these substances are converted into biologically active steroids that circulate in the blood.

One area where the impact on health appears to be clear is vitamin Ds role in keeping bones and teeth healthy and improving muscle strength.

The musculoskeletal stuff is really good and really strong, said Helen Bond, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, pointing out that vitamin D is important in calcium and phosphate absorption.

Too little vitamin D can be serious: the skeletal disorders osteomalacia and rickets are known to be caused by a vitamin D deficiency, and the latter is on the rise in the UK, a finding some put down to the impact of poverty on poor nutrition.

But do the wider health claims stand up?

Intuition suggests that it cant all be right, said Julia Newton-Bishop, professor of dermatology and vitamin D expert from the University of Leeds. But while a recent review of evidence by the scientific advisory committee on nutrition only found strong evidence in the case of bone and muscle health, Newton-Bishop says a growing body of research is exploring other conditions.

Newton-Bishop says the fact that receptors for vitamin D are present on a huge array of body cells suggests the substance might indeed play a central role in our health, adding that human history offers further evidence: as humans moved to higher latitudes, skin tone became paler. [One] explanation is that vitamin D was so important that that was a selective pressure, she said. The fact that Inuits arent pale-skinned and for millennia they have had an exclusively fish diet is an argument for the fact that vitamin D was a driver, because why would they be different to everyone else?

Martin Hewison, professor of molecular endocrinology at the University of Birmingham, who carried out the recent study into vitamin D and rheumatoid arthritis, said evidence from cell studies backs up the idea that the vitamin is important.

In most of the models, vitamin D appears to have quite a positive effect, he said. If you are using cancer cell lines or cancer cells, vitamin D has anti-cancer effects, and likewise in cells that have been used for models for infection and immune disorders, vitamin D has quite clear antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

But when it comes to studies in humans, the picture is far from clear-cut. While some studies find links to diseases, others do not.

That, say experts, could be partly down to the way they are conducted for example, not all studies take into account the starting levels of vitamin D in participants, or they may have been carried out in populations with different genetic factors that might affect the impact of vitamin D.

Other experts have doubts about vitamin Ds influence. Prof Tim Spector, author of The Diet Myth, wrote in the Independent: The evidence so far suggests (with the possible exception of multiple sclerosis and some cancers) that low vitamin D levels are either irrelevant or merely a marker of the disease.

Hewison says that while vitamin D might help prevent certain conditions such as tuberculosis, respiratory infections and autoimmune diseases,it should not be seen as a cure for them. It is good at protecting against things, he said, but once a disease is settled in, it is unlikely you are going to be able to give somebody who has got prostate cancer vitamin D and it is going to get dramatically better.

What about the case for supplements? With some having previously been found to cause more harm than good, Newton-Bishop says caution towards this apparent panacea is unsurprising. Everyone within the cancer world is nervous about supplements, she said. I would say to patients dont take supplements, with the exception of avoiding a low vitamin D level.

But how low is low? With the amount of sunlight needed varying with genetics, skin colour, time of day, how much one covers up and a host of other factors, the scientific advisory committee on nutrition said it was too difficult to say how much sun we need to make sure our vitamin D levels are up to scratch. In any case, from October until March the sun in the UK isnt strong enough to do the job.

The upshot is that national guidelines now recommend that during the autumn and winter at least, individuals should consider taking supplements or boosting their intake of vitamin-D-rich foods to get an intake of 10 micrograms a day, with higher-risk individuals such as some ethnic minority groups advised to follow the guidelines all year round.

However, Bond says it is hard to get enough from diet alone.

There are very few naturally rich sources of vitamin D, and most really good sources are of animal origin, which doesnt bode well for vegans and vegetarians, she said. A serving of oily fish like mackerel will give you easily your 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, but if you drop down to a tin of canned tuna, you are only getting 1.5 micrograms.

And as Adrian Martineau, clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, points out, even in the summer, sunshine isnt going to be the answer, especially because there is an associated risk of skin cancer.

If you are considering taking supplements, it might be worth checking which form of vitamin D they contain. Some people dont want an animal form of vitamin D, said Hewison. However, What studies have shown is that if you want to raise your blood vitamin D levels, vitamin D3 is much more efficient at doing that.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, a consultant paediatrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says supplements are not enough as it is hard to make sure people actually take them. Instead, he suggests the UK consider food fortification.

Some countries, including Canada and Finland, have embraced fortification of milk. But although infant formula and some breakfast cereals, plant-based milks and fruit juices are already fortified in the UK, most foods are not.

Hewison believes the government should consider a national fortification plan and that the risks of it resulting in dangerously high vitamin D intake are negligible: I think most people in the field agree that if you want to have a large-scale improvement in peoples vitamin D levels then it can only really be done through fortified foods.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/mar/09/is-vitamin-d-really-a-cure-all-and-how-should-we-get-our-fix

Seven ways to boost your libido

Exhaustion, stress, drugs and poor technique can all cause your sex drive to stall. How can you get it back on track?

Is it a problem?

A lack or loss of sex drive is only a problem if the person experiencing it believes it is. Medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease can undermine desire, as can prescription drugs or difficult life events. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) reported in September that 34% of sexually active women and 15% of sexually active men in Britain had lost interest in sex for three months or more during the previous year.

