Your Heart Hates High Fructose Corn Syrup

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

As you probably know, most sodas are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

In recent years HFCS has come under scrutiny for its connection to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health problems. Not much information is known about the speed in which these changes occur.

A new study shows that just two weeks of ingesting drinks sweetened with HFCS elevated markers related to heart disease. The results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Increases Lipid Levels

For the current study, investigators recruited 85 participants between the ages of 18 and 40 and divided them into one of four groups. They were assigned to receive beverages sweetened with HFCS in different concentrations or aspartame, an artificial sweetener.

The drinks with HFCS were formulated to contain 10 percent, 17.5 percent or 25 percent of one’s total daily calories. Blood samples were taken hourly to examine markers which are associated with heart disease including uric acid, cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoprotein B (a blood protein that carries cholesterol particles).

According to the results of the study, triglyceride levels were significantly elevated in the HFCS groups. The two groups drinking the higher doses of HFCS had significant elevations in LDL cholesterol, uric acid, and apolipoprotein B. The results were dose dependent, meaning the higher the concentration of HFCS, the greater the changes in these markers.1

What was most alarming was that the changes were seen in as little as two weeks, showing that the dangerous effects of HFCS can be experienced in a relatively short period of time.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is Everywhere

As obvious as these results may be, what’s not so obvious is the presence of high fructose corn syrup in foods. Look for it in not-so-obvious sources of HFCS such as ketchup, soups, cocktail nuts, tomato sauce, and even salad dressings.

Your best defense is to be familiar with food labels and to avoid processed foods as much as possible. That way you’ll know exactly what you’re eating!

References:

1. Am J Clin Nutr, April 2015 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.100461

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Train Your Brain to Like Healthy Foods

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

For all of you who think you just can’t eat healthy, you’re probably selling yourself short. A new study shows that these habits can, in factbe learned.

In a recent study, researchers from Tufts University and Harvard University found that the human brain can be trained to prefer healthy foods.

The results were published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes.

Weight Loss Counseling Changes Food Preferences

Let’s face it, unhealthy foods are way more tempting than healthy foods. Wouldn’t it be better if it were the other way around?

To examine this possibility, the researchers recruited 13 obese or overweight participants and studied the effect of food on their brains. Eight of these individuals underwent weight loss counseling and were encouraged to eat a diet rich in fiber, low in carbs, and high in protein. The remaining five did not undergo counseling and served as the control group.

MRI scans of the brain were taken while participants were shown pictures of healthy foods (for example, high-fiber cereal and grilled chicken) and unhealthy food items (sugary cereals or fried chicken). Scans were repeated after a period of six months to note any changes. The investigators were specifically looking at the area of the brain that controls addictions and rewards.

Training Brains to Like Healthy Foods

Compared to the control group, those in the weight loss program, showed a more profound reaction in the addiction and reward center of the brain when presented healthy foods. In addition, the reaction to unhealthy foods diminished towards the end of the study.1

These results indicated that those undergoing nutritional counseling changed their preferences from unhealthy foods to healthy foods. The healthy foods became more enjoyable while the unhealthy foods lost their appeal.

This study, while small, gives hope to those struggling to eat a healthier diet. It shows that food preferences can change for the better with time and training.

What About you?

Have you trained yourself to like healthy foods? If so, please tell us what's worked for you in the comments!

References

1. Nutr Diabetes. 2014 Sep 1;4:e129. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2014.26.

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The Melatonin Miracle


In 1995, The Melatonin Miracle was released to a public anxious for anything that could relieve insomnia without harmful side effects.

This book, along with others, helped elevate melatonin from relative obscurity to super star status in a matter of months.

Life Extension® and Julian Whitaker, MD, were among the first to publicize melatonin as a sleep aid back in 1992.

Following one of Dr. Whitaker's radio broadcasts on the subject, sales of melatonin literally skyrocketed overnight.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain's pineal gland from serotonin. This gland, named for its pine cone shape, is believed by some to be the site of the legendary "third eye." In humans, the pineal gland releases melatonin in response to darkness, thereby playing a role in the body’s circadian rhythm.

