• How nut consumption reduces death rate
Can eating Miracle fruit and nuts improve appetite and food palatability in patients
especially those with cancer undergoing chemotherapy and reduce risk of death? CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.
A recent study published in Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing has shown that consumption of the Miracle Fruit would improve chemotherapy-associated taste changes, thereby improving the taste of food and ultimately leading to better nutrition.
Taste changes in patients undergoing chemotherapy are common and can be of long duration, are associated with poor nutrition, and can reduce quality of life.
A pilot study of the fruit Synsepalum dulcificum, known as “miracle fruit”, as a novel supportive intervention was conducted with eight patients with cancer who were being treated with chemotherapy and reporting taste changes.
Miraculin, a naturally occurring protein in miracle fruit, has the unusual ability to transduce a sweet signal in an acidic environment, profoundly changing food taste profiles for a short duration, masking unpleasant tastes, and increasing the palatability of certain foods.
This pilot study was designed to determine whether consumption of the Miracle Fruit™ supplement would improve chemotherapy-associated taste changes, thereby improving the taste of food and ultimately leading to better nutrition.
According to the study, four of the participants were given a two-week supply of the supplement and the other four were given a two-week supply of a placebo. After two weeks, the supplement group received a two-week supply of the placebo and the placebo group received a two-week supply of the supplement.
The researchers concluded: “Participants recorded food and drink intake in daily food dairies and rated taste changes with each food as better, worse, or no change. All study participants reported positive taste changes with the supplement.”
Also, researchers in another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine have demonstrated how people who ate a daily handful of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than were those who did not consume nuts.
The scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health, United States, found that regular nut-eaters were more slender than those who did not eat nuts, a finding that should alleviate the widespread worry that eating a lot of nuts will lead to overweight. The report also looked at the protective effect on specific causes of death.
Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber, who is the senior author of the report, Charles S. Fuchs, said: “The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 per cent in deaths from heart disease- the major killer of people in America. But we also saw a significant reduction- 11 percent- in the risk of dying from cancer.”
Fuchs, who is also affiliated with the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s said: “Whether any specific type or types of nuts were crucial to the protective effect couldn’t be determined. However, the reduction in mortality was similar both for peanuts and for ‘tree nuts’- walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, cashews, pistachios and pine nuts.”
Several previous studies have found an association between increasing nut consumption and a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, gallstones, and diverticulitis. Higher nut consumption also has been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Some small studies have linked increased nuts in the diet to lower total mortality in specific populations. But no previous research studies had looked in such detail at various levels of nut consumption and their effects on overall mortality in a large population that was followed for over 30 years.
For the new research, the scientists were able to tap databases from two well-known ongoing observational studies that collect data on diet and other lifestyle factors and various health outcomes. The Nurses’ Health Study provided data on 76,464 women between 1980 and 2010, and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study yielded data on 42,498 men from 1986 to 2010. Participants in the studies filled out detailed food questionnaires every two to four years. With each food questionnaire, participants were asked to estimate how often they consumed nuts in a serving size of one ounce. A typical small packet of peanuts from a vending machine contains one ounce.
Sophisticated data analysis methods were used to rule out other factors that might have accounted for the mortality benefits. For example, the researchers found that individuals who ate more nuts were leaner, less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise, use multivitamin supplements, consume more fruits and vegetables, and drink more alcohol. However, analysis was able to isolate the association between nuts and mortality independently of these other factors.
“In all these analyses, the more nuts people ate, the less likely they were to die over the 30-year follow-up period,” explained Ying Bao, MD, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, first author of the report. Those who ate nuts less than once a week had a seven percent reduction in mortality; once a week, 11 percent reduction; two to four times per week, 13 percent reduction; five to six times per week, 15 percent reduction, and seven or more times a week, a 20 percent reduction in death rate.
The authors do note that this large study cannot definitively prove cause and effect; nonetheless, the findings are strongly consistent with “a wealth of existing observational and clinical trial data to support health benefits of nut consumption on many chronic diseases.” In fact, based on previous studies, the US Food and Drug Administration concluded in 2003 that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) is a tropical West African shrub of the family Sapotaceae. It is reported to be indigenous to tropical West Africa and commonly found growing in the wild in fringes of virgin forest while it also grows naturally in farms and secondary bushes. The fruits are small, approximately two to three centimetres long ellipsoid berries that are bright red when ripe and composed of a thin layer of edible pulp surrounding a single seed.
The most unusual thing about the fruit is the extra- ordinary effect the fleshy pulp of the fruit has on the taste buds of the tongue that causes every sour food eaten to taste very sweet. The taste-modifying effect last for 30 min to 1 h or more, causing acid food substances such as sour lime, lemon, grape fruits and even vinegar to taste sweet.
Various studies have shown that the sweetening property is due to the presence of miraculin, which is a glycoprotein, in the pulp of the berry.
The interest in natural sweeteners, which do not con- tain carbohydrates, has been reawakened because of the health hazards associated with the use of some artificial sweeteners like saccharine and the suspicion that these synthetic sweeteners, especially the cyclamates, are carcinogenic.
The natural sweeteners of particular importance are the extremely sweet-tasting protein, monellin found in the berries of Dioscoreophyllum cumminsii, thaumatin from the aril of Thaumatococcus danielli and the miraculin from Synsepalum dulcificum.
According to Most et al. (1979), people in parts of West Africa have been using the miracle berry to sweeten sour foods and drinks for centuries but it is only recently that the global food and pharmaceutical industries are beginning to realize its significance.
However, despite the need for large-scale production of miracle berry to exploit its potential and for further genetic studies required to enhance its improvement, commercial production of the plant has been a constraint.