Food for Thought

From berries to soy, studies offer some help for what ails you

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HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 22, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you love the idea of eating your way to better health, a cache of new studies is sure to whet your appetite for the "kitchen cure."

From Japanese plums that are good for your heart and American berries that can reduce your blood pressure, to new ways that flax seed and soy help lower cholesterol and blood sugar and green tea can protect your liver, research being presented today at the American Physiological Society meeting in New Orleans offers you a wide variety of "food for thought."

A Berry Good Thing

Among the most intriguing studies is research illustrating the heart-healthy benefits of three simple fruits -- the elderberry, the choke berry and the bilberry. Used for centuries throughout Europe as a folk medicine, the fruits contain a complex chemical compound known as anthocynanins that can protect against hypertension and other factors leading to heart disease, researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine say.

Using pig blood vessels, which closely resemble human arteries, the researchers treated the tissue with solutions made from each of the three berries and then exposed the vessels to various chemical assaults that mimic those that cause hypertension and other cardiovascular-related problems in humans.

What they found: Extracts of all three berries stimulated production of nitric oxide, a chemical produced by cells that line artery walls and is key to protecting blood vessels from damage.

When vessels remain healthy, hypertension is less likely, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease as well as clot formation leading to heart attack and stroke.

Most important, protection was achieved using berry concentrations similar to what would be found in the blood after eating a reasonably sized portion of the fruits.

Greener Pastures for Liver Transplant Patients

Already lauded for its ability to protect you from heart disease, the mighty green tea plant is in the spotlight again.

This time researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say it might improve the success of liver transplants.

Because donated livers often come from victims involved in alcohol-related car accidents, the livers are sometimes in less-than-perfect shape at the time of the transplant, which is usually just hours after death.

Using fatty livers taken from rats that were force-fed large amounts of alcohol, the researchers soaked the organs in green tea before transplanting them into other rats whose livers had been removed.

The study showd that green tea was able to reduce the number of expected graft site injuries -- damage that occurs at the site of the transplant -- and increased the survival of the alcohol-soaked livers by up to 75 percent.

As such, researchers say green tea may prevent liver failure after transplantation and help increase the pool of available livers by including organs from donors who consumed large amounts of alcohol shortly before their death.

A Plum Solution for Heart Disease

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but if you toss in a Japanese plum you may also avoid the cardiologist.

In studies presented by researchers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and Wakayama Medical University, in Japan, the Japanese plum was shown to offer protective effects on the heart.

The exotic fruit, which has been gaining popularity in the United States over the past several years, owes its protective abilities to a chemical known as bainiku-ekisu, found in the flesh and the skin. Based on previous research, the Vanderbilt scientists believed bainiku-ekisu had the potential to affect blood flow and in this way impact the risk of cardiovascular disease.

To test their theory, they removed the main chest artery from 12-week-old rats. Using concentrations of plum juice, they treated the rat arteries, then subjected them to a variety of laboratory tests designed to cause vessel damage that leads to heart disease.

The plum juice concentrations were able to effectively inhibit damaging biochemical reactions that, if left unchecked, could dramatically increase the risk of hypertension and atherosclerosis, both of which increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Fields of Protection

And finally, scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in concert with researchers from the University of Cairo in Egypt and other American universities, offered new proof of the power of both soybeans and flaxseed to protect against high cholesterol and diabetes.

In studies using lean rats with high blood pressure and obese rats with high blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol, the researchers fed the animals a diet containing either 20 percent soy protein, 20 percent flaxseed meal, or 20 percent casein (a placebo diet) for 26 weeks. They then compared blood samples taken before and after the dietary changes.

What they found: Rats on the high soy diet had a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL, while those consuming flaxseed had reduced total cholesterol and triglycerides. Lean mice on the flaxseed diet also had a decrease in blood sugar.

Overall, the flaxseed and soybean diets decreased levels of a number of enzymes and other chemicals linked to obesity and diabetes, including creatinine, protein and uric acid.

The researchers concluded that diets rich in soy protein and flaxseed have beneficial effects on a variety of conditions linked to both obesity and diabetes -- and could help you lose weight.

What to Do: For more information on the health effects of foods, visit The Cancer Project.

SOURCES: "Characterization of Coronary Arterial Reactivity of Berry Anthocynancins," David R. Bell, Ph. D. and Kristin Gochenaur, B.S., Indiana University School of Medicine, Fort Wayne, Ind.; "Fruit-juice concentrate of the Asian Plum Inhibits Growth Signals of Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells Induced by Angiotensin II (oriental plum)," Satoru Eguchi, M.D, Ph.D., and Gerald Frank, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., and Hirotoshi Utsunomiya, Ph.D., Wakayama Medical University, Japan; Zhi Zhong, Ph.D., John J. Lemasters, M.D., Ph.D., Ronald G. Thurman, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C. and Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; "The Effects of Dietary Soybean and Flaxseed Meal on Metabolic Parameters in a Genetic Model of Obesity and Diabetes," Sam J. Bhathena, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ali A. Ali, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt, Al

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