Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sham: Liability Insurance for Dietary Supplements

This post is a short, bitter gripe about a problem that may drive one company right out of business in the USA. That is, the cost of liability insurance for dietary supplements.

One major manufacturer, a top science-based Euro supplier of herbal products, was recently told that their cost of liability insurance would be over $3 a box of tablets because of the underwriter's fear of the "legal crisis in the USA and unrestrained lawsuits." When you add in the cost of liability insurance that the importer has to pay as a marketer of these same products, the cost is over $6.00 for every box of a product that sells for less than $20 US. This is a figure that makes you wonder if it is even possible to stay in business and make a profit.

Most frustrating is that these products are from a company with thirty years of history and not a single adverse event or lawsuit. On top of that, the herbs themselves are completely safe, and have been used for 2,000 years in humans.

I'd call it "highway robbery," wouldn't you? Stay tuned, and I'll let you know the impact of this problem later on the company later in the summer.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Depression and Bone Loss: Is it the Drugs or the Depression Itself?

The June 2007 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch reports that depression is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Sadly, scientists do not yet know whether it is the over-prescribed class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or whether there is something in the state of depression itself, perhaps endocrine changes, that damages bone.

A recent study found that people ages 50 and over who regularly took antidepressants (SSRIs) had double the rate of fractures as people not using such medications. Whether the danger comes from depression, the drugs used to treat it, or something else, doctors are paying more attention to this association. During the 1990s, depression began to emerge as a possible cause of bone loss, rather than a result. Scientists studied women who didn’t have osteoporosis symptoms or even know they had the condition. They found lower bone mineral density in those who were depressed. Moreover, the link was found in both younger women and women past menopause. Other studies have found a similar relationship, so investigators have been looking at hormones and brain chemicals potentially involved in both depression and bone loss.

Researchers working with an animal model found that depression triggers the release of noradrenaline, which interferes with bone-building cells. Moreover, they found that imipramine—a member of an older class of drugs called tricyclic antidepressants—reversed both depression and depression-induced bone loss.

It's interesting to note that older, pre-SSRI anti-depressants did not have this problem. Regardless, this depression-osteoporosis connection is going to be a mystery for some time yet. For those taking antidepressants now, it's probably best to stay on them because of the overall dangers of depression. But, consider alternatives as well to the chemical antidepressants. There are many dietary supplement products that show good results in supporting a positive mood* -- in addition to changes in nutrition which might benefit you a great deal. Your holistic MD or Naturopath, Chiropractor or Osteopath should be a good source of more information. I'm sure that the doctor will also recommend that you supplement especially well with additional calcium.

(* St John's Wort, Rhodiola rosea, Omega 3 Fish Oils, SAMe, just to name a few)


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Dangers of Inflammation may include Alzheimers

More detail has come out regarding generalized inflammation. People whose blood shows signs of inflammation are more likely to later develop Alzheimer’s disease than people with no signs of inflammation, according to a study published in the May 29, 2007, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology. More detail from the journal:

The study, which is part of the larger Framingham Heart Study, involved 691 healthy people with an average age of 79. Blood tests determined whether the participants had signs of inflammation. Then the participants were followed for an average of seven years. During that time, 44 of the participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.

The participants’ blood was tested for levels of cytokines, which are protein messengers that trigger inflammation. Those with the highest amount of cytokines in their blood were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with the lowest amount of cytokines. A total of 28 percent of the women and 30 percent of the men had high levels of cytokines, yet they made up 42 percent of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease.

“These results provide further evidence that inflammation plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School in Boston. “The production of these cytokines may be a marker of future risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study.

When I read about inflammation, the first "drug" I think of is Aspirin, for which we owe a thanks to Felix Hoffman, an employee at the Frederick Bayer drug company, who invented it in 1899. While Neurology didn't bring up any solutions to the problem of inflammation leading to Alzheimers, it seems like common sense to assume that the one aspirin a day regimen used by many heart patients makes good sense for this reason as well. In addition, there are a number of herbs that can be considered anti-inflammatory, some of which are safe to take on a daily basis. The Cleveland Clinic article linked to the headline describes inflammation quite well, and the article at Sports Injury Bulletin describes one herb, Andrographis which can certainly be taken on a daily basis for its anti-inflammatory effect.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Sham: Inappropriate Use of Antibiotics

I remember when my family doctor would prescribe antibiotics when one of us would have a cold or flu bug. It never failed that a few days later we'd thank our doctor for the regimen of antibiotics that helped "cure" our ailment.

Of course, it wasn't the antibiotics -- the bug had just run its course. Treating a virus with a drug designed to kill microbes isn't really sensible, and why that practice went on for so long can only be attributed to the fact that in Western medicine, we expect the doctor to give us a prescription. The family doctor wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't give you that slip of paper on your way out the door.

While there are still some MD's who are too liberal with the prescription pad, most doctors realize that overuse of antibiotics has become a very serious problem, leading to a resistance in disease-causing bacteria that may render antibiotics ineffective for certain conditions. Now, you are most likely to get an antibiotic only if you have an associated nasal or ear infection along with your cold or flu.

Still, there are MD's who prescribe long regimen's of antibiotics for other ailments, such as Lyme Disease. In this condition's early stage, the antibiotics may indeed be helpful. However, many people who suffer through Lyme Disease have an extended period called Post Lyme Syndrome (PLS) and these patients who have received antibiotic regimens for Lyme disease sometimes have persisting symptoms.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America has issued new guidelines that recommend MD's stay away from long-term use of antibiotics. It recommends that antibiotics "do not improve the outcome in people with chronic symptoms after customary treatment of Lyme disease. Specifically, further treatment does not improve overall health quality of life, memory, or depression."

Long-term antibiotic use can be associated with such side effects as diarrhea, blood stream infections, and blood clots.

There is a great book by authors Richard Brown, MD, and Pat Gerbarg, MD, called "The Rhodiola Revolution." (The book is linked to the headline of this post). In that book, Dr. Pat Gerbarg describes her rapid healing from the depths of Post Lyme Syndrome by the use of the herb Rhodiola rosea.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

How to take vitamins and supplements

I've been taking my vitamins, minerals and a few herbal supplements for many years, but I've always wondered about the right time of the day to take them, and how to best ensure that they get the optimum absorption in the stomach. In the last couple of years, I've moved from taking a big handful of supplements with breakfast to spacing them out a bit during the day, based upon what they need to have along with them when they go down.

As a general guideline, vitamins go best with food. To avoid any queasiness and to ensure they get absorbed, your "with breakfast" routine isn't bad -- or even better, with the largest meal of the day. But if you are taking a number of vitamins and minerals, it's better to space them out a bit over all three meals.

