Monday, October 28, 2013

Go to Health - Cranberries

Cranberries will be plentiful in stores as holiday meals approach.  According to researchers at Rutgers University, they are among the top foods with proven health benefits.

 Cranberries are full of anti-oxidants, which protect cells from unstable molecules known as free radicals. The National Institutes of Health is funding research on cranberry’s effects on heart disease, yeast infections and other conditions. 

So far, research has found that drinking cranberry juice  - unsweetened is best – can help to prevent urinary infections by binding to bacteria so they can’t adhere to cell walls, especially cells lining the bladder and urethra.  Once a urinary tract infection is established, however, there is no hard evidence that cranberry juice can treat it – antibiotics may be needed.  Unsweetened cranberry juice in small bottles is available at the People’s Store.  Dilute and drink – or gargle for your teeth and gums.  Then swallow!!

A compound in cranberries – proanthocyanidine – prevents plaque formation on teeth.  Mouthwashes are being developed to prevent periodontal disease.  In the meantime, you can try rinsing your mouth with slightly diluted unsweetened cranberry juice. 

 In some people, regular cranberry juice consumption for weeks or months can kill H. pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach ulcers.

Drinking cranberry juice daily may increase levels of HDL, or good cholesterol and reduce levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol.  Research is also going on about substances in cranberries that are effective against cancer.

Here’s a recent abstract from a scientific journal, reporting on work from the University of Massachusetts. 
 Emerging evidence is elucidating how non-nutrient phytochemicals underlie the health promotion afforded by fruits and vegetables. This review focuses on Vaccinium macrocarpon, the American cranberry, compiling a comprehensive list of its known phytochemical components, and detailing their prevalence in cranberry fruit and its products. Flavonoids, especially colored anthocyanins, abundant flavonols, and unique proanthocyanidins, have attracted major research attention. Other notable active components include phenolic acids, benzoates, hydroxycinnamic acids, terpenes and organic acids. Health effects of cranberries, cranberry products, and isolated cranberry components in humans and animals, as well as in vitro, are debated. Evidence for protection from several bacterial pathogens, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation is compelling, while neuroprotection and anti-viral activity also have begun to draw new consideration. Emerging bioavailability data is considered and potential molecular mechanisms are evaluated, linking phytochemicals to health effects through their biochemical properties and reactions.
Are you interested in stocking up on cranberries?  You can freeze them and have some available all year. Worried about the amount of sugar needed to offset the sour taste?  Try putting cranberries in a fruit shake, or make cranberry sauce with an orange, cloves, cinnamon and xylitol, the low glycemic sugar that comes from trees and is good for your teeth and less problematic for diabetics.   Xylitol is available in many natural food stores and on line. (Try it for hot chocolate too! )
Cranberry – Coumadin interaction:  if you are taking Coumadin (warfarin) to prevent blood clotting, you should avoid drinking cranberry juice daily.  It may increase your risk of bleeding.  Small amounts of cranberries should be safe – check this out with your doctor. 
Sadja Greenwood, MD  back issues at   Check out my novel, Changing the Rules, at the Grand Hotel, Uniquities, the Stinson Beach and Point Reyes book stores, and Amazon.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Is It About Brassicas?

I lead a discussion on nutrition at the Commonweal cancer retreats every few months, along with the renowned chef and author, Rebecca Katz. We have a handout of general suggestions for healthy meals, and then give each person individual guidance. One of our first guidelines is to eat a brassica vegetable every day. These vegetables include broccoli, arugula, kale, collards, mustard greens, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and turnips. The reasons these vegetables are important for people with cancer, and people who want to prevent cancer, have been studied at Johns Hopkins University’s Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory. They have focused on broccoli, which contains a compound known as sulforaphane. It is a potent natural inducer of what are called phase2 detoxification enzymes. These enzymes break down free radicals and environmental toxins, enabling the body to excrete them in urine, bile or stool. The Johns Hopkins researchers found that these detoxifying enzymes were boosted in function by the sulforaphane in brassicas, and that broccoli contains high levels. Broccoli sprouts contain the highest amounts of sulforaphane, up to 50 times more than mature broccoli. Recent studies at Baylor College of Medicine have shown that a concentrated form of sulforaphane is active against lymphoblastic leukemia cells in the laboratory. Other researchers at the University of Arizona are looking into topical sulforaphane to prevent skin cancer. Preventive effects on breast, prostate and colon cancer are also under study.

It is important not to overcook broccoli, as this will destroy its ability to release anti-inflammatory and cancer protective compounds. Steam lightly for a few minutes. Since broccoli sprouts are such a potent source of sulforaphane, you should know that it is easy to make your own. You can call 800-695-2241 and order organic broccoli sprouting seed. If you are new to sprouting, consult He has an almost overwhelming number of ideas and devices to help you sprout.

