May 5th, 2015

“Super” Broccoli Lowers LDL Cholesterol

health benefits of broccoliIntroduction

Many of our modern vegetables were developed from wild plants during the Roman Empire and later-day Italians through traditional crossbreeding techniques. This process involves taking pollen from one plant and placing it on the flowers of another to produce a hybrid. The goal in many cases involved removing undesirable traits, such as extreme bitterness or small size, or accentuating positive traits. Crossbreeding is much different than genetic modification through the insertion of genetic material to produce an entirely new trait.

A new form of broccoli rich in beneficial compounds known as glucosinolates has shown impressive results in two clinical trials in humans in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. There are several ironies about this “super” broccoli with the first one being that the researchers created this natural hybrid by going back to the wild form in Southern Italy rich in glucosinolates.

Background Data:

The modern broccoli is one of the most nutrient dense foods. It is especially rich in vitamin C. A one-cup serving a broccoli provides about the same amount of protein as a cup of corn or rice, but less than one-third the amount of calories. Broccoli also contains the carotenoid, lutein. Broccoli is an excellent source of the vitamins K, C, and A, as well as folate and fiber. Broccoli is a very good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and the vitamins B6 and E.

Broccoli, like the other members of the cabbage family, broccoli is demonstrating remarkable anticancer effects, particularly in breast cancer. Compounds in broccoli known as glucosinolates (specifically indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane) increase the excretion of the form of estrogen (2-hydroxyestrone) linked to breast cancer.

Preliminary studies suggest that, in order to cut the risk of cancer in half, the average person would need to eat about two pounds of broccoli or similar vegetables per week. With the new form of broccoli this level of protection against cancer could be provided by eating 1/3 this amount.

This new “super” form of broccoli was developed at two world-leading research institutes in the UK, The Institute of Food Research and The John Innes Centre, to be approximately 3 times higher in glucosinolates (specifically glucoraphanin the precursor to indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane) that typical broccoli.

This broccoli, Beneforté, was developed through conventional breeding techniques, crossing a wild broccoli variety into commercial breeding lines to produce a broccoli variety that has all of the characteristics consumers, growers and retailers want in broccoli, but with the added benefit of the higher levels of glucoraphanin. Beneforté broccoli is now a commercially grown crop and is available in Europe.

New Data:

The studies involved 130 volunteers who were assigned to consume either 400 g of standard broccoli or 400 g of Beneforté broccoli per week for 12 weeks. In the first study consisting of 37 subjects, the Beneforté broccoli diet reduced plasma LDL cholesterol by 7.1 percent, whereas standard broccoli reduced LDL by only 1.8 percent. In the second study there with 93 subjects, the Beneforté broccoli diet resulted in a reduction of 5.1 percent, whereas standard broccoli reduced LDL by 2.5 percent.

Because of the small sample size, the results had to be combined to reach statistical significance. When both studies are combined, the Beneforté broccoli lowered LDL cholesterol by roughly 6% while the standard broccoli lowered it by 2%. This difference mirrors the three times greater concentration of glucoraphanin in the Beneforté broccoli.

Commentary:

Here is another irony of this story. Beneforté broccoli is produced by the seed giant Monsanto. What is the irony? Most people are aware that Monsanto is the leading developer of genetically modified foods and producer of pesticides, but here they are marketing the Beneforté broccoli with the claim that it “helps maintain your body’s defenses against the damage of environmental pollutants and free radicals.” Interesting?

As consumers, we are going to have to make choices that influence big companies. With Beneforté broccoli, I really don’t like the idea of supporting Monsanto, but I do like the idea of using natural breeding techniques to improve our food supply and the health benefits of foods. Will I buy Beneforté broccoli and similar foods produced by Monsanto when they eventually find their way to the US? And, will you?

Reference:

Armah CN, Derdemezis C, Traka MH, et al. Diet rich in high glucoraphanin broccoli reduces plasma LDL cholesterol: Evidence from randomised controlled trials. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015 Apr 7. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201400863. [Epub ahead of print]

Dr. Michael Murray
5/5/14

April 28th, 2015

Another Study Shows Chocolate Can Help You Lose Weight and Keep it Off!

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Introduction:

A new study published in the International Archives of Medicine adds to the growing data supporting the benefits of dark chocolate in promoting weight loss. Of all the foods available on planet Earth, perhaps the most magical (and interesting) is chocolate. This delectably seemingly addictive food is produced from the beans of the cacao tree whose official name Theobroma cacao reflects the long standing love for chocolate (theobroma being the Greek word for “food of the gods”).

