Whole food nutraceutical: saffron for mood

According to ancient Greek mythology, Hermes and his friend Krokos were horse-playing and Hermes accidentally killed Krokos through a head injury, with three blood drops from his head falling on the top of a flower, creating three stigmata and naming this plant thereafter Krokos (Crocus)[1]. Thus the ancient and godly identification of this plant and saffron.

Saffron is the dried stigma (the top part in the center of a flower which receives the pollen and on which germination takes place) of the blue-purple flower Crocus sativus L., and it has a long history of use as a spice, coloring agent, and medicine. Due to how saffron is grown and harvested, saffron is considered one of the world’s most expensive spices (upwards of $11,000 per kg, requiring 450,000 hand-picked stigmas)[2]. Apart from its traditional value as a spice and coloring agent (originally for the Persian carpet industry), saffron has a long history of medicinal use spanning over 2,500 years[3].

This use of saffron in traditional medicine included for cramps, asthma, menstruation disorders, liver disease, and painful dysmenorrhoea[4], among many other uses.  Evidence from recent in vitro and in vivo research indicates that saffron has potential anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant, and memory-enhancing properties[5] [6].

Neurodegenerative disorders

Administration of saffron 30 mg/day (15 mg twice daily) was found to be as effective as a leading medication for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (donepezil) in a placebo-controlled double bind for treatment in subjects of 55 years and older[7] but with a better side effect profile.  Although there are a growing number of non-human animal studies and theories why saffron could be neuroprotective for Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, clinical studies are too few to make any tentative conclusions to date.

Mood disorders

In two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, saffron was effective for the treatment of mild to-moderate depression[8] [9].

A systematic review of randomized control trials examining the effectiveness of saffron in mood disorders revealed a statistically significant effect on improved mood on subjects clinically diagnosed with depression[10]; the dosing was typically 30 mg/ day.

In clinical studies, the use of saffron extract at doses of 20–30 mg/day twice daily for the treatment of mild to moderate depression has been compared with currently marketed antidepressants such as fluoxetine[11] (20 mg/day twice daily) and imipramine[12] (100 mg/day three times daily). So these comparative evaluations revealed that saffron was equally effective as chemically synthesized marketed pharmaceutics, in mild or moderate depression without causing the typical side effects of the artificial preparations.

Saffron may act in a manner similar to antidepressants to improve mood by inhibiting serotonin reuptake[13] or there could be multiple pathways involving, for example, its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. 

Saffron contains in excess of 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds and many non-volatile active components, many of which are carotenoids[14] . Safranal is the compound primarily responsible for saffron’s aroma.  Safranal has shown to have anti-convulsant and anxiolytic effects[15] as well as antidepressant properties[16]    

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

One randomized controlled trial examined the effects of saffron supplementation on premenstrual syndrome[17]. It was found that found that women with regular menstrual cycles experiencing premenstrual syndrome who took 30 mg/d of saffron supplementation for eight weeks reported relief in premenstrual symptoms and depression levels compared to placebo.  Remarkably, just the aroma alone – without otherwise any oral intake of saffron was itself found effective in relief of PMS symptoms in another placebo controlled double blind study[18], indicating effectiveness at very small does and the likely active component being Safranal.

 

References

[1] Koulakiotis, N., Pittenauer, E., Halabalaki, M., Skaltsounis, L., Allmaier, G., & Tsarbopoulos, A. (2011). Isolation and Tandem Mass Spectometric Characterization of Selected Crocus sativus L. (Saffron) Bioactive Compounds.Planta Med Planta Medica, 77(12). doi:10.1055/s-0031-1282560

[2] Gohari, A., Saeidnia, S., & Mahmoodabadi, M. (2013). An overview on saffron, phytochemicals, and medicinal properties. Pharmacognosy Reviews Phcog Rev,7(1), 61. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.112850

[3] Srivastava, R., Ahmed, H., Dixit, R., D., & Saraf, S. (2010). Crocus sativus L.: A comprehensive review. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8), 200. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70919

[4] Kianbakht, S., & Ghazavi, A. (2011). Immunomodulatory Effects of Saffron: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 25(12), 1801-1805. doi:10.1002/ptr.3484

[5] Abdullaev, F., & Espinosa-Aguirre, J. (2004). Biomedical properties of saffron and its potential use in cancer therapy and chemoprevention trials. Cancer Detection and Prevention, 28(6), 426-432. doi:10.1016/j.cdp.2004.09.002

[6] Bathaie, S. Z., & Mousavi, S. Z. (2010). New Applications and Mechanisms of Action of Saffron and its Important Ingredients. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 50(8), 761-786. doi:10.1080/10408390902773003

[7] Akhondzadeh, S., Sabet, M. S., Harirchian, M. H., Togha, M., Cheraghmakani, H., Razeghi, S., . . . Moradi, A. (2010). ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: A 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 35(5), 581-588. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2710.2009.01133.x

