Might Turmeric Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

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There are plenty of anti-inflammatory drugs out there that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, but stomach, liver, and kidney toxicity precludes their widespread use. So maybe using an anti-inflammatory food like the spice, turmeric, found in curry powder, could offer the benefits without the risks? Before even considering putting it to the test, though, one might ask, "Well, do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have a lower prevalence of dementia?" And indeed, those living in rural India who do just that may actually have the lowest reported prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's.

In rural Pennsylvania, the incidence rate of Alzheimer's disease among seniors is 19/1000. Nineteen people in a thousand over age 65 develop Alzheimer's every year in rural Pennsylvania. In rural India, using the same diagnostic criteria, that same rate is three, confirming they have among the lowest reported Alzheimer's rates in the world.

Although the lower prevalence of Alzheimer's in India is generally attributed to the turmeric consumption as a part of curry, and it is assumed that people who use turmeric regularly have a lower incidence of the disease, but let's not just assume. As highlighted in my video, Preventing Alzheimer's with Turmeric, a thousand people were tested, and those who consumed curry at least occasionally did better on simple cognitive tests than those who didn't. Those that ate curry often also had only about half the odds of showing cognitive impairment, after adjusting for a wide variety of potential confounding factors. This suggests that curry consumption may indeed be associated with better cognitive performance.

Of course it probably matters what's being curried--are we talking chicken masala, or chana masala, with chickpeas instead of chicks? It may be no coincidence that the country with among the lowest rates of Alzheimer's also has among the lowest rates of meat consumption, with a significant percentage of Indians eating meat-free and egg-free diets.

Studies have suggested for nearly 20 years now that those who eat meat--red meat or white meat--appear between two to three times more likely to become demented compared to vegetarians. And the longer one eats meat-free, the lower the associated risk of dementia, whether or not you like curry.

There's another spice that may be useful for brain health. See my video Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer's. What about coconut oil? See Does Coconut Oil Cure Alzheimer's? In terms of preventing cognitive decline in the first place, check out my video How to Slow Brain Aging By Two Years.

I've raised the issue of plant-based diets and dementia in Alzheimer's Disease: Grain Brain or Meathead?

For more on spices and inflammation, see Which Spices Fight Inflammation? and the follow-up, Spicing Up DNA Protection.

What about treating Alzheimer's disease with the spice turmeric? That's the topic of my video, Treating Alzheimer's with Turmeric.

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: Marcel Oosterwijk / Flickr

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Reduce Workout Soreness With Watermelon

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Long-distance runners and cross-fit athletes alike know it well: Delayed-onset muscle soreness is the discomfort that starts the day after a particularly grueling workout, caused by micro-tears in the muscle that lead to inflammation.

The leading pharmaceutical interventions are over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, provided people are offered reasonable guidance on the dangers of their use (See Anti-Inflammatory Life is a Bowl of Cherries), but there might be a much safer option. "The use of NSAIDs is associated with serious upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) side-effects, including upset stomach, stomach ulcers, stomach and intestinal bleeding, and perforation." Of all the NSAIDS, ibuprofen is probably safest (significantly safer than naproxen). Still, there's a chance you could end up at your doctor's office for a problem with side effects.

The most frequent problem caused by ibuprofen is related to the stomach. However, NSAID drugs can also cause damage to the small intestine. Ibuprofen can cause our guts to become leaky within hours and inflamed within days. Up until the mid-80's, we thought the small intestine was relatively unaffected by these drugs. Now we know they may disrupt our intestinal barrier function. There must be a better way to deal with muscle soreness.

Previously, I reviewed the role cherries may play in reducing muscle soreness (See Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries), thought to be because of anti-inflammatory flavonoid nutrients. Interestingly, while the absorption of these phytonutrients can help with exercise, exercise may help with the absorption of these phytonutrients. If you look at each of the individual phytonutrients researchers examined, all of them were significantly better absorbed by the athletes compared to the sedentary controls. The thought is that elite training may modify the activity of the good bacteria in our gut, which then boosts bioavailability.

