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Dragon’s Blood

The four most antioxidant-packed natural substances so far tested are cloves, amla (Indian gooseberries), triphala (a combination of amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki fruits), and dragon’s blood.

January 25, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Chris Kilham.

Transcript

Closing out our exploration of the ground-breaking antioxidant analysis of thousands of foods, herbs, and spices, crowned by cloves, a hundred times more antioxidants than blueberries, here for comparison's sake, then amla, then triphala, which we should probably avoid due to toxic metal contamination, and then by far the single most antioxidant-packed substance on the planet earth, "sangre de grado": blood of the dragon -- a bright red sap that oozes when you slash into the bark of this Amazonian tree. Leading to amusing article names such as, "Studies on the Antidiarrhoeal Effect of Dragon's Blood". [Phytotherapy Research 15, 319-322 (2001)].

A couple of the studies have been interesting. I'll mention them briefly just because this is really more of a medicinal than nutritive product.

There was a study published in the Journal of Inflammation, hoping to get a handle on osteoarthritis, a very frustrating condition to which modern medicine has little to offer. When people get knee replacements, what do you think they do with the old knees? Well, at Case Western they gathered them all up -- all that human cartilage -- to see if they could decrease the rate of cartilage loss in a test tube with a drop or two of dragon's blood. And indeed, in the context of inflammation this cartilage starts breaking down, but you add some sap extract and you can drop that way down. Now the study was performed by the owner of the company that -- you guessed it -- sells dragon blood extract, though, so you've got to take the findings with a grain of salt.

Also apparently effective at getting cancer cells to kill themselves, here are three lines of human gastrointestinal cancer cells. Add a little bit of that red maple syrup and you can see the cancer cells wither away as their DNA breaks up. It may also prevent DNA damage in the first place. Here are corn seedlings, the control is on the left, and then a little then a lot of a mutagenic toxin which shrivels the poor things. But you add a little sap to the roots and the effects of the toxin are blunted.

After all, a single drop of this stuff is equivalent to three apples' worth of antioxidants. But unfortunately there were other tests not funded by a company that sells it that showed in certain circumstances dragon's blood could also cause DNA mutations.

So, the winner: for the most antioxidant-packed, non-contaminated, non-mutagenic whole food on the planet: the dried Indian gooseberry powder [amla].

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

In honor of the Chinese New Year (of the dragon)! Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check back for the other videos on amla and don't miss all the videos where we rank foods. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post, Acai to Zucchini: antioxidant food rankings.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    In honor of the Chinese New Year (of the dragon)! Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check back for the other videos on amla and don’t miss all the videos where we rank foods. And there are 1,449 subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/thea/ Thea

    Yahoo! I’m still working on getting some of that powder.

    I appreciate you making note of the source of the studies on the dragon blood. I won’t run out and buy some. But I will note that the picture of the bleeding tree is right out of a horror movie. Oh my.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drsteve/ DrSteve

    Why did Dr. Greger leave out any mention of a safe substance also tested for antioxidant activity in this study that has over three TIMES the antioxidant potential of amla? Amla has 301 mmmol/100 g and vitamin C has 1152 mmol/100g of antioxidant activity according to this same study.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/bpcveg/ BPC

      Dr. Steve: I guess that Dr. Greger left out the vitamin C supplement because he is restricting comparison to whole food products. In fact, he has several videos discussing the inferiority of supplements relative to whole plant foods.

      My understanding is that there is a body of literature supporting the notion that pure antioxidant compounds like like vitamin C have less overall activity in the body than the antioxidants from whole plant foods. The improved activity of antioxidants from whole plant foods may be due to synergistic effects that arise when a diversity of antioxidant compounds act together to modulate various cellular processes. To the best of my knowledge, the underlying reason why this happens is not well understood.

      Your question suggests to me that the total antioxidant potential of foods is just one dimension to a multi-dimensional description of the health value of foods. I guess that, as we learn more about the biochemistry of food interactions in the body, we will probably end up refining our food rankings.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/bpcveg/ BPC

    Great information, Dr. Greger!

    I am wondering if a more complete analysis of foods would also consider the level of pro-oxidants. Specifically, should foods be ranked by the mathematical difference between antioxidants and pro-oxidants, since they have competing effects?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/markb/ MarkB

    Is any research available on astaxanthin which seems to be touted as a wonderful antioxidant?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Astaxanthin is the reason flamingos are pink (or at least flamingos in the wild; in the zoo they may be fed artificial dyes like farmed salmon–see my video Artificial Coloring in Fish). Astaxanthin is also the reason some crustacean shells turn red when boiled. One need not eat flamingo feathers or lobster exoskeletons, though. You can go right to the source and get it from green algae such as chlorella (I recommend against blue-grean algae and spirulina–see for example my videos Is blue-green algae good for you? and Another Update on Spirulina). A review last month suggests a wide range of beneficial effects, though one should note the author is listed as a dietary supplement industry consultant. With a few exceptions, I recommend against taking supplements as they have been found in some cases to be less effective (see, for example, my Produce Not Pills) or even deleterious (see Is vitamin D the new vitamin E? and my other 60 videos on supplements).

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/rymiwe/ rymiwe

    Dr. Greger,

    Sorry if I’ve missed this from earlier. How does whole, frozen amla stack up against the dried powder? Figuring the whole fruit was bound to be more nutritious than any processed form, I promptly went out to my local Indian grocer and bought 6 pounds of the frozen variety for only $4/pound!

    Thanks!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/dejan420/ Dejan420

    What about the maqui berry? the package boasts that these berries contain 2-3 times the anti-oxident as acai.

    Thanks

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/compostbrain/ compostbrain

    is the amla powder marketed as a hair product at indian groceries the same as the powder for consumption? Where are people getting amla powder?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/thea/ Thea

      compostbrain: You may find a better source, but the best price I found for food-grade, organic amla powder is an on-line company called Mountain Rose. If you are interested, here is a link to their various amla powder products:

      http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/search/search.php?refine=y&keywords=amla+powder&x=0&y=0

      Fair warning, the stuff tastes disgusting. But if you put a little into other strong foods, you can eat it. I found putting some (but not too much) in my morning oatmeal works. I think the health benefits make the effort worth while. Just don’t expect it to be easy. (Though I would be very interested if you like it or find an easy way to disguise it.)

      Good luck!

  • Neal

    One scary thought. It sounds like dragons blood is a bit dangerous, though it showed some amazing possibilities.

    QUESTION: Could it be that Amla just hasn’t been YET shown to have the mutogenic detriments of dragons’s blood?

  • Neal

    The study on osteo-despite being funded by the company-didn’t it seem like some very very credible participants involved that may make the study credible?

  • Linda

    So what happened to the Triphala Powder which shows more than double that of the Amla? Why didn’t Triphala get the highest ranking of the non-mutagenic, etc?

    • Amir

      Due to heavy metal contamination.