Large Human Trial Demonstrates Extra Virgin Olive Oil Reduces Cardiovascular and Breast Cancer Risks
Results of a large clinical trial published in two prestigious medical journals JAMA an the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that a diet supplemented with extra Virgin olive oil provides health benefits.
The PREDIMED study enrolled adults age 55 to 80 who are considered at high risk for cardiovascular disease based on various factors.
Participant participants were assigned to a Mediterranean diet, one with supplemental extra virgin olive oil at least 4 tablespoons and the other supplemented with mixed nuts. The third group was assigned to a control, low fat diet.
Over almost five years of follow-up, cardiovascular outcomes including heart attack, stroke, and death from any cardiovascular cause, were noted. The Mediterranean diet groups had a significantly lower rate of negative cardiovascular outcomes. This association was particularly strong for the supplemental extra virgin olive oil group, which had a 31 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular disease outcomes compared to the control diet group.
The researchers also observed data of new breast cancer in the women enrolled. Here too, the diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil was most protective, reducing rates of breast cancer by nearly 70% compared to the control diet. Interesting, the group that supplemented with mixed nuts did not show a significant benefit in terms of breast cancer risk. The study’s authors report that this was the first human trial to find a beneficial effect of a dietary intervention on breast cancer risk. Together, these results suggest that a Mediterranean diet with supplemental extra virgin olive oil is protective against both cardiovascular disease and breast cancer in older adults with existing risk factors
Soon, The Dietary Guidelines for 2020 are due to be released. As usual, there will be a flurry of discussions, debates, praise and criticisms somewhat dependent on what sections of the food industry are happy and those who are not. The Dietary Guidelines, in my opinion, reflect who won the battle for the food industry’s interests this time around, to make sure their profit margins are kept intact. Little else new is gained from them and little attention is paid to them after their endlessly repeated advice based on lobbyists and politics. Who will win out this time? In the past few decades, the advice has lacked conviction, e.g. what is moderation, and has been so diluted, it plays little role in how our food supply affects our health. Enjoy a little history of past advice and forgive me for the cynicism.
A number of diseases and disorders share common risk factors of low intakes of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, excess calorie intake, body fat, and high animal fat intake. These risk factors are associated with the development of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, conditions that are strongly related to the development of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and other chronic diseases that include stroke, osteoporosis, and obesity.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of at least three of five conditions: hypertension, high blood sugar, obesity, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. These diseases are all related to our diets and other lifestyle factors – namely exercise and smoking habits.
A new study in the journal Diabetes Care is the first to look at the impact of metabolic syndrome on outcomes for Covid-19 patients. “Together, obesity, diabetes and prediabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels are all predictors of higher incidences of death in these patients and were more than three times more likely to die from the disease.
“The more of these diagnoses that you have, the worse the outcomes”, says lead author Joshua Denson , assistant professor of medicine and pulmonary and critical care medicine physician at Tulane University of Medicine.
“The underlying inflammation that is seen with metabolic syndrome may be the driver that is leading to these more severe cases.” Dr. Denson adds. In this study, the most common conditions were hypertension (80%), obesity (65%), diabetes (54%), and low HDL (39%.)
Dr. Denson would advise anyone who meets the criteria for metabolic syndrome to be vigilant in taking measures to reduce risk or exposure to the coronavirus. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, we took that into account” he says.
Thinking of getting one of those DNA testing kits? Aside from the Ancestry tests, the tests for your future health risks may be questionable and at this point you may want to save your money. Here is why.
A new outlook on genetics is called epigenetics and involves the concept of environmental factors (including diet) affecting how genes are expressed or inhibited. Thanks to this relatively new science, we now know that experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being. Many of the risks for chronic diseases – including obesity, diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia can be traced back to your biological roots and the experiences your parent and even grandpaents had. Similarly, the food you eat may affect your children and grandchildren.
Is Your DNA Your Destiny?
Gene Expression: the process by which a cell converts the genetic code into RNA and protein
Epigenetics: the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence itself
DNA Methylation: A chemical reaction that occurs in a cell when a methyl group attaches to DNA, changing the expression of the gene to which it is attached.
Methyl Group: A type of molecular structure that occurs in many compounds, CH3, for example.
Methyl Donor: Nutrients, like folate and vitamin B12 that when metabolized can donate methyl groups during the process.
To fully illustrate the epigenetic process, one must tell the story of the agouti gene.
The Result of Methylation
Methylation Effects in the DNA
Both these mice have the gene called the agouti gene that tends to produce fat, yellow pups, so we want to silence the expression of the gene if possible. There is a way. The mom of the brown mouse was fed B vitamins which silenced the gene. This produced brown pups with normal appetites resulting in a thin, healthy mouse.
Without altering the genomic structure, agouti moms were then able to produce healthy brown pups of normal weight and less prone to diseases.
