Diet and Hiatal Hernia

Diet and Hiatal Hernia.jpeg

In terms of preventing acid reflux heartburn, high-fat meals cause dramatically more acid exposure in the esophagus in the hours after a meal. I talked about this in Diet and GERD Acid Reflux Heartburn. High fiber intake decreases the risk, but why? One typically thinks of fiber as helping out much lower in the digestive tract.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2013 found a highly significant protective association between esophageal adenocarcinoma and dietary fiber intake, suggesting that individuals with the highest fiber intakes have an approximately 30% lower risk of cancer. This could be because of the phytates in high-fiber foods slowing cancer growth, fiber's anti-inflammatory effects, or even fiber removing carcinogens. But those are all generic anti-cancer effects of whole plant foods. Specific to this type of acid irritation-induced esophageal cancer, fiber may reduce the risk of reflux in the first place. But how?

As you can see in my video, Diet and Hiatal Hernia, hiatus hernia occurs when part of the stomach is pushed up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity, which makes it easy for acid to reflux into the esophagus and throat. Hiatus hernia affects more than 1 in 5 American adults. In contrast, in rural African communities eating their traditional plant-based diets, the risk wasn't 1 in 5; it was closer to 1 in 1,000--almost unheard of. Hiatus hernia is almost peculiar to those who consume western-type diets. Why are plant-based populations protected? Perhaps because they pass such large, soft stools, three or four times the volume as Westerners.

What does the size and consistency of one's bowel movement have to do with hiatal hernia? A simple model may be helpful in illustrating the mechanism that produces upward herniation of the stomach through the hole (called the esophageal hiatus) in the diaphragm, which separates the abdomen from the chest. If a ball with a hole in its wall is filled with water and then squeezed, the water is pushed out through the hole. If we liken the abdominal cavity to the ball, the esophageal hiatus in the diaphragm corresponds with the hole in the ball. Abdominal straining during movement of firm feces corresponds to squeezing the ball and may result in the gradual expulsion of the upper end of the stomach from the abdominal cavity up into the chest. It's like when we squeeze a stress ball. Straining at stool raises pressures inside our abdominal cavity more than almost any other factor.

In effect, straining at stool puts the squeeze on our abdomen and may herniate part of our stomach up. "Consistent with this concept is the observation that in Africans the lower esophageal sphincter is entirely subdiaphragmatic, whereas it usually straddles the diaphragm in Westerners and is above the diaphragm in the presence of hiatus hernia."

This same abdominal pressure from straining may cause a number of other problems, too. Straining can cause herniations in the wall of the colon itself, known as diverticulosis. That same pressure can backup blood flow in the veins around the anus, causing hemorrhoids, and also push blood flow back into the legs, resulting in varicose veins.

Hiatal hernia is not the only condition that high-fiber diets may protect against. See:

I also have a load of other bowel movement 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:

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

Original Link

Diet and Hiatal Hernia

Diet and Hiatal Hernia.jpeg

In terms of preventing acid reflux heartburn, high-fat meals cause dramatically more acid exposure in the esophagus in the hours after a meal. I talked about this in Diet and GERD Acid Reflux Heartburn. High fiber intake decreases the risk, but why? One typically thinks of fiber as helping out much lower in the digestive tract.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2013 found a highly significant protective association between esophageal adenocarcinoma and dietary fiber intake, suggesting that individuals with the highest fiber intakes have an approximately 30% lower risk of cancer. This could be because of the phytates in high-fiber foods slowing cancer growth, fiber's anti-inflammatory effects, or even fiber removing carcinogens. But those are all generic anti-cancer effects of whole plant foods. Specific to this type of acid irritation-induced esophageal cancer, fiber may reduce the risk of reflux in the first place. But how?

As you can see in my video, Diet and Hiatal Hernia, hiatus hernia occurs when part of the stomach is pushed up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity, which makes it easy for acid to reflux into the esophagus and throat. Hiatus hernia affects more than 1 in 5 American adults. In contrast, in rural African communities eating their traditional plant-based diets, the risk wasn't 1 in 5; it was closer to 1 in 1,000--almost unheard of. Hiatus hernia is almost peculiar to those who consume western-type diets. Why are plant-based populations protected? Perhaps because they pass such large, soft stools, three or four times the volume as Westerners.

