Omega-3 May Keep Gut Microbiota Diverse and Healthy

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that people who eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have more bacterial diversity in the gut, which promotes better overall health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means that although we need them to stay healthy, the human body cannot produce them on its own – so we have to get them from food.

The benefits of a diet rich in omega-3s are well known. The fatty acids seem to lower the “bad” kind of cholesterol, lower high blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.

Some studies have also suggested that omega-3 can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and improve bone strength, as well as protect against age-related cognitive decline and dementia.

And now, researchers from the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, in collaboration with scientists from King’s College London – both in the United Kingdom – add to the long list of omega-3’s benefits.

The new study – led by Dr. Ana Valdes, an associate professor, and reader at the University of Nottingham – suggests that the compound can improve the biodiversity of the gut.

A gut with rich and diverse bacteria is key to our overall health. As we explain in one of our articles, the 38 trillion bacteria that live inside our guts keep our immune systems healthy and ready to fight.

Conversely, losing microbial diversity has been associated with irritable bowel syndrome and bowel cancer, to name just a few conditions.

“The human gut is receiving a lot of attention in medical research as it is increasingly linked to a wide variety of health issues,” explains Dr. Valdes.

“Our digestive systems are home to trillions of microbes, most of which are beneficial in that they play a vital role in our digestion, immune system, and even regulate our weight,” she says.

So, Dr. Valdes and colleagues set out to examine the link between omega-3 intake and the diversity of the gut’s bacteria in middle aged and senior women.

How Omega-3 may improve gut health

The researchers analyzed levels of DHA, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, as well as total Omega-3 serum levels and microbiome data from 876 twins.

“This cohort of 876 volunteer women had previously been used to investigate the human genetic contribution to the gut microbiome in relation to weight gain and disease,” says Dr. Valdes.

Microbiome data was analyzed using the 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid sequencing technique. Omega-3 food intake was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire.

Dr. Valdes summarizes the findings, saying, “We […] found [that omega-3 intake], together with […] serum levels of omega-3, were strongly associated with the diversity and number of species of healthy bacteria in the gut.”

The association was independent of whether or not the participants also had a diet rich in fiber.

First study author Dr. Cristina Menni, of King’s College London, adds, “We also found that specific bacteria that have been linked to lower inflammation and lower risk of obesity are increased in people who have a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids.”

In an attempt to understand the mechanism behind this association, the researchers performed further tests and found that “high levels of omega-3 in blood […] correlated with high levels of a compound called N-carbamyl-glutamate (NCG) in the gut.”

[NCG] has been shown in animals to reduce oxidative stress in the gut. We believe that some of the good effects of omega-3 in the gut may be due to the fact that omega-3 induces bacteria to produce this substance.”

Dr. Cristina Menni

“Our study is the largest to date to examine the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and the composition of the gut microbiome,” says Dr. Valdes.

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The Best Laxative Foods for Natural Constipation Relief

Constipation is a taboo subject for many people. If you’re too embarrassed to discuss it, know that you are far from alone. Constipation affects about 14% of adults in the United States and accounts for an astounding 3.2 million medical visits every year. It’s a common and widespread issue. Nobody wants to talk about it, but for the sake of our health, maybe it’s time we opened a dialogue.

Americans spend three-quarters of a billion dollars on laxatives every year, and it’s not helping. Pharmaceutical laxatives and stool softeners often make constipation worse. Laxative overuse can lead to dependency, making it difficult or impossible to have a bowel movement without using strong laxatives. Over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives also tend to produce some serious side effects including abdominal cramps, dehydration, dizziness, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalance, and bloody stool.

A better plan is to incorporate foods into your diet that have a natural laxative effect. While pharmaceutical laxatives tend to result in explosive emergencies, these foods produce a mild laxative effect. They won’t send you sprinting for the restroom, but if you incorporate a few of them into your daily diet, they should keep things moving so regularly that laxatives become completely unnecessary. Even better, these foods don’t come with the unpleasant side effects that make constipation more miserable than it needs to be.

22 Natural Laxative Foods

High-fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, and beans, support gut health and promote regularity. In addition to a high-fiber diet, look for foods that can stimulate the digestive system, encourage enzyme activity, or assist in detoxification. When possible, consume foods that are organic, pesticide-free, seasonal, and fresh. Avoid big-box grocery retailers and look to your local farmer’s market or organic produce store for the healthiest raw fruits and vegetables.

Each of the following 15 foods produces a natural laxative effect without the unwanted side effects of OTC laxatives. These foods can help relieve common symptoms of constipation, as well as many other gastrointestinal issues. Before you start taking laxatives or stool softeners, try incorporating more of these laxative foods into your diet. You will be surprised at how well they work. Here is a list of 22 of the best laxative foods and drinks.

