Chocolate Improves Circulation

Maylin Rodriguez Paez RN

It’s too bad we’ve been led to believe that chocolate is simply “unhealthy.”

Through the years, people have learned to associate it with junk food, candy, and desserts almost exclusively.

Instead, we should really think of it first and foremost as a health food.

Why? Well, aside from these reasons, a recent study found that chocolate can actually enhance circulation in certain people. Pretty interesting, right?


Dark Chocolate Increases Maximal Walking Distance by 11%

In a small study, scientists recruited 20 patients who suffer from peripheral arterial disease.1 This condition limits blood flow to the limbs during exercise, causing pain and cramping. It also limits the ability to perform exercise.

The subjects were randomly assigned to receive 40 grams of dark chocolate (greater than 85% cocoa) or milk chocolate and were asked to walk on a treadmill about two hours after eating the chocolate.

Blood samples were taken to measure levels of antioxidants, oxidative stress, and markers of nitric oxide activity.1

Compared to the milk chocolate group, participants who consumed the dark chocolate had higher levels of antioxidants in their blood and were able to walk 11% farther and 15% longer on the treadmill.

They also had decreased markers of oxidative stress and higher levels of nitrate in their blood, a measure of nitric oxide activity.1

Dark Chocolate Reduces Oxidative Stress

Chocolate polyphenols support blood vessel dilation by reducing oxidative stress. They also increase the production of nitric oxide, a gas that allows blood vessels to dilate.2

People afflicted with peripheral arterial disease have nitric oxide deficiencies.

In addition dark chocolate reduces platelet adhesion, meaning it makes platelets less “sticky.” This, in turn, enhances circulation and eases the symptoms related to peripheral arterial disease.3

Dark chocolate contains a greater concentration of polyphenols than milk chocolate, which could be the reason the milk chocolate group did not experience significant benefits in this study.4, 5

Also, the milk proteins in chocolate have been shown to bind to cocoa polyphenols, limiting their absorption and activity.4

The Bottom Line

Beyond a pleasurable dessert, healthy chocolate is a medicinal food worth eating.4

But be careful though: chocolate is often rich in calories. Make sure you buy the dark varieties with no added sugar or milk.

If you can stand the bitter taste, 100% pure cocoa nibs are by far your best bet!

References:

  1. J Am Heart Assoc. 2014 Jul 2;3(4). 
  2. JAMA. 2007 Jul 4;298(1):49-60. 
  3. Circulation. 2007 Nov 20;116(21):2376-82. 
  4. J Thromb Thrombolysis. 2009 Nov;28(4):482-8. 
  5. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):611-4.

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Can Sunlight Lower Blood Pressure?

Maylin Rodriguez Paez RN

Sunlight has gotten a bad rap, unfortunately. In the West we seem to have adopted two extremes: "sun worshippers" and people who avoid sunlight at all costs.

Regardless of what side you’re on, the truth is this: A little bit of sunshine is a good thing.

A recent study's results certainly seem to support this assertion. Scottish researchers administered UV light to a group of volunteers and what they found was pretty amazing. UV light decreased blood pressure levels significantly.

20 Minutes of UV Light Reduced Blood Pressure Several Points

Researchers wanted to investigate the relationship between blood pressure and sunlight. They noted that blood pressure levels tend to be higher in the winter and lower in the summer and in regions near the equator.

They recruited 24 healthy volunteers and exposed their forearms to UVA light with indoor lamps. Two sessions, 20 minutes each, were administered daily. A placebo group received heat and light treatments but no UVA exposure.

They found the UVA lamps increased circulation and lowered blood pressure between 2–5 points.1

The changes were modest, although the lead researcher believes bigger changes could be seen in people with hypertension.

UV Light Releases Nitric Oxide, a Blood Pressure Lowering Gas

It turns out that our skin stores nitric oxide, and UV light mobilizes these stores. The researchers were able to visualize this using a fluorescent microscope.

Nitric oxide regulates blood pressure by widening blood vessels and increasing circulation. As we age, the amount of nitric oxide released into the bloodstream decreases.

