Food as Medicine: Arugula (Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Arugula (Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae), also known as rucola and rocket, is a weedy annual that is drought-tolerant and prefers a hot, dry climate. The name “arugula” is a modern American designation and likely derives from the Italian term “rucola.” The name “rocket” is more common in British English, as is roquette in France. Both rucola and roquette are diminutives of the Latin eruca, which means “caterpillar” and may refer to the fuzzy appearance of the young stems. The different names for arugula demonstrate the wide area where it grows, in a swath of the northern Mediterranean and the near east that stretches from Portugal to Afghanistan. It has been naturalized in northern Europe and North America.

Arugula is distinguished by its upright stem, which can have four-petaled white, yellow, or purple flowers, as well as its green, aromatic, serrated leaves. It’s thin, narrow fruit is a pod filled with small, oil-rich seeds. Although it is commonly thought of as a relative of spinach or lettuce, it is actually a cruciferous vegetable of the family Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage.

arugula flowerThe leaves and seeds of arugula are both edible. The leaves boast an aromatic, peppery, and mustard-like flavor and are mainly consumed raw in salads. Young leaves are tenderer and have a milder flavor, while mature leaves are larger, woodier, and more bitter. The seeds can be pressed for oil.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

As a leafy green vegetable and a member of the family Brassicaceae, arugula is an extremely nutrient-dense food. It is low in calories and rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate, magnesium, and calcium. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium help controls blood pressure and maintains bone health. It also provides riboflavin, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc. Arugula’s health benefits are a potent combination of cruciferous vegetable and leafy green, as it contains compounds found in both: glucosinolates, a group of compounds which exert powerful anticancer and detoxifying mechanisms, and antioxidant phytochemicals such as carotenes and chlorophyll. Compared to other brassica plants, arugula has one of the highest beta-carotene, kaempferol, and quercetin contents.

Arugula seed oil, commonly called taramira or Jamba oil, is likewise rich in glucosinolates. It also contains high amounts of erucic and gadoleic acids, which have more commercial than health benefits, as detailed in the following section.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Ancient and modern practitioners interpret arugula’s peppery taste as a fiery, “lively” quality, which lends itself to a variety of different uses. In the ancient world, the Romans and the Egyptians considered arugula to be a potent aphrodisiac which was used to “restore vigor to the genitalia,” and planted it at the base of statues of the god Priapus, who was considered the god of fertility, livestock, and gardens. Its reputation as an aphrodisiac was widespread and persistent, and some monasteries banned its cultivation on their grounds, citing its “hotness and lechery.”

Arugula had widespread use in Greco-Arab and Islamic medicine practices, primarily for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It was taken orally as a general tonic for wellness and as an aid to digestion and kidney function. Additionally, records exist of a physician’s prescribing a topical treatment of ground seeds mixed with cream for acne. Evidence of arugula use and cultivation dates back to the Hellenistic Period in Greece (323 BCE – 31 BCE).

Due to its high vitamin A and C content, arugula has been used as a therapeutic food for eye infections and night blindness, and its sharpness and astringency reveals its stimulant, diuretic, and antiscorbutic (effective against scurvy) properties. Many of its modern and traditional uses overlap with dandelion greens, to which it is very similar in taste and nutritional profile. The leaves have also been used topically as a rubefacient (drawing blood to the surface of the skin) to improve circulation.

The fresh leaves of arugula have been consumed and favored as a salad green in Mediterranean countries for centuries. With the growing popularity of the Mediterranean cuisine, its consumption continues to grow in the United States as well as the rest of the world. Arugula is best consumed raw or very lightly cooked, as many of its beneficial compounds (chlorophyll, glucosinolates, and isothiocyanates) degrade quickly when heated.

In India, Pakistan, and Iran, arugula is grown as a commercial oilseed crop. Due to its high erucic acid content, taramira oil and similar oils are used as commercial lubricants and as massage oils. The seed matter left behind after oil processing is used as livestock fodder. Where it is popular, including India, taramira oil also has a widespread culinary use, though it must age for six months after processing to mellow its initial overwhelming acrid taste. Once aged, the oil can be used in salads and for cooking purposes and is a traditional ingredient in pickles and mustard.

Modern Research

As a member of the Brassicaceae family, arugula shares the extensively-studied effects of its relatives, such as broccoli and kale.

Cruciferous vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and are highly regarded for their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, chemo-preventive, and cardioprotective effects. They have high levels of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates which, when crushed or chewed, turn into indoles and isothiocyanates. These two bioactive constituents have been shown to be potent cancer-fighters, protecting against many forms of cancers, including breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.

Arugula can be a valuable addition to the diet of people with Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal conditions, providing valuable vitamins, minerals, and insoluble fiber. Those who suffer from Crohn’s disease are at higher risk for vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition as a result of a limited diet; however, in a 2012 clinical study, almost 80% of subjects reported no change in their symptoms after consuming steady amounts of arugula. Though cruciferous vegetables are considered off-limits to people following a low-FODMAP diet (which seeks to eliminate fermentable oglio-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols due to a bacterial imbalance in the gut), arugula was well tolerated and also should be considered as a nutrient-dense addition for people with these sensitivities.


