Boosting Brown Fat Through Diet

Sept 26 Boosting Brown Fat copy.jpeg

Until about ten years ago, brown adipose tissue (BAT) was considered to be biologically active only in babies and small children where it generates heat by burning fat. But now, there is no doubt that active brown fat is present in adult humans and is involved in cold-induced increases in whole-body calorie expenditure and, thereby, helps control of not only body temperature but also how fat we are.

In 2013, researchers showed that one could activate brown adipose tissue if you chill out people long enough, specifically, by exposing them to two hours of cold every day for six weeks, which can lead to a significant reduction in body fat. You can see an illustrative graph in my video Boosting Brown Fat Through Diet. Although researchers demonstrated the effective recruitment of human brown fat, it would seem difficult to increase exposure to cold in daily life. Thankfully, our brown fat can also be activated by some food ingredients, such as capsaicin, the compound that makes hot peppers hot.

While physical activity is usually recommended to increase energy expenditure, there are specific food components, such as capsaicin, that are known to burn off calories. For example, one study found that there was a significant rise in energy expenditure within 30 minutes of eating the equivalent of a jalapeño pepper.

Normally when we cut down on calories, our metabolism slows down, undercutting our weight loss attempts; but sprinkling a third of a teaspoon of red chili pepper powder onto our meals counteracts that metabolic slow down and promotes fat burning. Researchers wanted to try giving participants more chili pepper in order to try to match some of the studies done in Asia, but the Caucasian subjects couldn't take it. But by adding more than a tablespoon of red pepper powder to a high-fat meal, Japanese women burned significantly more fat.

We've known for decades that cayenne pepper increases metabolic rate, but we didn't know how. But studies show that this class of compounds increases energy expenditure in human individuals with brown fat, but not in those without it, indicating that individuals increase expenditure right off the BAT. Additionally, there is a variety of structurally similar flavor molecules in other foods, like black pepper and ginger, that may activate thermogenesis as well, but they haven't been directly tested.

All these results suggest that the anti-obesity effects of pepper compounds are based on the heat-generating activity of recruited brown fat. Thus, repeated ingestion can mimic the chronic effects of cold exposure without having to freeze ourselves.

Consumption of spicy foods may help us lose weight, but what about the sensory burn and pain on our tongues and sometimes in our stomachs as well as further on down? Are our only two options for boosting brown fat to freeze our legs or burn our butts?

Arginine-rich foods may also stimulate brown adipose tissue growth and development through a variety of mechanisms, which is achieved by consuming more soy foods, seeds, nuts, and beans.


For more on brown adipose tissue, see Brown Fat: Losing Weight Through Thermogenesis.

What about arginine? Check out Fat Burning Via Arginine. And, did you know arginine may also play a role in the effects nuts may have on penile blood flow? I discuss this in Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction.

For more on spicy foods, see my videos Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion to learn how digestive disorders may be helped and Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches? for information on how the hot pepper compound can be a lifesaver for people suffering from "suicide" headaches.

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:

Original Link

Boosting Brown Fat Through Diet

Sept 26 Boosting Brown Fat copy.jpeg

Until about ten years ago, brown adipose tissue (BAT) was considered to be biologically active only in babies and small children where it generates heat by burning fat. But now, there is no doubt that active brown fat is present in adult humans and is involved in cold-induced increases in whole-body calorie expenditure and, thereby, helps control of not only body temperature but also how fat we are.

In 2013, researchers showed that one could activate brown adipose tissue if you chill out people long enough, specifically, by exposing them to two hours of cold every day for six weeks, which can lead to a significant reduction in body fat. You can see an illustrative graph in my video Boosting Brown Fat Through Diet. Although researchers demonstrated the effective recruitment of human brown fat, it would seem difficult to increase exposure to cold in daily life. Thankfully, our brown fat can also be activated by some food ingredients, such as capsaicin, the compound that makes hot peppers hot.

While physical activity is usually recommended to increase energy expenditure, there are specific food components, such as capsaicin, that are known to burn off calories. For example, one study found that there was a significant rise in energy expenditure within 30 minutes of eating the equivalent of a jalapeño pepper.

