Gardening for Food and Health
Resveratrol Health Benefits
Resveratrol and Aging
Menopause and Black Cohosh
Ask Dr. J: Calcium D-Glucarate or Citrate
In The Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of the Month: Quick Oat Cake Snacks
This year is the first time that I have been able to grow
a vegetable garden in Florida, and it seems miraculous to
me that I can harvest tomatoes, basil, broccoli rabe, lettuces,
and summer squashes as early as April! I look forward to watermelons
when I return in the summer for visits.
As I start my garden in New Hampshire, I realize that growing
food always seems somewhat of a miracle, and it keeps me in
touch with the earth (literally) and with the natural environment.
It also enhances my understanding of the food that I eat,
and I can feel sure that there are no unwanted chemicals in
the produce from my own garden.
Increasingly, people are demanding higher quality, better
flavor, and fresher, locally grown food; vegetable and fruit
gardening satisfies all of these desires. Also, when you grow
your own food, you will not be eating genetically engineered
foods (sometimes called “frankenfoods”), which
have not been shown to be safe for consumers or the environment.
Farms and markets that grow and distribute fresh, local produce
are developing rapidly around the world, and you can be part
of this growing trend (pun intended) with your own garden
(and if you have too much for your own needs, you can share
or sell the extra!).
To some extent, anyone can participate in growing their own
food. I have a large garden, but even a small yard is enough
to grow quite a bit of food. I saw one small plot in front
of a house in Cambridge filled with tomatoes, basil, scallions,
zucchini, carrots, and trellised snap peas and cucumbers.
It was all of eight by ten feet. Even if you do not have this
amount of space, you can cut a one foot row of any length
and put in a few plants, and use a trellis to take advantage
of vertical space (which also captures more sunlight if you
are not in a full sun area).
If you have no outside land of any size, such as apartment
dwellers, you can have window boxes with lettuces and herbs
always ready to pick and eat, and you can grow tomatoes and
strawberries in containers on a balcony. Another option is
to participate in the urban community gardens that are popping
up in many cities. These are plots in unused areas that are
developed into thriving organic gardens. You might find that
there is a waiting list to get space, but put yourself on
the list. Many immigrants find that the spices and vegetables
that they are used to in their home countries are not available
in supermarkets, but they are growing them in their own or
in community gardens.
You can also grow heirloom varieties that are not available
in markets. You do not have to be totally dependent on large,
industrial farms for all of your food, and you can find relaxation,
exercise, and personal and aesthetic development by getting
in touch with the earth and your food.
Last month I mentioned some benefits of resveratrol in blocking
growth in cell cultures of brain tumor cells, but it has many
other properties that support health. It is a polyphenol found
in red wine and other food sources, similar in structure to
flavonoids and proanthocyanidins. Although wine is perhaps
the best known source of resveratrol, it is also found in
peanuts, grapes, berries, and in Polygonium cuspidatum, a
component of traditional Asian herbal remedies.
Some research suggests that the resveratrol in red wine is
the reason for the so-called “French paradox.”
While dietary fat is high in France, heart disease rates are
lower than in the US. (but heart disease is still the number
one cause of death in France). Although many other health
habits might explain the difference (more vegetables, more
exercise, higher vitamin E intake), or even other components
of red wine (such as antioxidant catechins), resveratrol consumption
from wine might be part of it.
In any case, resveratrol has a number of health benefits
that make it valuable as part of the diet and as a supplement.
It is a potent antioxidant, helping to prevent the oxidation
of LDL cholesterol (the bad form of cholesterol), while increasing
the level of the good HDL-cholesterol. It protects the arterial
lining (endothelium), enhancing the production of nitric oxide,
which in turn relaxes the arteries to improve blood flow.
Resveratrol also reduces the proliferation of arterial cells
involved with progression of atherosclerosis, and it inhibits
excessive blood clot formation that can block arteries.
A review of the properties of resveratrol in relation to
colon cancer suggests a number of ways that the compound could
inhibit the activity of certain enzymes and the expression
of certain tumor-related genes (oncogenes). One of the enzymes
that resveratrol inhibits is ornithine decarboxylase, which
has been linked with increased cell growth and carcinogenesis.
