More Evidence That Olive Oil and Veggies Lower Heart Disease Risk

It’s no secret that eating well is good for both body and mind, so it may not come as a surprise that a new study finds women who eat more olive oil and leafy vegetables such as salads and cooked spinach are significantly less likely to develop heart disease.

A group of Italian researchers found that women who ate at least 1 serving of leafy vegetables per day were more than 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease over an average of eight years, relative to women who ate two or fewer portions of those vegetables each week.

Women who downed at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil daily – such as in salad dressing – were also 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease, compared to women who ate the least olive oil.

It’s not exactly clear why specifically leafy vegetables and olive oil may protect the heart, study author Dr. Domenico Palli of the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute in Florence told Reuters Health. “Probably the mechanisms responsible for the protective effect of plant-origin foods on cardiovascular diseases involve micronutrients such as folate, antioxidant vitamins and potassium, all present in green leafy vegetables.”

Folate reduces blood levels of homocysteine, Palli explained, which is thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by damaging the inner lining of arteries. Other studies have shown people who eat more potassium have lower blood pressure, which can protect the cardiovascular system. Virgin olive oil may be particularly effective at lowering heart disease risk because of its high level of antioxidant plant compounds, he added.

This is not the first study to link olive oil or vegetables to good heart health. Most famously, the traditional Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables and monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, but low in saturated fat from meat and dairy — has been tied to a decreased risk of heart disease.

Mediterranean-style eating has also been credited with lowering risk for some cancers, diabetes, and, more recently, with slowing brain aging.

Cardiovascular disease is a major killer, responsible for 30 percent of all deaths worldwide and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

To look more closely at the role of foods in protecting against heart disease, Palli and colleagues reviewed dietary information collected from nearly 30,000 Italian women participating in a large national health study. Researchers followed the women, whose mean age was 50 at the beginning of the study, for an average of 8 years, noting who developed heart disease.

In that time, the women experienced 144 major heart disease-related events, such as heart attack or bypass surgery, the authors report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Women who ate at least one daily serving (about two ounces) of leafy vegetables – such as raw lettuce or endives, or cooked vegetables like spinach or chard — had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than women who ate at most two portions per week.

Consuming at least an ounce of olive oil per day lowered their risk by 44 percent relative to women who consumed a half-ounce or less daily, the authors found.

The women’s intake of other types of vegetables, such as roots and cabbages, and their consumption of tomatoes or fruit did not seem to be linked to their risk for major heart events.

When visiting your Naturopathic physician, make sure you request homocysteine, cardio-CRP, and fractionated lipid levels, to make sure a thorough evaluation of your cardiovascular health is being performed. You can then use these levels to track your progress, especially if you’re just transitioning to a Mediterranean-style diet. 

Acupuncture, Hot Flashes, and Tamoxifen

The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a recent study demonstrating the benefits of acupuncture for treating hot flashes and other side-effects related to chemotherapy and tamoxifen. Patients used in the study had been receiving tamoxifen for at least 6 months, and experiencing at least 4 hot flashes and night sweats per day for at least 3 months. Treatment with acupuncture (8 treatments) was found to reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats by an average of 50%. At the end of the treatment period, significant improvements were found in: anxiety/fears; memory/concentration; menstrual problems; sexual behavior; sleep problems; somatic symptoms; and vasomotor symptoms. The authors state, “These results compare favorably with other studies using acupuncture to manage HF&NS, as well as research on nonhormonal pharmaceutical treatments. In addition to reduced HF&NS frequency, women enjoyed improved physical and emotional well-being, and few side-effects were reported.” 

Collards, Carrots, and Breast Cancer

Researchers looking at data from the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study found that eating carrots, collard greens, cabbage, and broccoli can reduce breast cancer risk, particularly an aggressive form common among African American women. Previous studies of the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer in white women have led to conflicting results, and no prior research has investigated this link separately among African American women.

The ER-negative form of breast cancer, which is insensitive to the hormone estrogen, is more common in this population than among white women. It is more difficult to treat and more often fatal than estrogen-sensitive cancers.

Researchers found that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day had a 43 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared with women who ate fewer than four servings of vegetables each week.

Further, they identified certain types of vegetables that appeared to reduce the risk of all types of breast cancer, including broccoli, collard greens, cabbage and carrots.

Women who ate three or more servings a week of carrots, for instance, had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month.

Still, it is too early to determine if this is a true cause-and effect-relationship, they note. High vegetable consumption could mark a healthier lifestyle in general or some other unknown mechanism that accounts for the apparent protection. Vegetables’ cancer-staving power needs to be confirmed in further studies, the researchers write. However, it is clear that, in addition to potential protective effects against breast cancer, higher vegetable consumption can lead to many health benefits, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is recommended that all women, especially African Americans, try to increase their daily intake of vegetables to meet the established guidelines.

Breast Cancer and HRT (Once Again)

We’ve known for several years that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of breast cancer.  Now, a new report derived from following the same population that was originally studied in the Women’s Health Initiative demonstrates even more risks associated with HRT.  The new findings showed that women who took Prempro (one of the main drugs prescribed for HRT) and developed breast cancer were more likely to have an aggressive form of the disease, and more likely to die than breast cancer patients who had never taken hormones.  One explanation for this is that HRT increases the density of breast tissue, making cancerous tumors harder to identify on mammogram and physical examination, delaying the diagnosis, and increasing the risk of death. For a more detailed article on the subject, visit:
Of course, there are plenty of alternatives to pharmaceutical HRT, so talk to your naturopathic doctor about safer options for managing menopausal symptoms and/or osteoporosis. 

