Striving for Alkaline Pee and Acidic Poo

Stool pH and Colon Cancer.jpg

More than 30 years ago, an idea was put forward that high colonic pH promoted colorectal cancer. A high colonic pH may promote the creation of carcinogens from bile acids, a process that is inhibited once you get below a pH of about 6.5. This is supported by data which shows those at higher risk for colon cancer may have a higher stool pH, and those at lower risk have a low pH. There was a dramatic difference between the two groups, with most of the high risk group over pH 8, and most of the low risk group under pH 6 (see Stool pH and Colon Cancer).

This may help explain the 50-fold lower rates of colon cancer in Africa compared to America. The bacteria we have in our gut depends on what we eat. If we eat lots of fiber, then we preferentially feed the fiber eating bacteria, which give us back all sorts of health promoting substances like short-chain fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. More of these organic acids were found in the stools of native Africans than African Americans. More acids, so lower pH. Whereas putrefactive bacteria, eating animal protein, are able to increase stool pH by producing alkaline metabolites like ammonia.

The pH of the stools of white versus black children in Africa was compared. Children were chosen because you can more readily sample their stools, particularly the rural black schoolchildren who were eating such high fiber diets--whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and wild greens--that 90% of them could produce a stool on demand. Stuffed from head to tail with plants, they could give you a stool sample at any time, just as easy as getting a urine sample. It was hard to even get access to the white kids, though, who were reluctant to participate in such investigations, even though they were given waxed cartons fitted with lids while all the black kids got was a plate and a square of paper towel.

The researchers found significantly lower fecal pH in those eating the traditional, rural plant-based diets compared to those eating the traditional Western diet, who were eating far fewer whole plant foods than the black children. But, remove some of those whole plant foods, like switch their corn for white bread for just a few days and their stool pH goes up, and add whole plant foods like an extra five to seven servings of fruit every day, and their stool pH goes down even further and gets more acidic. It makes sense because when you ferment fruits, veggies, and grains, they turn sour, like vinegar, sauerkraut, or sourdough, because good bacteria like lactobacillus produce organic acids like lactic acid. Those who eat a lot of plants have more of those good bugs. So, using the purple cabbage test highlighted in my video, Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage, we want blue pee, but pink poo.

If you compare the fecal samples of those eating vegetarian or vegan to those eating standard diets, plant-based diets appear to shift the makeup of the bacteria in our gut, resulting in a significantly lower stool pH, and the more plant-based, the lower the pH dropped. It's like a positive feedback loop: fiber-eating bacteria produce the acids to create the pH at which fiber-eating bacteria thrive while suppressing the group of less beneficial bugs.

It might taken even as little as two weeks to bring stool pH down on a plant-based diet. In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, a dozen volunteers carefully selected for their trustworthiness and randomized to sequentially go on regular, vegetarian, or vegan diets and two weeks in, a significant drop in fecal pH was achieved eating completely plant-based.

But there are differing qualities of plant-based diets. For example, the two groups followed in the study I mentioned earlier had dramatically different stool pH, yet both groups were vegetarian. The high risk group was eating mostly refined grains, very little fiber, whereas the low risk group was eating whole grains and beans, packed with fiber for our fiber-friendly flora to munch on.

Just as a "reduction of high serum cholesterol contributes to the avoidance of coronary heart disease," a fall in the fecal pH value may contribute to the avoidance of bowel cancer and through the same means, eating more whole plant foods.

More on colon cancer prevention in:

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: Kitti Sukhonthanit © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Striving for Alkaline Pee and Acidic Poo

Stool pH and Colon Cancer.jpg

More than 30 years ago, an idea was put forward that high colonic pH promoted colorectal cancer. A high colonic pH may promote the creation of carcinogens from bile acids, a process that is inhibited once you get below a pH of about 6.5. This is supported by data which shows those at higher risk for colon cancer may have a higher stool pH, and those at lower risk have a low pH. There was a dramatic difference between the two groups, with most of the high risk group over pH 8, and most of the low risk group under pH 6 (see Stool pH and Colon Cancer).