There are certain vitamins like A, D, E and K that are fat-soluble, and these are the ones you take with food, because they need some fat in order to get into your system. Other vitamins, like the B and C vitamins, are water-soluble and they can be taken at any time of the day, with or without food. Omega 3 capsules and fish oils need to be taken with food, as does CoQ10.

When I take my Arctic Root® in the morning, or any herb, I either take it 30 minutes before breakfast or 2 hours after any meal. Herbs are much more sensitive and shouldn't be taken along with a meal, because they often get washed into the digestive tract along with the food and you lose much of their effect. Other supplements that can be taken with herbs, and not with food are probiotics and "green" supplements.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

A link between oral health and your pancreas?

There may be a lot more than Mom's common sense behind that rule of visiting your dentist every six months. As it turns out, scientists are uncovering a link betweeen poor oral hygiene and pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (Boston) recently completed a huge analysis of data gathered from over 51,000 adults over a period of 16 years. After adjusting for smoking, diabetes, age, physical activity and diet, the team concluded that those with a history of periodontal disease had a 64 per cent increased risk of pancreatic cancer than those with no such history. And increased severity of periodontitis, for example with recent tooth loss, had the greatest risk. (Abstract attached to link at headline).

Previous studies have found links between tooth loss or periodontitis and pancreatic cancer risk. These research studies have found that people with periodontal disease have an increased level of inflammatory markers such as C reactive protein (CRP) in their blood. These markers are part of an early immune system response to persistent inflammation and have been linked to the development of pancreatic cancer.

No significant links were found between other types of oral health problems such as tooth decay and cancer of the pancreas.

As an aside, you can help prevent the occurance of oral disease by using oral probiotic products such as those produced by BioGaia, a Swedish company (no relation to ours). Properly restoring the good flora of the mouth is critical, especially in light of the "anti-bacterial" nature of some mouthwash products. Using an anti-bacterial mouthwash is the nuclear bomb approach to oral health. There are PLENTY of good bacteria in the mouth, and more and more reasons to believe that these strains help prevent disease and inflammation.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Wham: Music's Positive Effects on Brain and Body

I came home from a trade show for the Spa industry with a CD that, when I first put it on, sounded like really boring elevator music. The box it came in raved about the success that this music has on the brain, and how it had been clinically tested to help people fall asleep faster, and get a better night's rest. Sure enough, when I put on this really boring music at bedtime, I can't get through three tracks without falling asleep. And I seem to get up a lot less as well, something that not even Saw Palmetto had been able to do!

When I started investigating how music affects the brain like this, I discovered that scientists who have done functional MRI's of the brain listening to music have found that it stimulates our brain in areas that they are still trying to understand. One expert, Dr. Daniel Levitin (Professor of Psychology and Music at McGill University) describes music as something that can lower blood pressure, improve sleep and reduce pain, depression and anxiety. No wonder that boring elevator music worked so well!

A 2006 Temple University study found that people who listened to music during the discomfort of a colonoscopy needed substantially less anti-anxiety medication during the procedure. Another study about Chronic Pain (Case Western Reserve University) showed that those who listened to music reported 12-21% less pain than those who didn't listen to music during the day. The type of music didn't matter, although we've probably all heard about something called the "Mozart Effect," which has been said to improve the intelligence of young children.

I'm convinced that my sleeping music really helps me (linked to the headline of this post) but of course it could be that it is just plain BORING, and perhaps a tape of my old boss discussing his fishing trips would work just as well?


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sham: Consistency of Herbal Supplements

Don't get me wrong, I love my herbs and wouldn't go a day without them. But I'm going on a rant today about the quality of raw materials used in many of the products that are sold in the herbal dietary supplement business. After studying the variances in these herbs, I've come to the belief that unless you buy a product that has had product-specific clinical trials, you just don't know what you are getting. There isn't an industry around where "trust" is as important as it is here. If you don't develop a relationship with a quality brand, a brand you can TRUST, you'll end up doing no better than popping placebo's when you take your daily supplement.

It’s obvious that the quality of a supplement’s raw materials (the herb itself) will have a huge impact on its effect. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to determine the origin of raw materials in a dietary supplement. While a plant may appear outwardly to be the same, dramatic differences between herbs of the same species are found in specimens grown in different parts of the world. A plant in China or India may have an entirely different ratio of biochemical ingredients than the same plant grown in the harsh winters of Scandinavia or Siberia. (With certain herbs such as adaptogens, the harsher the environment the better; the plant develops a stronger immune system, which translates in humans to a much more powerful response.)

Choose your suppliers from those firms that ethically harvest their herbs in a sustainable manner from regions that are known to produce the strongest plants. Many companies also maintain their own agricultural production for herbal ingredients -- the issue here is that cultivated Rhodiola from North America would not produce the equivalent of wild Rhodiola from the Siberian tundra. There is a great deal yet to learn about how and why certain herbs develop their unique characteristics. However, there are a few major companies, and some smaller ones as well, that do their own farming or who have a similar degree of control over the actual quality of the herbs. Trust these guys.

Verde Botanica uses a network of ethical “wildcrafters,” those who carefully gather roots from plants in the wild. As a very large purchaser of adaptogens, Verde Botanica can exert control over their raw materials suppliers (most manufacturers do not have this control while buying on the herbal “spot market.”)

I recently had tests run comparing five competitors of a similar herbal ingredient. Two out of five actually made their specs, one exceeding it. The others were so far off that they had either died on the shelf or their manufacturers had simply bought from the cheapest vendor (generally, that would be a Chinese supplier).


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wham: Hot Cocoa Lowers Blood Pressure

A recent meta-analysis of clinical studies was done for the Archives of Internal Medicine, which focused on non-coffee hot beverages and their effect on blood pressure. It had quite interesting results, especially for anyone who has been looking for a hot beverage in the AM to replace coffee, due to concerns about the negative effects of caffeine on blood pressure.

Dr. Dirk Taubert (MD, PhD) and his colleagues at University Hospital in Cologne, Germany, conducted a meta-analysis of ten previously published clinical trials, five on tea consumption and five on cocoa consumption.

The winner? Cocoa won, by as much reduction as many people get from their blood pressure medications. Given that drinking hot cocoa is a delightful experience, and not something akin to swallowing more pills, I'd suggest that anyone with this concern about blood pressure go immediately to the health food store and buy a strong, made-in-Europe variety of cocoa (and not the Hershey's or Nestle's brands which are all sugar).

In these trials, blood pressure dropped an average of 4.7 points for systolic and 2.8 for diastolic for the cocoa drinker. The tea drinkers saw no positive effects as far as blood pressure goes. An excellent article from BBC news is linked to the headline of today's post, and it describes a number of other health benefits from your morning cup of hot cocoa.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wham: Viagra Stands Up As Jet Lag Aid

As it turns out, the male impotence drug Viagra may be useful for treating jet lag as well, according to Argentine researchers who gave it to hamsters in a simulated jet-lag experience. This report, announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the process by which researchers simulated jet-lag in these rodents. Scientists found that adult animals given Sildenafil IViagra) recovered from jet lag up to 50 percent faster than hamsters that didn't ingest it.

