Category Archives: flavonoid

Citrus Fruit Lowers Risk of Stroke

In February I wrote about the link between magnesium intake and reduced risk of stroke. There is a growing amount of research in this area, and a new study has now uncovered new links between a special compound in citrus fruits and a lowered risk of stroke (1).

The research, published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, used data provided by almost 70,000 women to find links between diet and stroke risk.

Citrus Fruits can help fight the risk of Stroke
Citrus Fruits can help in the prevention of Stroke

Citrus fruits contain special compounds called flavanones, a special subclass of flavonoids which act as powerful antioxidants.

The data was gathered from the Nurse’s Health Study, which provided details of the diets of 69,622 women. The researchers found that women who ate high amounts of flavanones in citrus fruits had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least amounts.

Study leader Aedín Cassidy, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of East Anglia  explains “Flavonoids are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect.”

A typical serving of citrus fruit contains 45 to 50 mg of flavones. The women with the highest intake consumed more than 470 mg per day. While many of the women in the study consumed their flavanones in the form of orange juice or grapefruit juice, the researchers recommend that we should consume whole citrus fruits rather than sugary fruit juices.

These finding support a previous study which also found that citrus fruit and juice intake, but not intake of other fruits, protected against risk of ischemic stroke.

More studies are needed to confirm the association between flavanone consumption and stroke risk, in order to gain a better understanding of this link. In the meantime, there are several additional dietary measures than can help to protect against stroke.

Omega-3 fatty acids can help to keep blood vessels healthy and reduce the inflammation that is associated with ischemic stroke. Oily fish, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts are all good sources of this essential fatty acid.

Garlic contains a chemical called allicin, which makes your blood less ‘sticky’, and so less likely to clot and cause a stroke. Flavour your food with plenty of fresh garlic – or if you don’t like the taste then try a garlic supplement.

Broccoli will help to boost your levels of folic acid. Other good sources of folic acid are spinach, asparagus and lentils. This B Vitamin lowers levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage your arteries and increase your risk of stroke. The best way to cook broccoli is by steaming, as this helps to preserve the vitamin content.

Purple fruit and berries, such as blueberries, are rich sources of nutrients called proanthocyanidins, providing potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Try adding a handful of blueberries to your muesli or your morning smoothie.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. Aedín Cassidy, Eric B. Rimm, Éilis J. O’Reilly, Giancarlo Logroscino, Colin Kay, Stephanie E. Chiuve, and Kathryn M. Rexrode. Dietary Flavonoids and Risk of Stroke in Women. Stroke, February 23 2012

2. Joshipura KA et al. Fruit and vegetable intake in relation to risk of ischemic stroke. JAMA 1999. 282(13):1233-9


Pycnogenol, a pine bark extract, appears to be useful to those suffering with metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome: is a group of risk factors for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.  An individual is considered to have metabolic syndrome if they have three or more of the following:

*Excess abdominal obesity (carrying weight around the stomach, as measured by waist circumference)

*High triglyceride levels (blood fats)

*Low levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)

*High blood pressure

*High blood sugar levels or type 2 diabetes

Pharma Nord Bio-PycnogenolA recent study (1) has found that a supplement made from a specific pine bark, Pycnogenol® (pronounced pic-noj-en-all), may be helpful to those suffering from metabolic syndrome.  Pycnogenol® is a natural plant extract originating from the bark of the maritime pine that grows along the coast of southwest France and is found to contain a unique combination of bioflavonoids (bioactive plant compounds) which seem to offer natural health benefits.   The supplement has been studied intensively over the last 40 years and various health benefits are now being attributed to the pine bark extract.

In individuals with metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and high blood glucose tend to gradually impair kidney function, which can in turn affect the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the body effectively.  The study (1) found that Pycnogenol® had positive effects on the kidney in people suffering with metabolic syndrome and also had other health benefits such as effective blood pressure control, reduced blood sugar levels, and lowered Body Mass Index (BMI) due to weight loss.