What does the size and consistency of one's bowel movement have to do with hiatal hernia? A simple model may be helpful in illustrating the mechanism that produces upward herniation of the stomach through the hole (called the esophageal hiatus) in the diaphragm, which separates the abdomen from the chest. If a ball with a hole in its wall is filled with water and then squeezed, the water is pushed out through the hole. If we liken the abdominal cavity to the ball, the esophageal hiatus in the diaphragm corresponds with the hole in the ball. Abdominal straining during movement of firm feces corresponds to squeezing the ball and may result in the gradual expulsion of the upper end of the stomach from the abdominal cavity up into the chest. It's like when we squeeze a stress ball. Straining at stool raises pressures inside our abdominal cavity more than almost any other factor.

In effect, straining at stool puts the squeeze on our abdomen and may herniate part of our stomach up. "Consistent with this concept is the observation that in Africans the lower esophageal sphincter is entirely subdiaphragmatic, whereas it usually straddles the diaphragm in Westerners and is above the diaphragm in the presence of hiatus hernia."

This same abdominal pressure from straining may cause a number of other problems, too. Straining can cause herniations in the wall of the colon itself, known as diverticulosis. That same pressure can backup blood flow in the veins around the anus, causing hemorrhoids, and also push blood flow back into the legs, resulting in varicose veins.

Hiatal hernia is not the only condition that high-fiber diets may protect against. See:

I also have a load of other bowel movement 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:

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

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Hummus for a Healthy Heart

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I've talked previously about the anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects of various phytonutrients in beans, but beans have protective effects on the cardiovascular system as well. As one academic review suggested, plant-specific compounds can have a remarkable impact on the health care system and may provide therapeutic health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of diseases and disorders. Plants have antioxidant effects, anti-inflammatory effects, protect our livers, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and help prevent aging, diabetes, osteoporosis, DNA damage, heart disease and other disorders. Those without legumes in their daily diet, for example, may be at quadruple the odds of suffering high blood pressure.

Legumes such as chickpeas have been used to treat high blood pressure and diabetes for thousands of years. And they can also lower cholesterol levels. Researchers placed people in Northern India on high fat diets to raise their cholesterol levels up to that of the Western world (up around 206 mg/dL) and swapped in chickpeas for some of the grains they were eating. In five months, their cholesterol levels dropped to about 160, almost to the target of around 150. Cholesterol was reduced more than 15 percent in most of the subjects. In a randomized crossover trial, highlighted in my video, Beans, Beans, They're Good for Your Heart, two servings a day of lentils, chickpeas, beans, or split peas cut cholesterol levels so much that many participants moved below the range for which statin drugs are typically prescribed.

In the India study, although the subjects' cholesterol levels were comparable to the Western world at the start of the treatment with chickpeas, before the studym the participants were eating a low-fat diet. So low that their cholesterol levels started out at 123, well within the safe zone. Only after packing their diets with saturated fat were the researchers able to boost their cholesterol up to typical American levels, which could then be ameliorated by adding chickpeas. So it would be better if they just ate healthy in the first place. Or even better, healthy with hummus: a healthy diet with lots of legumes.


Beans dips like hummus are among my favorite go-to snacks. I like to dip snap peas and red bell pepper slices in them. I'd love to hear everyone's favorite recipe. You show me yours and I'll show you mine :)

Canned Beans or Cooked Beans? Click the link to find out!

Beans can help us live longer (Increased Lifespan from Beans), control our blood sugars (Beans and the Second Meal Effect), and help prevent and treat diabetes (Preventing Prediabetes By Eating More and Diabetics Should Take Their Pulses).

What about the purported "anti-nutrient" phytates in beans? You mean the Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer, the Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells, and the Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer? Phytate-containing foods may also help protect our bones (Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis).

Why not just take cholesterol pills every day for the rest of our life? See my videos Statin Muscle Toxicity and Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer.

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: homami / Flickr

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How to Reduce Your Dietary Cadmium Absorption

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Cadmium is known as a highly toxic metal that represents a major hazard to human health. It sticks around in our body for decades because our body has no efficient way to get rid of it and may contribute to a variety of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Most recently, data suggests that cadmium exposure may impair cognitive performance even at levels once thought to be safe. Recent studies also suggest that cadmium exposure may produce other adverse health effects at lower exposure levels than previously predicted, including increased risk of hormonal cancers. For example, researchers on Long Island estimated that as much as a third of breast cancer in the U.S. might be associated with elevated cadmium levels.

