Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Depression and B vitamins

Whilst the area of nutrition is often discussed only in terms of physical health, a vast amount of research links the use of dietary supplements with positive effects on behaviour and mental health. A recent study of more than 2000 people found low plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations were associated with higher depression scores, and low vitamin B-6 concentrations were associated lower attention and executive function. 1

In another study from the University of Sheffield regular supplementation of hospitalised older people with multivitamins and minerals improved mental health, compared to a placebo.2 The prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled study included 225 hospitalised, acutely ill older people with an average age of 75.6. Participants received either a normal hospital diet plus multivitamin and mineral supplements providing 100% of the Reference Nutrient Intakes for six weeks or a normal hospital diet plus a placebo for six weeks. Levels of folate and vitamin B12 in red blood cells and plasma, respectively, increased significantly in the supplement group but decreased in the placebo group. Beneficial effects for symptoms of depression scores were observed for patients in the supplementation group regardless of the initial level of depression of the individual. The authors wrote, “Many epidemiological and case-control studies have shown associations between folate and vitamin B12 deficiency and depression. In a study of 3,500 over-65-year-olds in Chicago over an average of 7.2 years of follow-up, the researchers noted that increased intakes of vitamins from food and supplements B6 and B12 were associated with a ‘decreased likelihood of incident depression.’” Vitamin B12 is involved in the synthesis of monoamines, some of which act as neurotransmitters and may also inhibit the accumulation of the amino acid homocysteine, which may lead to toxic reactions that enhance depression. For every 10-milligram increase in the intake of vitamin B6 and for every 10-microgram increase in vitamin B12, the risk of developing symptoms of depression was decreased by two percent per year.3

2            Gariballa and Forster 2007
3            Skarupski et al. 2010

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fluoride lowers the IQ of kids

 There is increasing evidence emerging from the scientific community which suggests that mass-medication in the form of water fluoridation is in fact having a serious and adverse effect on the public’s health. A recent report from the US National Research Council 1 concluded that adverse effects of high fluoride concentrations in drinking-water may be of concern. Animal studies have shown Fluoride may cause neurotoxicity, including effects on learning and memory 2,3. Recent experiments where the rat hippocampal neurons were incubated with various concentrations of sodium fluoride showed that fluoride neurotoxicity may target hippocampal neurons.

Fluoride readily crosses the placenta exposing the developing brain, which is much more susceptible to injury caused by toxicants than is the mature brain, may possibly lead to damage of a permanent nature 4

In a study conducted by Tianjin Medical University in China, a comparison in the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was measured between 60 children living in a high fluoride area and 58 children living in a low fluoride area. The IQ of the 60 children living in the high fluoride area was lower than that of the 58 children living in the low fluoride area. 21.6% of the children in the high fluoride area were retarded compared to 3.4% of retarded children living in the low fluoride area 5.  

In a study at Tokyo University Medical School, water fluoridation was linked to Down syndrome. The study found that - as well as the aging of mothers - the number of excess Down syndrome births caused each year by water fluoridation was estimated to be several thousand cases throughout the world 6.

In the most recent meta analysis of 27 eligible epidemiological studies found that children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low fluoride areas 7. The conclusions of the study “support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment.”

Some of the other adverse health effects of fluoride include lowered levels of collagen synthesis, depleted energy reserves and lowered immunity, irritable bowel syndrome,thyroid disorders, Skeletal fluorosis, Osteosarcoma, Osteoporosis and bone fractures as well as Alzheimer's disease.

1            NRC (National Research Council). 2006. Fluoride in drinking water: a scientific review of EPA’s standards. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC

2            Chioca LR, Raupp IM, Da Cunha C, Losso EM, Andreatini R. 2008. Subchronic fluoride intake
induces impairment in habituation and active avoidance tasks in rats. Eur J Pharmocol

3            Mullenix PJ, Denbesten PK, Schunior A, Kernan WJ. 1995. Neurotoxicity of sodium fluoride in rats. Neurotoxicol Terator 17:169-177.

4            U.S. EPA. 2011. EPA and HHS announce new scientific assessments and actions on fluoride/agencies working together to maintain benefits of preventing tooth decay while preventing excessive exposure

5 Lu, Y; Sun, ZR; Wu, LN; Wang, X; Lu, W; Liu SS (May 2000) “Effect of High Fluoride Water on Intelligence in Children” , Fluoride (Journal) Volume 33, No 2, pp 74 – 78.
6 Takahashi, K (May 1998) “Fluoride-Linked Down syndrome Births” , Fluoride (Journal) Volume 31, No 2, pp 61 – 73.

