Effects of Saturated Fat From Meat and Cheese on Blood Lipids

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in many countries, and high saturated fat intake has long been thought to be a major risk factor.

For this reason, health authorities have recommended limiting the intake of foods rich in saturated fat, such as meat and high-fat cheese. Alli (Orlistat) blocks fat absorption in the intestines.

However, studies indicate that high-fat cheese may actually protect against heart disease (123).

Additionally, several recent meta-analyses have been unable to find a link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease (45). However, there may be a small reduction in cardiovascular “events” when replaced with polyunsaturated fat (6).

Close Up of Woman Slicing Cheese

Study Reviewed

This randomized crossover trial examined how saturated fat from meat and cheese affected blood lipids.

Thorning et al. Diets With High-Fat Cheese, High-Fat Meat, or Carbohydrate on Cardiovascular Risk Markers in Overweight Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Crossover Trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015.

Aim

This study compared the effects of saturated animal fats and carbohydrates on blood lipids, apolipoproteins and fat digestibility.

Study Design

This 10-week study was a randomized crossover trial. A total of 19 postmenopausal women were recruited to participate.

Each participant’s energy requirements were calculated. Based on that, they were placed on a weight-maintenance diet to prevent weight gain during the study period.

The participants were then randomly assigned to one of three diets, each of which lasted for two weeks.

  1. High-cheese diet: This diet focused on cheese, but no other dairy products were included.
  2. High-meat diet: Participants on this diet were fed beef and pork, but no dairy products or probiotics.
  3. Control diet: The control diet contained high amounts of carbs and low amounts of fat, as well as protein from lean meat. The carbs mainly consisted of applesauce, white bread, pasta, marmalade, rice, cakes, biscuits and chocolate.

These three groups were isocaloric, meaning they had an equal energy content. Fiber was not specifically monitored. In the high-cheese and high-meat groups, the percentage of energy provided was:

  • Protein: 15%.
  • Fat: 35% (13% from saturated fat).
  • Carbs: 50%.

In the control diet, the percentage of energy provided was approximately:

  • Protein: 15%.
  • Fat: 25%.
  • Carbs: 60%.

All three diets contained similar amounts of protein. The only difference was the source of fat — from cheese or meat — and the amount of fat, which differed between the high-fat/high-meat diets and the control diet.

Since this was a crossover trial, all participants received each of the test foods at different points during the study. However, the order in which they got the foods was randomized.

Additionally, due to the nature of the diets, it was impossible to blind the participants.

Each of the study cycles was separated by a 2-week period, to stabilize blood lipids between diets.

At the beginning and end of each study period, blood samples were taken after a 12-hour fast. Fat digestibility was estimated by measuring fat in stools.

Results

A total of 5 participants dropped out during the study period, and 14 completed it.

Compared to the control diet, both the high-cheese and high-meat diets increased levels of the “good” HDL-cholesterol by 5% and 8%, respectively.

Apolipoprotein A-1 levels also increased by 8% and 4%, respectively. Apolipoprotein A-1 is the protein that carries HDL cholesterol in the blood, and having higher levels is a good thing.

In the high-cheese diet, the ratio of apolipoprotein B and apolipoprotein A-1 also went down by 5%, which indicates reduced heart disease risk.

Total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, apolipoprotein B and triglycerides remained similar between groups.

Additionally, the fat in cheese did not seem to be efficiently absorbed.

Main Conclusions

The saturated fat in meat and cheese did not have adverse effects on blood sugar, compared to a high-carb, low-fat diet.

The study also found that some of the fat in cheese is not digested, and passes out of the body with feces.

Limitations

This study was well-designed and does not have any apparent shortcomings.

However, it has several limitations.

  1. There were only 14 participants that completed the study.
  2. The duration of the study was short.
  3. The participant group was very specific — postmenopausal women.
  4. Macronutrients were closely matched between diets, so the study does not provide a direct comparison of either cheese or meat as a whole.
  5. There was not a direct comparison of the different saturated fats found in cheese and meat. However, isolating these fats would neglect the potential interaction of the different nutrients in whole foods.

What Do Other Studies Say?

A high-fat diet rich in dairy calcium significantly decreased LDL-cholesterol, compared to a low-calcium diet (7).

Contrasting the results of the current study, other studies have shown a reduction in HDL-cholesterol and apolipoprotein A-1 when saturated fat has been replaced with carbs (89).

Supporting the results, a few observational studies have found a positive association between cheese intake and levels of HDL-cholesterol and apo A-1 (1011).

Summary and Real Life Application

For some time, health authorities have been recommending low-fat diets, saying that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.

However, the findings of this study (and many others) contradict those sources.

At the end of the day, saturated fat isn’t the demon it has been made out to be.

There is no reason to avoid saturated fat from whole foods, but there is no reason to glorify it and eat much of it either. It is neither good or bad, just neutral.

Tip: Nicotinamide Riboside can also lower risk of heart disease.

Low-Carb vs High-Carb For Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a common condition characterized by high levels of blood sugar, usually due to insulin resistance.

The treatment of type 2 diabetes involves medication, but lifestyle strategies to lower blood sugar levels are very important as well.

These include increased exercise, weight loss and diet management (1).

Although low-carb diets have become popular for managing type 2 diabetes, few high-quality studies have investigated their long-term effects on blood sugar control and risk factors for heart disease (2).

Article Reviewed

A team of Australian researchers set out to compare the long-term health effects of a low-carb diet and a high-carb diet, focusing on differences in blood sugar control and risk factors for heart disease.

Tay et al. Comparison of Low- and High-Carbohydrate Diets for Type 2 Diabetes Management: A Randomized Trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015.

Study Design

This was a randomized trial that spanned one year, or 52 weeks total.

A total of 115 obese and overweight adults with type 2 diabetes participated. Their age ranged from 35 to 68 years.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of two diets that contained an equal amount of calories:

  • Low-carb diet (LC): Carbs, protein and fat comprised 14%, 28% and 58% of calories, respectively. The total carb content was under 50 grams per day.
  • High-carb diet (HC): Carbs, protein and fat comprised 53%, 17% and 30% of calories, respectively.

Both diets restricted calories in order to produce weight loss. Calories were restricted by 30%, which amounted to 500–1000 calories, depending on the individual.

Tip:
Probiotics can help weight loss although the exact mechanism is unclear. Adding fiber can also help. Glucomannan is a favorite.

The fat content of the diets was mainly unsaturated, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fats.

In addition, all participants had 60-minute, supervised exercise sessions three times per week. These sessions focused on moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise.

Blood samples were taken at the beginning, in the middle (24 weeks), and at the end (52 weeks) of the study.

Results

78 people completed the study, which is 68% of participants.

Due to regular exercise and the reduction of calories, participants in both groups lost weight and achieved significant health improvements.

This graph shows the weight changes in the two groups:

Changes in the following health markers were similar between groups:

  • Weight loss: The LC group lost 9.8 kg (21.6 lbs) and the HC group lost 10.1 kg (22.3 lbs).
  • HbA1c: Levels dropped by 1% in both groups.
  • Fasting blood sugar: Decreased by 0.7 mmol/L (27.02 mg/dL) in the LC group and 1.5 mmol/L (57.9 mg/dL) in the HC group.
  • LDL cholesterol: Levels dropped by 0.1 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL) in the LC group and 0.2 mmol/L (7.7 mg/dL) in the HC group.
  • Blood pressure: Fell by 7.1 mmHg in the LC group and 5.8 mmHg in the HC group.
  • Inflammation: Estimated by the C-reactive protein, this decreased by 0.9 mg/L in the LC group and 1.2 mg/L in the HC group.
  • Insulin resistance: Also decreased substantially.

However, the low-carb group experienced significantly greater improvements in several health markers.

These included improvements in the following:

  • Medication: Greater reduction in the need for diabetes medication.
  • Glycemic variability: At least twice the decrease in glycemic variability, indicating greater stability in blood sugar levels.
  • Hyperglycemia: Less risk of experiencing high blood sugar levels.
  • Triglycerides: 0.4 mmol/L (7.2 mg/dl) reduction in triglycerides, versus a 0.01 mmol/L (0.18 mg/dl) reduction in the HC group.
  • HDL cholesterol: Increases of 0.1 mmol/L (1.8 mg/dl), versus 0.06 mmol/L (1.08 mg/dl) in the HC group.

Main Conclusions

For overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes, calorie-restricted diets and regular exercise lead to weight loss, improved blood sugar control and reduced risk factors for heart disease.

This happens regardless of whether people follow low-carb or high-carb diets.

However, low-carb diets lead to greater improvements in blood sugar control and blood lipid profile than high-carb diets.

Additionally, low-carb diets decrease the need for diabetes medication and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

For this reason, low-carb diets can help effectively manage type 2 diabetes.

Limitations

This study was well designed, but had a few limitations.

  1. It did not include a control group of participants who did not change their diet, which would have helped isolate the effects of the lifestyle modifications.
  2. The assignment to diets was not blind.
  3. The LC group’s protein intake was much higher. Protein can affect weight loss as well as glycemic control, so this may have impacted the results of the study.
  4. By the end of the study, the LC group had increased their carbohydrate intake to 74 g, and saturated fat accounted for 11% of calories. Calorie intake was increased throughout the study in both groups.
  5. Adherence to the diet was good but not perfect, which is a common limitation of these types of studies.

What Do Other Studies Say?

HbA1c

The main outcome variable of the current study was HbA1c.

HbA1c is also known as glycated hemoglobin. Measuring HbA1c gives clinicians and scientists an idea of the average blood sugar levels over the previous few months.

High HbA1c levels are associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes-related complications.

Some studies have found no significant differences in the effects of low- and high-carb diets on HbA1c (34). Conversely, other studies have reported greater reductions in HbA1c with LC diets (567).

Weight Loss

Studies that have compared LC diets with calorie-restricted HC diets among patients with type 2 diabetes have provided mixed results.

Some reported that LC diets caused greater weight loss (27).

In the current study, both diets contained the same amount of calories, and weight loss was similar.

This suggests that the main cause of weight loss is calorie deficit rather than the nutrient composition of the diets. Several previous studies support this (3489).

Blood Lipids

Supporting the present study, one 24-week randomized controlled trial in obese adults with type 2 diabetes showed that a LC diet caused greater improvements in blood sugar control and blood lipid profile than a HC diet (10).

Similarly, previous studies have reported greater reductions in triglycerides and higher increases in HDL-cholesterol with LC diets (1112).

In the current study, similar reductions in cholesterol were seen in both the LC and HC diets.

In contrast, large reviews of previous trials suggest that very LC diets may have less favorable effects on LDL cholesterol than conventional high-carb, low-fat diets (1314).

These differences may be explained by the type of fat replacing carbs in LC diets. In the present study, carbs were replaced with unsaturated fat, which may lower LDL-cholesterol.

Conversely, saturated fats may raise the levels of LDL-cholesterol (151617).

Summary and Real-Life Application

In conclusion, reducing calories and increasing exercise can lead to weight loss and improved health — regardless of whether people are on a low-carb or high-carb diet.

However, for obese people who have type 2 diabetes, a low-carb diet seems to be more effective at improving blood sugar control and reducing the risk factors for heart disease.

This is supported by several studies showing that low-carb diets are effective for diabetics.

Butter vs Cream – Not All Dairy Fat is Equal

Not all dairy fat is equal.

Sometimes the fat is enclosed in a layer called the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), composed of phospholipids and protein.

The presence of MFGM may be the reason that the various dairy products have different effects on health.

Cream contains twice as much MFGM as butter, so researchers set out to study the health effects of these two dairy products.

Background and Introduction

Observational studies indicate that the relationship between dairy fat and heart disease depends on the type of dairy product consumed (123).

Supporting this, randomized controlled trials have found that butter raises cholesterol levels more than cheese, even though the fat content is equal (4567).

Most dairy fat is enclosed in a layer called the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), which may be the cause of these differences. This membrane is primarily composed of phospholipids, but around 20% is protein (89).

Butter is an exception. When butter is produced, the churning process removes most of the MFGMs from the fat. In comparison, cream contains twice as much MFGM (8).

Bottom Line: Studies have indicated that different dairy products have varying effects on health markers, such as cholesterol levels. This may be due to the presence and quantity of MFGMs, which enclose the dairy fat.

Study Reviewed

Many years ago, scientists hypothesized that the presence of MFGMs may contribute to how dairy products affect several aspects of health (10).

Researchers at the Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden set out to test this hypothesis in a randomized controlled trial.

The results were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

Potential of Milk Fat Globule Membrane in Modulation of Plasma Lipoproteins, Gene Expression, and Cholesterol Metabolism in Humans: A Randomized Study.

Here, we discuss the main results of this study and their relevance to human health.

