Monthly Archives: December 2010

Foods that Heal: Parsley and the Mediterranean Diet

Foods that Heal:  Parsley and the Mediterranean Diet

Reference:  Healing Spices  Agarwal 2011

Parsley is the number three spice in America.  It sits right after salt and pepper.  But it isn’t eaten near as much as it’s placed on the edge of the plate, and thrown out.  For a New Year’s Resolution,  I’m going to explore this year all those foods that you will find on you plate, so that you can use them more and tip the balance of health in your favor.

Why do I start with parsley?  Because it’s so lowly and so unlikely.  If someone said parsley was a strong little candidate for being a superfood, you would have just fallen off your chair laughing.  That’s why I chose it.

Here’s why it’s so potent.  It’s loaded with an antioxidant called apigenin, one of the flavonoid family foods.  Apigenin is a multiplier of other antioxidants that your body naturally makes.  For example, if you take 14 folks and feed them a Standard American Diet (SAD) – in other words, all white.  White bread, white potatoes, and no vegetables or antioxidants.  Run that for two weeks and measure the two most important natural antioxidants in your body, Superoxide Dismutase and glutathione, you can show they are dramatically reduced and your cells are showing signs of oxidative damage.  Now, add parsley back and voila, all that damage goes away.  No other food does that.  Or, take 1,140 women with ovarian cancer and “parse” out the details of their diets.  The ONLY food that correlates statistically with lower ovarian cancer rates  is parsley.  Twenty one percent less!  It’s the apigenin in parsley that does it.  Not bad?

Let’s speculate a little more.  You know very well that the Mediterranean diet is very good for you. Right?  What’s one of its main foods?  Tabbouleh!  Equal parts of cracked wheat and parsley and then flavored with salt, scallions, olive oil and mint.  Take folks in Morocco eating parsley and measure their  platelet aggregation and you find a 65% decrease with parsley.  Platelet aggregation is what heart disease and stroke prevention is all about.  You could take Plavix and aspirin instead, and face all the bleeding consequences.  Or, you could just start with eating parsley.

Now, I haven’t even gotten to the use of parsley in the treatment of Lyme’s Disease.  But the Cowden Protocol uses it as one of their essential elements……I can go on.

WWW. What will work for me.  I’m fascinated by unlikely corners and hidden gems.  Parsley caught my eye.  I thought it would too.  So, tonight, at your New Year’s Party.  When everyone else has finished up the snacks and treats, check out the parsly sitting there on the edge and have a little.  Then, make your own tabbouleh!  Maybe the Mediterranean diet is really a parsley and olive oil diet with a lot of lovely sunshine for Vit D.  In the bleak midwinter, think of yourself being Mediterranean.

Magnesium: Super Metal

Magnesium: Super Metal

Reference:  Chiuve et al AJCN Jan 2011

You thought it was kryptonite.  In the current world of superheroes and villains, it’s hard to find the real thing.  Well, this may be close to it.  Magnesium may be it.

What does magnesium do?  Well, it stabilizes a lot of critical enzymes used in energy production.  And we simply don’t get enough.  Our diet has shifted from abundant fruits and vegetables to that of  white bread and fried foods, neither of which has any.  To measure it accurately you really have to look at Red Cell Magnesium, which is a bit more tricky to test.  So, it’s not tested for often.  Just about all of us are on the low side.  As a consequence, we can find bad things happening to good people when they don’t have enough.

What Dr. Chiuve and company did was look at the Nurses Study with 88,375 women and compare their dietary exposure to green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts, milk to the risk of sudden death.  Sudden death basically occurs when your heart goes into a fatal rhythm without any warning.  You don’t even know it happened to you.  You simply pass out.  Without paramedics, your brain is mush in about 4 minutes.  That irregular rhythm is a complication of many possible things, but low magnesium makes all of them worse.  You may be having a heart attack, or maybe just a passing irregular beat that then surges into ventricular tachycardia, and then fibrillation because your magnesium was too low.  In the Nurses Study, Dr. Chiuve found that women who consumed the most magnesium in their diets had about a 37% lower rate of sudden death.  If they measured blood levels, they found a 41% decrease in sudden death for every .25 mg/dL change.

