Researchers have found that a 2-week increase in fiber intake can significantly alter a person’s gut microbiome, including increasing species of bacteria that break down fiber.
However, the quantity of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) did not increase. SCFAs are the result of bacteria breaking down fiber, and they have diverse roles within the body.
For instance, SCFAs are used as a source of energy for the cells of the colon and are involved in cell signaling. Some SCFAs also have anti-inflammatory properties and might influence insulin sensitivity and body weight.
The research, which appears in the journal mSystems, lays the groundwork for future studies to explore in more detail the relationship between fiber intake, gut bacteria, and SCFAs.
Benefits of fiber
Fiber plays an important role in human health. For example, a recent review of various meta-analyses found that people who eat the most fiber significantly reduce their chances of dying due to a cardiovascular event.
However, only 1 in 20 people in the United States consume the recommended amount of fiber.
According to Dr. Katrine Whiteson, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, co-director of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Microbiome Initiative, and co-author of the present study:
“The lack of fiber intake in the industrialized world is starving our gut microbes, with important health consequences that may be associated with increases in colorectal cancer, autoimmune diseases, and even decreased vaccine efficacy and response to cancer immunotherapy.”
The small intestine cannot digest fiber. Instead, according to the authors of the present study, it passes into the colon, where microbes are able to break the fiber down.
The authors of the present study wanted to study the relationship between a short-term increase in dietary fiber, the makeup of the gut microbiome, and the presence of SCFAs.
To investigate, the researchers conducted a study involving 26 undergraduate students enrolled on a biology course at UCI, as well as their instructors.
In week 1, participants ate their normal diet and provided three stool samples for analysis.
In week 2, the participants started a high fiber diet. They tracked their nutritional intake using a fitness app, aiming for 40 grams (g) of fiber each day. To assist, the researchers provided them with 10 meals each week that were high in fiber from a range of different plants.
In the third week, the participants were encouraged to increase their fiber intake to 50 g per day. During this week, participants provided another three stool samples.
According to graduate student Andrew Oliver, a teaching assistant for the course, “students raised their fiber intake by an average of 25 g per day, but the variability of pre-intervention fiber intake was substantial.”
“A few students had to go from nearly zero to 50 g daily by the end of the study. We all became a little obsessed with how much fiber was in the food we were eating.”
The researchers then analyzed the samples using DNA sequencing to identify the makeup of the bacteria. They used gas chromatography to measure SCFAs.
The researchers found that the composition of the participants’ gut microbiomes changed by around 8% following the dietary intervention.
This was largely due to increases in bacteria known for breaking down fiber, including Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, and Prevotella.
However, the researchers saw no statistically significant increase in SCFAs. They speculate that this may be because stool samples do not accurately represent levels of SCFAs in the gut, which are primarily found in the cell walls of the intestines.
The researchers also suggest that the 2-week intervention may not have been long enough to see any difference in SCFAs.
According to Dr. Whiteson, “we hope to carry out longer dietary fiber interventions and study how fiber can support the gut microbiome and promote health.”
“At this time during a pandemic, when we need our immune health and healthy vaccine responses, we encourage everyone to think about the plant diversity of their diets and add some beans, berries, and avocados where they can.”
Previous research has shown the community of bacteria and other microorganisms that lives in our gut, known as the gut microbiota, to affect our health and well-being in a multitude of ways, many of them positive.
Much of the information on the bacteria that make their home in our mouths, however, focuses on gum disease and its knock-on inflammatory effects around the body.
The role of oral bacteria in producing nitric oxide, which benefits cardiovascular and cognitive health, is much less well-known.
Many species of oral bacteria convert the inorganic nitrateTrusted Source in vegetables into nitrite. Nitrite is a precursor for nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that dilates blood vessels and transmits messages between neurons in the brain.
A new study suggests that drinking beetroot juice, which is rich in inorganic nitrate, can alter the balance of bacteria in the mouth in favor of species that promote better cognitive and cardiovascular health.
The findings of this study help explain the proven benefits of beetroot juice for lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Other vegetables that contain a lot of nitrates, including cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and celery, could offer similar benefits.
Scientists at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom led the research, which features in the journal Redox Biology.
“We are really excited about these findings, which have important implications for healthy aging,” says lead author Prof. Anni Vanhatalo.
“Maintaining this healthy oral microbiome in the long term might slow down the negative vascular and cognitive changes associated with aging,” she adds.
Juice with or without nitrate
The study involved 26 individuals aged 70–80 years.
The researchers randomly assigned these participants to one of two groups. While they asked both groups to drink 140 milliliters of beetroot juice per day for 10 days, the experimental group drank a nitrate-rich juice, while the control group drank a nitrate-depleted juice.
The smell and taste of the two drinks were the same.
After a washout period of 3 days, the groups switched, and the participants consumed the other drink for 10 days.
The researchers asked the participants not to use mouthwash during the study.
Before, during, and after the experiment, they administered a battery of physiological and cognitive tests. They also identified bacterial species by sequencing genetic material in saliva samples from the participants.
Compared with the placebo condition, subjects who drank ordinary beetroot juice had larger numbers of oral bacteria associated with good vascular and cognitive health.
Their saliva also contained lower numbers of bacteria linked to inflammation.
On average, the participants’ systolic blood pressure fell by 5 millimeters of mercury after 10 days of drinking nitrate-rich beetroot juice. In addition, the tests indicated a greater availability of nitric oxide in their blood.
Those drinking the nitrate-rich juice also performed better on tests of sustained attention.
Clusters of bacterial species
The researchers used a statistical technique to identify two distinct clusters of bacterial species that flourished in the participants’ mouths when they drank regular beetroot juice.
These two clusters or “modules” (labeled MM5 and MM6) not only tended to co-occur in the same mouths but were also associated with improvements in cognitive function and blood pressure, respectively.
The authors propose that these nitrate-sensitive oral bacteria would make suitable probiotics to redress age-related declines in cardiovascular and cognitive health.
A third cluster of species, which previous research has associated with inflammation, failed to thrive in the mouths of participants drinking regular, high-nitrate beetroot juice.
Prof. Vanhatalo cautions that further research will be necessary to determine whether these findings apply to other groups of people.
“Our participants were healthy, active, older people with generally good blood pressure,” she explains.
“Dietary nitrate reduced their blood pressure on average, and we are keen to find out whether the same would happen in other age groups and among people in poorer health,” she adds.
The authors also note that the technique they used to identify bacteria, called 16S ribosomal sequencing, determines the relative abundance of the organisms rather than their absolute amounts or metabolic activity.
The latter quantities will influence the extent of nitrite production in the mouth and, therefore, the availability of nitric oxide.
In addition, the authors write that 16S sequencing (which effectively reads the sequence of a single gene) is not very good at identifying individual species of bacteria.
To develop probiotics, they say, researchers will need to use a technique called whole genome sequencing, which is more expensive but more accurate.
Various common chemicals may harm the immune system, causing it to malfunction. This is known as immunotoxicity. These harmful effects may be temporary or permanent.
Possible immunotoxic effects include:
immunosuppression, or an impairment of the body’s ability to fight off infections
immunostimulation, which can cause tissue damage through immune responses
In particular, if an immunotoxic substance causes the body to produce fewer antibodies, it can have an effect on the fight against active infections and the protection against future ones.
The FDA currently require immunotoxicity testing for food additives. However, most food additives received approval decades ago, and the FDA do not mandate updated testing on previously approved additives.
TBHQ and PFAS
TBHQ is a common preservative that manufacturers use to prolong their products’ shelf lives.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it is present in almost 1,250 processed foods, including Cheez-It crackers, Pop-Tarts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Little Debbie Swiss Rolls.
However, this chemical has had immunotoxic effects in animal studies.
Chemicals may also leach from packaging or food processing equipment into food. Some bags, boxes, and food wrappers are coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS-based materials are also common in non-stick coatings on cookware, gaskets in food processing equipment, and repeat-use plastics.
The FDATrusted Source require immunotoxicity testing only for food contact substances with a high daily exposure. The immunotoxicity of many food additives and food contact substances is largely unknown.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) use high throughput in-vitro testing in their ToxCast program. This type of testing exposes living cells, proteins, or biological molecules in a laboratory environment to chemicals to assess and identify any potential toxic effects. This potentially limits the need for animal testing.
The sparsity of current immunotoxicity data prompted the researchers from the EWG to conduct a study to evaluate the immunotoxic effects of common food additives and food contact substances. They also assessed the utility of ToxCast data in screening for immunotoxicity.
Lead study author Dr. Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s vice president for science investigations, emphasizes the urgency of this research:
“The pandemic has focused public and scientific attention on environmental factors that can impact the immune system. Before the pandemic, chemicals that may harm the immune system’s defense against infection or cancer did not receive sufficient attention from public health agencies. To protect public health, this must change.”
The researchers analyzed a total of 63 direct food additives present on more than 10 product labels sold in the U.S. in 2018–2020. They also specifically assessed nine identified PFAS that migrate from food packaging to food.
The study evaluated these substances, concentrating on those with the highest number of active ToxCast assays. It focused further analyses on those substances with activity toward multiple immune-related targets and proteins involved in immune response, inflammation, and defense mechanisms.
The study compared the results of high throughput ToxCast data with available data from animal and epidemiological studies.
Altered immune responses
Strong data from both ToxCast testing and immunological laboratory animal studies indicate that TBHQ may cause immune functioning changes.
However, ToxCast screening yielded data that did not always agree with existing data: There were cases wherein ToxCast data conflicted with previous data or indicated risks that previous data had not found.
Three different situations happened with the food colorant FD&C Red 3 and PFAS such as perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDA) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
In the study, the ToxCast data indicated that FD&C Red 3 affected multiple immune parameters, but the researchers did not find reference to any animal or epidemiological study into the immunotoxicity of this food colorant.
ToxCast, laboratory animal, and human study data demonstrated that PFUnDA affected multiple immune parameters and increased immune suppression risk.
However, the ToxCast data did not show strong activity for immune targets with PFOA, whereas animal and human studies demonstrated immunosuppressive effects.
The study attributed the lack of consistency in the findings to a lack of understanding of the exact mechanism of PFAS toxicity. The limitations of currently available high throughput testing to capture the full extent of the potential mechanism for immunotoxicity may also have had an impact.
The researchers conclude that both ToxCast and study data suggest that chemicals indirectly or directly added to foods, such as THBQ and PFAS, may adversely affect immune system functioning.
The EWG stress that the FDA should prioritize and integrate updated immunotoxicity testing to identify harmful chemicals into standard safety assessments to protect public health and well-being.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the EWG, adds, “Food manufacturers have no incentive to change their formulas. Too often, the FDA [allow] the food and chemical industry to determine which ingredients are safe for consumption.”
“Our research shows how important it is that the FDA take a second look at these ingredients and test all food chemicals for safety.”
Many people have chronic stress and anxiety. They face symptoms such as nervousness, agitation, tension, a racing heart, and chest pain.
In fact, anxiety is among the most common mental health issues. In the United States, more than 18 percent of adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year.
In some cases, another health condition, such as an overactive thyroid, can lead to an anxiety disorder. Getting an accurate diagnosis can ensure that a person receives the best treatment.
In this article, learn about a wide range of natural and home remedies that can help with stress and anxiety.
Natural remedies for anxiety and stress
Natural remedies are generally safe to use alongside more conventional medical therapies.
However, alterations to the diet and some natural supplements can change the way antianxiety medications work, so it is essential to consult a doctor before trying these solutions. The doctor may also be able to recommend other natural remedies.
Exercise is a great way to burn off anxious energy, and research tends to support this use.
For example, a 2015 review of 12 randomized controlled trials found that exercise may be a treatment for anxiety. However, the review cautioned that only research of higher quality could determine how effective it is.
Exercise may also help with anxiety caused by stressful circumstances. Results of a 2016 studyTrusted Source, for example, suggest that exercise can benefit people with anxiety related to quitting smoking.
Meditation can help to slow racing thoughts, making it easier to manage stress and anxiety. A wide range of meditation styles, including mindfulness and meditation during yoga, may help.
Mindfulness-based meditation is increasingly popular in therapy. A 2010 meta-analytic review suggests that it can be highly effective for people with disorders relating to mood and anxiety.
3. Relaxation exercises
Some people unconsciously tense the muscles and clench the jaw in response to anxiety. Progressive relaxation exercises can help.
Try lying in a comfortable position and slowly constricting and relaxing each muscle group, beginning with the toes and working up to the shoulders and jaw.
Finding a way to express anxiety can make it feel more manageable.
Some research suggests that journaling and other forms of writing can help people to cope better with anxiety.
A 2016 study, for example, found that creative writing may help children and teens to manage anxiety.
5. Time management strategies
Some people feel anxious if they have too many commitments at once. These may involve family, work, and health-related activities. Having a plan in place for the next necessary action can help to keep this anxiety at bay.
Effective time management strategies can help people to focus on one task at a time. Book-based planners and online calendars can help, as can resisting the urge to multitask.
Some people find that breaking major projects down into manageable steps can help them to accomplish those tasks with less stress.
Smelling soothing plant oils can help to ease stress and anxiety. Certain scents work better for some people than others, so consider experimenting with various options.
Lavender may be especially helpful. A 2012 study tested the effects of aromatherapy with lavender on insomnia in 67 women aged 45–55. Results suggest that the aromatherapy may reduce the heart rate in the short term and help to ease sleep issues in the long term.
7. Cannabidiol oil
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a derivative of the cannabis, or marijuana, plant.
Unlike other forms of marijuana, CBD oil does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the substance that creates a “high.”
CBD oil is readily available without a prescription in many alternative healthcare shops. Preliminary research suggests that it has significant potential to reduce anxiety and panic.
In areas where medical marijuana is legal, doctors may also be able to prescribe the oil.
8. Herbal teas
Many herbal teas promise to help with anxiety and ease sleep.
Some people find the process of making and drinking tea soothing, but some teas may have a more direct effect on the brain that results in reduced anxiety.
Results of a small 2018 trial suggest that chamomile can alter levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
9. Herbal supplements
Like herbal teas, many herbal supplements claim to reduce anxiety. However, little scientific evidence supports these claims.
It is vital to work with a doctor who is knowledgeable about herbal supplements and their potential interactions with other drugs.
10. Time with animals
Pets offer companionship, love, and support. Research published in 2018 confirmed that pets can be beneficial to people with a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety.
While many people prefer cats, dogs, and other small mammals, people with allergies will be pleased to learn that the pet does have to be furry to provide support.
Spending time with animals can also reduce anxiety and stress associated with trauma. Results of a 2015 systematic reviewTrusted Source suggest that grooming and spending time with horses can alleviate some of these effects.
Other treatment options
Anxiety that is chronic or interferes with a person’s ability to function warrants treatment.
Therapy can help a person to understand what triggers their anxiety. It can also help with making positive lifestyle changes and working through trauma.
One of the most effective therapies for anxiety is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The goal is to help a person understand how their thoughts affect their emotions and behavior and to replace those reactions with positive or constructive alternatives.
CBT can help with generalized anxiety and anxiety relating to a specific issue, such as work or an instance of trauma.
Medication can also help a person to manage chronic anxiety. A doctor may prescribe medications in any of the following groups:
antianxiety drugs called benzodiazepines, including Xanax and Valium
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to lower high blood pressure.
Regular exercise helps make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, which lowers the pressure in your arteries.
In fact, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, per week, can help lower blood pressure and improve your heart health (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
What’s more, doing even more exercise than this reduces your blood pressure even further, according to the National Walkers’ Health Study (5Trusted Source).
Bottom line: Walking just 30 minutes a day can help lower your blood pressure. More exercise helps reduce it even further.
2. Reduce your sodium intake
Salt intake is high around the world. In large part, this is due to processed and prepared foods.
For this reason, many public health efforts are aimed at lowering salt in the food industry (6Trusted Source).
However, more recent research indicates that the relationship between sodium and high blood pressure is less clear (9Trusted Source, 10).
One reason for this may be genetic differences in how people process sodium. About half of people with high blood pressure and a quarter of people with normal levels seem to have a sensitivity to salt (11Trusted Source).
If you already have high blood pressure, it’s worth cutting back your sodium intake to see if it makes a difference. Swap out processed foods with fresh ones and try seasoning with herbs and spices rather than salt.
Bottom line: Most guidelines for lowering blood pressure recommend reducing sodium intake. However, that recommendation might make the most sense for people who are salt-sensitive.
3. Drink less alcohol
Drinking alcohol can raise blood pressure. In fact, alcohol is linked to 16% of high blood pressure cases around the world (12Trusted Source).
While some research has suggested that low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol may protect the heart, those benefits may be offset by adverse effects (12Trusted Source).
In the U.S., moderate alcohol consumption is defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. If you drink more than that, cut back.
Bottom line: Drinking alcohol in any quantity may raise your blood pressure. Limit your drinking in line with the recommendations.
When you’re chronically stressed, your body is in a constant fight-or-flight mode. On a physical level, that means a faster heart rate and constricted blood vessels.
When you experience stress, you might also be more likely to engage in other behaviors, such as drinking alcohol or eating unhealthful food that can adversely affect blood pressure.
Several studies have explored how reducing stress can help lower blood pressure. Here are two evidence-based tips to try:
Listen to soothing music: Calming music can help relax your nervous system. Research has shown it’s an effective complement to other blood pressure therapies (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
Work less: Working a lot, and stressful work situations, in general, are linked to high blood pressure (23Trusted Source, 24).
Bottom line: Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Finding ways to manage stress can help.
7. Eat dark chocolate or cocoa
Here’s a piece of advice you can really get behind.
While eating massive amounts of dark chocolate probably won’t help your heart, small amounts may.
That’s because dark chocolate and cocoa powder are rich in flavonoids, which are plant compounds that cause blood vessels to dilate (25Trusted Source).
A review of studies found that flavonoid-rich cocoa improved several markers of heart health over the short term, including lowering blood pressure (25Trusted Source).
For the strongest effects, use non-alkalized cocoa powder, which is especially high in flavonoids and has no added sugars.
Bottom line: Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain plant compounds that help relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
8. Lose weight
In people with overweight, losing weight can make a big difference to heart health.
According to a 2016 study, losing 5% of your body mass could significantly lower high blood pressure (26Trusted Source).
In previous studies, losing 17.64 pounds (8 kilograms) was linked to lowering systolic blood pressure by 8.5 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 6.5 mm Hg (27Trusted Source).
To put that in perspective, a healthy reading should be less than 120/80 mm Hg (4Trusted Source).
The effect is even greater when weight loss is paired with exercise (27Trusted Source).
Losing weight can help your blood vessels do a better job of expanding and contracting, making it easier for the left ventricle of the heart to pump blood.
Bottom line: Losing weight can significantly lower high blood pressure. This effect is even more significant when you exercise.
9. Quit smoking
Among the many reasons to quit smoking is that the habit is a strong risk factor for heart disease.
Every puff of cigarette smoke causes a slight, temporary increase in blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco are also known to damage blood vessels.
Surprisingly, studies haven’t found a conclusive link between smoking and high blood pressure. Perhaps this is because smokers develop a tolerance over time (28).
Still, since both smoking and high blood pressure raise the risk of heart disease, quitting smoking can help lessen that risk.
Bottom line: There’s conflicting research about smoking and high blood pressure, but what is clear is that both increase the risk of heart disease.
10. Cut added sugar and refined carbs
There’s a growing body of research showing a link between added sugar and high blood pressure (29, 30, 31).
In the Framingham Women’s Health Study, women who drank even one soda per day had higher levels than those who drank less than one soda per day (32).
Another study found that having one less sugar-sweetened beverage per day was linked to lower blood pressure (33Trusted Source).
And it’s not just sugar — all refined carbs, such as the kind found in white flour — convert rapidly to sugar in your bloodstream and may cause problems.
Some studies have shown that low carb diets may also help reduce blood pressure.
One study on people undergoing statin therapy found that those who went on a 6-week, carb-restricted diet saw a greater improvement in blood pressure and other heart disease markers than people who did not restrict carbs (34Trusted Source).
Bottom line: Refined carbs, especially sugar, may raise blood pressure. Some studies have shown that low carb diets may help reduce your levels.
11. Eat berries
Berries are full of more than just juicy flavor.
They’re also packed with polyphenols, natural plant compounds that are good for your heart.
Polyphenols can reduce the risk of stroke, heart conditions, and diabetes, as well as improving blood pressure, insulin resistance, and systemic inflammation (34).
One study assigned people with high blood pressure to a low-polyphenol diet or a high-polyphenol diet containing berries, chocolate, fruits, and vegetables (35).
Those consuming berries and polyphenol-rich foods experienced improved markers of heart disease risk.
Bottom line: Berries are rich in polyphenols, which can help lower blood pressure and the overall risk of heart disease.
12. Try meditation or deep breathing
While these two behaviors could also fall under “stress reduction techniques,” meditation and deep breathing deserve specific mention.
Both meditation and deep breathing may activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is engaged when the body relaxes, slowing the heart rate, and lowering blood pressure.
There’s quite a bit of research in this area, with studies showing that different styles of meditation appear to have benefits for lowering blood pressure (36Trusted Source, 37Trusted Source).
Deep breathing techniques can also be quite effective.
In one study, participants were asked to either take six deep breaths over the course of 30 seconds or simply sit still for 30 seconds. Those who took breaths lowered their blood pressure more than those who just sat (38Trusted Source).
Try guided meditation or deep breathing. Here’s a video to get you started.
Bottom line: Both meditation and deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps slow your heart rate and lower blood pressure.
13. Eat calcium-rich foods
People with low calcium intake often have high blood pressure.
While calcium supplements haven’t been conclusively shown to lower blood pressure, calcium-rich diets do seem linked to healthful levels (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
For most adults, the calcium recommendation is 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day. For women over 50 and men over 70, it’s 1,200 mg per day (41).
Bottom line: Calcium-rich diets are linked to healthy blood pressure levels. You can get calcium through eating dark leafy greens and tofu, as well as dairy.
14. Take natural supplements
Some natural supplements may also help lower blood pressure. Here are some of the main supplements that have evidence behind them:
Aged garlic extract: Researchers have used aged garlic extract successfully as a stand-alone treatment and along with conventional therapies for lowering blood pressure (42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).
Berberine: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, berberine may increase nitric oxide production, which helps decrease blood pressure (44Trusted Source, 45Trusted Source).
Whey protein: A 2016 study found that whey protein improved blood pressure and blood vessel function in 38 participants (46Trusted Source).
Fish oil: Long credited with improving heart health, fish oil may benefit people with high blood pressure the most (47Trusted Source, 48).
Hibiscus: Hibiscus flowers make a tasty tea. They’re rich in anthocyanins and polyphenols that are good for your heart and may lower blood pressure (49Trusted Source).
Bottom line: Researchers have investigated several natural supplements for their ability to lower blood pressure.
15. Eat foods rich in magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral that helps blood vessels relax.
While magnesium deficiency is pretty rare, many people don’t get enough.
Some studies have suggested that getting too little magnesium is linked with high blood pressure, but evidence from clinical studies has been less clear (50Trusted Source, 51Trusted Source).
Still, eating a magnesium-rich diet is a recommended way to ward off high blood pressure (51Trusted Source).
You can incorporate magnesium into your diet by consuming vegetables, dairy products, legumes, chicken, meat, and whole grains.
Bottom line: Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. Find it in whole foods, such as legumes and whole grains.
Take home message
High blood pressure affects a large proportion of the world’s population.
While drugs are one way to treat the condition, there are many other natural techniques, including eating certain foods that can help.
Controlling your blood pressure through the methods in this article may, ultimately, help you lower your risk of heart disease.
SHOP FOR OVER-THE-COUNTER REMEDIES
If you want to buy any of the over-the-counter remedies listed in this article, then they are available online.
Humans first drank caffeinated tea more than 4,000 years ago in China. Since then, it has become one of the most popular drinks worldwide, second only to water.
Both green and black teas are brewed from the leaves of the same shrub, Camellia sinensis, but green tea, which is made from unfermented leaves, contains more antioxidants.
Oxidation during the fermentation process of black tea reduces its antioxidant levels.
Several studies have found that green tea inhibits the formation of cancers, lowers high blood pressure, and reduces the risk of heart disease.
However, the molecular mechanism responsible for the effect on blood pressure has been unclear until now.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, have found that antioxidants in tea open ion channels and can relax the muscles that line blood vessels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that almost half of all adults in the United States have hypertension. It estimates that in 2018, the condition played a role in the deaths of nearly half a million people in the country.
The new study first shows that two antioxidants in tea, known as catechins, open a protein channel in the membranes of the smooth muscle cells that line blood vessels. This allows positively charged potassium ions to leave the cells.
Channels in nerve and muscle cells maintain voltages across their membranes by allowing negative and positive ions to pass in and out in a controlled way. They are “voltage-gated,” which means that they respond to changes in this voltage by opening or closing.
The researchers found that the catechins in green tea activate a particular type of potassium ion channel, called KCNQ5.
Previous work by some of the same scientists suggests that this protein channel may underlie the antihypertensive effects of several plants used as folk medicines for millennia.
For the new study, the researchers used computer modeling and mutated versions of the channel protein to show that the two catechins bind to a section that senses voltage changes.
“This binding allows the channel to open much more easily and earlier in the cellular excitation process,” explains senior study author Prof. Geoffrey Abbott, of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at the UCI School of Medicine.
In theory, this should make the muscle cells less “excitable” and therefore less likely to contract. They should instead relax, dilating the blood vessel and reducing blood pressure.
To test this theory, Prof. Abbott’s co-authors at the University of Copenhagen measured changes in tension in the walls of arteries from rats. Their findings confirmed that the two catechins from tea relax and dilate arteries by activating the KCNQ5 ion channel.
The authors are confident that adding a dash of milk to black tea does not reduce its antihypertensive effects.
Milky tea, applied directly to cells in the lab, failed to activate their KCNQ5 channels. But this is likely not the case when a person drinks it.
Prof. Abbott explains:
“We don’t believe this means one needs to avoid milk when drinking tea to take advantage of the beneficial properties of tea. We are confident that the environment in the human stomach will separate the catechins from the proteins and other molecules in milk that would otherwise block [the] catechins’ beneficial effects.”
The scientists also discovered that warming green tea to 35°C increased the activation of KCNQ5.
However, lovers of iced tea need not be concerned.
“Regardless of whether tea is consumed iced or hot, this temperature is achieved after tea is drunk, as human body temperature is about 37°C,” says Prof. Abbott. “Thus, simply by drinking tea, we activate its beneficial, antihypertensive properties.”
Electrical activity in the brain
KCNQ5 also exists in the membranes of nerves in the brain, where it helps regulate electrical activity and signal transmission.
People with a disorder called epileptic encephalopathy have a version of the channel protein that does not respond effectively to voltage changes, which leads to frequent seizures.
The study authors point out that catechins can cross the blood-brain barrier, which prevents larger molecules, including some drugs, from entering the brain.
In theory, drugs modeled on catechin molecules could, therefore, help correct the cause of epileptic encephalopathy.
“Discovery of their ability to activate KCNQ5 may suggest a future mechanism to fix broken KCNQ5 channels to ameliorate brain excitability disorders stemming from their dysfunction,” the researchers conclude.
For many decades, nutritionists have recommended a balanced diet to provide the body with the proper nutrients to stay healthy. The core components of this diet include vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and dairy.
A recent study by researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, provides further evidence for current dietary guidelines and expands on them, finding that consuming at least 2 fruit and 3 vegetable servings on a daily basis may lower the risk of both disease-related death and death from all causes.
The study appears in Circulation, a scientific journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).
Current dietary guidelines
“While groups like the American Heart Association recommend 4–5 servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about […] the recommended amount and which foods to include and avoid,” says Dr. Dong D. Wang, M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist and nutritionist at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.
According to this set of guidelines, half of the plate for every meal should contain fruits and vegetables.
However, the guidelines also note that more than 80% of people in the United States do not meet this recommendation and should aim to increase their consumption of nutrient-dense foods.
Participant dietary information
The researchers collected self-reported dietary information from two large cohort studies: the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study (HPFS).
The NHS cohort included registered female nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 years, while the HPFS cohort included males aged 40–75 years with occupations in the health profession. These studies included follow-ups with the participants every 2–4 years to accumulate dietary information over a span of approximately 30 years.
The researchers excluded participants with baseline heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, leaving them with data from 66,719 females and 42,016 males.
They also incorporated data from an additional 26 studies involving a total of 1.9 million participants, which examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and death rates.
The high participant numbers and continuous longitudinal assessments provided the team with an extensive collection of data for analysis.
However, it is important to note that the criteria of the two cohorts — occupation and corresponding education — suggest a similar socioeconomic status across the participants, who may have been more likely than other members of the population to have access to a healthy diet. The study does not address the realities and effects of food insecurity.
Nutritional values of fruits and vegetables lower risk of death
The study outcomes showed that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death, including death due to cancer, heart disease, or respiratory disease.
Additionally, the researchers saw the lowest risk of death at a threshold of a combined 5 servings, beyond which there was no apparent benefit on risk.
These results point to the nutritional value of these foods. For example, higher consumption of fruits and vegetables increases the intake of potassium and antioxidant activity, which link to lower blood pressure and improved lung function, respectively.
As the data are fully self-reported, there may be discrepancies between the actual and reported intakes. Participants with higher intake, in particular, may have tended to overestimate how many servings they consumed.
This margin of error may blur the defined threshold of 5 servings, so the study authors acknowledge that slightly higher servings (up to 10) could also lead to lowered risk.
This study also expands beyond current guidelines by differentiating among specific groups of fruits and vegetables.
The researchers observed trends with a lowered risk of death for leafy greens and foods rich in vitamin C and beta carotene. Fruits and vegetables that fall into these categories include spinach, kale, carrots, and citrus fruits.
Conversely, they did not identify any trends for fruit juices or starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and peas. One possible reason for the latter is the prominence of canned foods. The canning process may deprive starchy vegetables of their antioxidant properties.
Compared with whole fruits, the fluid form of juices may cause a more rapid elevation of blood glucose and insulin levels, which can increase the risk of disease.
In contrast to the existing guidelines, which include canned foods and juices among the recommended foods and drinks, this study calls for further research on the effects of these items on health.
Continued support for ‘5-a-day’ serving recommendation
Rather than being an interventional study, in which researchers directly implement variables and analyze the effects, this study was observational. As a result, it is not possible to conclude that the trends present in this study indicate a causal relationship.
Regardless, there is plentiful evidence that highlights the benefits of a balanced diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables. The present conclusions also correspond to findings from similar observational studies on the associations between fruit and vegetable intake and disease.
The findings of this study conform to the overall current dietary guidelines to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Additionally, it provides further insight into the specificities and benefits of fruit and vegetable intake.
New research into the plant-based sweetener stevia indicates that the sugar substitute may have negative implications for gut health.
People use sugar substitutes as a way to reduce their sugar intake. Excess sugar consumption can cause weight gain, lead to diabetes, and contribute to inflammation in the body.
For this reason, researchers have worked to find the perfect replacement that tastes like real sugar and is safe to consume.
Scientists have considered stevia a safe sugar alternative for years, but a new study raises the question of whether it can be harmful to gut health.
What is stevia?
Sugar replacements come in handy for many people, including individuals with diabetes who need to control their blood sugar and those trying to reduce their calorie intake to reach or maintain a moderate weight.
Various substitutes are available. These include several artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin, and the sugar alcohols xylitol and erythritol.
Some people use plant-based options to replace sugar, and stevia is one such sweetener that is widely available.
People have used the plant stevia as a sweetener for hundreds of years. People originally discovered the plant in Brazil and Paraguay and now grow it all over the world.
Stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, so only a very small amount is necessary to achieve a sweetening effect.
Some people prefer plant-derived stevia over artificial sweeteners that manufacturers create in a lab.
Moreover, stevia is a zero-calorie substitute, whereas other artificial sweeteners may have a few calories. Another benefit to stevia is that it has a glycemic index of less than 1, so it does not raise blood sugar the way a few alternatives do.
Some sugar substitutes are also safer than others. Studies have linked other substitutes, such as sucralose and saccharin, with tumor growth in mice, although these effects are not confirmed. Research on stevia, on the other hand, had not previously uncovered any serious negative health implications.
Importance of gut health
Although people generally understand the importance of maintaining a moderate weight and engaging in best practices for heart health, they sometimes overlook gut health.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann of the Infectious Diseases Division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, “This is a new frontier of medicine, and many are looking at the gut microbiota as an additional organ system.”
Hohmann goes on to say, “It’s most important to the health of our gastrointestinal system, but may have even more far-reaching effects on our well-being.”
The digestive system is home to various types of bacteria. Some of these bacteria help keep the body healthy. Maintaining a healthy and balanced gut is important in many ways.
Some gut bacteria can prevent inflammation, protect against certain types of cancer, and reduce symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
There are various ways to maintain a healthy gut, one of which is to avoid the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics can affect the good bacteria living in the gut.
Avoiding foods that can harm gut health, such as processed foods and red meat, is also important. People can take probiotics, eat foods high in fiber, and eat fermented foods, such as yogurt or kombucha, to promote good gut health.
Stevia research results
While experts typically view stevia as a safe sugar replacement, the latest research indicates that it may have some drawbacks.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba, Israel, focused on stevia in a study that recently featured in Molecules. Their findings suggest that stevia can have a negative effect on gut health.
The research team studied two forms of stevia: the commercialized herb supplement and purified stevia extract. They looked at how the different forms of stevia affect bacterial communication.
The gut has quorum sensing (QS) pathways. These pathways enable bacteria molecules to communicate with each other, which is important in terms of microbial regulation.
The team found that the stevia herb supplement had an “inhibitory effect on bacterial communication.” The purified stevia extract showed “a molecular interaction and possible interruption of [some forms of] bacterial communication.”
While the study shows that stevia may contribute to an unbalanced gut, neither form of stevia showed evidence of killing bacteria in the gut.
Lead researcher Dr. Karina Golberg, who is part of the BGU Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering, commented on the findings:
“This is an initial study that indicates that more research is warranted before the food industry replaces sugar and artificial sweeteners with stevia and its extracts.”
The researchers plan to study stevia more closely and use their findings to shape guidelines for stevia intake.
“With reference to the effects identified in our study and the growing consumption of stevia, we urge that more studies be conducted to help further elucidate the effects of these sweeteners and to adjust the highest daily doses recommended today,” the study authors write.
Do you suffer from gas, bloating, or other digestive issues? You’re definitely not the only one out there – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
We all know the foods we like and dislike, and some of us are even in tune enough to know the foods that do and don’t sit well within our body – but how well do we really understand the process of our own digestion? Certain physical cues often indicate whether everything is running, ahem, smoothly, and others are often common signs that your digestive system isn’t working properly.
I’m hesitant to choose a favorite system of the human body, but the intricacies and needs of our digestive system are fascinating. The very process of digestion itself involves taking all our wonderful, nutritious foods (or those less so), and breaking them down into the minuscule monomers needed for our body’s day-to-day functioning. When you consider every reaction in the human body, right down to a cellular level, that has to go right for this process to work, it can be very humbling.
Digestion is arguably one of the most important functions of the human body. But when something’s not going right with the system, such as an underlying issue or illness, all the wonderful foods won’t be absorbed in the way they should. Luckily, there are a number of signs and indicators that you’ll likely recognize in your own body to suggest your digestive system might not be flourishing.
1. Changes To Bowel Movements
While we all have different experiences of what it means to be ‘regular’, we do have our own natural digestive rhythm. Your bowel movements are one of the best indicators of what’s going on inside your body, and while changes to your usual schedule will come and go – anything significant is usually a symptom of a malfunctioning digestive system. Laurentine has written this amazing article that goes into the details of how to understand what it all means for your health, and how to navigate the Bristol Stool Scale, to shed some more insight on what your movements actually mean.
2. Reflux & Heartburn
Resting at the other end of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is our esophagus, and there are a few issues that can be another indication that something isn’t sitting right with our digestive system. Primarily, these are often reflux or heartburn, coupled with excessive burping in some instances. These symptoms can be caused by a number of digestive issues, ranging from simple food intolerances to bacteria overgrowths or stomach ulcers. If you’re experiencing persistent reflux or heartburn, start by first noticing any patterns with your triggers, and if removing these triggers is unsuccessful, like always, I recommend consulting with a qualified practitioner.
3. Bloating, Cramping & Uncomfortable Gases
Bloating happens when your GIT fills with gases, oftentimes caused by something as simple as a chemical reaction to the food you eat. Common occurrences include both lactose and gluten intolerances, as the digestive system lacks all the tools it needs to break down these foods efficiently. Many allergies and intolerances will also lead to cramping as the tissues in your abdomen struggle to deal with the food that has been put into it, however cramping may also be indicative of conditions such as IBS or gastritis.
4. Changes In Appetite
Much like other aspects of our digestive system, our body will often come to understand what normal looks like. You are the most qualified person to talk about your normal eating habits and patterns, the foods that make you feel good, and those that bring you down. And just as you know what’s normal, it’s good to check-in and ask yourself if there have been any changes of late? This might mean the size and frequency of meals, changes in how your body responds to a certain food, or even skipping meals altogether. These changes could be for any number of reasons, ranging from a shift in our energy expenditure levels to binge eating disorder, or perhaps an underlying chronic illness. So once you begin to identify these changes, whether they’re long-term or just temporary, seek out the protocol best suited to helping you figure out why these are occurring – just to be on the safe side.
5. Malabsorption Of Nutrients
Unless you’ve got a pathology lab in your attic, this can be a little more difficult to diagnose. And as a full disclaimer, Food Matters always recommends you do diagnose and begin treatment plans with a licensed practitioner that works for you. However, some examples of instances include difficulty absorbing iron due to a multitude of underlying causes, or damage caused to the intestines by an autoimmune condition like celiac disease. But the main takeaway is any ongoing malabsorption issues indicate your body may need a deep reset before rebuilding your digestion.
While the causes for your digestive concerns will vary from person to person, there’s one protocol we always suggest for a total reset before taking more extreme measures. A gentle detox is one way to give the digestive system a much-needed rest and reset from life’s daily stressors – including any aggravating foods.
According to the research results, switching to a low fat, plant-based diet could boost the body’s metabolism enough to burn excess weight and fat — even without vigorous exercise.
Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) partnered with Dr. Kitt Petersen and Dr. Gerald Shulman of Yale University. Together, they conducted a 16-week trial where participants in the intervention group adopted a low fat, vegan diet.
The study team hoped to find the full impact of a low fat, vegan diet. Could it improve metabolism, reduce visceral fat, and aid in significant weight loss?
Initially, 3,115 people responded to the flyers distributed by the research team. Of these, 244 met the criteria for participation in the study.
Eligible study participants had overweight, with body mass indexes ranging between 28 and 40, and were aged 25–75.
Researchers randomly split the study participants into two groups. The first group followed a 4-month-long low fat, vegan diet, eating fruits, vegetables, pulses, and grains in serving sizes comparable to what they ordinarily consumed at mealtimes. The second group, functioning as the control group, did not change their dietary habits.
Members of both groups curbed their daily alcohol consumption for the duration of the study. Women could drink a single alcoholic beverage daily, while men could have up to two drinks per day. Neither group began an exercise routine or deviated from any existing physical habits during the 16-week trial.
Study outcome and implications
Researchers took measurements at the beginning and end of the trial. By the end of the study, the plant-based diet group averaged an 18.7% increase in their after-meal calorie burn. They also saw an average weight loss of about 14 pounds (lb).
Additionally, the vegan diet group experienced a decrease in insulin resistance and a reduction in body fat. Crucially, this group saw a significant loss of visceral fat, the more detrimental type of fat that gets stored around the internal organs.
By contrast, the control group experienced no significant loss of weight or reduction in body fat. After comparing the two groups, it was clear to researchers that the low fat, vegan diet had a measurable impact on the weight and health of the intervention group.
Lead study author Dr. Hana Kahleova, director of clinical research at the PCRM, considers the results “groundbreaking for the 160 million Americans struggling with overweight and obesity.”
She adds, “Over the course of years and decades, burning more calories after every meal can make a significant difference in weight management.”
Findings back up existing research
These findings are consistent with a number of previous studies that have shown plant-based diets to be associated with reduced excess body fat. As reviewed recently by Rami S. Najjar and Rafaela G. Feresin in Nutrient:
“Plant-based diets can reduce body fat […] [and] cumulatively lead to reduced calorie intake and increased energy expenditure.”
It is worth noting that the PCRM and Yale University researchers focused on people without a history of diabetes. The pool of participants also skewed heavily toward one gender, with females constituting 86% of all participants.
Additional research might be needed for those already experiencing related health issues, or with a more balanced group of participants.
Still, there is enough existing research to suggest that no matter a person’s current diabetes status, their health outcomes could improve through following a diet mainly consisting of fruits and vegetables.
At least one participant in the clinical study decided to make a permanent change to his lifestyle. Sam T., who lost 34 lb during the 4-month study, continued with the plant-based diet. He reached his goal weight and began partaking in half-marathons and marathons.