Monthly Archives: July 2010

Turmeric: The Spice of Life

Turmeric:  The Spice of Life

Competency:  Brain Health, Heart Health

Reference:  Life Extension Magazine Review Article, August 2010 (Subscribe to this magazine!)

Turmeric is the yellow in mustard and curry.  It is a spice used in Indian food for five thousand years, and in Aryuvedic medicine just as long.  And it should be used in Western medicine just as much.  Hints about its usefulness started to emerge in the world of cancer care about a decade ago.  Now, the flood of information is such that we are beginning to see it as a possible mainline supplement for all of us.  Let’s get to why.

Last year a Dr. Seely published an article showing that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) binds to our appetite receptors, blocking our appetite input.  That’s the first step in our food journey.  It makes us feel less hungry.  If you eat less, you don’t get overweight.  But down the line, turmeric has been shown to increase fat consumption by the liver, and in fat tissue, by blocking the growth of new blood vessels, disallowing new fat cells to develop.  It favorably changes the way our appetite system controls our appetite and the distribution of body fat.

The PPAR system in your liver stands for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor.    It is a master control switch of metabolism and cellular development (Wikipedia).  Turmeric activates the PPAR nuclear proteins.  That results in better sugar metabolism.   It also activated the AMPK system which controls how fast you make new sugar molecules while simultaneously increasing the rate at which you store and break down sugar.   This is the point of action of our most commonly used diabetes drug, metformin.  Only difference, curcumin might well be doing it better.  (Kim Biochem Biophys Res Comm 2009;16:337) You could make the argument that it is functioning as an anti-obesity drug.  That’s nifty.

But down the road, our metabolism and internal inflammation gets us into trouble when we attach glucose molecules to proteins because our blood glucose is too high.  We call these AGEs or advanced glycation end products and we measure them as a way to see how well we are controlling our diabetes. (Hemoglobin A1c).  Guess what turmeric does?  Yes, turmeric lowers AGEs.   In diabetic rats it has been shown to slow the development of cataracts by lowering AGEs.  Oxidized fats in our blood are the cause of much vascular disease.  Curcumin prevents that oxidation by boosting our natural internal antioxidants called glutathione, catalase and superoxide dismutase.

This sounds like a super drug.  It works in the beginning, middle and end of glucose metabolism, all to the better.  But it’s not all so easy.  We don’t absorb it very well and it only lasts minutes in our blood.  That means we need a better delivery form.  Unless you really like Indian food and eat curry breakfast, lunch and dinner, turmeric might not be for you.  When we take it in a pill, we only absorb a tiny bit.  If it’s mixed with black pepper, absorption goes up dramatically, but it still only lasts an hour or two.

WWW.  What will work for me.  We’ve been following this story for years now.  I’m still watching.  I also buy gelatin capsules and make my own turmeric supplement once or twice a year.  I take one a day of those capsules.  Ingredients: 90% turmeric from the Indian grocery store.  10% finely ground black pepper.  We didn’t mention this article about the strong association of turmeric consumption and better brain health and less Alzheimer’s.  Now, that’s something I want to remember.

Fisetin, the Supplement that Protects you Against AGEing

Fisetin, the Supplement that Protects you Against AGEing

Competency: Brain Health  Reference:  Maher, Pro Natl Acad Sci 2006 103(44), 16568

Fisetin is a very interesting compound that may just be the next hot topic on life extending strategies.  It is a polyphenol compound that’s found most commonly in strawberries, but is otherwise not really abundant in any food.  There has been a flurry of studies in various basic science journals that have pushed fisetin out into the popular wellness literature, making it interesting to all of us.   Here is why.

First of all, we now know that there is one clear strategy that you can follow that will likely add years to your life.  That is reducing your calorie count of food by 30%.  Another way to do that is to simply eat every other day and go on a 36 hour fast in-between.  When you do that you turn on a set of genes called SIRTUINS .(silent information regulator)that make your body go into survival mode.  Your cells live longer, delay natural cell death, improve DNA repair and do all the things that make the individual cell live longer.  Considering the Hayflick limit of about 50 generations of cell turnover that we have, if our individual cells live longer, then we do too.  Hence, if you want to age slower, live longer, have fewer illnesses, see more grandchildren, you want to turn on your SIRTUIN genes.  The problem?  It’s a drag eating 30% fewer calories.  For a women who typically eats 2000 calories, well, you only get 1400 hereafter.  Bummer.

Better strategy is to find a way to turn on those SIRTUIN genes without the calorie restriction.  Resveratrol does that.  We’ve done a column on resveratrol.  That’s the red polyphenol in red wine that you can take 100 mg a day of and get a similar turn on of your sirtuin genes.

