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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Why olive oil lowers blood pressure

Posted: 24 May 2014 04:39 PM PDT

The secret to the Mediterranean diet may be in the salad.

Eating unsaturated fats, like those in olive oil, along with leafy greens and other vegetables creates a certain kind of fatty acid that lowers blood pressure, scientists said recently.

These nitro fatty acids are formed when consuming spinach, celery and carrots that are filled with nitrates and nitrites, along with avocado, nuts and olive oils that contain healthy fats.

Nitro fatty acids appear to inhibit an enzyme known as soluble epoxide hydrolase, which regulates blood pressure, said the research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

The study was based on experiments in lab mice, and was funded by the British Heart Foundation.

"The findings of our study help to explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks," said Philip Eaton, professor of cardiovascular biochemistry at King's College London.

While most experts agree that the Mediterranean diet – which consists of lots of vegetables, fish, grains, red wine and fatty nuts and oils – brings health benefits, there has been little scientific consensus about how or why.

Some have touted red wine as a driving force behind the ability of Europeans to eat high fat cheeses and meats while maintaining better overall health than Americans.

But research published last week found that a key antioxidant in red wine, resveratrol, did not help people in Italy live longer or avoid cancer or heart disease. – AFP Relaxnews

Demystifying childhood eczema

Posted: 24 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

In this first of four articles on atopic eczema, we explore some of the most common misconceptions people have of the condition – many of which are barriers to timely and effective treatment.

TWENTY years ago, atopic eczema – a type of inflammation of the skin that is associated with the immune system – is a condition that was almost unheard of in children.

However, statistics over the past decade show that it has been on the rise, paralleling urbanisation and improvement of general hygiene standards.

Today, statistics show that an estimated one in five children in Malaysia have it.

This phenomenon may be caused by an immature immune system in children, a system that does not have the chance to mature due to a lack of exposure to potential allergens, says paediatric dermatologist Dr Leong Kin Fon.

Although the condition is now common among children, it is frequently misunderstood by parents and caregivers.

One of the most common myths is that atopic eczema is caused by a single factor.

This belief has sent many parents and caregivers on a wild goose chase to find and remove that elusive single causative factor, just to find the condition recurring even after spending a fortune on tests and treatments.

Here are some of the more common misconceptions people have of the condition.

Myth #1: There is a single cause for atopic eczema.

Atopic eczema is a multifactorial condition that is a result of the interaction between genetic and environmental factors.

Children and young adults with eczema are usually genetically predisposed to having dry skin because of a hyperactive immune system. The condition usually occurs within the first five years of a child's life.

These factors can be aggravated by multiple environmental factors such as the weather, stress, food, bacteria, and irritants such as harsh cleansing agents and dustmites, says Dr Leong.

The combination of precipitating factors is unique in each individual, even with children from the same family who are living under one roof.

Myth #2: Atopic eczema would not recur if it is already treated.

There is no known cure for eczema, and it will recur if a child or young adult is exposed to factors that trigger the inflammation of the skin.

While treatment by a general practitioner or a dermatologist is usually needed after a flare-up occurs, the condition can be managed to prevent or minimise the severity and frequency of future flare-ups.

Myth #3: Atopic eczema only occurs in dry environments.

Atopic eczema also occurs in hot and humid environments, particularly when there's sweating. This is because sweat could irritate the skin if it is not washed away quickly.

Changes in temperature as a child or young adult moves from a hot and humid environment to a cold and dry environment could also exacerbate symptoms for those living with atopic eczema.

Myth #4: The condition will occur in the same way every time.

The triggering factors for atopic eczema can change in an individual as he or she grows older.

For instance, a baby's atopic eczema is more likely to be due to food allergies and exposure to harsh cleaning detergents or extremes of weather.

In comparison, a teenager and young adult's eczema may more likely be caused by stress or exposure to contact allergens in skin care products or perfume.

Myth #5: There is one single medication or treatment that could cure atopic eczema.

There is no magic bullet or medicine for atopic eczema.

Mild eczema can be treated and managed with a suitable moisturizer and cleanser, as well as the avoidance of extreme weather (too hot and humid or too cold and dry).

Patients can also be taught to avoid scratching the skin when it itches by lightly tapping or massaging the itchy patch.

More severe forms of eczema may require the appropriate use of antibiotics, antiseptics and steroids for a limited period only.

Treatments can range from a few days to a few months, depending on the age of the patient and the severity of the flare-up.

Myth #6: There is nothing much I can do about eczema except to will it away.

About 65% of those with atopic eczema will find their condition less symptomatic after they reach 15 years old, while the rest may live with the condition for much longer, says Dr Leong.

However, when parents and those living with atopic eczema are empowered with the knowledge to manage the condition, atopic eczema can be controlled with certain lifestyle habits and suitable moisturisers and skin cleansers.

Habits such as keeping the skin clean and moist, as well as avoiding extremely hot or cold weather, could go a long way towards keeping eczema at bay.

This article is courtesy of Beiersdorf.

Prunes get their mojo back

Posted: 24 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Prunes have become chic, with chefs incorporating them into both savoury and sweet dishes, such as roasted sturgeon with prunes, capers and pine nuts, or a salted caramel chocolate tart.

WRINKLES can be cool – if you're a prune.

Many of us have had a long love affair with our crinkly, locally grown prunes, even if they weren't considered the coolest fruit in the bunch.

