January 29th, 2015

Save Your Joints

Hyaluronic acid may hold the key to reversing arthritis

Osteoarthritis-vs.-Rheumatoid-Arthritis

Several years ago, ABC News’ Connie Chung reported on a Japanese village called Yuzuri Hara that has a reputation for extraordinary longevity. Not only do many inhabitants of the village live well into their 90s, but they also appear much younger due to their wrinkle-free skin, and they rarely suffer from common conditions associated with aging.

Local doctors attributed the villagers’ health and youthfulness to their diet. Unlike other regions of Japan that grow rice, Yuzuri Hara’s hilly terrain is better suited to harvesting various root vegetables now known to be rich in hyaluronic acid (HA). This compound plays a huge role in human health, and by upping their intake of HA, these villagers experienced first-hand the positive effects.

What Is HA and What Can It Do?

Hyaluronic acid is a sticky, mucopolysaccharide that our bodies naturally manufacture. It is a component of the ground substance or “intracellular cement” that holds our tissues together. It also provides structural support to our skin, joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Although HA can be found naturally in most every cell in the body, it is particularly concentrated in the skin tissue. In fact, almost 50 percent of the body’s HA is found in skin, both in the visible top layers and the deeper levels. As we age, our natural levels of HA decline—typically 80 percent between the ages of 40 and 70. HA loss in the skin leads to wrinkles, decreased elasticity, and dryness. Fortunately, supplementing with HA (45—200 mg daily) has been shown to increase HA levels and help counteract these effects by supporting the body’s manufacture of collagen.

HA Improves Joint Health

The loss of HA within joints appears to be a major contributor to osteoarthritis (OA), which is characterized by the degeneration of cartilage. Along with glucosamine sulfate and collagen,
HA is a critical component of healthy cartilage. The drop in the body’s HA content around/after age 40 may be the leading cause of cartilage degeneration in many people.

Injecting HA into joints of people with OA (a treatment known as viscosupplementation) has been shown to have beneficial effects on pain, joint function, and other symptoms. But injections may not be necessary—taking HA supplements may also be a viable method of increasing your body’s HA stores and improving OA symptoms.

Three double-blind, placebo-controlled studies provide evidence for using HA supplements. In the first study, 20 OA patients were given either an HA supplement (80 mg) or a placebo daily for eight weeks. Pain scores significantly improved in the HA group compared to the placebo group. In the second study, 60 patients with OA were randomized to receive either 200 mg of HA, 100 mg of HA, or a placebo daily for eight weeks. Subjects who had the most severe pain saw significant reductions in their pain and total symptom scores with 200 mg of HA, but not 100 mg of the supplement.

In the latest study, conducted at JR Tokyo General Hospital, OA sufferers between the ages of 40 and 70 who consumed 200 mg per day of Hyabest (a highly purified form of hyaluronic acid) showed improvements in symptoms over a 12-month period.

Fighting Back

Research has shown that the body is constantly attempting to repair itself and this repair is entirely possible if the necessary building blocks are available. If you have OA, focus on therapies and supplements that help decrease the rate of damage and enhance cartilage matrix repair and regeneration. In this goal, natural agents such as HA can be extremely valuable.

January 28th, 2015

Get a Grip on Anxiety

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If you think prescription medications are the only option for anxiety and panic attacks, you’ll be happy to know about these very effective natural solutions

If you’ve never experienced anxiety or panic attacks, it’s hard to imagine just how uncomfortable they can be. More than 20 million Americans suffer from anxiety—medically defined as ”an unpleasant emotional state ranging from mild unease to intense fear.” While fear is a rational response to danger, anxiety usually lacks a clear or realistic cause. Severe anxiety will often produce panic attacks—intense feelings of fear. These attacks are most often associated with agoraphobia, an intense fear of being alone or being in public places.

The Cause Most Doctors Ignore

Both psychological stress and biochemical factors—such as caffeine and drug use—can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. Elevated levels of lactic acid in the blood is also one of the most significant biochemical factors. When the body lacks oxygen, lactate is the final product in the breakdown of blood sugar. In fact, injecting anxiety sufferers with lactate can produce severe panic attacks. In normal individuals, however, nothing happens. So it appears that individuals with anxiety may be sensitive to lactate. It stands to reason, then, that reducing lactate levels should be a priority, yet most physicians ignore this goal.

Reducing Lactate Levels

There are six nutritional factors that may be responsible for elevated lactate levels in individuals with anxiety:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Caffeine
  3. Sugar
  4. Deficiency of the B vitamins niacin, vitamin B6, and thiamin (B1)
  5. Deficiency of calcium and/or magnesium
  6. Food allergies

Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and food allergens goes a long way toward relieving symptoms in people with anxiety. In fact, just eliminating coffee can, in some cases, relieve symptoms completely. In one study of four men and two women with generalized anxiety who drank 1.5—3.5 cups of coffee per day, avoiding caffeine for one week brought about significant symptom relief. The degree of improvement was so noticeable that all patients volunteered to continue abstaining from caffeine after the study.

Magnesium: The Calming Mineral

Magnesium is essential in more than 300 biochemical reactions of the human body, and a deficiency has been reported to lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, fear, insomnia, confusion, and memory loss.

In one double-blind study, 264 people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder were given either a placebo or 300 mg of magnesium. The magnesium group had a statistically significant reduction in symptoms. For best results, use a highly absorbable form of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate.

