What Is the Cause of ALS?

What Is the Cause of ALS?.jpeg

Lou Gehrig's disease, known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, strikes healthy, middle-aged people seemingly at random. Of the major neurodegenerative diseases, it has the least hope for treatment and survival. Although mental capabilities stay intact, ALS paralyzes people, often from the outside in, and most patients die within three years when they can no longer breathe or swallow. At any given time, an estimated 30,000 are fighting for their life with it in this country. We each have about a 1 in 400 chance of developing this dreaded disease.

ALS is more common than generally recognized, with an incidence rate now close to that of multiple sclerosis. What causes it? 50 years ago scientists found that the rate of ALS among the indigenous peoples on the island of Guam was 100 times that found in the rest of the world, potentially offering a clue into the cause of the disease. So instead of 1 in 400, in some villages in Guam, 1 in 3 adults died of the disease!

Cycad trees were suspected, since the powdered seeds were a dietary staple of the natives and there were reports of livestock showing neurological disease after eating from it. And indeed, a new neurotoxin was found in the seeds, called BMAA. Maybe that's what was causing such high levels of ALS? But the amount of BMAA in the seeds people ate was so small that it was calculated that people would have to eat a thousand kilograms a day to get a toxic dose--that's around a ton of seeds daily. So, the whole cycad theory was thrown out and the trail went cold.

But then famed neurologist Oliver Sachs and colleagues had an idea. Cycad seeds were not all the natives ate. They also ate fruit bats (also known as flying foxes) who ate Cycad tree seeds. So maybe this is a case of biomagnification up the food chain, as about a "tons" worth of BMAA does accumulate in the flesh of flying foxes.

The final nail in the coffin was the detection of high levels of BMMA in the brains of six out of six native victims of the disease on autopsy, but not in control brains of healthy people that died. So with the final puzzle piece apparently in place, the solution was found to this mysterious cluster on some exotic tropical isle of ALS/PDC, so-called because the form of ALS attacking people in Guam also had signs of Parkinson's disease and dementia, so they called it ALS parkinsonism dementia complex. So when the researchers were choosing a comparison group control brains, they also included two cases of Alzheimer's disease. But these brains had BMAA in their brains too. And not only that, but these were Alzheimer's victims in Canada, on the opposite side of the globe. So the researchers ran more autopsies and found no BMAA in the control brains, but BMAA detected in all the Canadian Alzheimer's victims tested.

Canadians don't eat fruit bats. What was going on? Well, the neurotoxin isn't made by the bat, it's made by the trees, although Canadians don't eat cycad trees either. It turns out that cycad trees don't make the neurotoxin either; it's actually a blue-green algae that grows in the roots of the cycad trees which makes the BMAA that gets in the seeds, which gets in the bats, that finally gets into the people. And it's not just this specific type of blue-green algae, but nearly all types of blue-green algae found all over the world produce BMAA. Up until only about a decade ago we thought this neurotoxin was confined to this one weird tropical tree, but now we know the neurotoxin is created by algae throughout the world; from Europe to the U.S., Australia, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

If these neurotoxin-producing blue-green algae are ubiquitous throughout the world, maybe BMAA is a cause of progressive neurodegenerative diseases including ALS worldwide. Researchers in Miami put it to the test and found BMAA in the brains of Floridians who died from sporadic Alzheimer's disease and ALS, but not in the brains of those that died of a different neurodegenerative disease called Huntington's, which we know is caused by a genetic mutation, not some neurotoxin. They found significant levels of BMAA in 49 out of 50 samples from 12 Alzheimer's patients and 13 ALS patients. The results (shown in the my video ALS: Fishing for Answers) for American Alzheimer's and ALS patients from the Atlantic southeast and from Canadian Alzheimer's patients from the Pacific Northwest suggested that exposure to BMAA was widespread. The same thing was then found in the brains of those dying from Parkinson's disease. You can apparently even pick up more BMAA in the hair of live ALS patients compared to controls.

So is BMAA present in Florida seafood? Yes, in freshwater fish and shellfish, like oysters and bass, and out in the ocean as well. Some of the fish, shrimp, and crabs had levels of BMAA comparable to those found in the fruit bats of Guam.