7            Choi AL, Sun G, Zhang Y, Grandjean P 2012. Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environ Health Perspect :-.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Medical vested interests. Can you trust the doctors

A recent article 1 highlights the lack of openness in medical research and reporting. The study found that “only one in seven authors fully disclosed their conflict of interest in their published articles….. and that approaches to controlling the effects of conflicts of interest that rely on author candidness are inadequate and furthermore, journal practices are not robust enough and need to be improved.

The problem with this is that “high-profile “opinion leaders” may exert considerable influence on prescribing practices of doctors and the doctors may not even be aware that the opinion leaders are getting paid by the pharmaceutical companies.

For the doctors, researchers and politicians, as well as the pharmaceutical companies, “vested interests” include billions of dollars spent marketing to doctors and interns each year. It is money-based medicine. In fact it’s more than $10 billion each year in the U.S. alone. The term “marketing” is perhaps a little loose because this spending involves sponsored holidays, retreats, conferences (all expenses paid), gifts—some non-taxed of course, like expensive bottles of wine—and the list goes on. The major medical journals recognise this now and call a medical professional who receives only $10,000 (U.S.) from a single pharmaceutical company “independent.” If you do a few bits of independent work for a few big companies, as long as you get only $10,000 from each one, it is considered acceptable. No other profession is allowed to do this.
It is usually not your general practitioner who receives the extra money, but the specialists and key figures in the area. It is a little scary when you recognise that the people who are outspoken on a health topic may be receiving some benefits from these big organizations, but even worse, no one can scrutinise their research because, as the medical journals recognise, the pharmaceutical industry has very deep pockets. I have written extensively on this in my book The Great Cholesterol Deception. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to researchers’ vested interests, another to doctors’ vested interests and another to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.
After two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, Marcia Angell wrote, “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.” In 2008 she wrote, “Over the past two decades, the pharmaceutical industry has gained unprecedented control over the evaluation of its own products. Drug companies now finance most clinical research on prescription drugs, and there is mounting evidence that they often skew the research they sponsor to make their drugs look better and safer.”1 This is a person on the front lines of the best medical research in the world. Little wonder the rest of us lack confidence in the research.

1            Conflict of Interest Reporting by Authors Involved in Promotion of Off-Label Drug Use: An Analysis of Journal Disclosures.

Pollution and nutrition

A recent study 1 of adults with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) found that those with lower levels of certain antioxidants in their blood were more vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. Air pollution can aggravate both asthma and COPD, producing symptoms that can be strong enough to lead to hospitalization. This study is important because it indicates that improved nutrition may protect against the common health threat of air pollution and that the low levels recommended for the average person (RDA/I’s) may not be enough.

The study found smokers and those older than 75 years of age were especially vulnerable to air pollution effects but also participants with low levels of vitamin C in their blood were also more vulnerable to PM10. This effect was not seen with other antioxidants and genes.

Air, water and soil pollution place increased demands on protective nutrients, due to these pollutants’ ability to generate free radicals, oxidation and inflammation. They also have the ability to block nutrient digestion, absorption and utilisation, as well as to drain the body of existing nutrients. In fact, many of the negative effects of toxins influence nutrient cycles in the body. For example, selenium and cysteine are necessary for the production and function of glutathione, which detoxifies and helps eliminate heavy metals such as mercury from the body. An elevated mercury load puts extra demand on the body’s supply of selenium and cysteine, to name just two of its anti-nutrient effects. So considering nutritional needs without considering the toxic load of an individual would seem ridiculous and, incidentally, is the reason for the growing field of nutritional toxicology.

With increasing technology and especially the expanding industrialisation of the last century, humans are exposed to a larger number of new potential toxins at greater concentrations. Living in the world today, it is impossible to avoid exposure to environmental toxins such as xenoestrogens (which include the organochlorine pesticides, heavy metals and plastics), cigarette smoke, pesticides, industrial poisons, heavy metals and even food additives (preservatives, colours and flavours). Inhalation, ingestion and absorption of heavy metals as well as inorganic and organic chemical compounds can lead to a build-up of toxins in the body. This is not to mention the hundreds of toxic ingredients we now have in our homes masquerading as cleaning products, personal care products and cosmetics. This accumulation of toxins can alter biochemical balance by chelating nutrients (making them bio-unavailable), mimicking hormones and altering proteins, resulting in metabolic dysfunction. The most disruptive and dangerous effect upon oestrogen receptors. Furthermore, toxic compounds interfere with each other’s exit pathways. If alternative pathways aren’t available, this will create a metabolic “gridlock.”

Studies suggest that an increased intake of particular nutrients may benefit the body and protect it against damage from pollution. These include beta-carotene, vitamins C, A, E, folic acid and selenium. These nutrients are called antioxidants. For the first stage (phase 1) of detoxification to be effective, high levels of N acetyl cysteine and vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B12, folate, flavonoids, vitamin C and iron are required.

