Reverse biological aging by naturally balancing cellular pathways

Billions of dollars are spent every year with one goal in mind — to maintain youth. Creams are applied, surgeries undergone, and extreme exercise or calorie restriction executed to maintain a youthful glow and youthful function. Knowing this, scientists have performed thousands of hours of research in search of the next miracle drug, molecule, or supplement to extend healthy human lifespan. Recent discoveries of cellular pathways — AMPK and mTOR — make this dream more of a reality.

What is AMPK?

Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an important enzyme found inside every cell in the body. It serves as a master regulator of energy metabolism. AMPK detects energy levels (the number of ATP molecules) inside cells and controls responses when ATP levels are too high or too low. When activated, AMPK speeds metabolism, accelerates fat burning, and even influences how long you live.

Its activity level also closely regulates aging. The enzyme is most active in days of youth but its activity gradually decreases with each passing year. (1) This decreased activity is partially responsible for the buildup of visceral (belly) fat and muscle loss that occurs during the aging process. Excess weight, and the accumulation of fat around the waistline, accelerates aging. (2) Abdominal fat also generates an abundance of inflammatory chemicals. Indeed, deep abdominal fat transforms into an inflammation-promoting factory, leading to metabolic diseases. (3)

What happens when AMPK activity decreases?

Given that AMPK is the master cellular regulator of metabolism, it’s not surprising that a whole host of adverse effects can occur when its activity slows down.

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Increased visceral fat
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Accelerated aging
  • Dyslipidemia (high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; low HDL)
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Poor blood glucose control

AMPK promotes cellular renewal and clean-up

Your cells continuously generate energy to remain viable. The process of energy creation produces toxic debris and metabolic waste that must be carefully managed by your body. Autophagy is the primary process cells use to clear damaged proteins and mitochondria, and other metabolic waste products. It is your cell’s internal housekeeping process.

The easiest way to think about this process is to consider fireplaces and a chimney sweep. Fireplaces are your cells. Inside these fireplaces, a series of oxidation reactions occur to convert food molecules into energy. As a result, the inside of the cell accumulates debris (like soot). The chimney sweep is autophagy, which cleans out the debris so the cell can operate more efficiently. Maintaining optimal autophagy is critical to cellular health and function.

Emerging scientific research suggests that autophagy is involved in virtually every intervention proven to extend healthy lifespan. (4) This discovery is a major advance in the quest to slow and reverse the aging process.

mTOR: AMPK’s partner in longevity

AMPK regulates autophagy and fat-removal partly by modulating a protein, and its partner in crime, called mTOR. mTOR stands for mechanistic target of rapamycin (an immunosuppressive drug that targets mTOR activity), and when properly balanced, triggers the breakdown of fat stores to produce cellular energy. (5) Indeed, scientists have discovered that mTOR functions as a central coordinator of metabolism and cellular growth in response to environmental and hormonal signals.

In essence, mTOR is the master conductor of your cellular symphony of processes. mTOR responds to stimuli such as amino acid levels, cellular energy status, oxygen level, and insulin growth factors. Its two complexes (mTORC1 and mTORC2) serve as a communication hub that integrates cellular nutrient and stress statuses and then formulates an appropriate response.

Like AMPK, mTOR activity is directly associated with the aging process. Animal research demonstrates that decreasing mTOR activity extends lifespan. (5) Conversely, mTORC1 signaling activity is increased in a number of diseases, including cancer. (5) The discovery of mTOR’s involvement in aging and age-related diseases creates an exciting prospect to not only delay aging, but reduce the risk of age-related diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The role of exercise and eating in AMPK activation and mTOR regulation

Before we explore proven natural solutions to slow aging at the cellular level, it is important to emphasize the importance of regular exercise and eating better. It’s no revelation to those who live a healthy lifestyle that vigorous activity and reducing caloric intake are two well-established strategies to active AMPK activity and regulate mTOR. (6)(7) Calorie restriction triggers mechanisms that improve metabolism efficiency and protect against cellular damage. Many of the health benefits of exercise are linked to mTOR activity in muscle, brain, fat, and liver tissue. (8) Achieving optimal AMPK and mTOR activation is therefore critical for overall health and healthy lifespan.

Health really is a product of what you eat, how you move, environmental factors, and your thoughts and emotions. You simply can’t outpace the effects of poor eating, inactivity, or chronic stress. Nutrition and regular activity are foundational and the longevity results achieved with other natural measures will be amplified when they are properly established.

Natural methods to increase autophagy and AMPK activation and regulate mTOR

  • Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan). Dubbed the immortality herb for good reason, jiaogulan is prized for its ability to promote youthfulness and longevity. Its health benefits are often attributed to its effects on AMPK activity. Laboratory research demonstrates that GP potently increases AMPK activation almost seven-fold (660%). (9A)(9B)(9C) Remarkably, that is far greater than increases achieved with the diabetes drug metformin (1.3–1.6-fold increase) — metformin’s best-studied mechanism of action is through AMPK activation. (10) A randomized clinical study showed GP busts abdominal fat. Scientists observed an 11% reduction in visceral fat when individuals took 450 mg daily. (11)
  • Hesperidin. The citrus bioflavonoid hesperidin also significantly increases AMPK. Clinical research suggests that hesperidin benefits people with metabolic syndrome (high blood sugar, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, systemic inflammation, and excess abdominal fat). What scientists found was that hesperidin (400 mg to 500 mg daily) reduces systemic inflammation and abdominal fat. (12)(13)
  • Nicotinamide riboside. Preliminary research suggests that the NAD precursor nicotinamide riboside potently triggers autophagy, and improves mitochondrial function to extend lifespan. (14)(15) Typical doses are 100 mg daily.
  • Citrus bergamia (Bergamot) essential oil. Both bergamot essential oil and one of its primary constituents (limonene) stimulate autophagy according to laboratory research. (16)
  • Boswellia species (Frankincense), Pinus densiflora (Pine), and Pelargonium graveolens (Geranium) essential oil. Researchers discovered that three essential oils modulate the activity of the AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway. (17) Regulation of the AMPK/mTOR pathway is likely best achieved through ingestion of the essential oils. Perhaps as few as 1-3 drops daily may be effective. This will need to be determined by clinical research.