In the U.S., fish may be the fruit bats.

Maybe the ice bucket challenge should be to not serve seafood in them. See my video Diet and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) for more.

Diet may also play a role in other neurodegenerative disorders:

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: GraphicStock. This image has been modified.

Original Link

What Is the Cause of ALS?

What Is the Cause of ALS?.jpeg

Lou Gehrig's disease, known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, strikes healthy, middle-aged people seemingly at random. Of the major neurodegenerative diseases, it has the least hope for treatment and survival. Although mental capabilities stay intact, ALS paralyzes people, often from the outside in, and most patients die within three years when they can no longer breathe or swallow. At any given time, an estimated 30,000 are fighting for their life with it in this country. We each have about a 1 in 400 chance of developing this dreaded disease.

ALS is more common than generally recognized, with an incidence rate now close to that of multiple sclerosis. What causes it? 50 years ago scientists found that the rate of ALS among the indigenous peoples on the island of Guam was 100 times that found in the rest of the world, potentially offering a clue into the cause of the disease. So instead of 1 in 400, in some villages in Guam, 1 in 3 adults died of the disease!

Cycad trees were suspected, since the powdered seeds were a dietary staple of the natives and there were reports of livestock showing neurological disease after eating from it. And indeed, a new neurotoxin was found in the seeds, called BMAA. Maybe that's what was causing such high levels of ALS? But the amount of BMAA in the seeds people ate was so small that it was calculated that people would have to eat a thousand kilograms a day to get a toxic dose--that's around a ton of seeds daily. So, the whole cycad theory was thrown out and the trail went cold.

But then famed neurologist Oliver Sachs and colleagues had an idea. Cycad seeds were not all the natives ate. They also ate fruit bats (also known as flying foxes) who ate Cycad tree seeds. So maybe this is a case of biomagnification up the food chain, as about a "tons" worth of BMAA does accumulate in the flesh of flying foxes.

The final nail in the coffin was the detection of high levels of BMMA in the brains of six out of six native victims of the disease on autopsy, but not in control brains of healthy people that died. So with the final puzzle piece apparently in place, the solution was found to this mysterious cluster on some exotic tropical isle of ALS/PDC, so-called because the form of ALS attacking people in Guam also had signs of Parkinson's disease and dementia, so they called it ALS parkinsonism dementia complex. So when the researchers were choosing a comparison group control brains, they also included two cases of Alzheimer's disease. But these brains had BMAA in their brains too. And not only that, but these were Alzheimer's victims in Canada, on the opposite side of the globe. So the researchers ran more autopsies and found no BMAA in the control brains, but BMAA detected in all the Canadian Alzheimer's victims tested.

Canadians don't eat fruit bats. What was going on? Well, the neurotoxin isn't made by the bat, it's made by the trees, although Canadians don't eat cycad trees either. It turns out that cycad trees don't make the neurotoxin either; it's actually a blue-green algae that grows in the roots of the cycad trees which makes the BMAA that gets in the seeds, which gets in the bats, that finally gets into the people. And it's not just this specific type of blue-green algae, but nearly all types of blue-green algae found all over the world produce BMAA. Up until only about a decade ago we thought this neurotoxin was confined to this one weird tropical tree, but now we know the neurotoxin is created by algae throughout the world; from Europe to the U.S., Australia, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

If these neurotoxin-producing blue-green algae are ubiquitous throughout the world, maybe BMAA is a cause of progressive neurodegenerative diseases including ALS worldwide. Researchers in Miami put it to the test and found BMAA in the brains of Floridians who died from sporadic Alzheimer's disease and ALS, but not in the brains of those that died of a different neurodegenerative disease called Huntington's, which we know is caused by a genetic mutation, not some neurotoxin. They found significant levels of BMAA in 49 out of 50 samples from 12 Alzheimer's patients and 13 ALS patients. The results (shown in the my video ALS: Fishing for Answers) for American Alzheimer's and ALS patients from the Atlantic southeast and from Canadian Alzheimer's patients from the Pacific Northwest suggested that exposure to BMAA was widespread. The same thing was then found in the brains of those dying from Parkinson's disease. You can apparently even pick up more BMAA in the hair of live ALS patients compared to controls.

