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Posts Tagged ‘heart health’

Bacteria, metabolites, and a big juicy steak

Here we go again.

The “what to eat and why” plot thickens. So do our artery walls if we’re not careful.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women. Back in my exercise physiology days, I had a fascination with heart disease. I wrote my thesis paper on the effects of exercise on coronary collateralization, worked in cardiac rehab, helped develop an outpatient exercise program, watched up-close-and-personal heart procedures, and was convinced I’d make an awesomely fantastic cardiac surgeon (some of the docs back then were alpha males and not the best listeners). If not for that sternal saw thing, I might have given it more thought.

What I did learn from that experience, though, is that heart disease is a complex condition and doesn’t always follow a direct line to diagnosis or treatment. Researchers are now questioning some of the basic assumptions about causes, lab biomarkers (blood chemistry), nutrition protocols, drug therapies, and invasive surgeries. Some in the medical community are even rethinking our obsession with low cholesterol and statin drugs. I’ll resist picking up that rope, but suffice to say, there’s no easy answer. Throw in genetics and lifestyle choices and there’s a lot to consider.

And now, like there’s not enough to think about regarding heart health and that all-too-common side effect known as sudden death, researchers have discovered those pesky gut bacteria are also playing a role. It appears there’s a type of meat- and egg-loving microbe that produces a substance, which in turn, increases the risk for heart disease. It’s a convoluted pathway, but these microbes convert carnitine (in meat) and choline (in eggs) into a chemical the liver quickly converts to TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide). TMAO ends up in circulation and is associated with an increased risk for atherosclerosis. That’s not good.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve never been much of a meat fan. I’ve always felt we’re better off sticking to a diverse, plant-based diet. If I eat red meat at all, it’s on very rare occasions and in condiment-sized portions. Plants high in beneficial fiber encourage the proliferation of good gut bacteria. Those are the microbes I want on my disease-fighting team, not the carnitine-fueled, gas-belching, TMAO-producing critters. There’s also growing evidence that carnitine and choline supplements promote higher TMAO levels. Beware.

The conclusion from the scientific and medical community might be (is) to develop antibiotics to eliminate these microbes. If we wipe out the bacteria that play a part in TMAO production, we solve the problem, right?

Hmmm? I wonder what the unintended consequences of that will be? How about we support the magic of our own innate healing power and skip the drugs?

Bottom line (in my humble opinion)? Eat more plants and rethink the use of supplements and energy drinks.

If you’re on a meat-laden Paleo diet, you might want to read the research.

For more information about plants, fiber, and gut bacteria, check my last post.
Plants, peels, fiber, and gut bugs

If you’re still with me, thank you. I’ll post some recipes that promote good bacteria later this week. No science talk, I promise. Just good food.

We’re all in this together. Peace, love, and plant power.


Husten, L “Researchers Find New Path Linking Heart Disease to Carnitine.” Forbes, online. (accessed April 7, 2013)

Kolata, G “Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat.” The New York Times, online. (accessed April 7, 2013)

Wang Z, et al. “Gut flora metabolism of phosphatidylcholine promotes cardiovascular disease.” Nature 472, 57-63 (April 2011).

Willyard, C “Pathology: At the heart of the problem.” Nature 493, S10-S11 (January 2013).

(for boys only) nutrition for men

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on gender-specific nutrition. I’ll start with my top 10 super-foods for men. Although we can easily eat the same foods, I thought I’d have fun with this and focus on specific nutrition needs for men and for women.

We’re very different, you know. I’m inspired and enchanted by the differences, even the ones that drive me nuts.

Ladies, do you think the 3 Stooges are funny?


See – that’s a boy thing. A gender trait.

Back in 2005 the president of Harvard University resigned over a comment he made at an academic conference about the innate differences between male and female brains. He suggested that these functional differences might explain why women aren’t equally represented in the math and science fields. I have no desire to expand on this or to share my opinion (well, maybe a little), but as a female science nerd, I agree and I’m not offended by his comments. We’re different – our brains are even architecturally different.

Different doesn’t mean smarter. It just means not the same. There are evolutionary reasons for that. We excel in different ways.

I could write a 5000 word essay on why men and women communicate differently, but please don’t make me take a spatial orientation test. Or quickly process mathematical equations. I love science, but I’d rather read about, think about, write about, or discuss this mass of neural wiring we have in our heads than do math problems under pressure. Just the thought of that makes my neurons smolder.


