Coffee & tea protect brain / Zinc for kid’s brains & waistlines / Selenium & coordination

We have a virtual potpourri on Healthy by Nature this week: In the opening segment I ask listeners to save the date, April 2, 2011. That’s the Saturday of our North Texas regional HealthFest event. It will be much bigger and even more exciting than last year’s. Next, producer, Andy Hopkins, interviews me about a natural approach to cholesterol issues. Then I interview product developer, Rob Martin, about what supplements are good for the prostate. Nutritionist, Karen Falbo of Natural Grocers, bats cleanup. (Yes, I’m still in World Series mode and proud of our Texas Rangers for winning the AL pennant). Karen offers advice on how to feel better after holiday meals.


Coffee and tea are protective against one type of brain cancer. And it doesn’t take a lot—just half a cup a day produced a 34% reduction in the risk of glioma. Researchers at Brown University analyzed data from a giant European study. (More than 410,000 people from nine countries were followed for over 8 years.) Men saw more benefit than women.1 Coffee and Tea Compared.

My 2 cents: Drinking coffee and tea has also been linked to reduced risk of other types of cancer and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. However, as with anything else, just because a little is apparently good, that doesn’t mean more is necessarily better…or that a very large amount won’t be harmful. Caffeine increases the stress hormone cortisol and can heighten anxiety. It may cause cravings and affects brain signaling chemicals that might provide a lift but may be followed by a letdown later. Since it can take 24 hours to fully clear caffeine from your system, even morning coffee can cause sleep interference for some folks. So, maybe make it a “tall” rather than a “venti” at Starbucks?

Zinc helps obese children. Subjects that were given 20 mg supplements of zinc daily for 8 weeks showed significant progress compared to those on placebo. The supplemented kiddos experienced reductions in body mass index. They also improved in several markers of “metabolic syndrome” such as cholesterol, oxidation, inflammation and insulin resistance.2

Zinc and iron help kids’ memory function. Researchers studied children aged 6-11 for 3 months. The subjects were selected because they were deficient in zinc and/or iron. The iron dose given was relative to body size. The zinc dose was 5 mg per day. The children showed significant improvements in verbal and nonverbal memory during the trial.3

Selenium for neurological performance in the aging. More than 1,000 subjects over age 65 were studied. Researchers concluded that “lower levels of selenium were significantly associated with decreased performance in neurological tests of coordination among older adults.”4

My 2 cents: These studies show it’s hard to overstate the importance of minerals such as zinc, iron, selenium (and my old friend magnesium) because they are essential for life itself. They’re used in hundreds, if not thousands, of cellular functions. Furthermore, the body cannot make them—they must come from the diet or supplements. (Our friendly intestinal bacteria can make some vitamins, but they cannot create minerals.) As the soils become more depleted of minerals from continuous cultivation and as food products become more refined, obtaining crucial minerals is a tougher challenge. Children and the elderly are even more prone to deficiency because they tend to eat what’s easy and what they like. (Although there is some iron added to the “fortified” white flour, I don’t see a source of significant zinc, selenium or magnesium in the ingredients of Pop-Tarts®.) A multiple vitamin seems to be the least we can do for these groups.


TV chefs always make food prep look so quick and easy. It helps that they use sharp knives. If you store your good knives in a convenient wooden block, e.g. the type of holder provided by the cutlery companies, try putting the knives into the slots with the sharp side up. It seems odd at first, but you won’t be gradually sawing a groove in the wood and the blades stay sharp longer.

My first book : Natural Alternatives to Nexium, Maalox, Tagamet, Prilosec & Other Acid Blockers. Subtitle: What to Use to Relieve Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Gastric Ailments.

My latest book : Aloe Vera-Modern Science Sheds Light on an Ancient Herbal Remedy

Copyright 2010 Martie Whittekin, CCN

1 Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1145-50. Coffee and tea intake and risk of brain tumors in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort study. Michaud DS

2Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2010 Oct 28. [Epub ahead of print] Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Markers of Insulin Resistance, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation among Prepubescent Children with Metabolic Syndrome. Kelishadi R.

3Indian Pediatr. 2010 Aug 1. pii: S097475590900459-1. [Epub ahead of print] Effect of Iron and Zinc Deficiency on Short Term Memory in Children. Bhaskaran M. 4Mov Disord. 2010 Sep 15;25(12):1909-15. Plasma selenium is positively related to performance in neurological tasks assessing coordination and motor speed. Shahar A.

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