Food as Medicine: Pecan (Carya illinoinensis, Juglandaceae)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a member of the Juglandaceae family, which also includes other economically important North American trees, such as hickory (Carya spp.) and walnut (Juglans spp.).1,2 Fossil records show that the pecan tree can live up to a thousand years, and its existence predates human settlements in North America.3 Pecan can grow to a height of 150 feet with a seven-foot diameter.2-4 The deciduous, lanceolate leaves are alternate and odd-pinnately compound and are typically made up of 9-17 leaflets.4In the spring, the tree produces both male and female inconspicuous flowers that are often wind-pollinated.5,6 During the summer, the “fruit” of the tree grows in clusters of 3-6 one-inch oblong brown-shelled nuts, called endocarps, that contain two seeds that are referred to and sold in the market as pecans.4,5

The pecan tree initially requires well-drained soil with an adequate water supply; however, once established, it is drought-tolerant.7 Pecan trees are native to North America, and typically grow in the southern and midwestern regions of the United States and in the northern regions of Mexico.2,8Eighty percent of the world’s supply of pecans is grown and produced in the United States,2 but other countries, such as Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Israel, China, South Africa, and Australia also produce pecans on a large commercial scale.4,7 In the United States, pecans are grown and harvested commercially in 14 states. More than 75% of US pecans come from Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas, which produced 76 million, 67 million, and 61 million pounds, respectively, in 2014.9,10

Among tree nut consumption in the United States, pecans rank third behind almonds (Prunus dulcis, Rosaceae) and English walnuts (Juglans regia, Juglandaceae), respectively.10 In 2014, the global pecan crop totaled 264.2 million pounds or 132,075 US tons and was valued at $517 million, a 12% increase from 2013. In terms of pecan exports, Hong Kong and Vietnam remain the primary markets for in-shell pecans from the United States. Canada and the Netherlands are the primary markets for shelled pecans from the United States.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Pecans contain essential fatty acids, 17 different vitamins and minerals, and phenols and phytosterols.4They are calorie-dense and have a high-fat content.7 Of all culinary nuts (though the pecan nutmeat is botanically considered a drupe), pecans have the second-highest fat content after macadamia (Macadamiaspp., Proteaceae).11 Pecans are low in saturated fats but are a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), primarily oleic acid, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), predominantly linoleic acid (omega-6).4 Diets with higher intakes of MUFAs and PUFAs and lower intakes of saturated and trans fats correlate with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Compared to other nuts, pecans have an especially high antioxidant content.12 Specifically, pecans contain bioactive compounds such as phenols, condensed tannins (e.g., proanthocyanidins, or PACs), hydrolyzable tannins (e.g., derivatives of gallic and ellagic acids), and tocopherol isomers that contribute to their antioxidant activity.12,13

Phenolic acids, such as gallic acid, may inhibit the growth of a variety of bacteria.14 PACs exhibit antimutagenic properties and antioxidant effects,1 specifically by inhibiting lipid oxidation in both foods and in human cells.15 A study that analyzed phenolic compounds from 18 different pecan cultivars in the United States found that the most abundant antioxidants present were PACs, as well as gallic and ellagic acids and their derivatives.12

Pecan shells have also been tested for bioactive compounds and reportedly contain higher amounts of phenolic compounds than the actual pecan nutmeat.13 Current research is exploring the use of teas prepared with pecan nut shells to treat liver damage in rat models, which may expand the role of pecans in the human diet.16 However, no human research has been conducted regarding the therapeutic use of pecan shells, so additional research is warranted to ensure safety.

Pecans are an excellent source of tocopherols, which are forms of lipid-soluble vitamin E, and exist as four different isomers: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.4 Foods that are sources of vitamin E typically contain alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol. Pecans have unusually high gamma-tocopherol content: around 25 mg of gamma-tocopherol per 100 grams. Gamma-tocopherol has been observed to act as a stronger antioxidant in vivo than alpha-tocopherol.17 In addition, it has been suggested that gamma-tocopherol may also detoxify reactive nitrogen oxide species, and thus reduce inflammation in the body.