Its good to talk

Relationship problems are a leading cause of waning libido: Natsal concluded that finding it hard to talk about sex with a partner doubled the chancesof a diminished sex driveamong women and increased them by 50% in men. A lot of couples dont communicate and end up avoiding sex, says Cynthia Graham, professor of sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton, and the studys lead author. Open communication increases the chances of your libido bouncing back. For women, having a partner with a different level of sexual interest increased the chances of loss of sexual interest more than fourfold, and having one with sexual likes and dislikes they did not share did so by almost threefold.These issues increased the chances of loss of desire by just 17% and 16% respectively among men.

Sleep on it

Burning the candle at both ends is a passion killer. Testosterones role in male libido is overstated, but it is true that men with the lowest levels of the hormone report low sexual desire and one US study found that sleeping fewer than five hours a night reduced testosterone levels in young men by 10-15%. A lack of sleep also kills female libido: a 2015 study concluded women who had an extra hours sleep were 14% more likely to have sex the next day.

Fly solo

Research shows far fewer women masturbate than men. Some research suggests doing so can help boost self-awareness, social competence, body esteem and improve intimacy in long-term relationships. One reason women lack interest in sex is that sex isnt always very good with a partner, says Prof Graham. Masturbation can help women learn things they can then teach their partners about how to pleasure them.

Fantasise

Recently, researchers have emphasised that, especially for women, desire can occur largely in response to arousal. If thats news to you, you could do worse than read Come As You Are by the sex educator Emily Nagoski. Therapists often tell women they can increase flagging interest in sex by fantasising, reading erotica or watching pornography, and research suggests they are right.

Relax

The fight or flight system boosts levels of hormones that help us perform better in dangerous situations. It can also undermine nonessential function,s such as digestion, immunity and reproductive drive. Little wonder, then, that if youre frequently stressed out, youre rarely in the mood. Yoga, working out or meditation might help.

The drugs dont (always) work

Research suggests that taking the contraceptive pill can reduce the frequency of sexual thoughts and sex in some women. Alternative methods might be worth considering. Flibanserin became the first drug to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for low sexual desire in women in 2015. Trials suggest it has minimal effects: an extra 0.5-1 satisfying sex sessions a month compared with placebo. Side effects include low blood pressure, fainting and nausea. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra do not increase libido, but help men get erections. This may increase desire by boosting confidence.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/26/sex-drive-libido-seven-ways-to-boost

Spare me your eternal happiness. I just want to sweat and go home | Johanna Leggatt

My ideal workout contains no Fitbits or philosophy, no one talks about love and we dont look forward to it

Spare me your eternal happiness. I just want to sweat and go home

My ideal workout contains no Fitbits or philosophy, no one talks about love and we dont look forward to it

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/06/spare-me-your-eternal-happiness-i-just-want-to-sweat-and-go-home

Is it time to ditch the Fitbit?

I have been pushing myself to hit 10,000 steps a day. But a new study shows I have probably been wasting my time

Is it time to ditch the Fitbit?

I have been pushing myself to hit 10,000 steps a day. But a new study shows I have probably been wasting my time

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2018/jan/31/is-it-time-to-ditch-the-fitbit

I feel less stuffed after dinners and less guilty: why I stopped eating meat

My journey towards vegetarianism started 30 years ago for practical reasons, but the more I eschew animal products the better I feel about everything

My experience of giving up meat has been a gradual process, starting about 30 years ago, when a vegetarian friend and her two little boys came to live with me and my daughter. For practical reasons, we ate less meat. Why bother to cook two dinners when you need only cook one? Anyway, we all loved macaroni cheese and baked potatoes, and the odd tuna bake, because fish seemed sort of halfway and my friend wasnt a strict enforcer.

Back then, meat still featured heavily when my parents visited. After all, I did love meat. I had been brought up on it and my mother was a superb cook. Her stews and casseroles, oxtail and neck of lamb; her roasts, turkey stuffing and chicken liver pat; her chicken soup and salt beef were delicious beyond words. There was something about meat-eating that my father found admirable, too, especially in boys. He once sat at the table with the children, watching my friends three-year-old son eat a large sausage. Look at that! he said with pride and joy. What a good boy! He failed to comment on my daughters equally impressive sausage-eating.

But my friends vegetarianism started me thinking. The only other serious vegetarian I had known was at school in the 50s and she had bad acne and funny-smelling breath, which put me off. Here was someone with clear skin, odour-free, robust, amusing, charming nothing like the mimsy, pallid, socks-sandals and bobble-hatted vegetarians of my earlier, ill-informed imagination. She didnt like eating meat, but she also had good reasons for not doing so some personal, but most ethical. So, I began to eat less. I knew already about the cruelty of veal and foie gras production, so I never ate them. I knew pink meats salamis and bacon were carcinogenic. Now I found out much more.

Quick guide

Megafarms

What is a megafarm?

There is no legal definition in the UK of a mega farm, but in the US concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are defined as those housing 125,000 broiler chickens, 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs or 700 dairy or 1,000 beef cattle. These are the biggest of the intensive farms, which in the UK need permits if they house more than 40,000 chickens, 2,000 pigs or 750 breeding sows. There are now 789 mega farms in the UK, and the number of intensive farms has risen by more than a quarter in six years, from 1,332 in 2011 to 1,674 last year.

