A new research study from Loma Linda University (LLU) demonstrates that naturally occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention; the results were published in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E — known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities. The nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. The findings illustrate that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. Oxidized LDLs may further contribute to inflammation in the arteries and place people at greater risk of cardiovascular problems. “Our tests show that eating pecans increases the amount of healthy antioxidants in the body,” says LLU researcher Ella Haddad, DrPH, associate professor in the School of Public Health department of nutrition. “This protective effect is important in helping to prevent development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”
These findings are from a research project designed to further evaluate the health benefits of pecans, according to Dr. Haddad. She analyzed biomarkers in blood and urine samples from study participants (a total of 16 men and women between the ages 23 and 44) who ate a sequence of three diets composed of whole pecans, pecans blended with water, or a control meal of equivalent nutrient composition. The pecan meals contained about three ounces of the nut. Samples were taken prior to meals and at intervals up to 24 hours after eating. Following the test meals composed of whole pecans and blended pecans, researchers found that amounts of gamma-tocopherols (vitamin E) in the body doubled eight hours after both meals, and oxygen radical absorbance capabilities (ORAC — a scientific method for measuring antioxidant power in the blood) increased 12 and 10 percent respectively two hours after the meals. In addition, following the whole-pecan meal, oxidized LDL cholesterol decreased by 30 percent (after 2 hours), 33 percent (after 3 hours), and 26 percent (after 8 hours).
“This study is another piece of evidence that pecans are a healthy food,” says Dr. Haddad. “Previous research has shown that pecans contain antioxidant factors. Our study shows these antioxidants are indeed absorbed in the body and provide a protective effect against diseases.” Research from Loma Linda University published earlier in the Journal of Nutrition showed that a pecan-enriched diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol by 16.5 percent — more than twice the American Heart Association’s Step I diet, which was used as the control diet in that study. Similarly, the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol levels by 11.3 percent (also twice as much as the Step I diet).
Eating a diet high in antioxidants may protect against ischemic stroke, an Italian cohort study showed.
People who had a diet high in total antioxidant capacity — an index that takes into account several different antioxidants and their interactions — had a 59% reduced relative risk of ischemic stroke (HR 0.41, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.74), according to Nicoletta Pellegrini, PhD, of the University of Parma in Italy, and colleagues. But there was no such relationship with hemorrhagic stroke, they reported in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition. In fact, the highest intake of the antioxidant vitamin E was associated with a greater risk of hemorrhagic stroke (HR 2.94, 95% CI 1.13 to 7.62).
Considering evidence suggesting that oxidative stress and systemic inflammation are involved in the pathogenesis of ischemic stroke, the researchers noted that “a high-total antioxidant capacity diet could be protective as a consequence of its ability to deliver compounds with antioxidant activity and with a demonstrated anti-inflammatory effect.” But, they acknowledged that the mechanism for such activity was unclear may “go beyond the antioxidant activity of the numerous total antioxidant capacity contributors present in foods and beverages.”
Pellegrini and her colleagues set out to explore the relationship between dietary total antioxidant capacity and the risk of stroke among 41,620 people participating in EPICOR, the Italian segment of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). None had a history of stroke or MI at baseline. Dietary intake was assessed with a food frequency questionnaire. In the study population, more than half of the total antioxidants consumed came from coffee, wine, and fruit. Through a mean follow-up of 7.9 years, there were 112 ischemic strokes, 48 hemorrhagic strokes, and 34 other types of strokes. After adjustment for energy intake, hypertension, smoking status, education, nonalcoholic energy intake at recruitment, alcohol intake, waist circumference, body mass index, and total physical activity, individuals eating a diet in the highest tertile of total antioxidant capacity had a reduced risk of ischemic — but not hemorrhagic — stroke.
Looking at individual antioxidants, the researchers found that participants consuming the highest amounts of vitamin C had a reduced risk of ischemic stroke (HR 0.58, 95% CI 0.34 to 0.99). Controlling for vitamin C intake did not negate the overall association between antioxidants and ischemic stroke, which ruled out the nutrient as the sole driver of the relationship. High intake of vitamin E, on the other hand, was associated with nearly triple the relative risk of hemorrhagic stroke. However, “it must be stressed that the small number of cases observed in this population strongly limits the validity of statistical observations on hemorrhagic stroke,” noted the researchers, who called for further studies.
Aside from anti-inflammatory effects, it is possible that the association between antioxidants and ischemic stroke risk can be explained by the interaction between polyphenols — the major contributors to total antioxidant capacity — and the generation of nitric oxide from the vascular endothelium. That interaction leads to the vasodilation and expression of genes that may be protective for the vascular system, according to the researchers. In addition, coffee — the main source of antioxidants in the study population — reduces blood pressure, which is a recognized risk factor for ischemic stroke, the researchers wrote.
They noted some limitations of the study, including the low numbers of cases when different types of stroke were analyzed, the measurement of total antioxidant capacity at baseline only, and the inability to rule out confounding effects of other dietary components, like sodium and potassium.
Source: Del Rio D, et al “Total antioxidant capacity of the diet is associated with lower risk of ischemic stroke in a large Italian cohort” J Nutr 2011; 141: 118-123.
Tomatoes are rich in cell-protecting antioxidants. Antioxidants are known cancer-fighters, such as prostate and breast cancer. And now lycopene – one of the antioxidants found in tomatoes – is being linked to reduce risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease, usually developing in old age, especially in post-menopausal women.