1            Canova C, C Dunster, FJ Kelly, C Minelli, PL Shah, C Caneja, MK Tumilty, P Burneya. 2012. PM10-induced hospital admissions for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: The modifying effect of individual characteristics. Epidemiology

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The truth about nutrition

Despite years millions of dollars the Government-sponsored (and industry-influenced) food guidelines are not changing food consumption patterns, as many people do not meet current dietary recommendations,1 and fruit and vegetable consumption (which is linked to greater protection from chronic diseases) remains low.2,3 Two in three people in Australia don’t eat the recommended intake of fruit and four in five are not consuming the recommended vegetable intake, with children consuming less fruit and vegetables today than a decade ago.4 A recent U.K. Food Standards Agency report found that, among adults between the ages of 19 and 64, only 13% of men and 15% of women eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. At the present time only 32% of Americans consume five servings of fruit and vegetables per day with only 20% and adolescents meeting this goal.5 Instead, our diet is being replaced with significantly increased amounts of sugar,6 refined carbohydrates7 and processed fats.
While food guidelines aim to be simplistic to reduce confusion;  this often fails. The food guidelines are too general for chronic disease prevention; if the guidelines were adjusted to be more specific, chronic disease risk could be reduced.8,9,10
A similar problem occurs within the food pyramid, which was developed in 1992 by advertising and marketing researchers to develop an image the consumer could identify with and easily understand. The pyramid was then widely distributed and has been used as an educational tool, basis for dietary assessment, and part of policy documents. It has succeeded in creating high levels of consumer awareness and is recognised by 67% or more of American adults.11 This wasn’t the first time that government and industry had made attempts to influence how Americans eat: the first U.S. guide, “Food for Young Children,” dates back to 1916. And the “four food groups” developed in the 1950s were strongly influenced by the food industry—after all, the regulators invited the food industry to help shape the guidelines. To highlight the strong influence of industry on US food guidelines, in 2011 the US Department of Agriculture, the same organisation who created the food pyramid, labeled pizza as a vegetable because it has tomato paste. Any wonder the food pyramid was so wrong.

Figure 5. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Pyramid.
Source: Chiuve and Willet 2007.12

The 1992 food pyramid encouraged consumers to eat a huge amount of breads, cereal products and potatoes. This could very well have resulted in a greater risk of chronic disease (including CVD, obesity and type 2 diabetes), due to the fact it lacked emphasis and detail on the recommended type of carbohydrates.13,14 This resulted in consumer confusion15,16 and poor eating habits.17 Food guidelines, such as the food pyramid, advocate bread consumption numerous times a day.18 Bread is a contributing factor to a higher glycaemic load, promoting chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.19,20 Therefore bread consumption should be limited or even eliminated to promote better health. In the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating21 it is recommended to eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles) but we did not evolve eating these foods.
In 2005 the food pyramid was revised into an abstract version of a pyramid called MyPyramid. This new pyramid still encouraged the consumption of grains; one of the differences was that it advised consumers to choose grains that have the word “whole” in front of the grain name. Sure it changed a little, but not enough to reflect what we should really be eating. The Harvard School of Public Health made a scathing criticism of this iteration of the food pyramid.22
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture replaced MyPyramid with a new icon called MyPlate. The plate is divided roughly into quarters, with the largest section again being grains. Dr Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine, wrote “there are some conceptual chips and cracks in this new dinnerware. Overall, I fear another opportunity has been lost to give Americans the best up-to-date information about what constitutes an ideal diet.”23 Dr Weil offers as an alternative the Anti-inflammatory Food Pyramid, which promotes optimum nutrition and thus optimum health.24

Another are of concern is the Recommended Daily Intakes/ Allowances (RDI/A’s) also known as the percentage of daily values on the side of your breakfast food packet depending on the country in which they are used. As nutritional research and knowledge evolves, food guidelines can become redundant if updates and revisions are not continually made. The Australian RDIs have been updated only a few times since 1954, yet the Japanese, Canadian and U.S. dietary recommendations are updated every five years to match the current scientific research.25-28
By updating food guidelines in line with scientific research, chronic diseases can be reduced.29 At the same time, not updating with current research may result in ineffective food guidelines that misinform and fail to protect the public. An example is the change in recognising the importance of omega 3 essential fatty acids for chronic disease prevention. In the 1960s it was thought that both omega 3 and omega 6 were equally important, however more recent research highlights the importance of omega 3 over omega 630 and that we are consuming far too many omega 6 oils in our diet. A food guideline that is updated regularly can make the necessary changes to promote omega 3 over omega 6; however, if updates are not made regularly, the health of consumers will suffer.

