7 Fruits and Veggies a Day Keeps Death at Bay?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

A recent study found that eating a greater portion of fruits and vegetables each day significantly reduced the risk of dying.

Is this the proof we’ve all been waiting for or just a confirmation of what we’ve known all along?

This conclusion doesn't come as much of a surprise, considering all the previous research showing the benefits of fruits and vegetables.

That being said, consider this a firm, substantiated reminder of the benefits that solid nutrition can offer.

Eating Ample Fruits and Veggies Reduced the Risk of Dying by 42%

Researchers in England wanted to analyze the effect of eating fruits and vegetables on health. Data were collected from health surveys conducted between 2001 and 2013 on 65,226 participants.

Overall, they found the more fruits and vegetables people ate, the lower their risk of death, including a decreased risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

The greatest benefit was found for people who ate 7 or more portions of fruits and vegetables. Compared to people who ate less than one serving, they had a reduced risk of dying of 42% at any age.1 Those who ate 1–3 portions had a 14% reduced risk of dying, 3–5 portions 29%, and 5–7 portions 36%.1

Vegetables demonstrated a more protective effect than fruits, and each portion of fresh fruit showed a 4% reduction in the risk. Fresh fruit and dried fruit displayed benefits while canned and frozen fruit showed an apparent increased risk of mortality.1

How Many Servings of Fruits and Veggies Should You Eat?

Let’s face it, who has the time to measure a serving size of fruit, and who takes a measuring cup with them wherever they go? If you’re like me, you have no idea what a cup of fruit really looks like.

So instead of proposing that you eat 7 servings of produce daily, we propose something more practical. Try filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables — at least that’s what the experts in the United States recommend.

And if you eat more than half your plate in produce, that’s fine too. The idea is to get more vegetables (and fruit) in your diet because most of us aren't really meeting our minimum requirements.

Sneak Fruits and Veggies into Your Diet

We understand that it can be difficult to work enough fruits and vegetables into your diet. Let’s face it, the typical Western diet isn't exactly “veggie-centric.”

So, in order to get your servings in, you may want to use a little creativity. Here’s a post explaining how to do that, for anyone who’s interested: 9 Sneaky Ways to Add More Fruits & Vegetables to Your Diet

And for those who like to experiment in the kitchen, here’s a nice recipe that’s totally veggie-friendly, courtesy of HeavyontheVeggie. Enjoy!

Recipe: Eggplant Lasagna

Yields: 8 Servings
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 3–4 large bell peppers (red, yellow and/or green mixed)
  • 2 medium red onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 and 1/2 Jars of spaghetti sauce — Use a good one! (Right now I’m using Victoria Vegan’s Sauce because it has cannellini beans in it. The beans give it a creamy/meaty texture. You could also just mix a can of beans into a good marinara.)
  • 2 cups of raw spinach
  • 2 cups of mozzarella or non-dairy mozzarella cheese (I use Daiya, yum)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel the eggplant, slice into 1/4-inch slices. Place on a cookie sheet (greased w/Pam) and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Meanwhile, chop the onions, garlic, and peppers. Sauté together until soft.

Once the eggplant is cooked, lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish. Spread half the pepper/onion mixture over the bottom. Layer 1 cup of spinach over the mixture, followed by about 1/2 cup of the cheese. Place half the eggplant into overlapping layers, like noodles. Pour 1/2 jar of sauce over the eggplant. Continue to layer: Pepper mixture, spinach, cheese, eggplant. Pour the remaining sauce over the entire mixture. Use the rest of the cheese to top. Bake for 30 more minutes. Scoop carefully!

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0414/010413-fruit-veg-consumption-death-risk/. Accessed April 4, 2014.

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Are You Getting Enough Niacin?


Vitamin B3 plays a crucial role in heart health, energy production, gene expression, and hormone synthesis. In fact, humans cannot live without it.

Aside from its well-known heart-supporting benefits, it actually offers more than most would expect.

Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, nicotinic acid (and niacinamide) is a critical micronutrient that, when severely lacking in the diet, can result in the classic deficiency disease known as pellagra.

Pellagra is characterized by the presence of the "4 D's:" diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death.

Niacin Deficiencies Cause Pellagra, a Deadly Disease

Pellagra was once common in the American South where corn was a staple of the diet. While corn provides a number of nutrients, its niacin content is of limited availability. Also, corn lacks the amino acid tryptophan which prevents pellagra.

Until pellagra was eliminated in the United States, the cause of the disease was unknown. The earliest description of pellagra dates back to 1735 when poor diet was suggested as a cause.

Although this assumption was correct, others believed that pellagra was an infectious disease and its sufferers, found mainly in poor areas, were ostracized. The epidemic ended when the U.S. began fortifying flour with niacin. Meanwhile an estimated 100,000 pellagra deaths occurred between 1906 and 1940.

While pellagra is rare in the United States today, it can still be found in areas of the world that suffer gross malnutrition. Even though severe deficiencies are uncommon in developed countries, subclinical nutrient deficiencies may still exist.

