Eat cherries for a healthy heart, a good night's sleep and more

The cherry is a stone fruit, in the same family with plums, apricots, and peaches. The majority of edible cherries have been derived from two species: Prunus avium – the wild cherry (sweet cherries like Bing and Rainier) and Prunus cerasus – the sour cherry (like the Montromorency and Morello varieties).  Most sour cherries here in the U.S. are grown in Michigan with some growing on the East coast as well, and sweet cherries are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Michigan.1 Cherries, especially sour cherries, have a short growing season.  Sweet cherries are generally available between May to August, and sour cherries are available for just a couple of weeks either in mid-June (in warmer areas) or either July-August (in cooler areas).2

Cherries. Flickr: jayneandd

Cherries protect against oxidative stress:

Cherries range in color from yellow and pink to bright red to deep, dark red. The colors of sweet and sour cherries come from their rich supply of anthocyanins, including chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol.3,4 Regarding antioxidant content, cherries are some of the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) foods in existence – the ORAC score of sweet cherries ranks just as high as strawberries (though not quite as high as blueberries).5  

Anthocyanins protect the body against oxidative damage in a number of ways: they scavenge free radicals directly, bind to DNA to protect it from oxidative damage, and activate detoxification and antioxidant enzyme systems in the body. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to protect blood vessels and brain cells against oxidative stress, implying that cherry consumption may help to prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.3,6 Cherry anthocyanins also slow the growth of human colon cancer cells.7

Cherries reduce inflammation:

Cherries and cherry juice have been used since the 1950s by sufferers of gout and arthritis to ease their symptoms.  Gout results from an overload of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia), which accumulates and forms crystals in the joints, causing painful arthritis; cherry consumption has been shown to reduce circulating levels of uric acid, which may be one pathway by which cherries improve gout symptoms.8

New evidence presented in April at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting related the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry juice to both gout and heart disease.  Overweight and obese subjects consumed 8 ounces/day of tart cherry juice or placebo for 4 weeks.  Tart cherry juice consumers experienced reductions in uric acid levels and inflammation markers.  With regard to cardiovascular disease, reductions were also seen in triglycerides, VLDL, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), a molecule involved in atherosclerotic plaque formation.9  Previous studies on sweet cherry consumption have similarly documented reductions in C-reactive protein (CRP), another inflammatory molecule that is also a marker of cardiovascular disease risk.10

Cherries act as a natural painkiller:

Cherry extracts inhibit the action of cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and COX-2 enzymes.  These enzymes are important components of the inflammatory process and the sensation of pain. Also, these are the same enzymes that are inhibited by many common pain medications.  In fact, the COX inhibitory activity of cherry anthocyanins is comparable to that of equal concentrations of ibuprofen and naproxen.11,12  This may be another way that cherries and cherry juice can ease symptoms of gout and arthritis, and also may help athletes to cut down on post-workout muscle pain. Distance runners training for a race who drank tart cherry juice twice daily for 8 days (7 days prior to race plus race day) experienced less post-race pain than those who drank a placebo.13 Similarly in strength workouts, tart cherry juice consumers experienced less pain and strength loss over the four following days compared to placebo.14 

Cherries may help you sleep:

Tart cherries are one of the few rich food sources of the hormone and antioxidant melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the human brain.15  Tart cherry juice supplementation has been associated with improvements in sleep quality.16

When we think about high-antioxidant, health-promoting fruits, sometimes cherries are overlooked.  But as you can see here, cherries are an excellent food that benefits the heart, brain, and joints, and may even prevent tumor growth and improve the quality of sleep – and they will be in season very soon, so enjoy them!

 

References:

1. Cherry. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

2. Cherries. Aboutcom Local Foods. http://localfoods.about.com/od/summer/tp/CherriesHub.htm and http://localfoods.about.com/od/cherries/ss/cherryvarieties.htm. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

3. Kim DO, Heo HJ, Kim YJ, et al: Sweet and sour cherry phenolics and their protective effects on neuronal cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2005;53:9921-9927.

