Smorgasbord Health Column- The Female Reproductive System – Endocrine System and Hormones.


In the last post Part One  I looked at the major organs and systems that make up the female reproductive system. In this post I am going to cover the endocrine system that manages our reproductive function throughout our lives.

Baby girls are born with over 400,000 eggs in their ovaries and over the next 10 to 12 years their endocrine system will mature and various physical, mental and emotional changes will take place. Before I cover some of the health issues later in the series, I want to cover the system that manages our reproductive system and hormones. Hormones are vital not just to an efficient reproductive system but to our health in general.. Their protection is essential and maintaining adequate levels throughout our lifetime can be a challenge. And it is not helped by pronouncements by ‘experts’ on the food we eat and the medication that they prescribe to reduce one of the key elements of our hormone production which is cholesterol.

The Endocrine system not only produces the sex hormones but also the other hormones necessary for the healthy growth and development of every cell, organ and function within our bodies. Usually responsible for the slower processes such as cell growth the endocrine glands and hormones will also work with other systems such as the nervous system to ensure the smooth running of processes like breathing and movement.

Glands

A gland is a group of cells that produce and secretes chemicals from materials that it has selected from the blood stream. It processes these raw materials and either secretes the end product in specific areas, such as the salivary glands or sweat glands in the case of the exocrine glands, or directly back into the bloodstream from the endocrine system.

The main glands that make up the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary (master gland), thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal, ovaries and testes.

The pancreas is also part of the endocrine system but is associated more with the digestive system and digestive enzymes and I covered this gland earlier.

A healthy reproductive system for men or women begins in the brain.

Main-parts-of-the-Brain-72dpi

The Hypothalamus

The other name of the hypothalamus is actually the word homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body and is often referred to as the Master Gland.

The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, blood sugar, water balance, fat metabolism, appetite, body weight, sensory input like taste and smell and sight, sleep, sexual behaviour, emotions, hormone productions, menstrual cycle regulation and the automatic nervous system that controls automatic functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.

The Pituitary gland

The pituitary gland has an anterior and posterior lobe. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid, adrenals and the reproductive glands producing a number of hormones.

  • Growth hormone stimulates the growth of bone and body tissues and plays a part in the metabolism of nutrients and minerals.
  • Prolactin, which activates milk production in mothers who are breast-feeding.
  • Thyrotropin which stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones.
  • Corticotrophin which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce its hormones.
  • Gonadotrophs are cells that secret the two hormones that stimulate hormone production in the ovaries and testes. These are called luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and whilst not essential to life are essential to reproduction.

The pituitary gland also secretes endorphins, which act as natural pain relief within the nervous system. It is also the gland that releases hormones that signal the ovaries and testes to make the sex hormones and controls the ovulation and menstrual cycle.

The posterior lobe of the pituitary has two main functions one of which is the release of a hormone to control water balance through its effect on the kidneys and urine output. The second is the release of oxytocin the trigger for contractions of the womb during labour.

The Thyroid

The thyroid is located in the front of the lower neck and is shaped like a bow tie. It produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine which are responsible for the speed with which cells burn fuel to provide energy. This is our metabolism or the speed at which we operate. The production and release of these two hormones is controlled by Thyrotropin, which is secreted by the pituitary gland.

The thyroid needs iodine and selenium to produce an enzyme, which converts the amino acid tyrosine into thyroxine. If thyroxine is at a less than optimum level there will be weight gain, fatigue, intestinal problems and thickening skin.

The Parathyroids

Attached to the thyroid are four tiny glands that release parathyroid hormone that is responsible with calcitonin also produced in the thyroid for calcium balance between blood and bones. If this is not working then too much calcium is leached from the bones leaving them vulnerable to osteoporosis

The Adrenal glands

The Adrenal glands are actually situated on top of each kidney and comprise two parts. The first is the cortex, which produces hormones called corticosteroids, which determine male characteristics, sex drive, stress response, metabolism and the excretion of sodium and potassium from the kidneys.

