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How walnuts and flaxseeds may improve blood pressure and your reaction to stress

The California Walnut Commission, Sacramento California in part supported research that revealed how walnuts, walnut oil, improve reaction to stress, says an October 4, 2010 Penn State news release about a study, "Walnuts, walnut oil, improve reaction to stress." The Heart and Stroke Foundation, Ontario, Canada and the National Institutes of Health also supported this research that showed how a diet rich in walnuts and walnut oil may prepare the body to deal better with stress, according to a team of Penn State researchers who looked at how these foods, which contain polyunsaturated fats, influence blood pressure at rest and under stress. Flaxseeds also have similar qualities to walnuts.

       How walnuts and flaxseeds may improve blood pressure and your reaction to stress.
Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images

Previous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids -- like the alpha linolenic acid found in walnuts and flaxseeds -- can reduce low density lipoproteins (LDL) -- bad cholesterol. These foods may also reduce c-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation. When it comes to walnuts, nothing goes to waste. The walnut shells also are used in producing carbon-negative energy sources to power homes. And there's even walnut-shell cat litter. But the health benefits of walnuts and flaxseeds are the subject of numerous studies on how to help high blood pressure and cholesterol levels with a combination of walnuts and ground flaxseeds or walnuts or flaxseeds by themselves.

"People who show an exaggerated biological response to stress are at higher risk of heart disease," says Sheila G. West, associate professor of biobehavioral health, according to an October 4, 2010 Penn State news release, Walnuts, walnut oil, improve reaction to stress. "We wanted to find out if omega 3-fatty acids from plant sources would blunt cardiovascular responses to stress."

The researchers studied 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL cholesterol

All meals and snacks were provided during three diet periods of six weeks each. The researchers found that including walnuts and walnut oil in the diet lowered both resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory.

Participants gave a speech or immersed their foot in cold water as a stressor. Adding flax seed oil to the walnut diet did not further lower blood pressure. They report their findings in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

"This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress," says West in the news release. "This is important because we can't avoid all of the stressors in our daily lives. This study shows that a dietary change could help our bodies better respond to stress."

A subset of the participants also underwent a vascular ultrasound in order to measure artery dilation

Results showed that adding flax oil to the walnut diet significantly improved this test of vascular health. The researchers used a randomized, crossover study design.

Tests were conducted at the end of each six-week diet, and every participant consumed each of the three diets in random order, with a one-week break between. Diets included an "average" American diet – a diet without nuts that reflects what the typical person in the U.S. consumes each day.

The flax plus walnuts diet also lowered c-reactive protein, indicating an anti-inflammatory effect

According to West, that could also reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. The second diet included 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil substituted for some of the fat and protein in the average American diet. The third diet included walnuts, walnut oil and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil.

The three diets were matched for calories and were specifically designed for each participant so that no weight loss or gain occurred. The walnuts, walnut oil, and flax oil were either mixed into the food in such offerings as muffins or salad dressing or eaten as a snack. About 18 walnut halves or 9 walnuts make up the average serving used by the researchers.

After each diet, the participants underwent two stress tests. In the first test, they received a topic; and they were given two minutes to prepare a three-minute speech, which they presented while being videotaped. The second stressor was a standard physical test of stress consisting of submerging one foot in ice-cold water. Throughout these tests, the researchers took blood pressure readings from the participants.

Results showed that average diastolic blood pressure -- the "bottom number" or the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting -- was significantly reduced during the diets containing walnuts and walnut oil

Walnuts are a rich source of fiber, antioxidants, and unsaturated fatty acids, particularly alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, and these compounds could be responsible for the beneficial effects on blood pressure. Flax oil is a more concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids than walnut oil, but this study did not test whether flax oil alone could blunt cardiovascular responses to stress.

"These results are in agreement with several recent studies showing that walnuts can reduce cholesterol and blood pressure," explains West, according to the news release. "This work suggests that blood pressure is also reduced when a person is exposed to stress in their daily life."

Also working on this research were Penny Kris-Etherton, Distinguished Professor of nutrition; Laura Cousino Klein, associate professor of biobehavioral health; Andrea Likos Krick, recent doctoral recipient, biobehavioral health; Guixiang Zhao, recent doctoral recipient, nutritional sciences; Rachel M. Ceballos, recent doctoral recipient, biobehavioral health; Todd F. Wojtowicz and Matthew McGuiness, former Penn State undergraduate students; Deborah M. Bagshaw and Paul Wagner, Penn State and Bruce J. Holub, university professor emeritus, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The California Walnut Commission, Sacramento California, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Ontario, Canada and the National Institutes of Health supported this research.

