Plant-Based Diets & Cellular Stress Defenses

Plant-Based Diets & Cellular Stress Defenses
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Measuring the effects of a plant-based diet on the expression of hundreds of different genes at a time, a research group found that an antioxidant-rich portfolio of plant foods such as berries, pomegranates, purple grapes, red cabbage, oregano, and walnuts was able to significantly modify the regulation of genes in the blood of volunteers.

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To recap, the traditional model of how fruits and vegetables protect against cancer is that their antioxidants prevent the buildup of free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species, ROS) which would otherwise go on to damage our cellular DNA, membranes, etc.—which could lead to the transformation of healthy cells into damaged, diseased, or dying cells.

But in that landmark 2003 kiwifruit study, we learned that there’s a second pathway as well. Phytonutrients actually modulate gene expression, and can increase our cellular defenses such that even if there is some damage to our DNA, our cells may recover, instead of being irreparably lost.

The kiwi study looked at one of those defenses—one DNA repair enzyme—but there are many. Many ways our cells repair our DNA; we don’t mess around when it comes to protecting our genes.

So, question number one: what effect does kiwifruit consumption have on all these other defenses? And question number two: what if we branch out, and test multiple fruits and veggies at the same time?

You’ll remember that there did not seem to be a dose response with the kiwis, right? As far as this DNA repair enzyme was concerned, you were either eating kiwis or not; it didn’t really matter how many. But man cannot live on kiwis alone. What if you did a mix of fruits and veggies? Could we break through that ceiling?

Now, studies are expensive, particularly if the kiwi people refuse funding because we have the audacity to test other fruit. So they wanted to make this study count. So when they designed their plant portfolio, they went all out. Check it out. Green tea. Rosehip juice, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, pomegranate, dark blue grapes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red cabbage, kale, blue potatoes, dark chocolate, walnuts, rosemary, oregano. This study is making me hungry.

I don’t know if you noticed, but this is that same amazing research group that blessed the world with that study of thousands of different foods. So they knew what they were doing.

Okay, long story short: “Plant-based diets can prevent development of several chronic age-related diseases,” blah, blah, blah. We know that. Yes, but how, and what about that plateau effect?

This is what they did: three groups, the antioxidants-to-the-teeth group, compared to the three-kiwi-a-day group, compared to control. They took blood from everyone, and then, for the first time ever reported, they did this microarray analysis, where you can measure the effects of a plant-based diet on the expression of hundreds of different genes at a time. The first to investigate the influences of healthy diets on gene expression in whole blood. This was the study.

Well, the kiwi group was able to significantly regulate not just one gene, as I showed in the 2003 study, but a total of five. Meanwhile, the very berry group significantly regulated five times more; 25 genes. Conclusion: “The observed changes in the blood cell gene expression profiles suggest that the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet on human health may be mediated through optimization of defense processes.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

To recap, the traditional model of how fruits and vegetables protect against cancer is that their antioxidants prevent the buildup of free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species, ROS) which would otherwise go on to damage our cellular DNA, membranes, etc.—which could lead to the transformation of healthy cells into damaged, diseased, or dying cells.

But in that landmark 2003 kiwifruit study, we learned that there’s a second pathway as well. Phytonutrients actually modulate gene expression, and can increase our cellular defenses such that even if there is some damage to our DNA, our cells may recover, instead of being irreparably lost.

The kiwi study looked at one of those defenses—one DNA repair enzyme—but there are many. Many ways our cells repair our DNA; we don’t mess around when it comes to protecting our genes.

So, question number one: what effect does kiwifruit consumption have on all these other defenses? And question number two: what if we branch out, and test multiple fruits and veggies at the same time?

You’ll remember that there did not seem to be a dose response with the kiwis, right? As far as this DNA repair enzyme was concerned, you were either eating kiwis or not; it didn’t really matter how many. But man cannot live on kiwis alone. What if you did a mix of fruits and veggies? Could we break through that ceiling?