The study (1) included 58 people with metabolic syndrome who had high blood pressure, all the individuals in the study also showed early signs of having kidney problems – hey all had elevated amounts of protein (albumin) in their urine.  The individuals were split into two groups.  Both groups were being treated with a medication called Ramipril to treat their high blood pressure (5mg twice daily).  Both groups were also instructed to follow a healthier lifestyle.  One group was given Pycnogenol® to take in addition to the medication.  In the group taking Pycnogenol®, 50 mg Pycnogenol® tablets were taken three times a day.  Urine, blood analysis and blood pressure were measured.

The study(1) found that taking Pycnogenol® in conjunction with Ramipril significantly further lowered blood pressure when compared to the group taking Ramipril alone. While average blood pressure in the Ramipril group was lowered to borderline-high 128.2/90.2 mmHg, the values in the group taking Pycnogenol® with Ramipril reached essentially normal values (122.2/85.3 mmHg) after six months of treatment.  Kidney function improved in both groups as judged by a significant reduction of protein detected in collected urine. With Ramipril alone, urinary protein decreased by 22% but with the addition of Pycnogenol® it decreased by 52.7%.  The group taking Pycnogenol® also had a lowered fasting blood glucose level, which was reduced from high average values to essentially healthy reference values after six months of treatment.  Only the group taking Pycnogenol® was found to have significantly lost weight after six months from average BMI 26.5 to 25.0

In a press release (2) Dr. Peter Rohdewald, a lead researcher of the study said “Kidney damage is a common problem for people with metabolic syndrome due to the large number of cardiovascular risk factors involved. Similar to hypertension [high blood pressure], there are no warning signs for suffering kidneys. Poor kidney function may further increase blood pressure, which in turn deteriorates the situation of the kidneys in a vicious circle” “The results of this study demonstrate Pycnogenol®’s ability not only to control hypertension, but also to restore kidney function in those impacted by metabolic syndrome. Surprisingly, people taking Pycnogenol® not only demonstrated lower blood glucose levels, but also significant weight loss during the six months, yielding optimistic results for managing this condition.

Dr Rohdewald also said (2)”The number of people affected by metabolic syndrome is ever increasing and kidney disease is a growing concern. Pycnogenol® cannot compensate for an unhealthy lifestyle, but certainly offers some urgently needed help. Our study suggests that essentially all major characteristics of metabolic syndrome are improved with Pycnogenol as part of a healthier lifestyle.”

This is just a preliminary, relatively small, study and further supplemental studies with Pycnogenol® for metabolic syndrome are certainly needed but it certainly shows that Pycnogenol® may offer a natural solution for individuals with metabolic syndrome, particularly for kidney protection.  There has been previous work to show that Pycnogenol®may help to reduce blood pressure, improve kidney flow and function and lower blood glucose in diebetics.  If you have any of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome it is important to talk to your doctor prior to taking any supplement, this is particularly important is you are on medication.  The flavonoids in Pycnogenol® may be responsible for the perceived health benefits but again, further work is necessary before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

(1)Stuard S et al.  2010.  Kidney function in metabolic syndrome may be improved with Pycnogenol®. Panminerva Med. 52(2 Suppl 1):27-32.

(2)Press release.  2 March 2011.  Katherine Davis.  MWW Group.  Study shows pine bark naturally improves kidney function in patients with metabolic syndrome.

Written by Ani Richardson


Bioactive plant compounds in berries may help to reduce high blood pressure

Studies have previously found that flavonoids (bioactive plant compounds), found in various vegetables and fruits, can have beneficial effects on blood pressure when given to individuals in an ‘intervention’ study setting.  A new study (1) carried out at the University of East Anglia UK and Harvard University USA and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has looked at the ‘habitual’ intake of flavonoids by individuals in their normal lives and the impact this may make on blood pressure.  They wanted to know if individuals who have high intakes of flavonoids had a reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)

High blood pressure, hypertension, can lead to heart disease and stroke.  Around a quarter of the adult population is affected globally, including 10 million people in the UK and one in three US adults (2).

Over 170,000 individuals participated in the study (1).  Total flavonoids intakes were calculated from a specialised food frequency questionnaires every 4 years.  During 14 years of follow up around 35,000 cases of hypertension were reported.  Analysis of the food frequency questionnaires showed that individuals consuming the greatest intakes of anthocyanin, a flavonoids, predominantly from blueberries and strawberries, had an 8% reduced risk of hypertension compared with individuals eating the lowest amounts.  The risk reduction was 12% in participants aged 60 years and younger (1).  The positive effects on blood pressure were stronger for blueberry rather than strawberry consumption. The study found that compared with those who do not eat blueberries, those eating at least one serving a week reduce their risk of developing the condition by 10% (2).

