I frequently recommend foods high in potassium to my patients with high blood pressure. A recent study has me thinking I need to recommend these foods to more patients. This new study revealed that postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium reduced their chance of stroke by 12% compared to those who ate the least. Women who didn’t have high blood pressure noticed an even better outcome from eating more potassium with a 27% reduction in strokes. Potassium is thought to improve the functioning of small blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body, partially by improving nitric oxide formation which can help open up blood vessels.
In truth, I recommend high potassium diets to most of my patients by encouraging them to eat a lot of vegetables. I believe that one of the reasons we need to get our 5-7 servings of veggies and fruit every day is to make sure we get adequate potassium. The average adult needs about 4700 mg of potassium a day. Many of the best potassium-rich foods are vegetables. For instance, a cup of cooked Swiss chard offers around 900 mg of potassium. Other high potassium foods include spinach, bok choy, beets, nuts, and dried beans. For a great list of potassium-rich foods, I like the chart available from World’s Healthiest Foods. My husband and I additionally take an electrolyte mixture that includes potassium when we work on the farm during these hot summers. Another good choice might be coconut water to help replace some of the potassium lost through sweating.
By emphasizing potassium intake, we get all of the benefits offered by this crucial mineral. Potassium is essential for nerve function throughout the body and especially in the heart. Getting adequate potassium can help preserve bone density and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Potassium deficiency might contribute to premenstrual issues and possibly the development of diabetes. As I mentioned above, eating high potassium foods can be one of the steps to help people reach a healthy blood pressure goal. And when we eat high potassium foods, we also get the full range of powerhouse nutrients that these foods provide. It is likely that these additional minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from fruits and veggies contribute to some of the cardiovascular protection seen in these studies.
So figure out what high potassium foods you love to eat, and if you want some tips on getting more vegetables in your family’s life, check out my blog on getting kids to eat veggies.
Posted in Health
Tagged blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, food, heart health, high blood pressure, high potassium foods, minerals, nutrition, Potassium deficiency, stroke, stroke risk, women's health
I recently cut fruit juice out of my husband’s diet. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it anymore for him because of a recent study that correlated the consumption of 3 servings of fruit juice per week with a 10% increased risk of diabetes. Even before reading this study, I hadn’t been a fan of juice because it contains the sugar of the fruit without the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar. On the flip side, consuming 3 servings of fruit per week can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 3%. Certain fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples had an increased protective effect, due to antioxidant compounds located in the skin of these fruits.
So why are antioxidants helpful at preventing diabetes? Excessive consumption of carbohydrates and calories in general causes an overabundance of energy on a cellular level. Unless we are active enough to be burning this excess energy, it actually contributes to the production of free radicals that damage our cells. To protect themselves from this excess energy and subsequent damage, our cells reduce the number of insulin receptors on their surfaces. The result of this is insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition where the body makes extra insulin to try to get cells to remove excessive sugar from the blood stream, but the cells ignore this message. This protective measure of the cells saves the cells from damage and possible destruction, but long term, insulin resistance can contribute to the development of not just diabetes, but also high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.
The solution is not to force the cells to take up the excess sugar from the blood stream, but to reduce the consumption of excess sugar, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Viewing insulin resistance as a defensive mechanism of cells helps us see why these dietary changes are so vital to preventing diabetes. Additionally, exercise increases the energy needs of cells and allows them to metabolize sugar without excessive damage from free radicals.
Finally, looking at insulin resistance in this way helps us understand why a number of antioxidants have been found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. For instance, alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight insulin resistance as well as having the potential to help diabetic neuropathy. Intake of minerals like zinc, copper, and manganese are commonly helpful to diabetics and prediabetics because they help the body make superoxide dismutase enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make and stick to healthier dietary choices, especially at this time of the year when there are so many sugary temptations.
Posted in Health
Tagged antioxidant, blood sugar, cardiovascular disease, detoxification, diabetes, food, free radicals, health, heart health, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, nutrition, oxidative stress, reactive oxygen species
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 blanched 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.
Posted in Health, Herbs
Tagged antioxidant, blood pressure, camellia sinensis, cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, cholesterol lowering, detoxification, health, heart health, high blood pressure, inflammation, insulin resistance, lowering cholesterol, nutrition, weight loss
Dr. Oz has really been promoting weight loss supplements on his show recently. His motivation seems to be a good one: if Americans shed some pounds it may have a big impact on our health as a nation since obesity can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, gallstones, and arthritis. Occasionally, it seems like Dr. Oz is exaggerating the usefulness of certain supplement, but two of his weight loss suggestions do seem worth taking a look at.
Green coffee bean extract is starting to gain a lot of anecdotal support for assisting weight loss, and has one small favorable study. The active component in green coffee is called chlorogenic acid, and while it is highest in green coffee beans, it is also found in other foods including apples, blueberries, and prunes. It is present in roasted coffee, but another compound produced when coffee is roasted partially inhibit the activity of chlorogenic acid. The initial small study done on green coffee bean extract showed that participants lost between 13 to 20 pounds over 12 weeks. Another study demonstrated that green coffee bean extract slightly lowered blood pressure, whereas coffee tends to temporarily increase blood pressure because of its higher caffeine content.
