Tag Archives: cardiovascular disease

Vitamin C: Powerful Protector

For colds, most people reach for vitamin C to help them get back on their feet sooner. They might chose it because they can tell it helps them feel better, or they might have heard about one of the numerous studies supporting its use. Most studies show that vitamin C reduces the severity of cold symptoms. Even one famous “negative “ study showed that vitamin C reduced the severity of cold symptoms by 20%. This was only considered a negative outcome because these results were not deemed significant. Other studies show that vitamin C accelerates recovery, especially if taken early in the illness. One study using 3000-6000 mg daily showed an 85% reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to the control. I notice that especially toward the end of a cold, taking vitamin C has a marked effect on my energy levels, helping me get back to work.

Vitamin C can be beneficial for other respiratory issues. In epidemiological studies, increased vitamin C intake is correlated to lower rates of asthma. Supplementation with vitamin C also has been shown to reduce exercise-induced airway reactions such as narrowing of the airways. Additionally, vitamin C may be helpful for asthma that is related to pollution. These benefits are partially due to vitamin C’s anti-histamine effects, which are augmented by the presence of bioflavonoids, compounds that occur in foods alongside vitamin C that potentiate its activity.

Vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant capabilities provide part of its protect of the respiratory tract. When we are exposed to pollutants and toxins, free radicals cause cellular damage, which in turn contributes to inflammation that can exacerbate conditions like allergies and asthma. It is probably these antioxidant actions that help me feel more energetic at the end of a cold. When the immune system is working hard it creates free radicals as part of the process, and these free radicals can contribute to fatigue. By helping remove these free radicals, vitamin C can help you feel normal again. Likewise, vitamin C can protect vital molecules in the body, such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and DNA from damage by free radicals that can be generated during normal metabolism as well as through exposure to toxins. This preserves crucial cellular functions and can help prevent cancer. Finally, vitamin C can regenerate the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E, which is in turn one of the most important fat soluble antioxidant that supports heart health by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. Again, bioflavonoids also can work as powerful antioxidants supporting the activity of vitamin C so I always look for these when I buy vitamin C.

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Omega-3s for Mood

Fish oil has numerous well-documented benefits for our health. It is probably best known for its cardiovascular advantages of decreasing cholesterol and clotting. Here I am going to focus on its mood supporting qualities, because there have been a number of exciting recent studies. In one study following patients with major depression, the likelihood of also having anxiety was much higher in those with the lowest blood levels of EPA and DHA, the major omega-3 components of fish oil. A second study found that in women a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced the incidence of elevated depressive symptoms by 49%. This study also pointed out the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids was important. This means you can support your mood by both taking fish oil and reducing intake of omega-6 fats like those found in meat and most oils including corn, soy, and vegetable oils.

Fish oil may even be able to reduce suicidal tendencies. It has long been noted in epidemiological studies that low omega-3 levels are correlated with increased rates of suicide. Researchers have also found higher levels of a marker called SAT1 in people with strong suicidal ideation. This marker and related ones were also associated with stress, mood disorders, anxiety, and hallucinations. In mice that were genetically altered to have abnormal expression of these biomarkers, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids brought their levels of the troublesome markers back to normal. All of this very promising research reinforces the use of fish oil as part of the plan to support mental health for even very serious mood disorders.

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Refresh and Fight Stress with Holy Basil Tea

People sometimes ask me if I could grow only one medicinal herb what would it be. My answer is Holy Basil, because it has so many useful medicinal actions and it is very easy to grow. Holy Basil is one of the many herbs that help us cope with stress, but it is easier to work with than many of the others in this category like ginseng because we use its leaves instead of the root. And it makes a pleasant tea. Some of you might have already tried the popular teas made from Holy Basil, where it is often sold under its other name Tulsi.

My Holy Basil, just from one plant

My Holy Basil, just from one plant

Holy Basil has been demonstrated to reduce the impact of stress on the body and brain. Stress can have a serious impact on our health and contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, immune dysfunction, and memory issues. Holy Basil has been shown to counter act some of the negative changes that happen in the brain when we are exposure to prolonged stress. Holy Basil may reduce insulin resistance and thereby help lower elevated blood sugar. It can also help decrease elevated cholesterol. Holy Basil helps fight inflammation in the body and therefore pain, partially by being a COX-2 inhibitor. Holy Basil modulates immune system activity and can be a good choice for people who get frequent infections. I like to use it during cold and flu season because it has some antiviral properties too. Finally, Holy Basil is rich in antioxidants and can help protect us from cellular damage, even from radiation.