In addition, pecans contain phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, primarily in the forms of beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol, which may help lower cholesterol levels.12,18 In the small intestine, phytosterols compete with cholesterol for absorption and thus inhibit the body’s uptake and reuptake of cholesterol in the bloodstream. This can improve serum cholesterol levels and may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by up to 10-14%.4 Different cultivars and the degree of ripening in pecans yield varying quantities of phytosterols, but all varieties provide these plant sterols.19

Historical and Commercial Uses

The word “pecan” likely comes from an Algonquian language. French traders recorded the word as pacanesor pecanes, which later evolved into its current common name.8 Native Americans consumed and stored pecans, but also traded them for furs and other goods.2 The low-water and high-calorie contents of pecans help them survive long storage.20 A historical record from the mid-1500s by the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca revealed that Native Americans in south Texas would gather pecans in autumn and then grind them and soak them in water to make a milky beverage to sustain them throughout the winter.4This liquid also formed the base of a fermented beverage called powcohicora. Native Americans also used ground pecan meal to thicken stews and roasted the pecans for sustenance on long journeys.3

In addition to using the pecan nuts as a food source, the Kiowa tribe of the Great Plains area of the United States used decoctions of the tree bark to treat tuberculosis.21 The Comanche Nation used a poultice of pulverized pecan tree leaves as a topical treatment for ringworm-infected skin.

Although it can be used as a source of wood,3 the pecan tree is primarily grown and commercialized for its nuts. In order to reduce waste, different uses for pecan shells are being researched more extensively. Pecan shell mulch is available in areas that produce pecans commercially; however, its high tannin content may inhibit the growth of certain plant species. In addition, pecan shells can be used like wood chips to smoke and barbeque meats.

Due to its wide distribution throughout the state and long history of cultivation, the pecan tree became the official state tree of Texas in 1919.3 Texas also officially recognized pecan as its state health nut in 2001, and named pecan pie as the state pie in 2013.22

Modern Research

Currently, most research conducted on pecan consists of epidemiological or population-based studies that analyze correlations between nut consumption and lowered risk of CVD.23 However, there have been some in vitro and clinical research studies that have investigated the effects of pecan consumption in regards to antioxidant capacity.

Cardiovascular Health

Nut consumption has been linked to lowered risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.4,23Epidemiological studies suggest a 37% decreased risk for coronary heart disease when nuts are consumed at least four times a week compared to infrequent or no nut consumption.24 A systematic review and meta-analysis of 61 trials confirmed that increased intake of tree nuts was associated with lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, apolipoprotein B (Apo B, the main protein constituent of LDL cholesterol), and triglyceride levels.25 The review also found that nut consumption correlated with markedly lower Apo B levels in patients with diabetes versus patients without diabetes. Because people with diabetes are at an increased risk for CVD, this finding is significant and should be explored further.

In a crossover study, participants were randomly assigned to consume either a pecan-enriched diet or the National Cholesterol Education Program Step 1 diet for four weeks. The participants switched diets for the following four weeks. When consuming the pecan-rich diet, participants demonstrated a decrease in concentrations of Apo B and an increase in Apo A1, which stimulates an uptake of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, beyond the values observed in the Step 1 diet.26 Decreased LDL and increased HDL cholesterol levels were also observed in participants while consuming the pecan diet. In addition, the pecan-enriched diet resulted in decreased plasma triglycerides.

A study assessed postprandial (post-meal) plasma antioxidant capacity in human subjects after pecan consumption, and found that participants who consumed 90 grams (about three servings) of whole pecans or pecans blended with water had significantly higher hydrophilic and lipophilic plasma oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC; which measures antioxidant capability in blood), decreased LDL oxidation, and increased plasma catechin concentrations, compared to the control meal that matched the pecans in caloric, fluid, and macronutrient contents.27 This demonstrates the bioavailability and potential antioxidant action in humans after consuming pecans.

Similarly, a randomized controlled, crossover trial assessed the impact of the addition of pecans to the diet on cholesterol levels and antioxidant capacity. Twenty-four healthy participants were assigned to either a control diet with no pecans or a pecan-enriched diet for four weeks, and then switched diets for another four weeks.15 The results showed that during the consumption of the pecan-enriched diet, participants significantly increased serum gamma-tocopherol (normalized to total cholesterol) while decreasing plasma LDL levels and inhibiting lipid peroxidation and degradation. Total antioxidant activity was not significantly different between groups.