4. Phenolic compounds in sweet and sour cherries. Cornell University. http://ecsoc2.hcc.ru/ecsoc-2/dp260/dp260.htm. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

5. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of Selected Foods. 2007. US Department of Agriculture. http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2userfiles/place/12354500/data/orac/orac07.pdf Accessed on May 2, 2011.

6. Traustadottir T, Davies SS, Stock AA, et al: Tart cherry juice decreases oxidative stress in healthy older men and women. J Nutr 2009;139:1896-1900.

7. Kang SY, Seeram NP, Nair MG, et al: Tart cherry anthocyanins inhibit tumor development in Apc(Min) mice and reduce proliferation of human colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett 2003;194:13-19.

8. Jacob RA, Spinozzi GM, Simon VA, et al: Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women. J Nutr 2003;133:1826-1829.

9. Martin KR, Bopp J, Burrell L, et al: The effect of 100% tart cherry juice on serum uric acid levels, biomarkers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk factors. In Experimental Biology 2011. Washington, D.C.: The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; 2011.

10. Kelley DS, Rasooly R, Jacob RA, et al: Consumption of Bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. J Nutr 2006;136:981-986.

11. McCune LM, Kubota C, Stendell-Hollis NR, et al: Cherries and health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011;51:1-12.

12. Seeram NP, Momin RA, Nair MG, et al: Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries. Phytomedicine 2001;8:362-369.

13. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, et al: Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2010;7:17.

14. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, et al: Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med 2006;40:679-683; discussion 683.

15. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, et al: Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2001;49:4898-4902.

16. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, et al: Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food 2010;13:579-583.

 

 

Stand up, walk around, and cut down on inflammation

Prolonged sitting is associated with increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.[1, 2] This is troubling, since most of us sit for most of the day. Since 1950, there has been an 83% increase in sedentary jobs.[3] Many of us sit all day while we work, and then go home and sit for most of the evening – at the dinner table, at the computer, and on the couch.

Computer desk and chair. Flickr: TheMuuj

Just like exercise, prolonged sitting has distinct physiological effects. But unlike exercise, sitting has unhealthy effects. After just a few days of bed rest, increased insulin resistance and unfavorable vascular changes can be detected in healthy subjects.[4]

Exercise is one effective way to counteract these effects, but what about the rest of our day? If we spend an hour, or even two, exercising vigorously each day, is that enough to counteract the effects of the 8-12 hours we may spend sitting down? It turns out that the answer is no. Of course, exercise is beneficial – regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers. However, prolonged sitting has been linked to increased risk of death regardless of the amount of exercise activity performed.[5]

In addition to exercising daily, we also need to increase our non-exercise physical activity. Non-exercise physical activity, though its intensity is low, makes a significant contribution to our overall calorie expenditure. In fact, in people who do not exercise regularly, 90% of caloric expenditure is on standing, non-exercise movement. [6] We can increase non-exercise physical activity simply by taking frequent breaks from sitting. When we are sitting our muscles are idle, but once we stand up, there is measurable activity in the large muscles of our legs (graphically represented in Figure 3A here) – the body is physically active when we are standing.[6]

In a recent study, participants wore accelerometers, devices that keep track of physical activity intensity, to track their total quantity and sedentary time and number of interruptions (breaks) in sedentary time. Prolonged sitting was associated with larger waist circumference and higher C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) levels. But interruptions in sedentary time made a difference – regardless of the amount of time spent sitting, a greater number of interruptions in sedentary time was associated with smaller waist circumference and lower C-reactive protein.[7, 8]

Frequent but short bouts of non-exercise activity, like standing up from your desk to stretch, taking a quick walk around the office, standing up while taking a phone call, walking to a colleague’s office instead of sending an email, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator contribute to increasing the number of interruptions in our sedentary time.

Unfortunately, sedentary jobs are the norm, but we can use exercise and frequent breaks from sitting to help us counteract the unhealthy effects of our sedentary days.