Carbohydrates and Heart Disease

Clinically, I’ve seen consistent improvements in heart disease markers when implementing a low glycemic diet. The glycemic index is an indicator of how high the carbohydrate portion of a food causes blood sugar to rise-this is especially important for diabetic patients, but is also useful when trying to limit the effect of carbohydrates on the body. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating lots of high-glycemic-index foods puts women at higher risk of developing heart disease. Some highlights from the study are as follows:

• Women with the highest carbohydrate intake were twice as likely to develop heart disease as women with the lowest intake.

• Only high-glycemic-index carbohydrates were associated with heart disease risk; low-glycemic-index carbohydrates were not.

• Having a high dietary glycemic load more than doubled the risk of heart disease in women.

• No relationship between heart disease and carbohydrate intake, high-glycemic index food consumption, or dietary glycemic load was seen in men.

The bottom line is that all carbohydrates aren’t created equal-paying close attention to the glycemic-index of foods, along with incorporating foods that help to keep the glycemic load down (nuts, beans, lentils, seeds), is a proven method of lowering your heart disease risk.

Osteoporosis and Strontium

Osteoporosis can present many challenges in clinical practice, particularly in women who have a history of estrogen-sensitive cancers. This is further complicated if they are sensitive to the typical bisphosphonate drugs (Fosamax, Boniva, etc.) that are usually relied upon to treat osteoporosis. Plus, recent evidence is suggesting that these drugs may actually weaken bone strength, actually increasing the risk of fracture.

For women who fit this clinical picture, or simply wish to avoid the risks and side-effects often associated with bisphosphonate drugs, the mineral strontium may be a viable treatment option. In Europe and other parts of the world, strontium (in the form of strontium ranelate) is being prescribed as a reliable treatment for osteoporosis. Among other benefits, it has been shown to enhance the activity of cells that regenerate new bone, reducing the overall risk of fracture in women with osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Other forms of strontium, such as strontium citrate, are just now beginning to undergo clinical trials, but clinical evidence looks promising so far. Talk to your naturopathic physician about whether you are a candidate for strontium or other alternatives to prescription drug therapy for osteoporosis. 

PMS and Vitex

Clinically, I’ve seen such great results with this herb, so it’s nice to see further confirmation that it’s truly effective!

Vitex and PMS in Chinese Women

Chinese women suffering from moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) were studied in a prospective, double-blind, placebo controlled, parallel-group, multi-center clinical trial. A Vitex agnus castus extract, VAC BNO 1095, contained 4.0 mg of dried ethanolic (70%) extract of VAC, corresponding to 40 mg of the herbal drug and was given once daily throughout the three cycles during the treatment phase. Two hundred and seventeen women were randomly assigned to the treatment group or the placebo group. 

The mean total Premenstrual Syndrome Diary (PMSD) score decreased from 29.23 at baseline to 6.41 at the end of the third cycle for the Vitex group and from 28.14 at baseline to 12.64 at the end of the third cycle for the placebo group. The difference in the PMSD score from baseline to the third cycle was significantly lower in the treatment group than in the placebo group. The Premenstrual Tension Syndrome Self-Rating Scale (PMTS) decreased from 26.17 at baseline to 9.92 for the treatment group and from 27.10 to 14.59 for the placebo group; similar positive results to the PMSD scores. 

Comments: Vitex extracts have so far been the best investigated botanical therapies for PMS and several placebo controlled clinical trials have been done that confirms its efficacy. The current study adds to the clinical relevance of this plant in the treatment of moderate to severe symptoms of PMS. In addition, no significant adverse events were reported.

He Z, Chen R, Zhou Y, et al. Treatment for premenstrual syndrome with Vitex agnus castus: A prospective, randomized, multi-center placebo controlled study in China. Maturitas 2009; 63:99-103. 

Soy and Breast Cancer

Soy linked to longer survival in Chinese women with breast cancer

JAMA 2009;302:2437-43 [PubMed Abstract]

Researchers studying the anticancer effects of soy have found a link
between high dietary intake and prolonged survival in Chinese women
with breast cancer. Women in the highest quarter of daily intake were
29% less likely to die (hazard ratio 0.71, 95% CI 0.54 to 0.92) and 32%
less likely to have a recurrence (0.68, 0.54 to 0.87) than women in the
lowest quarter. The inverse association with all cause mortality was
stronger for soy protein than for soy isoflavones and remained
significant through multiple adjustments for factors known to influence
survival including age, cancer stage, treatment, other dietary factors,
body mass index, menopausal status, and the hormone receptor status of
the tumour.

The 5042 participants lived in Shanghai and were recruited from the
Chinese cancer registry about six months after their cancer diagnosis.
They completed detailed food frequency questionnaires that measured
their daily intake of tofu, soy milk, soy beans, and other common soy

Their mean daily intake was equivalent to 47 mg a day of isoflavones, a
much higher figure than would be expected for women outside China, says
an editorial (p 2483). Women in the US, for example, eat between 1 and
6 mg a day, usually as supplements, meat substitutes, and processed
foods. It is hard to say whether the associations reported here will
translate well to other populations. This study does show that soy is
safe, however. Soy has heterogeneous effects on oestrogen metabolism,
leading to fears that it might encourage the growth of breast tumours.
That now seems unlikely.

© 2009 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.