Type 2 Diabetes

Though the mechanism of action is not fully understood, an inverse relationship has been observed between nut consumption and risk for developing type 2 diabetes.28 The Nurse’s Health Study suggested that a higher intake of MUFAs and PUFAs may contribute to improved insulin sensitivity.

For individuals with type 2 diabetes, it appears that nut consumption has a neutral impact on blood glucose and insulin levels.28 This makes nuts a healthy option for people with diabetes looking to lower their risk of CVD while having minimal impact on their blood glucose levels. Though the caloric intake associated with adding nuts to the diet is a concern, especially for those with, or at risk for, type 2 diabetes, the evidence that increased nut intake is associated with weight gain is inconclusive. Some studies show slight weight gain and others show weight maintenance or even loss with the addition of nuts to a calorie-controlled diet.28,29

Consumer Considerations

Like many other nuts, pecans contain phytic acid, which can block or reduce absorption of important minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.4 The process of soaking or drying the pecans prior to consumption can reduce the phytic acid content. Pecans are also high in oxalates, so individuals with a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones should consider limiting intake of pecans to prevent complications.

Pecans are in the class of tree nuts, which are fairly common food allergens. It is estimated that about 1% of the population (about three million people) in the United States suffers from tree nut and/or peanut (Arachis hypogaea, Fabaceae) allergies.4 These allergies can cause severe reactions, such as life-threatening anaphylaxis. Individuals with tree nut allergies should, therefore, avoid consumption of or exposure to pecans, and always read food ingredient labels to determine if there is any possible contamination from the processing facility.

Although more common in peanuts and Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae), nuts like pecans are susceptible to contamination with a mold called Aspergillus flavus, which produces aflatoxins, which are among the most carcinogenic substances known, and also have the potential to lead to mental impairment in children.4 To avoid this mold, it is important to purchase high-quality nuts from reputable grocery stores that keep them in a dry, cool environment. Because of their high-fat content, shelled pecans have a shorter shelf life than pecans in the shell and become rancid easily, so it is best to consume them soon after shelling or properly store them in the refrigerator or freezer.4,11 Purchasing them in the shell and roasting them at home can also safeguard against this fungal growth.11

Nutrient Profile30

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 ounce [approx. 28.4 grams])

196 calories
2.6 g protein
3.9 g carbohydrate
20.4 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 ounce [approx. 28.4 grams])

Excellent source of:

Manganese: 1.3 mg (65% DV)
Vitamin E: 7.6 mg (36.7% DV)

Very good source of:

Thiamin: 0.2 mg (13.3% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 2.7 g (10.8% DV)

Good source of:

Magnesium: 34 mg (8.5% DV)
Phosphorus: 79 mg (7.9% DV)

Also provides:

Iron: 0.7 mg (3.9% DV)
Potassium: 116 mg (3.3% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.06 mg (3% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.04 mg (2.4% DV)
Calcium: 20 mg (2% DV)
Niacin: 0.3 mg (1.5% DV)
Folate: 6 mcg (1.5% DV)
Vitamin K: 1 mcg (1.3% DV)

Trace amounts:

Vitamin C: 0.3 mg (0.5% DV)
Vitamin A: 16 IU (0.3% DV)

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

Recipe: Pecan Pie Energy Bites

Courtesy of Gluten Free Vegan Pantry31

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Directions:

  1. Process dates in a food processor on high for about 45 seconds, or until a date ball begins to form.

  2. Add pecans and process for another 1-2 minutes.

  3. Add remaining ingredients, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl if necessary, and process for another 1-2 minutes.

  4. Using a small ice cream scoop or 1-tablespoon measure, portion

    out

    the mixture and roll into balls. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