Tip:
Products that block fat absorption can be helpful for weight loss, but eating more whole foods like or fermented foods with probiotics for weight loss is more effective long term

Basic Study Design

This was an 8-week, single-blind, randomized trial in healthy, overweight men and women. A total of 57 participants were recruited, but only 46 completed the study.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups:

  1. Cream: Participants consumed 40 g of milk fat per day in the form of whipping cream, which is very high in MFGMs.
  2. Butter: Participants consumed 40 g of milk fat per day in the form of butter oil, containing virtually no MFGMs.

Additionally, the study examined the effects of the two diets on gene expression and markers of cholesterol formation and absorption.

The main research hypothesis was that milk fat enclosed in MFGMs, such as in cream, would raise cholesterol much less than fat without MFGMs.

Bottom Line: The study was a randomized trial. Participants were divided into two groups that received 40 g of milk fat. The only difference between groups was that the cream group got milk fat with MFGMs, but the butter group did not.

Finding 1: MFGMs in Dairy Fat Prevent an Increase in Cholesterol

The study confirmed the research hypothesis.

It clearly showed that butter increased the levels of blood cholesterol, whereas cream did not. These differences are likely caused by the presence of MFGMs in cream.

This chart shows how blood cholesterol rose in the butter and cream groups.

Here is an overview of how eating butter oil changed the levels of blood lipids and lipoproteins, compared to cream:

  • Total Cholesterol: +0.30 mmol/L compared to -0.04 mmol/L.
  • LDL-Cholesterol: +0.36 mmol/L compared to +0.04 mmol/L.
  • Ratio of Apolipoprotein B to Apolipoprotein A-I: +0.03 mmol/L compared to -0.05 mmol/L.
  • Non-HDL Cholesterol: +0.24 mmol/L compared to -0.14 mmol/L.

Butter caused a significant increase in all of these factors, which are known risk factors for heart disease (41112).

However, not all blood lipids were significantly different between groups. For example, there was no difference in HDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL:HDL ratio and apolipoprotein A-I.

Additionally, body weight and body composition remained relatively constant during the study. Body weight decreased slightly in the butter group, but the change was not statistically significant.

Simply put, these results indicate that butter fat has adverse effects on the blood lipid profile, whereas cream fat does not.

Supporting these findings, several animal studies have also shown that MFGMs may counteract the rise in cholesterol caused by saturated fats (131415161718).

Conversely, human studies have provided conflicting results (192021).

However, unlike previous studies, the present study used whipping cream, containing intact MFGMs.

Bottom Line: Milk fat without MFGMs, such as butter, causes a rise in blood cholesterol. On the other hand, cream that contains MFGMs does not cause a significant increase in cholesterol.

Finding 2: MFGMs Appear to Change Gene Expression

How MFGMs moderate the effects of milk fat on blood lipids is unclear.

However, animal studies indicate that the MFGMs can lower blood cholesterol levels by changing gene expression in the liver (131415161718).

In the present study, gene expression was examined in 30 women, randomly selected from both groups.

The study found a significant group difference in the expression of 19 genes. The expression of all of these genes were increased in the MFGM group, but reduced in the butter oil group.

Although the function of most of these genes is not completely understood, some of them may be involved in the regulation of blood lipids.

In fact, changes in the expression of some of these genes were associated with increases in cholesterol.

Bottom Line: MFGMs may work by affecting gene expression, preventing a rise in cholesterol.

Finding 3: MFGMs May Reduce Cholesterol Absorption

In addition to changing gene expression, MFGMs may affect blood lipids by reducing cholesterol absorption in the digestive system.

This is supported by animal studies showing that sphingolipids or a mixture of milk phospholipids may reduce cholesterol absorption (1415161718).

The current study did not indicate any differences in cholesterol absorption between groups. However, the measurements were based on indirect markers for cholesterol absorption.

Bottom Line: Animal studies indicate that MFGMs may decrease cholesterol levels by reducing its absorption. The present study does not support this.

Discussion of Cream Consumption and Limitations of the Study

This study indicates that cream does not raise the levels of blood cholesterol.

However, this does not mean that cream should be consumed in high amounts. Cream is very rich in fat and calories, and may contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Tip:
A high carb diet can be just as bad as too much fat.

Being overweight is, in itself, a risk factor for heart disease and a variety of other chronic diseases.

Additionally, the results of the current study cannot be generalized. There are several reasons for this:

  • The participants consumed 40 grams of dairy fat per day, which is 10 grams higher than the national average in Sweden. Amounts higher than that may have adverse effects.
  • The study used whipping cream. Participants were not allowed to heat, mix or whip the cream. It is unclear what effects these preparation methods have on MFGMs.
  • The study used butter oil rather than butter. This is unlikely to be a limitation since the nutritional characteristics of these two products are very similar.

Bottom Line: Excessive consumption of cream may contribute to weight gain and obesity. However, low or moderate consumption is fine.

Summary and Real-Life Application

Not all high-fat dairy products have the same health effects.

Butter oil increases the levels of cholesterol in blood, whereas cream does not. This may be explained by MFGM, which surrounds the fat globules and counteracts the cholesterol-raising effects.

Simply put, cream appears to be healthier than butter because it contains MFGMs. How this affects hard endpoints, such as heart disease, remains to be seen.

Additionally, other studies on this topic have provided mixed results. Few have been conducted on specific dairy foods, so more research is needed before solid conclusions can be drawn.

That being said, no evidence justifies eating excessive amounts of cream. All high-fat dairy products should be eaten in moderation.

People with lipid problems or a family history of heart disease should probably minimize their consumption of butter. Extra virgin olive oil is a much better choice.

Tip:
High fiber consumption is a useful strategy for weight loss. Try Acacia Rigidula, or White Kidney Bean Extract if you’re not getting enough in your diet naturally. Try to eat Apples instead of applesauce, as it has far more fiber.

The Benefits of Vitamin D May Depend on Your Genes

Even though obesity has been associated with poor vitamin D status, the evidence that vitamin D affects obesity is not entirely conclusive (1).

For this reason, researchers set out to examine the effects of vitamin D supplements on body fat levels, insulin sensitivity and circulating vitamin D levels. They also looked at the effects of genetics on responses to vitamin D (2).

Here is a detailed summary of the results, recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Background

Central obesity involves having a lot of fat around the waist. It is primarily caused by excessive belly fat, especially around the organs.

Central obesity has been associated with various chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Some people are more prone to central obesity than others, which may be partially explained by genetic factors.

Nutritional factors, such as poor vitamin D status, may also play a role (34567).

Study Reviewed

Iranian researchers examined the effects of daily vitamin D supplements on markers for central obesity. They also investigated whether these effects depended on individual genetic make-up.

Vitamin D receptor Cdx-2-dependent response of central obesity to vitamin D intake in the subjects with type 2 diabetes: a randomised clinical trial.

Basic Study Design

This was a 12-week, randomized trial in 60 Iranian men and women with type 2 diabetes. 88% of the participants were obese, while the rest were overweight.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups:

  • Vitamin D group: Twice a day for 12 weeks, participants consumed a 250 ml yogurt drink fortified with 12.5 µg of vitamin D3.
  • Placebo group: The participants consumed the same yogurt drink, containing no vitamin D3.

At the beginning and the end of the study, the researchers measured body weight, total body fat, visceral fat, circulating vitamin D levels, fasting glucose, fasting insulin and HbA1c.

These values were then compared between groups.

In the second part of the study, the genetic make-up of participants in the vitamin D group was examined. This is discussed below.

Bottom Line: This was randomized trial in diabetic and overweight Iranian men and women. Participants were randomly assigned to receive vitamin D supplementation or a placebo.

Genotype Groups

genotype simply refers to the genetic make-up of each individual.

For example, when referring to individuals that have different variants of a specific gene, we talk about different genotypes.

The present study focused on variants of the Cdx-2 gene, which is associated with vitamin D function.

The participants were divided into three groups, depending on their genotype:

  • AA genotype: 52% had the AA variant of the Cdx-2 gene.
  • AG genotype: 32% had the AG variant of the Cdx-2 gene.
  • GG genotype: 16% had the GG variant of the Cdx-2 gene.

The benefits of vitamin D supplementation were then compared between genotypes.

Other studies have also examined the frequency of these genotypes, which appears to vary by race. For example, the AA genotype is found in 18% of South Asians, but only 4% of Europeans (89).

Bottom Line: The study divided the study participants into three groups based on genotype. The benefits of vitamin D supplementation were then compared between genotypes.

Finding 1: Vitamin D Levels Did Not Increase in All Genotypes

Overall, circulating vitamin D levels increased significantly in many of the participants who were given vitamin D supplements.

However, vitamin D levels did not increase for everyone receiving supplements.

They only rose significantly in people who had the AA genotype, or in about 52% of the participants in the vitamin D group. Vitamin D levels did not increase for people who had the AG or GG genotype.

The table below shows the rise in vitamin D between genotypes.

These results indicate that not all people benefit from vitamin D supplementation.

This unexpected finding needs to be confirmed by other studies before any solid conclusions can be reached.

Bottom Line: Vitamin D levels did not increase in all of those who were supplemented. In fact, they rose only in those who had the AA genotype.

Finding 2: Vitamin D Decreased Body Fat

In addition to weight loss, waist circumference, visceral fat, truncal fat and fat mass percentage all decreased more in the vitamin D group, compared to the placebo.

Additionally, within the vitamin D group, waist circumference, visceral fat, fat mass percentage and truncal fat decreased more in participants with the AA genotype.

The table below shows the difference in total fat loss percentage between genotypes.

These results indicate that supplementing with vitamin D may be a useful weight loss strategy, at least for some people.

Bottom Line: Supplementing with vitamin D reduced central obesity. However, this effect was only significant in participants with the AA genotype.

Finding 3: Vitamin D Improved Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity increased significantly in the vitamin D group, compared with the placebo.

Within the vitamin D group, insulin sensitivity increased most among those with the AA genotype.

No significant differences were seen in other markers of blood sugar control.

Bottom Line: Vitamin D supplementation appears to improve insulin sensitivity, benefitting people with type 2 diabetes. These effects were more pronounced in participants with the AA genotype.

Limitations

This study appears to have been well-designed and executed.

However, some of the research methods were inaccurate. For example, the researchers used bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) to measure body fat.

BIA may underestimate body fat percentage as fat levels get higher (10).

The results also cannot be generalized to all people, since the participants were Iranian. These findings need to be confirmed in other racial groups.

Additionally, the participants were middle-aged and elderly, as well as diabetic and overweight or obese. Vitamin D supplementation may not have the same weight loss effects in healthy, young people.

Finally, the study period was only 12 weeks. Although this is a relatively long period for a randomized trial, a longer study might have told a different story.

Bottom Line: The study appears to have been well-designed and executed, although some of the methods were inaccurate. The results also may not be generalized to all people or supplementation time frames.

Summary and Real-Life Application

In short, this study shows that vitamin D supplementation can have many health benefits.

These include better vitamin D status, reduced fat mass and improved blood sugar control.

However, not all people benefit equally from vitamin D supplementation. The benefits appear to depend on people’s genes.

This reminds us that generalizing is not always appropriate in nutritional science. People sometimes react differently to what they are eating.

At the end of the day, vitamin D supplementation may provide many health benefits. The magnitude of these benefits varies, depending on people’s genetic make-up.

Globe Artichoke

Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is a popular vegetable crop from the Mediterranean. It was highly regarded among the ancient Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks.

Aside from an important food crop, globe artichoke offers strong medicinal potential in its leaves and unopened flower. It has a strong action on the liver, and gallbladder, thus affecting digestion, blood quality, and cholesterol levels.

The main component is known as cynarin. It’s a powerful choleretic bitter chemical, useful for stimulating the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder.

Artichokes also delivers a potent dose of antioxidants (due to the phenolic acids), and inhibits cholesterol synthesis (from the luteolin portion). It provides powerful hepatoprotective (liver protective), anticholesterol, choloretic, cardioprotective, and antidiabetic effects throughout the entire body.

Many people use artichoke flower or leaf for heart conditions, digestive disorders, various forms of cancer, as well as highblood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.


Botanical Name:

Cynara scolymus

 

Family Name:

Asteraceae

 

Part Used:

Leaves, flowers

Herbal Actions:

  • Anticarcinogenic
  • Anti-HIV
  • Antioxidative
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Choleretic
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Diuretic
  • Antifungal
  • Antibacterial
  • Choleretic
  • Carminative
  • Spasmolytic
  • Antiemetic
  • Antiviral

Dosage

Tincture (1:5)

15 – 40 ml/day

Indications:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Dyspepsia
  • Hepatobiliary diseases
  • Reducing effects of lead poisoning
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune disorders

Common Names:

  • Globe artichoke
  • Alcachofra
  • Artichaut
  • Tyosen-azami

Traditional Uses:

Artichoke has been used as food and medicine by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The Romans used it as an important ingredient during feasts [7].

Traditional use of Cynara throughout the ages has most commonly been used as medicine for the liver, or gallbladder. Brazilian medicine is a good example, it has valued the leaves for such uses as liver and gallbladder issues, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, anemia, diarrhea fevers, ulcers, and gout. Many of these conditions listed have pathologies related to the liver, or gallbladder.