1. Prunes and Plums

We might as well start off with the fruit that’s most famous for its laxative properties. Recognized as “nature’s laxative,” prunes and plums are naturally rich in antioxidants, vitamin A, potassium, and iron. They are especially high in dietary fiber, which is what gives them their relieving properties. Prunes also promote the health of beneficial bacteria in the gut, making them a great addition to any colon-cleansing diet.[6] Prunes are one of the best laxative foods for babies, but remember that you shouldn’t give solid food to infants under four months old.

You can also try prune juice, but be sure to read the ingredients label and get one that’s made only from prunes and water. Avoid anything with added sugar.

2. Bananas

Bananas are high in pectin, a soluble fiber that normalizes bowel function. This makes them a natural bulk-producing laxative, and a great way to promote easy digestion. Since bananas have a high potassium content, eating a banana a day will help restore valuable electrolytes to your intestinal tract. Bananas also contain a natural compound called fructooligosaccharide, which can help beneficial bacteria proliferate in your large intestine.

Be sure the bananas you pick are fully ripe. Unripe bananas contain heavy starches and can cause constipation.

3. Apples

An apple has as much dietary fiber as a bowl of bran, and it tastes a lot better. The high pectin content stimulates the bowels and provides bulk for breezier bowel movements. If you’re looking for laxative foods for children and toddlers, apples are a good choice. While your little ones might shy away from prunes, a sweet, tasty apple is usually an easy sell.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

Speaking of apples, don’t forget apple cider vinegar (ACV). ACV contains acetic acid, which helps food break down more efficiently in your stomach. I recommend only raw organic apple cider vinegar as it still has the “mother of vinegar,” the living nutrients and bacteria that provide the bulk of ACV’s health-promoting properties.

5. Berries

High in antioxidants, berries rank among my favorite foods. They also help relieve constipation with their high dietary fiber content. I recommend consuming the following berries during any colon cleanse and on a daily basis afterwards—blueberries, strawberries, bilberries, cranberries, blackberries, goji berries, and acai berries. If you opt for berry juice, make sure that it contains only natural ingredients and no added sugar.

6. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of the oldest and most popular medicinal plants known to man. The bulk of the aloe vera leaf is filled with a gel that contains beneficial vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytonutrients, and enzymes.

Avoid “whole leaf” or “outer leaf” aloe products—these contain aloe latex, a bitter yellow liquid derived from the skin of the aloe leaf. Aloe latex is a very harsh laxative and can cause cramping. What you want is inner leaf aloe, a much more mild laxative. Inner leaf aloe juice or high-quality supplements are readily available.

7. Ginger

Ginger is one of the best laxative spices and has been an important ingredient in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Indian medicine (and cuisine) for hundreds of years. The piquant root is known for effectively relieving gastrointestinal distress, which is why many commercial laxatives contain ginger extracts. Dried ginger is also an ingredient in many laxative teas. Ginger works by relaxing the intestinal tract, allowing elimination to proceed smoothly.

8. Turmeric

Like ginger, turmeric has a long history of culinary and medicinal use in many Eastern cultures. It gets both its rich golden color and its healing properties from a natural phytochemical compound called curcumin. Clinical trials have found that curcumin can have a tremendously positive effect on many gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.

9. Bitter Melon

Bitter melon, also known as Goya, bitter gourd, and balsam-pear, is a vegetable grown in tropical regions around the world and appreciated for its health-boosting properties. It is less known in the United States, but if you can find it, I recommend giving it a try. Loaded with beneficial phytochemicals and nutrients, constipation relief is just one of bitter melon’s many uses. The vegetable is also used for eczema, weight loss, kidney stones, liver issues, and dozens of other applications.

10. Leafy Green Vegetables

When you are ready to detox your body, fill your refrigerator with kale, spinach, dandelion greens, alfalfa, chard, mustard greens, arugula, or other dark leafy greens. Why? They act as natural laxatives and are high in dietary fiber, calcium, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and K. These essential nutrients aid your digestion and overall health.

11. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are great laxative foods, rich in fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. Additionally, they are very high in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect you from developing colon cancer and prostate cancer. If possible, I recommend buying locally-grown, organic tomatoes.

12. Avocados

Avocados are packed with beneficial nutrients such as dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin K, and folate. If you eat one avocado a day, it will provide you with approximately 30% of your daily fiber needs. Furthermore, avocados contain an antioxidant called lutein along with vitamin E, magnesium, and healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocado also improves the absorption of nutrients from other foods.

13. Coconut Oil

In animal studies, researchers have discovered that coconut oil may help protect the colon and digestive tract from damage, keeping your primary route of elimination clear and in good health. Look for raw, organic extra virgin coconut oil. This assures that it’s unrefined and contains no harsh chemicals or genetically modified additives.

14. Legumes

Legumes like beans and peas are one of the very best laxative foods. They aid digestion, are high in fiber and are low in both fat and cholesterol.

15. Raw Seeds and Nuts

Incorporate more raw seeds and nuts into your diet. Not only are they delicious, seeds and nuts are rich in fiber, vitamin E, protein, zinc and other essential nutrients. Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, cedar nuts, and sunflower seeds are all great choices.

