The Power Of Pistachio Nuts

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The Power of Pistachios

            To Your Health
            October, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 10)

      The Power of Pistachios
      One of Nature's Best Cholesterol Fighters
      By Dr. Jacob Schor
      They're small, green and are ideally eaten by hand, although you can also
      find them in salads, muffins, chicken and fish dishes, and even ice cream.
      Yes, we're talking about pistachios, and an increasing body of research
      asserts that these nuts are powerful allies in the fight against high
      cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Here's the latest news about pistachios
      and how they - and nuts in general - are an essential element of a healthy
      diet.
      Pistachios and Cholesterol: The Penn State Studies
      A few years back, a research team from Pennsylvania State University
      recruited 28 men and women with high cholesterol and fed them nuts;
      pistachios to be exact. How much? About an ounce serving (32 grams) either
      once a day or twice a day for a month. Levels of high-density lipoprotein
      ("good") and low-density lipoprotein ("bad") cholesterol were monitored
      carefully before and after the pistachio month.
      The results were dramatic. Eating two servings of pistachios a day lowered
      total cholesterol by 8 percent and LDL cholesterol by almost 12 percent
      (p< 0.05). That little "p value" number in the parenthesis tells us how
      statistically significant the decreases in cholesterol are. P< 0.05 means
      decent odds that these findings aren't just random chance. The total
      cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio and the LDL cholesterol/HDL cholesterol
      ratio for this group of nut eaters dropped 8 percent and 11 percent,
      respectively (also p< 0.05). These were also positive findings, since in
      both cases, it meant a higher percentage of cholesterol was of the HDL
      variety, which has been shown to protect against the development of
      atherosclerosis.
       Two years went by and everyone thought the team had gone on to other
      things, but then out of the blue, one of the researchers showed up as lead
      author on another pistachio paper. Published in March 2010, the study
      revealed that eating pistachios also lowers levels of what is known as
      oxidized LDL.
      What is brilliant is that they skipped over the need to run a new clinical
      trial; they used their original pistachio trial, but analyzed the blood
      collected in it for different chemicals. We need to step back a moment to
      understand the elegance of this maneuver. Cholesterol levels are risk
      markers for heart disease risk. These days, pretty much everyone knows
      that high amounts of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol raise the risk
      of atherosclerosis, which can lead to blocked arteries. High levels of HDL
      cholesterol are protective against developing atherosclerosis.
      But it's not that simple. There is a step in the game that we hear little
      about in public yet. For the cholesterol and LDL to really lead to heart
      disease, it needs to oxidize, that is, go rancid. Once these fats are
      oxidized, then the plaques start to build up in the blood vessels, cutting
      off blood flow and leading to big problems. While high cholesterol and LDL
      levels are not good, high levels of oxidized LDL are the really bad news.
      Thus, the real challenge is not just lowering cholesterol anymore, but
      lowering blood lipid oxidation.
      The most recent study showed pistachios can do just that. Eating
      pistachios lowered the amount of oxidized LDL in the blood. (It also
      improved the lipid numbers in general, but that wasn't as important as the
      fact that it reduced the amounts of oxidized blood fats.)
      Kudos to the Entire Nut Family
      When it comes to nuts, the Penn State folks have some serious competition
      from the old timers in the nut research world. In the past few months, Dr.
      Joan Sabaté from California, the state that according to the
      advertisements, is "where the real nuts live," has had two papers
      published that pretty much quash all questions about nuts and health.
      Sabaté's first study on walnuts, way back in 1993, was one of the original
      nut papers, so we are definitely not talking about a newcomer to the game.
      One of her new papers is a meta-analysis, a combination of the numbers
      derived from 25 different nut studies. The second new paper is a review of
      the epidemiologic studies on nuts; that is, it combines the information
      that's been gathered from looking at eating habits and disease patterns of
      large populations of people. A meta-analysis totally trumps any individual
      trial or study.
      The May 10, 2010 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine published
      the Sabaté analysis of combined nut trials. Data from 25 nut-eating
      experiments conducted in seven countries with 583 total participants were
      combined together to make calculations. On average, each person in the
      experiments ate just over 2 ounces of nuts (67 grams) a day. Their levels
      of total cholesterol dropped by 5 percent, on average; their LDL dropped
      by 7 percent. What's more, their LDL/HDL ratio decreased by 8 percent and
      total cholesterol/HDL ratio dropped 6 percent. Triglyceride levels
      decreased 10.2 percent in people who had started out with high
      cholesterol. These numbers are impressive, although not as dramatic as the
      pistachio study, because not all the people in these studies started out
      with high cholesterol.
      However, Sabaté had another paper published the very same month that
      reviewed five large epidemiologic studies and determined that for every
      serving of nuts a person eats in a week, they reduce their odds of dying
      of heart disease by 8 percent. So much for Penn State.
      But before we jump to the conclusion that California wins when it comes to
      nuts, we've got to look to the Turks. Back in April, a team from Turkey
      reported on its own pistachio trial. Using a local home-turf advantage,
      they started their 32 study participants on a Mediterranean diet for a
      month and then added pistachios for another month. (Maybe the
      Mediterranean diet primed the participants to do better?) Regardless, once
      on the pistachios, LDL dropped by 23 percent, total cholesterol by 21
      percent and triglycerides by 14 percent. If this really were a
      competition, the team from Turkey would be in the lead.
      This isn't a game, though, because the winners are all of us. Too many
      people have their lives cut short by atherosclerosis. It's great to know
      that something as simple as eating nuts can reduce the incidence of heart
      disease. In years past, some medical authorities may have argued that "we
      should wait until there is more data" before changing our diets, but that
      time is past. It now seems reasonable and prudent to make the change and
      eat more nuts starting today. Talk to your doctor about the health
      benefits of pistachios and other nuts, and include them as part of a
      well-rounded diet.
      


      Jacob Schor, ND, is a naturopathic physician practicing in Denver. He is a
      member of the board of directors of the Oncology Association of
      Naturopathic Physicians. To learn more about Dr. Schor, visit
      www.denvernaturopathic.com/index.html.

 

 

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