Nutrient Profile


Macronutrient Profile:
(Per 1 cup arugula leaves)

5 calories
0.52 g protein
0.73 g carbohydrate
0.13 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup arugula leaves)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin K: 21.7 mcg (27.13% DV)

Good source of:

Vitamin A: 475 IU (9.5% DV)
Vitamin C: 3 mg (5% DV)
Folate: 19 mcg (4.75% DV)
Vitamin E: 0.09 mg (4.48% DV)
Calcium: 32 mg (3.2% DV)

Also provides:
Magnesium: 9 mg (2.25% DV)
Potassium: 74 mg (2.11% DV)
Iron: 0.29 mg (1.61% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g (1.2% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.02 mg (1.18% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.02 mg (1% DV)
Phosphorus: 10 mg (1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts halves
  • 2 cups fresh arugula leaves
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In a dry, nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast walnuts until lightly browned and fragrant. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat.
  2. In a food processor, combine arugula, walnuts, and garlic and pulse until roughly chopped. Continue pulsing, drizzling in olive oil in a steady stream until combined. Stir in Parmesan cheese and add salt to taste.
  3. Alternatively, this recipe can be made with a mortar and pestle. Roughly chop the arugula leaves and toast walnuts as described, then combine nuts, salt, and garlic in a mortar and grind until smooth. Then add the cheese, olive oil, and arugula, and continue grinding until smooth.

What Is Leaky Gut? Causes, Symptoms, and Relief

A leaky gut is characterized by perforations in the intestinal wall that allow molecules or microorganisms to pass through into the bloodstream. The phenomenon is a profound failure of the intestines’ duty to act as a protective barrier. Leaky gut syndrome is difficult to diagnose; many physicians do not know to look for it when diagnosing patients who are experiencing a complicated array of symptoms.

What Exactly Is the Gut?

The gut encompasses the intestinal mucosa (lining), the microbial community (and its genes) in the intestines, and the immune system and nerves. In addition to being the most important organ in the digestive system, the intestines are the largest immune organ, with roughly 2,700 square feet (or 250 meters) of surface area. Eating or drinking exposes this tennis court-sized area to the outside world. The digested molecules (micro-, macro-, and phytonutrients) in food are supposed to filter through the intestinal mucosa, which is made up of the epithelial cells on the surface of the small intestine. The contents of the intestines are supposed to remain in the intestinal lumen and continue the journey to the colon. But, with a leaky gut, the contents of the intestine can slip, unregulated, between the epithelial cells of the intestine.

The spaces between the intestinal cells, known as tight junctions, are supposed to form a seal between the inside of the intestinal lumen and the rest of the body. When the tight junctions aren’t tight enough, things slip past the intestinal gatekeepers and into the bloodstream. From here pathogens, toxins, and antigens can circulate throughout the body, wreaking havoc and provoking a systemic inflammatory response. The loose gaps between the cells in the intestinal mucosa are associated with a myriad of conditions and syndromes including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Food allergies
  • Celiac disease
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Parkinson’s

What Causes Leaky Gut?

The tight junctions are not a perfect barrier. A number of factors can cause them to relax or contract—diet, medication, hormones, inflammation, and more. When the tight junctions relax or contract, their function may be disrupted.

1. Diet

Few things affect health as much as diet. Several primary offenders appear to contribute to the development of leaky gut:

  • Alcohol: When the human body metabolizes alcohol, the metabolic product acetaldehyde can increase intestinal permeability.
  • Sugar: Sugar and artificial sweeteners cause inflammation that compromises gut health. Additionally, a urine analysis that measures glucose in the urine is a useful indicator of the severity of leaky gut.
  • Dairy: Dairy products are linked to gastrointestinal disorders—–particularly among individuals on the autism spectrum.
  • Gluten: Consumption of gluten contributes to increased intestinal permeability in those with gluten sensitivity.
  • Additives: Industrial food additives such as emulsifiers, solvents, microbial transglutaminase, glucose, and salt contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
  • Pesticides: Glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria, which can contribute to the development of intestinal permeability.

    2. Candida

    Several species of candida are known to disrupt the makeup of the gut microbiota. The resulting imbalance in the microbiota is called dysbiosis. These disturbances can lead to the development of digestive disorders including leaky gut.

    3. Chronic Stress

    It’s no secret that stress negatively affects your health but it’s especially taxing on gut health. Psychological stress increases the presence of inflammatory cytokines, a class of signaling proteins created by the immune system that contributes to the development of leaky gut. Animal studies have shown that both psychological and physical stress compromise the integrity of the intestinal barrier.

    4. Environmental Toxins

    The environment is flooded with harmful chemicals and substances, many of which pose a significant risk to your health. Mercury, BPA, fungicides, and insecticides can all negatively affect intestinal permeability.

    5. Medications

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen have demonstrated a tendency to increase intestinal permeability and provoke inflammation.

    6. Zinc Deficiency

    Zinc is an essential trace mineral that supports the immune system and plays a significant role in irritable bowel diseases. Zinc deficiency can lead to intestinal permeability, while supplementation with zinc supports the function of the tight junctions.

    Symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome

    You might think the symptoms of leaky gut are all digestive disorders but, because leaky gut allows foreign bodies to enter the bloodstream, it can exert a wide range of effects the body as a whole and produce a varied array of symptoms. Some of the more obvious symptoms include allergies, cardiovascular disturbances, and a multitude of metabolic disruptions. Chronic fatigue syndrome and depression are separate and unique conditions, but both are known to result from compromised integrity of the intestinal mucosa.

