Coffee May Prevent Arterial Disease

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

So much confusion exists about the health benefits of coffee. While many avoid it entirely, others simply can’t live without it.

The truth is, most current research paints a pretty positive picture for coffee drinkers, especially when considering the results of this latest study.

Scientists from Korea recently found that coffee drinking may help to prevent arterial disease. The results were published in the journal Heart.

3-5 cups of Coffee Daily May Prevent Arterial Calcification

Arterial calcification is a risk factor for heart disease. Calcium hardens arteries and it contributes to plaque buildup. Consequently, the prevention of arterial calcification is important for a healthy heart. 

For the study, scientists analyzed the coffee habits of over 25,000 participants working in a hospital. At the beginning of the study, participants were free of heart disease symptoms, and the average age was 41 years old. Heart CT scans were conducted to determine the amount of calcium present in arterial walls.

Calcium deposits were present in 13% of participants. They found that people who drank 3−5 cups of coffee daily had significantly less calcium in their arteries compared to those who drank larger or smaller amounts of coffee.1

The results held true regardless of smoking status, exercise habits, or a family history of heart disease.

Previous Studies Show Coffee is Good for Your Geart

The study does not prove that coffee drinking prevents arterial calcification. However, it emphasizes the heart benefits of this cherished drink.

Coffee drinking has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce cholesterol oxidation, two effects that are heart protective.2-3

In addition, coffee supports endothelial function4, 5 (the ability of blood vessels to contract and dilate easily), making the results of this present study not all that surprising.

The Bottom Line

If you do like drink coffee, you should feel free to enjoy it guilt-free. Also, drink to your heart’s content – well, at least moderately!

Caution: individuals with existing high blood pressure should exercise caution when drinking coffee. The caffeine may lead to an increase in high blood pressure, although individuals vary in their susceptibility to the effects of caffeine.

References:

  1. Heart. 2015 Mar 2. pii: heartjnl-2014-306663. 
  2. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2004 Jan;69(1):70-4. 
  3. Diabetologia. 2011 Feb;54(2):320-8. 
  4. Nutr Res. 2014 Feb;34(2):155-9. 
  5. Vasc Med. 2013 Apr;18(2):55-62.

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4 Performance Enhancing Foods

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

When you think of performance enhancers, does creatine or whey protein come to mind? Probably, as these are perhaps the most popular sport supplements at the top of every gym buff's list.

Surprisingly enough though, some rather unexpected foods may fall into this category as well.

Below, we’ll explore how beets, garlic, coconuts, and even chocolate may actually help boost your natural athletic abilities.

Beat Your Limits with Beets

Beets are among the richest dietary sources of nitrates (not to be confused with the nitrites added to deli meats). These compounds enhance circulation, which may explain their performance-enhancing effects.

In a clinical study, volunteers who drank half a liter of beet juice prior to exercising were able to last 15% longer on the treadmill compared to a control group. In a different study, consuming 200 g baked beetroot increased running speed by 5%.1-2

It seems that beets lower the oxygen requirements required by muscles to operate at peak function. This is always a plus if you’re trying to exercise for longer periods of time.

Boost Heart Power with Garlic

This may come as a surprise, but in ancient cultures garlic was considered a performance-enhancer. The ancient Greeks drank garlic juice prior to athletic events to build stamina.3 Fast forward today and there are actually a few studies supporting the ancient hype.

In one particular study, individuals with existing heart disease were given garlic oil for six weeks. Upon exercising, it was found that the garlic enhanced heart function and increased exercise tolerance.4

Enhance Endurance with Chocolate

Besides flavor, does chocolate enhance the effect of your favorite whey protein product? Maybe so. 

Participants with peripheral arterial disease, a condition that makes exercise painful, were able to walk 11% farther on a treadmill after ingesting a drink made of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate.5

Dark chocolate polyphenols enhance nitric oxide, a gas which increases blood flow to muscles.

Recuperate with Coconut Water

The hydrating powers of coconut water make it a must for athletic events. It’s been known to hydrate so well, it’s been used in place of regular IV fluid.6

Coconut water restores the electrolytes lost during exercise. Research shows it hydrates just as well as water and sports drinks.7

References:

1. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Mar;110(3):591-600.
2. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Apr;112(4):548-52.
3. Robinson, J. Eating on the Wild Side. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.
4. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Jan;49(1):115-8.
5. J Am Heart Assoc. 2014 Jul 2;3(4).
6. Am J Emerg Med. 2000 Jan;18(1):108-11.
7. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jan 18;9(1):1.

