Can You Eat Too Much Fruit?

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In my video If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit?, I explored how adding berries to our meals can actually blunt the detrimental effects of high glycemic foods, but how many berries? The purpose of one study out of Finland was to determine the minimum level of blueberry consumption at which a consumer may realistically expect to receive antioxidant benefits after eating blueberries with a sugary breakfast cereal. If we eat a bowl of corn flakes with no berries, within two hours, so many free radicals are created that it puts us into oxidative debt. The antioxidant power of our bloodstream drops below where we started from before breakfast, as the antioxidants in our bodies get used up dealing with such a crappy breakfast. As you can see in How Much Fruit is Too Much? video, a quarter cup of blueberries didn't seem to help much, but a half cup of blueberries did.

What about fruit for diabetics? Most guidelines recommend eating a diet with a high intake of fiber-rich food, including fruit, because they're so healthy--antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, improving artery function, and reducing cancer risk. However, some health professionals have concerns about the sugar content of fruit and therefore recommend restricting the fruit intake. So let's put it to the test! In a study from Denmark, diabetics were randomized into two groups: one told to eat at least two pieces of fruit a day, and the other told at most, two fruits a day. The reduce fruit group indeed reduce their fruit consumption, but it had no effect on the control of their diabetes or weight, and so, the researchers concluded, the intake of fruit should not be restricted in patients with type 2 diabetes. An emerging literature has shown that low-dose fructose may actually benefit blood sugar control. Having a piece of fruit with each meal would be expected to lower, not raise the blood sugar response.

The threshold for toxicity of fructose may be around 50 grams. The problem is that's the current average adult fructose consumption. So, the levels of half of all adults are likely above the threshold for fructose toxicity, and adolescents currently average 75. Is that limit for added sugars or for all fructose? If we don't want more than 50 and there's about ten in a piece of fruit, should we not eat more than five fruit a day? Quoting from the Harvard Health Letter, "the nutritional problems of fructose and sugar come when they are added to foods. Fruit, on the other hand, is beneficial in almost any amount." What do they mean almost? Can we eat ten fruit a day? How about twenty fruit a day?

It's actually been put to the test.

Seventeen people were made to eat 20 servings a day of fruit. Despite the extraordinarily high fructose content of this diet, presumably about 200 g/d--eight cans of soda worth, the investigators reported no adverse effects (and possible benefit actually) for body weight, blood pressure, and insulin and lipid levels after three to six months. More recently, Jenkins and colleagues put people on about a 20 servings of fruit a day diet for a few weeks and found no adverse effects on weight or blood pressure or triglycerides, and an astounding 38 point drop in LDL cholesterol.

There was one side effect, though. Given the 44 servings of vegetables they had on top of all that fruit, they recorded the largest bowl movements apparently ever documented in a dietary intervention.


Cutting down on sugary foods may be easier said than done (see Are Sugary Foods Addictive?) but it's worth it. For more on the dangers of high levels of fructose in added sugars, see How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much?.

What's that about being in oxidative debt? See my three part series on how to pull yourself out of the red:

Ironically, fat may be more of a problem when it comes to diabetes than sugar, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Can You Eat Too Much Fruit?

Can You Eat Too Much Fruit?.jpeg

In my video If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit?, I explored how adding berries to our meals can actually blunt the detrimental effects of high glycemic foods, but how many berries? The purpose of one study out of Finland was to determine the minimum level of blueberry consumption at which a consumer may realistically expect to receive antioxidant benefits after eating blueberries with a sugary breakfast cereal. If we eat a bowl of corn flakes with no berries, within two hours, so many free radicals are created that it puts us into oxidative debt. The antioxidant power of our bloodstream drops below where we started from before breakfast, as the antioxidants in our bodies get used up dealing with such a crappy breakfast. As you can see in How Much Fruit is Too Much? video, a quarter cup of blueberries didn't seem to help much, but a half cup of blueberries did.