That whole thing about a train leaving the station at 6 PM going due east at 75 miles an hour and blah, blah, blah – gives me a massive headache. I can smell smoke right now. If you add in another train leaving an hour later going due west at 85 miles an hour, I’ll blow a gasket.

But I digress. Spiraling is in my DNA. Another gender difference.

Bottom line? Men and women have specific traits that have been selected through evolution and specific traits that are developed through cultural and social conditioning. We also have very different biological demands and nutritional needs. Regardless, we’re just plain different in a zillion ways, so we might as well rejoice in that and have fun with it.

Let’s start with food.

Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for men (in no particular order)

1. Hops (see photo above)
As in beer. Researchers at Oregon State University discovered a flavonoid in hops called xanthohumol that appears to reduce inflammation and may inhibit the development of prostate cancer. According to Fred Stevens, professor of Medicinal Chemistry at OSU, xanthohumol is only found in beer that is produced from hops and not in beer made from hop extracts. (Drink alcohol in moderation, there are health risks associated with over-consumption. I have to say this, I’m a woman. You know, that whole nurturing thing.)

2. Bison
Once upon a time, men did the hunting, women the gathering. We evolved with different roles for a variety of reasons. In general, men are more aggressive, bigger, stronger and tend to take greater physical risks. Personally, I’d rather wrestle with a blueberry bush than a 2,000 pound bison, so I’m good with that. Our gender-specific food roles are linked with social and cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity. No way around it. Men burn meat, women bake pies. By the way, baking a pie (especially a gluten-free pie) takes a greater understanding of chemistry than throwing a steak on the grill. Women rock at science, we just don’t always get credit for it.

As far as  nutritionally dense food and masculinity is concerned, I’m choosing 100% grass-fed, organic and humanely treated bison because of its wonderful amino acid profile (good protein for building muscles to protect the berry pickers), low glycemic index, and high amounts of B vitamins, zinc, and selenium. B vitamins are important for metabolism, zinc plays a role in prostate health and selenium is a powerful antioxidant.

3. Cranberries
Studies show that a mixture of flavonoids in cranberries help inhibit LDL oxidation and may decrease the risk of atherosclerosis. Whole cranberries in food form not only protect the heart, but the liver, kidneys and urinary tract as well. Eat the whole food, rather than relying on supplements or extracts. The synergistic value of the various nutrients working together is what makes up a super-food.

4. Pumpkin seeds
Here’s another food rich in zinc to keep your boy parts healthy. According to the Journal of Fertility and Sterility, zinc concentration in sperm directly relates to its motility in that all-important, nano-yard dash. If you’re looking to reproduce, you want fast, agile swimmers once an egg is launched. And keep in mind, zinc has to be replenished. Men produce about 300 million sperm per day. You read that right. PER DAY. Us girls have 1 very special egg per month. I feel like such a princess. Guys – snack on pumpkin seeds. They’re much easier to carry around in your briefcase or backpack than oysters (also high in zinc).

5. Oysters
No explanation needed.

6. Turmeric
Turmeric contains a yellow substance called curcurim, which is the spice that gives curry its name. Rather trendy right now, turmeric shows promise of anti-cancer properties, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. This wonderful spice (I love curry) also helps promote liver detoxification. Check here for one of my recipes for sweet and spicy Moroccan stew. The smell alone is intoxicating.

7. Beets
Beet root contains inorganic nitrate, which researchers have determined, decreases human oxygen requirements during sub-maximal exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise. This is a performance-enhancing substance that might turn your pee pink, but you won’t flunk the drug test. Beet root also helps lower blood pressure. This is one of my favorite functional plants. I eat beets in one form or another 4 or 5 times a week.

8. Blackberries
According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, blackberries have a very high antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are believed to play a role in neutralizing the effect of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage and contribute to age-related degeneration. Eat blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. That’s much better (and more fun) than taking supplements.

9. Kale
Kale is a wonder plant. It’s over-the-top high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and is a good source of fiber, protein, iron and a host of other vitamins and minerals. It’s also highly anti-inflammatory and low in calories. Good stuff. Skip the fat-filled potato chips and opt for kale chips instead.

10. Sardines
Sardines are absolutely packed with vitamin B-12. In fact, there are few more concentrated sources. B-12 helps promote heart health by keeping homocysteine levels in balance. Elevated homocysteine is linked to cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Sardines are also a rich source of good fats, high-quality protein and vitamin D, a nutrient that is hard to come by and one that promotes bone health.

Next up – food for warrior princesses. Sign up for my email updates so you don’t miss anything.

Peace, love and healthy men!

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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