16. Carrots

High in pectin, they add bulk to stool and can stimulate bowel contractions. If you’re eating carrots to help relieve constipation, eat them raw. Raw carrots are more effective at relieving constipation than cooked.

17. Broccoli

Extremely high in antioxidants and fiber, broccoli can help stimulate detoxification enzymes in the digestive tract. Broccoli sprouts are more effective than the fully-grown vegetable, containing a higher concentration of beneficial nutrients.

18. Cauliflower

Eating cauliflower will increase the amount of glucosinolate in your system, which supports the production of enzymes in the liver. These liver enzymes help flush carcinogens and other toxins from your body. There are many excellent cauliflower recipes to help you add this great-tasting veggie to your diet.

19. Cabbage

Much like other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, eating cabbage helps flush out toxins and soften stool for easier bowel movements. To maximize the potential of cabbage, consume it as kimchi or sauerkraut for the probiotic benefits. Speaking of probiotics…

20. Probiotic Foods

Every normal, healthy human gut is home to around 100 trillion beneficial microorganisms. Together, these organisms are called your microbiota, and they are critical to your gastrointestinal system and overall health. Fermented foods help stock your system with these beneficial bacteria. Consuming plenty of probiotic foods keeps your microbiota healthy, aids digestion, and eases constipation. Kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are all excellent examples of probiotic foods.

21. Watermelon

Watermelon isn’t just a classic summertime treat; it’s a great healing food as well. The large fruit contains high levels of dietary fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and B6. Chinese traditional medicine prescribes watermelon as a mild laxative. Watermelon is also, of course, a great source of water—92% by volume. As for why that’s important, read on.

22. Water

Last, but most definitely not least, don’t forget to hydrate! Drinking plenty of purified water is one of the best natural ways to relieve constipation. Water is vital to all bodily functions and makes up 60-80% of your body weight. It helps moisten the intestines, regulating bowel flow. Imagine going down a waterslide, then imagine trying to go down that same slide dry, and you’ll see how important water is for easy bowel movements.

Drink half your body weight in ounces every day. In other words, if you weigh 180 lbs, you need at least 90 oz of water daily. Be sure to add more if you’re doing anything that makes you sweat. Healthy liquids, like detox water and coconut water count toward this total, but skip soft drinks, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, caffeinated beverages, and fruit juice with added sugar—those all dehydrate you.

Foods That Cause Constipation

Now that we’ve gone through such trouble to incorporate all these laxative food into your diet let’s not undo our hard work. There are some foods that cause constipation. If you are prone to irregularity, avoid ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods.[27] Caffeine can also trigger constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Those with IBS should avoid caffeinated products like coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate.

A Word of Caution on Laxatives for Weight Loss

Many people ask me about the best laxative foods for weight loss. I would like to remind you that pharmaceutical laxatives, should never be taken for weight loss. They simply don’t work that way, and trying to do so can cause serious issues. Abusing laxatives this way is a type of bulimia.

Supplements for Gentle Colon Cleansing

A healthy diet is the safest, easiest, most sustainable way to prevent constipation and support overall health. However, in extreme cases, supplementation can help.

If you still find yourself constipated, then it’s likely the sign of something else. I recommend a full colon cleanse to improve digestion, support colon health, and relieve occasional constipation. Oxy-Powder® is Global Healing Center’s scientifically formulated, all-natural colon cleansing supplement. It uses the power of oxygen to cleanse and detoxify your entire digestive tract.

detox water

Enjoy These 10 Detox Water Recipes All Year Long!

Detox water has become a wildly popular diet craze. Many hail it as a miracle diet and think it can support weight loss. Could this be a revolutionary new way to drop pounds and trim the physique, or is it just another fad diet? Let’s start by understanding what detox water is.

What Is Detox Water?

Detox water is basically water (I recommend distilled water) infused with fruits, vegetables, and/or herbs. Sometimes called infused water, many people use it as part of a body detox strategy.

Water is crucial to your health. Every part of your body depends on water to thrive. Water is key to many basic physiological functions; water keeps your bloodstream fluid, moisturizes your skin, and even helps eliminate waste. Both the quantity and quality of water a person drinks directly impacts the health of their body.

Unfortunately, I know many people who don’t enjoy drinking water. Some say it’s tasteless and dull. That’s what makes detox water so excellent. It adds flavor to plain water while also infusing key, beneficial nutrients. If you’re looking for a simple health-conscious choice, detox water is a great option.

Some of the Most Popular Ingredients

Some detox waters add nutritional value to water. Others provide a tasty alternative to less healthful drinks such as soda, energy drinks, or coffee. The best do both.