Niacin Lowers Cholesterol and Alleviates Symptoms of Schizophrenia

In the 1950s, Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, and colleagues published a study titled, "Influence of nicotinic acid on serum cholesterol in man."1 It described the cholesterol-reducing effect of niacin.

Dr Hoffer, along with psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, also researched niacin and vitamin C as a treatment for some types of schizophrenia, which they believed was caused by a metabolite of adrenaline.2,3

Although Hoffer's hypothesis regarding niacin's use in schizophrenia has been attacked and discredited, many sufferers of this disease have reported success with mega doses of niacin.

It’s worth noting that niacin, sold as the prescription drug Niaspan, is still used as a treatment for elevated cholesterol.

How Much Niacin Do You Need?

Niacin is found in unrefined grains, liver, chicken, beef, venison, brewer's yeast and enriched grain products. It can also be found in dietary supplements.

Niacin (but not niacinamide) is notorious in high doses for eliciting a "flush," which involves a temporary reddening of the skin that may be accompanied by itching or tingling. The effect is harmless and even considered relaxing by many who use it.

Dividing the dose and taking niacin with food will minimize the flush. Elevated cholesterol and schizophrenia are treated with niacin doses of up to several grams per day; however, the average person's needs to prevent deficiencies are much lower at 14–16 mg per day. Niacin, as a water-soluble member of the B complex, is best consumed in divided doses throughout the day.

Before using high doses of niacin, be sure to check with your physician.

References:

  1. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1955 Feb;54(2):558-9. 
  2. J Clin Exp Psychopathol. 1957 Apr-Jun;18(2):131-58. 
  3. Lancet. 1962 Feb 10;(7224):316-9.

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All About Vitamin B2: Riboflavin


Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, was the second vitamin in the B complex to be discovered. Like its predecessor, vitamin B1, riboflavin is used by the body to processes fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Riboflavin is found in yeast, liver, wheat bran, eggs, meat, milk, cheese and some fruits and vegetables.

The United States and other countries fortify white flour with riboflavin, making deficiencies rare, although subclinical deficiencies often exist.

So what exactly does vitamin B2 do for your health? Here's the lowdown.

Vitamin B2 Protects the Eyes

Vitamin B2 is needed by the entire body, including the eyes. Because it removes oxidized glutathione from the eye lens, riboflavin could help protect against the development of cataracts.1

Individuals who are deficient in vitamin B2 may experience sensitivity to light and decreased vision.

Vitamin B2 Prevents Migraines

While riboflavin is essential for general health, it may also play a role in migraine prevention. A study of 49 patients suffering from migraines who received 400 milligrams (mg) of riboflavin for three months or more experienced a 68% improvement in the frequency/severity of migraines.2

Another study using the same dose uncovered a reduction in migraine frequency and the need for pain relief.3

Vitamin B2 Supports Heart Health

Although other B vitamins (folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) have been recognized for their ability to lower the level of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to heart attacks) in the blood, riboflavin can also help reduce this harmful compound, particularly in people with a genetic mutation associated with high homocysteine levels.

In a study of older men and women with low levels of riboflavin, supplementation with 10 mg per day significantly lowered homocysteine levels after four weeks.4

Vitamin B2 May Prevent Colon Cancer

In addition to its role in the prevention of heart problems, B2 may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

In a study of 88,045 postmenopausal women, the total intake of riboflavin from food and supplements was associated with a reduced risk of disease by 19%.5

Greater intake of B2 has also been associated with a reduction in the risk of breast6 and lung cancer.7

Vitamin B2 Helps with Parkinson’s Disease

Ensuring optimal riboflavin levels could also help men and women with Parkinson's disease. A study of 31 Parkinson's disease patients, all of whom had low B2 levels, found that supplementation with 30 mg every eight hours plus the elimination of red meat resulted in better motor function, which is impaired in the disease.8

How Much Vitamin B2 Do You Need?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for riboflavin is a little more than one milligram for adults; however, no toxicity has been observed at 400 milligrams daily.

Because B2 is readily excreted in the urine, intake of amounts greater than the RDA could safely guarantee optimal B2 levels if taken in divided doses.

Use of a B complex formula several times per day (or in a multivitamin formula) is the best way to supplement with B2.

References:

  1. Am J Ophthalmol. 2001 Jul;132(1):19-26.
  2. Cephalalgia. 1994 Oct;14(5):328-9.
  3. Eur J Neurol. 2004 Jul;11(7):475-7.
  4. J Nutr Health Aging. 2009 May;13(5):441-6.
  5. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Feb;97(2):332-43.
  6. Cancer Causes Control. 2013 Aug;24(8):1555-63.
  7. Cancer Causes Control. 2012 Dec;23(12):1965-75.
  8. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2003 Oct;36(10):1409-17.

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Melatonin Preserves Bone Mass


By Michael A. Smith, MD

Age-related bone loss is a serious condition. It not only increases the risk for fractures, but also increases the risk for death from heart and lung disease and all-cause death, especially if bone loss occurs quickly.1

This is why it’s so important to stay active as we age, as this can preserve bone mass and strength. We also need to obtain adequate amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K2 through diet and supplementation.