So is BMAA present in Florida seafood? Yes, in freshwater fish and shellfish, like oysters and bass, and out in the ocean as well. Some of the fish, shrimp, and crabs had levels of BMAA comparable to those found in the fruit bats of Guam.

In the U.S., fish may be the fruit bats.

Maybe the ice bucket challenge should be to not serve seafood in them. See my video Diet and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) for more.

Diet may also play a role in other neurodegenerative disorders:

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: GraphicStock. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Four Ways to Improve on the Mediterranean Diet

Improving on the Mediterranean Diet.jpg

The traditional Mediterranean diet can be considered mainly, but not exclusively, as a plant-based diet, and certainly not a whole foods, plant-based diet. Olive oil and wine can be considered essentially fruit juices. Even if one is eating a "vegiterranean diet," an entirely plant-based version, there are a number of problematic nutritional aspects that are rarely talked about. For example, the Mediterranean diet includes lots of white bread, white pasta and not a lot of whole grains.

In an anatomy of the health effects of the Mediterranean diet, the single most important component was the high consumption of plant foods. In contrast, high cereal consumption, meaning high grain consumption, did not appear to help. This may be because most grains that modern Mediterranean dieters eat are refined, like white bread, whereas the traditional Mediterranean diet was characterized by unprocessed cereals--in other words, whole grains. And while whole grains have been associated with lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, refined grain may increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases. In the PREDIMED study, those who ate the most white bread--but not whole grain bread--gained significant weight.

Alcohol may also be a problem. As a plant-centered diet, adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower cancer risk, but does not appear to lower breast cancer risk. With all the fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans and low saturated fat content, you'd assume there would be lower breast cancer risk, but alcohol is a known breast carcinogen, even in moderate amounts. When researchers created a special adapted version of the Mediterranean diet score that excluded alcohol, the diet does indeed appear to reduce breast cancer risk.

The wonderful grape phytonutrients in red wine can improve our arterial function such that if you drink nonalcoholic red wine (wine with the alcohol removed), you get a significant boost in endothelial function--the ability of our arteries to relax and dilate normally, increasing blood flow. If you drink the same red wine with alcohol, it abolishes the beneficial effect and counteracts the benefit of the grape phytonutrients. So, it would be better just to eat grapes. You can find more information about this in my video Improving on the Mediterranean Diet.

Similarly, there are components of extra virgin olive oil--the antioxidant phytonutrients, that may help endothelial function, but when consumed as oil, (even extra virgin olive oil), it may impair arterial function. So even if white bread dipped in olive oil is the very symbol of the Mediterranean diet, we can modernize it by removing oils and refined grains.

Another important, albeit frequently ignored issue in the modern Mediterranean diet is sodium intake. Despite evidence linking salt intake to high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes, dietary salt intake in the U.S. is on the rise. Right now, Americans get about seven to ten grams a day, mostly from processed foods. If we were to decrease that just by three grams every year, we could possibly save tens of thousands of people from having a heart attack, prevent tens of thousands of strokes, and tens of thousands of deaths. There is a common misperception that only certain people should reduce their salt intake and that for the vast majority of the population, salt reduction is unnecessary, but in reality, the opposite is true.

There is much we can learn from the traditional Mediterranean diet. A defining characteristic of the Mediterranean diet is an abundance of plant foods, but one thing that seems to have fallen by the wayside. No main Mediterranean meal is replete without lots of greens, a key part of not only a good Mediterranean diet, but of any good diet.

Here are some of my previous videos on the Mediterranean diet:

I touch more on whole grains in How Many Meet the Simple Seven? and Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs.

More on breast cancer and alcohol in Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?, Preventing Skin Cancer From the Inside Out, and Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine v. White Wine.

I've touched on olive oil in the other videos in this Mediterranean diet series, but also have an older video Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Nuts and more recently, Olive Oil & Artery Function.