To make Holy Basil tea from the loose leaves, put 1-2 teaspoons in a cup of water that just came off a boil. Steep for 5-10 minutes, preferably with a lid over the tea. Strain (if you didn’t use a tea ball), sweeten if desired, and enjoy this awesome wellness boosting, stress-fighting tea. Or try it iced.

And if you want to grow your own Holy Basil plant next year, I got my seeds from High Mowing Seeds sold at Ozark Natural Foods and online. I may also be selling the plant starts next spring when I do the annual plant sale for our farm.

Rainbow of Antioxidants

I often come up with the ideas for my blogs while working in my garden. This one started with a very simple thought: I love purple. I was admiring the purple cayenne we are growing this year. They have that lovely deep purple like eggplant.

Purple cayenne

Purple cayenne

We are growing several other purple varieties in our garden this year like carrots, tomatillos, and okra. The presence of this purple color indicates that these vegetables provide a specific type of antioxidant known as anthocyanins. Other sources of anthocyanins are purple cabbage, purple potatoes, blue corn, black beans, plums, dark grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and black berries, as well as herbs like elderberry, hawthorn, and acai. Anthocyanins are considered to be one of the best antioxidants for protecting our brains, hearts, and blood vessels.

Our Purple Crops

Our Purple Crops

Even though purple is so enthralling, we need other colors to round out our intake of antioxidants. Leafy green veggies are a great source of chlorophyll, which can help protect our DNA from damage and aid the detoxification process. Leafy greens also hide a bunch of beta-carotene under that green. So along with carrots and other orange foods, we can eat our greens to help maintain our vision and enhance the ability of white blood cells to neutralize carcinogens. Lycopene is one of the most potent antioxidants for cancer prevention, especially prostate cancer. It is found in the pink foods: tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.

Overall the goal is to eat a rainbow of foods so we are getting a diversity of antioxidants to protect our cells from damage and help prevent cancer.

If you want to try some of my purple okra, we are now selling it in the produce department of Ozark Natural Foods.

Calcium Controversy

There have been a few studies in recent years that have gotten a lot of press for supposedly showing that certain common supplements are harming people’s health. While it is indeed possible that we can take too much of a good thing and cause a health problem, most of these studies have been flawed or revealed flaws in how we use supplements. For instance, some studies on calcium have shown it to be correlated with increased rates of heart disease. This makes some sense because in some forms arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, calcium is part of the problem. But if we are taking calcium appropriately we shouldn’t be contributing to this issue. I always make sure that people taking calcium have adequate levels of vitamin D and K. Vitamin D is necessary for adequate calcium absorption and utilization. Vitamin K places two important roles with calcium. It works to help get calcium into our bones, while also being an important component of a protein that keep calcium from being deposited in our blood vessels. Another important consideration is the calcium to magnesium ratio. If someone is taking calcium without paying attention to their magnesium intake, they might become magnesium deficient, which could contribute to heart disease. Finally, I always have my patients take their calcium with a meal because calcium taken away from meals might play a role in kidney stone formation. When calcium is taken with meals, it might help prevent a common type of kidney stones.

Nutrients work together to keep our bodies functioning properly. When we use wise combinations and appropriate doses, supplements are unlikely to harm us. Another option is to improve our calcium intake from our diet. World’s Healthiest Foods has a fabulous website that includes charts of the foods highest in certain nutrients like calcium.

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Vitamin D: Getting Your Right Dose

My grandfather had multiple sclerosis, which is an illness that is more prevalent in northern latitudes like South Dakota where he lived. Some researchers are investigating whether lower vitamin D levels might contribute to this trend. Data like this has increased our awareness of the need for vitamin D over the last few years. There seems to be an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in this country especially since Americans are spending more time inside and doing a good job of using sun screen when outside. As I noted in a previous blog, exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides might also be interfering with our ability to make vitamin D from sunlight. There is strong evidence showing that appropriate levels of vitamin D reduce falls and fractures and improve bone density. Vitamin D is also useful for helping prevent influenza and maybe even asthma attacks. Additionally, vitamin D might also help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases. Finally, I always make sure my patients that are taking calcium have adequate vitamin D levels. Without adequate vitamin D in the body, calcium supplements might increase heart disease, but when given together they reduced mortality by 9% in a recent study.