What about fruit for diabetics? Most guidelines recommend eating a diet with a high intake of fiber-rich food, including fruit, because they're so healthy--antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, improving artery function, and reducing cancer risk. However, some health professionals have concerns about the sugar content of fruit and therefore recommend restricting the fruit intake. So let's put it to the test! In a study from Denmark, diabetics were randomized into two groups: one told to eat at least two pieces of fruit a day, and the other told at most, two fruits a day. The reduce fruit group indeed reduce their fruit consumption, but it had no effect on the control of their diabetes or weight, and so, the researchers concluded, the intake of fruit should not be restricted in patients with type 2 diabetes. An emerging literature has shown that low-dose fructose may actually benefit blood sugar control. Having a piece of fruit with each meal would be expected to lower, not raise the blood sugar response.

The threshold for toxicity of fructose may be around 50 grams. The problem is that's the current average adult fructose consumption. So, the levels of half of all adults are likely above the threshold for fructose toxicity, and adolescents currently average 75. Is that limit for added sugars or for all fructose? If we don't want more than 50 and there's about ten in a piece of fruit, should we not eat more than five fruit a day? Quoting from the Harvard Health Letter, "the nutritional problems of fructose and sugar come when they are added to foods. Fruit, on the other hand, is beneficial in almost any amount." What do they mean almost? Can we eat ten fruit a day? How about twenty fruit a day?

It's actually been put to the test.

Seventeen people were made to eat 20 servings a day of fruit. Despite the extraordinarily high fructose content of this diet, presumably about 200 g/d--eight cans of soda worth, the investigators reported no adverse effects (and possible benefit actually) for body weight, blood pressure, and insulin and lipid levels after three to six months. More recently, Jenkins and colleagues put people on about a 20 servings of fruit a day diet for a few weeks and found no adverse effects on weight or blood pressure or triglycerides, and an astounding 38 point drop in LDL cholesterol.

There was one side effect, though. Given the 44 servings of vegetables they had on top of all that fruit, they recorded the largest bowl movements apparently ever documented in a dietary intervention.


Cutting down on sugary foods may be easier said than done (see Are Sugary Foods Addictive?) but it's worth it. For more on the dangers of high levels of fructose in added sugars, see How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much?.

What's that about being in oxidative debt? See my three part series on how to pull yourself out of the red:

Ironically, fat may be more of a problem when it comes to diabetes than sugar, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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How May Eating Plants Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

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Intake of saturated fats and added sugars, two of the primary components of a modern Western diet, is linked with the development of Alzheimer's disease. There has been a global shift in dietary composition, from traditional diets high in starches and fiber, to what has been termed the Western diet, high in fat and sugar, low in whole, plant foods. What's so great about fruits and vegetables?

Plant-derived foods contain thousands of compounds with antioxidant properties, some of which can traverse the blood-brain barrier and may have neuroprotective effects by assisting with antioxidant defense. There's this concept of "brain rust," that neurodegenerative diseases arise from excess oxidative stress. But Nature has gifted humankind with a plethora of plants--fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and the diverse array of bioactive nutrients present in these natural products may play a pivotal role in prevention and one day, perhaps, even the cure of various neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Accumulated evidence suggests that naturally occurring plant compounds may potentially hinder neurodegeneration, and even improve memory and cognitive function, as I've shared in my videos Preventing Alzheimer's Disease with Plants and How to Slow Brain Aging By Two Years) and treating Alzheimer's with spices such as saffron or turmeric (See Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer's and Treating Alzheimer's with Turmeric).

Vegetables may be particularly protective, in part because of certain compounds we eat that concentrate in the brain, found in dark green leafy vegetables, the consumption of which are associated with lower rates of age-related cognitive decline.

Yet when you look at systemic reviews on what we can do to prevent cognitive decline, you'll see conclusions like this: "The current literature does not provide adequate evidence to make recommendations for interventions." The same is said for Alzheimer's, "Currently, insufficient evidence exists to draw firm conclusions on the association of any modifiable factors with risk of Alzheimer's disease." Doctors cite the lack of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as the basis for their conclusions. RCTs are the gold standard used to test new medicines. This is where researchers randomize people into two groups, half get the drug and half don't, to control for confounding factors. The highest level of evidence is necessary because drugs may kill a hundred thousand Americans every year - not medication errors or illicit drugs, just regular, FDA-approved prescription drugs, making medication alone the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. So, you better make absolutely sure the benefits of new drugs outweigh the often life-threatening risks.

But we're talking about diet and exercise--the side effects are all good, so we don't need the same level of rigorous evidence to prescribe them.

