FOREVER  YOUNG  -  parts  of  chapter  2


I have long encouraged my patients to shop for the "rainbow foods" in the produce aisle. A full palette of sensual color will not only make your food beautiful, it will heal your body on a cellu-J lar level and will keep you young. Choose from the array of fresh fruits and vegetables at the market or, even better, at a local farmers' market:


*A variety of baby greens, including watercress and

*Dark green broccoli, broccoli rabe, broccolini
*String beans Red onions and tomatoes - Purple garlic

*Red, purple, and yellow bell peppers 

*Bright red chile peppers

*Purple eggplant

*Alfalfa and broccoli sprouts

*Fragrant fresh herbs and spices, including basil, parsley,
thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, dill, cinnamon sticks,

*Deep blue blueberries

*Brilliant blackberries

*Vivid red strawberries

*Royal purple plums

*Deep red or bright green apples


*Bing cherries

For condiments:

*Dark green extra-virgin olive oil

*An assortment of green and black olives

In the bulk food department, stock up on:

*Dark red kidney beans - Black and Red lentils

*Golden oats

*Warm brown walnuts

*Dark chocolate


*Bright green pumpkin seeds

And don't forget seafood:

*Rich, red Alaskan sockeye salmon

*Wild  Pecific  salmon - pink/red. [Again God has laws on what sea creatures to eat - Keith Hunt]

Seeing Blue and Going Green: Nutrigenomics in Action

The nutrients and other substances discussed in this chapter provide benefits that far exceed their function as antioxidants. Green, black, and white tea (Camellia sinensis), cocoa, and blueberries all contain special catechins (with active pharmacophores) that have significant effects on gene expression.

Tea has many benefits and is well known for both its anticancer and its antioxidant properties. Other positive effects include:

*The amino acid called theonine, a natural relaxant that won't make you drowsy

*The ability to increase metabolism, resulting in the burning of body fat

*The ability to suppress the absorption of fat High levels of antioxidants that act as anti-inflammatories and are protective for the skin and brain, and all your organs. 

*The ability to improve glucose tolerance in diabetic mice, an effect that may help prevent type 2 diabetes High levels of an important polyphenol antioxidant, epigal-locatechin gallate (EGCG), which is believed to be responsible for much of green tea's promise in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, periodontal disease, and dental cavities……


The EGCG in tea prevents the activation of collagen-digesting enzymes known as matrix metalloproteinase. This is a critical function because these enzymes are responsible for wrinkling of the skin.

The Old-New Superfoods—Cinnamon and Turmeric: Spices of Life

NRF2 to the rescue

Cinnamon is not only a delicious spice, it has a variety of health benefits, starting with one of the keys to staying Forever Young and wrinkle-free, the regulation of blood sugar.

The USDA Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, is a world leader in research on the links between nutrition and disease. In one study, the scientists were amazed to find that volunteers who had eaten apple pie, high in sugar and refined flour, did not experience the expected large rise in their blood sugar levels.

They soon discovered that cinnamon, that wonderfully fragrant, classic apple pie spice, was the reason. Cinnamon contains a variety of phytonutrients, including the flavan-3-ol polyphenol-class antioxidants similar to those found in grapes, berries, cocoa, and green tea (OPCs and catechins).

This class of antioxidants boosts the stabilizing effect of insulin on blood sugar. At the same time, these antioxidants inhibit insulin resistance. They achieve this by activating enzymes that stimulate insulin receptors, making the cells more sensitive to insulin, increasing insulin's ability to lower blood sugar. In addition, they augment the effects of the insulin-signaling pathways within skeletal muscle tissue.

Just a few of the benefits of these phytonutrients are as follows:

*Cinnamon acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. 

*It inhibits the release of the inflammatory fatty acid arachidonic acid from platelet membranes. 

*It also reduces the production of an inflammatory prostaglandin (messenger) called thromboxane A2.

*Its essential oil inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi. 

*It functions as a strong antioxidant.

Turmeric—Worth Its Weight in Gold

Turmeric is another spice containing the Michael acceptors. We are all familiar with this delicious spice, the hallmark of fragrant, flavorful golden curries.