Anthocyanins are flavonoids found in high amounts in berries such as blackcurrants, raspberries and blueberries as well as aubergines and blood orange juice.  In a press release (2) lead author, Professor Cassidy, of the study said “Our findings are exciting and suggest that an achievable dietary intake of anthocyanins may contribute to the prevention of hypertension,” “Anthocyanins are readily incorporated into the diet as they are present in many commonly consumed foods. Blueberries were the richest source in this particular study as they are frequently consumed in the US. Other rich sources of anthocyanins in the UK include blackcurrants, blood oranges, aubergines and raspberries.

The study was an association study and does not prove that flavonoids reduce the risk of hypertension.  However, the researchers are now planning the next stage of their research where they will conduct randomised controlled trials with different dietary sources of anthocyanins to define the optimal dose and sources for hypertension prevention. The researchers hope that this follow up study will enable the development of targeted public health recommendations on how to reduce blood pressure (2).

Flavonoid supplements are available to buy in the UK, however supplements should never be used as an alternative to a healthy diet and it is always advisable to see a medical doctor prior to beginning any supplement regimen.  Including a variety of different vegetables, fruits and wholegrains in the diet will help to provide the body with a range of different flavonoids.  Eating these whole fruits and vegetables will also provide a range of vitamins, minerals and fibre which may further reduce the risk of developing various health problems.

(1) Cassidy A et al.  2011.  Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults.  Am J Clin Nutr. 93(2):338-47.

(2)Press release.  University of East Anglia (2011, January 15). Bioactive compounds in berries can reduce high blood pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/01/110114155241.htm


Written by Ani Kowal


Drinking cherry juice might reduce muscle damage caused by exercise

Cherries are one of my favourite fruits, previously I wrote about the health benefits of cherries specifically with regards to their ability to boost antioxidant levels in the body.  Cherries contain a variety of antioxidant flavonoids (bioactive plant chemicals) and eating a diet rich in flavonoids has been linked to protection against a variety of diseases.  The main group of antioxidant flavonoids in cherries are anthocyanins.  Many laboratory studies have found that anthocyanins seem to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic and antiobese properties – these studies need to be confirmed in larger human trials before any definite conclusions can be drawn but evidence is growing for their importance to health.

A recent study (1), published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, has found that cherries, specifically sour/tart charries of the Montmorency variety, could help athletes and gym go-ers reduce muscle damage to recover faster from a tough workout. 

The research (1) took place at the Sports and Exercise Science Research Centre at London South Bank University, it was a small and preliminary study.  The scientists gave 10 well-trained athletes tart cherry juice concentrate to drink twice daily for seven days prior to a set intensive strength training regimen.  The juice was also given to these athletes two days after the training.  After a two weeks the experiment was repeated using an isoenergetic fruit concentrate drink which did not contain the same flavonoids content of the cherry juice.  Various exercise and blood tests were used to assess muscle damage and recovery.  The researchers found that the athletes muscle recovery after the cherry juice concentrate was significantly faster compared to when they drank the isoenergetic juice.
After drinking cherry juice (1), athletes returned to 90 percent of normal muscle force at 24 hours, compared to only 85 percent of normal at the same time point without cherry juice – a significant difference that could affect the next bout of performance.  The researchers suggest that the antioxidant flavonoids compounds in the cherry juice may well have reduced the oxidative damage to muscles which normally occurs when muscles are worked hard, this probably allowed the muscles to recover faster.  The flavonoids also have anti-inflammatory potential in the body which may have contributed to the results seen.  The study researchers conclude (1)Montmorency cherry juice consumption improved the recovery of isometric muscle strength after intensive exercise perhaps due to attenuation of the oxidative damage induced by the damaging exercise”.

Previous research (2) in 14 male college students also found that cherry juice significantly reduced some of the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage such as strength loss and pain.  Further research would be needed to fully investigate the links between cherry juice consumption and reduced muscle damage after exercise.

