GREENS- Super Foods & How They Fight Disease
While superheroes may have captivated the mainstream public in multi-million-dollar summer blockbusters, super foods -- powerfully healthful foods and supplements that can bring nutritional balance to anyone in need -- are of more interest to the natural health consumer.
One of the most highly touted properties of green super foods is their nutritional content. "Super-foods can be described as enzymatically alive whole foods that are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, cell salts, antioxidants and phytochemicals," says Diane Kingsley, of Vero Beach, Florida-based Orange Peel Enterprises, the makers of Greens+. "Super foods help to protect the body from free radical damage, and they provide key nutrients for optimum health."
Choosing Chlorella One green super food that is a virtual paragon of nutrition is chlorella, which is believed to contain the most chlorophyll of any plant. Chlorella also contains numerous vitamins, carotenoids, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, beta-glucans, protein, fiber and chlorella growth factor (CGF).
"The polysaccharides in chlorella stimulate the production of interferon, the fuel your body‘s immune system needs to work at its full capacity," says Janis Van Tine of Sun Chlorella in Torrance, California. "The powerful CGF may help revitalize and rejuvenate the entire body by maintaining and repairing cells, increasing energy levels, stimulating the growth of new cells and supporting the immune system."
Indeed, recent research has supported chlorella‘s role as an immunomodulator.
A 2002 in vitro study conducted at Oklahoma State University showed chlorella‘s capacity to suppress histamine release, thereby reducing the body‘s inflammatory response. Comparatively, animal research showed oral treatment with chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris) increased the release of certain pathogen-fighting immune cells, but only in the presence of infection, according to a report in the August 2002 issue of Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology. Interestingly, a human study reported in the July 2003 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal did not show the same benefit from Chlorella pyrenoidosa in increasing the body‘s antibody response to a flu vaccination.
In terms of chronic disease, chlorella was first shown to decrease the side effects of chemotherapy and arrest the growth of some cancer cell lines in the 1960s, according to the American Cancer Society. And a human study published in the Fall 2002 Journal of Medicinal Food showed that chlorella supplementation improved blood pressure.
Moreover, a Japanese report in February 2004‘s Phytotherapy Research indicated that chlorella reduced serum total cholesterol and suppressed weight gain in an animal model of menopause. And a combination of liquid and tablet chlorella supplements reduced the tenderness experienced by fibro-myalgia patients by 22 percent, according to researchers working at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond.
Another water-derived super food that has potent effects in human health is spirulina. Like chlorella, spirulina is well known for its chlorophyll and protein content in addition to its high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Spirulina was studied side by side with chlorella at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey, and both were deemed "likely to benefit human health and enhance performance," according to findings that were published in the November/December 2001 issue of the Journal of AOAC International. Researchers further noted that the algae contain high levels of whole food nutrients, with spirulina being a particularly exceptional source of gamma-linolenic acid.
Harnessing the Sun
One thing that all green super foods have in common is the fact that they contain varying levels of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll was given its name from the Greek chloros, meaning "yellowish-green," and it‘s the chemical that gives plants their green color. However, chlorophyll‘s function in nature is much more important than coloration alone. Through the process of photosynthesis, chlorophyll helps convert the sun‘s energy into a form adequate for human and animal consumption and utilization.
"The actual chemical equation that takes place is the reaction between carbon dioxide and water, catalyzed by sunlight to produce glucose and a waste product, oxygen," according to Paul May, PhD, a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol‘s school of chemistry. "The glucose sugar is either directly used as an energy source by the plant for metabolism or growth, or it is polymerized to form starch so it can be stored until needed. The waste oxygen is excreted into the atmosphere, where it is made use of by plants and animals for respiration."
In addition to its essential function for sustaining much of the life on Earth, chlorophyll may also have protective effects against cancer. According to 2004 research published in Methods in Molecular Biology, chlorophyll -- and its water-soluble derivative, chlorophyllin -- are "potent inhibitors of carcinogenesis."
Several animal and in vitro studies have demonstrated these effects. Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis reported in the February/March 2003 issue of Mutation Research that chlorophyll and chlorophyllin suppressed abnormal cellular changes in an animal model of induced cancer. In the February 2004 issue of the same journal, researchers from the Universidad Estadual de Londrina in Brazil showed that chlorophyllin prevents damage to chemically treated cells.