Melatonin was discovered by science in 19171 when its role in the skin color of reptiles and amphibians was revealed. The hormone was named in 1958 by researchers at Yale University who had hopes for melatonin as a treatment for skin disorders.

While melatonin was originally derived from cattle glands, today's melatonin is synthesized in a laboratory, thus assuring purity and safety.

Melatonin Really Helps You Fall Asleep

Pop a sublingual melatonin tablet (or spray some liquid melatonin) under your tongue and a pleasant and unmistakable drowsiness makes its presence known in a matter of minutes.

And while one can easily fall into a deep and peaceful slumber, melatonin's effects are mild enough to allow one to change one's mind and stay awake, or choose to sleep without worry of being unable to rouse oneself in the event of an emergency.

Nor is melatonin addictive or have any of the other potentially dangerous side effects attributed to sleeping pills, tranquilizers and sedatives.

Sleep with melatonin is restful and refreshing, although with non-timed release capsules or tablets it may be necessary to consume another dose if one wakes three to four hours after taking it, due to the hormone's short half-life in the body. Delayed release tablets are suggested in these situations.

Melatonin May Help Prevent Cancer

Melatonin's ability to help regulate the body's circadian rhythm appears to be a significant mechanism involved in its association with the prevention of cancers linked to night shift work.2

Melatonin has also been found to induce apoptosis (cell death) in breast, gastrointestinal, prostate, bone and kidney cancer as well as melanoma.3

Melatonin Has Anti-Aging Properties

Melatonin's production by the pineal gland declines with aging, which is one of several reasons why older adults have a harder time sleeping.

Yet melatonin may not only help relieve conditions that are associated with aging, but could help retard the aging process itself. In a recent article by Dr. Reiter and his colleagues, it was noted that melatonin activates sirtuins: proteins that have been associated with longevity.4

How to Get More Melatonin

Melatonin is available over the counter without a prescription in almost any supermarket, drug store or nutrition center in the United States.

Although its effects are mild and relatively short-acting, melatonin is not recommended prior to driving or operating heavy machinery.

The Bottom Line

The use of the word “miracle” has been degraded from the sacred to the blatantly commercial.

Yet for those of us who have spent a lifetime tossing, turning, and waking to an alarm with a profound feeling of fatigue, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that melatonin's effects are indeed nothing short of miraculous.

References:

  1. World J Gastroenterol. 2011 Sep 14; 17(34): 3888–3898. 
  2. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2013 Oct;25(5):499-510. 
  3. Expert Opin Ther Targets. 2013 Dec;17(12):1483-96. 
  4. Mech Ageing Dev. 2015 Mar 27;146-148C:28-41.

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Dark Chocolate Increases Attention

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN 

As the afternoon sets in, many of us find it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate and work attentively.

Can chocolate help? A new study suggests the answer is yes. Researchers found that eating dark chocolate may help to increase alertness.

The results of the study were published in the journal NeuroRegulation.

Chocolate + Theanine = A Winning Combo for Staying Alert

Previous studies show chocolate can change the chemical activity of our brains. It’s particularly known for raising dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with focus, pleasure, and motivation.

For the current study, researchers recruited 122 young adults between the age of 18 and 25. They were given 60% dark cocoa chocolate or one of the following five controls: low (0%) cacao chocolate, higher cacao chocolate + L-theanine, high sugar water, low sugar water, or water.

An EEG, a test which measures brain activity, was administered to assess levels of alertness while participants were undergoing mental activities. Blood pressure levels and mood were assessed prior to the experiment and 60 minutes afterwards.

According to the results of the study, eating the 60% chocolate heightened alertness and slightly increased blood pressure levels for a short period of time. Mood was not significantly affected.1

One of the controls, a combination of chocolate and L-theanine (an amino acid from green tea) lowered blood pressure levels between four to eight points compared to the groups taking the dark chocolate.

The combination of L-theanine and chocolate may be a better choice than chocolate alone, since it prevented the blood pressure rise associated with chocolate consumption.

Previous research indicates that L-theanine increases the production of alpha waves, brain waves that promote alert relaxation.

More Tips on Avoiding the Afternoon Slump

If you’re a common prey to the afternoon slump, evaluate your sleeping or eating habits. Eating a heavy meal towards lunch or not getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep may hamper your ability to stay awake and attentive in the afternoon.