Many different flavonoids are found abundantly in fruits and vegetables, which are so important for our health.  Flavonoid supplements are now available to buy (including cherry anthocyanin supplements), although the evidence for their use is still in the early stages and supplements can never be considered as a replacement for a healthy diet.  It is advisable to always check with your medical doctor prior to taking any nutritional supplement. 

For more information on the science supporting the unique health benefits of cherries please visit the ‘choose cherries‘ website.

(1) Bowtell JL et al.  2011.  Montmorency Cherry Juice Reduces Muscle Damage Caused By Intensive Strength Exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jan 12. [Epub ahead of print]

(2) Connolly DA.  2006.  Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med.  40(8):679-83

Written by Ani Kowal


Oranges contain more than just vitamin C

Oranges and tangerines are always abundant in my home over Christmas.  They are popular stocking fillers too and full of health benefits.  Oranges are known to be rich in vitamin C and flavonoids (bioactive plant nutrients) which both act as antioxidants in the body.  The researchers of a new study (1) wanted to learn why a whole orange has more health benefits than its components when taken separately as a supplement.  One of the study authors, assistant professor Tory Parker, explains in a press release (2)There’s something about an orange that’s better than taking a vitamin C capsule, and that’s really what we’re trying to figure out,” “We think it’s the particular mixture of antioxidants in an orange that makes it so good for you.”  This kind of research could ultimately lead to the formulation of a super-supplement that captures the best health benefits of eating oranges and drinking orange juice.

Tory Parker explained that every time we eat carbohydrates and fats, we increase the amount of free radicals in our blood. Over time, that increases our chance for heart disease and various other health problems.  Eating vegetables and fruit protects us from that effect for a few hours after every meal due to the antioxidants contained within these foods.  Tory said (2)Carbs and fat increase free radicals, and fruit and internal antioxidants counteract that,” “That means fruit should be your dessert — remember, before cookies, candy and other sugary snacks became so widespread, fruit was our ‘sweet.’

Parker noted supplement companies often mix “high concentrations of extracts from blueberry and blackberry and orange and throw them all together and hope it’s good.”  The purpose of the current study (1) was to avoid such assumptions.  The study tested dozens of combinations of the antioxidants found in an orange at the same proportions they occur naturally.  “We’re looking for synergistic effects,” Parker said. “Cases where the effect of two or more antioxidants together was stronger than the sum of them separately.”  There are many nutrients in plant foods that work together synergistically which is why taking single nutrient supplements is not generally recommended. 

In this particular study the scientists identified several combinations of antioxidants found in oranges that were the most synergistic.  The compounds hesperidin and naringenin, in particular, appeared to contribute the most benefit.  The authors plan to continue their research with these compounds in human studies and there are other researchers in the team conducting similar work with blueberries and strawberries.  Parker said (2)”I’m really most interested in protecting healthy people and keeping the healthy, healthy,” “And no matter what our research finds, it’s very clear that a great way to do that is to simply eat more fruit.”

This kind of research is interesting but as the authors note, it is important to get combinations of vitamins, minerals and flavonoids from a healthy, mixed diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits.  There are some supplements available now that are made from whole foods, they contain vitamins and minerals in combination with concentrated flavonoids.  Supplements should never be seen as an alternative to a healthy diet and it is always best to check with a medical doctor prior to starting any new supplement regimen.

(1)Freeman LB et al.  2010.  Synergistic and Antagonistic Interactions of Phenolic Compounds Found in Navel Oranges.  Journal of Food Science.  Volume 75, Issue 6, pages C570–C576

(2)Press Release.  Brigham Young University (2010, December 20). Squeezing maximum health benefits out of the orange in your stocking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/12/101220150942.htm



Written by Ani Kowal


A few pieces of dark chocolate Easter egg might be good for the heart

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I expect that there are still plenty of Easter eggs and chocolate lurking in many homes?!  If you happen to have received a dark chocolate egg made from cocoa-rich chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) this could be good news for your health.  A newly published study, in the European Heart Journal, (1) has found that chocolate consumption appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), possibly through reducing blood pressure.

Previously I have written about good quality dark chocolate in relation to a number of health benefits.  It seems as though cocoa can have an impact on many parameters of health and has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, stress, inflammation, sunburn and more.