  5. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

References

  1. Villarreal-Lozoya JE, Lombardini L, Cisneros-Zevallos L. Phytochemical constituents and antioxidant capacity of different pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] cultivars. Food Chemistry. 2007;102:1241-1249.
  2. National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Lane Cove, Australia: Global Book Publishing; 2008.
  3. Pecan Tree: Texas State Tree. State Symbols USA website. Available at: www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/texas/state-tree/pecan-tree. Accessed October 16, 2017.
  4. Murray M. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  5. Plants Profile for Carya illinoinensis (pecan). United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=cail2. Accessed October 16, 2017.
  6. Cheatham S, Johnston MC, Marshall L. The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico. Volume 3. Austin, TX: Useful Wild Plants, Inc; 2009.
  7. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  8. Hall GD. Pecan food potential in prehistoric North America. Economic Botany. 2000;54(1):103-112.
  9. Lillywhite J, Simonsen J, Heerema R. US consumer purchases and nutritional knowledge of pecans. Horttechnology. 2014;24(2):222-230.
  10. Pecans. Agricultural Marketing Resource Center website. August 2015. Available at: www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/nuts/pecans/. Accessed October 16, 2017.
  11. Wood R. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Penguin Books; 1999.
  12. Robbins K, Gong Y, Wells M, et al. Investigation of the antioxidant capacity and phenolic constituents of US pecans. Journal of Functional Foods. 2015;15:11-22.
  13. de la Rosa L, Vazquez-Flores A, Pedraza-Chaverri J, et al. Content of major classes of polyphenolic compounds, antioxidant, antiproliferative, and cell protective activity of pecan crude extracts and their fractions. Journal of Functional Foods. 2014;7:219-228.
  14. Prado A, Aragao A, Fett R, et al. Phenolic compounds and antioxidant activity of pecan (Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch) kernel cake extracts. Grasas Y Aceites (España). 2009;(5):458.
  15. Haddad E, Jambazian P, Karunia M, et al. A pecan-enriched diet increases γ-tocopherol/cholesterol and decreases thiobarbituric acid reactive substances in plasma of adults. Nutrition Research. 2006;26:397-402.
  16. Müller L, Pase C, Burger M, et al. Hepatoprotective effects of pecan nut shells on ethanol-induced liver damage. Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology: Official Journal of the Gesellschaft Für Toxikologische Pathologie. 2013;65(1-2):165-171.
  17. Christen S, Woodall AA, Shigenaga MK, et al. γ-tocopherol traps mutagenic electrophiles such as NOx and complements α-tocopherol: Physiological implications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.1997;94:3217–3222.
  18. Alasalvar C, Bolling BW. Review of nut phytochemicals, fat-soluble bioactives, antioxidant components and health effects. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;113 Suppl 2:S68-S78.
  19. Bouali I, Trabelsi H, Berdeaux O, et al. Analysis of pecan nut (Carya illinoinensis) unsaponifiable fraction. Effect of ripening stage on phytosterols and phytostanols composition. Food Chemistry. 2014;164:309-316.
  20. Pecan. Texas Texas Beyond History website. Available at: www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/nature/images/pecan.html. Accessed October 16, 2017.
  21. Moerman D. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1998.
  22. Texas State Symbols. Texas State Library and Archives Commission website. August 30, 2017. Available at: www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/symbols.html. Accessed November 9, 2017.
  23. O’Neil C, Keast D, Fulgon V, Nicklas T. Tree nut consumption improves nutrient intake and diet quality in US adults: an analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2004. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;19(2):142-150.
  24. Kelly J, Sabaté J. Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. British Journal of Nutrition. 2006;96 Suppl 2:S61-S67.
  25. Del Gobbo L, Falk M, Feldman R, et al. Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;102(6):1347-1356.
  26. Rajaram S, Burke K, Connell B, et al. A monounsaturated fatty acid-rich pecan-enriched diet favorably alters the serum lipid profile of healthy men and women. Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131(9):2275-2279.
  27. Hudthagosol C, Haddad E, McCarthy K, et al. Pecans acutely increase plasma postprandial antioxidant capacity and catechins and decrease LDL oxidation in humans. Journal of Nutrition. 2011;141(1):56-62.
  28. Lovejoy J. The impact of nuts on diabetes and diabetes risk. Current Diabetes Reports. 2005;5(5):379-384.
  29. Morgan W, Clayshulte B. Pecans lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol in people with normal lipid levels. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2000;100:312-318.
  30. Basic Report: 12142, Nuts, pecans. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3681. Accessed October 16, 2017.
  31. Pecan pie energy bites – vegan + gluten free. Gluten Free Vegan Pantry website. April 24, 2015. Available at: www.glutenfreeveganpantry.com/pecan-pie-energy-bites-vegan-gluten-free/. Accessed October 19, 2017.

 

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Strength Training

Strength Training May Lower Early Death Risk…

A new study from the University of Sydney in Australia suggests that exercises that promote muscular strength may be just as important for maintaining health as aerobic exercise. In fact, they may help lower the risk of all-cause and cancer-related death.