In other areas of the world, Cynara has been used for dyspepsia, as well as chronic albuminuria [7]. Taylor L. (2005) in her book (Healing power of rainforest herbs) states that “In all herbal medicine systems where it is employed, artichoke is used to increase bile production in the liver, increase the flow of bile from the gall bladder, and to increase the contrastive power of the bile duct”. This is important if you consider how many processes rely on both healthy digestion, and toxin and nutrient metabolism, which both rely on a healthy liver/gallbladder to function properly.

 

Botanical Description:

C. Scolymus grows to a height of about 2m and is often cultivated as a food crop throughout the world. The large, fleshy, violet-green flowerhead and flower bottoms are eaten as a vegetable. Most of the globe artichokes in North America are grown in California, with cultivation also taking place in other parts of the United States, as well as many parts of South America and Europe.

There are four morpho-productive groups of Globe artichoke that have been recognized: Spinoso, Violetto, Catanese and Romanesco [6].

 

Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:

Globe artichoke originated in the Mediterranean basin, and was known well by the ancient Romans, and Greeks [6].

Harvesting, Collection, and Preparation:

Still compiling research.


Constituents:

The bitter taste delivered by Cynara scolymus, is attributed mostly to a chemical called cynarin, and is found in the green parts of the plant (highest concentrations in the leaves). It is considered one of the plant’s main biologically active constituents [7].

Some other documented active constituents include various flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones, polyphenols, and cafeoylquinic acids [7].

Taylor L. (2005) lists in her book, the constituents of Cynara scolymus as follows: caffeic acid, cafeoylquinic acids, caryophyllene, chlorogenic acid, cyanidol glucosides, cynaragenin, cynarapicrin, cynaratriol, cynarin, cynarolide, decanal, eugenol, ferulic acid, flavonoids, folacin, glyceric acid, glycolic acid, heteroside-B, inulin, isoamerboin, lauric acid, linoleic acid, linoleic acid, luteolin glucosides, myristic acid, neochlorogenic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, phenylacetaldehyde, pseudotaraxasterol, scolymoside, silymarin, sitosterol, stearic acid, stigmasterol, and taraxasterol.

The fleshy flowering heads are a rich source of nutrition, in the cultivar campuanella, for example, contains protein (3.08 g/100 g), amino acids (2.83 g/100 g) (main one being asparagine), linoleic acid (44.20% of total fatty acids), α- linolenic acid, and γ-linolenic acid, total phenol (425.46 g/100g), [6].

The majority of its medicinal actions are believed to be due to its polyphenolic antioxidants, and high nutrient density [6].


Pharmacology and Medical Research:

ANTI-CHOLESTEROL

A group of European scientists in the 1970s were the first to document Cynarins cholesterol lowering effect on humans [7]. Since then, many articles and studies have been produced examining the effects cynarin has on the liver and cholesterol in both humans and animals. During this time, scientists have discovered that cynarin is not the only constituent in artichoke to produce these effects, with several of them just newly discovered [7].

The cholesterol-lowering effects were reported to be due to an inhibitory effect on hepatocytes associated with de novo cholesterol biosynthesis. The constituent suggested to be responsible for this action is known as luteolin (inhibits 30-80%). Secondly, the choleretic activity of C. scolymus increases the excretion of cholesterol through bile. This was confirmed in vivo when a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled group study showed a significant decrease in LDL, with an increase in HDL compared to the treatment group [5].

 

ANTIDIABETIC

The chlorogenic acid content produces the ability to regulate glucose levels in blood through the inhibition of the glucose- 6-phosphatase [6].

 

ANTIOXIDANT

Various studies have been conducted on C. scolymus’ antioxidant effects. Taylor L. (2005) refers to 2 studies: one in 2002 focused on the antioxidant properties in cultured blood vessel cells and noted marked protection against oxidative stress induced by inflammatory mediators. She lists another study, done in 2000 that focused on human white blood cells under various forms of oxidative stress that lists results consistent with these findings.

G. Sonnante et al., (2010), reports that much of the antioxidant effects are due to the polyphenol content (flavonoids, and phenolic acids), particularly chlorogenic acid, di-caffeoylquinic acids, and caffeic acid. These chemicals are contained in high amount in the flowering bracts.

 

CHOLERETIC

One study showed that Cynara scolymus leaf extract significantly increased bile secretion into the duodenum of healthy volunteers [5]. These effects are likely the cause of globe artichokes positive effects on dyspepsia symptoms.

 

DIGESTIVE SUPPORT

Indigestion (dyspepsia), is one of the most prevalent symptoms in the western world. There are many possible causes for this condition, including biliary dyskinesia, insufficient secretion of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, diet content, gut flora (ex: H. pylori), pharmaceutical side effects (NSAIDS), and various psychological factors. C. scolymus has been shown to improve the symptoms of dyspepsia and produced a suggestively corrective support for the condition [4].

 

HEPATOPROTECTIVE

Taylor L. (2005) refers to a study in her book done in 2002, which noted that artichoke leaf extract was able to reverse the damage done in rat liver cells by harmful chemicals, and as a result was able to enhance bile production.

 

METABOLIC SYNDROME

Defined by a set of different metabolic disorders including obesity, hyperglycemia, atherogenic dyslipidemia, and hypertension. This disease process increases the chances of developing type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease significantly. Some research suggests that this syndrome is experienced by 20-30% of the adult population. The causative factors associated with this disease process, is obesity, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity.

Some other studies have shown that uric acid may have a pathogenic role in the process of metabolic syndrome, and this relationship was shown in rats. Inhibition of xanthine oxidase will lower uric acid levels, and decrease oxidative stress associated with it [1].

Blood pressure regulation is largely reliant on angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which converts angiotensin 1, into the powerfully vasoconstricting angiotensin 2. Therefore, inhibition of ACE is one of the main modes of actions used to control the hypertension aspect of metabolic syndrome [1].

One route for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, would be to use agents that will reduce postprandial hyperglycemia, by inhibiting carbohydrate digesting enzymes, such as ⍺-glucosidase [1].

Boldacynara®, contains herbs that have been shown as single extracts, to produce a variety of effects, positively affecting metabolic syndrome abnormalities. These herbs include Cynara scolymus, Taraxacum officinale, Silybum marianum, and Peumus boldus. In a study investigating the effects of this formula, by looking closer at the effects of the single extracts included, found that C. scolymus was able to provide ACE inhibition, and pancreatic lipase inhibition [1]. These effects are likely due to the polyphenol content, which are known to have a strong affinity for proteins.

 

Toxicity and Contraindications:

Avoid use if gallstones, or significant liver disease is present. Avoid use of extracts if pregnant. No indications for issues as a food source however while pregnant.

 

Cautions:

None listed.

 

Energetics:

Still compiling research.

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Still compiling research.

Synergy:

A herbal formula, Boldocynara®, containing Cynara scolymus, Silybum marianum, Taraxicum officinale, and Peumus boldus, has been shown to produce positive effects on the abnormalities associated with metabolic syndrome [1].

References:

  1. A. Villiger, F. Sala, A. Suter, V. Butterweck. (2015). In vitro inhibitory potential of Cynara scolymus, Silybum marianum, Taraxacum officinale, and Peumus boldus on key enzymes relevant to metabolic syndrome. Phytomedicine. Vol 22. 138-144.
  2. Gabriella Sonnante*, Rosalinda D’Amore, Emanuela Blanco, Ciro L. Pierri, Monica De Palma, Jie Luo, Marina Tucci, and Cathie Martin. (2010). Novel Hydroxycinnamoyl-Coenzyme A Quinate Transferase Genes from Artichoke Are Involved in the Synthesis of Chlorogenic Acid. Plant Physiology. Vol. 153, pp. 1224–1238
  3. G.C Dong, P.H Chuang, K.C Chang, P.S. Jan, P.I Hwang, H.B. Wu, M. Yi, H.X Zhou, H.M. Chen. (2008). Blocking effect of an immunosuppressive agent, Cynarin, on CD28 of T-cell receptor. Pharmaceutical Research. Vol 26. 2.
  4. G. Marakis, A. F. Walker, R. W. Middleton, J. C. L. Booth3, J. Wright, and D. J. Pike. (2002). Artichoke leaf extract reduces mild dyspepsia in an open study. Phytomedicine. Vol 9: 694–699
  5. K. Kraft. (1997). Artichoke leaf extract – Recent findings reflecting effects on lipid metabolism, liver and gastrointestinal tracts. Phytomedicine. Vol 4. 4. 369-378.
  6. Roberta Dosi, Addolorata Daniele, Vincenzo Guida, Luigia Ferrara, Valeria Severino, Antimo Di Maro. (2013). Nutritional and metabolic profiling of the globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus L. ‘Capuanella’ heads) in province of Caserta, Italy. Australian Journal of Crop Science. Vol 17. 12. 1923-1934.
  7. Taylor, L. (2005). The healing power of rainforest herbs: A guide to understanding and using herbal medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers.

Intensive Treatment May Reverse Type 2 Diabetes In Around 40% Of Patients

A intense treatment regime involving oral medications, insulin, and lifestyle changes proved able to induce a 3 month remission in 40% of type 2 diabetics

 

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease caused by either or both, an inability to create enough insulin or a resistance to that insulin signalling – leading to high blood sugar levels and significantly increased disease risk. In the US alone approximately 29 million people have type 2 diabetes, and it represents a massive proportion of diabetes as a whole.

An intensive treatment course

Type 2 diabetes onset is influenced to a large degree by lifestyle choices, although not exclusively. To test whether lifestyle modifications together with medication and insulin injections might be able to induce remission in some patients, researchers collected 83 people and divided them into 3 different groups. Of these groups, 1 acted as a control group and 2 received either 8 or 16 weeks of dedicated exercise, personalised meal plans with reduced calorie intake and regular medical check ups. They also received usual insulin treatment and medications.

What was the result?

3 months after the end of the experiment, 11 of 27 patients in the 16 week group and 6 out of 28 in the 8 week group displayed total or partial remission. This was extremely encouraging, but it should be noted that a year after the treatment there was very little difference between the group – suggesting that any regime would have to be long term in order to yield results, and that a shift back to ordinary or unhealthy choices is likely to reverse any gains.

“The research might shift the paradigm of treating diabetes from simply controlling glucose to an approach where we induce remission and then monitor patients for any signs of relapse. We’re looking forward to seeing the results in 2018. In the meantime, we encourage people with type 2 diabetes to follow a healthy diet that is low in sugar, saturated fats, and salt. We’re starting to see mounting evidence that putting type 2 diabetes into remission is feasible”

Read more at Science Alert

9 Fantastic Benefits of Flaxseed

With all the new superfoods popping up, it’s kind of hard keeping up with the names. I’m sure you’ve heard all about wheatgrass, kale, chlorella, and all those other popular ones. But have you heard about flaxseed? No? Well, it’s about time that you know more about this amazing superfood!

Flaxseed is also known as common flax or linseeds. It is a food and fiber crop that originated in the Middle East. The textiles made from this crop is what Western countries know as linen.

Flaxseed are usually brown or yellow in color. They are sold whole, ground, milled, or roasted.

History of Flaxseed

Contrary to what most of you are thinking, flaxseed isn’t a newly discovered superfood. It has actually been around for centuries. It’s one of the oldest cultivated crops. It’s been around as early as 3000 BC. Back in the day, it was used as a laxative, a plant food, responsible for adding and sustaining energy, and also a cure for abdominal pains.

King Charlemagne, the mighty roman emperor,  even passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it for their well-being.

Flaxseed Nutrition Content


Flaxseed is known by some people as one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. The three major healthy components of the flaxseed are omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans, and fiber.

Here’s a fun fact: they are the number one source of lignans in the human diet.

Other than these three, flaxseed also contains vitamins B1 and B6, manganese, magnesium, protein, phosphorus, selenium, molybdenum, copper, zinc, and potassium.

And finally, this crop also contains beneficial plant compounds.

Benefits of Flaxseed

For such a tiny superfood, it might surprise you that this has a lot of benefits to offer. Read on to know the top 9 positive effects flaxseed has for your body.

Fights Against Cancer


A study found in the Journal of Clinical Cancer Research shows that consuming flaxseed may decrease the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.

Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the lignans in flaxseeds may also reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer.

The ALA omega-3 fatty acid in flaxseed inhibit tumor incidence and tumor growth. In addition, exposure to lignans during adolescence reduces the risk of breast cancer and also increases the survival of breast cancer patients. Lignans fight against cancer by blocking enzymes that lead to hormone metabolism. They also interfere with the growth and spread of tumor cells.

Fights Against Cardiovascular Disease


Several studies suggest that diets rich in flaxseed omega-3 help prevent the hardening of the arteries and keep plaque from being deposited in the arteries, partly by keeping white blood cells from sticking to the inner linings of blood vessels.