This study (1) aimed to investigate the association of chocolate consumption with blood pressure and the incidence of cardiovascular disease.  The authors of the study examined published data from a large trial which included over 19,000 individuals who were free from heart attack and stroke at the beginning of the trial and who were not taking medication for high blood pressure.  After about 8 years there had been over 150 cases of heart attack and over 130 cases of stroke.  Analysis of the data found that individuals who had the highest chocolate consumption had significantly lower blood pressure than those consuming the least.  The risk of heart attack and stroke, combined, was also lower in the high chocolate consumers.  The current study only shows an association between chocolate and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, it does not prove that chocolate is responsible.  The authors of the study call for further research, particularly randomised trials where chocolate is supplemented to individuals.

It is also incredibly important to add that only small amounts of chocolate were being eaten in the so called ‘high’ consumption group (1).  It amounted to an average of 7.5g per day, or around 52g per week, which is the equivalent of half a standard, 100g, size bar of dark chocolate per week.  Those who were eating the least were having less than 2g per day.   The results did show that those who ate the most chocolate had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke than those who ate the least amount of chocolate.

It is thought that the flavonoids (plant compounds) in cocoa are responsible for some of the health benefits of dark chocolate.  Flavonoids have a high antioxidant potential and have been linked to a reduced risk of all sorts of health problems such as heart disease and certain cancers.  In addition to antioxidant bioflavonoids cocoa contains a number of minerals such as magnesium. Dark chocolate also contains fibre and is much lower in sugar than milk chocolate, so most people find that they need far less to satisfy their chocolate cravings. 

Antioxidants help to prevent cell damage in the body and protect against disease by mopping-up destructive unstable oxygen molecules known as ‘free radicals’.  The flavonoids in cocoa also seem to have other protective effects on the heart and blood vessels too.  They seem to prevent blood clotting, abnormal heart beat and blood vessel narrowing.  As yet scientists are not exactly sure of specifically how these plant compounds act.

The major flavonols to be found in cocoa are called epicatechin and catechin, cocoa also contains procyanidins.  The important message is that dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) and cocoa rich products can be enjoyed in moderation and as part of a healthy balanced diet.  Such a diet will be rich in bioflavonoids from other sources, especially vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses, beans.  Vegetables and fruit should form the core of a healthy diet and getting a good variety will give the body many of the nutrients that are needed for optimal health.  Flavonoid supplements are now available, though the evidence for their use is still in the early stages.  If you feel your diet is lacking in vegetables and fruits you may want to consider a supplement to top-up and cover the shortfall, but remember supplements can never be viewed as a replacement for a healthy diet.


(1)Buijsse B et al.  2010.   Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults.  European Heart Journal.  E-Pub prior to print.  doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehq068 First published online: March 30, 2010
Written by Ani Kowal


Study finds that blueberry juice may improve memory in older adults

Previously I have investigated how healthy lifestyle and diet can impact brain function and have also looked at the importance of vegetables and fruits for a well working brain.  A very recently published preliminary small study (1) has found that blueberries may be particularly useful to memory.

The authors of the study wrote in their report (1) that there was an urgent need to develop ways to prevent dementia and protect the aging brain.  They decided to look at blueberries since laboratory studies have indicated that compounds found in these berries, mainly a group of flavonoids, or plant chemicals (phytochemicals), called anthocyanins, may be associated with improved neurone function in the brain and possibly with protection against neurodegeneration.  The anthocyanins found in blueberries, and other berries and fruits, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

This current study (1) investigated the consumption of wild blueberry juice and memory function.  After twelve weeks individuals consuming the blueberry juice had improved memory as well as a trend toward reduced depressive symptoms when compared to a control group of individuals who did not consume blueberry juice.  The authors concluded that “The findings of this preliminary study suggest that moderate-term blueberry supplementation can confer neurocognitive [brain/memory] benefit and establish a basis for more comprehensive human trials to study preventive potential and neuronal mechanisms” “These preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration,”

This study only looked at blueberries.  However, I would suggest that eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits daily is important since they contain a huge array of vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids (bioactive plant chemicals).  Many of the vitamins and bioflavonoids found in these foods act as antioxidants in the body and this may be one way that that prevent disease.  Antioxidants protect the body from attack by destructive molecules known as ‘free radicals’, they protect against something called ‘oxidative stress’ in the body.

