Salt Is Not Always A Negative Health Factor

July 12, 2011 by  
Filed under featured, Health

Salt, like butter, has become a bit of a ‘health demon’ in recent years – though not by me. Obviously drowning your food in salt is not a good idea health wise – or taste wise – but in moderation I don’t have a problem with it and now new research backs that up and indicates it can be just as dangerous to have a low intake.

Salt In Pregnancy:
The link between high salt intake and high blood pressure is well established, but a new study published in the American Journal of Physiology has found that consuming too little sodium is also damaging. According to researchers from both the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Aarhus in Denmark, women who consume too much or too little sodium during pregnancy can end up with children with poorly-developed kidneys, which in turn can cause a lifetime of heart problems.

Building upon previous studies that identified a link between excessive sodium intake and low birth weights, high blood pressure, and kidney problems, the new study identifies similar developmental deficits from too little sodium intake. Mothers who had both too little, and too much, were affecting their babies development during between the crucial developmental period of 1 – 12 weeks. Principally, this concerned the kidneys and ability to carry out their vital function of filtering the blood and creating urine waste.

If you are concerned about diet in pregnancy then there is an excellent website which gives good information provided by the British Nutrition Foundation. It is a free online resource for parents and health professionals at

Salt In Adulthood:
If you have been virtuously ‘passing’ on the salt to reduce your risk of heart disease then the bad news is it won’t have made any difference. The good news is that a sensible amount won’t reduce your chance of dying early.

A systematic review of nearly six and a half thousand patients, published in the latest edition of The Cochrane Library, has shown that a moderate reduction in the amount of salt you eat doesn’t reduce your likelihood of dying or experiencing cardiovascular disease.

In the UK, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Guidance (NICE) has recently called for an acceleration of the reduction in salt in the general population from a maximum intake of 6g per day per adult by 2015 to 3g by 2025 and most food manufacturers are working to remove it from their products so your intake is being gradually reduced by external circumstances.

So which salt is best?
Moderation seems to be the key – as it is with most health food issues – and it’s really important to know that not all sodium is the same. The ones to avoid are processed table salt and chemical salt derivatives like monosodium glutamate because these are the true culprits that bring about heart disease.

The best option is to go for full-spectrum sea and mineral salts like Himalayan Pink Crystal Salt as these contain beneficial trace minerals and elements that are vital to health.

Concern Over Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy Linked to Lower IQ in Children

Exposure to pesticides is known to carry health risks in both adults and children, but a new study at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, has found a clear link between intelligence rates and prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides.

Organophosphates (OP) are a class of pesticides that are widely used on food crops and are well documented neurotoxicants. Indoor use of chlorpyrifos and diazinon, two common OP pesticides, has been phased out over the past decade, primarily because of health risks to children. However, this is the first time that exposure to their use has been linked to lower intelligence scores in children when they reach the age of 7.

The researchers found that every tenfold increase in measures of organophosphates detected during a mother’s pregnancy corresponded to a 5.5 point drop in overall IQ scores in the 7-year-olds. Children in the study with the highest levels of prenatal pesticide exposure scored seven points lower on a standardized measure of intelligence compared with children who had the lowest levels of exposure.

What this means in practice is that those children who have been exposed are also potentially being handicapped by having below average IQ rates and may possibly need more specialised education and support at school.

This is not an isolated study but part of a trio on pesticide exposure and childhood IQ that was published online April 21 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The other two studies — one at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, the other at Columbia University — examined urban populations in New York City, while the UC Berkeley study focused on children living in Salinas, an agricultural center in Monterey County, California. The researchers sampled pesticide metabolites in maternal urine and umbilical cord blood levels of a specific pesticide, chlorpyrifos. A previous study also found an association between prenatal pesticide exposure and attention problems in children at age 5.

What is unusual is that these figures appear not just in urban areas but are consistent across all the population, which means that these pesticides have entered the food chain and are being consumed by everyone.

However, the really significant finding is that while markers of prenatal OP pesticide exposure were significantly correlated with childhood IQ, exposure to pesticides after birth was not. This suggests that exposure during fetal brain development was more critical than childhood exposure.

The most at risk occupations are exposure are farm workers, gardeners, florists, pesticide applicators and anyone working at a manufacturer of such products.
A simple precaution that pregnant women could take would be to switch to as organic diet as possible, particularly for grains, vegetables and meat products. At home, or in the garden, then use natural nonchemical insecticides and pesticides.

