Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

Mulberry leaf extract inhibits atherosclerosis?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Mulberry trees are widely distributed, producing red, purple and even white berries depending on the variety. Many parts of the tree, including the leaves, bark, berries have been used in folk remedies for thousands of years. Mulberry has been widely claimed and studied as an aid to control diabetes.

Atherosclerosis is a component of heart disease. It is the process by which arteries become clogged with cholesterol laden plaques, restricting blood flow and ultimately resulting in serious issues, including heart attacks when blood vessels supplying the heart become restricted.

In a study published recently [J. Agric. Food Chem., 2013], researchers tested mulberry leaf extract (MLE) on rabbits and found that in addition to improvement of liver function, the atheroma burden (an atheroma is an accumulation and swelling in artery walls, a precursor to atherosclerosis) and levels of serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) were also significantly reduced after MLE treatment. MLE treatment was also reported to reduced the size of existing atheromas in the vascular wall. In conclusion, this means that, in addition to improving cholesterol and triglyceride profiles, MLE appears to reduce existing atheromas, thereby preventing atherosclerosis.

The proposed mechanism of MLE’s role in reduction of arterial plaques is by causing an increase in the body’s production of a protein called p53 (p53 is classified as a tumor-suppressor protein that is released during cellular stress, such as that caused by DNA damage, low oxygen, etc). The p53-atherosclerosis connection is unclear. It was discovered separately that persons can be p53 deficient and that people with p53 deficiencies also had an increased size of atherosclerotic lesions.

In an earlier study [J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2010 September] “Effects of Mulberry Leaf Extract Rich in 1-Deoxynojirimycin on Blood Lipid Profiles in Humans”, subjects ingested capsules containing mulberry leaf extract, 12-mg three times daily, for 12 weeks. The results were very far from conclusive. After 12 weeks, findings showed a modest decrease in serum triglyceride levels and beneficial changes in the lipoprotein profile, although the study team admitted that the decreases were not statistically significant. Although the results were not statistically significant the researchers proposed that the MLE may potentially be used to decrease what is known as “very bad cholesterol”.

Conclusion: It all sounds well and good, particularly in the animal study..MLE actually reduces plaques?! Though in human subjects the real net effects are far from conclusive. At this point one might be thinking, well..why not go ahead and take MLE anyway? The results seem promising, right? Sure, if you like. The studies seem to indicate that there aren’t any serious side effects from moderate doses, but then again, if the evidence isn’t statistically significant, why bother? The better course of action would be to wait for a larger study with more human subjects, and in the meantime, if you have a risk for atherosclerosis, stick to what we are fairly certain works, including diet modification, exercise and if you aren’t adverse..statin drugs..

Berberine..a natural statin drug replacement?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Interest in berberine as a natural cholesterol reducer isn’t new, in fact research on berberine dates back more than a decade. However of recent, there has been an increasing interest in the effectiveness of berberine extract as an alternative to taking statin drugs (cholesterol reducers), with several well designed studies coming online.

What is berberine? Berberine is a natural plant extract from Berberis aristata bark (commonly known as Indian Barberry). Biochemically, berberine has been proposed to reduce cholesterol AND triglyceride levels by increasing LDL-cholesterol receptors on the liver cell surface, and inhibiting triglycerides biosynthesis, and potentially inhibiting an enzyme associated with atherosclerosis.

In a randomized 2011 study [Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 August]: “Clinical evidence of efficacy of red yeast rice and berberine in a large controlled study versus diet.” Researchers evaluated dietary counseling alone versus consuming a supplement containing red yeast extract and berberine plus diet counseling. There was strong evidence that the berberine formula significantly improved the participant’s lipid profiles versus diet counseling alone:

At 16 weeks; comparison of diet counseling + berberine/red yeast vs diet counseling alone:
Reduction of total-cholesterol: −19.1% vs −9.4%.
Reduction of LDL-Chol: −23.5% vs −10.8%.
Reduction of plasma triglycerides: −17.9% vs −11.3%.
HDL-Chol levels showed a moderate increase: +11.6% vs +4.0%.

Findings similar to these have been reproduced and repeated in several studies and it does appear that berberine may be an option for people who refuse to take statins, or people who have tried statin drugs but then stopped due to side effects such as muscle and joint pain.

Research regarding taking statin drugs + berberine are less numerous. It should be noted that, biochemically, statin drugs and berberine work via different metabolic mechanisms.

A study in lipidworld found that adding a berberine supplement to patients already on a stable dose of statin drugs resulted in further decreased total cholesterol (-8.1%), LDL (-10.5%) triglyceride levels (-5.4%).

In a study of rats; [J of Metabolism 2008 Aug] titled “Combination of simvastatin with berberine improves the lipid-lowering efficacy.” (Simvastatin is a commonly prescribed statin drug).