But the new study at the University of Toronto in Canada, says drinking tomato juice may help stave off osteoporosis. Published in the journal Osteoporosis International, scientists claim consuming 30mg of lycopene from tomato juice (about two glasses) is enough to help prevent osteoporosis. For the research, experts restricted a group of post-menopausal women, ages 50 to 60, from consuming anything containing lycopene for one month, then the study participants were split into four groups for four months. Groups were given either a 15mg lycopene supplement, a glass of tomato juice naturally containing 15mg of lycopene, a gourmet tomato juice with 35mg of lycopene, or a placebo.
After four months, results showed supplementing with lycopene raised serum lycopene, compared to the placebo group. The women consuming lycopene had significantly increased antioxidant capacity, decreased oxidative stress, and decreased bone markers for osteoporosis.
The prospective Rotterdam Study involved 5,395 people over age 55 with no dementia at baseline. All of the participants, who lived in one section of the Rotterdam area, provided dietary information when the study began in 1990.
The researchers previously reported a similar association of vitamin E intake with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease over six years of follow-up among the cohort.
The current study found that after 9.6 years of follow-up, 465 of the participants had developed dementia; 365 of these cases were classified as Alzheimer's disease.
Higher baseline vitamin E consumption correlated with lower long-term risk of dementia in models minimally adjusted for age only and those adjusted for age, education, apolipoprotein genotype, total caloric intake, alcohol and smoking habits, body mass index, and use of supplements (both P=0.02 for trend).
Dietary surveys indicated that margarine was by far the biggest contributor to vitamin E intake at 43.4%, followed by sunflower oil at 18.5%, butter at 3.8%, and cooking fats at 3.4%.
Participants with vitamin E intakes in the top third, averaging 18.5 mg per day, were 25% less likely to develop dementia of any kind over almost 10 years of follow-up than those in the bottom third, who averaged only 9.0 mg per day. Higher baseline vitamin E consumption correlated with lower long-term risk of dementia (both P=0.02 for trend).
While the top versus bottom tertile comparison was significant, the middle group with vitamin E intake averaging 13.5 mg per day was no less likely to develop dementia than the lowest intake group.
For Alzheimer's disease alone, the multivariate-adjusted risk was 26% lower among those with the highest intake compared with the lowest (95% confidence interval 3% to 44%, P=0.03 for trend). But intermediate intake again appeared to have no impact.
Other antioxidants — vitamin C, beta-carotene, and flavonoids — held no significant associations with dementia or Alzheimer's disease risk (multivariate adjusted P=0.50 to >0.99 for trend).
Sensitivity analyses excluding participants who reported taking supplements at baseline showed similar results.
The researchers noted that the vitamin intakes seen in the study were consistent with a typical Western diet but cautioned about the possibility of residual confounding in the observational results.
Beta-carotene is the precursor to vitamin A and gamma-tocopherol is a common form of vitamin E. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables and is important in vision and healthy skin. All three compounds are oil soluble vitamins.
Antioxidants are of interest because oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are implicated in inflammation and plaque buildup inside blood vessels. Antioxidants should prevent LDLs from oxidizing, migrating into the blood vessel walls and causing inflammation.
“Currently, studies on antioxidants do not show major benefits,” said Kris-Etherton. “Maybe we are not studying people long enough. Maybe there is something in the food that travels with the antioxidants. The antioxidant story is very disappointing to the scientific community.”
The reason for the disappointment is that studies on specific antioxidants currently do not show health benefits, but epidemiological studies seem to indicate benefits. Many people feel that we have not figured out antioxidants yet, said Kris-Etherton.
If antioxidants are important, then pistachios fit the bill as antioxidant-laden food.
The researchers conducted a randomized, crossover design, controlled feeding experiment to test the effects of pistachios on antioxidant levels when added to a heart healthy moderate-fat diet. Controlled feeding experiments provide all the food eaten by study subjects for the duration of the study period.
The participants began the study by eating a typical American diet consisting of 35 percent total fat and 11 percent saturated fat for two weeks. They then tested three diets for four weeks each with about a two-week break between each diet. All three diets were variations on the Step I Diet, a cholesterol-lowering diet in general use. The diets included, as a control, a Step I Diet with no pistachios and about 25 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat. The pistachio-enhanced diets were Step I Diets with 10 and 20 percent of the energy supplied by pistachio nuts, respectively. The 10 percent pistachio diet had 30 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat and the 20 percent pistachio diet had 34 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat.
The actual amounts of pistachios included in each diet were 1.5 ounces and 3 ounces for the 10 and 20 percent diets, respectively.
Both pistachio diets produced higher blood serum levels of beta-carotene, lutein and gamma-tocopherol than the typical American diet. Compared to the pistachio free Step I Diet, the pistachio-enhanced diets produced greater blood plasma levels of lutein and gamma-tocopherol. After eating both pistachio-enriched diets, the participants had lower oxidized-LDL concentrations in their blood than after the control Step I Diet.
When the researchers controlled for the change in LDL-cholesterol produced by the pistachio-enhanced diets, increases in beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol were still associated with decreased oxidized-LDL for the 3-ounce pistachio-enhanced diet.
“Our results suggest that a heart-healthy diet including pistachios contributes to a decrease in serum oxidized-LDL levels, in part through cholesterol lowering, and also due to an added benefit of the antioxidants in the pistachios,” said Kris-Etherton.
Other researchers in the study include Sheila West, associate professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State; Sarah Gebauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Md. and Colin D. Kay, lecturer, University of East Anglia.
The Western Pistachio Association supported this work. Partial support also came from the NIH- supported General Clinical Research Center at Penn State.