Many popular detox water recipes include citrus fruits like grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime. These fruits are both tasty and heavy in vitamin C. Many types of detox water also include healthful herbs like mint, basil, rosemary, oregano, and ginger. Other popular ingredients include cucumber, berries, watermelon, apple, cinnamon sprigs, aloe vera, and even apple cider vinegar. I even like adding a dash of Himalayan Salt for additional flavor and a mineral boost.

10 Detox Water Recipes to Try at Home

Each of the following recipes is simple and anyone can make them. You’ll notice that many of these recipes use approximate measurements like “a handful.” Play around and find what’s most tasty to you. Detox water recipes don’t need to be exact. These are just a few that I’ve made while experimenting in my own kitchen. I encourage you to experiment yourself to find what you like!

Every one of these recipes follows the same basic formula, only the add-ins differ.

Start with one gallon of purified water (room temperature is fine). Combine the other ingredients in a glass container, stir gently with a wooden spoon, and refrigerate for 3-4 hours to allow all ingredients to mingle. Serve and enjoy!

These ingredients are best when fresh. I recommend drinking your detox water within 24 hours of making it.

1. Cucumber Mint Water

Cucumber water makes for a healthy, mellow drink. Adding a little mint makes this a refreshing delight on even the hottest day.

  • Slice about ? of a cucumber into roughly 15 – 20 thin slices
  • Add 5 – 7 whole fresh mint leaves to cucumber slices
  • Add a pinch of Himalayan salt

Pro-Tip: Once you’ve added these ingredients to your water, use your wooden spoon to crush up the mint leaves against the bottom of the container. This releases flavor and makes your water delicious!

2. Watermelon Citrus Water

Watermelon citrus water makes an excellent summertime treat. Perfect for picnics.

  • Cube about 1 cup of fresh watermelon
  • Squeeze the juice of ½ lemon and ½ orange
  • Add 1 lemon wedge
  • Add 1 orange wedge
  • Add 5 – 8 cucumber slices to mellow the harsh citrus flavor

3. Herbal Oregano Water

Adding savory herbs like rosemary and oregano to a fruity drink may seem weird to some people. But, trust me, if you haven’t tried it, you should. The strong flavors of the herbs compliment the sweetness of fruit like lemon or watermelon.

  • 1 ½ – 2 (to taste) fresh stalks of rosemary
  • 1 ½ – 2 (to taste) dried organic oregano leaves (you can substitute 1 teaspoon oregano essential oil)
  • ½ cucumber, sliced thin
  • 1 cup cubed watermelon

Pro-Tip: Boil the rosemary and oregano in water before adding to the rest of the mixture. This will help better combine their flavor with the other ingredients.

4. Sweet Herbal Cucumber Water

The oranges in this recipe add vitamin C. The dash of Himalayan salt gives it a mineral boost that distilled water alone lacks.

  • 1 whole cucumber, sliced thin
  • 2 orange wedges
  • 2 pinches rosemary
  • Add a dash of Himalayan salt

5. Kicking Lemon Ginger Water

I call this “kicking” because the chili and ginger give it a kick. Definitely recommended if you like a little spice.

  • Squeeze fresh juice from 2 whole lemons
  • Add a third lemon, cut into wedges
  • Mince about 1-inch fresh ginger root (peeled)
  • Add 1 tablespoon (to taste) of fresh ground red chili powder

6. Strawberry Basil Water

Strawberries are high in antioxidants, potassium, vitamin C, and many other nutrients. They make for a delicious berry beverage.

  • 10 fresh, whole strawberries
  • 2 lemon wedges
  • Freshly squeezed juice from ½ lemon
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves

7. Cool Ginger Mint Water

Ginger has been used for thousands of years to help a variety of ailments. Some of the ginger’s health benefits include helping to ease an upset stomach and soothing a sore throat. But, you don’t have to wait until you get sick, this drink is tasty anytime.

  • 1 cucumber sliced thin
  • 2 inches fresh, peeled ginger root
  • 2 Lemon/lime wedges
  • 10 – 12 fresh mint leaves
  • Pinch of Himalayan salt
  • Bonus: Add a dash of peppermint essential oil

8. Citrus Aloe Water

This infusion combines the great taste of citrus with the extraordinary healing power of aloe vera. I highly recommend it.

  • 2 whole oranges, quartered
  • Fresh juice squeezed from ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup fresh inner leaf aloe vera gel
  • Add mint leaves to taste

9. Strawberry Grapefruit Water

Vitamin C is one of the best possible detox vitamins. Found in both strawberries and grapefruit, this water recipe provides a double-blast of it.

  • 1 whole cucumber sliced thin
  • 2 whole grapefruits (quartered)
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries
  • Add mint leaves to taste

10. Tangy Cucumber Lemon Water

You may notice that this recipe has lemon twice. That’s no mistake. Regular cleansing is important to your overall wellness, and lemon water is great for a natural detox. This recipe really lets you double-down on the healthful properties of lemon water.