This may help explain the 50-fold lower rates of colon cancer in Africa compared to America. The bacteria we have in our gut depends on what we eat. If we eat lots of fiber, then we preferentially feed the fiber eating bacteria, which give us back all sorts of health promoting substances like short-chain fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. More of these organic acids were found in the stools of native Africans than African Americans. More acids, so lower pH. Whereas putrefactive bacteria, eating animal protein, are able to increase stool pH by producing alkaline metabolites like ammonia.

The pH of the stools of white versus black children in Africa was compared. Children were chosen because you can more readily sample their stools, particularly the rural black schoolchildren who were eating such high fiber diets--whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and wild greens--that 90% of them could produce a stool on demand. Stuffed from head to tail with plants, they could give you a stool sample at any time, just as easy as getting a urine sample. It was hard to even get access to the white kids, though, who were reluctant to participate in such investigations, even though they were given waxed cartons fitted with lids while all the black kids got was a plate and a square of paper towel.

The researchers found significantly lower fecal pH in those eating the traditional, rural plant-based diets compared to those eating the traditional Western diet, who were eating far fewer whole plant foods than the black children. But, remove some of those whole plant foods, like switch their corn for white bread for just a few days and their stool pH goes up, and add whole plant foods like an extra five to seven servings of fruit every day, and their stool pH goes down even further and gets more acidic. It makes sense because when you ferment fruits, veggies, and grains, they turn sour, like vinegar, sauerkraut, or sourdough, because good bacteria like lactobacillus produce organic acids like lactic acid. Those who eat a lot of plants have more of those good bugs. So, using the purple cabbage test highlighted in my video, Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage, we want blue pee, but pink poo.

If you compare the fecal samples of those eating vegetarian or vegan to those eating standard diets, plant-based diets appear to shift the makeup of the bacteria in our gut, resulting in a significantly lower stool pH, and the more plant-based, the lower the pH dropped. It's like a positive feedback loop: fiber-eating bacteria produce the acids to create the pH at which fiber-eating bacteria thrive while suppressing the group of less beneficial bugs.

It might taken even as little as two weeks to bring stool pH down on a plant-based diet. In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, a dozen volunteers carefully selected for their trustworthiness and randomized to sequentially go on regular, vegetarian, or vegan diets and two weeks in, a significant drop in fecal pH was achieved eating completely plant-based.

But there are differing qualities of plant-based diets. For example, the two groups followed in the study I mentioned earlier had dramatically different stool pH, yet both groups were vegetarian. The high risk group was eating mostly refined grains, very little fiber, whereas the low risk group was eating whole grains and beans, packed with fiber for our fiber-friendly flora to munch on.

Just as a "reduction of high serum cholesterol contributes to the avoidance of coronary heart disease," a fall in the fecal pH value may contribute to the avoidance of bowel cancer and through the same means, eating more whole plant foods.

More on colon cancer prevention in:

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: Kitti Sukhonthanit © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

Original Link

How to Cook Broccoli

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When I used to teach medical students at Tufts, I gave a lecture about this amazing new therapeutic called "iloccor-B." I'd talk about all the new science, all the things it could do, its excellent safety profile. Just as they were all scrambling to buy stock in the company and prescribe it to all their patients, I'd do the big reveal. Apologizing for my "dyslexia," I would admit that I'd got it backwards. All this time I had been talking about broccoli.

The main active ingredient in broccoli is thought to be sulforaphane, which may protect our brains, protect our eyesight, protect our bodies against free radicals, boost our detoxification enzymes, and help prevent and treat cancer.