 

 

References:

1. van Uffelen, J.G., et al., Occupational sitting and health risks: a systematic review. Am J Prev Med, 2010. 39(4): p. 379-88.
2. Manson, J.E., et al., Walking compared with vigorous exercise for the prevention of cardiovascular events in women. The New England journal of medicine, 2002. 347(10): p. 716-25.
3. The Price of Inactivity. American Heart Association.
4. Hamburg, N.M., et al., Physical inactivity rapidly induces insulin resistance and microvascular dysfunction in healthy volunteers. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 2007. 27(12): p. 2650-6.
5. Patel, A.V., et al., Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2010. 172(4): p. 419-29.
6. Hamilton, M.T., D.G. Hamilton, and T.W. Zderic, Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes, 2007. 56(11): p. 2655-67.
7. Healy, G.N., et al., Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003-06. European heart journal, 2011.
8. European Society of Cardiology: More breaks from sitting are good for waistlines and hearts. ScienceDaily, 2011.

 

Weight loss benefits the immune system

We are all aware that excess weight is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and currently the links between overweight and cancer are beginning to become more widely known. But did you know that carrying excess weight can also prevent your immune system from working properly?

CellsObesity is known to be associated with a state of chronic systemic inflammation. Fat is an endocrine organ, secreting many factors that immune cells respond to – excess fat is thought to stimulate white blood cells (WBC) that produce inflammatory molecules as a part of the normal immune response upon injury or infection. Fat cells may also produce these inflammatory molecules. Obesity’s effects on the immune system likely underlie some of its connections to chronic diseases.1

Obesity is associated with elevated numbers of circulating immune cells and total WBC,2 as well as elevated activation levels of certain WBC and suppressed immune cell function.3 In short, excess weight seems to promote a state of overstimulation of the immune system, which impairs normal immune function. Calorie restriction, on the other hand improves immune function and reduces production of inflammatory molecules.1

The current study evaluated immune cell number and activation in response to a significant amount of weight loss (average 13.5% of body weight) in type 2 diabetics and prediabetics over a 24-week period.  The researchers found an 80% decrease in circulating T-helper cells (a type of immune cell); decreased activation of circulating immune cells and other WBC, and also reduced activation of adipose tissue immune cells.4

This study suggests that weight loss can reverse the damage to the immune system that occurs due to obesity. Weight loss, therefore, in addition to reducing systemic inflammation and risk of chronic disease, may also improve resistance to bacterial and viral infections by restoring balance to the immune system. 

Consistent with these data, Dr. Fuhrman has noted that nutritarians often have lower than average white blood cell counts, reflecting appropriate levels of systemic inflammation and immune system activation. Lower WBC counts are reflective of excellent health and associated with longer lifespan.5 As such, those whose healthful eating habits cause WBC counts drop below the normal range should not be alarmed. 

 

References:

1. Dixit VD. Adipose-immune interactions during obesity and caloric restriction: reciprocal mechanisms regulating immunity and health span. J Leukoc Biol. 2008 Oct;84(4):882-92.

2. Womack J, Tien PC, Feldman J, et al. Obesity and immune cell counts in women. Metabolism. 2007 Jul;56(7):998-1004.

3. Nieman DC, Henson DA, Nehlsen-Cannarella SL,et al. Influence of obesity on immune function. J Am Diet Assoc. 1999 Mar;99(3):294-9.

4. Viardot A, Lord RV, Samaras K. The effects of weight loss and gastric banding on the innate and adaptive immune system in type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. JClin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2845-50.

5. Candore G, Colonna-Romano G, Balistreri CR, et al. Biology of longevity: role of the innate immune system. Rejuvenation Res. 2006 Spring;9(1):143-8.

Image credit: www.zooboing.com

Citrus Nutrient May Help Stop Obesity

In college, the only citrus I got was the lime in my beer bottle, but now I know better. Citrus fruits are loaded with health-promoting nutrients, like vitamin C.

Kiwi fruit, watermelon, strawberries, mangos and raspberries are all packed with vitamin C. And in May, vitamin C was found to stave off age-related vision loss.