Flaxseed also lowers blood pressure and normalizes the heartbeat. Studies show that lignans reduces atherosclerotic plaque buildup by up to 75 percent.

Omega-3 fatty acids also maintain the heart’s natural rhythm. They treat heart arrhythmia and heart failure.

Protects from Diabetes


Again, the lignan content plays a major role in this benefit. Patients with type 2 diabetes took flaxseed, and the results were positive. There was a drop in fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, and cholesterol. There was also a drop in A1C level. Insulin resistance is also lowered.

Lowers Cholesterol


Adding flaxseed into your daily diets naturally reduces cholesterol levels. This superfood has soluble fiber, that traps fat and cholesterol in the digestive system. That means it won’t be absorbed. The soluble fiber also traps bile. Bile is cholesterol from the gallbladder. The digestive system then excretes the bile. This forces the body to make more, and this uses up excess cholesterol in the blood. This lowers overall cholesterol.

Aids in Weight Loss


Since flax is full of healthy fats and fiber, it will help you feel fuller longer. That means you will eat fewer calories overall. Flaxseed also is high in fiber, but low in carbs. Overall, it supports weight loss plans and controls obesity and overweight.

ALA fats found in this superfood also reduces inflammation. Take note that an inflamed body holds on to excess weight.

Promotes Healthy Skin and Hair


The ALA fats in flaxseed benefits the skin and hair by providing essential fats. It also has B vitamins, which can help reduce dryness and flakiness. Also, it can improve symptoms of acne, rosacea, and eczema.

You can apply it topically as well. You can mix it with essential oils as a great natural skin moisturizer.

Fights Against Menopausal Symptoms


This is great for older women who are on the road to menopause. It is an alternative to hormone replacement therapy as lignans possess estrogenic properties. These properties also reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis. If you mix just 2 tablespoons of flaxseed into food, it can cut hot flashes in half. The intensity of these hot flashes also dropped by 57 percent.

Promotes a Good Digestive System


The ALA in flax protects the lining of the digestive tract and also maintains gastrointestinal health. It reduces gut inflammation, so it’s great for people with Crohn’s disease or any other digestive ailments. It’s great in relieving constipation as well. And finally, it produces food for friendly bacteria in the colon that cleanses waste from your system.

Is Gluten-Free


This superfood is a great replacement for gluten-containing grains. Those who have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should take in flaxseed. They are also a great alternative to omega-3 fats found in fish for people with seafood allergies.

How to Add It To Your Diet


Okay, so you’re a little skeptical in adding this to your everyday meals. Don’t worry, your eating patterns won’t drastically change with this superfood. It has a light and nutty taste, so if anything, it can just enhance the flavor of your favorite food.

Here are some ways to add it to your meals:

  1. Sprinkle flaxseed on top of cereal or oatmeal.
  2. Add around a teaspoon of this superfood to your favorite sandwich spread. Make sure to mix it properly.
  3. Add flaxseed into your favorite refreshing juices or healthy smoothies.
  4. Garnish your favorite salad with a sprinkling of flax.
  5. Top off soup with this grain.
  6. Add flax to your favorite pasta sauces.
  7. Incorporate the grain into meatballs, omelets, or casseroles.

Passionflower a calming influence

Passionflower infographic

Passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata/edulis) is by far one of the most well rounded herbs the Amazon rainforest has to offer. There are over 300 species of passionflower, and recent evidence suggests that many of them can be used interchangeably. That said, the preferred species are generally considered to be Passiflora incarnata, and Passiflora edulis.

Passionflower is traditionally used as a tea, but can also be used effectively as a herbal extract or tincture. Its benefits include analgesic, muscle relaxant, antibacterial, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, promotes calmness, slows racing thoughts, aids in falling asleep, fights cancer, protects the heart, and lowers blood pressure.

Passionflower is a good addition to most herbal treatment plans, as it helps to reduce the stress involved with many different conditions. It works great as a sleep aid without being overly sedating.Perhaps its best use is to treat the type of insomnia associated with stress or racing thoughts before bed time. Passionflower is even gentle, and effective enough to use with children, and has shown promise in treating those with ADD or ADHD.

Botanical Name:

Passiflora incarnata

Passiflora edulis

 

Family Name:

Passifloraceae

 

Part Used:

Leaves, stems, roots, fruit, fruit juice.

Herbal Actions:

[15]

  • Analgesic
  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Antidepressant
  • Antispasmodic
  • Anticonvulsant
  • Anxiolytic
  • Aphrodisiac
  • Diuretic
  • Hypotensive
  • Nervine
  • Sedative
  • Vermifuge

Dosage:

Tincture (1:5):

1-5 ml/day

 

 

Standardization:

Isovitexin (flavonoid)

Indications:

[15]

  • Alcoholism
  • Anxiety
  • General pain
  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity in children
  • Hysteria, insomnia (especially stress related)
  • Seizures
  • Menstrual  cramps
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nerve tonic
  • Neuralgia
  • Rapid heart beat
  • As an antispasmodic
  • Topical analgesic
  • Diuretic
  • Colic in infants
  • Asthma
  • Coughs
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Hypertension
  • Ischemia
  • Epilepsy

 

MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS:

M. Miroddi et al. (2013) [8] Refers to a clinical study done on menopausal women, found that P. incarnata was able to exert beneficial effects on precocious menopause symptoms (vasomotor signs, insomnia, depression, anger, headaches, etc). The researchers in this study suggested that health professionals can use it as an alternative to hormone therapy.

 

OPIATE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS:

A study done reviewing the clinical studies of Passiflora incarnata referred to a clinical double blind randomized trial vs placebo that investigated the effects of Passiflora incarnata on patients undergoing opiate withdrawal. This trial found that P. incarnata in combination with clonidine (commonly used pharmaceutical noted to have a better ability to treat physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal than mental), was able to reduce the mental symptoms of opiate withdrawal (insomnia, craving, dysphoria, anxiety, agitation, irritability) successfully. [8].


Common Names:

  • Passionflower
  • P. feotida
  • P. anata
  • P. nitida
  • P. quadrangularis
  • P. setacea
  • P. tenufila
  • Maracuja
  • Carkifelek
  • Charkhi felek
  • Maypop
  • Passionvine
  • Maracoc
  • Apricot-vine
  • Saa’t gulu
  • Zahril aalaam
  • La Flor de las Cinco Llagas
  • Granadilla
  • Maypop

Traditional Uses:

The use of Passiflora spp. dates back through many years and many cultures. It has been used in Ayurvedic, Unani, and Siddha medical systems [12], as well as Native Americans, and various cultures in Central and South America.

Prehistoric use of Passiflora incarnata dates back to the late Archaic period (8000-2000B.C) in North America, and is hypothesized by ethnobotanists to have been a minor food plant for native Americans rather than a staple [8]. Medicinally, it is documented that the Cherokee indians have used, and continue to use Passiflora spp. root tea as a tonic for the liver, and for skin boils. The roots are also pounded and used topically as an anti-inflammatory [8], and as an analgesic [16]. In Brazil Passiflora incarnata has been used as an analgesic, anti-spasmodic, wormicide, and sedative. [8]. In some other areas of the Amazon, the fruit used as a heart tonic and to calm coughs. [15]. P. feotida decoction of leaves and fruit are used traditionally in various Amazonian medical systems for diarrhea, asthma, biliousness, Peruvian medical systems, have commonly used passion fruit juice for UTIs, and as a mild diuretic [15].

In the 1800s in North America, the leaf infusion was used as a sedative, for headaches, and general pain, as well as topically for bruises, headaches, and general pain. [15]. Since then, in canada, europe, and USA, it has been used for well over the last 200 years as a tranquilizer, and anxiolytic. It has also been used for colic, diarrhea, dysentery, menstrual difficulties, insomnia, neuralgia, eye disorders, epilepsy, convulsions, muscle spasms, and pain in these regions. [15].

Countries outside South America, have used this plant for its sedative properties and as a narcotic (Iraq), to treat hysteria and neurasthenia (Poland), diarrhea, dysmenorrhoea, neuralgia (Turkey, America), burns, haemorrhoids, insomnia, and to treat patients affected by opiate dependence (India) [8]. Sasikala. V et al., (2011) [12] noted its use in various cultures for treating itches. Passiflora spp. flower has been used medicinally as a sedative, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, hypotensive. P. edulis, P. quadrangularis have both been used, however P. incarnata demonstrates the strongest effects [14].

When passion flower was found in Peru by a spanish doctor named Monardes, he took note of the indigenous uses, and brought it back to the old world from where he came [15]. Once Passiflora reached Europe, it became widely cultivated and used for mild symptoms of mental stress, anxiety, and mild sleep disorder [8]. The greatest admiration from the Europeans was during the 16th, and 17th centuries due in part from its beautiful flowers, and partly because of the belief that passion flowers were thought to represent the passion of Christ [16] hence its common name, passion flower.

 

Botanical Description:

Passiflora is the largest genus in the Passifloraceae family, consisting of nearly 500 species [12], with the addition of nearly 400 artificial hybrids [16]. In fact of the nearly 500 species, the vast majority are found in Central, or South America, with a few species rarely occurring in North America, Southeast Asia, and Australia [8].  Colombia is particularly rich in Passiflora as it accommodates more than 100 species , and contains nearly all sections of the genus [16].

The majority of the species in the Passiflora genus are perennial climbers, though some are trees (subgenus Astrophea), shrubs, herbaceous plants, and annuals [16]. M. Miroddi et al (2013) [8] describes Passiflora incarnata as an evergreen climbing vine reaching a height of up to 6m. The stems are vining, glabrous, herbaceous, and include tendrils. The leaves are alternate, 3-lobed, serrulate, petiolate, and herbaceous. Passiflora flowers are hermaphrodite and are very characteristic in overall look, containing 5 petals, and 5 sepals, 3 styles, and 3 stamens (typically). Flowering time is usually june-july, and produces its ripe seeds by october or november. Pollination usually occurs via bees [8], or other flying insects [16]. Some other species of Passiflora that are not included in this article are pollinated by hummingbirds, or bats [16].

The leaves of passiflora vary dramatically in size, and shape, and to some extent color, within the genus. In fact, Passiflora as a genus contains the most diverse leaf shapes out of any other genus of plant [16]. In Central, and South America exists the Heliconius butterfly, it is these butterflies that are given responsibility for the dramatic differences of Passiflora leaves. These butterflies feed exclusively on passionflower leaves during its caterpillar stage, so passionflower has altered it leaves in ways to match the other plants of its surroundings so as not to be seen by the observant butterflies [16]. This leaf variation even occurs at different stages of the plants development. In some rainforest species for example, the leaf forms of younger plants often resemble that of plants growing on the rainforest floor, changing throughout the years to eventually imitate the foliage of canopy plants as it ages and grows up and into the rainforest canopy [16].

Passiflora fruit can be described as large, or small berries, with the amount of seeds contained varying greatly. Fruit has a thick pericarp, except in the case of P. feotida where the pericarp is instead thin and papery. Generally, the morphology of Passiflora fruit is very diverse [16].

P. Edulis and P. incarnata are found in the Amazon Rainforest, and are the most commonly used species medicinally [15]. In the united states, Belize, Brazil, Colombia, guatemala, and India, P. incarnata is grown on a large scale and has become the most economically important medicinal species. This emphasis has most likely been placed on P. incarnata due to traditional use and lack of bioprospecting [16], as few other species have been tested medicinally, and the ones that have, for the most part have shown very similar effects including P. edulis, P. feotida, P. quadrangularis, P. anata, P. setacea, P. nitida, and P. tenufila [6, 12, 16, 14]. In fact P. incarnata, P. edulis, P. nitida, P. laurifolia, P. quadrangularis, P. feotida, P. alata, and the common flower shop and garden center species P. caerula are all found in the same Subgenus (also called Passiflora but is considered sub genus) [16].

 

Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:

P. feotida (Stinking passion flower) is South American in origin and is one of the few annual species contained in the Passiflora genus [16].

P. incarnata prefers more temperate zones, and is native to the southern United States, and sports 6-8cm, fragrant flowers in a variety of colors [16].

P. edulis is native to Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina, however has spread throughout most of the tropics and sub tropics worldwide [16].

In general, the majority of the Passiflora species can be found in lower North America, Central America, and South America, and is mostly found in the tropics [8].

The South American Amazon Rainforest Flat

Harvesting, Collection, Preparation:

Due to Passiflora’s relationship with the Heliconius butterfly, and its ever changing and deceptive leaf shape, it can often be very well camouflaged in its environment [16].

When collecting passion flower for medicine, it is important to consider what is being treated.

For fungal infections it may be best to damage the leaves a few hours or days before harvesting as this has been shown to increase the antifungal agents located in the plant (J. Nirner et al., 1972).

In accordance with taste, Livia de L de O Pineli et al., (2014) [6] noted that P. nitida stood out as particularly preferred in flavour and had high antioxidant activity as well. P. alata on the other hand, was the least preferred and had the most bitter flavour.