Pregnant women and breast cancer — the good news

October 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Health

It is a widely held belief both by the public and the medical profession that women treated for breast cancer while pregnant will have a worse outcome than women who are not pregnant. Now the good news is that with current treatment such women do in fact have an improved rate of disease-free survival and a trend for improved overall survival.

This research has been done by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and presented at the 2010 Breast Cancer Symposium. The researchers put it down to the fact that previous treatment for pregnant breast cancer patients meant they were not always given the standard of care chemotherapy available. Another factor is that they also often refused or delayed their therapy until after delivery due to a belief that it could be harmful for their unborn child.

Certainly we know that chemotherapy, although designed to kill cancer cells, can be damaging to the body and the immune system so their fears were realistic and not unfounded. However, more recent studies have shown that since 1992 a chemotherapy regimen was deemed safe for both the mother and unborn child.

The reasons for the disease-free and overall survival discrepancy are still unknown according to their chief researcher, who stated that understanding their findings is of research priority. What I wonder though, is whether they haven’t missed a very basic and vital factor when considering the mortality rate of pregnant women with breast cancer. That is the human will, and a powerful desire to stay alive for the unborn child.

I have written much on our ability to heal ourselves through our own attitude as much as the health care regimes that we adopt and I would have thought that protecting the life of a child, through preserving the health of the mother, was one of the most powerful motivating factors for a woman that you could find.

We know that our thoughts influence our physical responses; positive thoughts produce a different balance of hormones and chemicals in the body than do negative ones.

Belief and Cancer Care
Whether pregnant or not, anyone dealing with cancer in any form is well advised to consider their own state of mind alongside any treatment they are taking. I have mentioned before the music by Sulis, used and researched by the Bristol Cancer clinic, to help reduce blood pressure and anxiety and promote calmness in their patients and families.

I make no apologies for repeating it, as it is an invaluable aid for anyone wanting to promote a more calm and healthy state of mind and you will find it on this website – together with more information on that research.
The album that I listen to constantly from Sulis is called Chameleon and you can listen to tracks from it on their website.

Antidepressants Can Affect Breast Feeding

February 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies


If a woman is planning on breast feeding, and has been having treatment for anxiety or depression that involves taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs may find that it delays their ability to produce breast milk after their baby is born.

This study at the University of Cincinnati was just reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism and its findings are significant.  Although this is only a small study, 87.5% of women on SSRI drugs had delayed milk delivery compared to 43.5% of those not taking the drugs.   Delayed milk production is an early breastfeeding difficulty faced by many women, particularly those who are first term time mothers, and defined as being over 72 hours after giving birth.  This difficulty also contributes to the mother ceasing to breastfeed before the recommended time. These women also are at risk of early cessation of breastfeeding.

SSRI drugs are the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants and are typically used to treat ‘baby blues’ depression.  A more natural solution would be to turn to natural medicine such as St John’s Wort, or more particularly natural progesterone as that is the hormone that drops most dramatically after giving birth and the one that could most help elevate mood without any ill effects for the baby.

Health Bite:

Smoking in Pregnancy can Permanently Affect a Baby’s Blood Pressure

A Swedish study has shown that babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy show evidence of persistent problems in blood pressure regulation that start at birth and get worse throughout their first year.

The study was reported in the journal of the American Heart Association and raises serious concerns that the seeds being sown in pregnancy will reap a lifetime of ill health for the baby. Normally, when a person stands, the heart rate increases and the blood vessels constrict to keep blood flow to the heart and brain and so there is a standard repositioning test to see how a baby’s blood pressure responds to tilting them upright during sleep. The results were dramatically different in those born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy compared to those who did not.

The non-smoking mothers (on average 15 cigarettes a day) saw only a 2% increase in blood pressure in their babies when they were tilted upright at one week of age and later a 10 percent increase in blood pressure at one year. But, the babies of smoking mothers saw the exact opposite with a 10% increase in blood pressure during a tilt at one week and only a 4 percent increase at one year. At three months and one year, the heart rate response to tilting in the tobacco-exposed infants was abnormal and highly exaggerated, researchers reported.

The concern obviously is that early life exposure to tobacco can lead to long-lasting reprogramming of the baby’s blood pressure control mechanisms. The researchers found that such babies have a hyper-reactive system in the first weeks of life because the blood pressure increases too much when they are tilted up, but at one year they under-react and are less effective in adapting to an upright position. Despite any amount of health warnings some mothers still do smoke, and one argument I have heard is that it is better to smoke as it reduces the mother’s stress levels. A stressed mother is certainly not good for the baby, but this research shows the long-term implications are even more serious if she continues to smoke – or those around her do.