Caution

Turning down mTOR and activating AMPK (and therefore autophagy) is not for everyone. Those with sarcopenia (degenerative loss of muscle tissue) or other frailty-associated conditions could experience aggravation of symptoms through chronically decreased mTOR and elevated autophagy. (18)

Conclusion

Emerging evidence surrounding the AMPK/mTOR signaling pathway is an exciting cellular pathway to slow down the aging process and reduce age-related disease burden. Even more exciting is the possibility of influencing aging and age-related diseases with natural products. Don’t take your chances with expensive and risky surgeries to look and feel younger. Mother Nature prepared multiple solutions that you can give a try instead.

 

The Best Type of Protein for Your Health

Protein is vital to the function of all cells. It serves to build and repair tissues, speed chemical reactions, provide energy, and acts as a hormone. Life would cease to exist without protein, making it essential that we consume sufficient quantities daily. But, with all of the protein powder options, which is the best for your health?

What is protein?

Proteins are complex compounds composed of linear chains of amino acids (called peptides). There are twenty common amino acids: alanine, arginine, asparagine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, threonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, and valine. Of these twenty common amino acids, nine are essential (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine), meaning we must obtain them through what we eat and drink. Complete proteins contain good levels of all nine essential amino acid.

How much protein do you need?

This depends on a few factors. Protein requirements change due to activity level, age, and current state of health.  Protein needs are also greater among the chronically stressed or during acute infections or illness. As a general rule, healthy adults should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (about 0.36 grams per pound) of body weight to prevent a deficiency. Active individuals may require 1.4–2.0 grams per kilogram (0.64–0.9 grams per pound) to optimize protein synthesis.

Protein synthesis is the process cells use to create new proteins to replenish those lost during normal metabolic function. This is the process muscles use to grow and it will not occur properly without optimum amino acid levels. Interestingly, evidence suggests that taking protein prior to strength training is more effective to stimulate protein synthesis than taking it afterward. (18) The same research also concluded that a fast-acting carbohydrate source (glucose or maltodextrin) that triggers insulin release is essential for leucine to modulate protein synthesis. Ideally, a person would take some protein before and after strength training.

Amino acid profiles of common proteins

 

 

Essential Amino Acid

Complete Protein Requirement1

mg/g protein

Whey Concentrate2,3

mg/g protein

 

Whey Isolate5

mg/g protein

 

Moringa Leaf6

mg/g protein

 

Pea Isolate7

mg/g protein

Tryptophan 7 17.3 18.9 21.6 7
Threonine 27 61.1–68.7 79.1 40.7 28
Isoleucine 25 49.7–57.3 56.0 58.7 37
Leucine 55 79.8–106.6 102.4 83.8 64
Lysine 51 76.1–88.1 97.0 58.7 57
Methionine + Cysteine 25 79.7 37.8 32.7 16
Phenylalanine + Tyrosine 47 58.2 52.6 94.5 73
Valine 32 18.4–59.3 58.8 39 40
Histidine 18 7.8–18.7 13.1 25.8 19

 

 

 

Essential Amino Acid

 

Rice Isolate8

mg/g protein

 

Egg9

mg/g protein

Casein Hydrolysate10

mg/g protein

 

Hemp Seed11

mg/g protein

 

Soy Isolate12

mg/g protein

Tryptophan 11.5–11.7 17 9.6–11.2 Not determined 32.2
Threonine 28.6–29.2 47 40.5–42.5 39.8–45.7 31.4
Isoleucine 32.3–34.7 54 41.0–47.5 30.9–43.5 42.5
Leucine 63.2–64.1 86 85.0–89.2 61.7–67.9 67.8
Lysine 21.9–24.2 70 74.4–79.6 33.2–52.3 53.3
Methionine + Cysteine 39.6–40.8 57 30.3–32.3 9.7–25.8 21.7
Phenylalanine + Tyrosine 85.6–86.7 93 90.6–102.1 69.8–88.1 78.2
Valine 42.6–45.6 66 49.7–56.4 42.6–49.8 41.0
Histidine 16.7–18.2 22 24.1–25.4 28.1–33.1 23.0

What is the best protein for health?

This is a common question that doesn’t have a singular answer. The answer depends on what benefits you are seeking. If you simply want more protein in your diet, or a source of calories, just about any protein will work. But if you want the protein for a specific purpose (increase lean muscle mass, appetite control, etc.) your choice of protein will matter more. In addition, vegetarians would want to avoid proteins from animal products, soy is best avoided due to GMO concerns, and individuals who are lactose intolerant would want to steer clear of whey protein concentrates (due to the lactose content). Let’s explore some of the most common protein supplements available.

Whey protein

Often considered the “gold standard” of proteins, whey is a complete protein with good levels of each of the essential amino acids and excellent digestibility. It is one of two proteins found in milk and accounts for about 20% of milk protein, the other 80% being casein. Whey is a byproduct of cheese production. Whey protein concentrate is leftover after the water and casein are removed. Whey protein concentrate has a protein content of about 80%. Whey protein seems to stimulate protein synthesis better than casein and soy protein. (20)

Whey protein isolate undergoes further processing (cross-flow micro-filtration) that separates the fat, cholesterol, and lactose providing a purer end product with about 90% protein content. Whey protein isolate also has fewer calories than whey protein concentrate. It is also more expensive.

Whey protein isolate can also be hydrolyzed – partially digested with enzymes – to create whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). This shortens the protein chains (peptides) and increases the digestion and absorption rate of WPH. It is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, may reduce appetite.

Some experience digestive disturbances (bloating, gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps) from whey protein. This can be caused by lactose intolerance or sensitivity, or a sensitivity to whey protein.

Moringa leaf protein

The most nutrient dense botanical discovered, moringa delivers a wide variety of nutrients to the body, including protein. Indeed, gram for gram it provides about nine times more protein than yogurt. (6) However, its protein hasn’t been available commercially as a supplement until recently. Moringa leaf protein compares favorably to amino acid profiles recommended for adults and children by the World Health Organization. (13) It can be considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids.