  • 1 ¼ – 1 ½ whole cucumbers, sliced thin
  • 2 lemon wedges
  • Freshly squeezed juice from ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh, red chili powder
  • Dash of Himalayan salt

Can These Detox Water Recipes Benefit Your Health?

Again, these recipes are just a few suggestions and the possibilities are endless. Everything is up for experimentation, so get a jug of distilled water and experiment! If you’re looking for an easy way to make more health-conscious choices in your daily life, detox water is a great option.

These detox water recipes are a great step towards improving wellness. If you’re committed to boosting your health in a big way, I recommend the 9-step body cleanse kit, which is a complete approach to detoxifying your body from head to toe. All the while, support your wellness efforts with detox water!

Flatal Incontinence and Women: What is it and Why does it Happen?

Uncontrollable gas (flatus or flatulent gases) is known as flatal incontinence. This condition is defined as involuntary flatulence at least once or more per week. The big problem: it can happen anywhere. Involuntarily ‘breaking wind’ while at the store, restaurant or at the office creates embarrassing situations. It can erode self-confidence. It can negatively impact one’s relationships. Worse yet, the feeling of being powerless to control oneself can stress and isolate an individual. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that afflicts women around the world.

Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Uncontrollable Gas

During pregnancy and natural childbirth, the anal sphincter (the muscle that controls the anus) and the perineum muscles (the muscles of the pelvic area) suffer trauma. As a result, many women experience a loss of control over bowel movements and gas immediately following childbirth. While this is very common, it certainly isn’t desirable.

Studies have found that nearly 1 in 3 women who deliver vaginally report experiencing uncontrollable gas. For some women, the problem occurs for only a short time. For others, the problem becomes chronic.

Researchers have sought to identify why this affects some women, but not others, particularly after pregnancy and delivery. One study linked the use of instruments, such as forceps or vacuum delivery, to an increased risk of trauma to the perineal muscles, resulting in flatal incontinence.

The use of instruments during delivery doesn’t alone explain the problem. It has been noted that women who have multiple natural births report a higher incidence of flatal incontinence. While this might suggest a C-section might offer a way to prevent this problem, researchers have found C-sections did not offer protection against flatal incontinence.

Maybe Childbirth is Not the Cause…

One study of Korean women and post-delivery anal and flatal incontinence did deliver an interesting result. The Korean women in this study experienced the trauma typical to a natural delivery, with lacerations to the sphincter occurring. Vacuum extraction was also used. Yet, the study reported flatal incontinence occurs nearly 20% less in Korean women than in women from Western countries, despite similar risk factors.

Of course, that leads to the question…

What Other Factors Contribute to Flatal Incontinence

Age appears a contributing factor to the problem of controlling gas. As the Korean study shows, the problem exists globally. Researchers from several countries report that about 1 in 3 women ages 30 and older suffer from the involuntary release of gas.

Another study identified menopause, obesity and an increased occurrence of urinary incontinence as factors that increased the likelihood of flatal incontinence. This suggests additional factors can impact the ability of the perineal and anal muscles from functioning properly.

Research supports this idea. One study of women ages 18-50 reported stress significantly increased the chance of an involuntary release of flatus. While childbirth has long been associated with a cause, this continued research demonstrates that the problem of flatal incontinence extends beyond birthing as a simple explanation.

Hope for Women Suffering from Flatal Incontinence

The research has shown factors beyond childbirth can cause flatal incontinence in women. This problem should not be ignored or ‘lived with.’ For those suffering from this unpleasant and potentially embarrassing condition, understand many women suffer from it.

When High Cholesterol is Good

Many people think of cholesterol as something that should be as low as possible. After all, high cholesterol is a well-documented risk factor for heart disease.

Tens of millions of Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs or should be taking them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, cholesterol levels are more complicated than that. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often known as “good” cholesterol, is actually beneficial for the heart.

In this article, we examine whether or not HDL cholesterol can ever be too high. We also take a look at what healthy levels are, and what can happen if HDL falls out of this range.

When high cholesterol is good

illustration of LDL and HDL
HDL cholesterol may remove the LDL cholesterol that can contribute to the clogging of arteries.

There are two main types of cholesterol in the body, and only one of them is usually considered to be a risk to heart health.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol contributes to the fatty buildup that can clog the arteries. When this buildup clogs or narrows the arteries, a heart attack or stroke is more likely to occur. With LDL cholesterol, lower is better.

HDL cholesterol is useful for the heart. HDL cholesterol may remove LDL cholesterol from the blood and transport it to the liver, where it can be processed and eliminated. A higher HDL number is desirable because it usually signals a lower risk of heart disease.

HDL: Is higher always better?

If HDL protects the heart, should it be as high as possible? The answer may depend on several factors.

Most people will find that their HDL cholesterol does not climb to levels that are considered “too high.” Though no upper limit has been established, HDL cholesterol does not naturally elevate to unhealthy high levels in people with normal cholesterol processing and metabolism.

In rare cases, however, HDL cholesterol can become too high.