In my videos The Best Detox and Sometimes the Enzyme Myth is the Truth, I talked about how the formation of sulforaphane is like a chemical flare reaction, requiring the mixing of a precursor compound with an enzyme, which is destroyed by cooking. This may explain why we get dramatic suppression of cancer cell growth from raw broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, but hardly anything from boiled, microwaved or steamed (except for microwaved broccoli, which actually retains some cancer fighting abilities). But who wants to eat raw Brussels sprouts?

There is a strategy to get the benefits of raw in cooked form. In raw broccoli, the sulforaphane precursor, called glucoraphanin, mixes with the enzyme (myrosinase) when you chew or chop it. If given enough time--such as when sitting in your upper stomach waiting to get digested--sulforaphane is born. The precursor and sulforaphane are resistant to heat and therefore cooking, but the enzyme is destroyed. No enzyme = no sulforaphane.

That's why I described the "hack and hold" technique--if we chop the broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, or cauliflower first and then wait 40 minutes, we can cook them all we want. The sulforaphane is already made; the enzyme has already done its job, so we don't need it anymore.

When most people make broccoli soup, for example, they're doing it wrong. Most people cook the broccoli first, then blend it. We now know it should be done the exact opposite way. Blend it first, wait, and then cook it.

What if we're using frozen broccoli, though? In my video, Second Strategy to Cooking Broccoli, you can see the amount of sulforaphane in someone's body after they eat broccoli soup made from fresh broccoli versus from frozen broccoli. The difference is dramatic. Commercially produced frozen broccoli lacks the ability to form sulforaphane because vegetables are blanched (flash-cooked) before they're frozen for the very purpose of deactivating enzymes. This prolongs shelf life in the frozen foods section, but the myrosinase is dead by the time you take it out of your freezer. It doesn't matter how much you chop it, or how long you wait, no sulforaphane is going to be made. This may be why fresh kale suppresses cancer cell growth up to ten times more than frozen.

The frozen broccoli is still packed with the precursor--remember that's heat resistant--and we could get lots of sulforaphane out of the frozen broccoli by adding some outside enzyme. Where do we get myrosinase enzyme from? Researchers just buy theirs from a chemical company. But we can just walk into any grocery store.

All cruciferous vegetables have this myrosinase. Mustard greens, a cruciferous vegetable, grow out of little mustard seeds, which we can buy ground up in the spice aisle as mustard powder. If we sprinkled some mustard powder on our cooked frozen broccoli, would it start churning out sulforaphane? We didn't know...until now.

Boiling broccoli prevents the formation of any significant levels of sulforaphane due to inactivation of the enzyme. However, researchers from the University of Reading found that the addition of powdered mustard seeds to the heat processed broccoli significantly increased the formation of sulforaphane. In the video I mentioned earlier, Second Strategy to Cooking Broccoli, you can see the amount of sulforaphane in boiled broccoli versus the amount after half a teaspoon or a teaspoon of mustard powder is added. Both a half teaspoon and a full teaspoon increase sulforaphane by the same amount, suggesting that we could use even use less mustard powder for the same effect. Therefore, although domestic cooking leads to the deactivation of myrosinase and stops sulforaphane formation, the addition of powdered mustard seeds to cooked cabbage-family vegetables provides a natural source of the enzyme such that it's practically like eating them raw.

So, if we forget to chop our greens in the morning for the day, or are using frozen, we can just sprinkle some mustard powder on top at the dinner table and we're all set. Daikon radish, horseradish, or wasabi--all cruciferous vegetables packed with the enzyme--work as well. Just a quarter teaspoon of Daikon radish root for seven cups of broccoli worked--just a tiny pinch can do it. Or you can add a small amount of fresh greens to your cooked greens, because the fresh greens have myrosinase enzyme that can go to work on the cooked greens.

I love kitchen chemistry--it totally revolutionized my daily greens prep. One of the first things I used to do in the morning is chop my greens for the day, so when lunch and supper rolls around they'd be good to go. But now with the mustard powder plan, I don't have to pre-chop.

This helps explain the results I presented in Raw Broccoli and Bladder Cancer Survival.