[8] Akhondzadeh, S., Tahmacebi-Pour, N., Noorbala, A., Amini, H., Fallah-Pour, H., Jamshidi, A., & Khani, M. (2005). Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial.Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 19(2), 148-151. doi:10.1002/ptr.1647

[9] Moshiri, E., Basti, A. A., Noorbala, A., Jamshidi, A., Abbasi, S. H., & Akhondzadeh, S. (2006). Crocus sativus L. (petal) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial.Phytomedicine, 13(9-10), 607-611. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2006.08.006

[10] Hausenblas, H. A., Heekin, K., Mutchie, H. L., & Anton, S. (2015). A systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on psychological and behavioral outcomes. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 13(4), 231-240. doi:10.1016/s2095-4964(15)60176-5

[11] Noorbala, A., Akhondzadeh, S., Tahmacebi-Pour, N., & Jamshidi, A. (2005). Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized pilot trial. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 97(2), 281-284. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.11.004

[12] Akhondzadeh, S., Fallah-Pour, H., Afkham, K., Jamshidi, A., & Khalighi-Cigaroudi, F. (2004). Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A pilot double-blind randomized trial [ISRCTN45683816]. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine BMC Complement Altern Med, 4(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-4-12

[13] Hausenblas, H. A., Saha, D., Dubyak, P. J., & Anton, S. D. (2013). Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 11(6), 377-383. doi:10.3736/jintegrmed2013056

[14] Sampathu, S. R., Shivashankar, S., Lewis, Y. S., & Wood, A. B. (1984). Saffron ( Crocus Sativus Linn.) — Cultivation, processing, chemistry and standardization.C R C Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 20(2), 123-157. doi:10.1080/10408398409527386

[15] Hosseinzadeh, H., & Talebzadeh, F. (2005). Anticonvulsant evaluation of safranal and crocin from Crocus sativus in mice. Fitoterapia, 76(7-8), 722-724. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2005.07.008

[16] Hosseinzadeh, H., Karimi, G., & Niapoor, M. (2004). Antidepressant Effect Of Crocus Sativus L. Stigma Extracts And Their Constituents, Crocin And Safranal, In Mice. Acta Hortic. Acta Horticulturae, (650), 435-445. doi:10.17660/actahortic.2004.650.54

[17] Agha-Hosseini, M., Kashani, L., Aleyaseen, A., Ghoreishi, A., Rahmanpour, H., Zarrinara, A., & Akhondzadeh, S. (2008). Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG: Int J O & G BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 115(4), 515-519. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2007.01652.x

[18] Fukui, H., Toyoshima, K., & Komaki, R. (2011). Psychological and neuroendocrinological effects of odor of saffron (Crocus sativus).Phytomedicine, 18(8-9), 726-730. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2010.11.013

Human movement indoors causes vitamin D insufficiency

The fourth vitamin to be discovered, vitamin D, is technically not a vitamin as one’s body can produce it – it just requires sunlight.  No one is suggesting that sunlight is a vitamin per se.  And only a relatively short span of radiation from the sun is involved, the so-called UVB of the ultraviolet spectrum.  The intensity of UVB available depends on the weather, season, location on earth, and time of day; in the United States it maximizes between 10 am and 4 pm between April and October.

With moderate direct exposure to the summer sun (say 5 - 30 minutes twice a week), the body will make 10,000 to 20,000 IU. Sunscreen can effectively block UVB absorption; for an individual with frequent sun exposure (greater than twice per week), it might be prudent to place sunscreen after the first 10 – 15 minutes of sun exposure to avoid skin cancer but allow vitamin D production.  As our bodies can store vitamin D, it is thought that sufficient exposure during spring, summer, and early fall should be sufficient to provide needed vitamin D during the winter months.

So this is another recent modification in our evolution – to stay indoors a lot more than our ancestors, decreasing our vitamin D production.  The National Academies Institute of Medicine has no guidelines for vitamin D through sun exposure; they do have RDA but it is based on food intake.

The reaction of cholesterol (in the form of 7-dehydrocholesterol) in the skin with sunlight actually produces several fat-soluble related compounds, the most important being cholecalciferol, vitamin D3, and ergocalciferol, vitamin D2. The term “vitamin D” includes both of these compounds.

Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D, although some food products have vitamin D as an additive. To manufacture vitamin D industrially, 7-dehydrocholesterol,  a substance typically obtained from fish liver[1],or lanolin extracted from shorn sheep wool, is exposed to UVB light, producing vitamin D3. Vitamin D cannot be manufactured directly; it requires the photochemical process.

To become biologically active, vitamin D has to undergo two transformative reactions, one in the liver, then another in the kidney. 

Vitamin D deficiency to the extent of causing rickets or osteomalacia is rare in the developed world but what we might call vitamin-D insufficiency, a lower than ideal biologically active form of vitamin D, appears to be quite common, particularly in the elderly. 

