Defending against hay fever, and much more!

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Pollen Image

All hay fever suffers should know what’s happening right now. Hay fever season is here and for many of us, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny nose, itchy eyes all come with it.  Many products and treatments exist to address these uncomfortable symptoms, but not all are successful.

One product however, is standing out as the go to supplement for hay fever support.  With documented benefits, more than 200 published trials and contented users around the world, many sufferers are turning to Pycnogenol® for reliable relief from hay fever.

So what is Pycnogenol®?

Pycnogenol is a unique plant extract from the bark of the maritime pine trees (grown in sustainable French forests).  Key to many of its benefits, Pycnogenol is a source of antioxidant plant compounds known as proanthrocyanadins which have been shown to help protect cells from free radical damage amongst other benefits.

What happens during hay fever?

To understand how Pycnogenol can benefit, it helps to understand what happens during hay fever first.  Simply put, hay fever is allergic reaction to pollen.  All allergies occur when the body’s immune system has an exaggerated response to foreign particles which it perceives as dangerous.  Pollen counts are on the rise and specifically, the pollen season separates into three smaller seasons:

1. Tree pollen: late March to mid-May.
2. Grass pollen: mid-May to July.
3. Weed pollen: end of June to September

This is important, as individuals typically react more to a specific type of pollen.  In Britain, hay fever is caused by grass pollen in around 95% of sufferers for instance.

Once in contact with the pollen, our mast cells (a type of white blood cell) release the hormone histamine throughout the body, triggering allergic responses involving inflammation of delicate tissues (such as the nose, mouth, airways and skin).  This inflammation can make breathing difficult through constricting the airways.   Histamines also encourage the membranes of the nose to produce mucus, leading to the iconic runny nose and irritated throat.

Free radical exposure (reactive molecules produced by pollution and intense exercise) can further increase the amount of histamine produced by the mast cells, so this should be addressed also.

How can Pycnogenol help?

Pycnogenol has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects that may counter hay fever symptoms such as blocked sinuses, red irritated nostrils and constricted breathing, common to most sufferers.

In one study, a significant reduction in inflammation was found in subjects consuming Pycnogenol.  The proposed mechanism is that Pycnogenol controls NF-Kappa B, which is a protein complex found in our cells that sends out compounds (such as cytokines) into the body that trigger inflammation (1).  The benefits of these anti-inflammatory effects can be wide reaching, and Pycnogenol has been indicated in improving rheumatoid symptoms and circulatory conditions as well!  Just this year, a study showed that Pycnogenol can even normalize cardiovascular risk  factors in perimenopausal women!  (4)

Various trials have shown Pycnogenol to have an anti-histamine effect, also combating the allergic response.  The antioxidant compounds in Pycnogenol are able to neutralize free radicals, reducing the amount of histamine that’s initially released from the mast cells.  Pycnogenol also increases the uptake of histamine into the storage component of the mast cells, rather than releasing them throughout the body where they would trigger inflammation.  (3).

In a particular lab study, this antihistamine effect was demonstrated to be more favourable than sodium cromoglycate, an antihistamine normally found in pharmaceutical hay fever medications. (2)

Trying it out

Pycnogenol is a well researched and unique plant extract that is proving to be a successful solution for hay fever sufferers all over the world.  Not only have studies shown its anti-histamine actions, but other mechanisms such as anti-inflammation associate Pycnogenol with many other health benefits.

As always,  you should ensure supplements are sourced from a reputable manufacturer with an emphasis on safety, quality and well absorbed formulas.


1. Grimm T, Chovanová Z, Muchová J, Sumegová K, Liptáková A, Duracková Z, Högger P. Inhibition of NF-kappaB activation and MMP-9 secretion by plasma of human volunteers after ingestion of maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol). Journal of inflammation (London, England). 2006 Jan 31 [cited 2017 Feb 8];3. Available from:

2. Choi Y, Yan G. Pycnogenol inhibits immunoglobulin e-mediated allergic response in mast cells. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2009 May 15 [cited 2017 Feb 8];23(12):1691–5. Available from:

3. Sharma S, Sharma S, Gulati O. Pycnogenol inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2003 Jan 31 [cited 2017 Feb 8];17(1):66–9. Available from:

4. Normalization of cardiovascular risk factors in peri-menopausal women with Pycnogenol® – Minerva Ginecologica 2017 February;69(1):29-34 – Minerva Medica – Journals [Internet]. 2017. Available from:

Osteoporosis drugs; not as straightforward as once thought

Filed under: Product Information,Research


Bisphosphonate drugs, commonly used to maintain bone density in osteoporosis patients, have recently become the subject of controversy. While they help maintain density of most bones, various studies show an increase in atypical femur fractures associated with their long term use.