Nitric oxide deficits are a culprit of hypertension and heart-related diseases. Increasing natural stores are an important way to maintain cardiovascular health.

Avoid Excessive Sunlight Exposure

There is a reason that sunshine feels so good: It’s actually good for us.

But we shouldn’t overdo it. A little bit of sunlight (15–30 minutes) goes a very long way.

Excessive sunlight exposure, especially the occasions leading to sunburns, have been linked to skin cancer. And if you’re fair skinned, you’re probably aware that it doesn't take much to burn you.

Want to reap the benefits of sunlight without compromising your skin? Take vitamin D. It’s produced when your skin comes into contact with light.

Research studies show that vitamin D may help to prevent and even treat hypertension.2-3

References:

  1. J Invest Dermatol. 2014 Jul;134(7):1839-46. 
  2. Hypertension. 2008 Apr;51(4):1073-9. 
  3. Am J Hypertens. 2012 Nov;25(11):1215-22.

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The Power of Calcium


Of all of the minerals required by your body, its need for calcium is the greatest.

Interestingly, calcium is the fifth most abundant mineral in the human body and in the earth’s crust.

Calcium, an electrolyte, is best known for its role in bone health, but it’s also necessary for circulation, nerve transmission, hormonal secretion and muscle function.

For these processes, only a small amount of calcium is needed, and it's obtained from your body's largest reservoir: bone.

You Really Do Need Calcium for Your Bones

Calcium is a major component of bones and teeth. A deficiency can result in osteopenia or osteoporosis. Osteoporotic bone is more brittle than healthy bone, rendering those who have it at greater risk of fracture.

Postmenopausal women are particularly at risk of osteoporosis. Women aged 51 years and older are advised to take 1,200 milligrams calcium per day due to decreased calcium absorption and greater bone resorption (breakdown of bone). This amount can be obtained through diet or supplementation.

Since dairy products are the best food source of calcium, vegans or lactose-intolerant people are good candidates for supplementation. Some good plant sources of calcium, including spinach and collard greens, contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which reduces calcium absorption.

Calcium absorption is also reduced by consuming high amounts of sodium, caffeine, protein and alcohol.

Choose the Right Form of Calcium

Calcium is available in different forms (aspartate, carbonate, citrate, gluconate, lactate). While calcium carbonate (otherwise known as chalk) is widely available, it’s not the most absorbable calcium in the market.

In a study of gastric bypass patients who received either calcium citrate or calcium carbonate, the citrate form demonstrated greater absorption.

A meta-analysis of 15 studies comparing the absorption of calcium citrate and calcium carbonate concluded that calcium citrate absorption was 20% to 27.2% higher than calcium carbonate, with the greatest difference occurring when the mineral was taken on an empty stomach.2

Because absorption of calcium is optimal at a dose of 500 milligrams or less, it is best to take it in divided doses.

Calcium Reduces the Risk of Dying

Despite recent negative headlines concerning calcium, supplementation has been associated with a lower risk of dying. In the July 2013 issue of Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Canadian researchers reported a 22% lower risk of death among supplement users compared with those who did not supplement.3

A pooled analysis of 70,528 participants appearing in the same journal found a 9% lower risk of death over a three year period in people who took calcium and vitamin D supplements, in comparison with those who did not receive the combination.4

Increased calcium from diet alone has also been linked to a lower risk of premature death. Men whose calcium intake averaged 1,953 milligrams per day had a 25% lower risk of dying than men whose intake averaged 990 milligrams in a study reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.5

Take Calcium with Other Nutrients

As no man is an island, the same applies to minerals in the body. Calcium needs other compounds including vitamin D and magnesium to do its critical work.

Vitamin K is particularly important, in addition to calcium, for lifelong bone health. Make sure you're getting enough!

References:

  1. Obes Surg. 2009 Sep;19(9):1256-61. 
  2. Am J Ther. 1999 Nov;6(6):313-21. 
  3. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jul;98(7):3010-8. 
  4. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Aug;97(8):2670-81. 
  5. Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Apr 1;171(7):801-7.

