Tag Archives: healthy eating

Antioxidant Supplements: Are They Good For You?

Natural Antioxidant Supplements

If you have joint pain, then there’s a supplement to help you with your arthritic problem. Maybe you’re concerned about memory, you can find something at your local pharmacy for that too. Suffering from fatigue? No worries because you’re bound to find something to give you an energy boost. No matter what your health woes might be there’s a supplement you can find to help you. And antioxidant supplements are incredibly popular because they fight against harmful free radicals, which are substances that destroy tissue and lead to health problems like heart disease and cancer. But many studies are reporting an opposite effect that antioxidants are harmful to your health.

While the FDA requires manufacturers of supplements to disclose information on the label (e.g., such as a complete list of ingredients, a descriptive name for the supplement, distributor information), manufacturers don’t need FDA approval before they market their supplements. In fact, the safety and efficacy of supplements are strictly the manufacturers’ responsibility, unlike pharmaceutical drugs that must undergo rigorous testing and clinical trials to demonstrate the drug’s safety and effectiveness before they can be marketed to the public.

A Deeper Look at Studies

To complicate matters even further, the body of research on the use of antioxidant supplements is quite overwhelming—with some research in support of or against the use of antioxidants. From news headlines to tweets to the evening news, the coverage of pro- and anti-antioxidant studies has people running to buy supplements one day and dumping their pills the next day. For example, one study explored the effects of beta-carotene in smokers; the study reported that beta-carotene increased lung cancer risk among smokers. It should be noted, however, that a synthetic form of beta-carotene was used in the study. The downside of using synthetic beta-carotene is that it’s not from a natural source. Also, beta-carotene is one of many carotenoids found in plant-based foods. So isolating beta-carotene doesn’t mimic how nutrients in food work together in the body. Besides, fruits and vegetables contain multiple nutrients in which antioxidant activity is one of many functions; nutrients also work to boost immunity, trigger cancer cell death, and detoxify the body.

In another study, researchers found that antioxidant supplement use is associated with advanced aging. They go even further to say that free radicals promote longevity. The researchers increased the levels of free radicals in nematodes (these round worms have nervous systems that function at the same level as higher functioning organisms), and it resulted in the increased lifespan of the worm. Cell death is triggered to kill damaged, old, or abnormal cells. While free radicals target cells by triggering apoptosis only healthy cells can defend against free radicals, while weaker cells will die. So free radical damage is a selective process that is needed to eliminate weaker cells and allow stronger cells to survive. The findings of this study are intriguing because they turn free radicals, which have had a bad rap for causing tissue damage, into a necessary process for cell survival—allowing only the strong to survive. And the use of antioxidant supplements prevents that process.

Yet antioxidants are an important part of our health because they do help to keep tissues healthy in our present-day environment (refined foods, polluted air and water, cigarette smoke). And surprisingly, free radicals are borne of a process that is required for our survival—the production of cellular energy.

A Closer Look at Free Radicals and Antioxidants

For the most part, people think free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good. Yet this view is too simple and doesn’t describe the entire interaction between these two substances. The free radical–antioxidant relationship requires balance. Free radical attack is also referred to as oxidative stress and is a sequela of a natural process by which our body uses food to produce energy (ATP) by a process aptly named oxidation. Our body needs energy to carry out cellular activity; one of the pathways to produce cellular energy is called oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos). Carbon-carbon bonds of food are broken down to produce ATP—the energy currency needed by every cell in the body. OxPhos takes place in the mitochondria (an intracellular warehouse for energy storage) and uses oxygen to break the bonds between carbon molecules to produce ATP. During the process of OxPhos, some unpaired electrons escape the ATP producing machinery to interact with ambient oxygen, and this leads to the development of free radicals. The free radicals have unpaired electrons, so they act as scavengers stealing electrons from various components of cells like cell membranes or DNA.

Antioxidants are molecules that act as a barrier to protect cells from the oxidizing damage of free radicals. The antioxidants happily give electrons to free radicals and wait for another antioxidant to replace the electron it has given away. The difference between free radicals and antioxidants is that the latter is quite stable even after it loses an electron to free radical molecules. While the body is equipped with its natural stores of free radical fighters, the body can deplete its antioxidant stores easily while defending against poor diet, lack of exercise, and poisons that invade our water and air. Even glutathione, an abundant and potent antioxidant made by the liver, is used up readily because of excessive toxic offenders. Here are just a few examples:

  • Halogenated hydrocarbons (commonly found in non-stick cookware, pesticides, plastics, and herbicides) are toxins that pollute ground water.
  • Cigarette smoke toxins are in the trillions and quickly use up the bodies antioxidant supply.
  • OTC drugs such as Tylenol® damage the liver, which is the organ responsible for making glutathione.
  • Diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods and refined sugars lack the nutritional support; poor diet tips the scale in support of free radical attack.

