Saturday, May 9, 2009

Food versus supplements - why food is more important

April 6, 2009
200 grams of Broccoli spouts markedly improve mitochondrial function and reduce oxidative stress

I am often asked about what supplements provide the most protection against oxidative stress. It is my impression that food is much more important than the supplements. When I first started traveling again I noticed a big difference in my energy that was associated with what I was eating. I took my supplements ands my electrical stimulator with me, but I did not take all of my kale with me. What I noticed was an erosion of my energy and clarity of my thinking which quickly resolved when I returned home and ate 6 to 9 cups of kale each day.

A study conducted by David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may explain why. They studied how sulforaphane (SFN) — a compound that is found in cruciferous vegetables and is especially high in broccoli sprouts affected the mitochondria and the cells lining the airways in the lung. This placebo-controlled clinical study demonstrated the positive effects of oral SFN administration on up-regulation of a variety of antioxidant enzymes. Inflammation caused during oxidative stress is seen in patients with multiple sclerosis.

Our Phase II enzymes are made in the mitochondria and are known to reduce oxidative stress. Animal studies had shown that SFN is a potent inducer of Phase II enzymes. “This study provides support for the concept that we can enhance the body's own natural antioxidant and cytoprotective mechanisms,” Because oxidative stress is a critical pathway in multiple sclerosis this may explain why I experience noticeably better energy and clarity in my thinking when I eat a lot of kale which is a cruciferous vegetable rich in SFN.

What is notable is that the researchers used a homogenate (food run through a blender) of broccoli sprouts to deliver the SFN. The doses that they used ranged from 25, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175 and 200 grams once daily for three days. The control subjects received a placebo, alfalfa sprout homogenate, which is similar in taste and appearance but does not have high levels of SFN. There was no apparent toxicity in administering the broccoli sprouts orally, and it was well tolerated by the subjects. For comparison I weighed one cup of my finely shredded kale: 200 grams.

At doses of 100g daily, the broccoli sprouts induced expression of several important Phase II enzyme genes (glutathione s-transferase M1 (GSTM1), glutathione S-transferase P1 (GSTP1), heme-oxygenase-1 (HO-1) and NADPH quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) — in the cells. There was also a dose-dependent increase in the expression of the enzymes. The maximum BSH dosage of 200 grams generated a doubling of helpful 101 percent increase in GSTP1 and a 199 percent increase in NQO1. Expression of GSTM1 and HO-1 also increased by more than 100 percent at the maximum dosage. To get a comparison of how much kale this would be I weighed one cup of finely shredded kale that I eat. It weighed 180 grams. If you don’t mince the kale - and the cup is more loosely filled it is only 70 grams. Since I eat two platefuls of kale most days (6 cups), the amount that I’m eating is approximately over 1000 grams. If you compare the kale I eat each day then to taking 2 grams of N acetylcysteine (which is a sulfur containing amino acid that also increases the same enzymes) each day you can see why eating six cups of kale delivers more benefits to the function of our mitochondria than taking supplements.

Science needs to do our experiments compound by compound to improve our understanding of cellular physiology. The studies therefore typically talk about specific micronutrients. However when comparing eating a plateful of greens to taking the equivalent of 200 one gram capsules of a specific amino acid like N acetylcysteine you can see why eating the food is so much better. That is why I stress the importance of food: 9 cups of vegetables and fruits (3 cups of shredded kale, collards or other dark green leaves each day, 3 cups of bright colors and 3 more of your choice) each day.

If you don’t eat the food, taking anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant supplements will have a relatively small effect on your health. Greatly reducing the carbohydrates, and maximizing the vegetables and fruits provides your cellular machinery the building blocks they need to make the necessary molecules, enzymes and neurotransmitters that your brains need.

Citation: Riedl MA, Saxon A, Diaz-Sanchez D. 2009. Oral sulforaphane increases Phase II antioxidant enzymes in the human upper airway. Clin. Immunol. 130(3):244-251.

(Shweta Trivedi, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Respiratory Biology Environmental Genetics Group.)

published in Clinical Immunolog.


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