A previous study(2) found that:
Healthy subjects of any age with a high daily intake of fruits and vegetables have higher antioxidant levels, lower levels of biomarkers of oxidative stress, and better cognitive performance than healthy subjects of any age consuming low amounts of fruits and vegetables. Modification of nutritional habits aimed at increasing intake of fruits and vegetables should be encouraged to lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in later life”. 


As mentioned in my previous posts regarding memory and brain function, linked in the first paragraph, people who live healthily over many years tend to be less likely to experience mental decline in later life.  The exciting point about most of the research is that unhealthy behaviours can be modified.  At any age we can make the choice to be a little healthier.  We can add some physical activities into the day – whether that be walking for an extra 15-30minutes a day, taking the stairs instead of the lift or doing a weekly exercise or dance class.  It is also possible to look at the diet and see if there is a way to add extra portions of vegetables and fruits into our daily meals.

Nutritional supplements can never be viewed as an alternative to healthy eating and living.  However, if you feel your diet consistently falls short of vegetables and fruits you may wish to consider taking a food-state multi-vitamin and mineral supplement which tends to provide bioflavonoids in addition to the nutrients and is easy for the body to absorb.  Another vital nutrient for the brain is Omega 3 fatty acids.   For those of you who do not eat oil fish regularly (at least twice per week) you may want to consider taking a daily fish oil supplement in order to provide omega 3 fatty acids to the body (a supplement to provide around 250-350mg of EPA and 250-350mg DHA).  For vegetarians and vegans flaxseed oil can provide the shorter chain omega 3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, (a supplement providing 1000mg alpha-linolenic acid daily) can be considered.  Vegetarian EPA and DHA supplements produced from algae are also becoming increasingly available and may be worth investigating.


(1) D. Shidler et al.  2010.  Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults.  J. Agric. Food Chem.  Publication Date (Web): January 4, 2010.  DOI: 10.1021/jf9029332
(2) Polidori MC et al. 2009.  High fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects. J Alzheimers Dis. 17:4

Written by Ani Kowal


Food Allergy and Intolerance Week

This week is national Food allergy and Intolerance week – for more information about this campaign week please visit the Allergy UK website.  “Allergy UK is a national medical charity established to represent the views and needs of people with allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity

Allergy UK say: “Too often allergy or intolerance sufferers become labeled as being fussy eaters or just thought to be following the latest fad, this could not be further from the truth. Stolen Lives 7 – Food Allergy and Intolerance Report (available at the Allergy UK website), by Allergy UK highlights how difficult it is to live with a food allergy and intolerance. The most simple of choices such as what to make for dinner or what to put in their child’s packed lunch becomes a nightmare”.

It can be really challenging to decipher whether abdominal/gut or other irritating symptoms are due to stress, illness or a food intolerance or allergy.  Often medical doctors disregard the idea of intolerances but as mentioned above the symptoms can be very distressing, and certainly very real, to the sufferer.  Allergy UK say: “Finding out what you are intolerant to is the another priority for many. The lack of understanding regarding food intolerance within the medical profession leads many to search for a reliable test to identify the cause of their problems. A staggering 88% of respondents reported that they had suffered for years before they found help in managing their food intolerance with little or no help from their GP. Thankfully a new food intolerance testing kit, which detects foods specific IgG antibodies, Food Detective™ has been launched by Cambridge Nutritional Sciences Ltd. Food Detective™ is reliable and simple to use at home”.  The Food Detective kit is widely available and can be purchased here.

If you decide to use the Food Detective test kit I would urge you to see a registered Nutritionist or Nutritional practitioner, or indeed a sympathetic GP, to go over the results with you.  It is never a good idea to simply cut out whole food groups as this can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other problems

There are two websites I would recommend where you can search for registered practitioners in your area:
1)      The UK voluntary resister of nutritionists
2)      The British association for applied nutrition and nutritional therapy

For more information about what food allergies and intolerances are and what causes them visit the allergy UK website

The most common symptoms of an allergy or intolerance are:
*Runny nose
*Itchy eyes and ears
*Severe wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath
*Sinus problems
*Sore palate
*Nettle-like rash.