Can ground flaxseeds also help reduce high blood pressure?

You might check out an excellent article in the February/March 2014 issue of Townsend Letter by Dr. Jeremy Mikolai, ND, "Basic Lifestyle Interventions for High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol." The article discusses how to get more fiber to reduce blood pressure. For example, Dr. Mikolai encourages patients to make small daily dietary interventions that can accumulate to large changes in their lipid profile, blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome traits. For example, the article discusses helping patients move in the direction of consuming 40 to 50 grams of fiber each day, for some.

The diet discussed in the article advises patients to get 50% soluble fiber and 50% insoluble fiber. Fiber helps to bind up cholesterol, says the article. The reason for this much insoluble fiber is that it helps to keep cholesterol moving out of the body through the stool. The article states that increased dietary fiber can lower LDL-c 5% to 10% as it may help decrease blood pressure and body weight. The medical journal article reference to this is the study and PDF format article, "Lowering LDL-cholesterol through diet: potential role in the statin era." Current Opinion in Lipidology, 2011, 22:43–48.

Dr. Mikolai's article discusses how flaxseed meal and cinnamon can bring rapid improvements in blood pressure

The Townsend Letter article explains that in small clinical trails, just 30 grams a day of ground flax seed (flax seed meal) added to the diet during a six-month period can result in blood pressure reductions of up to 10/7 mmHg in the flax seed group when compared with controls.

Even participants who started the trial with the most severe high blood pressure showed even greater reductions in blood pressure of 15/7 mmHg. The reference article in a medical journal that Dr. Mikolai gives for this statement is "Potent antihypertensive action of dietary flaxseed in hypertensive Patients," published in the journal Hypertension. (E-published October 14, 2013).

Also you may wish to see, "Flaxseed may reduce blood pressure, early findings show -" And you may wish to check out the articles, "Artery-Dilating Flaxseed Proven A Potent Healer" or "Potent Antihypertensive Action of Dietary Flaxseed in hypertensive patients." According to that study's abstract, flaxseed induced one of the most potent antihypertensive effects achieved by a dietary intervention.

Ground flaxseed is an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fiber full of plant sterols

The ground flaxseed (meal) helps to lower cholesterol and also at the same time decrease the body's absorption of carbohydrates if you're eating carbs with the flax seed meal. Besides the plant sterols in the flax seed meal, (freshly ground flax seeds) there's also the omega 3 oils (alpha-linolenic acid) in that flaxseed meal.

If you're buying flax seeds, you may want to choose organic golden flax seeds and grind them in an electric coffee grinder into a fresh meal consistency. Dr. Mikolai's article recommends 6 to 8 tablespoons of flax seed meal daily in order to get a blood pressure reducing benefit. That's also the amount of 10 grams of fiber added to your diet. That amount also adds up to about 40 mg of plant sterols. Plants have sterols and stanols. Plant sterols also are known as phytostanols. Plant stanols are cholesterol-like compounds found in plant products, such as grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits.

If you don't like flax seeds ground into meal, you could use psyllium supplements, oats, oat meal, oat groats, steel-cut oatmeal, or barley. Then again, people who can't tolerate the gluten in barley probably would choose the flax seeds. Just be aware that some articles explain that if you exceed 6 tablespoons of flaxseed meal daily, it might affect or overstimulate your thyroid. See, "Flaxseed oil may cause a thyroid problem." Or check out, "Talking Thyroid Facts - Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation."

Cinnamon intake also discussed

Dr. Mikolai's article in the Townsend Letter also discusses cinnamon added to the diet. Since there are so many articles on liver toxicity from regular commercial cinnamon you find in most food markets, you might try Ceylon cinnamon which has less of those liver toxins attributed to the type of cinnamon found in most commercial containers found in supermarkets. See the Wall Street Journal article "Ceylon Cinnamon vs. Cassia Cinnamon: Which Is Healthier?"

You may find various past studies on cinnamon conflicting. Too much cinnamon can cause a fast heartbeat. And too much of one type of cinnamon can be toxic to the liver. See, "Coumarin In Cinnamon Causes Liver Damage In Some People." So if you take a bit of cinnamon, choose the variety with less of the toxin that may cause liver damage. One example might be choosing the Ceylon variety of cinnamon instead of the variety containing more of the coumarin.