Pea protein

With the exception of methionine + cysteine, pea protein contains good levels of all nine essential amino acids. It is often combined with rice protein to improve its amino acid profile. It is a good option for those seeking a gluten and dairy free protein supplement. Research suggests that pea protein equals casein and surpasses whey protein in its ability to curb appetite. (14) Similarly, pea protein matched whey protein in promoting increased muscle thickness after strength training. (15) Combined pea and rice protein powders are an attractive plant-based option for protein supplements.

Rice protein

Rice protein is rich in all nine essential amino acids and can be considered a complete protein. Rice protein (48 g daily) produced comparable results in body composition (lean body mass, muscle mass, fat mass) and athletic performance (strength, power) when compared to whey protein isolate (48 g daily). (16) It is generally more tolerable for those who experience digestive upset with whey proteins.

Egg protein

Egg protein has good digestibility and is rich in BCAAs. It is a complete protein with good biological value at lower levels (about 14 grams daily). The high protein value of eggs makes them a standard by which others foods are measured. Noteworthy is the fact that recent research observed that whole eggs improved protein synthesis 40% greater than egg whites alone. (17) Most egg protein supplements isolate the egg white, pulverize and dry it, then turn it into a powder. Some include the egg yolk, which is preferred considering the findings of recent research.

Casein protein

The majority of milk protein is casein. This slower digesting protein provides a sustained release of amino acids. It is created by dehydrating milk, which can denature the product and lead to health issues. Another concern with casein is whether it is A2 beta-casein (naturally produced by animals for thousands of years) or A1 beta-casein (a protein that developed after the domestication of animals). A1 casein is prone to causing digestive issues, promotes inflammation, and negatively affects cognition. (19) It is extremely high in glutamine – the primary amino acid in the muscles.

Hemp seed protein

Hemp protein is a byproduct of hempseed oil production. After extracting the oil, the hemp seedmeal is processed into hemp protein supplements. It contains a variety of amino acids, including all nine essential oil amino acids, but it is typically lower in lysine, leucine, and tryptophan. (21) Its digestibility is above average when dehulled seeds are used, but slightly below the reference protein (casein) if not dehulled. (21) Hemp protein has the added benefit of being rich in fiber, which helps maintain bowel regularity.

Bone broth protein

Probably one of the hottest health trends today, bone broth consumption is experiencing a remarkable revival. Bone broth protein is produced by dehydrating bone broth (usually from chicken bones). It is promoted as producing a wide range of health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved mood, and enhanced immune function. However, clinical data to support these claims is lacking thus far and bone broth supplements may be contaminated with lead (which is known to accumulate in the bones). (26) Chicken bones contain all of the essential amino acids – although the exact amino acid profile is unknown – and type I and type II collagen (which are essential for healthy connective tissue and cartilage).

Soy protein

Soy is currently the most widely used vegetable protein source. It is considered a high-quality protein due to its amino acid profile – contains good levels of all nine essential amino acids and a high concentration of BCAAs. However, concerns over its genetic modification and phytoestrogen load have led many consumers to abandon it is a supplement. A number of health benefits have been attributed to soy protein’s active components (phytosterols, saponins, and isoflavones). (22) I personally would recommend avoiding soy protein.

Recommendations for specific uses

  • General nutrition: Moringa leaf protein, rice protein, pea protein, or hemp seed protein; combination of any of these four plant-based proteins are even better
  • Weight loss: Whey protein hydrolysate (23) or whey protein isolate (24)
  • Muscle growth: Whey protein hydrolysate preferably immediately before or within 30 minutes following strength training; combined pea and rice proteins are a good plant-based alternative
  • Post-exercise recovery: 5-10 grams of BCAAs providing a minimum of 3g leucine (leucine, isoleucine, valine in a 2:1:1 ratio; 3-5g leucine, 1.5-2.5g isoleucine, 1.5-2.5g valine) and 5 grams of glutamine; or whey protein isolate, concentrate, or hydrolysate with glutamine
  • Appetite control: Pea protein (14)
  • Muscle preservation in old age: Whey protein concentrate or isolate (25); a combination of moringa, pea, and rice protein is a good plant-based option

Conclusion

Several of the protein options have benefits and scientific support. The best protein really depends on your desired use and results. Since each of us is biologically unique, you may need to experiment and determine what your body needs most. Most importantly, make sure you give your body adequate protein to thrive each day.

Stevia, the maligned sweetener

Recognizing its harmful effects, more consumers are choosing products without added sugar. The result is a flourishing alternative sweetener market and confusion about which sugar substitutes are harmful or healthy. Stevia has been a leading natural sweetener until several well-meaning bloggers have maligned it as no better than synthetic sweeteners. So, what is the truth? Is stevia harmful or healthy?

What is stevia?

While the original sugar substitutes were synthetic chemicals (aspartame, sucralose, etc.), several natural options are now available (xylitol, monk fruit, erythritol, etc). One of those natural options is stevia, which is about 250 times sweeter than sugar (sucrose).

Stevia is a small perennial and subtropical herb native to South America. There are more than 150 species of stevia but the most prized variety is Stevia rebaudiana. Two sweet glycosides were isolated from its leaves by scientists in 1931— stevioside and rebaudioside. Both are sweet but stevioside leaves a stronger bitter aftertaste that some find disagreeable. Other naturally occurring glycosides are rebaudioside B and rebaudioside C.

Sweetness comparison (1)

 

Sweetener

Potency

(X sweeter than sugar)

Calories

(per tsp.)

Sucrose

16

Monk Fruit (Lo Han Guo)

300

0

Stevia (highly processed)

250

0

Stevia (Green leaf)

40

0

Xylitol

1

9.6

Erythritol

0.7

1

How stevia is processed

There are three main types of stevia: green leaf stevia, stevia extracts, and highly-processed stevia. Being aware of each type is important for choosing a stevia that is healthy rather than harmful.

