Dec 23, 2014

Diet may influence gut bacteria more than genes

More and more studies are revealing the important role that our gut bacteria play in our health. Their trillions of cells vastly outnumber ours. Fortunately, many of them are "friendly," in that they help us digest food and crowd out pathogens that cause disease.

But the mix of gut microbes varies considerably from person to person and also over time. And, until now, it has not been clear whether this variation is due mostly to genes (nature), or things we can change (nurture), such as diet and lifestyle.

Peter Turnbaugh, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and colleagues describe how - by studying hundreds of mice - they discovered diet may have a stronger influence on gut bacteria than genes.

Prof. Turnbaugh says in a healthy adult, the same strains and species of gut microbes can live in the gut for years, while their relative abundance - the sizes of their populations - can change quite a lot over time.

"These new results emphasize that, unlike a mammalian genome - which is relatively constant - the microbial genomes that comprise the gut microbiome are relatively plastic," he adds.

Findings suggest it may not be necessary to tailor gut bacteria treatments

Prof. Turnbaugh explains that one day it may be possible to treat diseases by shaping the balance of bacteria in the gut. And these new findings suggest it may not be necessary to tailor treatments differently for each person, because "the microbial response to a given diet may be similar for many people's microbial communities."

In another recent study in humans, Prof. Turnbaugh and colleagues found the mix of gut microbes changed quickly when diets varied between vegan and animal-based - after just a few days.

In this new study, they used hundreds of mice with a wide range of well-defined genetic backgrounds.

They fed the mice two different diets, altering between a high-fat, high-sugar diet (14.8% protein, 44.6% fat and 40.6% carbohydrate) and a low-fat, plant-based diet (22.2% protein, 16.0% fat and 61.7% carbohydrate).

Switching diet changed gut mix in days, showed influence lasts for months
The researchers discovered that switching the mice to a high-sugar, high-fat diet changed the mix of microbes in their gut to a new, stable mix within 3 days. The effect was repeatable and was mostly independent of the genetic variations among the mice, they note.

Regardless of the mice's genetic makeup, the high-fat, high-sugar diet increased the abundance of Firmicutes bacteria and reduced the abundance of Bacteroidetes bacteria.

The team found that varying diet had a much stronger influence on gut microbe mix than genetic variation. And the influence can last for several months.

Prof. Turnbaugh says they are not sure whether changes in the gut's microbe mix are a direct result of changes in the diet - which changes the mix of nutrients in the gut that the bacteria are exposed to - or an indirect result of the effects of diet on the overall body of the host.

Past diets also play a role in determining gut microbe mix. The team also found that when they returned the mice to their original diets, changes in the gut microbe mix were largely reversible - but not quite. It seems that imprints of past diets - as well as current diet - play a role in determining gut microbe mix.

Dec 16, 2014

Ginger can treat stomach issues, boost immunity and more

Few herbs have received as much praise throughout history as ginger, the rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant. Testimonials of ginger's significant medicinal properties have been recorded as far back as ancient Greece, though it was also mentioned in the ancient literature of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The ancient healing systems of China and India particularly venerated ginger, and often prescribed it to treat fatigue, poor blood circulation and nausea.

Ginger remains the world's most widely cultivated herb, and a large number of studies confirm its numerous health benefits. Like most herbs, almost all of these benefits stem from ginger's many bioactive compounds; it contains few vitamins or minerals in significant amounts.

Research into ginger

Treatment for gastrointestinal complaints - Ginger has been used for centuries as a home remedy for constipation, bloating, gastritis, gastric ulcerations, indigestion, morning sickness and countless other gastrointestinal issues. A study also found that ginger could help the muscles of the stomach contract, thereby boosting digestion. According to a review ginger is effective at treating gastrointestinal conditions due to its high concentrations of antioxidants, whose free radical-scavenging abilities bestow the herb with gastroprotective effects.

Rich in anti-inflammatory gingerols - Ginger is rich in bioactive, anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols and shogaols. These substances are believed to be the reason why so many people with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis experience reductions in pain and improvements in movement after consuming ginger on a regular basis. For example, a study found that crude ginger extracts and gingerol derivatives could prevent joint inflammation. A later study discovered that ginger could alleviate neuropathic pain in rats.

Boosts immune function - Ginger is a proven diaphoretic, meaning it can increase perspiration. Though most of us are aware that sweating can detoxify our bodies, German researchers have recently discovered that sweat contains a natural antibiotic named dermcidin that can ward off bacterial, fungal, viral and microbial infections. For this reason, eating more ginger can directly boost our body's immune system and protect us from common infections such as Staphylococcus aureus (a common cause of skin conditions) and Candida albicans.

Natural aphrodisiac and antidepressant  - According to a study ginger extracts have a positive effect on the reproductive functions of male rats due to its "potent  antioxidant properties and androgenic activities." These results confirm the allegations of ancient Chinese and Indian medicine, which claimed for centuries that ginger is a potent aphrodisiac. Moreover, the aforementioned gingerols in ginger are known to possess sedative properties, which might help explain why ginger is also an effective antidepressant that can improve low moods.

Consuming ginger

While ginger root can be eaten raw, it is far more pleasant to consume in tea or powdered form. Ginger tea is an especially popular way to consume ginger and is probably the most accessible way to treat a persistent stomach complaint. Some people like to add honey or lemon to the tea to boost its stomach-settling qualities.

Dec 12, 2014

Can High-Fructose Corn Syrup Make You Hungrier?

Fructose - a kind of sugar found in a wide variety of foods and beverages - may encourage overeating, new research suggests.

Fructose may be best known to consumers in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which has long been added to manufactured foods from sodas to cookies.

Distinct from sugar known as glucose (produced by the natural breakdown of complex carbohydrates), fructose is also a "simple" sugar and a natural component of fruit.

However, "in a series of studies we have found that when compared to glucose, the simple sugar, fructose, is a weaker suppressor of brain areas that help control appetite and the motivation to eat," said study co-author Dr. Kathleen Page, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

In other words, people are more likely to remain feeling hungry after a meal with lots of fructose versus one with lots of glucose.

Prior research has indicated that, when compared with glucose consumption, ingesting fructose sparks a smaller release of hormones such as insulin that give rise to a sense of being full, according to background information with the study. Recent investigations have also suggested that only glucose, not fructose, curtails hunger by slowing down activity in a specific region of the brain (the hypothalamus), the researchers said.

The small, new study builds on both findings.

More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, which puts them at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Many experts believe that changes in U.S. food production, including widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup, are to blame.

For the current effort, the researchers enlisted 24 men and women ages 16 to 25 to participate in a hunger exercise.

All participants were instructed to consume a drink sweetened with either glucose or fructose. Then they were asked to view images of various foods (including, for example, chocolate cake) and indicate the degree to which they felt hunger. The exercise took place while each was hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner in order to track real-time brain activity in a "reward" center of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens.

Hunger was greater among those who had consumed the fructose drink, the authors found. At the same time, the fructose mix provoked greater activity in the targeted brain region, which translated into a greater desire to eat.

However, Page stressed that the current findings are "preliminary." More work is needed before broad conclusions can be drawn about how sweeteners in manufactured food products actually influence hunger and the overall risk for obesity, she said.

For example, "it's important to note that both fructose and glucose are found in almost equal quantities in both high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar," Page said. "We don't yet know whether the brain responds differently to high-fructose corn syrup compared to glucose or sucrose [table sugar]."

And a trade association representing the corn refining industry in the United States countered that the study doesn't reflect real-life consumption.

"The subjects in this study were given large amounts of pure fructose and pure glucose separately, which almost never occurs outside a laboratory setting," the Corn Refiners Association said in a statement. "While those who received pure fructose may have reacted as if they were less sated, these study conditions did not correspond to anything like a natural setting in which people normally would be consuming roughly equal amounts of glucose in combination at the same time."

But Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said the study findings are consistent with other research.

"We have known for quite some time that the insulin response to glucose in the bloodstream is a normal response to signal the brain and body that calories have been consumed," Sandon said. "Fructose does not trigger the same response of insulin."

The interplay between glucose and insulin is probably an important part of weight regulation, she added.

The bottom line, said Sandon, is that added sugars bring no nutritive value to foods. Her advice? "Choose whole, nutrient-rich foods and whole grains most of the time."

Dec 5, 2014

Beetroot juice improves athletic performance and cardiovascular health

Many studies have shown that beetroot juice can improve athletic performance. Now, a study conducted by scientists at Kansas State University has shown that the beverage could also provide an important quality of life boost to people suffering from heart failure.