Healthy bones are maintained through the break down of old bone cells which are then replaced with new healthy cells. Specialized cells called osteoclasts break the older bone down while their counterpart osteoblasts, build up the bone again with new healthy tissue. Bisphosphonate drugs absorb into the osteoclast cells, inhibiting their function which is the initial break down of cells. The result? Slower overall bone density loss.

Bisphosphonates decrease bone fractures of most bone types by 40% (and vertebrae fractures by over 50%). Prolonged use of these drugs (around 3 years plus) can cause an elevated risk in atypical fractures of the femur, studies show (1). The fracture begins with pain and unlike many other fractures, they don't need to be triggered by trauma or force (such as a fall). A recent study from the imperial college London found that the hip bones of those being treated with bisphosphonates had many micro-cracks and less mechanical strength (2).

Studies like these are gaining traction, making the future of bisphosphonate use unclear. With this in mind, what can be done to bring our bone density into our own hands?

Lifestyle and diet choices-Protecting your bone density

The best treatment is prevention, and this is especially applicable for osteoporosis. In our childhood/early adulthood, we build up bone density and this begins to decline from our mid 30s onwards. While it affects males and females, it's worth noting that women are especially susceptible to osteoporosis due to menopause (a decline in oestrogen production). Oestrogen has a calcium sparing effect, so when it declines during this natural process, bone density falls with it.

Being active can go a long way to maintain bone density, especially if weight-baring exercise is included (such as running or light weight lifting). According to the British Dietetic Association, both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of osteoporosis as well (3).

A nutritionally dense diet containing adequate protein, zinc, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D and K can help ensure optimum bone density. Most of us obtain adequate calcium levels however, whereas both magnesium and vitamin D are common dietary insufficiencies.

Key for bone density; Vitamin D and Magnesium

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Dietary vitamin D intakes (from sources like butter, eggs and fish) are typically inadequate, though ideally we would synthesize enough when our skin is exposed to UVB rays from sunlight. The issue is, many factors limit our exposure to sunlight including;

  • Age (our ability to synthesize vitamin D from sun declines).
  • Season and latitude – less sunlight in winter and in northern parts of the world
  • Ethnicity/ Skin pigmentation- darker skin requires more sunlight
  • Personal habits: regularly use of sunscreen or covering up

Presently, the UK government recommends that everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially in winter months when sunlight is lowest. Due to being a fat soluble vitamin, vitamin D oil capsules absorb in the gut better than the common solid tablet form. Available in two chemical forms, the D3 form (cholecalciferol) is generally considered less toxic, better tolerated and more stable than D2 (ergocalciferol).

Magnesium is a key mineral used for over 300 enzyme functions in the body. It has several approved health claims in the EU including its contribution to the maintenance of normal bones. Most magnesium supplements are single sourced, which may not be well absorbed in the gut (a common example is magnesium oxide). A multi-sourced magnesium supplement is ideal as it will offer a balance of high magnesium content and good bioavailability.

Healthy bone habits

Osteoporosis treatments are more complex than once though, though there's healthy behaviours we can adopt to help maintain bone density as much as possible. Smoking cessation, appropriate alcohol consumption, keeping active (with weight baring exercise) and a healthy diet with key supplements are behaviours we could all learn to adopt for better bone health.


1. Strotman P, Lack W, Bernstein M, Stover M, Summers H. Evaluation of common fractures of the hip in the elderly. Current Geriatrics Reports. 2016 Feb 5;5(1):38–43.

2. Wighton K. Drug used to treat weak bones associated with micro-cracks. 2017 Mar 1 [cited 2017 Mar 2]. Available from:

3. [cited 2017 Mar 2]. Available from:


Bio-Quinone Q10 – The Major Studies

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What is Q10?

A vitamin-like substance, Q10 can be found in every cell in the human body, specifically in the mitochondria (the energy producing structure of the cell). It is a key component for the production of energy, in the form of the molecule ATP. Cells in the body with high energy requirements such as the muscles and the heart, have a particularly high Q10 requirement.

Although we can produce our own Q10, these levels peak in our late 20s and gradually decrease from then onwards. Statin therapy is known to reduce this production of Q10 even further as an undesirable side-effect. Small amounts of Q10 can be obtained from the diet, though substantial Q10 levels can be obtained from supplements.


The Q-Symbio study

The 2004 ‘Q-Symbio’ study shows Quinone Q10′s ability to protect the health of those affected by chronic heart failure (CHF). A multi-national trial headed by Professor Mortensen of Copenhagen University Hospital, the study was carried out in 420 patients (18 years +) with CHF. The study was a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, which is considered the gold standard in clinical research. Patients were assigned either 300mg of Quinone Q10 daily, or a placebo and both groups were assessed for both symptoms and bio-markers of heart stress.



