Benefits of Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold

Benefits of Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold.jpeg

Natural immunomodulators that can help regulate our immune system without side-effects have been sought for centuries, and all the while they've been sitting in the produce aisle. Plants produce thousand of active compounds, many of which modulate our immune system, but we can't forget the fungi (see Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation).

Mushrooms have used for centuries as folk remedies, and for good reason. Some have been shown to boost immune function, so much so that a type of fiber found in shiitake mushrooms is approved for use as adjunct chemotherapy, injected intravenously to help treat a variety of cancers by rallying our immune defenses.

More than 6,000 papers have been published on these so-called beta glucans, but almost all of the data about preventing infections had come from petri dish or lab animal studies, until a few years ago when a series of experiments on athletes showed beneficial effects in marathon runners (see Preserving Immune Function in Athletes With Nutritional Yeast). What about the rest of us? We didn't know... until now.

As I explore in my video, Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold, beta glucan fiber found in baker's, brewer's and nutritional yeast helps to maintain our body's defense against pathogens even in nonathletes, according to a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The recurrence of infections with the common cold was reduced by 25% in those that ate the equivalent of about a spoonful of nutritional yeast a day, and had fewer cold-related sleeping difficulties when they did get sick.

What about half a spoonful a day? Still worked! Subjects experienced a big drop in common cold incidence and a reduction in symptoms as well. Why is this? This study found that not only were upper respiratory infection symptoms diminished, but that mood states appeared to improve, for example a significant boost in feelings of "vigor." So the researchers suggest that maybe the yeast fiber is able to counteract the negative effects of stress on the immune system.

In terms of side-effects, two folks reported stomachaches, but they were both in the placebo group.

Unlike antibiotics and antivirals, which are designed to kill the pathogen directly, these yeast compounds instead appear to work by stimulating our immune defenses, and as such don't share the same antibiotic side effects. They stimulate our immune defenses presumably because our body recognizes them as foreign. But if it's treated like an invader, might it trigger an inflammatory response? Turns out these fiber compounds may actually have an anti-inflammatory effect, suggesting nutritional yeast may offer the best of both worlds, boosting the infection fighting side of the immune system while suppressing inflammatory components.

Yeast is high in purines, so those with gout, uric acid kidney stones, and new organ transplant recipients may want to keep their intake to less than a teaspoon a day. But is there any downside for everyone else? In California some packages of nutritional yeast are slapped with prop 65 warning stickers, suggesting there's something in it exceeding cancer or birth defect safety limits. I called around to the companies and it turns out the problem is lead. California state law says a product cannot contain more than half of a microgram of lead per daily serving, so I contacted the six brands I knew about and asked them how much lead was in their products.

KAL originally said "<5 ppm," but when we called back they said "<3 ppm." Even if it's 3, that translates into less than 45 micrograms per serving, nearly a 100 times more than the California limit. But perhaps that's better than Bob's Red Mill or Frontier Coop, who evidently don't test at all. But at least they got back to me. Redstar brand failed to respond to multiple attempts to contact them. Now Foods said they test for lead and claim that at least their recent batches meet the less than a half a microgram California standard. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests they would not provide me with documentation to substantiate their numbers. My favorite response was from Bragg's who sent me the analysis certificate from the lab showing less than 0.01 ppm, which means at most less than half the California standard, which I believe is the most stringent in the world. To put the numbers in context, in determining how much lead manufacturers can put into candy likely to be frequently consumed by small children, the Food and Drug Administration would allow about 2 micrograms a day in the form of lollipops, but as far as I'm concerned the less lead the better.

I was so frustrated by the lack of transparency I decided to test them for lead myself. NutritionFacts.org hired an independent lab to conduct our own tests for lead and shipped out 8 samples of nutritional yeast in their original package. The lab used standard practices for lead testing known as Official Methods of Analysis set by AOAC International. Lab technicians determined the lead values based on California Prop 65 standards. Here are the results from the brands we tested:

Bob's Red Mill - Test report shows no detectable lead (<0.01 ppm).

Bragg - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Dr. Fuhrman - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Frontier Coop - Test report shows lead levels at 0.021 ppm. It would take six tablespoons a day (based on the manufacture's listed density) to exceed the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) for chemicals causing reproductive toxicity.*

KAL - Test report shows lead levels at 0.011 ppm. It would take seven tablespoons a day to exceed the MADL.*

NOW Foods - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Red Star - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Whole Foods - Test report shows lead levels at 0.012 ppm. It would take six tablespoons a day to exceed the MADL.*

So what do all those numbers mean? None of the brands tested exceeded California prop 65 standards. No matter what brand, consuming a typical serving (2 tablespoons) per day is still well within safe limits.