Recommended Daily Intake/Allowance (RDI/A)

Many professionals suggest that our food is o.k. because it provides the RDI. This argument has probably led people to eat poor quality food and think that’s o.k. The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) values were established by authorities more than 50 years ago with the aim of preventing gross nutrient deficiency diseases such as scurvy and beriberi. They provide the equivalent of the nutrient bare minimum, the lowest common denominator for health, and have no relevance at all for optimum health and the avoidance of chronic illness. Optimum health cannot be obtained by following the RDI/A. These were passable as a guideline 50 years ago but were never meant to protect us from chronic illness. Yet authorities now repeatedly refer to them as the definitive levels to achieve. They are in fact the lowest common denominator of nutrition and aiming just to achieve them is likely a major contributing factor to chronic illness in Australia.
The RDI system shows a serious lack of sensitivity toward individuals with elevated nutrient demands.31 It does not allow for differences in people’s nutritional needs. Various groups, including the elderly, people who experience increased physical or emotional stress, people who are of above average body weight, or pregnant women may exhibit elevated nutrient demands. The recommendations also fail to take into account geographic differences such as living in areas with nutrient-deficient soils or high levels of environmental pollution.32
Socioeconomic factors may also affect the adequacy of RDI/A values for certain groups. For example, the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances (U.S. RDAs) claim to represent the daily intake levels sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of 97% to 98% of all healthy individuals in a group. However, the homeless and poor are not healthy as groups and inadequate dietary quality has been documented in these sectors of society.33
Recommended intakes don’t take into account the interactions of nutrients or toxins—in particular, the synergy and the fact that a shortage of one nutrient may bring about inefficient use of other nutrients. While most people know of vitamin C’s antioxidant effects, very few are aware of the benefits of it consumed with other antioxidants. Extra vitamin C spares the destruction of other nutrients in the body.

Professor Bruce Ames, one of the most respected names in modern nutrition and one of the early developers of toxicological standards, suggests that we need to move beyond the RDI and that age-related diseases like heart disease, cancer and dementia may be unintended consequences of mechanisms developed during evolution to protect against short-term nutrient shortages. In what he calls the “triage theory,” he suggests that because natural selection favours short-term survival—to escape from a bear or survive a cold winter—over long-term health, short-term survival was achieved by prioritising the use of these scarce nutrients that are also necessary for less urgent, but just as important, functions including healthy ageing. The nutrients are allocated to short-term essential (urgent) tasks versus keeping you healthy in the long term and avoiding chronic illness. The triage theory proposes that modest deficiency of any vitamin or mineral could increase age-related diseases. This theory has important implications for determining the optimum intake of all vitamins and minerals, as well as major implications for preventive medicine.34 Current RDAs and RDIs provide for urgent short-term requirements only and not the nutrients for important tasks and optimal health.
In his recent study of vitamin K, Professor Ames and his colleagues showed that current recommendations for vitamin K, which are based on levels to ensure adequate blood coagulation, fail to ensure long-term optimal levels of the vitamin and may accelerate bone fragility, arterial and kidney calcification, cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer. So the levels approved for the short-term do not help us to avoid chronic illness, which is the biggest burden we face in the 21st century. In another study the same group investigating selenium, reported that the same set of age-related diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and immune dysfunction and an increase risk of diseases of aging are associated with modest selenium deficiency 35. The overall conclusion of this growing body of evidence is that optimizing nutrition and metabolism will delay aging and the diseases of aging in humans 36,37.
Perhaps easier to understand a well-known and good example of the triage system is the pH (acid/alkali levels) of the blood and mineral balance. The optimal pH of the blood is around 7.35. If the pH varies slightly from this level, as a result of eating processed foods which increase the acidity of the blood, it dramatically affects many of the 90 or so enzyme functions in the blood. These enzymes literally do all the work, repair, cleaning up, transport etc in the blood. If they slow down too much we get very sick and die quickly. To make sure this doesn’t happen the body has a few mechanisms to keep the pH in perfect balance. The main mechanism is to allocate or triage alkali minerals like magnesium and calcium from where they should be working in optimal conditions, such as in the cells and in bones, to balance the pH in the blood. While this protects our urgent health requirements it increases our long risk of chronic health conditions such as heart attack, cancer and osteoporosis as a result of the shortage of these minerals. The body allocates the nutrients for short-term survival, the “essential” functions are protected from nutrient deficiency over other “nonessential” functions  needed only for long-term health.
It is time we rethink our nutritional advice to eliminate the vested interests and to come in line with the tens of thousands of nutritional studies that have been done over the past decades. The current standards do not represent the scientific evidence that is currently available.