But back to muscle soreness. Is there any other fruit that may help? Researchers in Spain had a group of men engage in intense physical activity after drinking two cups of fresh blended watermelon or a watermelon-free placebo drink, and the next day those that pre-loaded with watermelon were significantly less sore (around one on a scale of one to five compared to closer to two after placebo). The researchers conclude that "functional compounds in fruits and vegetables play a key role in the design of new natural and functional products (beverages, juices, energy bars, etc.) by the food industry instead of synthetic compounds from the pharmaceutical industry." (See Watermelon for Sore Muscle Relief). But why design natural products when nature already designed the products we need in the produce aisle?

More on dietary tweaks to maximize athletic performance in:

My last watermelon video dealt with another kind of physical activity: Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction

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: Kevin Botto / Flickr

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Which are More Anti-Inflammatory: Sweet Cherries or Tart Cherries?

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Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is a savory pudding of heart, liver, lungs, and oatmeal traditionally stuffed inside of a stomach. When that stomach goes into our own stomach, our digestive enzymes and stomach acid have no problem digesting it away. How do our bodies digests the stomach lining of a sheep on our plate without digesting our own stomach linings? It's meat and we're meat, so why don't we digest our own stomach every time we eat?

Partly because we have an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) that protects the lining of our stomach. There are two types, COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 is thought to be the primary protector of our stomach, whereas COX-2 is an enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation. In fact, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen work by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme. But these are non-selective drugs, so in addition to inhibiting COX-2 they also inhibit COX-1, which is trying to protect our stomach linings. Thus, although drugs like ibuprofen are great at relieving pain and inflammation, they kill thousands every year due to ulcerations through the stomach wall that result in life-threatening bleeding and perforation.

What are the risks on an individual level? On average, one in about 1,200 people who take this class of drugs for at least two months will die as a result. To put this into perspective, we can compare the death rate from anti-inflammatory drug side-effects to the risks associated with some well-known events. For example, it may be safer to go bungee jumping a few hundred times.

What we need is a selective COX-2 inhibitor, inhibiting the pain and inflammation of COX-2 without inhibiting the stomach protection of COX-1. We thought we got it with Vioxx, a blockbuster drug that brought in billions in profits before it started killing tens of thousands of peoples. Internal emails reveal how the drug manufacturer responded to the revelation that they were killing people: They drew up a list of doctors who were trying to warn people to "neutralize" them. If that didn't work, they tried to discredit them (You can see the emails in the video, Anti-inflammatory Life Is a Bowl of Cherries).

We're left then with two options: death from internal bleeding from one type of drug or death from side effects from another type of drug. If only there was some sort of natural COX-2 inhibitor. There is: cherries, which unlike ibuprofen suppress COX-2 more than COX-1.

In videos I did on insomnia and reducing muscle soreness (See Tart Cherries for Insomnia and Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries), I talked about the benefits of sour cherries, the types of cherries used in baking. But sweet cherries, the kind you eat fresh, seem to be the MVP for COX-2 inhibition. Tart cherries had less of an effect. Regular red sweet cherries (Bing sweet cherries) were shown to have a greater anti-inflammatory activity than tart cherries. This makes sense since we think it may be the anthocyanin phytonutrients, and there are much more in sweet red cherries than in tart, and nearly none in yellow Rainer cherries.

Because fresh cherries have limited availability, what about other cherry products? In terms of anthocyanin phytonutrients, fresh is best, but frozen would appear to be the second-best choice.

Here are two ways I incorporate cherries into my diet:

Other studies in which anti-inflammatory drugs were compared natural dietary remedies include: Turmeric Curcumin and Osteoarthritis and Turmeric Curcumin and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Anti-inflammatory activity in a test tube is one thing, but can cherries actually be used clinically to treat inflammatory diseases? See Gout Treatment with a Cherry on Top.

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: Valdemar Fishmen / Flickr

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Does Antioxidant Intake Matter for Stroke and Heart Disease?