Now, new findings in the journal Diabetes claims another fruit nutrient, naringenin—a flavonoid in citrus fruits—halts the development of metabolic syndrome, which leads to diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

For the study, scientists fed mice a high-fat diet—to simulate a western diet—in order to induce symptoms of metabolic syndrome and discovered mice fed a fatty diet plus naringenin had “corrected” levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.

Naringenin also protected against insulin resistance. Experts say naringenin reprogrammed the liver to burn up excess fat, instead of storing it. However, more research is needed to determined naringenin’s exact effect on heart disease.

In related news, pomegranates were found to reduce inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease.

Via EurekAlert!

Image credit: adamjtaylor

Higher Suicide Risk in Overweight Teens

New findings in the Journal of Adolescent Health reveal teenagers who are overweight or perceive themselves as fat—even if they aren’t—are more likely to attempt suicide. The study involved 14,000 high school students and determined teens who think they’re overweight are more likely to attempt suicide than kids who do not, leading experts to recommend that youth health campaigns also include teenagers with distorted body images; ScienceDaily reports.

Teens have it rough! A previous study showed teenagers carrying around excess belly fat have a greater risk of developing heart problems and stressed out kids have increased blood levels of C-reactive protein, leading to inflammation and cardiovascular disease later in life.

In related news, a report showed people living in areas with extended periods of sunlight, such as Greenland, were at greater risk of suicide during seasons of continuous day.

Image credit: Sappymoosetree

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Lower Inflammation

New findings in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition show high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids result in less inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease. For the study, experts divided 124 adults into groups based on the amount of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation linked to heart disease, in their blood and found an inverse relationship between fatty acids and C-reactive protein, greater levels of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA helped reduce the risk of inflammation; Nutra Ingredients reports.

Walnuts a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. I eat some everyday. Actually, omega-3’s also help prevent stroke, lower the incidence of prostate cancer and reduce risk of type-1 diabetes in children. Dr. Fuhrman sells his own fatty acid supplement, DHA Purity.

In February, a study showed omega-3 fatty acids help protect the liver from damage caused by obesity, reducing inflammation and improving insulin tolerance.

Image credit: flora.cyclam

Pomegranates Fight Cell Inflammation

A new study in Journal of Inflammation claims polyphenols, plant nutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, contained in pomegranate extract inhibit the production of inflammatory compounds, potentially preventing chronic inflammation associated with heart disease, Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, diabetes and arthritis. For the study, scientists stimulated cells to prompt an inflammatory response and then incubated the cells with pomegranate. Results showed pomegranate extract decreased pro-inflammatory reaction; Bakery and Snacks investigates.

Pomegranates are the real deal. Dr. Fuhrman calls them potent disease-fighters, especially for prostate cancer. In 2006, a study revealed men drinking pomegranate juice had better PSA scores. And pomegranates have also been found to help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetes.

In related news, the term “antioxidants” is resonating with consumers and increasing their willingness to try products including them. Maybe that’s the why the pomegranate phone is so darn cool.

Image credit: John-Morgan

Magic Mushrooms Boost Immunity

Some mushrooms will kill you! But others will make you big and strong. A new study in the journal BMC Immunology reveals eating mushrooms bolstered the immune system of mice. To investigate, experts fed mice white button, crimini, maitake, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Libratory mice eating a diet consisting of 2% white buttons mushrooms were more protected against colon inflammation and related symptoms, such as weight-loss and colon injury, known risk factors for the development of colon tumors. Researchers expect similar beneficial effects in humans; Reuters reports.

Dr. Fuhrman considers mushrooms an excellent substitute for meat and some scientists believe mushrooms’ low energy content, i.e. low calories, can combat obesity, satisfying people but not overstuffing them with extra calories. Mushrooms fight prostate cancer too.

But many people dislike mushrooms. In the United Kingdom, mushrooms are one the healthy foods Britons force themselves to choke down and the United States hates mushrooms.

Image credit: Richard Forward