Category Archives: garlic

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

References

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

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Turmeric and Cinnamon – Spices for a Healthy Heart

Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals.  A new study has tested the effects of culinary spices on markers of conditions such as heart disease.

Turmeric & Cinnamon For Heart Health
Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals. (2)

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, tested the effects of a spicy meal on levels of insulin, triglycerides and antioxidant defences.

Professor Sheila West and her colleagues prepared meals on two separate days for six men between the ages of 30 and 65 who were overweight, but otherwise healthy.  The researchers added two tablespoons of culinary spices to the test meal, which consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit.  The spice mix used was a blend of rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika.

The second ‘control’ meal was identical, except that spices were not included.

After each meal, the team drew blood from the participants every 30 minutes for three hours, measuring the effects of each meal on the body.

Compared with the unseasoned meal group, the spicy meal increased antioxidant activity in the blood by 13 percent and decreased insulin response by 21 percent.  Blood triglycerides also decreased by 30 percent compared with the unseasoned meal group.

“Normally, when you eat a high-fat meal, you end up with high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood,” explains West.  “If this happens too frequently, or if triglyceride levels are raised too much, your risk of heart disease is increased.  We found that adding spices to a high-fat meal reduced triglyceride response by about 30 percent, compared to a similar meal with no spices added.”

This was a small, preliminary study, and further studies using a larger test group would help to clarify the results.  West intends to conduct further research to find if smaller doses of spices exert similar benefits.

In the meantime, for those who enjoy cooking, adding culinary spices is a simple way to add ‘kick’ to your dishes, and may offer health benefits too. The active components of ingredients such as garlic and turmeric are available in supplement form, which can be a convenient option. Those who enjoy spicy foods can try adding fresh, grated ginger to stir frys.  Turmeric goes well with chicken, rice and vegetable dishes, while its vibrant colour really helps to lift a dish.  Rosemary and oregano are great in Italian dishes, in stews or with roasted vegetables. Finally cinnamon can be added to your morning oatmeal for a sweet and healthy way to start your day.

Written by Nadia Mason

Reference

1.   A. C. Skulas-Ray, P. M. Kris-Etherton, D. L. Teeter, C.-Y. O. Chen, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, S. G. West. A High Antioxidant Spice Blend Attenuates Postprandial Insulin and Triglyceride Responses and Increases Some Plasma Measures of Antioxidant Activity in Healthy, Overweight Men. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 141 (8): 1451 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.138966.

2.  Image courtesy of  Michelle Meiklejohn.

 

 

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Garlic may protect against hip osteoarthritis

Garlic livens up any meal and I am sure many Christmas dinners will include this vegetable.  I wrote before about garlic being used for lowering blood pressure and now a new study (1) suggests that women who consume a diet rich in allium vegetables such as garlic, onions and leeks, have lower levels of hip osteoarthritis.  The research took place in the UK at King’s College London and the University of East Anglia

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in adults, affecting around 8 million people in the UK, and women are more likely to develop it than men. It causes pain and disability by affecting the hip, knees and spine in the middle-aged and elderly population. Currently there is no effective treatment other than pain relief and, ultimately, joint replacement (2).  For more info on osteoarthritis please visit Arthritis Care, a UK based charity for those suffering with the condition.

This study reports (1,2) to be the first of its kind to delve deeper into the dietary patterns and influences that could impact on development and prevention of osteoarthritis.  The study was a cross-sectional study conducted in a large population-based volunteer cohort (group) of twins. Food intake was evaluated using a specialist Food Frequency Questionnaire and osteoarthritis was assessed via x-ray images.  The study looked at over 1,000 healthy female twins, many of whom had no symptoms of arthritis at the start of the research.

Analysis of the results found that a dietary pattern of intake that was high in fruit and vegetables was inversely associated to hip osteoarthritis – this means that the more fruit and vegetables eaten the lower the risk of hip osteoarthritis.  Further analysis of results revealed that consumption of ‘non-citrus fruit’ and ‘alliums’ had the strongest protective effect against osteoarthritis (1).