Now, studies are expensive, particularly if the kiwi people refuse funding because we have the audacity to test other fruit. So they wanted to make this study count. So when they designed their plant portfolio, they went all out. Check it out. Green tea. Rosehip juice, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, berries, pomegranate, dark blue grapes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red cabbage, kale, blue potatoes, dark chocolate, walnuts, rosemary, oregano. This study is making me hungry.

I don’t know if you noticed, but this is that same amazing research group that blessed the world with that study of thousands of different foods. So they knew what they were doing.

Okay, long story short: “Plant-based diets can prevent development of several chronic age-related diseases,” blah, blah, blah. We know that. Yes, but how, and what about that plateau effect?

This is what they did: three groups, the antioxidants-to-the-teeth group, compared to the three-kiwi-a-day group, compared to control. They took blood from everyone, and then, for the first time ever reported, they did this microarray analysis, where you can measure the effects of a plant-based diet on the expression of hundreds of different genes at a time. The first to investigate the influences of healthy diets on gene expression in whole blood. This was the study.

Well, the kiwi group was able to significantly regulate not just one gene, as I showed in the 2003 study, but a total of five. Meanwhile, the very berry group significantly regulated five times more; 25 genes. Conclusion: “The observed changes in the blood cell gene expression profiles suggest that the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet on human health may be mediated through optimization of defense processes.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Biomedical Beat.

Doctor's Note

This is the final video of my three-part series about the latest discoveries on kiwi fruit. See also Kiwifruit and DNA Repair, and Kiwifruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The results of this follow-up study support the previous work on the importance of dietary diversity that I profiled in Apples and Oranges: Dietary Diversity, and Garden Variety Anti-Inflammation. The study of thousands of foods I mention is covered in Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods, and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. Note this study is measuring so-called “epigenetic” changes—meaning differential gene expression. Just because we have a certain set of genes doesn’t mean we can’t turn them on and off with changes in our diet. See Mitochondrial Theory of Aging, and Convergence of Evidence.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Kiwi Fruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and How Tumors Use Meat to Grow.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

36 responses to “Plant-Based Diets & Cellular Stress Defenses

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  1. This is the final video of a three-part series about the latest discoveries on kiwi fruit. See also yesterday’s NutritionFacts.org video-of-the-day Kiwifruit and DNA Repair and Kiwifruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The results of this follow-up study support the previous work on the importance of dietary diversity that I profiled in Apples and Oranges and Garden Variety Anti-Inflammation. The study of thousands of foods I mention is referring to Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods, and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. Note this study is measuring so-called “epigenetic” changes, meaning differential gene expression. Just because we have a certain set of genes doesn’t mean you can’t turn them on and off with changes in your diet. See Mitochondrial Theory of Aging and Convergence of Evidence and the other thousand plus nutrition and health topics I address.




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    1. No wonder I feel so good ;-}

      I’m Berry happy about this!   (See Breakfast Pic Below)

      Since you like to exploit plants so much–If you can’t beat ’em ‘Berry’ ’em. ;-}




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          1. It could be that you are not getting enough calories from fat/protein. You body burns through carbohydrates much quicker which may be the culprit in the heart palpitations if you are just eating berries and oats with little protein/fat based ingredient. My advice is to add 3 tbsp of hemp seeds to your smoothie, or add some walnuts to your oatmeal. Both are packed with plant based omega 3’s, and the fat will help you absorb the phytochemicals and carotenoids and help pace your metabolism so it isn’t going into overdrive.




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            1. For boosting omega 3’s in a smoothie, I’d go with flax. It has more omega-3s than hemp (plus all those lignans) and the blender will break apart the seeds to release the w-3s. For foods that will not be blended, chia is also a more concentrated source of omega 3’s than hemp, not to disparage hemp or walnuts, both of which should be part of a healthy vegan repertoire. But since significant amounts of omega 3s are in so few plants, (also soy and canola) I like to maximize my opportunities.