The second part of the gland is the medulla, which produces catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to increase blood pressure and heart rate in times of danger or stress.

If your stress levels remain high for long periods of time there will be an effect on the rest of your body. The body slows down digestion, maintenance and repair so that it is ready to run at any moment. It definitely speeds up the ageing process because like anything that is not maintained it slowly deteriorates. It will have a very big impact on all the rest of the hormones in the body including your sex drive, which is why stress plays a very important role in problems such as impotence and infertility.

The Pineal gland

This gland is located in the middle of the brain and secretes melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Being tired all the time will certainly not help maintain a healthy hormone balance.

Ovaries and Testes

These two glands are known as the gonads and are the main source for the sexual hormones. In the female these are the ovaries which I described in the previous post. They secrete oestrogen and progesterone as needed, particularly in girls who have reached puberty and are developing breasts and layers of fat around the hips and thighs that would be used primarily to nourish a foetus during pregnancy. Both hormones regulate the menstrual cycle, which is why an imbalance can cause irregular periods or infertility.

Oestrogen hormones include estradiol, estrone and estriol and as well as their role in the developing female they also have important effects on organs outside of the reproductive system. In fact they have an effect on over 300 different tissues throughout a woman’s body including in the central nervous system, liver and the urinary tract. One of their functions is in maintaining bone mass as a woman ages, particularly after the menopause. They also have a positive effect on blood fat and therefore help prevent atherosclerosis and possible heart disease. As we age our skin tends to thicken and oestrogen hormones help preserve the elasticity of the skin as well as promote a sense of general wellbeing.

Progesterone also has duties outside of its reproductive remit and that is its influence on body temperature. This is why taking your temperature every morning during the month can help you pinpoint when you might be ovulating.

As these hormones diminish so does the activity within the ovaries. They become smaller and lighter and the blood vessels that supply them atrophy. The follicles decrease in number and fewer and fewer eggs are produced sometimes skipping several months at a time resulting in irregular periods. Eventually egg production ceases completely, as does menstruation, and after twelve months you are usually unlikely to conceive but it is recommended that you still practice birth control for up to two years after completely finishing your periods.

More about Hormones

Hormones are some of the most powerful chemical messengers found in the body and are secreted by glands that transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. They circulate throughout the body but will only affect those cells that have been programmed to respond to their specific message. All hormone levels can be influenced by our general health, stress levels and the balance of fluid and minerals such as salt in the blood stream. This is the reason that it is necessary to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle and diet to ensure the reproductive system is functioning, as it should.

Most of us, when we talk about hormones, are usually referring to the reproductive ones such as testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen. We all know that as we get older our reproductive hormones decrease and both men and women go through a menopause. Women are more affected by this obviously, but men too experience a decrease in testosterone levels and the changes that this brings about.

However, our sex hormones are just three of the many hormones that are produced in our bodies and even though our reproductive abilities may decrease as we get older, the hormones involved are still active within our body. If they and our other hormones are looked after they will contribute to a healthy, energetic and youthful appearance. Sex does not stop when we get middle aged and maintaining a good diet and active lifestyle influence a healthy and functioning reproductive system.

Each gland within the endocrine system may produce one or more different hormone to affect a process in the body. For example the pancreas secretes Insulin, glucagon and Stomostatin. Insulin and glucagon are secreted according to the level of blood sugar and Stomostatin is the referee to ensure that not too much of either is secreted and therefore blood sugar levels remain balanced.

Hormones are manufactured from components of food, which means that the type of diet you follow has a major impact on keeping hormone levels in balance. Hormones are either protein-like as in insulin, or fat like as in steroid hormones.

An important element of hormone production is cholesterol. Yes that demon that in the 80s and 90s was banished from our diet in the form of healthy fats and foods such as eggs! We were all recommended to follow a high carbohydrate, low fat diet and of course now we have done a complete U-turn. Not surprisingly this has had a huge impact on our health including increasing rates of obesity, cancer and dementia. Healthy fats and all cholesterol are essential for healthy hormone production, brain and heart health. It is only when the Low Density cholesterol or LDL is oxidised by poor diet, including too many sugars that it can become a health issue.

