Introduction to Health Defence

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

In his bestselling book Health Defence, Dr Paul Clayton (a previous President of the Forum on Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine) shows that biological ageing is not simply due to the passing of the years.

Health Defence is now out of print, but you can read this specially prepared and updated Introductory Report here online, and read chapters from the book, too.


Very few people – perhaps 1 in 10,000 – die of old age. The vast majority of us sicken and die prematurely, picked off by 'natural causes’ long before our biological life span has run its course.

Average life expectancy in the First World is now around 79 years for men and 83 for women; but cell culture studies, and the very few individuals who live on healthily into their second century, indicate that our true life span may lie between 110 and 120.


The usual medical definition: Absence of clinically defined disease.

My definition: Noticeable energy, absence of clinically defined disease – plus no signs of sub-clinical, ie pending, disease.

So why is a long and healthy life such a rarity? Why do so few of us live out our biological potential? And why according to Public Health England 2017, can the average woman expect to live an astonishing 19 years of her life in ill health and men 16 years? It’s a tragic and unnecessary waste of health and happiness.

We used to die, in the main, of infection or trauma. Twentieth century medicine has scored significant victories against these; the major causes of ill health and death now are the chronic degenerative diseases such as coronary artery disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer. For women, Alzheimer’s and dementia are now the leading causes of death.

If you can cut your risk of these degenerative diseases, you automatically give yourself the chance of not just a longer life – but a longer quality of life.

Fortunately we have a good scientific guide as to what to do. This is derived partly from the thousands of research papers on which my book “Health Defence” is based, partly from studies on ‘Super Agers’ – the people who do achieve active and healthy old age - and partly by analysing the lifestyles of populations where the incidence of cancer or heart disease is a fraction of our own in the West.

For example, the relative immunity of the Mediterrranean cultures to heart disease is clearly due to various components in their diet. These include the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil, the flavonoids in red wine, and other anti-oxidant nutritional compounds such as lutein in kale and other green leaf vegetables, and lycopene in tomatoes.

Important Definitions

Flavonoids and polyphenols are plant compounds that are as important as vitamins and minerals. They suppport the immune system, reduce internal inflammation and are powerful anti-oxidants. Consequently they are strongly linked to reduced risk of dementia, heart disease and cancer.

Anti-oxidants counteract the damaging effect of free radicals. Free radicals are highly active atoms in cells that occur mainly through internal metabolic processes involving oxygen. This is called oxidative stress.

Whilst some level of internal oxidative strees is natural and inevitable, excess oxidation damages cell membranes and DNA and contributes to ageing and age-related disease.

In terms of other diseases, however, such as breast and prostate cancer, the French and Italians don’t do nearly as well as the Japanese and Koreans, who seem to be protected from these illnesses due to their high consumption of soy products, selenium and green tea, and low intake of saturated fat and calcium.

And in African cultures where a high fibre diet is still consumed, the incidence of colon cancer is far lower than it is in the USA – or, for that matter, in France and Britain.

If we could take the most protective nutrients from each culture’s diet and combine them with the most protective nutrients identified from clinical trials, we could begin to define a diet that would significantly cut the risk of degenerative disease, and far more people could live long and healthy lives.

The good news is that we now have the knowledge to do this. But first we have to understand the problem.

Why prevention is (much! better than cure

Five out of six 60-year-olds already have one or more of the chronic degenerative diseases, such as coronary artery disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, or cancer.

Many of these people will not know that they have the disease – because it has yet to become noticeable.

Coronary artery disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis do not occur overnight, although the symptoms might do. They are slowly progressing conditions, which develop for years or decades before symptoms finally emerge.

In other words, the majority of apparently healthy people over the age of 40 are in fact pre-ill. They contain in their bodies the seeds of the illness which will eventually become overt, and perhaps kill them. An artery is beginning to silt up; bone is thinning; brain cells are dying – leading eventually to a heart attack, osteoporotic fracture, or dementia.

But is it inevitable? If we were to focus preventatively on the pre-ill, perhaps we could slow or stop these diseases before they became clinical. Or reverse them. This is the core of the new ‘nutritional medicine’; a preventative approach which corrects the metabolic errors before the first twinge of angina, the first broken bone, or the first shadow on the x-ray – in other words, Health Defence.

Prevention or cure?

Conventional medicine waits for something to go wrong and then tries to suppress that particular symptom with ‘magic bullet’ drugs.

These chemicals, with which the body is not familiar, carry a high risk of side effects.

Preventative nutrition is proactive. It uses natural compounds with which the body is familiar and indeed depends on.

It supports your body’s own repair mechanisms to defend against hostile environmental factors like pollution, stress, harmful bacteria, toxins, viruses and carcinogens.

It targets the causes of potential problems.

It's a question of balance

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and MineralsAll biological tissues are dynamic. Their apparent constancy disguises a constant state of flux, with the processes of decay and regeneration – wear and repair – going on at the same time in your trillions of cells.

Bones are constantly being built up and worn away, as are joints. Atheroma is constantly accumulating inside the arteries, and just as constantly being removed.