Inhalation of cigarette smoke is one of the major routes for human exposure to cadmium. Seafood consumption is another route of human exposure. The highest levels, though, are found in organ meats. But how many horse kidneys do people eat? Since people eat so few organs, grains and vegetables actually end up contributing the largest amount to our collective diets.

However, don't drop the salad from the menu yet.

Whole grains and vegetables are among the major dietary sources of fiber, phytoestrogens, and antioxidants that may protect against breast cancer. Indeed, even though the risk of breast cancer goes up as women consume more and more cadmium, and even though on paper most cadmium comes from grains and vegetables, breast cancer risk goes down the more and more whole grains and vegetables women eat. So are animal sources of cadmium somehow worse, or do the benefits of plant foods just overwhelm any adverse effects of the cadmium?

A study out of the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand highlighted in my video, Cadmium and Cancer: Plant vs. Animal Foods, may have helped solve the mystery. It's not what we eat, it's what we absorb.

Cadmium bioavailability from animal-based foods may be higher than that from vegetable-based foods. There appears to be something in plants that inhibits cadmium absorption. In fact, researchers found when they added kale to boiled pig kidneys, they could cut down on the toxic exposure. Just one tablespoon of pig kidney, and we may exceed the daily safety limit--unless we add kale, in which case we could eat a whole quarter cup. The pronounced effects of the inhibitory factors in kale point out, as the researchers note, "the importance of vegetable foods in terms of prevention of health hazard from [cadmium] ingested as mixed diets in a real situation."

Reesearchers have concluded: "Even if a vegetarian diet contains more lead and cadmium than a mixed diet, it is not certain that it will give rise to higher uptake of the metals, because the absorption of lead and cadmium is inhibited by plant components such as fiber and phytate." Having whole grains in our stomach up to three hours before we swallow lead can eliminate 90% of absorption, thought to be due to phytates in whole grains, nuts, and beans grabbing onto it.

So vegetarians may have lower levels of lead and cadmium even though they have higher intakes.

In fact, there is a significant decrease in the hair concentrations of lead and cadmium after the change from an omnivorous to a vegetarian diet, indicating a lower absorption of the metals. Researchers took folks eating a standard Swedish diet and put them on a vegetarian diet. The vegetarians were encouraged to eat lots of whole, unrefined plant foods, with no meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Junk food was also discouraged. Within three months on a vegetarian diet, their levels significantly dropped, and stayed down for the rest of the year-long experiment. The researchers came back three years later, three years after the subjects stopped eating vegetarian, and found that their levels of mercury, cadmium, and lead had shot back up.

Since the cadmium in plants is based on the cadmium in soil, plant-eaters that live in a really polluted area like Slovakia, which has some of the highest levels thanks to the chemical and smelting industries, can indeed build up higher cadmium levels, especially if they eat lots of plants. It's interesting that, "in spite of the significantly higher blood cadmium concentration as a consequence of a greater cadmium intake from polluted plants, all the antioxidants in those same plants were found to help inhibit the harmful effects of higher free radical production caused by the cadmium exposure." Still, though, in highly polluted areas it might be an especially good idea not to smoke or eat too much seafood or organ meats. But even if we live in the Slovak Republic's "black triangle of pollution," the benefits of whole plant foods would outweigh the risks. For people in highly polluted areas, zinc supplements may decrease cadmium absorption, but I'd recommend against multi-mineral supplements, as they have been found to be contaminated with cadmium itself.

There are other toxins in cigarette smoke also found in food. See:

Toxic metals have also been found in dietary supplements. See for example, Get the Lead Out and Heavy Metals in Protein Powder Supplements.

Mercury is also a serious problem. See:

More on pollution in seafood can be found in:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Image Credit: Julie / Flickr

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Phytates in Beans: Anti-Nutrient or Anti-Cancer?