Curcumin, chemically diferuloylmethane, and its derivatives demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, collectively known as curcuminoids, are responsible for the yellow pigment derived from the roots of the perennial herb turmeric (Curcuma longa L.). They are also responsible for turmeric's exceptional health-promoting properties. The curcuminoids prevent NF-kB from activation with extreme efficiency.

In fact, the single most promising food-derived compound to combat cancer, based on the current body of scientific evidence, is the curcuminoids found in turmeric. M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, and other top cancer research centers in the United States are involved in preclinical and clinical research on the anticancer mechanism and application of curcuminoids in conditions including colon, breast, head, neck, and prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, and respiratory tract cancers. The curcuminoids prevent NF-kB activation with extreme efficiency.

Many studies indicate that turmeric in general, and its curcuminoid fraction specifically, possess significant potential in preventing and treating cancer. The active constituents in turmeric have tremendous activity in the body, protecting several organ systems including the brain and heart.

The curcuminoids found in turmeric also function as a mild electrophile or Michael acceptor. By acting as a mild oxidizing agent, they activate the protective transcription factor NRF2, which then upregulates a multitude of cell-protective enzymes and molecules. Scientists are now studying the protective effects of NRF2 activation in reducing oxidative stress found in the central nervous system in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's. Ingesting turmeric root on a daily basis can help prevent the loss of cognitive function that we face as we age.

As predicted by the brain/beauty hypothesis, the curcuminoids found in turmeric are also active in the skin. When applied topically, they function as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, partially because of their ability to upregulate NRF2, which provides the skin with many benefits, including increased radiance, decreased pore size, and, with continued use, a reduction in fine lines and discolorations.

The Antioxidant Attributes of Turmeric

*The curcuminoid pigments in turmeric are safe, highly effective antioxidants.

*Turmeric turmerin, a unique peptide, acts as a free-radical scavenger and offers 80 percent protection against oxidative injury to membranes and DNA.

*Animals fed curcuminoids show higher blood levels of the enzyme glutathione S-transferase, which, as we learned in chapter 1, is essential to our health as an important antioxidant and key player in the body's detoxification system.

The Antt-irflarnmaiory Powers of Turmeric

*By modulating the effects of key pro-inflammatory molecules, including cyclooxygenase 2, leukotrienes, prostaglandins, nitric oxide, interferon-inducible protein, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and interleukin-12, the curcuminoids in turmeric suppress inflammation.

*Like alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), curcumin inhibits the proinflammatory actions of nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kB) and activator protein 1 (AP-1). As you will learn in "The Birth of a Wrinkle," on page 60, activation of NF-kB and AP-1 leads to inflammation-related microscarring of collagen, resulting in wrinkles.

*The curcuminoids may enhance the secretion of antiinflammatory corticosteroids from the adrenal glands or boost their anti-inflammatory power. The curcuminoids are safer anti-inflammatory agents than the standard NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. They work by blocking the pro-inflammatory mediator thromboxane (TXA-2) and not by blocking COX-1, which can result in gastric bleeding.

*Turmeric sensitizes the body's Cortisol receptor sites, which is important as we age, as elevated Cortisol damages all organ systems, including skin.

Eliminating Liver Toxins

When we ingest turmeric, it increases the liver's ability to eliminate dangerous carcinogenic toxins. Studies indicate that it raises the levels of two key liver detoxification enzymes (UDP glucoronyl transferase and glutathione -transferase).

Spice Up Your Life

Many spice-derived phy to chemicals have important therapeutic effects, including their ability to suppress NF-kB. The bad news is that once NF-kB is activated, it induces the expression of more than two hundred genes. As you have learned in these pages, NF-kB is linked to many diseases, including:



Alzheimer's disease Arthritis Atherosclerosis


Crohn's disease 

Diabetes Multiple sclerosis 

Myocardial infarction activity is only part of the story. 

Another part is the ability of these substances to mimic oxidative stress, thus tricking the protective transcription factors into action.


An Extraordinary Superfood

One of my great joys in researching and writing this book has been discovering "new" superfoods. And though they may be new to many readers, they are in fact ancient, known throughout history for remarkable healing and rejuvenating properties yet all but forgotten in today's world of fast and processed "food."