An article in the journal Science discusses a rare genetic variant that may cause exceptionally high HDL levels. The genetic variant alters the way that HDL works in the body and can increase the risk of heart disease.

The variant is found in a specific molecule known as SR-BI. The mutation in SR-BI causes increased levels of HDL and an increased risk of heart disease.

The people studied had levels of HDL greater than 95 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). These levels are abnormally high. The researchers found that some of the people in their study did have this rare genetic defect.

Another study found that people who recently had a heart attack and who have both high HDL and high levels of a substance called C-reactive protein were at higher risk of having another cardiac event. C-reactive protein is produced by the liver when inflammation occurs in the body.

A study in Circulation found that a defect in a specific protein known as cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) may also cause abnormally high HDL levels and an increased risk of heart disease. The study was large but only looked at Caucasians. It found that the CETP defect increased heart disease risk in the women but not men.

Furthermore, cholesterol balance may be an important factor to consider, according to a review in Atherosclerosis.

A study mentioned in this review discusses a large group of men and women who had varying HDL levels. They found that those with “extreme” high or low HDL levels had a higher risk of death than those who had more moderate levels.

The best levels, according to this study, are 73 mg/dL in men and 93 mg/dL in women.

Finding the right balance

Cholesterol test
Cholesterol tests will measure a person HDL, LDL, and total (serum) cholesterol.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend all people ages 20 and older get a cholesterol test at least every 4 to 6 years.

On the other hand, the United States Preventative Services Task Force recommend screening for cholesterol disorders starting at the age of 20 years old if risk factors for heart disease are present.

It is not just adults who are being checked for high cholesterol today, however. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children between ages 9 and 11 get a cholesterol test. The AAP says this recommendation is due to increasing childhood obesity in the U.S.

Children with risk factors, such as family history of high cholesterol, should be tested between ages 2 and 10 years.

Cholesterol tests measure the amount of cholesterol in mg/dL. Most tests show HDL, LDL, and total (serum) cholesterol. The total cholesterol score is a person’s HDL and LDL cholesterol levels and 20 percent of their triglyceride level added together.

The AHA no longer publishes specific cholesterol ranges and say that these numbers are not the final word on heart disease risk. Instead, cholesterol levels are just one of many factors to consider.

A “desirable” cholesterol range, the AHA says, may vary from one person to the next. What is desirable will depend on other elements like triglyceride level, other existing health conditions, lifestyle, and family history of heart disease.

For an idea of where cholesterol numbers should be, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and National Institutes of Health have published the following cholesterol guidelines. These numbers should be discussed with a doctor to determine overall heart disease risk.

Total cholesterol level Category
Less than 200 mg/dL Desirable
200-239 mg/dL Borderline high
240 mg/dL and above High
LDL cholesterol level Category
Less than 100 mg/dL Optimal
100-129 mg/dL Near optimal – above optimal
130-159 mg/dL Borderline high
160-189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very high
HDL Cholesterol level Category
Less than 40 mg/dL Heart disease risk
40-59 mg/dL The higher, the better
Greater than 60 mg/dL Protects against heart disease

Healthy ways to achieve high HDL

While HDL can be too high, a more common problem is having low HDL and high LDL. The AHA state that heart disease accounts for a third of all deaths in the U.S.

More than 30 million Americans have cholesterol levels that are too high (above 240 mg/dL), according to the CDC. More than 73 million have high LDL levels, and fewer than a third of them are taking steps to reduce it.

Knowing one’s cholesterol level and taking steps to reach or maintain ideal levels are the best ways to ensure HDL and LDL levels are healthy.

Other heart disease risk factors should also be considered, such as age, weight, diet and activity level, blood pressure, and lifestyle factors.

To achieve healthy cholesterol levels, experts recommend:

vegetables in a pan
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains may help people to achieve healthy cholesterol levels.
  • getting a cholesterol check at least every 5 years, or as recommended by a doctor.
  • eating a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
  • limiting saturated fats, fried foods, salt, and sweets
  • exercising for 30 minutes, four to five times per week
  • not smoking

If HDL levels are abnormally high (greater than 90 mg/dL), people should consider tests to look for genetic problems or other heart disease risk factors.

High cholesterol can be caused by genetics. Even people who follow a healthy lifestyle may need additional help to reach healthy levels.

If a doctor prescribes cholesterol medications, these should be taken exactly as directed. In addition, other health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, should be properly looked after by a healthcare team.

Outlook

Cholesterol is an important indicator of heart disease risk, and regular checks are important. Although extreme high HDL levels are rare, they can be a cause for concern in some cases.

People with abnormally high HDL or LDL levels may need additional testing and care to control it and to monitor heart health.

Fortunately, high cholesterol is usually a manageable condition that can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medications when needed.