  • Green leaf stevia — the type that has centuries of safe use behind it — is minimally processed. The leaves are dried and ground into a fine green powder. This type is approximately 30 to 40 times sweeter than sucrose and retains the health benefits of stevia.
  • Some stevia extracts further process the green powder with water and alcohol (minimally processed stevia extracts). The resulting extract is then subjected to an enzymatic process to reduce the bitter aftertaste. These are often liquid extracts and contain a variety of glycosides, not just one.
  • The worst extracts are highly processed — often undergoing dozens of steps — to create a processed stevia extract that resembles little of what it was in the leaf. These extracts are typically white powders or liquids and concentrated for the sweeter and less bitter part of the leaf (rebaudioside A). Chemical solvents are added to the rebaudioside after it is extracted from the leaf. Then the fillers and other ingredients are added to produce a very sweet and highly treated sweetener. In fact, one commercial stevia product (Truvia) admits on its website that it contains less than 1% stevia. (2) Interestingly, these are the extracts the FDA and other government regulatory agencies have approved for human consumption, but the whole leaf or crude stevia extracts are not.

Concerns over additives

Many bloggers point out that stevia often contains fillers and flavor enhancers like maltodextrin, sugar alcohols, dextrose, cellulose, and other natural flavors. This is true, especially among name-brand stevia products. However, the additive concern can be easily overcome by a savvy label reader. Some manufacturers also share their extraction method/process on their website.

The alleged harmful effects of stevia

Despite its centuries of safe use in Brazil, and Paraguay, and a long history of sage use in Japan several adverse effects have been attributed to stevia consumption. This list includes infertility, hormonal changes, low blood sugar, stressed adrenals, headaches, blood pressure dysregulation, dizziness, thyroid trouble, and even cancer. Let’s explore the evidence to support these allegations.

Infertility and hormonal changes may be a concern if large amounts are consumed. A 1999 study found that administering 6.7g/kg body weight of stevia extract produced functional changes to the male reproductive organs and resulted in lower testosterone levels in rats. (3A,3B) The problem with applying this study to humans is primarily the dose. In 2008, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives established the safe daily intake of steviol glycosides as 4 mg/kg body weight. (3C) This dosage was reaffirmed in 2016. The dose of 6.7g/kg equates to about 469 grams daily in humans. To put this in perspective, you would have to consume over 117 teaspoons of stevia daily to equal this dose. This is an extreme dose that one would hardly be able to consume because of the overwhelming sweetness of stevia.

What about the effects of stevia on blood sugar? This has been tested in both animals and humans. Scientists administered stevia at a dose of 10mg/kg body weight for 28 days in diabetic rats. What the researchers found was that stevia exerted a beneficial effect that increased insulin secretion and reduced blood sugar levels. (4A) This effect appeared to be a result of stevia’s action on the pancreas cells that produce insulin (beta-cells).

Other scientists tested stevia in a food, rather than isolated, which more valid because stevia is typically not consumed alone. This research suggests that consumption of stevia cookies (as opposed to regular cookies) had no significant effect on blood glucose response two hours after consumption. (4B) This same study reported that the stevia cookies reduced hunger — certainly a positive finding for those trying to lose weight. A moringa cookie was also included in the study, which was able to reduce both hunger and blood glucose levels. Similarly, a test in healthy and obsess individuals who consumed tea and crackers with cream cheese sweetened with stevia determined that stevia significantly decreased glucose levels after a meal. (4C) Another clinical study found that stevia enhances glucose tolerance and reduces plasma glucose levels at a dose of 5g of leaf extract every six hours for three days. (4D) Lastly, a single dose of 1,000 mg of stevioside reduced glucose levels after a meal in diabetics. (4E) The current evidence suggests that stevia positively effects blood sugar regulation in healthy and diabetic individuals.

Some experts contend that stevia may stress the adrenal glands. The argument is that the sweet taste of stevia triggers the body to release insulin to shuttle glucose into cells. However, since no glucose exists in the bloodstream, adrenaline and cortisol are released to mobilize sugar stores (glycogen) from other sources (liver, muscles). This argument has some validity and this process might possibly occur. Anecdotal reports from individuals suggest a very small number of people may experience low blood sugar and weakened adrenals after ingesting stevia. But there is little evidence in the form of clinical studies to substantiate this.

The stevia causes cancer fears are a bit of a mystery. Laboratory research suggests that stevioside has an anti-cancer effect in breast, colon, and mouse skin cancer. (5A,5B,5C) Scientists concluded that stevia has no effect on pancreatic cancer development, growth, or death in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. (5D) One study found that rebaudioside A did not damage DNA or cause genetic mutations in mice when administered at a dose of up to 2g/kg body weight. (5E) A more recent study concluded that stevia and its glycosides do not cause toxicity, cancer, DNA mutations, embryo or fetal harm, and have “therapeutic effects against several diseases such as cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, inflammation, cystic fibrosis, obesity and tooth decay.” (5F) No research to support a carcinogenic effect could be identified. It appears that a connection between stevia and cancer is an exaggeration and not reality.

Current evidence suggests that stevia does influence blood pressure. A two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study found that taking 500 mg of stevioside powder three times daily significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (6) No significant incidence of adverse effects was noted between the stevia group and the placebo group. Although four people taking stevia reported gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal fullness, nausea) and fatigue during the study. Until further clinical research is conducted, it may be prudent for people with low blood pressure to limit stevia.

Stevia doesn’t seem to have any effect on thyroid hormones. (7A,7B) This doesn’t mean that certain people don’t have a bad experience with stevia, some certainly do. Each of us is unique and the foods and supplements we consume will affect us differently. In addition, a small clinical study (16 participants) found that ingestion of 0.2g of stevia three times a day for one week modestly increased cortisol levels and affected the cortisol to cortisone levels in the morning. (7C) Elevated cortisol levels can disrupt thyroid hormone regulation, particularly in those with thyroid disorders. Again, caution should be exercised in people with thyroid disorders.

Steviol is the final product of metabolism and it essentially leaves the body without accumulating. (8) This suggests that stevia and its glycosides are readily metabolized and excreted by the body.

