Posts Tagged ‘Health Food’

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Since the lifetime prevalence of mental disorders is lower in Mediterranean countries than in Northern European countries, a study was conducted to see if diet plays a role as a protective factor.

We have covered the Mediterranean diet previously, in the article Take It Or Leave It? The Truth About 8 Mediterranean Diet Staples, which we recommend reading to get up to speed about the particulars of this diet.

The report was published in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. Over 10,000 Spanish people participated in this study. Participants had to fill out a survey detailing their dietary intake. Researchers then translated those details into a level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet using a system of nine components. For example, one such component is maintaining a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids in the diet.

After a median (midpoint) of 4.4 years of follow-up, 480 new cases of depression were identified, including 156 in men and 324 in women. Individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a greater than 30 percent reduction in the risk of depression than whose who had the lowest Mediterranean diet scores. The association did not change when the results were adjusted for other markers of a healthy lifestyle, including marital status and use of seatbelts.

The scale of the study seems to clearly show some correlation between following the Mediterranean diet and better mental health. However, as long time readers are undoubtedly aware, correlation is not causation.

“The specific mechanisms by which a better adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern could help to prevent the occurrence of depression are not well known,” the authors write. Components of the diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage, all of which may decrease the chances of developing depression.

“However, the role of the overall dietary pattern may be more important than the effect of single components. It is plausible that the synergistic combination of a sufficient provision of omega-three fatty acids together with other natural unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, flavonoids and other phytochemicals from fruit and other plant foods and large amounts of natural folates and other B vitamins in the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern may exert a fair degree of protection against depression,” the authors write.

There may be a combination of factors at play here. Perhaps living in Spain is less depressing than living in Northern Europe regardless of diet. We need scientists to unravel the specific mechanisms which are responsible for these results. Until then, we can only speculate.

Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason, and people in Northern Europe may simply not be getting enough.

Dairy is a good source of Vitamin D, but most people do not eat enough dairy to meet their daily requirements without sun exposure. Aside from the fact that eating so much dairy may be unhealthy and counterproductive, 60% of adults cannot digest lactose.

An important component of the Mediterranean diet is fish, and fish are rich in Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A recent study determined that feeding infants formula enriched with DHA is worth the cost premium because it can enhance IQ.

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A characterization of cancerous cells is their ability to metastasize and show up in areas where they do not belong. When a normal cell becomes detached from its environment, a process called apoptosis (cellular self destruction) is triggered.

The genes which would be activated in a normal cell to trigger apoptosis may be damaged and non-functional in a cancerous cell, thereby allowing it to survive the initial detachment from its environment. However, even if apoptosis is not triggered, the cell should die of starvation because it is cut off from its supply of nutrients.

A group at Harvard published a study examining cellular detachment and found some surprising results. From Derek Lowe:

So far, so good – this all fits in well with what we already know about tumor cells. But this study found that there was another way to keep detached cells from dying: give them antioxidants. (They used either N-acetylcysteine or a water-soluble Vitamin E derivative). It appears that oxidative stress is one thing that’s helping to kill off wandering cells. On top of this effect, reactive oxygen species also seem to be inhibiting another possible energy source, fatty acid oxidation. Take away the reactive oxygen species, and the cells are suddenly under less pressure and have access to a new food source.

Clearly, there are serious implications to this research. Right now all we have are more questions and not enough answers.

This looks like a very strong paper to me; there’s a lot of work in it and a lot of information. Taken together, these results suggest a number of immediate questions. Is there something that shuts down normal glucose uptake when a cell is detached, and is this another general cell-suicide mechanism? How exactly does oxidative stress keep these cells from using their fatty acid oxidation pathway? (And how does that relate to normally positioned cells, in which fatty acid oxidation is actually supposed to kick in when glucose supplies go down?)

The biggest questions, though, are the most immediate: first, does it make any sense at all to give antioxidants to cancer patients? Right now, I’d very much have to wonder. And second, could taking antioxidants actually have a long-term cancer-promoting effect under normal conditions? I’d very much like to know that one, and so would a lot of other people.

After this and that exercise study, I’m honestly starting to think that oxidative stress has been getting an undeserved bad press over the years. Have we had things totally turned around?