If the antioxidant effects are the desired effects, species choice will make a difference, P. edulis, P. setacea, P. nitida, P. tenufida,  all have high antioxidant levels, with P. malformis leaf aqueous extract shown to have the highest antioxidant profile [14].

 

Constituents:

The major phytochemicals contained within Passiflora spp. include Alkaloids, phenols, glycosides, flavonoids, passiflorins, polypeptides, and alpha-pyrones [12].

Taylor L. (2005) [15] listed in her book the following constituents: Alpha-alanine, apigenin, aribine, chrysin, citric acid, coumarin, cyclopassifloic acids A-D, cyclopassiflosides I-VI, diethyl malonate, edulan I, edulan II, flavanoids, glutamine, gynocardin, harmane, haraline, harmalol, harmine, harmol, homoorientin, isoorientin, isoschaftoside, isovitexin, kaempferol, loturine, lucenin-2, lutenin-2, luteolin, n-nonacosane, orientin, passicol, passiflorine, passifloric acid, pectin, phenolic acids, phenylalanine, proline, prunasin, quercetin, raffinose, sambunigrin, saponarin, saponaretin, saponarine, schaftoside, scopoletin, serotonin, sitisterol, and stigmasterol.

Other constituents include phenolic compounds, fatty acids (linoleic, linolenic, palmitic, oleic, and myristic acids), formic and butyric acids, coumarins, phytosterols, and essential oils [8]. About 294 volatile compounds have been identified in several passion fruit extracts [12]. Maltol has also been discovered in various Passiflora species, which has documented sedative effects, as well as the neurotransmitter serotonin [15].

Flavonoids represent 2.5% of P. incarnata with such examples as vitexin, isovitexin, orientin, isoorientin, apigenin, kaempferol, vicenin, lucenin, and saponarin [8]. An HPTLC method has been developed by Pereira et al. (2004) to quantitatively determine the flavonoid contents in the leaves of P. alata, P. edulis, P. caerulea, and P. incarnata. [8]. The flavonoid chrysin is of significant note (also found in propolis, and honey), and has been shown to exhibit significant anxiolytic effects [15], and has been the focus of many of the studies referred to in this paper, all of which have shown therapeutic value including: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-diabetic, anti-estrogenic, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects (E.R. Kasala et al., 2015).  Taylor, L. (2005) [15] notes that when flavonoids and glycosides were tested for sedative value separately, an opposite effect resulted. She reasons that only combined, as a whole plant do they produce sedative effects.

Harmane alkaloids (indole) are also present which are believed to be the cause of the antispasmodic and hypotensive effects. [15].

Passiflora contains cyanogenic glycosides as a way to defend itself against pests. These glycosides diminish in concentration as the leaves age [16]. On the outside of the blossom, extrafloral nectar glands produce a nectar that is deposited onto the petioles and leaves of the plant. It is this nectar that attracts ants, and wasps, which is thought to be in an attempt for passion flower to defend itself against the coevolved Heliconius caterpillar [16]. The author at this time does not know the chemical constituents of this nectar or its application medicinally.

 

Pharmacology on Dose:

A study done by Sasikala V. et al., (2011) [12] using the extraction of P .feotida, obtained the extract by using a method involving drying P. feotida in shade, powdering, extracting with petroleum ether and ethanol using a soxhlet apparatus. Then a hot water infusion, evaporation with rotary vacuum-evaporator, then finally underwent lyophilization. A dried extract was result. This requires experience and specialized machinery, but it outlines the concepts behind producing an extract of this plant.

Depending on what the desired effects of the manufactured extract is, various methods provide better extraction. For example, methanol extracts were found to contain the highest antioxidant content, with high phenolic, and antibacterial properties. (S.D. Ramaiya et al.,2014), however an infusion of Passiflora edulis was shown to have higher levels of TPs (total phenolics), and CTs (condensed tannins) than hydroalcoholic extracts [6], and even still, hydroalcoholic extracts of P. edulis  had higher levels of TFs (total flavonoids) [6]. So it is evident that depending on what the extract is to be used for, various extraction methods will provide a more concentrated medicine for various pathologies. The other factor to note is the effect of these various processes on the heat labile constituents of the plant. As an example, metanol may provide the best extraction of antioxidants, however cannot be consumed, therefore must be evaporated out before use. This process often requires heat and therefore may damage the heat labile constituents in the process, thus using a different, less efficient extraction solvent is perhaps better despite lowered extraction efficiency.

J. Nirner et al., (1972), noted that the antifungal activity provided by Passiflora spp, is increased when the living plant tissue is wounded. This is significant if the reason for using Passiflora  involves needing antifungal properties.

Passiflora extracts can be tailored greatly based on species choice, extraction method, aspects of how the plant was cultivated, and of course in what dose the plant is used.

For analgesic effects, an ethanol extract is found to be most effective at 200mg/kg [12].

A normal dose for the ethanol extract would be between 100 and 200 mg/kg 1-3 times per day. In sensitive individuals start at around 50mg/kg, and with less sensitive indiviuals up to 300mg/kg may be used.

Infusion – Standard preparation (1:20 dried herb:water) 250ml (1 cup) 2-3 times daily

Capsules/tablets – 2-3g, 2-3 times daily

 

Cultivation:

Passion flower of all species make great house or garden plants. The flower is spectacular, they are easy to grow, and the leaves, stems, and fruit can easily be harvested and used.Many species of Passiflora do well in container culture, and home environments, outdoors seasonally in northern climates, or all year in tropical climates. Passionflower plants will pretty much all do well in a general potting mix, or regular garden soil. Passiflora can grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils but generally prefers well-drained soil. [8].

Due to the climbing nature of passion flower, a climbing aid such as a tree, or trellis may be needed.

In nature, 95% of all flowering plants have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi [16], and therefore it may be beneficial to inoculate with a commercial strain of endo- and ecto-mycorrhizal fungi when planting.

Passiflora incarnata is the most economically important of the Passiflora species, and is currently being cultivated on a large scale in Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, India, United States [16], and in Australia. [8].

 

Pharmacology and Medical Research:

ANALGESIC

In a study done on the analgesic effects of P. feotida on mice, 200 mg/kg  of ethanol extract was found to be comparable in effectiveness to morphine sulphate (5mg/kg). [12]. This same study concluded that “it is very clear that P.feotida also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities for the pharmaceuticals”.

 

ANTIBACTERIAL

The antibacterial and antifungal compound Passicol, has reportedly been isolated from P. edulis providing distinct antibacterial effects against gram-positive, but not gram negative bacteria [14]. Gram negative bacteria include such examples as Staphylococci, Streptococci, Corynebacterium diphtheriae (responsible for diphtheria), Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax), and Pneumococci.

The seeds have been found to possess antifungal compounds in the form of protein (Passiflin), and peptide (Pe-AFP1) [14].

 

ANTICANCER

*See chemoprotective effects*

 

ANTICONVULSANT

Passiflora incarnata extract (containing amino acids), were found to contain high amounts of GABA, as well as providing the ability to induce direct GABA currents in CA1 hippocampal pyramidal neurons [13], thus providing evidence for anticonvulsant activity.

Marjan Nassiri-Asl et al., (2007) [7] found similar effects in their study on a hydro-alcoholic extract of Passiflora called Pasipay. They found that it was able to prolong the onset time of seizures, decrease the duration of seizures, and provide mortality protection.They concluded that Pasipay may be useful in the treatment of absence seizure due to its effect on GABAergic and opioid systems, however suggested more studies were needed in order to investigate the mechanisms involved.

In a separate study chrysin was considered responsible, and its anxiolytic actions were linked to the activation of GABAa in rats [10].

 

ANTIDEPRESSANT

Chrysin (5,7-dihydroxyflavone), is a flavonoid found in bee propolis, honey, Passiflora spp, and a variety of other plants. It is noted to produce antioxidant [6, 17], antinflammatory [17], antineoplastic, hypolipidemic, and antidepressent [1] activity.

In the pathophysiology of depression, several mechanisms are considered: oxidative stress (through reduced oxygen species, and glutathione in various brain regions), BDNF deficiencies, and inhibition of Na+,K+, ATPase activity [1]. CUMS (Chronic unpredictable mild stress) is an animal model developed to mimic the initiation and progress of clinical depression in humans, and may also be used in the evaluation of antidepressant therapies, through both behavioural, and biochemical testing in animals [1]. This study aimed at evaluating the effects of chrysin on female mice subjected to CUMS, through monitoring the changes in both NGF (Nerve growth factor), and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) levels, and Na+, K+, -ATPase activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The mice were given either a low dose (10 ml/kg), or high dose (20 mg/kg) of Chrysin dissolved in saline/propylene glycol solution (80:20), or fluoxetine (10 mg/kg) daily for 28 days, 30 minutes before stress was induced via various methods such as damp bedding for 12 hours, constant lighting for 36 hours, angled cages for 12-18 hours, electric shock foot, water and food deprivation, and others. After CUMS ended, mice were given behavioural tests (open field test, forced swimming test, sucrose preference test), blood samples were taken, and hippocampus and prefrontal cortex was dissected. It was found that all of the deleterious effects of the CUMS test were “significantly ameliorated” by the chrysin treated mice when compared to the control group, and was observed to produce antidepressant effects on the non stressed group of mice as well. The results were similar to the results obtained from the group treated with known antidepressant fluoxetine. Chrysins effect was noted to prevent the elevation of corticosterone levels, produce antioxidant activity, prevent inhibition of Na+,K+,ATPase activity, as well as up regulate NGF, and BDNF levels.

All of these results are consistent with current theories on the pathophysiology of depression, and mimic the results of currently used antidepressant pharmaceuticals (fluoxetine) (C. B. Filho et al., 2015). With the observation that chrysin treatment resulted in lowered corticosterone levels, it suggests that the antidepressant activity of chrysin is associated with the HPA axis in mice. [1]. One of the key biological abnormalities associated with a depressive disorder is in fact hyperactivity of the HPA axis (C. B. Filho et al., 2015).

 

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

In a study done investigating the activity of chrysin on ischemia/reperfusion injuries in the mouse model [17], researchers found that mice pre-treated with chrysin, who were then subjected to an induced ischemia in the cerebral artery for one hour, followed by reperfusion, had reduced deficit scores, and infarct volumes compared to the control group. Researchers in this study suggest that the results were due to the anti inflammatory, and anti-oxidative effects of chrysin.

In a separate study, the ethanol extract of P. feotida (100 mg/kg) was found to possess “highly acute anti-inflammatory effect” in mice [12].

 

ANTIOXIDANT

Infusions of Passiflora edulis, P. setacea, P. nitida, P. tenufila, all had antioxidant profiles comparable or higher than that of green tea [6].

P. maliformis leaf methanol extract was shown to have the most significant source of TPC, and strongest antioxidant activity. For stem extracts, P. quadrangularis  methanol extract had the highest phenolic levels, and possessed the highest antioxidant activity [14].

 

ANTISPASMODIC

Passiflora spp, contains a group of harmane alkaloids [15], which have been the subject of many studies. This class of alkaloids has been shown to inhibit muscle contraction, through inhibition of different types of calcium channels in rabbit aorta [4]. This class of alkaloids is also hallucinogenic [4].

 

ANTITUSSIVE

A study done in 2002 with mice, suggested that a methanol leaf extract of passionflower was shown to be comparable to the cough suppressant action of codeine [2]. It may be possible that these actions are related to the strong antispasmodic activity of the harmala alkaloids contained within Passiflora spp.

 

ANXIOLYTIC

Passiflora contains the flavonoid chrysin which has significant anxiolytic effects [13, 15]. In fact, the anxiolytic effects of Passiflora incarnata are noted to be as effective as benzodiazepines such as oxazepam in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder with less side effects (Clinical naturopathy: an evidence based guide to practice pg 192) [13].

 

CARDIOPROTECTIVE

Neha Rani et al, (2015) [9] demonstrated chrysins potential as a potent cardioprotective agent. They determined that these effects were most likely through PPAR-γ activation, modulation of MAPKs and TGF-β inhibition.

 

CHEMOPROTECTIVE

Chemoprevention, or chemoprotection, is the use of natural or synthetic chemicals to inhibit, reverse, or delay the process of carcinogenesis [3]. Chrysin has been the subject of multiple studies investigating these effects, and has been found to produce chemoprotective effects in the following cancer cell lines: Oropharyngeal, mammary, melanoma, anaplastic thyroid, pancreatic, liver, gastric, colon, cervical, melanoma, oesophageal, lung, colon, cervical, lung, rectal, glioma, esophageal squamous, leukemia, hepatocellular, neuroblastoma, squamous cell carcinoma, oral, and prostate [3].

Carcinogenesis takes place through a multistep process, beginning with a cellular transformation of normal cells into cancer cells. Which then proliferates, eventually leading to the establishment of metastatic lesions (E.R Kasala et al., 2015).

