What’s the Mediterranean Diet’s Secret?

Why Was Heart Disease Rare in the Mediterranean?.jpg

The Mediterranean Diet is an "in" topic nowadays in both the medical literature and the lay media. As one researcher put it, "Uncritical laudatory coverage is common, but specifics are hard to come by: What is it? Where did it come from? Why is it good? Merits are rarely detailed; possible downsides are never mentioned." So, let's dig in....

After World War II, the government of Greece asked the Rockefeller foundation to come in and assess the situation. Impressed by the low rates of heart disease in the region, nutrition scientist Ancel Keys--after which "K" rations were named--initiated his famous seven countries study. In this study, he found the rate of fatal heart disease on the Greek isle of Crete was 20 times lower than in the United States. They also had the lowest cancer rates and fewest deaths overall. What were they eating? Their diets were more than 90% plant-based, which may explain why coronary heart disease was such a rarity. A rarity, that is, except for a small class of rich people whose diet differed from that of the general population--they ate meat every day instead of every week or two.

So, the heart of the Mediterranean diet is mainly plant-based, and low in meat and dairy, which Keys considered the "major villains in the diet" because of their saturated fat content. Unfortunately, no one is really eating the traditional Mediterranean diet anymore, even in the Mediterranean. The prevalence of coronary heart disease skyrocketed by an order of magnitude within a few decades in Crete, blamed on the increased consumption of meat and cheese at the expense of plant foods.

Everyone is talking about the Mediterranean diet, but few do it properly. People think of pizza or spaghetti with meat sauce, but while "Italian restaurants brag about the healthy measuring in diet, they serve a travesty of it." If no one's really eating this way anymore, how do you study it?

Researchers came up with a variety of Mediterranean diet adherence scoring systems to see if people who are eating more Mediterranean-ish do better. You get maximum points the more plant foods you eat, and effectively you get points deducted by eating just a single serving of meat or dairy a day. So it's no surprise those that eat relatively higher on the scale have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death overall. After all, the Mediterranean diet can be considered to be a "near vegetarian" diet. "As such, it should be expected to produce the well-established health benefits of vegetarian diets." That is, less heart disease, cancer, death, and inflammation; improved arterial function; a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes; a reduced risk for stroke, depression, and cognitive impairment.

How might it work? I've talked about the elegant studies showing that those who eat plant-based diets have more plant-based compounds, like aspirin, circulating within their systems. Polyphenol phytonutrients in plant foods are associated with a significantly lower risk of dying. Magnesium consumption is also associated with a significantly lower risk of dying, and is found in dark green leafy vegetables, as well as fruits, beans, nuts, soy, and whole grains.

Heme iron, on the other hand--the iron found in blood and muscle--acts as a pro-oxidant and appears to increase the risk of diabetes, whereas plant-based, non-heme iron appears safe. Similarly, with heart disease, animal-based iron was found to significantly increase the risk of coronary heart disease, our number one killer, but not plant-based iron. The Mediterranean diet is protective compared to the Standard American Diet--no question--but any diet rich in whole plant foods and low in animal-fat consumption could be expected to confer protection against many of our leading killers.

Here are some more videos on the Mediterranean Diet:

For more information on heme iron, see Risk Associated With Iron Supplements.

More on magnesium is found in How Do Nuts Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death? and Mineral of the Year--Magnesium.

And more on polyphenols can be seen in videos like How to Slow Brain Aging by Two Years and Juicing Removes More Than Just Fiber.

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: Couleur / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Original Link

What’s the Mediterranean Diet’s Secret?

Why Was Heart Disease Rare in the Mediterranean?.jpg

The Mediterranean Diet is an "in" topic nowadays in both the medical literature and the lay media. As one researcher put it, "Uncritical laudatory coverage is common, but specifics are hard to come by: What is it? Where did it come from? Why is it good? Merits are rarely detailed; possible downsides are never mentioned." So, let's dig in....