How did this occur? Some nutrients silence genes by providing methylation (adding a methyl group (CH3); others activate genes by inhibiting methylation. It’s like throwing a wrench into the DNA to stop the expression of a gene or removing the wrench to allow the expression of the gene. The B vitamins acted as methyl donors that caused methyl groups to attach more frequently to the agouti gene in utero, inhibiting its expression. Silence or inhibiting depends on what the gene does: e.g., silencing a gene that stimulates cancer growth is beneficial; silencing a gene that suppresses cancer growth would be harmful.
In any case, your lifestyle choices may play a role in your future health status.
It must be remembered that with any new concept, doubts and skepticism will occur. Time for more research to examine this interesting hypothesis. The implications are enormous in that we may be able to improve our health status by choosing healthy habits and lifestyles such as diet, exercise, stopping smoking, for example.
Even though it has been reported that meat consumption has declined recently, in the past, Americans have been consuming about 150 pounds of “red meat” per capita/year. The percentages are startling: 60% beef, 39% pork, with only 1% for lamb and mutton. The percentage of goat is too small to even mention.
Pork had been the meat of choice since Colonial Days in the Plymouth Colony (circa 1623). The dense American forests were ideal for raising pigs. They were allowed to remain “wild” and roam freely most of the year with only penning them in the winter. They were “finished” on corn that made the flesh firm and they gained weight quickly. Pigs were more efficient than cattle for meat, so cattle were more used for milk, butter, cheese and plowing. Other food animals that were available were goats, sheep and chickens.
Goat meat was the first to be abandoned which virtually disappeared. Goat meat was occasionally consumed in the South by low-income groups as well as some Hispanics. Goat meat is still served in some Mexican restaurants.
Sheep migrated into British cookery as a by-product of wool production, especially in Scotland and Ireland. Lamb eventually became more popular associated with the wool industry in New England, but did not catch on in the South due to the influence of the cotton industry. Later, dairying replaced sheep herding in New England.
The Great Plains became the ideal location for raising cattle. When the corn production moved west, the pig and cattle industry followed. Then, they had to be “walked” back over the mountains to the Eastern seaboards by “drovers”. Cincinnati became known as “Porkopolis”. By the time of the Civil War, Americans were “hooked on pork and had become “the staff of life”, primarily in the South and Midwest.
The Northeast became more partial to beef. New Englanders no longer raised pigs due to the cutting down of the forests for the shipbuilding industry. Little corn was grown to “finish” the pork.
In the Western plains, the American Indians preferred the buffalo, so the government (U.S. Army) figured out that if they could get rid of the buffalo, they also could rid the area of the Indians. Cattle ranchers with the help of the railroads began to raise herds of cattle to replace the once prolific buffalo herds. Progress with the railroads replaced the cattle drives and the Chicago stockyards became the center of cattle slaughter. In 1882, refrigerated cars became more available for safer transportation; the West was running out of grazing land that forced more feedlot “finishing” with corn.
Beef became cheap and ranchers were paid to supply the Indian reservations with beef to prevent starvation (after eliminating the buffalo). For a while beef consumption fell again due to losing its price advantage at the turn of the century until about 1940.
In the early 1950s Americans were eating about equal amounts of beef and pork. By the late 1950s, beef consumption in the U.S. surpassed pork for the first time. By the 1960’s Americans were eating 10 times more pounds of beef and by the 1970s, 25 pounds more.
Why is beef king in the U.S?
Changes in beef production and marketing at the end of WW II fit the new postwar lifestyles. Meat had been rationed during WWII.
Improved breeds appeared that were given soy, fish meal, corn, sorghum, hormones, antibiotics that allowed faster “finishing” times due to accelerated growth since the cattle ate day and night.
Lifestyles began to involve more home ownership in the suburbs, which lead to outdoor grilling. Beef patties were ideal grillers; pork patties fell apart.
There were no dangers of trichinosis with beef.
Women entered the workplace that resulted in eating outside the home.
The fast food industry exploded and the hamburger became the staple at the drive-in.
Presently it is estimated that Americans are eating about three hamburgers a week.
American still eat more meat than most cultures in the world, but even here, consumption is declining. It is estimated the U.S meat consumption may fall by more than 12% from 2007 to 2012. This computes to about 165.5 pounds per person, or about one-half a pound a day.
Health concerns about meat consumption are reaching the public.
Campaigns like Meatless Mondays may be having an effect. People are getting the message to cut down on saturated fat.
Some lower income people may attempt to obtain cheaper sources of protein like grains and soy to improve their health while wealthier groups may have some environmental as well as health concerns.
All meat production in America requires a great deal of fossil fuel. Production relies entirely on nonrenewable fossil energy. There are also concerns about adding grain crops to animal feed, water scarcity, and animal welfare.
Cost of meats has risen due to animal feed prices.