Now, consider that magnesium is a wonderful treatment for those with too many migraines, that it plays a role in preventing excitotoxicity from glutamate in your brain, that it lowers blood pressure, ….helps congestive heart failure.  I can go on.  But I have skin in the game.  I took care of a 32 year old women in the ER just a month ago with sudden death.  No warning.  She just dropped dead.  Now, she did have high blood pressure and did have kidney disease, and was on water pills so her chemistry was a bit precarious.  But she was by no means terminally ill.   And in the last month I have known two colleague physicians who simply died without warning.  Folks in their late 50s and early 60s.  It’s easy to pass that off as, “Just a massive Heart Attack”.  But that’s a misnomer.  That sudden death is a cardiac arrhythmia caused by many reasons, but one that is preventable is low magnesium.

WWW.  What will work for me?  I personally take 800 mg of magnesium glycinate every day.  It lowers my blood pressure.  That’s my reason.  I drink lots of water and I don’t have kidney disease.  I saw my doctor and checked my level before I started.  And I make a point of eating green leafy vegetables as often as I can.  If you get 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, you are half way to the 12-16 servings we are designed to eat.  If you aren’t eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and are in a mind to take a supplement here and there, magnesium should be on your list.

A Tale of Two D’s: The Devil is in the “D”tails

A Tale of Two D’s:  The Devil is in the “D”tails

Reference:  2010  Vitamin D Guidelines from the Institute of Medicine

Dec 2, 2010

The new guidelines for Vitamin D from the Institute of Medicine have just been issued.  Taken objectively, they triple the level of Vit D that adults should take to 600 IU a day from the prior 200 IU.  They also double the upper limit of “safety” to 4,000 IU a day.  But that’s not the story that got played in the media.  The media talked all about the limits of safety and the risk of cancer at higher doses.  What’s the truth?

This may take a few more emails to completely sort out, but I wanted you to know something today.  Personally, I’m changing nothing.  I think they missed a huge opportunity to make a meaningful change.  Here are the errors that I see in their logic.   First, they are using Randomized Controlled Trials as their sole source of truth. That method serves us well in short term diseases.  The problem with RCTs in long latency disease is that you can’t get someone to do an intervention in a double blind fashion for years when you feel no effect.  The Women’s Health Study, giving only 200 IU a day, had very dramatic drop offs in compliance.   And it showed very little effect.  No wonder.  200 IUs is what your body makes in 12 seconds of good sunshine.  They didn’t use the epidemiological evidence that begs for interpretation and weaves a web of logical inferences.  They still are inferences. They still haven’t been proven by a focused trial.  But that’s another fallacy they didn’t address. Vit D is not a vitamin.  It is a hormone that affects 10% of the human genome.  Its effect is to have a broad improvement in physiology that you can’t ferret out with a study on just one single system.

It did mention the risk of cancer.  Here there may be some concern to address. But I’m not sure how much.  We’ve known for almost 100 years that farmers in Minnesota have lower cancer rates than office workers.  Is that a beneficial D effect?  We also know there is a 30-40% gradient from north to south USA on about 9 different cancers.  We also know the African American community gets more cancer in the north than the white community.  We also know that melanoma patients who defy their doctors and go back out in the sun live longer than those who stay indoors.  And about 10 other cancers show the same effect.  You live longer with a high D level.  But more recently, the Uppsalla longitudinal study of men in Sweden showed a slight uptick in cancer rates at higher D levels.  But that begs the question, how high and how much risk, and is that repeatable compared to all the others?