"Remember, for every one football player in the United States, there are many thousands of heart failure patients that would benefit from this therapy," researcher David Poole said. "It's a big deal because even if you can only increase oxygen delivery by 10 percent, that can be the difference between a patient being wheelchair-bound versus getting up and walking around and interacting with his or her family."

Improves patients' ability to exercise

Prior research by the same team showed that due to its high nitrate content, beetroot juice increases blood flow to skeletal muscles that are engaged in exercise. This, in turn, increases the oxygen flow to those muscles.

In the new study, the researchers found that, after drinking beetroot juice, participants experienced a 38 percent increase in blood flow to their skeletal muscles while exercising. Significantly, blood flow increased most to the fast-twitch muscles that are used for explosive running. These muscles are typically less oxygenated than other skeletal muscles.

The increased oxygen flow would be enough to significantly improve quality of life in heart failure patients, the researchers said.

"Heart failure is a disease where oxygen delivery to particular tissues, especially working skeletal muscles, is impaired, decreasing the capacity to move the arms or legs and be physically active," Poole said.

By enabling heart failure patients to get more exercise, beetroot juice could be the first step in producing deeper, more permanent health improvements.

"The best therapy for these patients is getting up and moving around," Poole said. "However, that is often difficult. Increasing the oxygen delivery to these muscles through beetroot can provide a therapeutic avenue to improve the quality of life for these patients."

The researchers have already begun a clinical trial to directly test the effects of beetroot juice in heart failure patients. The research is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Exeter and is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Increases athletic speed, stamina and power

Why does beetroot juice have such a dramatic effect on blood flow? The answer lies in the drink's high concentration of a chemical known as nitrate. Indeed, just 70 milliliters of beetroot juice contains as much nitrate as 100 grams of spinach.

In the body, nitrate is transformed into nitrite, which has been shown to help protect blood vessels from injury. The nitrite is eventually transformed into nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and thereby increases blood flow. Because more oxygen is delivered to muscle cells, these cells are therefore able to produce more power and perform for longer without tiring.

Beetroot juice has been shown to increase both speed and endurance in athletes. For example, one study found that athletes who drank beetroot juice used 19 percent less oxygen and performed for 17 percent longer. Another,  found that cyclists who drank beetroot juice completed a track faster than cyclists given a placebo. A pair of similar studies, conducted by researchers from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found that consumption of beetroot juice improved not just the cyclists' speed but also their power output.

Nov 28, 2014

Yogurt Every Day May Help Keep Diabetes Away

Eating a serving a day of yogurt may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, new research suggests.

"The data we have gathered show that yogurt consumption can have significant benefit in reducing the risk of diabetes," said senior study author Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston. "It's not a huge effect, about an 18 percent reduction [in risk]." "Yogurt is not magic for curing or preventing diabetes," Hu said. "That's the bottom line and the message we want to convey to our consumers, that we have to pay attention to our diet pattern. There is no replacement for an overall healthy diet and maintaining [a healthy] body weight."

In type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells develop a resistance to insulin, and blood sugar levels then get too high.

For the study, Hu and his team pooled the result of three large studies that tracked the medical histories and lifestyle habits of health professionals: the Health Professionals' Follow-up Study of more than 51,000 male health professionals; the Nurses' Health Study, which included more than 121,000 women nurses; and the Nurses' Health Study II, which followed nearly 117,000 women nurses.

During the study follow-up, there were about 15,000 cases of type 2 diabetes. When they looked at total dairy intake, they saw no effect on the risk of diabetes. However, when they zeroed in on yogurt, they found one serving a day was linked with about a 17 percent reduced risk.

The researchers next pooled their result with other published studies that looked at links between dairy foods and type 2 diabetes. They found a serving of yogurt a day reduced risk by 18 percent. The meta-analysis, in which all the results were pooled, includes 14 different groups with nearly 460,000 people. About 36,000 developed type 2 diabetes. The researchers took into account age, body-mass index and other lifestyle factors. Hu said they did not differentiate between types of yogurt, whether it was Greek-style yogurt or not, and the fat content.

While previous studies have found that yogurt is good for maintain a healthy body weight and lowering risk for type 2 diabetes, ''most of the studies were small," Hu said. So his team decided to look at much larger groups. Exactly how the yogurt may help is not certain. The thinking by many experts is that the probiotics in yogurt ("good" bacteria) alter the intestinal environment in a beneficial way, helping to reduce inflammation and improve the production of hormones important for appetite control, he said. The take-home message, Hu said, is that more study is needed, but that yogurt seems to have a place in a healthy diet.

Martin Binks, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said that studies that look at diet are inherently limited in their ability to measure true dietary intake. Even so, he said, the link may warrant future study. It's too soon, however, to change advice about diet based on this research, Binks said.

Dr. Osama Hamdy, medical director of the Obesity Program at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, points out: "Yogurt in general is beneficial." But he said, "this is an association, not cause and effect."

Nov 21, 2014

Study shows blood pressure medication is not linked to breast cancer

Women who take a common type of medication to control their blood pressure are not at increased risk of developing breast cancer due to the drug, according to new study by researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah.

Researchers analyzed the records of more than 3,700 women who had no history of breast cancer, and who had long-term use of calcium channel blocker medications to control their blood pressure. Researchers found only a minimal increase in risk in one study and a 50 percent reduced risk in a second, leading them to recommend the continued use of these important medications to help prevent heart attack and stroke.

Calcium channel blockers are commonly used to help prevent calcium from entering cells of the heart and blood vessel walls, resulting in lower blood pressure.

"We found no robust data that calcium channel blocker medications increase a person's risk of breast cancer," said Jeffery L. Anderson, MD, a cardiologist and researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute. "Given the important role calcium channel blocker medications play in treating heart conditions, we think it's premature to discontinue their use. At this point we recommend that patients continue taking these medications to treat their hypertension."

The Intermountain Heart Institute study was in response to a similar study released last year by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. That study suggested that the odds of getting breast cancer was 2.5 times higher for women who take calcium channel blocker medications. Results of the Intermountain study indicated small to no increased risk.

The Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute study carefully examined data collected from more than 3,700 women ages 50 to 70 with no history of breast cancer in two Intermountain Healthcare databases. For each group, researchers compared women who were prescribed calcium channel blocker medications to similar women who weren't prescribed the medications.

In their review of a general population medical records database, researchers found the odds of breast cancer to be 1.6 times higher by using calcium channel blockers, which was significant, but much smaller than reported by the Seattle group.

But, in contrast, in the data collected from patients treated in the Intermountain Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, a reverse relationship was found -- a 50 percent reduction in risk of developing breast cancer for women who took the calcium channel blockers. The contrasting results found in these two independent analyses led researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute to conclude that it is likely not the medication that caused the changes in breast cancer risk but other factors (e.g., selection biases).

Nov 13, 2014

Mediterranean diet can reverse metabolic disorder, lower risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease

The Mediterranean diet doesn't just protect against heart disease: It may actually reverse metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms linked to heart disease and diabetes.

The findings came from a study conducted by researchers from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili and the Hospital Universitari de Sant Joan de Reus in Reus, Spain.

"In this large, multicentre, randomized clinical trial involving people with high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil was associated with a smaller increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome compared with advice on following a low-fat diet," the researchers wrote.

"Because there were no between-group differences in weight loss or energy expenditure, the change is likely attributable to the difference in dietary patterns."

A heart-healthy diet

Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of symptoms that is associated with a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature death, and affects about 25 percent of all adults globally. The condition can be diagnosed in anyone who has three or more symptoms. Symptoms include high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, high blood pressure and central obesity (a large waist circumference).

The researchers wondered how the Mediterranean diet could affect metabolic syndrome, because the diet has previously been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as lead to better health, longer life and less age-related cognitive decline. For example, a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet were about 30 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than people who ate a low-fat diet.

The Mediterranean diet has high quantities of olive oil, seeds and nuts, whole grains and beans; moderate to high quantities of dairy, primarily in the form of yogurt and cheese; moderate quantities of fish and poultry; low to moderate consumption of red wine; and low consumption of red meat.

Metabolic syndrome decreased 30 percent

In the new study, researchers randomly assigned 5,801 adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who were considered at high risk of developing heart disease to follow one of three diets: a low-fat diet (control group), a Mediterranean diet plus extra olive oil or a Mediterranean diet plus extra nuts. Participants were followed for an average of 4.8 years.

By the end of the study, there was no difference between the three groups in the numbers who had developed new cases of metabolic syndrome. This showed that, despite being higher in fat, the Mediterranean diet did not worsen metabolic outcomes.