Watercress is a case in point. In our modern times, this green is relegated to serving as a garnish or as a tea party staple in the form of wimpy sandwiches cut into fancy shapes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people do not realize the role of watercress in keeping us Forever Young, which I hope to remedy in this chapter. Watercress, like the spices and green tea, contains the active pharmacophores that control transcription factors and gene expression.

Veggie Tales

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Richard Burgoon, the president and owner, and Andy Brown, the vice president of marketing, of B&W Quality Growers, the world's largest grower and shipper of cultivated watercress. Its founding family has celebrated 140 years as watercress farmers.

Though I have long known of the tremendous health and longevity benefits of the cruciferous vegetables, I was truly amazed to learn about the remarkable nutrient-rich properties of watercress. On a tour of one of B&W's wonderful farms, Richard explained to me that watercress is extremely perishable and a challenge to grow, requiring the perfect combination of pure and cold water, ideal weather conditions, and unique soil requirements. To provide for a consistent year-round supply, B&W has developed a unique network of smaller sustainable-seasonal farms in six states. This "follow-the-sun" farming model allows B&W's watercress farms to lie fallow to rest and recharge naturally each year for a smaller ecofootprint and reduced strain on the land and environment. Combined, these seasonal farms qualify the family as the largest watercress growers in the world, though they seem focused more on quality than on size.

Watercress contains a storehouse of nutrients and has been used as a tonic since ancient times to cleanse the blood and liver of toxins and promote an overall feeling of good health. It has been used in a variety of ways, including to enhance stamina, to rid the body of excess fluids, and as a great antioxidant. Hippocrates, the "father of medicine," is said to have established his first hospital close to a watercress stream so that he could use fresh stems to treat his patients. Since that time scientists have identified many of the beneficial compounds contained in the plant.

Watercress is a juicy, vivid green, aquatic plant that is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America, where it may be found throughout Canada and the United States. The original Latin name of watercress is Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, which was later changed to Nasturtium officinale. Like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mustard, horseradish, collard greens, turnips, and bok choy, it belongs to the family Cruciferae. 

This hardy perennial is found in abundance near springs, and in open running watercourses, shallow creeks, ditches, ponds, lakes, brooks, and slow-moving rivers—wherever the water is clear and cool and slow-moving. Watercress thrives in shallow (2 to 6 inches), alkaline water in sun or even in pots of rich alluvial soil standing in dishes of water, and it has a creeping habit. The plant has smooth, fleshy stems that bear roundish, heart-shaped leaflets and small white flowers on the extremities. It has been used for thousands of years as a nutritious addition to cuisine and an important factor in herbal medicine. One of the very first plants cultivated by humans, watercress was used by Persian and Greek soldiers as a tonic to improve their health and stamina. Of particular interest to me, the famed seventeenth-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recommended this bitter, pungent, stimulant herb to "free the face" from blotches, spots, and blemishes. In North America, Native Americans used watercress for liver and kidney trouble and to dissolve gallstones.

Watercress has risen to a much-deserved starring role in elaborate culinary preparations. The good news is that it is both beneficial for the health and tasty to the palate. As mentioned, it is a popular garnish, and it is delicious in salads. It is also a delightful addition to herb butters, dressings, casseroles, soups, and sauces for fish, as well as making refreshing and nourishing teas. The ancient Romans enjoyed, as do their descendants, watercress dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Some of the constituents of watercress are volatile oil, flavonoids, phosphorus, nitrogen, beta-carotene, lutein, iodine, protein, folic acid, and sulfur (which probably accounts for the herb's pungent fragrance). It is particularly rich in iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C and includes many other valuable mineral and vitamins. 

Beneficial Uses

Watercress is believed to be an effective diuretic that promotes urine flow, which helps in clearing toxins from the system. The diuretic properties help relieve excess water retention and edema, and it was historically used in heart failure to remove retained fluid. It is also thought to support good kidney function and ease urinary and bladder problems. People of many cultures have also used watercress to break up kidney or bladder stones.

Herbalists have employed watercress to clear toxins from the body.