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In my video Food Antioxidants and Cancer, I talked about how antioxidants from whole plants are associated with lower cancer risk. It turns out that total antioxidant capacity of diet may also be protective against stroke, the world's leading cause of death after heart disease. This is in contradiction to all the antioxidant supplement studies that failed to show benefit. This may be because the food antioxidant studies took into account thousands of different compounds, in doses obtained from a usual diet, rather than individual nutrients at unnaturally high levels.

The buildup of oxidized fat is considered the hallmark of fatty streak formation, the earliest manifestation of atherosclerotic plaques. The oxidation of fat can happen outside the body, every time we cook it, but oxidized fats are not only formed in foods, but may also be generated during digestion, especially in stomach acid. Our stomach may be like a "bioreactor for the oxidation of high-fat, cholesterol-rich foods. Muscle foods contain large amounts of endogenous catalysts which accelerate fat oxidation." As poultry sits in our stomach, the oxidation may build up minute by minute.

Turn out chickens are bled of only about half their blood, and the remaining residual can be a powerful promoter of fat oxidation, so there are those in the industry advocating an additional decapitation step, but if oxidation is the problem, antioxidants can be part of the solution.

We know antioxidant pills don't work. While extensive experimental data "have revealed a central role for oxidative stress in the stiffening of our arteries and suggested a potential role for 'antioxidant' treatment in cardiovascular disease, experimental data has not translated into clinical benefit. Most antioxidant vitamin trials have failed to reduce heart disease and death and may in fact even be detrimental. As a result, some have even questioned the supposedly central role of oxidative stress in the disease process." The fact that pills didn't work was described as a critical blow to the whole free radical theory of aging.

But high-dose single-antioxidant supplements are not a good substitute for the very complex antioxidant network of thousands of compounds in foods, present at concentrations far below those used in those pill trials. No one had ever looked at the overall effect of the complex antioxidant network in our diet in relation to our leading killer, coronary heart disease... until now. A large prospective population-based cohort study, highlighted in my video Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease, measured total antioxidant capacity of people's diets: "The total antioxidant capacity measures, in one single value, the free-radical-reducing capacity of all antioxidants present in foods and all the synergistic effects." They observed that "higher total antioxidant capacity of diet was statistically significantly associated with lower risk of incident heart attack in a dose-response manner," meaning, potentially, the more high antioxidant plant foods in one's diet, the better.

Which foods have the highest antioxidant content? See:

It's the heme iron in chicken blood that may be contributing to fat oxidation in the stomach. That's one of the targets of the Meat Additives to Diminish Toxicity.

More on reducing stroke risk can be found in my videos Preventing Strokes with Diet and Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs.

I have more than 150 videos on heart disease. Heart Disease Starts in Childhood and One in a Thousand Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic are among two of the most recent.

-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: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

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Does Antioxidant Intake Matter for Cancer?

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The USDA removed their online antioxidant database of foods, "concerned that ORAC values were routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products." Indeed, supplement manufacturers got into my-ORAC-is-bigger-than-your-ORAC contests, comparing their pills to the antioxidant superfood du jour, like blueberries. We know there are lots of bioactive compounds in whole plant foods that may help prevent and ameliorate chronic disease in ways that have nothing to do with their antioxidant power, so I understand the USDA's decision. So should we just eat lots of whole healthy plant foods and not worry about which one necessarily has more antioxidants than the other, or does one's dietary antioxidant intake matter?

We have some new data to help answer that question. Researchers recently analyzed total dietary antioxidant capacity and the risk of stomach cancer, the world's second leading cancer killer. A half million people were studied, and dietary antioxidant capacity intake from different sources of plant foods was indeed associated with a reduction in risk. Note that they say dietary intake; they're not talking about supplements.

Not only do antioxidant pills not seem to help, they seem to increase overall mortality--that's like paying to live a shorter life. Just giving high doses of isolated vitamins may cause disturbances in our body's own natural antioxidant network. There are hundreds of different antioxidants in plant foods. They don't act in isolation; they work synergistically. Mother Nature cannot be trapped in a bottle.

Similar results were reported with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: the more ORAC units we eat per day, the lower our cancer risk drops (though antioxidants or not, green leafy vegetables were particularly protective. Going from eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per week to a serving a day may cut our odds of lymphoma in half).

