How May Eating Plants Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

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Intake of saturated fats and added sugars, two of the primary components of a modern Western diet, is linked with the development of Alzheimer's disease. There has been a global shift in dietary composition, from traditional diets high in starches and fiber, to what has been termed the Western diet, high in fat and sugar, low in whole, plant foods. What's so great about fruits and vegetables?

Plant-derived foods contain thousands of compounds with antioxidant properties, some of which can traverse the blood-brain barrier and may have neuroprotective effects by assisting with antioxidant defense. There's this concept of "brain rust," that neurodegenerative diseases arise from excess oxidative stress. But Nature has gifted humankind with a plethora of plants--fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and the diverse array of bioactive nutrients present in these natural products may play a pivotal role in prevention and one day, perhaps, even the cure of various neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Accumulated evidence suggests that naturally occurring plant compounds may potentially hinder neurodegeneration, and even improve memory and cognitive function, as I've shared in my videos Preventing Alzheimer's Disease with Plants and How to Slow Brain Aging By Two Years) and treating Alzheimer's with spices such as saffron or turmeric (See Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer's and Treating Alzheimer's with Turmeric).

Vegetables may be particularly protective, in part because of certain compounds we eat that concentrate in the brain, found in dark green leafy vegetables, the consumption of which are associated with lower rates of age-related cognitive decline.

Yet when you look at systemic reviews on what we can do to prevent cognitive decline, you'll see conclusions like this: "The current literature does not provide adequate evidence to make recommendations for interventions." The same is said for Alzheimer's, "Currently, insufficient evidence exists to draw firm conclusions on the association of any modifiable factors with risk of Alzheimer's disease." Doctors cite the lack of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as the basis for their conclusions. RCTs are the gold standard used to test new medicines. This is where researchers randomize people into two groups, half get the drug and half don't, to control for confounding factors. The highest level of evidence is necessary because drugs may kill a hundred thousand Americans every year - not medication errors or illicit drugs, just regular, FDA-approved prescription drugs, making medication alone the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. So, you better make absolutely sure the benefits of new drugs outweigh the often life-threatening risks.

But we're talking about diet and exercise--the side effects are all good, so we don't need the same level of rigorous evidence to prescribe them.

A "modest proposal" was published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, an editorial calling for a longitudinal study of dementia prevention. They agreed that definitive evidence for the effectiveness of dementia prevention methods was lacking, so we need large-scaled randomized trials. They suggested we start with 10,000 healthy volunteers in their 20's and split them into five groups. There's evidence, for example, that traumatic brain injury is a risk factor for Alzheimer's, because people with head injuries appear more likely to get the disease, but it's never been put to the test. So, they say, let's take two thousand people and beat half of them in the head with baseball bats, and the other half we'll use Styrofoam bats as a control. Afterall, until we have randomized controls, how can't physicians recommend patients not get hit in the head? They go further saying we should probably chain a thousand people to a treadmill for 40 years, and a thousand people to a couch before recommending exercise. A thousand will be forced to do crossword puzzles; another thousand forced to watch Jerry Springer reruns, lots of meat and dairy or not prescribed for another group for the next 40 years, and we can hook a thousand folks on four packs a day just to be sure.

We help our patients to quit smoking despite the fact that there's not a single randomized controlled trial where they held people down and piped smoke into their lungs for a few decades. It is time to realize that the ultimate study in regard to lifestyle and cognitive health cannot be done. Yet the absence of definitive evidence should not restrict physicians from making reasonable recommendations based on the evidence that is available.

I've discussed how drug-centric approaches to evidence-based medicine may neglect some of the most convincing data: Evidence-Based Medicine or Evidence-Biased?

To see how and why I built on evidence-based principles, see my recent introductory videos:

A sampling of some of my Alzheimer's videos:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Image Credit: Michael Heim / 123rf

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Treating Migraines With Lavender









Treating Migraines With Lavender

Lavender has been studied recently for several purposes, including treatment of mood and anxiety disorders (see, for example, the video I profiled in my last post, Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder). Though it’s better known for its analgesic (pain-killing) properties, there hasn’t been a single documented clinical trial on lavender for the treatment of migraine headaches, which affect tens of millions of Americans every year. That is, until now: “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”

Migraine sufferers were asked—at the early signs of headache—to rub two to three drops of lavender essential oil onto their upper lip and inhale its vapor for a 15-min period, then score the severity of their headache for the next two hours. In the control group they did the same thing, but with drops of unscented liquid wax instead. Neither group was allowed to use any painkillers. In the lavender group 74 percent of patients had an improvement in their symptoms—significantly better than placebo.