    Intestinal permeability allows foreign microbes access directly to the bloodstream. In response, the immune system releases antibodies, which mistakenly attach to normal proteins in the blood, tagging them for immune action. Fortunately, there are ways to ease the burden of living with a leaky gut.

    What’s the Best Solution for Leaky Gut?

    Following a healthy diet is one of the most effective measures to help manage leaky gut. Foods that are a source of probiotics are helpful for mitigating the effects of the disorder. Nutrients like glutamine and curcumin support the intestinal environment by balancing the overstimulated immune response and the oxidative stress that weakens the intestinal wall.

    Monitoring what goes into your body is one of the best natural remedies for managing leaky gut. If you suffer from a digestive disorder, whether it’s leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or any of the many disorders associated with hyperpermeability, try keeping a daily food journal to identify the foods that trigger symptoms. If you experience frequent flare-ups, it’s time to make significant lifestyle changes such as incorporating the best foods for leaky gut into your diet to support your health and quality of life.

Food as Medicine Ginger (Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae)

History and Traditional Use
Range and Habitat

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical perennial herb native to Southeast Asia and widely cultivated in China, India, Nigeria, Australia, Jamaica, and Haiti.1 Its subterranean stem, known as a rhizome, is the edible and medicinal portion of the plant.2 Gingerroot is characterized by its knotted, beige exterior and its yellow interior. The herb features thick, protruding, reed-like3 stems and lanceolate leaves arranged in two vertical columns on opposite sides of the stem.4 Seasonally unfurling from ginger’s leaves are dense, ovoid-shaped flower structures that produce yellow-green flowers with a deep purple, yellow-marked lip.3Ginger plants can have an indefinite spread in tropical climates, though it is susceptible to pests and disease.5 The flavor of ginger is described as sweet and peppery with a prominent spicy aroma due to the presence of gingerols and ketones.6

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Thus far, researchers have identified 115 chemical components in a variety of dried and fresh ginger types.6 The most important phenolic elements of the ginger root are gingerols and their ginger-related composites — paradols, zingerone, and shogaols.6,7 Gingerols are the most abundant constituents of fresh ginger6; the three other phenolic compounds are not as plentiful. When gingerols are cooked or dried, they transform into various bioactive compounds,6 many of which have beneficial antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties.7 Research suggests that the optimal dosage of ginger ranges from 250 mg to 4.8 g per day of fresh or dried rhizomes.6,8 Other dosages for ginger intake vary depending on the form in which they are consumed and the purpose for which they are intended.8

Historical and Commercial Uses

In India, ginger has been used as a flavoring agent in food and beverage preparations as well as in traditional Ayurveda medicinal practices.4 Historically, it was regarded as the mahaoushadha (“the great medicine”) among ancient Indians.9 Fresh and dried ginger is used commonly in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of ailments such as indigestion, fever, and digestive disorders.8 Fresh ginger is thought to be beneficial in reducing nausea and vomiting due to the presence of shogaol, and dried ginger has been shown to alleviate chronic respiratory conditions.10 In addition, gingerol, the most predominate pungent bioactive compound of ginger, has been reported to stimulate digestive enzymes to help improve gastrointestinally (GI) issues.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fresh ginger root (sheng jiang) is considered warm and pungent and recognized for dispersing cold within the stomach, which contributes to the treatment of nausea and vomiting.11 It also is acknowledged as an expeller of exterior cold, quelling inflammation of the stomach and infections related to the cold and flu. Dry ginger (gan jiang) is considered to be more hot and pungent than fresh ginger, and it is responsible for dispersing cold in the spleen region, thereby alleviating ailments such as diarrhea and poor appetite. Quick-fried ginger (pao jiang) is warm and bitter and used to treat symptoms associated with conditions such as dysmenorrhea and diarrhea. Asian cuisine features ginger in a number of dishes for flavoring, including soups, curries, rice dishes, stir-fries, and sauces.12

It is believed that both the Chinese and Indians have used ginger root for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years; however, the exact origin is unknown.6 Highly prized for its medicinal properties, ginger was a popular trading commodity exported to the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago from India. (Anecdotally, Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the creation of the gingerbread man, which evolved into a popular treat consumed during the Christmas holidays.)

Ginger is used commercially in a variety of forms, including, but not limited to, fresh, dried, and candied.6The age of the ginger plant determines its culinary and medicinal use. Young ginger root harvested at five months has not matured and typically has a mild flavor, suitable to be used fresh. At nine months, ginger characteristically has a thick skin and pungent root, from which the volatile oils can be extracted. This material also is used in dried or ground form as a spice and in commercial baking products. Further, ginger is added as a flavoring to a number of different beverages such as ginger ale, ginger beer, and ginger wine.12

Modern Research

A considerable amount of research demonstrates and supports the significant health benefits of ginger. The majority of clinical evidence for ginger’s medicinal properties is related to nausea caused by pregnancy or chemotherapy.13

Three clinical studies have explored the effects of ginger in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea in young adults and children.14-16 The results from these studies indicated that ginger is effective in decreasing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. More specifically, one trial indicated that supplementing with ginger (0.5 g to 1.0 g liquid ginger root extract) reduces nausea.16 In a separate study, researchers observed reductions in the prevalence of nausea in patients with breast cancer when 1.5 g powdered dried ginger root was added to an antiemetic therapy following chemotherapy.14

Another clinical study observed the effects of powdered ginger in patients with intra- and postoperative nausea accompanying Cesarean sections.17 The results indicated that episodes of intraoperative nausea were reduced when ginger was administered orally. However, ginger did not have an effect on the overall incidence of intraoperative nausea and vomiting.