More on sodium in Dietary Guidelines: With a Grain of Big Salt, Big Salt - Getting to the Meat of the Matter, and Can Diet Protect Against Kidney Cancer? But what if without salt everything tastes like cardboard? Not to worry! See Changing Our Taste Buds.

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 / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Four Ways to Improve on the Mediterranean Diet

Improving on the Mediterranean Diet.jpg

The traditional Mediterranean diet can be considered mainly, but not exclusively, as a plant-based diet, and certainly not a whole foods, plant-based diet. Olive oil and wine can be considered essentially fruit juices. Even if one is eating a "vegiterranean diet," an entirely plant-based version, there are a number of problematic nutritional aspects that are rarely talked about. For example, the Mediterranean diet includes lots of white bread, white pasta and not a lot of whole grains.

In an anatomy of the health effects of the Mediterranean diet, the single most important component was the high consumption of plant foods. In contrast, high cereal consumption, meaning high grain consumption, did not appear to help. This may be because most grains that modern Mediterranean dieters eat are refined, like white bread, whereas the traditional Mediterranean diet was characterized by unprocessed cereals--in other words, whole grains. And while whole grains have been associated with lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, refined grain may increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases. In the PREDIMED study, those who ate the most white bread--but not whole grain bread--gained significant weight.

Alcohol may also be a problem. As a plant-centered diet, adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower cancer risk, but does not appear to lower breast cancer risk. With all the fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans and low saturated fat content, you'd assume there would be lower breast cancer risk, but alcohol is a known breast carcinogen, even in moderate amounts. When researchers created a special adapted version of the Mediterranean diet score that excluded alcohol, the diet does indeed appear to reduce breast cancer risk.

The wonderful grape phytonutrients in red wine can improve our arterial function such that if you drink nonalcoholic red wine (wine with the alcohol removed), you get a significant boost in endothelial function--the ability of our arteries to relax and dilate normally, increasing blood flow. If you drink the same red wine with alcohol, it abolishes the beneficial effect and counteracts the benefit of the grape phytonutrients. So, it would be better just to eat grapes. You can find more information about this in my video Improving on the Mediterranean Diet.

Similarly, there are components of extra virgin olive oil--the antioxidant phytonutrients, that may help endothelial function, but when consumed as oil, (even extra virgin olive oil), it may impair arterial function. So even if white bread dipped in olive oil is the very symbol of the Mediterranean diet, we can modernize it by removing oils and refined grains.

Another important, albeit frequently ignored issue in the modern Mediterranean diet is sodium intake. Despite evidence linking salt intake to high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes, dietary salt intake in the U.S. is on the rise. Right now, Americans get about seven to ten grams a day, mostly from processed foods. If we were to decrease that just by three grams every year, we could possibly save tens of thousands of people from having a heart attack, prevent tens of thousands of strokes, and tens of thousands of deaths. There is a common misperception that only certain people should reduce their salt intake and that for the vast majority of the population, salt reduction is unnecessary, but in reality, the opposite is true.

There is much we can learn from the traditional Mediterranean diet. A defining characteristic of the Mediterranean diet is an abundance of plant foods, but one thing that seems to have fallen by the wayside. No main Mediterranean meal is replete without lots of greens, a key part of not only a good Mediterranean diet, but of any good diet.

Here are some of my previous videos on the Mediterranean diet:

I touch more on whole grains in How Many Meet the Simple Seven? and Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs.

More on breast cancer and alcohol in Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?, Preventing Skin Cancer From the Inside Out, and Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine v. White Wine.

I've touched on olive oil in the other videos in this Mediterranean diet series, but also have an older video Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Nuts and more recently, Olive Oil & Artery Function.

More on sodium in Dietary Guidelines: With a Grain of Big Salt, Big Salt - Getting to the Meat of the Matter, and Can Diet Protect Against Kidney Cancer? But what if without salt everything tastes like cardboard? Not to worry! See Changing Our Taste Buds.