However, more isn’t always better. With all of the hype about vitamin D, I have seen people taking high doses for long periods of time. All medicines and supplements have optimal dose ranges: too little isn’t enough to help, but too much can cause problems. A common dose of vitamin D used to be 400 IU, but now the thinking is that this is probably too little. Likewise, regular dosing over 2000 IU might offer no additional benefit and in some cases may even diminish the desired outcome. For instance, in a study on influenza, Japanese children given vitamin D had a 64% reduction in the rate of influenza compared to placebo. But when children already taking vitamin D had more vitamin D added, their rate of the flu increased by 11%. This number wasn’t high enough to be sure it wasn’t just random fluctuations, but at the very least, it showed that more vitamin D didn’t lead to greater benefits. For Caucasian women with osteoporosis, higher doses didn’t necessarily have any negative consequences, but the increases in bone density were the same between two groups with one taking 800 IU and the other taking 6500 IU. While I sometimes recommend vitamin D testing, it is important to know that there are different optimal levels for different ethnicities. For instance, Caucasian women whose vitamin D levels less than 20 ng/ml had a significant increase in fracture risk, but African-American women whose levels were above 20 ng/ml had 45% increase in fracture risk. So while vitamin D can offer us several benefits, it is important to figure out your right dose.

Cooking Like a Farm Wife

Recently my husband asked me why I hadn’t made a certain dish in a while. My answer was that I was trying to cook like a farm wife by focusing on the ingredients from our farm, whereas the dish he wanted featured spinach, which I don’t have great luck growing. My husband and I run a small organic farm, Downstream Farm Organic Produce, about 8 miles west of Fayetteville on Clear Creek. We mostly grow food for ourselves and sell the extra produce to friends, restaurants, and Ozark Natural Foods.  We raise chickens and grow vegetables like okra, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, and too many others to name.

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn't eat all of these mushroom varietes

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn’t eat all of these mushroom varieties.

Recently, my husband found a bounty of wild mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms, so I made a special dish to feature them. My venison and wild mushroom stew also included our venison, radish greens, fresh herbs, and tomatoes. Not all ingredients have to be from the farm. For instance, this farm wife happened to have some red wine around. The carrots and potatoes were also from the store since we had run out of our own a few months ago.

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I know that everyone can’t grow as much of their food as we do, but you can still incorporate some of my thinking into your own cooking by focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. Local foods can be fresher and therefore higher in nutrients. Seasonal ingredients tend to be more affordable and often shipped shorter distances so fewer resources are used to get them to us. I try to avoid buying certain summer foods, like melons, in the middle of winter when the only ones available have been shipped from South America or even further away. And these foods aren’t necessarily appropriate for our bodies during the winter. It makes sense that we need cooling foods like melons and cucumbers in the summer and warmer, higher calorie foods in the winter. Part of my process is to be creative with substitutions. For instance, I still look at recipes to get a basic framework for a dish, but readily add or subtract vegetables and other ingredients based on what is available at that time of the year.

I also focus my cooking on nutrient dense foods, as in foods that provide a lot of our necessary vitamins and minerals per calorie. Or in the case of the wild mushrooms, add medicinal benefits to the dish. Nearly all culinary mushrooms strengthen the immune system and help reduce inflammation. Oyster mushrooms may also help lower cholesterol. Consumption of mushrooms like these may help prevent cancer, partially because of the beta-glucans they provide. Oyster mushrooms are fairly commonly available in stores, so you don’t have to find them on a log after the rain like my husband did. And you can grow your own using a mushroom kit or mushroom logs. Since some mushrooms are poisonous don’t eat wild ones unless you know them well like my husband does.

The Power of Green Tea

As well as being a wonderfully tasty beverage, green tea contains fantastic compounds that can help prevent many common health conditions. Green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, Camellia sinensis. The difference, however, is that green tea is camellia-sinensisblanched before drying, while black tea is allowed to oxidize, effectively converting many of the beneficial catechins into astringent tannins. In part because of these catechins, like EGCG, green tea is antimicrobial, astringent, antioxidant, cancer fighting, and inflammation modulating. Not only does it contain less caffeine than black tea, green tea also has theanine, a relaxation-inducing compound that can help reduce anxiety.