Some past studies didn't show a benefit to controlling high blood sugar with cinnamon. But more recent studies on the use of cinnamon for decreasing too high blood sugar levels did show effects and also effects on cholesterol levels. So you might read the various recent studies and get a handle on what some of the studies showed.

Cinnamon and fasting blood glucose levels

For example, in Dr. Mikolai's article in the Townsend Letter, the cinnamon studies discussed showed that cinnamon consumption significantly decreased fasting plasma glucose levels. What you'd want to know is whether the insulin surges were high or low, not only what the fasting blood sugar levels were after cinnamon consumption. And how much cinnamon is safe for an individual? Some people react one way to cinnamon, and others react adversely.

Dr. Mikolai's article in Townsend letter did mention that cinnamon mildly raised HDL-c levels. You should know that the article also mentions the various studies used different types and amounts of cinnamon, measured different outcomes, and conducted the studies in different ways, says Dr. Mikolai's article. So to get a handle, you have to do your own informational research.

In Dr. Mikolai's article, he mentions that in his practice, a typical recommendation for ground cinnamon is just 1/4 to 1/2 of a teaspoon three times daily with meals. You can check out Dr. Mikolai's website for more information on his practice in the field of naturopathic medicine at the Center for Natural Medicine (CNM) (Cardiovascular Medicine Center for Natural Medicine, Inc.) in Portland, Oregon. The whole point is that there are natural solutions using food such as ground flax seed and/or cinnamon for different and various health issues if you research what the latest studies are finding. Your goal is to get a handle on the latest research and find out what's the best fit, what works best for your health as an individual.

Protein supplements are misused by athletes. A University of Montreal study reveals worrying habits by fitness enthusiasts

In studies by different researchers, scientists are finding that protein supplements don't improve performance or recovery time and, according to a 2010 study, such supplements are inefficient for most athletes. "They are often poorly used or unnecessary by both high-level athletes and amateurs," says Martin Fréchette, a researcher and graduate of the Université de Montréal Department of Nutrition, according to the January 19, 2010 news release, "Protein supplements are misused by athletes."

Fréchette submitted questionnaires to 42 athletes as part of his master's thesis. Sportsmen were asked about their use of supplements while keeping a journal of their eating habits for three days. They came from a variety of disciplines including biathlon, cycling, long-distance running, swimming, judo, skating and volleyball.

Nine athletes out of 10 reported food supplements on a regular basis

They consume an average of 3,35 products: energy drinks, multi-vitamins, minerals and powdered protein supplements. Fréchette found their knowledge of food supplements to be weak. "The role of proteins is particularly misunderstood," he warns, according to the news release. "Only one out of four consumers could associate a valid reason, backed by scientific literature, for taking the product according."

Despite the widespread use of protein supplements, 70 percent of athletes in Fréchette's study didn't feel their performance would suffer if they stopped such consumption. "More than 66 percent of those who believed to have bad eating habits took supplements. For those who claimed to have 'good' or 'very good' eating habits that number climbs to 90 percent."

90 percent of athletes claim to have good or very good eating habits

Fréchette stresses that supplements come with certain risks. "Their purity and preparation aren't as controlled as prescription medication," he explains in the news release, "Protein supplements are misused by athletes." "Sports supplements often contain other ingredients than those listed on the label. Some athletes consume prohibited drugs without knowing." Also check out the news release, "Ballerinas and female athletes share quadruple health threats."

A study led by sports medicine researcher Anne Hoch, D.O., at The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has revealed that young female professional dancers face the same health risks as young female athletes when they don't eat enough to offset the energy they spend, and stop menstruating as a consequence. "These two components of the female athlete tetrad put them at higher risk for the other two; the cardiovascular and bone density deficits of much older, postmenopausal women," according to Dr. Hoch, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the Froedtert & the Medical College Women's Sports Medicine Center, as explained in the news release, Ballerinas and female athletes share quadruple health threats."

Other studies have shown that 12 to 20 percent of products regularly used by athletes contain prohibited substances

Fréchette observed a particular interest by the athletes on the efficiency, legality and safety of those drugs. "No less than 81 percent of athletes taking supplements already had sufficient protein from their diet," says Fréchette in the news release, Protein supplements are misused by athletes. "The use of multivitamins and minerals can make up for an insufficient intake of calcium, folate yet not for lack of potassium."