The more surprising outcome came among patients who already had metabolic syndrome at the beginning of the study. Among the groups on one of the two Mediterranean diets, the incidence of metabolic syndrome actually fell by 28.2 percent. Participants receiving extra olive oil were more likely to see decreases in central obesity and blood sugar, whereas participants receiving extra nuts were more likely to see a decrease in central obesity alone.

"Mediterranean diets supplemented with olive oil or nuts were not associated with a reduced incidence of metabolic syndrome compared with a low-fat diet; however, both diets were associated with a significant rate of reversion of metabolic syndrome," the researchers wrote.

Increasingly, research is suggesting that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet also extend far beyond metabolic health. In a 2010 study conducted by researchers from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. The Mediterranean diet was found to lower the risk of developing depression by 30 percent -- even after researchers controlled for risk factors including anxiety, personality, lifestyle habits and family status.

Nov 7, 2014

Vitamin D improves memory and brain cell function

Spending more time in the sun to boost your vitamin D levels may help stave off the cognitive decline associated with aging, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Kentucky.

The study suggests that a vitamin D supplement helps accelerate the biological mechanisms responsible for recycling and renewing neurotransmitters (signaling chemicals) in an area of the brain that plays a key role in memory and learning. This leads to an improved ability of neurons to receive and process signals related to memory formation and retrieval.

"This process is like restocking shelves in grocery stores," researcher Nada Porter said.

Study confirms higher recommended doses

Scientists have long known that vitamin D plays a critical role in forming and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. In recent years, they have begun to learn that the vitamin is also essential to immune function, and that insufficient levels may increase the risk of cancer, autoimmune diseases and other health problems. Studies suggest that low vitamin D levels may also increase the risk of age-related cognitive decline.

In the new study, researchers placed rats on diets with either high, medium or low levels of vitamin D3. After six months, they tested the rats' ability to remember the location of a platform in a water maze. They then moved the platform, and tested the rats' ability to remember the new location.

"This was a more challenging task and, therefore, more sensitive to the subtle changes in memory that occur with aging," Porter said.

Rats who had been on the high-vitamin-D diet used shorter routes to reach the new platform than the other rats, and also reached it more quickly. The paths that they used tended to be relatively simple and consist of few direction changes. In contrast, the paths used by the low-dose rats resembled the loopy drawings made by kindergarteners.

The researchers also found that the rats on the high-dose diet showed changes in gene expression in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is believed to play a central role in cognition and memory formation and consolidation. These rats' brains showed accelerated transport of neurotransmitters.

The vitamin D dose that produced improvements in rats was equivalent to a dose 50 percent higher than the Institute of Medicine's current daily recommendation for humans, which is based on the levels needed for bone health. The levels in the study are consistent, however, with the higher daily doses that many vitamin D experts are now recommending.

The researchers noted that the D3 form of vitamin D is associated with very few side effects.

Sunlight improves brain health

A number of prior studies have suggested a connection between vitamin D and cognitive decline. Some studies have shown that dementia patients have lower vitamin D levels than their healthy counterparts. A study in 2009 found that low vitamin D levels were associated with worse performance on tests of attention, memory and orientation in time and space.

Other studies have suggested that vitamin D can also lower the risk of Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and even depression.

Although vitamin D can be found in certain foods (mainly those that are artificially fortified), the best source of the vitamin is ordinary sunlight. Light-skinned people can generate all the vitamin D their bodies need with about 15-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on their faces and hands daily; darker skin requires correspondingly longer exposure (up to twice as much).

Oct 31, 2014

Eating organic apples is a healthy, natural way to stimulate weight loss

An apple a day... you know the rest. This old adage has seen its day but is now becoming appropriate again. Several studies are re-examining the health values of bioactive compounds in apples over time. Now, non-bioactive compounds are being discovered to help balance bowel microbiota as prebiotics.

A study performed by Washington State University's Department of Food Sciences observed that apples contain indigestable compounds that created fecal microbial balances in obese mice that duplicated the microbial balance of thinner, healthier mice.

All apples contain these indigestable compounds that pass through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract intact and are not metabolized by the body, allowing them to go into the bowels intact to finally become fermented and help create more probiotic bacteria in the colon. The association to obesity versus normality was obvious.

Several types of apples were used with the mice to determine if there were differences in the influences of indigestable compounds on their colon -- bowel microbial balance. The varieties of apples researched: Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Granny Smith and Red Delicious.

Granny Smith apples won this colon/fecal microbial balance contest. Though the obesity issue was addressed directly, related preventions against and potential solutions for diabetes and inflammation, the root cause of many autoimmune disorders, are what the researchers wish to "further study" for medical ramifications.

But since most of us already know apples may help reduce inflammation, we don't have to wait. There is only one caveat.

Apples must be organic

Non-organic apples are among the most heavily sprayed produce out there. They made it into the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen. If you know a local apple orchid owner who doesn't spray his trees or put herbicides into the soil but isn't "USDA certified" organic, you may get a better deal through the local source. But will that source provide Granny Smith apples?

You may have read or heard that organic apple orchids are sprayed with antibiotics to resist an airborne bacterium that causes "fire blight," which lives up to its name by spreading rapidly and leaving trees looking scorched within days, as though there had been a fire.

It's argued that antibiotic spraying occurs during apple blossom time, before apples appear. The amount of residue on apples, if any, is extremely negligible, according to the EPA. Oh well, take that with a grain of salt. So are trace amounts of fluoride in drinking water.

Since 2002, the USDA has allowed the use of tetracycline and streptomycin by organic growers to combat the bacteria that cause fire blight. Not all apple growers use antibiotics. According to The Cornucopia Institute, an organic consumer watchdog, 56 percent don't, mostly to enable exporting to areas that ban the use of antibiotics on produce.

Organic apple/pear growers spray less antibiotics than conventional growers. And some organic growers claim that they'll not bother with organic certification and resort to normal commercial standards if they're prohibited from using antibiotics to protect against fire blight.

Nevertheless, there are a few biological controls cited by the USDA to prevent fire blight. Some farmers claim that they do not work. Others say they do work but require diligence and are more costly. But apparently, Canadian and European apple orchids are managing without using antibiotics to prevent fire blight.

As a result of a huge petition initiated by the Organic Consumers Association and Cornucopia and sent to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in early 2013, the NOSB didn't muster enough votes to get the 2/3 majority necessary to allow fire blight antibiotic use during 2013-14.

Oct 24, 2014

Researchers reveal hidden benefits of healthy eating, exercise during pregnancy

It might not be obvious on the scales, but healthy eating and increased physical activity from walking during pregnancy is directly associated with a range of improved outcomes at birth, according to researchers from the University of Adelaide.

Results of the world's biggest study of its kind – offering healthy eating and exercise advice to pregnant women who are overweight or obese.

"While it might have been expected that healthier eating and increased physical activity during pregnancy would be associated with differences in weight gain, our findings highlight that weight gain in pregnancy is not an ideal measure of pregnancy health," says study leader Professor Jodie Dodd, from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute and the Women's and Children's Hospital.

"Importantly, however, these changes in diet and physical activity were directly associated with significant improvements in outcomes for babies.

"Women who received dietary and lifestyle advice increased the number of servings they consumed per day of fruits and vegetables, while reducing the percentage of energy in their diet derived from saturated fats.

"Women were also successful in increasing their physical activity, with about 15-20 minutes of brisk walking on most days of the week," Professor Dodd says.

Study leaders have previously reported a significant reduction in the number of babies born over 4kg to women who received the diet and lifestyle advice during pregnancy. The researchers can now report a range of other benefits for these babies, including a reduced chance of moderate to severe respiratory distress syndrome and reduced length of stay in hospital.

"Approximately 50% of women are overweight or obese during pregnancy. Until this study was conducted, there had been little evidence about the overall benefits of dietary and lifestyle interventions on this group of women," says study co-author Dr Rosalie Grivell from the University's Robinson Research Institute.

"Our hope is that by following some simple, practical and achievable lifestyle advice, pregnant women can improve their health and the outcomes for their babies. We would, of course, recommend that these lifestyle changes be adopted as much as possible before women become pregnant," Dr Grivell says.

Oct 17, 2014

Hypertensive patients who have psoriasis may need stricter blood pressure control

People with hypertension who also have psoriasis may benefit from tighter blood pressure control, say researchers, particularly if their psoriasis is moderate or severe.