Garlic and allium vegetables contain a compound known as diallyl disulphide.  It might be this compound which is protective against hip osteoarthritis.  The authors of this study investigated this compound further and found that diallyl disulphide limits the amount of cartilage-damaging enzymes when introduced to a human cartilage cell-line in the laboratory (1).

The findings of this study not only highlight the possible effects of diet in protecting against osteoarthritis, but also show thefuture potential for using compounds found in garlic to develop treatments for the condition (1,2).  In a press release (2) Dr Frances Williams, lead author from the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, says: “While we don’t yet know if eating garlic will lead to high levels of this component in the joint, these findings may point the way towards future treatments and prevention of hip osteoarthritis.  It has been known for a long time that there is a link between body weight and osteoarthritis. Many researchers have tried to find dietary components influencing the condition, but this is the first large scale study of diet in twins. If our results are confirmed by follow-up studies, this will point the way towards dietary intervention or targeted drug therapy for people with osteoarthritis.”

Another scientist, Professor Ian Clark of the University of East Anglia said (2): “Osteoarthritis is a major health issue and this exciting study shows the potential for diet to influence the course of the disease. With further work to confirm and extend these early findings, this may open up the possibility of using diet or dietary supplements in the future treatment osteoarthritis.”

In their conclusion the authors of this study write (1)The investigation of diet in OA [osteoarthritis] is an area fraught with methodological issues and there are few largescale studies in the literature. This study is among the first and is unique in its use of dietary patterns and population-based twins to overcome some of the major technical difficulties of diet epidemiology in complex traits. The chief finding is that a ‘healthy diet’ containing high intake of fruit and vegetables (and alliums in particular – the onion genus including garlic, onions, shallots, chives and leeks) are protective for hip OA”.

Diet and nutrition can make an impact on all areas of the body.  Vegetables and fruits are full of vitamins, minerals and flavonoids (bioactive plant nutrients) and it is important to eat a variety of these foods daily (a minimum of 5 portions).  For more diet related ideas to protect against osteoarthritis please read my previous posts here 

Garlic supplements are available to buy but as yet it is not known if these would provide benefit for the protection against osteoarthritis, further evidence would be needed to look into the potential benefits such supplements.

(1)Williams FMK et al.  2010.  Dietary garlic and hip osteoarthritis: evidence of a protective effect and putative mechanism of action.  BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.  11:280  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-11-280

(2)King’s College London (2010, December 16). Garlic could protect against hip osteoarthritis. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/12/101216101833.htm

 

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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Natural remedies for the treatment and prevention of vaginal thrush infection

In April this year I wrote a detailed blog post about probiotics and their usefulness in the treatment and prevention of vaginal yeast infections, commonly known as thrush.  This topic seems to be of continuing concern to women and deserves to be revisited.

Vaginal thrush usually occurs due to over proliferation of yeast in the vagina, most commonly Candida yeast, for this reason vaginal thrush is often known as Candidiasis.  Illness, stress, lack of sleep, diet and hormonal changes can all cause the normal balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina to be altered allowing for an overgrowth of yeast leading to thrush infection.

To recap:  Normally a healthy vagina contains mainly lactobacilli bacteria, ‘friendly’ or beneficial bacteria, which protect it from invading pathogens (detrimental bacteria and yeasts) such as those which cause urinary tract infections, thrush and vaginitis.  A healthy digestive system will also be dominated by a variety of different non-pathogenic bacteria.  If the vagina and digestive system are mainly colonised with ‘good’ bacteria these provide a barrier to the entry of pathogenic/harmful bacteria into the vagina.  Women diagnosed with thrush, are normally prescribed oral or vaginal anti-yeast agents.  However, these kinds of treatments are associated with frequent recurrences of the condition.  The antibiotics and antifungals may clear up the original infection but they also tend to disrupt the future bacterial/fungal balance in the reproductive and digestive systems, this can exacerbate the condition in the long term and may lead to quick recurrence.