Vitamin D toxicity is also rare.  There is a feedback loop associated with vitamin D production in the skin that lowers its production as adequate amounts are reached.  This natural regulatorymechanism doesn’t apply to supplementation but for daily supplemental intake of 2,000 IU (about 50 micrograms) per day, there is very little risk of toxicity.[2]

As vitamin D is fat soluble, it requires the presence of fat for absorption; some supplements encapsulate cholecalciferol, vitamin D3, with fat; otherwise often it is recommended to take with a meal containing some degree of fat.

We have learned relatively recently that vitamin D has a lot larger effect on the body than just calcium absorption; for example, it has to do with modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation[3]. And mood states.

Vitamin D and psychiatric disorders

Vitamin D acts on receptors in a variety of regions in the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, thalamus, hypothalamus, and substantia nigra and as such can influence neurochemistry[4] cognition, emotion, and behavior. Vitamin D deficiency in early life affects neuronal differentiation, and brain structure and function and appears to have some influence on disorders with a developmental basis, such as autistic spectrum disorder and schizophrenia ontogeny and brain structure and function[5].

The initial suggestion that vitamin D may be linked to clinical depression was based on the relation between low vitamin D and high prevalence of seasonal affective disorder (now considered to be a depressive disorder with seasonal pattern[6]) in winter at high latitudes[7].  One treatment modality for clinical depression with seasonal pattern is light therapy, although no ultra-violet light is used.  Vitamin D insufficiency is not considered to be directly causative for this disorder.

However, vitamin D concentrations have been shown to be low in many patients suffering from mood disorders and have been associated with poor cognitive function[8] [9]. For example, data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were used to assess association between serum vitamin D and depression in 7,970 residents of the United States[10]. In that study, the likelihood of having depression in persons with vitamin D deficiency was found to be significantly higher compared to those with vitamin D sufficiency.

One thorough systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies and randomized controlled trials was conducted and found that vitamin D insufficiency was strongly associated with clinical depression[11].  Another systematic review and meta-analysis showed a statistically significant improvement in depression with Vitamin D supplements[12].

Use of vitamin D as adjunctive therapy, i.e. together with an antidepressant medication in patients with vitamin D insufficiency has shown to be superior to an antidepressant alone[13].

What to do

This is another situation where recent changes in human lifestyle – here being indoors more than outdoors, can lead to a nutrient deficiency.  Because it is so common to have a vitamin D insufficiency and the health consequences, specifically mood states, I recommend more time in the outdoors, including some limited time (say 10 minutes a day) with face and arms without sunscreen. 

If you do not spend regular time in the sun, I do recommend a vitamin D3 supplement to be taken before, during, or directly after a meal.  I think it wise to take these supplements during the winter months in any case.

Should you question whether or not you may be clinically depressed, professional assessment certainly is recommended as always; initial workup may include serum vitamin D levels (usually 25(OH)D is measured but various labs use different techniques resulting in varying “normal” level ranges).

A strict ethical vegan, however, faces a dilemma as the sources of vitamin D3 supplementation (and all “fortified products such as almond milk and tofu) are animal-based. Some literature supports vitamin D2 intake as sufficient, but good studies are too scarce to suggest this as the sole source for supplementation; vitamin D2 can be obtained from certain mushrooms set out in the sun for 10 minutes or so prior to consumption and there are supplements available from this source. It would appear that lifestyle emphasis on “fun in the sun” is indicated for vegans. 

 

References

[1] Takeuchi A, Okano T, Sayamoto M, Sawamura S, Kobayashi T, Motosugi M, Yamakawa T; Okano; Sayamoto; Sawamura; Kobayashi; Motosugi; Yamakawa (1986). "Tissue distribution of 7-dehydrocholesterol, vitamin D3 and 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in several species of fishes". Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology32 (1): 13–22.

[2] Ross, A. C., Manson, J. E., Abrams, S. A., Aloia, J. F., Brannon, P. M., Clinton, S. K., . . . Shapses, S. A. (2011). The 2011 Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D: What Dietetics Practitioners Need to Know⁎⁎This article is a summary of the Institute of Medicine report entitled Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D (available at http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D.aspx) for dietetics practitioners; a similar summary for clinicians has also been published (Ross AC, Manson JE, Abrams SA, Aloia JF, Brannon PM, Clinton SK, Durazo-Arvizu RA, Gallagher JC, Gallo RL, Jones G, Kovacs CS, Mayne ST, Rosen CJ, Shapses SA. The 2011 report on Dietary Reference Intakes for calcium and vitamin D from the Institute of Medicine: What clinicians need to know. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96:53-58).Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(4), 524-527. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.01.004

[3] DRI – Dietary Reference Intakes – Calcium and Vitamin D20122 DRI – Dietary Reference Intakes – Calcium and Vitamin D . Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, , ISBN: 13‐978‐0‐309‐16394‐1. (2012). Nutrition & Food Science, 42(2), 131-131. doi:10.1108/nfs.2012.42.2.131.2