Strength-building exercises, such as weight lifting, push-ups, and squats, can sometimes seem less attractive than aerobic activities — such as running, swimming, or cycling — because they are more intense and demanding.

Additionally, aerobic exercise has received many accolades over the years, as numerous studies pointed out its various health benefits, including improved executive functioning and cardiovascular fitness.

Recently, however, more researchers are turning their attention to strength-focused workouts, investigating how they relate to health and well-being.

A new study from the University of Sydney, led by Dr. Emmanuel Stamatakis —associate professor in the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Centre — suggests that strength exercises are just as important as aerobics, and they may even be tied to a reduced risk of all-cause and cancer-related death.

The study’s findings were recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Strength training tied to lower death risk

Dr. Stamatakis and colleagues’ study analyzed data sourced from a core population sample of 80,306 adults aged 30 years and over. The information came from the Health Survey for England, as well as the Scottish Health Survey, and it was supplemented with data from the NHS Central Mortality Register.

Although this was an observational study, the researchers ensured that the results would be consistent by adjusting for confounding variables, including age, biological sex, overall health condition, educational levels, and lifestyle-related behaviors.

Participants with a previously diagnosed cardiovascular disease or cancer, as well as participants who died within the first 2 years of the study, were excluded from the analysis.

Dr. Stamatakis and team found that individuals who engaged in strength exercises had a 23 percent lower risk of death from all causes, and a 31 percent lower risk of cancer-related death.

“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling,” explains Dr. Stamatakis.

It is not yet clear if the relationship is causal, but the researchers think that these findings are enough to warrant more encouragement for people to practice strength workouts.

“[A]ssuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships,” Dr Stamatakis adds, “it [strength training] may be even more vital when it comes to reducing the risk of death from cancer.”

‘Anyone can do classic strength exercises’

According to the lead researchers, public health authorities should put more effort into promoting strength-based exercise. They also point out that the general population is already missing the recommended physical activity target which, in itself, is a cause for concern.

Dr. Stamatakis points to data revealed by the Australian National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, which reports that even engagement in low-intensity (aerobic) training is subpar, with 85 percent of the population exercising below the recommended levels.

The researcher thinks it’s high time we upped our game when it comes to physical activity.

“Our message to date has just been to get moving but this study prompts a rethink about, when appropriate, expanding the kinds of exercise we are encouraging for long-term health and well-being,” he says.

For those of us worried about going to the gym and using specialized equipment, the researchers say there is no cause for concern. Basic strength exercises — such as squats, push-ups, or situps — performed at home should do the trick.

“When people think of strength training they instantly think of doing weights in a gym, but that doesn’t have to be the case,” reassures the lead researcher.

Many people are intimidated by gyms, the costs or the culture they promote, so it’s great to know that anyone can do classic exercises like triceps dips, sit-ups, push-ups or lunges in their own home or local park and potentially reap the same health benefits.”

Dr. Emmanuel Stamatakis

 

10 Aloe Vera Uses You Probably Didn’t Know About

Aloe vera, also known as Aloe barbadensis, has been a staple resource in many cultures around the world for thousands of years. While the plant originated in southern Africa, you can find it growing around the world in places as varied as the Mediterranean and the southern United States. Traditional uses for aloe vera include soothing burns, moisturizing skin, and helping small wounds heal.

There are a lot of nutrients and potential health benefits packed into this easy-to-maintain plant—over 200 different biologically active substances. Because of its impressive profile, it’s used in lotions, ointments, creams, sunburn remedies, and many other types of cosmetics. Many people even apply it to acne, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a look at some uses you may not know about.

1. Aloe Vera Supports the Immune System

Your immune system requires oxygen-rich blood. Aloe vera supports nutrient absorption from the gut; this includes iron absorption. Iron carries free oxygen molecules from your lungs around the body, and proper iron absorption is a key factor in maintaining blood-oxygen levels. One of the ways aloe helps you absorb nutrients is by keeping the digestive tract clear of debris through bowel regularity. This allows the food you’ve eaten to better come into contact with the intestinal lining, increasing nutrient exposure and absorption.

Aloe also acts as an adaptogen, which helps keep your cells and tissues in balance. It makes the immune system’s job easier by protecting cells from oxidative stress and other factors that disrupt their function.