Studies are beginning to show that probiotic supplements or foods may be helpful in order to boost the number of good bacteria in the vagina and digestive system.  In practice many women, especially those who have undergone repeat antibiotic treatment, find probiotics to be really helpful in preventing recurrence and treating these conditions.  Probiotic creams, vaginal suppositories and tablets are readily available, they usually contain the bacteria lactobacillus acidophilus.  Oral probiotics (and prebiotics) may also be useful in order to help keep an overall balance of good bacteria in the vagina and digestive and system.

Essential Oils

Recently I have become aware that many supplements containing oregano oil, clove oil, cinnamon and garlic are being marketed for the prevention and treatment of vaginal thrush and that oregano based creams and oils are available for topical application to the vagina for thrush treatment.  Looking at the research I can see that clinical evidence is beginning to grow in this area.  A number of laboratory/test tube studies (1,2,3,4,5,6) have been performed to show the usefulness of these agents but human trials are still necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn.

The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of plant oils has been known for thousands of years.  Oregano oil and clove oil contain bioactive chemical compounds called phenols.  These plant compounds have potent anti-microbial effects.  Carvacrol is the major phenolic component of oregano oil and Eugenol is the major phenolic component of clove oil (as well as being present in cinnamon).  These phenolic compounds are often listed on the packaging of anti-candida supplements.

Last year a laboratory (in vitro) study (1) took place to look at the anti-fungal activity of selected plant and spice essential oils against various species of Candida yeasts (including  Candida albicans, Candida dubliniensis, Candida tropicalis, Candida glabrata, and Candida krusei).  The results found that oregano and cinnamon essential oils were efficient anti-fungal agents.  The oregano oil was the most efficient anti-fungal oil and worked against yeast that were fluconazole resistant.  Fluconazole is a anti-fungal pharmaceutical agent, commonly used for the treatment and prevention of fungal infections including thrush, it is a common ingredient in creams and oral treatments.

Oregano and clove oil have shown good results in laboratory tests, the authors of one study (2) conclude that “Carvacrol and eugenol could be considered as promising products in the treatment of vaginal candidiasis. This work is a preliminary contribution to the development of a new generation of efficient and natural antifungal agents for curative treatment and prophylaxis [prevention]”.

If you regularly suffer from thrush and want to try an alternative to the anti-fungal agents commonly prescribed or available over the counter you may want to try taking oral probiotic and prebiotic treatments in conjunction with vaginal probiotic creams and suppositories.  The herbal supplements containing oregano, clove and cinnamon oil as well as garlic may be useful and oils/creams containing oregano oil may be helpful when applied topically to the vagina.  In addition to this it is helpful to eat a balanced healthy diet to provide all the nutrients necessary to keep the body functioning well and keep the immune system working properly.  This kind of diet is based on natural, unprocessed ‘real food’, e.g. low in refined carbohydrate and rich in vegetables, nuts/seeds, beans/pulses, lean unprocessed meats and oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, trout).

 

(1)Pozzatti P et al.  2008.  In vitro activity of essential oils extracted from plants used as spices against fluconazole-resistant and fluconazole-susceptible Candida spp. Can J Microbiol.  54(11):950-6.
(2)Chami F et al.  2004.  Evaluation of carvacrol and eugenol as prophylaxis and treatment of vaginal candidiasis in an immunosuppressed rat model.  J Antimicrob Chemother.  54(5):909-14.
(3) Chammi N et al.  2005.  Study of anticandidal activity of carvacrol and eugenol in vitro and in vivo.  Oral Microbiol Immunol.  20(2):106-111.
(4) Manohar, V., et al.  Antifungal activities of origanum oil against Candida albicans.  Mol Cell Biochem.  228(1-2):111-117, 2001.
(5) He M et al.  2007.  In vitro activity of eugenol against Candida albicans biofilms. Mycopathologia. 63(3):137-43.
(6) Low CF et al.  2008.  Inhibition of hyphae formation and SIR2 expression in Candida albicans treated with fresh Allium sativum (garlic) extract. J Appl Microbiol.  105(6):2169-77.
Written by Ani Kowal

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Garlic may be bothersome for the breath but a blessing for blood pressure!

