Tag Archives: vegetables

Ginger may benefit asthma sufferers

Asthma sufferers may benefit from the addition of ginger to their usual medications, a new study suggests.

Asthma is a condition that affects the bronchial tubes which carry air to and from the lungs. In asthma sufferers, the bronchial tubes can become irritated and begin to constrict, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma triggers (such as environmental pollutants) can also create inflammation, causing a build up of mucous in the bronchial tubes. The numbers of asthma sufferers in the UK appears to be on the increase, and worryingly the UK has the highest prevalence of childhood asthma worldwide.

Despite the growing number of asthma sufferers in the UK, there have been few new treatment agents approved for asthma symptoms. Normally, medicines called beta-agonists are used, which work by relaxing the airways, opening them up and helping patients to breathe. In the recent study, however, scientists from Columba University found that certain compounds in ginger help to relax muscle in the airways, increasing the effectiveness of these prescribed medications.

The link between diet and asthma has a solid evidence base, and indeed dietary factors could explain the rising incidence of asthma in the UK. Previous population studies have suggested beneficial effects linked with fresh fruit and vegetables (2), oily fish (3) and full fat dairy products (4). Foods such as margarine and salt, on the other hand, have been linked with an increased risk of asthma and allergy (5-6). Alongside prescribed medications, it would certainly seem sensible for asthma sufferers to consider an anti-inflammatory diet as a supportive health measure.

There is a direct link between ginger and asthma
The link between diet and asthma has a solid evidence base

This particular study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University, tested the effects of ginger on human tissue samples from the airways. The researchers caused the tissue samples to constrict by exposing them to acetylcholine, a compound known to cause constriction in the airways. They then tested the effects of asthma medication isoproterenol alone, and then together with three components of ginger – 6-gingerol, 8-ginerol and 6-shogoal. The tissue responses were then recorded and compared.

The results showed that combining ginger with the isoproterenol rendered the treatment significantly more effective than using isoproterenol alone. Lead author Elizabeth Townsend, PhD, concluded that the ginger compounds “act synergistically with the beta-agonist in relaxing (the airways), indicating that these compounds may provide additional relief of asthma symptoms when used in combination with beta-agonists.”

Although this study shows promise, it is likely to be some time before ginger is approved as an agent in the treatment of asthma. Nevertheless, ginger is a great addition to the diet, and is often used for nausea and digestive support, as well as its anti-inflammatory benefits. Incorporating ginger tea is an easy way of adding this spice into your daily diet. Fresh ginger root works well in stir-fries and vegetable soups. It also freezes well for later use – simply store it in the freezer and grate it from frozen.

References

1. Townsend AE et al (2013) Active Constituents Of Ginger Potentiate β-Agonist-Induced Relaxation Of Airway Smooth Muscle. ATS International Conference. May 2013.

2. Farchi S, Forastiere F, Agabiti N. et al Dietary factors associated with wheezing and allergic rhinitis in children. Eur Respir J 2003. 22772–780.780

3. Hodge L, Salome C, Peat J. et al Consumption of oily fish and childhood asthma risk. Med J Aust 1996. 164137–140.140

4. Wijga A H, Smit H A, Kerkhof M. et al Association of consumption of products containing milk fat with reduced asthma risk in pre‐school children: the PIAMA birth cohort study. Thorax 2003. 58567–572.572.

5. Bolte G, Frye C, Hoelscher B. et al Margarine consumption and allergy in children. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2001. 163277–279.279.

6. Pistelli R, Forastiere F, Corbo G. et al Respiratory symptoms and bronchial responsiveness are related to dietary salt intake and urinary potassium excretion in male children. Eur Respir J 1993. 6517–522.522.

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Beetroot Juice Found to Lower Blood Pressure

A new study published just last month in the journal Hypertension suggests that drinking just one glass of beetroot a day can reduce blood pressure.

The study was conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. It involved eight women and seven men who had high blood pressure and who were not taking blood pressure medication.

Blood pressure is normally given as two numbers, which represent ‘systolic’ and ‘diastolic’ pressure levels. The first number, the systolic level, is a measure of the pressure created in the arteries when the heart beats. Normal systolic blood pressure is 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or below. The second number, the diastolic level, represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Normal diastolic blood pressure is 80 mm Hg or below.

The study participants all had raised systolic blood pressure of between 140 and 159 mm Hg.

The beetroot juice in the study provided about 0.2g of dietary nitrate, levels that might be provided by two beetroots. Nitrate reduces blood pressure by widening the passageways for blood. The body converts dietary nitrate into a chemical called nitrite and then to nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide is a gas that widens blood vessels and aids blood flow.