If the processes are in balance, the tissue remains intact, and good health is sustained. But if the rate of decay is only a little faster than the rate of repair, there will be a net loss of healthy tissue, a pre-illness growing little by little every day until the clinical illness finally emerges.

This is why we sicken and die prematurely. In almost all of us, the repair mechanisms are below par and the processes of deterioration predominate.

And the balance of evidence shows that, in the majority of cases, this is due to multiple micro-nutrient depletion. Sub-optimal nutrition denies our repair mechanisms the nutritional support they need.

Surveys show that most people are depleted in most essential vitamins and minerals.

But depletion levels are far worse than this, because only ‘conventional’ nutrients have historically had the most research devoted to them. And they are based on Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs) which are minimum or ‘adequate’ rather than optimum levels. Adequate is not optimum.

Other nutrients like the Omega 3 oils, isoflavones in soy, the flavonoids and polyphenols in fruits and vegetables, carotenoids like lycopene and lutein, and prebiotic fibres and probiotic ‘friendly’ bacteria have as much, if not more, ‘healing power’. And depletion levels are even worse for them.

If the body has inadequate nutritional support it is vulnerable to the three threats to your health that most contribute to disease – a weakened immune system, free radical damage and inflammation.

The three main threats to your health

Apart from any genetic factors, which affect relatively few, there are three principal and quite different threats to your health.

1. Invasion by disease-causing pathogens like bacteria and viruses, or by cancer cells, formed when cells grow out of control. The immune system is the major defence against both pathogens and cancer cells.

2. Attack by destructive excess free radicals. Anti-oxidants are your major defence against this dangerous process.

3. Inflammation. Recent research has shown that a primary cause of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke is chronic inflammation of the lining of the arteries – almost certainly more important than raised cholesterol. Inflammation of the bronchial airways is also a root cause of asthma and is involved in arthritis and certain cancers.

Strengthening the immune system

Modern lifestyles have increased the external threats to our health. At the same time, levels of nutrients in the diet, vital for immune function, have reduced.

If the level of threat is increased and defences are weakened, the chances of illness must increase. Nevertheless, disease only becomes evident when your immune system is finally overwhelmed by the attacking organisms.

Multiple Depletion

Surveys show that almost everyone is not only depleted in the vitamins and minerals needed for tissue repair; but also in the flavonoids and carotenoids which slow tissue breakdown. This is a recipe for illness.

For example, we now recognise that cancers start to grow relatively frequently in our bodies, but most don't become a problem because the immune system spots that the cells are different – and dispatches ‘killer’ T-cells to destroy them. Other immune system cells include the macrophages which kill and consume bacteria, and the B-cells which produce antibodies that destroy infected cells.

It’s only when the growth of cancer cells outpaces the ability of the immune system to overcome them that cancer takes hold.

All these different defence cells which help maintain a strong immune system need an optimum supply of over 20 vitamins and minerals to function well – and a healthy colony of probiotics in the gut.

Gut Health

Some 70% of your immune cells are located in your gut.

A healthy immune system depends heavily on a favourable balance of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ or harmful bacteria in your intestines.

This balance normally changes for the worse as we get older with fewer probiotics or ‘friendly’ bacteria to crowd out the harmful or pathogenic bacteria.

The result is a weakened immune function and a lower ability to absorb nutrients from food. Probiotic and prebiotic foods and supplements help restore the balance.

It is well known that the immune system normally declines with age and becomes less effective. This is why the elderly are more prone to infections, and why they take longer to recover. It is also a reason why the risk of cancer increases with age.

However, Professor Ranjit Chandra at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore showed that the cause of the weakened immune system, so common in the elderly, was not old age. It was because the elderly are depleted in so many key nutrients.

He gave his elderly subjects a daily nutritional supplement. Within months their immune systems had rejuvenated. Moreover, the number of days they were ill was reduced by an amazing 50 per cent.

In short, when levels of key nutrients are below optimum it disturbs the balance between the ongoing process of wear and repair, and weakens our immune system. Fortunately you can redress that balance.

This is not the absolute absence of a single nutrient that causes a deficiency disease (as the absence of Vitamin C causes scurvy), but sub-optimal levels of many nutrients, which slow a restorative process by a mere percent or two. That is enough to lead, over a period of years, to debilitating or fatal illness.

Drugs cannot remedy this syndrome of multiple micro-nutrient depletion leading to illness. Only well-designed nutritional programmes, built to support regenerative function, boost the immune system and slow the processes of decay, can do it.


Defeating free radical attack

The second major threat to our health is from free radical damage. Free radical damage is involved in most of the diseases which ultimately kill us. And it is deeply involved in the ageing process.

A common phenomenon

Free radical damage manifests itself, for example, as rust when metal oxidises, in the browning of apples as they oxidise and in rancidity when fat oxidises.Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

When the fatty acids in body cells are oxidised by free radicals, they form, among other things, lipofucsin. In skin, lipofucsin forms so-called liver spots which are merely unsightly.

Inside nerve cells, however, the accumulation of lipofucsin contributes to a decline in nerve function, and the steady loss of brain cells which occurs as we age.

Our bodies are built out of rather less than a hundred different kinds of atom. All atoms consist of a nucleus at the centre surrounded by a shell of electrons spinning round the nucleus, like planets round a sun.