Although lavender wasn’t directly compared to more conventional treatments and outcome measures differed, as you can see in the associated video Lavender for Migraine Headaches, lavender appears to stack up pretty well against typical migraine drugs. Lavender helped about three quarters of the time; high dose Tylenol may only work about half the time; and Ibuprofen 57% of the time. The top prescription drug, generic Imitrex, is effective 59% of the time, and the hardcore treatment they use in emergency rooms where they inject you under the skin works 70% of the time. Fortunately all of these work better than the original migraine therapy, known as trepanning, where doctors drilled holes in our head to let the evil spirits escape!

The lavender researchers concluded that the results of the study suggest that inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.

Migraine sufferers may also want to experiment with avoiding potential triggers such as aspartame (see my video Diet Soda and Preterm Birth). Saffron may also help with headaches (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS) as well may the avoidance of certain parasites (Pork Tapeworms on the Brain and Avoiding Epilepsy Through Diet). A note of caution, though: Pregnant migraine sufferers seeking natural remedies should be wary of advice they may get (Dangerous Advice From Health Food Store Employees).

What’s better than treating your pain with natural remedies? Not having pain in the first place! Those eating healthy diets are less likely to be on pain medications in general (Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants). See, for example:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Image credit: Avenue G / Flickr

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Using Lavender to Treat Anxiety









Using Lavender to Treat Anxiety

Lavender oil, which is distilled from lavender flowers, is often used in aromatherapy and massage. Despite its popularity, only recently have scientific investigations been undertaken into its biological activity.

While there have been small-scale studies suggesting benefit from lavender oil massage, we didn’t know if the benefit was coming from the lavender, the massage, or both. In an attempt to separate these two variables, a study was conducted in which patients in intensive care were given massages with either odorless oil or lavender oil. While patients massaged with lavender oil did say they felt less anxious and more positive, there were no objective differences found in terms of blood pressure, breathing, or heart rate. Perhaps the lavender was just been covering up the nasty hospital smells.

Subsequent studies using more sensitive tests did find physiological changes, though. We now know the scent of lavender can actually change brain wave patterns, but we didn’t know what the implications were until recently. Studies have shown the scent of lavender makes people feel better as well as perform math faster and more accurately (whereas the smell of rosemary, for example, seemed only to enable folks to do the math faster, but not necessarily with greater accuracy).

How else might one use natural means to improve cognitive performance? Check out my video Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter? and for more brain hacking tips, Dietary Brain Wave Alteration.

But what if we actually eat lavender flowers? Or in the case of the study I profile in my 3-min video Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, take capsules of lavender-infused oil so as to perform a double-blind study to compare lavender head-to-head to lorazepam (Ativan).

Generalized and persistent anxiety is a frequent problem and is treated with benzodiazepines (also known as benzos or downers) like Ativan and Valium. Unfortunately, these substances can not only make one feel hungover, but they have a high potential for drug abuse and addiction. So researchers decided to give lavender a try. Ativan certainly reduced anxiety, but so did the lavender. By the end of the study you couldn’t tell which group was which, and among those that responded to either, the lavender actually seemed to work better.

The spice saffron may be aromatherapeutic as well. See Wake Up and Smell the Saffron for its role in treating PMS, above and beyond its other effects on the brain (Saffron vs. Prozac, Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s, and Saffron Versus Aricept).

Since lavender oil has no potential for drug abuse and no sedating side-effects, it appeared to be an effective and well-tolerated alternative to benzodiazepine drugs for amelioration of generalized anxiety.  

One cautionary note, however: There was a case series published in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils.” They reported cases of young boys exposed to lavender-containing lotions, soaps, hair gels, and shampoos starting to develop breasts. These effects disappeared after the products were discontinued, suggesting that lavender oil may possess hormone-disrupting activity. Indeed, when dripped on estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, lavender does show estrogenic effects and a decline in male hormone activity. It’s unknown, however, if similar reactions occur inside the body when lavender flowers or lavender oil is ingested.

There are some dietary components known to affect with the hormonal balance of young boys. Check out Dairy & Sexual Precocity.

More on lavender in Lavender for Migraine Headaches.

And more on dietary interventions for anxiety can be found in:

For more flower power see my blog and videos on hibiscus tea (Better Than Green Tea) and chamomile tea (Red Tea, Honeybush, & Chamomile and Chamomile Tea May Not Be Safe During Pregnancy). And hey, broccoli florets are just clusters of flower buds. See The Best DetoxBroccoli Versus Breast Cancer Stem Cells, and dozens of my other broccoli 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 and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: tfengreen / Flickr

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