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 / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Original Link

The Natural Human Diet

NF-Nov15 The Problem with the Paleo Diet Argument copy.jpg

Our epidemics of dietary disease have prompted a great deal of research into what humans are meant to eat for optimal health. In 1985, an influential article highlighted in my video The Problem With the Paleo Diet Argument was published proposing that our chronic diseases stem from a disconnect between what our bodies ate while evolving during the Stone Age (about 2 million years ago) and what we're stuffing our face with today. The proposal advocated for a return towards a hunter-gatherer type diet of lean meat, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

It's reasonable to assume our nutritional requirements were established in the prehistoric past. However, the question of which prehistoric past we should emulate remains. Why just the last 2 million? We've been evolving for about 20 million years since our last common great ape ancestor, during which our nutrient requirements and digestive physiology were set down. Therefore our hunter-gatherer days at the tail end probably had little effect. What were we eating for the first 90% of our evolution? What the rest of the great apes ended up eating--95 percent or more plants.

This may explain why we're so susceptible to heart disease. For most of human evolution, cholesterol may have been virtually absent from the diet. No bacon, butter, or trans fats; and massive amounts of fiber, which pulls cholesterol from the body. This could have been a problem since our body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, but our bodies evolve not only to make cholesterol, but also to preserve it and recycle it.

If we think of the human body as a cholesterol-conserving machine, then plop it into the modern world of bacon, eggs, cheese, chicken, pork, and pastry; it's no wonder artery-clogging heart disease is our #1 cause of death. What used to be adaptive for 90% of our evolution--holding on to cholesterol at all costs since we weren't getting much in our diet--is today maladaptive, a liability leading to the clogging of our arteries. Our bodies just can't handle it.

As the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology noted 25 years ago, no matter how much fat and cholesterol carnivores eat, they do not develop atherosclerosis. We can feed a dog 500 eggs worth of cholesterol and they just wag their tail; a dog's body is used to eating and getting rid of excess cholesterol. Conversely, within months a fraction of that cholesterol can start clogging the arteries of animals adapted to eating a more plant-based diet.

Even if our bodies were designed by natural selection to eat mostly fruit, greens and seeds for 90% of our evolution, why didn't we better adapt to meat-eating in the last 10%, during the Paleolithic? We've had nearly 2 million years to get used to all that extra saturated fat and cholesterol. If a lifetime of eating like that clogs up nearly everyone's arteries, why didn't the genes of those who got heart attacks die off and get replaced by those that could live to a ripe old age with clean arteries regardless of what they ate? Because most didn't survive into old age.

Most prehistoric peoples didn't live long enough to get heart attacks. When the average life expectancy is 25 years old, then the genes that get passed along are those that can live to reproductive age by any means necessary, and that means not dying of starvation. The more calories in food, the better. Eating lots of bone marrow and brains, human or otherwise, would have a selective advantage (as would discovering a time machine stash of Twinkies for that matter!). If we only have to live long enough to get our kids to puberty to pass along our genes, then we don't have to evolve any protections against the ravages of chronic disease.

To find a population nearly free of chronic disease in old age, we don't have to go back a million years. In the 20th century, networks of missionary hospitals in rural Africa found coronary artery disease virtually absent, and not just heart disease, but high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, common cancers, and more. In a sense, these populations in rural China and Africa were eating the type of diet we've been eating for 90% of the last 20 million years, a diet almost exclusively of plant foods.

How do we know it was their diet and not something else? In the 25 year update to their original paleo paper, the authors tried to clarify that they did not then and do not now propose that people adopt a particular diet just based on what our ancient ancestors ate. Dietary recommendations must be put to the test. That's why the pioneering research from Pritikin, Ornish, and Esselstyn is so important, showing that plant-based diets can not only stop heart disease but have been proven to reverse it in the majority of patients. Indeed, it's the only diet that ever has.