The Quinone Q10 group showed a 43% reduction in mortality compared to the placebo group.Reduction in mortality rate - q10 treatment groups

Graphs showing reduction in mortality rate in the Q10 treatment groups compared to to placebo


Cardiac function was improved, less adverse cardiovascular events were experienced and hospital admissions reduced in the Q10 group compared to the placebo. Not only this, but levels of a particular biomarker (NT-proNBP) which is a sign that the heart muscles is stressed, were reduced (1).

The KiSel-10 study

Selenium has an important relationship with Q10 when taken together. Selenium deficiency can inhibit the cells receiving Q10, and Q10 must be available for the body to benefit from optimum selenium function. The 2013 ‘KiSel-10′ study demonstrates this synergistic relationship well.

Participants in the KiSel-10 study were randomly assigned a placebo or 200mcg of SelenoPrecise (highly bioavailable selenium) with 200mcg of Quinone Q10 for a 5 year period. The SelenoPrecise and Quinone Q10 group showed a decreased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease related conditions by 50%. The heart stress biomarker NT-proNBP was lower in the treatment group. The study also showed that the treatment group experienced less inflammation and improved cardiac function than placebo (2).

Cardiovascular Mortality

The protection persists!

A 10 year follow up with the participants of the KiSel-10 study was conducted, with fascinating results. The upper quarter of participants with the most selenium in their bodies had significantly less mortality rates than the lower quarter.



1. Mortensen S, Rosenfeldt F, Kumar A, Dolliner P, Filipiak K, Pella D, Alehagen U, Steurer G, Littarru G, Study Q-S. The effect of coenzyme Q10 on morbidity and mortality in chronic heart failure: Results from Q-SYMBIO: A randomized double-blind trial. JACC. Heart failure. 2014 Oct 6 [cited 2017 Feb 15];2(6):641–9. .

2. Alehagen U, Johansson P, Björnstedt M, Rosén A, Dahlström U. Cardiovascular mortality and N-terminal-proBNP reduced after combined selenium and coenzyme Q10 supplementation: A 5-year prospective randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial among elderly Swedish citizens. International journal of cardiology. 2012 May 26 [cited 2017 Feb 15];167(5):1860–6.

Sleeping Advice – How many of us have difficulty sleeping?

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Image result for difficulty sleeping

If you have difficulty getting to sleep at night, you’re not alone (even though you might feel like it at the time)! A report for the British sleep council in 2013 showed that around 27% of us in the UK get poor quality sleep on a regular basis (with 5% saying that they sleep very poorly) (1).

The consequences of poor quality sleep are accumulative and will get worse until they’re addressed (2). An occasional bad night’s sleep may make you feel irritable, while several nights of poor sleep can cause poor concentration, alertness, decision making as well as a low mood. You may find it will impact your workouts and may even find it hard to manage weight.

Worryingly, lack of sleep over a period of time can lead to more severe health problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

What are the benefits of a good nights sleep?

Getting a great night’s sleep comes with it some fantastic benefits! As well as having a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, you may also experience

  • Better weight management
  • Improved mental health and cognitive function
  • Improved energy
  • Increased fertility and libido

The foundation of good sleep

Figuring out what is disturbing your sleep goes a long way to tackling the problem. If you experience anxiety or racing thoughts before bed, winding down before you attempt to sleep could be a great idea. Do this in whatever way suits and relaxes you. Perhaps listening to soothing music, reading a book, writing down the thoughts that are on your mind or even a nice warm bath.

Making your bedroom a haven of calm and free from distraction has been shown to have a major impact in the quality of our sleep, especially when initially nodding off. Try making your bedroom tidy, dark and a comfortable temperature. Block out lights such as street lights if possible, with thick curtains or blackout blinds. Keeping a regular sleeping time can also help your body get used to the pattern, and can help tell your brain that it’s time to shut off.

Finally, try to keep your bedroom associated with sleep and relaxation by removing TVs, game consoles, and limit your use of electronic devices such as tablets and smart-phones before sleep.

Diet and exercise

Caffeine close to bedtime is obviously detrimental to sleep quality for most people. Tea and coffees should be limited, though you may find relaxing, caffeine -free teas teas such as camomile or valerian useful for nodding off. Don’t have more than a small cup though, as frequent bathrooms breaks are definitely sleep-disruptive. Caffeine can be found in less obvious places, like soft drinks, chocolate and medication (such as combined for paracetamol for example), so watch out for those. Though it may help many of us get to sleep, alcohol has been shown to reduce the quality of the sleep we do eventually get.

Regular exercise is fantastic for sleep quality, but try to avoid rigorous activity close to bed time as it could have the opposite effect and be too stimulating. Light exercise, like yoga and stretching, are trusted ways to unwind.