However, certain processes such as radiation, or the oxidation which takes place in our own bodies, may knock an electron out of its shell. This leaves an unpaired electron. Atoms with unpaired electrons are free radicals.

Free radical action is an inevitable and continuous process, but when it becomes excessive it is extremely destructive. When body cells are left unprotected from free radical (oxidative) action, damage to cells can lead to many types of disease.

An unprotected cell being attacked by free radicals

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

When free radicals attack the cell’s genetic material (DNA) this can, if not repaired in time, lead to cancer.

If free radicals oxidise cholesterol in the blood this can contribute to inflammation causing ‘furring’ of the arteries and heart disease.

If free radicals attack the mitochondria (the cell’s power generators), they can impair the cell’s energy balance to such an extent that the cell eventually commits ‘suicide’ and dies. The result is accelerated ageing.

Indeed free radicals are a major cause of ageing in general as they contribute to the gradual deterioration of organs and to diseases such as cancer, arthritis and cataracts. Your body’s cells are involved in a running battle of oxidative damage versus repair.

Fortunately there is a defence. Certain nutrients have anti-oxidant properties as do some enzymes. These anti-oxidants can donate one of their own electrons to a free radical, thus neutralising it. In doing so they effectively form a protective shield against free radical attack and therefore against the damage it causes.

The anti-oxidant enzymes and anti-oxidants work together, which is why you need a comprehensive range of anti-oxidants, as the following sets of diagrams show.

The conclusion, therefore, is that we need a wide range of anti-oxidants and we need them in the right amounts.

Fruits and vegetables are the chief source of many vital anti-oxidants. The ones with the most protective nutrients are listed for you as we explore how to defend yourself against the three main health risks.

But herbs and other plant compounds, like thyme, ginger, garlic, chilli, paprika, cocoa, green tea, turmeric (the yellow spice in curry) and red wine also contain powerful anti-oxidants – as do grapeseed, grape juice and dark chocolate.

The anti-oxidant shield protects the cell

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

When a cell is protected by an anti-oxidant shield – the right combination of anti-oxidant enzymes, vitamins, minerals and other components – the ‘shield’ absorbs most of the free radicals.

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

Having been absorbed (or ‘quenched’) by the anti-oxidant shield, the free radical loses its destructive energy and is neutralised.

The anti-oxidant protection offered by foods (and supplements from food sources) can be measured in ORACs (standing for Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) which measure the ability of nutrients to absorb and neutralise free radicals.

A diet of five servings of fruit and vegetables typically provides about 1,400-1,500 ORACs per day. The standard one-a-day vitamin and mineral pill provides 300 ORAC units – the anti-oxidant equivalent of a single portion of fruit and vegetables!

The evidence suggests, however, that we may need as much as 3-5,000 ORAC units per day to stay really healthy. That’s one reason the new studies from University College London and the American Cancer Society recommend 9-10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day.

ORAC units

The world-famous Tuft’s University in Boston measures the anti-oxidant protection provided by foodstuffs in ORACs.

Typical diets provide 1,400-1,500 ORACs a day: optimal intakes are estimated to be 3-5,000 ORACs. To achieve that, you would need to eat at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day – or add a high anti-oxidant high ORAC-scoring supplement to your diet.

The recommended supplement levels that I propose provide a level of over 4,500 ORAC units a day. Combined with a realistic and healthy diet they would bring you to an optimum level. Indeed, I estimate they would put you in the top 1% of healthy diets on the planet.

How anti-oxidants protect your cells

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

  1. This is a cross-section of the inside of a body cell magnified approx. 10,000 times.
  2. Inside the cell is the nucleus which contains most of the cell’s DNA. DNA itself contains the genetic codes that make you a unique human being – determining  colour and many other characteristics.
  3. Also inside the cell are mitochondria. They are the energy factories of the body – where the energy in food is converted into energy for you to use.
  4. Free radicals can attack all parts of the cell. Damage to DNA can lead to cancer. Damage to mitochondria can lead to excess tiredness and premature ageing.
  5. Different anti-oxidants protect different parts of the cell. They are like specialist defence troops.

These diagrams show why it’s so important to use a supplement that contains a broad range of anti-oxidants in the right amounts and in the right form.

No single anti-oxidant can provide comprehensive protection, as different vitamins and minerals provide different defences in different places.

For example, anti-oxidants that locate in the mitochondria help protect against mitochondrial ageing. And anti-oxidants that protect lipids (fats) slow the process that leads to dementia and heart attacks.

In addition, certain anti-oxidants only function properly in combination with others. Vitamin E and carotenoids protect fats in your body from oxidation – but only if sufficient Vitamin C is present. And mixed tocopherols are more effective than simple vitamin E.

The body can’t make minerals or most vitamins, but it does make its own anti-oxidant enzymes. However, production of these enzymes depends upon there being enough trace elements like selenium, copper, zinc, manganese and iron present in your diet.

So you cannot protect with a single anti-oxidant. Only a full range can offer comprehensive cover.

The anti-oxidant protectors

Vitamin C is water-soluble, and protects against free radicals in the blood and the watery fluids that bathe the cells.

