The Nutritional, Healing and Immune Boosting Benefits of Superfoods

Is it true that certain (super)foods have anti-ageing properties, have the power to improve our health and energy and even prevent chronic disease? Superfoods have recently become a buzzword and more and more studies are starting to emerge which evaluate the powerful effects and benefits some of these foods may have on health.

These nutrient-dense foods could be described as “foods that are both high in nutrition value due to a high concentration of nutrients and, on the other hand, [of] great biological value due to satisfactory bioavailability and bioactivity within the body due to a variety of bioactive ingredients they contain” (Proestos, 2018). This means that these foods do not only supply the body with a megadose of nutrients, but the nutrients are also very easily absorbable. Let’s look at a few of the most common superfoods and what the studies show.

Cinnamon

It has been shown (Anderson, 2016) that cinnamon can be used to lower blood sugar and insulin levels as well as cholesterol. Participants took 500mg of cinnamon each day for two months and the results showed that it reduced fasting insulin, glucose, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

In another randomised double-blind clinical trial, done in 2015, (Jaafarpour et al, 2015) it was shown that cinnamon reduced menstrual bleeding, pain, vomiting, nausea and systemic symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea. The study concluded that cinnamon can, therefore, be viewed as an effective and safe treatment for dysmenorrhea, without any side effects.

The anti-inflammatory activities of cinnamon have also been extensively studied and some researchers have proven that therapeutic concentrations of cinnamon could be useful in the treatment of inflammatory and age-related conditions (Gunawardena, 2015).

Goji berries

Goji Berries are one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods available today and contain almost 12 times the antioxidants contained in blueberries. A study was done on mice in 2010, in which they were shown to be protected from UV radiation-induced skin damage after drinking goji berry juice. This is because the “antioxidant pathways alter the photodamage induced in the skin of mice by acute solar simulated UV (SSUV) irradiation” (Reeve, 2010). The results, therefore, suggest that the consumption of goji berry juice could provide photoprotection.

Another evidence-based study (Cheng et al, 2015) done in 2015 showed that goji berries possess a wide array of pharmacological activities, which include the improvement of immune system functions and general wellbeing. It has also been shown to have anti-ageing and antioxidative properties and, in some cases, it has even been shown to inhibit different types of cancer. It seems also to be beneficial to the male reproductive system as it increases the quantity and quality of sperm.

Spirulina

Spirulina has been shown (Ichimura, 2013) to prevent hypertension in rats and it further also acts as a cancer-fighting food, as it decreased “the proliferation of experimental pancreatic cancer.” This data shows that spirulina has a chemo-preventive role (Koníčková, 2014).

Health benefits of spirulina also include potentially preventing plaque build-up in the arteries, reducing blood cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, while increasing HDL cholesterol. Larger studies are, however, needed to come to definitive conclusions in terms of whether spirulina can indeed be used for treating cholesterol (Kumari, 2011).

Acai berries

According to Poulose (2012), the acai berry protects brain cells and has implications on improved motor and cognitive functions. These dark blue fruits thrive in the Amazon in Brazil and have been shown to improve lipid profile, blood antioxidant status and an increase of a serum lipid profile (a screening tool for any abnormalities in lipids, such as triglycerides and cholesterol. (Sadowska-Krępa, 2015).

Turmeric

Due to the active ingredient in turmeric, namely curcumin, plenty of health benefits are offered. One study shows that curcumin is one of the most potent anti-inflammatories even when compared to aspirin, ibuprofen and more (Takada, 2004).

Evidence also suggests that it may play a role in lowering blood glucose levels and, therefore, play a beneficial role in managing diabetes (Kim, 2009).

It is very important to note, however, that turmeric should be paired with black pepper to increase bioavailibity and absorption. The bioavailability increases by up to 2000 per cent when combined with piperine (black pepper) (Shoba, 1998).

Bone broth

Bone Broth is extremely nutrient-dense and very easy-to-digest. This is because it includes every part of an animal, including ligaments, tendons, feet, skin, marrow and bones which have been boiled and simmered for a few days. Easier assimilation and digestibility of nutrients are allowed because of the longer cooking process.

Bone broth offers excellent benefits for our joints, this is because collagen (contained in bone broth) will support healthy cartilage. It also contains gelatine which supports healthy cartilage as well as offering building blocks to maintain and form strong bones.

It is further also excellent when it comes to supporting gut health, fighting food sensitivities and supporting the growth of good bacteria (probiotics) and it is especially soothing to the digestive system. Because collagen and the amino acids support healthy tissue, the whole digestive function, including the colon and entire GI tract is supported. It is also excellent at repairing a damaged gut lining and ‘leaky gut’ which will support not only a healthy functioning digestive system but also your immune system.

On top of that, bone broth is also a very powerful detoxifying agent, as it increases the liver’s potential to get rid of toxins and improve the use of antioxidants (Axe, 2020).