It makes food taste great and brings any dish to life with flavour.  I love garlic!  Garlic is a type of vegetable, there are two species: Allium sativum  (cultivated garlic) and Allium ursinum  (wild bear’s garlic), both of which belong to the Amaryllis (Amaryllidaceae) family.



A plethora of health benefits are attributed to garlic with studies showing that it seems to have positive effects for the heart and circulatory system, immune system and digestive system.  It also seems to be anti-parasitic, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.  The lists go on and on!



Today I wanted to look at garlic supplementation in relation to lowering blood pressure.  Until very recently research on garlic supplementation and blood pressure had been inconclusive.  However, the latest, most comprehensive review(1) of scientific evidence “suggests that garlic preparations are superior to placebo in reducing blood pressure in individuals with hypertension [high blood pressure]”.  The review of scientific literature was undertaken by researchers at The University of Adelaide, South Australia.  The scientists looked at studies that were published between 1955 and 2007, and only included ‘high quality’ research (randomised controlled trials with true placebo groups).  A significant association was found between blood pressure at the start of intervention with garlic supplements and the levels of blood pressure reduction.



The garlic was effective at lowering both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  Systolic blood pressure, represented by the top number in a blood pressure reading, is the measure of the phase of the heartbeat when the heart contracts and pumps blood into the arteries.  Diastolic blood pressure, represented by the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, is the measure of the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes and allows the chambers to fill with blood. 



The review found that, on average, garlic reduced systolic blood pressure by 4.6 mmHg.  The scientists also looked at studies that were conducted with people with a high blood pressure (hypertension), in these studies the garlic had a more pronounced effect with a reduction of systolic blood pressure by an average of 8.4 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 7.3 mmHg. The higher a person’s blood pressure was at the beginning of the study, the more it was reduced by taking garlic supplements.



These results are very similar to those of widely used hypertension drugs such as beta blockers, which reduce systolic blood pressure by around 5 mmHg, and ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, which produce around an 8 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure.



In the population as a whole, the authors of the study note that a reduction of systolic blood pressure by around 4-5 points and diastolic blood pressure by 2-3 points could cut the risk of heart disease and heart disease-related death by up to 20 percent.  The scientists also note that more research is needed to determine whether garlic supplementation might have long-term effects on heart disease risk. 



In most of the studies reviewed in this paper the participants given garlic took it in powdered form as a standardized supplement at a dose of 600 mg – 900 mg daily for 12-23 weeks. The garlic supplements provided around 3.6 mg – 5.4 mg of allicilin which is the active ingredient in garlic.  A fresh clove of garlic contains around 5 mg – 9 mg of allicin (and tastes wonderful!), so whether you eat garlic regularly or choose to take a supplement it may well be helpful for your blood pressure or for your health in general!



As high blood pressure is a (silent but) major risk factor for heart attack I wanted to mention the British Heart Foundation campaign which aims to alert us to the more visible symptoms of a heart attack.  As part of the campaign there will be a two minute TV  promotion at 9.17pm on ITV1 this Sunday (10th August) during a break in the  ‘Midsomer Murders’ programme.  The charity is calling the event ‘Watch Your Own Heart Attack’.  More information can be found on their website or by clicking on this link.



(1)Ried K et al.  2008.  Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis.  BMC Cardiovascular Disorder.  8:13(16 June), [E-pub doi:10.1186/1471-2261-8-13]


Written by Ani Kowal

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