Friday, December 29, 2006

Healthy Hearts in the City

Research indicates that air pollution affects not just your lungs, but also your cardiovascular health. Particulate matter, in particular, appears to thicken the blood by increasing clotting factors. Other affects of air pollution are an increased inflammatory response, which could result in increased susceptibility to allergies and asthma, and degradation of immune cells.

If you live in a city, this is very disheartening news. It can leave you feeling apathetic. But take heart! What you eat could help protect you.

Let’s start with the least obvious and most appealing of your options . . . a cup of coffee! Yes, believe it or not, researchers studying antioxidant content of foods common in the American diet, in combination with likely portion sizes consumed, have discovered that coffee offers the most protection in the standard American diet.

They concluded that the average adult consumes 1,299 milligrams of antioxidants daily from coffee. The closest competitor was tea at 294 milligrams. Rounding out the top five sources were bananas, 76 milligrams; dry beans, 72 milligrams; and corn, 48 milligrams. According to the Agriculture Department, the typical adult American drinks 1.64 cups of coffee daily.

But really, any antioxidant source would be helpful, whether that be Vitamin A, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, or any of the myriad awkwardly monikered antioxidants found in various natural foodstuffs.

Anyone who has bothered to listen to my diatribes in the past, knows my passion for Vitamin C. Unlike the other antioxidants available as supplements, it would be very difficult to accidentally overdose on Vitamin C. In fact, “There are very few research studies that document vitamin C toxicity at any level of supplementation, and there are no documented toxicity effects whatsoever for vitamin C in relation to food and diet

It has been proposed by some researchers that Vitamin C not only keeps the cardiovascular system healthy, but also the lungs: “Vitamin C is the major antioxidant substance present in the airway surface liquid of the lung, where it could be important in protecting against both endogenous and exogenous oxidants.” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 61, “Asthma, inhaled oxidants, and dietary antioxidants,” GE Hatch).

My favorite vitamin C supplement is Emergen-C. Along with Vitamin C, it contains important minerals and electrolytes. Rumor has it that some people use this stuff to “cure” their hangover symptoms. It is easy to carry with you, as 1 g doses of Vitamin C are individually wrapped. You only need a glass of water to dilute it into. I recommend the Lite flavor, because it has less added “fluff.” As Vitamin C is water soluble, the best way to maximize your benefit from a supplement, is to take small doses over the course of the day.

Again, protecting yourself from the ravages of the city doesn’t have to be a chore. A nibble of chocolate can be protective, as can a sip of red wine. Red wine appears to both help thin blood and act as an antioxidant. There is also a Spanish study that shows red wine consumption may reduce lung cancer risk.



At December 31, 2006 6:42 AM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

I love coffee and appreciate its antioxidant benefits, but you should also consider the negatives wrought by caffeine (as posted here)

Still, I would think a cup once in a while could strike a balance between the good and the bad effects.

At January 03, 2007 1:56 PM, Blogger Jade said...

Thank you, peakengineer, for linking us to some detailed information on the negative aspects of drinking coffee. I personally have weaned myself from coffee on several occassions, slowly depriving myself by cutting my intake in half progressively until I was coffee free, but it is one of those things I don't think is particularly bad . . . so I take up my 1 coffee a day habit again.

While I think I was healthier without it, getting out of bed was just less motivating. I'm not a morning person, so I don't see myself giving up my coffee vice any time soon.

I think it is important for people to consider the impact coffee has on their health and come to their own equilibrium, so again, I appreciate your link to a detailed account of the negative impacts. One aspect that wasn't elaborated on is the long-term impact of stress hormones (I believe cortisol is one) that coffee releases into your system . . . if you live a sedentary lifestyle (ie. drink your coffee, drive to work, and sit at a desk all day) those elevated stress hormones will cause you to gain weight. For those who can't/won't give up their morning coffee, exercising after drinking it is a very good idea.

Coffee has a few benefits to keep in mind, as well. One is that it has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer.

It isn't just the coffee that Starbucks has people addicted to. Some people are addicted to the ridiculous fluff they add -- caramel (can you say high fructose corn syrup?) for one. And all those flavored syrups. :P

At January 03, 2007 6:56 PM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

Ugh, don't get me started on high fructose corn syrup :) I only recently started seriously checking the labels in the store for processed sugar at the urging of my wife, and every time I go shopping it reinforces my desire to grow my own food.

At January 04, 2007 8:32 AM, Blogger Jade said...

Once you know a few things about what exactly goes into processed foods, grocery shopping becomes much more challenging. Luckily, there are a lot more healthy options than there used to be. I suspect that in your neck of the woods, you could grow stevia pretty well. It would be worth trying. I've considered bee keeping, myself, but there are a lot of regulations on bee keeping that necessitate the use of fumigants, etc.


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