Why are they controversial?

Mega farms and intensive farms are controversial because they require keeping tens of thousands of animals in a small space, which campaigners and independent experts say can hamper their ability to express natural behaviours, such as nesting. The animals are often kept indoors throughout their lives, though on some farms they are allowed access to outdoor areas at least part of the time. There are also concerns that animals on mega farms may be over-medicated, as if one gets sick the whole herd is generally required to be treated.

Why do some people believe we need them?

Mega farms and intensive farms take up much less space than traditional farms, and they allow animals to be kept securely, away from predators and potential carriers of disease, such as badgers. Their conditions are tightly controlled, allowing farmers to monitor the amount of daylight, water and feed for the animals, and if disease develops the livestock can be treated quickly. They are much cheaper to run than traditional farms.

Years later, my mother moved in. By then, red meat was bad for her and her false choppers made it impossible to chew anyway, so we were down to chicken and fish. Then along came the internet, Facebook and Twitter, with an avalanche of horror stories about intensive meat production: vast farms crammed with mutilated pigs, tormented cows, lambs and their mothers, chickens flung about and trampled, cruel and brutal abattoirs, the horse and dog meat trade, overuse of antibiotics, our resulting poor health and the wrecking of the planet. This torrent of grisly information made eating meat seem completely potty. The more you learn about meat-eating and farming, the easier it should be to give up. A teacher of animal husbandry tells me that, every year, by the time her students have seen lambing, the incubating and hatching of eggs and an animals complete life cycle, one-third of them have given up eating meat.

A
A beet and Feta cheese salad with parsley. Photograph: Mizina/Getty Images/iStockphoto

But even with all my nasty new knowledge I still found it difficult. Most of all, despite it potentially causing cancer, I missed lovely, crunchy bacon. I tried soya bacon granules, but they didnt work for me. I missed the texture of meat something to chew. So, we still had turkey for Christmas and occasionally I ate meat when visiting friends, because they had cooked it. I pretended I was being polite, but really it just gave me an excuse to eat it again.

Unsurprisingly, a friend called me hypocritical when I ate her free-range roast chicken while whingeing about being a vegetarian; she pointed out that I fed my dogs meat, particularly chicken. My argument was that you cant have a vegetarian dog. I knew some people who did and the poor thing had non-stop squitters, which didnt seem fair.

Then, two years ago, I had a breakthrough. I kept eating fish and shellfish, but there was no turkey at Christmas. We had nut roast instead and delicious it was, too with all the trimmings, which are just as, if not more, tasty than turkey and less of a palaver to cook. Heaven knows why I had clung to this pointless tradition for so long. Now I felt that, at last, I was giving up meat properly and not being so feeble. I am sure my digestive system has improved as a result, I am far less bad-tempered and I feel less stuffed up and knackered after dinners and less guilty.

I have found that it is easier for a meat lover to give it up if you dont dwell on what you are missing, but think of all the delicious alternatives. It might also help not to ban meat absolutely from your diet for ever. There is nothing like something being strictly forbidden to make you want it more. You can relapse. Sometimes, in a restaurant, I have been desperate for liver and onions with mashed potatoes and I have eaten it a couple of times over the past few years. I am not proud of myself, but at least I eat much, much less meat than I used to. Hardly a scrap.

It is now a comparative breeze to give up meat. We all know animals are sentient. There is not half as much sneering at vegetarians as there used to be. Famous, admired, personable and muscular vegetarians and sportspeople abound; the availability, variety and quality of vegetarian food has increased enormously. Decades ago, an English salad was lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes with Heinz mayonnaise; we had never seen an avocado. Now we have olive oil and countless varieties of delicious dressings and vegetables from everywhere on earth.

Our current favourite salads are: aubergine roasted in zaatar, olive and sunflower oil, salt, lots of pepper, with raw cherry tomatoes and mozzarella; grated celeriac and carrot, oil and cider vinegar, garlic, mustard and chopped tarragon; oranges with fennel; and mixed green leaves with sprinklings of toasted sunflower and sesame seeds or chopped and roasted almonds. And, since it is winter, there are a squillion soups you can make with vegetables, adding beans for protein (forget Blazing Saddles). Try a soup with haricot beans, celeriac, tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, rosemary and thyme, with some olive oil and lemon juice added at the end.

Before I even start on all the complex mixtures with sprinklings, there are 101 things you can do with my own favourite vegetable, the potato: bake, roast, rosti, latkes, layered and baked with cream, colcannon, bubble and squeak and, of course, chips. I make them from red potatoes; I dont want to brag, but they are exquisite.

I havent found many prepared vegetarian products that I am wild about, but you can make a passable bolognese with Quorn mince and some people can do wonders with tofu. Try it rolled in cornflower, salt and loads of pepper and deep fried. I have found a pleasant, chewy mozzarella veggie burger, plus vegetable pies, quiches and pizzas. A local burger bar serves divine portobello mushroom burgers, which are tastier than the meat burger. Honestly. A friend tested them both.