Researchers compared simvastatin, berberine and the combination of simvastatin + berberine extract in rats. LDL cholesterol was reduced 28% with simvastatin alone, 27% with berberine alone, the combination resulted in a 46% reduction in LDL. Interestingly the combined results of berberine + simvastatin were as effective as doubling the dose of simvastatin, which when doubled resulted in a 43% reduction in LDL cholesterol.

Summary – berberine does appear to be metabolically active, and does reduce cholesterol based on the findings of numerous research studies, and may be a useful alternative for those who refuse statins, or have had side effects with statins. Of course, any change in your statin regimen must be reviewed with your physician.

Veggie Update

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

According to a large prospective study published by Loma Linda University (California), people who ‘adhered’ any type of vegetarian diet lowered their risk of death from any cause.

Curiously, the study discovered that men enjoyed significantly greater benefit than women when adhering to a vegetarian diet (of any type), and the researchers were unable to determine any specific reas…on why.

Classifications of vegetarian diets:

Vegan – No eggs, dairy, fish & meat.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian – no fish & meat.
Pesco-vegetarian – no meat.
Semi-vegetarian – fish or meat, no more than once weekly.

In total, people adhering to a vegan diet fared the best overall in relating to reduced mortality from any cause. However people adhering to any type of vegetarian diet were not far behind in benefitting from reduced mortality. This infers that any diet sharply limited in meat (red, white or otherwise) confers significant benefit as does the fact that eating mainly vegetables and not meat means a diet that is lower in saturated fat and high in fiber.

Chia Seeds, superfood or hype?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Chia seeds are gaining popularity as a dietary superfood, but are they really special?

Chia is an ancient grain, cultivated by cultures such as the Aztec thousands of years ago, and a significant portion of their diet. More recently in the 1980’s, these are also the same seeds grown to sprouts on Chia Pets.

Nutritional Analysis of 1 ounce (28 grams):

Calories 137
Total Fat 9g (1g saturated)
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 5mg
Total Carbohydrate 12g
Dietary Fiber 11g
Protein 4g

Minerals of note:

Calcium 177mg (18% DV)
Phosphorus 265mg (27% DV)
Manganese 0.6mg (30% DV)
Zinc 1.0mg (7% DV)

Touted superfood benefits which we will analyze one by one:

Weight loss: Chia seeds swell and form a gel when added to water. This effect may be filling and blunt the appetite. However there isn’t any research to back up claims of direct weight loss. It’s also worth noting that an ounce of seeds packs the same number of calories as a thick slice of bread, and a tablespoon of chia is worth 70 calories.

Reduction of cholesterol: Chia seeds contain fiber, fiber helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels. So, yes they are helpful to reduce cholesterol.

Control of blood sugar: again, it’s about the fiber. So, yes chia’s fiber slows absorption of sugar into the bloodstream during and after a meal.

It’s worth noting that chia is a complete protein and has an excellent omega-3 fatty acid profile (57% alpha linolenic).

My analysis finds that chia really isn’t extraordinary or a superfood. However it is a healthy, good quality food. It lends the same heart health benefits of many other seeds and legumes. Flax, chick peas, oatmeal, quinoa, black beans come to mind.

What you may want to do is a cost analysis. How much is a half pound of chia? You may be paying a premium for hype, Chia has been around for thousands of years and there is precious little research to back up any claims that it’s better than widely available healthy grains and legumes.

A balancing act. Omega 3 and Omega 6

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential fatty acids, and both are required components of a healthy diet.  Unfortunately, our ‘modern’ diet, replete with processed and fast foods, is far too rich in Omega 6 fatty acids, and generally deficient in Omega 3.  The result?


A dietary imbalance of these two fatty acids may explain why we are seeing increased cases of cancer, asthma, heart disease, degenerative and auto-immune diseases.  These diseases are exacerbated and/or caused by inflammation.  While we don’t know the full extent of involvement of fatty acid balance and diseases, it is almost certain that a gross imbalance of these two fatty acids isn’t helpful in the presence of these diseases.

Research hasn’t agreed on the exact ratio of Omega 3:Omega 6, yet we know that the typical ratio of 1:10, or even 1:20 seen in our ‘American’ diet is unhealthy.  Research has show benefit in reducing the ratio of Omega 3:Omega 6 to 1:2, 1:1 or even a reversal to 4:1.


1) Cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods and oils such as cottonseed, corn, sunflower, safflower, and others.  Search the Internet to discover dietary sources of Omega 6.

2) Increase your consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids, for example, use extra virgin olive oil for cooking.  Eat more fish (not farm-raised fish) or take fish oil supplements.  Add walnuts and ground flax seeds to your diet.

3) Always try and eat and supplement with organic foods when possible.

To conclude, take a look at your intake of these two essential fatty acids.  What’s your ratio?  If it’s imbalanced, take steps toward balance.  In doing so you may be preventing disease or even reversing the effects existing disease.