[4] Yue, W., Xiang, L., Zhang, Y., Ji, Y., & Li, X. (2014). Association of Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D with Symptoms of Depression After 6 Months in Stroke Patients. Neurochem Res Neurochemical Research, 39(11), 2218-2224. doi:10.1007/s11064-014-1423-y

[5] Eyles, D. W., Burne, T. H., & Mcgrath, J. J. (2013). Vitamin D, effects on brain development, adult brain function and the links between low levels of vitamin D and neuropsychiatric disease. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 34(1), 47-64. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2012.07.001

[6] Gabbard, Glen O. Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders2 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing. p. 1296.

[7] Stumpf WE, Privette TH: Light, vitamin D and psychiatry. Role of 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3 (soltriol) in etiology and therapy of seasonal affective disorder and other mental processes. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 1989, 97:285–294.

[8] Wilkins, C. H., Sheline, Y. I., Roe, C. M., Birge, S. J., & Morris, J. C. (2006). Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Low Mood and Worse Cognitive Performance in Older Adults. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14(12), 1032-1040. doi:10.1097/01.jgp.0000240986.74642.7c

[9] Przybelski, R. J., & Binkley, N. C. (2007). Is vitamin D important for preserving cognition? A positive correlation of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration with cognitive function. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 460(2), 202-205. doi:10.1016/j.abb.2006.12.018

[10] Ganji, V., Milone, C., Cody, M. M., Mccarty, F., & Wang, Y. T. (2010). Serum vitamin D concentrations are related to depression in young adult US population: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Int Arch Med International Archives of Medicine, 3(1), 29. doi:10.1186/1755-7682-3-29

[11] Anglin, R. E., Samaan, Z., Walter, S. D., & Mcdonald, S. D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(2), 100-107. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.106666

[12] Spedding, S. (2014). Vitamin D and Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Comparing Studies with and without Biological Flaws. Nutrients, 6(4), 1501-1518. doi:10.3390/nu6041501

[13] Khoraminya, N., Tehrani-Doost, M., Jazayeri, S., Hosseini, A., & Djazayery, A. (2012). Therapeutic effects of vitamin D as adjunctive therapy to fluoxetine in patients with major depressive disorder. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 47(3), 271-275. doi:10.1177/0004867412465022

Every plant has the anti-inflammatory aspirin - without the side effects

Perhaps the first plant nutraceutic modified slightly to become a large commercial success was salicylic acid, found in particularly high amounts in the inner lining of white willow tree bark and central to defense mechanisms in plants against pathogen attack and environmental stress. It is the principal metabolite of the medication aspirin, which works through a completely different pathway in humans to affect an anti-inflammatory and antipyretic response.  However, dosing in isolated concentrated form resulted in severe gastrointestinal distress, so that a buffered form was developed – and patented – in 1900 as Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) by Bayer[1].  This approach to acquiring medicinal benefits from salicylic acid is still flawed by the fact that there is an increased risk of bleeding even for low-dose therapy.  About one in ten people on chronic low-dose aspirin develop stomach or intestinal ulcers, which can perforate the gut and cause life-threatening bleeding.[2]

There is a better way to take advantage of the healing properties of salicylic acid: eating plants.  All plants contain salicylic acid and vegetarians have as much in their blood as omnivores who take aspirin supplements – but without the risk[3].  Apparently this has been known empirically since the third millennium BC.

This is another recurring theme: plant-based diets can obviate the need for many supplements and prescribed medications.  Plant-based diets are anti-inflammatory not only because of salicylic acid but because of their many other anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help prevent the body from overproducing inflammatory compounds.  Of course plant-based diets minimize one’s intake of inflammatory precursors present in meat and dairy products in the first place. 

Just to review, this amazing substance, salicylic acid, the active metabolite of aspirin and a plant hormone, plays a central role in the immune system of plants by activating the production of pathogen-fighting proteins[4].  It can transmit the distress signal throughout the plant and even to neighboring plants[5].  But the amazing fact is its crossover and apparent inverse role that it has in humans: it reducesthe immune response, i.e. serves as an anti-inflammatory.  This has an important role then in chronic inflammatory states such as cardio- and cerebrovascular disease, stroke, arthritis, even certain cancers.  Recently, mental disorders have been linked to chronic inflammatory states[6] and aspirin is finding a use for disorders ranging from mood disorders[7] to schizophrenia[8].

So this remarkable agent helps prevent disease in both plants and animals but by completely different mechanisms.

 

[1] Interestingly, Aspirin ® and Heroin ® were once trademarks belonging to Bayer. After Germany lost World War I, Bayer was forced to give up both trademarks as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

[2] Yeomans, N., Lanas, A., Talley, N., Thomson, A., Daneshjoo, R., Eriksson, B., . . . Hawkey, C. (2005). Prevalence and incidence of gastroduodenal ulcers during treatment with vascular protective doses of aspirin. Aliment Pharmacol Ther Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 22(9), 795-801.