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In my videos, Phytates in the Prevention of Cancer and Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells, I described how phytates in beans may be the reason why legumes are so successful in preventing cancer and re-educating cancer cells. What about phytates for the treatment of cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It arises from "adenomatous polyps," meaning that colon cancer starts out as a benign little bump called a polyp and then grows into cancer that can eventually spread to other organs and kill. So the National Cancer Institute funded the Polyp Prevention Trial, highlighted in my video, Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer, to determine the effects of a high-fiber, high fruit and vegetable, low-fat diet.

Researchers found no significant associations between polyp formation and overall change in fruit and vegetable consumption. However, those with the greatest increase in bean intake only had about a third of the odds of advanced polyps popping up. It could have been the fiber in the beans, but there's lots of fiber in fruits and vegetables, too. So it may have been the phytate.

If the tumors develop from polyps, they still need to spread. Tumor growth, invasion, and metastasis are multistep processes that include cell proliferation, digestion through the surrounding tissue, and migration through barrier membranes to reach the bloodstream so the tumor can establish new proliferating colonies of cancer cells. A critical event in tumor cell invasion is the first step: the tunneling through the surrounding matrix. To do this, the cancer cells use a set of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases. This is where phytates might come in. We've known that phytates inhibit cancer cell migration in vitro, and now perhaps we know why. Phytates help block the ability of cancer cells to produce the tumor invasion enzyme in the first place (at least for human colon and breast cancer cells).

So what happens if you give phytates to breast cancer patients? Although a few case studies where phytates were given in combination with chemotherapy clearly showed encouraging data, organized, controlled, randomized clinical studies were never done--until now. Fourteen women with invasive breast cancer were divided randomly into two groups. One group got extra phytates; the other got placebo. At the end of six months, the phytate group had a better quality of life, significantly more functionality, fewer symptoms from the chemo, and did not get the drop in immune cells and platelets chemo patients normally experience.

What are the potential side effects of phytates? Less heart disease, less diabetes, and fewer kidney stones.

Because cancer development is such an extended process--it can take decades to grow--we need cancer preventive agents that we can take long-term. Phytates, which naturally occur in beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, seem to fit the bill.

In the past, there were concerns that the intake of foods high in phytates might reduce the bioavailability of dietary minerals, but recent studies demonstrate that this co-called "anti-nutrient" effect can be manifested only when large quantities of phytates are consumed in combination with a nutrient poor diet. For example, there used to be a concern that phytate consumption might lead to calcium deficiency, which then led to weakened bones, but researchers discovered that the opposite was true, that phytates actually protect against osteoporosis (See Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis). In essence, phytates have many characteristics of a vitamin, contrary to the established and, unfortunately, still existing dogma among nutritionists regarding its 'anti-nutrient' role.

As one paper in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology suggests:

"Given the numerous health benefits, phytates participation in important intracellular biochemical pathways, normal physiological presence in our cells, tissues, plasma, urine, etc., the levels of which fluctuate with intake, epidemiological correlates of phytate deficiency with disease and reversal of those conditions by adequate intake, and safety - all strongly suggest for phytates inclusion as an essential nutrient, perhaps a vitamin."

The paper concludes that inclusion of phytates in our diet for prevention and therapy of various ailments, cancer in particular, is warranted.

More on preventing tumor invasion and metastasis in:

Other foods that can help stop the progression of precancerous lesions (like the adenomatous polyps) are profiled in Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer.

There's a substance in mushrooms that's also another "essential" nutrient candidate. See Ergothioneine: A New Vitamin?

-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: The Ewan / 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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Colon Cancer Prevention: Is it the Fiber or the Phytates?

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Dietary factors are considered the most important environmental risk factors for cancer. Within recent years, a large number of naturally occurring health-enhancing substances of plant origin known as phytonutrients have been recognized to have beneficial effects on certain cancers. Beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils are packed with all sorts of wonderful nutrients, but the reason they may protect against several degenerative diseases may be due to non-nutritive compounds, or even so-called "antinutrient" compounds like phytates.

Phytates have a somewhat negative reputation for binding to certain minerals (like iron, zinc and manganese) and slowing their absorption. But they have also been found to offer anti-inflammatory health benefits. "The reputation of phytate has had a roller coaster ride ever since its discovery; it has undergone alternate eminence and infamy." (I previously explored the surprising new science about phytates in my video Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis). Could they play a potential role in preventing colon cancer?