You will find myth busting facts about cholesterol in this Cholesterol and it is important to include sufficient amounts in your diet to keep the stores adequate for your hormone production.

Whatever the level of hormones produced by particular glands, if they are not communicating when they get to their destination – such as the thyroid gland, kidneys or ovaries – they will not be effective and the ongoing functions they are supposed to stimulate will not be completed. This includes the reproductive process which requires the balance of all most of the hormones for successful production, fertilisation and then development of the egg by a sperm.

How do we create the perfect environment to produce and maintain our hormones.

You cannot go far wrong by eating an 80% natural diet with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, wholegrain carbohydrates and fruits. Having healthy hormones is more about what you don’t eat, and the one food that it is a good idea to cut right back is sugars. This is not to say that you should go sugar free especially when the sugar comes from natural sources such as fruits. I do mean the chemically engineered additives in most industrial foods (ie. If it comes in a packet, can or jar). There are certain health benefits to be found in dark chocolate over 52% for example but eating 100gms at a time will just make you fat! A couple of squares a day should do the trick.

What is very important in your diet.

Omega 3s

One of the most important food sources is essential fatty acids which are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The body must have these essential fatty acids, yet cannot make them itself. One of the main functions of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that regulate many body functions. They basically control every cell of the body on a second-by-second basis by acting as interpreters between the hormones and the cells they are being delivered too. They are required for energy production, increasing oxidation in the body and metabolic rates. Omega 3 in particular is considered to provide protection against certain cancers including breast cancer.

They are particularly important in balancing all hormones, including the reproductive ones, and the brain does not function without essential fatty acids.

Monounsaturated fats are also important as both these types of fats protect brain cells and the membranes and ensure effective passing of nutrients within the brain. This is particularly important with regard to the health of the hypothalamus which is our master controller.

What part do amino acids play in hormone production?

Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein, which of course is what we are made of. Vitamins and minerals can’t perform their specific functions effectively if the necessary amino acids are not present. Amino acids are either classified as essential or non-essential. The “non-essential” ones can be manufactured in our bodies but the “essential” amino acids have to be obtained from food.

All hormones require amino acids for their production. For example L-Arginine encourages growth hormones and constitutes 80% of semen, which is why a deficiency causes sterility, and having sufficient of this amino acid can help with prostate problems. L-Tryptophan helps in the production of serotonin and melatonin and assists in the balance of our emotional behaviour. L-Glutamine is helpful for thyroid gland function. Taurine is used for hyperactivity and poor brain function.

What about the health of the other hormone producing glands?

Most of the above applies throughout the body. A diet rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E and essential fatty acids and amino acids will promote health everywhere.

Having created a near perfect working environment for the bosses (the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary), we can turn our attention to the health of the others:

  • Thyroid (metabolism, energy and growth)
  • Adrenal Gland (sex drive, stress response and metabolism) and
  • Pancreas (Blood sugar levels).

If these organs are producing the hormones they are supposed to, in the right quantities, many of problems we associate with old age would be much more manageable. Including energy and the ability to process our nutrients efficiently keeping us away from degenerative disease such as arthritis.

Thyroid image http://www.medicinenet.com

Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment or share. best wishes Sally

You can find all the 2018 health related posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-column-news-nutrients-health-conditions-anti-aging/

 

 

 

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe – The Male Reproductive System -Testosterone and Cholesterol


men's health

We covered the physical components of the male reproductive system in the last post and despite being highly complex and mechanically a miracle of nature… Like a flash car they are useless without the right fuel.

In this case it would be the Male hormone – testosterone

Testosterone is the most important of the male sex hormones, called androgens.