Normally when we cut down on calories, our metabolism slows down, undercutting our weight loss attempts; but sprinkling a third of a teaspoon of red chili pepper powder onto our meals counteracts that metabolic slow down and promotes fat burning. Researchers wanted to try giving participants more chili pepper in order to try to match some of the studies done in Asia, but the Caucasian subjects couldn't take it. But by adding more than a tablespoon of red pepper powder to a high-fat meal, Japanese women burned significantly more fat.

We've known for decades that cayenne pepper increases metabolic rate, but we didn't know how. But studies show that this class of compounds increases energy expenditure in human individuals with brown fat, but not in those without it, indicating that individuals increase expenditure right off the BAT. Additionally, there is a variety of structurally similar flavor molecules in other foods, like black pepper and ginger, that may activate thermogenesis as well, but they haven't been directly tested.

All these results suggest that the anti-obesity effects of pepper compounds are based on the heat-generating activity of recruited brown fat. Thus, repeated ingestion can mimic the chronic effects of cold exposure without having to freeze ourselves.

Consumption of spicy foods may help us lose weight, but what about the sensory burn and pain on our tongues and sometimes in our stomachs as well as further on down? Are our only two options for boosting brown fat to freeze our legs or burn our butts?

Arginine-rich foods may also stimulate brown adipose tissue growth and development through a variety of mechanisms, which is achieved by consuming more soy foods, seeds, nuts, and beans.


For more on brown adipose tissue, see Brown Fat: Losing Weight Through Thermogenesis.

What about arginine? Check out Fat Burning Via Arginine. And, did you know arginine may also play a role in the effects nuts may have on penile blood flow? I discuss this in Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction.

For more on spicy foods, see my videos Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion to learn how digestive disorders may be helped and Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches? for information on how the hot pepper compound can be a lifesaver for people suffering from "suicide" headaches.

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:

Original Link

Why Pepper Boosts Turmeric Blood Levels

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"Historians from all around the world have produced evidence to show that apparently all primitive peoples used herbs-often in a sophisticated way. Quinine from Cinchona bark was used to treat the symptoms of malaria long before the disease was identified, and the raw ingredients of a common aspirin tablet have been a popular painkiller for far longer than we have had access to tablet-making machinery. Indeed, today many pharmacological classes of drugs include a natural product prototype that we originally discovered through the study of traditional cures and folk knowledge of indigenous people."

There's a plant in South Asia called Adhatoda (from adu meaning "goat," and thoda meaning "not touch" because it's so bitter even the goats won't eat it). It has compounds that help open one's airways and as such, Adhatoda tea has been used traditionally to treat asthma, where the leaves are steeped with black peppercorns. Leaves steeped with black peppercorns? That sounds gross to me--why would they do that? Because they're smart. Back in 1928, scientists discovered what the people evidently already knew, that adding pepper increased the anti-asthmatic properties of the leaves. Black pepper alone didn't work: it was the combination. And now we know why.

Just like approximately 5% of the spice turmeric is composed of an active compound called curcumin, about 5% of black pepper by weight is comprised of this compound called piperine. Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color of turmeric and piperine for the pungent flavor of pepper. Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process.

And it doesn't take much. If people are given a bunch of turmeric curcumin, within an hour there's a little bump in the level in their blood stream. We don't see a large increase because our liver is actively trying to get rid of it. But what if the process is suppressed by taking just a quarter teaspoon's worth of black pepper? Then you see curcumin levels skyrocket (See Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin). The same amount of curcumin consumed, but the bioavailability shoots up 2000%. Even just a little pinch of pepper--1/20th of a teaspoon--can significantly boost levels. And guess what a common ingredient in curry powder is besides turmeric? Black pepper.

Another way to boost the absorption of curcumin is to consume it in the whole food, turmeric root (fresh or dried as a powder) because natural oils found in turmeric root and turmeric powder can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin seven to eight fold. When eaten with fat, curcumin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.

How is it prepared in India? With fat and black pepper. Amazing how they could figure that out without double blind trials. (Though maybe it just tastes good, and it's merely coincidence?) Their traditional knowledge certainly failed them with ghee, however, which is practically pure butter fat, which may explain India's relatively high rates of heart disease despite all their turmeric.