How do cows negatively affect the environment? Take a look at these statistics from a recent PBS News Hour video.
It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of grain-fed beef.
We use eight times more land to feed animals in the U.S. than we use to feed humans.
The 500 million tons of manure created each year by American cows releases nitrous oxide, a gas that has 300 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide.
The 17 billion pounds of fertilizer used to grow feed for cows flows into rivers and oceans, creating huge algae blooms or dead zones where nothing can survive. In the U.S. we find them in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Oregon, and the Chesapeake Bay.
In total, 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gases are released to produce just one quarter-pounder burger.
Americans still value animal protein from meats and dairy with 65% of the U.S. protein coming from animals. The global average is about 30%; some low-income countries only get about 6-7 % of their protein from animal sources.
Will the U.S. population accept the current trend of plant-based diets as part of their protein source as well as their taste buds? Time will tell – but it will be a hard road ahead. The current trends for plant-based burgers (aka as the Impossible burger, and Beyond Beef) will be trial balloons to see how accepting the typical American consumer responds. It is now recognized that most healthy cultures globally depend on a more vegan diet approach than what we find so far on the American plate. The environmental benefits of growing plant crops may help to persuade some Americans to accept this diet pattern more readily. (my opinion).
A very long article by Michael Pollan but is worth reading if you want to understand the complexities of our food system. It involves the “elephant in the room” consisting of Covid -19 that exposes the interrelated factors associated with our our current food system and health care costs. Based on this essay, our “diets may be killing us” as a few recent articles have suggested. Click the link below or find it on the Website of Michael Pollan of (“eat food, not too much, mostly plants” fame).
A quote from Forbes, May 12, 2000 in an article from Nav Athwal sums it up:
“One thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us is the level of control we have over our lives is not as great as we think. Whether it be our ability to be mobile, our ability to meet with friends or the food we eat and how we eat it, the conveniences we took for granted not long ago are luxuries in a post-coronavirus world.”
Ultra-processed foods are often thought as the nemesis of healthy eating. However, they are so ubiquitous in our food supply, it is so difficult to avoid them in the supermarket (they are displayed for our convenience and capture our cravings for sugar, salt, and fat as well.) The problem: If we tried to avoid all processed foods, there would be few choices in the supermarket. The best way for starters is to try to cut down on snack foods — they are highly processed and offer few nutrients.
Twenty five years ago, It was largely assumed that health benefits came from the vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables. That conclusion turned out to be incorrect because supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals failed to yield the same health benefits as did diets rich in fruits and vegetables. In addition, use of individual vitamin and mineral supplements was found to increase health risks in some studies, but not all. So, what else is in our foods?
Now nutrition and other scientists are investigating the effects of thousands of other substances in food on health. The subjects of many current studies are plant chemicals known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Phytochemicals are not considered essential nutrients because deficiency diseases do not develop when we fail to consume them. They are considered to be nutrients however because they are biologically active and perform health promoting functions in the body. Most bioactive food constituents are derived from plants.
Phytochemicals play a variety of roles for plants as they provide protection for the plant against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections; ward off insects; and prevent tissue damage due to oxidation. Some operate as plant hormones or participate in the regulation of gene function, while others provide plants with flavor and color.
More than 2000 types of phytochemicals, that act as pigments, have been identified and give plants a wide variety of colors. Some of these phytochemicals have been identified: beta-carotene (orange), lycopene (red), anthocyanins (blue to purple), allicin (white), and lutein (yellow-green). Many of them function as antioxidants in the human body as well as help us to fight against many chronic diseases in other ways.
The following are examples of vegetables you can buy or plant in the garden (organic not necessary) that provide some specific human health benefits that are thought to be due to either established nutrients or phytochemicals. Keep in mind that some have more research behind their claims; however, many do not and simply rely on presumed health benefits.
Kale is a member of the cabbage family and is known to contain vitamins A, K, and C, as well as essential minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It is also rich in fiber and acts as a prebiotic that increases nutrient absorption in the gut. Kale also contains antioxidants that protect against oxidative damage and other aspects of chronic disease. Its nutrient density exceeds that of other vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, or those of the onion family.
Onions have been known for their healing properties for centuries. One study compared wound healing results after the daily application of onion gel and found that scars were significantly less noticeable after just four weeks of use. Recent research has suggested that onions also contain compounds useful for the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammatory diseases. Most of these benefits can be traced to onion’s high concentration of sulfur amino acids, phytochemicals such as flavonoids, phytosterols, and saponins – compounds that have anticancer, antibiotic, and antithrombotic activity.
Potatoes are a rich source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C. Little attention is paid to potatoes recently due to their high calorie density and their relationship with obesity and diabetes. If they are eaten in whole form and not as French fries or chips, they can be healthy due to their high potassium content. Often, they are the only source of potassium for many people including children. Adequate potassium can protect us from hypertension.
