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Take a Bite Out of Summer — Anthocyanins

It’s blackberry season.
Inspired by their rich, deep hues at the farmers market tables yesterday, I could not help but buy three cartons.

Rubus is a diverse genus of flowering and fruiting plants that encompass raspberries, blueberries, and of course, blackberries (Rubus fruticosus L.). Originating in Europe, these highly pigmented fruits are packed with nutrients. Colors, particularly of the red, blue and purple shades, are determined by the fruit’s pH and light exposure as well as the environmental temperature; reds are denoted by higher acidity (pH ≤7) while darker, blue shades are more basic (pH ≥7). In particular, anthocyanins are a dietary phytochemical and type of polyphenol that can provide a number of benefits in chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as facilitate improved vision and weight management.

Known as a potent antioxidant, anthocyanins are bioactive compounds that are associated with their ability to scavenge free radicals to protect our cells and vessels from damage leading to dysfunction. Disturbances in angiogenesis, or the production and maintenance of blood vessels, can be a top contributor to many conditions, especially cancer. As demonstrated in research studies, anthocyanins may play a role in the inhibition of inflammatory mediators, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-ɑ), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) in cancer cells; however, preliminary studies call for further investigation to validate these results.

Due to the standard American diet lacking an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods and the mass marketing of processed foods, the rates of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, continue to rise. But, could anthocyanins be beneficial to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels? 

In a clinical trial of 58 diabetic patients, six-month purified anthocyanin supplementation led to a decrease of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), total cholesterol and triglycerides as well as the increase in total plasma antioxidant capacity; in addition, participants had lower fasting plasma glucose and improved insulin resistance in comparison with placebo. Another clinical trial with one-month fruit-based anthocyanin supplementation also showed promising results for both lipid and antioxidant capacity. Even so, researchers agree that more studies are needed, and that it is harder said than done to design a nutrition study for two principal reasons, 1) each person has an individualized genetic and lifestyle make-up, and 2) anthocyanin-rich foods, such as berries, have many other nutrients that could be attributed to these incredible health changes.

Apart from their medicinal properties, this versatile compound can be extracted and used as an additive or colorant for purple-colored foods and beverages. As a natural option, it can be a wonderful alternative to synthetic additives that could potentially impact the body in the opposite manner of the intended therapeutic use of anthocyanins.

So, what did I do with these fresh blackberries? As an amateur vegan recipe developer, I created a beautifully sweet yet tangy rustic blackberry galette. With a chiffonade of basil and mint and a dollop of vegan vanilla ice cream, one bite can nourish the mind, the body and the taste buds. 

Take a Sip Out of Summer — Matcha

One of the many reasons I look forward to waking up every morning: matcha. 

Researchers agree that finely ground green tea leaves (Camellia sinensis), known as matcha, can provide a state of calm alertness, meaning that it can improve concentration to accomplish your list of things to do while calming the mind from anxiety-inducing, racing thoughts. But, which parts of the plant do we have to thank for these benefits?

As a wonderful coffee alternative, matcha is filled with a host of nutrients including the amino acid, l-theanine, and the dietary phytochemical, epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG for short. These two along with countless other compounds have an array of therapeutic advantages (not to mention, it’s really tasty!).

Harvested in late spring-early summer, matcha has been traditionally associated with Japanese tea ceremonies and Zen Buddhism spirituality. The spectrum of “grades” available determine not only the quality of the matcha, but also the price tag; “ceremonial” and “premium” are considered the best options with the most depth of flavor quality derived from the young tea leaves at the top of the plant. When selecting which matcha brand to purchase, it can seem daunting given the number of companies and flavor profiles. Like coffee, everyone has a preferred flavor; flavors of matcha can range from subtle sweetness to noticeably bitter. However, unlike coffee, it is considered a moderate caffeine option as ½ tsp of matcha has approximately 30-35 mg per cup (compared to 90-95 mg in a cup of coffee). Matcha also has a marked longer effect in the body, meaning that it can provide sustained energy throughout the day without the coffee jitters, or the immediate spike followed by crash.