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:

* The Maximum Allowable Dose Level for lead as a developmental toxin is 0.5 micrograms a day. How are MADL's calculated? Basically scientists figure out what the "no observable effect level" is, the level at which no birth defects or reproductive toxicity can be found, and then introduce a 1000-fold safety buffer. So for example, let's say there's some chemical that causes birth defects if expectant moms are exposed to two drops of the chemical a day, but there's no evidence that one drop a day is harmful. Do they set the Maximum Allowable Dose Level at one drop? No, they set it at 1/1000th of a drop to account for scientific uncertainty and to err on the side of caution. So by saying six tablespoons a day of nutritional yeast may exceed the MADL is in effect saying that the level of lead found in 6,000 tablespoons of nutritional yeast may cause birth defects. Like mercury, though, as far as I'm concerned the less lead exposure the better. I hope this will inspire companies to do further testing to see if the levels we found were just flukes.

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

Original Link

Benefits of Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold

Benefits of Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold.jpeg

Natural immunomodulators that can help regulate our immune system without side-effects have been sought for centuries, and all the while they've been sitting in the produce aisle. Plants produce thousand of active compounds, many of which modulate our immune system, but we can't forget the fungi (see Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation).

Mushrooms have used for centuries as folk remedies, and for good reason. Some have been shown to boost immune function, so much so that a type of fiber found in shiitake mushrooms is approved for use as adjunct chemotherapy, injected intravenously to help treat a variety of cancers by rallying our immune defenses.

More than 6,000 papers have been published on these so-called beta glucans, but almost all of the data about preventing infections had come from petri dish or lab animal studies, until a few years ago when a series of experiments on athletes showed beneficial effects in marathon runners (see Preserving Immune Function in Athletes With Nutritional Yeast). What about the rest of us? We didn't know... until now.

As I explore in my video, Nutritional Yeast to Prevent the Common Cold, beta glucan fiber found in baker's, brewer's and nutritional yeast helps to maintain our body's defense against pathogens even in nonathletes, according to a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The recurrence of infections with the common cold was reduced by 25% in those that ate the equivalent of about a spoonful of nutritional yeast a day, and had fewer cold-related sleeping difficulties when they did get sick.

What about half a spoonful a day? Still worked! Subjects experienced a big drop in common cold incidence and a reduction in symptoms as well. Why is this? This study found that not only were upper respiratory infection symptoms diminished, but that mood states appeared to improve, for example a significant boost in feelings of "vigor." So the researchers suggest that maybe the yeast fiber is able to counteract the negative effects of stress on the immune system.

In terms of side-effects, two folks reported stomachaches, but they were both in the placebo group.

Unlike antibiotics and antivirals, which are designed to kill the pathogen directly, these yeast compounds instead appear to work by stimulating our immune defenses, and as such don't share the same antibiotic side effects. They stimulate our immune defenses presumably because our body recognizes them as foreign. But if it's treated like an invader, might it trigger an inflammatory response? Turns out these fiber compounds may actually have an anti-inflammatory effect, suggesting nutritional yeast may offer the best of both worlds, boosting the infection fighting side of the immune system while suppressing inflammatory components.

Yeast is high in purines, so those with gout, uric acid kidney stones, and new organ transplant recipients may want to keep their intake to less than a teaspoon a day. But is there any downside for everyone else? In California some packages of nutritional yeast are slapped with prop 65 warning stickers, suggesting there's something in it exceeding cancer or birth defect safety limits. I called around to the companies and it turns out the problem is lead. California state law says a product cannot contain more than half of a microgram of lead per daily serving, so I contacted the six brands I knew about and asked them how much lead was in their products.

KAL originally said "<5 ppm," but when we called back they said "<3 ppm." Even if it's 3, that translates into less than 45 micrograms per serving, nearly a 100 times more than the California limit. But perhaps that's better than Bob's Red Mill or Frontier Coop, who evidently don't test at all. But at least they got back to me. Redstar brand failed to respond to multiple attempts to contact them. Now Foods said they test for lead and claim that at least their recent batches meet the less than a half a microgram California standard. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests they would not provide me with documentation to substantiate their numbers. My favorite response was from Bragg's who sent me the analysis certificate from the lab showing less than 0.01 ppm, which means at most less than half the California standard, which I believe is the most stringent in the world. To put the numbers in context, in determining how much lead manufacturers can put into candy likely to be frequently consumed by small children, the Food and Drug Administration would allow about 2 micrograms a day in the form of lollipops, but as far as I'm concerned the less lead the better.

I was so frustrated by the lack of transparency I decided to test them for lead myself. NutritionFacts.org hired an independent lab to conduct our own tests for lead and shipped out 8 samples of nutritional yeast in their original package. The lab used standard practices for lead testing known as Official Methods of Analysis set by AOAC International. Lab technicians determined the lead values based on California Prop 65 standards. Here are the results from the brands we tested:

Bob's Red Mill - Test report shows no detectable lead (<0.01 ppm).