According to a new study psoriasis is independently associated with poorly controlled blood pressure and those with moderate to severe disease are at the greatest risk of uncontrolled hypertension.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease and cardiovascular risk factors are known to be more prevalent among people who have the condition. Although previous studies have suggested that psoriasis increases the risk of cardiovascular events, how it affects hypertension control remains unclear.

For the current study, Junk Takeshita (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia) and colleagues examined the relationship between psoriasis and blood pressure control among 1,322 hypertensive patients who had psoriasis and 11,977 age-matched controls who had hypertension but no psoriasis. Data were drawn from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), an electronic database of medical records that is broadly representative of the UK’s general population.

Psoriasis severity was assessed according to the surface area of the body affected, with psoriasis classed as moderate or severe when it affected 3% or more of the body area. Uncontrolled blood pressure was defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher.

The researchers discovered a significant positive dose-dependent relationship between psoriasis severity and uncontrolled hypertension. Compared with hypertensive patients who did not have psoriasis, those with mild psoriasis were 3% less likely to have uncontrolled hypertension, while those with moderate or severe disease were 20% and 48% more likely (respectively) to have uncontrolled hypertension. These results were obtained after adjustment for age, gender, body mass index, comorbidity, smoking status, alcohol status and the use of blood pressure medications and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The team also found that the patients with psoriasis were no more likely to be receiving any antihypertensive medication than patients without the skin condition and that the likelihood of such treatment being received did not differ according to psoriasis severity.

Oct 10, 2014

An apple a day could keep obesity away

Nondigestible compounds in apples -- specifically, Granny Smith apples -- may help prevent disorders associated with obesity, scientists have concluded. "We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties," said the study's lead researcher. "Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity."

"We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties," said food scientist Giuliana Noratto, the study's lead researcher. "Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity."

The tart green Granny Smith apples benefit the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon due to their high content of non-digestible compounds, including dietary fiber and polyphenols, and low content of available carbohydrates. Despite being subjected to chewing, stomach acid and digestive enzymes, these compounds remain intact when they reach the colon. Once there, they are fermented by bacteria in the colon, which benefits the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.

The study showed that Granny Smith apples surpass Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Red Delicious in the amount of nondigestible compounds they contain.

"The nondigestible compounds in the Granny Smith apples actually changed the proportions of fecal bacteria from obese mice to be similar to that of lean mice," Noratto said.

The discovery could help prevent some of the disorders associated with obesity such as low-grade, chronic inflammation that can lead to diabetes. The balance of bacterial communities in the colon of obese people is disturbed. This results in microbial byproducts that lead to inflammation and influence metabolic disorders associated with obesity, Noratto said.

"What determines the balance of bacteria in our colon is the food we consume," she said. Re-establishing a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon stabilizes metabolic processes that influence inflammation and the sensation of feeling satisfied, or satiety, she said.

Oct 3, 2014

Vitamin E, critical for brain health, is lacking in 90% of adults

The complexity of the human body is vast, consisting of trillions of cells working simultaneously to ensure that we take our next breath. While the processes are complex, the method by which they perform is quite simple. In order for our cells to do their job, they need vitamins. Researchers believe that the body requires at least 13 different vitamins to be healthy.

Maintaining the recommended daily intake of all 13 vitamins can be challenging, with some falling lower on the priority list than others. A recent study by the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University found that nearly everyone is suffering from vitamin E deficiency, with the exception of those who work diligently to meet the recommended daily intake levels.

At least 90 percent of men and 96 percent of women fail to consume their recommended daily amount of vitamin E, according to a broad survey. This deficiency is particularly harmful for children and women who are nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant.

Vitamin E crucial during early fetal development; beneficial for the mom too

Research suggests that vitamin E is incredibly crucial during the first 1,000 days of an infant's life, contributing to important neural growth during fetal development that cannot be replaced later in life.

A study which analyzed the effects of vitamin E on experimental animals during early development showed the nutrient's ability to protect the function of omega-3-fatty acids, which play an important role in brain development.

"It's important all of your life, but the most compelling evidence about vitamin E is about a 1000-day window that begins at conception," said Maret Traber, the study's author.

"Vitamin E is critical to neurologic and brain development that can only happen during that period. It's not something you can make up for later."

Researchers believe that vitamin E intake is especially important for young children up to two years old. Higher vitamin E levels and improved cognitive function share a correlation, according to Traber's study.

Children with inadequate vitamin E levels can experience neurological disorders, muscle deterioration, cardiomyopathy, stunted growth, infection and anemia, according to a review of multiple studies. Adequate vitamin E intake is equally important for mothers, with proper concentrations helping slow the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.

Scientists recommend adults eat 15 milligrams of vitamin E per day

Foods containing high levels of vitamin E aren't exactly at the top of our list of most beloved foods, although some are quite tasty. Sunflower seeds are both low in calories and high in vitamin E. You can also obtain the nutrient's antioxidant properties from pumpkin and sesame seeds by eating a little under one-third a cup a day to meet recommended daily levels.

Almonds are another great source of vitamin E, with just an ounce offering 7.5 milligrams. Swiss chard and mustard greens are great sources of vitamin E; consuming one cup of either gets you 14 to 17 percent of your daily recommended intake.

Also, turnip greens, kale, hazelnuts, pine nuts, avocado, broccoli, parsley, papaya and olives are excellent, healthy sources of vitamin E. For recommended individual serving amounts, click here.

You can obtain vitamin E through some plant oils such as sunflower oil when cooking. Wheat germ oil is believed to be the best source for vitamin E, with just one tablespoon offering 100 percent of the recommended level. Hempseed oil, coconut oil, olive oil and safflower oil are all vitamin-E-rich oils. Unrefined and organic oils are always the best.

Sep 26, 2014

New study finds people drink more on days they are more physically active

A study using smartphone technology found that people tend to drink more on days when they are more physically active.

The Northwestern Medicine study tracked 150 people ages 18-89 who recorded their physical activity and alcohol use in smartphones for 21 consecutive days at three different periods during the year.

“Monday through Wednesday, people batten down the hatches and they cut back on alcohol consumption,” lead author David Conroy said in a news release.

“But once that ‘social weekend’ kicks off on Thursdays, physical activity increases and so does alcohol consumption,” Conroy said.

Researchers say they hope further studies will help determine what drives people to drink more on days they exercise more.

“Insufficient physical activity and alcohol use are both linked to many health problems, and excessive alcohol use has many indirect costs as well,” Conroy said. “We need to figure out how to use physical activity effectively and safely without having the adverse effects of drinking more alcohol.”

The study relied on a daily diary method, whereas others have used a 30-day self-reporting method.

“We zoomed in the microscope and got a very up-close and personal look at these behaviors on a day-to-day basis, and see, it’s not people who exercise more drink more – it’s that on days when people are more active, they tend to drink more than on days they are less active,” Conroy said.

Sep 19, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine

One of the oldest drugs in human history and present in dozens of plants, caffeine works by blocking a sleep-inducing chemical called adenosine. Used to be, most people got their dose via coffee, and it was relatively easy to stay under the FDA's recommended limit of 400 milligrams a day.

Now, however, it's harder to keep track. Companies don't always list caffeine content on food and drink labels. And despite decades of research, no one really knows the lifelong consequences of taking in so much. Studying a drug the majority of people already take is a challenge. Plus, any pro-caff findings might not account for the fact that a huge number of adults are sleep-deprived, says sleep medicine expert Timothy Roehrs, Ph.D., of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Caffeine has such a big impact on physical performance and endurance that banning it from the Olympics would eliminate most contenders, theorizes John Ivy, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas at Austin. It can give non-elite exercisers an edge as well, helping them go faster and for longer.

Moderate to heavy coffee intake can also, perhaps, decrease your risk for diabetes, inflammatory diseases, Parkinson's, and dementia. It could improve memory function. And the buzziest current tiding: Coffee drinkers live slightly longer than non-drinkers, per a 2012 study.

Yet for every yea there seems to be a statistical nay. An October 2013 study, for example, concluded that coffee drinkers might have shorter life spans. Caffeine can also disrupt sleep, leading to a long list of problems, including weight gain, weakened immunity, and poor concentration. New research has found that, although tasteless itself, caffeine has an ability to leave people wanting more, driving them toward sugary sodas and energy drinks.

Then there's the issue of addiction and caffeine-use disorder, in which people still guzzle the stuff in the face of known health circumstances (e.g., pregnancy). Studies show that nearly half of all caffeine consumers admit they have problems abstaining, despite occasional overload symptoms such as headaches and insomnia. That's important since, at its extreme, the drug can interfere with your heartbeat; a new report found caffeine-related ER visits spiked 36 percent from 2010 to 2011 alone.