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The Power of Medicinal Mushrooms


Whether you love them or hate them, mushrooms have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. They add "flair" to just about any meal and are one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D.

Mushrooms have a long and colorful history. Their versatile properties have been the source of their involvement in drug abuse, folk tales and religious rituals. 1

Lesser known, of course, are their medicinal uses. Let's explore them.

Reishi Mushrooms

While some mushrooms can be toxic, others are life-promoting. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), known as the mushroom of immortality, has traditionally been used as an immune booster.2

Known as lingzhi in China, this beneficial fungus has also been used in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sleep disorders, hepatitis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer.3

There are 4,326 Chinese publications on the subject. Investigators have discovered that Reishi enhances the protective activity of immune cells and exerts benefits on other cells.4,5

Reishi-derived polysaccharide ( a carbohydrate) has been demonstrated to increase the activity of white blood cells known as neutrophils, which help to fight off infections.6 Reishi also has antioxidant properties.

In an experiment with young and old mice, glutathione levels and the activity of superoxide dismutase and catalase (antioxidant enzymes) increased, while a marker of oxidative stress (malondialdehyde in this case) decreased in aged mice.7

Maitake and Shiitake Mushrooms

Maitake (Grifola frondosa) has been used for centuries in Japan as a longevity tonic. Maitake contains glucans, beneficial immune-boosting compounds.

Shiitake is another Japanese mushroom with immune system benefits. Shiitake is one of the best food sources of zinc, which plays an important role in the immune system.

Shiitake are the source of active hexose correlated compound (AHCC), a compound available in supplement-form that has been shown to fight cancer.8

Cordyceps Sinensis

Another prized medicinal mushroom is Cordyceps sinensis. While traditionally used as a tonic, Cordyceps sinensis is currently being investigated for respiratory, kidney, liver, cardiovascular, immune and nervous system effects as well as for its potential benefits in combatting cancer and inflammation.9

Experimental research has found that the mushroom increases levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body's energy molecule.10 In a human study, Cordyceps sinensis improved exercise performance compared to a placebo in healthy older adults.11

How to Find Medicinal Mushrooms 

While button, Roma and Portobello mushrooms can be bought in major supermarkets, medicinal mushrooms are harder to find. However, encapsulated powders and liquid extracts are available for the more popular varieties that target various conditions.

Since seeking out specific mushrooms in the wild can sometimes result in misidentification, it is safer to source them from a reputable supplier.

References:

  1. The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. New York: 1970. Print. 
  2. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2009 Dec;10(8):717-42. 
  3. Front Pharmacol. 2012 Mar 28;3:51. 
  4. Bioorg Med Chem. 2010 Dec 15;18(24):8583-91. 
  5. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2002 May;50(5):623-9. 
  6. Br J Pharmacol. 2003 May;139(2):289-98. 
  7. J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2009;20(4):289-307. 
  8. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2006 Mar;24(1):33-45. 
  9. J Altern Complement Med. 1998 Winter;4(4):429-57. 
  10. See comment in PubMed Commons below J Altern Complement Med. 2001 Jun;7(3):231-40. 
  11. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 May;16(5):585-90.

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The Microbes That Make Us


When you think of bacteria, images of swarming, filth-loving microorganisms probably come to mind, accompanied by thoughts of tuberculosis, pneumonia, plague, and other deadly diseases. But in actuality, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Yes, it's wise to protect yourself from potentially lethal microbes, either by boosting your immune system or by avoidance.

However, if you're concerned about the presence of bacteria that surround you, you might be surprised to know that your own body has about ten times more microbial cells than human cells, which may prompt the question of exactly "who" we are. 1

Humans Have 10 Times More Microbes Than “Human Cells”

The human body can be compared to a city that contains ten thousand or more different living species. The roles played by these life forms, both good and bad, are of growing interest to researchers and laypersons alike.

These bacteria, which number in the trillions, coexist in relatively peaceful communities on “planet Human”. The National Institutes of Health Common Fund Human Microbiome Project is sequencing the genes of these diverse microorganisms. The mission of the project is to analyze the role microbes have on human health and disease.2

Why Are Certain Bacteria Good for You?

