January 27th, 2015

Blueberry Consumption Lowers Blood Pressure in Clinical Trial

Introduction:

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 cocao 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.

January 27th, 2015

Blood Sugar Blues?

Too many type 2 diabetics are taking drugs when simple diet and lifestyle changes may be just as effective

The statistics on the growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes are staggering—it is now estimated that one-half of all American adults will develop the disease by 2020. Currently, one out of every five United States federal health care dollars is spent treating people with diabetes. The average yearly health care costs for a person without diabetes is $2,560; for a person with diabetes, that figure soars to $11,744. Much of that increase is related to the costs of drugs.

Conflict of Interest?

Recently, the journal Diabetes Care published the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Standards of Medical Care for type 2 diabetes, which are quite disturbing for their over-reliance on the pharmaceutical management of diabetes while all-but-ignoring nutritional support. The problem is that pharmaceutical interventions don’t impact the progression of type 2 diabetes, and in many cases, they can accelerate the disease process. Yet this approach is the only one offered by conventional medicine, perhaps for dubious reasons.

In an article published in the September/October 2012 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers from Michigan State University recommended that doctors with financial conflicts be excluded from developing medical guidelines for diabetics, regardless of disclosure. They also suggested that physicians should be discouraged from meeting with drug company representatives. After analyzing how physicians treated patients with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in 44 primary care centers, the authors described “a common scenario: patients began medications after having moderately elevated test results (often at levels considered normal just a few years ago), developed additional symptoms, were found to have values falling outside reference ranges on other tests, and were prescribed more drugs. They were expected to continue these medications permanently: their target laboratory levels could be achieved only through continued use of these drugs.”

The consultations the researchers observed “focused heavily on” medications with little or no discussion of other treatment paths, including diet and exercise. The authors also noted that clinicians are exposed to heavy marketing efforts by pharmaceutical companies, and that this may be contributing to the emphasis on prescriptions. Of the 53 clinicians willing to discuss pharmaceutical marketing, 38 (72 percent) reported having regular contacts with pharmaceutical representatives.

The patient interviews were also enlightening, as almost 70 percent said they had experienced significant symptoms of adverse drug reactions from diabetes or hypertension medications, a much higher percentage than is expressed by the drug companies.

The Real Type 2 Diabetes Cure

The key issue being ignored by the ADA is that diabetes drugs are only biochemical Band-Aids. One fundamental truth is rarely explained to the patient: type 2 diabetes, in almost every case, is caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices. Findings from the U.S. government’s Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey clearly support this statement: of individuals with type 2 diabetes, 69 percent did not exercise at all or did not engage in regular exercise; 62 percent ate fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day; and 82 percent were either overweight or obese.

Among patients with pre-diabetes, a minimum of 150 minutes per week of physical activity was associated with a 58 percent–reduced risk of developing diabetes. In the same study (known as The Diabetes Prevention Program), the drug metformin was found to reduce diabetes risk by only 31 percent.

Although lifestyle changes are important, diet alone can be effective in treating and reversing type 2 diabetes. The most scientifically proven approach is a diet low in refined carbohydrates. Not only does such a regimen lower blood glucose levels, but it also helps with conditions such as high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

Supplements for Diabetes

Here are key supplements to consider adding to your daily regimen if you have type 2 diabetes or want to prevent it:

  • PGX (2.5–5 grams at meals) is one of the centerpiece supplements for treating type 2 diabetes. PGX is a highly purified fiber that lowers the glycemic index of foods and helps promote satiety.
  • A high-potency multivitamin and mineral formula is a must and should provide 200–400 mcg of chromium, a trace mineral that plays a key role in the proper utilization of insulin.
  • Alpha lipoic acid (400–600 mg) not only helps improve insulin action, but also helps prevent and reverse diabetic nerve disease.
  • Flavonoid-rich extracts such as bilberry, grape seed, or pine bark are extremely important in protecting against the long-term complications of diabetes.
  • Onions and garlic have demonstrated blood-sugar-lowering action in several studies and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Mulberry extract, cinnamon extract, or extracts of Gymnema sylvestre have all been shown to produce results in improving blood sugar control.
January 26th, 2015

Vision Quest

Five key nutrients for preventing and treating cataracts and macular degeneration
eyeball

Nutritional factors play a key role in the prevention and treatment of cataracts and macular degeneration. A diet high in richly colored fruits and vegetables—as well as targeted supplements—is associated with a lowered risk for both conditions.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Research shows that lutein and zeaxanthin supplements not only help protect against macular degeneration, but can also improve visual function in people with macular degeneration. Specifically, in patients with macular degeneration, 10–15 mg of lutein daily led to improvements, including glare recovery, contrast sensitivity, and visual acuity, as compared to a placebo group.

Lutein is also important in preventing cataracts and improving visual function in people with existing cataracts. Like the macula, the human lens concentrates lutein and zeaxanthin. In fact, these are the only carotenes found in the human lens. Three large studies have shown that the intake of lutein was inversely associated with cataract surgery.

Flavonoid-Rich Extracts

Flavonoid-rich extracts of blueberry, bilberry, pine bark, or grape seed also offer valuable eye-health benefits. In addition to possessing excellent antioxidant activity, these extracts have been shown to improve blood flow to the retina and enhance visual processes, especially poor night vision. Take 150–300 mg daily of one of these extracts to support eye health.

Nutritional Antioxidants

Nutritional antioxidants—such as beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, and selenium—are extremely important for eye health. Studies conducted by the Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group confirm that a combination of these nutrients produces better results than any single one alone. But even something as simple as taking vitamin C or zinc can produce dramatic effects. In one study, women who took vitamin C for more than 10 years had a 77 percent lower rate of cataract formation compared to women who did not take the vitamin.

Zinc plays an essential role in the metabolism of the retina and the visual process. A two-year trial involving 151 subjects showed that the group taking zinc had significantly less visual loss than the placebo group.

CoQ10 and Acetyl-L-Carnitine

In one double-blind study, 200 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids (460 mg EPA and 320 mg DHA), and 20 mg of CoQ10 was shown to improve visual function and macular alterations in early-stage macular degeneration. This combination stopped the disease from progressing in 47 out of 48 cases.

Fish Oils

There is a strong relationship between atherosclerosis (known as hardening of the arteries) and eye health. Therefore, just as in atherosclerosis, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils play an important role in preventing macular degeneration and other eye conditions. The recommended dosage is 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA.

Nutrition for Your Eyes

Foods rich in the carotenes lycopene, zeaxanthin, and lutein include bell peppers, carrots, collard greens, kale, papaya, spinach, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.