Avoiding sugar and consuming high protein snacks may help. The amino acids in protein are the precursors to stimulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and epinephrine.

If you’re looking for additional nutrient suggestions, consider supplementing with L-tyrosine, rhodiola, and ginkgo. All may help to improve alertness, focus, and concentration.

References:

1. Available at: http://www.neuroregulation.org/article/view/14652. Accessed June 2, 2015.

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The Health Benefits of Oregano


Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a member of the mint family. It’s used mainly in Italian-inspired foods, such as pizza and pasta dishes.

Its appetizing fragrance makes it a favorite for at-home cultivators who add the fresh leaves to a number of foods.

And while oregano is a standard addition to many culinary creations, its health-protective benefits have only recently been demonstrated.

Oregano Preserves Food

It was once observed by Durk Pearson that a primary reason for the long and dangerous journeys of early explorers was to obtain spices. Their value was not in the flavor they provide, but in their ability to preserve food, which was later found to be largely due to their antioxidant properties.

Oregano's significant antioxidant and antimicrobial properties make it a natural choice as a food preservative.

A study comparing the results of natural and synthetic antioxidants found that oregano inhibited lipid peroxidation (the breakdown of fats via free radicals) to a greater extent than paprika, cumin, saffron, BHA and BHT (both are synthetic antioxidants), with only rosemary emerging as having a stronger antioxidant benefit.1

Oregano Has Anti-Fungal Properties

In a study of ten Turkish spices, oregano oil, carvacrol and thymol (both found in oregano) inhibited the growth of foodborne fungi.2

In another study, oregano oil was found to inhibit six strains of Aspergillus, a disease-causing food mold.3 Foodborne fungi are not the only pathogens vanquished by oregano.

The treatment-resistant Candida albicans (the culprit behind so-called "yeast infections") has been inhibited by the administration of oregano oil in cell studies and in infected mice.4

Oregano Has Anti-Bacterial Properties

Oregano oil and its principal components have been shown to inhibit the disease-causing bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.5 The antimicrobial action of oregano oil can be primarily attributed to its carvacrol and thymol content.

In a study of mice with a bacterial infection, those treated with oregano oil were more likely to survive compared to a control group.6 Carvacrol and thymol have also reduced the growth of E. coli, a bacterium that is found in the human digestive tract and a frequent cause of food contamination.7

A similar effect against E. coli has been demonstrated for oregano essential oil, alone and in combination with antibiotics.8

A study of the effects of ten essential oils found that oregano had the highest and broadest activity against multiple types of bacteria.9 When the ten oils were tested, carvacrol came out on top for antibacterial activity.

Oregano Has Anti-Ulcer and Anti-Cancer Properties

In animal experiments, carvacrol improved the healing of gastric ulcers.10,11And in some of the newest research, the compound has been shown to kill human glioblastoma (brain cancer) cells though a process called apoptosis (cell-suicide).12

Essential oil of oregano has also been found to be toxic to colon cancer cells.13

The Bottom Line

Whether oregano and its active components can be used as natural cancer therapies remains to be seen. However, the evidence is clear that oregano can help protect against harmful bacterial and fungal growth.

References:

  1. J Food Prot. 2001 Sep;64(9):1412-9. 
  2. Int J Food Microbiol. 1988 May;6(3):263-8. 
  3. Braz J Microbiol. 2008 Apr;39(2):362-7. 
  4. Mol Cell Biochem. 2001 Dec;228(1-2):111-7. 
  5. J Appl Microbiol. 2001 Sep;91(3):453-62. 
  6. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2005;15(4):279-85. 
  7.  J Food Prot. 2005 May;68(5):919-26. 
  8.  FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2008 Jul;53(2):190-4. 
  9. Molecules. 2010 Oct 27;15(11):7532-46. 
  10.  Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2012 Sep;385(9):899-908. 
  11.  J Med Food. 2012 Nov;15(11):984-91. 
  12.   Life Sci. 2012 May 15;90(17-18):703-11. 
  13.  J Med Food. 2014 Oct;17(10):1129-33.

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