Aloe vera is a rich source of polysaccharides. Research shows these complex sugars improve the efficiency of the immune system. Aloe is also rich in the antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage.

2. Aloe Vera Supports Normal Digestion

Aloe vera contains two enzymes—amylase and lipase—that help encourages normal digestion. The plant also helps keep your stomach acid levels balanced to support a normal gut environment.

Aloe contains acemannan. Acemannan and other polysaccharides are prebiotics that supports probiotics in the gut. When you have these ‘good guys’ in your gut, you’re apt to digest your food better, get more nutritional value from it, and enjoy better overall health. A University of California, Davis study found that people who consumed aloe vera were able to more efficiently absorb vitamins C and B-12.

3. Eases Digestive Discomfort

Common digestive concerns like gas, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain affect a lot of people. If you’re looking for a natural solution to ease your digestive discomfort, then aloe vera may be able to help. Studies show decreased gas, bloating, and discomfort in those who take regular aloe supplements.

Some preliminary research suggests aloe may also help with certain types of intestinal ulcer. In a clinical trial, 30 patients suffering from the condition were given aloe vera by mouth. Fourteen of the thirty patients reported some form of improvement; only four patients in the placebo group reported improvement.

Aloe is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including:

  • Vitamin A (beta-carotene): Important for healthy skin, teeth, bones, and eyes.
  • Vitamin C: Vital for metabolism, skin health, and immune function.
  • Vitamin E: Protects the skin from UV damage.
  • Vitamin B12: Keeps nerve and brain cells healthy. Necessary for DNA replication.
  • Folic acid: Essential for brain function, liver health, and metabolism.
  • Choline: Supports metabolism and the production of neurotransmitters responsible for memory, focus, and a positive mood.
  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Selenium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

5. Aloe Vera Is a Great Source of Nutrients and Enzymes

Aloe vera is often called a superfood because, in addition to vitamins and minerals, it offers more than 200 other bioavailable nutrients. It’s especially rich in the following enzymes, which support metabolism, hormone function, digestion, and detoxification:

  • Alliinase
  • Alkaline phosphatase
  • Amylase
  • Bradykinase
  • Carboxypeptidase
  • Catalase
  • Cellulase
  • Lipase
  • Peroxidase

There is a group of nutrients known as secondary metabolites which are found in aloe and other plants. Some of these include aloe emodin, chrysophanol, aloesin, and aloin. Research shows these nutrients can offer a number of other significant health benefits which include antioxidant support.

6. Aloe Supports Cardiovascular Health

Aloe vera is a rich source of beneficial plant compounds called phytosterols. Phytosterols promote normal lipid levels and support cardiovascular health. In a five-year study of 5,000 heart disease patients, researchers found those who consumed aloe vera and another plant called Husk of Isabgol had better lipid and blood sugar levels.

7. Aloe Vera Boosts Dental Health

A recent study involving 345 participants suggests aloe makes an effective mouthwash that supports healthy teeth and gums. Other research indicates that aloe vera gel can help resist Candida albicans, a common oral yeast.

8. Aloe Resists Harmful Organisms

Some plants contain a variety of chemicals and compounds that help suppress harmful organisms. Aloe vera itself contains six separate antiseptic agents: lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamic acid, phenols, and sulfur.

9. Aloe Vera Is Ultra Soothing

Aloe vera is ultra-soothing for cuts, sunburns, and scrapes. Whether it is a topical gel, lotion, or just breaking open a fresh leaf and rubbing it onto a problem area, aloe helps calm red, swollen, and irritated skin. One reason for its soothing properties is an enzyme called bradykinase that helps soothe agitated tissue.

10. Aloe Vera May Have Anti-Aging Properties

Aloe vera does more than soothing and moisturize. It also offers anti-ageing benefits that smooth the appearance of wrinkles from the inside out. In one study, 30 women over the age of 45 took an aloe vera gel supplement for 90 days. By the end of the study, the appearance of facial wrinkles softened, and their skin looked healthier.

History of Aloe Vera

While the benefits of aloe are impressive, they’re not entirely new to us. We are only rediscovering what our ancestors already knew. Egyptians prized the plant over 6,000 years ago. One of the first mentions of aloe vera appears in the Papyrus Ebers around B.C. 1550, which shows 12 formulas for using aloe vera therapeutically. It proved so useful that it was known as the “Plant of Immortality.” People would even present aloe vera as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. It is widely believed that Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra used aloe vera cosmetically.