Bragg - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Dr. Fuhrman - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Frontier Coop - Test report shows lead levels at 0.021 ppm. It would take six tablespoons a day (based on the manufacture's listed density) to exceed the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) for chemicals causing reproductive toxicity.*

KAL - Test report shows lead levels at 0.011 ppm. It would take seven tablespoons a day to exceed the MADL.*

NOW Foods - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Red Star - Test report shows no detectable lead (< 0.01 ppm).

Whole Foods - Test report shows lead levels at 0.012 ppm. It would take six tablespoons a day to exceed the MADL.*

So what do all those numbers mean? None of the brands tested exceeded California prop 65 standards. No matter what brand, consuming a typical serving (2 tablespoons) per day is still well within safe limits.

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:

* The Maximum Allowable Dose Level for lead as a developmental toxin is 0.5 micrograms a day. How are MADL's calculated? Basically scientists figure out what the "no observable effect level" is, the level at which no birth defects or reproductive toxicity can be found, and then introduce a 1000-fold safety buffer. So for example, let's say there's some chemical that causes birth defects if expectant moms are exposed to two drops of the chemical a day, but there's no evidence that one drop a day is harmful. Do they set the Maximum Allowable Dose Level at one drop? No, they set it at 1/1000th of a drop to account for scientific uncertainty and to err on the side of caution. So by saying six tablespoons a day of nutritional yeast may exceed the MADL is in effect saying that the level of lead found in 6,000 tablespoons of nutritional yeast may cause birth defects. Like mercury, though, as far as I'm concerned the less lead exposure the better. I hope this will inspire companies to do further testing to see if the levels we found were just flukes.

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

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How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Be Harmful

NF-Feb23 Gluten-Free Diets - Separating the Wheat from the Chat .jpeg

Until only a few years ago, almost the whole of the scientific world maintained that the wheat protein gluten would provoke negative effects only in people with rare conditions such as celiac disease or wheat allergies. But by the early part of 2013, it was largely becoming accepted that some non-celiac patients could suffer from gluten or wheat sensitivity. Indeed, a consensus panel of experts now officially recognizes three gluten-related conditions, wheat allergy, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

What percentage of the population should avoid wheat? About 1 in a 1,000 may have a wheat allergy, and nearly 1 in a 100 may have celiac disease. Celiac disease appears to be on the rise, though there's still less than about a 1 in 10,000 chance an American will be diagnosed with celiac in a given year. Our best estimate for wheat sensitivity is in the same general range as celiac, slightly higher than 1 percent. That's still potentially millions of people who may have been suffering for years who could have been cured by simple dietary means, yet who were unrecognized and unaided by the medical profession.

Although gluten sensitivity continues to gain medical credibility, we still don't know how it works. We don't know how much gluten can be tolerated, if it's reversible or not, or what the long-term complications might be of not sticking to a gluten-free diet. Considering the lack of knowledge, people with gluten sensitivity should consider reintroducing gluten back into their diet every year to see if it's still causing problems.

The reason health professionals don't want to see people on gluten-free diets unless absolutely necessary is that, for the 98 percent of people that don't have gluten issues, whole grains--including the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye--are health promoting, linked to reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases.

Because some people have a peanut allergy doesn't mean everyone should avoid peanuts. There is no evidence to suggest that following a gluten-free diet has any significant benefits in the general population. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free diet may adversely affect gut health in those without celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy. A study out of Spain, highlighted in my video, Gluten-Free Diets: Separating the Wheat from the Chat, found that a month on a gluten-free diet may hurt our gut flora and immune function, potentially setting those on gluten-free diets up for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in their intestines. Why? Because the very components wheat sensitive people have problems with, like FODMAP and fructans, may act as prebiotics and feed our good bacteria.

Gluten, itself, may also boost immune function. After less than a week on added gluten protein, subjects experienced significantly increased natural killer cell activity, which could be expected to improve our body's ability to fight cancer and viral infections. Another study found that high gluten bread improved triglyceride levels better than regular gluten bread.

Ironically, one of the greatest threats gluten-free diets pose may be the gluten itself. Self-prescription of gluten withdrawal may undermine our ability to pick up celiac disease, the much more serious form of gluten intolerance. The way we diagnose celiac is by looking for the inflammation caused by gluten in celiac sufferers, but if they haven't been eating a lot of gluten, we might miss the disease. Hence, rather than being on a gluten-free diet, we want celiac suspects to be on a gluten-loaded diet. We're talking 4-6 slices of gluten packed bread every day for at least a month so we can definitively diagnose the disease.

Why does it matter to get a formal diagnosis if you're already on a gluten-free diet? Well, it's a genetic disease, so you'll know to test the family. But most importantly, many people on gluten-free diets are not actually on gluten-free diets. Even 20 parts per million can be toxic to someone with celiac. Many on "gluten-free diets" inadvertently eat gluten. Sometimes gluten-free products are contaminated, so even foods labeled "gluten-free" may still not be safe for celiac sufferers.