So how much is safe - even helpful? Ideally, you'd use the drug the way you use other meds: only when you need it most, and not in large amounts every day, says Laura Juliano, Ph.D., a psychology professor at American University.

Because caffeine metabolism varies widely in people, it's best to stay as far below that daily limit of 400 milligrams as possible. That's about two 12-ounce cups of coffee, though not all brews are created equal. You'll have to do a little legwork to ID your own caff quotient—if, say, you have a coffee, a bit of chocolate, and a stick of spiked gum, you may be way overstimulated...or not.

Also be mindful of how you indulge. A binge in the a.m. will likely only set the stage for a crash after lunch, which will, in turn, tempt you to seek out even more caffeine, says Roehrs. (Our suggestion: Try waiting until about 10 a.m. for your java jolt.) And it practically goes without saying to skip caffeine within six hours of bedtime.

As with anything else, awareness and moderation are key. Read labels. And if you feel jittery or your caffeine crashes are intense, it's time to cut back.

How the super drug takes you from tired to wired...and back

  • Once caffeine hits your bloodstream, it's shuttled straight to the liver, which breaks it into tiny molecules.
  • Those then course through your veins, binding to cells, stealing the rightful parking spots of the sleep-inducing chemical adenosine.
  • With less adenosine to temper it, your brain is in overdrive. Mentally, you're more alert. Production of feel-good dopamine ramps up.
  • Your blood vessels have sprung into action: As they constrict, your heart beats faster, pumping extra oxygen to your organs.
  • Your body reaches peak caffeine levels 15 to 45 minutes after ingestion. The effects, however, last much longer. Depending on your genes and what meds you take, you could be wired for the next five to six hours.
  • Sounds great, right? Unless you've gone over your personal limit. Excess caffeine can cancel out too much adenosine, over-stimulating your brain.
  • Even if you don't go overboard, take note: Brain cells respond to the repeated blocking of adenosine by producing more and more of the stuff, which will hit you harder once your buzz wears off.

Sep 12, 2014

5 Colorful foods that help lower cancer

An increasing number of studies are showing links between healthy eating habits and the prevention of certain forms of cancer. Moreover, research has found that colorful fresh foods which tend to be high in immune-boosting phytochemicals, are particularly adept at this. Below is a discussion of the different dietary changes that can be made to make sure these phytochemicals are part of the daily diet.

Red foods - Perhaps the best-known of red foods, tomatoes, have been linked to decreased risk of cancer of the ovaries. In a study of some 15,000 women, it was found that eating just a half-cup of tomatoes at least four times a week can lower the chances of developing tumors on the ovaries by a whopping 50%. Consumption of tomatoes was connected in another study to fighting pancreatic malignancy as well. It is thought that this is due to its lycopene, which is also found in red peppers and red berries.

Orange foods - The phytochemicals which lend orange vegetables like squash and carrots their color have been proven to be effective in treating malignancy in the digestive tract. Caffeic acid, found in high quantities in yams, has been proven to slow the development of malignant cells in the breast. Orange fruits and vegetables should be eaten around three times a week.

Yellow foods - Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, lemons, tangerines and papayas, are excellent means to help ward off tumor formation through the diet. This is because these foods are all high in Vitamin C which has been shown to be extremely effective at fighting digestive cancers, such as those of the mouth, throat and colon. Apart from Vitamin C, they are also high in phyto-compounds that slow the development of tumors and promote overall healing through detoxification.

Green foods - Research has linked the consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy and endive, to a lower risk of several cancers, including those of the ovaries, stomach and colon. Scientists believe that this is likely due to the fact that these green foods are an excellent source of glucosinolates, which chemicals with anti-cancer properties and Vitamin K, which is particularly effective in reducing the risk of pancreatic malignancies. Try to include them in the diet at least once a day.

White foods - While color-rich fruits and vegetables can ward off cancer, there are many white or pale-colored ones that have that ability, too. They include mushrooms as well as members of the allium family like garlic and onions. Both mushrooms and alliums have been linked to lower rates of digestive cancer. The allium family is high in a chemical called allicin, which is a powerful antioxidant. Onions also contain phytochemicals linked to reduce risk of colon cancer. Mushrooms are a good source of Vitamin D that can lower development of malginancy in the ovaries. Add them to the diet twice a day if possible for maximum effect.

These colorful fruits and vegetables will not only lend interest and flavor to the diet, but also help reduce the risk of developing tumors or to help combat it if it does become established. These foods are also easy to work into a diet in soups, salads, casseroles or fruit-based desserts.

Sep 5, 2014

Potassium-rich foods cut stroke, death risks among older women

Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods, according to new research.

"Previous studies have shown that potassium consumption may lower blood pressure. But whether potassium intake could prevent stroke or death wasn't clear," said Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., study senior author and distinguished university professor emerita, department of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

"Our findings give women another reason to eat their fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, and potassium not only lowers postmenopausal women's risk of stroke, but also death."

Researchers studied 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at how much potassium the women consumed, as well as if they had strokes, including ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, or died during the study period. Women in the study were stroke-free at the start and their average dietary potassium intake was 2,611 mg/day. Results of this study are based on potassium from food, not supplements.

The researchers found: Women who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16 percent less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least. Women who ate the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.
Among women who did not have hypertension (whose blood pressure was normal and they were not on any medications for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a 27 percent lower ischemic stroke risk and 21 percent reduced risk for all stroke types, compared to women who ate the least potassium in their daily diets. Among women with hypertension (whose blood pressure was high or they were taking drugs for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but potassium intake did not lower their stroke risk.

Researchers suggested that higher dietary potassium intake may be more beneficial before high blood pressure develops. They also said there was no evidence of any association between potassium intake and hemorrhagic stroke, which could be related to the low number of hemorrhagic strokes in the study.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily. "Only 2.8 percent of women in our study met or exceeded this level. The World Health Organization's daily potassium recommendation for women is lower, at 3,510 mg or more. Still, only 16.6 percent of women we studied met or exceeded that," said Wassertheil-Smoller.

"Our findings suggest that women need to eat more potassium-rich foods. You won't find high potassium in junk food. Some foods high in potassium include white and sweet potatoes, bananas and white beans."

While increasing potassium intake is probably a good idea for most older women, there are some people who have too much potassium in their blood, which can be dangerous to the heart. "People should check with their doctor about how much potassium they should eat," she said.

The study was observational and included only postmenopausal women. Researchers also did not take sodium intake into consideration, so the potential importance of a balance between sodium and potassium is not among the findings. Researchers said more studies are needed to determine whether potassium has the same effects on men and younger people.

Aug 14, 2014

Excellent natural calcium sources for bone health

Calcium is an essential macromineral whose roles in the body are relatively well-known. It strengthens bones and teeth, improves the body's alkalinity, helps our heart muscles to contract and relax properly and more.

Like all minerals, calcium doesn't work alone, but in tandem with other nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin D. For this reason, obtaining our calcium from whole foods - foods whose nutrient profiles have been optimized by nature for superior absorption -- is the best way to remain healthy.

Good natural sources of calcium

Seaweed - It is common to find seaweed in any "best of" list, and for good reason: since seaweed grows in the ocean and is thus unaffected by soil erosion (the process that has significantly reduced the nutritional value of most land-based vegetables), its nutritiousness has remained intact for centuries. And, as it happens, seaweed has always been rich in calcium.

Perhaps the best seaweeds in this regard are kelp, kombu and wakame. One hundred grams of each contain between 150 and 170 grams of calcium, as well as countless other essential nutrients, including iodine. Avoiding seaweed sourced from the Pacific Ocean is a good idea due to possible radiation contamination.

Chia seeds - Though chia seeds are best-known for their high protein and fiber content, they contain similarly impressive levels of calcium. In fact, 1 ounce of these versatile South American seeds provides us with 179 milligrams of calcium, which is 17 percent of our recommended daily allowance (RDA). Of course, it's easy to consume far more than 1 ounce of chia seeds per day, making them one of the easiest foods to consume for correcting a calcium deficiency.

Blackstrap molasses - Blackstrap molasses is the dark, treacle-like byproduct of the sugar cane refinement process. Since it is derived from the sugar cane plant, whose tall roots grow deep into the soil, it contains a large number of nutrients that are seldom found in such quantities elsewhere, including calcium. Specifically, 1 tablespoon of blackstrap supplies us with 123 milligrams of the mineral, or 12 percent of our RDA. Blackstrap is also a good source of magnesium, manganese, selenium, potassium and iron, and makes a great sweetener in baking.