Ginger has been explored as a possible treatment for other GI issues such as dyspepsia, gastric emptying, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).18-20 The authors of one clinical study tested the effects of ginger on functional dyspepsia and gastric motility.18 The results indicated that ginger increased gastric emptying more rapidly than the placebo; however, ginger did not influence any GI symptoms. Researchers of a related clinical trial examined ginger’s effects on IBS over a period of 28 days.20 The results indicated that the group taking 1 g of ginger had a 26.4% reduction in symptoms.

Studies have shown that ginger may be beneficial for non-GI-related conditions as well. In two separate clinical studies, researchers explored ginger’s mitigating impact on dysmenorrhea.  The first study was conducted for a period of three days based on reports of pain experienced during the first two days of menstruation each month.21 The results suggested that ginger had more of an impact on dysmenorrhea symptoms compared to muscle-relaxation exercises. A similar clinical study found that at the end of the study period, 82.85% of the participants in the experimental group reported symptom improvement compared to 47.05% of the participants in the placebo group.22

Three clinical studies have examined the effects of ginger in the treatment of colorectal cancer.7,23,24 As noted, the bioactive compounds of ginger contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties, which can interfere with pathways responsible for cancer development.7 The results of all three studies demonstrated that an intake of 2 g of ginger root was able to reduce proliferation in the colorectal epithelium. Further, one trial illustrated that ginger simultaneously increased apoptosis (normal, programmed cell death) and differentiation.7 Ginger also exhibited an anti-inflammatory effect in individuals of normal risk and lowered COX-1 in individuals at higher risk.23,24

Other clinical studies have explored the effects of ginger in relation to muscle pain, respiratory distress syndrome, chronic lower-back pain, satiety, migraines, osteoarthritis, and type 2 diabetes.25-32

Nutrient Profile33

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 tablespoon [6 g] raw ginger)

5 calories
0.11 g protein
1.07 g carbohydrate
0.04 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 tablespoon [6 g] raw ginger)

Good source of:

Magnesium: 3 mg (0.75% DV)
Potassium: 25 mg (0.7% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.01 mg (0.5% DV)
Vitamin C: 0.3 mg (0.5% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.1 g (0.4% DV)
Folate: 1 mcg (0.25% DV)
Niacin: 0.05 mg (0.25% DV)
Phosphorus: 2 mg (0.2% DV)
Calcium: 1 mg (0.1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Candied Ginger

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh ginger root
  •  3 cups water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar, plus additional for coating

Directions:

  1. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a sheet pan lined with wax paper.

  2. Peel and thinly slice the ginger root.

  3. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved, add the ginger and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until ginger is tender.

  4. Drain the ginger and reserve the liquid for another use. (The reserved liquid can be further reduced to make ginger syrup or added to drinks.) Spread the ginger on the cooling rack in a single layer and dry for 30 minutes.