Food as Medicine: Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa, Rosaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Strawberry plants are considered herbaceous perennials and have a low-growing habit, reproducing horizontally via rooting runners or stolons.1 Each plant has a compressed, modified stem from which fibrous roots grow downward and multiple stems grow upward from a rosette. Strawberry plants produce a three-part leaflet with coarsely serrated edges. Flowers are white with many stamens and often appear in clusters on short, sturdy stems arising from the crown of the plant. Each flower produces a strawberry, which, botanically speaking, is the ripened receptacle, or base, of the flower.1

Strawberries are indigenous to both Europe and the Americas.2 The modern garden strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) was developed in the 18th century from two North American species, the Virginia or scarlet strawberry (F. viriginiana), and the Chilean or beach strawberry (F. chiloensis).1 These two strains were crossed to produce larger fruit with a sweeter flavor and distinct fragrance. Today, Australia, Italy, the United States, France, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan commercially produce the largest amount of strawberries.3 The world’s leading producer of strawberries is the United States, with nearly 1.3 million metric tons produced primarily from California followed by Florida and Oregon.

Strawberries are susceptible to a wide variety of plant diseases and pests. For this reason, conventionally grown strawberry plants and fruits are often laden with pesticide and insecticide residues. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) considers the strawberry one of its “Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 commonly consumed, conventionally grown produce items that are consistently high in harmful pesticide residues.4

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Strawberries, like most dark-colored berries, contain a complex series of phytochemicals that can be divided into six main groups: anthocyanins, flavonols, flavanols, ellagitannins, ellagic acid glycosides, and cinnamic acid conjugates.5 These compounds have significant health benefits and have been studied for their anti-cancer, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiparasitic, and antiviral activities, as well as their ability to regulate blood glucose.

Anthocyanins are well-known for their antioxidant properties, as well as giving the berries their red color6; flavonols such as quercetin have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties and are considered important in cancer prevention.7 Strawberries also contain a significant amount of proanthocyanidins, a flavonol compound that recently has gained more attention and scientific study. Though grapes (Vitis vinifera), cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), and cacao (Theobroma cacao) are the most well-known common food sources of proanthocyanidins, strawberries contain higher concentrations than both red and green grapes.8 Proanthocyanidins and foods with high levels of the compounds also are being investigated at the in vitro level for their anti-fungal properties, specifically against oral Candida strains.9-11

Historical Uses

The Romans were the first to record medicinal uses of the strawberry, and the practice spread to Greece. The berries were believed to be a cure for gout and helpful for digestive problems.12 During the 16th and 17th centuries, strawberries were cultivated and considered to be part of a healthy diet. Thomas Culpeper, a medieval herbalist, noted that strawberries were “singularly good for the healing of many ills,” and while the leaves were the primary plant part used in medicinal preparations, Carl Linnaeus recorded and reportedly proved the efficacy of the berries as a treatment for rheumatic gout.13 The leaves are mildly diuretic and astringent due to their high tannin content and have been used as a laxative.14

The leaves, fruit, crowns, and roots were used in the preparations of ointments, medicinal teas, and syrups.12 The pulp and juice of the berry were also used in cosmetic preparations, including treatments for teeth whitening, skin whitening, and healing sunburns.13 Today the plant is rarely used medicinally; however, a tea prepared from the leaves is used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Currently, strawberries enjoy widespread popularity and use as a food. The berries are used in baked goods, desserts, ice cream, pies, gelatin desserts, soft drinks, jellies, syrups, and in the production of wines and liquors.15

Modern Research

The consumption of fruits and vegetables abundant in bioactive compounds and antioxidants —  including topical skin application of polyphenols from a variety of dietary sources — has been shown to have a role in the prevention of numerous diseases including skin pathologies, different types of cancer, cardiovascular disorders, as well as age-related degenerative conditions.16 Recent animal studies have shown a potential role of strawberry consumption in improving the aging process, reducing oxidative damage, and improving antioxidant defense.17,18

Other recent in vivo studies have shown positive dietary polyphenol effects including prevention of gastric cancer progression, reduction of inflammation, improvement of plasma lipid profile, reduction of myocardial infarction risk, and increased plasma antioxidant capacity.19,20 Human studies examining polyphenol supplementation have shown that the consumption of 300 g of fresh strawberries significantly enhanced the total antioxidant capacity and serum vitamin C concentration in young, healthy patients.21 One human study showed that an elevated anthocyanin intake, such as the anthocyanins present in strawberries, reduced the risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women.22 Another human study with young, healthy volunteers consuming 500 g of strawberries daily for one month showed a reduction in triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol.23 The berry’s anthocyanin and dietary fiber content were thought to contribute to this result. However, the average serving size of strawberries is approximately 100 g, making the whole-fruit approach of the previous studies difficult to control and impractical to implement. A similar, placebo-controlled study examined the effect of freeze-dried strawberry powder in drink form on overweight adults and showed a similar trend toward the reduction of LDL cholesterol.24

Nutrient Profile25

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 100 g strawberries)

32 calories

0.67 g protein
7.7 g carbohydrate
0.3 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 100 g strawberries)