It is responsible for the development of the male sexual and reproductive organs – which I have already covered in the first post on the male reproductive system. You can find all the Top to Toe posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-2017-top-to-toe/

Testosterone also stimulates the development of the secondary male sex characteristics, such as an increase in muscle mass, increased body and facial hair, enlargement of the larynx and the vocal-chord-thickening, which leads to a deepening of the voice.

There are likely to be some changes in behaviour around this time too. In some cases there will be an increase in aggressive behaviour but there is certainly much more sexual awareness as the effects of the testosterone kick in.

Although testosterone is produced in the testes its production is regulated by a complex chain of messages that begins in the hypothalamus in the brain.

The hypothalamus secretes Gonadotropine-releasing hormone (GnRH) to the pituitary gland in carefully timed bursts. This triggers the release of luteinising hormone (LH) which in turn stimulates the Leydig cells of the testes to produce testosterone.

At puberty the production of testosterone increases very rapidly and declines equally rapidly after the age of 50. This change in testosterone levels is one of the reasons that it is quite likely that men will suffer some form of menopause and need to ensure that their diet reflects the reduction in this bone and muscle-protecting hormone. It is also possible that, as in women, the sexual hormones also help protect the body against a number of other diseases such as heart disease and cancers.

The testes produce between 4-7 mg of testosterone per day but – like the two female hormones oestrogen and progesterone – this decreases naturally with age. There are rare cases where young boys fail to develop at puberty, causing problems with bone and muscle development and underdeveloped sexual organs. The likely cause is damage to the hypothalamus, pituitary gland or the testes themselves.

How is testosterone produced?

Believe it or not one of the essential components needed to produce all hormones including testosterone is…. The demon cholesterol.

Cholesterol is known as a sterol and is naturally occurring in the human body and like any other substance that is present without human intervention… It has a purpose.

Without it there are certain vital functions in the body that would not happen. There would be no steroidal hormones such as testosterone or Vitamin D (that considers itself a hormone) and is so vital to our immune system and for regulating minerals such as calcium for bone density. Also cortisol the stress hormone that is needed to boost strength and energy in times of crisis.

Essential message network

Cholesterol is part of the communication network within the body and is responsible for relaying messages between cells. Whilst cells within an organ such as the brain will work together to perform a function, there are thousands of interactions a day between the brain and other organs in the body. Without that message being sent effectively to elements of the male reproductive system, those flash and miraculous organs would not function at all. This messaging service applies to all interactions between cells and organs of the body.

Cholesterol is also very important in later life to prevent cataracts and also in reducing the risk of dementia.

For those who read my health posts regularly, you will know that I am totally against the suggestion that all men and women over 50 should be prescribed statins to lower cholesterol levels which are already declining naturally.

Before I go onto to talk more about statins… I must stress that if you are taking this as a prescribed medication you should not suddenly stop taking without a consultation with your doctor. I do however urge you to research yourself and discuss other options.

A change in diet and lifestyle is just as effective at tackling an imbalance in cholesterol and it is my opinion that statins should only be prescribed when absolutely necessary, not as a preventative. The potential side effects of long term use of statins is only now becoming evident including loss of sex drive, reduced bone density, Vitamin D deficiency and therefore reduced immune system function and possibly higher risks of cancer, muscle wastage, liver damage and dementia. There is a great deal of information on the web and here is just one viewpoint. I encourage you to explore various sources.

http://drsircus.com/medicine/run-from-your-statin-recommending-cardiologist

A bit more about cholesterol

It is important that cholesterol in your body is balanced correctly. The problems arise when one of the components. LDL cholesterol is damaged by being oxidised.

This is where we come in.  Every substance in our bodies is produced through the processing of the food that we ingest. If that does not encourage you to think twice about what you are eating then nothing else will.

I admit that I do use the term lousy cholesterol for low density lipoprotein– because this is the one that can get contaminated and cause health problems. Although when talking about cholesterol we refer to high density lipoprotein and very low density lipoproteins (not usually in substantial amounts) as well, they are all the same molecularly but have different packaging to be transported in the blood stream.