After World War II, the government of Greece asked the Rockefeller foundation to come in and assess the situation. Impressed by the low rates of heart disease in the region, nutrition scientist Ancel Keys--after which "K" rations were named--initiated his famous seven countries study. In this study, he found the rate of fatal heart disease on the Greek isle of Crete was 20 times lower than in the United States. They also had the lowest cancer rates and fewest deaths overall. What were they eating? Their diets were more than 90% plant-based, which may explain why coronary heart disease was such a rarity. A rarity, that is, except for a small class of rich people whose diet differed from that of the general population--they ate meat every day instead of every week or two.

So, the heart of the Mediterranean diet is mainly plant-based, and low in meat and dairy, which Keys considered the "major villains in the diet" because of their saturated fat content. Unfortunately, no one is really eating the traditional Mediterranean diet anymore, even in the Mediterranean. The prevalence of coronary heart disease skyrocketed by an order of magnitude within a few decades in Crete, blamed on the increased consumption of meat and cheese at the expense of plant foods.

Everyone is talking about the Mediterranean diet, but few do it properly. People think of pizza or spaghetti with meat sauce, but while "Italian restaurants brag about the healthy measuring in diet, they serve a travesty of it." If no one's really eating this way anymore, how do you study it?

Researchers came up with a variety of Mediterranean diet adherence scoring systems to see if people who are eating more Mediterranean-ish do better. You get maximum points the more plant foods you eat, and effectively you get points deducted by eating just a single serving of meat or dairy a day. So it's no surprise those that eat relatively higher on the scale have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death overall. After all, the Mediterranean diet can be considered to be a "near vegetarian" diet. "As such, it should be expected to produce the well-established health benefits of vegetarian diets." That is, less heart disease, cancer, death, and inflammation; improved arterial function; a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes; a reduced risk for stroke, depression, and cognitive impairment.

How might it work? I've talked about the elegant studies showing that those who eat plant-based diets have more plant-based compounds, like aspirin, circulating within their systems. Polyphenol phytonutrients in plant foods are associated with a significantly lower risk of dying. Magnesium consumption is also associated with a significantly lower risk of dying, and is found in dark green leafy vegetables, as well as fruits, beans, nuts, soy, and whole grains.

Heme iron, on the other hand--the iron found in blood and muscle--acts as a pro-oxidant and appears to increase the risk of diabetes, whereas plant-based, non-heme iron appears safe. Similarly, with heart disease, animal-based iron was found to significantly increase the risk of coronary heart disease, our number one killer, but not plant-based iron. The Mediterranean diet is protective compared to the Standard American Diet--no question--but any diet rich in whole plant foods and low in animal-fat consumption could be expected to confer protection against many of our leading killers.

Here are some more videos on the Mediterranean Diet:

For more information on heme iron, see Risk Associated With Iron Supplements.

More on magnesium is found in How Do Nuts Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death? and Mineral of the Year--Magnesium.

And more on polyphenols can be seen in videos like How to Slow Brain Aging by Two Years and Juicing Removes More Than Just Fiber.

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: Couleur / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Reducing Glycotoxin Intake to Help Reduce Brain Loss

Reducing Glycotoxin Intake to Prevent Alzheimer's.jpg

Each of us has about six billion miles of DNA. How does our body keep it from getting all tangled up? There are special proteins called histones, which act like spools with DNA as the thread. Enzymes called sirtuins wrap the DNA around the histones and by doing so, silence whatever genes were in that stretch of DNA, hence their name SIRtuins, which stands for silencing information regulator.

Although they were discovered only about a decade ago, the study of sirtuins "has become one of the most promising areas of biomedicine," since they appear to be involved in promoting healthy aging and longevity. Suppression of this key host defense is considered a central feature of Alzheimer's disease, as shown in Reducing Glycotoxin Intake to Prevent Alzheimer's.

Autopsies of Alzheimer's victims reveal that loss of sirtuin activity is closely associated with the accumulation of the plaques and tangles in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. Sirtuin appears to activate pathways that steer the brain away from the formation of plaque and tangle proteins. "Because a decrease in sirtuin activity can clearly have deleterious effects" on nerve health, researchers are trying to come up with drugs to increase sirtuin activity, but why not just prevent its suppression in the first place?

