The Popeye Effect: How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

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spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

Spinach is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.  Popeye got it right with this powerhouse but it is too bad he ate it out of a can.  Fresh, organic spinach is much more nutrient dense and contains far fewer environmental toxins than the canned stuff.  Most children and adults like the flavor and texture of fresh spinach over the canned alternative.  Be sure to pump up your body with spinach on a regular basis.

Spinach is native to ancient Persia (Iranian regions).  Arab traders carried spinach into India and China.  Traders also brought this green leafy vegetable to the Mediterranean regions of Europe and eventually to the US.  There are three primary types of spinach on the market.  The most popular style on the market today is baby spinach, while one could also get smooth-leaf and savoy (which has curly leaves).

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

Powerful Plant Steroids

Spinach contains its own type of plant based steroids called phytoecdysteroids.  These unique compounds protect the spinach plant from plant-parasitic nematodes (1).  Phytoecdysteroids are similar to insect molting hormones and have been shown to dramatically increase glucose metabolism (2, 3, 4).

This keeps blood sugar levels stable and minimizes the need for the critical fat-storage hormone insulin.  Additionally, phytoecdysteroids increase human muscle tissue growth rates by 20% when applied in a culture medium (5).

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

Improved Adaptation to Stress:

A 2014 study demonstrated how powerful these phytoecdysteroids are at helping the body to adapt to stress.  In this study, a group of rats were subjected to prolonged immobilization stress.   Under these kind of stressful conditions, organisms experience atrophy of their immune organs (thymus, spleen) and hypertrophy of the adrenal glands as they have to work on overdrive.

Additionally, the antioxidant enzymes are depleted as lipid peroxiation damages tissues and cells.  Under stress, the body grabs up stored sugar from the liver (glycogen) and produces tremendous amounts of lactic acid through glycolysis.

The group that used the phytoecdysteroids had decreased atrophy of the thymus and spleen.  They experienced normalization of the size of the adrenal gland and restored their content of vitamin C (ascorbic) and cholesterol.  The phytoecdysteroids prevented the sharp decrease in glycogen concentration and showed a trend towards normalization of lactic acid production.

They also had increased activity of the antioxidant enzymes that inhibit lipid peroxidation.     The study authors explained that these phytoecdysteroids have as profound effect as other major adaptogenic herbs such as Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus extract) (6).

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

Rich in Chlorophyll

Spinach is extremely rich in blood purifying chlorophyll. This chlorophyll is easily metabolized and used to build new red blood cells and pull out carcinogenic substances from the body.  Chlorophyll also provides magnesium which acts to strengthen the blood-brain barrier and protect the neurological system from environmental toxins (7, 8).

Spinach is an amazing source of glycoclycerolipids that protect the digestive tract from inflammatory damage (9, 10).  These glycoclycerolipids are the main fatty acids that makeup the cell membranes of light-sensitive organs in chlorophyll containing plants.  These compounds have been shown to improve the immune system and have profound anti-cancer effects (11, 12)  Additionally, spinach is an important source of copper, zinc and selenium which boost immunity.

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

Spinach has Carotenoid Antioxidants:

Spinach also contains some very newly studied carotenoid anti-oxidants called epoxyxanthophylls.  The epoxyxanthophylls that have been researched to show remarkable anti-cancer properties include neoxanthin and violaxanthin (13, 14).  Spinach is also rich in the powerful carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.  These phytonutrients are extremely important for healthy vision & brain function (15).

The carotenoids act to protect chlorophyll from intense UV radiation.  Under intense sunlight, chlorophyll can convert into an excited form called triplet chlorophyll along with singlet oxygen molecules which act as potent free radicals.  The more carotenoids a plant contains the greater the degree of survivability it has and the enhanced nutritional bioavailability it provides.

When purchasing spinach be sure to get it organic as the non-organic commercial varieties are considered one of the most heavily sprayed edible plants in the world.  Also, look to get it fresh to avoid chemical preservative agents and aluminum found in the cans.  It is also easy to grow as a garden vegetable in areas of mild temperatures.