The scientists stopped giving the hamsters the highest dose they had been using in the experiment because a certain side effect kept getting in the way: "We used the intermediate dose for the rest of the experiments because at that dose animals did not manifest the effects of sildenafil-induced penile erections," they wrote.

Flying across multiple time zones can confuse one's sleep-wake cycle, resulting in the condition called jet lag, marked by insomnia, sleepiness and difficulty concentrating.

Jet lag is something that everyone seems to have a favorite home-remedy for, and we can now add Viagra to that list. Previous announcements of research into jet lag have shown positive results with NADH, a co-enzyme tablet commonly available in health food and vitamin stores. Many people have also had success with adaptogenic herbs, known for their rejuvenating properties but containing no stimulants. Other researchers have found that melatonin, alternating with coffee taken at the right time of day can aid jet lag upon arrival.


Monday, May 21, 2007

More Depressing News on the Effects of Depression

A recent report appearing in an April 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine discusses new research that shows how adults who have had symptoms of depression—whether those symptoms occurred once, increased or remained steady over a 10-year period—may be more likely to develop diabetes than those without depressive symptoms.

Previous research suggests that symptoms of depression, including irritability and trouble sleeping, are associated with increased risk of development of type 2 diabetes, according to background information in the article. However, with few exceptions, most of the studies have defined symptoms of depression based on a single survey filled out by participants. “Given the episodic nature of depression and depressive symptoms, a single self-report of symptoms may not fully characterize the association between depressive symptoms and diabetes,” the authors write.

Dr. Mercedes R. Carnethon of Northwestern University, Chicago, and colleagues followed a group of 4,681 participants age 65 and older who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the study in 1989. Each year for 10 years, the participants were evaluated for the presence of 10 symptoms of depression, including those related to mood, irritability, calorie intake, concentration and sleep. Symptoms were scored on a scale of zero to 30, with scores of eight or higher indicating high levels of symptoms. Sociodemographic characteristics, clinical measures including height and weight, and information about medication use that would indicate the development of diabetes were also updated annually.

At the beginning of the study, the average depressive symptom score was 4.5, and one-fifth of participants had a score of eight or higher. During the follow-up period, scores increased by at least five points in nearly half the participants, and 234 individuals developed diabetes. Rates of diabetes were higher among those with a score of eight or higher, compared with those who had scores below eight.

“In this sample of older adults, a single report of high depressive symptoms, an increase in symptoms with time and persistently high symptoms over time are each associated with an excess incidence of diabetes,” the authors write. “Furthermore, increasing symptoms with time are associated with incident diabetes beyond initial high depressive symptoms and the association between increasing scores and incident diabetes was strongest among those with initially low baseline scores.”

“Our findings in this population of older adults are of particular public health importance because there are 35 million U.S. adults older than 65 years,” they conclude. Because an estimated 2 million older adults experience depression or a related illness and 15.3 percent of those over 65 have diabetes, “findings from this study of a novel and highly prevalent risk factor for diabetes have important implications for a substantial subset of our population.”

This is just another piece of evidence atop a huge mountain of evidence about the health dangers of even mild-to-moderate depression. It just isn't worth walking around feeling blue any longer -- you've got to take action. See a doctor, a naturopath perhaps, but get some help.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wham: The Impact of High Self-Esteem on Children

Believing in yourself may be good for the soul, but it can also be good for the bank account, according to a new University of Florida study that finds self-confidence can translate into earning hundreds of thousands of dollars more over a lifetime.

People with high opinions of themselves as teenagers and young adults drew bigger salaries in middle age than their less confident counterparts, and the gap was widest for those from privileged backgrounds, said Timothy Judge, a UF management professor who did the study with graduate student Charlice Hurst.

It turns out that there are certainly significant advantages for children growing up with parents who are well-educated and work in professional occupations, but these advantages are especially profound when children are self-confident. "Positive self-concept seems to act like an accelerant – the fuel to the fire – that leads certain people in our society to do better," say the authors of this study.

The study, which controlled for race and gender, evaluated mid-life income by examining parents’ education and occupational prestige, as well as participants’ educational levels, grade point averages, SAT scores and child poverty levels. For every category, the study found that having high self-esteem made a difference.

Self-confidence was measured by answers to such questions as “What happens to me is of my own doing,” “I feel I have a number of good qualities” and “When I make plans, I am almost certain to make them work.” Judge believes the effects of self-esteem and socio-economic background on income are particularly timely with today’s growing income disparity between the “haves” and “have nots.”

But, does being one of those "haves" guarantee in itself the future success of the child? The study shows that early advantages by themselves are not enough to ensure the best shot at material well-being later in life, Judge said. “In light of popular beliefs that kids from middle- and upper-class families have it made, it is surprising to see what little positive impact socioeconomic status has in the absence of self-esteem,” he said.

Motivation may be one reason for self-esteem’s importance, Judge said. “Research has shown that positive people who believe in themselves have more ambitious goals, so that even when they encounter adversity, they’re not as likely to internalize it,” he said.

I posted an excellent site on self-esteem for children, linked to the headline of today's subject.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sham: Chinese Supplements: The Story Continues

It appears that, once again, China is sending contaminated and dangerous products out into the world through practices that are often deceptive, and always indicative of poor quality and Government regulatory control. I wrote about this in an earlier "Sham vs. Wham."

An article appearing in today's New York Times (linked to the headline of this post) speaks of thousands of tubes of poisoned toothpaste which appear to have been produced in China, under brand names like "Mr. Cool." How would you like to brush your teeth with a product that contains industrial anti-freeze? Counterfeiters in China have found that it is more profitable to substitute Diethylene Glycol in products such as this one, which is supposed to have another sweet-tasting syrup as a part of its ingredient list (Glycerine).

This story is important to anyone who follows the dietary supplement business, because an ever-increasing number of US dietary supplement companies import their formulas directly from China, where industrial pollutants have worked their way into plant life and where little or no government regulatory control exists over suppliers of exported herbal and medicinal ingredients. These Chinese counterfeiters and the American businessmen who do business with them do not deserve your money . . . Even the Swedish company that produces an excellent herbal product for the USA market has been hit by these fakes. Copycat products appearing to be the same tablets appear under similar brand names in boxes with the same foil sealed packages made famous by the Swedes. Stick with quality products from US or European suppliers (or Brazilian in the case of medicinal mushrooms) for your health care. Copycats, cheats and contaminators do not deserve to make a living on your health investment.