OK, but what's so great about this sulforaphane stuff? For a taste, 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 Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Jessica Spengler / Flickr

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Bile Binding Beets

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In my video Breast Cancer and Constipation, I discussed how fruits and veggies bind carcinogenic bile acids in our gut. Since bile acids are absorbed back into our systems, they may increase our risk of not only colon cancer but also other cancers as well. In light of this, researchers publishing in the journal, Nutrition Research, concluded that to "lower the risk of diet and lifestyle-related premature degenerative diseases and to advance human nutrition research, relative bile acid-binding potential of foods and fractions need to be evaluated."

They found that some vegetables bind bile acids better than others. We know that those eating more plant-based diets are at a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. This could partly be because of phytonutrients in plants that act as antioxidants and potent stimulators of natural detoxifying enzymes in our bodies. Veggies can also lower cholesterol and detoxify harmful metabolites, functions that can be predicted by their ability to bind bile acids.

A group of USDA researchers studying this topic discovered three important things. First, they found an over five-fold variability in bile acid binding among various vegetables that had similar fiber content, suggesting that bile acid binding is not just related to total dietary fiber content (as previously thought), but instead some combination of unique phytonutrients yet to be determined.

Second, they discovered that steaming significantly improves the bile acid binding of collards, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, beets, eggplant, asparagus, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower, suggesting that in this way steaming vegetables may be more healthful than those consumed raw.

Finally, they ranked multiple vegetables for bile binding ability. Which vegetables kicked the most bile butt? (in my video, Which Vegetable Binds Bile Best?, you can see a visual comparison of bile binding ability.) Turnips turned up last. Then came cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, spinach, asparagus and green beans. Mustard greens and broccoli were better. Eggplant, carrots and Brussels sprouts basically tie for the #5 slot. Then collards at #4. Kale got the bronze, okra the silver, and beets the gold. Kale, surprisingly, got beet.

The researchers concluded that inclusion of all these vegetables in our daily diets should be encouraged. When consumed regularly, they concluded, these vegetables may lower the risk of premature degenerative diseases and improve public health.

More raw versus cooked comparisons in

Beets also have a number of other remarkable properties. Check out my video series on Doping with Beet Juice as well as Hearts Shouldn't Skip a Beet, and Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

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: Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr

Original Link

Why Deep Fried Foods May Cause Cancer

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In the latest study on dietary patterns and breast cancer risk among women, healthier eating was associated with eliminating three-quarters of the odds of breast cancer, whereas less healthy eating was associated with up to nearly eight times the odds. Included in the unhealthy eating pattern was the consumption of deep-fried foods, which have previously been linked to breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, oral and throat cancers, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the voicebox. No deep fried foods? What's a Southern belle to do? Instead of deep fried foods, how about the traditional Southern diet, characterized by high intakes of cooked greens, beans, legumes, cabbage, sweet potatoes and cornbread, which may reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer significantly.

What about the consumption of deep-fried foods and risk of prostate cancer? Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington found that eating French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and doughnuts was associated with about a third greater odds of prostate cancer. After stratifying for tumor aggressiveness, they found slightly stronger associations with more aggressive disease, suggesting that regular intake of deep-fried foods may contribute to the progression of prostate cancer as well.

What in deep fried foods is so bad for us? Just heating oil that hot can generate potentially carcinogenic compounds, and then known carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons form when the muscles of chickens and fish are cooked at that temperature. Deep-fried plants, on the other hand, can form acrylamide.

I did a video about acrylamide back in 2008, suggesting it's a probable human carcinogen (See Acrylamide in French Fries). Since then, studies have suggested pregnant women may want to cut back on French fries to protect the growth of their baby's body and brain. Based on a study (highlighted in my video, Cancer Risk from French Fries) feeding people a little bag of potato chips every day for a month, it now seems acrylamide may also cause inflammation as well, which could explain its purported role in cancer progression.