Omega-3 Fats

Anxiety also appears to be linked to low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies using omega-3-rich fish oils to treat anxiety have shown impressive results. In one trial, fish oil was shown to decrease anger and anxiety in substance abusers. In another, 2.5 grams daily of omega-3 fats produced a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Flaxseed oil, a vegetarian source of omega-3 fats, has also been shown to help ease anxiety. In one study, three out of four patients with a history of agoraphobia improved within two to three months of taking flaxseed (2—6 Tbs. daily, in divided doses).

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

GABA is a neurotransmitter found throughout the central nervous system. Low levels or decreased GABA function in the brain is associated with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and epilepsy. In fact, many popular anti-anxiety drugs interact primarily with GABA receptors.

Significant antistress effects have been shown in clinical studies with PharmaGABA, a proprietary form of GABA. Patients given PharmaGABA reported feeling relaxed and experienced changes in brain wave patterns consistent with a state of relaxation. The typical dosage used in studies is 100—200 mg up to three times daily.

Ashwagandha

In clinical trials, Sensoril, a proprietary extract of the herb ashwagandha, has been shown to produce considerable anti-stress effects. In one double-blind human study, chronically stressed subjects taking Sensoril had significant reductions in anxiety along with positive changes in blood chemistry, adrenal hormone levels, energy levels, and feelings of wellness. A typical dosage is 125—250 mg daily.

January 27th, 2015

Blueberry Consumption Lowers Blood Pressure in Clinical Trial

blueberriesIntroduction:

Blueberries are among the most important foods for good health. The diverse and wondrous health benefits of blueberries are primarily due to their high content of specialized pigments known as anthocyanins. These special flavonoids are responsible for the deep blue or purple color of blueberries.

Besides lending color to fruits and flowers, flavonoids are responsible for many of the health benefits of foods, juices, and herbs. More than 8,000 flavonoid compounds have been characterized and classified according to their chemical structure. Flavonoids are sometimes called “nature’s biological response modifiers” because of their anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antiviral, and anticancer properties.

It is a well-established fact that a higher intake of flavonoids offers significant health benefits. Now, a new study has shown that regular blueberry consumption can produce clinical effects in reducing high blood pressure.

Background Data:

The consumption of flavonoid sources such as berries, apples, green tea, dark chocolate, and red wine have all been shown in population studies to be associated with a significantly reduced risk for heart attacks and strokes. For example, data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) II of 93,600 women showed that a combined intake of >3 servings a week of blueberries and strawberries was associated with a 34% decreased risk of having a heart attack compared to those consuming the berries once a month or less.

The major benefits of flavonoid consumption in protecting against cardiovascular disease (CVD) is largely due to their effects on improving the function of the cells that line the blood vessels (endothelial cells). The endothelial cells play a pivotal role in the regulation of vascular tone and structure as well as vascular inflammation and clot formation. The lesions of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) first begin to develop with damage to endothelial cells. Flavonoids, particularly the types found in berries, have been shown to protect and improve endothelial cell function.

New Data:

In a study conducted at Florida State University, 48 postmenopausal women with mild hypertension were enrolled to evaluate the effects of daily blueberry consumption for 8 weeks. The women were randomly assigned to receive either 22 g freeze-dried blueberry powder or 22 g control powder daily. Approximately 22 g freeze-dried blueberry powder is equal to 1 cup fresh blueberries, an attainable dosage for people to consume on a daily basis

In addition to blood pressure measurements, arterial stiffness and blood measurements of C-reactive protein, nitric oxide, and superoxide dismutase were measured at baseline, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks.

After 8 weeks, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure (131 mm Hg and 75 mm Hg, respectively) were significantly lower than baseline levels (138 mm Hg, 80 mm Hg), whereas there were no changes in the group receiving the control powder. Blueberry consumption was also associated with improved arterial stiffness.

The biggest change, however, was in nitric oxide levels. Results showed that the nitric oxide level was greater (15.35μmol/L) in the blueberry powder group at 8 weeks compared with baseline values (9.11μmol/L), whereas there were no changes in the control group.

Nitric oxide plays a central role in determining the tone of blood vessels. Specifically, it exerts a relaxing effect on blood vessels thereby improving blood flow. It also improves blood fluidity and reduces blood clot formation.

These results show quite clearly that daily blueberry consumption may reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness, which may be due, in part, to increased nitric oxide production.

Commentary:

This study shows quite clearly the importance of dietary flavonoids in improving cardiovascular health. But, different flavonoids and other plant pigments provide different health benefits. One of my key dietary recommendations is for people to consume a “rainbow” diet; they need to focus on colorful fruits and vegetables. Regularly consuming colorful fruit and vegetables—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple— provides the body the full spectrum of pigments with powerful antioxidant effects as well as the nutrients it needs for optimal function and protection against disease.

In addition to eating a rainbow diet, I also recommend taking some sort of flavonoid-rich extract such as blueberry, green tea, Ginkgo biloba, cherry, pine bark, or grape seed on a daily basis. And, of course, 1-2 ounce serving of dark chocolate per day or some other source of cocoa flavanols is also something else I endorse.

Reference:

Johnson SA, Figueroa A, Navaei N, et al. Daily Blueberry Consumption Improves Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness in Postmenopausal Women with Pre- and Stage 1-Hypertension: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Jan 2. pii: S2212-2672(14)01633-5.

Dr. Michael Murray
1/27/15