Phytonutrients, the chemicals that help plants defend against environmental challenges, such as damage from pests or ultraviolet light, appear to provide humans with protection as well. Mounting research shows their effectiveness in preventing and treating a range of conditions including everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and high blood pressure.
Phytochemicals are thought to be responsible for much of the disease protection granted by diets high in fruits, vegetables, beans, cereals, and plant-based beverages such as tea and wine, according to a University of California, Davis report.
Although it has become widely accepted that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and sprouted grains reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses, scientists have only recently begun researching the effects of the different phytonutrients those foods contain.
Previous evidence has come from observations of cultures that eat plant-based diets and have lower rates of certain types of cancer and heart disease. The relatively low rates of breast and endometrial cancers in some Asian cultures, for example, are credited partly to dietary habits. These cancers are much more common in the United States, possibly because the typical American diet is higher in fat and lower in fruits, vegetables, legumes and sprouted grains, according to American Cancer Society.
Many experts suggest that people can reduce their risk of cancer significantly by eating the foods that contain phytonutrients, according to American Cancer Society. Evidence shows that they may work by helping to prevent the formation of potential carcinogens, blocking the action of carcinogens on their target organs or tissue, or acting on cells to suppress cancer development.
Research suggests that flavonoids, the most diverse group of phytochemicals, may be a key phytochemical group that contributes to the reduced mortality rates observed in people consuming high levels of plant-based foods, according to the UC Davis report. In the Zutphen Elderly Study, myocardial infarction was found to decrease as falvonoid intake increased. Similarly, the Seven Countries Study, which compared the diets of men living in various Western countries including the U.S., suggested that consumption of flavonoids was responsible for 25 percent of the observed difference in mortality rates in the different countries.
University of Minnesota Hormel Institute researchers say phytonutrients could be used in effective cancer prevention therapy, so much so that they eventually aim to develop phytochemical derived anticancer drugs, Dr. Sigang Dong told The Austin Daily Herald.
"In the future, personalized prevention methods using photochemical could have a crucial role in cancer prevention, especially in high risk populations," Dong said. "We will continue our rigorous research in identifying molecular targets and aim for conducting human studies with phytocehemicals - this would provide the path for an enhanced approach to personalized cancer prevention."
Evidence that fruit and vegetable phytonutrient consumption protects human health is accumulating from large population (epidemiological) studies, human feeding studies, and cell culture studies.
Steinmetz and Potter, Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1996;96:1027
Fruit and vegetable phytonutrient consumption has been linked to decreased risk of stroke - both hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke. Each increment of three daily servings of fruits and vegetables equated to a 22% decrease in risk of stroke, including transient ischemic attack
Gillman et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1995;273;1113
Elderly men whose intake of dark green and deep yellow vegetables put them in the highest quartile for consumption of these vegetables had about a 46% decrease in risk of heart disease relative to men who ranked in the lowest quartile. Men in the highest quintile had about a 70% lower risk of cancer than did their counterparts in the lowest quintile. The differences in vegetable consumption between high and low intake rankings was not striking. Men in the highest quartile or quintile consumed more than two (>2.05 and >2.2) servings of dark green or deep yellow vegetable a day; those in the lowest quartile or quintile consumed less than one serving daily (<0.8 and <0.7). This suggests that small, consistent changes in vegetable consumption can make important changes in health outcomes.
Gaziano et al. Annals of Epidemiology 1995;5:255 and Colditz et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1985;41:32
Consumption of tomato products has been linked to decreased risk of prostate cancer. Men in the highest quintile for consumption of tomato products (10 or more servings a week) had about a 35% decrease in risk of prostate cancer compared to counterparts whose consumption put them in the lowest quintile (1.5 or fewer servings of tomato products a week)
Giovannucci et al. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1995;87:1767
People in the highest quintile for consumption of spinach or collard greens, plants high in the carotenoid lutein, had a 46% decrease in risk of age-related macular degeneration compared to those in the lowest quintile who consumed these vegetables less than once per month
Seddon et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1994;272:1413
Photodamage is known to occur in skin with exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Such damage includes inflammation, oxidative stress, breakdown of the extracellular matrix, and development of cancer in the skin. Sun exposure is considered to be one of the most important risk factors for both nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancers. Many phytonutrients have shown promise as photoprotectants in clinical, animal and cell culture studies. In part, the actions of these phytonutrients are thought to be through their actions as antioxidants. In regard to skin health, phytonutrients of interest include vitamin E, certain flavonoids, and the carotenoids, carotene, lycopene and lutein.