HDL and LDL sub divide into different types of lipoproteins and at the moment more is still to be discovered about this. The LDL is associated with the plaque that forms in the arteries leading to blockages – the smaller the size of the LDL particles the more you are likely to develop coronary disease than if the particles are larger and less dense. There is a theory that if the walls of the arteries are damaged in any way, the smaller and denser particles of the LDL can push their way through that break in the tissue and start clumping together to form the plaque whilst the larger HDL particles would not gain purchase.

In essence then, whilst the LDL cholesterol does have a role in the body there are strong indications that if there is already weakness in the artery it will attract the smaller particles that will then clump forming the harmful plaque leading to coronary disease. There is another problem with LDL cholesterol which is oxidation – this is where the particles react with free radicals, produced through a number of activities including smoking and eating a diet high in white fat as found in processed foods, crisps, pastries and cookies.

Thank you for stopping by and please leave your views in the comments and click a few share buttons.. many thanks Sally

Next time early detection of prostate problems can save your life.

All the Top to Toe posts can be found her : https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-2017-top-to-toe/

©sallygeorginacronin – Forget the Viagra, Pass me a Carrot. 2013

Thank you for dropping by and please feel free to share.. thanks Sally

The Cholesterol Myth – Part One – Why your body needs cholesterol.


I often get emails from readers of my books about the basic key indicators that are essential to keep us alive and healthy – These are LDL Cholesterol levels – Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels… So over the next few weeks I will be covering these three in more detail.

I respect and manage my cholesterol levels because without it there are certain vital functions in my body that would not happen. I am rather attached to my steroidal hormones including the sterol Vitamin D (thinks it’s a hormone) that keeps me happy in the winter and free of colds and flu and my bones strong by regulating calcium in my blood and others such as cortisol, there when I need it and DHEA, very important for my bone density now I am in my 60’s as well as helping keeping me young and remembering what happened yesterday.

I was grateful for my progesterone in my younger days that kept my periods more or less regular and for the oestrogens that developed me into the woman I was and remain today. I am also hoping that my cholesterol, which is very important for my eyesight will prevent me from developing cataracts in my 70’s and 80’s. Developing Dementia and keeping me active until a ripe old age.

elderly client

Sound flippant? A little yes, but not so flippant as the suggestion that everyone over the age of 50, whatever their current cholesterol readings should be given Statins or other cholesterol lowering drugs. My feeling is that the NHS has given up trying to educate its clients into adopting a healthier diet and exercising more and is going with the mass medication option because they say it will prevent cardiovascular disease and dementia down the line. Quite frankly, they are terrified – they have an aging population- who are going to be more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, and dementia simply because the natural process is deterioration. However, without the protection of healthy forms of cholesterol many functions in the body are compromised including brain health and our sex drive.

What is ‘flippantly’ ignored is that cholesterol is not some demon substance that has invaded our bodies and is rampaging out of control through our blood stream, but essential to our fundamental health and wellbeing. There are a number of people who are genetically prone to cholesterol health issues and of course then medication may be the right decision but it should never be something that is given to all.

There are some lifestyle and dietary changes that we can all make to make sure that the cholesterol in our bodies is getting on with its job and not causing us health problems but before I move onto the solutions, I would like to spend a little exploring the reasons for the interactions that are taking place and resulting in clogged arteries.

gnet.org

I admit that I do use the term lousy cholesterol for low density lipoprotein – because this is the one that can get contaminated and cause health problems. Although when talking about cholesterol we refer to high density lipoprotein and very low density lipoproteins (not usually in substantial amounts) as well, they are all the same molecularly but have different packaging to be transported in the blood stream.

HDL and LDL sub divide into different types of lipoproteins and at the moment more is still to be discovered about this. The LDL is associated with the plaque that forms in the arteries leading to blockages – the smaller the size of the LDL particles the more you are likely to develop coronary disease than if the particles are larger and less dense. There is a theory that if the walls of the arteries are damaged in any way, the smaller and denser particles of the LDL can push their way through that break in the tissue and start clumping together to form the plaque whilst the larger HDL particles would not gain purchase.