Glycotoxins in our food suppress sirtuin activity, also known as advanced glycation end products, or AGE's. Our modern diet includes excessive AGE's, which can be neurotoxic. High levels in the blood may predict cognitive decline over time. If you measure the urine levels of glycotoxins flowing through the bodies of older adults, those with the highest levels went on to suffer the greatest cognitive decline over the subsequent nine years.

As we age, our brain literally shrinks. In our 60's and 70's, we lose an average of five cubic centimeters of total brain tissue volume every year, but some people lose more than others. Brain atrophy may be reduced in very healthy individuals, and a few people don't lose any brain at all. Normally we lose about 2% of brain volume every year, but that's just the average. Although the average brain loss for folks in their 70's and 80's was 2.1%, some lost more, some lost less, and some men and women lost none at all over a period of four years.

Researchers in Australia provided the first evidence linking AGEs with this kind of cerebral brain loss. So, limiting one's consumption of these compounds may end up having significant public health benefits. Because sirtuin deficiency is both preventable and reversible by dietary AGE reduction, a therapeutic strategy that includes eating less AGE's may offer a new strategy to combat the epidemic of Alzheimer's.

Some glycotoxins are produced internally, particularly in diabetics, but anyone can get them from smoking and eating, particularly foods high in fat and protein cooked at high temperatures. In my video, Avoiding a Sugary Grave, I listed the 15 foods most contaminated with glycotoxins; mostly chicken, but also pork, beef, and fish, which may help explain why those that eat the most meat may have triple the risk of getting dementia compared to long-time vegetarians. Note there are some relatively high fat and protein plant foods such as nuts and soy products, so I no longer recommend toasting nuts and would steer clear from roasted tofu.

I've covered advanced glycation end-products in Glycotoxins, Bacon, Eggs, and Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy, and Why is Meat a Risk Factor for Diabetes?.

More on slowing brain aging in How to Slow Brain Aging By Two Years.

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: lightwise © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Reducing Glycotoxin Intake to Help Reduce Brain Loss

Reducing Glycotoxin Intake to Prevent Alzheimer's.jpg

Each of us has about six billion miles of DNA. How does our body keep it from getting all tangled up? There are special proteins called histones, which act like spools with DNA as the thread. Enzymes called sirtuins wrap the DNA around the histones and by doing so, silence whatever genes were in that stretch of DNA, hence their name SIRtuins, which stands for silencing information regulator.

Although they were discovered only about a decade ago, the study of sirtuins "has become one of the most promising areas of biomedicine," since they appear to be involved in promoting healthy aging and longevity. Suppression of this key host defense is considered a central feature of Alzheimer's disease, as shown in Reducing Glycotoxin Intake to Prevent Alzheimer's.

Autopsies of Alzheimer's victims reveal that loss of sirtuin activity is closely associated with the accumulation of the plaques and tangles in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. Sirtuin appears to activate pathways that steer the brain away from the formation of plaque and tangle proteins. "Because a decrease in sirtuin activity can clearly have deleterious effects" on nerve health, researchers are trying to come up with drugs to increase sirtuin activity, but why not just prevent its suppression in the first place?

Glycotoxins in our food suppress sirtuin activity, also known as advanced glycation end products, or AGE's. Our modern diet includes excessive AGE's, which can be neurotoxic. High levels in the blood may predict cognitive decline over time. If you measure the urine levels of glycotoxins flowing through the bodies of older adults, those with the highest levels went on to suffer the greatest cognitive decline over the subsequent nine years.

As we age, our brain literally shrinks. In our 60's and 70's, we lose an average of five cubic centimeters of total brain tissue volume every year, but some people lose more than others. Brain atrophy may be reduced in very healthy individuals, and a few people don't lose any brain at all. Normally we lose about 2% of brain volume every year, but that's just the average. Although the average brain loss for folks in their 70's and 80's was 2.1%, some lost more, some lost less, and some men and women lost none at all over a period of four years.