Acrylamide intake has been associated with endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, and esophageal cancer. How much cancer risk are we talking about? Taiwanese researchers examined lifetime cancer risk and French fry consumption. The researchers picked on French fries because they comprise by far the greatest percentage contribution of acrylamide to the diets of children. They estimated that, at most, one or two boys and girls out of every ten thousand would develop cancer eating French fries that they would otherwise not have developed if they hadn't eaten French fries. So it's not as bad as eating something like fried fish, or fried chicken, but how much is that saying?

The level of cancer risk in both boys and girls associated with French fries depends on how long and hot they're fried. In Europe, the food industry swore that they'd self-regulate and control fry times to decrease acrylamide levels, but we've yet to see any subsequent change in acrylamide levels in French fries.

Researchers continue to urge that the cooking temperature should be as low as possible and the cooking time should be as short as possible, "while still maintaining a tasty quality" of course. We wouldn't want to reduce cancer risk too much--they might not taste as good!

Blanching the potatoes first reduces acrylamide formation, but potato chip companies complain that, not only would it muck with the flavor, but it would reduce the nutritional properties by leaching away some of the vitamin C. But if we're relying on potato chips to get our vitamin C, acrylamide is probably the least of our worries.

More on heterocyclic amines:

There are some things we can do to counteract the effects of these carcinogens, though:

I touch on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke and Is Liquid Smoke Flavoring Carcinogenic?
Certain fats may play a role in breast cancer survival as well: Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, and Chicken and Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fat.

-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: Kim Love / Flickr

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Living Longer by Reducing Leucine Intake

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Many studies have shown that calorie restriction, without malnutrition, can increase lifespan and lower the risk of age-related diseases, such as cancer.

However, for many people, calorie restriction clearly has its drawbacks. In the classic Minnesota Starvation Study, many of the volunteers suffered a preoccupation with food, constant hunger, binge eating, and lots of emotional and psychological issues. Even researchers who study caloric restriction rarely practice it. There's got to be a better way to suppress the aging engine enzyme, TOR (see Why Do We Age? for more on TOR).

That's why researchers were so excited about rapamycin, a drug that inhibits TOR, thinking it could be caloric restriction in a pill. But like any drug, it a long list of potentially serious side effects. There's got to be a better way.

The breakthrough came when scientists discovered that the benefits of dietary restriction may be coming not from restricting calories, but from restricting protein intake (See my video Caloric Restriction vs. Animal Protein Restriction). If we look at the first comprehensive, comparative meta-analysis of dietary restriction, "the proportion of protein intake was more important for life extension than the degree of caloric restriction." In fact, just "reducing protein without any changes in calorie level have been shown to have similar effects as caloric restriction."

That's good news. Protein restriction is much less difficult to maintain than dietary restriction, and it may even be more powerful because it suppresses both TOR and IGF-1, the two pathways thought responsible for the dramatic longevity and health benefits of caloric restriction.

Some proteins are worse than others. One amino acid in particular, leucine, appears to exert the greatest effect on TOR. In fact, just cutting down on leucine may be nearly as effective as cutting down on all protein. Where is leucine found? Predominantly animal foods: eggs, dairy, and meat (including chicken and fish). Plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, have much less.

"In general, lower leucine levels are only reached by restriction of animal proteins." To reach the leucine intake provided by dairy or meat, we'd have to eat nine pounds of cabbage--about four big heads--or 100 apples. These calculations exemplify the extreme differences in leucine amounts provided by a conventional diet in comparison to a plant-based diet. The functional role of leucine in regulating TOR activity may help explain the extraordinary results reported in the Cornell-Oxford-China Study, "since quasi-vegan diets of modest protein content tend to be relatively low in leucine."