Symptoms of intolerances and allergy can be eased with nutritional and dietary help.  For more information on this I would suggest you read the two posts that I wrote about asthma (Part 1. Part 2.) and also my posts regarding hay fever.  Some general advice would be to boost the immune system via a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits which provide vitamins and bioflavonoids.  In addition to this omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines (at least two portions per week) are really helpful to the immune system and also to reduce inflammation in the body.  Probiotics have also been found to be useful for allergy prevention, symptom easing and for boosting immune health.  I have discussed these points further in the posts mentioned above.  Taking an omega 3 fatty acid supplement may be incredibly useful to ease allergic symptoms.  Many people in the UK do not get enough of these essential fats in their diet.  A supplement providing about 250-350mg EPA and 250-350mg DHA daily could be considered.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement containing around 500-1000mg alpha linoleic acid daily is an option, vegetarian EPA and DHA supplements made from algae are becoming more available to buy and provide a good choice. 


Written by Ani Kowal


More health benefits related to cocoa consumption

On Monday I wrote about phytochemicals in relation to obesity.  Bioflavonoids are phytochemicals, or plant nutrient, that I have written about often.  Fruit and vegetables and other plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, pulses, beans are the richest sources of flavonoids.  A favoured source of flavonoids for me is cocoa.  Cocoa and dark chocolate made from a minimum of 70% cocoa solids are a great source of flavonoids that have high antioxidant potential and have been linked to a reduced risk of all sorts of health problems such as heart disease and certain cancers.  In addition to antioxidant bioflavonoids cocoa contains a number of minerals such as magnesium. Dark chocolate also contains fibre and is much lower in sugar than milk chocolate, so most people find that they need far less to satisfy their chocolate cravings.

A recent study (1) has found that a high intake of cocoa bioflavonoids may be related to a reduced inflammatory response in the body in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke).  Cardiovascular disease is considered an inflammatory condition.  The authors note that “These antiinflammatory effects may contribute to the overall benefits of cocoa consumption against atherosclerosis”.

The study involved forty two individuals at high risk of cardiovascular disease.  The individuals received 40g cocoa powder with 500mL skimmed milk or only 500ml skimmed milk for 4 weeks.  The regimen was then switched.   Before and after each intervention period, inflammatory markers in the cells and in blood serum were evaluated.  The results indicate that intake of cocoa polyphenols may positively change inflammatory chemicals in individuals at high risk of cardiovascular disease (1)

Flavonoids act as antioxidants in the body, helping to prevent cell damage and protection against disease by mopping-up destructive unstable oxygen molecules known as ‘free radicals’.  Polypheonols also seem to have other protective effects on the heart and blood vessels.  They seem to prevent blood clotting, abnormal heart beat and blood vessel narrowing.  As yet scientists are not exactly sure of how these plant compounds act, however they do seem to positively change the way our genes function.

A recent review of published evidence(2) also suggests that there could be a link between cocoa consumption and protection against cancer.  The high concentration of bioflavonoids – catechins and procyanidins, found in cocoa and dark chocolate products is thought to be the important factor.  As mentioned the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of these bioflavonoids probably also accounts for the cancer protective properties.  Studies into cocoa and cancer prevention have been small and are preliminary.  Larger trials would be necessary for any definitive evidence.

The major flavonols to be found in cocoa are called epicatechin and catechin.  The important message is that dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) and cocoa rich products can be enjoyed in moderation and as part of a healthy balanced diet rich in bioflavonoids from other sources, especially vegetables and fruits.  Vegetables and fruit should form the core of a healthy diet and getting a good variety will give the body many of the nutrients that are needed for optimal health.  Flavonoid supplements are now available, though the evidence for their use is still in the early stages.  If you feel your diet is lacking in vegetables and fruits you may want to consider a supplement to top-up and cover the shortfall, but remember supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet.