Resveratrol also appears to inhibit the development of breast
cancer. In a case-control epidemiologic study from 1993 to
2003 in Switzerland, researchers evaluated the relationship
of resveratrol intake to the rate of breast cancer in 971
women, 369 of whom had breast cancer and the rest serving
as controls. The third of women with the lowest intake had
double the risk of those in the middle level of intake. Those
women with the highest resveratrol intake had a 61 percent
reduction in breast cancer risk. Interestingly, in this study
the favorable association was only noted with resveratrol
from grapes, but not from wine. It appears that this benefit
was not just associated with higher fruit intake in general,
nor with alcohol intake.
Resveratrol appears to have a number of other anti-aging
properties. It influences the signal transmission between
cells and regulates inflammatory pathways through its effects
on cytokines, which are cell messengers that control a number
of different cell functions. It can block a number of steps
in the development of cancer, including the initiation, promotion,
and progression phases, and it can help regulate overactive
Aging studies are virtually impossible to do in humans, but
evidence from other organisms suggests that resveratrol can
favorably influence lifespan. While it might seem that information
drawn from studies of yeasts and fruit flies would not relate
to humans, their aging characteristics, in spite of shorter
lifespans, have much in common with us. For example, their
susceptibility to toxic aging factors, such as pesticides
and oxidants is similar, as these substances reduce the ability
of the cells to replicate.
A study in fruit flies, using a biomarker for aging, showed
that resveratrol (as well as alpha-lipoic acid) could extend
lifespan. Somewhat surprisingly, fruit flies and humans have
many genetic similarities. A study in yeasts (Saccharomyces
cerevisiae, the same organism used to make bread and beer)
shows that resveratrol has effects that mimic those of caloric
restriction, which has been shown to extend lifespan in many
animals and other organisms.
Levels vary widely, but red wine typically contains 160 mcg
of resveratrol per ounce (about 1 mg per 6 ounces). Peanuts
contain about 73 mcg per ounce. Alcohol also has its drawbacks,
so supplements of 2 to 4 mg or more of resveratrol may be
beneficial to slow aging without the risks associated with
frequent alcohol consumption.
Menopausal symptoms include hot flashes, depression, nervousness,
and other mood disorders, as well as night sweats and sleep
disturbances. Black cohosh is an herb that reduces the symptoms
of menopause without the side effects of conventional hormone
therapy. A new study shows that a standardized extract of
black cohosh is as effective as the hormones in relieving
all of the above menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes.
In this multi-center, randomized, controlled trial, 304 patients
were given 40 mg of black cohosh extract or a placebo. The
herb relieved symptoms as effectively as hormone treatment
with no side effects, and the results were both statistically
significant and clinically relevant.
Typical treatments have been with hormone replacement therapy,
but the horse-derived estrogens (Premarin) and synthetic progestin
(Provera) have been shown to create significant health risks.
In addition, for older women on long-term treatment they do
not provide much protection against osteoporosis.
The medical profession long presumed that such hormone replacement
would reduce both heart disease and cognitive decline, but
scientific data showed this not to be true—women on
long term Premarin or Premarin and Provera had a greater decline
in mental function than those who never took them and no reduction
in heart disease. They also had a higher incidence of strokes.
None of these risks have been demonstrated for women on bio-identical
Q. What is the difference between calcium
citrate and calcium D-glucarate? Is one better absorbed than
—VR, via email
I often have to clarify the difference between calcium citrate
(or other sources of calcium) and calcium D-glucarate, as
the latter is quite different from all the others. Calcium
citrate is one of the best absorbed supplemental forms of
calcium, and it is also somewhat more concentrated than some
other supplements, such as calcium lactate and calcium gluconate,
so you can get more into each pill.
Calcium D-glucarate does not contain significant amounts
of calcium, and it is not recommended as a supplement for
this purpose. It is an aid in detoxifying the body because
of a special metabolic effect that it has in the digestive
tract. When the liver detoxifies a number of chemicals, it
attaches them to a substance called glucuronic acid so they
can be excreted. A bacterial enzyme in the intestinal tract,
called beta-glucuronidase, breaks this attachment, allowing
the toxin to be reabsorbed into the blood stream, placing
a greater burden on the liver.
Calcium D-glucarate inhibits beta-glucuronidase allowing
the toxin to stay attached to the carrier and reducing the
detoxification load on the liver. As a result, the liver functions
better and the healing process is improved. More specifically,
calcium D-glucarate helps block several stages of carcinogenesis,
including initiation, promotion, and progression, partly by
reducing sensitivity to chemical carcinogens. Typical doses
of calcium D-glucarate range from 1000 to 5000 mg daily for
prevention or treatment.
