Tag Archives: cognitive support

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.

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Prevent Parkinson’s Disease with Peppers

It is sad to see someone who used to be full of vitality now walking with slow shuffling steps or dealing with the uncontrollable tremors of Parkinson’s disease. While there are natural treatments that can slow and/or improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, we are much better off focusing on prevention. A few new studies are pointing to some easy steps to help reduce your chance of getting this illness. It has long been observed that people who use tobacco have lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, but who wants to adopt all of the other health concerns that come with smoking. Fortunately, a small amount of nicotine is found in the nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, hot peppers, and bell peppers and are in the same plant family as tobacco. It has been399270_3114 shown that the neuroprotective effects of nicotine occur with very low doses and these vegetables seem to have enough to provide that protection. A recent study demonstrated that people who regularly consumed these vegetables, particularly peppers, reduced their risk of Parkinson’s disease by 19%. The effect was the greatest in people who had never smoked with a risk reduction of 31%. Of course, a diet high in diverse amounts of veggies and fruits is generally recommended for the prevention of many diseases, but don’t forget the humble bell pepper.

A review of other studies on Parkinson’s disease prevention gives us still more reason to make sure we are getting the optimal level of nutrients and working to reduce our exposure to toxins. Optimal vitamin D levels have been linked to the prevention of many diseases including breast cancer as I discussed in last week’s blog. Again in the case of Parkinson’s, there is an inverse relationship between vitamin D levels and the risk of this illness. Also, a small study confirmed that vitamin D supplementation helped slow the deterioration of symptoms in Parkinson’s patients with specific genetic markers. It is also important to consider antioxidant intake. Some studies have shown that patients with Parkinson’s disease have reduced antioxidant capacity as demonstrated by lower vitamin E and glutathione peroxidase levels. Glutathione peroxidase is one of the most important detoxification enzymes in the body, which uses glutathione to neutralize toxins. This study also revealed that the severity of the Parkinson’s disease correlated to the degree of oxidative stress. This supports many observational studies showing higher rates of Parkinson’s disease among people exposed to different chemicals in paper mills, orchards, and even from well water. Toxins are not the only contributing factor to Parkinson’s disease, but it appears that we can help prevent this and many other diseases by reducing our exposure to toxins and increasing our antioxidants.

Pomegranate to Protect the Prostate

This blog was inspired by a recent talk I presented on nutrition for a local prostate cancer support group. As well as talking about other dietary basics, I brought a jar of pure pomegranate juice for them to try, being inspired by some recent research on pomegranates for prostate cancer prevention. Compounds in pomegranate have been shown to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer in animal studies, even hormone-dependent cancer cells. Pomegranate extracts also reduced the ability of tumors to grow new blood vessels, a process that is essential to tumor’s ability to increase their food supply). In a separate study, men with recurrent prostate cancer who drank pomegranate juice had a much slower rise in prostate specific antigen (PSA), a marker of prostate cancer progression.

pomegranateIn addition to protecting the prostate, pomegranate can be a good ally in preventing heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dental plaque. Best studied is pomegranate’s role in helping slow the development of atherosclerosis, the deposition of cholesterol plaques in the arteries. The consumption of pomegranate products reduces the oxidation of cholesterol, which may be one of the most important steps in the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. In fact, patients given pomegranate juice for 3 months demonstrated improved blood flow within the heart during a stress test compared to those given a placebo beverage. Pomegranate also protects the brain. Mice that were bred to have early onset Alzheimer’s disease performed better on maze tests and had decreased amyloid beta plaques in their brain when they were given pomegranate. Finally, oral use of pomegranate extract significantly decreased bacteria that contribute to dental plaque.

If you would like to read some of the other dietary advice I shared with the prostate cancer support group, you can access my handout here.

Fight Stress with Magnolia and Relora

Because of the serious impact stress can have on our health, stress-reducing herbs are becoming nearly as important as a multivitamin. An example that might be right for some people is Magnolia, a relaxing herb that has been shown in studies to be effective at reducing nervousness and anxiety in 78% of participants. Magnolia was also shown to improve sleep and without side effects like withdrawal symptoms or sleepiness the next day. In fact, magnolia can help enhance cognitive function and memory, partially by helping protect the brain from inflammation and oxidative damage. Magnolia contains powerful antioxidant compounds that are being studied for possibly enhancing other anti-cancer treatments. Magnolia is also a mild anti-nauseous herb. Traditionally, magnolia has been used for low energy and emotionally related digestive problems.

