The Plant Rx

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Archive for the ‘Inflammation’ Category

How does a plant-based diet prevent disease? A short lesson

Posted by Jenn on January 31, 2011


There is an ever-growing mountain of evidence substantiating the numerous health benefits that a plant-based diet provides.

This colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of red blood cells in an artery shows a layer of endothelial cells (beige) surrounded by muscle (pink). by: Steve Gschmeissner / Photo Researchers Inc.

Peer-reviewed medical paper after peer-reviewed medical paper published in the most well-respected of journals have shown that a plant-based diet free of meat and dairy products is the single most powerful tool we have at our disposal to prevent and fight disease.

Not only can heart disease and diabetes be prevented but the disease progression can be stopped and reversed. If that wasn’t enough there is a multitude of research showing how the consumption of a plant-based diet’s can prevent cancer, dramatically reduce cancer recurrence rates, reduce cognitive impairment as we age (Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia) and reduce osteoporosis in addition to a myriad of others. This being the case, how exactly does something as seemingly simple and low-tech as one’s diet manage to do these things?

The short answer is this: via a gas called nitric oxide which is produced by our endothelial cells.  The problem with this very brief explanation is that most people have never heard of nitric oxide, much less endothelial cells. Consequently, that probably isn’t going to help most people understand how the very important the daily decision to eat a plant-based diet is able to accomplish such incredible feats.

What the heck are endothelial cells? and what the heck is Nitric Oxide (NO)? and how do they accomplish the mammoth task of keeping us healthy?

Endothelial cells are the thin single-layer of cells that line the interior surface of all blood vessels.  They are the cells that come in direct contact with blood flowing through our cardiovascular system.  A “healthy” endothelium can be best described as having like a Teflon coating on the vessels’ inner walls; this non-sticky quality enhancing the flow of blood.  An “unhealthy” endothelium, by contrast, acts like Velcro, grabbing white blood cells, platelets and cholesterol and packing them against the inner wall of the blood vessels narrowing them = causing the vessels to thicken over time, thereby inhibiting the flow of blood. This accumulation of “material” leads to the formation of  what are called atherosclerotic “plaques”.

healthy vs unhealthy endothelium

A healthy endothelium is not being covered by any plaque and therefore has the ability to release many beneficial substances into the blood stream.  An unhealthy endothelium  eventually narrows and thickens and resultantly loses flexibility.  The vessels can no longer expand as they should when the heart pumps blood through them. Pumping blood into stiff arteries containing plaque increases resistance to blood flow causing the heart to work harder. Your blood pressure must increase to pump the same volume of blood through these vessels.

That being said, what then determines the overall health of our endothelial cells that make up our endothelium? In other words what makes our endothelium non-stick or sticky?

That is where Nitric Oxide (NO) comes in. Remember, a healthy endothelium is able to release many beneficial substances into our blood stream.  (Note: we are born with a very healthy endothelium which means until we create an environment in which plaques are created, our vessels are healthy, slick and without plaque)  Nitric oxide is one of these substances.  Nitric oxide has a number of important functions.  One of its primary functions according to Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine,

“…is to help keep the arteries and veins free of the plaque that causes stroke and to maintain normal blood pressure by relaxing arteries, thereby regulating the rate of blood flow and preventing coronaries (heart attacks)”.

He goes on to explain that,

“Nitric oxide is the body’s natural cardiovascular wonder drug”.

NO accomplishes this by controlling muscle tone of the blood vessels which directly impacts blood pressure control, inhibiting the aggregation of platelets and other particulate such as cholesterol and white blood cells.

Other functions worthy of note include: facilitation of proper kidney function, aiding in the transmission of messages between nerve cells, helping the immune system fight  viral, bacterial and parasitic infections as well as tumors, peristalsis, regulating inflammation, lowering of cholesterol levels and penile erection. Let’s discuss one of these functions in more detail to illustrate.

For example, erection of the penis during sexual excitation is mediated by NO release from the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels of the penis.  The NO release from the endothelial cells cause the blood to pool in the adjacent blood sinuses producing an erection.  Thus, if NO cannot be produced (or produced in sufficient amounts) as the result of a damaged endothelium, then an erection cannot occur. This is why difficulty getting or maintaining an erection is indicative of impending or active heart disease (= ample accumulation of plaque).  If you are currently experiencing impotence, it would be a very good idea to see your doctor such that he or she can discern the cause.

How a poor diet results in poor erections

Causes of endothelial damage  and resultant plaque formation:

  • Smoking – it decreases good cholesterol (HDL) and increases bad cholesterol (LDL) that damages your endothelial cells. Further, nicotine directly damages endothelial cells and the carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke damages the endothelium too.
  • A high fat, high cholesterol diet (particularly animal fat from meat and dairy products; plants do NOT have cholesterol) – LDL directly damages endothelial cells.
  • A diet low in fiber content (animal products do NOT contain any fiber) – High fiber foods absorb bile salts that your body uses in digestion.  Your liver manufactures bile from cholesterol.  Thus, high fiber foods are a natural way to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Diabetes – When blood sugars are beyond the normal range it causes oxidative stress to the endothelial cells resulting in damage to them.
  • Being overweight or obese – Fat cells store vitamin D and vitamin D inhibits vessel calcification (plaques eventually get harder as a result of calcification). Thus, losing weight or being at a healthy weight keeps the vitamin D in your system allowing for utilization thereby preventing plaque calcification. Read the rest of this entry »

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#2 ranked golfer in the world, Phil Mickelson, adopts a plant-based diet

Posted by Jenn on December 29, 2010


PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Phil Mic...