It just defies reason and logic to say that a Vit D level of what humans naturally make in sunshine is dangerous.  The IOM did not address the variability from north to south.  It did not talk about D as a hormone.  It did not address the huge opportunity of D around pregnancy, mental health.  It stated it could measure no effect on D on autoimmune disease.  What do I do when I have personally seen people with psoriasis tell me they were completely cured with Vit D at 5,000 IU a day?    That’s just 5 minutes of sunshine.  I don’t get sick with 5 minutes of sun.

WWW.  What Will Work for Me.  I’m puzzled and I’m going to sit tight for right now.  I think we need to look at the same data the IOM looked at, and parse it out some more.  But the real story is that we now have a doubling of our upper safe limit.  4000 IU a day will get most folks to a blood level of 50-60, which is what your body makes in good sunshine.  Maybe we should just look at the positive side.  And maybe we should really focus on all of us getting it for the next 5 months of winter when, in Wisconsin we get none.  And that includes our kids.  1000 IU a day for them too!

Stevia: Sweet Treatment for Blood Pressure

Topic:  Stevia: Sweet Treatment for Blood Pressure

Competency: # 5 The Way to Eat; #7 Sugar Reference:  Current Therapeutics, Hsieh MH, Chan P et al Sept 2003, 25 p 2797.

Stevia is now on the commercial market as a sweetener.  It has been blocked in America for many years by the competition who make other sweeteners, while Japan has been using stevia for over 30 years with no complications or side effects noted.  It is 40% of the sweetener market in Japan.  Stevia comes from a plant that grows in South America and was used by indigenous peoples for centuries as a sweetener.  You can grow it yourself, as garden centers sell it in the spring as “sweet leaf”.  There are five or six active ingredients in stevia, each of which has its own natural sweetening profile.  But all are based on a basic “glycoside” molecule that is slightly related to digitalis, another glycoside.  That raises the question, does this natural product have an effect on the heart like digoxin?  Is it safe, helpful and useful?

Dr. Hsieh, Chan et al from the Taipai Medical University in Taiwan decided to find out.  They recruited 174 folks with mild hypertension and gave them stevia three times a day in a randomized, blinded, controlled trial for two years.  That’s good design for credible research.  And what they found is pretty interesting.

Turns out that stevia does affect your heart and your blood pressure, all to the good side.  The folks who got the stevia had a 10 point reduction in systolic blood pressure and a 6 point reduction in diastolic pressure.  That’s about as much beneficial effect as a drug.  And it happened within a week of starting and persisted throughout the two years.  After two years, only 6 of the stevia group developed LVH (left ventricular hypertrophy) compared to 17 of 50 in the control group.  LVH means you are developing damage from the high blood pressure and are on your way to congestive heart failure.  (Statistically very significant)

The problem with high blood pressure is that it is silent.  Taking a pill to reduce something for which you have no immediate symptoms is hard to maintain.  Compliance is an issue in many patients.  But how about a product that is natural, plant based, no toxicity, and makes food taste sweet?  The only downside is that the flavor sweet encourages you to eat more.  An important finding of this study was that the stevia folks did not gain weight compared to the controls.  And Chinese have a tendency to like natural herb based products.  The idea of using an herb fits well with their sensibilities.  Sounds like the Chinese are onto something smart here!

WWW.  What will work for me.  I get asked all the time, “What sweetener should I use?”  The yellow stuff is a chlorinated hydrocarbon, not too far off from DDT.  There are no natural chlorinated hydrocarbons.  The blue stuff is associated with some neurological concerns.  But stevia has a very wide safety profile and decades of use without toxicity found.  I’ve switched completely to stevia-based sweeteners.  You can get it at the grocery store, where it is still pretty expensive. It’s much cheaper if you get it off the internet in packets, or in liquid.  I like the liquid stuff.  It’s easy to put a dropper in a cup of tea……and it lowers my blood pressure.  The lower my blood pressure, the longer I live.   Natural product, completely digestible.  Sweet!