PS - How do we allow this? We buy a $6.99 supplement instead of one that costs $12.00, and what do we get? Chinese contaminated garbage. Read this article at the Washington Post -- it's just plain frightening.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wham: Adaptogens: The Story of Soviet Order 4654-p

The history of herbal substances known as adaptogens appears to begin with Order # 4654-p from the People's Commissar's Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, dated March 4, 1943. That date should be a famous one in the herbal products industry, because the moment eventually led to the discovery and development of adaptogenic herbal dietary supplements which have improved the lives of millions of people.

Originally, Soviet scientists set out to discover "tonic substances for both soldiers and persons working in the Russian defense industry" during the second World War. It was determined at the time that there were certain plants that would increase the "state of non-specific resistance" in humans. In other words, herbs that would help normalize bodily processes and provide much better resistance to any form of stress. As these scientists originally defined the term "adaptogen," it referred to substances that would 1) show some nonspecific effect, such as increasing bodily resistance to physical, chemical or biological noxious agents or toxins, and 2) have a normalizing influence on the pathology, and 3) be innocuous and not disturb normal body functions.

And what an impact this Order 4654-p would eventually have. As you look around in the health food store, the vitamin shop, or the Internet, you find literally hundreds of products marketed as adaptogens. So many, in fact, that the term is in danger of losing focus. It has become marketing lingo, as opposed to a genuine indicator of something with a health benefit.

Adaptogens are a gift from the creator, and with thousands of years of human use and the research of Russian and Swedish scientists behind them, they deserve to have your attention as one of the most powerful supplement types on the market today. Look for products that contain Rhodiola rosea, Eleutherococcus senticosus, or Schizandra chinensis -- the three original adaptogens.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wham: Cereal Fiber Lowers Risk of Diabetes

From the medical wire services today:

"Higher dietary intake of fiber from grains and cereals may each be associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a report and meta-analysis in the May 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Matthias B. Schulze, Dr.P.H., and colleagues at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke, Nuthetal, conducted a study of 9,702 men and 15,365 women age 35 to 65 years. Participants completed a food questionnaire when they enrolled in the study between 1994 and 1998, then were followed up through 2005—an average of seven years—to see if they developed diabetes. In addition, the researchers performed a meta-analysis of previously published work related to intake of fiber or magnesium and risk of diabetes.

During the follow-up period, 844 individuals in the study developed type 2 diabetes. Those who consumed more fiber through cereal, bread and other grain products (cereal fiber) were less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate less fiber. When the participants were split into five groups based on cereal fiber intake, those who ate the most (an average of 29 grams per day) had a 27 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than those in the group that ate the least (an average of 15.1 grams per day).

It's obvious based on previously reported facts that fiber is an important part of the diet, and this new information from a large, well-reviewed study about the improved diabetes risk of fiber intake adds more fuel to that fire. At a meeting called Expo West in Anaheim two years ago, we met the owners of a small company in Minneapolis that produces the most delicious fiber product in the world. This mix can be added to your breakfast cereal, put on top of buttered toast, added to yogurt, or put into pancakes. It is linked to the headline of today's article, and we heartily recommend it. My company has no association with this firm -- it's in the "Wham" category because once you taste it, you'll want more.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Confusion on Calcium and Vitamin D Supplementation

Doesn't it just drive you nuts when within a day or two, major news stories come out about vitamins and supplements, but they contradict each other? I have the suspicion, which I can't prove of course, that there are pharma industry men and women in suits locked in a room somewhere trying to figure out a way to sabotage clinical trials that show a benefit to dietary supplements.

Today, we can read clinical trials which say that Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are great for postmenopausal women in order to keep weight off. Then, later in the day, we get the news that Calcium and Vitamin D supplementation may cause a certain brain lesion. What can you do about this? Of course, you must make sure and ask your MD, Naturopath or Chiropractor about the right level of these nutrients for you. Trust your doc -- he or she is on your side.

Below are snippets of each -- more detail is linked to the headline of today's post.

Postmenopausal women who take calcium and vitamin D supplements may gain less weight than those who do not, according to a report in the May 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The benefit is greater in those who had not previously been getting the daily recommended amount of calcium.

“Because weight loss or prevention of weight gain is likely to have significant health benefits for middle-aged women, early to middle menopause may be a critical period of life in which to slow the trajectory of weight gain,” the authors note as background information in the article. Some evidence suggests that calcium and vitamin D may play a role in effective weight management. These nutrients may stimulate the breakdown of fat cells and suppress the development of new ones.

And literally within hours, here's additional and conflicting information on another study:

Seniors who consume high levels of calcium and vitamin D are much more likely to have larger brain lesions that can lead to cognitive impairment, depression or stroke, new research reveals.

The study authors point out that brain lesions of various sizes are not uncommon, even among healthy elders. However, the observation that the overall amount of brain matter affected by lesions goes up with vitamin intake is fueling concerns about a possible connection.

"This is one of the first studies to examine the relationship between diet and brain lesions," said study author Martha E. Payne, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Neuropsychiatric Imaging Research Laboratory at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Anxiety: Risks of Heart Attack and Death

New research shows that highly anxious patients with heart disease face nearly double the risk of heart attack or death when compared to those with a more serene outlook on life. Patients whose anxiety intensified over time were in greatest peril, while those who started out highly anxious but later found inner calm markedly reduced their risk. The research appears in the May 22, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Here are some of the symptoms of anxiety that has reached an unhealthy level:

- sleeplessness
- muscle tension
- poor concentration
- physical problems such as frequent upset stomach
- irritability
- fatigue
- excessive feelings of embarrassment in social situations
- heart palpitations

Previous studies have shown that mental stress and depression have harmful effects on the heart and blood vessels, but until now there has been little information on the corrosive effects of anxiety or the benefits of relieving anxiety over time.

For the study, Dr. Blatt and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School recruited 516 patients with proven coronary artery disease. At the beginning of the study and again each year patients completed a standardized questionnaire about their feelings during the previous week, for example, whether they felt peaceful, felt something bad would happen, took a long time to fall asleep at night, or had upset bowels or stomach.

Patients were followed-up for an average of more than 3 years. During that time, 19 patients died and 44 had a nonfatal heart attack. Cumulative anxiety scores were averaged and adjusted for age, and the patients divided into 3 groups. Those with anxiety scores in the highest third had nearly double the risk of heart attack or death when compared to those with anxiety scores in the lowest third.

James L. Januzzi, M.D. agreed. “This study provides further insight into the complex connections between the brain and heart,” said Dr. Januzzi, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the cardiac intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.