In essence then, whilst the LDL cholesterol does have a role in the body there are strong indications that if there is already weakness in the artery it will attract the smaller particles that will then clump forming the harmful plaque leading to coronary disease. There is another problem with LDL cholesterol which is oxidation – this is where the particles react with free radicals, produced through a number of activities including smoking and eating a diet high in white fat as found in processed foods, crisps, pastries and cookies.

In my next post I am going to focus on what happens when that oxidation of LDL takes place and why the HDL is accepted as the healthier cholesterol. For the rest of the series I will look at some strategies to get the LDL levels down, raise the HDL and make sure that all of us do not end up on Statins without a libido!

Photo by Gnet.org

©SallyCronin – Forget the Viagra Pass me a Carrot 2013

 

Food Pharmacy – Yams – 40,000 years of therapeutic claims cannot be all wrong!


Yams are often confused with the sweet potato when in fact they are completely different. Although both flowering plants they are not related and they have very different tastes and nutritional benefits. Yams are one of the oldest staple foods known to man and were primarily cultivated in Africa and Asia over the last 40,000 years, give or take a few thousand years. They are now eaten widely throughout South America, Africa, Pacific and West Indies. Although they are primarily eaten for their nutrition they are also a very useful addition to a food pharmacy due to yams specific nutritional ingredients that help the body maintain a hormonal balance.

In the past Wild Yam was extensively used as a natural alternative to HRT based on an assumption that it’s active ingredient diosgenin could stimulate the production of progesterone in the body which would ease oestrogen related menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Twenty years ago every health food shop sold cream and other Wild Yam preparations and certainly some of my clients did report feeling some relief.  However, there are natural hormonal fluctuations during both male and female menopause and I have found that symptoms are often triggered by too many sugars including having more to drink one night than usual. Evidence suggests that the body cannot actually utilise diosgenin from Wild Yam to effect hormones but never discount thousands of years of traditional use, there is more to the yam than diosgenin that could be affective for hormonal problems.  Certainly, I think that there might be some substance to the claims that yams are good for intestinal health as one of the species of yam is called the Colic Yam, and some people report relief from diverticulitis and IBS.

There is some quite interesting research that indicates that the body uses diosgenin for other therapeutic uses including in the prevention and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. It will be interesting to find out more conclusive evidence from these studies in the future as it naturally occurring therapeutic treatments are preferable to synthetically produced in my opinion.

Apart from the diosgenin that may benefit menstrual and menopausal problems, the yam contains both Vitamin C and B6. Certainly I have found that adjusting a woman’s diet and including B6 rich foods has helped with PMS and menopausal symptoms. Scientists are still debating the effects of B6 in supplement form on these two conditions and there is some evidence that suggests taking B6 in supplement form is less bio-available and therefore could lead to toxicity. So it may be that the use of yams in the past resulted in benefits because of its vitamin and mineral (manganese) content.

Whatever the perceived or real therapeutic benefits of Yams it does contain some very important nutrients that would benefit everyone as part of a balanced diet.

Main nutritional value of yams

The yam is a complex carbohydrate and the fibre this provides helps slow down the rate at which we digest food. Not only does this enable us to process our food more efficiently but it also encourages us to eliminate toxins and waste on a more regular basis.

The main nutrients in the Yam are B6, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese which I have mentioned briefly in previous blogs,but I will give a brief reminder of their benefits in relation to the yam.

Vitamin B6 is required for over 100 enzymes that metabolise the protein that you eat. It is essential for healthy blood and the nervous and immune systems require vitamin B6 to function efficiently. It is also necessary for our overall feeling of well being as it converts the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brain.

Blood sugar levels can fluctuate depending on the types of food that we eat particularly carbohydrates. If you are not eating sufficient calories your body uses B6 to convert stored carbohydrate or other nutrients to glucose to maintain normal blood sugar levels. This is one of the reasons that people on crash diets can suffer dizziness and fatigue. Without sufficient intake of food they are not replenishing their B6 on a regular basis. Because they are taking in too little calories for their body to function and they do not have B6 to convert any stored energy, they become weakened.