Should we be worried about antioxidant intake during cancer treatment, since most chemo drugs work by creating free radicals? According to some of the latest reviews, highlighted in my video Food Antioxidants and Cancer, there is no evidence of antioxidant interference with chemotherapy, and antioxidants may actually improve treatment and patient survival.

But should we take a multivitamin? See Should We Take a Multivitamin?

What about fish oil supplements? Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

I recently covered how and why we should strive to eat antioxidants with every meal in an important three-part series:

  1. Minimum "Recommended Daily Allowance" of Antioxidants
  2. How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA"
  3. Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal

Preferentially getting one's nutrients from produce not pills is a common theme in the nutrition literature. See, for example:

Antioxidants may also slow aging (See Mitochondrial Theory of Aging), reduce inflammation (See Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants), improve digestion (See Bulking Up on Antioxidants), and help prevent COPD (See Preventing COPD with Diet). So where are antioxidants found? See my series that starts with Antioxidant Content of 3139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods.

What about the role of antioxidants in other leading causes of death? That's the subject of my video, Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

-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.

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We Can End the Heart Disease Epidemic

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Many of the diseases that are common in United States are rare or even nonexistent in populations eating mainly whole plant foods.

These so-called Western Diseases are some of our most common conditions:

  • Obesity, the most important nutritional disease
  • Hiatal hernia, one of the most common stomach problems
  • Hemorrhoids and varicose veins, the most common venous disorders
  • Colorectal cancer, the number two cause of cancer death
  • Diverticulosis, the #1 disease of the intestine
  • Appendicitis, the #1 cause for emergency abdominal surgery
  • Gallbladder disease, the #1 cause for nonemergency abdominal surgery
  • Ischemic heart disease, the #1 cause of death

These diseases are common in the West, but are rarities among plant-based populations.

A landmark study in 1959 I profiled in my video Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice, for example, suggested that coronary heart disease was practically non-existent among those eating traditional plant-based diets in Uganda.

"Doctors in sub-Saharan Africa during the '30s and '40s recognized that certain diseases commonly seen in Western communities were rare in rural African peasants. This hearsay talk greeted any new doctor on arrival in Africa. Even the teaching manuals stated that diabetes, coronary heart disease, appendicitis, peptic ulcer, gallstones, hemorrhoids, and constipation were rare in African blacks who eat foods that contain many skins and fibers, such as beans and corn, and pass a bulky stool two or three times a day. Surgeons noticed that the common acute abdominal emergencies in Western communities were virtually absent in rural African peasants."

But did they have hard data to back it up? Yes.

Major autopsy series were performed. In one thousand Kenyan autopsies, there were "no cases of appendicitis, not a single heart attack, only three cases of diabetes, one peptic ulcer, no gallstones, and no evidence of high blood pressure" (which alone affects one out of three Americans).

Maybe the Africans were just dying early of other diseases and so never lived long enough to get heart disease? No. In the video One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic, you can see the age-matched heart attack rates in Uganda versus St. Louis. Out of 632 autopsies in Uganda, only one myocardial infarction. Out of 632 Missourians--with the same age and gender distribution--there were 136 myocardial infarctions. More than 100 times the rate of our number one killer. In fact, researchers were so blown away that they decided to do another 800 autopsies in Uganda. Still, just that one small healed infarct (meaning it wasn't even the cause of death) out of 1,427 patients. Less than one in a thousand, whereas in the U.S., it's an epidemic.

If heart disease is so rare in rural Africa, how do the local doctors even know what to look for? Though practically unheard of among the native population, the physicians are quite familiar with heart disease because of all the Westerners that immigrate to the country.

The famous surgeon Dr. Denis Burkitt insisted that modern medicine is treating disease all wrong:

"A highly unacceptable fact--that is rarely considered yet indisputable--is that, with rare exceptions, there is no evidence that the incidence of any disease was ever reduced by treatment. Improved therapies may reduce mortality but may not reduce the incidence of the disease."