Personal Opinion: Anyone who has reached this level of anxiety in their life needs to see a healthcare practitioner for guidance, and obviously not take medical advice from a website. One recommendation of what has reduced stress and anxiety for the patients of many Naturopathic physicians and Holistic MD's would be supplementation by Rhodiola rosea, traditionally used in Scandinavian countries for stress and anxiety reduction. Here's an unadulterated commercial plug, but a worthy one because this product changed my life for the better: Tne clinically tested, safe and effective brand is Arctic Root®. Other supplement recommendations are listed in the linked Wikipedia article (click on headline). Note that dietary supplements of this sort are not medications but work by supplementing your body's natural ability to fight off stress.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Pending Shortage of Allergists

Having trouble getting in to see your allergy specialist MD today? Well, it's going to be worse in the future. A growing shortage of allergists in the United States may soon impact the quality of patient care for asthma and other allergic diseases, according to a report published by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). This comes at a bad time, because just about everyone will tell you that allergy problems are increasing--not getting any easier.

“Without intervention, the number of allergy-immunology specialists is projected to decline by 7 percent while demand will increase by 35 percent over the next dozen years,” said ACAAI President Daniel Ein, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and chief of the division of allergy at GWU Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

“The decline in the number of qualified allergists-immunologists is primarily due to the decrease in Graduate Medical Education (GME) training programs because of limited federal funding. To cover attrition and keep up with the growing demand, training programs must increase their graduation rate by 120 allergy-immunology physicians each year,” Dr. Ein said.

Asthma and other allergic diseases have become more prevalent in the United States in recent years. They affect as many as 50 million people, or more than 20 percent of the population. The incidence of asthma alone has more than tripled over the past 25 years and currently affects more than 22 million Americans.

I'd like to recommend that if you are having trouble getting in to see your allergist MD, try an alternative approach such as a Naturopath. My local Chiropractor was able to recommend a supplement that was of great value for me at allergy season here in Sedona.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wham: Andrographis for Sinusitis and Summertime Colds!

In the newly released June issue of Prevention Magazine, the author of an article discussing "3 New Superhealers You Should Know About" (linked to the headline of today's post) describes the effects of a summer cold and why it is worth seeking out alternative and complementary products. Summer colds can last longer than the usual cold, and they are particularly annoying, because they come at a time when you should be out enjoying special days with family and friends. Nothing worse than having your vacation ruined by sniffles, sore throats or fatigue.

Here's what Prevention had to say about one of those "3 new superhealers" . . .

Andrographis: Shorten Summer Colds

Andrographis does a great job of relieving upper-respiratory infections, such as colds or sinusitis, says new research. A study in the journal Phytomedicine reported that the herb eased symptoms such as fatigue, sleeplessness, sore throat, and runny nose up to 90%.

Maximize the benefits: Roberta Lee, MD (medical director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City) and Terry Graedon, PhD (coauthor with her husband, Joe, of Best Choices from the People's Pharmacy recommend Kan Jang® (available at ProActive BioProducts), an herbal extract produced by the Swedish Herbal Institute and used in several of the trials.
Verde Botanica's IMMUNICITY consists of not only Andrographis, but Eleuthero as well, which wasn't noted in the article above. The combination makes it totally unique -- clinical trials such as those reported on above are most often done with this combination of two herbs. Great support to ward off summer colds, support healthy sinuses, or any other required immune boost.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wham: Cranberry for Urinary Tract Infections

An interesting small research study was done in the scientific journal Phytomed recently (2007;14:237-241), providing additional evidence that shows how Cranberry extract reduces urinary tract infections. Hopefully, these positive results will lead to more detailed larger studies. A full abstract of this trial, reported upon in HerbClip from American Botanical Council, is linked to today's headline. Quoting from Herbclip:

"Common in women, the elderly, and infants, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are defined as the "presence of a certain threshold number of bacteria in the urine (usually greater than 100,000 per mL)." One in four women who have a UTI will have a recurrence. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) products are often used to prevent UTIs. The journal authors report on a study to test the effects of concentrated cranberry extract on women with recurrent UTIs.Most UTIs are caused by one type of bacterium -- Escherichia coli.

The authors conducted an open-label pilot study for 4 months at Helios Integrated Medicine, PC in Boulder, Colorado. Twelve women aged between 25 and 70 years with a history of 6 UTIs in the past year took 1 cranberry capsule twice daily for 12 weeks. Each capsule contained 200 mg cranberry extract standardized to 30% total phenols (much higher than dried cranberries and dried juices), produced by Phenolics, LLC (El Granada, CA), by selective extraction of the berries. The total cranberry proanthocyanidin intake during the study was approximately 100 mg per day. None of the women developed a UTI during the study, based on symptoms or laboratory results.

After 2 years, a follow-up was done, and the same medical history questionnaire was reviewed with each woman. At that time, eight of the women reported no changes in their health since the study began. They all continued to take various cranberry supplements prepared by different manufacturers in doses ranging from 150 to 300 mg per day, and they continued to be free from UTIs. Four women stopped taking cranberry supplements for various unrelated medical reasons. Of those, one remained free of UTIs and two developed symptoms, which resolved after resuming the supplementation. The fourth developed a UTI confirmed by urinalysis and was treated with antibiotics. She then resumed the cranberry supplements and did not have any further symptoms.

This study adds evidence to three previous studies cited by the authors that indicate the effectiveness of cranberry products in preventing UTIs in women. These study results are unique, however, in that none of the women had a recurrent infection during the study period. Also, this study used a unique cranberry product standardized to 30% phenolics."

As always, Sham vs. Wham would recommend that readers remember the tests done were of a specific brand of extract, and that if you want the same results, you buy the same brand as in the study.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Wham: Reduce Itching, Pain from Mosquito Bites

It's summertime already in Arizona. Today we have our evaporative coolers on full blast . . . it was 96 degrees yesterday in Sedona. But, as much as I love summer, that's our season for annoying bugs and pests. One of the worst is the mosquito, which in the last couple of years has been bringing along the threat of West Nile virus. I got my first bite last night on a walk around the neighborhood.

Mosquito bites seem to come with summer. It’s best to think ahead and apply an insect repellent – some even are combined with sunscreen to give double protection from summer hazards – before going out. But if you forgot and get an itchy welt, Ken Haller, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University, suggests this treatment.

"Dab a bit of roll-on antiperspirant directly on the bug bite and the itching will stop. The aluminum salts in the antiperspirant help the body to reabsorb the fluid in the bug bite. The swelling goes down and the itching goes away," he says.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Wham: Pomegranate Strikes Again

A couple of months ago I was out in Anaheim for the biggest trade show of the year for the natural foods and supplements industries. This meeting, Expo West, is always a blast to attend. You go to so many parties, and walk away with so many bags of free goodies, it's almost embarrassing.

At one of the cocktail parties I attended, this one for the American Botanical Council (the wonderful organization that is behind so much of our knowledge about botanicals and herbs), I met a fellow who is the research head of the world's largest consortium of Pomegranate growers. His job, which I kidded him about, is to manage clinical trials for his favorite fruit.

"How many clinical trials do you have to manage at any one time," I asked with a smile. (After all, I'm from the drug industry, and those are serious clinical trials . . .) When he told me about the extent of the work that is being done on Pomegranate, I was floored. I listened to story after story about this ancient and so-long-overlooked fruit, and how it has been proven to have a very significant health benefit.

