Sunday, September 16, 2012

Olive Oil - What are its advantages?

New studies show some surprising benefits for olive oil, including a possible protective effect on bone. Spanish research, to be published in the October issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, shows that consumption of a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil is associated with increased serum osteocalcin and other bone formation markers. Osteocalcin is produced by bone cells called osteoblasts, and is used as a marker for bone formation. Prior to this study, it had been noted that the incidence of osteoporosis in Europe was lower in the Mediterranean basin. All subjects in this study were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein from fish, poultry, and beans, and whole grains instead of white flour bread and pasta. Olive oil was their added fat.

Another Spanish study in 2010 showed that the phenolic compounds in extra virgin olive oil change how genes function. Phenols are chemical compounds found in plants that have many unique properties. In conjunction with a Mediterranean diet, genes related to atherosclerosis were down regulated, and there was a positive impact on oxidation of fats and DNA, insulin resistance, inflammation, carcinogenesis and tumor suppression. Atherosclerosis is a disorder that occurs when fat, cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques. This diminishes blood flow and can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Breast cancer risk may also be modified by virgin olive oil. Spanish scientists at the University of Barcelona decoded the signals within breast tumor cells activated by olive oil, concluding that benefits include decrease in activity of an oncogene, and stimulation of tumor cell death. An oncogene is a gene that has the potential to cause cancer, if activated by mutations in another gene or certain environmental factors. Olive oil also showed ability to prevent DNA damage. Corn oil and some other vegetable oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, can increase the aggressiveness of cancers.

Virgin olive oil is oil produced by crushing olives mechanically, with no chemical treatment. It has an acidity of less than 1.5%. Extra virgin olive oil comes from virgin olive oil and is lower in acidity (less than 0.8%) and is judged to have the best taste. Virgin olive oils contain the highest levels of phenolic compounds and anti-oxidants that have been linked with better health.

Using olive oil or canola oil on your salads will give you the best absorption of carotenes from colorful vegetables, according to a new study from Purdue University. Low fat and non-fat salad dressings resulted in minimal carotene absorption. Carotenes are pigments that occur in vegetables and fruits and have multiple healthy properties. Avocado is another healthy fat that enhances carotene absorption. If you do use canola oil, make sure that it is organic. Otherwise you will be using genetically modified canola that may be high in pesticides and herbicides, as ‘superweeds’ and resistant insects have evolved to make the application of Roundup less effective. More spraying is necessary.

Your vote in support of Proposition 37 in November will help to ensure that genetically modified food products are labeled in California. This is a huge issue for food companies, who have raised millions against the proposition. Stay tuned, and read the arguments on your ballot carefully.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dr. Oz on Longevity

Who is Dr. Oz? Mehmet Oz is a cardiac surgeon from Columbia University who has become a popular author and energetic television promoter for getting fit, losing weight and staying healthy. His books, co-authored with Michael Roizen, include You: The Owner’s Manual, and You: On a Diet; they explain the workings of the body and its organs clearly and simply. Dr. Oz’s television program (weekdays at 4, channel 2)) shows a charismatic doc in surgical scrubs promoting a great variety of techniques for staying fit and losing weight, along with numerous products to help you on your way. He is fun to watch. Here are his 10 simple habits that could help you live to 100, with my comments tacked on.

1. Add red foods to your diet. Oz suggests red cabbage, as cruciferous vegetables help to protect against cancer, and beet juice, with nitrates that relax blood vessels. I will add that beets are a great food because the nitrates in beets, also found in green leafy vegetables, are a source of nitric oxide in the body, which dilates blood vessels, improves blood flow, and lowers blood pressure. Other red foods are tomatoes and watermelon, high in the beneficial antioxidant lycopene, and red wine and red grapes, with resveratrol. Resveratrol is currently under study as a substance with anti-inflammatory properties and cardiovascular benefits. It is also found in peanuts and chocolate. I think it is wiser to get resveratrol in foods than in supplements.

2. Black tea – have a cup daily to boost your survival after a heart attack. I will add that research from The Netherlands showed that drinking 3-6 cups of tea daily was associated with a 45% reduced risk of death from heart disease.

3.Dial one phone number from memory every day. Oz advises using your memory rather than relying on your devices. I will add that there are many ways to exercise your memory, including memorizing new words, school work, a new language, poems, music and songs. Work on this while you walk or work out, and just before sleep at night.

4. Use the first stall in a public restroom to prevent getting sick. Oz says the first stall is used less often, as people want more privacy, and it contains the lowest bacteria counts. I’ll add that washing your hands is also very important. Taking a daily probiotic is vital to amp up your immune system (the majority of your immune tissue lines your gut). Vitamin D also helps to prevent respiratory illness.

5. Take two steps at a time when you climb stairs. If you can’t do that, try walking up the stairs twice. I’ll add that keeping your legs strong is important for balance as well as for walking and other sports. If you don’t have stairs at home, you can get step-up blocks or risers at a sporting goods store or on the internet. Resistance training at home or in a gym is really important.

6. Stretch after a hot shower to prevent pain – stretching is best when muscles are warm; stretching improves posture and prevents muscle soreness. Oz suggests raising your arms, bending forward to the right slowly, and then to the left. I would add that that any other standing stretching exercise you like can also be helpful.

7. Hold your breath: take a deep breath, hold for 10 seconds, and then slowly exhale through pursed lips. I think this is a wonderful daily practice, not only for singers and wind instrument players but for all of us who breathe. Yoga classes emphasize many kinds of breathing, to stimulate and relax the body.

8. Do the Reverse Warrior Pose: For this exercise, I suggest you watch Yoga Reverse Warrior Pose by Jennifer Kostel on YouTube. Her presentation is simple and not extreme. Do it on both sides. It promotes balance, flexibility and strength.

9.Chew your food 20 times – slowing down your eating will increase your enjoyment of food, and help to prevent diabetes. If this is hard, put down your fork between bites. I have found the chewing practice to be extremely helpful in preventing reflux pain at midnight. By extra chewing, you start the digestive process (with digestive enzymes in saliva) and make less grinding work for your stomach. It can empty faster. I’m a convert.

10. Cut your cravings in half to cut calories. When confronted with ‘must have’ chips or cookies, Dr. Oz wants you to ‘halve them’. Put the second half away and out of sight. My thinking is that this works well for some people, but others with food addictions need to have the tempting foods out of the house. Don’t shop when you are hungry, and don’t buy foods you will binge on.

Dr. Oz is a television wonder, on a nationwide mission to get us slimmer and more fit. I know it’s daytime TV, but watch him if you have a chance.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues at on this blog