Plant polyphenols against heart disease

Dr Paul Clayton’s Health Newsletter March 2014

“Why are we given so many drugs when better nutrition could make us so much healthier? The barriers to better health are no longer scientific, but political.”

Increased intakes of polyphenols (from plants)appear to be highly cardio-protective, according to the results of the international PREDIMED (Prevencion con Dieta Mediterranea) study (Tresserra-Rimbau et al ’14).

In this study of over 7,000 participants, the highest intakes of flavanols, a group which includes proanthocyanidins, catechins and theaflavins, were associated with a 60% reduction in cardio-vascular disease (CVD) risk while the highest average intakes of lignans were associated with a 49% reduction.

This wouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with the literature on polyphenols. These phyto-nutrients combine potent anti-inflammatory activity with vaso-trophism, ie they target the lining of the arteries, where they exert an impressive number of positive effects including:

  • prevention of smooth muscle proliferation (Inaba et al ’11)
  • inhibition of atheroma formation (Azorin-Ortuno et al ’12)
  • restoration of insulin sensitivity (de Bock et al ’13)
  • multiple modification of platelet activity (Santhakumar et al ’14)
  • reduction of LDL cholesterol oxidation (Kong et al ’14)
  • enhancement of HDL cholesterol levels (Martinez-Lopez et al ’14)

Given these multiple therapeutic actions, it is puzzling why the cardio-protective effects of the polyphenols have not been uncovered before.

The PREDIMED researchers suggested that this may be due to a bizarre reliance by many researchers on the USDA Flavonoid Database which captures only a subgroup of polyphenols (flavonoids), and does not reflect the totality and diversity of polyphenols found in food.

Bizarre oversight—or deliberate omission? There is a huge bias in the medical profession against natural remedies. Doctors are taught, especially in the USA, that there are just two solutions to any problem—surgery and/or drugs, with the emphasis on drugs.

According to a recent Mayo Clinic study, nearly% of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug and an astounding 20 percent are on five or more prescription drugs (Zhong et al ’13).

Why are we given so many drugs when better nutrition could make us so much healthier? The answer is a toxic combination of finance and politics. There is a revolving door between big pharmaceutical corporations and the government agencies that regulate them. Many of those in charge of our safety have spent most of their careers peddling legal drugs, and the pharma industry spends a good deal of money in universities and hospitals on shaping medical curricula. They can afford to — in 2011, global sales of prescription drugs topped $954 billion (IMShealth ’12).

I believe that the barriers between where we are now, and better personal and public health, are no longer scientific but political.

“There is a huge bias in the medical profession against natural remedies—nearly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug.”

Azorín-Ortuño M, Yañéz-Gascón MJ, et al. A dietary resveratrol-rich grape extract … J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Jun 6;60(22):5609-20

de Bock M, Derraik JG, et al. Olive (Olea europaea L.) leaf polyphenols improve PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e57622. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057622

IMShealth ‘12 Reg Pharma Mkt by Spending 2011-16

Inaba H et al. Proliferation of smooth muscle cells … is inhibited by apple. J Periodontol. 2011 Nov;82(11):1616-22

Kong KW, et al. Polyphenols… protection against oxidation of, serum and haemoglobin. Food Chem. 2014 Mar 1;146:85-93.

Martínez-López S, et al. Realistic intake of a flavanol-rich soluble cocoa product increases HDL-cholesterol … Food Funct. 2014 Jan 29;5(2):364-74

Santhakumar AB, et al. …Dietary polyphenolsreducing oxidative stress and thrombotic risk. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Feb;27(1):1-21.

Tresserra-Rimbau A, et al. … Polyphenol intake and incidence of cardiovascular events in the PREDIMED study. Nutr Metab CVD Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2013.12.014

Zhong W, et al. Age and Sex Patterns of Drug Prescribing in a Defined American Population. Mayo Clinic Proc 88, Issue 7, 697-707, 2013