Watercress is useful in treating skin eruptions, eczema, acne, rashes, and other skin infections.

In addition, watercress is considered a tonic for the liver. The herb has been used to promote bile production and flow, which supports liver function, eases gallbladder complaints, and is also beneficial to the digestive system. The herb has been thought to alleviate indigestion and inhibit gas formation.

In Victorian England, before oranges became affordable, watercress was eaten to ward off scurvy. Indeed, the plant gained the nickname "poor man's bread" in reference to the working-class tradition of starting the day with a watercress sandwich—or just watercress if bread was too expensive! Its high vitamin C content also helps correct other imbalances due to vitamin C deficiency.

Watercress is thought to be an effective expectorant that helps to expel excess mucus and is believed to relieve bronchitis, coughs, and mucus in the lungs.

The high biologically available iron content in watercress is thought to be useful in cases of anemia, and iron, coupled with watercress's high folic acid content, made the herb a staple recommendation for pregnant women in the early 1900s.

Watercress is loaded with nutrients and has been considered an overall tonic for good health. It has been used to ease the debility associated with chronic disease; to increase physical endurance, supporting the ancient soldiers' use of the herb to enhance the body's immune system; and to stimulate the body's metabolism.

Watercress was used in the past to help in cases of tuberculosis, and recent studies have found that it maybe effective against cultures of the tubercle bacillus.

The flavonoids in watercress are said to increase immunity, and research shows promise in studying watercress's potential role in cancer prevention and treatment. It is nature's richest source of a specific volatile mustard oil, phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), shown in many animal, and of late human, studies to fight cancer cells.

Watercress, the New Ancient Superfood

Key research findings on watercress and health and nutrition include:

Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, and population studies associate an increased intake of cruciferous vegetables with reduced risk of cancers at several sites, including the breast and prostate.

Daily consumption of watercress results in a significant decrease in lymphocyte (white blood cell) DNA damage; DNA damage is an important event in cancer development. Watercress is a rich source of the glucosinolate derivatives phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) and methylsulphinylakyl isothiocyanates (MEITCs), which have a range of anticancer activities.

Beneficial effects against the three key stages of carcinogenesis (initiation, proliferation, and metastasis) were observed in a study involving watercress extract and colon cancer cells. When smokers ate watercress with each meal for three days, the activation of a key carcinogen in tobacco was inhibited. An in vitro study involving breast cancer cells found that the addition of a watercress extract inhibited their invasive potential.

A study investigating the effects of a diet supplemented with PEITC in mice grafted with human prostate tumors resulted in a 50 percent reduction in tumor weight. Watercress is a good source of key nutrients and caroten-oids, including lutein and beta-carotene, associated with the maintenance of eye and skin health. Daily consumption of watercress increases plasma lutein levels by 100 percent and beta-carotene levels by 33 percent. Daily watercress consumption has been shown to decrease plasma triglyceride levels by about 10 percent.

Watercress is rich in vitamin A (via beta-carotene) and vitamin C and a source of folate, calcium, iron, and vitamin E. It also contains a variety of phy to chemicals including glucosinolates, lutein, flavonoids, and hydroxycinamic acids. As discussed in chapter 2, the flavor cinnamic aldehyde contains Michael acceptor pharmacophores, which turn on gene expression of a number of cell-protective antioxidant enzymes. Cinnamic aldehyde in both cell culture and animal studies is looking promising as a therapeutic agent for the deadly skin cancer melanoma. Watercress has significant antioxidant activity in vitro. Eighty grams of watercress, one cereal bowl full, provides one of the "at least five a day" portions of fruit and vegetables.

Watercress is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

As a low-calorie vegetable, watercress may play a role in weight management. And 85 percent of watercress's calories are in the form of protein, an extremely high amount. Nutrients and phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables appear to work synergistically.

Cancer Protection/Antioxidant

The mix of nutrients and phyto chemicals in watercress makes it a valuable food throughout life as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. I find watercress particularly exciting for its powerful antioxidant and cancer preventing properties. An important study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in addition to reducing blood cell DNA damage, a daily serving of watercress increased the ability of blood cells to resist further DNA damage caused by free radicals.

