Natural Foods Merchandiser

Science Briefs

Lactobacillus Improves Smokers' Blood Vessels
A Lactobacillus supplement reduces many heart disease risk factors in smokers, according to a study conducted by Marek Naruszwicz from Poland's Pomeranian Academy of Medicine. In this double-blind study, 36 male and female smokers (average age 42) took either a Lactobacillus supplement or a placebo.

After six weeks, those taking the supplement had a much healthier blood-vessel environment. Their average systolic blood pressure fell from 134 to 121 mg Hg. Harmful LDL cholesterol levels were reduced, and beneficial HDL cholesterol increased. Atherosclerotic plaque formation involves a clotting protein called fibrinogen, an inflammatory immune factor known as interleukin 6 and white blood cell adhesion. In those taking Lactobacillus, fibrinogen levels dropped by 21 percent, IL-6 by 41 percent and white blood cell adhesion by 40 percent.

Finally, the high oxidation levels typically seen in smokers fell 31 percent. No change in these risk factors was seen in smokers taking placebo. Lactobacillus produces large amounts of propionic acid, a precursor of the common anti-inflammatory agent ibuprofen, that may be responsible for these beneficial effects. The authors note, "most Western countries suffer from a deficit of acidophilic bacteria" and suggest supplementation with Lactobacillus as a "nonpharmacological alternative for the management of risk factors and the prevention of atherosclerosis."

Modern Diets An Acid Trip
Researchers have found that our modern diet, high in animal-derived and refined foods, makes the body somewhat acidic. Some suspect this acidity may be causing modern ills ranging from kidney disease to osteoporosis. But is body acidity a normal variation we can handle, or a drastic change from the environment our bodies are designed for?

Anthony Sebastian of the University of California, San Francisco, studied the Paleolithic diet with which humans evolved to see how it influenced the body's acid-base balance. (The opposite of acid is base, or alkaline.)

Humans in the Paleolithic era ate what they could find, including a wide variety of animal and plant foods. Using a complex mathematical model, Sebastian determined the acidity of 175 possible preagricultural diets. Nearly 85 percent of the diets produced an alkaline condition in the body. Although animal foods caused an acidic condition, it was more than buffered by plants in the diets, so the body's overall condition was slightly alkaline. When cereal grains displaced some fruits and vegetables, however, the balance shifted to a net acidic condition.

Today, not only is intake of acid-creating meats, dairy products and cereals extremely high, but the acid load is exacerbated by energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods eaten in place of alkaline-forming tubers, vegetables and fruits. From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies are in a state of constant acidity they are unprepared to handle.

Sebastian, concerned about this "profound transition" and its "inevitable resulting maladaptations," concludes: "If a net base-producing diet was the norm throughout hominid evolution, it can be assumed that human metabolic machinery ... is adapted to it." Although modern researchers are beginning to explore the damaging results of excess acid, he suggests examining the effects of alkaline deprivation as well.

Nuts And Peanuts Reduce Diabetes Risk
Nut eaters may avoid diabetes. That's the conclusion of a new study from the Nurses' Health Study, conducted by Rui Jiang, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Between 1980 and 1994, 83,818 female nurses filled out detailed dietary questionnaires. During the same time period, 3,206 of the women developed diabetes. When compared with non-nut-eating nurses, those who ate nuts five or more times a week had a 45 percent lower risk of developing diabetes. Women eating peanut butter at least five times a week reduced their diabetes risk 21 percent.

Although technically legumes, peanuts are similar to tree nuts. Both contain protective magnesium and fiber and are rich in unsaturated fats, which are linked to reduced diabetes risk. Saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, both increase diabetes risk.

Researchers found the association between eating nuts and preventing diabetes persisted even when they controlled for magnesium, fiber and fatty acids, so nuts may contain additional unknown protective factors.

Calcium, Zinc Supplements Help Older Adults
People older than 60 who take calcium and zinc supplements are less apt to be deficient in the two minerals, but not by much, according to the U.S. government. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey evaluated the diet and supplement intake of about 5,000 older Americans.

According to researcher R. Bethene Ervin of the Centers for Disease Control in Hyattsville, Md., more than half the people studied had low calcium intakes. Taking supplements helped—a little. Women who did not take supplements averaged 582 mg of calcium daily, placing 87 percent of them in the low-intake group, while those who took supplements averaged only 864 mg, which still placed 66 percent in the low-intake category. Sixty percent of men who took supplements and 75 percent of those who didn't were low in calcium.

These low-intake findings appear odd, yet the most commonly used vitamin-mineral supplements contain less than 250 mg of calcium, little more than a fifth of the 1,200 mg required for older men and women.

Zinc deficiency was also mitigated by supplementation. Forty-five percent of nonsupplementing women were zinc deficient compared with only 25 percent of those taking supplements. Men showed a similar zinc pattern. People who took supplements had better diets and tended to get more calcium and zinc from food. Iron was not a problem; most older adults got plenty from diet alone.

Marilyn Sterling, R.D., is a consultant to the natural products industry and a freelance health writer in Trinidad, Calif.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 3/p. 114-5

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