  5. Once dry, toss ginger slices with additional sugar to coat. Store in an airtight container.

References

  1. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council and Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
  2. Webb GP. Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods. West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing; 2011.
  3. Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
  4. Ginger. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.
  5. Ginger Root Production in Hawaii. Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.
  6. Bode AM, Dong Z. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2011.
  7. Citronberg J, Bostick R, Ahearn T, et al. Effects of ginger supplementation on cell-cycle biomarkers in the normal-appearing colonic mucosa of patients at increased risk for colorectal cancer: results from a pilot, randomized, and controlled trial. Cancer Prev Res. 2013;6(4):271-281.
  8. Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, et al, eds. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
  9. Ravindran PN, Babu KN. Ginger: the Genus Zingiber. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2005.
  10. Ginger – Ayurveda “Root” to Good Health. Kerala – Home of Ayurveda website. Available here. Accessed March 4, 2015.
  11. Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Medicine Comparisons and Characteristics. London, UK: Churchill Livingston; 2002.
  12. Van Wyk BE. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  13. Weimer K, Schulte J, Maichle A, et al. Effects of ginger and expectations on symptoms of nausea in a balanced placebo design. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49031.
  14. Panahi Y, Saadat A, Sahebkar A, Hashemian F, Taghikhani M, Abolhasani E. Effect of ginger on acute and delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a pilot, randomized, open-label clinical trial. Integr Cancer Ther. 2012;11(3):204-211.
  15. Pillai AK, Sharma KK, Gupta YK, Bakhshi S. Anti-emetic effect of ginger powder versus placebo as an add-on therapy in children and young adults receiving high emetogenic chemotherapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2011;56(2):234-238.
  16. Ryan JL, Heckler CE, Roscoe J, et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: a URCC CCOP study of 576 patients. Support Care Cancer. 2012;20(7):1479-1489.
  17. Kalava A, Darji SJ, Kalstein A, Yarmush JM, SchianodiCola J, Weinberg J. Efficacy of ginger on intraoperative and postoperative nausea and vomiting in elective cesarean section patients. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2013;169(2):184-188.
  18. Hu ML, Rayner CK, Wu KL, Chuah SK, Tai WC, Chou YP, et al. Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(11):105-110.
  19. Shariatpanahi ZV, Taleban FA, Mokhtari M, Shahbazi S. Ginger extract reduces delayed gastric emptying and nosocomial pneumonia in adult respiratory distress syndrome patients hospitalized in an intensive care unit. J Crit Care. 2010;25(4):647-50.
  20. Van Tilburg MA, Palsson OS, Ringel Y, Whitehead WE. Is ginger effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome? A double-blind randomized controlled pilot trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):17-20.
  21. Halder A. Effect of progressive muscle relaxation versus intake of ginger powder on dysmenorrhoea amongst the nursing students in Pune. Nurs J India. 2012:103(4)152-157.
  22. Jenabi E. The effect of ginger for relieving of primary dysmenorrhoea. J Pak Med Assoc. 2013;63(1):8-10.
  23. Jiang Y, Turgeon DK, Wright BD, Sidahmed E, Ruffin MT, Brenner DE, Sen A, Zick S. Effect of ginger root on cyclooxygenase-1 and 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrongenase expression in colonic mucosa of a human at normal and increased risk of colorectal cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2013;22(5):455-460.
  24. Zick SM, Turgeon DK, Vareed SK, et al. Phase II study of the effects of ginger root extract on eicosanoids in colon mucosa in people at normal risk for colorectal cancer. Cancer Prev Res. 2011;4(11):1929-1937.
  25. Black CD, Herring MP, Hurley DJ, O’Connor PJ. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. J Pain. 2010;11(9):894-903.
  26. Cady RK, Goldstein J, Nett R, Mitchell R, Beach ME, Browning R. A double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study of sublingual feverfew and ginger in the treatment of a migraine. Headache. 2011;51(7):1078-1086.
  27. Drozdov VN, Kim V a, Tkachenko E V, Varvanina GG. Influence of a specific ginger combination on gastropathy conditions in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. J Altern Complement Med. 2012;18(6):583-588.
  28. Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Talaei B, Jalali B-A, Najarzadeh A, Mozayan MR. The effect of ginger powder supplementation on insulin resistance and glycemic indices in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):9-16.
  29. Mansour MS, Ni Y-M, Roberts AL, Kelleman M, Roychoudhury A, St-Onge M-P. Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: a pilot study. Metabolism. 2012;61(10):1347-1352.
  30. Vahdat Shariatpanahi Z, Mokhtari M, Taleban FA, et al. Effect of enteral feeding with ginger extract in acute respiratory distress syndrome. J Crit Care. 2013;28(2):217.e1-217.e6.
  31. Sritoomma N, Moyle W, Cooke M, O’Dwyer S. The effectiveness of Swedish massage with aromatic ginger oil in treating chronic low back pain in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):26-33.
  32. Maghbooli M, Golipour F, Esfandabadi AM, Youse M. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of a common migraine. Phytother Res. 2014;28(3):412-415.
  33. Basic Report: 11216, Ginger root, raw. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture website. Available here. Accessed February 23, 2015.

What Is Lycopene?

The important plant-based pigment lycopene is found mainly in tomatoes. This carotenoid is just one of the approximately six hundred members of the family of carotenoid compounds. These beneficial phytochemicals are very good for health and are found in abundant quantities in many common fruits and vegetables consumed daily. The humble tomato and products made from tomato form the best source of lycopene.

The most famous carotenoid is, of course, beta-carotene, found in carrots. This compound has stoked the curiosity of researchers for a long time due to its role as a pro-vitamin A in the body – it undergoes chemical conversion to form vitamin A, whenever the supply of the vitamin runs low. The majority of clinical research has focused on the effects of a few beneficial carotenoids including the much-studied beta-carotene, at the same time, the often ignored lesser carotenoids like lycopene, that does not show pro-vitamin A-like activity, has been sidelined. In previous decades, scientist believed that these other carotenoids like lycopene were mere “junk” carotenoids, which had little purpose in the body other than their role as natural pigments lending color to fruits and vegetables. As time has passed, however, the unique and beneficial roles that carotenoids like lycopene play in the body have been realized following a more thorough clinical investigation. Now, most researchers are of the opinion that lycopene has a much more potent antioxidant effect than beta-carotene in the body; it is also believed to be a strong anti-carcinogen.

tomatoes-heirloomLycopene has been tested on human and animal cancer cells every since the first positive results of its anti-carcinogenic action came out. In these second series of confirmatory trials, the results obtained hold great potential and promise for the future treatment strategies. In clinical reports, the ability of lycopene to suppress the growth of cancer cells from cancerous breast, lung, and endometrial tissues has been announced by the researchers. In fact, the potent effect of lycopene was further confirmed laboratory animals that were fed potent carcinogens, in these animals the administration of high levels of lycopene helped to suppress all the cancerous growths resulting from the forced use of carcinogens. One relationship was clear, the effectiveness of the lycopene in suppressing cancer was greater the higher the doses administered. Researchers have also confirmed the great effectiveness of lycopene in dealing with the chemical carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. In one more study, results indicated that the use of lycopene can possibly give a protective effect to skin against the photo damage from long exposure to ultraviolet light – long exposure to sunlight during a lifetime can increase wrinkles and causes skin cancer in many people.

