By Jeffrey Kopman
Some foods labeled as "healthy" could be anything but when it comes to your heart health, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology 2013 Scientific Sessions.
A diet high in lectins -- a nutrient found in healthy foods like grains, beans, some vegetables, and plants belonging to the "nightshade" family, including tomatoes -- has been tied to the weakening of blood vessels, an early sign of heart disease.
This condition, known as endothelial dysfunction, has been linked to hypertension, diabetes, and septic shock. Recent research has found that binge drinking in young adulthood can be a cause of the condition.
But unlike alcohol, lectins are generally considered to be healthy. However, when researchers restricted the nutrient from their subjects' diets, blood vessel function improved.
The study followed 200 adults -- 120 men and 80 women -- ages 51 to 86, each of whom had vascular risk factors for heart disease. Additionally, 72 percent of subjects had endothelial dysfunction.
In addition to replacing high-lectin foods with leafy greens, fish, olive oil, and animal protein, subjects were also asked to take "anti-aging" supplements including polyphenol from fish oil, grape seed extract, and vitamins.
After six months under their new diets, only 20 percent still had endothelial dysfunction.
"I am not sure that this study is a negative commentary on lectin, but it may be another endorsement of the Mediterranean diet," said William T. Abraham, MD, and Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Cell Biology at the Ohio State University.
The study's authors feel that decreasing heart disease risk can be an easy fix for some.
"Simple removal of 'healthy' lectin-containing foods, and taking a few inexpensive supplements, may restore endothelial function to normal, which in turn can reverse high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity," said lead author Steven R. Gundry, MD, lead author and medical director of the International Heart & Lung Institute at The Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs, California in a press release.
Dr. Abraham agrees that dietary changes can help reduce a person's risk for getting endothelia dysfunction.
"Following a single high fat meal (such as a cheeseburger and French fries), blood vessels that normally dilate in response to a standard stimulus abnormally constrict," Abraham said.
Avoid Healthy Nutrients?
This study calls into question the benefits of a diet high in lectins, but it's not the only reason to caution against excessive use of "healthy" nutrients.
In November 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that 13 deaths had been linked to 5-Hour Energy. Although the energy drink contains a lot of harmful ingredients, it is also rich in vitamin B12, perhaps too rich.
When taken in excess, vitamin B12, folic acid, and niacin -- all found in 5-Hour Energy -- can contribute to serious health conditions such as liver toxicity and neurological problems. Vitamin B is a necessary part of a healthy diet, but consumption of too much through supplements can have an adverse effect.
A similar problem has been associated with hypertension and canned vegetables.
"Sometimes, canned vegetables can have half of the recommended daily amount of sodium," Alissa Rumsey, RD, of the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center, told Everyday Health last year. "Choose no-salt-added or low-sodium versions. Certain vegetables, including corn and peas, can also be rinsed to wash away some of the excess salt."
While you shouldn't necessarily avoid foods high in lectin, vitamin B, or vegetables high in sodium, excessive intake of them isn't recommended either. Depending on your diet and risk factors, too much of a good thing can be bad.
"'Healthy' Nutrient Might Lead to Heart Disease, Study Finds" originally appeared on Everyday Health.