Take cancer, for example, where the vast majority of effort is devoted to advances in treatment, and second priority is given to screening programs attempting early diagnosis. Is there any evidence that the incidence of any form of cancer has been reduced by improved treatment or by early detection? Early diagnosis may reduce mortality rates, and medical services can have a profoundly beneficial effect on sick people, but neither have little (if any) effect on the number of people becoming ill. No matter how fancy heart disease surgery gets, it's never going to reduce the number of people falling victim to the disease.

Dr. Burkitt compared the situation to an engine left out in the rain:

"If an engine repeatedly stops as a consequence of being exposed to the elements, it is of limited value to rely on the aid of mechanics to detect and remedy the fault. Examination of all engines would reveal that those out in the rain were stopping, but those under cover were running well. The correct approach would then be to provide protection from the offending environment. However, considering the failing engine as the ailing patient, this is seldom the priority of modern medicine."

Dr. Burkitt sums it up with the analogy of The Cliff or the Ambulance:

"If people are falling over the edge of a cliff and sustaining injuries, the problem could be dealt with by stationing ambulances at the bottom or erecting a fence at the top. Unfortunately, we put far too much effort into the provision of ambulances and far too little into the simple approach of erecting fences."

And of course there are all the industries enticing people to the edge, and profiting from pushing people off.

If all plant-based diets could do is reverse our number one killer, then shouldn't that be the default diet until proven otherwise? The fact that it also appears to reverse other leading killers like diabetes and hypertension appears to make the case for plant-based eating overwhelming. So why doesn't the medical profession embrace it? It may be because of The Tomato Effect. Why don't many individual doctors do it? It may be because lifestyle medicine hurts the bottom line (see Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease). Why doesn't the federal government recommend it? It may be because of the self-interest of powerful industries (see The McGovern Report). But you can take your destiny into your own hands (mouth?) and work with your doctor to clean up your diet and maximize your chances of living happily ever after.

-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: Sinn Fien / Flickr

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Does Animal Protein Cause Osteoporosis?

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For most of the last century, a prevailing theory within the field of nutrition was that by eating acid-forming foods such as meat, we were, in essence, at risk of peeing our bones down the toilet. And no wonder! Experiments dating back to 1920 showed over and over that if we add meat to our diet we get a big spike in the amount of calcium being lost in the urine.

And this made total sense. We had known since 1912 that meat was acid-forming within the body, and how do we buffer acid? What are in antacid (anti-acid) pills like Tums? Calcium compounds.

Meat and eggs have a lot of sulphur-containing amino acids (two to five times more than grains and beans) that are metabolized into sulphuric acid, which the body buffers with calcium compounds. And where is calcium stored in the body? The skeleton. So the thinking was that every time we ate a steak, our body would pull calcium from our bones, bit by bit, and over time this could lead to osteoporosis. Based on 26 such studies, for every 40 grams of protein we add to our daily diet, we pee out an extra 50 mg of calcium. We only have about two pounds of calcium in our skeleton, so the loss of 50 grams a day would mean losing close to 2% of our bone calcium every year. By the end of the 20th century, there was little doubt that acid-forming diets would dissolve our bones away.

But if we actually look at the studies done on protein intake and bone health, that's not what we find. So, where's the flaw in the logic? Meat leads to acid, which leads to calcium loss, which leads to bone loss, right?

Well, it's uncontroversial that protein results in greater calcium excretion, but we've just been assuming it's coming from the bone--where else could the extra calcium dumped in our urine be coming from but our bones?

One study appeared to solve the mystery. An intrepid group of researchers tried feeding a group of volunteers radioactive calcium and then put them on a high protein diet. What happens when we put people on a high protein diet? The amount of calcium in their urine shoots up, and indeed that's just what happened. But here's the big question, was that extra calcium in their urine radioactive or not? To everyone's surprise, it was radioactive. This meant that the excess calcium in their urine was coming from their diet, not from their bones.

