Ask The Expert
By Dan Lukaczer, ND

Artichokes As Powerful Medicine
Q: Does artichoke-heart extract lower cholesterol levels?

A: Yes, it may. Not only is the artichoke (Cynara scolymus) a delicious vegetable, but its leaves contain phytonutrients with numerous health-enhancing effects. Perhaps the most important overall effect is increased bile production. Because the body uses cholesterol to make bile acids, increasing bile acid production may decrease blood levels of cholesterol. Increasing bile acid secretions also aids digestion—one reason why artichokes have traditionally been used for indigestion.

Although the research on artichoke's ability to lower cholesterol is not all positive, results from the most recent and largest trial, conducted in Germany, are promising. In a multicenter, placebo-controlled randomized trial, 143 patients with initial total cholesterol levels greater than 280 took either placebo tablets or 450 mg of artichoke dry extract four times a day. After six weeks, those taking the artichoke extract showed an 18.5 percent reduction in cholesterol, compared with 5.6 percent reduction in the placebo group.

It's a good idea to select products standardized to cynarin content, one of the important phytonutrients found in artichokes. Or simply eat artichokes—they are an all-around good food, as long as you don't drown them in butter.

DHA Sources And Breast-feeding
Q: Is it beneficial for breast-feeding women to eat fish?

A: Yes. Researchers have found that in utero babies benefit when their mothers eat fish and that the nutritional benefits of fish may be transferred during breast-feeding as well. A significant amount of research indicates breast-feeding for at least four to six months is favorable for a baby. One of the reasons for this benefit has to do with the kinds of fats that the baby likely gets from the breast milk of a mother who eats fish.

Researchers suggest that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fat from the omega-3 family that is abundant in many fish, helps specifically with a preterm baby's eyesight. According to a recent article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, full-term infants also reap the benefits of the DHA from fish. Researchers measured stereoacuity—a type of visual depth perception—in 435 three year olds. They found that healthy full-term infants who are breast-fed for at least four months show greater visual perception skills in early childhood than their bottle-fed counterparts. The researchers also measured DHA in the mothers during pregnancy and concluded that those women who ate more fish and therefore had higher DHA levels most closely corresponded with their children's improved visual skills.

The study supports the idea that even normal-term infants may develop improved visual acuity because they receive extra nourishment from DHA. Sources include fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna; fish oil or cod liver oil capsules; or capsules containing an algae-derived vegetarian source of DHA.

Dan Lukaczer, ND, is the director of clinical research at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of Metagenics Inc., in Gig Harbor, Washington.