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Dream team: how a healthy diet and supplemental phytochemicals work together to protect our health

June 03, 2021 by Joel Fuhrman, MD


Dr. Fuhrman’s Guide to Smart Supplementation

We’re all looking for the fountain of youth, so I’ll give you the the secret: The key to optimal health and achieving maximum longevity is to eat a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet and avoid animal products, salt and processed foods. Get adequate exercise. Practice moderate calorie restriction. Avoid toxins. In other words, follow a Nutritarian diet. But just as it is important to know what you should do, it’s equally important to understand why you should do it. 

There is overwhelming scientific evidence, based on thousands of studies, that shows us that the diet has a profound effect on our susceptibility to, or protection from, chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A diet higher in vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and seeds – and lower in high-glycemic processed foods, oils, sugars, and animal products – is associated with a lower risk of these diseases. 

As I continually update my supplementation guidelines, I examine the results of hundreds of studies and clinical trials to find the most cutting-edge research that demonstrate health-promoting actions of phytochemicals and plant extracts. Oxidative damage, elevated blood glucose, and chronic inflammation are contributing factors to aging, poor health, and multiple chronic diseases. 

The phytochemicals that protect us

Since immune cells use oxidative stress as a tool to protect the body from pathogens, they may be especially vulnerable to oxidative damage.  Dietary antioxidant phytochemicals complement our natural antioxidant defenses, neutralizing free radicals, maintaining the integrity and proper function of immune cells, and promoting cardiovascular health, a healthy inflammatory response, and cellular stability.1

The primary way we counteract oxidative stress, elevated glucose and insulin levels, and inflammation is through a healthful diet and regular exercise, but some supplements may complement those efforts.

Sometimes, the research is promising, but not conclusive. Doses and extract methods differ between different studies, and the research on these plant extracts is ongoing. The findings on some plant extracts have encouraged me to offer some of these ingredients in my line of supplements for those who wish to act on the preliminary evidence sooner. I urge you to consult with a physician before starting any supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, as some plant extracts can interact with drugs and treatments.

Green tea

Background: Research on the distinctive green tea phytochemicals (catechins, such as EGCG) in human cells has shown that they modulate cellular signaling pathways that affect DNA repair, inflammation, proliferation, apoptosis, and angiogenesis.2-14 Observational studies suggest that drinking green tea regularly reduces the risk of lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and death from cardiovascular disease.15-20  Results from clinical trials suggest supplemental green tea extract helped to protect against UV-induced skin damage, promote DNA repair, enhance antioxidant status, reduce LDL cholesterol and improve blood glucose and cardiovascular risk factors.4,21-24 Laboratory studies suggest green tea phytochemicals have immunomodulating effects that protect against autoimmunity and enhance immune surveillance.1,25

Sources:
Green tea catechin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): mechanisms, perspectives and clinical applications 
Cancer preventive mechanisms of the green tea polyphenol (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate 
Green tea, black tea and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies
Green tea consumption and mortality due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in Japan: the Ohsaki study
The green tea polyphenol (-)-epigallocatechin gallate and green tea can protect human cellular DNA from ultraviolet and visible radiation-induced damage
Effects of single dose and regular intake of green tea (Camellia sinensis) on DNA damage, DNA repair, and heme oxygenase-1 expression in a randomized controlled human supplementation study

How I use it: My formula for Ultra Cell Biotect includes 300 mg of an enhanced-bioavailability green tea extract, Greenselect® PhytosomeTM. Human trials on this green tea extract formulation have found improved measures of oxidative stress, triglycerides, fasting glucose, and blood pressure, and aided in diet-induced weight loss and maintenance.23,24,26 

Sources:
Relationship between rate and extent of catechin absorption and plasma antioxidant status
Greenselect phytosome for borderline metabolic syndrome
Effects of Greenselect Phytosome(R) on weight maintenance after weight loss in obese women: a randomized placebo-controlled study
 

Curcumin and turmeric root

Background: Curcuminoids are phytochemicals from the turmeric root (collectively known as curcumin) that have displayed multiple anti-cancer effects in laboratory studies.27-29 Curcumin works partly by regulating the activity of a transcription factor that regulates inflammation, and may also work through immune cells. In human trials, curcumin has decreased the inflammatory biomarkers C-reactive protein and TNF-alpha, reduced oxidative stress, and improved fasting blood glucose and triglyceride levels.30-33  

Curcumin is not the only beneficial phytochemical in the turmeric root; there are many others, such as turmerin, turmerones, elemene, and cyclocurcumin. Curcumin-free turmeric has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in studies on human cells.34 

