Monday, December 23, 2013

An Apple a Day…...

Apples are a "miracle fruit" that convey benefits beyond fiber content, according to Dr. Bahram Arjmandi at Florida State University. Animal studies have shown that the pectin and polyphenols in apples improve blood fat levels and lower the production of pro-inflammatory molecules. Arjmandi's 2011 research  randomly assigned 160 women ages 45-65 to one of two dietary interventions: one group received two dried apples daily and the other group ate dried prunes every day for a year. Blood samples were taken at 3, 6 and 12-months. The results surprised Dr. Arjmandi, who stated that "incredible changes in the apple-eating women happened by 6 months- they experienced a 23% decrease in LDL cholesterol," which is known as the ‘bad cholesterol.’ The daily apple consumption also led to a lowering of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation). "I never expected apple consumption to reduce bad cholesterol to this extent while increasing HDL cholesterol or good cholesterol by about 4%," Arjmandi said. Yet another advantage is that the extra 240 calories per day consumed from the dried apple did not lead to weight gain in the women; in fact, they lost on average 3.3 lbs. "Reducing body weight is an added benefit to daily apple intake" he said. Part of the reason for the weight loss could be the fruit's pectin, which is known to have a satiety effect.

In a study from Ohio State University, healthy, middle-aged adults who rarely ate apples were given one red or golden
Delicious apple a day, or a capsule containing the polyphenols found in apples, for 4 weeks.  The apple eaters had a 40% decrease in oxidized LDL, a substance linked to hardening of the arteries. People taking the capsules had a similar effect, but not as large. The author of this study, Dr. Robert DiSilvestro, described daily apple consumption as significantly more effective in lowering oxidized LDL than other antioxidants he has studied, including the spice-based compound curcumin, green tea and tomato extract.
The study also found eating apples had some effects on antioxidants in saliva, which has implications for dental health.

In the Christmas edition of the prestigious British Medical Journal, there is an article comparing apples and statins for the prevention of cardiovascular deaths.  Using mathematical models, a team of researchers at Oxford set out to test how the150 year old proverb  - An apple a day keeps the doctor away -might compare with the more widespread use of statins in the UK population. They calculated that offering a daily statin to 17.6 million more adults would reduce the annual number of vascular deaths by 9,400, while offering a daily apple to 70% of the total UK population aged over 50 years (22 million people) would avert 8,500 vascular deaths.  However, side-effects from statins mean that prescribing statins to everyone over the age of 50 is predicted to lead to over a thousand extra cases of muscle disease (myopathy) and over ten thousand extra diagnoses of diabetes. The researchers conclude that the public health message: An apple a day… is able to match more widespread use of modern medicine, and is likely to have fewer side effects. The research takes into account people who are already appropriately taking statins to reduce their risk of vascular disease and therefore the authors stress that no-one currently taking statins should stop, “although by all means eat more apples.”

My message to readers is similar – eat a daily apple, don’t change your medications without talking with your doctor, and have a wonderful holiday season. 

Sadja Greenwood, MD   back issues on this blog.  Check out my novel, Changing the Rules, at Stinson Beach Books, Point Reyes Books & Amazon


Oregano is an important culinary and medicinal herb that has been used in medicine and cooking for thousands of years. It belongs to the mint family.  Its name comes from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy)!
 In folk medicine, oregano is used to treat respiratory problems, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders.  It is also applied topically – as oregano oil - to help treat a number of skin conditions, such as acne, dandruff, skin infections and athlete’s foot.   (Full disclosure – I use it on my sore fungal toes, and it’s helping.)
 Oregano contains a fair amount of vitamin K - an important vitamin which promotes bone growth, the maintenance of bone density, and the production of blood clotting proteins. Although dried basil, thyme and oregano contain high levels of vitamin K, a teaspoon of these herbs in their fresh form contain only a small amount and can be used by people taking Coumadin.  Check with your doctor on this. 
Oregano, allspice and garlic essential oils (EOs) can be effective, natural barriers against E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, according to a study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists. The  study from government researchers revealed that oregano oil was found to be the most effective antimicrobial used in cooking, followed by allspice and garlic.  While this information can make you happy to include these herbs in your dishes, you should never forget the important rules about food safety to prevent bacterial contamination.  .