Tomatoes contain the phytochemical, lycopene, the carotenoid responsible for its red color and acts as an strong antioxidant. An increased intake has been associated with a decreased risk of prostate and breast cancers.
Cauliflower in both forms, white or purple are high in phenolic compounds (a phytochemical) and antioxidants. Purple cauliflower is especially high in anthocyanins that is a potent anti-inflammatory and antiviral compound.
Bell Peppers contain antioxidants that may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Green, yellow, and red peppers are all high in phenolic compounds and vitamin C.
Bottom Line: As you can see, antioxidant activity can collectively have a powerful effect against free radical damage. This is enhanced by the many phytochemicals associated with a variety of vegetables and fruits, not just reliance on one or two of them in the diet.
For the past decade or so red and processed meats (beef in particular) has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Two NYT articles are presented here to that addresses this issue and helps to clarify how to deal with this ongoing issue.
The red meat debate continues as we wake up this morning to the news that consumption of red and processed meats are of little risk to our health.
Back in 2015, an article appeared to agree with the current assessment about red and processed meat and in addition tells us how to deal with the disturbing reports about red and processed meat and heart disease and cancer.
So what can we really believe? The following article first appeared in 2015 and seems to me to take a common sense approach to the debate that never ceases. Hint: Life is a risk.
Ponce de Leon began his quest for the fountain of youth in 1531 and humans have been seeking magical solutions for keeping us younger and living our later years in relatively good health.
In 2009 with the backing of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, AARP and the National Geographic, Dan Buettner established the Blue Zone Project and authored The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who lived the longest, He interviewed those who were either centenarians or those in their later years and began to investigate what factors may have contributed to five regions of longevity hotspots in the world that included:
Sardinia in Italy with the highest concentration of centenarian men.
Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.
The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica that has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
Ikaria, Greece that has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia. Only 20 percent of people over 80 showed any signs of dementia, whereas a similar study of long-lived people near Athens showed an almost 50 percent rate of dementia- a rate similar to that for older Americans.”
Okinawa, Japan home to the world’s longest living women.
Remarkably, all the regions had common characteristics that included family and purpose, community and spirituality, stress reduction and physical activity. Mr. Buettner later published The Blue Zones Solution and coauthored with Ed Diener, The Blue Zones of Happiness.
One major practice was that all their diets, though not vegan, were predominantly based on plants. Meat and other animal products are either the exception or used as a condiment. Additionally, Okinawans, practice a philosophy called hara-hachi bu regarding food; they only eat until they are 80% full.
In the Costa Rican Zone, everyone feels like they have a plan “de vida” or life plan. Even at ages above 60 and 70, inhabitants don’t stop living. They keep themselves busy; they love to work. It provides them a “reason to waking up in the morning” called ikigai. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawa.
The book introduces some very interesting longevity “superstars.”
Marge Jones, at 100 years old from Loma Linda begins every day with a mile walk, a stationary bicycle ride, and some weight lifting. “I’m for anything that has to do with health”, she says
Kamada Nakazitam, 102 years old from Okinawa says “To be healthy enough to embrace my great – great grandchild is bliss.”
Ellsworh Wareham, age 91 from Loma Linda, assists during heart surgery procedures, something he does about two or three times a week
Abuela Panchita, 100 year old Costa Rican woman whose 80 year old son, Tommy bicycles to see her every day, spends every day cooking, splitting logs and using a machine to clear brush from her garden.
The notion of moai in Okinawa stands for “a social support network. Says 77 year old Klazuko Mann, “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends.”
From the author: “I once pressed a 101-year-old woman in Ikaria, Greece to tell why she thought people there lived so long. ‘We just forget to die,’ she said with a shrug. None of them went on a diet, joined a gym, or took supplements. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued”
The final chapters in the first book boil it all down into nine lessons and a cultural distillation of the worlds’ best practices in longevity a and how they can be applied to the American food culture.
However, there is a downside that is currently happening. From the Author: “Sardinians today have already taken on the trappings of modern life. For example, junk foods are replacing whole-grain breads and fresh vegetables traditionally consumed here. Young people are fatter, less inclined to follow tradition, and more outwardly focused.”
I’ve enjoyed these books immensely and have often referred to them in various tweets and posts. The first book concludes with a chapter on Your Personal Blue Zone. Other books such as “the Blue]Zones Solution” give us more explicit ways to establish Blue Zones in other areas such as the U.S.
From the back cover of The Blue Zones Solution – “Propagating the Blue Zones would not only prevent a rise in the prevalence of diabetes (and other misfortunes) it would allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the burden we have now. That’s revolutionary.” David Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center
The Blue Zones are lessons in how lifestyles can affect our health and longevity. Prevention of chronic disease as we age is the primary goal. More attention needs to be paid to improve the American diet in order to “add years to your life and life to your years.”