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What Were The More Popular Nutrition Stories Of 2018?

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It’s been an exciting year for nutrition, supplements and the health industry in general and there are no signs of letting up. Nutrition and health continues to be hot topics for researchers and the public alike.


With advances in medical sciences, pharmacology, genetics, physiology and our ever expanding knowledge of the world in and around us, there are also never ending ways to expand on our current understanding of nutrition – presumably for the better


Below are some of the stories of 2018 that not only made headlines and also remained topics of interest throughout the year.  A few of them only scratching the surface with more to come no doubt.


Popular nutrition stories of 2018 that will continue to gain traction

Green Tea Supplement Safety

Green tea supplements came under fire for their safety. Specifically being implicated in liver damage. The active compounds in green tea, “catechins”, that are responsible for green tea’s health-promoting, disease-fighting properties are perfectly safe when consumed as tea.


The concern is that the concentration of the active catechin, EGCG, in green tea supplements is much higher than that of green tea made from green tea leaves. It seems that when consumed in doses above 800 mg per day, liver damage can occur.


The exact safe dose from supplements is unknown at this time but it appears there’s no risk for liver damage at intakes below 800 mg/day. Regular consumers of green tea get between 90 to 300 mg of catechins based on average consumption patterns.


Do Green Tea Supplements Help With Weight Loss and Sports Performance?


In Canada, green tea supplements are regulated and typically list the catechin content on the label. For more on the this story, check out EGCG warning: EFSA safety assessment suggests green tea supplements should come with a warning.


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Probiotics and Depression. A Role for Nutritional Psychiatry?

I’ve blogged about probiotics and depression before Can Depression Be Helped With Probitoics? It seems like we’re just beginning where this new and fascinating field of “nutritional psychiatry” is concerned and specifically the role of probiotics and mood.


Interest in the use of nutrition and nutraceuticals really stems from the fact that when it comes to mood disorders such as depression, current treatments don’t address the illness [gut health, neuronal structure and function, inflammation etc.] but rather treat the symptoms according to experts in this field. Medications, which can be helpful, don’t address the underlying mechanism of mood disorders such as depression.


Depression: A new role for probiotics in nutritional psychiatry?


When you consider the complex interaction of the gut, the gut’s neuronal network (the enteric nervous system), the microbiota and their metabolic byproducts, neurotransmitter production and function, supplemental probitoics hold a lot of promise. Research is just beginning and we’ll be hearing more about this exciting field for decades to come.


Folate and B12 Linked to Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver used to be seen primarily in heavy alcohol drinkers. Today, the majority of cases are seen in the triad of metabolic derangement: overweight & obesity with abdominal fat, insulin resistance, and pre-diabetes/diabetes.


The concern with fat deposits in the liver is that as more accumulates, the deposits crowd out and damage healthy liver tissue. This causes damage which leads to fibroids or scarring. In time, this can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Many nutrients are associated with, and have been shown to help reduce/lower the risk for fatty liver such as choline and coffee.


Low folate and B12 linked to severity of fatty liver disease 


2018 saw research that found blood levels of folate and B12 associated with greater severity of fatty liver disease, liver inflammation and grade of liver fibrosis. As mentioned, other nutrients have been implicated in fatty liver disease but this new research is the first to correlate folate and B12. Expect to hear about these B vitamins and liver health in the future.


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Lentils are a great source of folate


Curcumin and Brain Boosting

Turmeric is known for its health-promoting properties because it has a class of phytonutrients called curcuminoids. These compounds are not absorbed very well from food sources and to get any appreciable amount in your bloodstream, you have to eat ton of turmeric. Standardized curcumin supplements are a work-around for the absorption limitation.


Curcumin supplements have been studied in a variety of health conditions. 2018 continued to see how curcumin supplements support brain health. These phytonutrients are known to help lower inflammation and increase blood flow but when it comes to boosting brain function, we’re not entirely sure how they work – yet.


Curcumin trial bolsters brain-boosting link


But, studies show that these supplements enhance memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss. One study author stated “these results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years” – Dr Small, UCLA Parlow-Solomon professor on aging.


Magnesium Supports Vitamin D

You know vitamin D is good for you. Despite the back and forth of research on its benefits, the evidence is clear: you need it, you’re likely not getting enough of it and wise supplementation is critical.


What you might not know though is that your blood level of vitamin D is influence by your intake of magnesium. Those with low levels of vitamin D can often raise it simply by increasing their intake of magnesium from food and/or supplements.


Magnesium is a rock-star mineral that wears many hats. One of which is to help convert vitamin D into its active form. Without an adequate amount of magnesium in your diet, vitamin D can’t work as well (an oopsy no doubt when it comes to vitamin D studies; to study vitamin D’s effectiveness, magnesium, and vitamin K2 while I’m at it, needs to be considered too – but I digress)


Keep up your magnesium intake to make vitamin D effective


Thankfully 2018 started to bring this critical consideration into the spotlight. New research continues to point out that without sufficient magnesium, vitamin D can remain stored (resulting in lower blood levels) and therefore inactive….come out, come out where ever you are vitamin D!


On a side note, I never recommend vitamin D supplements to patients and clients without considering their intake of magnesium, but also vitamin K2. Supplementation is routinely in order.


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Green Leafy Vegetables Slow Brain Aging

Dark green vegetables have been promoted for decades primarily for their beta-carotene content which can help to prevent vitamin A (retinol) deficiency. Various iterations of Canada’s Food Guide have promoted 1 serving each of a dark orange and dark green vegetable per day. Later, dark green veggies were/are promoted for their folate content.


Nutrient-rich veg slows brain aging down by over a decade, scientists claim


Newer research now recognizes dark green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, beet, mustard and collard greens, Swiss Chard, romaine lettuce, and dandelion greens for example) as uniquely position to promote brain health.


These vegetables are rich in folate, vitamin K1, lutein & zeaxanthin and nitrates all of which support brain health. Not only that, higher intakes of these vegetables have been associated with preserving cognitive function.


In a prospective study (following people over time and tracking their intake of green leafy veggies and blood levels of their key nutrients), found that those who had 1 to 2 servings of dark green leafy vegetables per day had cognitive function equivalent of being 11 years younger compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables.


Lutein. The Next Big Thing In Brain Health


Using the Gut To Heal The Brain

As more and more evidence mounts to clarify the connection between the gut and brain, nutritional psychiatry has emerged as a promising research field within the food and nutrition community. The role of nutrients such as B12, omega-3 fats, magnesium, zinc and more on mental health is gaining traction as adjunct therapy but in some cases, stand alone therapy for mental health/mood disorders.


Another area of interest is using the gut to support brain and mental health.


The Gut Brain Axis. Your Ally for Better Health


Gastrointestinal health (a.ka. “gut health”) and its link with neurological disorders is starting to be seen and studied as a viable therapeutic approach for psychiatric disorders. The gut is a complex organ that has the largest collection of neurons outside of the brain. Referred to as the “second brain”, the gut neurons (enteric nervous system) are a key  player in the gut brain connection.


But the second brain doesn’t act alone. The gut bacteria have a big role to play as well with how the gut neurons talk to the brain and, in turn, influence mood(s). Another consideration is the health of the digestive tract itself. A healthy gut that isn’t irritated or inflamed should, and will be seen as strategy to address in the future as we leverage the gut for brain and mood support. The future is going to be soooo exciting!


Nutritional psychiatry: Accessing the gut to address the brain


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Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on digestive, gut, mental health.  Follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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