At the cancer retreats, we also suggest that people consider drinking the green tea or black tea with broccoli seed extract, formulated at the Johns Hopkins Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory. The tea is high in sulforaphane and related compounds. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of these teas will go to further Hopkins’ research on vegetables. Regular and decaffeinated teas are available. If you don’t have time for sprouting right now, just go for the tea. Call the Baltimore Tea and Coffee Company at 800-823-1408 to order. The teas do not taste like broccoli!

Sulforaphane is also found in kale, cabbage and all the other brassica (cruciferous) vegetables. If you don’t like broccoli, you can still get the benefits of sulforaphane in these foods.

At the last cancer retreat, one of the participants was a patient at Johns Hopkins. She said that her oncologist had never mentioned the Brassica lab, and it seemed strange that she would come to California to find out about it. Yeah, California!

At the Commonweal cancer retreats, Rebecca Katz has come up with a good way to help people drink fluids, even when they are not feeling well. She suggests a special pitcher for water, in which you place orange and lemons slices, with the peel (organic is best), chunks of cucumber, and a sprig of thyme, mint or rosemary. Rebecca calls this ‘spa in a glass’. It will be easier to drink than plain cold water, and will have beneficial qualities.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH

You can find a copy of my novel, Changing the Rules, at Pt. Reyes Books, the Grand Hotel, Uniquities, or at

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Go to Health: How to Preserve Your Brain, Muscles, and Bones

Your Brain – Keep it sharp. Here are some of the proven ways to help memory and brain function:

Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. Upper body exercise counts if walking is hard for you. Play music to keep you going. Ride a stationary bike in front of your TV. Get an exercise pal or join a class. Exercise will help you grow new neurons and oxygenate your brain.

Vitamin B12 is important to prevent brain shrinkage in people over 60. It is found in animal foods. Vegans should always take a B12 supplement. Some older people don’t absorb it well from food. Get a B12 blood level from your doctor, and take B12 tablets sublingually if you are low.

Eat vegetables and fruits, legumes, fish and poultry. Limit fatty meat and foods containing sugar, to prevent obesity and keep your arteries clear. Avoid too much alcohol and addictive drugs, legal or illegal.

Olive oil should be your major fat source. A compound in extra virgin olive oil called oleocanthal may help prevent Alzheimer’s. See the 6/5/13 column at sadjascolumns for details.

Get enough sleep: 7-8 hours, so that you wake refreshed. Sleep is essential for good brain functioning.

Learn something new: a new language, a new skill, a musical instrument, drumming, a dance routine. According to a 2009 Gallup Poll, 85% of Americans who don’t play a musical instrument wish that they could. You can! You will forge new pathways in your brain.

Don’t smoke - smoking will decrease the blood supply to your brain.

Your Muscles: . As we get older, our muscles grow weaker, and it’s important to work on staying as strong as possible. You don’t have to join a gym to keep your muscles strong, but if you do, enjoy your workouts. Walk daily, run in place, bike, dance, skip rope, garden, lift weights at home. Light weights are fine for beginners and many women. Resistance bands are useful. Invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer if you have never tried strength training. Take a class in yoga, Pilates, or dance. We have great classes in Bolinas. Use a standing desk so you don’t sit too much.

Vitamin D is important for muscle strength and to prevent falls and fractures. Many people benefit from taking 1000 IU daily as a supplement. Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about this. Keep your blood level of Vitamin D3 at 30 ng/ml or higher.

Don’t smoke - smoking will reduce the blood supply to your muscles and harm your lungs.

Your Bones: Osteoporosis is common in women after menopause – it is defined as bones that are porous, brittle and subject to fracture. It can also occur in men as they age. Your doctor can arrange a test called DEXA, or bone densitometry, that can diagnose osteoporosis. There are various medicines that help with this problem. Whether or not you take a medicine, you should definitely eat a diet with adequate calcium, possibly take supplementary calcium (to be discussed with your doctor) and take Vitamin D as noted above. Good foods high in calcium include non-fat or low fat yogurt, calcium fortified soy milk, kale, collards, watercress, arugula, broccoli, okra, beans, almonds, sardines with their bones, and many others. Make bone soup, by adding vinegar to a bone broth to help release the calcium. Aim for a diet high in green vegetables, nuts and seeds. There is preliminary evidence that using olive oil as your main fat will help to preserve bone strength.

Exercise, especially walking, running, dancing and resistance exercises help keep bones strong. When your muscles contract, your bones react.

Don’t smoke – smoking will weaken your bones.

Here’s an exciting new development: UCSF now has a service for Skeletal Health in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, developed and staffed by Aenor Sawyer, MD, who is a Bolinas resident whenever she can break loose from work. Those of you who know Aenor are aware that she is as compassionate as she is expert, and the opportunity to visit her new service is truly a blessing.

Sadja Greenwood, MD. MPH