[3] Paterson, J., Baxter, G., Dreyer, J., Halket, J., Flynn, R., & Lawrence, J. (2008). Salicylic Acid sans Aspirin in Animals and Man: Persistence in Fasting and Biosynthesis from Benzoic Acid. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry J. Agric. Food Chem., 56(24), 11648-11652.

[4] Pieterse, C., Van Der Does, C., Zamioudis, C., Leon-Reyes, A., & Van Wees, S. (2012). Hormonal modulation of plant immunity. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol.

[5] Taiz, L., & Zeiger, E. (2002). Plant physiology (3rd ed., p. 306). New York: W.H. Freeman

[6] Berk, M., Dean, O., Drexhage, H., McNeil, J. J., Moylan, S., O’Neil, A., … Maes, M. (2013). Aspirin: a review of its neurobiological properties and therapeutic potential for mental illness. BMC Medicine11, 74. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-74

[7]Ayorech, Z., Tracy, D., Baumeister, D., & Giaroli, G. (2015). Taking the fuel out of the fire: Evidence for the use of anti-inflammatory agents in the treatment of bipolar disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 174, 467-478.

[8] Keller, W., Kum, L., Wehring, H., Koola, M., Buchanan, R., & Kelly, D. (2012). A review of anti-inflammatory agents for symptoms of schizophrenia. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 27(4), 337-342.

 

Fiber - the unrecognized macronutrient of evolution

Fiber

 

Fiber, although not considered a macronutrient, has a RDA of 25 – 38 gm/ day again according to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board and is only available from plants.  And we know that the most healthful diet is one that is high in fiber and low rapidly digested carbohydrates. This regimen is referred to as a low-glycemic diet because it helps keep our blood glucose at optimum levels. Wild fruits and vegetables are the original low-glycemic foods[1].

 

It is estimated that 97% of Americans do not consume the recommended minimum amount of fiber[2].

 

Shown below are a few example foods and their fiber density, expressed as grams of fiber per total grams of dry weight of food substance.

 

 

Generalizing, fruit and vegetables are significant sources of fiber,  but beans and cruciferous vegetables are best and starch and grains much less so.

 

[1] Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health (pp. 4-5).

[2] Moshfegh, A., & Goldman, J. (2005). What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002: Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food Compared to Dietary Reference Intakes. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

 

Correct Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio from plants per evolution

 

 

Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3s have an anti-inflammatory effect.

We evolved genetic patterns established on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is about 16. This high ratio promotes the pathogenesis of vascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas lower ratios exert suppressive effects.[1]  For example, in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.[2]

 

A distorted ratio of these polyunsaturated fatty acids may be one of the most damaging aspects of the Western diet.

 

The plot above illustrates the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 for some select foods.

 

Typical green vegetables contain the ratio experienced by our primate ancestors. Legumes are acceptable sources for these essential fats as well.  Flaxseeds have an extraordinary favorable content of these nutrients and can be used in small quantities to assure adequate intake (a teaspoon crushed in smoothie or on salad, as examples).

 

[1] Simopoulos, A. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56(8), 365-379.

[2] ibid

Dandelions – bet you can’t eat just one

 

 

Dandelions are found worldwide[1]. They are thought to have evolved about thirty million years ago[2].  They are considered a noxious weed and a nuisance in residential and recreational lawns in North America[3]; however, they are entirely edible – flower, stem, leaves, and roots.  Although there are written histories of human consumption of dandelions, the degree of bitterness of each part of the plant is considered discouraging to eat.  Perhaps this is reflected in the various other names it is known by, for example,  piss-a-bed[4] , worm rose[5], and cankerwort.

 

Dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, and K, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese.  It has significant anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-coagulatory, and prebiotic effects[6]. Wild dandelions leaves, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, compared to spinach, for example, have eight times more antioxidants, higher content of dietary fiber and proteins and a greater variety of amino acids, vitamins and minerals and has higher proportions of unsaturated fatty acids (oleic, palmitoleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids)[7].

 

Emerging scientific evidence suggests that dandelions might have potential to prevent or ameliorate the outcome of several degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis and coronary artery and vascular disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and cancer[8].

 

So the irony is that this highly nutritious omnipresent plant is deselected from growing near our home in preference to non-edible other plant varieties (lawn) that are groomed weekly.  This superior plant is poisoned or ripped out of our lawns and placed into the trash. 

 

[1] Brouillet, L. (2014). Flora of North America North of Mexico. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[2] Gardening in Washington: Dandelions. (2003). from http://gardening.wsu.edu/

[3] Stewart-Wade, S., Neumann, S., Collins, L., & Boland, G. (2002). The biology of Canadian weeds. 117. Taraxacum officinale G. H. Weber ex Wiggers. Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 82, 825-853. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 82: 825–853

[4] Taylor, J. (1819). Antiquitates curiosae: The etymology of many remarkable old sayings, proverbs and singular customs explained by Joseph Taylor (2nd ed., p. 97). T&J Allman.

