Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cocoa 'could get rid of the West's top killer diseases'

Not even Willy Wonka, Roald Dahl's eccentric chocolate-maker, could have dreamt that his scrumptious products might one day offer the world a panacea.
But scientists are close to claiming just that. A compound in unrefined cocoa has health benefits that may rival those of penicillin and anaesthesia, they say.
Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has spent years studying the Kuna people in Panama. He found that four of the most common killers - stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes - affected fewer than one in 10 of the Kuna.
Unrefined natural cocoa contains high levels of epicatechin, which Professor Hollenberg said was so important it should be considered a vitamin.
He told Chemist and Industry magazine: "If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine. We all agree that penicillin and anaesthesia are enormously important. But epicatechin could potentially get rid of four of the five most common diseases in the Western world. How important does that make epicatechin? I would say very important."
Daniel Fabricant, vice-president at the Natural Products Association, said that the observations might warrant a rethink of how vitamins are defined. There are 13 vitamins that are defined as essential to the normal functioning, metabolism and regulation of cell growth, and deficiency is usually linked to disease.
"The link between high epicatechin consumption and a decreased risk of killer disease is so striking, it should be investigated further. It may be that these diseases are the result of epicatechin deficiency," Mr Fabricant said.

Source - Independent

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Brushing teeth is proven to cut heart risk

BRUSHING your teeth properly can help prevent heart attacks and strokes, scientists have found.
Warding off gum disease can directly improve the health of blood vessels, according to the study by British and American researchers, which is the first to demonstrate that dental treatments can assist blood-flow through arteries.
An association between gum disease, or periodontitis, and narrowing of the arteries was already known. Inflammation was thought to be involved, but there was no proof of a causal link.
The new findings show that gum disease has a direct impact on the health of blood vessels. Tackling problems in the mouth enhances the ability of arteries to open up.

Source - Scotsman

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Big Question: What are superfoods, and are they really so good for our health?

Why are we asking this question now?
The term superfoods entered the language in the 1990s to denote foods packed with nutrients that supposedly have health-giving properties. Some are exotic, such as alfa alfa, spirulina and wheatgrass, and some prosaic such as broccoli, beans and beetroot.
The latest addition to the pantheon - watercress - was announced by scientists yesterday. Researchers at the University of Ulster, who fed large quantities of the peppery salad leaf to 60 men and women daily for eight weeks, showed it increased antioxidants in their blood and decreased DNA damage to their white blood cells. They concluded, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The results support the theory that consumption of watercress can be linked to a reduced risk of cancer."
Are the watercress claims credible?
Not really. The research was funded by British watercress suppliers. Karol Sikora, professor of cancer medicine at Imperial College, delivered a delicious putdown yesterday.
He said: "The real problem is that it's not watercress specific - there's nothing magic there. The press release, from what is essentially a marketing association, is grossly overstated. We know that fruits and vegetables all do affect DNA damage, hence the five-a-day strategy to prevent cancer. There is absolutely nothing special about watercress."
What does the term superfood mean?
There is no definition of a superfood - and no definitive list. New candidates are regularly put forward, usually backed by a large dollop of marketing hype. Among the best known are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc) for omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries for vitamin C, brazil nuts for selenium, carrots for beta-carotene, tomatoes for lycopene, olive oil for the anti-inflammatory compound oleocanthal, red wine for resveratrol and garlic.
Health claims range from improving IQ to preventing cancer and heart disease, increasing sporting ability and enhancing appearance. Although their benefits are often overstated there is little doubt that they are a worthwhile addition to any diet.
Why not take vitamin pills and nutritional supplements instead?
Because eating is a pleasure - swallowing pills is not. Research on vitamins has also yielded confusing results with claims showing they protect against heart disease or cancer soon contradicted by new studies showing the opposite.
The argument for superfoods, which contain the vitamins in their raw unprocessed state, is that they are natural food sources, safe and easily absorbed. Calcium, for example, sold as calcium carbonate - chalk - is difficult to digest. In a glass of (low-fat) milk it is easily absorbed.
Does designating something as a superfood have an effect?
Yes. Sales of blueberries soared a couple of years ago after claims the fruit could help protect the body from a range of illnesses. Nutritionists say blueberries are bursting with vitamin C and offer one of the best sources of the antioxidant anthocyanin, believed to help keep the heart healthy and maintain youthful skin. In summer 2004, the US Department of Agriculture researchers revealed blueberries contained pterostilbene, which could be as effective as prescription drugs in helping lower cholesterol. Blackcurrant growers in the UK hit back with a campaign to promote the benefits of their "forgotten fruit", saying the berries contained more antioxidants than their foreign-grown rivals.

Source - Independent

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