Researchers in Australia provided the first evidence linking AGEs with this kind of cerebral brain loss. So, limiting one's consumption of these compounds may end up having significant public health benefits. Because sirtuin deficiency is both preventable and reversible by dietary AGE reduction, a therapeutic strategy that includes eating less AGE's may offer a new strategy to combat the epidemic of Alzheimer's.

Some glycotoxins are produced internally, particularly in diabetics, but anyone can get them from smoking and eating, particularly foods high in fat and protein cooked at high temperatures. In my video, Avoiding a Sugary Grave, I listed the 15 foods most contaminated with glycotoxins; mostly chicken, but also pork, beef, and fish, which may help explain why those that eat the most meat may have triple the risk of getting dementia compared to long-time vegetarians. Note there are some relatively high fat and protein plant foods such as nuts and soy products, so I no longer recommend toasting nuts and would steer clear from roasted tofu.

I've covered advanced glycation end-products in Glycotoxins, Bacon, Eggs, and Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy, and Why is Meat a Risk Factor for Diabetes?.

More on slowing brain aging in How to Slow Brain Aging By Two Years.

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: lightwise © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

Original Link

How May Eating Plants Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

NF-Oct27 Preventing Alzheimers Disease with Plants.jpeg

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

Original Link

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease with Diet

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Up to half of Alzheimer's cases may be attributable to just seven risk factors shown in my video, Preventing Alzheimer's with Lifestyle Changes, which include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, exercise, smoking, depression, and mental exercise; and that's not including diet because there are so many dietary factors that researchers couldn't fit them into their model. But, they acknowledged that diet might be another important modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. In particular, there is growing evidence that dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with lower Alzheimer's risk, as well as slower cognitive decline, but which constituents of the Mediterranean diet are responsible?

The traditional Mediterranean diet is a diet high in intake of vegetables, beans, fruit, and nuts, and low in meat and dairy. When researchers tried to tease out the protective components, fish consumption showed no benefit, neither did moderate alcohol consumption. The two critical pieces appeared to be vegetable consumption, and the ratio between unsaturated fats and saturated fats, essentially plant fats to animal fats.

In studies across 11 countries, fat consumption appeared to be most closely correlated with the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease, with the lowest fat intake and Alzheimer's rates in China to the highest fat intake and Alzheimer's rates in the United States. But this is grouping all fats together.

Harvard researchers examined the relationships of the major fat types to cognitive change over four years among 6,000 healthy older women, and found that higher saturated fat intake was associated with a poorer trajectory of cognition and memory. Women with the highest saturated fat intake had 60 to 70% greater odds of worse change on brain function. The magnitude of cognitive change associated with saturated fat consumption was equivalent to about six years of aging, meaning women with the lowest saturated fat intake had the brain function of women six years younger.

What if one already has Alzheimer's, though? Previously, a group of Columbia University researchers reported that eating a Mediterranean-style diet was related to lower risk for Alzheimer's disease, but whether a Mediterranean diet--or any diet for that matter--is associated with the subsequent course of the disease and outcomes had not been investigated, until now.

In a study highlighted in my video, Preventing Alzheimer's Disease with Diet, researchers found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may affect not only risk for Alzheimer's disease, but also subsequent disease course, as higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower mortality. And the more they adhered to the healthier diet, the longer they lived. Within five years, only 20% of those with high adherence died, with twice as many deaths in the intermediate adherence group. In the low adherence group, within five years, more than half were dead, and by ten years, 90% were gone. By the end of the study, the only people still alive were those with higher adherence to the healthier diet.