Lo and behold, today's WHAM is about a little known benefit of Pomegranate -- besides tasting great and being good for you, it also helps to fight dental plaque. In fact, it is so good at this job that in the clinical trials linked to the headline of today's post, it was equivalent to the nasty chemical chlorhexidine, which is most commonly used in ingredients for plaque removal.

Because chlorhexidine has so many nasty side effects (teeth staining and loss of taste and sensation in the mouth to name a couple) this leads me to believe that we'll soon be trekking down to the local Whole Foods to buy . . . a Pomegranate mouth wash.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Wham: Selenium --The Evidence Keeps Coming In

For anyone who reads the daily news about vitamins and supplements, there is one inexpensive and previously undervalued supplement that has really become hot lately . . . Selenium. What a great ride the makers of Selenium products must be on right now, because this supplement is looking more and more effective in a number of areas. It is rapidly becoming one of those "must have" ingredients in your daily vitamin regimen.

As the wire services reported yesterday and today, Selenium supplementation has now been found to potentially combat HIV. Some very significant evidence is accumlating that Selenium may help the immune system fight back against the virus that causes Aids, and this comes after a huge wave of interest in Selenium by those who want to protect themselves against Prostate Cancer. Recent evidence there has been very positive as well.

The University of Miami found a lower HIV viral load in patients who took selenium supplements for nine months. And this was't some abnormally large amount of Selenium. . . this was a 200 microgram daily dose, which is the usual amount of Selenium contained in small yeast-derived supplements selling on the market for as little as $2 or $3 for a month's supply.

Selenium deficiencies have been recorded in HIV patients, and evidence suggests the mineral can improve the function of the immune system. In fact, the Archives of Internal Medicine study suggests the supplements may be a cheap and easy way to help keep HIV in check, as a useful addition to traditional combination therapy.

From the BBC World News (linked to the headline of this post) . . . Over nine months, the University of Miami team gave 91 HIV patients a daily capsule containing 200 micrograms of high-selenium yeast, and another 83 patients a daily placebo capsule. Those with higher selenium levels in their blood were more likely to have a lower HIV viral load, and higher numbers of CD4 cells, which play a key role in fighting off infection.

If you are going to add Selenium to your daily mix of supplements, make sure that you check your multiple vitamin for it's Selenium content and then add extra to reach the recommended 200 mcg dosage. (Like many other supplements, there is no advantage in "doubling up").


Monday, May 7, 2007

Sham: The Dangers of Energy Drinks

Everyone likes a kick in the pants in the morning to wake up. For years, I was a big coffee drinker, and I still enjoy an espresso now and again. But there was a time in my life when I was totally and completely hooked on that caffeine buzz to get my day started.

Luckily, that bad habit has fallen away, mostly due to a product called Arctic Root® that I take each morning. (Arctic Root® is an adaptogen and it has a clinically proven effect to "clear the mental fog" without stimulating the body as caffeine does. We'll discuss it and other adaptogens in more detail in a future post.)

However, a recent visit to a college campus taught me that not only are kids enjoying lots of coffee to get a kick start, they are literally pouring down energy drinks of every kind and description. Just a few years ago, Mountain Dew was the energy drink of choice and now there are more than 100 varieties, all with huge amounts of caffeine and herbal stimulants. The worst part of this trend is that these drinks are often used as mixers for alcohol, which is a really bad combination. (See the attached link to this headline).

When you combine alcohol with a stimulant, you deprive your body of the natural fatigue that sets in to let you know that you've had too much -- that you are drunk. Sure, you can consume more alcohol when it is mixed with a stimulant, but what a mistake that is. There have been a number of deaths attributed to this trend . . . people get behind the wheel thinking that they are "alert" with far more than the legal limit of alcohol in their blood.

Energy drinks push your body into an abnormal level of energy. They literally borrow from tomorrow to keep your body going today, and in this "overextended" mode, your body goes into high-stress and you leave yourself far more open to colds, flu, etc. Plus, the massive amount of sweeteners in these beverages bring along their own set of problems, especially if you are like many of us who are trying to keep the weight off.

It's very deceiving to package a product containing herbs like Guarana and labels such as "natural energy" or "herbal energy." While it is correct that these caffeine-containing herbs are "natural," it certainly isn't different than any other stimulant. Stimulants are not good for you -- period.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sham: Chinese Counterfeits Kill

An exposé appeared today in the New York Times that is a must-read for anyone concerned about the source of their medicines and dietary supplements. The headline in today's post links directly to the NYT article about this issue, but does require you to fill in a brief, no-cost registration. It's worth it just for this extensive article.

It seems that yet another Chinese scandal is developing regarding contaminated products being sold for human consumption. While many of these scandals deal with the basic environmental contamination that is so rampant in mainland China (absorbed into anything that grows, such as herbs, mushrooms, agricultural crops), this news is even more repulsive because it is a story of greed and corruption. It shows that there are literally no controls on what business people say and do in China, which can lead to very serious consequences.

In this case, greed led to industrial solvents being sold as glycerine, which was later used around the world in a number of contaminated pharmaceutical products including enemas used on little children and cough syrups that killed dozens of senior citizens in Central America. Researchers say the number of deaths could be in the "thousands."

This topic ties directly into a recent "Sham vs. Wham" post entitled, "Does the Source of an Ingredient Matter?". It is quite an issue, because anyone producing a quality Dietary Supplement or Pharmaceutical product using ingredients from the USA or Europe faces this problem. Chinese products are SO much cheaper -- the temptation is there for anyone looking for an herb or a botanical product of any kind to go with the Chinese supplier. And the Chinese are very aggressive marketers on the OEM front, advertising their botanicals and pharma ingredients along with low, low prices in all the major marketplaces.

In the case of our small business, ProActive BioProducts, we've had experiences with this China problem as well. Before we imported the Swedish Herbal Institute brand into North America, a company had actually stolen our Swedish brand name and put it on boxes of Chinese herbs sold here. Even today you can go on the Internet and find companies from China selling low-grade OEM herbs using our trademarks (they want to sell these less effective and potentially contaminated products to other manufacturers). Sadly, I know they will find buyers, because there are people in every country, not just China, who care more about profits than safety. (And there are always consumers who will grab the $12.95 bottle of supplements instead of the $19.95 because "it's all the same.")

Where will this China problem lead us? Will you be one of those Wal-Mart customers buying their new "organic" foods, much of which will come from China? Personally, I'm going to make sure that anything I ingest originates as far from China as possible.


[PS added 5/7: Some specialized herbs come from China, and are grown nowhere else. In that case, you've got to rely on the diligence of a quality provider who examines all raw materials and conducts scientific testing to ensure quality and a product free of contamination]

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Wham: Chia, a very complete food

Did you ever have a "Chia Pet" when you were a kid? Or, perhaps one of those "Chia Heads"? If so, you'll remember how those seeds make a sort of paste that gets spread around the little clay animal or human head. Soon, "hair" grows, nice and green!