I miss meat less and less, because I still have fish (often fried with the chips). But once you are on this path, where do you stop? I feel I ought to take the next step, of giving up the fish and shellfish, which I also love. Last year, in the fish shop, I saw a man holding up two live lobsters, asking how soon he should boil them; could he keep them alive in water for a bit? There they were, waving their arms in the air, distressed, I assumed. So, no more lobster for me. I have learned that octopuses, the stars of Blue Planet II, are very intelligent and may be able to see with their skin, so no more of them, either. Veganism is probably the end of this road, but I dont know whether I will make it.

Meanwhile, that three-year-old boy who ate the sausage never ate meat again. Those are his salad recipes above and he is now a strapping fellow. My daughter has given up meat and is considering veganism, along with increasing numbers of people. There were 542,000 vegans in the UK in May 2016, up from 150,000 10 years before (a 360% rise). Almost half of them are young, aged 15 to 34. On top of this, there are about 1.2 million vegetarians (1.8% of the UK population).

So, I am really just going with the flow and hoping that the tide becomes stronger. In the first six months of 2017, 28% of Britons cut down on meat a sensible move, seeing as it increases your risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, food poisoning (particularly from chicken) and premature death. Although the world will never stop eating meat, perhaps more of us could, at least, stop eating such huge amounts of it. Then we could all have longer, healthier, happier lives. I have just got to sort out the dogs dinners.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jan/01/i-feel-less-stuffed-after-dinners-and-less-guilty-why-i-stopped-eating-meat

There is a thrill to seeing your stomach getting flatter: why I run

Since I started trudging up hills and around parks four years ago, I have become healthier, slimmer and sunnier and sometimes I even enjoy it

It is a damp, grey morning in south London and I am outdoors, still half asleep. The wind cuts like a knife and all I am wearing is shorts, tights and a polyester jersey. My muscles have clenched from the cold and no amount of stretching or rubbing will loosen them. But I tighten my laces and start to run. Uphill, as if things werent bad enough. My body jars with every step. Before I have gone 100 metres, I am thinking about packing it in. But no: if I give up today, maybe I wont even get this far next time. So on I plod. Thud thud thud, trudge trudge trudge, up through Norwood Park, past the swings and skateboard ramps, through the boggy, doggy hollow, then left along the main road towards the Crystal Palace transmitter. I gain a little more height before peeling off down a side street to windswept park number two.

Beyond are more ups and downs, followed by the long, gentle decline of Beulah Hill

Four kilometres in, I am dripping with sweat. I push up my sleeves and try to forget that, because of the way I have looped back on myself, home is just a short walk away. I focus on the positives (I am almost halfway through; the bits that were hurting at the start arent hurting any more) and do my best to ignore the negatives (I am not halfway through; the bits that werent hurting at the start are hurting now).

On it goes more quiet streets and silent despair. Somehow, I make it home, to a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich.

How was it? my wife asks, breathing from the side of her mouth so that she doesnt have to smell me.

It was all right, I say, thinking: It was hell, but knowing I will be doing it again. And, secretly, both dreading it and looking forward to it.

I have been running regularly since early 2014, when I decided I had to do something about my ever-expanding gut. After moving to London from the French mountains, where wild swimming and hiking had kept me fit, I had found the pounds sneaking back on. Although I had never once run for pleasure, I liked the idea of an activity that was cheaper than gym membership, could be done almost anywhere and fit easily into the weekly routine.

I probably wouldnt have managed it without the NHSs couch-to-5k plan, a set of free podcasts that use cheesy pep-talks and detailed, real-time instructions to guide you through a series of gradually lengthening runs. Although I had barely run since I was a schoolboy, the podcasts gently-gently approach made the transition as painless as possible. I occasionally got breathless, but I never felt as if I was being pushed too hard. By the ninth and final week, I was just about capable of running 5km without a break, which seemed pretty good for an overweight fiftysomething. A year later, I was into double figures and running every two or three days.

Little by little, the distance has crept up. I now run about five times a week, totalling 40-45km. I have done it in London and Barcelona, Cornwall and Moselle, Dunbar and County Durham, down city streets and dirt tracks, on mountaintops and marshes. If I cant get out first thing in the morning, I will go for a runch at work. My shortest regular route is 5km, through the wooded hills of Dulwich and Sydenham, the longest a flat 14km to the Guardian offices in Kings Cross. I have raced in two half-marathons and one full.

I am not the fastest thing on two legs: it takes me five or six minutes to cover a kilometre, nine or 10 for a mile. The New Forest marathon took an embarrassing five and a bit hours, not least because I ran out of steam and ended up walking some of it. The only reason I can imagine for doing another is to prove to myself that I can run the whole 42.2km. I am, however, a lot fitter and slimmer than I used to be down from 100-odd kilograms to 84. It is not all because of running I have cut down on the cakes, chocolate, biscuits and booze and even done a bit of Weight Watchers but running has definitely helped. It has built muscle and stamina, too. I will never be ripped, but I am in better shape (in all senses) than I have been since my 20s.

This may sound like bragging, but I need to remind myself why I do what I do. Sometimes I enjoy running, but mostly I endure it. I frequently hate it. As for the much-touted runners high, the closest I come most days is a panted: Thank Christ thats over.