A "modest proposal" was published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, an editorial calling for a longitudinal study of dementia prevention. They agreed that definitive evidence for the effectiveness of dementia prevention methods was lacking, so we need large-scaled randomized trials. They suggested we start with 10,000 healthy volunteers in their 20's and split them into five groups. There's evidence, for example, that traumatic brain injury is a risk factor for Alzheimer's, because people with head injuries appear more likely to get the disease, but it's never been put to the test. So, they say, let's take two thousand people and beat half of them in the head with baseball bats, and the other half we'll use Styrofoam bats as a control. Afterall, until we have randomized controls, how can't physicians recommend patients not get hit in the head? They go further saying we should probably chain a thousand people to a treadmill for 40 years, and a thousand people to a couch before recommending exercise. A thousand will be forced to do crossword puzzles; another thousand forced to watch Jerry Springer reruns, lots of meat and dairy or not prescribed for another group for the next 40 years, and we can hook a thousand folks on four packs a day just to be sure.

We help our patients to quit smoking despite the fact that there's not a single randomized controlled trial where they held people down and piped smoke into their lungs for a few decades. It is time to realize that the ultimate study in regard to lifestyle and cognitive health cannot be done. Yet the absence of definitive evidence should not restrict physicians from making reasonable recommendations based on the evidence that is available.

I've discussed how drug-centric approaches to evidence-based medicine may neglect some of the most convincing data: Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased?

To see how and why I built NutritionFacts.org on evidence-based principles, see my recent introductory videos:

A sampling of some of my Alzheimer's videos:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Image Credit: Michael Heim / 123rf

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Why Smoothies are Better Than Juicing

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Studies such as a recent Harvard School of Public Health investigation found that the consumption of whole fruits is associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas fruit juice consumption is associated with a higher risk, highlighting the dramatic difference between eating whole fruits and drinking fruit juice. Cholesterol serves as another example. If we eat apples, our cholesterol drops. On the other hand, if we drink apple juice, our cholesterol may actually go up a little. Leaving just a little of the fiber behind--as in cloudy apple juice--was found to add back in some of the benefit.

We used to think of fiber as just a bulking agent that helps with bowel regularity. We now know fiber is digestible by our gut bacteria, which make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) out of it. SCFAs have a number of health promoting effects, such as inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria and increasing mineral absorption. For example, experimentally infused into the rectum of the human body, SCFAs can stimulate calcium absorption, so much so that we can improve the bone mineral density of teenagers just by giving them the fiber naturally found in foods like onions, asparagus, and bananas.

Our good bacteria also uses fiber to maintain normal bowel structure and function, preventing or alleviating diarrhea, stimulating colonic blood flow up to five-fold, and increasing fluid and electrolyte uptake. The major fuel for the cells that line our colon is butyrate, which our good bacteria make from fiber. We feed them, and they feed us right back.

If the only difference between fruit and fruit juice is fiber, why can't the juice industry just add some fiber back to the juice? The reason is because we remove a lot more than fiber when we juice fruits and vegetables. We also lose all the nutrients that are bound to the fiber.

In the 1980's, a study (highlighted in my video, Juicing Removes More Than Just Fiber) found a discrepancy in the amount of fiber in carob using two different methods. A gap of 21.5 percent was identified not as fiber but as nonextractable polyphenols, a class of phytonutrients thought to have an array of health-promoting effects. Some of the effects associated with the intake of dietary fiber in plants may actually be due to the presence of these polyphenols.

Nonextractable polyphenols, usually ignored, are the major part of dietary polyphenols. Most polyphenol phytonutrients in plants are stuck to the fiber. These so-called missing polyphenols make it down to our colon, are liberated by our friendly flora and can then get absorbed into our system. The phytonutrients in fruit and vegetable juice may just be the tip of the iceberg.

For those that like drinking their fruits and vegetables, these findings suggest that smoothies may be preferable. I can imagine people who eat really healthy thinking they get so much fiber from their regular diet that they need not concern themselves with the loss from juicing. But we may be losing more than we think.

For those that like drinking their fruits and vegetables, this suggests smoothies are preferable. I can imagine people who eat really healthy thinking they get so much fiber from their regular diet that they need not concern themselves with the loss from juicing, but they may be losing more than they think.