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  2. Mike, I am loving your videos!  Small request…could you please provide the pubmed ID of the article you talk about in the notes section? – Shalin Shah MD




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  3. Great work.  I’m just never disappointed.  This series on the value of variety is terrific.  It gives added strength to what we’ve been preaching. 




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    1.  Never mind.  I just looked at the study (thanks Dr. Greger).  From the video above, I had thought (mistakenly) that all those foods were tested individually.  After briefly looking at the study (and please remember I am an extreme lay person), I think that they really just had three groups: 1) control, 2) kiwi only 3) people who ate a bunch of high-antioxidant foods, including all the ones shown in the video/including chocolate. 

      Assuming I understood what I was looking at in the papter, I think my bit of funny isn’t that relevant…




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  4. “berries, berries, berries, berries…” haha! glad I had my dark berry concoction this morning consisting of org blueberries, org cranberries and org strawberries (and 2 TBSP ground org. flaxseed)…thanks for yet another amAZing video, Doc!




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      1. Maura:I think the following answer from Tuffs University is helpful in evaluating the caution from Sweden:
        .
        “Lynne M. Ausman, DSc, RD, director of the Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition Program at Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, says you have nothing to worry about. Many foods, including not only flax but cashews, almonds, some beans and other plant products, naturally contain very small amounts of cyanide compounds. You’re more likely to ingest these trace amounts of cyanide when such foods are consumed raw, as heat breaks down the compounds. Even when flaxseed is eaten raw, the body has a natural capacity to break down a certain amount of these cyanide compounds. A 1994 study found that, in healthy individuals, daily consumption of as much as 60 grams of raw flaxseed—more than eight tablespoons—was safe” from: http://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/7_8/ask-experts/ask-tufts-experts_1157-1.html

        .
        Since Dr. Greger recommends only 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed in his Daily Dozen recommendations, it seems to me that it is all good – a large safety margin *and* a huge amount of potential benefit from the flax.
        .
        For the gritty details, check out: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754328/
        .
        FYI: I heard that Dr. Greger will be doing a video on this topic at some point, so stay tuned!​




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  5. I would like to see the same study-design as above – and the the same study-design as with the kiwifruits – done with meat, fish and dairy – to see if there is any protective effect – my guess is absolutely none…….




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    1. Comon’ SJ:
       Meat–it’s what’s for Dinner, and ‘Milk, does a body good!”, and “I want to jump rope with the cheese on that pizza.”

      That’s what the TV tells me so it must be true.




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      1. But if people start eating more fruits and veg in place of meat/diary/eggs, then it follows that more farmland will be devoted to growing fruits and veg instead of meat/dairy/eggs.  Gee, then the FruitVeg Board would become so powerful they would take over the TV and tell us we should eat more fruits and veg…We’re playing with forces we understand completely.

         “…Oh carrots are devine, they come a dozen for a dime, its magic.” – B. Bunny

        “Messiahs pointed to the door, but no one had the guts to leave the temple” – The Who




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    2. I agree.  But my guess is that there will still be a large effect; turning on cancer promoter genes, downregulating DNA repair activity and all together making a mess of things.




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  6. WOW – everything i love to eat! (my only problem for years though, due most certainly to eating so well, my energy level is so high that it prevents me from getting the rest i need for my broken back!)
    also, would be interesting to know about which foods to avoid that may aggravate for example,  osteophytosis? – i’ve read that the nightshade family is not recommended if you have arthritis – is this so?
     




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    1. There is no solid evidence or research showing that you should stay away from nightshade vegetables with osteophytosis.

      What is known…

      * Omega–6 fatty acids have been linked to increased joint inflammation
      and obesity. These fats are found in corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oils and are prevalent in many snack foods, fried foods, margarine’s and other spreads.