Vitamin E and other fat-soluble antioxidants including the carotenoids and Co-enzyme Q10, protect fatty structures such as cholesterol particles in the blood and cell membranes. But they need Vitamin C to be present in the right ratio to be effective.

Large amounts of free radicals are produced in the mitochondria. Co-Q10 acts inside the mitochondria, and beta carotene protects the mitochondrial walls.

Anti-oxidant enzymes neutralise free radicals in almost all areas. They depend on adequate trace elements like selenium, copper, zinc, manganese and iron.

When free radicals damage DNA in the cell nucleus, that cell may grow out of control, and become a cancer. Flavonoids like grapeseed and bilberry may bind close to DNA, providing a local anti-oxidant line of defence.

Flavonoids can also protect collagen and elastin fibres which give skin its firmness – and help slow the appearance of ageing.


Defeating inflammation

The latest research shows that a key driver of almost every ‘age-related’ disease is chronic (ie. continuous), sub-clinical (ie. undiagnosed) inflammation. No wonder then that a paper published by the US National Institutes of Health in 2010 called chronic inflammation a “unified theory of diseases”.

Yet many people have never heard of this type of inflammation, because it is internal and difficult to detect, building up gradually inside body tissues and destroying them.

Scientific American 2013

“Inflammation is an underlying contributor to virtually every chronic disease ... rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, diabetes and depression, along with major killers such as heart disease and stroke.”

Yet many people have never heard of this type of inflammation, because it is internal and difficult to detect, building up gradually inside body tissues and destroying them.

The difference between acute and chronic inflammation

One reason chronic inflammation has been largely unrecognised as such a serious threat is because we associate the word inflammation with the external type we can see and feel.

This is acute inflammation – a generally positive immune response to an external threat. For instance, the skin reddens and warms after a cut or insect bite, or an attack by a virus or bacteria. This stimulates the immune system to create an inflammatory response which leads to healing. Once the threat is over, anti-inflammatory compounds are released to complete the healing process.

But sometimes the acute inflammatory response is not sufficient to clear the threat, and some residual inflammation remains. This residual inflammation can gradually build up, becoming chronic internal inflammation. And this can eventually manifest itself as a potentially fatal and always debilitating degenerative disease.


Chronic inflammation can also be caused by a lack of anti-inflammatory nutrients in the diet, and a preponderance of pro-inflammatory factors, such as processed foods and high-temperature cooking.

“Visceral” fat eg. around the abdomen not only increases the risk of insulin resistance (leading to diabetes), but is surprisingly active, secreting inflammatory compounds that lead directly to heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. That’s why it is often called toxic fat.

University of Vermont College of Medicine

“Inflammatory factors predict virtually all bad outcomes in humans ... having heart attacks, having heart failure, becoming diabetic ... becoming fragile in old age ... cognitive function decline, even cancer.”

Russell Tracy, University of Vermont College of Medicine

Anti-inflammatory nutrients are crucial to health

We know from research that dietary and other lifestyle changes can reduce this chronic inflammation.

The key is to increase the level of anti-inflammatory nutrients in your diet, via foods and nutritional supplements, and reduce pro-inflammatory foods and cooking methods.

Anti-inflammatory foods and supplements


  • Oily fish and their oils with a high content of omega 3 eg. wild salmon, mackerel, sardines
  • Dark-coloured red, blue, black and purple berry fruits eg. blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries
  • Leafy vegetables, particularly brassicas eg. spinach, kale, broccoli
  • Green tea
  • Herbs and spices eg. garlic, ginger, chilli, rosemary, turmeric

And where it is difficult to eat enough of these foods, anti-inflammatory supplements are important:

  • Flavonoids eg. green tea polyphenols, grapeseed extract (which provide procyanidins), curcuminoids derived from curcumin/turmeric
  • Isoflavones from soy
  • Carotenoids eg. lycopene (from tomatoes), lutein (from leafy greens) and beta carotene (mainly from carrots etc)

Pro-inflammation foods and cooking


  • Processed foods, especially those cooked at high temperatures
  • Potatoes, crisps and potato products
  • Corn and corn products
  • Sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, maize (corn) and palm oils
  • Deep-fried fish and fish fingers
  • Sausages, burgers, cured meats including bacon, hot dogs, ham, salami
  • Salt

Also EAT LESS of the following as they not only cause internal inflammation, but also overload your bloodstream with glucose. This can lead to insulin resistance and then to diabetes and is a key cause of accelerated ageing.

  • White refined flour breads
  • Cornflakes and all sugared cereals
  • White rice and pasta
  • Sweet biscuits, cookies and cakes
  • Sugar, honey, syrup
  • Most sweets and desserts including ice cream, baked pastries and pies
  • Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and spirits
  • Sweetened yoghurts

Summary - countering the threats to your health

Free radical damage

COUNTER WITH anti-oxidant nutrients, especially vitamins C and E, CoQ10, flavonoids, selenium, zinc and manganese. Fruits and vegetables are your main food source.

Reduced immune system function

COUNTER WITH vitamins A, C, E and B complex (including the little-known betaine) and minerals zinc, selenium and chromium. Again, fruits and vegetables are your main food source. Add probiotic foods like sauerkraut, leeks and garlic and/or a multi-strain probiotic supplement.