I remember reading that my son's Chia Pet seeds were "not for human consumption." And yet, did you know that these tiny seeds have been consumed by humans for thousands of years? That's right . . . their use as a food goes back far into recorded time. Today, the seeds offer a huge benefit to us in our daily diet.

Aztec warriors would carry only Chia seed when going on long journeys, finding that they only needed a teaspoon or so of these seeds per day in order to remain fit for travel. The seeds are highly nutritious, and extremely nourishing, a great source of protein. In fact, the lowly little Chia seed has more of the essential omega-3 fatty acid than any other vegetable source (including flax seeds, which are used all the time for that reason). Chia has 3 to 10 times the oil concentration of most grains and up to twice the protein content of other grains as well. You just can't find a better food source in such a small package.

The odd thing about Chia becomes quite evident when you place a teaspoon of seeds into a glass of water and then come back about an hour later. You won't find water in that glass any longer . . . instead, you'll see an almost solid, nearly-clear substance, a result of the gel-forming properties of Chia's soluble fiber. Chia can hold 12 times its weight in water. Can you imagine that? That would be like a 100 lb. person being able to carry around more than a ton of water on their back!

When you consume Chia seeds, your body is naturally hydrated. The seeds' ability to carry water along with them offers you the ability to prolong hydration. They are full of vitamins A, D, E and K, and even are a rich source of Calcium. Those Aztec warriors had the right idea. Chia seeds can truly be called a "wonder food."

There are a number of great recipes for Chia in the book which is linked to the headline of today's post, and you'll also find some on the Internet. The recipes fall into two categories . . . they are either for the seeds themselves, as nutty and crunchy ingredients in baked goods (cookies, etc) or they are recipes for the use of Chia gel. You can take that thick gel that comes when Ghia is mixed with water and you can use it to extend and thicken soups, etc.

Chia is definitely in the WHAM category!

[PS added May 5th: See Ed's remarks in the comment section. Chia is a rich source of Alpha Linolenic Acid. If you have a history of prostate cancer in the family, you need to talk to your doctor about adding ALA. Otherwise, to anyone else, this ingredient is a healthy advantage.]


Friday, May 4, 2007

Wham: Acupuncture for Pregnancy Pain

An interesting report today on the medical wire from Newswise. You may find this of interest if you're pregnant or know someone who is. (Use the little email icon beneath the article to send it to your pregnant friend!). As it turns out, stretching exercises and acupuncture could help relieve back and pelvic pain that often occur during pregnancy, according to an updated review.

As pregnancy progresses, back and pelvic pain can interfere with daily activities such as carrying groceries, cleaning and walking, and can disrupt work or sleep also. More than two-thirds of pregnant women experience back pain and almost one-fifth report pelvic pain.

“When you’re pregnant, your center of gravity is off. You have to arch your back to balance this huge tummy, so you end up with extra strain on your back and pelvic muscles,” said Victoria Pennick, M.H.Sc., registered nurse and one of the lead authors of a review of these practices written up in the Cochrane Library.

Women who participated in a variety of intervention programs recognized some relief of back and pelvic pain, said Pennick, a senior clinical research project manager at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto.

The review looked at eight studies that examined the effect of adding pregnancy-specific strengthening exercises, water exercises, acupuncture and other pain-relief interventions to regular prenatal care. None of the studies dealt specifically with back or pelvic pain prevention. The studies involved 1,305 pregnant women from Sweden, Iran, Brazil, Thailand and Australia.

The review authors found that women who participated in prenatal exercise programs reported significant decreases in back pain compared to women who received the usual prenatal care.

The intervention programs taught moms-to-be movements to stretch the pelvic muscles, strengthen the abdominal and hamstring muscles and increase spinal flexibility.

In one study that evaluated work absenteeism during pregnancy, only 12.9 percent of the pregnant women who participated in water gymnastics missed work due to low-back pain, compared with 21.7 percent of the women who received usual prenatal care.

In one study of women with both back and pelvic pain, 60 percent who received acupuncture reported less intense pain, compared to 14 percent of women who did not. The study found no complications associated with the use of acupuncture in pregnant women.

On average, women who followed through with the pelvic or back pain interventions experienced some pain relief and reported less need for pain medication, physical therapy and posture-support belts.


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Does the source of an ingredient really matter?

As you know, there are products on the shelves that vary quite significantly in price for what appears to be the same item. This is true whether it is a bottle of herbal supplements or an extract of healthy mushrooms. A decade ago, I would select what I was looking for by grabbing the "best value" off the shelf. If there was a $8.99 version and a $19.95 version, as there so often is, I would select the cheap one. Thinking about that buying philosophy years later, I now understand why so many of those products I bought proved ineffective.

With dietary supplements, the expression "you get what you pay for" is almost universally true. While there are certain products that are just chemical entities and priced as commodities, most products have significant differences between them based upon where in the world they come from. (As an example of a commodity, ascorbic acid is just plain ascorbic acid, no matter which way you look at it. Of course, brands and quality control will differ, but hey -- even Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling said you should buy Vitamin C as cheaply as possible.) Plants, on the other hand, can vary dramatically even in the same species, depending upon where they are grown. Rhodiola rosea would grow right in my backyard in Arizona if I wanted. But, in comparison to a plant from the Arctic circle, it would have almost none of the same impact on my system.

And yet, I could grow and market the plant as a supplement and have no problem with regulators, even though the product would give the consumer no boost in energy, mental clarity, or any of the other benefits of daily consumption of Rhodiola with a product like Arctic Root. In the case of Rhodiola, this is because the plant gets its power by fighting the odds, and developing its own immune system in the extreme conditions of the Arctic region.

Another wonderful product category are the immune boosting mushrooms that we are hearing so much about lately. One of those companies is located right here in Arizona (Desert Forest Nutritionals). And yet, their mushrooms come from Brazil. They specialize in a very unique and highly potent medicinal mushroom which we'll talk about more on this website in the near future, the Agaricus blazei Murrill mushroom.

Unfortunately, in the field of herbs, particularly mushrooms, the plant sucks up whatever is in the ground and whatever toxins are in the water supply. That's why the Japanese, huge consumers of Agaricus blazei Murrill mushrooms, buy 90% of the market for the Brazilian mushrooom. You'd think they'd buy it from Asian sources, right? Not so . . . the Japanese realize how dangerous certain plants and herbs can be that are grown in countries like China and South Asia, where unrestrained industrial growth has contaminated so many formerly pristine growing areas for botanical remedies.

The source of your herbs and supplements REALLY does matter, not only for the most effective use of the product, but also for safety from contamination by heavy metals and toxins. The excellent article linked to the headline of today's post describes this safety issue in more detail.

