Eat Artichoke For A Healthy Life
Globe artichokes have been touted as a healthy food for centuries. They were commonly used as a medicinal food by the ancient Egyptians and Romans, being thought to aid digestion and protect the liver. Often we brush aside such knowledge as part of folklore, unfounded in any scientific truth, but it is becoming clear that the potential benefits of the globe artichoke are worth serious consideration and study.
Globe artichoke emerges as a health-giving superfood
There have been several in vitro studies showing that artichoke leaf extracts do indeed perform the functions our ancient ancestors believed they did. Llorach et al (2002) and Wang et al (2003) showed that artichoke leaf extract protects the liver, is antibacterial, choleretic, urinative as well as anti-HIV. Artichoke leaves are rich in polyphenolic compounds, inulin, fibre and minerals (Lattanzio et al, 2009) including potassium and sodium, as well as vitamin C (Ceccarelli et al 2010). The high levels of inulin can give digestive benefits. It is not digested or absorbed by humans, as we lack the enzymes to break it down, but it travels to the colon where it is fermented by beneficial bacteria, for example bifidobacteria. In this way, inulin functions as a prebiotic (Lopez-Molina 2005). It also helps mineral absorption, blood lipid composition and the prevention of colon cancer (Lattanzio et al, 2009). This study also demonstrated the anti-carcinogenic benefits of the high levels of polyphenols in artichokes. Williamson and Manach had shown the same anti-carcinogenic benefits of inulin and polyphenols in 2005.
But the health benefits of artichokes are not limited to the digestive system and protection against bacteria and fungi (Mossi and Echeverrigaray, 1999, Zhu et al, 2004). Alongside these well-known benefits, significant effects on fat oxidation and cholesterol formation have been found.
Lattanzio et al and Ceccarelli et al (2009; 2010 respectively) showed that artichoke globes inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol as well as low density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation in vitro (Brown and Rice-Evans in 1998). Both of these processes are important factors in the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. These effects were confirmed in clinical trials run by Rondanelli et al in 2013. In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study it was found that artichoke leaf extract reduced total cholesterol levels in hypercholesterolemic adults. This could be of great significance in light of the ever worsening obesity crisis.
As research deepens a significant antioxidant effect is being revealed, and it is this property that provides whole-body benefits, augments protection against cancer as well as protecting the cardiovascular system. Artichoke was found to be the richest source of antioxidants among common edible plants by Brown and Rice-Evans in 1998. An in vitro study performed by Zapolska-Downar (2002) on cultured endothelial cells and monocytes (a type of white blood cell) showed that artichoke leaf extract reduced reactive oxygen species (ROS) production by up to 76%. This is a measure of how much oxidative stress (induced by inflammatory mediators) the cells are under. Juzyszyn (2008) also found such protective effects against ROS generation in human endothelial cells by artichoke extract. It is such ROS that can cause cancer and damage throughout our bodies; these studies demonstrate the antioxidant effect of artichoke extract. Perez found similar results in 2002 in cultured human leukocytes, supporting a potentially beneficial role for artichoke in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Similar antioxidant activity was found in coronary artery smooth muscle cells by Xia et al this year. They found that artichoke leaf extracts increased the amount of eNOS (endothelial-type nitric oxide synthase) which is vasoprotective. It also reduces the amount of iNOS (inducible nitric oxide sythase) which is pro-inflammatory. Artichoke extract therefore potentially helps to keep the vasculature healthy.
Artichoke also appears to help lower blood pressure. Roghani-Dehkordi and Kamkhah conducted a study in 2009 in patients with mild hypertension. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups; those to receive a placebo, those to receive 50mg and those to receive 100mg of artichoke juice concentrate. After 12 weeks both systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements were significantly reduced in both groups taking artichoke extract. Further study is required to determine the mechanisms behind this, but this provides exciting evidence for the wide-reaching health benefits of artichokes, and their potential as a functional food supplement.
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