1.     Ball et al. 2004
2.     Ziegler 1991
3.     AIHW 2002
4.     Magarey et al. 2001
5.     Ames 2001
6.     Cook et al. 2001
7.     Jenkins et al. 2004
8.     McCullogh et al. 2000a
9.     McCullogh et al. 2000b
10.  McCullogh et al. 2000c
11.  Nestle 1998
12.  Chiuve and Willet 2007
13.  Willet 1998
14.  Weinberg 2004
15.  Cotugna et al. 1992
16.  Ferrini et al. 1994
17.  Grifford 2002
18.  Nutrition Australia 2005
19.  Davis et al. 2004
20.  Villegas et al. 2004
21.  NHMRC 2003
25.  Kris-Etherton et al. 2000
26.  Cobiac et al. 1998
27.  Bush and Kirkpatrick 2003
28.  Guthrie and Smallwood 2003
29.  Jacques and Tucker 2001
30.  Holman 1998
31.  Gopalan 1997
32.  Kirchheiner nd
33.  Wiecha et al. 1991
34.  McCann and Ames 2009
35.  McCann and Ames, 2011
36.  Ames 2010
37.  Ashutosh and Ames 2011

Feed Your Brain

Children have lots of study to do but are rarely shown effective study techniques, let alone how to study without stress. As an ex- school teacher, academic and a life long student, I've spent a great deal of time refining my study habits to make them not only effective, but good for my health! I've also spent time teaching myself learning skills such as speed-reading and improving my memory and note taking skills using mind maps and another technique a friend of mine taught me called CapMaps. The little bit of time I've spent learning these techniques has been repaid many times over. I now teach these skills to my students, pensioner groups and corporate executives.
So to begin, let's get rid of words like home work and make it home play. We'll do a whole lot more and a lot more easily if we enjoy doing it, so let's make it as pleasurable as possible - starting with the words we use.
To study effectively you need good health and a good blood supply. Your brain uses more than 20 per cent of your body's energy, so it has to have the right nutrients all the time. When you study, don't scrunch up over the desk. It stops you breathing deeply and slows oxygen getting to your brain. Remember to stretch frequently, put your shoulders back and take a deep breath. This will help feed your brain.

Food for Thought

A nourishing diet is essential to give your brain the right nutrition and will increase your levels of concentration. Even small decreases in glucose can cause significant "brain fog", while shortages of antioxidants and excess bad fats lead to short-term and long-term memory problems. Not good for study. Here are some useful pointers to ensuring you eat well to make your study time effective:

* Eat breakfast. It provides glucose for your brain. In fact, not eating breakfast causes you to be 20 - 40 per cent "dumber" in studying and exams. People who don't eat breakfast also put on more weight and are unhealthier than people who do.  Raw muesli or porridge with nuts is a terrific way to fire up your brain. Add a piece of chopped fruit. Don't add sugar, but add as much fruit and crushed nuts and seeds as you like. Or maybe even an old fashioned cooked breakfast with some tomato, mushroom, spinach and beans thrown in.
* Don't eat and study at the same time. Take a break. Focus on one task at a time.
* In between meals nibbling on raw (not cooked) nuts and dried fruit will feed your brain. Leave the chocolate for after the exams and forget the potato chips.
* Decrease bad oils including butter and margarine, oils in bread and greasy foods such as takeaways. They block your arteries and thicken your blood, slowing the amount of fuel getting to your brain (ie oxygen and glucose). They also contribute to some long-term damage in the brain.
* Decrease sugar and processed foods. They create a short-term glucose high in the blood and a long-term glucose low, causing foggy thinking.
* Increase good oils high in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and include fish oils and flaxseed. Sixty per cent of your healthy brain is made up of fats and these EFAs are the biggest part.  Good fats = good thinking. They provide the building blocks for the brain, the infrastructure for you to be smarter.
* Increase dark green vegetables such as spinach, silver beet, broccoli and bok choy. They provide essential vitamins and minerals for your brain to function and think clearly. One study found better memory results from eating greens. They put muscles in your brain.
* Eliminate over processed grain products.  Eat only wholegrain and wholemeal grains; they contain essential minerals and vitamins for your brain. Rye bread gives you the lowest sugar hit. Even better go for the new range of sprouted breads.
* A little coffee or tea is okay, but don't have it after 4 pm to keep you awake and certainly don't have it at night to keep studying. If you need coffee to keep you awake at night in order to keep studying, you're fooling yourself about your level of effectiveness. Good sleep is the best way of dealing with exams. If you have a deadline, wake early and start when your mind is really alert.
* Drink lots of water
* Avoid sugary soft drinks, particularly just before an exam.
* Supplement with brain vitamins and minerals (speak to your naturopath or health food store), especially Vitamin C for it's antioxidant action
* Gingko Biloba taken for two to three weeks has been shown to improve memory and thinking.
* Vitamin Bs are very good for feeding your nervous system, especially if you're feeling stressed.