[5] "Den virtuella floran: Taraxacum F. H. Wigg. - Maskrosor" (in Swedish). Linnaeus.nrm.se

[6] Schütz, K., Carle, R., & Schieber, A. (2006). Taraxacum—A review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 107(3), 313-323.

[7] Souci, S., Fachmann, W., & Kraut, H. (2008). Food Composition and Nutrition Tables (7th ed.). Stuttgart: Med Pharm Scientific.

[8] González-Castejón, M., Visioli, F., & Rodriguez-Casado, A. (2012). Diverse biological activities of dandelion. Nutrition Reviews, 70(9), 534-547.

 

Oldest food processor - crushing!

 

 

One method of processing fiber developed in the Stone Age, is crushing plants between two stones.  We use the mortar and pestle shown here.

 

Our initial use was specifically for making pesto using basil, garlic, walnuts, nutritional yeast, and sea salt.  However, now its use has expanded to make a variety of pestos. 

 

We have a 3+ cup capacity 8-inch diameter stone from a single block of granite.  It is practically indestructible – will not chip or crack even under vigorous pounding (Mohs scale 7+).  It’s also rather beautiful.  Cost was $34 online on Amazon.

Did Gronk see a zombie?

 

 

 

Imagine the scene of man obviously mortally wounded and smelling of rotted flesh staggering his way toward a man from the mid Paleolithic Period[1], about 1.5 million years ago. We shall for purposes of argument refer to the rotting man as a “zombie” and the Paleolithic man as “Gronk”. The ensuing conversation follows:

 

Zombie: “oooooo,” moaning flatly.

Gronk[2]hmmmm.”

 

Going along with the zombie model, zombie’s verbal expression might correspond to “meat” as that is the only motivation driving the beast.  Gronk’s response “hmmmmm” is also an acronym for “holistic, manipulative, multi-modal, musical, and mimetic[3],” elements of a basic pre-lingusitic system used in various forms until roughly 100 thousand years ago (tya) when genetic representations of more advanced use of the tongue, lips, and larynx appear[4], allowing more advanced ability to make subtle sound nuances and the likelihood of oral communication. But here Gronk’s “hmmmmm” may have been used defensively a more mimetic variation on a growl.

 

The apparent adversarial nature of this meeting in which zombie advances showing his teeth and moaning would likely result in Gronk, much quicker and goal-directed than zombie, running away to safety. Note that Gronk, although living half-way through the Paleolithic Period would have no weapons – that wouldn’t happen for another million to a million and a half years.

 

Yes this was also the Stone Age, and although Gronk was familiar stones but not yet as a weapon other than perhaps frightening off certain smaller animals from a distance by tossing small stones at them. And he did not carry stone around with him.

 

Nor would Paleoman be interested in the zombie as a food source.  Although there was some degree of opportunistic scavenging of meat after 250 tya, it wasn’t until about 40 tya – or 1.4 % of the end of the Paleolithic Period – that Homo Sapiens could even primitively hunt; and that was merely a supplement to their whole food plant based dietary pattern[5].

 

Is Gronk crazy?

 

Now imagine hypothetically that you are a psychiatric intern and are assigned the task of establishing whether or no Gronk is psychotic based on the following information presented to you.

 

History of present Illness:  Gronk claims the above incident happened several days ago. 

 

Past psychiatric history: No other claims of encounters with zombies.

 

Past medical history: No major medical illnesses, seizures, black-outs or head injuries that are know.  No known drug allergies.

 

Social history: Gronk lives within 5 miles of the stated incident and is associated with about 15 others; he has fathered three children by two different females.  His interests include eating, foraging for food, showing his prowess by providing food for “the others”. He has been exploring today for additional plant sources of food, roots, seeds, nuts, and leaves.

 

Laboratory: routine urine test did not revels typical drugs of abuse; all other labs non-contributory.

 

Physical exam: This is an 18 year old adult male who looks roughly his stated age; height about 5 feet tall, weight 110 lbs.  Appears in excellent physical condition.  Vitals: within normal limits. 

 

Mental status exam: Patient cooperative, rather passive in no apparent distress.  Appeared somewhat suspicious or curious of me and my instruments.  While the patient does not posses expressive language, he was not aggressive and did not appear to be responding to internal stimuli, i.e. actively hallucinating.  He appeared neither depressed nor manic, although he was somewhat hyperactive.

 

Analysis

 

A close encounter with a flesh eating zombie could by some standards in some societies be the basis for a mental health compromise, perhaps Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or some other anxiety disorder.  Flashbacks of such a traumatic event could seem so real as to be visual and/ or audio hallucninations.