Why would we care about boosting curcumin levels? Learn why in my videos Which Spices Fight Inflammation? and Spicing Up DNA Protection, Turmeric Curcumin and Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Turmeric Curcumin and Osteoarthritis. It's also good to know Who Shouldn't Consume Curcumin or Turmeric.

I've previously covered this topic of food synergy in videos such as Apples and Oranges: Dietary Diversity and Garden Variety Anti-Inflammation that emphasize the importance of eating a variety of plant foods to take advantage of some of these interactions.

The black pepper mechanism reminds me of the grapefruit (Tell Your Doctor If You Eat Grapefruit) and broccoli (The Best Detox) stories. A testament to the power of plants.

The painkilling properties of aspirin mentioned in the video are actually found throughout the plant kingdom: Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods.

In some circumstances, traditional medicine wisdom seems incredible (Tomato Effect); in others, dangerous (Get the Lead Out). But that's what we now have science for!

-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: John Loo / Flickr

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The Top Four Anti-Inflammatory Spices

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Once in a while I come across a study that's so juicy I have to do a whole video about it (Which Spices Fight Inflammation?).

A group of researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville and Pennsylvania State set up a brilliant experiment. We've known that ounce per ounce, herbs and spices have some of the greatest antioxidant activities known. But that's only ever been tested in a test tube. Before we can ask if an herb or spice has real health benefits, it is first necessary to determine whether it is bioavailable -- whether the active ingredients are even absorbed. This had never been done, until now.

The researchers could have taken the easy route and just measured the change in antioxidant level in one's bloodstream before and after consumption, but the assumption that the appearance of antioxidant activity in the blood is an indication of bioavailability has a weakness. Maybe more gets absorbed than we think but doesn't show up on antioxidant tests because it gets bound up to proteins or cells. So the researchers attempted to measure physiological changes in the blood. They were interested in whether absorbed compounds would be able to protect white blood cells from an oxidative or inflammatory injury--whether herb and spice consumption would protect the strands of our DNA from breaking when attacked by free radicals. I cover the DNA findings in my video, Spicing Up DNA Protection. They also wondered if the consumption might alter cellular inflammatory responses in the presence of a physiologically relevant inflammatory insult. What does this all mean?

The researchers took a bunch of people and had each of them eat different types of spices for a week. There were many truly unique things about this study, but one was that the quantity of spices that study subjects consumed was based on the usual levels of consumption in actual food. For example, the oregano group was given a half teaspoon a day--a practical quantity that people might actually eat once in a while. At the end of the week, they drew blood from the dozen or so people they had adding, for example, black pepper to their diets that week, and compared the effects of their blood to the effects of the blood of the dozen subjects on cayenne, or cinnamon, or cloves, or cumin. They had about ten different groups of people eating about ten different spices. Then they dripped their plasma (the liquid fraction of their blood) onto human white blood cells in a Petri dish that had been exposed to an inflammatory insult. The researchers wanted to pick something really inflammatory, so they chose oxidized cholesterol (which is what we'd get in our bloodstream after eating something like fried chicken. If oxidized cholesterol is a new concept for you, please check out its role in heart disease progression in my video Arterial Acne). So they jabbed the white blood cells with oxidized cholesterol and measured how much tumor necrosis factor (TNF) they produced in response.

TNF is a powerful inflammatory cytokine, infamous for the role it plays in autoimmune attacks like inflammatory bowel disease. Compared to the blood of those who ate no spices for a week, black pepper was unable to significantly dampen the inflammatory response. What about any of the other spices? The following significantly stifled the inflammatory response:

  • cloves
  • ginger
  • rosemary
  • turmeric

And remember, they weren't dripping the spices themselves on these human white blood cells, but the blood of those who ate the spices. So the results represents what might happen when cells in our body are exposed to the levels of spices that circulate in our bloodstream after normal daily consumption--not megadoses in some pill. Just the amount that makes our spaghetti sauce, pumpkin pie, or curry sauce taste good.

There are drugs that can do the same thing. Tumor necrosis factors are such major mediators of inflammation and inflammation-related diseases that there are TNF-blocking drugs on the market for the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and ankylosing spondylitis, which collectively rake in more than $20 billion a year ($15,000-$20,000 per person per year). At that price, the side effects better be hugs and rainbows. But no, the drugs carry a so-called "black box warning" because they can cause things like cancer and heart failure. If only there was a cheaper, safer solution.