As editorialized in the Lancet, the irony of many celiac patients not knowing their diagnosis, while millions of non-sufferers banish gluten from their lives, can be considered a public health farce.


Though the medical profession now recognizes wheat sensitivity as a discrete entity, it's still not clear if it's actually the gluten to which people are reacting. For a review of the controversy, see Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?

In How to Diagnose Gluten Intolerance, I go step by step how someone may want to proceed who suspects they might be sensitive to gluten-containing grains.

More on the benefits of whole grains in general in Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs and Alzheimer's Disease: Grain Brain or Meathead?

More on keeping our gut flora happy in videos such as Prebiotics: Tending Our Inner Garden and How to Change Your Enterotype.

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: Whatsername? / Flickr

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Should We Take Chlorella to Boost Natural Killer Cell Activity?

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How a Tick Bite Can Lead to Food Allergies

NF-Aug25 Alpha Gal and the Lone Star Tick.jpg

In the beginning, Aristotle defined two forms of life on planet Earth: plants and animals. Two thousand years later, the light microscope was invented and we discovered tiny, single-celled organisms like amoebas. Then, the electron microscope was invented and we discovered bacteria. Finally, in 1969, biologists recognized fungi as a separate category, and we've had at least five kingdoms of life ever since.

In my video, Higher Quality May Mean Higher Risk, I talk about the potential downsides of consuming proteins from within our own kingdom, such as the impact our fellow animal proteins can have on boosting our liver's production of a cancer-promoting hormone called IGF-1.

In Eating Outside Our Kingdom, I talked about other potential advantages of preferably dipping into the plant and mushroom kingdoms for dinner, not only from a food safety perspective (we're more likely to get infected by animal pathogens than Dutch Elm Disease), but because of the potential for cross-reactivity between animal and human proteins. Our immune system is more likely to get confused between a chicken leg and our own legs than it is with a banana, so there may be less potential to trigger an autoimmune reaction, like degenerative brain diseases or inflammatory arthritis (See Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis). In attacking some foreign animal meat protein, some of our own similarly composed tissues may get caught in the crossfire.

It's not just proteins. If you remember the Neu5Gc story (see Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5GC), sialic acid in other animals may cause inflammation in our arteries (see Nonhuman Molecules Lining Our Arteries) and help breast tumors and other human cancers to grow (see How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies). Now a new twist has been added to the story.

The reason Neu5Gc triggers inflammation is because humans lost the ability to make it two million years ago, and so when our body is exposed to it through animal products, it's treated as a foreign molecule, causing inflammation. But there's also another oligosaccharide called alpha-gal that humans, chimps, and apes lost the ability to make 20 million years ago, but is still made by a variety of animals, including many animals we eat.

Anti-gal antibodies may be involved in a number of detrimental processes that may result in allergic, autoimmune, and autoimmune-like diseases, such as auto-immune thyroid disorders. We see higher levels of anti-gal antibodies in Crohn's disease victims. These antibodies even react against about half of human breast tumors, and we can find them in atherosclerotic plaques in people's necks. However, those are all mostly speculative risks. We do know that alpha-gal is a major obstacle to transplanting pig organs into people, like kidneys, because our bodies reject alpha-gal as foreign. In fact, alpha-gal is thought to be the major target for human anti-pig antibodies.

It's interesting that if we look at those that abstain from pork for whatever reason, they have fewer swine-specific immune cells in their bloodstream. Researchers speculate that oral intake of pork could ferry swine molecules into the bloodstream via gut-infiltrating lymphocytes to prime the immune response. So we can have an allergic reaction to eating pig kidneys too, but such severe meat allergies were considered rare, until an unusual report surfaced. First described in 2009, the report included details on 24 cases of meat allergies triggered by tick bites.

Within a year, it was obvious that the cases should be counted in hundreds rather than dozens. By 2012, there were thousands of cases across a large area of the southern and eastern U.S., and new cases are now popping up in several countries around the world.

The culprit, the lone star tick, so-called because females have a white spot on their back, are famous for causing Masters' disease, a disease similar to Lyme syndrome, also known as STARI (southern tick associated rash illness). But thanks to the lone star tick steadily expanding its range (even as far as Long Island, NY), it's not necessarily just so Southern any more.

What is the relevance of tick bites to the production of allergy-causing anti-meat antibodies to alpha-gal? Good question. What we know is that if you get bitten by one of these ticks, you can develop an allergy to meat (See Alpha Gal and the Lone Star Tick). This appears to be the first example of a response to an external parasite giving rise to an important form of food allergy. We don't know the exact mechanism, but it may be because there's something in the tick saliva that's cross-reacting with alpha-gal, or because the tick is injecting you with animal allergens from its last meal.