Excellent source of:

Vitamin C: 58.8 mg (98% DV)

Manganese: 0.56 mg (28% DV)

Good source of:

Dietary Fiber: 2 g (8% DV)

Folate: 24 mcg (6% DV)

Also, provides:

Potassium: 153 mg (4.4% DV)

Magnesium: 13 mg (3.3% DV)
Vitamin K: 2.2 mcg (2.8% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.05 mg (2.5%DV)
Phosphorus: 24 mg (2.4% DV)
Niacin: 0.39 mg (2% DV)
Calcium: 16 mg (1.6% DV)
Thiamin: 0.02 mg (1.3% DV)

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


Recipe: Strawberry-Avocado Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large avocado, slightly firm, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir gently to combine. Serve with fish, chicken, or pork, or enjoy as a dip with tortilla or pita chips.

References

  1. Holmes R. Taylor’s Guide to Fruits and Berries. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1996.
  2. Madison D. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
  3. Murray M. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  4. Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Environmental Working Group website. Available here. Accessed April 20, 2015.
  5. Aaby K, Mazur S, Nes A, Skrede G. Phenolic compounds in strawberry (Fragaria ananassa Duch.) fruits: Composition in 27 cultivars and changes during ripening. Food Chemistry. May 2012;132(1):86-97.
  6. Lila MA. Anthocyanins and human health: An in vitro investigative approach. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2004(5):306-313.
  7. Steven D. Quercetin. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available here. Accessed April 15, 2015.
  8. Liwei G, Kelm MA, Hammerstone JF, et al. Concentrations of proanthocyanidins in common foods and estimations of normal consumption. J Nutr. 2004;134(3):613-617.
  9. Rane HS, Bernardo SM, Howell AB, Lee SA. Cranberry-derived proanthocyanidins prevent the formation of Candida albicans biofilms in artificial urine through biofilm- and adherence-specific mechanisms. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2014;69(2):428-436.
  10. Feldman M, Tanabe S, Howell A, Grenier D. Cranberry proanthocyanidins inhibit the adherence properties of Candida albicans and cytokine secretion by oral epithelial cells. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012;12:6.
  11. Patel KD, Scarano FJ, Kondo M, Hurta RA, Neto CC. Proanthocyanidin-rich extracts from cranberry fruit (Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait.) selectively inhibit the growth of human pathogenic fungi Candida spp. and Cryptococcus neoformans. J Agric Food Chem. 2011;59(24):12864-12873.
  12. Darrow G. The Strawberry History, Breeding, and Physiology. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; 1996.
  13. Grieve M. Strawberry. A Modern Herbal. 1931. Available here. Accessed April 15, 2015.
  14. Li T. Vegetables and Fruits: Nutritional and Therapeutic Values. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2008.
  15. Ensminger A, Ensminger M, Konlande J, Robson J. The Concise Encyclopedia of Foods & Nutrition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1995.
  16. Giampieri F, Alvarez-Suarez J, Battino M. Strawberry and human health: effects beyond antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem. 2014;62(18):3867–3876.
  17. Charles A, Meyer A, Geny B, et al. Polyphenols prevent aging-related impairment in skeletal muscle mitochondrial function through decreased reactive oxygen species production. Experimental Physiology. February 2013;98(2):536-545.
  18. Laurent C, Chabi B, Feillet-Coudray C, et al. Polyphenols decreased liver NADPH oxidase activity, increased muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and decreased gastrocnemius age-dependent autophagy in aged rats. Free Radical Research. September 2012;46(9):1140-1149.
  19. Alvarez-Suarez J, Dekanski D, Battino M, et al. Strawberry polyphenols attenuate ethanol-induced gastric lesions in rats by activation of antioxidant enzymes and attenuation of MDA increase. Plos ONE. October 2011;6(10):1-11.
  20. Kim J, Kim K, Baik S, et al. Anthocyanins from black soybean inhibit Helicobacter pylori-induced inflammation in human gastric epithelial AGS cells. Microbiology and Immunology. May 2013;57(5):366-373.
  21. Azzini E, Intorre F, Maiani G, et al. Absorption of strawberry phytochemicals and antioxidant status changes in humans. Journal of Berry Research. 2010;1(2):81-89.
  22. Cassidy A, Mukamal K, Liu L, Franz M, Eliassen A, Rimm E. High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation. January 2013;127(2):188-196.
  23. Alvarez-Suarez J, Giampieri F, Battino M, et al. One-month strawberry-rich anthocyanin supplementation ameliorates cardiovascular risk, oxidative stress markers and platelet activation in humans. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. March 2014;25(3):289-294.
  24. Basu A, Betts NM, Nguyen A, Newman ED, Fu D, Lyons TJ. Freeze-dried strawberries lower serum cholesterol and lipid peroxidation in adults with abdominal adiposity and elevated serum lipids. J Nutr. 2014;144(6):830-837.