Chronic inflammation

COUNTER WITH anti-inflammatory nutrients, especially Omega 3 fish oil, curcuminoids, polyphenols like green tea and grapeseed. Again, fruits and vegetables are your main food source, plus oily fish for the omega 3.

Recent research at University College London (supported by the American Cancer Society) indicates that a truly ‘health defensive’ level of fruit and vegetables is 9-10 portions a day. At that level, blood chemistry changes to become measurably protective against a range of degenerative diseases. And it is why fruit and vegetables play such a critical role in countering all three threats.

However, I recognise that 70 food portions of fruit and vegetables a week – plus 3 portions of oily fish – is unrealistic for most people (including me!). So I have no hesitation in recommending a nutritional supplement – providing it has a full range of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds in it. Which simple A-Z vitamin and mineral pills do not.

A well-balanced, nutritionally deficient diet

At medical school I was taught that you could obtain all the nutrition needed from a well-balanced diet. After all, we evolved without vitamin pills.

I am now convinced, however, that anyone over the age of 40-45 needs a comprehensive supplement. Here's why.

1. We don't eat enough

As hunter-gatherers we were designed to live active lives, and to consume 3000 to 4000 calories per day. We ate more roots, shoots, nuts and berries – supplying much higher levels of vitamin E, vitamin C, fibres and flavonoids than we get from a modern diet. Our diet has changed unrecognisably from that which our metabolism was designed to run on.

We now lead sedentary lives, and burn far fewer calories. When we eat less, we’re also consuming fewer micro-nutrients. And we are eating more processed rather than fresh foods.

2. The soil is often depleted

Soils in many areas are naturally depleted in various minerals. There is evidence that intensive farming can reduce plant mineral uptake further. Plants or animals raised in these areas are therefore depleted in these minerals. UK intakes of the anti-cancer mineral selenium, for example, are worryingly low.

Depleted vegetables

The average mineral content of fruits and vegetables has declined dramatically in the last 50 years.

Between 1940 and 1991 magnesium declined by 25%, calcium by 47%, iron by 36%, and copper by 62%.

Source : The Composition of Food, McCance and Widdowson, Eds 1- 5, RCS and MAFF

3. Absorption of nutrients is not always good

Although boosting your intake of fruit and vegetables is the first priority to reduce the risk of degenerative disease, it is not automatically the best way to obtain all the protective micro-nutrients.

For example, absorption of carotenoids from green leaf vegetables is not good, and certainly not as good as from supplements. The bio-availability of beta carotene when consumed as carrots, the traditional food source, is only a third as good as beta carotene in supplement form.

Another example: Folic acid depletion increases the risk of heart attacks and spina bifida in babies. Yet eating a ‘better’ diet has little effect on folic acid levels in the blood – whereas folic acid supplements raise folic acid levels very rapidly.

Designer beans

Over the last few decades, plant breeders have produced carrots, peas and other vegetables which are sweeter, with less bitter or astringent ‘notes’.

Unfortunately, we now know that the bitter and astringent flavours were often due to compounds critical to our long-term health.

4. Pollution

New environmental pollutants in the water, the air and the food chain stress the immune system and create free radical damage. (The American Chemical Society recently announced the synthesis of the 10 millionth new chemical.)

5. Ideal levels of food intake are unrealistic for most

Researchers have known for some time that ‘5-a-Day’ is not actually the optimum level. But it was thought that the true level - at 9-10 portions - would merely demotivate people, so they would not even try! A supplement containing compounds that make these foods so healthy is a realistic way to close the gap.

6. Ageing

The saying is that life begins at 40, but scientists don't agree. According to Canadian age researchers, women entering their 40s can expect on average to have aged 18 biological years by the time they have reached 50 – while men age 15 years!

The trouble is that we become progressively more depleted in more micronutrients as we get older. We become less active, so appetite, food and micronutrient intake fall further. To make matters worse, older digestive systems are less efficient at absorbing micro-nutrients.

Finally, older people take more medications, some of which can make micronutrient depletion worse.

So, for these reasons, most people are depleted in most micro-nutrients, as current national surveys confirm. By depleted I don’t mean deficient to the point of getting, for example, scurvy. I mean depleted below the optimum level to prevent long term illness.

RDAs are not enough

The way we live makes it very difficult to obtain all the nutrients we need at optimum levels from even a ‘well-balanced’ diet.

About 40% of adults in the UK and 50% in the USA now take a vitamin and mineral supplement. But most have been lulled into thinking that an A-Z type supplement incorporating the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) of a limited range of nutrients will do. It won't.

When it originally drew up the RDAs, the National Academy of Sciences never claimed these represented nutrient intakes designed to achieve optimal health. They were never more than a safety net, with the specific purpose of preventing deficiency diseases.

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and MineralsThe initial study on RDA requirements for Vitamin C was carried out on six convicts for a mere nine months – and two convicts escaped before the study was complete!!

The RDA concept suffers from three major weaknesses. Firstly, they are average values and do not take into account the needs of the individual, which may be much higher in many circumstances – for example as we get older, live more stressful lives, have an existing illness, drink more than recommended or take medications.