As a human grows older they become more susceptible to diseases, as the levels of all nutrients in the blood decline with old age. Lycopene supplements are ideal as a potent nutrient for all individuals who are 50 or older, particularly if such individuals do not consume at least one tomato dish on a daily basis. The ideal way to get lycopene in the diet is not by drinking a glass of tomato juice, even consuming a fresh tomato a day will not be sufficient in the long run – supplements must be taken to ensure adequate amounts in the body. The human body does not absorb the lycopene present in tomatoes well, if the vegetable is not heated or mixed with a little fat, like olive oil. Therefore, supplemental lycopene is the best to get adequate amounts of the lycopene.

Studies have established that individuals, who consume diets rich in tomatoes, have a lower risk of suffering from certain types of cancer. The lycopene in the tomatoes seemed to suppress the cancers of the lung, the prostate, and the stomach, particularly well. The effect of lycopene and its preventive role against cancer or its potential use in treating cancers requires further clinical research. One can be certain, that with the beneficial and preventive effect of human diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables is not simply explainable on one single component of the diet.

At the same time, some proponents of lycopene as a supplement claim that it can help reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing the hardening of the arteries in the heart, they also suggest that lycopene can preventmacular degenerative disease in old people; this is a common age specific illness leading to blindness. These people also suggest that lycopene plays a role in the regulation of lipid oxidation, a chemical damage that affects normal fat molecules leading to inflammation and disease in some individuals. Lycopene has also been suggested as being capable of lowering the elevated levels of the “bad” cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein – or LDL cholesterol. It is said to boost the functioning of theimmune system and of supporting the body defenses against pathogens. Lycopene may also protect enzymes, DNA, and cellular fats according to some proponents of this supplement. The biggest support for lycopene is for its use in treating cancers of the lung, the prostate gland, the stomach, the urinary bladder, the cervix, and the skin. Some of these claims may have a basis in fact, while other need further study and confirmation.

Based on clinical studies, some researchers are of the view that lycopene may possibly prevents the spread and slows the growth of cancerous tissues in case of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. The researchers attribute such beneficial effects of the lycopene to its potency as an antioxidant, which are organic compounds that help blocks the action of activated oxygen molecules called free radicals which are released in the cells as a part of normal metabolism – the action of these free radicals can severely damage cells in the body. Indeed, lycopene is a very active and effective antioxidant molecule, with an activity said to be equal or double that of beta-carotene – the other well known carotenoid anti-oxidant that is also believed to be a potent cancer preventing nutrient obtainable from the diet. As nutrient, the lycopene is regarded as being one of the more effective of the antioxidant compounds as it does not undergo chemical conversion to vitamin A in the body, following its consumption. The chemical conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A limits its use as an antioxidant compound.

The highest levels of dietary lycopene are found principally in tomatoes; however, other fruits also contain high levels of the compound includingguava, apricots, watermelons, papayas, and pink grapefruit. As tomatoes are readily available and often used as food, they are best food source for lycopene – tomatoes are also cheaper than other costly fruits. In clinical studies it has been confirmed that the lycopene levels in the blood were higher in the blood of people who consumed cooked tomatoes than in the body of those who consumed raw tomatoes or drank tomato juice alone. What this result suggests is that dietary tomato sauce or paste might be the ideal source for the lycopene contained in tomatoes than the consumption of raw tomatoes itself. In most health food stores, the supplements of lycopene are sold in the form of soft gel capsule supplements. The dosages of lycopene differ and different manufacturers may give different dosage regimens in the product label.

The proof that diets high in lycopene leads to a reduced incidence of cancer has come from the long term scientific observation of the nutritional pattern of groups of individuals from many countries across the world. In these populations, a diet high in tomato products translated into high levels of lycopene in the blood is associated with the lowest chance of developing certain cancers. These nutritional studies all suggests that in general diets that are rich in tomatoes might be the possible reason for the reduction in the risks of developing several different kinds of cancer across any population.

Lycopene may also possibly have a beneficial protective effect against the chance of cancers of the cervix and breast in women, and cancers of the mouth, the pancreas, the esophagus, as well as those of the colon, and the rectum in men and women.

Tomatoes in the diet have been linked to lowered risk for prostate cancer in some nutritional studies that observed large groups of people – this is said to be due to the diet high in lycopene from the tomato based foods taken in the diet. This connection between tomato based foods and lowering of prostate cancer risk is disputed by the other researchers, however, in these studies some researchers have found no concrete link between the consumption of large amounts of tomato based food products and a lowering in prostate cancer risk. There may be a genetic factor behind all this, as the results from one recent study show. These results suggests that the form or variation in a particular gene called XRCC1, which codes for proteins that helps repair damaged DNA damage influences the effectiveness of lycopene. This gene may be affecting the chances of whether a high intake of lycopene will influence the risk of prostate cancer in men.

Lycopene in itself may not be the sole agent in tomatoes that lowers the risk for cancer. Many other important nutrients such as vitamins, the mineral potassium, pigments like the carotenoids, and other classes of antioxidants, and many other beneficial compounds are found in tomatoes, these acting alone or affecting a combined effect with the lycopene, may be the agent or agents that induce the protective effects attributed solely to lycopene by some researchers. In studies in which the researchers have analyzed the dietary habits of large groups of people all with varied lifestyles and habits, it might be the case that also the effect in lowered cancer risk attributed to certain diets is induced in fact, by other factors that were never examined in the study.