Sources:
Activation of transcription factor NF-kappa B is suppressed by curcumin (diferuloylmethane)
New perspectives of curcumin in cancer prevention 
Curcumin and tumor immune-editing: resurrecting the immune system
Curcumin downregulates human tumor necrosis factor-α levels: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
Are curcuminoids effective C-reactive protein-lowering agents in clinical practice? Evidence from a meta-analysis
Antioxidant effects of curcuminoids in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized controlled trial
Effects of Curcumin on Glycemic Control and Lipid Profiles Among Patients with Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
Curcumin-free turmeric exhibits anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities: Identification of novel components of turmeric

How I use it: I include 500 mg of a Curcumin C3 Complex, a bioavailability-enhanced curcumin plus piperine formulation, plus 200 mg of turmeric root, in Ultra Cell Biotect, and turmeric root in my Mushroom Chai Superfood Powder

The benefits of curcumin from seasoning foods with turmeric may be limited by curcumin’s poor bioavailability. Curcumin C3 Complex uses a black pepper extract (piperine) to enhance absorption.   
In human trials, curcumin with piperine has decreased inflammatory biomarkers, reduced oxidative stress, and improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels.35-38 

Sources:
Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers
Effect of Curcumin on some of Traditional and Non-traditional Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Pilot Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of curcuminoid-piperine combination in subjects with metabolic syndrome: A randomized controlled trial and an updated meta-analysis
Mitigation of Systemic Oxidative Stress by Curcuminoids in Osteoarthritis: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Grape seed extract

Background: Grape seed extracts, rich in antioxidant phytochemicals called proanthocyanidins, have shown anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anti-cancer activities in laboratory studies. In human trials, grape seed extract has been found to reduce blood pressure, improve antioxidant status, reduce inflammatory markers, and reduce LDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL.39-42  

Sources:
Grape seeds: ripe for cancer chemoprevention
Grape seed procyanidins in pre- and mild hypertension: a registry study
Does grape seed oil improve inflammation and insulin resistance in overweight or obese women?
Red grape seed extract improves lipid profiles and decreases oxidized low-density lipoprotein in patients with mild hyperlipidemia
Effects of grape seed extract in Type 2 diabetic subjects at high cardiovascular risk: a double blind randomized placebo controlled trial examining metabolic markers, vascular tone, inflammation, oxidative stress and insulin sensitivity

How I use it: I have included 200 mg per serving ENOVITA® grape seed extract in Ultra Cell Biotect. In a four-month human trial, this formulation improved blood pressure and reduced circulating free radicals.39

Source:
Grape seed procyanidins in pre- and mild hypertension: a registry study
 

Black turmeric

The phytochemicals in black turmeric (Kaempferia parviflora), a plant related to turmeric and ginger, are known to potently activate the SIRT1 pathway, which is associated with healthy aging.  Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other anti-cancer effects have also been observed in cultured human cells.43-46

Sources:
Potent SIRT1 enzyme-stimulating and anti-glycation activities of polymethoxyflavonoids from Kaempferia parviflora
Inhibitory effects of Kaempferia parviflora extract on monocyte adhesion and cellular reactive oxygen species production in human umbilical vein endothelial cells
Anti-cancer effects of Kaempferia parviflora on ovarian cancer SKOV3 cells
Kaempferia parviflora extract exhibits anti-cancer activity against HeLa cervical cancer cells

How I use it: I include 100 mg Sirtmax® Kaempferia parviflora extract per serving in Ultra Cell Biotect. Sirtmax® activates SIRT1 in laboratory studies, and in a seven-week placebo-controlled human study, Sirtmax® helped to keep blood glucose in the healthy range and reduced production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs).43,47

Sources:
Potent SIRT1 enzyme-stimulating and anti-glycation activities of polymethoxyflavonoids from Kaempferia parviflora
The safety and efficacy of Kaempferia parviflora extract (SIRTMAX®) on healthy volunteers (Unpublished)

Remember, your health is determined by what you eat

The quality of your diet is the most important factor in determining your risk of common chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A diet high in plant foods that avoids high-glycemic processed foods, oils, sugars, and animal products, is associated with a lower risk of these diseases. Learn more about the Nutritarian Diet

The standard American diet (SAD), which is high in animal products, processed foods, oil and sugar, is low in essential micronutrients and causes oxidative damage, elevated blood glucose, and chronic inflammation – all of which are contributing factors to aging, poor health, and multiple chronic diseases. 

A healthful diet of whole plant foods minimizes oxidative damage and supports DNA repair mechanisms, and helps keep glucose and inflammatory markers in a healthy range help to promote good health. Adding supplemental plant extracts to a health-promoting diet may complement these effects and enhance our potential to push the envelope of human healthy life expectancy and lifespan.
 

 
References
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Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
 
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

 

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