(1)Mongas M et al.  2009.  Effect of cocoa powder on the modulation of inflammatory biomarkers in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease.  Am J Clin Nutr.  90:1144-1150
(2)Maskarinec G.  2009.  Cancer protective properties of cocoa: a review of the epidemiologic evidence. Nutr Cancer. 61(5):573-9.
Written by Ani Kowal


Phytochemicals, bioactive plant nutrients, might help prevent overweight and obesity

Vegetables and fruits contain abundant amounts of phytochemicals (bioflavonoids), bioactive plant nutrients, which are thought to be vital to the body for many reasons and linked to a reduced risk of all kinds of conditions from heart disease and cancer to dementia and bone loss.  The recommendations to eat plenty of these plant-based foods are certainly valid and very important.  A high intake of phytochemical compounds has been shown to be important for optimal health and prevention of disease.

A recent study (1) has linked high intakes of phytochemicals with reduced adiposity,fat tissue, as well as reduced oxidative stress, a kind of stress that occurs in the cells of our bodies when they are under attack by molecules known as ‘free radicals’.  In the body antioxidant defences are important to prevent damage by these free radical molecules which can cause inflammation and are linked to many diseases.  Many phytochemicals act as antioxidants in the body.

The authors of this study(1) used a simple ‘phytochemical index’ to determine the levels of these plant chemicals consumed by 54 people aged between 18-30 years.  Participants were ordered into normal weight and overweight groups.  Dietary records and blood samples were collected. The phytochemical index was a way of comparing the number of calories consumed from plant-based foods with the overall number of daily calories. 

The adults in the two groups consumed about the same amount of calories.  However overweight-obese adults consumed fewer plant-based foods and subsequently fewer protective trace minerals and phytochemicals and more saturated fats. They also had higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation than their normal-weight peers, these processes are related to the onset of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and joint disease.  The authors conclude that having more phytochemicals in the diet is related to a lower fat mass and lower levels of oxidative stress.  Phytochemicals may be having an effect on the metabolic processes associated with obesity but further research would be necessary to elucidate this (1)

As mentioned earlier, phytochemicals are found in large amounts in vegetables and fruits, they are also present in nuts, beans, pulses and lentils.  These are foods that we are always being reminded to include in high levels in the diet.  In a press release (2) the author of the study stated  “We need to find a way to encourage people to pull back on fat and eat more foods rich in micronutrients and trace minerals from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and soy,”.  The author goes on to recommend (2)Fill your plate with colorful, low-calorie, varied-texture foods derived from plants first. By slowly eating phytochemical-rich foods such as salads with olive oil or fresh-cut fruits before the actual meal, you will likely reduce the overall portion size, fat content and energy intake. In this way, you’re ensuring that you get the variety of protective, disease-fighting phytochemicals you need and controlling caloric intake.”

Plant based foods are generally lower in calories but more filling than processed foods since they contain plentiful amounts of fibre that can help us to feel fuller for longer, these foods really should represent the cornerstone of a healthy diet.  Supplements can never replace a healthy diet, however if you feel you are frequently falling short of eating enough vegetables and fruits you may want to consider taking a bioflavonoid supplement or a food-state multivitamin and mineral supplement to cover any short-term shortfalls.

There are many simple ways to include more vegetables and fruits in the diet e.g.
*Replace processed snack bars with a piece of fruit or a handful of mixed unsalted nuts
*Vegetable sticks with some hummus make a great snack
*Grate an apple into your morning oats/porridge or added a chopped banana – avoid sweet, processed breakfast cereals
*Include plenty of salad in your lunchtime sandwich, 
*Have 2-3 portions of vegetables with your evening meal
*Eat fruit with natural yoghurt as a dessert
*Replace pre-packaged, processed foods as often as possible with fresh produce – the authors of the study state (2)We always want to encourage people to go back to the whole sources of food, the non-processed foods if we can help it,” “That would be the bottom line for anyone, regardless of age and body size, keep going back to the purer plant-based foods. Remember to eat the good quality food first.”

(1)Vincent HK et al.  2009.  Relationship of the dietary phytochemical index to weight gain, oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight young adults. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.  Sep 4. [Epub ahead of print]
(2)University of Florida (2009, October 22). Phytochemicals In Plant-based Foods Could Help Battle Obesity, Disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2009, from¬ /releases/2009/10/091021144251.htm

Written by Ani Kowal