Migratory birds, it seems, instinctively understand the link between food, health, and physical performance.
During other times of the year, migratory birds eat primarily insects and seeds. During migration, however, they eat deeply colored berries.
Why the change? Deeply colored berries are loaded with antioxidants, which have been shown in animals and humans to negate the oxidation exacerbated by bad diet, environmental pollution, and physical exertion.
Oxidation creates the inflammation that can lead to aging and disease.
And the diseases that oxidation can cause in humans are significant: all forms of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
While a skeptic might say that the migratory birds' change in diet is merely a matter of circumstance, that patches of deeply colored berries are simply easy to sight in migratory flight, researchers at the University of Rhode Island have been able to prove it's more than that.
On the island where they studied the birds, there are 12 types of berries, yet the traveling birds clearly preferred one above all others: the arrowwood berry. Back in the laboratory, that berry was found to contain more antioxidants than the others.
Since migration creates far more physical exertion than normal, which creates more oxidative stress, the birds instinctively alter their diets to combat it.
Hmm. Maybe being birdbrained isn't such a bad thing, after all.
If so, you would instinctively know what five separate studies released since late May show: the foods you choose affect your health.
Research published online in the FASEB Journal, for instance, found that the antioxidants in green tea and red wine halt human prostate cancer growth genetically created in mice.
For years, the moderate consumption of both green tea and red wine has been heralded to help overall health, but clear-cut evidence that both can halt prostate cancer caused Gerald Weissmann, MD and editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal, to call their impact on the body "profound . . . more than anyone would have dreamt just 25 years ago" and that the drinks "may now be ranked among the most potent 'health foods' we know."
Another element in red wine, resveratrol, a nonflavonoid found in the skin of grapes, has been found in past studies to prevent inflammation, blood clots, and fatty blockages in mice, leading many to believe it does the same, as well as reduce bad cholesterol, in humans. But research published in the May 28 edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry shows it could possibly do something else.
Stop Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists know that deformations in a specific peptide (a combination of two or more amino acids) and the development of Alzheimer's disease are in some way related since these deformations are found near the cell death in those stricken with Alzheimer's. But now they also know that resveratrol neutralizes the deformation.
Although far more research is needed until the use of resveratrol is used to negate the cognitive decline characteristic with Alzheimer's disease, here's a fact to illustrate just how important the original finding is: the lead researcher of the study, Rensselaer professor Peter M. Tessier, was named as a 2010 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, garnering $240,000 over the next four years.
Another research study that reaffirmed the importance of diet to health is also welcome news for smokers. Research done at the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that smokers who have higher levels of vitamin B6 and the amino acid methionine in their blood have a significantly lower risk of getting cancer 60 percent lower than smokers who are deficient in these nutrients.
This correlation held true for non-smokers and former smokers, too. In each case, those studied with high levels of B6 and methionine in their blood had the same 60 percent lower chance of contracting lung cancer than the studied non-smokers and former smokers showing a deficiency.
Considerable amounts of B6 are found in vegetables, nuts, most meats, and bananas. Since it's an amino acid, methionine is found in just about any high-protein food, so you're sure to find foods high in methionine that suit your tastes.
But if you only consider suiting your tastes when you eat and consume so much non-nutritious, junk food that it creates a vitamin and mineral decrease, do you know what else you get?
A significantly higher risk of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, increasing your chance of dying by about 150 percent.
This was the decree recently made at the World Congress of Cardiology based on a study of 9,450 Americans.
But have no fear; food can be curative.
In fact, eating well seems to help even after you've eaten so poorly that you've developed metabolic syndrome, the precursor for type 2 diabetes. That's what attendees of The Endocrine Society's 92nd Annual Meeting held this summer in San Diego heard.
Specifically, a low-calorie, Mediterranean-type diet that gave subjects between 800 and 1,000 milligrams of antioxidants a day, primarily through fruits and vegetables, improved insulin sensitivity.
The converse of insulin sensitivity, inadequate utilization of insulin, is the defining characteristic of type 2 diabetes.