For more on the absence of Western diseases in plant-based rural populations, see for example:

I've touched on "paleo" diets in the past:

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: Nathan Rupert / Flickr

Original Link

The Natural Human Diet

NF-Nov15 The Problem with the Paleo Diet Argument copy.jpg

Our epidemics of dietary disease have prompted a great deal of research into what humans are meant to eat for optimal health. In 1985, an influential article highlighted in my video The Problem With the Paleo Diet Argument was published proposing that our chronic diseases stem from a disconnect between what our bodies ate while evolving during the Stone Age (about 2 million years ago) and what we're stuffing our face with today. The proposal advocated for a return towards a hunter-gatherer type diet of lean meat, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

It's reasonable to assume our nutritional requirements were established in the prehistoric past. However, the question of which prehistoric past we should emulate remains. Why just the last 2 million? We've been evolving for about 20 million years since our last common great ape ancestor, during which our nutrient requirements and digestive physiology were set down. Therefore our hunter-gatherer days at the tail end probably had little effect. What were we eating for the first 90% of our evolution? What the rest of the great apes ended up eating--95 percent or more plants.

This may explain why we're so susceptible to heart disease. For most of human evolution, cholesterol may have been virtually absent from the diet. No bacon, butter, or trans fats; and massive amounts of fiber, which pulls cholesterol from the body. This could have been a problem since our body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, but our bodies evolve not only to make cholesterol, but also to preserve it and recycle it.

If we think of the human body as a cholesterol-conserving machine, then plop it into the modern world of bacon, eggs, cheese, chicken, pork, and pastry; it's no wonder artery-clogging heart disease is our #1 cause of death. What used to be adaptive for 90% of our evolution--holding on to cholesterol at all costs since we weren't getting much in our diet--is today maladaptive, a liability leading to the clogging of our arteries. Our bodies just can't handle it.

As the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology noted 25 years ago, no matter how much fat and cholesterol carnivores eat, they do not develop atherosclerosis. We can feed a dog 500 eggs worth of cholesterol and they just wag their tail; a dog's body is used to eating and getting rid of excess cholesterol. Conversely, within months a fraction of that cholesterol can start clogging the arteries of animals adapted to eating a more plant-based diet.

Even if our bodies were designed by natural selection to eat mostly fruit, greens and seeds for 90% of our evolution, why didn't we better adapt to meat-eating in the last 10%, during the Paleolithic? We've had nearly 2 million years to get used to all that extra saturated fat and cholesterol. If a lifetime of eating like that clogs up nearly everyone's arteries, why didn't the genes of those who got heart attacks die off and get replaced by those that could live to a ripe old age with clean arteries regardless of what they ate? Because most didn't survive into old age.

Most prehistoric peoples didn't live long enough to get heart attacks. When the average life expectancy is 25 years old, then the genes that get passed along are those that can live to reproductive age by any means necessary, and that means not dying of starvation. The more calories in food, the better. Eating lots of bone marrow and brains, human or otherwise, would have a selective advantage (as would discovering a time machine stash of Twinkies for that matter!). If we only have to live long enough to get our kids to puberty to pass along our genes, then we don't have to evolve any protections against the ravages of chronic disease.

To find a population nearly free of chronic disease in old age, we don't have to go back a million years. In the 20th century, networks of missionary hospitals in rural Africa found coronary artery disease virtually absent, and not just heart disease, but high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, common cancers, and more. In a sense, these populations in rural China and Africa were eating the type of diet we've been eating for 90% of the last 20 million years, a diet almost exclusively of plant foods.

How do we know it was their diet and not something else? In the 25 year update to their original paleo paper, the authors tried to clarify that they did not then and do not now propose that people adopt a particular diet just based on what our ancient ancestors ate. Dietary recommendations must be put to the test. That's why the pioneering research from Pritikin, Ornish, and Esselstyn is so important, showing that plant-based diets can not only stop heart disease but have been proven to reverse it in the majority of patients. Indeed, it's the only diet that ever has.

For more on the absence of Western diseases in plant-based rural populations, see for example:

I've touched on "paleo" diets in the past:

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: Nathan Rupert / Flickr

Original Link

Preventing Breast Cancer with Flax Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else can these puppies do? See:

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

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

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

Image Credit: Alisha Vargas / Flickr

Original Link

Dr. Greger’s 2015 Live Year-in-Review Presentation

Food as Medicine

View my new live presentation here: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet

Every year I scour the world's scholarly literature on clinical nutrition, pulling together what I find to be the most interesting, practical, and groundbreaking science on how to best feed ourselves and our families. I start with the thousands of papers published annually on nutrition (27,000 this year--a new record!) and, thanks to a crack team of volunteers (and now staff!), I'm able to whittle those down (to a mere 8,000 this year). They are then downloaded, categorized, read, analyzed, and churned into the few hundred short videos. This allows me to post new videos and articles every day, year-round, to NutritionFacts.org. This certainly makes the site unique. There's no other science-based source for free daily updates on the latest discoveries in nutrition. The problem is that the amount of information can be overwhelming.