The exercise study referred to examines whether antioxidants combined with exercise is a formula for failure. After exercising, the body tries to increase the number of mitochondria and it does so by signaling with reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Of course, ROS are also implicated in many theories of aging and cellular damage, which is why cells have several systems to try to soak these things up. That’s exactly why people take antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E especially. So. . .what if you take those while you’re exercising?

Once again, the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head.

And as it turns out, antioxidant supplements appear to cancel out many of the beneficial effects of exercise. Soaking up those transient bursts of reactive oxygen species keeps them from signaling. Looked at the other way, oxidative stress could be a key to preventing type II diabetes. Glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity aren’t affected by exercise if you’re taking supplementary amounts of vitamins C and E, and this effect is seen all the way down to molecular markers such as the PPAR coactivator proteins PGC1 alpha and beta. In fact, this paper seems to constitute strong evidence that ROS are the key mediators for the effects of exercise, and that this process is mediated through PGC1 and PPAR-gamma.

Taking supplemental antioxidants may unnecessary because the body produces enough of its own.

Interestingly, exercise also increases the body’s endogenous antioxidant systems – superoxide dismutase and so on. These are some of the gene targets of PPAR-gamma, suggesting that these are downstream effects. Taking antioxidant supplements kept these from going up, too.

In conclusion, antioxidant supplements will hinder the some of the benefits gained from exercise and likely helps cancerous cells survive and spread around.

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Drunk + Gassy = Long Life?

Although you wouldn’t necessarily need to be drunk, enjoying red wine has some benefits because it contains resveratrol. Feel free to stop when you feel tipsy.

The gassy part of the formula comes from the chemical sulforaphane.

Dr Paul Evans, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who led the research team, said: “We found that the innermost layer of cells at branches and bends of arteries lack the active form of Nrf2, which may explain why they are prone to inflammation and disease. Treatment with the natural compound sulforaphane reduced inflammation at the high-risk areas by ‘switching on’ Nrf2.

Nrf2 is a protective protein which reduces inflammation, normally found in arteries.

Arteries don’t clog up in a uniform way. Bends and branches of blood vessels – where blood flow is disrupted and can be sluggish – are much more prone to the build-up of fatty plaques known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can lead to angina, heart attack and stroke.

Actually, the gassy part does not come from sulforaphane directly. It comes from the fact that sulforaphane is naturally present in broccoli. However, the research done here was with the pure form of sulforaphane.

“Sulforaphane is found naturally in broccoli, so our next steps include testing whether simply eating broccoli, or other vegetables in their ‘family’, has the same protective effect. We also need to see if the compound can reduce the progression of disease in affected arteries.”

Brassicas – also called ‘cruciferous’ vegetables – include broccoli (which has the highest levels of sulforaphane), cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and rocket.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the BHF, said: “These fascinating findings provide a possible mechanism by which eating vegetables protects against heart disease.

In conclusion, to live a long and healthy life, you should probably bend an elbow, lift a leg, and proudly announce to the world… you know what, we’re very happy for you – but leave the room if you need to do that. Seriously.

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Writing in The American, industrial farmer Blake Hurst says:

I’m so tired of people who wouldn’t visit a doctor who used a stethoscope instead of an MRI demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food. Farming has always been messy and painful, and bloody and dirty. It still is.

There are several points he delves into in detail.

  • Organic produce is usually grown in a way that is worse for the environment than genetically modified crops.
  • Many books critical of industrial farming don’t bother speaking to farmers to understand their perspective, and it is insulting.
  • Even when it comes to treatment of animals, critics get things wrong. Hog crates are necessary because sows actually do crush piglets. Free range turkeys are stupid enough to turn their heads up towards the sky during a thunderstorm, and die from drowning.
  • Some critics, referred to as “agri-intellectuals” compare current methods to perfectly ideal situations and feign shock when real life turns out messier and more difficult.

Here’s a bit about the problem with turkeys:

Lynn Niemann was a neighbor of my family’s, a farmer with a vision. He began raising turkeys on a field near his house around 1956. They were, I suppose, what we would now call “free range” turkeys. Turkeys raised in a natural manner, with no roof over their heads, just gamboling around in the pasture, as God surely intended. Free to eat grasshoppers, and grass, and scratch for grubs and worms. And also free to serve as prey for weasels, who kill turkeys by slitting their necks and practicing exsanguination. Weasels were a problem, but not as much a threat as one of our typically violent early summer thunderstorms. It seems that turkeys, at least young ones, are not smart enough to come in out of the rain, and will stand outside in a downpour, with beaks open and eyes skyward, until they drown. One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.