But that's changing. Interest in nutrition and healthier eating has made these funny-looking chewy nuggets into another form of California gold.

Prunes have even become chic. Chefs such as Randall Selland incorporate them into both savoury and sweet dishes, such as roasted sturgeon with prunes, capers and pine nuts, or a salted caramel chocolate tart with added richness from prunes.

This fruit thickens sauces as well as adds a dark, subtle sweetness.

In addition, pureed prunes make an excellent fat replacement in baked goods, adding fiber and nutrients without a lot of calories.

Boomers, inherently prune-resistant, are warming up to prunes' benefits. New research points to prunes' power in helping maintain bone health. Prunes' high fibre content makes them a potent natural laxative. Grandma was right again: Eat more prunes.

For years, prune growers and processors throughout California's Central Valley suffered from an identity crisis. They produce a unique fruit – and instant giggles.

Industry leaders hoped to quell those guffaws by renaming their product. But "dried plums" didn't catch on.

Dan Lance, president and CEO of Sunsweet Growers, likens the realisation to a scene from Mel Brooks' classic comedy Young Frankenstein. Gene Wilder keeps insisting his family name is pronounced "Franken-STEEN", until he finally admits he's young Frankenstein.

"We had our 'Young Frankenstein' moment," Lance said. "We decided to embrace our identity. We are prunes!"

The marketing positives outweigh the old jokes, he explained. "There are so many other dried fruits on the shelf; dried apples, dried apricots, dried mangoes. Dried plums became just another dried fruit. But mention prunes, you get a reaction."

At its 1.2 million-square-foot plant in Yuba City, California, Sunsweet processes about 70,000 tons of prunes a year, representing a third of the world market. Shipping 650,000 cases a month, Sunsweet is the world's largest dried-fruit handler.

About 300 farmers are part of Sunsweet's grower-owned cooperative. Founded in 1917 as the California Prune and Apricot Growers Association, the cooperative made Sunsweet a familiar brand.

Due to the fruit's nutritional profile, consumers under age 30 seem to be warming up to prunes, too, said Sunsweet Vice President Brad Schuler. Seniors already love them.

"Younger generations have no predisposition about prunes," Schuler said. "People past 65 or 70 consume prunes at a high rate. But boomers? They're a challenge. That's why (prunes) were re-named dried plums as a response to that fact. But people are realising what a heavy nation we are and the benefits of prunes."

This year's prune crop is now developing in orchards scattered across the Sacramento Valley. California accounts for 99% of the American prune crop and about 60% of all prunes worldwide.

Prune plums ripen later than most other plums. Harvest usually wraps up in August, with the fruit first going to dryers before it heads to Sunsweet for processing.

The fruit is sorted by 10 different sizes. Once processed, they're stored and shipped year round.

California's prune industry traces back to the Gold Rush and one French entrepreneur, Louis Pellier. In 1850, he started growing fruit for miners. Pellier brought prune plum cuttings from his native Agen in France and grafted them onto wild plum trees growing in the Valley.

For these hard-working miners, prunes were ideal: Very portable, dried plums keep for weeks, even months, without refrigeration. California prunes were an instant hit.

By 1900, an estimated 90,000 acres of prune plums grew in the Central Valley, supplying not only California but the nation.

Today's California prune is little changed from Pellier's early trees. The dominant variety is Improved French, a cultivar developed by famed horticulturist Luther Burbank using Pellier's stock. Burbank spent 40 years perfecting his prune, introduced to growers in the early 1900s. That variety still dominates California orchards.

"The Improved French is the best," Schuler said. "While all prunes are plums, not every plum can be a prune."

Early prune growers congregated around Santa Clara, where Pellier grew his prunes, but gradually moved inland. "Now, three-quarters of all prunes grow in the Sacramento Valley," said grower Joe Turkovich, who farms 88 acres near Winters, California.

Prunes are an Old World fruit, noted Turkovich, who is of Croatian descent.

"We have a cultural history with prunes," Turkovich said. "There are a lot of subtle tricks of the trade for growing this crop. And we live in a unique area where we can grow prunes."

Prunes need our Mediterranean climate, which mirrors their ancestral homeland on the other side of the globe.

"In this climate, we have rain-free summers with full sun, cool winters but not super cold, and low humidity in summer – that's important," Turkovich noted. "There's just a handful of places on Earth like that – France, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Chile, Australia and the Central Valley. That's where you can grow prunes."

Prunes are loved and used liberally in cuisines of Mediterranean countries. While the French have no qualms about this native fruit, the Brits made prunes the butt of countless jokes. Americans tended to adopt that same prune humour.

"In France, it's a big part of their cuisine," said author Dawn Jackson Blatner (The Flexitarian Diet), a national nutrition expert. "In Italy, they love prunes. They're recognised as a taste experience. But mention prunes in the UK, and a bathroom joke follows."

Maybe we've gotten more mature (and older), but prunes are now in vogue.

"Prunes are an amazing fruit," Blatner said. "They're sweet, deep, sticky, chewy. I've become a super fan. Prunes allow me to use less sugar in granola, smoothies, pancakes, oatmeal. I use prunes to de-bitter quinoa and greens. They're awesome in chili, barbecue, enchilada sauce."

"Prunes may not be a starring player in a recipe," she said, "but they make everything work together better." – The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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