Sleep and kiwi

Kiwi fruits are presently being investigated for their ability to aid a restful sleep, with promising results. In one study, consumption of two kiwi fruits an hour before bed may shorten the time it takes to attain a restful sleep, while improving its duration and quality (3). It is theorized that these properties come from a range of bioactive compounds found in the fruit, including serotonin (which the body can convert to melatonin, the sleep hormone).

Sleep and cherry juice

Speaking of melatonin, tart Montmorency cherries have been reported to contain high levels of it, along with other phytochemicals. One 2012 study compared a group of volunteers who took cherry juice to a placebo group, in terms of sleep. The cherry juice group reported more effective sleep, increased bed in time, total sleep time and an elevated melatonin levels compared to the placebo group (4).

The importance of magnesium supplementation for sleep

Magnesium is a key mineral in our bodies, used for over 300 enzyme functions. Primarily, it’s necessary for muscle and nerve function, can relax muscles and calm the nervous system. When we have enough of it, it can be great for stress relief and reduction of anxiety. Magnesium insufficiency on the other hand, can be highly disruptive to sleep.

The research of magnesium and sleep

Magnesium can greatly improve sleep, and the body of evidence to support this is ever growing. In several studies, magnesium supplementation decreased insomnia severity, improved the length of sleep and decreased the time it took participants to achieve a full sleep (5, 6).

Magnesium can also help correct the negative impact a bad night’s sleep can have on exercise and sports performance. In one study, sleep deprived participants who consumed oral magnesium supplements had better exercise tolerance than those who consumed no magnesium at all (7).

Magnesium is often consumed to reduce severity of restless leg syndrome, which is a common reason for difficulty getting to sleep, especially as we age. Restless leg syndrome (also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) effects the nervous system and can be described as an overwhelming urge to move and jerk the legs.

Which magnesium supplement to choose from?

When choosing magnesium supplements, absorption is key. As with most supplements, how well our body breaks down the supplement into its individual molecules is a determining factor for how well our bodies can absorb and use it. There are many different types of magnesium, with the most common form in supplements being magnesium oxide. This form unfortunately is one of the lesser absorbed magnesium forms out there. Supplements with multiple magnesium sources and that are designed to absorb well in the gut are ideal choices.

Personally, I take Pharma Nord’s Bio-Magnesium, which a multi-sourced magnesium that absorbs fantastically. I dissolve it a glass of water and drink it, because it’s so bioavailable.


Constantly struggling with sleep can be more than frustrating, it can be incredibly detrimental to your health! The great news is, you’re not alone, and there are many tips to help address it, some you may have have thought of before!

References/Further Reading

1. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from:

2. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health [Internet]. 2017 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from:

3.Lin H, Tsai P, Fang S, Liu J. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition. 2011 Jun 15 [cited 2017 Jan 17];20(2):169–74. Available from:

4. Howatson G, Bell P, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh M, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European journal of nutrition. 2011 Nov 1 [cited 2017 Jan 19];51(8):909–16. Available from:

5.Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi M, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. 2013 Jul 16 [cited 2017 Jan 17];17(12):1161–9. Available from:

6. Held K, Antonijevic I, Künzel H, Uhr M, Wetter T, Golly I, Steiger A, Murck H. Oral mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002 Aug 7 [cited 2017 Jan 17];35(4):135–43. Available from:

6. Tanabe K, Yamamoto A, Suzuki N, Osada N, Yokoyama Y, Samejima H, Seki A, Oya M, Murabayashi T, Nakayama M, Yamamoto M, Omiya K, Itoh H, Murayama M. Efficacy of oral magnesium administration on decreased exercise tolerance in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. JAPANESE CIRCULATION JOURNAL. 1998 [cited 2017 Jan 17];62(5):341–6. Available from: doi: 10.1253/jcj.62.341.

Appropriate Supplementation

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Image result for supplements

Frankie talks about… appropriate supplementation

Supplements are at their best, when taking appropriately and when there’s a need for them. Often people may consume excessive amount of vitamins, hoping for some result like boosted immunity or energy and experience disappointment when it doesn’t work out.

I (along with Pharma Nord) recommend supplements without excessive levels, and that are evidence based and with an emphasis on good absorption. Vitamin D in the winter months, folic acid containing products pre-pregnancy and fish oil capsules (if we dislike or can’t afford seafood) are all perfect examples.

Even with a varied diet, we may not be getting everything we need. Soils worldwide have an uneven distribution of minerals, and some parts of the world may be lower in certain minerals as a result (as is the case with the UK and Selenium). As well as this, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, a substantial proportion of adults in the UK over 19 years old had intakes below the recommended levels for magnesium, potassium and selenium (1).

Why not try – Bio-Vitamin D, Bio-Marine Plus, SelenoPrecise


1. National Diet and Nutrition Survey

2.  Read Sian Williams’ story


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