What role may these tick-bite induced allergies play in the development of chronic hives and other allergic skin reactions in children? See Tick Bites, Meat Allergies, and Chronic Urticaria.

Here's some videos unearthing the IGF-1 story:

Neu5Gc is what opened up this whole can of worms:

I wonder if alpha gal is playing a role in the improvements in arthritis and Crohn's on plant-based diets: Dietary Treatment of Crohn's Disease and Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 - 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab / Flickr

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How Fruits and Vegetables Can Prevent Asthma

NF-June30 Preventing Asthma with Fruits and Vegetables.jpg

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children and the prevalence is increasing around the world. Despite this, most research dollars are spent on adult chronic disease. "One might ask," a group of researchers posited "whether this is because our politicians and senior administrators feel themselves to be more likely to suffer from the latter, and thus ignore allergic diseases as they mostly impact children and young adults" - who don't vote.

An enormous study about asthma and allergies in childhood, highlighted in my video, Preventing Asthma with Fruits and Vegetables, was published that includes more than a million children in nearly a hundred countries, making it the most comprehensive survey of asthma and allergies ever undertaken. The researchers found striking worldwide variations in the prevalence and severity of asthma, allergies, and eczema--a 20 to 60-fold difference in prevalence of symptoms of asthma, allergic runny nose, and atopic eczema around the world. The large variability suggests a crucial role of local characteristics that are determining the differences in prevalence between one place and another.

What kind of environmental factors? Why does the prevalence of itchy eyes and runny noses range anywhere from 1% in India, for example, and up to 45% of kids elsewhere? There were some associations with regional air pollution and smoking rates, but the most significant associations were with diet. Adolescents showed a consistent pattern of decreases in symptoms of wheeze (current and severe), allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, and atopic eczema with increases in per capita consumption of plant foods. The more their calories and protein came from plant sources, the less allergies they tended to have.

In general, there seems to be an association between an increase in asthma prevalence and a decrease in consumption of fresh fruits, green vegetables, and other dietary sources of antioxidants, helping to explain why the prevalence of asthma and respiratory symptoms are lower in populations with high intake of foods of plant origin. High intakes of fat and sodium, and low intakes of fiber and carbohydrates, are linked with asthma, while traditional and vegetarian diets are associated with lower rates. For example, if we look closer within India, in a study of more than 100,000 people, "those who consumed meat (daily or occasionally) were more likely to report asthma than those who were strictly vegetarian." This also meant avoiding eggs.

Eggs have been associated (along with soft drink consumption) with increased risk of respiratory symptoms and asthma in schoolchildren. On the other hand, consumptions of soy foods and fruits were associated with reduced risk of respiratory symptoms. In fact, removing eggs and dairy from the diet may improve lung function in asthmatic children in as little as eight weeks. Therefore, it may be a combination of eating fewer animal foods and more plants.

High vegetable intake, for example, has been found protective in children, potentially cutting the odds of allergic asthma in half. And fruit has also shown a consistent protective association for current and severe wheeze and runny nose in adolescents, and for current and severe asthma, allergies, and eczema in children.

Why is this? I've talked about the endocrine-disrupting industrial pollutants (see Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors) building up in the meat supply that may increase the risk of allergic disease, but the increase in asthma may be a combination of both a more toxic environment and a more susceptible population. One review notes that, "The dietary changes which have occurred over recent years may have led to a reduction in these natural antioxidant defenses, resulting in a shift of the antioxidant status of the whole population and leading to increased susceptibility to oxidant attack and airway inflammation."

In adults, for example, the risk of airway hyper-reactivity may increase seven-fold among those with the lowest intake of vitamin C from plant foods, while those with the lowest intake of saturated fats may have a 10-fold protection, presumably because of saturated fat's role in triggering inflammation.

The protective effect of plant-based food may also be mediated through effects on intestinal microflora. It turns out that differences in the indigenous intestinal flora might affect the development and priming of the immune system in early childhood. Kids with allergies, for example, tend to be less likely to harbor lactobacilli, the good bacteria that's found in fermented foods, and naturally on many fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus probiotics may actually help with childhood asthma, which may help explain why children raised on largely organic vegetarian diets may have a lower prevalence of allergic reactions. Infants raised this way tend to have more good lactobacilli in their guts compared to controls, though they were also more likely to have been born naturally, breastfed longer, and not been given antibiotics, so we can't really tell if it's the diet until we put it to the test (See Treating Asthma with Fruits and Vegetables).

More on preventing allergic diseases can be found in my videos Preventing Childhood Allergies and Preventing Allergies in Adulthood.

More on protecting lung function with fruits and vegetables can be found in Preventing COPD With Diet.

Surprised probiotics can affect immune function? Check out my video Preventing the Common Cold with Probiotics? And if you think that is wild, wait until you see Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health.