In the U.S., colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, but some parts of the world have had just a tiny fraction of our rates, with the highest rates reported in Connecticut, and the lowest in Kampala, Uganda. The famous surgeon Denis Burkitt spent 24 years in Uganda and most of the hospitals he contacted there had never seen a case of colon cancer. Noting they live off diets centered on whole plant foods, he figured that maybe it was the fiber that was so protective.

Some studies have called that interpretation into question. Danes appear to have more colon cancer than Finns, yet Danes consume almost twice the dietary fiber. What else, then, could explain the low cancer rates among plant-based populations? Well, fiber isn't the only thing found in whole plant foods, but missing from processed and animal foods. Maybe it's the phytate.

Dietary phytate, rather than fiber per se, may be the most important variable governing the frequency of colon cancer, as phytate is known to be a powerful inhibitor of the iron-mediated production of hydroxyl radicals, a particularly dangerous type of free radical. So the standard American diet may be a double whammy, the heme iron in muscle meat plus the lack of phytate in refined plant foods to extinguish the iron radicals.

This may account for what researchers found in the Adventist study, highlighted in my video, Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer. They found excess risk of cancer for higher intakes of both red meat and white meat, suggesting all meats contribute to colon cancer formation -- about twice the risk for red meat eaters, and three times the risk for those eating chicken and fish.

Those who eat meat could reduce their risk in two ways: by cutting down on meat or by eating more beans, an excellent source of phytates.

So it's not just how much meat we eat, but our meat to vegetables ratio. Between the two extremes (high-vegetable and low-meat diets versus high-meat and low-vegetable diets) a risk ratio of about eight appears to exist, sufficient to explain a substantial part of the international variation in the incidence of colorectal cancer. Those with the worst of both worlds, high meat and low vegetable, were at eight times the risk.

More on colon cancer in Stool Size Matters.

Here are a few of my latest videos on the latest wonders of the musical fruit:

What about that music, though? See my blog Beans and Gas: Clearing the air.

What about soybeans and cancer? See Breast Cancer Survival and Soy and BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy.

Other ways to mediate the effects of meat intake can be found in my video Reducing Cancer Risk in Meateaters.

For more about how phytates may play a role in both cancer prevention and treatment see Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells and Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer.

-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: Ton Rulkens / Flickr

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How Beans Help Our Bones

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Health authorities from all over the world universally recommend increasing the consumption of whole grains and legumes--beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils--for health promotion. But what about the phytates?

Phytate is a naturally occurring compound found in all plant seeds (like beans, grains, and nuts) that over the decades has been maligned as mineral absorption inhibitors. That's why, for example, one hears advice to roast, sprout, or soak your nuts to get rid of the phytates so we can absorb more minerals, like calcium.

The concern about phytates and bone health arose from a series of laboratory experiments performed on puppies published in 1949, which suggested that high phytate diets have a bone softening and anti-calcifying effect. Subsequent studies on rats, in which they fed them the equivalent of ten loaves of bread a day, "confirmed" phytate's status as a so-called anti-nutrient. But more recently, in the light of actual human data, phytate's image has undergone a makeover.

A recent study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food asked a simple question: Do people who avoid high phytate foods--legumes, nuts, and whole grains--have better bone mineral density? No. Those that consumed more high-phytate foods actually had stronger bones, as measured in the heel, spine and hip. The researchers conclude that dietary phytate consumption had protective effects against osteoporosis and that low phytate consumption should actually be what's considered an osteoporosis risk factor.

A follow-up study, measuring phytate levels flowing through women's bodies and following bone mass over time, found the same thing: women with the highest phytate levels had the lowest levels of bone loss in the spine and hip. Those who ate the most phytates were also estimated to have a significantly lower risk of major fracture, and a lower risk of hip fracture specifically.

This is consistent with reports that phytate can inhibit the dissolution of bone similar to anti-osteoporosis drugs like Fosamax. Phytates don't have the side effects, though, such as osteonecrosis (bone death) associated with that class of drugs. People take these drugs to protect their bones, but by doing so may also risk rotting them away (See Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis).

Eating healthy can help us avoid other drugs as well. See, for example:

Beans might not just help our skeleton last longer, but the rest of us as well. See Increased Lifespan From Beans.