Egypt was not the only part of the world that found value in the aloe vera plant. As early as 600 BC, there’s record of Arab traders bringing aloe vera to India—which they called “desert lily.” Arabs were already separating the inner gel and sap from the outer rind, even grinding the leaves into powder. This aloe powder was highly valued. In fact, records from as early as the 17th century show the East India Trading Company relied heavily on aloe for its commercial value.

With such amazing historical uses, aloe vera has earned nicknames from all around the globe–names like the “silent healer”, “sabila” “burn plant”, “ghai kunwar”, “elephant’s gall”, “isha irazu”, “cape aloe”, the “medicine plant”, and the “first aid plant”. And, while there are many other aloe species, none are so heavily utilized as aloe vera.

Today, aloe vera gel is a common additive in beauty products and used for a wide arrange burns, cuts, and other skin concerns. Many people drink aloe vera juice for its nutritional value. You can even find edible gels from the inner leaf of the plant in many grocery stores, and it has gained popularity as a smoothie ingredient.

Choosing the Right Aloe Vera

As more and more aloe products arrive on the market—gels, lotions, creams, juices, and capsules—it’s easier than ever to access the benefits of the plant. When choosing a supplement, always check the ingredients. Some products include fillers and may not contain the nutrients, ingredients, or concentrations you expect.

For a supplement with the full nutritional force of aloe, I recommend Aloe Fuzion™. It’s a highly bioavailable aloe vera supplement made from organic inner leaf aloe vera gel. It contains the most acemannan content of any aloe product available and the feedback has been outstanding.

Beneficial Cardiovascular Effects of Cocoa Flavanols Are Enhanced by Methylxanthines

  • Cocoa (Theobroma cacao, Malvaceae)
  • Flavanols
  • Methylxanthines
  • Cardiovascular Function

Cocoa (Theobroma cacao, Malvaceae) flavanols (CFS) have been shown to exhibit beneficial cardiovascular effects. The authors suggest that other compounds in foods that contain flavanols, such as methylxanthines, could also help improve vascular functions. In cocoa, the main methylxanthines are theobromine and caffeine. Conducting 4 randomized, double-masked, controlled studies, the authors investigated the potential role of methylxanthines in modulating the cardiovascular effects of CFS in humans.

Between February 2011 and December 2014, the authors recruited healthy young men aged 25 to 30 years to participate in the 4 studies. In all studies, the study days were separated by at least 1 week to avoid any carryover effects. Baseline characteristics were similar among the 47 subjects recruited for the studies. No adverse effects were reported during any of the studies.

The drinks used in studies 1-3 were fruit-flavored nondairy drinks containing CFS (0-820 mg) and methylxanthines (0-220 mg), individually or combined. The drink in study 4 contained food-grade epicatechin isolated from cocoa (Mars Inc.; McLean, Virginia), food-grade theobromine (AHD International LLC; Atlanta, Georgia), and caffeine (Perrigo; Allegan, Michigan) added to 1% fat milk.

Study 1, the main proof-of-concept study, examined the interactions of CFS and methylxanthines in modulating cardiovascular function, including flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD), arterial stiffness, blood pressure (BP), circulating angiogenic cells (CACs), and brachial pulse wave velocity (bPWV). The acute, 3-arm, single-center, randomized, double-masked, crossover study with 12 subjects was conducted at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf (HHUD) in Düsseldorf, Germany. The test drinks consumed by the subjects provided either 820 mg CFs, 125 mg cocoa methylxanthines, or both CFS and methylxanthines. On 3 study days, cardiovascular function tests were conducted at baseline, before consumption of the drink, and 2 hours after intake.

The authors report that ingestion of both the drink containing CFS only and the drink containing CFS and methylxanthines resulted in a significant increase in FMD 2 hours after intake compared with baseline (P<0.05). The FMD increase was more significant after consumption of the drink containing both CFS and methylxanthines than after consumption of the drink containing only CFS (P<0.05). No changes in FMD were observed after consumption of the drink containing methylxanthines only. The CF-only drink resulted in significant positive changes in CACs (P<0.001) and bPWV (P=0.011), but no changes in diastolic BP. Positive changes in CACs (P<0.001) and decreases in bPWV (P=0.011) and diastolic BP (P=0.011) were seen after consumption of the drink containing CFS and methylxanthines, and those changes were greater than those observed after consumption of the CF-only drink. “In summary, the intake of CFS acutely improved multiple functional markers of vascular health, and, notably, the co-ingestions of CFs with methylxanthines enhanced the effect of CFS on the vascular function biomarkers investigated … .,” write the authors.