Because, above all, running is hard work. To put the full horror into words, you have to stick one foot in front of the other, again and again and again. On a good day, running just happens; on a bad day, every step must be willed into existence. On my most recent outing a joyless slog through Islington and Hackney I had to bully my legs almost 6,000 times. That is four pleas of Again, you bastard for every word in this article.

It only takes two or three bad runs in a row to feel as if you are not getting anything out of it. Running can be boring, too, especially when you are pressed for time or short of ideas and just do a circuit you have done 100 times before past the same houses, down the same streets, thinking the same thoughts. Every now and again, I just give up, mostly with the words: Sod it, I cant be arsed, rather than: Sod it, this is too painful. I tell myself that the feeling will pass, and usually it does, but sometimes it persists until the very last step.

For me, at least, running successfully is about psychology as much as physique. So, I have learned to do everything I can to shake things up, from listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music (nothing gets me moving like Agatha Christie or the KLF) to trying new routes constantly. There is a wonderful app called RunGo that lets you map out a path, then provides turn-by-turn directions through your headphones. Without it, I would either be running up and down the same main roads or getting lost down side streets, stopping to work out where I was, then trying to remotivate myself to run. With it, I can happily navigate my way across London or through a foreign forest.

This doesnt do anything for the hypochondria, unfortunately. I often feel a little discomfort tired muscles, too-tight tendons early in a run, although this usually passes as I get into the rhythm. I suspect its psychosomatic, with my body offering an excuse to cut things short.

But that doesnt mean you can afford to ignore it. Sometimes you really do damage yourself. I have been lucky so far: my only real injury was a couple of years ago, when my hips started to hurt after a string of long runs. It turned out that I had been pushing my muscles too hard before they had had time to adapt; a few weeks of physio put things right. Other than that, I am happy to say that I have never felt better. I am pretty sure that the next time I injure myself it will be by tripping on a tree root, slipping on ice or trusting a car to stop at a zebra crossing.

Not that this stops non-runners telling me I am doing irreparable damage to my hips, knees, ankles and heart. Although study after study has shown that running is good for your joints and can extend your life by several years, many armchair experts will not be told. It is hard not to think that at least some are looking to justify their own indolence.

So, why do I keep running, when my mind and body and so many other people tell me not to? Two reasons. First, when I am not actually pounding the pavement, I am pretty clear about the good it is doing me. When everyone around you is getting just a little bit chubbier and a little more out of breath, there is undeniably a thrill to seeing your own stomach getting flatter and your endurance increasing. Also, I am in a better mood when I have run. After two days of idleness, I get restless and irritable. I am not sure if this is my default state and running relieves it or if I am now so addicted that I get withdrawal symptoms when I stop, but the result is the same.

I am happy with my own company and I normally run without a partner. I relish the chance to be alone with my thoughts, even if they are mostly about how uncomfortable I am.

Plus, every now and again, maybe once or twice a month, I love, love, love the experience enough to make up for all the horrors that have gone before. I am not too hot and not too cold, just the right amount of tired, with the feeling I could run for ever and then nature gives another nudge. It might be early on a December morning, with dawn gilding the eastern horizon, or midday in August, with rabbits scattering across a field. Once it was in Catford, with a thunderstorm soaking my clothes and washing the sweat away. For a few moments, it feels as if I am flying.

I dont think a habit like this can last for ever, although some people carry on into their 80s. Fauja Singh ran a marathon at 100. I will be happy if I make it to 70.

And then? I dont know. Cage fighting looks like fun.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/dec/30/there-is-a-thrill-to-seeing-your-stomach-getting-flatter-why-i-run

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now | James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

Film-maker James Cameron and environmentalist Suzy Amis Cameron writes that to preserve Americas majestic national parks, clean air and water for future generations leaders must be pressed to address foods environmental impact

Our collective minds are stuck on this idea that talking about foods environmental impact risks taking something very intimate away from us. In fact its just the opposite. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. And we can ask our local leaders from city mayors to school district boards to hospital management to help, by widening our food options.

On Monday and Tuesday, the city of Chicago is hosting a summit for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy to discuss climate solutions cities can undertake. Strategies to address and lower foods impact should be front and center.

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of theleading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatlyincreasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods.

So what gives? Why cant we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if were to reach our climate goals.

Still
The Avatar movie set had plant-based menus. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features

This can start with individual action. Five years ago, our family felt hopeless about climate change, and helpless to make meaningful change. But when we connected the dots on animal agricultures impact on the environment, coupled with the truth about nutrition, we took heart because it gave us something we could actually do.

To create change at the scale needed, this will take more than individual choice we need to get climate leaders on board about the impact of food. Cities and counties have used their buying power to transition fleets from diesel to electric, and we need to do the same with how we purchase food. We have done this in our own community, moving the lunch program of Muse School, in Calabasas, California, and the Avatar movie set to plant-based menus. Scaling up initiatives like these can make a big difference: if the US reduced meat consumption by 50%, its the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road. We think thats damn hopeful.

Decision-makers on all levels can make it easier for us to eat better, by expanding access to food options that are good for our health, affordable, and climate-friendly. Nationwide, cities and school districts have adopted food purchasing policies that include environment, health and fair labor standards. The city of Chicago is a recent adopter of this Good Food Purchasing Program, and so the solutions-focus of the summit is the perfect place to discuss how food can move us toward climate goals. In the same breath that we discuss fossil fuels, we should be talking animal ag, or were missing a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution.