 

This is not the case for Gronk for several reasons.  Firstly, Gronk had no real language nor capacity for rational thought and conceptualization.  At his disposal were instinct, sense memory, pattern recognition, very rudimentary forms of intelligence.  Without the concept of the past, there were no depressing or terrifying thoughts that would revisit his consciousness; without the concept of the future, there were none of fears and anxieties associated with the future. 

 

With the supposition that there are and never were such creatures as zombies, we must assume that Gronk experienced a psychotic episode.  This is peculiar because

 

·      We have no information concerning a similar previous episode.

·      He does not appear psychotic to our exam.

·      Psychotic disorders 1.5 million years ago would be unlikely, certainly not genetically driven or they would have been eradicated by natural selection.

 

Secondly, there were no mental illnesses at that time in history.  There couldn’t have been.  Not only for the fact Gronk was a non-thinking hominid but based on the fact that no genetic material that could lead to one’s destruction could be expressed and passed on for thousands of millennia. 

 

Conclusion: Gronk most likely hallucinated after consuming an unknown toxic plant.

 

 

[1] The Paleolithic Period spanned 2.5 million years ago to about 10 thousand years ago; this roughly also spans the Stone Age, which is estimated to have lasted 3.5 million years ago to about 5,000 years ago.

[2] Gronk is a name assigned in popular literature to a typical man who lived in the Paleolithic Period

[3] Mithen, Steven J. (2006). The singing neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind, and body. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

[4] Jakobson, R. and M. Halle 1956. Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton.

[5] Aiken, R.C. (2105) The new ancestral diet p 41, Go-Ahead Publishing.

Tomato and potato precursor - oldest plant ancestor found!

The fossilized remains of a flower entombed in Dominican amber, the first-ever specimen of the family of plants that led to potatoes, tomatoes, and coffee beans have been discovered.   

Researchers from Oregon State and Rutgers universities estimate the flowers to be from 20 million to 30 million years old.

Nature Plants Article number: 16005 (2016)
doi:10.1038/nplants.2016.5

 

 

Evolutionary Perspective on Depression

Depression is a common and debilitating mental disorder. Estimates suggest that depression affects 5% of the global population, or 350 million people, at any given time and that it is the second leading cause of disability.  Furthermore depression is a condition that exists in all age groups, although more prevalent in the aged.

Some evolutionary theorists have suggested mechanisms by which biological malfunctions leading to depression today.  For example, it is noted that modern humans exist in physical environments that are radically different from those in which we evolved, and that our new environments interact with our ancient genomes in maladaptive ways.

Evolutionary adaptive explanations of depression share the idea that symptoms occur in response to an environmental stressor. Most hypotheses include a concept of energy limitation, and an attempt to overcome a failure, danger, or shortage of resources. Several hypotheses suggest that depression may be a means to conserve energy during an adverse situation.

Others have suggested that depression may function to help an individual accept their defeat, and signal their submission in order to avoid further enforcement from more dominant individuals.  Or that depression may have evolved as a means for one to solicit additional resources from one‘s social network as a cry for help, 

Really?

I think it is much simpler than that.  Depression as we know it was a much less likely state of being in our distant ancestors - otherwise it would have been deselected from our genome. Hominids mission, like all creatures, was to procreate and their main business was eating - not for pleasure but for survival. 

This is the key to the emergence of abnormal mood states in civilization today: we eat for pleasure and subsequently the content of that radically different diet causes disease states, including depression.

 

Johnson & Johnson attempting to patent anti-inflammatory drug

We are beginning to elucidate the relationship chronic inflammation has on mood disorders and neuronal disease, as for heart disease and other major diseases of the Western World.  Eating a  whole food plant based diet is the key. Simple right?

Wrong. Getting people to base their diet on health and survival rather than flavor is no easy task.

One cannot patent food.  Enter big Pharma.  Drug trials are being run by Johnson & Johnson, enrolling patients with depression at sites in Russia, Poland, Canada, and the United States. The company is testing an experimental drug called sirukumab, which blocks a key inflammatory protein called interleukin 6.

This is just the beginning of anti-inflammatory pills.

 

Ancestral Protein Reconstruction suggests origins of multicellular life

The evolution of organized multicellularity is one of the most important and least understood transitions in the history of plants and animals.  How is it that a single cell could divide and each of the daughter cells begin a separate differentiation process - the stalk rather than the root, or the head rather than the foot?

Many theories and experiments have explored aspects of this question - such as growth in a weightless environment to subtract out gravitational effects.  I had performed some such terrestrial experiments on frog embryos suspended and rotated equally along 3D spacial axises utilizing acoustic levitation (University of Utah, NSF grant, 1979).

A new study by Anderson et al., using a technique called "ancestral protein reconstruction", a single marker protein evolved through a series of “molecular exploitation” events to provide a scaffolding for differentiation.