This may also help explain the longevity of populations like the Okinawa Japanese, who have about half our mortality rate. The traditional Okinawan diet is only about 10% protein, and practically no cholesterol, because they ate almost exclusively plants. Less than one percent of their diet was fish, meat, eggs, and dairy - the equivalent of one serving of meat a month and one egg every two months. Their longevity is surpassed only by vegetarian Adventists in California, who have perhaps the highest life expectancy of any formally studied population in history.

This reminds of the study I profiled in The Benefits of Caloric Restriction Without the Actual Restricting.

Methionine is another amino acid that may be associated with aging. See Methionine Restriction as a Life Extension Strategy to find out which foods to avoid in that case. Both leucine and methionine content may be additional reasons why Plant Protein is Preferable.

Other reasons why those eating plant-based diets may live longer:

This all may help explain the results of Harvard's Meat and Mortality Studies.

-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: hslo / 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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Our Immune System Uses Plants To Activate Gut Protection

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It might seem that our skin is the first line of defense between our insides and the outside world, but our greatest interface with our environment is actually through the lining of our intestines, which covers thousands of square feet. And all that separates our gut from the outer world is a single layer of cells, 50 millionth of a meter thick - less than the thickness of a sheet of paper.

Compare that to our skin. In the video, The Broccoli Receptor: Our First Line of Defense, you can see a layer of skin, dozens of protective cells thick, to keep the outside world outside of our bodies. Why don't we have multiple layers in our gut wall? Because we need to absorb stuff from food into our body. It's a good idea for our skin to be waterproof, so we don't start leaking, but the lining of our gut has to allow for the absorption of fluids and nutrients.

With such a thin, fragile layer between our sterile core and outer chaos, we better have quite a defense system in place. Indeed, that's where "intraepithelial lymphocytes" come in.

Intraepithelial lymphocytes serve two functions: they condition and repair that thin barrier, and they provide a front-line defense against intestinal pathogens. These critical cells are covered with Ah receptors. Ah receptors are like locks, and for decades researchers have been searching for a natural key to fit in these locks to activate those receptors and sustain our immunity. We recently discovered a key: broccoli.

Cruciferous vegetables--broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts--contain a phytonutrient that is transformed by our stomach acid into the key that fits into the Ah receptor, stimulating our intraepithelial lymphocytes. In other words, broccoli leads to the activation of our immune foot soldiers.

In an editorial about Ah receptors and diet, researcher Lora V. Hooper from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute noted, "From childhood we learn that vegetables are good for us, and most of us eat our veggies without giving much thought to the evidence behind this accepted wisdom or to the mechanisms underlying the purported health-boosting properties of a vegetable-rich diet." But now we know that "specific dietary compounds found at high levels in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are essential for sustaining intestinal immune function." Green vegetables are in fact required to maintain a large population of those protective intraepithelial lymphocytes.

Maybe that's why vegetable intake is associated with lower risk of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, whereas the more meaty Western diet is associated with higher risk of inflammatory bowel diseases. This may be because the activating receptors on our intestinal immune cells are basically sensors of plant-derived phytochemicals.

This raises a broader question: Why did our immune system evolve this requirement for broccoli and other plant foods? Well, when do we need to boost our intestinal defenses the most? When we eat! That's when we may be ingesting pathogens. Linking heightened intestinal immune activation to food intake could serve to bolster immunity precisely when it is needed. At the same time, this would allow energy to be conserved in times of food scarcity, since maintaining these defenses takes considerable amounts of energy. Why remain at red alert 24 hours a day when we eat only a couple of times a day? We evolved for millions of years eating mostly weeds--wild plants, dark green leafy vegetables (or as they were known back then, leaves). By using veggies as a signal to upkeep our immune system, our bodies may be bolstering our immune defenses when we most need them. Thus, the old recommendation to "eat your veggies" has a strong molecular basis. (Did we really evolve eating that many plant foods? See my video Paleolithic Lessons).

This discovery has been all exciting for the drug companies who are looking into Ah receptor active pharmaceuticals. "However," as one research team at Cambridge concluded, "rather than developing additional anti-inflammatory drugs, changing diets which are currently highly processed and low in vegetable content, may be a more cost effective way towards health and well-being."