In a scientific review of a study published in 2004, it was stated that in a study in which eleven observational and ten cases control studies were analyzed, it did seem that tomato based products give a weak but protective effect over the chance of prostate cancer – this results in a lowered risk of prostate cancer according to the conclusion based on the study. It is important to state here, that this analysis of the study results did not involve the use of any lycopene supplements whatsoever, only tomato and tomato based food products were utilized. However, lycopene levels in the blood were indeed considered in some of the individual studies. In the review, the analyst suggested that the protective effect was indeed somewhat stronger when cooked tomato products were consumed. It was also noted that the addition of small quantities of fat improved the absorption of lycopene in the body.

In fact, the role of lycopene possibly preventing or treating cancers completely has been investigated in a few experimental studies. In one of these experiments, animals given supplements of lycopene displayed reductions in the growth rate of induced brain tumors – this is a significant result. Administration of high doses of lycopene to test mice studied in another experimental study showed that the high levels of lycopene in the body of the animal led to the suppression of induced breast tumor growth to a very significant extent. The insight gained from this particular study may not be applicable to human disease states, as at least ninety five percent of all the human breast cancers cases are different to the form of breast cancers seen in mice and other mammals.

In addition, supplements of lycopene have been shown to actively suppress the growth of a variety of human cancer cell lines under laboratory conditions. This ability of lycopene to interfere and disrupt cancer cell growth was particularly potent in cancers that grow in response to the insulin like growth factor I – a growth factor in mammals. Therefore, at least in the animal and laboratory studies, lycopene has shown a certain promise for the treatment of cancer. However, its application to human cancers requires further studies and long term testing, before it can be used on humans.

In one test, to assess the fact about lycopene as the principal cancer fighting compound in tomatoes, animals given lycopene supplements were compared to those given powdered tomatoes as a supplement. The group of laboratory rats were fed tomato powder and analytically compared to rats given just lycopene supplements over a long period of time. There was a significant lowering of risk for cancer in the rats that received tomato powder, while it was notice, that the rats administered only lycopene supplements had no more significant lowering in risk for cancers from the group that was given only powdered tomatoes.

Human tests have also been conducted to check the possibility of lycopene use in the treatment of cancer. In one particular controlled study that checked a small group of men affected by prostate cancer, it was discovered that the use of lycopene supplements seemed to result in a reduction of rapid growth in prostate cancer cells normally seen in such affected men. This result is disputed and a more recent clinical study has indicated that lycopene supplements induced no significant healing effect on prostate cancer affected men who had all failed hormone therapy as part of an earlier treatment. At any rate, human tests of this type are just in the starting stage, and it is necessary to conduct more controlled studies that test larger groups of patients, before the benefits of lycopene in dealing with cancer if any, are known. Currently, individuals with cancer are being tested in a number of smaller studies now underway to check if any tomato products or supplements lycopene can be used in treating cancer states.

Since it is a natural organic compound, there are no safety issues connected to the intake of lycopene from the consumption of fruits and vegetables. High levels of the compound are also not known to induce any significant side effects and lycopene is believed to safe for human use – unless such people are allergic to the fruit or vegetable itself. Supplemental lycopene is a different matter, though the potential side effects of such supplements if any are still not fully known due to the scarcity of reports. Lycopene and its potential side effects were studied in a group of test patients, who all received a supplement rich in tomato based lycopene at doses of fifteen mg two times every day. In these patients, the supplement induced some type of intestinal side effects including spells of nausea and vomiting, persistent diarrhea, indigestion, abdominal gas and bloating of the stomach. Therefore, lycopene supplements are comparatively safe and side effects are considered mild. Consuming large amounts of tomato based products for prolonged periods of time is also known to bring out an orange color in the skin, with no other symptoms.

If they are used during the course of a radiation or chemotherapy regimen, then antioxidant supplements may interfere with the actual killing of the cancer cells in the body – therefore, antioxidants must be avoided during such treatments. This area of research is still unclear and more studies in humans are required to find out the exact manner in which antioxidants might interfere in such cases. It is suggested, however, that supplements of vitamins, minerals, or nutrient supplements taken by cancer patients undergoing therapy must be only under medical supervision, a qualified doctor must be consulted by the patient before such supplements are used to avoid possible problems. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables, which are all high in antioxidants, can be safely eaten by the patient during the radioactive or drug based chemotherapy treatment of cancer without fear of a possible interference in the treatment.

How to Lower High Triglycerides

Triglycerides are the most common fat in the body. Most of the foods that people eat, whether from animal or plant sources, can have an impact on the levels of triglycerides in the blood.

There are many different types of fats, from polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil to the saturated fats found in red meat. They all contribute to triglyceride levels in the body, but they do so in different ways.

When a person eats more calories than their body needs, the body stores these extra calories in the form of triglyceride fats. Then later, when the body needs more energy, it consumes these fats instead of needing more calories.

Triglycerides are important for health, but high levels of triglycerides in the body can lead to conditions such as heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Taking steps to lower triglyceride levels and reduce other risk factors can decrease a person’s chances of developing heart disease.

It is important to understand triglyceride levels in order to adjust them. The normal range for triglyceride levels is considered to be less than 150 milligrams per deciliter.