For more on the Mediterranean diet, check out:

I do have a bunch on dietary factors in cognitive decline, though:

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: Shawn Allen / Flickr

Original Link

Preventing Alzheimer’s with Lifestyle Changes

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It's safe to say that Alzheimer's disease research is in a "state of crisis." For the past two decades, over 73,000 research articles have been published, averaging 100 papers per day, yet little clinical progress has been made. The reason a cure may be impossible is because lost cognitive functions in Alzheimer's disease patients are due to fatally damaged neuronal networks, and dead nerve cells cannot be brought back to life. Consequently, replacement with new brain cells--even if it were technically possible, cannot be done without creating a new personal identity. One may live, but is it really a cure if their personality is lost forever?

Developing drugs that try to clear out the plaques from advanced degenerated brain tissue therefore makes about as much sense as bulldozing tombstones from graveyards in an attempt to raise the dead. Even if drug companies figured out how to further disease progression, many Alzheimer's victims might not choose to live without being able to recognize family, friends, or themselves in a mirror.

Thus, prevention of Alzheimer's seems to be the key. Alzheimer's disease, like heart attacks or strokes, need to be prevented by controlling vascular risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol, controlling what's called "chronic brain hypoperfusion," the lack of adequate blood flow to the brain over the years before the onset of Alzheimer's disease. This means a healthy diet, physical exercise and mental exercise.

In the video, Preventing Alzheimer's Disease with Lifestyle Changes, you can see a visual of the potential number of Alzheimer's cases that could be prevented every year in the United States if we could just reduce diabetes rates 10 percent or 25 percent, since diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer's. And so is high blood pressure, depression, not exercising your body, smoking, and not exercising your brain. Altogether, a small reduction in all of these risk factors could potentially prevent hundreds of thousands of devastated families.

If modifiable factors such as diet were found conclusively to modulate the risk of Alzheimer's disease to the degree suggested by this research, then we would all indeed rejoice at the implications.

My mom's mom died of Alzheimer's. It is worth preventing at all costs.

Up to half of Alzheimer's cases may be attributable to just those seven risk factors, and that's not even including diet, because there were so many dietary factors that they couldn't fit them into their model. What role does diet play? That's the subject of my video, Preventing Alzheimer's Disease with Diet.

So far these are some of the videos I've done on dementia prevention and treatment:

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: clement127 / Flickr

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Preventing Breast Cancer with Flax Seeds

NF-May24 Can Flax Seeds Help Prevent Breast Cancer?.jpeg

I've previously discussed the role of dietary lignans in the reduction of breast cancer risk and improvement in breast cancer survival, based on studies that showed that women with breast cancer who ate the most lignans appeared to live longer (Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Epidemiological Evidence and Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Survival: Clinical Evidence). However, lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom--in seeds, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, berries--so how do we know lignans aren't merely a marker for the intake of unrefined plant foods? For example, those who eat lots of plants--vegetarians--have about eight times the lignan intake than omnivores.

In a petri dish, lignans have been shown to both have direct anticancer growth activity against human breast cancer cells and to prevent cancer cell migration. But it wasn't until 2005 that it was put to the test in people. Researchers from the University of Toronto conducted a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial (as seen in my video, Can Flax Seeds Help Prevent Breast Cancer?) of flaxseeds, the world's most concentrated source of lignans in breast cancer patients. The researchers found that flax appears to have the potential to reduce human breast tumor growth in just a matter of weeks. Therefore, I started recommending ground flax seeds to breast cancer patients.

Can lignans also help prevent breast cancer in the first place? High lignan intake is associated with reduced breast cancer risk, but again lignan intake may just be saying an indicator of high plant food intake in general. So researchers from the University of Kansas gave women at high risk for breast cancer a teaspoon of ground flaxseeds a day for a year, and found on average a drop in precancerous changes in the breast.

What about women who regularly eat flax seeds? Outside of an experimental setting, there just weren't a lot of women eating flax seeds regularly to study--until now. Matching 3,000 women with breast cancer to 3,000 women without, a study published in Cancer Causes and Control found that consumption of flaxseed (and of flax bread) was associated with a 20-30 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. The researchers note that, as flaxseeds are packed with lignans, only a small daily serving of flaxseed is required to attain the level of lignan intake associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk. Researchers concluded: "As it appears that most women do not consume flaxseed and that small amounts may be associated with reduced breast cancer risk, interventions to increase the prevalence of flaxseed consumption might be considered."