Birth defects – How men can help

Women are encouraged in pregnancy to have a reasonably high intake of folic acid as it is known to help prevent neural tube birth defects, but now an important groundbreaking study shows that a father’s intake of the nutrient might also be just as important.

Men with a high intake of folic acid are significantly less likely to produce sperm with the chromosomal abnormalities that can lead to birth defects.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley analyzed sperm from 89 healthy, non-smoking men for a condition called aneuploidy, in which a sperm cell carries the wrong number of chromosomes. While in most cases, aneuploidy leads to either a failure to conceive or to miscarriage, sometimes the foetus can be carried to full term where conditions such as Down’s, Klinefelter’s or Turner’s syndrome (sexual chromosome abnormalities) occur.

Men who want to make the best contribution to having a healthy child should start making changes at least 3 months before they want to start a family as it takes that time to produce sperm. Although you can take folic acid supplements, a good place to start would be to make sure you are a non-smoker, and include plenty of folic acid rich foods such as liver, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peas and brussel sprouts.

Pets and pregnancy – A warning

A new study shows that pregnant women who use flea and tick shampoos on pets may double the risk of autism in their children. This preliminary finding comes from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study (CHARGE) – a case-control study from the University of California Davis, in the US.

The results are part of an ongoing research project which is following 2,000 children – some with autism, some with developmental delay, and some with typical development – and compares individual genetic patterns with exposure to medications, chemicals, food products, and other environmental factors.

It is believed that it is pyrethrins, commonly used chemicals in insecticides, that may play a role in triggering autism in certain children. Pyrethrins are extracted from Chrysanthemum flowers and are regarded as low in toxicity and there are commercial pyrethrum formulas that are considered safe to use in food preparation areas where flies and other insects can be found. One other product where Pyrethrins are widely used is in lice-control shampoos for humans and pets.

As I mentioned earlier, this is only a preliminary study but it would be a sensible precaution for pregnant women to avoid contact with lice-control shampoos. Let someone else shampoo the dog, or look for shampoos that treat lice naturally with ingredients such as tea tree oil, and not pyrethrins.

Caffeine risk in pregnancy

January 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Womens Health

Caffeine is a stimulant and too much of it can jangle your nerves and keep you awake, however for pregnant women it can have a far more serious impact. Caffeine, whether from coffee, chocolate or sot drinks like colas, has been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage reported this week by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Even a small amount of caffeine can increase the risk, but if the daily intake is the equivalent of at least two cups of coffee or five cans of a soft drink with caffeine, then women in the study were twice as likely to miscarry as women who never, or rarely, had any caffeine in their diet. Women who suffer a lot of nausea in pregnancy, and had a high caffeine intake, had an even higher risk of miscarriage.

The study was based on 1,063 pregnant women living in the San Francisco area and confirmed previous studies about the increased risk of caffeine intake and miscarriage. These studies found that caffeine crosses the placenta but is poorly metabolised by the foetus and may influence cell development and decrease placental blood flow.

To put it into perspective, the risk factor is substantially elevated if you have over 200mg a day from all sources and a large mug of 150 mill of coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine.

However, as I have previously mentioned in this article about caffeine, caffeine-free doesn’t quite mean what it says. It depends on a number of factors such as what process of decaffeinating is used and what different manufacturers product requirements and standards are.

Remember that there is approximately 2mg caffeine in decaf coffee and hot chocolate and if tea drinkers are not immune either as there is approximately 39 mg of caffeine in the average mug of tea.

High blood pressure in pregnancy may pose long-term risk

November 12, 2007 by  
Filed under Womens Health

High blood pressure is closely monitored during pregnancy but there is new evidence from a study at the Mayo Clinic in the USA that it is an under-recognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Compared with women who have had normal blood pressure throughout their pregnancies, those who had high blood pressure are at greater risk of heart disease later in life. One reason could be that having high blood pressure in pregnancy has some of the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as diabetes or obesity. Another theory is that hypertension in pregnancy could induce long-term metabolic and vascular abnormalities that might increase the overall risk of heart disease later in life. Anyone with a family history of heart disease is well advised to have their blood pressure very closely monitored during pregnancy.