Results of chemical composition studies indicate that there are higher concentrations of total amino acids, including l-theanine, in higher “grade” formulations, however, the amount of other compounds, such as EGCG, do not change. Regardless of the quality of the matcha, rest assured that nearly all matcha powders will retain a favorable amount of l-theanine. 

The impact of this unparalleled amino acid and catechin combination is two-fold: their influence on taste and their influence on physiological and psychological state. Specifically, they have been shown to be involved with the biomarkers, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF), known for improving brain health and neuronal growth. 

In particular, l-theanine binds to the glutamatergic AMPA receptor which is known for its inhibitory signaling for relaxation and focus; its relationship with glutamate also speaks to its relationship with BDNF and NGF, both linked to their roles in the prevention and slowing progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson Disease.

It would be impossible for me to write an article about matcha and not discuss the incredible nature of the polyphenol and catechin, EGCG. It is associated with the promotion of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cardiometabolic effects, and it has been thought that when ingested daily, it can work synergistically with other organ systems to modulate cholesterol levels, increase metabolism and induce anti-tumor pathways. Beyond the few benefits mentioned, long-term regular consumption of matcha has been demonstrated to have a multifaceted impact throughout the body.

As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, the topic of caffeine consumption comes up frequently. While some believe that caffeine should not be consumed at all and others believe moderation is key, I believe matcha can be a beautifully peaceful part of a balanced routine that also incorporates lifestyle elements such as restful sleep, meditation, colorful diet and frequent activity. 

Next time at your local coffee shop when you have the choice between coffee and matcha, try a matcha latte; whether warm and comforting, or iced and refreshing, take a sip and marvel at the history and nutritional value packed inside your seemingly tiny to-go cup.

Take a Bite Out of Summer — Carotenoids

There is nothing quite like a bite of watermelon on a balmy summer day.
It is so refreshing, but what makes it so nutritious?

As seasons change as do the fresh fruits and vegetables in our local farmers markets. Entering summer, many of the fruits and vegetables in season are abundant with nutrients, including dietary phytochemicals, a group of compounds produced in plants that provide the visible color as well as natural defense system to thrive and combat predators and pathogens.

In these trying times, both mentally and physically, let’s discuss how we can support our immune systems; apart from regular physical activity, high sleep quality and social engagement, we cannot underscore the importance of eating a well-balanced, colorful diet rich in dietary phytochemicals, particularly carotenoids.

Carotenoids are the reason that many of the fruits and vegetables in season in the summer are pigmented yellow, orange and red. Although carotenoids are considered ‘nonessential’ with no set dietary reference intake, they can be vital in the maintenance and improvement of optimal health, including immune function. 

Most commonly known as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, astaxanthin and retinol, many of these carotenoids have been studied in animals and humans, with most investigating specifically beta-carotene. In one study, beta-carotene supplementation (≥30 mg) in older adults demonstrated an immunostimulatory effect with a resulting increase in T-helper and natural killer cells. Though not all studies agree on this effect and state that perhaps beta-carotene does not have an effect. Researchers do agree, however, that designing an effective human clinical trial with carotenoids is difficult given the intrinsic relationship between carotenoids and vitamin A. 

As a practitioner, when evaluating supplementation for a patient, I am always looking at the potential risks versus the benefits. Given the published data, it seems as though there could be a benefit of beta-carotene supplementation accompanied by low risk, but not enough data for me to say one way or another for supplementing with other carotenoids. If one of my patients is interested, taking into account other factors, such as their diagnoses, prescription medications, dietary supplements and nutritional preferences, is crucial to determine if supplementation is the right choice for them.

Regardless of supplementation, the inclusion of carotenoids in a person’s diet can be beneficial for many reasons beyond immunomodulation; studies have shown that they could also be valuable in inhibiting cancer growth and impacting cardiovascular health. Many of the plant foods we eat every day have a number of phytochemicals, meaning that when you are eating the rainbow, you are likely to be consuming many nutrients that could improve your overall health status.