Here’s a bit about sows and piglets:

Like most young people in my part of the world, I was a 4-H member. Raising cattle and hogs, showing them at the county fair, and then sending to slaughter those animals that we had spent the summer feeding, washing, and training. We would then tour the packing house, where our friend was hung on a rail, with his loin eye measured and his carcass evaluated. We farm kids got an early start on dulling our moral sensibilities. I’m still proud of my win in the Atchison County Carcass competition of 1969, as it is the only trophy I have ever received. We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I’ve seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.

This is a situation in which one side of the story barely gets to see the light of day against its detractors. We recommend reading the whole thing to become better informed about this controversial topic.

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Perhaps Janine Sugawara confused crunchberries with acai berries.

On May 21, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who said she had purchased “Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries” because she believed it contained real fruit.  The plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, alleged that she had only recently learned to her dismay that said “berries” were in fact simply brightly-colored cereal balls, and that although the product did contain some strawberry fruit concentrate, it was not otherwise redeemed by fruit.  She sued, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated consumers, some of whom may believe that there are fields somewhere in our land thronged by crunchberry bushes.

Janine may have the IQ of a potted plant, but it is far more likely that she saw an opportunity for some quick cash with a silly lawsuit. Some faith in America has been restored by the wise judge who immediately dismissed the case.

The court, Judge Morrison England, Jr., also pointed out that the plaintiff acknowledged in her opposition to the motion to dismiss that “[c]lose inspection [of the box] reveals that Crunchberries . . . are not really berries.”  Plaintiff did not explain why she could not reasonably have figured this out at any point during the four years she alleged she bought Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries in reliance on defendant’s fraud.

No one could possibly be that stupid, right? The attorneys working on the case should be tarred and feathered for wasting public resources dealing with their shady attempts at scoring some quick cash.

Judge England also noted another federal court had “previously rejected substantially similar claims directed against the packaging of Fruit [sic] Loops cereal, and brought by these same Plaintiff attorneys.”  He found that their attack on “Crunchberries” should fare no better than their prior claims that “Froot Loops” did not contain real froot.

See the update to the story where her attorney tries to save face, and fails miserably.

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Food, Inc. is a movie designed to raise several important issues regarding the industrialized food system in The United States. You may not take all of their issues with the same seriousness, but some interesting points are being made that need addressing.

From a review of the movie:

The reason I wasn’t too enamored of seeing it, at first, is that I figured it would mostly rub me the wrong way. I guessed it would mostly be about how “big bad business” ought to be even more tightly regulated than ever (since the mountains of regulations to which they are already subject have worked out so well, I suppose).

While one “sub-plot” of the film was indeed about this aspect of “food politics,” it wasn’t nearly at all the theme nor major element of the film. And, in fact, to large extent in my view, the rest of the film undercut the calls for more regulation.

I’ll go a step further. The film was pretty pro-business (on “practical” rather than principled grounds, i.e., freedom and property ownership), and even so for larger corporations. One notable scene was that of a long-time environmentalist who founded an organic yogurt company and has now succeeded in getting his product into Wal-Mart. The rational was, of course, obvious to anyone who knows anything about free-market economics: 1) Wal-Mart will sell what people want to buy, and 2) to the extent that Wal-Mart displaces non-organic, unhealthful products with true organic and healthful ones, it represents a tremendous positive impact in terms of things conservationists, environmentalists, and others worry about: pesticides, chemicals, transportation footprints, etc.

Read the rest of the review and judge for yourself. It may open your eyes to something you’ve been blind to your whole life.

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The Mediterranean diet gets a lot of praise from nutritional experts as being particularly healthy. Here, some of the popular aspects of this dietary style get examined.