The bottom line

Reasonable use of stevia poses little risk of harmful effects in healthy individuals. People with adrenal fatigue, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, thyroid disorders, or cortisol imbalances may want to limit stevia, especially its long-term use. Your safest bet is to use reasonable amounts of a green leaf extract or minimally processed extracts. Highly processed stevia extracts that don’t contain fillers and additives have a long history of safe use as well but are less preferred. Chances are these are the ones in your favorite products and you have to decide if that product’s benefits outweigh the minimal risks.

 

 

 

Three powerful benefits of the elite superfood: Moringa oleifera

Loaded with 90+ nutrients, Moringa oleifera (also known as the horseradish tree, drumstick tree, or miracle tree) is the most nutrient dense botanical ever discovered. Native to the lowland dry tropical forests south of the Himalayan region in Arabia and India, this remarkable tree has received a considerable amount of praise and extensively researched for its extensive health benefits. Moringa contains so many nutrients that it is used to address malnutrition in underprivileged areas of the world. (1,2,3) Multiple parts of the tree (leaves, pods, seed) are used for both food and medicinal purposes.

Blood sugar balance. Moringa contains beneficial phytocompounds that have been shown to increase insulin secretion and reduce fasting blood sugar in clinical studies. (4,5)

Reduce inflammation. Preclinical research–combined with clinical experience–demonstrates that moringa reduces inflammation.(6)

Help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Preliminary clinical research demonstrates that moringa positively modifies cholesterol levels. (7,8)

Daily consumption of this miracle tree provides cumulative benefits that improve human health. Millions of people can testify that moringa improves their overall well-being and the list of devotees is growing every day.

Discover the impressive nutritional profile of moringa in the PDF below.

Nutrients in Moringa

[1] Kasolo JN, Bimenya GS, Ojok L, et al. Phytochemicals and uses of Moringa oleifera leaves in Ugandan rural communities. J Med Plants Res. 2010;4:753-57

[2] Mahmood KT, Mugal T, Haq IU. Moringa oleifera: a natural gift-A review. Pharm Sci Res. 2010;2(11):775-81

[3] Zongo U, Zoungrana SL, Savadogo A, et al. Nutritional and Clinical Rehabilitation of Severely Malnourished Children with Moringa oleifera Lam. Leaf Powder in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). Food Nutr Sci. 2013;4:991-7.

[4] Kushwaha S, Chawla P, Kochar A. Effect of supplementation of drumstick (Moringa oleifera) and amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor) leaves powder on antioxidant profile and oxidative status among postmenopausal women. J Food Sci Tech. 2014 Nov;51(11):3364-9.

[5] Anthanont P, Lumlerdkij N, Akarasereenont P, et al. Moringa Oleifera Leaf Increases Insulin Secretion after Single Dose Administration: A Preliminary Study in Healthy Subjects. J Med Assoc Thai. 2016 Mar;99(3):308-13.

[6] Sulaiman MR, Zakaria ZA, Bujarimin AS, et al. Evaluation of Moringa oleifera Aqueous Extract for Antinociceptive and Anti-Inflammatory Activities in Animal Models. Pharm Biol. 2008;46(12):838-45.

[7] Kumari DJ. Hypoglycaemic effect of Moringa oleifera and Azadirachta indica in type 2 diabetes mellitus. The bioscan. 2010;5(2):211-4.

[8] Nambiar VS, Guin P, Parnami S, et al. Impact of antioxidants from drumstick leaves on the lipid profile of hyperlipidemics. J Herb Med Toxicol. 2010;4:165–172.

The Carrageenan Controversy: Harmful of Harmless?

Carrageenan is a common food and supplement additive extracted from red seaweed (Chondrus crispus) that has been a staple ingredient in many household products since the 1930s. It is added to a variety of products including foods (ice cream, jellies, nut milks, cottage cheese, etc.), baby formulas, and supplements to create a creamier texture, keep items fresh and stabilized, and to prevent ingredients from separating. Although it has been used for centuries in foods (as far back as 400 AD in Ireland), health-conscious consumers have raised concerns that it may be harmful.

Types of carrageenan

Before we explore the evidence of carrageenan’s potential health effects, it is important to understand that there is more than one type of carrageenan — degraded carrageenan and undegraded carrageenan. Degraded carrageenan is also called poligeenan, so for the rest of this blog, I will refer to degraded carrageenan as poligeenan and undegraded carrageenan as food-grade carrageenan. Food-grade carrageenan is naturally occurring; whereas, poligeenan is artificially formed by subjecting carrageenan to extensive acid hydrolysis at low pH and high temperatures for an extended period. The two forms also differ chemically in their molecular weight: food-grade carrageenan 200 to 800 kDa, poligeenan has been reduced to 10 to 20 kDa. Evidence also suggests that the two forms affect animals and human cells differently.

A major review of animal studies

Poligeenan is commonly used to develop intestinal inflammation in animal models. Food-grade carrageenan can also cause inflammation in the right concentration.  A major review, published in 2001, evaluated the possible harmful effects of carrageenan by assessing the results of about 45 animal studies. The review concluded that food-grade carrageenan may increase the risk of colon ulcerations and cancerous lesions in animals. However, it should be noted that the majority of included studies actually used poligeenan instead of food-grade carrageenan. Secondly, the study results demonstrate that while poligeenan can cause cancer when consumed alone and in high enough concentrations, food-grade carrageenan only accelerates cancer formation when it is taken with another carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance.

Another study that administered 0.5% to 2.0% poligeenan to monkeys found that these concentrations caused diarrhea, hemorrhage, and ulcerations, while food-grade carrageenan at 1.0% to 3.0% resulted in no changes to the colon. Higher levels of food-grade carrageenan (5.0%) were required to produce colon changes — epithelial cell loss, diarrhea, and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) — in rats. This study also found that cancer proliferating cells returned to levels before food-grade carrageenan was introduced after it was discontinued (28-day recovery period), but rats administered poligeenan still had high levels of proliferating cells after discontinuation. Contradictory evidence that used the same 5.0% concentration of food-grade carrageenan concluded that it only produced colon ulcers in guinea pigs and not rats or hamsters. Another 90-day study found no colon ulcerations or lesions in rats administered food-grade carrageenan.