As remarkable as this story is, it is just the tip of the cruciferous iceberg! See, for example:

How else can we protect our immune function? Exercise (Preserving Immune Function In Athletes With Nutritional Yeast) and sleep (Sleep & Immunity)!

Given the variety and flexibility of most mammalian diets, a specific dependence on cruciferous vegetables for optimal intestinal immune function would seem overly restrictive, no? I address that in my video, Counteracting the Effects of Dioxins

-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.

Images thank to Nomadic Lass / Flickr.

Original Link

Test to See If Your Diet is Alkaline or Acid Forming

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In my video Alkaline Diets, Animal Protein, and Calcium Loss I presented evidence challenging the notion that our body is buffering the acid formed from our diet with calcium from our bones. How then is our body neutralizing the acid? Maybe with our muscles! Our blood gets more acidic as we age and our kidney function declines, and this may be a reason we lose muscle mass as we get older. As a pair of researchers note: "The modern Western diet based on animal products generates an acid load that may cause a lifespan state of unnoticed and growing metabolic acidosis." This chronic low-level diet-dependent metabolic acidosis might contribute to the progressive shrinking of our muscle mass as we age.

Muscle wasting appears to be an adaptive response to acidosis. When our muscles break down, amino acids are released into the bloodstream. Our liver can then take these amino acids and make something called glutamine, which our kidneys can use to get rid of excess acid. And indeed, in a three year study I profile in my video, Testing Your Diet with Pee and Purple Cabbage, those over age 65 eating alkaline diets were better able to preserve their muscle mass, which the researchers think may be because the alkaline-producing fruits and vegetables helped relieve the mild acidosis that occurs with the ingestion of the standard American diet.

So what should we think about the latest review's question, "Does an alkaline diet benefit health?" If the question is "Does a diet low in meat, eggs, and dairy--all acid-producing--and high in fruits and vegetables with lots of dark green leafies benefit health?" then of course the answer is yes, an alkaline diet benefits health. But if the question is "Does it matter what our 'peeH' is (whether our urine is acid or alkaline) regardless of what actually goes into our mouth?" then the answer is... still yes, but the accepted benefits of having alkaline urine appear limited to two areas: lower risk of kidney stones and better uric acid clearance.

We've known about kidney stones and alkalinity for a while, but the uric acid data is new. Researchers have found that alkalization of the urine is effective for removing uric acid from the body. If you remember from my video Flesh and Fructose, uric acid is bad stuff (potentially increasing one's risk of fatal stroke, heart disease, and death), so clearing more from your system is a good thing.

Those eating plant-based diets appear then to have an advantage in this regard. The average vegetarian diet is alkaline producing, and the average meat-eating diet is acid producing. Even though there are some acid-forming meat-substitutes, like some of the Quorn products, they're not as bad as something like tuna, and they're typically consumed in smaller quantities than meat consumers consume meat. Since the protein in plants is usually accompanied by much more potassium (which is alkalinizing), there is good reason to try to meet protein needs from plant sources. And when researchers actually measure urine pH, those eating strictly plant-based diets have the greatest advantage, with significantly more alkaline urine than omnivores.

How can we tell what our urine pH is? Well we can be all boring and order some pH paper strips to pee on. Or... we can use what everyone should have right now in their crisper, a purple cabbage. Everyone should have a red or purple cabbage in their fridge since it is not only one of the single best nutrition bangs for our buck, but we can also do science with it!

First, either boil some purple cabbage until the water turns deep purple or (a quicker and safer way since there's no hot liquids) blend some raw with water in a blender and strain out the solids. Then what you can do with that royal purple liquid is pour it in the toilet bowl after you urinate. (You can imagine how much fun kids have with this!)