Why are polyphenol phytonutrients important? See, for example, my video How to Slow Brain Aging by Two Years

Not that fiber isn't important in its own right. Check out:

For more on smoothies, check out:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Craig Sunter / Flickr

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What To Do if You Suspect Gluten Problems

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Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include irritable bowel type symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel habits, as well as systemic manifestations such as brain fog, headache, fatigue, depression, joint and muscle aches, numbness in the extremities, skin rash, or anemia. I previously discussed why people who suspect they might be gluten sensitive should not go on a gluten-free diet. But if that's true, what should they do?

The first thing is a formal evaluation for celiac disease, which currently involves blood tests and a small intestinal biopsy. If the evaluation is positive, then a gluten-free diet is necessary. If it's negative, it's best to try a healthier diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans while avoiding processed junk. In the past, a gluten-free diet had many benefits over the traditional American diet because it required increasing fruit and vegetable intake--so no wonder people felt better eating gluten-free: no more unhealthy bread products, no more fast food restaurants. Now, there is just as much gluten-free junk out there.

If a healthy diet doesn't help, then the next step is to try ruling out other causes of chronic gastrointestinal distress. In a study of 84 people who claim gluten causes them adverse reactions (they're referred to in the literature as"PWAWGs," People Who Avoid Wheat and/or Gluten), highlighted in my video, How to Diagnose Gluten Intolerance, about a third didn't appear to have gluten sensitivity at all. Instead, they either had an overgrowth of bacteria in their small intestine, were fructose or lactose intolerant, or had a neuromuscular disorder like gastroparesis or pelvic floor dysfunction. Only if those are also ruled out, would I suggest people suffering from chronic suspicious symptoms try a gluten-free diet. If symptoms improve, stick with it and maybe re-challenge with gluten periodically.

Unlike the treatment for celiac disease, a gluten-free diet for gluten sensitivity is ideal not only to prevent serious complications from an autoimmune reaction, but to resolve symptoms and try to improve a patient's quality of life. However, a gluten-free diet itself can also reduce quality of life, so it's a matter of trying to continually strike the balance. For example, gluten-free foods can be expensive, averaging about triple the cost. Most people would benefit from buying an extra bunch of kale or blueberries instead.

No current data suggests that that general population should maintain a gluten-free lifestyle, but for those with celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a sensitivity diagnosis, gluten-free diets can be a lifesaver.

For more on gluten, check out Is Gluten Sensitivity Real? and Gluten-Free Diets: Separating the Wheat from the Chat.

Some food strategies that may help with irritable bowel symptoms are covered in a few of my previous videos, such as Kiwifruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Jeremy Segrott/ Flickr

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How to Suppress the Aging Enzyme TOR

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Over the last decade, more than 5,000 papers have been published about TOR, an engine-of-aging enzyme inhibited by the drug rapamycin. (What is TOR? Check out my videos Why Do We Age? and Caloric Restriction vs. Animal Protein Restriction.) Rapamycin has been used experimentally to extend lifespan, but is already in use clinically to prevent the rejection of kidney transplants. Patients who received rapamycin due to renal transplantation had a peculiar "side effect," a decrease in cancer incidence. In a set of 15 patients who had biopsy proven Kaposi's sarcoma (a cancer that often affects the skin), all cutaneous sarcoma lesions disappeared in all patients within three months after starting rapamycin therapy.

TOR functions as a master regulator of cellular growth and proliferation. For example, TOR is upregulated in nearly 100% of advanced human prostate cancers (See Prevent Cancer From Going on TOR). So, reductions in cancerous lesions after rapamycin therapy make sense. TOR may also be why dairy consumption has been found to be a major dietary risk factor for prostate cancer. We used to think it was just the hormones in milk, but maybe prostate cancer initiation and progression is also promoted by cow's milk stimulation of TOR.

Our understanding of mammalian milk has changed from a simple food to a "species-specific endocrine signaling system," which activates TOR, promoting cell growth and proliferation and suppressing our body's internal housecleaning mechanisms. Normally, milk-mediated TOR stimulation is restricted only to infancy where we really need that constant signal to our cells to grow and divide. So from an evolutionary perspective, "the persistent 'abuse' of the growth-promoting signaling system of cow's milk by drinking milk over our entire life span may maintain the most important hallmark of cancer biology, sustained proliferative signaling."