Bacteria play important roles in the human body. Gut microbiota ensure healthy digestion and prevent malnutrition. The composition of gut bacteria may also play a role in obesity.

In a study examining sewage from 71 U.S. cities, it was discovered that bacterial patterns were able to predict if a population was lean or obese with up to 89% accuracy.3 Beneficial bacteria release hormones which help to control appetite and modulate levels of inflammation.

The cardiovascular system can also benefit from probiotics. The bacterial strain, Lactobacillus reuteri 30242, for example, has been demonstrated to lower cholesterol.4,5 

Other research involving this strain shows it may help to increase vitamin D blood levels.6

The Problem with Antibiotics

Although antibiotics have contributed significantly to modern medicine, the price of that progress has been the development of "superbugs" such as MRSA that have evolved to resist the strongest antibiotic therapies.

Even without this threat, the extent of the damage to the human microbiome incurred by needless antibiotic prescriptions is only now beginning to be understood.

It has long been observed that women treated with antibiotics often develop yeast infections. This overgrowth of Candida albicans, which is normally found in the vagina and digestive tract, is caused by the destruction of protective lactobacilli that keep Candida in check7.

Antibiotics that target a broad group of bacteria frequently result in the death of so-called "good" bacteria. This is why women who experience candidiasis are recommended to consume yogurt or encapsulated probiotics that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacteria, and/or other strains to restore the vagina's healthy flora.

Is Yogurt Really a Good Source of Probiotics?

Although yogurt may contain live bacteria, those sold in the U.S. do not always contain organisms that are actually still alive. However, research shows that it may be the bacteria's DNA that is protective.8

Nevertheless, the highly sweetened yogurt commonly seen on supermarket shelves is a less than optimal way to obtain health-promoting bacteria. For this reason, supplementing with a probiotic is typically much more reliable.

References:

  1. Nature. 2007 Oct 18;449(7164):804-10. 
  2. Available at: http://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/overview. Accessed February 27, 2015. 
  3. MBio. 2015 Feb 24;6(2). 
  4. Br J Nutr. 2012 May;107(10):1505-13. 
  5. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Nov;66(11):1234-41. 
  6. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jul;98(7):2944-51. 
  7. Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Jun;13(2):69-75. 
  8. Gastroenterology. 2004 Feb;126(2):520-8.

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A Skin Test for Alzheimer’s?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

Alzheimer’s disease is currently one of the top leading causes of death in the United States. It’s estimated that approximately 5 million Americans have the disease.1

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease is subtle and is often diagnosed at a later stage. This comes at a disadvantage, since diagnosing the disease early may help improve the outcome of treatments.

Interestingly enough, scientists from Mexico hypothesized that a skin test may help the diagnosis. They reasoned the skin and brain share embryological origins. Consequently, the tell-tale signs that may show up in the brain may show up in the skin as well.

The results of the study were
presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Skin Test Finds Higher Levels of Tau Protein in Alzheimer's Patients

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain, the most popularly known being amyloid plaque. Tau and alpha synuclein proteins are thought to play a role as well.

In the study, skin biopsies were taken from healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. The samples were analyzed for markers that are typically found in the brain of individuals in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Interestingly, they found that patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease had seven times the amount of tau protein in skin samples compared to healthy participants and those with dementia.

Compared to healthy subjects, those with Parkinson’s disease had eight times the amount of alpha synuclein proteins in their skin.2

Although the study seems promising, larger trials are needed to confirm the accuracy of this test. Nevertheless, it brings hope to a field that needs better diagnostic tools for screening.

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Having an occasional “senior moment” doesn't necessarily mean that a person has Alzheimer’s disease. Other than forgetfulness, there are a number of other tell-tale signs that accompany the condition. Here are a few:

  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships 
  • Difficulty speaking and writing 
  • Behavioral or personality changes 
  • Disorientation of time and space 
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks 
  • Poor judgment 
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities 
If you suspect that you have Alzheimer’s disease, please see your doctor. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the easier it is to plan for it and treat the condition.

Want to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease? Click here for lots of detailed information.

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp. Accessed March 16, 2015. 
  2. Available at: https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1346. Accessed March 16, 2105.

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