Image via Wikipedia

Phil Mickelson, the second-ranked golfer in the world and owner of the rights to a California burger chain called Five Guys Burgers and Fries, has chosen to eliminate animal products from his diet. Days before his 40th birthday, Mickelson experienced debilitating joint pain, which was later diagnosed as psoriatic arthritis.

Mickelson says that his inflammatory joint disease – which typically results in intense pain, stiffness and lack of movement – is normally managed with an anti-inflammatory drug called Enbrel but after reading a book about plant-based nutrition and its health benefits, he “thought maybe it would help”.

Michelson’s illness is currently inremission and he says he intends to stick with plant-based foods in order to ensure that he doesn’t have a relapse.  He admits the change has been difficult, bur when asked if he thinks he’ll stick to it he replied, “if it will somehow keep this (arthritis) in remission or stop it from coming back, yeah, I’ll be able to do it.”

There are several ways that a plant-based diet can benefit patients with autoimmune-related arthritis. First, many plant-based diets are low-calorie and appear to be helpful in maintaining a healthy body weight. Obese adults face a higher risk of psoriatic arthritis, according to a recent study conducted at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Second, plant-based diets are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, which may help reduce inflammation in the body. Red meat in particular has been linked with increased inflammation. Third, plant-based diets that are well planned and include lots of fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants that block inflammation.

So what does Phil say when asked about Five Guys Burgers and Fries? “We’re working on a veggie burger!”

Posted in Arthritis, Athletes/Athletics, In the Media, Inflammation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Plant foods alter gene expression to curb inflammation

Posted by Jenn on December 28, 2010


POSTED ON OCTOBER 26, 2010 BY DEANA FERRERI, PH.D. Diseaseproof.com

(Source: http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/healthy-food-plant-foods-alter-gene-expression-to-curb-inflammation.html)

Inappropriately high levels of inflammation contribute to many of the chronic diseases of the modern world. Inflammation plays an important role in the development of atherosclerotic plaque, and inflammatory mediators have been shown to fuel tumor growth. [1] Certain characteristics of the Western diet are known to have pro-inflammatory effects – the high content of omega-6 fatty acids, for example, due to excessive oil and animal products, leads to overproduction of inflammatory molecules. Also, obesity is associated with chronic inflammation. Fat tissue produces a great number of both hormones and inflammatory molecules, and obesity-associated inflammation is said to be the link between excess body fat and chronic disease. [2]

fruits and vegetables; Flickr: karimian

Eating more plant foods and fewer animal products and oils is advisable to avoid these pro-inflammatory effects. Omega-3 fatty acids, in contrast to omega-6 fatty acids, are known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Fruits and vegetables are known to be protective against chronic disease due to their low calorie density and high quantity of micronutrients and antioxidants, and have been associated with reduced circulating inflammatory molecules. A recent study showed that fruit and vegetable consumption alters circulating levels of inflammatory molecules by affecting gene expression in circulating white blood cells, limiting the production of inflammatory molecules by these cells.

Young adults reported their usual food intake, and the researchers correlated this to a number of inflammatory markers in blood, as well as expression of a number of pro-inflammatory genes in white blood cells. The subjects were divided into groups based on their quantity of fruit and vegetable consumption, and inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and TNFα) were 40% lower in the group with the highest (vs. lowest) fruit and vegetable consumption. Moreover, expression of four pro-inflammatory genes (ICAM1, ILR1, TNFα, and NF-κB1) were significantly lower in the circulating white blood cells of the high fruit and vegetable consumers. [3] C-reactive protein and plasma homocysteine are known risk factors for heart disease, and NF-κB is a key promoter of atherosclerosis development.[4]

This data suggests that plant foods have anti-inflammatory effects that have not yet been discovered.

We cannot underestimate the importance of high-nutrient foods. Our genes are inherited, but the expression of those genes is modified by our environment. Food components interact with our genes to affect the state of our health, and this study suggests that high-nutrient foods drive gene expression patterns that reduce inflammation and therefore risk of chronic disease.

References:

1. Sgambato, A. and A. Cittadini, Inflammation and cancer: a multifaceted link. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 2010. 14(4): p. 263-8.
2. Hajer, G.R., T.W. van Haeften, and F.L. Visseren, Adipose tissue dysfunction in obesity, diabetes, and vascular diseases. Eur Heart J, 2008. 29(24): p. 2959-71.
3. Hermsdorff, H.H., et al., Fruit and vegetable consumption and proinflammatory gene expression from peripheral blood mononuclear cells in young adults: a translational study. Nutr Metab (Lond), 2010. 7: p. 42.
4. Kutuk, O. and H. Basaga, Inflammation meets oxidation: NF-kappaB as a mediator of initial lesion development in atherosclerosis. Trends Mol Med, 2003. 9(12): p. 549-57.

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