The dietary trial involved thirty healthy men and thirty healthy women (including thirty smokers) eating an 85-gram bag (a cereal bowl full) of fresh watercress every day for eight weeks. The beneficial changes were greatest among the smokers. This may reflect the greater toxic burden or oxidative stress among the smokers, who had significantly lower antioxidant levels at the start of the study than the nonsmokers.

Professor Ian Rowland, who led the research project, said, "Our findings are highly significant. Population studies have shown links between higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables, like watercress, and a reduced risk of a number of cancers, though such studies don't give direct information about causal effects. What makes this study unique is it involves people eating watercress in easily achievable amounts, to see what impact that might have on known biomarkers of cancer risk, such as DNA damage." In other words, you don't need megadoses to get results.

Since the pioneering work by Professor Stephen Hecht in 1995, when he demonstrated that eating watercress neutralized a cancer-causing chemical found in the blood of smokers, there have been many studies linking watercress to potent anticancer activities. Most have been test-tube studies, some have been in animals, and in 2001, there was one in humans, when Professor Rowland showed that eating a bowl of watercress a day significantly reduced DNA damage in blood cells—and DNA damage is thought to be one of the key processes that can lead to the development of cancers. It is DNA damage that triggers cancer cell development, proliferation or uncontrolled growth of cancer cells, and metastasis, the spread of cancer cells. These are the three key stages of carcinogenesis, the process that results in cancer.

How Watercress Prevents Cancer

Recently, two exciting studies were published that provide new insight into the potential anticancer effects of watercress.

These studies were conducted over two years in the United Kingdom, where watercress has long been popular, and link laboratory and clinical research. They were led by Professor Graham Packham at the University of Southampton's School of Medicine at Southampton General Hospital and by Barbara Parry, senior research dietician at the Winchester and Andover Breast Unit at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital.

Professor Packham's main interest was in PEITC (beta-phenethyl isothiocyanate), which gives watercress its peppery taste. In fact, watercress is nature's richest source of this fascinating compound, long associated with anticancer properties.

Hundreds of research publications from around the world show that PEITC can slow the growth of or even kill cancer cells in laboratory and animal experiments. The research team set out to learn more about the ways in which PEITC exerts its effect on cancer cells and, most important, whether eating watercress could have a similar effect on cells in the human body. Professor Packham's group showed that PEITC is able to completely block the function of a protein called hypoxia-inducible factor, or HIE. This plays a critical role in cancer development.

Cancer cells are continually developing in our bodies. But thankfully they very rarely grow to form tumors. As cancer cells multiply to form a tiny tumor, smaller than 5 millimeters across, they invariably outgrow their blood supply and run out of oxygen and nutrients. To get past this roadblock, they send out signals that can trick the surrounding normal tissues into angiogenesis, growing new blood vessels. If they are successful in securing a good blood supply, they rapidly multiply to form a growing tumor. HIF is at the heart of this process, because it turns on blood vessel—promoting factors. Since PEITC, which is found in watercress, can block the function of HIF, watercress might control cancer growth by depriving tumors of this new blood supply. Therefore, one way in which watercress might control cancer growth is by depriving developing tumors of this new blood supply.

The research team went on to show that PEITC may turn off this HIF signal by changing the function of a second protein called 4EBP1.

Importantly, this provided a measurable readout indicating that HIF activity and could be used to find out whether eating watercress could affect this pathway critical to cancer tumor growth. Working with Barbara Parry, Graham led a pilot study using a group of volunteers, all female breast cancer survivors keen to help in research into new ways to fight the disease. The women underwent a period of fasting before eating a pack of watercress (the nice bit!) and then gave regular blood samples for up to twenty-four hours. The research team was able to detect significant levels of PEITC in the blood of all the participants following the watercress meal. Most important, the researchers showed that the function of 4EBP1 in the women's blood cells was indeed significantly affected—that is, the watercress meal led to biologically active compounds, most likely PEITC, getting into the bloodstream and inhibiting the ability of cells to trigger blood vessel development— something critical to the development of a tumor.