High-quality, not synthetic, supplements are meant to boost your health. Especially in today’s world where poor diet, over-the-counter drugs, lifestyle choices, and the environment have a significant impact on health. Supplements play a significant role in health. For instance, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends folic acid supplementation for all women planning or able to have children in order to prevent neural tube defects.

Some antioxidants used in isolation can be harmful because that’s just not how a healthy diet works. Eating a healthy diet that includes plant-based foods and organic lean meats provide a variety of health-promoting nutrients that carry out myriad functions to protect the body. The analysis of studies show that the use of 3 or fewer synthetic antioxidants doesn’t affect health in a positive way; in fact, it may carry some bad side effects. But the use of 5 or more antioxidants is associated with health benefits. Nutrition is a complex process that involves many variables. However, clinical trials that explore nutrients are usually setup in a similar way to drug studies—the cause and effect (or lack of one) is based on a one-on-one relationship, which is hardly the case when it comes to food. Good health depends largely on many nutrients interacting together.

While I’m a proponent of pharmaceutical-grade supplements, I believe supplements are a secondary option to food and should only be used to support not replace a good diet. Nutritional deficiencies begin with taking a look at what is in your cupboard and refrigerator and what is one your plate. Leave processed foods on the shelves at the supermarket. Instead, eat organically produced meat, fruits, and vegetables. This is always a great place to start when it comes to a healthy lifestyle because you’re getting a variety of healthful nutrients that support the body’s natural defense systems to protect against advanced aging and disease.

Sugar—A Growing Health Problem

Spooning More Sugar into a Pile

Do you know what a normal blood sugar reading is? Better yet, do you know what your blood sugar reading is? If you do, that’s great. However, you should know that the established criterion for fasting glucose (up to 100 mg/dL is considered normal) has been outdated for quite some time. Fasting glucose should be less than 86 mg/dL. Studies show that excess glucose damages your body, long before a diagnosis of either prediabetes or diabetes is established.

Glucose crosses the digestive lining, moves into the bloodstream, and enters cells where it is used as energy. Alpha glucosidase, an enzyme in the intestines, transports glucose from the gut and into the bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone that takes up glucose into cells. Insulin, however, does more than regulate blood glucose levels. It is also involved in stimulating cell growth and differentiation.

Excess Glucose is Sticky Business

Unfortunately, the Western diet is made up of carbohydrate-rich foods that produce an excess amount of glucose after meals. Sugar spikes after meals results in excess sugars stored as fat, which causes weight gain and leads to obesity. Extra glucose circulating in the bloodstream also damages endothelial cells, which makes up the inner wall of blood vessels. The sticky glucose molecules promote inflammation within the arteries; overtime, the damage caused by excess glucose will develop into vascular disease affecting the heart and brain health.

In integrative medicine, practitioners recognize that excess glucose increases the risk for many chronic diseases other than type 2 diabetes (such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer). Because glucose is a modifiable risk factor for the development of these chronic conditions, it is imperative that experts begin to recognize that a fasting glucose level below 86 mg/dL is optimal for good health.

To underscore the importance of maintaining healthy blood glucose levels, studies show that excess glucose destroys the structural integrity of arteries, which results in coronary and cerebral vascular diseases.1 When it comes to brain health, extra circulating sugars can interrupt normal brain function, even at high-normal glucose levels.  The amygdala and hippocampus (brain areas critical to memory) were noted to undergo atrophy when chronically exposed to high-normal blood sugar levels, which led to memory deficits.2 Numerous studies have also linked excess glucose to an increased risk of cancer.3-5

Data are robust in showing that post-meal sugar spikes, as well as blood glucose levels that fall within today’s standard of normal, are detrimental to your health. Your risk of cardiovascular death is the greatest within the first two hours after you’ve had a meal.6 That’s because post-meal sugar spikes can immediately impede blood flow through vital arteries, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke.7

Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

  • Avoid refined carbohydrates and processed foods: white flour, white sugar, white bread, desserts and pastries, bagels, and more are high in sugar and have little to no nutritional value. These foods tend to be high in salt and sugar. They’re also high in calories.
  • Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily: grapes, berries, apples, grapefruit, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots contain various nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants that provide energy and protection to the body.
  • Add fiber to your diet: fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains contain loads of fiber. Fiber helps to keep you fuller longer (when people experience a hunger spell they snack on starchy foods, which leads to excess sugar in the bloodstream).
  • Supplement your diet: there are pharmaceutical grade supplements that function similarly to drugs that are used to regulate type 2 diabetes. Mulberry leaf extract lowers glucose by enhancing activity of GLUT4, the energy transporter that moves glucose from the bloodstream into cells.8  Similarly to metformin, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, mulberries also block excess gluconeogenesis (the production of glucose by the liver during fasting).9,10 Alternatively, you can eat dried mulberries too. Although dried fruits tend to contain lots of sugar, this is not the case for dried mulberries. Dried mulberries contain less sugar, and it retains its flavor too—now if that isn’t a win-win, I don’t know what is! Mulberries are also loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and protein. Another supplement is phloridzin, and it blocks a glucose transport system in the gut to prevent post-meal sugar spikes.

References:

1.         Ma S, Virkama A, Groop P-H, et al. Chronic hyperglycemia impairs endothelial function and insulin sensitivity via different mechanisms in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Circulation. 1996;94(6):1276-1282.
2.         Cherbuin N, Sachdev P, Anstey KJ. Higher normal fasting plasma glucose is associated with hippocampal atrophy The PATH Study. Neurology. 2012;79(10):1019-1026.
3.         Larsson SC, Mantzoros CS, Wolk A. Diabetes mellitus and risk of breast cancer: A meta‐analysis. International journal of cancer. 2007;121(4):856-862.
4.         Xue F, Michels KB. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and breast cancer: a review of the current evidence. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2007;86(3):823S-835S.
5.         Alokail MS, Al-Daghri NM, Al-Attas OS, Hussain T. Combined effects of obesity and type 2 diabetes contribute to increased breast cancer risk in premenopausal women. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2009;8(1):33.
6.         Lin H-J, Lee B-C, Ho Y-L, et al. Postprandial glucose improves the risk prediction of cardiovascular death beyond the metabolic syndrome in the nondiabetic population. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(9):1721-1726.
7.         Nitenberg A, Cosson E, Pham I. Postprandial endothelial dysfunction: role of glucose, lipids and insulin. Diabetes & metabolism. 2006;32:2S28-22S33.
8.         Carvajal R, Rosas C, Kohan K, et al. Metformin augments the levels of molecules that regulate the expression of the insulin-dependent glucose transporter GLUT4 in the endometria of hyperinsulinemic PCOS patients. Human Reproduction. 2013;28(8):2235-2244.
9.         Andallu B, Varadacharyulu N. Gluconeogenic substrates and hepatic gluconeogenic enzymes in streptozotocin-diabetic rats: effect of mulberry (Morus indica L.) leaves. Journal of medicinal food. 2007;10(1):41-48.
10.      Kim YD, Park K-G, Lee Y-S, et al. Metformin inhibits hepatic gluconeogenesis through AMP-activated protein kinase–dependent regulation of the orphan nuclear receptor SHP. Diabetes. 2008;57(2):306-314.

Soy: Is It Your Dietary Friend or Foe?

Soy products

Soy myths have been circulating for a long time. Perhaps you’ve heard that soy can:

  • Feminize men
  • Increase breast cancer risk in women
  • Disrupt thyroid activity
  • Cause Alzheimer’s disease
  • Block the absorption of important nutrients

Soybean production is massive in the United States, yet consumption rates remain relatively low compared to other parts of the world. Particularly in Asian cultures, soy is consumed abundantly, which contributes to low cancer rates. Unfortunately, many poorly designed studies promote the uncertainty surrounding soy. Leaving many confused about whether or not soy is healthy.

I’ve been a proponent of soy for years because it contains isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that prevent and treat several medical conditions. Soy isoflavones prevents osteoporosis, improves postmenopausal symptoms in women, lowers cholesterol, and prevents cancer. Soy has amazing cancer-blocking capabilities, all of which target the ways in which cancer cells grow and proliferate in the body.

Soy Deprives Cancer Cells: one of the ways in which cancer cells thrive in the body is through angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is a process in which new blood vessels are developed. In the beginning, cancer cell growth is limited, which makes the cells susceptible to cancer treatments. However, over time, cancer cells can develop tricks that allow them to grow and even spread (metastasis) to other tissues in the body. Metastasis and angiogenesis promotes malignancy. Soy-rich diets have been shown to block the growth of new blood vessels in cancer.