Limitations of applying animal studies to humans

A number of limitations exist that limit the applicability of these animal studies findings. Many of these limitations were pointed out in a 2014 review published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. The current evidence suggests that food-grade carrageenan effects species differently, making it incorrect to apply the animal studies to humans. Many of the studies also added the food-grade carrageenan to the animal’s water instead of their food, which increases the severity of symptoms it causes. The levels of food-grade carrageenan administered to animals are also far higher than the typical 0.01% to 1.0% levels added to processed foods and consumed in a typical diet (1.4 to 3 grams per day for a 165 pound human). Studies demonstrating adverse colon effects administered about 0.2 to 15 grams per kilogram of body weight daily, which would translate to about 15 to 1,125 grams of food-grade carrageenan daily for a 165 pound (75 kg) human.

Human studies

Few human studies exist evaluating the potential effects of food-grade carrageenan. In fact, due to ethical concerns, most studies have been conducted on cultured human cells and not actually in humans. The first laboratory study suggests that carrageenan (did not specify food-grade carrageenan or poligeenan) triggers a pro-inflammatory response to protect intestinal permeability function. Two additional studies (study1, study 2) also noted an increased inflammatory response to food-grade carrageenan. The most unfavorable evidence may be a laboratory study that found exposing human intestinal cells to concentrations of food-grade carrageenan lower than those typically found in the diet increased cell death and reduced intestinal cell proliferation. These studies provide some confirmation of animal studies in humans but it is important to note again that these studies administered food-grade carrageenan directly to human cells and not with food, amplifying the negative effects.

Interestingly, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study concluded that 0.75 g of food-grade carrageenan daily for 22 months effectively reduce peptic ulcers without notable side effects. Another study investigated the effects of food-grade carrageenan on carbohydrate absorption when administered as part of a meal. The study authors observed that food-grade carrageenan decreased carbohydrate absorption (significantly lowered blood glucose) and reduced total cholesterol and triglycerides. These clinical studies suggest that consumption of food-grade carrageenan with food may mitigate the negative effects observed in animal studies.

Carrageenan’s role in dietary supplements

Dietary supplement manufacturers utilize small amounts of carrageenan to create vegetarian/vegan compliant softgels that provide similar bioavailability to standard softgels without using animal products (bovine and porcine gelatin). Indeed, carrageenan appears to improve capsules thermal stability and resistance against humidity. The amount of carrageenan used to create vegetarian supplements is so small that it hardly adds to the daily total of carrageenan exposure. Supplements that use carrageenan-based capsules, therefore, pose little risk of adverse effects.

The final word

Currently, carrageenan is portrayed as significantly more harmful than the evidence supports and a small amount is not likely to harm you. However, a cautious approach is still warranted due to its potential effects on intestinal inflammation. Further research is necessary before carrageenan can be deemed completely harmless and safe. Sufficient evidence exists to say poligeenan has a greater potential to cause harm. The prudent approach would be to limit exposure to carrageenan (it’s very difficult to avoid it if you live in the United States due to its wide use) and avoid poligeenan where possible, particularly among those with a history of gastrointestinal issues (IBS, IBD, chronic diarrhea, etc.) or family history of colon cancer.

Eradicating H. pylori Naturally

One of the most successful pathogens in human history is the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium. It has manipulated cellular death pathways to ensure its survival and propagation, permitting it a prolonged existence and perpetual infections in humans. It is so successful that the CDC estimates nearly two-thirds of the human population has this bacteria living inside them.(1) While H. pylori has a long history of success and infection, it can be managed naturally with an evidence-based approach.

What is H. pylori

H. pylori (previously Campylobacter pylori) is a gram-negative bacterium that resides in the digestive tract and has a propensity for attacking the stomach lining — so much so it causes the majority of peptic ulcers (sores in the stomach and upper part of the intestine). H. pylori is transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids (saliva, fecal matter, or vomit) of an infected person. It is also contracted by drinking contaminated water. Good hygiene is essential to avoid its spread.

Signs and Symptoms of Infection

One of the problems with H. pylori is that the majority of people who are infected don’t exhibit any symptoms. However, if symptoms do occur they generally present as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, belching, and vomiting. More serious infections may include diarrhea, dark or tarry stools, heartburn, peptic ulcers, loss of appetite, anemia (low red blood cell count), vomiting blood, and fatigue. It is also linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer depending on health status and other environmental factors.(10)

What is the Conventional Treatment for H. pylori

H. pylori is typically treated with “triple therapy.” This involves the simultaneous administration of two antibiotics to kill the bacteria with an acid reducer (esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole or pantoprazole). The acid reducer decreases stomach acidity to improve the action of the antibiotics. Side effects of triple therapy include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, stomachache, headache, dark colored stools, vaginal itching/discharge, muscle weakness, mood changes, and yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Die-off Symptoms

Die-off (Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction) reaction is a term used to describe a reaction during the clearance of pathogens (bacteria, fungi, viruses, yeasts, etc.) from the body with antimicrobials. It is believed to occur when endotoxins produced by massive numbers of dying pathogens overwhelm the body’s ability to clear them out. This creates a toxic state that produces characteristic flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, muscle aches, skin rashes, brain fog, and gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation). Die-off reactions usually occur when significant lifestyle changes are made: diet modification (switching from processed to whole foods — pathogens starve and die off rapidly), beginning probiotics (modifies the gut microbial balance to one with more good bacteria), or taking an antimicrobial substance (food, herb, supplement, or drug). This type of reaction will usually occur hours (1-2) to days (up to 10) after the lifestyle modification occurs.

The risk of die-off reactions may be reduced by backing off on the amount of the antimicrobial substance consumed, making a dietary change more gradually, or reducing the dosage of probiotics taken. In addition, a digestive enzyme (especially one with bromelain and proteases) may reduce reactions to whole foods added to the diet by facilitating better absorption of proteins and nutrients new to your body.