Evans, J. A., & Johnson, E. J. (2010). The Role of Phytonutrients in Skin Health. Nutrients, 2(8), 903-928. doi:10.3390/nu2080903
More than half of American adults take vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other nutritional supplements. Some of those products aren't especially helpful, readers told us in a recent survey, but that aside, don't assume they're safe because they're "all natural." They may be neither. Here are 10 hazards that we've distilled from interviews with experts, published research, and our own analysis of reports of serious adverse events submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, which we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Read and be warned.
More than 6,300 reports of serious adverse events associated with dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs, streamed into the FDA from supplement companies, consumers, health-care providers, and others between 2007 and mid-April of 2012. The reports by themselves don't prove the supplements caused the problems, but the raw numbers are cause for some concern. Symptoms included signs of heart, kidney, or liver problems, aches, allergic reactions, fatigue, nausea, pains, and vomiting.
The FDA has said that dietary supplements spiked with prescription drugs are "the largest threat" to consumer safety. Since 2008 there have been recalls of more than 400 such products, mostly those marketed for bodybuilding, sexual enhancement, and weight loss, according to the FDA.
Unless your health-care provider tells you that you need more than 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of a particular nutrient, you probably don't.
For one thing, the FDA doesn't require them on supplements. There is an exception: Supplements that contain iron must warn about accidental overdosing and fatal poisoning in children.
If you're surfing the Internet for dietary supplements and find a site that claims its products can diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease, surf right off to another site. Such claims are off-limits to supplements, according to the FDA. Since 2007, the agency has sent dozens of warning letters to companies telling them to stop making those types of claims about their supplement products.
These stores, which sell traditional medicinal plants and other artifacts for physical and spiritual healing, are a valued presence in Hispanic neighborhoods in many American cities. But when Consumer Reports sent a Spanish-speaking reporter on a shopping trip to several New York-area botánicas in 2011, he came away with incomplete information and bags of mystery herbs.
Omega-3 pills and antioxidants are widely thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, respectively, and millions of women take calcium to protect their bones. But recent evidence casts doubt on whether those supplements are as safe or effective as assumed.
Choking as a serious symptom showed up surprisingly often in the database we analyzed of problem reports to the FDA in the last five years, with more than 900 mentions. But true cases of choking, in which a pill actually goes down the windpipe instead of the esophagus, probably happen infrequently, says Joel Blumin, M.D., incoming chairman of the Airway and Swallowing Committee of the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. That's a medical emergency that requires immediate intervention, such as the Heimlich maneuver.
Vitamin pills can be synthetically, and legally, produced in a lab. Synthetic ingredients are even allowed in multivitamins that bear the Department of Agriculture's "Organic" seal. But the FDA has said that synthetic copies of botanicals don't qualify as dietary supplement ingredients at all.
If you are already getting the recommended amount of nutrients by eating a variety of fruit, vegetables, and raw proteins, there's little if any additional benefit from ingesting supplements.
Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine vitamin supplementation, and we should translate null and negative findings into action. The message is simple: Most vitamin supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided. This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and in other countries.
Guallar E, Stranges S, Mulrow C, Appel LJ, Miller ER. Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159:850-851. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00011
By eating the right foods you can begin to minimize, and even prevent, common skin problems.
Skin is built from the inside out. Day to day and year to year, skin draws its healthy glow from good nutrition. Even though acne and wrinkles have different causes, and occur at different times in your life, nutrition can help minimize or prevent both of these problems and enhance your skin's natural beauty.
The best defense against the free radical damage of oxidation is a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins and minerals. Research suggests that certain antioxidants — vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene) — nourish and protect skin to extend its youthful appearance.
Topical preparations of these antioxidants — applied to the skin in a cream or ointment — have been shown to help protect the skin against radiation from the sun and even reverse some of the damage that may already have occurred. They may even help prevent skin tumors. Antioxidant-rich foods also can help.
naturally found in the skin, is involved in collagen production and protects cells from free radical damage. Scientific studies found that when lab animals ate vitamin C fortified food, their skin was better able to fight off oxidative damage. Because vitamin C is destroyed by exposure to sunlight, spending even a short time in the sun can leave skin depleted. It is important to replenish your skin's vitamin C stores by eating plenty of vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.
helps protect cell membranes and guard against UV radiation damage. Some research suggests that vitamin E may work in combination with vitamin C to provide an extra boost of anti-aging skin protection. However, because some studies have raised questions about the safety of vitamin E supplements, these nutrients should come from a raw diet, not from potent pills.
another nutrient critical for skin health, is converted to vitamin A in the body to aid in the growth and repair of body tissues, including your skin. Beta carotene also acts as an antioxidant that may protect against sun damage. In extremely high doses, straight vitamin A from supplements can be toxic, so I never recommend taking it this way. However, ample beta carotene from food is entirely safe.