At-risk levels are anywhere from 150-199 milligrams per deciliter, and high triglyceride levels range from 200-499 milligrams per deciliter. Anything above 500 milligrams per deciliter is considered very high.

Ways to lower triglyceride levels

List of triglycerides levels.
High triglyceride levels range from 200 milligrams per deciliter and above.

There are many ways to reduce triglyceride levels safely. These can depend on the reasons why triglyceride levels are high in the first place.

If an individual regularly consumes more calories than the body can burn, it will result in an excess of triglycerides in the body. One way to lower triglyceride levels in the blood is to reduce the overall number of calories ingested every day.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), there is evidence that a 5-10 percent weight loss can decrease triglyceride levels by 20 percent. The decrease in triglycerides is directly related to losing weight.

What to eat

In order to lower triglyceride levels, an individual must watch what they eat and adopt a nutrient-rich diet. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds is a great way to increase the nutrients consumed, while also reducing calories.

A diet that is good for the heart and the blood also includes reducing the amount of sodium, refined grains, added sugars, and what are known as solid fats in the diet.

Fats

Solid fats come from meat, full-fat dairy products, and some tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oil. These foods contain trans fats and saturated fats.

Trans fats and saturated fats raise triglyceride levels, so people should try to replace them wherever possible. Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), actually lower triglyceride levels.

Omega-3 fats found in cod liver oil, cold-water fish, such as salmon and sardines, and flaxseeds are great ways to add PUFAs to a diet. For example, instead of a steak or hamburger, which are high in saturated fats, people can opt for a filet of salmon or a tuna sandwich.

Animal products, such as lean meats, skinned poultry, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and seafood are also good options.

Carbohydrates

Individuals should limit their total carbohydrate intake to below 60 percent of their recommended daily calorie allowance. Diets with a carbohydrate intake above 60 percent are associated with a rise in triglyceride levels.

Ways to avoid carbohydrates include, for example, choosing lean burgers wrapped in lettuce instead of a high-carb bun. For dessert, opting for fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries instead of sugary baked goods can reduce sugar cravings while also lowering overall carb intake.

Sugars

The types of carbohydrates in the diet can also contribute to triglyceride levels. Foods high in simple sugars, especially refined fructose, are known to raise triglyceride levels.

A glass full of sugar cubes and a straw.
Added sugars may lead to high triglyceride levels.

Drinks make a large contribution to overall carbohydrate intake. Fruit drinks, soft drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are some of the main sources of added sugars in the diet. Added sugars should be avoided to help reduce triglyceride levels.

Added sugar comes in many forms, including:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Cane juice or cane syrup
  • Corn sweetener or corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Maltose
  • Lactose
  • Sucrose
  • Syrups, such as maple, agave, and molasses

Taking steps to avoid drinks containing added sugars can greatly reduce overall calories. Every 4 grams of sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. The recommended daily maximum sugar intake for women is 24 grams (6 teaspoons) or 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men.

Instead of drinks that contain high levels of added sugars, people can opt for low-calorie drinks, such as water or tea. On a warm day, instead of reaching for a soft drink, a splash of 100 percent fruit juice to a glass of sparkling water is a better option.

Alcohol also has a direct effect on triglyceride levels in some people. In people with high triglyceride levels, refraining from drinking alcohol is a helpful step to reducing triglycerides.

People should work directly with their healthcare provider to gradually make any changes to the diet, and be certain there are no complications with any medicines they are taking.

Exercise

Physical activity also plays an important role in reducing triglyceride levels. Burning calories ensures that more triglycerides from within the body are being used up.

Any exercise is beneficial, but the effects of exercise will vary based on initial triglyceride levels, the amount of exercise, and the level of intensity of the exercise. A 30-minute walk each day is a great way to begin, as is engaging in low-stress activities, such as cycling or swimming.

The AHA recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, 5 days a week.

Why are triglyceride levels important?

If the triglyceride levels in the body are too high, the risk of certain diseases and disorders is also increased. According to a study posted to the Lancet Diabetes Endocrinology, high triglyceride levels play a role in cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.

This can happen because high triglyceride levels in the blood can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, triglyceride fats, calcium, cellular waste, and fibrin, which is the material the body uses for clotting.

Plaque buildup increases the risk of heart diseases, as the buildup blocks the normal flow of blood in the arteries. Plaque may also break off, and the sudden clot formed can cause a stroke or heart attack. Triglycerides and cholesterol levels make up two of the most important things to monitor for a healthy heart.

There is also an increased risk of damage to the pancreas if the levels of triglycerides get too high.

Causes of high triglyceride levels

The most common causes of high triglyceride levels relate to diet and metabolism. A study posted to Nutrients listed the most common contributing factors of high triglyceride levels. These include:

  • Family genes
  • Obesity
  • High-calorie diet
  • High-fat diet
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Diabetes (mainly type 2)
  • Renal diseases such as uremia
  • Pregnancy
  • Some medications, such as oral estrogen, corticosteroids, antiretroviral drugs, and tamoxifen, among others

Statistically, some groups of people are more at risk for high triglyceride levels than others. These groups include:

  • People who have developed heart disease before the age of 50
  • Women, especially pregnant women or women taking estrogen
  • People who are obese
  • Mexican-American men
  • Native Americans