What seemed to be happening is that the excess protein consumption boosted calcium absorption, from down around 19% up to 26%. All of a sudden there was all this extra calcium in the blood, so presumably the kidneys are like "whoa, what are we going to do with it all?" So they dump it into the urine. 90% of the extra calcium in the urine after eating a steak doesn't appear to be coming from our bones but from our diet. We're not sure why protein boosts calcium absorption. Maybe protein increases the solubility of calcium by stimulating stomach acid production? Whatever the reason, there was indeed more calcium lost, but also more calcium gained such that in the end, most of that extra calcium is accounted for. In effect, more calcium is lost in the urine stream, but it may be compensated by less loss of calcium through the fecal stream.

This was repeated with even more extreme diets--an acid-forming five-burgers-a-day-worth-of-animal protein diet that limited fruits and vegetables versus an alkaline diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables. More calcium in the urine on burgers, but significantly greater calcium absorption, such that at the end it was pretty much a wash.

Other studies have also since supported this interpretation. Here's an ingenious one: Feed people a high animal protein diet but add in an alkali salt to neutralize the acid. The old thinking would predict that there would be no calcium loss since there is no excess acid to buffer, but no, even though the acid load was neutralized, there was still the excess urinary calcium, consistent with the radioactive isotope study, challenging the "long-standing dogma that animal protein consumption results in a mild acidosis promoting the increased excretion of calcium."

So if our body isn't buffering the acid formed from our diet with our bones, how is it neutralizing the acid? Maybe with our muscles. Alkaline diets may protect our muscle mass! I cover that in my video Testing Your Diet with Pee and Purple Cabbage.

Now the boost in calcium absorption can only compensate if we're taking enough in. For example, dietary acid load may be associated with lower bone mineral density in those getting under 800mg a day. Plant Protein is Preferable to animal protein for a variety of reasons (tends to have less methionine, is less IGF-1 promoting, etc.), but it's not clear how much of an advantage it has when it comes to bone health.

I previously touched on this topic in my video Is Protein Bad to the Bone? But I promised I'd take a deeper dive, hence my video Alkaline Diets, Meat & Calcium Loss.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Note to chemistry geeks: Yes, I know it's the calcium salt anions that actually do the buffering (carbonate in Tums and phosphate in bones), but I'm trying my best to simplify for a largely lay audience. I'll make it up to you with some kitchen chemistry (actually bathroom chemistry!) in my Testing Your Diet video.

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: PD Art / Wikimedia Commons

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Cayenne for Irritable Bowel









Cayenne for Irritable Bowel

Nearly 50 million Americans come down with food poisoning every year. Over a hundred thousand are hospitalized and thousands die every year just because of something they ate. If they had ordered something different on the menu or chosen something else at the grocery store, they or their loved one might be alive today. But in the vast majority of cases, food poisoning manifests itself as little more than a case of “stomach flu”—a few days of pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and then it’s gone. So what’s the big deal?

Well, as described in this recent editorial in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, in many cases, that acute infection can trigger a chronic “postinfectious functional gastrointestinal disorder” that can last for years or even forever. The two most common of which are irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia (chronic indigestion).

Up to 10% of people stricken with Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter are left with irritable bowel syndrome. The thought is that the "transitory inflammation during the infection leads to subtle but permanent changes in the structure and function of the digestive system," causing the lining of the gut to become hyper-sensitized. How do they determine if someone’s rectum is hypersensitive?

Innovative Japanese researchers developed a device to deliver "repetitive painful rectal distention." Basically, the researchers hooked up a half-quart balloon to a fancy bicycle pump that was lubricated with olive oil, inserted it into the rectum and inflated it until the patients couldn’t stand the pain anymore. As you can see in my video, Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion, those with IBS had a significantly lower pain threshold, significantly less “rectal compliance.”

Healthy people felt the pain where we’d expect to feel the pain with, effectively, a balloon animal up their tush. But many with IBS also experienced abdominal pain, indicating a hypersensitivity of the entire gut wall. Well, if that’s the problem, how can we desensitize the gut?

In my video, Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?, we learned about the ability of hot pepper compounds to deplete pain fibers of substance P, a neurotransmitter used for transmitting pain. It’s bad enough to have to rub hot peppers up our nose, where do we have to stick them for irritable bowel? Thankfully researchers chose the oral route.