In the summer months, fruits like apricots, cantaloupe, peach, tomato, strawberry and watermelon, are in season and known to be some of the most carotenoid-dense plant foods. Though it are not of the stereotypical warm spectrum of colors, kale also has high carotenoid content; but, worry not, even if you do not like kale, many other greens could be substituted with a similar amount of carotenoids (eg. spinach, collard greens and turnip greens).

So, as you’re preparing for that friend’s BBQ or picnic in the park, think about how you can incorporate carotenoids into what you are bringing. Perhaps consider a strawberry and mixed greens salad with a grapefruit vinaigrette, a tray of sliced bell peppers for the hot grill, or simply a freshly sliced watermelon.

As the Chief Scientific Officer, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions regarding integrative wellness or cannabis.
At Element Apothec, we are here for you and your immune system.

 

Chew BP, Park JS. Carotenoid action on the immune response. J Nutr. 2004;134(1):257S‐261S.

Hughes DA, Wright AJ, Finglas PM, et al. The effect of β-carotene supplementation on the immune function of blood monocytes from healthy male nonsmokers. J Lab Clin Med. 1997;129(3):309-317.

Santos MS, Gaziano JM, Leka LS, Beharka AA, Hennekens CH, Meydani SN. β-Carotene-induced enhancement of natural killer cell activity in elderly men: an investigation of the role of cytokines. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(1):164-170. 

Schmitz H, Chevaux K. Defining the Role of Dietary Phytochemicals in Modulating Human Immune Function. In: Gershwin ME, German JB, Keen CL, ed. Nutrition and Immunology. Totowa: Humana Press; 2000.

The Best Version of You

Let’s face it, these times are tough. What can we do to relieve our stress?

As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, I am passionate about combining cannabis with other modalities of health, like nutrition and meditation, to improve patients’ wellbeing.

Our endocannabinoid systems are all wired a bit differently which makes the way we respond to cannabis different as well. This underscores the importance of individualized therapies and explains the dosing ranges and patient preferences for certain formulations; for example, some patients benefit from what are referred to as ‘microdoses’ of cannabinoids while other patients require much higher dosing and frequency for efficacious treatment.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s talk about strategies to boost our immune systems. Cannabis has been shown to be a plant with much medicinal value, especially for easing anxiety, relieving stress and improving sleep quality. In addition, although the mechanism is uncertain, there is promising research demonstrating its immunosupportive effects. In particular, one of the two most commonly discussed cannabis receptors, cannabis receptor type 2 (CB 2 ) is associated with the body’s immune system. Other diagnosed conditions and susceptibility to infection are two of the many variables in this equation that could influence the therapeutic impact of cannabinoid therapy.

In particular, studies show that CBD could have anti-inflammatory activity. However, the dosing recommendations are inconclusive as some clinicians recommend high doses of CBD for maximum preventative and/or acute benefit, while others do not agree. Apart from CBD, our body also produces its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, that are created on demand in response to changes in our lives, much like the shift in our lives a few months ago since the beginning of shelter-in-place. One of the most commonly discussed endocannabinoids is anandamide, named from the sanskrit word, “ananda” for bliss, which has also been shown to be a profound modulator of inflammation. Working in concert with other neurotransmitter systems in the body like dopamine, serotonin and mu opioid receptors, anandamide and other endocannabinoids can alleviate stress and maintain homeostasis, or balance.

Apart from cannabinoids themselves, cannabimimetics, defined as herbs, foods and activities that influence endocannabinoid system function, could improve our immunity; from the matcha or coffee in your morning caffeine boost, to your afternoon yoga session and your evening baked salmon fillet, we impact our endocannabinoid systems without even knowing it with so many of our daily practices; in combination, this is just another way we can support our overall physical and emotional health.

As the Chief Scientific Officer at Element Apothec , we want to hear how you are doing. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions regarding cannabis and integrative wellness, so that we can work together to support your immune system and help you feel like the best version of you.

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