Currently I have more than a thousand videos covering 1,931 nutrition topics. Where do you even begin? Many have expressed their appreciation for the breadth of material, but asked that I try to distill it into a coherent summary of how best to use diet to prevent and treat chronic disease. I took this feedback to heart and in 2012 developed Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, which explored the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing our top 15 killers. Not only did it rise to become one of the Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2012, it remains my single most viewed video to date, watched over a million times (NutritionFacts.org is now up to more than 1.5 million hits a month!).

In 2013 I developed the sequel, More Than an Apple a Day, in which I explored the role diet could play in treating some of our most common conditions. I presented it around the country and it ended up #1 on our Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2013. Then in 2014 I premiered the sequel-sequel, From Table to Able, in which I explored the role diet could play in treating some of our most disabling diseases, landing #1 on our Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2014.

Every year I wonder how I'm going to top the year before. Knowing how popular these live presentations can be and hearing all the stories from folks about what a powerful impact they can have on people's lives, I put my all into this new 2015 one. I spent more time putting together this presentation than any other in my life. It took me an entire month, and when you see it I think you'll appreciate why.

This year, I'm honored to bring you Food as Medicine, in which I go through our most dreaded diseases--but that's not even the best part! I'm really proud of what I put together for the ending. I spend the last 20 minutes or so (starting at 56:22) going through a thought experiment that I'm hoping everyone will find compelling. I think it may be my best presentation ever. You be the judge.

You can watch it at no cost online, but it is also available on DVD through my website or on Amazon. If you want to share copies with others, I have a five for $40 special (enter coupon code 5FOR40FAM). All proceeds from the sales of all my books, DVDs, downloads, and presentations go to the 501c3 nonprofit charity that keeps NutritionFacts.org free for all, for all time. If you want to support this initiative to educate millions about eradicating dietary diseases, please consider making a donation.

After you've watched the new presentation, make sure you're subscribed to get my video updates daily, weekly, or monthly to stay on top of all the latest.

-Michael Greger

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Do Cholesterol Statin Drugs Cause Breast Cancer?

NF-Jul16 Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer.jpg

What does breast cancer have to do with cholesterol? There are many potential mechanisms by which cholesterol boosts breast cancer growth. For example, our bodies make estrogen, which is correlated with an increased risk of breast cancer, out of cholesterol. We also package cholesterol into LDL, which, as you can see in my video Cholesterol Feeds Breast Cancer Cells, appeared to increase cancer proliferation and decrease patient survival.

Cholesterol is a major component of "lipid rafts." Compared to their normal counterparts, cancer cells have higher levels of these cholesterol-rich lipid rafts in their plasma membrane, which may be important for cancer cell survival and may serve in human cancer development in terms of tumor migration and invasion. Elevated levels of cholesterol-rich lipid rafts have been found in breast cancer cells, and the hypothesis is that reducing blood cholesterol levels "may disrupt lipid raft formation and thereby inhibit breast cancer development." This suggests cholesterol targeting may be used as a cancer therapy.

Controlled laboratory experiments have shown that phytosterols in seeds and nuts at dietary relevant levels appear to inhibit the growth of several types of tumor cells including breast cancer cells, including both estrogen-receptor negative and estrogen-receptor positive cancer. The therapeutic implications are that "plant-based diets rich in phytosterols may offer protection against the development of breast cancer." Of course, you can't make a lot of money on pumpkin seeds, so researchers looked to cholesterol-lowering statin drugs (this study is highlighted in my video, Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer).

Some petri dish work looked promising, but population studies have shown mixed results. Some studies showed that women on statins had decreased breast cancer risk, some showed increased risk, and most showed no association. These were all relatively short-term studies, though. "Long-term" statin use was defined as mostly just three to five years, but breast cancer can take decades to grow. The one study that looked at ten or more years of statin use only included 62 cases.

