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January 17, 2013 by NATASHA LONGO
People Who Are More Optimistic Have Greater Concentrations of Veggie Nutrients In Their Blood

Carotenoids are organic pigments that are found in plant based foods. Animals are not able to manufacture carotenoids on their own. Research at the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that People who have high blood levels of carotenoids also tend to be more optimistic about the future.

That's not by any means a plug for vegetarianism as I'm a strong proponent on being an eater for health. However it does support what many vegetarians have been saying for years, that veggies really can make people change their outlook.

Links between psychological health and physical health have long been recognized by researchers. However, most research has focused on poor psychological functioning, such as how being depressed or anxious may be bad for health, according to lead study author Julia Boehm, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers wanted to test whether positive psychological functioning, such as being optimistic or having a purpose in life, might be good for health.

"This study is the first of its kind to report a relationship between optimism and healthier levels of carotenoids," Boehm said.

Because the researchers measured each person’s antioxidant and optimism levels only once, rather than following them over time, it remains unclear whether optimism leads to higher blood levels of carotenoids or whether people who eat more fruits and vegetables just tend to be more optimistic, said the researchers. Either could be possible.

Previous studies have shown that high blood levels of antioxidants may be a marker of good health. Antioxidants help keep other molecules in the body from producing free radicals, which can damage cells and contribute to disease. Carotenoids, including beta-carotene, a pigment found in high levels in orange produce and some green veggies such as spinach and collards, are antioxidants.

Increased consumption of carotenoid containing fruit and vegetables is associated with measurable and perceptibly beneficial effects on skin appearance, reducing breast cancer risk, preventing cancer and other diseases.

The current study evaluated blood concentrations of nine different antioxidants, including carotenoids such as beta-carotene and vitamin E in nearly 1,000 American men and women ages 25 to 74.  They also measured the degree of optimism in the same group. The participants filled out a questionnaire about their life attitudes and provided blood samples to the researchers.  

Researchers found that people who were more optimistic had up to a 13 percent increase in carotenoid concentrations in their blood compared with people who were less optimistic. The researchers believe that higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption among more optimistic people may at least partially explain the results. They found that people who ate two or fewer servings of fruits and vegetables a day were significantly less optimistic than people who ate three or more servings a day.

According to a report published in Psychosomatic Medicine, people with a pessimistic explanatory style were more likely to develop heart disease and die of a heart attack than those who shrugged off bad news with a view that things were bound to improve. A person's explanatory style refers to the way they understand the causes of life's events.

A report from researchers in the Netherlands found that older men and women judged to have optimistic personalities were less likely to die over the nine-year study period than those with pessimistic dispositions.

Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure according to the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

"Our findings can be partially explained by the fact that more optimistic people tend to engage in healthier behaviors such as eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding cigarette smoking," said Boehm.

"Right now, it’s a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. This study lays the groundwork for future research," said Emily Nicklett, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the current study. However, "this question needs to be answered before any dietary recommendations should be made," she added.

Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.

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