Dr John Briffa: Fat lot of good

While I'm obviously behind the concept of healthy eating, I do think it helps if the food tastes good, too. Few things please me more than when foods that delight the palate turn out to have disease-quashing properties. A good example of this kind of happy double-whammy is olive oil. No foodie, it seems, would be without a bottle of this stuff with which to conjure up delicious salad dressings and pasta sauces. Yet, at the same time, science is showing that olive oil has the power to promote health and keep illness at bay.

Olive oil is almost 100 per cent liquid fat. While fat is something that many doctors and dieticians urge us to cut back on in our diets, what often gets lost in this message is that not all fats are bad. In fact, some types of fat in the diet are positively good for us. Olive oil is chock-full of monounsaturated fat, a brand of fat that is believed to exert beneficial effects on the circulatory system. Studies show, for instance, that eating monounsaturated fat has the ability to lower the level of artery-clogging cholesterol in the bloodstream. This effect helps to explain why those who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil appear to have relative immunity to heart disease and stroke.

While olive oil's ability to help keep cholesterol levels in check may be a good thing, this is not the only chemical trick it has up its sleeve. Studies suggest that cholesterol only poses a threat to the body once it has reacted with oxygen (becomes oxidised). Only then, it seems, does its artery-furring potential come to the fore. A closer look at the chemical constituents of olive oil reveal that it contains a number of compounds, including oleuropein and squalene, that have the ability to protect cholesterol from oxidation. This effect, in addition to its cholesterol-lowering properties, can only help to keep the circulation flowing freely to heart and brain.

Protection against the damage in the body reeked by oxidation may have other spin-off benefits, too. In addition to priming cholesterol for trouble, oxidation is also believed to be a common underlying process in the development of cancerous tumours. Some scientists are speculating that the elements in olive oil that help to suppress oxidation afford some protection against cancer. Indeed, there is some evidence in the scientific literature that individuals who consume the most olive oil might be at reduced risk of cancer, specifically those of the breast and colon.

Aficionados may have noticed that olive oil comes in a variety of forms according to the precise method of extraction and blending. From a health perspective, the one to go for is what is termed cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. This oil comes from the first pressing of olives and is obtained without the use of heat or solvents. Natural extraction and minimal processing of olive oil is believed to preserve its health-giving and disease-protective properties.

Nutrition news

Pre-eclampsia is a condition characterised by, among other things, high blood pressure in pregnancy. The condition affects about 10 per cent of first pregnancies, and can lead to fits that can have serious consequences for both mother and child. Some scientists believe that one underlying factor in pre-eclampsia is damage to blood vessels caused by destructive molecules called free radicals. In theory, upping the intake of nutrients that combat free radical damage, such as vitamin C, may help to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia. Indeed, recent research published in Epidemiology supports this idea. Scientists have discovered that women with the lowest levels of vitamin C are nearly four times as likely to suffer from pre-eclampsia. The study suggests that eating plenty of fruit and veg before and during pregnancy may protect against pre-eclampsia.

Dear John

I am having a hysterectomy in November. I would like to do what I can to improve the healing of the wound and reduce the risk of scarring.
Brenda Morris, Edgware, Middlesex

One natural remedy to improve wound healing and reduce scarring is the herb Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), which stimulates the production of collagen, a tissue protein that is essential for the knitting together of wounds. Take Gotu kola around the time of your operation to speed healing and possibly reduce scarring, too. Take 10ml of Gotu kola tincture a day, or 30mg of standardised extract twice a day. Start this a few days before the operation and continue for two or three weeks.

Vitamin E applied directly to a wound can help healing. Once your dressings have been removed, pierce a soft gelatine vitamin E capsule and rub the contents into the wound, once or twice a day. If you are still unhappy with the scar, try rosehip oil (Rosa mosqueta oil), a natural agent, which helps reduce scarring. The oil is rich in healthy fats that are important for skin regeneration and repair. Apply twice a day - it takes some months before any real benefit can be seen. To obtain Rosa mosqueta oil, call Rio Trading on 01273 570 987.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.