Professor Packham said, "This work is of significance since we have discovered more about how PEITC can act to interfere with key pathways in cancer cells. It will be important to confirm the clinical findings in a larger group of individuals, but the results of this pilot study do indicate that eating watercress as part of a normal healthy diet might modulate these pathways within cells in the body. This work does not prove that eating watercress would directly decrease the risk of cancer, but it does take an important step toward understanding the potential health benefits of this crop."

Dr. Steve Rothwell of the Watercress Alliance stated, "We are very excited by the outcome of Professor Packham's work. Many laboratory and animal studies point to the cancer fighting properties of PEITC— and thus indirectly to the benefit of eating nature's richest source of this special chemical—watercress."

But this work goes farther, showing a clear link between eating a serving of watercress and the down regulation of a biochemical pathway that's known to be involved in the development of breast cancer. 

Watercress, Turmeric, and Breast Cancer

Numerous studies validating the cancer-fighting properties of watercress continue to appear in medical journals. Studies include human trials in Germany and the University of Minnesota that indicated that watercress consumption can repair damaged DNA. Studies in the United Kingdom of breast cancer survivors, published in early 2010, have recorded equally impressive results.

Rutgers researchers tested turmeric, and its active ingredient, cur-cumin-(see page 43 for more on this Indian spice), along with phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a naturally occurring substance particularly abundant in the cruciferous vegetables, especially watercress, cabbage, winter cress, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and turnips: The discovery was announced in the journal Cancer Research. According to Ah-Ng Tony Kong, a professor of pharmaceutics at Rutgers: "The bottom line is that PEITC and curcumin, alone or in combination, demonstrate significant cancer-preventive qualities in laboratory mice, and the combination of PEITC and curcumin could be effective in treating established prostate cancers."

Chocolate: "Gift from the Gods"

The source of all cocoa powder and chocolate is cacao beans, which are found in the pods of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, an evergreen typically grown within 20 degrees of the equator. To make cocoa and chocolate, the beans are fermented, roasted, shelled, ground, and often combined with a sweetener or flavoring agent.

The cacao tree was originally found in the tropical rain forests of Central America. It was cultivated thousands of years ago by the ancient Aztecs, who believed that the plant was a gift from their gods. In fact, its very name, Theobroma, means "of the gods." The tree can grow to forty feet in height and has a very unusual appearance because the football-shaped pods that contain the beans grow directly out of the trunk. So valuable was the fruit of this tree that the Aztecs were using cocoa beans as a form of currency when the Spanish first arrived on the continent.

When Europeans were introduced to this remarkably delicious substance, they were very impressed by the stimulating effects of cocoa extracts and the feelings of well-being they generated. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, cocoa is an excellent source of phytonutrients known as catechins and, like tea and blueberries, controls gene expression by turning off damaging transcription factors such as NF-kB and turning on protective transcription factors such as NRF2.

Phytonutrient-rich chocolate and the cocoa it is made from are complex foods containing more than three hundred compounds and chemicals in each bite. These exert powerful effects on brain chemistry, specifically serotonin, dopamine, and opiate peptides, resulting in a positive mood and euphoric feelings. Chocolate stimulates the release of brain opiates known as endorphins, which are chemically similar to morphine; in fact, the brain responds to them in the same way as it responds to morphine. These brain opiates are largely responsible for the body's response to pleasure, stress, and pain.

Love at First Bite

It is now believed that cravings for sweet and high-fat foods like chocolate may be partly mediated by these brain opiates. One substance in chocolate, phenylethylamine, mimics the action of these natural opiates and gives us the feeling of being in love. Perhaps that is why chocolate is the gift associated with Valentine's Day. We may indulge in chocolate after a failed relationship and a broken heart to reproduce that incomparable feeling. The natural antidepressant effect of chocolate is one of the many benefits we receive when enjoying a piece of dark chocolate. Chocolate is also rich in oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, which helps us absorb important nutrients.

For optimum health henefits and enjoyment, choose extra-dark chocolate—at least 70% to 85% cocoa content. Also choose non-Dutched cocoa, as the process of alkalinization or "Dutching" cocoa significantly reduces the amount of flavonols in cocoa. By weight, cocoa has more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine. Chocolate and cocoa protect the cardiovascular system, significantly reducing the incidence of atherosclerosis. Chocolate is also similar to the blueberry in that it affords protection to our brain. As we know, substances that are neuroprotective are also therapeutic to the skin.