      * Saturated fats can also increase the inflammatory response, thereby contributing to joint and tissue inflammation. The majority of saturated fats come from animal sources including meat and dairy products, though certain plant foods such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil also primarily contain saturated fats. Many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats as well. Eliminating animal foods, especially dairy is important.

      * A small number of people with arthritis might be sensitive to certain foods that can trigger symptoms or cause them to worsen. Such foods include wheat, dairy, corn, eggs, nuts, chocolate and coffee.

      * Conversely, many plant–based foods — especially fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and phytochemicals which may be effective in reducing joint inflammation. These foods are also rich in fiber; diets that are rich in fiber have been shown to reduce inflammation.




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      1. Interesting. There is some evidence that these issues can be reversed on a raw vegan diet with a lot of juicing. I do best maintaining the fiber. No oil. So far, so good!




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  7. There are hundreds of Nrf2-ARE inducing compounds, from food plants, medicinal plants, as well as synthetic compounds. The most potent inducers of the endogenous antioxidant response found in foods appear to be purpurogallin derivatives, carnosic acid, 3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione, quercetin, curcumin, sulforaphane, fisetin, kahweol, and genistein.

    Some foods offering high amounts of endogenous antioxidant response inducing phytochemicals include:

    broccoli (sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol, α-lipoic acid)
    kale (allyl isothiocyanate, indole-3-carbinol, isorhamnetin, kaempferol, zeaxanthin)
    red cabbage (cyanidin, sulforaphane, 3h-1,2-dithiole-3-thione (D3T), allyl isothiocyanate, indole-3-carbinol)
    red onions (quercetin, dipropenyl sulfide, myricetin)
    garlic (diallyl trisulfide, diallyl disulfide, s-allylcysteine)
    tomatoes (lycopene, trans-2-hexenal)
    soybeans (genistein)
    coffee (kahweol, cafestol, caffeic acid, catechol, ferrulic acid)
    green tea (epigallocatechin-3-gallate, epicatechin-3-gallate, epicatechin
    red wine (malvidin, gallic acid, gentisic acid, resveratrol, pterostilbene)
    strawberries (fisetin, morin, catechin)
    blueberries (malvidin, peonidin, pterostilbene)
    dark chocolate (catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin)
    rosemary & sage (carnosic acid & carnosol)
    tumeric (curcumin)
    oregano (naringenin, eriodictyol, galangin, luteolin, p-coumaric acid, apigenin)
    capers (quercetin, kaempferol, rutin)
    black pepper (piperine)
    chili peppers (capsaicin)

    It should be a familiar list to regulars.




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  8. Wow. So we eat fruits/veggies/nuts and our body goes into “repair mode” ? I love this! I’m pretty sure there is the additional positive placeblo effect due to knowing that we are doing our nourishing our body.




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  9. Dr. Greger,

    Any possibility you can revisit DNA Repair and list specific foods in addition to Kiwi? Is it possible that inflammation is the bodies response to injury, and to truly suppress the inflammation is to repair that damage rather than suppress inflammation? It seems that if the damage is repaired, the body can then send the signal to the immune system that all is ok and there is no need for the body to protect those vulnerable areas. We know that injuries can be a precursor to arthritis, so are their foods that help us heal tissue damage in a way that doesn’t induce arthritis and long term inflammation. Maybe our bodies don’t have the proper enzymes to heal properly. Just trying to get my head around if there is a way to “cure” or “reverse” arthritis similar to the way heart disease can be reversed.




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    1. In other words, should inflammation and tissue repair be treated separately, because it does not seem from what I’ve read that inflammation is involved in tissue repair, but is a symptom of the bodies need for tissue repair, and to provide cover fire against infection, bacteria etc… M1 Macrophages up regulate inflammation and M2 Macrophages down regulate inflammation. AAG, ALKBH2, and ALKBH3 enzymes are involved in tissue repair. From what I read, the M2 Macrophage is not signaled until the enzymes have done their job to repair the tissue. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3386829/
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3944738/




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