Secondly, the doses sufficient to prevent deficiency diseases are not high enough to maintain optimal health.

Thirdly, many absolutely vital nutrients have not yet had RDAs established for them. For example in all the following cases the RDA is either inadequate or nonexistent, and intake has fallen significantly.

Vitamins C and E

A powerful study showed that a daily intake of 180mg of Vitamin E combined with 500mg of Vitamin C can slow the development of coronary artery disease by 50%.

The RDA for Vitamin C is a mere 60mg, which appears to have been rounded up from the average daily intake of Vitamin C, which is 58mg. The RDA for Vitamin E is an absurd 10mg; the average Western intake of this essential micro-nutrient is, conveniently, 9.3mg. The optimum levels? 110mg for vitamin E and 550mg for C.

Reduced intake of Vitamin C

The main sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits and berries. Intake has probably fallen by 80-90% since the Neolithic period.

Omega 3 oils

Found in oily fish and certain plant oils, Omega 3 protects against heart disease, and has a role to play in defending against other inflammatory conditions like asthma and arthritis.

Fatty acids like Omega 3 are also critical building blocks for brain function and to reduce the risk of mental decline in the older years.

Reduced intake of Omega 3

Intake of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has fallen by an estimated 75% since Neolithic times.

The average person’s intake of Omega 3 is about 150mg a day, far below the level that the UK Government is currently considering recommending, which is 350mg a day. The optimum level? 800mg.


Isoflavone compounds (like genistein) are found in soy, and have remarkable defensive powers against cancer. They can not only force cancerous cells to revert to normal, but can also help choke off the blood supply to emerging tumours. In addition, they have an important role to play in minimising problems linked to the menopause.

While there isn’t, as yet, an RDA, the average daily intake of isoflavones in the West is as low as 5mg, in contrast to at least 40mg in countries like Japan and Korea where cancer rates are far lower. The optimum level? 45mg

Low soy consumption in the West

The level that I recommend (40mg) will provide you with an intake similar to the diet eaten in Korea or Japan, countries where the rates of some of the major cancers are very much lower than in the (non-soy-eating) West.


Betaine helps lower levels of a toxic amino acid (homocysteine) that can build up in the body, and which is implicated in heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Betaine supplies a vital group of compounds to the body, called methyl groups which are involved in switching on beneficial genes.

At an optimum level of about 400mg, betaine also increases the body’s resistance to stress, toxins, carcinogens and infection; and enhances liver and kidney function.

Reduced betaine

Despite the fact that betaine helps protect against heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s, there is as yet no RDA for it – and an estimated 95% of people are depleted in the methyl groups which betaine supplies.

Betaine is a nutrient that can switch off genes that lead to illness.


The average intake of selenium is 35 mcg,the official UK RDA is 55 mcg but the optimum intake is likely to be 150-200mcg. This depletion is serious because selenium has a vital role in protecting against heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Reduced selenium

Grains are the main source of selenium. Intake has fallen by 50% in the last fifty years.


Found in fruits and vegetables, in grapeseed extract and in green tea, flavonoids protect against heart disease, stroke, and cancer – yet the estimated average intake of these nutrients is 140mg against an optimal daily intake of probably around 600-1000mg. And there is as yet no RDA.

We're eating less than half the amount of fresh fruit we did at the turn of the century and more processed fruit. Unfortunately, the highest concentrations of flavonoids in fruits and vegetables tend to be found in the leaves, skin, peel and seeds. And industrial processing methods almost invariably discard these parts.

Reduced flavonoids

Intake of flavonoids from berry and seed derived nutrients has fallen significantly – probably by as much as 75% – since Neolithic times.


Carotenoids, nutrients that provide the colour in many fruits, have anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties. Key carotenoids are beta carotene (found in carrots and mangoes), lutein (found in kale and spinach) and lycopene (from tomatoes). Despite their critical importance, no RDA has yet been determined.

The available data indicates that intakes of all these carotenoids are much lower in the average diet than the probable optimum intakes. (The typical diet provides just 2mg of beta carotene a day, for example, against an optimum of 7 to 10mg.)

Carotenoids have another vital health benefit. You make billions of new cells a day. These need high quality nutrients as their building blocks to be as error free as possible. But they also need to sense each other’s boundaries; otherwise overgrowth can lead to tumours. Carotenoids have been found to help this ‘boundary defining’ process. The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine has concluded that “carotenoids may help prevent skin, breast and prostate cancer”.

Reduced carotenoids

Intake of carotenoids has fallen by an estimated 50% in the last century alone.

Warning: There is evidence that smokers should not supplement with beta carotene, or with other carotenoids unless combined with Vitamin C.

Co-Enzyme Q10

Q10 is a vitamin-like substance and one of the few nutrients that can protect the mitochondria (the tiny energy factories inside each body cell). It also has an important role in maintaining a healthy heart. Average intake is about 10mg. Optimum? Between 30 and 90 mg a day.