Sesame seeds - These nutty and delicate seeds, which belong to one of the oldest oilseed crops grown on Earth, supply our bodies with 88 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon. Like chia seeds, sesame seeds are incredibly versatile and can be sprinkled on salads and cooked meals, or simply eaten as a snack.

Raw milk - According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, 8 ounces of raw milk - unprocessed milk straight from the cow -- supplies our bodies with 300 milligrams of calcium. Additionally, it contains certain minerals, such as phosphorus and magnesium, which aid the calcium's absorption rate. Unfortunately, milk subjected to homogenization and/or pasteurization does not fare as well. These unnatural processes damage the nutritional structure of the milk, and inhibit the absorption rate of its nutrients.

Incidentally, this fact also applies to other dairy products. Yogurt, cheese and kefir are all excellent sources of calcium when made from raw milk. When made using processed milk, however, their nutrient profile is compromised.

Certain leafy greens - Due to soil erosion, most green vegetables - once considered among the finest sources of calcium -- are now shadows of their former selves nutrition-wise. Fortunately, a number of hardy greens do retain some of their nutritional power. Kale is probably the best example of these (1 cup of chopped kale contains 101 milligrams of calcium), with broccoli and spinach in second and third place respectably.

Aug 8, 2014

Rosemary, oregano and marjoram extracts fight type 2 diabetes

Culinary herbs are generally recognized for the unique flavors that they add to food. But new research has identified medicinal benefits as another distinction, particularly with the herbs rosemary, oregano and marjoram, all of which contain special diabetes-fighting compounds.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took a closer look at these three herbs, which earlier research has found can help keep blood sugar levels in check. Building upon this, Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia and her colleagues decided to test how each of these herbs impacts type 2 diabetes.

Greenhouse-grown varieties of Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare), marjoram (Origanum majorana), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) were tested alongside dried commercial versions of these same herbs to see how they interact with two key enzymes involved in insulin secretion and signaling, dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) and protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B (PTP1B).

Both fresh and dried varieties of rosemary and oregano found to provide unique benefits

Compared to their dried commercial counterparts, the greenhouse-grown rosemary and oregano varieties were found to contain significantly higher polyphenol levels. They were also determined to be superior inhibitors of DPP-IV, an enzyme that under normal conditions removes excess incretin from the body. In diabetics, a lack of incretin can lead to high blood sugar, hence the need to reduce DPP-IV levels in order to compensate.

On the other hand, commercial dried varieties of rosemary, Mexican oregano and marjoram were found to be superior inhibitors of PTP1B, an enzyme that, when reduced or eliminated, helps enhance insulin signaling and tolerance. In other words, reducing PTP1B levels can not only help improve the body's response to sugar intake and metabolism but also help block the storage of damaging triglycerides.

Greenhouse-grown Mexican oregano and rosemary both contain phytochemicals that liquid chromatography electrospray ionization mass spectrometry testing found to have special binding affinities for DPP-IV. Hispidulin, carnosol and eriodictyol are included among these, while cirsimaritin, hispidulin and naringenin were found to be the most potent inhibitors of DPP-IV.

"There is a need to identify natural compounds that can aid in the management of this disease," wrote the authors in their study, which notes that 8.3 percent of Americans now suffer from type 2 diabetes, which costs the U.S. more than $175 billion annually to treat.

Oregano and rosemary may be safer, more beneficial than popular antidiabetic drugs

Though the herbs demonstrated efficacy similar to, or even exceeding, that of popular antidiabetic medications, the study's authors are hesitant to recommend that people ditch their drugs in favor of them. For now, they are toeing the usual line, saying that more testing is needed, though folks who want to try incorporating more rosemary and oregano into their diets now are sure to gain some benefits.

Jul 31, 2014

Yogurt and probiotic-rich foods can help lower blood pressure

A simple way to help keep your blood pressure in check is to consume plenty of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir, suggest the findings of a new scientific review. While not necessarily a cure for people with heart issues, probiotics have been shown in a multitude of clinical studies to modestly lower blood pressure, as well as balance blood sugar, cholesterol and hormone levels.

This latest investigation into the science behind probiotics found that the combined results of nine randomized, placebo-controlled studies demonstrate heart benefits associated with probiotics. Among 550 participants who took a probiotic or ate a probiotic-rich food, average systolic blood pressure levels dropped by 3.56 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), while diastolic levels dropped by 2.38 mm Hg, on average.

This is significant, as many blood pressure drugs that perform similar functions come with nasty side effects, none of which are present when taking probiotics. The key, say researchers, is consuming at least 100 billion colony-forming units of probiotics daily, which is roughly the amount found in a small carton of high-quality, authentic yogurt.

"I do not think the general public understands how probiotics might be beneficial to health at this stage," said Jing Sun from the Griffith University School of Medicine and Griffith Heart Institute in Queensland, Australia, lead author of the study. "The challenge to us is to convince patients and clinicians to accept the product in daily life."

Based on the data, taking optimal or higher amounts of probiotics daily for at least two months can produce dramatic benefits, particularly when combined with other interventions like healthy eating and regular exercise. In other words, chowing down on yogurt can be helpful, but it is also important to combine this other healthy lifestyle habits.

Probiotics are a 'functional food' that can prevent chronic illness

Beyond their heart-health benefits, researchers have concluded that probiotics are a full-spectrum "functional food," meaning they offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. According to Lori Hoolihan, a researcher at the Dairy Council of California in Irvine, probiotics work in many ways to optimize health and prevent chronic diseases.

"Randomized clinical trials are the gold standard in research and they had a strict criteria for choosing the studies and they actually looked at human trials which are stronger than animal trials," she is quoted as saying.

"Americans don't like to think about bacteria so it's hard for people to embrace it but there are good and bad bacteria and there is no avoiding them. Our gut is home to many bacteria and if bumping up the amount of good bacteria can optimize health and prevent chronic diseases then that's a good thing," Hoolihan added.

Other helpful ways to lower blood pressure naturally through diet include reducing carbohydrate and sugar intake, as both of these things contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction. Increasing intake of beneficial minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium, as well as consuming healthy saturated fats like grass-fed ghee, butter, palm oil and coconut oil, is also helpful.

It is also important to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, both through fatty fish consumption and supplementation with omega-3-rich oils like flax, hemp, cod liver and skate liver. Omega-3s have been shown in multiple studies to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as reduce other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

Concerning probiotics, Sun added:

"We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance."

Jul 25, 2014

Black beans lower blood pressure, reduce degenerative disease and much more

Black beans contain proteins that act as antioxidants and can lower blood pressure and remove toxic metals from the body, according to a study conducted by researchers from Mexico's National School of Biological Sciences of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN-ENCB).

Researchers ground up dried black beans, then isolated and hydrolyzed two of the main proteins found in the Jamapa variety of black beans: fasolina and lectin. The proteins were then tested using computer simulations.

They found that the two proteins demonstrated chelating activity, meaning that they removed heavy metals from the body. In addition, when the proteins were hydrolyzed with pepsin-pancratin, they also demonstrated antioxidant and antihypertensive activity.

"With the research we have discovered the essence of the legume, and identified the nutritional components such as carbohydrates, starch, proteins, fats, phenolic compounds that have related antioxidant effects," lead researcher Gloria Davila Ortiz said.

The findings may partially explain why studies have shown beans to be so beneficial for heart health. The researchers expressed hope that their findings could lead to new treatments for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease by targeting oxidative stress and high blood pressure.

"The Jamapa black bean proteins have biological properties and nutrients that help lower glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides," Davila Ortiz said. "Thanks to a collaboration between the IPN and the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition Salvador Zubiran, diets for people with diabetes were developed and it was found that glucose in blood decreased. In the future we intend to develop products containing proteins which would be aimed at treatment and prevention of diseases, seeking specific effect on blood pressure and as an antioxidant."

Beans form the basis of many diets around the world and are also one of the least expensive foods in terms of both weight and nutrient content. Beans are known to be rich in essential nutrients, with one cup of cooked black beans including fiber (59.8 % of the recommended daily intake), protein (30.4 %), iron (20 %), folate (64 %), magnesium (30.1 %), manganese (38 %), molybdenum (172 %), phosphorus (24 %), tryptophan (56.2 %) and vitamin B1 (28 %).