How might one boost mineral absorption? See New Mineral Absorption Enhancers Found.

Alkaline Diets, Animal Protein, & Calcium Loss is another surprising video on bone health.

And more on the benefits of phytates can be found in my videos:

-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: Asja Boros / Flickr

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What Do Meat Purge and Cola Have in Common?

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In my video, Treating Kidney Failure Through Diet, I profiled research suggesting that the use of a plant-based diet for patients with kidney failure would be beneficial. An important function of our kidneys is to filter out excess phosphorus from our bloodstream, so a decline in kidney function can lead to the build-up of phosphorus in our bodies. This in turn can cause something called metastatic calcification, where our heart valves and muscles and other parts of the body can buildup mineral deposits, eventually potentially resulting in bad things like skin necrosis, gangrene, and amputations. Therefore, controlling dietary phosphorus intake is the lynchpin of successful prevention of metastatic calcification. While both plant foods and animal foods have phosphorus, our bodies seem better able to handle phosphorus excretion from plants, so a plant-based diet may help protect against this dreadful condition.

However, we're beginning to realize that absorbing too much phosphorus isn't good for anyone, even those with healthy kidneys. Having high levels in our blood has been found to be an independent predictor of heart attacks and mortality in the general population, increasing the risk not only of kidney failure, but also of heart failure, heart attacks, coronary death, and overall death. Dietary intake of phosphate is an important matter not just for persons with kidney disease, but for everybody. It's thought to cause damage to blood vessels, to accelerate the aging process, and even, potentially, to hurt our bones by contributing to osteoporosis via a disruption of hormonal regulation. The estimated average requirement of phosphorus is less than 600 mg a day, but the estimated average intake in the United States is nearly twice that. How do we stay away from too much of the stuff?

In the video, Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola, we can see the different levels of phosphorus in different foods. It looks like many plant foods have as much phosphorus as many animal foods. So why are plant-based diets so effective in treating kidney failure patients? Because most of the phosphorus in plant foods is found in the form of phytic acid, which we can't digest. Therefore, while plant and animal foods may have similar phosphate contents, the amount that is bioavailable differs. In plant foods, the bioavailability of phosphates is usually less than 50%, while the bioavailability of most animal products is up around 75%.

So when we adjust for how much actually gets into our system, plant foods are significantly better. It's like the absorption of heme and non-heme iron: our bodies can protect themselves from absorbing too much plant-based iron, but can't stop excess muscle and blood-based (heme) iron from animals slipping through the intestinal wall (see my video Risk Associated With Iron Supplements).

The worst kind of phosphorus is in the form of phosphate additives (which are absorbed nearly 100%) that are added, for example, to cola drinks. Why is phosphate added to cola? Without the added phosphate, so many glycotoxins would be produced that the beverage would turn pitch black (see my video on Glycotoxins). Thus, cola drinks owe their brown color to phosphate.

Phosphate additives play an especially important role in the meat industry, where they are used as preservatives for the same reason: to enhance a meat product's color. Just like the dairy industry adds aluminum to cheese, the meat and poultry industries "enhance" their products by injecting them with phosphates. If one looks at meat industry trade journals and can get past all the macabre ads for "head dropping robots for the kill floor," you'll see all ad after ad for injection machines. Why? Because of "increased profitability." Enhanced meats have better color and less "purge."

Purge is a term used to describe the liquid that seeps from flesh as it ages. Many consumers find this unattractive, so the industry views phosphate injection as a win-win. When chicken is injected with phosphates, the "consumer benefits through the perception of enhanced quality," and the processor benefits from increased yield because they just pump it up with water and they sell it by the pound. The problem is that it can boost phosphorus levels in meat nearly 70%, a "real and insidious danger" not only for kidney patients, but for us all.

Another toxic addition to alter the color of meat is arsenic-containing drugs fed directly to chickens (see my video Arsenic in Chicken). Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, anthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish) and titanium dioxide is used to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease). I'm amazed by the risks the food industry will take to alter food cosmetically (more on this in Artificial Food Colors and ADHD).

There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

What else is in poultry purge (chicken "juice")? Find out in my video, Phosphate Additives in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Images thanks to Michael Scheltgen / Flickr

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