The latest review summarizes the association between flax and decreased risk of breast cancer, better mental health, and lower mortality among breast cancer patients. The only other study of flax and brain health I'm aware of was an exploration of 100 commonly used drugs and supplements on cognition in older adults, which found that flax is one of the few things that appears to help.

How else may flaxseeds aid in preventing and treating breast cancer? There's an inflammatory molecule called interleukin-1, which may help tumors feed, grow, and invade. Our bodies therefore produce an interkeukin-1 receptor antagonist, binding to the IL-1 receptor and blocking the action of IL-1. The activity of this protective inhibitor can be boosted with the drug tamoxifen--or by eating flax seed. In premenopausal women, the proinflammatory profile of interleukin-1 can be counteracted by a dietary addition of a few spoonfuls of ground flax. One month of flax may be able to increase the anti-inflammatory inhibitor levels by over 50 percent, better even than the drug.

Yes, having one's ovaries removed may reduce breast cancer risk as much as 60 percent, but at the cost of severe side-effects. The drug tamoxifen may reduce the incidence of breast cancer by more than 40 percent, but may induce other severe side effects such as uterine cancer and blood clots. That's why less toxic (even safe!) breast cancer preventive strategies such as dietary modifications need to be developed. These lignan phytoestrogens in flaxseeds may be one successful route given the data showing reduced breast cancer risk and improved overall survival.

Lignans are not a magic bullet to prevent breast cancer--we can't just sprinkle some flax on your bacon cheeseburger--but as a part of a healthy diet and life-style, they might help to reduce breast cancer risk in the general population.

Flaxseeds may also help fight hormone-mediated cancers in men. See Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer and Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?

What else can these puppies do? See:

I have another 100+ videos on breast cancer if you want to become an expert and help take care of yourself and/or the women in your life. Here's a few recent ones to get you started:

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: Alisha Vargas / Flickr

Original Link

Are Sprouted Lentils Healthier Than Canned Lentils?

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Beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils are packed with nutrients and play a role in the prevention of chronic disease, but most can't be eaten raw. Some can be sprouted, though. Boiling is the most common cooking method, which is used for canned beans. Which is healthier, though, cooked or sprouted?

The easiest way to compare healthfulness is to measure nutrient levels--such as the anthocyanin pigments that make kidney beans so pretty--thought to account for some of beans' protective benefits against chronic disease. Sprouted beans have more of some anthocyanins, but less than others. We find this same pattern across the board with the other phenolic phytonutrients: sprouted beans have more of some, less of others. Because the positive effects of these compounds may be related to their antioxidant capacity, we can compare the overall antioxidant power of boiled versus sprouted beans. In that case, boiled appears to have a marginal edge.

Ideally, though, rather than merely comparing concentrations of phytochemicals, we'd measure physiological effects. For example, we might look at the effect of boiled versus sprouted beans against cancer cell growth. That's exactly what researchers did. In my video Cooked Beans or Sprouted Beans?, you can see the concentrations of bean extract needed to cut the breast cancer growth rate in half in a petri dish. Boiled beans do about 40 times better than raw beans--the same cancer growth inhibition at just a fraction of the concentration. Sprouted beans do about the same.

We can't eat most beans raw, but I wanted to include them to show you a fascinating phenomenon. No amount of raw bean extract appears to totally stop the growth of breast cancer cells, but just small amounts of cooked or sprouted beans can. We find the same thing with killing off cancer. No amount of raw bean extract can fully kill off breast cancer cells, but both boiled and sprouted beans can.

Similar results were found for melanoma cells, a type of malignant skin cancer. Processing the beans--either cooking or sprouting--boosted anticancer activity in vitro. However, against kidney cancer, raw and boiled worked, but sprouted didn't at all.

There has also been interest in brain protection. Given that elderly persons who report always eating legumes may be significantly less likely to experience cognitive decline, a group of Chinese researchers decided to compare the protective effects of boiled versus sprouted beans on astrocytes.