What's more, consumers of supplements had levels of sodium, magnesium, niacin, folate, vitamin A and iron that exceeded the acceptable norms. "This makes them susceptible to health problems such as nausea, vision trouble, fatigue and liver anomalies," explains Fréchette in the news release. Also see the news release, "Protein handlers should be effective treatment target for cancer and Alzheimer's." Cancer and Alzheimer's have excess protein in common and scientists say learning more about how proteins are made and eliminated will lead to better treatment for both. Check out, "Study may explain how exercise improves heart function in diabetics."

Supplements even confuse athletes

Too many supplements may confuse athletes, according to the November 7, 2007 news release, "Supplements even confuse athletes." Many of us reach for over-the-counter vitamins and herbal remedies, such as Vitamin C and Echinacea, in a bid to ward off illnesses and improve health. But the vast array of supplements available and lack of industry regulation make it difficult for the average person to make an informed choice about taking supplements. Now a report published in the online open access publication, Nutrition Journal suggests that even athletes, who should be well informed as to how to stay in peak physical condition, frequently take supplements without realizing the potential benefits or side effects.

A research team, led by Andrea Petróczi of the School of Life Sciences at Kingston University, in South West London, UK re-analyzed surveys filled in by high performance athletes, representing over thirty different sports, for the 'UK Sport 2005 Drug Free Survey'. Three-fifths of athletes questioned took nutritional supplements, but the reasons given for taking them did not generally match up to the supplements' actual effects. Not surprisingly, given this result, the team also found that relatively few supplement users appeared to be taking supplements because of medical advice.

The results are worrisome because high doses of some supplements may damage health and contaminated products may even cause athletes to fail drug-screening tests. To help remedy this, the article recommends that education about the use of nutritional supplements should become a required part of the accreditation process for all sport coaches. Indeed, previous research has shown that the more information athletes have on supplements, the less likely they are to take them.

Nutritional supplements and incongruence

"Incongruence regarding nutritional supplements and their effects is alarming," says Petróczi. "Athletes seem to take supplements without an understanding of the benefits they can offer, or their side effects, suggesting that supplements may be used by high performing athletes without a clear, coherent plan." Check out the BioMed Central site.

You can read the original article, "Limited agreement exists between rationale and practice in athlethe's supplement use for maintenance of health: a restrospective study," Nutritional Journal. Authors are Andrea Petroczi, Declan P Naughton, Jason Mazanov, Allison Holloway and Jerry Bingham.

Sports doctors tout non-alcoholic wheat beer for athletes' health

'Be-MaGIC,' is the largest study of marathons world-wide, reveals positive effects on the immune system and against infection. Many amateur athletes have long suspected what research scientists for the Department of Preventative and Rehabilitative Sports Medicine of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen at Klinikum rechts der Isar have now made official.

Documented proof, gathered during the world's largest study of marathons, "Be-MaGIC" (beer, marathons, genetics, inflammation and the cardiovascular system), that the consumption of non-alcoholic weissbier, or wheat beer, has a positive effect on athletes' health, says a 2011 study. Under the direction of Dr. Johannes Scherr, physicians examined 277 test subjects three weeks before and two weeks after the 2009 Munich Marathon, according to the June 9, 2011 news release, "Sport doctors say non-alcoholic wheat beer boosts athletes' health."

The study focuses on the health risks for marathon runners and the potential positive effects of polyphenols. These aromatic compounds occur naturally in plants as pigment, flavor, or tannins, many of which have been credited with health-promoting and cancer-preventative properties.

Unique to this study was the combination of different polyphenols that were tested on the large pool of participants. The research team met the scientific requirements of the study by conducting a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Positive effects of polyphenols on health researched

Non-alcoholic Erdinger wheat beer was selected as the test beverage, chosen for its rich and varied polyphenol content and its popularity with marathoners and tri-athletes. The "active" group drank up to 1.5 liters of the test beverage per day, while a second group consumed an equal amount of an otherwise indistinguishable placebo beverage that contained no polyphenols and was especially produced for the study.

One result from the study was the discovery that, after running a marathon race, athletes experience intensified inflammatory reactions. The immune system is thrown off balance and runners are much more likely to suffer from upper respiratory infections.

This heightened susceptibility to illness following strenuous sport activity has been identified as an "open window." Furthermore it was shown that non-alcoholic wheat beer containing polyphenols has a positive, health promoting effect on the human body: inflammation parameters in the blood were significantly reduced, and there was a lower frequency of infection with milder symptoms.

Inflammation reduced, the study notes

Reduced Inflammatory Reaction: Dr. Scherr, who also serves as physician to the German National Ski Team, explains in the news release that "The analysis of the leukocytes, or white blood cells, which constitute one of the most important parameters for inflammation, revealed values in the active group that were 20% lower than in the placebo group."