Your skin contains about 6 percent of all the zinc in your body. This mineral is necessary for protecting cell membranes and helping to maintain the collagen that keeps skin firm. People with severe zinc deficiencies can develop redness, pustules, scaling, and lesions. In addition, there are microscopic changes in the structure of skin cells themselves. On top of that, zinc is critically involved in skin renewal — which means that if you want to keep your skin fresh and as youthful as possible, be sure to include zinc rich foods in your menu.
Healthy fats known as omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cell membranes so that they are effective barriers — allowing water and nutrients in, and keeping toxins out. Omega-3s have also been shown to protect skin against sun damage. In a study of skin cancer in sunny, skin scorching southeastern Arizona, people who ate diets rich in fish oils and other omega-3 fats had a 29 percent lower risk of squamous cell skin cancer than those who got very little omega-3s from food.
Water helps your body flush away toxins, allows the smooth flow of nutrients into cells, and keeps your organs functioning at their best. Plus, cells that are well-hydrated are plump and full, which means that your skin will look firmer and clearer (but not "fat"). Recommendations vary, but according to the Institute of Medicine, the average requirement for women is 9 total cups of fluids from water and other beverages per day. For men, it bumps up to 13 cups.
Although liquids are the main source of water, many foods have such high water content that they contribute to overall hydration. The following foods are at least 75 percent water (by weight) and should regularly be included as part of a healthy skin regimen:
Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi, lemon, limes, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, watermelon
Artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers (all colors), rhubarb, spinach, squash, tomatoes, turnips
Another good option for hydration is tea. Teas contain natural compounds known as polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. In animal studies, polyphenols helped prevent sun-related skin cancers and improve immune functioning. When applied to the skin in the form of ointments and creams, topical green and white tea extracts have been shown to protect skin cells against damage from harsh ultraviolet rays.
The most comprehensive such study to date on this topic was published by researchers from Monash University. The researchers analyzed the diets of 453 people (aged 70 years and over from Australia, Greece and Sweden) to determine the correlation, if any, between the consumption of certain types of foods and skin wrinkling. The overall conclusion was that a low-glycemic diet high in varied fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish was associated with less skin wrinkling.
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2001
To understand how the mouth can affect the body, it helps to understand what can go wrong in the first place. Bacteria that builds up on teeth make gums prone to infection. The immune system moves in to attack the infection and the gums become inflamed. The inflammation continues unless the infection is brought under control.
Over time, inflammation and the chemicals it releases eat away at the gums and bone structure that hold teeth in place. The result is severe gum disease, known as periodontitis. Inflammation can also cause problems in the rest of the body.
The working relationship between diabetes and periodontitis may be the strongest of all the connections between the mouth and body. Inflammation that starts in the mouth seems to weaken the body's ability to control blood sugar. People with diabetes have trouble processing sugar because of a lack of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into energy.
"Periodontal disease further complicates diabetes because the inflammation impairs the body's ability to utilize insulin," says Pamela McClain, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. To further complicate matters, diabetes and periodontitis have a two-way relationship. High blood sugar provides ideal conditions for infection to grow, including gum infections. Fortunately you can use the gum disease-diabetes relationship to your favor: managing one can help bring the other under control.
Though the reasons are not fully understood, it's clear that gum disease and heart disease often go hand in hand. Up to 91% of patients with heart disease have periodontitis, compared to 66% of people with no heart disease. The two conditions have several risk factors in common, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and excess weight. And some suspect that periodontitis has a direct role in raising the risk for heart disease as well.
"The theory is that inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation in the blood vessels," says Cram. This can increase the risk for heart attack in a number of ways. Inflamed blood vessels allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure. "There's also a greater risk that fatty plaque will break off the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain, causing a heart attack or stroke," Cram explains.
Babies born too early or at a low birth weight often have significant health problems, including lung conditions, heart conditions, and learning disorders. While many factors can contribute to premature or low birth weight deliveries, researchers are looking at the possible role of gum disease. Infection and inflammation in general seem to interfere with a fetus' development in the womb.
Though men have periodontitis more often than women do, hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase a woman's risk. For the best chance of a healthy pregnancy, McClain recommends a comprehensive periodontal exam "if you're pregnant or before you become pregnant to identify whether or not you're at risk."
Osteoporosis and periodontitis have an important thing in common, bone loss. The link between the two, however, is controversial. Cram points out that osteoporosis affects the long bones in the arms and legs, whereas gum disease attacks the jawbone. Others point to the fact that osteoporosis mainly affects women, whereas periodontitis is more common among men.
Though a link has not been well established, some studies have found that women with osteoporosis have gum disease more often than those who do not. Researchers are testing the theory that inflammation triggered by periodontitis could weaken bone in other parts of the body.
Not smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your mouth and your body. According to the CDC, a smoker's risk of severe gum disease is three times higher than someone who does not smoke.
"Nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict," McClain tells WebMD. This interferes with your gums' ability to fight infection. Not only that, smoking interferes with treatment -- gum surgeries tend to be more complicated and recovery more difficult.
The impact of oral health on the body is a relatively new area of study. Some other mouth-body connections under current investigation include:
Rheumatoid Arthritis. Treating periodontal disease has been shown to reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Lung Conditions. Periodontal disease may make pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease worse, possibly by increasing the amount of bacteria in the lungs.
Obesity. Two studies have linked obesity to gum disease. It appears that periodontitis progresses more quickly in the presence of higher body fat.
One thing is clear: the body and mouth are not separate. "Your body can affect your mouth and likewise, your mouth can affect your body," says McClain. "Taking good care of your teeth and gums can really help you live well longer."
Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of the famous Mayo Clinic, believed in the "focal infection" theory of disease, something so archaic that today almost no one has heard of it. The theory basically states that an oral infection can influence the health of the entire body. Addressing the Chicago Dental Society in 1913 Mayo said, "The next great step in preventative medicine must come from the dentists." Mayo appointed Dr. Edward C. Rosenhow to head a team of researchers dedicated to focal infection theory. From 1902 to 1958, Rosenhow conducted experiments and published more than 300 papers, 38 of which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. During the same period, Weston A. Price, founder of the research institute of the National Dental Association, published his findings indicating that dental and oral infections were often the primary cause of disease.
- Mayo Clinic
Probiotics are a type of "good" bacteria, these microorganisms may help with digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria, just as the existing "good" bacteria in your body already do.
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they form a synbiotic. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are considered symbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, while prebiotics are found in sprouted grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes. In addition, probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and available as dietary supplements.
There is strong evidence that probiotics help:
- Treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics
- Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
- Treat irritable bowel syndrome
- Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections
- Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu
Side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics to their diets. If you're considering adding more prebiotics and probiotics to your diet, check with your doctor to be sure that they're right for you.
Probiotic agents have been shown to have significant clinical beneficial effects in the prevention and management of gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal conditions
Saavedra JM, Tschernia A. Human studies with probiotics and prebiotics: clinical implications. Br J Nutr. 2002 May;87 Suppl 2:S241-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 12088524.
There has recently been a significant increase in research on the potential health benefits associated with probiotics and prebiotics. Clinical reports in the literature for the application of probiotics have been done for the treatment of infectious diseases including viral, bacterial or antibiotic associated diarrhea, lowering of serum cholesterol, decreased risk of colon cancer, improved lactose digestion, and altered intestinal microbiota.
Bryan CA, Pak D, Crandall PG, Lee SO, Ricke SC (2013) The Role of Prebiotics and Probiotics in Human Health. J Prob Health 1:108. doi: 10.4172/2329-8901.1000108
Everyone talks about the importance of staying hydrated and drinking lots of water. But that's not the whole picture. The truth is, even if you are drinking lots of water, your skin can still suffer from dehydration. There's another key element important to staying hydrated and making all the water you drink effective: Essential Oils.
Human skin has to have a balance between water and oil. Oil keeps water in. The right oils are what make your skin soft and healthy. If you eat the proper amount of good oils and fats, your skin will love you for it because it will be able to retain more water. If you're not getting the right oils for your body to keep water in and make use of it, it will just go straight through your system. I've had patients who would drink lots of water every day and it wouldn't make a difference. Their skin was dry and their lips were chapped. They were not getting enough essential oils.
Bad oils and fats (fried foods, margarine, transfats, processed cheese, etc.) can cause problems with your skin, including dandruff, itching, flaking, acne, boils and cysts. Good oils, on the other hand, are essential to skin health. Eat them with enthusiasm!
- Raw nut butters
- Flax seed oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Coconut Oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Olive oil
Fats and Oils create a water barrier so the water you drink will stay in and your skin will stay hydrated.
Omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) essential fatty acids (EFAs) are crucial to skin function and appearance. Both dietary and topical supplementation with EFAs can have profound effects on the fatty acid composition and eicosanoid milieu of the skin.
Giana Angelo, Ph.D. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University - "Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health" Suzanne Pilkington, Ph.D. Dermatological Sciences, Inflammation Research Group, School of Translational Medicine, The University of Manchester - 2012
Water and other fluids affect your overall hydration, but some foods specifically affect the moisture generated in your skin. Foods high in essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, help your skin produce more lipids that strengthen your skin cells. These lipid-bolstered cells also trap natural oils in your skin and help prevent dryness. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flax seed oil, salmon and other fish, and those high in omega-6 fatty acids include safflower oils.
Fries, Wendy C. "Dry Skin: Soothing the Itch in Winter." WebMD. October 17, 2008 (Accessed 9/26/09)
Lowenstein, Kate. "Diet for Healthy Skin." Everyday Health. November 20, 2008 (Accessed 9/26/09)