There is some evidence a deficiency of B6 may result in increased levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are linked to heart attacks and strokes due to its ability to damage arteries or encourage platelets to clump together as a clot.

Yams contain healthy amounts of Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid, which is water-soluble and cannot be stored in the body. It is in fact the body’s most powerful water-soluble antioxidant and plays a vital role in protecting the body against oxidative damage from free radicals. It works by neutralising potentially harmful reactions in the water- based parts of our body such as the blood and within the fluids surrounding every cell. It helps prevent harmful cholesterol (LDL) from free radical damage, which can lead to plaque forming on the inside of arteries, blocking them. The antioxidant action protects the health or the heart, the brain and many other bodily tissues.

Vitamin C is also involved in maintaining our immune system, helps reduce histamine response, is involved in the production of collagen for healthy skin and bones and is needed for the production of hormones.

The cardiovascular system relies on Vitamin C that plays a role in cholesterol production in the liver and in the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids for excretion from the body. It supports healthy circulation and blood pressure, which in turn supports the heart.

Vitamin C works as part of a team helping in various metabolic processes such as the absorption of iron, converting folic acid to an active state, protecting against the effects of toxic effects of cadmium, copper, cobalt and mercury (brain health).

One word of warning – if you are on the contraceptive pill. Vitamin C in large supplemental doses can interfere with the absorption of the pill and reduce its effectiveness.

Potassium (K) is the most essential cation (positively charged electrolyte.) It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It is necessary for normal kidney function and it also plays a part in heart and bone health with a particular role in smooth muscle contraction.

The heart muscle must maintain a smooth and regular heartbeat and correct levels of potassium in the body will help regulate this. Some studies are indicating that low dietary potassium intake is linked to high blood pressure and that combined with calcium and magnesium rich foods can go a long way to preventing this condition from developing. A balance of potassium, calcium and magnesium is essential to maintain bone mass and a deficiency is linked to osteoporosis. It is especially useful during PMS and menopause, as water retention is one of the more significant symptoms.

Manganese is a macro mineral or trace element that is essential for the normal formation of bone and cartilage. It is also necessary for efficient metabolism of glucose and forms part of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase.

Unfortunately only about 5% of dietary manganese is absorbed, which means that adequate amounts need to be taken in on a daily basis in our food.

It is involved in a number of production processes including energy production, healthy joints, immune system function, sex hormones and thyroxine one of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Without thyroxine our metabolism would be inefficient and there would be an effect on every aspect of our health.

There are certain diseases where tests have shown the patients have been deficient in manganese and these include diabetes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and mental conditions such as schizophrenia.

Yams and Sweet Potatoes both burn to an alkaline ash in the body so are excellent ways to help manage acidity.  Acidity does not just manifest itself with heartburn, if you are unwell you are usually have a more acidic imbalance, so when you have a cold or recuperating from an illness, including yams in an easily digestible form is good for you.

Buying and storing yams

There are over 200 varieties of yams and the flesh can vary in colour from white through to purple with white, pink or brown skins. They are long and cylindrical with offshoots and they are rough to the touch. Choose firm and unblemished yams and keep in a cool dark place, but not in the refrigerator as this changes their taste. If yams are exposed to sunlight they will begin to sprout, as they will in temperatures above 60F.

How to cook

Yams have a slightly slimy feel to them when they are cooked and they are best either pureed and served with stronger flavoured meats or chopped and used with other roasted vegetables. Although they are excellent for women and their reproductive systems, as you can see from their nutritional profile they are very good for everyone in the family and including them two or three times a week as part of your fresh fruit and vegetable is great.

Here are some inspirational ways to prepare Yams from my fellow bloggers

http://www.easyportugueserecipes.com/tag/portuguese-yam-recipe/

http://funtaqa.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/recipe-yam-pottage/

More from the Food Pharmacy tomorrow.