Support for the Immune System: Compounds in the test drink had a compensatory or balancing effect on the immune system. Dr Scherr explained according to the June 9, 2011 news release, Sport doctors say non-alcoholic wheat beer boosts athletes' health, "We were able to prove that it strengthens an immune system that has been weakened by physical stress. It also prevents the system from over-performing."

Do the polyphenols help to prevent colds?

Runners who drank the non-alcoholic wheat beer were up to three times less susceptible to infection than those in the placebo group. Dr. Scherr explains according to the news release, "Drinking the non-alcoholic test beverage reduces your risk of developing a cold by one third."

Regarding improvement with upper respiratory infections, the study noted that people in the active group who did succumb to a cold experienced a milder or briefer infection than those in the placebo group. Dr. Scherr explains in the news release, "Results showed a Number Needed to Treat (NNT) of eight. That means that for every eight people who had the test drink, one of them was prevented from succumbing to a cold."

Dr. Scherr explains in the news release, "The potential for foods containing polyphenols to have a positive effect on athletes' health has already been suggested in several articles. Nevertheless we were ourselves sometimes surprised at how clearly evident this was in the results. We now have scientific confirmation of those assumptions for this test beverage, with its particular combination of polyphenols, vitamins and minerals."

Dr. Scherr presented this study to the approximately 5,000 scientists, physicians, and trainers attending the world's largest congress for sports medicine in Denver (USA) hosted by the American College of Sports (ACSM) at the beginning of June 2011. The study is published in the January 2011 printed edition of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE). See, Fighting Distance Runner Ailments with Non-Alcoholic Beer, American College of Sports Medicine. Also, check out, " Non-alcoholic beer boosts athlete health -"

Peter Liebert, Managing Director for Technology, Purchasing, Human Resources and Logistics for Erdinger Weissbräu, is pleased about the study results, according to the news release, "In brief, the Be-MaGIC study confirms the benefits for sport athletes and proves new health-promoting effects. Thus, Erdinger alcohol-free is proven to be more than just an isotonic thirst-quencher."

Valuable components in flax seeds: It's the lupins in the plant that may have a positive impact on cholesterol

Also, you may wish to check out a September 5, 2008 news release, "Functional food -- delicious and healthy." Researchers have now isolated the valuable components of the flax seeds. Incorporated in bread, cakes or dressings, they support the human organism without leaving an unpleasant aftertaste.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising have isolated valuable components of linseed and lupin seeds and experimentally incorporated them in various foodstuffs: the linseed in cakes, bread, dressings and sauces, the lupins in bread, rolls and pasta.

The result is not only delicious, but healthy as well. "Flax is not only high in soluble fiber, but also contains lignans. These substances are phytoestrogens, so they have a similar effect to that of the isoflavones that we know from soy beans. According to the literature, they protect the organism against hormone-dependent forms of cancer – that is, breast and prostate cancer," says IVV project manager Dr. Katrin Hasenkopf, according to the September 5, 2008 news release, Functional food -- delicious and healthy.

"The lupins, on the other hand, contain substances that our studies have found to have a positive impact on the cholesterol level." But how do the researchers isolate the valuable components? "We make use of the differing solubility of the various constituents: If the pH value is acidic, the unwanted bitter substances are the first to dissolve. If the pH value is then set back to neutral, you get the valuable proteins – without the bitter taste. We are also able to separate large components from small ones by a series of filtration steps," explains Hasenkopf in the news release.

Lupin and linseed foods

The scientists are already skilled at isolating the valuable constituents. Now they are preparing to conduct further investigations with the aim of confirming the effects they hope to see. "The healthy effects of linseed and lupin seeds are already known from literature, but so far there is a lack of conclusive scientific investigations on the subject. These substances undoubtedly have very high potential," says Hasenkopf, according to the news release.

The researchers presented the linseed and lupin foods at the Biotechnica trade fair in Hannover on October 7-9, 2008. By 2011, the experts looked forward to the time (at the date of the news release) that the new cholesterol-lowering foodstuffs will be available on supermarket shelves – maybe even including cakes, bread rolls and sauces enriched with the valuable substances obtained from flax seeds. Then again, you can always buy a bag of flaxseeds, grind them in a little electric coffee grinder, and add them to your own baked goods, cereals, or other foods. Or combine flaxseed meal with walnuts in your food or smoothies.

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