E. R. Kasala et al., (2015) [3] states that “In vitro and in vivo models have shown that chrysin inhibits cancer growth through induction of apoptosis, alteration of cell cycle and inhibition of angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis without causing any toxicity and undesirable side effects to normal cells” (page 214). These researchers go on further to say that ”extensive research over the years has made it clear that most chronic illnesses like cancer can only be cured by multi targeted, as opposed to mono-targeted therapy”. This information, along with other research demonstrating chrysins antioxidant [6], and antinflammatory [12] effects, suggest that Passiflora spp may well be a viable option during cancer treatment. Utilizing multiple mechanisms to treat and prevent the disease.

In a time where cancer is one of the leading causes of death in both the western world, and the third world [3], these effects offered by Passiflora spp. may very well be the source of a new standard in cancer treatment protocols.

 

HYPOTENSIVE

Contains harmane alkaloids [15]. One study found that harmalone and other harmane alkaloids were able to inhibit calcium channels in vascular and smooth muscle tissue, preventing contraction, thus providing hypotensive effects [4].

The antioxidant, and antiinflammatory profiles of Passiflora spp,  may also play an important role in this pathology.

 

NEUROPROTECTIVE

The flavonoid chrysin, was noted to have neuroprotective effects through anti inflammatory, and antioxidative activity, measured through induced ischemia/reperfusion injury in mice. [17] The result of this study also showed strong therapeutic possibility of chrysin on the treatment of ischemic stroke, however more research is needed in this area.

Another chemical, maltol, found in Passiflora spp. and is also formed in the natural thermal degradation of starch, has been shown to provide neuroprotective effects against oxidative stress in the brains of mice [18].

 

SEDATIVE

Passiflora spp contains maltol which has documented sedative effects, as well as naturally occurring serotonin [15].

Since the 1960s, benzodiazepines have been one of the most widely used hypnotic drugs. However it is well known and documented that these drugs also create dependency, tolerance, and rebound insomnia in patients (K. Shinomiya et al., 2005).

 

TOXICITY/ CONTRAINDICATIONS:

Passiflora spp. is classified by the FDA as “generally regarded as safe” [15]. To study toxicity of this plant, researchers tested an ethanol leaf extract of P .feotida, that was given to mice in doses of 2000 mg/kg with no mortality and no alteration in behaviour. [12]. Leslie Taylor., (2005) [15] also stated that Passiflora is generally regarded as safe for children and infants as well.

There may be an Interaction with barbiturates, benzodiazepines with Passiflora spp. There is a possibility for it to potentiate its effects, caution should be used as it may increase sedation. This effect may actually be beneficial, but needs more clinical study. [16].

 

Synergy:

Commonly combined with such herbs as valerian, hops, hypericum, Melissa officinalis [16].

 

References:

  1. C.B Filho, C.R. Jesse, F. Donato, R. Giacomeli, L. Del Fabbro, M. Da Silva Antunes, M. G. De Gomes, A. T. R. Goes, S. P. Boeira, M. Prigol and L. C. Souza. (2015). Chronic unpredictable mild stress decreases BDNF and NGF levels and Na+, K+. -ATPase activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of mice: Antidepressant effect of chrysin. Neuroscience 289. i367-380. Retrieved from the web.
  2. Dhawan, K., & Sharma, A. (2002). Antitussive activity of the methanol extract of Passiflora incarnata leaves. Fitoterapia. doi:10.1016/S0367-326X(02)00116-8
  3. Kasala E. R, Rajaram Mohanrao Madana, Lakshmi Narendra Bodduluru, Athira K. V, Ranadeep Gogoi, Chandana C Barua. (2015). Chemopreventive and therapeutic potential of chrysin in cancer: mechanistic perspectives. Toxicology letters 233. 214-225.
  4. H. Karaki, T. Kishimoto, H. Ozaki, K. Sakata, H. Umeno, N. Urakawa. (1986). Inhibition of calcium channels by harmaline and other harmala alkaloids in vascular and intestinal smooth muscles. J. Pharmac. 89. 367-375. Retrieved from the web.
  5. J. Birner, Joan M. Nicolls. (1973). Passicol, an antibacterial and Antifungal Agent Produced by Passiflora Plant Species: Preparation and Physico-chemical Characteristics. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Vol 3. No 1. 105-109.
  6. Livea de L de O Pineli, Juliana da S Q Rodrigues, Ana M Costa, Herbert C de Lima, Marileusa D Chiarello, and Lauro Melo. (2014). Antioxidants and sensory properties of the infusions of wild passiflora from Brazilian savannah: potential as functional beverages. Society of Chemical Industry. 2014. Online. Doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6852
  7. Marjan Nassiri-Asl, Schwann Shariati-Rad, Farzaneh Zamansoltani. (2007). Anticonvulsant effects of arial parts of Passiflora incarnata extract in mice: invlovment of benzodiazapine and opiod receptors. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 7:26. Doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-7-26
  8. M. Miroddi, G. Calapai, M. Navarra, P.L. Minciullo, S. Gangemi. (2013). Passiflora incarnata L.: Ethnopharmacology, clinical application, safety, and evaluation of clinical trials. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 150. 791-804. Retrieved from the web.
  9. Neha Rani, Saurabh Bharti, Jagriti Bhatia, Ameesha Tomar, T C Nag, Ruma Ray and Dharamvir Singh Arya. (2015). Inhibition of TGF-β by a novel PPAR-γ agonist, chrysin, salvages β-receptor stimulated myocardial injury in rats through MAPKs-dependent mechanism. Nutrition and Metabolism. DOI 10.1186/s12986-015-0004-7 Retrieved from the web.
  10. P. Zanoli, R. Avallone, M. Baraldi. (2000). Behavioral characterization of the flavonoids apigenin and chrysin. Fitoterapia. 71. S117-S123. Retrieved from the web.
  11. Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2010). Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice. Sydney: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
  12. Sasikala V, Saravanan S, Parimelazhgan T. (2011). Analgesic and anti-inflammatory acivities of Passiflora feotida L. Asian Pacific Journal Of Tropical Medicine. 600-603. Retrieved from the web.
  13. S. M. Elsas, D. J. Rossi, J. Raber, G. White, C.-A. Seeley, W. L. Gregory, C. Mohr, T. Pfankuch, and A. Soumyanath. (2010). Passiflora incarnata L. (Passionflower) extracts elicit GABA currents in hippocampal neurons in vitro, and show anxiogenic and anticonvulsant effects in vivo, varying with extraction method. Phytomedicine. 17(12). 940-949. Doi: 10.1016/j.pjymed.2010.03.002. Retrieved from the web.
  14. Shiamala Devi Ramaiya, Japar Sidik Bujang, and Muta Harah Zakaria. (2014). Assessment of total Phenolic, Antioxidant, and Antibacterial activities of Passiflora species. The Scientific World Journal. Vol 2014. Article ID 167309.
  15. Taylor, L. (2005). The healing power of rainforest herbs: A guide to understanding and using herbal medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers.
  16. Ulmer, T., & MacDougal, J. M. (2004). Passiflora: Passionflowers of the world. Portland: Timber Press.
  17. Yang Yao, Li Chen, Jinting Xiao, Chunyang Wang, Wei Jiang, Rongxin Zhang, and Junwei Hao. (2014). Chrysin protects against focal cerebral ischemia/reperfusion injury in mice through attenuation of oxidative stress and inflammation. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 15. 20913-20926. Doi: 10.3390/ijms151120913. retrieved from the web.
  18. Yookyung Song, Samin Hong, Yoko Iizuka, Chan Yun Kim, Gong Je Seong. (2015). The neuroprotective effect of maltol against oxidative stress on rat retinal neuronal cells. Korean J Opthamol. 29(1). 58-65. Retrieved from the web.

How to Lower Cholesterol Levels Naturally

In some of my recent articles, I talked about the role of cholesterol in heart disease. We know that high cholesterol levels are a marker for heart disease, and we know heart disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world. It makes logical sense then that we should consider the ways we can lower our cholesterol levels.

How to lower cholesterol levels naturally

Natural or Pharmaceutical?

Just because something is “natural” doesn’t make it better. Plenty of things that are unnatural are better than their natural alternatives. In terms of cholesterol, by far the most popular option is statin medications. These medications will be discussed in much more detail in next weeks article. Basically, they work by inhibiting an enzyme involved in cholesterol synthesis (HMG-CoA reductase). If this enzyme is inhibited, cholesterol production slows, thus reducing overall cholesterol levels.

These medications do reduce cholesterol levels, but come with a myriad of side effects, some mild, and some severe.

The difference between using what we would call a “natural” method of cholesterol reduction and a “pharmaceutical” one, in the case of statins, is that natural methods tend to reduce cholesterol through excretion in the digestive tract and toning of the liver and blood vessels. They tend to work in a broader sense and affect more than a single process. Pharmaceuticals on the other hand, statins included, tend to work on a very specific process in the body to cause its effects.

As far as natural cholesterol reduction methods go, the main ideas are to coax the body into reducing cholesterol levels on its own. This means it’s much slower, but doesn’t tend to have nearly as severe or frequent side effects. The effects also tend to last much longer, even after the treatment is stopped.

Whether you should use natural or pharmaceutical methods to reduce your cholesterol levels depends entirely on the severity of the condition. If you have a blood cholesterol level that is very high (6 mmol/L of LDL or more), statin medications are a great option. When cholesterol is this high, there is clearly an issue, and you are now at a substantial risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even in herbal medicine, with cholesterol this high the first line of treatment will be a cholesterol synthesis inhibitor.

For very high cholesterol, the best option is to combine the statins with natural methods like an improved diet and herbal supplements. From here you can slowly aim to wean yourself off the statins medications as cholesterol levels are reduced.

 

What Does natural Cholesterol Reduction Even Mean?

When we say we’re aiming to lower cholesterol levels naturally, what we’re really talking about is the use of herbs, nutrition, and lifestyle choices to reduce serum cholesterol levels.

There are a few methods of reducing cholesterol with diet, and herbal medicines:

  1. Eliminating trans-fat from the diet
  2. Increasing fiber content in the diet
  3. Drinking plenty of water
  4. Consuming more bitter foods and beverages
  5. Taking specific daily herbal supplements
  6. Reducing sugar intake
  7. Eat plenty of antioxidants

 

Dietary Considerations for Cholesterol

Dietary measures should be the first line of treatment for high cholesterol levels. In the past it was thought that cholesterol was mainly obtained from the diet, which lead to the demonizing of foods like eggs that are naturally high in cholesterol.

We now know that this is false, and only a very small portion of the cholesterol we consume is absorbed through the gut. The majority of it is processed in the liver and where it is then sent to the rest of the body.

What is important in dietary methods of cholesterol reduction is fiber intake. Fiber is a type of sugar chain, that can’t be broken down in the digestive tract. Cellulose from plants is the main fiber we as humans eat on a daily basis. This can be found in all vegetables, especially those where the stem is eaten like celery.

Fiber has a potent ability of binding to the bile salts, which are high in cholesterol, and flushing them through the system. In order to conserve cholesterol, the body has a system in place to recapture the bile from the gut after it has been used towards digestion. It is recaptured, processed, and used again to make bile. By eating a diet high in fiber, we can effectively reduce the amount of bile recaptured from the gut. Since less cholesterol is reabsorped for new bile, we now have to take this cholesterol from other parts of the liver, thus reducing cholesterol levels.

A common belief with heart disease is that fat is a leading contributor to its progression. This idea has proven to be outdated and incorrect, yet is still the standard recommendation in modern hospitals. To be fair it takes decades for protocols to adapt to new research across the board.

Recommendations usually involve advising you to take the low fat options, lean meat, low fat cheeses and yogurts, and definitely no butter. This idea is coming from research done in the 60’s which has recently been confirmed as a scam. Harvard researchers were paid off by sugar industry executives to change the data to show fat as the bad guy instead of sugar (carbohydrates). They linked it to heart disease among others which has lead to some seriously wrong medical and nutritional opinions in the medical and public communities. [11].

Foods that Lower Cholesterol

 

AVOCADO

Avocado is a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, and is low in sugar. This is a perfect combination for promoting a steady source of energy, low free radical damge, and increased fluidity of the cell membranes.

OATS AND BARLEY

These grains contain high levels of omega fatty acids as well as other polyunsaturated fatty acids. Be sure to get the whole grain versions as they have the best source of fiber. This fiber (known as beta-glucan) binds to the cholesterol released into the digestive tract as bile, and flushes them out of the system for good.

NUTS

Nuts are a rich source of amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and fiber. Again, all great compounds for reducing cholesterol levels naturally.

SALMON

Salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3 around. This fatty acid  has a strong connection with reducing heart disease.

CHOCOLATE

I’m not talking about those sugary chocolate bars you find in the waiting line at the supermarket. I’m talking about real chocolate.