Reduced Q10

We do make Q10 internally but our bodies make less as we get older. Low levels of Q10 now appear to be a major factor in ageing – yet few supplements contain it, and there is no RDA.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics are the non-digestible fibres – sometimes called fermentable fibres – found in Jerusalem artichokes, onions and oats (see Health Defence chapter 7). They too have immuno-strengthening properties because they encourage the growth of healthy probiotic bacteria in the gut including lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

Pre-biotics are considered to protect against bowel and colon cancers, and probably liver and breast cancers too. They also help to normalise bowel function.

The estimated average intake of this type of non-digestible fibre is about 3g a day. You need 8g or more, but again the RDA has not yet been agreed.

Probiotics are the ‘friendly bacteria’ that exist in trillions in your intestines. Food sources include fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, keffir and non-pasteurised yoghurt. There are now multi-strain probiotic supplements that can increase the ratio of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ intestinal bacteria.

This is important after a course of antibiotics which unfortunately can kill good and bad bacteria indiscriminately. They are also effective in cases of yeast infection like candida and to prevent stomach upsets during foreign travel.

Reduced prebiotics

The estimated intake of prebiotic fibre has fallen by about 50% in the last century alone.

That’s a worry as prebiotics are the food for probiotics – the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Some 70% of your immune system is controlled by your gut and probiotic bacteria are essential to a healthy gut and a well functioning immune system.

Curcumin (from turmeric)

Curcumin is a very powerful anti-inflammatory, so it is an important nutritional ingredient in the fight against many degenerative diseases. Interestingly, people whose diets include high levels of curcumin (which is derived from turmeric, an essential curry spice) appear to have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s eg. in parts of India. Average intake is as low as 20mg. An optimum level? 500mg

Flax seeds

Research shows that flax seeds, which are high in lignans and fibre, can help lower cholesterol levels, help ease your way through the menopause, and help defend against cancer - especially breast and prostate cancer.

The influence of genes

Genes are segments of DNA and contain the ‘instructions’ that make you a unique individual. Whilst your genes are essentially fixed and may mean you have a predisposition for – or increased risk of – a particular illness, whether that actually occurs depends on ‘gene expression’.

Only a fraction of your genes in a cell are expressed or turned on – or off. Researchers recently discovered that certain nutrients can turn on genes that lead to positive health outcomes or turn off genes that lead to disease.

For example, oncogenes, if turned on, can lead to the initiation of a cancerous tumour. Conversely, DNA repair genes, if turned on, can prevent mutations that lead to cancer. So you want to turn OFF the former and turn ON the latter.

In the last few years, we have identified certain nutrients that influence gene expression in a positive way. They include folic acid, vitamins D and A, zinc, lycopene and betaine. They should feature in your diet and supplements.

Your genes are NOT your destiny!

Only comprehensive nutrition will do

With demand for nutrients increasing as we get older, and intake levels falling, it is hardly surprising that we become more likely to get sick and die as we age.

It is little to do with the passing of the years, however, as few of us get even close to our theoretical healthy life span. It is due to a multiple systems failure caused by a cumulative depletion of so many micro-nutrients.

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and MineralsIf you skimp on maintaining your car, it will eventually break down. If you do not give your body the micro-nutrients it needs, it too will break down.

Think of car maintenance again. To keep your car on the road you need to change the oil every now and then; but you must also replace the spark plugs, tyres, oil and air filters, adjust the fan belt, and so on. A human being is far more complex than a car, and requires much more extensive nutritional maintenance – which is why taking just a single nutrient makes no sense.

For example, we have seen that a combination of vitamin E and vitamin C reduces the risk of coronary artery disease; but so do Omega 3 fish oils, the carotenoids lycopene and lutein, betaine, the flavonoids and many other micronutrients. Now we understand that all these compounds work in different but complementary ways, it is logical to combine them.

Should we analyse each individual’s nutritional status and then tailor a formula specifically for him or her? After all, different people have different lifestyles, and eat different foods.

We don’t need to, because the vast majority of people are consuming suboptimal amounts of most micro-nutrients; and most of the micro-nutrients concerned are very safe. So to improve your health – or the general health of the nation – a comprehensive and universal baseline programme of micro-nutrient support should be the most cost-effective and safest way of achieving this.

It should include the nutrients that we have now identified as being depleted in the average diet, plus glucosamine, which has an important role to play in the maintenance of connective tissue. But glucosamine needs the presence of vitamins C, D and K to be effective.

The strategy of ‘combination nutrition’ represents the next wave of health care – preventative health care which, I believe, can make the degenerative diseases a rarity.

Defence starts with a full range of micro-nutrients

The start point in health care is a full range of vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, carotenoids, Omega 3 and other micro-nutrients.

Between them, they provide anti-oxidant protection, strengthen the immune system and support the body’s own repair mechanisms.

But what levels?

We now have a clear picture of which nutrients need to be boosted in our diet. But we still need to answer the question: “What are the optimum levels of these nutrients to maintain optimum health, rather than the minimum levels to prevent deficiency disease?”

One version of this measure is called the SODA – Suggested Optimum Daily Amount. From surveys of healthy diets and much other evidence, I have calculated SODAs for all the nutrients needed to maintain our defences – and therefore cut the risk of heart disease, strokes, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and other major diseases.

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

Closing the gap

We can hope to achieve much through better diet and supplementation; but these can only be achieved through comprehensive nutrition that combines multiple nutrients.