What might be in plants that's so beneficial? See Anti-inflammatory Antioxidants.

What might be in animal products that is harmful to lung function? There are endocrine-disrupting industrial pollutants that build up in the food chain that may be playing a role. See my video Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies. Also there's an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid found predominantly in chicken and eggs that may contribute to inflammation as well. See Inflammatory Remarks About Arachidonic Acid.

Choosing fragrance-free personal care products may also help reduce airway reactivity: Throw Household Products Off the Scent.

I compare the efficacy of plants to pills (Treating Asthma With Plants vs. Supplements?) and explore the role an entire diet filled with plants might play in Treating Asthma and Eczema With Plant-Based Diets.

-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: EdTech Stanford University School of Medicine / Flickr

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How Contaminated Are Our Children?

NF-June18 California Children are Contaminated.jpg

In a study highlighted in my video, California Childen Are Contaminated, researchers analyzed the diets of California children ages two through seven to determine the cancer and non-cancer health effects from food contaminant exposures. It turns out food may be the primary route of exposure to toxic heavy metals, persistent pollutants, and pesticides. "Though food-borne toxic contaminants are a concern for all ages, they are of greatest concern for children, who are disproportionately impacted because they're still developing and have greater intake of food and fluids relative to their weight. Pediatric problems that have been linked to preventable environmental toxin exposures include cancer, asthma, lead poisoning, neurobehavioral disorders, learning and developmental disabilities, and birth defects."

The good news is that changing one's diet can change one's exposure. Quoting from the study, "A diet high in fish and animal products, for example, results in greater exposure to persistent pollutants like DDT and dioxins and heavy metals than does a plant-based diet because these compounds bioaccumulate up the food chain." Plants are at the bottom of the food chain. The sample of California kids, however, was not eating a plant-based diet. Cancer benchmark levels were exceeded by all 364 children for arsenic, the banned pesticide dieldrin, a metabolite of DDT called DDE, and dioxins.

Children exceeded safety levels by a greater margin than adults. This is especially of concern for children because all of these compounds are suspected endocrine disruptors and thus may impact normal development. Cancer risk ratios were exceeded by over a factor of 100 for both arsenic and dioxins.

Which foods were the worse? For preschoolers, the number one food source of arsenic was poultry, though for their parents, it was tuna. The number one source of lead was dairy, and for mercury it was seafood. And the number one source of the banned pesticides and dioxins was dairy. (See Preventing Parkinson's Disease With Diet.)

The researchers also recommended children should eat lower quantities of chips, cereal, crackers, and other crispy carbs to reduce acrylamide intake.

The California study didn't split up the groups by gender, but a similar study in Europe found that men had higher levels of some of these pollutants than women. For example, levels of the banned pesticide chlordane were higher in men, but women who never breastfed were right up there alongside men, with the lowest levels found in women who breastfed over 12 months. Therefore, it is likely that the lactation-related reduction in blood pollutant levels partly explains the lower body burdens among women compared with men. So cows can lower their levels by giving some to us, then we can pass it along to our children.

What non-cancer effects might some of these pollutants have? They can affect our immune system. Studies clearly demonstrate the "ability of dioxins and related compounds to have a long-lasting and deleterious impact on immune function." This manifests as increased incidences of respiratory infections, ear infections, cough, and sore throat. At first, most of the data was for during infancy, but now we have follow-up studies showing that the immunosuppressive effects of these toxins may persist into early childhood, so we should try to reduce our exposure as much as possible. Because these pollutants accumulate in animal fat, consuming a plant-based diet-decreasing meat, dairy, and fish consumption-may reduce exposure for children and adults alike.

These findings should come as no surprise to those who saw my video Pollutants in California Breast Tissue. For an overview see CDC Report on Environmental Chemical Exposure and President's Cancer Panel Report on Environmental Risk.

Pollutant exposure may affect the ability to have children in the first place (Male Fertility and Diet and Meat Hormones & Female Infertility). Such a delay, though, may allow one an opportunity to reduce one's toxic burden through dietary change (Hair Testing for Mercury Before Considering Pregnancy and How Long to Detox From Fish Before Pregnancy?).

During pregnancy, pollutants can be transferred directly (DDT in Umbilical Cord Blood), and after pregnancy through breastfeeding (The Wrong Way to Detox). Once our kids are contaminated, How Fast Can Children Detoxify from PCBs? The chemicals have implications for older children too: Protein, Puberty, and Pollutants.

Seafood is not the only source of toxic heavy metals. See:

Videos on primary food sources of other industrial pollutants include:

There are some things we can eat, though, to counteract some of the toxins:

-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: Kevin Krejci / Flickr

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How Phytates Fight Cancer Cells

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Phytate is a compound found in beans, grains, nuts and seeds. The average daily intake of phytate in vegetarian diets is about twice that of those eating mixed diets of plant and animal foods, which may help explain their low cancer rates. Aside from helping to prevent cancer, dietary phytate has been reported to help prevent kidney stone formation, protect against diabetes mellitus, dental cavities, and heart disease.