Soluble fiber, like that found in beans, has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Indeed, clinical trials have shown that eating beans (canned or dried) reduces levels of total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Beans are also rich in phytonutrients, which are now considered responsible for many of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Many of these phytonutrients have antioxidant properties.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three of the four foods highest in antioxidants are actually beans: the red bean, the red kidney bean and the pinto bean. Another study, conducted by the Colorado State University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, also found that red beans were highest in antioxidants, but ranked black beans at number two. This study found that antioxidant content was linked with a dark color in the bean's coat, because the pigments in the seed are produced by antioxidant phytonutrients such as phenols and anthocyanins.

Antioxidants remove free radicals from the body and are believed to thereby lower the risk of chronic diseases and slow the effects of aging. Indeed, beans have been linked with many of the health effects associated with antioxidants: a lower risk of diabetes, obesity, degenerative diseases, and a wide variety of cancers.

Jul 18, 2014

Eat more licorice and enjoy these hidden benefits

Licorice is a favorite snack food for many people. Due to its sweet flavor and chewy consistency, it is the snack of choice for people of all ages. This candy, however, is not the only form of licorice and the chemicals and added sugars rule cancel out any health benefits. Licorice has been used for medicinal purposes for a number of years. For this purpose, licorice comes in both tablet and capsule forms. Additionally, there are licorice teas that can be enjoyed.

Even though licorice is sweeter than sugar by fifty times, it contains significantly fewer calories than the refined kind. This makes licorice the ideal snack for someone who wants to satisfy their sweet tooth without consuming a lot of extra calories. In addition, there are modern day benefits to licorice.

Could help clear up the skin

For those people who have acne, increasing their consumption of products that contain licorice could be helpful. Korean research has recently shown promising results of an ointment containing licorice and applied to the face. Scars and spots from acne have been reduced as well as the itching associated with eczema and psoriasis.

Might help with weight loss

Even though studies that are targeted for this benefit are still in their early stages, the preliminary feedback is promising. Licorice contains a flavonoid oil that might help reduce the amount of body fat that a person has.

Could help regulate hormones

As women age, their hormone levels begin to fluctuate. This can result in a range of symptoms including hot flashes, depression, weight gain and more. Recent research has shown, however, that women can find relief from hot flashes by about 80 percent when they consume licorice. This is because there is a compound in licorice that mimics estrogen, helping to reduce symptoms.

May help provide relief from ulcers

Those people who suffer from stomach ulcers, often caused by the stresses of modern living, could find relief by ingesting licorice. If an individual is feeling stressed, a good way to help reduce the stomach acid that often forms is by relaxing with a hot cup of licorice tea.

Can help stop cold sore formation

Cold sores, caused by the herpes virus, can cause a great deal of social stigma for those who suffer from them. There is research, however, that shows that licorice can help reduce their severity. Licorice contains compounds that help increase the production of protein that is released by the body in response to viruses and other types of pathogens.

Licorice has many relaxing and medicinal benefits that make it a vital part of any pantry. While there are a variety of candies available that have licorice in them, tea, tablets and capsules provide better methods that people can utilize to enjoy the benefits of licorice.

Jul 11, 2014

Walking and running can halve the chance of brain cancer

Running and walking reduce the likelihood of your developing a brain tumour. Walking for 36-72 minutes every day or jogging for 15-30 minutes gives optimal protection. Bio-statistician Paul Williams at Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered this after following 150,000 runners and walkers for over ten years.

Williams has devoted his work to the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Studies, a large-scale epidemiological project which contains data on 111,266 runners and 42,136 walkers, and continues to publish study after study. In previous years Williams has shown that running can reduce the chance of wear and tear on joints – at least if you are not overweight, and that runners put on weight if they start to run less.

In May 2014 Williams presented the results of a study, in which he examined the relationship between running, walking and brain cancer. Brain cancer is relatively rare, and scientists know little about the lifestyle factors that can protect against it.

Williams expressed the participants’ physical activity in MET-hours per day. Scientists say that we need to get in 1.8 MET-hours a day. That’s the equivalent of 36 minutes of walking or 15 minutes of jogging.

The runners and walkers that managed to do 1.8 MET-hours a day or more were less likely to develop brain cancer than the participants who did less. The evidence was strongest for the over 50s.

Participants who walked for more than 72 minutes or jogged for longer than half an hour were not better protected than participants who did 36-72 minutes of walking or 15-30 minutes of jogging.

The most common form of brain cancer is glioma. In-vitro studies have shown that IGF-1 stimulates the growth of glioma cells. Williams believes that physical exercise helps the muscles to absorb more IGF-1 from the blood, making less IGF-1 available for cancer cell growth.

“Although our analyses cannot test whether exercise specifically improves survival in brain cancer patients, it is not unreasonable to expect that if physical activity decreases the risk of incident glioma, it might also extend survival “, Williams concludes.

Jul 4, 2014

Bodybuilding with protein-rich diet is healthier

Strength training will result in more muscle mass when combined with a protein-rich diet. Nothing new here, but that strength training combined with a protein-rich diet is healthier might be news to you. Researchers at Pusan National University in South Korea reach this conclusion in a small human study.

The Koreans got 18 males in their twenties, none of whom had previously done weight training, to do strength training for a period of 12 weeks. The men did working sets with 60-80 percent of the weight with which they could just manage 1 rep.

Half of the subjects ate a more or less ‘normal’ diet during the experiment. The energy in their diet consisted of 60 percent energy derived from carbohydrates, 15 percent from protein and the remaining 25 percent from fat. [norm.-prot.]

The other half of the men ate a protein-rich diet. In that diet the energy was derived for 55 percent from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 15 percent from fat. [high-prot.]

Both groups consumed the same amount of kilocalories.

After the training period the researchers discovered that the men who had followed the high-protein diet had built up more lean body mass. This was not the case for the men who had consumed a normal amount of protein in their diet. The body fat percentage had declined in both groups, but the decrease was bigger in the men who had eaten more protein.

The Koreans detected no dramatic effects of the combination of strength training and a high-protein diet on IGF-1, cortisol and testosterone levels. What they did observe was that there was considerably more growth hormone circulating in the blood of the subjects in the high-protein group than in the subjects that had eaten less protein.

The HOMA-IR – a measure of insulin resistance – decreased in the men who had consumed a lot of protein. This meant that their cells became more sensitive to insulin, which is a positive sign.

Moreover, the cholesterol balance of the men who had eaten the high-protein diet improved. Their amount of ‘good cholesterol’ HDL increased.

“In conclusion, these findings suggest that there are hormonal interactions to ameliorate body composition, metabolic profiles, and energy metabolism after a long term higher protein diet and resistance exercise”, the researchers summarise. “However, replication studies with various types of resistance exercise programs and high protein diet are required in order to confirm the results of the present study for current practice in the field.”

Jun 27, 2014

How To Prevent Age Related Muscle Mass

Is a loss of strength, mobility, and functionality an inevitable part of aging? No, it’s not. It’s a consequence of disuse, suboptimal hormone levels, dietary and nutrient considerations and other variables, all of which are compounded by aging. One of the greatest threats to an aging adult’s ability to stay healthy and functional is the steady loss of lean body mass – muscle and bone in particular.

The medical term for the loss of muscle is sarcopenia, and it’s starting to get the recognition it deserves by the medical and scientific community. For decades, that community has focused on the loss of bone mass (osteoporosis), but paid little attention to the loss of muscle mass commonly seen in aging populations. Sarcopenia is a serious healthcare and social problem that affects millions of aging adults. This is no exaggeration. As one researcher recently stated:

“Even before significant muscle wasting becomes apparent, ageing is associated with a slowing of movement and a gradual decline in muscle strength, factors that increase the risk of injury from sudden falls and the reliance of the frail elderly on assistance in accomplishing even basic tasks of independent living. Sarcopenia is recognized as one of the major public health problems now facing industrialized nations, and its effects are expected to place increasing demands on public healthcare systems worldwide”

Sarcopenia and osteoporosis are directly related conditions, one often following the other. Muscles generate the mechanical stress required to keep our bones healthy; when muscle activity is reduced it exacerbates the osteoporosis problem and a vicious circle is established, which accelerates the decline in health and functionality.

What defines sarcopenia from a clinical perspective? Sarcopenia is defined as the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and functionality. Sarcopenia generally appears after age 40 and accelerates after the age of approximately 75. Although sarcopenia is mostly seen in physically inactive individuals, it is also commonly found in individuals who remain physically active throughout their lives. Thus, it’s clear that although physical activity is essential, physical inactivity is not the only contributing factor. Just as with osteoporosis, sarcopenia is a multifactorial process that may involve decreased hormone levels (in particular, GH, IGF-1, MGF, and testosterone), a lack of adequate protein and calories in the diet, oxidative stress, inflammatory processes, chronic, low level, diet-induced metabolic acidosis, as well as a loss of motor nerve cells.