Eradicating H. pylori Naturally

  • Essential oils (2 drops each of clove, German chamomile, ginger, and lemongrass in a capsule, twice daily, one hour after a meal). Fortunately, scientists have revealed that a number of essential oils kill H. pylori — some at very low concentrations. Common essential oils that are effective against H. pylori include clove, German chamomile, ginger, and lemongrass.(2)(3)(4) Even more importantly, research suggests that some of the essential oils kill the bacterium without promoting resistance — a problem plaguing modern day antibiotics.
  • DGL (760 mg 20 minutes before each meal). This special form of licorice root has been relied upon for centuries to soothe stomach issues. It is very useful for ulcers and heartburn. One study concluded that the addition of DGL to triple therapy increased the elimination of H. pylori, particularly in people with peptic ulcers.(6) Another study demonstrated that licorice was as effective as bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) for H. pylori infections.(7)
  • Black cumin seed oil (1,000 mg after lunch and dinner). Black cumin seed oil and one of its active constituents thymoquinone are two of the most useful natural medicinals known. Scholarly research suggests that they are valuable for myriad health conditions and H. pylori is no exception. People administered 1,000 mg of BCSO (and 40 mg omeprazole), twice daily after meals, experienced reduced H. pylori counts comparable to triple therapy.(8)
  • Probiotics (15-50 billion CFU with evening meal). Results of clinical studies suggest that specific probiotics (Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, L. johnsonni La1, and L. reuteri) reduce H. pylori counts in the digestive tract, improve triple therapy eradication rate, or reduce the side effects of triple therapy.(9)

Conclusion

Chances are you are infected with H. pylori, even if you are symptom free. This infection could increase the risk of adverse reactions during lifestyle changes and puts you at greater risk for peptic ulcer and gastritis. Conventional triple therapy is not without side effects and may not be the most effective therapy to eliminate H. pylori. Natural options including essential oils, DGL, black cumin seed oil, and probiotics are promising natural remedies to control this common infection. Talk to your doctor about these natural, evidence-based options if you know, or suspect you have, and H. pylori infection.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a healthcare professional.

Give your children an edge in school with an omega-3 supplement

Most parents understand that success in school leads to success later in life, so they make every effort to ensure their children have a good experience in school. This leads to concerns about how well their child will connect with a new teacher, worry over homework assignments and projects, and anxiety about end of term grades. Parents may dream of a simple solution to give their children an edge in school, when according to Oxford researchers that edge may be found on a dinner plate.

It is well known that long-term dietary choices influence mental health and cognitive function, whether positively or negatively. And previous research suggests that intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids — found in marine life and algae — supports brain health and may help the body clear amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease when taken with vitamin D.(1,2) Omega-3s are vital to reduce ADHD symptoms in children as well. Read all about it in Beating ADHD Naturally. Oxford researchers now suggest that omega-3s may increase concentration and learning ability among school-age children, and therefore their school success.(3)

The brain is composed of approximately 60 percent fat and to function optimally it must have a steady stream of healthy fats from the diet or through supplementation to incorporate into its cell membranes. The brain selectively allows specific fats to enter the brain, namely the omega-3 fat DHA and the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid (AA). Both DHA and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are vital to brain function at the cellular level, reducing inflammation and oxidative damage and supporting brain cell structure and function. Interestingly, while AA is widely distributed throughout the brain, DHA is largely concentrated in the gray matter, where thinking takes place.

Oxford scientists investigated how omega-3 fatty acids influenced the behavior and learning of children in elementary school. Almost 500 children, aged seven to nine years, and from 74 different schools in Oxfordshire were included in the study. Children received 600 mg of DHA from algal oil (algae) or a placebo (taste and color matched corn/soybean oil). The source of DHA will make vegetarians happy being that people often think that the only source of DHA is through marine oil.

Blood samples were taken to determine blood omega-3 levels and parents reported their children’s diet to researchers. What researchers found was that the overwhelming majority — almost 90 percent — of children included in the study did not consume the recommended two portions of fish twice per week to maintain a healthy cardiovascular and immune system. This is not surprising considering many children do not like the taste of fish.

Blood analyses found that only 2.45 percent of total blood fatty acids were long-chain omega-3 fatty acids among children participating in the study, well below the minimum of four percent recommended by leading scientists to maintain optimum cardiovascular health in adults, and significantly lower than the optimal range of 8 to 12 percent.

The study authors found that blood omega-3 fatty acid levels consistently predicted a child’s behaviors and ability to learn. Higher blood levels of omega-3s were strongly associated with fewer behavioral problems, and better reading ability and memory. DHA and EPA are particularly important in young children during growth and development stages when the body uses these key nutrients to support brain structure and function.

This study validates previous studies by the same scientists, showing that higher omega-3 intake improves reading progress and behavior and benefits children with ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and related conditions.(4) Children should be given a minimum of 600 mg of DHA daily based on the study results. Most algal oils provide from 100 to 300 mg per capsule, whereas fish oil provides from 120 to 500 mg DHA per capsule.

(1) McNamara RK, Carlson SE. Role of omega-3 fatty acids in brain development and function: potential implications for the pathogenesis and prevention of psychopathology. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Oct-Nov;75(4-5):329-49.

(2) Fiala M, Mizwicki MT. Neuroprotective and immune effects of active forms of vitamin D3 and docosahexaenoic acid in Alzheimer disease patients. Functional Foods in Health and Disease. 2011;1(12):545–554.

(3) Richardson AJ, Burton JR, Sewell RP, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, cognition and behavior in children aged 7-9 years: a randomized, controlled trial (the DOLAB Study). PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e43909.

(4) Montgomery P, Burton JR, Sewell RP, et al. Low blood long chain omega-3 fatty acids in UK children are associated with poor cognitive performance and behavior: a cross-sectional analysis from the DOLAB study. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 24;8(6):e66697.

How to choose quality dietary supplements

If you are a regular consumer of dietary supplements, you’ve likely seen the action taken by the New York Attorney General took against prominent retailers for selling inauthentic herbal supplements. Four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens, and WalMart — all received cease and desist notifications demanding that the retailers “desist engaging in the sale of adulterated and/or mislabeled herbal dietary supplements.” While this action took place in February 2015, the news is still spreading wildly among supplement users and being brandished by those opposed to supplements.