Just three cups a day may be helpful for the prevention of cancer and atherosclerosis. Numerous studies have shown green tea to be useful for lowering cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol. Additionally, when combined with sensible diet and exercise, green tea may help with weight loss, especially in people with increased belly fat. Green tea’s ability to help reduce glucose and insulin could explain why it helps induce belly fat loss, as insulin resistance and elevated glucose tend to encourage weight gain in that region of the body. Regular consumption of green tea is also thought to be one of the reasons why Asian women have a consistently lower rate of breast cancer. Furthermore, if you swish it around your mouth before swallowing, green tea can help stop gingivitis.

To prepare, you need only to steep your green tea for one minute to extract these incredible compounds, but feel free to steep it longer if you prefer a stronger, more bitter flavor.  During these hot Arkansas summers, green tea also makes a refreshing iced tea that can help beat the heat. To give you another way to enjoy green tea this summer, our bulk herbs department has added a delicious raspberry flavored green tea.

If you wish to read Dr. Michael Greger’s other ideas on why there are lower rates of breast cancer in Asian demographics, check out his recent post.

Benefits of Whey Protein

I occasionally use a protein powder as a snack or part of a meal replacement. While I don’t believe we can truly replace a meal with supplements, sometimes protein powders can be a handy way to boost our protein intake. For people that tolerate dairy well, whey protein can be a good choice because it mixes easily and tends to be very palatable. Because of its particular amino acid compositions, whey protein also offers some benefits that other protein powders don’t. For instance, in a small study participants given whey protein, who otherwise ate as they wished, experienced a slight weight loss compared to those given soy protein who had no change in weight. This group also saw a reduction in ghrelin, a hunger hormone that makes us crave high calorie foods. Whey protein is also commonly used by athletes and has been shown to reduce post-workout muscle damage. Whey protein is high in branched-chain amino acids like leucine that have been shown to improve upper body strength and lean body mass. Whey protein can also help seniors shape up by helping improve muscle mass and function. In fact, whey protein led to skeletal muscle improvements that were superior to those from control groups of participants taking an equivalent amount of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins like our muscles.

In addition to helping body composition, whey protein can improve our well being in several key ways. One study demonstrated significant decreases in cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting insulin levels when participants consumed whey protein, but not when they received casein protein. Whey protein may also help with detoxification and cancer prevention since it is a source of cysteine, which our bodies need to make glutathione, a critical antioxidant for protecting our bodies from toxins. There are also immune benefits from whey protein as demonstrated in a study where elderly subjects receiving pneumonia vaccines produced more of the protective antibodies against the pneumonia-causing organisms. Whey protein is also a good choice as part of a protocol to speed healing from surgery.

Ubiquinol: A better form of Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is an important supplement that can benefit numerous conditions, especially heart disease. CoQ10, as it is often called, supports energy production in our cells and works as an antioxidant to protect our cells from damage. These roles are important for heart health because the heart needs a lot of energy. In addition, the ability of CoQ10 to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol may help protect us from atherosclerosis. CoQ10 is also used to reduce fatigue in patients with fibromyalgia. It can help protect the kidneys and liver. One month of CoQ10 supplementation was even shown to reduce symptoms of dry mouth, probably by improving the functioning of the salivary glands. CoQ10 is even thought to reduce some of the symptoms of old age. In a study with middle-aged mice, those who had received regular CoQ10 showed reduced signs of aging and improved activity levels.

So where does ubiquinol fit into this picture? There are actually two forms of CoQ10, known as ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Most CoQ10 is ubiquinone, the oxidized form of the molecule, while ubiquinol is the reduced form. This means that ubiquinol is the form of CoQ10 that is ready to neutralize antioxidants. Even more important is that ubiquinol can be up to 3 times more absorbable than the standard ubiquinone form. This varies because our body seem to change how much it absorbs based on how much CoQ10 we need. For instance, people with congestive heart failure usually need more CoQ10. In a recent study among this patient group, taking an average of 450 mg of ubiquinone resulted in blood levels of CoQ10 around 1.6 micrograms per milliliter, but when they switched to an average of 580 mg of ubiquinol, their blood levels jumped to 6.5 micrograms per milliliter. Even more importantly, the switch to ubiquinol resulted in improvements in their symptoms. So even though ubiquinol is more expensive than the standard forms of CoQ10, you can get more for your money by buying this more absorbable form.