A loss of muscle mass also has far ranging effects beyond the obvious loss of strength and functionality. Muscle is a metabolic reservoir. In times of emergency it produces the proteins and metabolites required for survival after a traumatic event. In practical terms, frail elderly people with decreased muscle mass often do not survive major surgeries or traumatic accidents, as they lack the metabolic reserves to supply their immune systems and other systems critical for recovery.
There is no single cause of sarcopenia, as there is no single cause for many human afflictions. To prevent and/or treat it, a multi-faceted approach must be taken, which involve hormonal factors, dietary factors, supplemental nutrients, and exercise.

Dietary considerations

The major dietary considerations that increase the risk of sarcopenia are: a lack of adequate protein, inadequate calorie intake, and low level, chronic, metabolic acidosis. Although it’s generally believed the “average” American gets more protein then they require, the diets of older adults are often deficient. Compounding that are possible reductions in digestion and absorption of protein, with several studies concluding protein requirements for older adults are higher than for their younger counterparts. These studies indicate that most older adults don’t get enough high quality protein to support and preserve their lean body mass.

There is an important caveat on increasing protein, which brings us to the topic of low level, diet-induced, metabolic acidosis. Typical Western diets are high in animal proteins and cereal grains, and low in fruits and vegetables. It’s been shown that such diets cause a low grade metabolic acidosis, which contributes to the decline in muscle and bone mass found in aging adults. One study found that by adding a buffering agent (potassium bicarbonate) to the diet of post-menopausal women the muscle wasting effects of a “normal” diet were prevented. The researchers concluded the use of the buffering agent was “… potentially sufficient to both prevent continuing age-related loss of muscle mass and restore previously accrued deficits.”

The take home lesson from this study is that – although older adults require adequate intakes of high quality proteins to maintain their muscle mass (as well as bone mass), it should come from a variety of sources and be accompanied by an increase in fruits and vegetables as well as a reduction of cereal grain-based foods. The use of supplemental buffering agents such as potassium bicarbonate, although effective, does not replace fruits and vegetables for obvious reasons, but may be incorporated into a supplement regimen.

As most are aware, with aging comes a general decline in many hormones, in particular, anabolic hormones such as Growth Hormone (GH), DHEA, and testosterone. In addition, researchers are looking at Insulin-like Growth factor one (IGF-1) and Mechano Growth factor (MGF) which are essential players in the hormonal milieu responsible for maintaining muscle mass as well as bone mass. Without adequate levels of these hormones, it’s essentially impossible to maintain lean body mass, regardless of diet or exercise.

It’s been shown, for example, that circulating GH declines dramatically with age. In old age, GH levels are only one-third of that in our teenage years. In addition, aging adults have a blunted GH response to exercise as well as reduced output of MGF, which explains why older adults have a much more difficult time building muscle compared to their younger counterparts. However, when older adults are given GH, and then exposed to resistance exercise, their MGF response is markedly improved, as is their muscle mass.

Another hormone essential for maintaining lean body mass is testosterone. Testosterone, especially when given to men low in this essential hormone, has a wide range of positive effects. One review looking at the use of testosterone in older men concluded:

“In healthy older men with low-normal to mildly decreased testosterone levels, testosterone supplementation increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass. Upper and lower body strength, functional performance, sexual functioning, and mood were improved or unchanged with testosterone replacement”

Contrary to popular belief, women also need testosterone! Although women produce less testosterone, it’s as essential to the health and well being of women as it is for men.

The above is a highly generalized summary and only the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding various hormonal influences on sarcopenia. A full discussion on the role of hormones in sarcopenia is well beyond the scope of this article. Needless to state, yearly blood work after the age of 40 is essential to track your hormone levels, and if needed, to treat deficiencies via Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Private organizations like the Life Extension Foundation offer comprehensive hormone testing packages, or your doctor can order the tests. However, HRT is not for everyone and may be contraindicated in some cases. Regular monitoring is required, so it’s essential to consult with a medical professional versed in the use of HRT, such as an endocrinologist.

There are several supplemental nutrients that should be especially helpful for combating sarcopenia, both directly and indirectly. Supplements that have shown promise for combating sarcopenia are creatine, vitamin D, whey protein, acetyl-L-carnitine, glutamine, and buffering agents such as potassium bicarbonate.


The muscle atrophy found in older adults comes predominantly from a loss of fast twitch (FT) type II fibers which are recruited during high-intensity, anaerobic movements (e.g., weight lifting, sprinting, etc.). Interestingly, these are exactly the fibers creatine has the most profound effects on. Various studies find creatine given to older adults increases strength and lean body mass. One group concluded: “Creatine supplementation may be a useful therapeutic strategy for older adults to attenuate loss in muscle strength and performance of functional living tasks.”

Vitamin D

It’s well established that vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health. However, recent studies suggest it’s also essential for maintaining muscle mass in aging populations. In muscle, vitamin D is essential for preserving type II muscle fibers, which, as mentioned above, are the very muscle fibers that atrophy most in aging people. Adequate vitamin D intakes could help reduce the rates of both osteoporosis and sarcopenia found in aging people leading the author of one recent review on the topic of vitamin D’s effects on bone and muscle to conclude: “In both cases (muscle and bone tissue) vitamin D plays an important role since the low levels of this vitamin seen in senior people may be associated to a deficit in bone formation and muscle function”
and “We expect that these new considerations about the importance of vitamin D in the elderly will stimulate an innovative approach to the problem of falls and fractures which constitutes a significant burden to public health budgets worldwide.”

Whey protein

As previously mentioned, many older adults fail to get enough high quality protein in their diets. Whey has an exceptionally high biological value (BV), with anti-cancer and immune enhancing properties among its many uses. As a rule, higher biological value proteins are superior for maintaining muscle mass compared to lower quality proteins, which may be of particular importance to older individuals. Finally, data suggests “fast” digesting proteins such as whey may be superior to other proteins for preserving lean body mass in older individuals.

Exercise is the lynchpin to the previous sections. Without it, none of the above will be an effective method of preventing/treating sarcopenia. Exercise is the essential stimulus for systemwide release of various hormones such as GH, as well as local growth factors in tissue, such as MGF. Exercise is the stimulus that increases protein and bone synthesis, and exerts other effects that combat the loss of essential muscle and bone as we age. Exercise optimizes the effects of HRT, diet and supplements, so if you think you can sit on the couch and follow the above recommendations…think again.

Although any exercise is generally better then no exercise, all forms of exercise are not created equal. You will note, for example, many of the studies listed at the end of this article have titles like: “GH and resistance exercise” or “creatine effects combined with resistance exercise” and so on. Aerobic exercise is great for the cardiovascular system and helps keep body fat low, but when scientists or athletes want to increase lean mass, resistance training is always the method. Aerobics does not build muscle and is only mildly effective at preserving the lean body mass you already have. Thus, some form of resistance training (via weights, machines, bands, etc.) is essential for preserving or increasing muscle mass. The CDC report on resistance exercise for older adults summarizes it as:

“In addition to building muscles, strength training can promote mobility, improve health-related fitness, and strengthen bones.”

Combined with HRT (if indicated), dietary modifications, and the supplements listed above, dramatic improvements in lean body mass can be achieved at virtually any age, with improvements in strength, functionality into advanced age, and improvements in overall health and general well being.

To summarize, to prevent or treat sarcopenia:

• Get adequate high quality proteins from a variety of sources as well as adequate calories. Avoid excessive animal protein and cereal grain intakes while increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables.

• Get regular blood work on all major hormones after the age of 40 and discuss with a medical professional if HRT is indicated.

• Add supplements such as: creatine, vitamin D, whey protein, acetyl-l-carnitine, glutamine, and buffering agents such as potassium bicarbonate.

• Exercise regularly – with an emphasis on resistance training – a minimum of 3 times per week.

I’m going to conclude this article the way most people would start it, with the good news and the bad news. The bad news is, millions of people will suffer from a mostly avoidable loss of functionality and will become weak and frail as they age from a severe loss of muscle mass. The good news is that you don’t have to be one of those people. One thing is very clear: it’s far easier, cheaper, and more effective to prevent sarcopenia – or at least greatly slow its progression – than it is to treat it later in life. Studies have found, however, that it’s never too late to start – so don’t be discouraged if you are starting your sarcopenia fighting program later in life. People following my programs for either weight loss or weight gain (in the form of muscle…) will be following the proper guidelines for avoiding sarcopenia.