Dark chocolate, with the fat included, is one of the best antioxidants on the face of the earth. As mentioned earlier, antioxidants are far more effective as a means of treating the problem of high cholesterol at its source than dealing with the aftermath. It comes to no surprise then that chocolate has been shown to reduce LDL levels and improve HDL levels through antioxidant, and immunomodulatory actions [12].

 

VITAMIN B3 FOR CHOLESTEROL

Vitamin B3 (niacin), has been found to be effective in reducing LDL levels in the body, while increasing HDL. Many doctors will prescribe this vitamin alongside the use of statins for this reason.

 

Herbs That Lower Cholesterol

There are a number of plants that have the ability to inhibit cholesterol synthesis, increases its excretion, reduce the oxidative damage that initially causes the cholesterol plaques to form, and reduces the oxidation of the plaques themselves which go on to cause heart attacks, and strokes.

 

PUERH TEA

(Camellia sinensis)

Puerh tea actually comes from the same plant that gives us green and black tea. The difference is in how the leaves are processed. For puerh, the leaves are compressed into bricks, and allowed to ferment over many years in a stable, humid environment. Traditionally this meant leaving the bricks in caves in China for 25 or more years. More modernly however it involves fermenting them over the course of 3-6 months in a specially controlled environment… basically a lab.

During the fermentation process, organisms like bacteria and fiungi slowly convert the chemistry of the leaves into other molecules. This drastically changes the flavor, which is actually quite agreeable. It is somewehre between coffee and green tea.

The fermentation process changes the chemistry of the puerh in a way that directly reduces cholesterol. There are a group of natural statin medications that are produced in the tea leaves of fermented puerh. These molecules work in the same way as pharmaceutical grade statins, only on a much gentler, scale. As a result we have less side effects, and more protective antioxidant and choleretic properties that come with a bitter tea. These additional actions enhance the cholesterol reduction process by reducing the need for it in the body.

In my other article on cholesterol, I discuss how antioxidants can protect us from cholesterol induced damage, and why bitter herbs are useful as well. Puerh is special because it has all of these qualities in rich supply.

It makes a great daily beverage for anybody at risk of high cholesterol or heart disease in general.

See Camellia sinensis for sources. 

 

 

ARTICHOKE

(Cynara scolymus)

Artichoke is delicious vegetable, as well as a potent anti-cholesterol herb. The part eaten is the unopened flower. The tops are picked just before they open, and are eaten as a delicacy or desert. They were incredibly popular by ancient Mediterranean cultures where they grew native. The Romans and Ancient Egyptians were huge fans, serving them at nearly every feast or celebration.

Though the tops are also beneficial for cholesterol levels, it is the leaves that are most valued as medicine. Traditionally this was mainly for liver complaints like jaundice (yellowing of the skin as a result of a weak liver), hepatitis (swollen liver), and indigestion (the liver is a key organ of digestion).

Inside the artichoke plant, exists a highly bitter substance known as cynarin, and another known as luteolin. These is thought to be the active constituent of the artichoke plant in terms of liver and cholesterol levels. It’s been shown in numerous clinical trials since the early 1970’s to have an anti-cholesterol action. The effects are mainly due to an inhibition of cholesterol synthesis itself, but also through an increase in the secretion of bile, which is made from cholesterol in the liver. This bile is concentrated cholesterol, which is then injected into the gut to aid digestion of fats and proteins. Thus eliminating excess cholesterol from the liver.

To take artichoke, purchase capsulated leaves, or an extract of the leaves like a tincture or liquid extract.

 

There are plenty of other herbs for reducing cholesterol levels. Some of these include chinnamon, garlic, and schisandra. Stay tuned as we will be discussing these herbs in more detail in the near future.

Justin Cooke

The Sunlight Experiment

 

References:

  1. Chrysant, S. G. (2015). Coffee Consumption and Cardiovascular Health. The American Journal of Cardiology, 116(5), 818-821. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2015.05.057
  2. Geleijnse, J. M., Witteman, J. C. M., Bak, A. A. A., Den Breijen, J. H., & Grobbee, D. E. (1994). Reduction in blood pressure with a low sodium, high potassium, high magnesium salt in older subjects with mild to moderate hypertension. Bmj, 309(6952), 436-440.
  3. Wardle, J., & Sarris, J. (2010). Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice. Chatswood, N.S.W: Elsevier Australia.
  4. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Leading causes of death (AIHW). Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/leading-causes-of-death/
  5. Centers for disease control and prevention. (2016). FastStats – Leading Causes of Death. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
  6. Statistics Canada. (2015). The 10 leading causes of death, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/11896-eng.htm
  7. Li, J. J. (2009). Triumph of the heart : The story of statins. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=269642
  8. Ghirlanda, G; Oradei, A; Manto, A; Lippa, S; Uccioli, L; Caputo, S; Greco, AV; Littarru, GP (1993). “Evidence of plasma CoQ10-lowering effect by HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study”. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 33 (3): 226–9. doi:10.1002/j.1552-4604.1993.tb03948.x. PMID 8463436
  9. Ho, MJ; Li, EC; Wright, JM (March 3, 2016). “Blood pressure lowering efficacy of coenzyme Q10 for primary hypertension.”. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (3): CD007435. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007435.pub
  10. Gesquière, L., Loreau, N., Minnich, A., Davignon, J., & Blache, D. (1999). Oxidative stress leads to cholesterol accumulation in vascular smooth muscle cells. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 27(1-2), 134-145. doi:10.1016/s0891-5849(99)00055-6
  11. Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease ResearchA Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680-1685. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394
  12. Kathrin Becker, Simon Geisler, Florian Ueberall, Dietmar Fuchs and Johanna M. Gostner. (2013). Immunomodulatory properties of cacao extracts – potential consequences for medical applications. Frontiers in Pharmacology. vol 4. Article 154. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00154
  13. Bryant, B. J., Knights, K. M., & Salerno, E. (2010). Pharmacology for health professionals. Chatswood, N.S.W: Elsevier Australia.

MACA the newest Superfood – Top 10 Benefits

Maca lepidium meyenii infographic

Maca (Lepidium meyenii/peruvianum) is a turnip-like plant found high in the South American Andes mountains. It’s the highest altitude crop in the world, and is highly valued as a food and medicine both locally and world wide.

Indigenous cultures in the region have been found to have used maca as far back as 1600 BCE and have been cultivating maca for at least 2000 years.

It belongs to the Brassicaceae family of plants, which includes vegetables like mustard and cabbage.

Maca root is used as a food and medicine internationally for its effects on hormones, athletic performance, strength, sexual potency, libido, fertility and as a nutritive adaptogen. One of its common names is Peruvian ginseng due to its classification as a root, and broad range of adaptogenic actions.

Maca contains high amounts of various B vitamins, vitamin C, Vitamin D, vitamin E, minerals, and amino acids. In fact it contains high levels of 7 out of the 9 essential amino acids needed for life.

Maca’s benefits include aphrodisiac, antioxidant, adaptogenic, nutritive, lowers blood pressure, helps with menopausal symptoms, balances hormones, improves libido, and nutritive.

Indications:

  • Aorgasmia
  • Oligospermia
  • Low sperm motility
  • Menopause
  • Diabetes
  • Altitude sickness
  • Improving athletic performance
  • Low libido
  • Prostatic hyperplasia
  • Infertility
  • Osteoporosis
  • Low sperm count or motility
  • Adaptogen

Common Names:

  • Peruvian Ginseng
  • Maka
  • Maca-maca
  • Peppergrass
  • Maino
  • Ayak
  • Chichira
  • Ayuk wilku
  • Yellow, red, and black maca

Traditional Use:

Maca has been domesticated for about the last 2000 years by the Incas, and archaeologists have found primitive cultivars of the plant dating back as far as 1600 B.C (Taylor L. 2005).

The Andean Indigenous people’s live in a region virtually inhospitable to most plants, with hot direct sunlight, high winds, and freezing temperatures all in the same place, not to mention the rocky, nutrient deficient soil. Maca is one of the few edible plants growing in that region, so it has significant value on the cultures living there. Maca is often traded with cultures living at lower elevations for other staple foods like rice, corn, green vegetables, and beans (Taylor L. 2005).

Peruvians in particular have used Maca for thousands of years both as nutrition and medicine (Taylor L. 2005). The root is eaten here either fresh, or dried, and is often cooked in a similar fashion as sweet potatoes. The dried roots are instead boiled in water or milk to make a porridge (Taylor L. 2005), or juice (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). Alcoholic drinks can be made and are referred to as Maca chica. Jams, puddings, and sodas can be made as well (Taylor L. 2005).

Maca has been used for centuries by various cultures in the Andes, including spanish conquistadors, as a fertility enhancing agent, in both humans and animals (Taylor L. 2005).

Today, Maca is still used in Peruvian medical systems to treat anemia, tuberculosis, menstrual disorders, menopause symptoms, stomach cancer, memory loss, reproductive disorders, and as an immunostimulant (Taylor L. 2005). Throughout America, The United States, Europe, and Australia, Maca has been growing in popularity for a wide range of illnesses, and as a general health promoting agent through various attributes. Some of these include: fertility enhancement, aphrodisiac effects, sports performance, hormone balancing, increased stamina, male impotence, promoting mental clarity, menstrual irregularities, blood glucose balancing, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

 

Botanical Description:

Maca is a perennial, growing in the high Andes mountains. Altitudes where this hardy plant is found ranges from (8000, to 14,500 feet). Maca is contained under the mustard family (Brassicaceae), and as such produces flowers typical to that family; small, self-fertile, off white flowers. Lepidium is one of the largest genera in the Brassicaceae family.

The hypocotyls (roots) are used nutritionally and medicinally, and resemble turnips in size and shape (in the same family). The root is cultivated in many South American countries, around the Andes mountains, particularly in the Carhuamayo, Junin, and Ondores in the Junin Plateau. The elevation of the mountains is necessary for the quality cultivation of this tuberous root vegetable. Typically, cultivators grow Maca as if it were an annual, even though technically it is a perennial. It takes roughly 7-9 months to produce roots ready for harvest.

Taylor L. (2005) suggests in her book that although most Maca is listed as Lepidium meyenii, in fact, most Maca is a different species (L. Peruvianum). This was backed up when a study done investigating the similarities of the two species, found that the Maca cultivated in the Peruvian Andes was indeed L. peruvianum (H. O. Meissner et al., 2015). This same study also confirmed that although many sources will refer to L. Meyenii, and L. peruvianum as synonymous, they are in fact dissimilar. This brings questions as to which species of “Maca” has actually been used in many of the scientific literature simply referring to its common name as “cultivated Peruvian Maca”.

Cultivation of this herb has grown substantially in recent years. Less than 50 hectares of land were devoted to the cultivation of this plant back in 1994, just 5 years later it was reported that 1200 hectares of land were in use for Maca production (Taylor L. 2005). In fact, the exportation of maca from Peru has increased from 1,415,000 USD in 2001 to USD 6,170,000 USD in 2010 (Gustavo F. Gonzales 2012).

The taste of Maca can be compared to that of butterscotch, with different varieties producing slightly different tastes and colours, but most producing a slightly tangy, sweet flavour.

13 varieties of maca have been described ranging in color (and thus common name) from white, red, yellow, and black, with yellow being the most frequent (J. Rubio et al., 2006). Of the varieties, slight differences in biological properties have been reported.

Black maca has presented the greatest effect on spermatogenesis (gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), and latent learning, though did not have as strong an effect on prostate reduction as compared to other varieties (J. Rubio et al., 2006). Black maca has also been reported to have positive effects on sperm motility (Gustavo F. Gonzales 2012).

Red maca was shown to have the strongest effect on prostate size (J. Rubio et al., 2006), but little effect on sperm motility (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).

Yellow maca was noted to have a positive effect on sperm counts in rats, as well as improved sperm motility (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), and a medium effect on prostatic-hyperplasia (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). All three varieties (yellow, black and red) were noted to have the same effect on depression in mice (J. Rubio et al., 2006).

 

Habitat, Ecology, Description:

Maca is found in the central Peruvian Andes (G. F. Gonzales et al., 2014), usually about 3500 meters or more above sea level. There seems to be much debate over what altitude is preferred by this plant, some sources listing an exclusive altitude between 4000 meters, and 4500 meters above sea level (G. F. Gonzales 2012), others listing that it grows between 8000 and 12000 feet (~2500 – 3600 meters) (Taylor L. 2005). Whatever the case, it is apparent that maca needs the high altitude in order to thrive. With this comes, searing hot sun at times, freezing cold weather at others, high winds, and often periods of intense dryness.

The Andes Mountain Range

Harvesting, Collection, Preparation:

Maca (of all varieties), is generally found in dried, powdered form, due to its ease of use, and long shelf life. The hypocotyls of Peruvian Andes maca, range in size greatly, and fall into a range from about 7g to 24g of dried hypocotyls each (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). Fresh roots contain about 80% water, and look about the size of turnip.

Gustavo F. Gonzales (2012) makes note that the boiling or otherwise heating of maca roots changes the metabolite levels. He reports that the aqueous extract of maca effective if it has been boiled, and suggests that the boiled aqueous extract, has similar effect as hydroalcoholic extract of Lepidium spp.

Maca contains glucosinolates, which are sensitive to heat. On the other hand, sulforaphane in maca is actually increased if undergone heating. Other metabolites influenced by heat include antioxidants (found to increase with heat in tomatoes), and Vitamin C (heat sensitive) (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).

Other factors to note when preparing maca for medicinal purposes, is to consider the variety. Red maca is best for prostate hyperplasia with yellow a good second choice, and black for increasing fertility, with yellow following behind as a good second choice for this a well. All three work close to the same on depression. Since yellow maca is by far the most common on the market today, it can be suggested that yellow maca is a good choice for most medicinal uses of maca.


Constituents:

Nutritionally, Maca has the highest nutritional value out of any food crop grown in the Peruvian Andes. It is rich in sugar, protein, starches, and essential nutrients (most notably iron and iodine) (Taylor L. 2005).

Taylor L. (2005) suggests the main plant chemicals include alkaloids, amino acids, beta-ecdysone, calcium, carbohydrates, fatty acids, glucosinolates, iron, magnesium, p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, phosphorous, potassium, protein, saponins, sitosterols, stigmasterol, tannins, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.

A more complete description of the composition of dry maca provided by Gustavo F. Gonzales (2012) shows 10.2% proteins, 59% carbohydrates, 2.2% lipids, and 8.5% of fibre. Maca also contains free fatty acids including linoleic, palmitic, and oleic acids. Saturated fatty acids represent 40.1% compared to unsaturated fatty acids which are 52.7%. Maca contains amino acids (mg/g protein) leucine (91.0mg), arginine (99.4mg), phenylalanine (55.3mg), lysine (54.3mg), glycine (68.30mg), alanine (63.1mg), valine (79.3mg), isoleucine (47.4mg), glutamic acid (156.5mg), serine (50.4 mg), and aspartic acid (91.7 mg). Other amino acids present but in less proportion are histidine (21.9 mg), threonine (33.1 mg), tyrosine (30.6 mg), methionine (28.0 mg), hydroxyproline (26 mg), proline (0.5 mg), and sarcosine (0.70mg). Minerals include iron (16.6 mg/100 g dry matter), calcium (150 mg/100 g dry matter), copper (5.9 mg/100 g dry matter), zinc (3.8 mg/100 g dry matter), and potassium (2050 mg/100 g dry matter) among others (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). Secondary metabolites include macaridine, macaene, macamides (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).


Pharmacology and medical Research:

ADAPTOGEN

The term “adaptogen” refers to plants or other substances that augment non-specific resistance in the body, and help the body to adapt to various situations. Therefore protecting it from stressful events and factors. (F.R Mendes et al., 2007). Therefore, it could be argued that maca may fall under the classification of an adaptogenic botanical based on the following effects: supportive effect of the HP axis (H. O. Meissner et al, 2006), antioxidant (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), fertility enhancing effects (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), and Neuroprotective effects (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). The effects maca appears to produce on the HP axis, in turn improves the function of endocrine glands throughout the body, provide a nonspecific effect on vitality, and adaptability in the body through various organ systems. These effects can be noted in macas antidiabetic, neuroprotective, antidepressant, anti stress, fertility enhancing, aphrodisiac, antihypertensive, and menopausal supportive effects. All of these pathologies are corrected by improving normal functioning of the body, rather than through stimulation of processes in a single direction. The author notes that he has not found evidence of bidirectional action in maca, however he has noticed the effects are normalizing in almost all aspects of the effects produced. A few exceptions include maca inhibitory effects on angiotensin I-converting enzyme (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), more research is needed in this area to determine how far this inhibition will go.

The very low toxicity noted in maca, is another important factor to consider in classifying this substance as an adaptogen.

At this time, the author suggests Lepidium meyenni, and L. peruvianum should be considered and researched further as an adaptogenic botanical.

 

ANTIDEPRESSANT

A study done comparing the effectiveness in three varieties of Maca (yellow, red, black), found that all three had a similar effect on depression in mice (J. Rubio et al., 2006).

ANTIHYPERTENSIVE

Maca was shown to significantly inhibit angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ace) in vitro (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). This enzyme, as well as potassium, which is contained in fairly high amounts, are both relevant in the pathophysiology of hypertension, thus maca may produce antihypertensive effects.

 

ANTI-OSTEOPOROSIS

Extracts of both red maca, and black maca have both shown protective effects in the bones of ovariectomized rats, while appearing not to affect estrogen levels (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), providing some evidence that maca has anti-osteoporosis effects in postmenopausal mammals.

 

ANTIOXIDANT

Black maca has been reported to provide support in memory impairment, through its antioxidant, and Ache inhibitory effects (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).

 

ANTI-PROSTATIC HYPERPLASIA

It has been reported by various studies that red maca has the greatest effect on prostatic-hyperplasia (J. Rubio et al., 2006) (Gustavo F. Gonzales), with yellow maca offering intermediate support for the condition.

The constituents to be held responsible for these effects are under debate however, with some researchers suggesting benzyl glucosinolates, and others suggesting polyphenols (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).

With treatment of red maca on TE-treated rats, effects were reversed, reducing prostate weight and zinc levels, however no change was observed on seminal vesicle weight which is another organ dependent on androgen (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). These results offer more indication that macas effects on the sexual organs are not through androgen receptors.

 

APHRODISIAC

N. S. Chauhan et al., (2014) reports that the improved sexual desire in both males, and females is not related to changes in pituitary, or gonadal hormones. They note that Maca does not activate androgen receptors, and conversely may in fact block androgen receptors instead.

This evidence was contradicted by other research investigating macas effects on hormones in relation to menopausal symptoms, these researchers suggested the effects produced were a result of HP axis related activity from the alkaloids contained within maca, which in turn improve function of the adrenals and thus, androgen production (H. O. Meissner et al., 2006).

The conflicting evidence, may be a result from the design of the studies.

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

Despite various companies, and websites advertising as such, maca does not affect serum testosterone, or intratesticular testosterone (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012), or other pituitary, and gonadal hormones, and in fact does not appear to function through stimulation of the androgen receptors (N. S. Chauhan et al., 2014), though this evidence is conflicting, and is suggested to affect these receptors as a secondary process from improvement of the HP axis instead (H. O. Meissner et al., 2006), possibly through normalizing effects rather than stimulation.

Gustavo F. Gonzales (2012) reports that “scientific evidences suggest that maca may be an energizer” (page 6).

 

FERTILITY ENHANCEMENT

The fertility enhancing effects of Maca were reported back in 1961, and since then has been the subject of much research looking closer at these effects. (Taylor L. 2005) (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).

Taylor L. (2005), warns that many of the research conducted on Maca, has been funded by 2 main marketers of Maca products in the United States. She also warns of studies conducted that measure libido enhancement, as this is a very subjective measurement, and should not be taken as hard scientific evidence.

Taylor L. (2005) suggests that the fertility, and libido enhancing properties of Maca, may simply be a result of Macas high protein, and vital nutrient profile. Dried Maca root contains roughly 10% protein, derived from amino acids, these amino acids are necessary for many cellular functions within the body, including sexual processes (Taylor L. 2005). She refers to the neurotransmitters dopamine, and noradrenaline which both play a major role in sexual arousal, and physical performance during sex. These neurotransmitters require phenylalanine, tyrosine, and histadine, all of which are contained within Maca root.

Arginine is another amino acid with strong connections to fertility, especially in males. There are multiple libido enhancement supplements on the market that contain arginine for this reason (Taylor L. 2005). N. S. Chauhan et al. (2014) reports improvement of larganine-nitric oxide activity from Maca use, and relates this to a decrease in ejaculation latency in mice.

Histidine is another amino acid contained in Maca root that plays an important role in sexual function specifically for men. The body uses histidine to produce histamine, which is then used in the corpus cavernosum to produce ejaculation (Taylor L. 2005). Maca therefore may be useful in treating fertility problems relating to aorgasmia, due to its histidine content.

A study done investigating the effects of various plant medicines on sexual performance and virility, suggests the mechanism of action of L. meyenii on virility, lies in its action on spermatogenesis, and decreases in latent period of erection and ejaculation. This effect was noted to be much more significant in mice with less sexual experience, or mice with ED, and disappeared over chronic use (N. S. Chauhan et al., 2014).This suggests a normalizing, over stimulating effect, which is parallel to the thoughts suggested by Taylor L. (2005) placing responsibility on Maca’s nutritional profile for its effects on sexual performance and virility. Gustavo F. Gonzales (2012) reports that maca has been found to increase sperm count in both normal rats, as well as rats with pathological conditions produced from exposure to high altitude, lead acetate, and malathion. He also notes yellow maca, and black maca, had a positive effect on sperm motility, but no effects were noted in this area from red maca.

Both histidine, and arginine also offer vasodilation effects within the body (Taylor L. 2005), which in turn increase blood flow to the sex organs in both males, and females.

According to Gustavo F. Gonzales (2012), macaenes and macamides have been reported to have probable responsibility as well with the improved sexual behaviour noted with maca, however more research in this area is needed.

 

HORMONE BALANCING

Taylor L. (2005), related macas hormone balancing effects back to its amino acid content as follows; although hormones are very chemically diverse, they are constructed simply from amino acids, and cholesterol. If the body is given the building blocks more readily, it is much easier to produce these hormones when they are needed.

It has been reported that Maca does not activate androgen receptors (N. S. Chauhan et al., 2014), however in ovariectomized rats, treatment with an ethanol extract over the course of 28 weeks was shown to produce support for postmenopausal symptoms related to hormones (Yongzhong Zhang et al., 2014). This conflicting evidence suggests hormonal effects are likely due to nutritional, or other means, rather than direct stimulation of androgen ergic system, or that the different durations of the two tests may have influenced the differenc in results.

Other research, such as that of H. O. Meissner et al, (2006), suggests that the hormone balancing effects maca has is through HP axis support, which in turn improves functions of the endocrine glands throughout the body.

The author suggests a combination between improvement of the HP axis function through alkaloids present within the plant, as well as an increase in amino acid, and cholesterol content needed to produce various neurotransmitters throughout the body. If this were the case, it would explain maca’s adaptogenic effects, thyroid supportive effects, antidepressant effects, stress supportive effects, menopausal supportive effects, antidiabetic effects, and neuroprotective effects.

 

MENOPAUSAL SUPPORT

Yongzhong Zhang et al., (2014) conducted a study investigating the effects of Lepidium meyenii on the hormonal levels in ovariectomized rats. This study concluded that ” Long-term Maca supply modulates endocrine hormone balance in OVX rats, especially it decreases enhanced FSH levels. It is proposed that Maca may become a potential choice for postmenopausal women”. Researchers refer to a previous study done by another group over the span of 6 weeks that noted no change in hormonal levels. They postulate that the longer duration of the experiment (28 weeks) that they conducted may have been responsible for the conflicting results. They determine that the mechanism in which Maca is affecting hormone levels in ovariectomized rats is unknown during the time this study was conducted. H. O. Meissner et al, (2006) suggests this action is through support of the HP axis.

 

NEUROPROTECTIVE

Gustavo F. Gonzales (2012) reports that “Black maca seems to improve experimental memory impairment induced by ovariectomy, orchidectomy, scopolamine, and alcohol due in part to by its antioxidant and Ache inhibitory activities” (Page 4).

Other aspects that may provide neuroprotection, may be result from the support maca alkaloids are suggested to have (H. O. Meissner et al, 2006).

 

THYROID SUPPORTIVE

H. O. Meissner et al, (2006) suggests that maca alkaloids act upon the hypothalamus pituitary axis, as this explains why its effects on endocrine glands are not limited to the ovaries or the testes, but instead on adrenals, , thyroid, and pancreas as well as all endocrine glands throughout the body.This is the suggested mechanism of action by these researchers for balancing female hormones post menopause (via ovariectomized mice).

If this is the case, the author suggests that improved thyroid health would most likely only be noticed in thyroid deficient people caused by low TSH rather than with a problem from the thyroid function itself. In other words, it appears maca does not “stimulate” the thyroid, but rather improves HP axis function, and thus thyroid function. Maca seems to be more adaptogenic in endocrine function than it is a stimulant for thyroid, or metabolic functions.

 

Toxicity and Contraindications:

Histidine may cause issues with allergies through histamine response.

It has been reported that maca contains MTCA, which has been suggested to be toxic, however this chemical is a natural component in many plants, including oranges, grapefruits, fermented garlic, and several other plants with which consumption is not associated with toxicity (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012). Maca should not be considered toxic for this reason. Population studies have been conducted on maca as well, resulting in no toxicological indications from prolonged use of high dosages of maca as nutritional agent (Gustavo F. gonzales, 2012).

No hepatotoxic effects, or general toxic effects, including in embryo development in mice, have been found associated with maca and maca extract (Gustavo F. Gonzales, 2012).