During  periods of study, exercise at least 45 minutes each day. Exercise gets blood flowing to your brain, supplying oxygen, antioxidants and glucose.  It also releases substances such as noradrenalin in your body to prepare you for exams and reduce stress. Research shows that small bouts of exercise in between study and before exams can make a significant difference in performance.
During periods of intensive study you need hourly breaks (or even 30 minute breaks). Make your break a brisk 10 minutes walk. It will help everything you have done sink into the powerful, subconscious part of your brain.  After two hours, take a 20 minute brisk walk and give yourself a good break. Don't fool yourself that you're still working well. You're probably functioning at around or less than 50 per cent. It's okay for mundane tasks, but not if you need really focused concentration.
Set regular study patterns. Don't do everything late at night.  Your brain is already getting tired. The morning is the best time to study and that is not just after midnight. Learn how to use your brain effectively.
Do a memory course or a mind-mapping course. It can make remembering specific information so much easier, and will improve your general memory as well. After a memory course you can learn more than a hundred facts and figures in less than an hour, have fun doing it and have perfect recall.
Talk about the ideas and information you have learnt with friends, a study buddy. It will help lock it into your long-term memory and you'll learn new information from each other.

Learn to Relax

Taking deep breaths is an important start, because it sends relaxation messages to your brain. There are many other things you can do. Best learning occurs in the alpha and theta brain wave states. These are when you are most relaxed and not stressed. When you are in a stressed busy state you are in an beta state and you cant learn well. A simple meditation can take only five to ten minutes and can prevent you stressing and get you into an alpha brain wave learning state. Try sitting still, and slowly, with each breath, count from 50 to one. Focus on the numbers only. If you get distracted, go back to the last number and keep going.
Be aware of your posture while you're studying - don't hunch over the desk. It stops you breathing deeply and slows down the flow of oxygen to your brain. Remember to stretch. Put your shoulders back and take a deep breath regularly. Being hunched over a desk also tells your brain that you are tired and not very positive, so that's how it starts to respond.
I always tell my students to start studying and exams with the biggest smile you can make. Sounds strange, maybe even funny, but it sends positive messages to your brain. It increases the feel good chemicals in the brain, increases blood flow to the brain and immediately reduces stress. Research shows it also increases your creativity, and it's fun.
Plan your study and plan to study well.  By having the right attitude and planning your study, you can save hours and hours of what may otherwise be wasted time.

* Set goals for the amount of time and the quality of time for your period of study. 
* Set goals for each study period, the exams and for the year. These will help to focus and motivate you.
* Write down your goals - what you want to achieve, how you are going to achieve it and why it's important to achieve it.
* Put your list of goals on the wall in your study.
* Don't wait for deadlines to motivate you, get in early.
* Visualise yourself being successful when you study.
* Visualise yourself in the exam feeling positive and writing the right answers. See yourself coming out of the exam and feeling really positive.
* After your exams or long periods of study reward yourself (but not with junk foods).
* There are many other things you can do to improve your thinking but the best one is to use your logic and commonsense.

To learn effectively you need to have a study environment that's positive, enjoyable and free from distractions. It also has to be a healthy environment.
* Study in an enjoyable environment. 
* Put on some gentle music. Baroque music, such as Bach and the music of Mozart has a very positive effect on brain waves and helps you to learn. It may not be cool but you will be smarter.
* Open the doors and windows to the study. Fresh air is critical to good brain function. Stuffy air or chemical smells will affect your brain's ability to focus. One gas in particular, carbon monoxide, reduces the oxygen available to the brain. Carbon monoxide is found in high concentrations in car exhaust and tobacco smoke.
* Don't smoke, and especially don't smoke in your study.  It has hundreds of chemicals that attack your brain cells.
* Get rid of distractions. Despite what you may think, you can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Don't waste your time by studying at 10 per cent. Turn off  the phone, television and all other distractions, with the exception of quiet, light background music.
* Wherever you study, make it a positive place. Decorate it in pleasing colours, have good light, pictures and photographs on the walls, and put up messages, quotes and photographs that inspire you.