Chestnuts

Chestnuts are a type of nut that have been shown to have many benefits when it comes to improving gut and heart health. This is because they contain plenty of fibre and antioxidants and are a wonderful source of a variety of nutrients including vitamin C, B vitamins and manganese.

Research done by Blaiotta (2013) has shown that chestnut extract plays an essential role in the gastric tolerance of a beneficial bacteria, called lactobacilli. It is, therefore, great for improving our overall gut health and microbiome. It proves to be challenging for probiotics to not be influenced by the acidic gastric secretions as it moves through the stomach, so the survival of some of these strains of bacteria is, therefore, dependent on the food used for its delivery.

Ginkgo

A wide range of health benefits of the Ginkgo biloba extract has been reported in traditional Chinese medicine. A study done in 2012 (Cheng, 2013) showed promising results when evaluating the effects of Ginkgo biloba on induced diabetes in rats. After the rats were given Ginkgo extract for 30 days, the symptoms of diabetes were reversed significantly and it further seems to possess antihyperglycemic, antihyperlipidemic and antioxidant activities which promise to be a possible treatment for diabetics.

According to the research, it seems that superfoods can indeed offer us a wide variety of antioxidant and antimicrobial substances as well as vitamins, fatty acids and fibre in quantities that exceed many other foods we typically consume each day. Superfoods, therefore, might play an important role in reducing our risk of degenerative diseases. Always remember that superfoods should not be used exclusively but should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

Resources:

Anderson, R.A et al, 2016, Cinnamon extract lowers glucose, insulin and cholesterol in people with elevated serum glucose, J Tradit Complement Med, 2016 Oct; 6(4): 332–336.

Dr Axe, 2020. Six Amazing Benefits, One Superfood, https://draxe.com/six-amazing-benefits-one-superfood/).

Blaiotta G, et al. 2013. Effect of chestnut extract and chestnut fiber on viability of potential probiotic Lactobacillus strains under gastrointestinal tract conditions. Food Microbiol. 2013 Dec;36(2):161-9.

Cheng. D et al. 2013. Antihyperglycemic Effect of Ginkgo biloba Extract in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetes in Rats”, BioMed Research International, vol. 2013, Article ID 162724, 7 pages.

Cheng, J et al. 2015. An evidence-based update on the pharmacological activities and possible molecular targets of Lycium barbarum polysaccharides, Drug Des Devel Ther. 2015; 9: 33–78.

Gunawardena D, et al. 2015. Anti-inflammatory activity of cinnamon (C. zeylanicum and C. cassia) extracts – identification of E-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde as the most potent bioactive compounds. Food Funct. 2015 Mar;6(3):910-9.

Ichimura M, et al, 2013. Phycocyanin prevents hypertension and low serum adiponectin level in a rat model of metabolic syndrome. Nutr Res. 2013 May;33(5):397-405.

Kim T, et al. 2009. Curcumin activates AMPK and suppresses gluconeogenic gene expression in hepatoma cells. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2009 Oct 16;388(2):377-82.

Jaafarpour et al, 2015, The effect of cinnamon on menstrual bleeding and systemic symptoms with primary dysmenorrhea, Iran Red Crescent Med J, 2015 Apr 22;17(4)

Koníčková R, et al, 2014. Anti-cancer effects of blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, a natural source of bilirubin-like tetrapyrrolic compounds. Ann Hepatol. 2014 Mar-Apr;13(2):273-83.

Kumari, D.J. 2011. POTENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF SPIRULINA PLATENSIS. Pharmanest, Vol.2 (2 – 3) September –October -2011

Poulose SM, 2012. Anthocyanin-rich açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) fruit pulp fractions attenuate inflammatory stress signaling in mouse brain BV-2 microglial cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Feb 1;60(4):1084-93.

Proestos C. Superfoods: Recent Data on their Role in the Prevention of Diseases. Curr Res Nutr Food Sci 2018;6(3).

Reeve VE, et al. 2010. Mice drinking goji berry juice (Lycium barbarum) are protected from UV radiation-induced skin damage via antioxidant pathways. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2010 Apr;9(4):601-7.

Sadowska-Krępa E, et al. 2015. Effects of supplementation with acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry-based juice blend on the blood antioxidant defence capacity and lipid profile in junior hurdlers. A pilot study. Biol Sport. 2015 Jun;32(2):161-8.

Shoba G, et al. 1998. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 May;64(4):353-6.

Takada Y, et al, 2004. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene. 2004 Dec 9;23(57):9247-58.

Zena Le Roux

Zena le Roux is a health coach, clinical nutritionist and investigative health journalist. She works with people who find they are deprioritising their health or who feel exhausted, frustrated – and stuck! She helps her clients to say goodbye to bland, restrictive diets and turn their painful relationship with food into one of freedom and joy! Her practice is based in Waterkloof Ridge, Pretoria – www.zenaleroux.co.za

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