Stepping off the pesticides treadmill.
Brian Halweil, Eating at home, Ode Magazine,
H.R.H. Prince Charles, Feeding our sanity,
Ode Magazine, May 2005.
Delmas D, et al., Resveratrol: Preventing
properties against vascular alterations and ageing. Mol Nutr
Food Res. 2005 May;49(5):377-95.
Wolter F, et al., Molecular mechanisms
of the chemopreventive effects of resveratrol and its analogs
in colorectal cancer: key role of polyamines? J Nutr. 2004
Levi F, et al., Resveratrol and breast
cancer risk. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2005 Apr;14(2):139-142.
Alarcon de la Lastra C, Villegas I, Resveratrol
as an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging agent: Mechanisms and
clinical implications. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Apr 14; [Epub
ahead of print]
Wood JG, et al., Sirtuin activators mimic
caloric restriction and delay ageing in metazoans. Nature.
2004 Aug 5;430(7000):686-9.
Bauer JH, et al., An accelerated assay
for the identification of lifespan-extending interventions
in Drosophila melanogaster. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004
Ulrich S, et al., Molecular mechanisms
of the chemopreventive effects of resveratrol... Mol Nutr
Food Res. 2005 May;49(5):452-61.
Kang JH, et al., Postmenopausal hormone
therapy and risk of cognitive decline in community-dwelling
aging women. Neurology. 2004 Jul 13;63(1):101-7.
Anderson GL, et al., Effects of conjugated
equine estrogen in postmenopausal women ... JAMA. 2004 Apr
Bibbins-Domingo K, Effect of hormone therapy
on mortality rates among women with heart failure and coronary
artery disease. Am J Cardiol. 2005 Jan 15;95(2):289-91.
Osmers R, et al., Efficacy and safety of
isopropanolic black cohosh extract for climacteric symptoms.
Obstet Gynecol. 2005 May;105(5):1074-83.
The combination of too much iron in the diet and high levels
of iron in the blood, as measured by transferrin saturation,
increases the risk of death from cancer. Transferrin is an
iron transport protein, and the percent saturation reflects
the amount of iron stored in the body. (Mainous AG, et al.,
Transferrin saturation, dietary iron intake, and risk of cancer.
Ann Fam Med. 2005 Mar-Apr;3(2):131-7.) The researchers noted
that it is the combination of high iron storage with high
dietary iron that makes the difference. Dietary iron comes
from red meat, liver, and fortified foods.
Exercise improves survival in breast cancer patients. In
a study of 2987 nurses diagnosed with breast cancer from 1984-1998,
those who walked at least 3 to 5 hours per week cut their
risk of dying of the disease in half (Holmes MD, et al., Physical
activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. JAMA
2005 May 25;293(20):2479-86). Even one hour of exercise per
week was helpful, but less than the higher level of activity.
Unfortunately, for many reasons, women often reduce or abandon
exercise after a diagnosis of breast cancer, especially if
they are overweight.
A large European study confirms that a diet high in fruits,
vegetables, beans, grains, fish, and olive oil not only prevents
heart disease and cancer, but also prolongs life. The study
of almost 75,000 people over 60 years old showed that this
Mediterranean diet, low in meat, dairy, and saturated fat
and rich in antioxidants, can add at least one year to the
life of these individuals. (Trichopoulou A, et al., Modified
Mediterranean diet and survival: EPIC-elderly prospective
cohort study. BMJ. 2005 Apr 30;330(7498):991.) The extra lifespan
could be much greater by starting the diet earlier in life.
We are all sometimes in too much of a hurry to prepare a
full meal, and healthy snacks are essential. I love Scottish
oat cakes, and have found an organic variety from Nairn’s,
one of the oldest oat cake purveyors. They are available from
The Scottish Grocer (www.thescottishgrocer.com), and they
are tasty, totally organic, with no hydrogenated oils or sugar
(which is unusual in crackers). I top them with a slice of
Tofu Lin (SoyBoy) and mustard, nut butter with banana or a
fresh Medjool date (organic, available by mail from Ehrlich’s
Date Garden in Arizona at 928-783-4778), hummus, or guacamole,
or I just eat them plain. They are high in fiber to help lower
cholesterol. You can also try Real Foods Corn Thins, a rice-cake-like
puffed corn snack from Australia (only the sesame is organic;
ask your health food store to order them if not in stock).
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