Even more interesting is the research done on the combination of Magnolia and Phellodendron, sold under the name Relora. In addition to reducing anxiety and perceived stress, Relora was also shown to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol can become increased in some people when they are exposed to chronic stress. Elevated cortisol levels contribute to many serious health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, low immune function, and weight gain. Though lower cortisol may not be enough to lead to weight loss by itself, higher levels of cortisol can make weight loss harder to achieve. Also, there is some evidence that lowering cortisol might reduce stress related eating. So for the appropriate person, Relora could be a boon for both weight loss and overall health.

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Chocolate for Heart Health

Since high blood pressure is such a significant and pervasive health issue in this country, I pay attention to the new research on it. I always stick with the basics of a healthy diet, such as one high in veggies and fruits. Many people with high blood pressure need the minerals like potassium that can be found in veggies, but new research shows us that there are other compounds in the plant world that can be helpful. One example is flavonols, antioxidants found in grapes, apples, red wine, tea and cocoa. I am going to focus on this last one because there has been a surge in research on the heart benefits of cocoa and chocolate.

A recent analysis of many different studies showed that dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure by a few points. This isn’t a huge reduction but could be added to other interventions to reach a healthy goal. More importantly, another multi-study analysis showed that people who ate 2 servings of chocolate per week had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 29% lower stroke risk. These benefits are partially attributed to the cocoa flavanols antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These cocoa compounds are also thought to help prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation in the arteries and improve insulin sensitivity to support better blood sugar control. Of particular interest was another recent study showing improved cognitive functioning among elderly adults who consumed higher amounts of cocoa. The study’s authors noted that the effects in cognition were most closely linked to the improvements in insulin sensitivity.

One of the big worries about chocolate is that it often comes in high fat and high sugar forms. Too much chocolate consumption could contribute to weight gain, which can increase blood pressure and other health problems. For chocolate, find a bar that has a low sugar content and high cocoa content. Cocoa nibs are another option since they are unsweetened. Maybe limit chocolate consumption to twice a week like in the heart health study, since that seemed to be sufficient. On the non-chocolate days, consider having other blood pressure reducing foods like green, black, and hibiscus teas.

Nootropic Herbs for Your Brain

It seems like I spent the majority of my life being a student. Even though I am no longer a student, my learning process is still continuing. This habit is one I recommend to my patients that wish to keep their brains sharp. Often people consider puzzles and games to helpful, but I believe the best way to keep the brain nimble is to learn a new thing, even if it is just a different route home or a new type of puzzle. I also practice memory exercises where I try to commit things the memory that I don’t have to. An example of this could be learning a friend’s phone number even though it is already in your cell phone. I have also used herbs to help my brain and memory. There is a category of drugs and supplements known as nootropics that are used to enhance cognitive function and memory. When I was reviewing a list of the herbs that have this action, I noticed that many of them are in the mint family: lemon balm, lavender, sage, and rosemary.  Other herbs in this category include bacopa, gotu kola, ginkgo, magnolia, and ginseng.

Many of these herbs are very well known like rosemary, but we might not think of them having any benefit beyond making our food more flavorful. Others like ginkgo are well known for their memory benefit. What many don’t know about ginkgo is that it benefits our circulation and can be used as part of a program to support the cardiovascular system. In fact, it may be that it helps memory by increasing blood flow to the brain. A study on both young and old rats showed that a combination of ginkgo and ginseng helped both groups with the retention of learned behavior. So maybe it will help us in our rat race. Rosemary shares many of the characteristics of ginkgo including its circulatory and memory benefits. In addition, rosemary has been shown to have antimicrobial properties and may be helpful for topical and respiratory infections. Lemon balm is also gaining attention for it ability to enhance memory as shown in a recent study with young adults. Lemon balm is also a nerve tonic that is uplifting and calming. It has a pleasant flavor that makes it a good choice in teas, so kick back with a cup of tea and a new book to help stimulate your brain.