Next time you are considering a specialized supplement, consider its source, and how much difference this makes in the quality of the outcome. In a future post we'll discuss whether or not the herbal products industry is truly a long-term sustainable industry, or whether we are tapping all the earth's botanicals without consideration of the needs of future generations.

[PS added May 5: Just found a great article from Taipei, Taiwan. Even the Taiwanese people are concerned about the contamination of products coming from mainland China. See the comments section for link!]


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The costs of marketing: A Sham and a Shame

It would be great if your favorite dietary supplements, vitamins and minerals, etc, didn't have to cost so much.

One business owner told me recently about how her $20 bottle of tablets would have to be sold for $50 if she were to market them via the "multi-level marketing" method. It's true that when you have 50%, 60% or more of a product's retail price invested in the cost of commissions (everyone gets a piece), what you end up with is not a bargain for the consumer.

Don't get me wrong, there are some good products that are sold by Multi-Level marketing, and we'll talk about those and weigh their merits as Sham's or Wham's on this website. Still, a good supplement that you have to pay $50 for would be a heck of a lot better for all of us if you could just buy it for what it is really worth.

But it's not just MLM distribution that costs the consumer so much. Here's another example. . .

As an importer and business person myself, I can tell you that it is difficult in ANY marketing scenario to get a healthy product out the door at a fair price to the consumer. If you sell through health food stores or vitamin stores, you need to sell a distributor first. The really big outlets even require you to go through brokers to service their outlets. So, you have the cost of importation (high enough with the low value of the US Dollar), added customs duties, and then you mark the product up and sell it to a distributor. The distributor adds a similar markup and then sells it to the retail store, and then the store doubles the price and sells it to the consumer. If there were brokers involved, that's another markup to add to the mix.

The cost of marketing is compounded by the fact that a single small ad in a relatively modest magazine is $1,000 or more (the kind of health magazines you find in your health food store). Try and advertise in the big magazines and you'd be paying ten times that amount.

Yes, the cost of marketing is a SHAM. But, a sham that is completely necessary in order to get products out into the world. I'd like to see all my favorite products take the route with the fewest "bumps" in price before they get to the consumer. While that may SOUND like multi-level marketing ("You're buying right from me, no middleman, and I get it from the factory"), that isn't what happens in reality. (See the excellent tips article linked to the headline of this post for those who are considering a Multi-Level Marketing commitment).


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sham: Green Tea Consumption for Weight Loss

The March 30th issue of the American Botanical Council's "HerbClip" reports on a new study conducted in the Netherlands to determine the validity of Green Tea use as a weight loss maintenance tool. The results of this moderately large study (120 individuals) are very interesting in light of all the press that Green Tea has gotten in the diet world. Do a Google search on Green Tea for diets and you'll find everyone and their brother has included Green Tea in their diet formulas. Even Oprah has been seen to tout this tea as a diet ingredient.

This trial involved overweight or moderately obese, but otherwise healthy, men and women aged 18 to 60 years, and was conducted at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The trial was reported on in the British Journal of Nutrition.

American Botanical Council's reporter, Brenda Milot, writes that the results indicate that green tea consumption does NOT improve weight-loss maintenance relative to placebo. The metabolic and blood variables measured were not significantly different between the green tea and the placebo groups.

It appears, based on this study, that Green Tea falls into the SHAM category, at least for weight management after body-weight loss. Of course, we all know that Green Tea has other heath benefits -- but as a diet aid to maintain weight loss, forget it.


Wham: Pistachios are a snack with a healthy punch!

I thought this was an interesting research study, because so many of us can use some help in our snacking habits. Now, perhaps we'll be drinking pomegranate juice and eating pistachios in front of the tube, instead of beer and pretzels!

“Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among both men and women and another 20 million people are living with diabetes each year – so these findings are very exciting and relevant,” said Dr. Cyril Kendall, lead researcher of the study and a professor in the University of Toronto's Department of Nutritional Sciences. “We know that controlling blood glucose levels is important for preventing and controlling diabetes and recent data indicate that it is also important in preventing heart disease. Controlling postmeal fluctuations in glucose appears to be particularly important. Pistachios have been shown to decrease risk factors for heart disease, however little has been known about the specific effects of pistachios on blood glucose until now. Our preliminary findings demonstrate that suppressing the glycemic (blood sugar) response of high carbohydrate foods may be part of the mechanism by which pistachios contribute to cardiovascular health and to the prevention and control of diabetes. More research is definitely warranted.”

“Glycemic Response of Pistachios – A Dose Response Study and Effect of Pistachios Consumed with Different Common Carbohydrate Foods on Postprandial Glycemia was presented today to more than 10,000 scientists at the Experimental Biology Conference in Washington, DC. The study is the first of its kind to examine the effects of pistachios and glucose levels in combination with carbohydrates. The research was led by University of Toronto’s Dr. Cyril Kendall and Dr. David Jenkins - researchers well known for their studies of the glycemic index which measures how rapidly sugars from foods are absorbed into the blood stream. Certain carbohydrates elevate blood sugar levels more quickly than other foods – like pistachios – that contain higher levels of protein, fiber and monounsaturated fat. In general, foods that do not quickly raise blood sugar are often considered healthier than their more processed counterparts.

Drs. Jenkins and Kendall and their research colleagues studied 10 healthy individuals who participated in a number of acute dietary studies over the course of two months. After an overnight fast, participants were given a one-, two- or three-ounce serving of pistachios alone or served with a slice of white bread and blood sugar levels were measured over a two-hour period. The findings suggest that consumption of pistachios with a carbohydrate-rich meal significantly lowered the d blood glucose response. As consumption of pistachios increased, the blood sugar lowering response was enhanced. In addition, when pistachios were consumed alone, the rise in blood glucose was minimal.

The researchers also monitored the effect of pistachios consumed with different common carbohydrate foods on postprandial glycemia, or blood sugar levels after eating. The addition of pistachios to a number of other commonly consumed carbohydrate-rich foods – such as mashed potatoes, pasta and rice – also resulted in significant reductions in the blood sugar response, compared to when these foods were eaten alone.

In July 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a much-awaited qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease prevention. The claim states, "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." According to the California Pistachio Commission, the University of Toronto’s research findings are important for individuals who are living a heart-healthy lifestyle and those that monitor their blood sugar levels.

“Most people with diabetes have other risk factors – such as high blood pressure and cholesterol that increase one's risk for heart disease and stroke. When combined with diabetes, these risk factors can add up to serious health problems,” explains Constance Geiger, PhD, RD, and consultant to the California Pistachio Commission. “Recent research has suggested that pistachios are a heart-healthy, high-protein snack. Now people have yet another reason to grab a handful – they may blunt the blood sugar response of meals and may be beneficial for assisting with long-term blood glucose control.”