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

Sources For This Article Include:

1. Soriano IR, Riley IT, Potter MJ, Bowers WS. Phytoecdysteroids: a novel defense against plant-parasitic nematodes.  J Chem Ecol. 2004 Oct;30(10):1885-99.  PMID: 15609826
2. Báthori M, Tóth N, Hunyadi A, Márki A, Zádor E. Phytoecdysteroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids–structure and effects on humans.  Curr Med Chem. 2008;15(1):75-91. Review.  PMID: 18220764
3. Schmelz EA, Grebenok RJ, Ohnmeiss TE, Bowers WS. Interactions between Spinacia oleracea and Bradysia impatiens: a role for   Arch Insect Biochem Physiol. 2002 Dec;51(4):204-21.  PMID:  12432520
4. Syrov VN, Iuldasheva NKh, Égamova FR, Ismailova GI, Abdullaev ND, Khushbaktova ZA. [Estimation of the hypoglycemic effect of phytoecdysteroids].  Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2012;75(5):28-31. Russian. PMID: 22834126
5. Gorelick-Feldman J, Maclean D, Ilic N, Poulev A, Lila MA, Cheng D, Raskin I. Phytoecdysteroids increase protein synthesis in skeletal muscle cells.  J Agric Food Chem. 2008 May 28;56(10):3532-7. PMID: 18444661
6. Syrov VN, Islamova ZhI, Égamova FR, Iuldasheva NKh, Khushbaktova ZA.  [Stress-protective properties of phytoecdysteroids].  Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2014;77(7):35-8. Russian.  PMID:  25322653
7. Rissler HM, Collakova E, DellaPenna D, Whelan J, Pogson BJ.  Chlorophyll Expression of a second chl I gene of magnesium chelatase in Arabidopsis supports only limited chlorophyll synthesis.  Plant Physiol. 2002 Feb;128(2):770-9. PMID:  11842180
8. Kaya M, Gulturk S, Elmas I, Kalayci R, Arican N, Kocyildiz ZC, Kucuk M, Yorulmaz H, Sivas A. The effects of magnesium sulfate on blood-brain barrier disruption caused by intracarotid injection of hyperosmolar mannitol in rats.  Life Sci. 2004 Nov 26;76(2):201-12. PMID:  15519365
9. Shiota A, Hada T, Baba T, Sato M, Yamanaka-Okumura H, Yamamoto H, Taketani Y, Takeda E. Protectiveeffects of glycoglycerolipids extracted from spinach on 5-fluorouracil induced intestinal mucosal injury.  J Med Invest. 2010 Aug;57(3-4):314-20.  PMID:20847532
10. Murakami C, Kumagai T, Hada T, Kanekazu U, Nakazawa S, Kamisuki S, Maeda N, Xu X, Yoshida H, Sugawara F, Sakaguchi K, Mizushina Y. Effects of glycolipids from spinach on mammalian DNA polymerases.  Biochem Pharmacol. 2003 Jan 15;65(2):259-67.  PMID:12504801
11. Maeda N, Matsubara K, Yoshida H, Mizushina Y. Anti-cancer effect of spinach glycoglycerolipids as angiogenesis inhibitors based on the selective inhibition of DNA polymerase activity.  Mini Rev Med Chem. 2011 Jan;11(1):32-8. Review.  PMID: 21034405
12. Maeda N, Kokai Y, Ohtani S, Sahara H, Hada T, Ishimaru C, Kuriyama I, Yonezawa Y, Iijima H, Yoshida H, Sato N, Mizushina Y. Anti-tumor effects of the glycolipids fraction from spinach which inhibited DNA polymerase activity.  Nutr Cancer. 2007;57(2):216-23.  PMID: 17571956
13. Kotake-Nara E, Asai A, Nagao A. Neoxanthin and fucoxanthin induce apoptosis in PC-3 human prostatecancer   Cancer Lett. 2005 Mar 18;220(1):75-84.  PMID: 15737690
14. Pasquet V, Morisset P, Ihammouine S, Chepied A, Aumailley L, Berard JB, Serive B, Kaas R, Lanneluc I, Thiery V, Lafferriere M, Piot JM, Patrice T, Cadoret JP, Picot L. Antiproliferative activity ofviolaxanthin isolated from bioguided fractionation of Dunaliella tertiolecta extracts.  Mar Drugs. 2011;9(5):819-31. PMID:21673891
15. Kopsell DA, Lefsrud MG, Kopsell DE, Wenzel AJ, Gerweck C, Curran-Celentano J. Spinach cultigen variation for tissue carotenoid concentrations influences human serum carotenoid levels and macular pigment optical density following a 12-week dietary intervention.  J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Oct 18;54(21):7998-8005.  PMID: 17032001

spinach, The Popeye Effect:  How Does Spinach Enhance Muscle Growth?

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Dr. Jockers

Dr David Jockers is passionate about seeing people reach their health potential in mind, body and spirit. He is the host of the popular “Dr Jockers Functional Nutrition” podcast and the author of the best-selling books, “The Keto Metabolic Breakthrough” and “The Fasting Transformation.”


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