BUT NOTE: More is not always better in nutrition. For some nutrients the RDA is enough. For example, iron for men increases oxidation and should not be supplemented. Selenium should not exceed 200 mcg a day. And people on Warfarin or similar blood thinners should consult their doctor or reduce the drug dose if taking vitamin K.


Completing the nutritional jigsaw

Each part of the health defence strategy against so called ‘age related disease’ affords some protection, but unless you have all the defences in place, you remain vulnerable.

The nutrients can also be visualised as pieces in a jigsaw. To get the fullest protection, all the pieces need to be in place.

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

The basic source of the nine pieces in the nutritional jigsaw must be a healthy diet. So start with at least:

5 portions of fruits & vegetables to include 2 portions of oily fish, berry fruits, beans or lentils and leafy greens like kale, spinach and broccoli 2 portions of oily fish
3 portions of fibre-rich wholegrains 2 servings of soy protein (tofu)
1 small handful of nuts or seeds 4 servings flaxseeds
2 - 3 squares of dark chocolate 3 servings of oats
Cook with herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano, and especially spices like turmeric, garlic and ginger.
Regularly add mushrooms like oyster, reishi and shiitake to recipes as they are immune boosters, as are 1,3 1,6 beta glucans from yeast.

But even a healthy diet like this needs an additional core of supplements in order to reach the optimum nutritional levels.

Finally, the purpose of this report is to define optimum nutrition for you, as it is the single biggest lifestyle factor in long term health. But not the only one.

What else?

Staying active is the other main lifestyle factor. Sitting for long periods is injurious to health and studies show that getting up from your desk or armchair every hour (ideally every half hour) and walking about for 2-3 minutes reduces heart failure risk.

And exercise? Regular exercise increases bone density and reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some cancers like breast cancer and diabetes. It improves energy, mood, sleep, your sex life and brain function.

The good news is that even moderate exercise reduces the rate of cell damage and slows ageing. It can be as little as 40 minutes of fast walking so you breathe hard. And it needs to be done 3 times a week.

Get at least 7 hours sleep a day, keep learning new things, have an active social life, don’t smoke (obviously), and now your repair mechanisms should be working as they were designed to do, to keep you fit and well, living life to the full, into your 90s and beyond!

Telomeres – proof that ageing can be slowed

Telomeres are the tiny caps made of protein at the end of each strand of DNA– the dark ends in the picture. They provide vital protection to chromosomes, which are the thread-like structures that contain all your genetic data.

Telomeres get shorter each time a cell divides. But when the telomeres get too short, they are no longer able to protect your chromosomes and DNA, leaving them vulnerable to damage. That damage – indicated by shorter telomeres – leads to premature ageing, decreased life expectancy and disease.

Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and MineralsThat’s why researchers consider that the length of your telomeres is a reliable measure of biological ageing. Shorter telomeres – and therefore accelerated ageing – are not so much related to time, but to the amount of damage.

Ageing is scientifically defined as an accumulation of various types of damage at the cell level. I have argued in this report that it is possible to slow, reduce or even reverse that damage and recent research on telomeres strongly supports this.

For example, the British Medical Journal recently reported on a study involving 4,676 people eating a ‘Mediterranean Diet’. This had the effect of significantly reducing the rate at which telomeres became shorter and in many cases actually lengthened them.

The Mediterranean Diet of course features high intakes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil and low intakes of refined carbohydrates and sugar. It’s high in anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients and physical activity is part of the lifestyle.

Elizabeth Blackburn shares a Nobel Prize for her work on telomeres. Her research and book ‘The Telomere Effect’ shows that the foods, nutrients and lifestyle factors we recommend here can lead directly to longer telomeres and slower ageing.

More confirmation

A major study published by the US National Institutes of Health confirms that the “rate of telomere shortening is critical to an individual’s health and pace of ageing”.

Obesity, stress, pollution,and poor diet increase the rate at which telomeres shorten.

Whereas the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids and polyphenols in fruits and vegetables plus exercise reduce the rate, indicating extended healthy and fulfilling years.

Never too late

The focus of the nine lines of defence, or nine pieces in our jigsaw, is on preventing degenerative disease in the first place.

However, the same basic nine-step nutritional plan is valid even for people who have already started to exhibit some symptoms of incipient disease. In addition to a physician’s care, you will find advice on nutritional strategies for specific diseases in the full Health Defence book.

Research shows that the nutritional healing approach based on SODA levels and focused on maintaining ‘wellness’ can work wonders. It can dramatically reduce the risk of disease: opening blocked arteries, improving a failing immune system, reducing inflammation, speeding up the body’s ability to heal wounds and repair arthritic joints. It can increase energy, protect the brain and improve mood. And it can do more.

Healthy life extension is no longer over the horizon. It’s here.

© Paul Clayton 2017

Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive healthIntroduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals supplement to accord with his SODA (Suggested Optimum Daily Amount) levels of essential nutrients. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.

Dr Paul Clayton's best-selling book Health Defence is no longer available in print.

You can read chapters in pdf form HERE.

See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet. Introduction to Health Defence NutriShield Multi Vitamins and Minerals

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