Do all these potentially beneficial effects sound too good to be true? Are there other examples of compounds made by plants that can have benefits across multiple diseases? Why yes! Aspirin, for example, which is found throughout the plant kingdom may also account for a variety of plant-based benefits (See Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods).

But of all the things phytates can do, the anticancer activity of phytate (also known as phytic acid, IP6, or inositol hexaphosphate), is considered one of its most important beneficial activities. Dietary phytates are quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and rapidly taken up by cancer cells throughout the body, and have been shown to inhibit the growth of all tested cancerous cell lines in vitro. Phytates have been shown to inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells, colon cancer cells, both estrogen receptor-positive and negative breast cancer cells, voicebox cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, liver tumors, pancreatic, melanoma, and muscle cancers. All at the same time not affecting normal cells. That's the most important expectation of a good anticancer agent: the ability to only affect cancerous cells and to leave normal cells alone.

In my video, Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells, you can see how leukemia cells taken from cancer patients are killed by phytates, whereas normal bone marrow cells, are spared. This may explain why bean extracts kill off colon cancer cells in vitro, but leave normal colon cells alone.

What are the mechanisms of action by which phytates battle cancer? In other words, how do phytates fight? How don't they fight? Phytate targets cancer through multiple pathways, a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing activities, detox, differentiation, and anti-angiogenesis. In other words, phytate appears to affect all the principal pathways of malignancy.

The antioxidative property is one of the most impressive characteristics of phytate. In fact that's why the meat industry adds phytates to meat to prevent the fat oxidation that begins at the moment of slaughter. Phytates can also act on our immune functions by augmenting natural killer cell activity, the cells in our body that hunt down and dispose of cancer cells, as well as neutrophils, which help form our first line of defense. And then phytates starve tumors as more of a last line of defense. Not only can phytates block the formation of new blood vessels that may be feeding tumors, but disrupt pre-formed capillary tubes, indicating that phytates may not just help blockade tumors, but actively cut off existing supply lines.

What's really remarkable about phytate, though, is that unlike most other anti-cancer agents, it not only causes a reduction in cancer cell growth but also enhances differentiation, meaning it causes cancer cells to stop acting like cancer cells and go back to acting like normal cells. You can see this with colon cancer cells for example. In the presence of phytates, human colon cancer cells mature to structurally and behaviorally resemble normal cells. And this has been demonstrated in leukemia cells, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and muscle cancer cells as well.

For more on the cancer and phytate connection, check out Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer and Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer.

This video reminds me of my video on the spice, turmeric, Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

What else can we eat to improve the cancer-fighting front of our immune system? See Boosting Natural Killer Cell Activity.

More on the concept of starving tumors of their blood supply in Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines.

Is there clinical evidence of plants actually reversing cancer progression? You won't believe your eyes:

-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: Avi / Flickr

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Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies

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In my video Preventing Childhood Allergies, I noted a study in Japan that found higher maternal intake of meat during pregnancy was significantly associated with about three times the odds of both suspected and physician-diagnosed eczema. The researchers suggest that certain components of meat may affect the fetal immune system. But what about the moms, themselves? A plant-based diet may also help alleviate allergies in adults. See Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants and Preventing Allergies in Adulthood.

Seasonal allergies have exploded in Japan in the past few decades, starting with the first reported case in 1964 and now affecting millions every year. We've seen a rising prevalence of allergic diseases around the industrialized world in past decades, but perhaps nothing quite this dramatic.

Some have suggested that profound changes in the Japanese diet may have played a role. Over the latter half of the century total meat, fish, and milk intake rose hundreds of percent in Japan, so researchers decided to look into dietary meat and fat intake and the prevalence of these seasonal pollen allergies. No association with overall fat, but "higher meat intake was significantly associated with an increased prevalence."

Saturated fat wasn't associated with increased prevalence either, so what other constituents in meat may be to blame? The researchers considered the cooked meat carcinogens, the heterocyclic amines, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and the nitrosamines.

A new review, highlighted in my video, Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies, however, raised an intriguing possibility. There's a class of industrial pollutants called alkylphenols, recognized as common toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals that tend to accumulate in the human body and may be associated with allergic diseases. A variety of studies have shown how they may exacerbate allergen-induced inflammation, "suggesting that alkylphenol exposure may influence the onset, progression, and severity of allergic diseases." These toxic xenoestrogens can be found in human breast milk, in our body fat, in our urine, in our bloodstream, and even in the umbilical cord blood going to our babies. How did it get there? Through contaminated food.