Background:

A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that frequent chocolate consumption was associated with lower body mass index (BMI) – a ratio of height and weight that’s used to measure obesity. It is important to point out, however, that these benefits of chocolate were only apparent with moderate consumption and that consuming large quantities of chocolate would obviously be counterproductive to losing weight. The recommended “dose” of dark chocolate is approximately 30g to 60g/day (roughly 1 to 2 ounces of a bar with a >70% cocoa content).

Other key areas of research into the benefits of chocolate consumption are its effect on cardiovascular disease and brain health. A growing amount of recent research suggests that:

  • Chocolate can be a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants that are especially important in protecting against damage to cholesterol and the lining of the arteries.
  • Chocolate flavonoids prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots.
  • Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, the saturated fats found in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.
  • Frequent chocolate consumption is associated with a nearly 40% reduced risk for heart disease and a 30% reduced risk for a stroke.
  • Chocolate can provide significant amounts of arginine – an amino acid that is required in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood flow, inflammation, and blood pressure.
  • Chocolate may help improve cognitive function and memory as we age.

New Data:

In a new study from the Institute of Diet and Health in Germany, men and women between the ages of 19 and 67 were divided into three groups. One group was instructed to keep a low-carb diet and to consume a daily serving of 1.5 ounces of chocolate with 81-percent cocoa content (chocolate group). Another group was instructed to follow the same low-carb diet as the chocolate group, but without the chocolate intervention (low-carb group). In addition, a third group ate at their own discretion, with unrestricted choice of food.

At the beginning and end of the one month study, all participants gave a blood sample and their weight, BMI and waist-to-hip ratio were determined and noted. During the study, participants were encouraged to weigh themselves on a daily basis, assess the quality of their sleep as well as their mental state.

Results demonstrated that the subjects of the chocolate intervention group experienced the easiest and most successful weight loss. This effect began to be statistically significant at the 3-week mark as the weight loss was 10% greater in the chocolate group. Furthermore, in the last week of the study, the low-carb group started showing a rebound effect with weight gain. In contrast, the chocolate group experienced a steady decrease in body weight. This is confirmed by the evaluation of the ketone reduction. Initially, ketone reduction was much lower in the chocolate group than in the low-carb peer group, but after a few weeks, the situation changed.

Improvements in cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels were similar in the chocolate and low-carb group.

Utilizing a detailed questionnaire to assess physical and mental symptoms, the chocolate group experienced significantly higher improvements in well-being compared to the low-carb group. The chocolate group showed significantly less symptoms of fatigue and the sensation of heavy legs.

The researchers concluded consumption of chocolate with a high-cocoa content significantly accelerates weight loss and increases the success of weight-loss diets.

Commentary:

The most significant result from this study was the prevention of rebound weight gain. Considerable evidence indicates that it is very difficult for most people to sustain a low carbohydrate diet and as a result, weight loss. Having a moderate amount of chocolate, in this case 1.5 ounces of a bar containing 81% cocoa, may give people the reward they need to stay on the weight loss course.

In addition to regularly eating 1 to 2 ounces of dark chocolate a day, there are several other ways that I get my chocolate fix. For example, almost every day I have a brew that I create with organic raw unsweetened cacao powder. I put two to three tablespoons of the cacao powder, one tablespoon of xylitol (sweetener), and two packets of stevia in a big mug and then put it under my K cup coffee maker spout and fill it up with decaffeinated coffee. I like it a lot. So much so that it has become part of my daily ritual. Is it helping me improve my health? Absolutely!

Reference:

Bohannon J, Koch D, Homm P, Driehaus A. Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator. International Archives of Medicine 2015;8(55). doi: 10.3823/1654

Dr. Michael Murray
4/28/15

April 21st, 2015

What is the Proper Dosage of Jogging?

Proper Jogging TimeIntroduction:

There is no question that a sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and an early death. But a new study provides data to make it easy to conclude, that people who go to the opposite end of the spectrum and run too much suffer the same consequence. As usual, there is more to the story before “running” to a conclusion.

Background Data:

Regular exercise protects against the development of CVD and also favorably modifies other CVD risk factors including high blood pressure, blood lipid levels, insulin resistance, and obesity. Exercise is also important in the treatment and management of patients with CVD or increased risk including those who have hypertension, stable angina, a prior heart attack, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure or are recovering from a cardiovascular event.

Despite the benefits of exercise, throughout history there have been reports of people dying from running too much or too far. The most famous case is that of Pheidippides, a running courier who in 490 B.C. is believed to have run from Marathon to Athens, Greece, a distance of approximately 25 miles, to bring news of the Athenian victory over the Persians. Upon reaching the Athenian Agora, he exclaimed “Nike!” (“victory”), and then collapsed and died.