The study involved eight women and seven men who had a systolic blood pressure between 140 to 159 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), did not have other medical complications and were not taking blood pressure medication. The study participants drank 250 mL of beetroot juice or water containing a low amount of nitrate, and had their blood pressure monitored over the next 24 hours.

Compared with the placebo group, participants drinking beetroot juice had reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The reduction was highest three to six hours after drinking the juice. Interestingly, blood pressure was still reduced 24 hours later, even after levels of nitrate circulating in the blood had returned to normal.

Study leader Amrita Ahluwalia, Ph.D., professor of vascular pharmacology at The Barts and The London Medical School, was surprised by how little nitrate was needed to produce these results. “This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure.”

High Nitrate lettuce is a good source of nitrate
High Nitrate lettuce is a good source of nitrate

Those drinking beetroot juice should be aware that this juice can cause a temporary pink colouration of urine and stools, which can be a little alarming but is completely harmless. Of course beetroot is not the only nitrate-rich vegetable. For those who don’t enjoy the taste, try nitrate-rich lettuce, rocket, spinach, celery, cabbage or fennel.

Increasing dietary intakes of nitrates is simple. Try adding beetroot juice to a smoothie, or lunch on beetroot soup. Use spinach and lettuce as salad bases, or snack on celery with hummus or peanut butter during the daytime. At dinner, include nitrate-rich vegetables such as bok choy, cabbage, leeks and broccoli.

“Our hope is that increasing one’s intake of vegetables with a high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, might be a lifestyle approach that one could easily employ to improve cardiovascular health,” said Amrita Ahluwalia. She nevertheless advises caution in interpreting the results of this small study, as “we are still uncertain as to whether this effect is maintained in the long term.” It is hoped these preliminary findings might pave the way for more larger-scale studies in this area.

References

1. American Heart Association (2013, April 15). Drinking cup of beetroot juice daily may help lower blood pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 28/04/13

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Nutrition to Battle the January Blues

Monday 21st January – the Monday of the last full week in January – has been labelled ‘Blue Monday’, to signify the most depressing day of the year. Bad weather, empty pockets and that ‘back to work’ feeling can combine to make the best of us pretty miserable at this time of year.

The good news is that our mental and emotional health has been shown to be linked to our diet, suggesting that we can choose to eat our way to happiness. A new study of more than 8000 adults in the UK has found links between our food choices and mental health (1). The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick and looked at the fruit and vegetable intake of each individual, comparing it to measures of life satisfaction, mental wellbeing and self-reports of happiness, nervousness and low mood.

The researchers also took into account other variables such as meat consumption, alcohol intake and  social and economic factors, so that these factors would not influence the results of the study.

They found that both happiness and mental health appear to rise in a ‘dose-response way’ along with the number of daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Wellbeing appeared to peak at seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Study co-author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, said “the statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise. Diet has traditionally been ignored by wellbeing researchers”.

fruits
Fruit and vegetables contain folic acid, potassiam and flavnoids.

There are a number of reasons why fruit and vegetable consumption might give our mental wellbeing a boost. For example, these foods provide an abundance of minerals such as potassium (2) and vitamins such as folic acid (3) which have an impact on adrenaline and serotonin receptors. Fruits and vegetables also provide a whole host of flavonoids, some of which can enter the brain and might very well have a positive influence on mood. Vitamin C, found in abundance in fruit and veg, is essential for the synthesis of noepinephrine, a chemical message in the brain that affects mood.

Of course this type of research is not able to prove causality. Do seven portions of fruit and vegetables create happiness, or do happy and well-adjusted individuals tend to eat more fruit and vegetables? The researchers admit that further controlled trials would be needed to prove such a link, but they maintain that the study’s results are compelling.

In the meantime, there is no harm in boosting your daily fruit and vegetable intake. It will certainly boost your physical health and it might just stave off those January blues. Just five small changes can help you to increase your daily fruit and vegetable intake:

  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your snacks by keeping raw carrots and other crunchy vegetables to hand.
  • Add chopped fruit or berries to your morning cereal.
  • Try a daily fruit or vegetable smoothie.
  • Replace your lunchtime sandwich with vegetable soup.
  • Replace your usual dessert with a fruit salad.

References

1. David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Sarah Stewart-Brown (2012), Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables? Warwick Economic Research Paper no. 996.

2. Torres S J, C A Nowson and A Worsley (2009), “Dietary electrolytes are related to mood”, British Journal of Nutrition, 100(5),1038-45.

3. Gilbody S, T Lightfoot and T Sheldon (2007), “Is low folate a risk factor for depression? A meta‐analysis and exploration of heterogeneity”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61(7), 631–637. 

4. Image courtesy of ctr’s.

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