TOR appears to play a role in breast cancer, too. Higher TOR expression has been noted in breast cancer tumors, associated with more aggressive disease, and lower survival rate among breast cancer patients. Altered TOR expression could explain why women hospitalized for anorexia may end up with only half the risk of breast cancer. Severe caloric restriction in humans may confer protection from invasive breast cancer by suppressing TOR activation.

We don't have to starve ourselves to suppress TOR; just reducing animal protein intake can attenuate overall TOR activity. Moreover, diets emphasizing plants, especially cruciferous vegetables, have both decreased TOR activation from animal proteins and provide natural plant-derived inhibitors of TOR found in broccoli, green tea, soy, turmeric, and grapes, along with other fruits and vegetables such as onions, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes and the skin of cucumbers.

The downregulation of TOR may be one reason why plant-based in general are associated with lower risk for many cancers. "Are we finally on the threshold of being able to fundamentally alter human aging and age-related disease?" asks researchers in the journal Nature. Only time will tell, but if the pace and direction of recent progress are any indication, the next 5,000 studies on TOR should prove very interesting indeed.

More on dairy and prostate cancer in Prostate Cancer and Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk.

This story continues in my video: Saving Lives By Treating Acne With Diet.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Grempz / Flickr

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Is it Better to Bake, Boil, or Steam Sweet Potatoes?

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I previously talked about the cancer fighting properties of sweet potatoes (See Anti-Cancer Potential of Sweet Potato Proteins) and what would happen if you centered your diet around them (The Okinawa Diet: Living to 100). It seems that the only potential downside to eating too many sweet potatoes is that you could get yellow palms (or nose as you can see in the video, The Best Way to Cook Sweet Potatoes), a harmless condition called "carotenemia." Caused by elevated levels of beta carotene in the blood, it was first noticed a century ago when carrots were introduce into infant diets. It's treated mostly by just reassuring parents that it's harmless, but if we don't want our child's nose to be yellow, we can decrease their beta carotene intake and in a few months it will be gone.

When picking out varieties at the supermarket, the intensity of the yellow or orange flesh color of the sweet potato is directly correlated to its nutritional content, so the more intense the better. Though if you really want intensity, sweet potato varieties don't just range from white to yellow and orange, but from pink to deep purple. The natural pigments that cause these colors may have special anticancer effects.

What is the best way to cook sweet potatoes? Boiling may actually retain most of the antioxidant power of sweet potatoes, compared to roasting and steaming. If we compare baking to boiling microscopically, boiling helps thin out the cell walls and gelatinize the starch, which may enhance the bioavailability of nutrients. At the same time, the glycemic index of boiled sweet potatoes was found to be about half that of baking or roasting, so boiled sweet potatoes give us less of a blood sugar spike.

Make sure to keep the skin on, though. The peel of a sweet potato has nearly ten times the antioxidant power as the flesh (an antioxidant capacity comparable to that of blueberries). However, the peel's nutrition really takes a hit when baked, which wipes out over two thirds of the antioxidants, whereas microwaving or boiling are comparatively much gentler. The same is true for the rest of the sweet potato. Baking can also cause an 80% drop in vitamin A levels, twice as much as boiling. Therefore, from a nutritional standpoint, boiling rather than baking should be recommended for cooking sweet potato.

Boiling may theoretically be best, but sweet potatoes are so incredibly healthy that the actual best way to prepare them is whichever way will get you to eat the most of them! The exception is deep frying, which can lead to the formation of acrylamide, a potential human carcinogen.

What about cooking methods for other vegetables? See my video Best Cooking Method.

Want more information about acrylamide, the potential crispy carb carcinogen? See my video Cancer Risk from French Fries. And for why deep frying in general might not be good, Deep Frying Toxins and Carcinogens in the Smell of Frying Bacon.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Avital Pinnick / Flickr

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Slowing Cognitive Decline with Berries

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A plant-based diet is thought to have played a significant role in human evolution and the consumption of whole plant foods and even just extracts have repeatedly been associated with a decreased risk of aging related diseases. And by healthy aging I'm not talking preventing wrinkles, what about protecting our brain? "Two of the most dreaded consequences of dementia with aging are problems moving around and difficulty remembering things. Dementia robs older adults of their independence, control, and identity."

Fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, so might they work for brain diseases as well?

There has been a proliferation of recent interest in plant polyphenols as agents in the treatment of dementia. There are 4,000 different kinds of polyphenols found ubiquitously in foods of plant origin, but berries are packed with them, possessing powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There's a subset of polyphenols called anthocyanidins, which are found in blue and purple pigmented fruits and berries. These polyphenols are uniquely and specifically capable of "both crossing the blood-brain barrier and localizing in brain regions involved in learning and memory." And that's precisely where we need them.

The brain takes up less than 2% of body weight but may burn up to 50% of the body's fuel, creating a potential firestorm of free radicals. Maybe these brain-seeking phytonutrients in berries could fight oxidation and inflammation, and even increase blood flow? This raised a thought-provoking idea. Maybe a "nutritional intervention with blueberries may be effective in forestalling or even reversing the neurological changes associated with aging?" It would be a decade before the first human trial was conducted, but it worked! "Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults," suggesting that "consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate brain degeneration with age."

What other blue or purple foods can we try? Concord grape juice was also tested and had a similar benefit, suggesting that supplementation with purple grape juice may enhance cognitive function for older adults with early memory decline. Why use juice and not whole concord grapes? Because then you couldn't design a placebo that looked and tasted exactly the same to rule out the very real and powerful placebo effect. And also because the study was funded by the Welch's grape juice company.

This effect was confirmed in a follow-up study, showing for the first time an increase in neural activation in parts of the brain associated with memory using functional MRI scans. But this brain scan study was tiny: just four people in each group. And same problem in the blueberry study: it had only nine people in it.

Why haven't large population-based studies been done? Because we haven't had good databases on where these phytonutrients are found. We know how much vitamin C is in a blueberry, but not how much anthocyanidin--until now. The Harvard Nurses' Health Study, highlighted in my video, How to Slow Brain Aging by Two Years, followed the cognitive function of more than 16,000 women for years, and found that "long-term consumption of berries was related to significantly slower rates of cognitive decline, even after careful consideration of confounding socioeconomic status" (that is, even after taking into account the fact that rich people eat more berries). The Harvard Nurses' Health Study was the first population-based evidence that greater intakes of blueberries and strawberries were highly associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, and not just by a little bit. "The magnitude of associations were equivalent to the cognitive differences that one might observe in women up to two and a half years apart in age." In other words, women with higher intake of berries appeared to have delayed cognitive aging by as much as two and a half years.

Why shouldn't we just take some anthocyanidin supplement? Because there hasn't been a single study that found any kind of cognitive benefit by just giving single phytonutrients. In fact, the opposite is true. "Whole blueberries appear to be more effective than individual components, showing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." These findings have potentially substantial public health implications, as increasing berry intake represents a fairly simple dietary modification to test in older adults for maintaining our brain function.

What other ways could we improve our memory and cognitive function?

What other near-miraculous properties of berries are there?

I add them to my morning smoothie: A Better Breakfast.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Angelo Desantis / Flickr

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Does Antioxidant Intake Matter for Cancer?

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The USDA removed their online antioxidant database of foods, "concerned that ORAC values were routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products." Indeed, supplement manufacturers got into my-ORAC-is-bigger-than-your-ORAC contests, comparing their pills to the antioxidant superfood du jour, like blueberries. We know there are lots of bioactive compounds in whole plant foods that may help prevent and ameliorate chronic disease in ways that have nothing to do with their antioxidant power, so I understand the USDA's decision. So should we just eat lots of whole healthy plant foods and not worry about which one necessarily has more antioxidants than the other, or does one's dietary antioxidant intake matter?

We have some new data to help answer that question. Researchers recently analyzed total dietary antioxidant capacity and the risk of stomach cancer, the world's second leading cancer killer. A half million people were studied, and dietary antioxidant capacity intake from different sources of plant foods was indeed associated with a reduction in risk. Note that they say dietary intake; they're not talking about supplements.

