Friday, November 30, 2007

Green Veggies, Smoked Sausage, and Heart Attacks

news you may not knowWhat's With The Tomato?

Yes, of course. It's time to once again laude the most truly green-conscious among us: vegetables. They are health superconductors, easy to grow and harvest, economically prudent, and surprisingly tasty. So, why do the Europeans love them, while the Americans loathe them? Hmm...

In the latest touting of veggies tremendous health benefits, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University say they may be the key to healthy hearts. It's long been known the Mediterranean diet offers protection against cardiovascular disease. Now the scientists think they know why.

Vegetables contain high levels of nitrites. Once digested, these nitrites help produce nitric oxide gas - yes, the same nitric oxide gas viewed as an air pollutant - which in turn helps dilate blood vessels and maintain blood flow. Atherosclerosis damages the cells ability to produce nitric oxide gas, leading to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

"We wondered if feeding animals much lower levels of nitrite and nitrate--equivalent to what people can readily obtain from their diets--could also provide protection from heart-attack injury," said Dr. David Lefer, the study's senior author.

To test their theory, the researchers supplemented the diets of some mice with nitrites for 7 days. They then induced heart attacks in the mice and compared the amount of damage to their hearts with that of mice receiving no nitrites. They found the hearts of the mice receiving nitrites to have about 50% less damage.

"This new appreciation of the health benefits of nitrite and nitrate is ironic," says Dr. Lefer, "They've traditionally been regarded as toxic because they tend to form chemicals called nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic. But recent research has found no convincing evidence that nitrite and nitrate pose a cancer risk."

Dr. Lefer notes that Europeans consume an average of 76 mg of nitrite and nitrate daily. Americans consume 0.77 mg - a one hundred percent difference.

"Our study suggests that building up nitrite stores in heart muscle could spell the difference between a mild heart attack and one that causes lasting heart damage or death," says Dr. Lefer. "And since nitrite also accumulate in the brain, they could potentially help minimize the damage from strokes as well."

What about the smoked sausage? Ah... Well, smoked sausage - and bacon, and lunchmeats - contain nitrates. Once consumed, a portion of the nitrates are converted to nitrites and, well... We know all about the benefits of nitrites already.

Does this mean smoked sausage is just as healthy for you as green vegetables? Though science typically stirs debate, the scientists were in universal agreement on this, saying, "Listen to your mother - eat your vegetables."

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about the Mediterranean diet, see this from the Mayo Clinic.


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