Researchers at Long Island University (LIU) have found that an ingredient of oregano could potentially be used to treat prostate cancer. Dr. Supriya Bavadekar, PhD, RPh, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at LIU is currently testing carvacrol, a constituent of oregano, on prostate cancer cells. The results of her study demonstrate that the compound induces apoptosis in these cells. Apoptosis, is programmed cell death, or simply "cell suicide." Dr. Bavadekar and her group are presently trying to determine the signaling pathways that the compound employs to bring about cancer cell suicide. "We know that oregano possesses anti-bacterial as well as anti-inflammatory properties, but its effects on cancer cells really elevate the spice to the level of a super-spice like turmeric," said Dr. Bavadekar. Though the study is at its preliminary stage, she believes that the initial data indicates a huge potential in terms of carvacrol's use as an anti-cancer agent. "A significant advantage is that oregano is commonly used in food and has a 'Generally Recognized As Safe' status in the US. We expect this to translate into a decreased risk of severe toxic effects. Some researchers have previously shown that eating pizza may cut down cancer risk. This effect has been mostly attributed to lycopene, a substance found in tomato sauce, but we now feel that even the oregano seasoning may play a role," stated Dr. Bavadekar. "If the study continues to yield positive results, this super-spice may represent a very promising therapy for patients with prostate cancer."

Oregano grows very well in Bolinas gardens.  Mine survived the recent frost and seems to be growing well all year long.  You can put it in salads, soups and stir fries, as well as pasta sauces and pizza. 

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH  back issues on this blog.  Check out my novel, Changing the Rules, at the Point Reyes Bookstore and on Amazon.




Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nicolas Kristof on holiday gifts

In a recent New York Times (Sunday, December  1st, 2013) columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote some ideas for gift giving that most of us have not heard of. First he writes about gifts to established charities – they will tell your friend or family member that you gave the gift in their name:
*Buy a year of schooling for a girl in Ethiopia through the International Rescue Committee (
*Buy a flock of geese for an impoverished family in a poor country through Heifer International (

 Here are his more unusual suggestions: –
*Help to prevent unwanted pregnancies in kids here at home. The Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program is a school curriculum “devised by a New York City education expert, Dr. Michael Carrera, who recognized that it’s not enough to hand out condoms.  One also needs to give kids in high poverty neighborhoods a stake in a better future, a reason to think they can succeed.  So the curriculum includes comprehensive sex education but also financial literacy, job preparation and summer internships, S.A.T. coaching and much more.  The program has now spread to more than 20 states, and follow-up studies suggest it reduces pregnancy rates by half.  For $50, you can fund a student’s college savings account, part of the financial literacy element (information is at”

*Afghan Institute of Learning, founded by an Afghan woman to run empowerment and training programs for Afghan women and girls.  The institute was founded in the 1990s, when it was illegal, as girls’ education is threatening to the Taliban. $65 pays for a year of literacy classes for a girl or woman.  (

* will sell you gifts under $30 made by people all over the developing world, such as a hand-embroidered scarf made by Afghan widows.

*HELP – Haitian Education and Leadership Program.  HELP searches across Haiti for the most outstanding students from disadvantaged backgrounds and sends them to college, while providing counseling, English and computer tutoring and stipends.  HELP students pledge to contribute 15% of their earnings for their first 9 years of employment, to make the program sustainable.  (

*Reach Out and Read is a U.S. literacy program for the disadvantaged that uses doctors to encourage parents to read to their children.  They hand out free books and leaflets promoting bedtime stories, thereby ‘prescribing’ reading to the child.  Families in this award winning program are more likely to describe reading as a child’s favorite activity.  Books are donated by publishers like Scholastic.  $50 covers a child’s cost for five years.  (

Nicholas Kristof  and his wife Sheryl WuDunn are heroes of mine.  They wrote Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in 2010.  They travel the world to find people making a difference for humanity in difficult places.  I try to pay attention to their suggestions.

Readers, have a thoughtful and joyous holiday season.  Let’s hope for rain.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH    back issues on this blog