Yes, food is inherently personal. Its the cornerstone of holidays, it fuels high school athletes and long workdays, and it nourishes nursing mothers and growing children. And yes, Americans love meat and cheese. But more than that, we love our majestic national parks, family beach vacations and clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

As individuals, we can make choices on how to better nourish our families, and as citizens, we can encourage local leaders to make choices that will allow us to enjoy our land and natural resources now and in the future.

James Cameron is a film-maker and deep-sea explorer. Suzy Amis Cameron is a founder of Muse School and Plant Power Task Force.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

Only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables, CDC study finds

Only 12% meet the daily fruit recommendation and 9% the vegetable recommendation, and people living in poverty have especially low rates

Only a sliver of Americans eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Just 12% of Americans eat the minimum daily fruit recommendation of one and a half to two cups per day, and only 9% consume the minimum daily vegetable recommendation of two to three cups per day, according to the study, published on Thursday.

The study confirms years of data demonstrating that Americans do not eat their veggies, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, told the Guardian. Assuming this result is close to reality, it suggests the need for taking much stronger action to make it easier and cheaper to eat fruits and vegetables.

The study, which broke out groups of Americans by state, class, race and gender, found some subgroups were even less likely to eat enough produce.

Men, young adults and people living in poverty all had especially low rates of fruit and vegetable intake. While 15.1% of women eat the recommended amount of fruit each day ,just 9.2% of men do the same. Similarly, 11.4% of wealthy Americans eat enough vegetables, but only 7% of poor people did the same.

Because a poor diet is linked to cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes, public health authorities have long endorsed a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.

Sarah Reinhardt, a nutritionist and food systems analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said there was a growing awareness about the importance of healthy foods. We have a lot more work to do to make sure they reach every corner of the country, she said.

The CDCs findings also showed the disparities in fruit and vegetable consumption by state. For example, just 2.2% of South Dakotans between 18 and 30 years old eat the recommended daily serving of vegetables.

While people in West Virginia, which often tops lists of the least healthy and poorest US states, were the least likely to get enough vegetables on average just 5.8% of West Virginians ate the recommended amount.

Residents of Alaska were most likely to eat the recommended amount of vegetables, though the percentage is low only 12% of adults there eat enough.

Improving these rates is particularly challenging because just 2% of US farmland is devoted to growing fruits and vegetables, according to UCS. Reinhardt said farmers would need to grow almost twice as much produce just for Americans to get the recommended amount of servings.

The food industry is not exactly working with public health on this, theres a multimillion-dollar industry working to get people to eat [processed foods], Reinhardt said.

The new research comes from the CDCs 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which looks at how Americans eat and behave. Researchers called American adults landlines and cellphones and asked how often people eat beans, dark greens, orange vegetables, other vegetables, whole fruit and fruit juice.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/17/just-12-of-americans-eat-enough-fruit-and-vegetables-cdc-study-finds

The joy of eggs how ‘nature’s multivitamin’ shook off the scare stories

Decades of dud healthy-eating guidance sent the humble egg into nutritional exile. But with new advice about runny yolks suggesting that salmonella in raw eggs is a thing of the past, its time to lick the cake bowl again

Every morning for breakfast I eat a runny-yolked egg, often boiled, sometimes poached, or fried. In any given week Ill consume eggs in other meals frittata, souffle, as a binder for breadcrumbed fish, in baking, quiche, kedgeree, fresh pasta, perhaps. I reckon that I personally get through anything between 10 and 15 eggs weekly. I do it not only because I cherish their near-magical cooking properties, but also as a two-fingered salute to a dogmatic government dietetic establishment that has pumped taxpayers money into convincing us that this most perfect of natural foods is something we should restrict, even fear. Guess what? Ive maintained a healthy, normal body weight, and lived to tell the tale.

So forgive me if I dont applaud the latest Food Standards Agency (FSA) edict telling us that pregnant women, babies and elderly people can now eat eggs raw or soft-cooked without calamitous consequences, as if this was some sort of thunderbolt revelation, a recent achievement. Its more a case of: Youre 30 years too late guys, but better late than never.

For
For decades, we were told to eat no more than two eggs a week. Photograph: Alamy

Eventually, after demonising eggs for a quarter of a century or more, the authors of our governments egg script that eggs could clog your arteries and poison you are stealthily dismantling the flashing red lights they have put around this elemental food in the public mind. Now, like offenders participating in restorative justice schemes, we need the civil servants and scientific advisers who unnerved us about eggs to say mea culpa, and reflect on how their adherence to bankrupt healthy eating orthodoxy sent one of natures cleverest food packages into nutritional exile.

Its hard to think of any food that can compete with eggs in overall health terms. They provide us with high-quality protein that contains all nine essential amino acids in the precise proportions required by the body for optimum growth and maintenance. Eggs outperform all other proteins from both animal and plant sources. Protein is the macronutrient that most efficiently satisfies appetite. It also reduces the secretion of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger. A body of research suggests that eggs might help us stay slim. For instance, one trial found that women who ate eggs for breakfast felt more full and consumed fewer calories for the rest of the day and for the next 36 hours. Thats certainly my experience.