The spice curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, is substantially cheaper and safer, but does it work outside of a test tube? There's evidence that it may help in all of the diseases for which TNF blockers are currently being used. So with health-care costs and safety being such major issues, this golden spice turmeric may help provide the solution.

See Antioxidants in a Pinch and How to Reach the Antioxidant RDA to see the extent to which even small amounts of spices can affect one's antioxidant intake.

Another elegant series of "ex vivo" experiments exploring the cancer fighting power of lifestyle changes can be seen in the videos starting with Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay.

Mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation), nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) may also reduce inflammation (along with plant foods in general, see Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants and Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods). In fact so well that plant-based diets can be used to treat inflammatory conditions. See, for example, Dietary Treatment of Crohn's Disease, Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease. Animal products on the other hand may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (Chicken, Eggs, and Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).

-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: jo-marshall (was Jo-h) / Flickr

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Boosting Anti-Cancer Immunity with Berries

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For disease prevention and health maintenance, berries of all colors have "emerged as champions." Research has focused mainly on cancer prevention and treatment. Studies show that the anticancer effects of berries are partially mediated through their abilities to counteract, reduce, and also repair damage resulting from oxidative stress and inflammation. Berries may also have many other positive effects, such as boosting detoxifying enzymes.

One of the more remarkable effects is that of blueberries on natural killer cell counts. Natural killer cells are part of our immune system's rapid response team against cancer cells, eliminating cancer cells through the activation of cancer cell suicide via death receptors. They're called natural killers because they don't require activation by prior exposure. We don't want to wait until our second tumor before our immune system starts fighting.

We have about two billion of these soldiers circulating in our blood stream at any one time, but we may be able to get a troop surge with blueberries. Researchers had athletes eat about a cup and a half of blueberries a day for six weeks to see if that would reduce the oxidative stress of long-distance running. They indeed saw a blunting of the spike in oxidant stress. But that's not what sets that study apart.

The number of natural killer cells in the blood typically decreases after prolonged endurance exercise, dropping by half to only about one billion--that is, unless we've been eating lots of blueberries. In the video, Boosting Natural Killer Cell Activity, you can see a graph comparing natural killer cell numbers with and without blueberries. Those who ate blueberries retained close to the standard two billion cells. This is because six weeks of blueberries had doubled the resting number of natural killer cells up to over four billion. This has never before been demonstrated in humans. There was a study on goji berries, but despite a cup a day for a month, there was no significant change in the number of natural killers.

Another study, though, showed a significant increase in natural killer cell activity thanks to the spice cardamom. (Cardamom and blueberries--I never thought we'd be fighting cancer with blueberry muffins!) When researchers took some lymphoma cells in a petri dish and added cardamom, nothing happened. However, if we add some natural killer cells, about 5% of the cancer cells are wiped out. Add a little more cardamom, and our troops do better still. And then if we add more and more spice, then all of a sudden the natural killer cells are killing cancer like crazy--the same number of natural killer cells, but they're now able to kill off ten times more cancer cells. While cardamom alone had no effect on cancer cells even at the highest dose, it seemed to enhance our natural killer cells' killer instincts.

The same thing was found for black pepper: Black pepper alone, nothing, but when combined with natural killer cells, there seemed to be a boosting effect up to around 30 or 40% cancer cell clearance. If cardamom and black pepper are combined, they synergize and their individual effects are doubled. The researchers conclude that "Taken together, these data strongly suggest that black pepper and cardamom have the potential to markedly enhance the anti-cancer activity of natural killer cells."

Exercise itself can improve immune function in general (See Preserving Immune Function in Athletes With Nutritional Yeast), but the blueberry finding, so far, is unique. The oxidative stress part of the story is told in Reducing Muscle Soreness With Berries.

It is true that the blueberry study was funded by the North American Blueberry Council and the North Carolina High-bush Blueberry Council. However, just because the study was funded by blueberry councils doesn't necessarily mean the science is suspect, but we would want to see the study independently verified, especially one so dramatic.

What else can berries do? Check out:

You can check also out my blueberry smoothie recipe here in A Better Breakfast.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Image Credit: Stein Lauritsen / Flickr

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