In a human trial, oral chlorophyllin treatment three times per day was shown to potentially reduce the risk of liver cancer in a population at high risk for the disease due to aflatoxin exposure. Researchers, who published their findings in the February/March 2003 issue of Mutation Research, reported a 50 percent decline in the urinary excretion of an aflatoxin biomarker that seems to indicate a high risk for liver cancer.
Also similar to chlorella, spirulina is a known immunostimulant and may be useful in helping the body ward off pathogens. "Until such time that cures or effective treatments are found for [antibiotic-resistant] diseases, the best strategy is to boost the immune system and make it ready to defend us," says Amha Belay, PhD, scientific director at Irvine, California-based Earthrise Nutritionals, Inc. "One such strategy is the nutritional and therapeutic supplementation of our diet with foods and nutraceuticals that are known to strengthen our immune system. Such a product is found in spirulina."
Because of its effects in bolstering natural killer cell function, spirulina may suppress cancer and viral infection, as noted by investigators at the Osaka Medical Center for Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases in Japan. Similarly, University of South Carolina researchers conjectured in a 2004 issue of Medical Hypotheses that algae and spirulina consumption may be part of the reason why HIV/AIDS rates are dramatically lower in Japan and Korea compared to Africa. Additional support for the authors‘ conclusions is the fact that the Kanemba (a major tribal group in Chad, which has consistently lower rates of HIV/AIDS compared to the rest of Africa) eat spirulina on a daily basis.
Another group of green super foods are the cereal grasses, which are reputed to improve energy and digestion, among other things. When they’re used in supplements, cereal grasses are typically harvested during the plant’s infancy when the height of nutritional content is reached.
"Cereal grasses are a high-chlorophyll food, and [they‘re] high in vitamin A," say Rob Streisfeld, ND, national educator for Garden of Life, and Celena Hadlock, MEd, CNC, nutritional counselor. "People with wheat allergies frequently aren‘t allergic to the wheat in its grass stage, and properties of wheat grass and barley grass are similar, except that sometimes barley grass is more digestible."
Wheat grass, however, has been specifically studied in digestive health, and it appears to reduce symptoms and disease activity in patients with ulcerative colitis, according to 2002 research published by investigators at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
As for barley grass‘ scientific backing, it was featured in a 2001 issue of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine for its ability to significantly lessen the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Researchers at Hallelujah Acres Foundation in Shelby, North Carolina, reported that supplementation with dehydrated barley grass juice over 4-month period improved patients‘ self-estimated disease impact, flexibility, and shoulder pain at rest and after motion.
Cereal grasses also contain a hidden "growth factor" that causes young animals to more rapidly grow larger, stronger and healthier with greater resistance to disease, says Mark Timon, clinical nutritionist for Vibrant Health in Lakeville, Connecticut, makers of Green Vibrance, a supplement that contains a combination of cereal grasses including alfalfa, barley, oat, kamut and wheat. "Those same cereal grasses allow mature animals -- and undoubtedly humans -- to repair and replenish bodily tissues more quickly."
Timon adds that "the high chlorophyll content of the grasses helps heal and purify the intestinal tract while other components serve as prebiotics. [T]he legion of proteins and peptides now identified in cereal grasses trigger and stimulate the immune system."
Green foods may also help improve older adults‘ sex lives. In a study that was published in the February 2003 edition of the Medical Science Monitor, researchers who worked with Kyo-Green -- a combination of barley, wheat grass, kelp, green algae and chlorella supplied by Wakunaga of American in Mission Villejo, California -- reported that the supplement improved erectile dysfunction in 20 of 25 male test subjects after 3 months. Twelve of the 15 women in the study reported increased libido.
Going Green While there is no miracle cure on the market to maintain perfect health for a lifetime, green super foods provide a great basis for overall nutrition and a strong, healthy immune system.
What‘s more, consuming super foods that contain naturally occurring nutrient combinations may actually be healthier than taking them in isolated nutrients.
"Isolates are not recognized by the body, and [they] act as a palliative drug in the body," Streisfeld and Hadlock say.
"There are certain health conditions that may benefit from the use of isolated vitamins and minerals, but only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. For an individual who wishes to nourish his or her own body, ingesting super foods is an excellent way to supplement."