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are a group of symptoms and not a disease. Children are classified as ADD when they show signs of inattention, such as a lack of close attention to detail, difficulty in sustaining attention or are easily distracted. Some children may be underactive (hypoactive), inflexible, suffer from speech disorders and have poor short term memory, and show sleep and appetite changes. ADHD has the added signs of hyperactivity such as fidgeting, being always ‘on the go’, disruptive or demonstrate other signs of hyperactivity. While there are more precise definitions for these conditions, they are mostly subjective and open to a large amount of interpretation. ADD/ADHD are relatively new conditions and were probably defined as soon as a pharmaceutical company had a drug to use.

As more investigation is done on these disorders, more controversy is raised about possible origins and causes. It’s likely that ADD/ADHD occurs because of a complex of factors, including illnesses and a combination of susceptibility factors such as genetics, maternal diet during pregnancy and length of breast feeding. The child’s exposure to various chemicals in both food and the environment and their current diet are also probable contributing factors. Some chemicals and foods may act as a trigger for the disorder. Whatever the cause, it seems likely from the nature of the symptoms that ADD/ADHD has many contributing factors. No cases are identical, especially when dealing with children. ADD/ADHD however, is definitely not a deficiency of Ritalin or any other drug.

Surveys suggest that as many as 49 per cent of boys and 27 per cent of girls are described as inattentive by their teachers, while serious deficits in attention appear to occur in at least three to 10 per cent of school-age children, making inattention among the most prevalent of all childhood neuro-psychological disorders. Many of these children are diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD.

Many studies identify a worseing of symptoms with certain foods or food additives; others link lead contamination, smoking and alcohol in pregnancy to developmental disorders in children. The possibility of chemical substances in the diet and the environment influencing ADD/ADHD is highly likely.

Sadly, little real evaluation of ADD/ADHD children is actually carried out. They are not routinely evaluated for chemical, nutritional or allergic factors, or assessed for behavioural or environmental issues arising from their home environment. Instead they are given drugs. This is despite the fact that there is growing body of scientific literature showing significant nutritional deficiencies in many of these children. There is growing evidence that a significant number of ADD/ADHD sufferers have a high body burden of heavy metals, particularly lead, mercury, cadmium and possibly even the trace element copper. These metals are potent toxins which block thousands of important chemical reactions in the body and can play havoc with the nervous system. At even moderate concentrations, lead can lower a child’s IQ. Recent research links infant and maternal exposure to lead with higher rates of schizophrenia.

Nutritional deficiency is an underlying cause of  ADD/ADHD in a significant number of children. Correcting these deficiencies and inbalances can make substantial improvements in childrens’ behaviour. Sometimes improvement is almost immediate.

The basic problem appears to be deficient levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that coordinate many of the body’s and mind’s activities) in brain cells. Various chemical substances affect the transmission of messages across the synapse, the gap between individual nerve cells. Acetylcholine, adrenalin, noradrenaline, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin are all examples of neurotransmitters. Some of these chemicals are responsible for other chemical secretions and uptake. They control muscular activity, mood and behaviour. So you can see how they might be involved in ADD/ADHD.

Over-prescription of drugs, (particularly the amphetamine Ritalin, one brand name for methyl phenidate) that manage the symptoms of the disorder, is common. In Western Australia the annual use of prescription amphetamine-like tablets prescribed for ADD/ADHD has exploded. There are many problems associated with taking these drugs. They include anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, lability of mood, nervousness and irritability, abdominal discomfort, excessive withdrawal symptoms, heart arrhythmias, palpitations and psychological dependence. Suicide is also a major complication of withdrawal from amphetamine-like drugs. Children on Ritalin are more prone to become addicted to smoking and illicit drugs. These drugs don’t deal with the underlying cause. The US National Institute of Health has concluded that there is no evidence that Ritalin brings about any long-term benefit in scholastic performance.

These drugs have a noradrenaline-like action. Noradrenaline normally acts to coordinate many nervous system functions. It’s thought to filter out unimportant stimuli, reducing the number of distractions sensed by the child. If ADD/ADHD is a noradrenaline shortage, it could be measured, but no one seems to want to do this. It’s much easier (and more profitable?) to prescribe drugs. If it’s a noradrenaline shortage, it can at least to some degree, be corrected by dietary measures.

There are many reasons as to why a child may have a poor nutrition. These include being breast-fed for only a short period of time. Infant milk formulas and cows’ milk  are not the same as human milk. Cows’ milk is great for a calf that needs to put on weight directly after birth. A cow’s brain does not grow after birth. The human brain continues to grow substantially up to the age of three, and then more slowly, up to 18 years of age. It’s not surprising then, that human milk is high in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and choline, along with many other ingredients essential for the development of a healthy brain and nervous system. Both these nutrients are severely deficient in many infants’ and children’s diets, particularly if the diet is high in grains and processed foods.