For many aging people, however, this still isn't enough. Bone loss continues despite all their efforts. This means that a lot of people end up taking prescription drugs called bisphosphonates. Unfortunately, although these drugs are effective at increasing bone density (but not necessarily bone strength), they also come bundled with a host of side effects. So what else can we do?

Melatonin - An Unlikely Natural Remedy

This is where melatonin comes into play. Yes, that’s correct … melatonin! The “sleep hormone” also protects our bones. This was first discovered in animal studies that showed melatonin’s potential effects as a bone mass regulator.

But these earlier studies were not done on older animals — in terms of bone health, older animals, including humans, is really the population we’re most interested in studying. Well, researchers have finally put melatonin to test with the appropriate population … in rats at least.

Old Rats, Old Bones and Melatonin

The aim of the study was to assess the effects of melatonin supplementation on bone mass and volume. Twenty 22-month-old male Wistar rats (that’s old for Wistar rats) were divided into two randomly assigned groups.

The first group was treated for 10 weeks with melatonin, whereas the second group was left untreated. Rat femurs were collected and analyzed.2

Rats treated with melatonin had higher bone volume and thickness in comparison to the control group. Histological analyses (bone tissues analyzed using microscopes) confirmed the increase of bone volume in melatonin-treated rats.2

Melatonin-treated rats also demonstrated higher bone stiffness and the ability to withstand greater tension, an indication of increased bone strength.2

Melatonin Protects Against Age-related Bone Loss

These compelling results are the first evidence indicating that melatonin supplements are able to exert beneficial effects against age-related bone loss in old rats, improving the structure and biomechanical properties of aged bones.

 Who knows? Perhaps humans can reap the bone benefits too. Only time will tell!

References:

  1. J Bone Miner Res. 2000 Oct; 15(10):1974-80. 
  2. Rejuvenation Res. 2014 Mar 11.

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Thiamine: First Among the B Vitamins


Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is the first vitamin discovered in a series that came to be known as the B complex. These water-soluble vitamins include vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12, along with folate and biotin.

In addition to possessing their own unique properties, all have a role in cellular metabolism.

Thiamine is found primarily in whole grains, including brown rice, oatmeal, and rye, in addition to flax and sunflower seeds, kale, liver, eggs, asparagus, and other foods.

What Can Thiamine Do for Your Health?

In 1905, Dr. William Fletcher discovered that whole, unpolished rice, which contains bran, prevented the disease known as beriberi, a neurological and cardiovascular disorder associated with a white rice diet.

Research conducted by Japanese Surgeon General Kanehiro Takaki had previously shown that the addition of barley, meat, milk, bread and vegetables to a white rice diet eliminated the disease, but he failed to identify B1 as the protective factor. Dr. Casimir Funk eventually made the discovery in 1926.

In addition to beriberi, thiamine is needed to prevent alcoholic brain diseases, including Wernicke's encephalopathy and Korsakoff's psychosis, which is characterized by amnesia and other impairments. These diseases are reversible in many cases when alcohol is discontinued and thiamine levels are restored.

Thiamine Supports Sugar Metabolism and Brain Function

Because thiamine plays a role in the conversion of fat and carbohydrates into glucose, sufficient amounts must be present for glucose metabolism.

Thiamine is also necessary for the synthesis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory amino acid, both of which are involved in brain function.

Benfotiamine (a form of Thiamine) Treats Diabetic Problems

Although deficiency diseases such as beriberi are rare in the West due to the fortification of white flour, a subclinical deficiency may exist, particularly among the malnourished and diabetics.

Reduced thiamine levels are involved in the development of some neuropathies. Benfotiamine, a fat-soluble form of thiamine, has been used to treat diabetic neuropathy. Benfotiamine's fat solubility allows it to readily enter cells where it reduces glucose levels.

In a randomized clinical trial, three weeks of benfotiamine use, given four times per day, improved nerve function in diabetic neuropathy patients.1

In another trial, benfotiamine taken for two weeks reduced oxidative stress levels in the brains of diabetic mice.2 And in yet another study, thiamine as well as benfotiamine reduced the development of kidney dysfunction in diabetics.3

The results of these studies indicate that both fat and water-soluble forms of the vitamin can be taken to maintain optimal vitamin B1 levels.

Supplementing With Thiamine

While plants and yeasts make their own thiamine, humans need to get it from food. Certain foods and beverages can lower thiamine levels, including raw fish, tea and coffee. It’s especially important to obtain extra vitamin B1 if you include these in your diet.

If you decide to supplement with thiamine, most nutritionists feel it’s best to use a complete B complex rather than just one member of the B vitamin family.

Also note that thiamine should ideally be taken several times per day, since excess amounts of the vitamin are excreted in the urine.

References:

  1. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2005 Feb;43(2):71-7.
  2. Neurosci Lett. 2006 Feb 13;394(2):158-62.
  3. Diabetes. 2003 Aug;52(8):2110-20.

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