Reference

Evolution of an ancient protein function involved in organized multicellularity in animals

Douglas P Anderson, Dustin S Whitney, Victor Hanson-Smith, Arielle Woznica, William Campodonico-Burnett, Brian F Volkman, Nicole King, Kenneth E PrehodaCorresponding Author, Joseph W ThorntonCorresponding Author
University of Oregon, United States; Medical College of Wisconsin, United States; Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California, Berkeley, United States; University of Chicago, United States
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.10147
Published January 7, 2016
- See more at: http://elifesciences.org/content/5/e10147#.dpuf

  

Synergism of Tea Plant and Citrus for Optimum Health

Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world.  It comes from an evergreen called Camellia sinensis. The health benefits of “tea” is generally appreciated but what is not known to many is how to maximize those benefits. It’s all about the degree of oxidation.

“Green” tea merely refers to the natural state of the Tea Plant; in the United States, the preferred tea is “black” tea.  Black tea is green tea that is partially oxidized.  While this has certain flavor advantages, much of the health benefits of green tea is lost. So-called white tea is just young green tea and does not have the phytonutrients density as the mature green tea.

Tea processing

Whenever the tea leaf is fragmented, there is a disruption of cellular contents.  The cellular contents of tea with sought-after health benefits are a class of compounds called polyphenols, particularly catechins.  These are present in the cell’s vacuoles; when they come into contact with the polyphenol oxidase in the cell’s cytoplasm, after cellular disruption, the polyphenol is deactivated.

When tea leaves come into contact with water, particularly at higher temperatures, cell walls are partially disrupted and soluble cellular contents enter solution.  Entrained and solubilized oxygen then can oxidize the polyphenols catalyzed by the enzyme polyphenol oxidase and health benefits are reduced.

But we can do something to minimize that regrettable situation.

Effect of acidity

The optimum pH for polyphenol oxidase activity varies but is around  7. However, the enzyme  activity rapidly decreases at more acidic pH values as provided by citrus fruits such as lemons or limes .

Chemical Inhibition

It has been shown that complete inhibition of polyphenol oxidase activity is found with an ascorbic acid solution .

Citric acid also can inhibit  activity, although not as strongly as ascorbic acid . Citric acid exists in much greater than trace amounts in a variety of fruits and vegetables, most notably citrus fruits. Lemons and limes have particularly high concentrations of the acid; it can constitute as much as 8% of the dry weight of these fruits.

How do you take your tea?

Mention should be made of the best way to consume any plant is by eating it, not just consuming that which solubilizes in water.  Bulk green tea leaves are quite inexpensive (see an example here) and can be, for example, be added to green smoothies for optimum nutrition.  The same oxidative penalties may arise though – see a study I wrote on reducing that problem here.

Here’s how to make a better cup of hot tea

Boil water. Remove from heating source and add the juice from a fresh lemon or lime.  Then add tea bag or infuser or raw green tea leaves.  Do this for each individual cup of tea – do not store.

 

Nootropic Caffeine

Why is it that aqueous extracts of the Tea Plant is the most consumed beverage in the world?  It's not the taste - it's because it's psychoactive.

The compound responsible is theanine - found only in the Tea Plant and a certain fungus (Bay Boleet).  Theanine modulates the psychostimulant effect of caffeine, further increasing focus but also with a calming that has been shown to increase alpha waves in the brain - similar to meditative states (Nobre at al.).

Therefore there may be cognitive and anxiolytic properties of theanine in the presence of caffeine and possible as an isolated extract.

 

A. C. Nobre, A. Rao, and G. N. Owen. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 17(suppl - 1):167-168, 2008.

APOE ε4 predicts risk of future depression

The ApoE4 variant, apparently predominant in pre-modern hominids, is a known genetic risk factor for impaired lipid regulation leading to elevated cholesterol, triglycerides and poor modulation of inflammation and oxidative stress predisposing an individual to a range of abnormal conditions from vascular disease to Alzheimer’s disease. Now linked also to depression. More here; even more here.

Black garlic: new superfood - super flavor

Garlic has been shown to have positive effects for an array of diseases due to its numerous powerful natural phytochemicals. Black garlic has recently been discovered to contain twice the antioxidant punch of fresh garlic due to an extensive aging or curing process.

Taste? Through enzymatic breakdown and the Maillard reaction, processed at around 60°C/140°F for a month to six weeks, it essentially gets a low and slow roast that converts sugar and turns the cloves black. It has notes of dark caramel, chocolate, sweet/ sour, and umami, plus that je ne sais quoi.

You don't Know Jack Fruit .. but you will!

The biggest fruit in the world - grows to more than 100 lbs. from one fruit.  Resistance to pests and drought.  

Macronutrient composition: 92% carbs, 5 % protein, 3& carbs.  High in Vitamin C and Vitamin A.  But it's the high fiber content and texture (like pulled pork) that has the buzz going.  As its taste is rather bland but not bitter, it is being touted as a meat substitute.