Six beverages that may help stave off chronic disease

Drink to your health: six beverages that may help stave off chronic disease

Next time you want to quench your thirst, reach for a beverage that may also protect your health. New studies suggest that fruit and vegetable juices, green or black tea, and coffee could reduce your risk of chronic disease. The benefits are mostly due to antioxidants, plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that combat harmful oxygen molecules called free radicals. These phytochemicals are thought to help protect against cancer, heart disease, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

A study among more than 1,800 people over a 10-year period finds those who drank three or more servings of fruit and vegetable juices per week had a 76 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who drank juices less than once a week. Writing in the September 2006 American Journal of Medicine, researchers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee say antioxidant polyphenols in fruit and vegetable juices may be more neuroprotective than vitamins.

Here are six beneficial beverages.

Pomegranate juice

Antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice seems to be the juice du jour; its ad campaign is hard to miss. There is some science behind the hype.

A small study from Israel conducted among 20 people with diabetes found that drinking 6 oz of pomegranate juice every day for six months reduced the risk of clogged arteries (atherosclerosis). The study, reported in the August 2006 issue of the journal Atherosclerosis, says pomegranate juice decreases the uptake of oxidized “bad” LDL cholesterol by immune cells called macrophages, a major contributor to fatty deposits in arteries.

Other research, published in 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found mice fed pomegranate juice had a reduced incidence of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. Researchers believe sugars in pomegranate juice are attached to unique antioxidants, which may account for their protective effects against atherosclerosis. But those sugars are still simple sugars and they account for all the calories in pomegranate juice, stresses Beth McKinney, RD, director of the Employee Wellness Program at Cornell University in Ithaca. To get your antioxidants, McKinney suggests eating whole fruits and vegetables, which have more fiber.

The apple of your eye

That’s certainly true of apples. A 2004 review by Cornell University researchers found antioxidant phytochemicals in apples may decrease the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. New research done in mice by the University of Massachusetts in Lowell also suggests apple juice may increase the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (depleted in people with Alzheimer’s disease), leading to improved memory. The study, published in the August 2006 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that older mice (some bred to develop Alzheimer’s-like symptoms) had an increased production of acetylcholine and did better on memory tests when given apple juice concentrate.

The apple juice fed to the mice was comparable to drinking two 8-oz glasses of apple juice or eating two to three apples a day. (Note: The study was funded by the apple industry.)

Noni juice hype?

While apple juice is inexpensive, the same cannot be said for Noni juice. This juice, made from the fruit of the Morinda Citrifolia plant, is said to lower blood pressure, improve digestion, and “neutralize toxins.” One study did show drinking 1-4 oz a day of antioxidant-rich Noni juice could lower total cholesterol and triglycerides–in people who smoked. Some animal research suggests Noni juice has antitumor effects. But other claims are unproven. The juice is packed with potassium, which people with kidney disease cannot excrete.

Green tea, black coffee

Evidence mounts for the benefits of green tea and coffee. Researchers from Japan found people aged 40-65 who drank six or more cups of green tea daily were 33 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The study, in the April 2006 Annals of Internal Medicine, also found people who downed three or more cups of coffee a day were 42 percent less likely to develop diabetes, compared to non-coffee drinkers. Another Japanese study, in the September 13, 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association, says adults who drink green tea have a lower risk of all-cause mortality and heart disease.

But drinking too much caffeine can leave you jittery. A recent study also finds drinking even one to two cups of coffee can transiently raise heart attack risk in people not accustomed to caffeine.

Got lemons? Make lemonade

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade–and reduce your risk of kidney stones, says research presented at the 2006 American Urological Association annual meeting last spring. The study found that, in people at risk for kidney stones, drinking lemonade (or lemon juice mixed with water) increased production of urinary citrate, a chemical that prevents formation of crystals that can build up into kidney stones. Orange juice may also do the job.

Best bets

Remember, claims for the disease-fighting properties of a beverage may be overinflated, stresses McKinney. Smart choices include 4-6 oz of apple, orange, or vegetable juice. The simplest drinks are still the best: water and nonfat milk, says McKinney.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Belvoir Media Group, LLC

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