  1. Olive oil – rich in monounsaturated fat, meaning, it’s heart healthy. However, olive oil has just as many calories per gram as other less healthy fats. So while it may not clog your arteries, it could have an unfortunate impact on your waistline.
  2. Fruits and vegetables – we shouldn’t be forced to explain why including plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet is a good and healthy thing.
  3. Fish and seafood – healthier than other types of meat, and rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Try to avoid deep frying it.
  4. Nuts – a good source of unsaturated fatty acids, which is heart healthy. Avoid overly sweetened and salted varieties.
  5. Beans – lots of protein, fiber, iron and other nutrients. Comes in many different varieties. Flatulence included at no extra charge.
  6. Alcohol – a moderate amount of certain types, such as red wine, seem to have beneficial effects. The key word here is moderation.
  7. Cereals – the good whole grain types, not the overly sugary breakfast treats often confused with real cereal.
  8. Cutting back on dairy – very controversial, because it is wrong if most of the dairy intake is low fat. Reducing full fat dairy products makes sense, but abandoning dairy entirely has consequences such as a higher risk for osteoporosis, hip fractures, etc. due to insufficient calcium intake.

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This is still early stage news, so don’t get too excited. For example, the study itself had some slight flaws.

“Unfortunately, this trial was not a randomized trial, which would have been needed to be more sure that the observed changes were truly attributable to the green tea components and not to some other lifestyle change (better diet, taking vitamins, etc.) men undertook in preparation for surgery,” added Nelson, who is also a senior editor for Cancer Prevention Research. However, “this trial is provocative enough to consider a more substantial randomized trial.”

The men chosen for the study did not sit around drinking tea all day. They received measured doses of one particular compound found in green tea.

The study included 26 men, aged 41 to 72 years, diagnosed with prostate cancer and scheduled for radical prostatectomy. Patients consumed four capsules containing Polyphenon E until the day before surgery — four capsules are equivalent to about 12 cups of normally brewed concentrated green tea, according to Cardelli.

The exciting part is the actual results which were obtained.

Findings showed a significant reduction in serum levels of HGF, VEGF and PSA after treatment, with some patients demonstrating reductions in levels of greater than 30 percent, according to the researchers.

There is still much work to be done, and this seems like a good step in the right direction.

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Kraft has released two varieties of sugar-free Jell-O snack cups boasting antioxidants; one is raspberry- and goji-berry-flavored, the other strawberry- and acai-berry-flavored. Neither contains any part of the goji or acai berry, nor any raspberry or strawberry. The antioxidants in the products are vitamins E and A, added to the product via supplements.

We have discussed the merits of certain superfoods, such as acai berries before. Although the Jell-O isn’t without any nutritional benefit, we feel that it is preying on consumers general lack of attention to detail about these types of things. Not cool Kraft, not cool.

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Extra healthy beer? We’ll drink to that!

A group of college students at Rice University are taking their favorite pastime and turning it into a research project. Their passion? Beer. Their project? Inventing a brew that contains resveratrol, a chemical present in wine that lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Sounds like our kind of science fair project, so here is the science portion of this broadcast:

Instead of adding hops, they’re adding genes, so to speak. Two sets of genes are in play here: the first allows the yeast to metabolize sugars and excrete an intermediate chemical. The second converts that chemical into the secret ingredient, resveratrol. The team has created a strain of yeast that can complete the latter conversion, but they are still working on genetically modifying the former. They hope to have the entire chemical reaction by the time the competition rolls around, but say that even if they don’t, they can still enter with data from other experiments and computer models to back them up. They also plan to brew their first test batches before heading north in November.

Now for the bad news. Unless they work out all the kinks and get FDA approval, this brew won’t be available at your favorite watering hole any time soon. We’re cheering for science to win this round.

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The acai berry is a small fruit, related to blueberries and cranberries, which grows on a type of palm tree. It is considered a superfood because of its naturally high quantity of antioxidants.

Anthocyanins and flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that help defend the body against life’s stressors. They also play a role in the body’s cell protection system. Free radicals are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may interfere with aging and the disease process by neutralizing free radicals.

There are several fruit with antioxidants, but acai berries stick out amongst them.

Some studies show that acai fruit pulp has a very high antioxidant capacity with even more antioxidant content than cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, or blueberry.

Adding some of this superfood to our diet may be a prudent investment in our health. We don’t believe that there is anything magical about acai berries which will cause weight loss without effort or cause women to suddenly find you very attractive. Eating foods like this in addition to proper exercise however, will keep your doctor pleased with you for while. When was the last time you went to see your physician and he left the exam room with a smile on his face?

For now, plenty of research supports eating a diet rich in antioxidants. There’s no doubt that berries and other fruits are a key part of any healthy diet promoting weight loss.

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