One explanation for the higher rates of ADD/ADHD in males is that males have a higher demand for EFAs (Omega 3 oils). Males don’t appear to absorb them well and are less efficient at converting them to an important group of chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins regulate many activities in the body and play an essential part in others. Many of the foods that are linked with ADD/ADHD also inhibit the conversion of the EFAs to prostaglandins. Foods such as wheat, dairy and salicylate-containing foods, including some of the food colours. Conversion is also blocked by deficiencies in Vitamins B3, B6, C, biotin, zinc and magnesium. There are many studies now that show the benefit of supplementing the diet with fish oils and flax seed oil, not only for adults but for kids being treated with Ritalin. What’s also interesting about the EFAs is that many of our parents were dosed with them once or twice a week in the form of cod liver oil.

ADD/ADHD children appear to be deficient in a number of nutrients:

Vitamin C;
Vitamin B3;
Magnesium; and,
Essential fatty Acids (Omega 3 rich oils).

It may be that there is an absence of these nutrients in the diet. It may be the effects of medication, stress, and other lifestyle factors, including exposure to some environmental contaminants, that have lead to nutritional deficiencies. For example, the use of antibiotics has been shown to have an effect on the nutritional status of children, as they deplete the body’s levels of zinc, calcium, chromium and selenium. Antibiotics, other medication and  food preservatives can also have a serious detrimental effect on the healthy gut bacteria which in turn affects the ability of the gut to absorb nutrients.

Academic performance and behavioural problems improve significantly when children are given optimal nutrition and nutritional supplements. In one study, supplementing with just 200 milligrams of magnesium for six months improved magnesium status and significantly reduced hyperactivity. Magnesium plays a key role in the production of noradrenaline. One of the main sources of magnesium in our diets is green vegetables, but few kids get enough of these. Other nutrients involved in the production of noradrenaline include manganese, iron, copper zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin B6.

Noradrenaline formation may be affected by an absence of the amino acids L-phenylalanine or L-tyrosine, which are its building blocks. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, Vitamin C, Folic acid and the minerals zinc, magnesium and copper are necessary for the conversion of phenylalanine and tyrosine to noradrenaline.

It has been proposed for many years that food additives and other food constituents can contribute to ADD/ADHD. While this is refuted by the food additive industry, there’s growing evidence that this is the case. It’s also becoming apparent that there are biochemical explanations as to why some foods and food additives, particularly the food colours, may be contributing factors. For example, salicylates inhibit the conversion of the EFAs to the protective prostaglandins, as mentioned earlier. Many foods that contain salicylates - tomatoes and granny smith apples, as well as aspirin and the food colours like tartrazine (102) - may exacerbate ADD/ADHD.

Food additives linked with ADD/ADHD can also deplete the body of vitamins and minerals. Tartrazine decreases blood levels of zinc and increases its excretion in the urine.
Food additives to avoid are
102, 107, 104, 110, 120, 122, 123, 124, 127, 129, 132, 133, 142, 151, 153, 155, 160b, 168, 173, 250, 251, 252, 282, 320, 321, 420, 421, 621 (MSG) 622, 624, 627,631, 635, 951 (Nutrasweet®, Aspartame®).

The diet of the pregnant and breast-feeding mother is very important. Infant and early childhood health conditions have a big role in the health of middle childhood.  This is supported by research on alcohol exposure at various stages of pregnancy, hence the importance of good foetal and childhood nutrition.

What to do about food

For any child with ADD/ADHD it’s important to identify foods that may be causing a problem. This is best done with a professional such as a naturopath. or a doctor specialising in nutritional and environmental medicine. With these professionals you can devise an elimination diet to identify potential environmental and dietary culprits. Some of the culprits are shown below.

The main foods causing sensitivities and allergies include:

·            Cow’s milk and associated dairy products;
·            Some legumes – soybeans, peanuts;
·            Nuts and seeds –pistachio nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, cottonseed;
·            Crustaceans – shellfish, shrimps;
·            Fruits (non-citrus) – cherry, apple;
·            Citrus Fruits – oranges, lemons, limes;
·            Wheat and Other Grains – corn, rice, rye, oats, barley, buckwheat;
·            Cola nut products – chocolate, cola;
·            Spices – cinnamon, bay leaf, peppers, peppermint, oregano, sage, thyme,                         cumin;
·            Food Additives – coal tar dyes, preservatives, flavour enhancers, artificial                         sweeteners; and,
·            Caffeine – coffee, tea, chocolate, cola drinks.

The brain uses only glucose for energy. The research on sugar suggests that it may not be a major factor in ADD/ADHD. However, brain glucose that comes in waves of high highs and low lows is likely to affect a kid’s mood.