Free-range
Free-range hens foraging for food in the Lake District. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Eggs are often referred to as natures multivitamin pill, with ample justification, because they contain vitamins A, D, E, and a range of B vitamins, in significant amounts. They are also an oval treasure trove of minerals, 10 of them calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, potassium, sodium, copper, iodine, magnesium and iron; and more obscure, but nevertheless vital micronutrients, choline, lecithin, lutein and zeaxanthin. If ever there was a genuine superfood, the egg is it.

And yet many Britons fret about eating eggs because weve been drip-fed fear of this most versatile food, and like biddable citizens, many of us have swallowed it.

For decades, public health gospel was that we should eat no more than two eggs a week. The egg was an early victim of the late 20th-century fixation with cholesterol; yolks contain it. This thinking, progenitor of the supposedly healthier egg white omelette in the US, was that the cholesterol that naturally occurs in food causes heart disease and stroke. It doesnt. Actually, cholesterol is a vital component of cell membranes. Among other things, it heals and repairs the body, supports our cognitive function, and helps our bodies make vitamin D and hormones.

Belatedly, when scientific research made it too embarrassingly apparent that cholesterol in eggs had almost no effect on blood cholesterol profiles, official UK nutritional guidelines were quietly altered. Now NHS Choices says: There is no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat. But any diligent citizen who pays attention to the governments Eatwell plate its pictorial image of its recommended healthy diet, which is heavily weighted towards processed carbohydrate foods might nevertheless conclude that a bowl of cornflakes is still nutritionally preferable to an egg.

Edwina
Edwina Currie, the MP who started the salmonella in eggs scare in 1988. Photograph: Brian Bould/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Nutrition apart, the FSAs latest pronouncement is that we can now eat raw or runny Lion-stamped eggs without courting food poisoning. The major reduction in the risk of salmonella in Lion eggs is testament to the work carried out by egg producers. The measures theyve taken, from vaccination of hens through to improving hygiene on farms and better transportation, have dramatically reduced salmonella levels in UK hens, says FSA chairman Heather Hancock. But were eggs really ever a major, or even a minor, source of food poisoning in the UK?

Edwina Currie started the whole salmonella enteritidis and eggs saga in 1988 with one sentence: Most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella, triggering either Britains first major food scare, or its first mass-media moral panic over food, depending on how you see it. At that time, egg producers loudly contested her assertion and the putative linkage of eggs with food poisoning, and to this day, many microbiologists agree with them. Dr Richard North, a leading independent food safety consultant who has conducted lab tests on salmonella in eggs, and evaluated 60 salmonella outbreaks in the UK, is a case in point. Only one, or at most two of the outbreaks I studied credibly had egg as a source. He attributes the rise in salmonella food poisoning cases in the late 1980s to two alternative causes. First, a surge of salmonella infection, not in egg-laying hens, but in factory farmed broilers (chickens reared in intensive systems for their meat). Salmonella is one of the recognised diseases of intensification that dog this type of production. Second, North points to the 1980s fashion among food manufacturers, at the supermarkets behest, for a blander, lower-vinegar mayonnaise: Mrs Beetons classic mayonnaise recipe was actively bactericidal.

Lion-stamped
Lion-stamped free range hens eggs. Photograph: Alamy

Contrary to the FSAs line that vaccines dealt with a genuine problem, North maintains that the whole salmonella and eggs debacle was a classic food scare based on myths and dodgy science. And its one of those never-to-be-resolved debates anyway, now that the FSA has given eggs its blessing. Feel free to lick the cake bowl once again. Even Currie now says: If you buy eggs in the UK you can be pretty sure theyre safe.

I buy free-range organic eggs every week from a local producer. I know him by name and can look into his eyes. His eggs dont have the Lion stamp or need it. He has confidence in the cleanliness and safety of his production methods and after years of eating them, so do I. His small flock of grass-fed, free-ranging hens are not kept in close confinement and so are much less susceptible to disease of all sorts. Supermarkets love a nationwide protocol, such as the Lion stamp, to reassure customers of safety, but this doesnt mean that any eggs that dont bear this stamp are risky.

Whichever retrospective interpretation of the salmonella and egg saga you believe, theres no doubt that eggs are more good news these days than bad. Back in Curries time, 92% of hens were kept in cruel battery cages. Nowadays, thanks to concerted campaigning from animal welfare groups, such as Compassion in World Farming, the equivalent figure has almost halved and cages have been marginally improved or enriched with welfare in mind. All the key supermarket chains are pledged to phase out shell eggs from caged hens by 2025. In practical terms, Compassion in World Farming recommends Soil Association-certified organic eggs for the highest welfare they must be free-range and no controversial beak trimming is permitted and failing that, free-range eggs from more traditional breeds of hen, because they are put under less pressure to produce. Caged eggs are still routinely used in food manufacturing and catering, but a growing number of companies, including Unilever, Sodexo and Nestl, have also committed to sourcing only cage-free eggs in their global supply chains, again by 2025.

