Plant-Rich Nutrition: How and Why It Can Make a Difference

Juvenon Health Journal volume 9 number 3
March 2010

By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.

Do supplements really increase our energy level and improve how we feel? Can they actually counteract some of the conditions and health concerns commonly associated with aging? Undoubtedly, there is a significant amount of ‘irrational exuberance’ exhibited by those marketing many of the health supplements available today. So, to evaluate a supplement’s value, it’s important to examine the research behind the claims made for the specific nutrients it contains.

Science Behind Supplements
The body is complicated and requires at least 40 to 50 micronutrients to keep its machinery running smoothly. For the last century or longer, scientists have been discovering some of these vitamins and minerals, studying their effects and reporting on the results.

“Research has revealed that many nutrients have multiple functions”

Recent research has revealed that many of these nutrients, often initially thought to have only one health-promoting benefit, actually have multiple functions. For example, vitamin D was first identified as the anti-rickets factor, necessary for strong, healthy bone development. Now studies are demonstrating D’s importance for a healthy immune system, as well as mental health (numerous vitamin D receptors in the brain).

As research reveals multiple health-promoting effects for other vitamins and minerals, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is also coming under the microscope. Take vitamin D again. The 400 IU per day RDA was originally established to prevent rickets alone, but is now believed to be too low to provide the vitamin’s newly discovered benefits. In fact, many health professionals are recommending at least 1,000 IU per day as the majority of people seem to be vitamin D-deficient, especially those living in northern zones.

Vitamin/Mineral Unknowns
As scientists learn more about the vitamins and minerals they have identified, they also realize they have only scratched the surface in terms of nutrients our bodies require but do not manufacture. So what do we do to make sure we obtain these unknown nutrients from our diet? Go to the bottom of the food chain and the basis for animal life: plants.

“Plants are thought to contain tens of thousands of nutrients”

The plants we consume are thought to contain tens of thousands of different compounds. We don’t have a clue as to what effect most of these have on our bodies. However, after millions of years of subsisting on plants, as well as fish, insects and worms (Try not to think about it.), humankind evolved to our present state. Consequently, it seems, modern man’s body remains dependent on many of the plant-derived nutrients that were instrumental in its development.

These “developmental” nutrients were and are required to activate specific biochemical pathways, such as those involved in the conversion of food to energy. Providing them by eating a plant-rich diet – high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains – seems to lower the incidence of obesity, believed to be a predisposing condition for health concerns. But what’s the connection?

Obesity and Inflammation
The more excess fat on the body, the more likely levels of inflammatory cells, and markers of inflammation, will be elevated in its tissues and organs. There is significant evidence associating inflammation with conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental decline.

So the question seems to be: Can we combat obesity and inflammation by supplementing to imitate a plant-rich diet? This was the subject of a recent double-blind crossover study by a Dutch applied research firm (See “Research Update.”), involving 36 disease-free men with a body mass index (BMI) of between 25.5 and 36 (moderately obese to obese).

“Nutrition can allow us to exercise some control over our health”

The men were divided into two groups. For a period of five weeks, they were instructed to consume their customary diet along with either a daily placebo pill (18 controls), or a similar pill that contained a mixture of nutrients demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory dietary mixture (AIDM) consisted of Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), lycopene (tomato extract), green tea extract, resveratrol and vitamins E and C.

AIDM Improvements
The results of the study were impressive. The men taking the AIDM supplement showed improvement in blood levels of several of the markers of inflammation, including a reduction in triglycerides, as compared to the men taking the placebo. The investigators also found that the markers of inflammation were particularly reduced in the AIDM group’s fat tissue, which harbors many of the cells that produce inflammation (macrophages).

Furthermore, those on the AIDM-supplemented diet had 1) a significant increase in a fat-cell-produced hormone (adiponectin) that has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity; 2) lower concentrations of substances (ICAM, VCAM) known to impair the health of the cells lining blood vessels (endothelial cells), which would make developing atherosclerosis less likely; 3) an increase in blood levels of a potent antioxidant, indole-3-propionic acid, suggesting AIDM supports the growth of the health-promoting intestinal bacteria needed to produce it.

Nutritional Value
In the Dutch study, a supplement, containing nutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, had a profound, health-promoting effect, even in only five weeks. Interestingly, most of the nutrients in the AIDM are plant-derived (except for the fish oil), further supporting the premise that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains can provide many known, as well as yet-to-be-identified, essential nutrients. So it seems that nutrition, from diet or well-formulated supplements, can allow us to exercise some control over our health. Of course, exercise is also an important factor. But that’s a subject for another Health Journal.

Recently, investigators from TNO (The Netherlands Organization) Quality of Life, a European applied research company, published “An antiinflammatory dietary mix modulates inflammation and oxidative and metabolic stress in overweight men: a nutrigenomics approach.” Their article, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, details the team’s study of the effects of certain dietary components on low-grade, chronic inflammation in overweight subjects.

The group was aware not only of the previously demonstrated correlation between excess fat and conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but also of recent reports that described certain markers of inflammation, circulating in the blood stream of overweight people, which appear to increase prior to clinical manifestations of disease. They wanted to determine whether a mix of nutrients, already acknowledged to have anti-oxidant and antiinflammatory properties, could decrease these markers.

The experimental protocol involved 36 overweight men, all of whom appeared to be disease free. The men were asked to take two tablets daily, while continuing their customary diet. Half received tablets containing a mixture of six nutrients – vitamins E and C, green tea extract, resveratrol, lycopene and fish oil – referred to as AIDM (antiinflammatory dietary mixture). The remaining 18 took identical-appearing tablets that contained inert ingredients (cellulose and soy lecithin).

The study was designed as a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover experiment. After each five-week period, blood and fat samples were taken and analyzed for markers of inflammation. The results clearly demonstrated a significant decrease in many of the circulating levels of inflammatory markers in the men on the AIDM supplemented diet, compared to the controls. Furthermore, there was an increase in the fat-cell-produced hormone adiponectin, which improves insulin sensitivity and is also associated with a decrease in inflammation.

Based on these impressive results, the researchers concluded that intervention with specific dietary nutrients can positively affect inflammatory processes and oxidative stress in humans.

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: I read Dr. Joseph Maroon’s book, The Longevity Factor, and was especially interested when he discussed (resveratrol) dosages and sleep. I doubled my dose to 500 mg every morning and have been sleeping much more deeply than before.

My age-related insomnia may have been cured! This is of great importance to me because I would always wake up somewhere between 1 and 3 AM and have trouble going back to sleep. But now, I wake up once, maybe twice, and don’t have difficulty returning to my slumbers.

I don’t see my diminished hair returning or changing back to its original color (yet), but I’ll settle for a good night’s sleep. – B I have been on Juvenon for several months. Within the first few weeks, I noticed that my memory was much better. For that reason alone, I will stay on Juvenon for the rest of my life. I no longer tell people that I have a “bad” memory. Would you explain to me how and why this is happening? – thank you, J

answer: Thank you for taking the time to inform me of this interesting response to increasing your resveratrol dosage. Research has demonstrated that resveratrol affects a number of key regulatory molecules, involving biochemical pathways in different tissues and organs.

The benefit you describe – improved sleep – is consistent with a potential positive effect on the sleep-control center in the brain (hypothalamus). It may also be a result of the beneficial effects resveratrol is believed to have on maintaining energy and metabolic balance in body tissues.

Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D., is a former Harvard Medical School associate professor.