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A Wide Variety of Vegetables and Fruits, vs. Artery Plaque -- June 30, 2023

A collage of photographic images of high-carotene vegetables/fruits, such as papayas, red bell peppers, broccoli, leafy lettuces, dill, basil, long red peppers, cantaloupes, carrots, dandelion greens.

The history of nutrition science reflects a long and convoluted journey of our attempting to identify specific isolated beneficial nutrients found in foods. The success in finding thousands of them has sometimes been dampened by misguided efforts by educators or industry figures to link an important nutrient to JUST ONE food source, such as regarding potassium and bananas, lycopene and processed tomato products, or, with often-disastrous societal effects, calcium and cow's milk products.

The most regrettable side-effect of the extraordinary nutrient-documenting research has likely been the drawing away of attention FROM promoting the FOODS known to contain many health-supporting factors, TOWARD promoting the individual chemical compounds which have themselves been manufactured into heavily advertised commercial supplement products.

WHY "WHOLE"? It has been documented for at least forty years that people consuming the numerous foods rich in the "carotenoids" family of many dozens of antioxidant anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, found some protective effects against carcinogenesis, but several famous studies showed that long-term supplementation with high doses of just the ONE carotenoid "beta-carotene" were associated with HIGHER rates of lung cancer! (Example: HERE.) A wisdom drawn from this and various other comparable research scenarios: Any benefit from food consumption with respect to chronic disease prevention or reversal is most likely attributable to COMPLEXES of numerous micronutrients within each food, and further synergy among healthful factors from MULTIPLE foods, as opposed to the role of any one isolated hero-nutrient or any one celebrity-food.


We thank Beth Frates, MD FACLM DipABLM, President of ACLM and a third-time returning speaker at our Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 conference, for calling our attention to this study in Clinical Nutrition Journal.

The authors, on behalf of IDIBAPS and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona, aimed to "analyse the association between fruit and vegetables intake, quantitatively measured through carotene plasma concentrations, and atherosclerotic burden, as a surrogate biomarker of CVD, in free-living subjects" from a study cohort for Carotid Atherosclerosis in Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetic Individuals. Plasma carotenoids were deemed a much more reliable indicator than dietary recall surveys or other non-metabolic measures, for assessing subject consumption of high-carotene foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, sweet peppers, cantaloupes, mangoes, papayas and apricots.

The 204 participants were adult men and women ages 40 to 75, without previous cardiovascular events, congestive heart failure (class III-IV), cancer, renal failure or liver disease. Ultrasound was utilized to determine presence of any carotid artery plaque. Out of the numerous carotenoids detected in plasma, α-carotene, β-carotene and the grand total of all, were presented in the processing of results, expressed as mean μmol/L carotenoids ± Standard Deviation, with P for comparison between those with and without plaque:

  • μmol/L Without plaque (n = 70) With plaque (n = 134) P

  • α-Carotene 0.12 ± 0.140 .09 ± 0.09 0.01

  • β-Carotene 60.56 ± 59.31 36.82 ± 56.49 0.001

  • Total Carotene 70.84 ± 76.22 42.10 ± 70.12 0.002

These unadjusted results obviously showed consistent association of carotenoids with lower atherosclerotic deposition risk. The authors then adjusted the data for age, sex, diabetes and "statin score" (the latter because some subjects were receiving statin medication), and the multivariate regression model showed that statistical significance of this association remained only for total carotenoids and not for any individual carotenoid! Their summary comment again underlined the emphasis needed upon whole foods in dietary recommendations:

"In our study, subjects with atherosclerotic plaque presence showed significantly lower (almost half of) plasma concentrations of total, a- and ß-carotenes than those without atherosclerotic plaque. However, this association was attenuated after multivariate adjustment, and remained significant only for total carotenes, suggesting that the potential atheroprotective effects of carotenes might be synergistical and not given by a single chemical specie (a- or ß-), as we previously observed for lycopenes in subjects with diabetes."


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