Anything else help with that?  Yes!  That’s where Fisetin comes in.  Fisetin turns out to have a whole bunch of handy features.  For starters, it is such a potent antioxidant that is helps resveretrol last much longer.  It also seems to protect LDLs for being oxidized, and oxidized LDLs are the troublemakers we want to avoid.  But the list goes on.  It seems to protect proteins from getting tagged with glucose molecules which are called Advanced Glycation Endproducts or AGEs.   Hemoglobin A1c is an AGE that we measure to see how bad your diabetes is.  Fisetin prevents that glycation.   It downregulates NF-kB which is the uber-inflammation modulator in cells.  With that, many inflammatory substances your cells put out get turned off, remarkably lowering the level of inflammation.  That sort of action results in more mitochondria being active after experimental strokes in laboratory animals, and those strokes being smaller.  It helps maintain your glutathione levels and glutathione is your “uber-ANTIinflammation” compound. So, it suppresses the bad and maintains the good guys.   This stuff sounds like a miracle compound.

WWW. What will work for me.  Hold your horses.  All this is in basic bench science and in lab animals.  But isn’t it fun to know the advance of science?  We have pretty good evidence that resveratrol is safe and induces very favorable anti-inflammatory changes.  I take 100 mg a day of that.  Fisetin may be coming down the pike soon and you may want to watch this story.  Other compounds that have similar effects are quercetin (apples and onions), grape seed extract, black tea, pterostilbene (blueberries).  Sounds to me like bright colored whole foods do a good number on you.  It’s blueberry season right now.  Apples are coming.   Strawberries are always good for you.  Eat up.  I’ll watch for more stories on fisetin before I go buying any.

Neuroexcitotoxicity #7: Aspartate and Aspartame. Is it safe?

Neuroexcitotoxicity #7:  Aspartate and Aspartame.  Is it safe?

Competency Brain Health

Reference:  Russell Blaylock and “The Taste that Kills”

We know glutamate.  90% of excitatory neuro-effects in the brain are run by glutamate.  It’s a small amino acid that is found in food and protected from getting into our brain by the blood brain barrier.   Too much glutamate and many critically sensitive cells fire repeatedly until they are exhausted to death.  Turns out aspartate is a “ditto”.  It’s a small amino acid, just like glutamate, that sets of the glutamate receptors in your brain, just not as powerfully as glutamate does.  But it can be neurotoxic, just like glutamate.  Oh dear.

Where do we naturally find aspartate?  Simple enough.  In all protein, it’s a component amino acid.  When we digest proteins, we digest all of them together, slowly over as much as 12 hours, in balance with each other.  If we need more, our body can make it so its not one of the 8 “essential” amino acids we have to get from food.  Now, we have added a new and unique source of aspartate in the form of an artificial sweetener called aspartame.  Aspartame is made up of two amino acids bonded together with a methanol group on the side.  Aspartate and phenylalanine.  The packet warns that the phenylalanine might be toxic but says nothing about the aspartate.

There is incredible controversy about the introduction of aspartame.  One more time, pretty good research showed aspartame to cause brain cancer in rats, only to have the FDA ignore those findings.  More disturbing have been the neurological findings that many people experience.  There are abundant anecdotal and published series about aspartame that this column can’t address, except to note the dramatic stories the FDA receives.  Migraine neurologists have claimed that one of their first actions with migraine sufferers is to take them off aspartame, to much beneficial effect.  The Air Force recommends its pilots to not drink diet sodas before flying (Flying Safety Publication May 1992).

The late Dr. M. Adrian Gross, a former senior FDA toxicologist, stated in his testimony before Congress: “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, aspartame triggers brain tumors” and “therefore, by allowing aspartame to be placed on the market the FDA has violated the Delaney Amendment, which forbids putting anything in food that is know to cause cancer…And if the FDA itself elects to violates its own the law, who is left to protect the health of the public?”

As part of the environment we live in, aspartic acid, added to extra glutamate, results in extra neuroexcitotoxicity.  We have had a surge in brain cancers in America in the last 30 years, as well as a surge in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  Enough already.

WWW:  What will work for me.  You just can’t drink or eat foods with aspartame.  Get rid of the blue stuff.  Almost all diet sodas are just plain dangerous.  Find something different and unique for your soft drink needs.  Take a lemon to work and make fresh lemonade with Stevia.  Make sun tea.  But read the label.  Aspartame has to go.  You weren’t protected by your watchdog food agency.  You have to protect yourself.