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A New Whey to Lower Blood Sugar

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

Research shows a high intake of dairy is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Is whey protein the reason?1

Whey protein is the watery portion of milk that separates from cheese curdles. It contains a variety of beneficial nutrients including minerals and immune-boosting compounds.

A new study shows whey protein may lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.2

Whey Protein Decreased Blood Sugar Levels by 28%

A total of 15 diabetics were recruited for the study. They were randomly assigned to a placebo or a treatment group. The treatment group received 50 grams of whey and a high glycemic meal consisting of three slices of bread with jelly.

Both groups had their blood sugar levels monitored 30 minutes before the meal and in different intervals thereafter (15, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, and 180 minutes). Insulin and GLP-1, a hormone that increases insulin production, were also measured.

Compared to the placebo group, the blood sugar levels in the treatment group decreased by an average of 28%.2

GLP and insulin levels were also higher, with insulin peaking at 96%, 30 minutes after the meal. C-peptide, a component of insulin, was also higher at 43% over the 180-minute post-meal period.

Whey Protein Stimulates Insulin Secretion

The results of this study are remarkable and indicate that whey protein may be a useful addition to a diabetic diet. The whey protein enhanced the secretion of insulin which was reflected in lower glucose levels.

Diabetics have an impaired insulin response, which is the reason they have high sugar levels after a meal. Insulin is the hormone that allows the body to use sugar as a source of fuel.

Find a Good Whey Protein Product

Impressed with the benefits of whey protein? Consider supplementing with it. But before you do, make sure you do a little bit of homework.

A number of whey protein powders exist on the market. One to consider is whey protein isolate. These products have a high concentration of protein (90-96%), little-to-no fat, and no lactose.

In addition, look for a product that has been processed using low temperatures and is microfiltered. Heat can change the 3D shape of milk proteins, which can alter their biological activity.

Microfiltering ensures the beneficial compounds in whey protein (lactoferrin for example) are retained during the manufacturing process.

References:

  1. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;65(9):1027-31. 
  2. Diabetologia. 2014 Sep;57(9):1807-11.

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Are You Addicted to Sunlight?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

Do you ever feel like you need to get sun? There may actually be a physiological reason behind that.

To dig deeper, scientists recently conducted an experiment to determine if UV light caused addiction in a group of mice.

The results, published in the journal Cell, may shed some light on why many people continue to sunbathe despite all the health warnings.

UV Light Increased Endorphin Production by 30–50%

For six weeks, scientists exposed a group of shaved mice to UV light, equivalent to 20–30 minutes of mid-day Florida sun on a fair-skinned human. After a week, the mice demonstrated significant elevations in β-endorphin, a feel good chemical.1

Scientists also measured the pain threshold of the UV treated rodents and found they were able to tolerate more pain compared to a control group. This could have been due to the natural pain-relieving effect of endorphins.

When the UV treated mice were given naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of endorphins, they experienced typical withdrawal symptoms and were not able to tolerate as much pain.

These mice were given the option to stay in dark or bright areas, and they were more likely to seek bright locations, possibly in an effort to boost their own production of endorphins.

Light Exposure May Give You a Natural “High”

This study could demonstrate why certain people are frequent visitors to tanning salons or sunbathe endlessly for hours. With UV exposure, they may actually be getting a natural high.

Studies show frequent tanners can actually tell the difference between tanning beds that provide UV rays and those that don’t.2

In addition, UV therapy has been shown to decrease pain in humans, which may add to the theory that sunlight is addictive.3

Practice Safe Sun Habits

Occasional sun exposure is healthy but frequent visits to the tanning salons aren’t. Indoor tanning is associated with an increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.4

With skin cancer on the rise, it makes sense to limit your exposure to sunlight and to practice safe sun habits.

Take Vitamin D!

Want to reap the benefits of sunlight without putting your health at risk? Take vitamin D. This natural byproduct of sunlight can increase your natural production of feel-good neurotransmitters.5

References:

  1. Cell. 2014 Jun 19;157(7):1527-34. 
  2. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004;51:45-51. 
  3. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Jan;15(1):15-23. 
  4. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Jun;19(6):1557-68. 
  5. Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 1996 Feb;36(1):193-6.

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