Study 2, which assessed the effect of methylxanthines consumed with CFS in varying amounts, was a single-center (HHUD), randomized, double-masked, crossover study. Twenty-four subjects were randomly assigned to 4 groups of 6 each. The subjects consumed test drinks during 10 (groups 1 and 2) or 8 (groups 3 and 4) study visits and underwent FMD measurements at baseline and 2 hours after ingestion of the drink.

The groups were assigned drinks as follows:

  • Group 1―increasing amounts of CFS (0, 102, 205, 410, and 820 mg)
  • Group 2―increasing amounts of CFS as in group 1 along with 122 mg methylxanthines
  • Group 3―increasing amounts of methylxanthines (0, 61, 122, and 244 mg)
  • Group 4―increasing amounts of methylxanthines as in group 3 along with 820 mg CFS.

The authors report the 6 subjects in group 1 showed a significant increase in FMD at 2 hours after intake of >105 mg CFS compared with baseline (P<0.01). In the 6 subjects in group 2 who consumed drinks with increasing amounts of CFS along with methylxanthines, a CF intake-dependent increase in FMD was seen after 2 hours. No changes in FMD were seen in the 6 subjects in group 3 who consumed methylxanthines only. In group 4, the consumption of CFS and increasing amounts of methylxanthines resulted in a methylxanthine intake-dependent increase in FMD.

In study 3, the authors investigated how methylxanthines might modulate the plasma and urinary levels of structurally related (−)-epicatechin metabolites (SREMs) and the effect on FMD. Conducted at HHUD, the randomized, double-masked, 2-arm, crossover study included 5 subjects who consumed test drinks and provided blood and 0- to 24-hour urine samples. Levels of SREMs were assessed at baseline and hourly for 5 hours after consumption of the following test drinks: 1 containing 820 mg CFS (including 112 mg epicatechin) and 1 containing the same amount of CFS plus 122 mg methylxanthines (including 111 mg theobromine and 11 mg caffeine).

The authors report that the consumption of both drinks significantly increased the FMD response (P<0.05), with the greatest response observed 2 hours after consumption. Consumption of the drink with both CFS and methylxanthines resulted in a significantly higher peak plasma concentration of SREMs when compared with intake of the CF-only drink (P<0.05). Urinary levels of SREMs were similar in all subjects at baseline and 2 hours after consumption of the test drinks.

The effects of pure theobromine and caffeine consumed with epicatechin on plasma and urinary levels of SREMs were examined in study 4, a single-center, randomized, double-masked, crossover study conducted at the University of California, Davis. Six subjects consumed 75 mg epicatechin either with or without 400 mg theobromine and 26 mg caffeine on 2 different days. Blood samples were drawn at baseline and at 1, 2, and 4 hours after consumption of the drinks. Baseline and 24-hour urine samples were collected.

The authors report the consumption of both drinks significantly increased peak plasma concentration of SREMs (P<0.05), with the greatest increases observed at 2 hours after intake. Those increases were greater after consumption of the drink containing theobromine, caffeine, and epicatechin than after the intake of the drink containing only epicatechin (P<0.05).

“The intake of test drinks containing CFS either with or without methylxanthines resulted in acute improvements of established functional cardiovascular biomarkers in healthy adults. … [T]he intake of methylxanthines alone did not mediate acute changes in the biomarkers assessed … .,” state the authors, suggesting that “the amounts of methylxanthines administered herein or the matrix in which they were consumed were not conducive for mediating the effects on the observed parameters.”

“[O]ur results demonstrate a significant interaction between cocoa methylxanthines and CFS in which methylxanthines, likely by affecting CF absorption, enhance the vascular effects commonly ascribed to CF intake with cocoa,” conclude the authors.

Mars Inc. provided financial support and the test drinks used for these studies. Two of the authors (Ottaviani and Schroeter) are employed by Mars Inc., and 4 of the authors (Spencer, Crozier, Kelm, and Heiss) received unrestricted research grants from Mars Inc.