This week I finished up a five month stint of volunteer work with the One Health Organisation. I came across them late last year and found their values and vision for healthcare very much aligned with my own. They currently have a number of projects running in Sydney, connecting groups of the community who may not be able to access complementary medicine practitioners, with practitioner volunteers such as Acupuncturists, Kinesiologists and Naturopaths.

The project I have been working on as a volunteer Naturopath happens with the Oasis youth refuge in Surry Hills. Every Wednesday morning we would set up a juice and smoothie bar in the kitchen so when the kids came in for breakfast we could offer them a fresh fruit juice or protein shake. The response was fantastic, with many of the kids being quite adventurous with their fruit (and even vegetable!) juice combinations. The atmosphere was very positive with the kids hanging around to drink their juice and have a chat.

I admit I was apprehensive when I took on the role, mainly because I didn’t know what to expect. Oasis provides short term crisis accommodation to young people who are living on the streets or who need refuge from a difficult home life. There is a stigma around tough street kids and this was a part of our community that I had no real experience interacting with. I have been pleasantly surprised by the good character of the kids, and the consideration and respect they showed us when we treated them the same. There are a few faces that I will miss and think of fondly over my next juice.

Does sugar make us fat?

I have just finished reading a very interesting book.  Sweet Poison: Why sugar makes us fat, by Australian David Gillespie, explores the possibility that the obesity epidemic may rest on our sugar consumption.  This challenges the long held perspective that it is fat in our diet that is primarily to blame for making us fat.

Gillespie was clinically obese and trying diet after diet with few long term results, until he cut foods and drink containing fructose out of his daily meals.  Fructose is a simple sugar that is half of the sucrose molecule and occurs naturally in many foods including fruit, honey and fruit juice and is also added to most processed foods, especially soft drinks, flavoured water and flavoured milk.  Basically any food or drink with added sugar contains fructose.  Gillespie noticed changes to his weight almost immediately and over a healthy two year period lost 40kg.

Gillespie is not a scientist but a consumer who embarked on his own research.  He has put together an easy to read but still very informative book that looks at the history of sugar consumption and the biochemical fate of excess sugar in our diet.  Fructose is unique as it seems to bypasses our inbuilt appetite control mechanisms and encourages the production of fatty acids by the liver, and thus leads directly to weight gain when eaten in excess.  The fructose in a piece of fruit is usually balanced out by the fibre in fruit which fills you up and prevents you from eating too much.  Fruit juice on the other hand has no fibre and thus you can consume much more before you feel full, leading to the consumption of a lot more fructose.  Fruit is a great source of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants, but still needs to be consumed in moderation: 1-2 pieces of fruit a day is ideal.

The overall message from this book is to trust your taste buds – if it tastes sweet then it will lead to greater energy production in your body and if this energy is not used by physical activity then you will gain weight.

I’m sure Gillespie will have been very pleased to see the study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The study by Welsh et al (2010) explored the association between the consumption of dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels in US adults.  They found that increased dietary sugars are associated with  a variety of cardiovascular disease risk factors: low HDL cholesterol (the good type that helps clear gunk out of your arteries, high triglycerides (free fats that float around in your blood) and a high ratio of triglycerides to HDL-C.

The tides might be starting to turn in favour of the sugar makes us fat argument.

- Welsh, JA  et al. 2010 Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults;JAMA;303(15):1490-1497

The cycles of our immune system

A few weeks ago the Science Show on ABC Radio National spoke to Brendon Coventry, associate professor surgical oncologist from the University of Adelaide, about his thoughts and research into the potential biorhythms of the immune system.  The thought is that the immune system might have a weekly cycle with times of increased immune activity and times of decreased activity.  This could mean that there are certain times in the cycle when treatments like chemotherapy might be more effective and even require a lower dose and the potential for less side effects.

This type of awareness about the patterns of our body could be the next paradigm shift that will help us develop more specific and effective treatments.  Coventry makes the point that efficacy of treatment can have a big impact on the financial cost of healthcare, and I would add, also the cost to the wellbeing of the patient undergoing this treatment.

I highly recommend having a listen to the segment: