Juvenon Health Journal volume 8 number 11 november 2009
By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.
If something tastes great and makes you feel good (at least for the moment), there’s a good chance it’s not good for your health. Many of the foods developed by modern man (especially Western man) that tweak your taste buds, are loaded with saturated fats, sugar and refined flour. In other words, they are calorie-dense with little nutritious value.
Last month’s Health Journal (Optimizing Your Health: From Refresher Course to Recent Findings) described how overloading your body with calories, especially from calorie-dense “junk foods,” can lead to an accumulation of cellular junk, impeding cellular metabolism and likely culminating in disease. But is there more we can do to help improve cellular health than maintaining a low-calorie diet and exercising regularly?
Plants in Our Past
Once upon a time, man relied on plants as a source of nutrition to maintain metabolic balance. But the relationship between plants and other organisms wasn’t always so complementary. Early photosynthesizing organisms actually poisoned some non-photosynthesizing life.
How? Plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere, to make their roots, stems, limbs and leaves, and expel O2. Pre-plant earth was largely devoid of oxygen. In fact, the gas was actually toxic to other early organisms, eventually resulting in their extinction. (Aside: today’s global warming may be, ironically, the consequence of too much atmospheric CO2. Are we approaching another evolutionary adaptation?)
New, evolving forms of animal life not only adapted to the plant-induced change in atmosphere, but also, as already mentioned, became dependent on the plants themselves. Without these two developments, the animal kingdom would not have continued to evolve (and I wouldn’t be writing this).
Back to a Plant-rich Diet
What could returning to a plant-rich diet do for us today? Studies indicate similarities to the well-published benefits of caloric restriction. Some of these include increases in cellular activity (associated with the removal of cellular debris), fat-burning, number of healthy, energy-producing organelles (the mitochondria) and energy level. Caloric restriction has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity; decrease cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels in muscle, liver and plasma; and inhibit degeneration of the nervous system. Animal studies have even demonstrated a decreased incidence of cancer.
How can eating plants produce these kinds of results? Researchers have made a number of fascinating discoveries. Take recent experiments with grapefruit for example.
Grapefruit Diet Revisited
Popular in the 1930s, the Grapefruit Diet made a comeback in the 70s. The intriguing theory behind this regimen was eating grapefruit before each meal to lose weight. Somewhat surprisingly, the results of a recent study appear to support the concept.
Researchers identified at least one nutrient – the bioflavonoid (polyphenolic compound) naringenin – that is found in abundance in grapefruit and produced weight-reducing, health-promoting effects on the animals in their experiments. Working with both normal mice and a model genetically predisposed to be overweight with abnormal fat metabolism, they fed some animals a high-fat diet and others the same diet with naringenin.
After four weeks (eight months for the normal animals), the mice on the high-fat diet alone became obese. They exhibited many of the changes of abnormal metabolism consistent with the pre-diabetic state. Also know as metabolic syndrome, these include high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, increased deposition of liver and muscle fat, and high plasma insulin and glucose levels.
Supplementing the high-fat diet with naringenin seems not only to have largely prevented many of the negative effects in both mice models, but also improved some of these health parameters and maintained a relatively normal plasma/liver/muscle fat content. Moreover, the investigators found the naringenin-supplemented animals did not gain weight, compared to controls on a low-fat diet, even though their food intake was not altered (70s diet redeemed).
Less Fat, More Fat-burning
Next question: how was this nutrient acting on the cells of the body to produce the healthier effects? The investigators developed a theory related to other recently published research.
The previous study detailed the fat-burning properties of a number of cellular components, one of which is referred to as PGC1alpha. When PGC1alpha is activated (as it is with caloric restriction), the fat-burning capacity of the cell is revved-up, while fat synthesis is turned down, for a net decrease in body fat.
So, the investigators decided to compare the levels of PGC1alpha in tissues taken from the mice fed the high-fat diet, either with or without naringenin. The results supported their hunch. Indeed, those mice fed a naringenin-supplemented diet had significantly higher levels of PGC1alpha, at least in their liver tissues.
Different Plants, Different Pathways
Those last six words, “at least in their liver tissues,” are significant. Recent studies have shown that a variety of nutrients, produced by plants and consumed by animals, confer their health benefits in a tissue-specific manner. In other words, one may act on the liver to promote health while another may act on/in muscle or the brain. The different nutrients also affect metabolism, such as the conversion of fat to energy, by acting on different metabolic pathways.
For example, grapefruit-derived naringenin stimulates the synthesis of PGC1alpha in the liver, but has little detectable activity in muscle. Another polyphenolic compound isolated from grapeskin, resveratrol, appears to be most active in stimulating PGC1alpha in muscle with little effect on the liver.
All of this information comes from animal studies and human research is needed to fully understand how it applies to us. But, apart from possibly making the grapefruit diet* popular again, what does the recent research seem to recommend? Eating a variety of fruits (including berries) and vegetables to maximize the tissue-specific, health-promoting benefits from nutrients provided by different plants.
*Grapefruit and grapefruit juice contain compounds, which can alter the cellular machinery (cytochrome P-450) that normally metabolizes and inactivates medications. A dose of 10 mg/day of a drug may be equivalent to 20-40 mg.
Investigators, from Canada’s Roberts Research Institute and University of Western Ontario, recently published “Naringenin Prevents Dyslipidemia, Apolipoprotein B Overproduction, and Hyperinsulinemia in LDL Receptor–Null Mice With Diet-Induced Insulin Resistance,” in the journal, Diabetes. The paper reports the results of the group’s research, in which they examined the health-promoting effects of naringenin, a nutrient isolated from and essentially unique to grapefruit.
Previous studies have shown this bioflavonoid to have both lipid-lowering and insulin-like properties in animal models of diabetes. Anecdotal evidence also supports a role for a diet containing grapefruit in decreasing human body fat content. (Higher fat content in the blood and cells is believed to interfere with metabolism, especially of fat and glucose in tissues including liver and muscle.)
With this data in mind, the researchers wanted to determine whether they could reproduce all of these positive health-promoting effects in a mouse model with a propensity to develop metabolic syndrome: obesity and additional, diabetes-associated health conditions.
During a four-week experiment, the animals were fed a high-fat diet, with or without naringenin. As predicted, based on previous work, mice on the unsupplemented diet became obese. Their lipid profiles were unhealthy with increases in liver and plasma triglycerides, cholesterol and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). Their plasma glucose and insulin levels were very high, characteristic of diabetes.
On the other hand, mice fed the same diet with naringenin added did not become obese. Their plasma fats, glucose and insulin levels were also healthier, preventing fat and glucose accumulation in tissues.
Further studies demonstrated some probable mechanisms for the apparent fat-burning effect of naringenin. The researchers found that this nutrient, added to the diet, stimulates the synthesis of several enzymes involved in fat metabolism. They concluded this may be, at least partly, responsible for the positive health effects of naringenin.
Read article abstract here.
This Research Update column highlights articles related to recent scientific inquiry into the process of human aging. It is not intended to promote any specific ingredient, regimen, or use and should not be construed as evidence of the safety, effectiveness, or intended uses of the Juvenon product. The Juvenon label should be consulted for intended uses and appropriate directions for use of the product.
Dr.Treadwell answers your questions.
question: Thank you again for letting me know there’s no caffeine in Q-Veratrol™. I assume you mean that not only is there no added caffeine, but also the different tea extracts in the formula have had the caffeine taken out of them. I was wondering because I had trouble sleeping both times I tried it.
It may be the 25mg of CoQ10 in it. I also take 100mg of CoQ10 and the cumulative amount could be too much. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence, which has nothing to do with the Q-Veratrol Heart Antioxidant. I hope this is the case because I’d really like to incorporate this into my daily supplements. Any ideas? Thank you for your patience with my many questions. – J
answer: It is possible that there is a trace of caffeine in the tea extract, but that should not have any effect. I suggest you try taking the Q-Veratrol capsules in the morning and at noon, but not at dinner or close to bedtime. Please let me know how this works for you.
Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D., is a former Harvard Medical School associate professor and member of Juvenon’s Scientific Advisory Board.