Soy Disarms Cancer Cells: cancer cells avoid the body’s immune response by producing special molecules known as heat shock proteins (HSPs) and glucose-related proteins (GRPs). These molecules protect cancer cells from an immune attack. Soy blocks these cancer-protecting proteins.

Soy Suppresses Cancer Cell Growth: in the body, there are proteins that promote or suppress tumor activity. Tyrosine kinase, an immortality protein, inhibits apoptosis (cell death). Normal cells are programmed to die if the cell mutates or becomes old, but cancer cells simply continue to grow and proliferate. Without apoptosis, cancer cells grow into a tumor mass with the help of tyrosine kinase. Fortunately, studies show that isoflavones in soy inhibit the activation of tyrosine kinase.

Isoflavones—A Closer Look

Isoflavones include genistein, daidzein, and glycitein. And soy isoflavones have been effective in the prevention of breast cancer. The isoflavones (plant estrogens) are structurally similar to estrogen. Based on what we know, estrogen is a very strong hormone that has been attributed to breast cancer in women (because men possess a small amount of estrogen, prostate cancer risk has also been linked in studies to estrogen). Soy contains weaker estrogens, so incorporating soy in the diet will increase the circulating amount of phytoestrogens. A high amount of plant estrogens circulating in the body means that they can compete for estrogen receptor sites, which helps to lower the lifetime exposure to estrogen and reduce the risk of breast cancer too.

There are many soy products you can try such as miso soup, edamame, and tempeh. Substitute your dairy products by consuming soy yogurt and milk.

A Whole Lot of Healthy Grains

Whole Grains Spelled with Various Healthy Grains

Grains are plentiful, and eating a diversity of grains will ensure that you receive a healthy serving of nutrients. Beware when shopping because not all grains provide nutritional value. Some grains are whole while others are processed. Processing grains may improve shelf life, but it also removes nutrients too.

Grain’s Anatomy

To understand the differences among grains, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of whole grains. A whole grain is composed of three layers: bran (outer), endosperm (middle), and germ (inner) layers. The bran layer is packed with B vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and proteins. The middle layer (endosperm) is a bit starchy because it contains lots of carbohydrates, and it consists of protein. The germ layer has healthy unsaturated fats and proteins. When food manufacturers process grains, all of the layers are removed except the starchy middle layer. Removing the nutrient-rich outer and inner layers produces a minimally nutritious grain. Whole grains are nutritious in their natural form, so it makes sense to buy whole grains that contain 100% of its original kernel (the bran, endosperm, and germ layers). How do you know if you’re buying nutritious whole grains? Turn your attention to the terms on the front label of food packages:

Whole grains are nutrient-dense foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals. These grains contain a lot of fiber, which helps promote satiety. If whole grains appears on your food package, it means that the kernel’s three layers are intact.

Refined grains are whole grains that have undergone a milling process. The milling process removes the bran and germ layers to improve the texture and extends the shelf life of the product. After the refining process, the grain becomes a carb-rich product. Some examples of refined grains include white bread, white flour, white rice as well as many desserts and pastries.

Enriched grains are grains in which nutrients that were lost during the refining process are added back into the grains. The final product contains more carbs and very little fiber.

Fortification is the process of incorporating vitamins and minerals that are not naturally occurring in foods. Folic acid, for example, is added in cereals and other foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a naturally occurring vitamin, found in many grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fortifying food with folic acid prevents neural tube defects.

Choosing Healthy Grains

When shopping for whole grains, flip the food package over. The back label has important clues regarding the quality of the grain. Look for the word whole on the back label. It should be a part of the first ingredient (e.g., whole wheat, whole rye). Whole grain imposters assume various names: multigrain, cracked wheat, bran, stone-ground, or seven-grain. These types of grains are refined and do not contain the full nutritional value of whole grains.

Refined grains are usually white (e.g., white bread); however, some manufacturers may choose to change the color of their processed grains so that they appear brown. Again, check out the first ingredient on the back of the label. Don’t stop there: evaluate other things like sugar and sodium content. Avoid products with ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, sucrose, and molasses. Too much sugar is an easy way to pack on extra calories. Packaged foods tend to sneak in a lot of salt. The recommended daily intake of sodium for Americans is 2,300 mg or less.

Incorporating whole grains into your diet is easy. A panoply of whole grains is readily available. You don’t have to worry about limiting your options to brown rice and whole grain cereals. Here are some whole grains to consider:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Flaxseed
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Steel-cut oats

Whole grains contain various nutrients as well as fiber, which have been shown to prevent disease and improve health. Studies show that whole grains protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. They also reduce cholesterol and blood pressure too.