Supermarket
Supermarket chains are pledged to phase out shell eggs from caged hens by 2025. Photograph: Alamy

Its worth noting that the fipronil egg scandal, which broke in August, where imported egg products were contaminated with an insecticide often used as flea killer affected only pre-prepared eggs used in food manufacturing and catering. Cake mixes used by industrial bakeries were withdrawn, along with liquid pasteurised eggs bought by chefs, and pre-cooked, factory-made supermarket convenience foods: certain salads from Asda and Sainsburys, some Morrisons egg sandwiches, and Waitrose deli filler were affected. The moral of the story here is: if there are dodgy eggs to be offloaded, theyre not likely to still be intact in their shells, but pre-processed in some way.

Eggs are definitely poised for a comeback, although it has to be said that throughout all the years that eggs were dispatched to the nutritional wilderness, many people, sceptical about public health advice, never stopped eating them. In the UK we eat on average between three and four eggs a week. In the 1960s, our national average egg consumption was five. But over the past 12 months, retail egg sales have risen by 4%. In the current grim landscape, where more and more citizens need to use food banks just to put a meal on the table, eggs, which are so affordable and offer such unbeatable nutrition and sustenance, never more deserved a place on our plates. Just think of the character of Katie in the film I, Daniel Blake. She surely needed an egg, not a can of sweet baked beans, yet many food banks have no fresh food to offer, often for safety reasons. Similarly, government-stoked worry about safety has deprived whole demographics the elderly, children, people in care homes and hospitals of the pleasure and incomparable nutrition of properly cooked, that is not overcooked, eggs.

Katie,
Katie, the character in I, Daniel Blake, would have benefited from an egg from the food bank. Photograph: Allstar/Eone Films

Last week in Galway, at the international Food on the Edge chef symposium, South African chef Margot Janse spoke about how her Isabelo charity in Franschhoek now feeds 1,400 disadvantaged pre-school and primary school children every day, often the only healthy meal they receive. She started by giving out home-baked muffins, with mixed results. Some children didnt find them sweet enough. But it was boiled eggs that the kids really loved and that grew full attendance at school. There are lots of hearts of gold that care [about fighting poverty] but an egg also has a heart of gold and is a lot more practical, she concluded.

Whatever your current status starving, peckish, dieting, feasting, economising, working, travelling, convalescing, or just going about your daily business its hard to beat an egg.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/17/joy-eggs-scare-stories-new-guidance-runny-yokes-salmonella

Disturbed sleep patterns may be key to ADHD, study finds

Research links disruption of body clock to number of chronic conditions

Struggling to concentrate, having too much energy and being unable to control behaviour the main manifestations of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been linked to disruptions in sleep, researchers will reveal on Sunday.

The findings underline a growing awareness among doctors that disturbed sleep is associated with many major health hazards. Other ailments linked to the problem include obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The work opens up the possibility of developing treatments for ADHD without drugs, the researchers say.

Speaking at a pharmacology conference in Paris, Professor Sandra Kooij, of VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, will outline research which shows poor sleep is a sign that the timings of many physiological processes are not properly synchronised.

The onset of ADHD is one of the clear signs that this is taking place. Our research is making clear that sleep disruption and ADHD are intertwined. Essentially, they are two sides of the same physiological and mental coin, said Kooij, speaking before her presentation.

Symptoms of ADHD, which also include mood swings and impulsiveness, are generally noticed at a fairly early age, often when a child is being sent to school for the first time, although cases are sometimes not recognised until adulthood. It is estimated that between 2% and 5% of people are affected by ADHD at some time. According to Kooij, the condition is very often inherited and usually has a pronounced neurological background.

In addition, about 80% of cases are associated with profound sleep disturbances. This is most frequently manifested as delays in the onset of sleep, Kooij will tell delegates at the annual congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Paris.

People simply cannot go to bed and fall sleep at the end of the day like others, she said. And that has consequences. Affected individuals sometimes cannot get to sleep until around 3am but they still have to get up to go to work or school. The result is a drastic loss of sleep.

This problem is linked, in turn, to disturbances in levels of the neurological transmitters dopamine and melatonin in the brain, she said. These chemicals control when we fall asleep and when we wake up by directing the brains circadian system, the internal biological clock which keeps us in sync with the 24-hour day.

Other conditions linked to disturbed dopamine and melatonin levels include restless leg syndrome an irresistible urge to move your legs and sleep apnoea, in which breathing is disturbed during sleep. These disorders are also linked to ADHD, said Kooij.

This claim is backed by Professor Andreas Reif, of University Hospital, Frankfurt. A disturbance of the circadian system may indeed be a core mechanism in ADHD but beyond these considerations, sleep abnormalities are a huge problem for many patients, heavily impacting on their social life. More research is very relevant to improve patients lives. The crucial point is that a cascade of health disorders, including ADHD, appear to be triggered by disruptions to circadian rhythms, offering some routes to counter these conditions by attempting to restore a patients body clock. Kooij said her team was now looking for biomarkers, such as vitaminD levels, blood glucose, cortisol levels, 24-hour blood pressure, and heart-rate variability that are associated with sleeplessness.

Once we can do that, we may be able to treat some ADHD by non-pharmacological methods, such as changing light or sleep patterns. We may also be able to prevent the negative impact of chronic sleep loss on health in general.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/02/disturbed-sleep-patterns-may-be-key-to-adhd