One of the most famous studies on the effect of exercise and jogging on heart health is the Copenhagen City Heart Study. One analysis of this study was performed in a random sample of 1,878 joggers who were followed for up to 35 years and compared with 16,827 non-joggers showed that the increase in survival among joggers was 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. This particular analysis also indicated that jogging up to 2.5 hour per week at a slow or average pace and a frequency of ≤3 times per week was associated with the lowest mortality. Those who jogged >4 hours per week, at a fast pace, and >3 times per week appeared to lose many of the longevity benefits noted with less strenuous doses of jogging. These findings were not entirely unexpected by the researchers as some other studies had shown that excessive exercise was just as bad for the heart as too little.

New Data:

In an effort to better evaluate the ideal dosage of jogging to improve longevity, researchers looked at a different set of data from the Copenhagen City Heart Study that used 1,098 healthy joggers and 3,950 healthy non-joggers being followed up since 2001. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between jogging and long-term, all-cause mortality by focusing specifically on the effects of pace, quantity, and frequency of jogging.

The joggers were divided into light, moderate, and strenuous joggers. Light joggers had a slow or average pace, approximately 5 miles per hour, <2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of ≤3 times per week. Moderate joggers had a slow or average pace, ≥2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of ≤3 times per week or fast pace, ≤4 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of ≤3 times per week or slow or average pace with a frequency of >3 times per week or fast pace, <2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of >3 times per week. Strenuous joggers had a fast pace of more than 7 miles per hour and either >4 hours of jogging per week or ≥2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of >3 times per week.

Compared with sedentary non-joggers, 1 to 2.4 hours of jogging per week was associated with the lowest mortality (71% reduction in risk). The optimal frequency of jogging was 2 to 3 times per week (68% reduction in risk) or less than 1 time per week (71% reduction in risk). The optimal pace was slow (49% reduction in risk) or average (62% reduction in risk).

The highest reduction in risk for mortality was found in light joggers (78%) followed by moderate joggers (34%). The strenuous joggers actually showed a mortality rate that was not statistically different from that of the sedentary group.

Commentary:

As someone that is extremely active and believes in the value of regular exercise, this study on the surface seems to go against that practice. However, as usual in these types of studies, there is more to the story. What do we really know about the value of exercise in the promotion of health? Quite a lot actually and there is significant value with regular exercise, but excessive exercise may be quite harmful as this study suggest.

First, higher intensity and dosages of exercise is associated with many health benefits including improved cardiovascular and respiratory function, reduced body fat percentage and in particular reduced abdominal adiposity (belly fat), improved blood sugar control, and better cholesterol levels. Exercise intensity may also improve mood, sleep, and self-esteem in a dose-dependent manner. So, this study does not represent the end-all in terms of evaluating the effects of exercise on longevity.

Other studies that have looked at exercise have also reported this U-shaped curve showing that too much exercise had the same risk of early mortality as too little exercise. In terms of running, it was suggested that the limit of health benefits started to erode when people started running more than 35 miles per week or walking more than 46 miles per week.

Before commenting on the findings of this study, I have to admit that I am not a runner. I do, however, put in considerable amount of time on elliptical and stair climbing machines and push my heart rate at about 70-80% for 45 minutes or up to an hour at least three times per week. I do get on the treadmill occasionally and will run 1 or 2 miles at what would be considered an average to fast speed (6-7 mph). So, in the context of the researched reviewed above, am I am working out too hard? Absolutely, but I am not worried about it at all for several reasons. In fact, I am convinced I am doing really good things for my heart and body by pushing my exercise frequency, duration, and intensity.

Let me explain. It is thought that the detrimental effects of excessive exercise are due to the fact that exercise promotes inflammation and oxidative damage. Yep, the very things linked to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). However, a little dosage of exercise stimulates the body to produce anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substance. That is a great thing, but at an excessive dosage exercise may lead to damage to the heart and blood vessels in a way that accelerates heart disease and hardening of the arteries. I am not worried about my reaching the level to be considered excessive exercise because of all of the things I do with my lifestyle, diet, and dietary supplements that fight against atherosclerosis. In essence, I flood my body with protective factors such as getting plenty of sleep; promotion of the relaxation response through meditation and prayer; eating heart health promoting foods like richly colored fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, cacao polyphenols, and beneficial oils like olive; and I take a big dosage of protective dietary supplements such as fish oils, Theracurmin, numerous flavonoid-rich extracts, and many others.

For more information on how to protect your heart and vascular system, please down my free book on Cholesterol and Heart Health. You may also what to view my webinar on An Honest Appraisal of Statins and Their Alternatives

Reference:

Schnohr P, O’Keefe JH, Marott JL, Lange P, Jensen GB. Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Feb 10;65(5):411-9.

Dr. Michael Murray
4/21/15