Not only do antioxidant pills not seem to help, they seem to increase overall mortality--that's like paying to live a shorter life. Just giving high doses of isolated vitamins may cause disturbances in our body's own natural antioxidant network. There are hundreds of different antioxidants in plant foods. They don't act in isolation; they work synergistically. Mother Nature cannot be trapped in a bottle.

Similar results were reported with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: the more ORAC units we eat per day, the lower our cancer risk drops (though antioxidants or not, green leafy vegetables were particularly protective. Going from eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per week to a serving a day may cut our odds of lymphoma in half).

Should we be worried about antioxidant intake during cancer treatment, since most chemo drugs work by creating free radicals? According to some of the latest reviews, highlighted in my video Food Antioxidants and Cancer, there is no evidence of antioxidant interference with chemotherapy, and antioxidants may actually improve treatment and patient survival.

But should we take a multivitamin? See Should We Take a Multivitamin?

What about fish oil supplements? Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

I recently covered how and why we should strive to eat antioxidants with every meal in an important three-part series:

  1. Minimum "Recommended Daily Allowance" of Antioxidants
  2. How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA"
  3. Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal

Preferentially getting one's nutrients from produce not pills is a common theme in the nutrition literature. See, for example:

Antioxidants may also slow aging (See Mitochondrial Theory of Aging), reduce inflammation (See Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants), improve digestion (See Bulking Up on Antioxidants), and help prevent COPD (See Preventing COPD with Diet). So where are antioxidants found? See my series that starts with Antioxidant Content of 3139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods.

What about the role of antioxidants in other leading causes of death? That's the subject of my video, Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Arya Ziai / Flickr

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Currant Treatment for Glaucoma

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In my video, Dietary Prevention for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, I discussed how eating goji berries with nuts and seeds can help build up yellow plant pigments such as lutein and zeaxanthin in our eyes to help fight age-related macular degeneration.

But once we've preserved the pigment in our retinal pigment epithelial cells, we need to keep them alive. This may be where anthocyanin phytonutrients come in. Anthocyanins (from the Greek anthos, meaning flower, and kyanos, meaning blue) are natural plant pigments that make pansies look purple and turn green cabbage into purple cabbage, yellow corn into purple corn, brown rice to purple rice, white potatoes to blue potatoes, orange carrots to purple carrots, and keeps blueberries blue and blackberries black.

As we age, our critical retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) layer starts to break down. However, we may be able to decelerate that aging with blueberries. In the study I profile in my video, Dietary Treatment of Glaucoma, human RPE cells bathed in blueberry anthocyanins had fewer free radicals and a lower proportion of aged cells, suggesting that blueberries and other red, blue, and purple pigmented fruits and vegetables may help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Blueberries may be especially important for blue eyes, as can be seen in my video Greens vs. Glaucoma.

Preventing disease is nice, but what if we already have a disease like glaucoma, an incurable eye disease in which our optic nerve (which connects our eyes to our brain) starts deteriorating, and we start losing our visual fields?

A few years ago, Japanese researchers showed they could apparently halt the progression of glaucoma with black currants. They gave people black currants for six months and found that black currants significantly boosted the blood flow to their optic nerve. The results suggest that black currants might be a safe and valuable option, but because the study was not double-blind and there was no control group, I didn't report on it when it was initially published. But now we've got just such a study. Glaucoma patients were split into two groups--half got black currants; the other half didn't.

The study measured the deterioration of the patients' visual fields in both groups in the two years leading up to the study. Despite taking the best glaucoma drugs on the market, the subjects' visual fields deteriorated. Then the study starts. The berry-free control group continued to worsen, but the berries appeared to stop the disease in its tracks after both one and two years. And since there's no downside to berries (only good side-effects), in my professional opinion everyone with glaucoma should be eating berries every day.

For more on the latest science on preventing and treating vision loss, check out Greens vs. Glaucoma, where I detailed the best foods to help prevent glaucoma. My previous treatment of glaucoma can be found here: Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther.

I've mentioned anthocyanins before in:

They may be why purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) and purple cabbage (Superfood Bargains) may be preferable. Anthocyanins are the pigments in red and purple cabbage that allow for the kitchen chemistry in Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage.

More on currants in Enhanced Athletic Recovery Without Undermining Adaptation.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Rachel / Flickr

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