Michael Greger M.D. FACLM February 1st, 2019
The endothelium is the inner lining of our blood vessels. Laid end-to-end, the endothelial cells from a single human would wrap more than four times around the world. And it’s not just like an inert layer; it’s highly metabolically active. I’ve talked about how sensitive our endothelium is to oxidation and inflammation, and if we don’t take care of it, endothelial dysfunction may set us up for heart disease or a stroke. Are we ready to heed our endothelium’s early warning signals?
Well, if it’s all about oxidation and inflammation, then fruits and vegetables should help. And indeed they do. Each single serving of fruits or vegetables was associated with a 6% improvement in endothelial function. Now these fruit and vegetable-associated improvements in endothelial function are in contrast to several negative vitamin C pill studies that failed to show a benefit. It can be concluded that the positive findings of the fruit and vegetable study are not just because of any one nutrient in fruits and veggies. Rather than searching for the single magic bullet micronutrient, a more practical approach is likely to consider whole foods. Thus, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is likely to have numerous beneficial effects due to synergistic effects of all the wonderful things in plants.
Exercise helps too, but what type of exercise helps best? Patients were randomized into four groups: aerobic exercise (cycling for an hour a day); resistance training (using weights and elastic bands); both; or neither. The aerobic group kicked butt. The resistance group kicked butt. And the aerobic and resistance group kicked butt as well, compared to those who sat on their butts. Note that your endothelium doesn’t care if you’re on a bike or lifting weights, as long as you’re getting physical activity. And getting regular activity. If you stop exercising, your endothelial function plummets.
Antioxidant pills didn’t work; what about anti-inflammatory pills? Drug companies aren’t going to give up that easy. After all, there’s only so much you can make selling salad. For those who prefer plants to pills, one of the most anti-inflammatory foods is the spice turmeric. Researchers in Japan recently compared the endothelial benefits of exercise to those of curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry powder. About a teaspoon a day’s worth of turmeric for eight weeks, compared to 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. Which group improved their endothelial function more?
The group that did neither experienced no benefit, but the exercise group significantly boosted their endothelial function, and so did the curcumin group.
The magnitude of the improvement achieved by curcumin treatment was comparable to that obtained with exercise. Therefore, regular ingestion of curcumin could be a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. Furthermore, their results suggest that curcumin may be a potential alternative treatment for patients who are unable to exercise. But ideally, we’d do both. In this study, they looked at central arterial hemodynamics. Basically, if our endothelium is impaired, our arteries stiffen, making it harder for our heart to pump. But compared to placebo, we can drop that pressure down with turmeric curcumin or exercise. But if you combine both, then you really start rocking and rolling.
They conclude that these findings suggest that regular endurance exercise combined with daily curcumin ingestion may reduce the pressure against which your heart has to fight to a greater extent than one or the other. So healthy eating and exertion for our endothelium.
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 Katie Schloer.