Mediterranean diet for heart/diabetes
Soy isoflavones for bones and heart
Blue corn anthocyanins
Lipoic acid and acetyl L-carnitine
Silymarin for hepatitis and cancer
Exercise helps the elderly
Exercise and childhood diabetes
Omega-3 oils and cancer
A new study confirms the value of the Mediterranean diet for protection from heart disease and diabetes. The diet is rich in vegetables and fruits, nuts, fish, olive oil, and legumes, while it contains much less animal-derived food than the typical Western diet.
The Australian study of 40,653 participants, 40 to 69 years old, showed that those who ate most closely to the Mediterranean diet pattern had a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than those who strayed furthest from that diet. Among diabetics, there was a trend to have less vascular disease.
This diet pattern was helpful even if people already had heart disease at the start of the study, and the results were apparent even among those who had other high risk factors for heart disease, such as increased body mass index and hypertension. (Harriss LR, et al., Dietary patterns and cardiovascular mortality in the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):221-9.)
In a two-year study of 389 subjects, researchers showed that supplements of a soy isoflavone called genistein help to build bone density in post-menopausal women without side effects. Both the treatment group and the placebo control group received supplemental natural vitamin D3 and calcium. (Atteritano M, et al., Effects of the phytoestrogen genistein on some predictors of cardiovascular risk in osteopenic, postmenopausal women: a two-year randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Aug;92(8):3068-75.
The genistein dose was 54 mg per day, and the study also evaluated other health parameters that were improved with the supplements. Fasting glucose and insulin levels were significantly lower in the treatment group, and a model of insulin resistance was also improved. Fibrinogen levels and other markers of cardiovascular risk were lower with the genistein supplements. The benefits for cardiovascular risk and bone density improvements were seen both at the end of one year and at the conclusion of the study after two years.
No evidence of side effects were seen in this study, including any potentially harmful thickening effects on the uterine lining, in spite of genistein’s mild estrogenic activity. This effect is often seen with the formerly-common hormone prescription of Premarin, derived from pregnant horses. Premarin is stronger than human estrogen hormones, and far stronger than plant-based compounds.
Tortillas are traditional foods in Latin America and increasingly common in the United States. While all of them are nutritious, a new study shows that blue corn tortillas have higher nutritional value than the white or yellow varieties. (Bello-Perez LA Journal of Science in Food and Agriculture, July 30, 2007, as reported in Reuters Health)
Blue corn tortillas have more protein, but more importantly they have higher levels of the phytochemicals called anthocyanins. These nutrients are antioxidant free-radical scavengers. Anthocyanins protect plants from both ultraviolet and oxidative damage. The highest levels are found in blackberries (which are in season in my garden right now), black-currants, eggplants, and blueberries. Anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory effects.
A study of patients with hypertension showed benefits from supplementation with a combination of alpha lipoic acid and acetyl L-carnitine. In 36 subjects with coronary artery disease, half were given the active treatment and half a placebo for eight weeks. (McMackin CJ, et al., Effect of combined treatment with alpha-Lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine on vascular function and blood pressure in patients with coronary artery disease. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2007 Apr;9(4):249-55.)
In the patients with the highest blood pressures, the combined supplements significantly lowered blood pressure by about 10 points. It also improved vascular function by relaxing the blood vessels.
Silymarin is a standardized extract of milk thistle with a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It has long been used to help support the liver. A laboratory study of silymarin showed that it has benefits as both a prophylactic and a treatment for hepatitis C virus. It also had specific antiviral effects. (Polyak SJ, et al., Inhibition of T-cell inflammatory cytokines, hepatocyte NF-kappaB signaling, and HCV infection by standardized Silymarin. Gastroenterology. 2007 May;132(5):1925-36.)
One of the observed effects was stimulation of white blood cells, enhancing their ability to fight infection. Other research has shown anti-cancer effects in both skin and prostate by a number of cellular mechanisms. In prostate cells, silymarin inhibits androgen receptors and induces cell cycle arrest, and in animal studies it retards the growth of advanced prostate cancer. (Deep G, Agarwal R, Chemopreventive efficacy of silymarin in skin and prostate cancer. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Jun;6(2):130-45.)
Exercise is important for the elderly to help maintain physical capacity as they age. A new study shows that high-intensity walking is better than low or moderate exercise. Researchers evaluated 246 older men and women on three activity regimens for five months. They were on no walking training, moderate walking, or high intensity walking programs. (Nemoto K, et al., Effects of high-intensity interval walking training on physical fitness and blood pressure in middle-aged and older people. Mayo Clin Proc. 2007 Jul;82(7):803-11.)
The high intensity program included five or more three-minute periods of moderate walking, each followed with three-minute intervals of higher intensity walking. A number of measures of physical capacity improved by 10 to 17 percent in the high-intensity group. Among this group, resting systolic blood pressure was significantly improved.
It is not only adults who benefit from increasing exercise, but also children with type 1 diabetes. A large study of diabetic subjects from 3-18 years old found that daily exercise for 30 minutes improved cardiovascular risk factors, including blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (Herbst A, et al., Impact of physical activity on cardiovascular risk factors in children with type 1 diabetes: a multicenter study of 23,251 patients. Diabetes Care. 2007 Apr 27; [Epub ahead of print]
In addition to better lipid levels, the exercising children had lower blood pressures and better blood sugar control than those who were sedentary. Among the girls in the study, exercise was associated with lower body mass index (BMI). The same exercise benefits have been shown in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Healthy omega-3 dietary fats help to protect against colon cancer. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as salmon (I recommend only wild salmon) and sardines as well as in nuts and seeds, particularly walnuts and flaxseeds. In recent research on 2910 subjects, half with colon cancer and half serving as case controls, those with the highest level of omega-3 fats in the diet were 37 percent less likely to have colorectal cancer.
(Theodoratou E, et al., Dietary fatty acids and colorectal cancer: a case-control study. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Jul 15;166(2):181-95.)
In contrast, other fats such as refined vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils had no such benefit. They have also been shown to promote cancer and heart disease in other studies. In this study, there was a suggestion that other fats and trans fats can actually increase the risk, but the data did not reach statistical significance.
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