Another popular weight loss supplement is African mango. In a study were participants took African mango or placebo 30 minutes before lunch and dinner, those on African mango reduced their calorie intake by 12% compared to those getting the placebo. This correlated to a 6% loss in body fat, while the placebo group only saw a 2% loss in body fat. African Mango is thought to mostly work as an appetite reducer by being a fiber source, but emerging evidence might indicate other fat burning mechanisms. Because of its fiber content, African mango is also gaining support for improving cholesterol and blood sugar. For both African mango and green coffee bean extract, larger follow-up studies are needed to confirm the initial finding, but in the meantime, these seem like safe options to try along with a weight loss program that includes improved diet and increased exercise.
In our fast-paced culture, we often want fast acting health solutions, but these often don’t increase our vibrancy in the long haul. On the other hand, tonic herbs work slowly by nourishing particular organs and improving their function over time. When it comes to the heart, hawthorn places such a role. It has many different actions on the heart, and while none of them are particularly strong, these actions support each other in a synergist manner to improve the functioning of the heart with long-term use. First, it nourishes the heart. By improving the flow of blood through the coronary arteries that feed the heart, hawthorn improves the delivery of nutrient to the cardiac cells. Hawthorn also contains proanthocyanidins, red-pigmented compounds that help maintain a healthy heart and arteries, by enhancing the connective tissue structure of their linings. As a calming herb, hawthorn also nourishes the heart on an emotional level. Hawthorn is especially chosen for heart issues that are connected to heartbreak in any way.
In addition to these nourishing qualities, hawthorn gently acts to help prevent some of the most worrisome heart conditions. Hawthorn mildly reduces blood pressure, partially by increasing the dilation of blood vessels. Hawthorn also slightly reduces cholesterol and may help prevent atherosclerosis. It can also be useful for people with poor circulation and low blood pressure. This is because hawthorn can slightly improve the strength of the heart’s contractions. Multiple clinical trials have even shown that hawthorn can help ease some of the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Finally, hawthorn supports the normal rhythm of the heart. Since it does all of the actions in a gentle way, hawthorn alone is often not sufficient for serious heart issues, but because of its multiple, mutually supporting actions and nourishing qualities, hawthorn can be an important contributor to cardiovascular wellness.
My husband just harvested the garlic I planted last fall. We go through a lot of garlic in our house so these approximately 250 bulbs will last the two of us most of the year including what we will plant for next year’s crop. I was surprised to realize I hadn’t yet blogged about garlic since it is one of my most commonly used herbs and not just in the kitchen. My reliance on garlic began when I was first in college. I would get bronchitis after nearly any cold. When I started taking garlic during colds and for short while after them, I no longer had the lingering bronchitis. Garlic can also be used to prevent colds and other upper respiratory infections. A study from England showed that garlic taken daily for 12 weeks reduced the risk of colds by 2/3 compared to placebo.
While I was mostly taking advantage of garlic’s antimicrobial benefits, garlic is also one of the best cardiovascular tonics. Garlic can help improve cholesterol, and as an antioxidant, it helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. When cholesterol becomes oxidized, it is more harmful to our arteries. Garlic also can help to slowly reduce the amount of plaque in the arteries according to one 4-year placebo controlled study. Finally, garlic is a mild blood pressure reducer, partially by increasing the dilation of blood vessels.
There are a few choices in how to use garlic. Cooked garlic seems to retain many of the heart protecting qualities, but I add it to my food towards the last 5-10 minutes of cooking as opposed to the beginning like in most recipes. For the antimicrobial properties, raw garlic or supplements need to be used. Raw garlic can be upsetting to the stomach so I always take it on a full stomach. I mix minced garlic with honey and swallow it without chewing. Another option recommended by one of my instructors is microwaving 3 cloves of garlic with their skin on for 30 seconds. There is the issue of breath and body odor, so on days I am going to be around others, I tend to take the odor controlled garlic supplements instead.
Here is a picture of my cat Persimmon enjoying our garlic harvest.
Spring isn’t quite here, but it is starting to feel like it. As much as I love spring, these shifting temperatures can be stressful on the immune system. That is why early spring tends to be a prime season for cold and flu. I have personally added the herb Astragalus to my daily regimen to help strengthen my immune system since I am around sick people often. Astragalus is categorized as an immune modulating herb, meaning that it helps rev up or calm down the immune system based on what the body needs. I prefer this type of “wise” herb to the ones that just stimulate the immune system like some species of Echinacea. Also unlike Echinacea, astragalus can be used long term. Astragalus also has some antiviral properties, and research shows that it may help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections.
In addition to its immune benefits, astragalus has other powerful benefits that make it worthy of our consideration. Astragalus is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body compensate for long-term stress. Stress can have a negative impact on our bodies, particularly our adrenal glands that help regulate our metabolism among other things. Our adrenal glands release cortisol in response to stress. Disrupted cortisol production can be associated with fatigue, insomnia, and even high blood sugar and blood pressure. By balancing adrenal output, astragalus may help with these issues. Adaptogens may also help increase stamina during exercise. Another advantage of astragalus is it is high in antioxidants and helps to protect the liver. Because of this range of very useful benefits, astragalus is definitely an herb to get to know better.