Those opposed to supplements have used this action to decry all supplements as worthless and even harmful. Yet, the benefits dietary supplements provide to today’s stress-laden, nutrient-starved, and pollution-sucking human population has never been more necessary.

While industrialized countries like the United States are not facing true famines like some third world countries, they are indeed experiencing starvation and a nutrient famine. Today’s fast foods, boxed convenience foods, genetically modified crops, and sugary beverages are little more than empty calories — and sometimes introduce harmful substances into the body to boot — devoid of the nutrition your body needs to operate at its best. These “foods” devoid of nutrients leave the cells starved of key nutrients, leading to inefficient function of vital body systems.

This makes dietary supplements that supply missing nutrients and support cellular and body systems function critical to overall well-being. While they are not meant to replace eating better — that’s why they are called supplements, not replacements — they can complement eating better. One key is that these supplements must be derived from whole foods or herbs that the body readily recognizes and utilizes to encourage optimal function of key body systems. Synthetic nutrition, vitamins, and minerals — like that perfect 25 percent of vitamins and minerals found on cereal boxes — added to foods or masquerading as a dietary supplement cannot replace whole nutritious foods and supplements.

So, how does one choose a quality supplement that is authentic, pure, and unadulterated? Here are five tips to choosing a quality dietary supplement:

NSF certification. Look for supplements with the NSF certification on the label. NSF International is a respected and recognized third-party certifier of dietary supplements that ensures the capsule-1079838_1920retailers comply with strict standards and procedures. Basically, the NSF certification on the label means that the product has been tested and met or exceeded standards for purity, quality and that what is on the label is in the product and nothing more. Most importantly, NSF certification involves regular inspections and re-testing of products to ensure that the retailer continues to meet high-quality standards.

United States Pharmacopeia. Review the label for USP certification. The USP is a non-profit scientific organization that sets standards for potency, quality, authenticity, and purity of medicines, food ingredients, and dietary supplements. The widely recognized standards set by the USP are used by more than 140 countries globally and reduce the introduction of contaminants and adulterants in dietary supplements.

FDA tainted dietary supplements list. Check the FDA list of tainted supplements before purchasing. The United States Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of some of the dietary supplements that have been found to contain potentially harmful hidden ingredients or are considered hazardous to human health. Check the list regularly to avoid purchasing fraudulent and harmful products.

Good Manufacturing Practices. Buy supplements from a company that follows the current GMPs. The GMPs are a system designed to ensure that products — in this case, dietary supplements — are consistently produced and controlled according to established quality standards. These standards include all aspects of production such as raw materials, facilities, equipment, and the training and hygiene of staff.

Scientific research, evidence in support of the supplement. Look for reliable evidence that the supplement you intend to purchase has a proven benefit in scientific research. PubMed — the National Institutes of Health (NIH) database — is a great resource to look for research and evidence. Another option it to ask the retailer for any published studies that support the efficacy and safety of the supplement you want to buy.

To learn more about the best forms of vitamins and minerals, as well as optimal doses, see The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails

When to take your probiotic supplement to maximize effectivenss

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To many it probably seems counter-intuitive to intentionally introduce live bacteria into the human body. Bacteria causes disease, right? So, who would want to willingly introduce bacteria into their body? The reality is that trillions of bacteria — some harmful, some beneficial to human health — live in and on the human body.

These beneficial bacteria are known as probiotics, and the growing body of evidences suggests that the balance of healthy to harmful bacteria within the human gut is critical to human health. Research suggests that probiotics influence immunity, digestive health, inflammation, allergies, mood, and nutritional status. Indeed, probiotics aid the absorption of calcium, fats, B vitamins, proteins, and phosphorus. To learn more about how these tiny organisms benefit human health, and what the therapeutic dosage is, read pages 99-100 of my book The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails.

Now, the question I am frequently asked — when is the best time to take a probiotic supplement. If you search the internet for this answer you are likely to get a number of varying opinions and answers. Some say to take them on an empty stomach, some at night, others in the morning, and still others say they must be taken with food. So, what is the right answer?

As usual I looked to what science tells us about this question and applied the evidence to come to my conclusion. To answer this question it is first important to understand that probiotics are living organisms that must remain viable in order to provide a benefit. They must also be able to survive the acidic environment of the stomach and then colonize the intestines.

Research suggests that probiotics are able to survive a stomach with a pH of 3 or higher. Unfortunately, the stomach has an average pH of 1-3 when empty, but it usually remains at a pH of 2 — too low for probiotics to survive. However, when food is in the stomach the pH rises as high as 4 or 5 pH, which is ideal for probiotic survival. This helps us answer part of our question — that it is best to take a probiotic with a meal.

Now, to the timing debate. Is it better to take your probiotic in the morning or at night? Again, this requires a knowledge of how a meal affects stomach acidity (or pH). One study evaluated the effect of meals on stomach acidity and found that breakfast increases stomach pH to 2.5 to 3, whereas a high-fat dinner raised the pH to between 4.0 and 4.9. Interestingly, a spicy lunch induced a stomach pH of 3.0 to 4.2. The study authors concluded that a fatty meal had the greatest buffering effect on stomach acidity. That tells us that taking your probiotic with dinner may be best — as long as it includes some healthy fat.

So, now we have a solid evidence-based answer as to when we should take our probiotic to maximize survival and effectiveness. The best time to take your probiotic supplement is with a meal and at dinner time, with some healthy fat.

Now, one last thing before we leave the subject of probiotics. People are often concerned about how antibiotic medications alter intestinal balance of bacteria and if natural antimicrobials like essential oils harm friendly bacteria. It is unquestionable that antibiotics severely disrupt gut balance, and some researchers believe this alteration is permanent. Researchers have also investigated the effects of antimicrobial essential oils on probiotics and found some interesting conclusions. To discover these conclusions refer to pages 45 and 46 of Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy.

The Doctors Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails-smCover_EvidenceBasedEssentialOilTherapy