The researchers concluded that “the chronic administration of red pepper powder in IBS patients with enteric-coated pills was significantly more effective than placebo in decreasing the intensity of abdominal pain and bloating, and was considered by the patients more effective than placebo," suggesting a "novel way of dealing with this frequent and distressing functional disease.”

After 48 million cases of annual food poisoning, 10% may end up with IBS. Even more may end up with chronic indigestion. How do peppers work against that? We can’t use whole peppers because then we couldn’t blind a placebo, but if we give capsules of red pepper powder to folks suffering from chronic indigestion—about one and a half teaspoons a day worth—and compare that to an identical-looking sugar pill, within a month their overall symptoms improved, including their stomach pain and their feelings of being bloated. They had less nausea, too. The frequently prescribed drug, Propulsid (cisapride), worked almost as well as the red pepper powder, and was considered generally well tolerated… that is, until it killed people. Propulsid was pulled from the market after causing dozens of deaths.

I explore another natural treatment for IBS in Kiwi Fruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I’ve covered some of the long-term consequences of food poisoning in videos such as Poultry and Paralysis, Fecal Bacteria Survey, and Amnesic Seafood Poisoning. The meat industry is all over it, though: Check out my videos  Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray. Why is it legal to sell meat tainted with our leading foodborne killer? Find out in Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal and  

-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: Jennifer C. / Flickr

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Tea and Flouride Risk









Childhood Tea Drinking May Increase Fluorosis Risk

If cranberries are so good at keeping bacteria from sticking to the wall of the bladder (see my video Can Cranberry Juice Treat Bladder Infections?), what about keeping bacteria from sticking to other places? There is in vitro research suggesting cranberry phytonutrients may reduce adhesion of H. pylori bacteria in the wall of the stomach, so maybe cranberries should be given along with antibiotics to help eradicate the ulcer-causing bacteria. But hey, what about our teeth?

Dental plaque is bacteria sticking to our teeth, particularly Streptococcus mutans. We’ve known that those with different drinking habits—be they coffee, tea, barley coffee, or wine—have about 10 times less of these plaque bacteria. Since those are all beverages from plants, maybe phytonutrients are fighting back at plaque.

If bacteria cause plaque and cavities, why not just swish with some antibiotic solution? There are downsides to just indiscriminately wiping out bacteria both good and bad, as I detailed in my Don’t Use Antiseptic Mouthwash video. So maybe it would be better if we just stop the bad bugs from sticking to our teeth.

There is some evidence that cranberries might affect the adhesion of bacteria to fake teeth in a petri dish, but nothing yet definitive. Green tea also appears to help prevent cavities, but that may be because of its natural fluoride content in the tea plant. I have a video about a woman who developed fluoride toxicity drinking up to the equivalent of about five dozen cups a day, but what about just regular consumption?

During the tooth development years, up to about age 9, children exposed to too much fluoride can develop dental fluorosis, a mottled discoloration of the teeth. It’s just a cosmetic issue and usually just manifests as faint white spots, but it’s the main reason the EPA is reconsidering current tap water fluoridation levels. If you watch my 3-min video Childhood Tea Drinking May Increase Fluorosis Risk, you’ll see that herbal teas are fine–about 100 fold under the limit–but caffeinated teas exceed the suggested limit, and decaf teas exceed the mandatory limit. Those limits are for tap water, though, so tea drinking would only pose much of a risk if drank all day long as one’s primary beverage. Kids who primarily drink non-herbal tea as a source of hydration would be at risk for dental fluorosis.

What may be the best source of hydration for kids? Might tea also cause dehydration? Find the answers to these beverage-related questions in my videos Does a Drink of Water Make Children Smarter? and Is Caffeinated Tea Dehydrating?

What about all those folks that say fluoride is a poison to be avoided at all costs? I offer my brief two cents in the Q&A The Dangers of Fluoride? There are elements for which there is no safe level of exposure, though. I explore a few in my video Fukushima and Radioactivity in Seafood.

Beyond cosmetic issues, what should we eat and drink to keep our mouth healthy? See my videos Plant-Based Diets: Oral Health and Plant-Based Diets: Dental 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 and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Josconklin / Wikimedia Commons

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