Astrocytes are the most abundant type of cell in our brain. They are star-shaped cells that keep our brain running smoothly. Should they become damaged, though, they may play an important role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's. So if we're thinking clearly, we should thank our lucky stars.

To see if beans help protect astrocytes from damage, we'd have to first make sure bean extracts wouldn't cause any damage. Cooked beans don't seem to hurt cells at all, and sprouted beans seem to even help them grow a little. If we add an oxidative chemical to the cells, we can kill off about a quarter of them. However, if we add that chemical along with some boiled bean extract, the astrocytes were partially protected at higher doses. Sprouted bean extract didn't appear to offer significant benefit.

What's the takeaway? As far as I'm concerned, we should eat beans in whichever way will get us to eat the most of them.

I do love my lentil sprouts, one of the healthiest snacks on the planet (along with kale chips). I can grow my own in just 2 to 3 days. But using canned beans I can get similar nutrition in about 2 to 3 seconds.

Sprouting is so much fun, though! I've got a bunch of videos on broccoli sprouts, for example: Biggest Nutrition Bang for Your Buck.

But again, whichever way we like them we should eat them. Why? See:

Mostly I just used canned. See Canned Beans or Cooked Beans?

Other videos on practical prep tips include:

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: Veganbaking.net / Flickr

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Can Turmeric Help with Alzheimer’s?

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The spice turmeric may help prevent Alzheimer's disease (See Preventing Alzheimer's with Turmeric), but what about treating Alzheimer's disease with turmeric? An exciting case series was published in 2012 (highlighted in my video, Treating Alzheimer's with Turmeric): three Alzheimer's patients were treated with turmeric, and their symptoms improved.

In case number one, an 83-year-old woman started losing her memory and feeling disoriented. She started having problems taking care of herself, wandering aimlessly and became incontinent. After taking a teaspoon of turmeric per day however, her agitation, apathy, anxiety and irritability were relieved and she had less accidents. Furthermore, she began to laugh again, sing again, and knit again. After taking turmeric for more than a year, she came to recognize her family and now lives a peaceful life without a significant behavioral or psychological symptom of dementia.

Case number two was similar, but with the additional symptoms of hallucinations, delusions and depression, which were relieved by turmeric. She began to recognize her family again and now lives in a peacefully serene manner. And the third case, similar as well, included an improvement in cognition.

Researchers concluded that this was the first demonstration of turmeric as an effective and safe "drug" for the treatment of the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in Alzheimer's patients. They call it a drug, but it's just a spice you can walk into any grocery store and buy for a few bucks. They were giving people like a teaspoon a day, which comes out to be about 15 cents.

Two trials using curcumin supplements rather than turmeric, however, failed to show a benefit. Curcumin is just one of hundreds of phytochemicals found in turmeric. Concentrated into pill form at up to 40 times the dose, no evidence of efficacy was found. Why didn't they get the same dramatic results we saw in the three case reports? Well, those three cases may have been total flukes, but on the other hand, turmeric, the whole food, may be greater than the sum of its parts.

There is a long list of compounds that have been isolated from turmeric, and it's possible that each component plays a distinct role in making it useful against Alzheimer's disease. Hence, researchers suggested that a mixture of compounds might better represent turmeric in its medicinal value better than curcumin alone. But why concoct some artificial mixture when Mother Nature already did it for us with turmeric? Because you can't patent the spice. And if you can't patent it, how are you going to charge more than 15 cents?

I've previously addressed the thorny issue of patenting natural plant remedies in my video: Plants as Intellectual Property - Patently Wrong?

The whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts theme is one that comes up over and over:

What else might the cheap, easily available spice turmeric do? It may help fight arthritis (Turmeric Curcumin and Rheumatoid Arthritis and Turmeric Curcumin and Osteoarthritis) and cancer:

But it's not for everyone: Who Shouldn't Consume Curcumin or Turmeric?

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: Steven Jackson / Flickr

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