It all goes back to a famous study about the reduction of penis size and testosterone levels in alligators living in a contaminated environment. I don't know what you do for a day job, but these researchers observed that a population of juvenile alligators living on one lake in Florida exhibited a "significantly smaller penis size" and lower blood concentrations of testosterone compared to animals on some different lake. The most important difference between the two lakes was that Lake Stubby was fed by relatively polluted waters. They attributed the "short penis phenomenon" to estrogen-mimicking (xenoestrogenic) environmental metabolites of DDT that still pollute our Earth. This seminal work introduced the concept of endocrine disruptors. Environmental xenoestrogens might result in feminization of exposed male animals. And that's just the shriveled tip of the iceberg.

Since then, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been implicated in the dramatic rise over the last 50 years of diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, obesity, and fertility (such as dropping normal sperm counts), genital birth defects such as penile malformations, preterm birth, neurobehavioral disorders in children linked to thyroid disruption, and earlier breast development in young girls. Because genes do not change fast enough to explain these increases, environmental causes must be involved. Since our greatest exposure to the environment is through our gut, it's no surprise that our greatest exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals is through diet.

To find out which foods may contain these alkylphenol endocrine disruptors, check out my video Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors.

More on endocrine disruptors in:

A different class of chemicals has been found to be associated with smaller penis size in humans. See Chicken Consumption and the Feminization of Male Genitalia.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videoshere 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: Mark Freeth / Flickr

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The Spice That Helps Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

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Accordingto the World Health Organization, "80% of the Earth's inhabitants rely upon the traditional medicine for their primary health-care needs, in part due to high cost of Western pharmaceuticals. Medicines derived from plants have played a pivotal role in the health care of both ancient and modern cultures." One of the prime sources of plant-derived medicines is spices. Turmeric, for example, has been consumed over the centuries around the world. Turmeric is known by different names in different societies--my favorite of which is probably "zard-choobag."

Turmeric is the dried powdered root stalks of the turmeric plant--a member of the ginger family--from which the orangey-yellow pigment curcumin can be extracted. The spice turmeric is what makes curry powder yellow, and curcumin is what makes turmeric yellow. In the video, Turmeric Curcumin and Rheumatoid Arthritis, you can see the molecular structure of curcumin. I always thought it kind of looked like a crab.

In recent years, more than 5,000 articles have been published in the medical literature about curcumin. Many sport impressive looking diagrams suggesting curcumin can benefit a multitude of conditions via a dizzying array of mechanisms. Curcumin was first isolated more than a century ago, but out of the thousands of experiments, just a handful in the 20th century were clinical studies, involving actual human participants. Most of the 5,000 were just in vitro lab studies, which I've resisted covering until the studies moved out of the petri dish and into the person. But since the turn-of-the-century, more than 50 clinical trials have been done, testing curcumin against a variety of human diseases, with 84 more on the way. One such study got my attention.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic inflammatory disorder that causes progressive destruction of the cartilage and bone of joints. The long-term prognosis of RA is poor, with as much as 80% of patients affected becoming disabled with a reduced life expectancy. There are lots of drugs one can take, but unfortunately they're often associated with severe side effects including blood loss, bone loss and bone marrow suppression, and toxicity to the liver and eyes.

The efficacy of curcumin was first demonstrated over 30 years ago in a double-blind crossover study: curcumin versus phenylbutazone, a powerful anti-inflammatory that is used in race horses. Both groups showed significant improvement in morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling, with the complete absence of any side effects from curcumin (which is more than can be said for phenylbutazone, which was pulled from the market three years later after wiping out people's immune systems and their lives).

In the new study, 45 patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were randomized into three groups: curcumin, the standard of care drug, or both. The primary endpoint was a reduction in disease activity as well as a reduction in joint tenderness and swelling. All three groups got better, but interestingly the curcumin groups showed the highest percentage of improvement, significantly better than those in the drug group. The findings are significant and demonstrate that curcumin alone was not only safe and effective, but surprisingly more effective in alleviating pain compared to the leading drug of choice, all without any adverse side effects. In fact, curcumin appeared protective against drug side effects, given that there were more adverse reactions in the drug group than in the combined drug and curcumin group. In contrast to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), curcumin has no gastrointestinal side effects, and may even protect the lining of the stomach.

Hard to appreciate the gorgeous color of fresh turmeric root unless you see it for yourself. You should be able to find it at any large Asian store. I incorporate it into my Natural Nausea Remedy Recipe. The inner color is almost fluorescent!

I'm afraid followers of NutritionFacts.org are going to get sick of turmeric, but there's a load of important new research I felt I needed to cover. So far there's Turmeric Curcumin and Osteoarthritis, Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin and Who Shouldn't Consume Curcumin or Turmeric?

I've previously talked about treating autoimmune joint inflammation with diets full of plants in Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease.

If phenylbutazone sounds vaguely familiar, maybe you read my Q&A Is horse meat safe to eat?

-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: David van Horn / Flickr

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