Given the increase in statin use over the past few decades, and the fact that they're commonly prescribed to be taken every day for the rest of women's lives, the studies published to date only had limited ability to evaluate the impact of long durations of use. We better figure this out: about one in four women over 45 in this country are on these drugs.

But that all changed with the publication of a study in 2013 including thousands of breast cancer cases. Long term statin users--women taking statins for ten years or more--had more than double the risk of both major types of breast cancer: invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. Once women do get breast cancer, though, recent studies in Finland and the UK suggest statin use may improve survival.

The number one killer of women is heart disease, not breast cancer, so we still do need to bring down cholesterol levels. Might there be a way to get the benefits of cholesterol reduction without the risks? Plant-based diets have been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol by over 30%, within just a couple weeks, equivalent to most of the standard cholesterol lowering statin drugs and without any breast cancer risk.

As drugs go, statins are remarkably safe, but they can still present rare but serious side effects in both men and women (Statin Muscle Toxicity).

How can we lower cholesterol without drugs? It's Purely a Question of Diet. We can lower our cholesterol by lowering our intake of three things: Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero. Where are trans fats found? Trans Fat In Meat And Dairy. Where is cholesterol found? Predominantly eggs: Eggs and Cholesterol: Patently False and Misleading Claims. There are also some foods particularly adept at lowering cholesterol levels:

-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: Ana C. / Flickr

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Breast Cancer Cells Feed on Cholesterol

NF-Jul14 Cholesterol Feeds Breast Cancer Cells.jpg

One in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. There are a number of compounds in plant foods that may protect against breast cancer by a variety of mechanisms. I've talked about the benefits of broccoli, flaxseeds, and soy foods before (See Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable, Flaxseeds & Breast Cancer Prevention, and Breast Cancer Survival and Soy) but a recent German study reported something new. The researchers found that sunflower and pumpkin seeds were associated with reduced breast cancer risk. They initially chalked the association up to the lignans in the seeds (See Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake), but their lignan lead didn't pan out. Maybe it's the phytosterols found concentrated in seeds? (See Optimal Phytosterol Source).

There is evidence that phytosterols may be anticancer nutrients and play a role in reducing breast cancer risk. I thought phytosterols just lowered cholesterol? (See How Phytosterols Lower Cholesterol) What does cancer have to do with cholesterol?

Increasing evidence demonstrates the role that cholesterol may play in the development and progression of breast cancer. Cancer feeds on cholesterol. Transformed cells take up LDL, so-called "bad" cholesterol, and it's capable of stimulating the growth of human breast cancer cells in a petri dish.

The ability to accumulate fat and cholesterol may enable cancer cells to take advantage of people eating high fat and high cholesterol diets and at least partially explain the benefit of a low-fat diet on lowering human breast cancer recurrence. Although the data has been mixed, the largest study to date (highlighted in my video, Cholesterol Feeds Breast Cancer Cells) found a 17% increased breast cancer risk in women who had a total cholesterol over 240 compared to women whose cholesterol was under 160. However, the researchers could not rule out that there may be something else in cholesterol-raising foods that's increasing breast cancer risk.

Tumors suck up so much cholesterol that LDL has been considered a vehicle for delivering antitumor drugs to cancer cells. Since cancer feeds on cholesterol, maybe we could stuff some chemo into it like a Trojan horse poison pill?

The uptake of LDL into tumors may be why people's cholesterol levels drop low after they get cancer--the tumor is eating it up. In fact, patient survival may be lowest when cholesterol uptake is highest. "High LDL receptor content in breast cancer tissue seems to indicate a poor prognosis, [suggesting] that breast tumors rich in LDL receptors may grow rapidly [in the body]." We've known about this for decades. You can tell that wass an old study because, when it was published in the '80s, only 1 in 11 American women got breast cancer.

If cholesterol increases breast cancer risk, what about the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs? See Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer.

More videos on broccoli and soy's protective effects against breast cancer:

Some I didn't mention include:

-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: Andrew Bennett / Flickr

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