If it stays purple, your urine is acidic and you should eat more dark green leafy vegetables. If the toilet bowl turns pink, your urine is really acidic, so you should definitely eat more dark green leafy vegetables. We're looking for blue. If it turns blue that means your urine is neutral or even basic. If it's sky blue, you should... continue to eat more dark green leafy vegetables. Now I have a low-flow toilet, so there's very little water in the bowel to start with. The effect might not be as dramatic if diluted in a larger quantity of water. For a step-by-step tutorial, see my video Testing Your Diet with Pee & Purple Cabbage.

More bathroom chemistry can be found in Pretty in Pee-nk and Asparagus Pee.

How else can we protect our muscles? We can eat healthy enough to avoid statin drugs (see Statin Muscle Toxicity) and the neurotoxins that can cause movement disorders (Muscle Tremors & Diet).

Cherries may also help lower uric acid levels: Gout Treatment with a Cherry on Top.

Superfood Bargains is the video in which purple cabbage takes the gold, though it was unseated in Biggest Nutrition Bang for Your Buck.

Why do I always go on and on about dark green leafy vegetables? Check out my 58 videos on greens and find out! : )

-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 and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: your neighborhood librarian / Flickr

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Quadrupling Breast Cancer Survival

NF-July24 The Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable.jpg

Half a million Americans are expected to die this year from cancer, equal to five jumbo jets crashing every day. The number of Americans who die from cancer each year is more than all those who have died in all U.S. wars combined. And this happens every single year.

After a cancer diagnosis people tend to clean up their diets. About a third to a half of breast cancer patients, for example, make healthy dietary changes following diagnosis, such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and decreasing meat, fat, and sugar intakes. Does it actually help that late in the game? Well, the Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study was undertaken in a few thousand breast cancer survivors to determine if a plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet could influence breast cancer recurrence rates and survival.

Previously they famously reported that simple changes -- five or more servings of fruits and veggies a day and just walking 30 minutes a day six days a week -- were associated with a significant survival advantage, cutting the risk of death nearly in half. Note: it was fruits and veggies and exercise. In the video, Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable, you can see the proportion of women with breast cancer surviving nine years in the study if they had low fruit and vegetable consumption and low physical activity, compared to those high in one and low in the other, compared to the survival curve of those high in both. And it worked just as well in women with estrogen receptor negative tumors, which normally have twice the mortality -- unless women eat those few fruits and veggies and take a few strolls.

Imagine, for a second, you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Imagine sitting in that chair, in the doctor's office, as your doctor gives you the news. But, she says, there's a new experimental treatment that can cut your chances of dying in the next few years from 16 percent down to just 4 percent. To quadruple their survival rate, many women would re-mortgage their homes to fly to some quack clinic in Mexico and would lose all their hair to chemo, but most, apparently, couldn't stand the thought of eating broccoli.

The Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study found that while fruits and vegetables in general may be good, cruciferous vegetables may be better. For women on tamoxifen, for example, women who consumed one of their five daily servings of fruits and veggies as broccoli, cauliflower, collards, cabbage, or kale had their risk of cancer recurrence cut in half.

I recommend that all women with breast cancer eat broccoli sprouts. See my 8-part video series:

1. DNA Protection from Broccoli
2. Sulforaphane: From Broccoli to Breast
3. Broccoli Versus Breast Cancer Stem Cells
4. Liver Toxicity Due to Broccoli Juice?
5. How Much Broccoli Is Too Much?
6. The Best Detox
7. Sometimes the Enzyme Myth Is True
8. Biggest Nutrition Bang for Your Buck

They may also help out with other cancers (Lung Cancer Metastases and Broccoli and Raw Broccoli and Bladder Cancer Survival).

For more on breast cancer survival, see:

What's even better is preventing breast cancer in the first place. Here are the 10 latest videos, but there are 81 other videos on breast cancer:

Some of this video may sound familiar -- I included it in my 2013 live presentation, which you can watch here.

-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 presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image Credit: Kris A / Flickr

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