Skin Science and Cocoa

When ingested orally, cocoa has potent neuroprotective effects, the result of specific micronutrients. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa are derived from the cocoa procyanidin fraction, which is extracted from cocoa powder using natural solvents that then become rich in these active molecules. The solvents, now rich in the navonoids and procy-anidins, display powerful activity in the cell and affect gene expression in a very positive way.

Scientists have found that procyanidin B-2 protects brain cells from inflammation and are looking at the cocoa procyanidin fraction and procyanidin B-2 to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease.

My interest in the cocoa procyanidin fractions, and specifically procyanidin B-2, lies in their protective effects and therapeutic efficacy when applied to skin. The skin is our interface between our bodies and the world. Unfortunately, it is under constant bombardment by external stressors, including the environment, UV and electromagnetic radiation, air pollution, and chemical irritants, as well as internal stressors, including poor diet, alcohol ingestion, smoking, and stress, to name a few. Procyanidin B-2 is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can switch off the production of the pro-inflammatory chemicals that are released in the skin by these stressors.

The Birth of a Wrinkle

Excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation is hugely damaging to the skin. It increases free-radical activity in the cell plasma membrane, which releases arachidonic acid, the precursor of numerous pro-inflammatory chemicals including the prostaglandins and HETEs. This activates transcription factors such as NF-kB and AP-1. These in turn upregulate negative genes that produce pro-inflammatory cytokines that damage skin cells. When transcription factors such as AP-1 are activated, they produce and release collagen-digesting proteins (matrix metalloprotein-ase), resulting in microscarring in the deep portion of the skin called the dermis. The multiple micro-scars lead to macro-scarring, and this is "the birth of a wrinkle."

The Death of a Wrinkle

The cocoa procyanidin fractions, including procyanidin B-2, upset the wrinkle-producing process. They prevent the oxidation of lipids in the cell plasma membrane, blocking the production of arachidonic acid, while at the same time inhibiting the activation of the transcription


For years I have recommended that people have no unprotected sun exposure, as have all of my colleagues in dermatology. This recommendation was made because of the pro-inflammatory, photo-aging, and cancer-causing effects of ultraviolet light. If the skin is the only organ we are concerned with, this is good advice, but dermatologists, like other subspecialists, can often fail to see the implications of treating a single organ system at the expense of other vital organs.

We now know that vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is produced by sunlight on the skin. It is then absorbed and circulated in the bloodstream. Vitamin D is stored mainly in the liver and must be processed by the liver and kidneys before it is converted to the active form.

Vitamin D is also present in cold-water fish, another good reason to consume that delicious piece of salmon. Dietary sources of vitamin D are often inadequate to meet our minimum needs, and this is now resulting in an epidemic of subchronic vitamin D deficiency diseases.

Vitamin D is known to enhance all vital organs and reduce the risk of all forms of cancer throughout the body. Scientists now recognize that low vitamin D levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mental depression, as well as the obvious disease, osteoporosis. Laboratory tests are revealing very low levels of vitamin D in adults, increasing our risk for multiple age-related diseases. Supplementation with vitamin D capsules is an unexplored area, and I believe will prove to be nowhere near as effective or safe as getting vitamin D from sun exposure. I advise my patients to get moderate amounts of sun exposure, unprotected by clothing or sunscreens, on a regular basis. This does not mean sitting in the sun until the skin shows signs of redness. We can slowly increase our exposure as the protective melanin in the skin increases with repeated exposure. Each person is different, so be caution and don't overdo it. The goal is not to get a suntan or bake in the sun.

For sunbathing to be effective, our skin must contain adequate, natural oils. I recommend not showering or bathing before taking a therapeutic sunbath. After sunbathing, these oils need to be absorbed into the skin and to enter the tiny blood vessels called the dermal vasculature, so the deal is not to shower for at least eight hours after sun exposure. By following this technique, we can produce thousands of units of vitamin D that the body can utilize, without the fear of overdose seen with oral supplementation.









Keith Hunt