Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oral Health an Important Consideration for Expectant Mothers

Bacteria from a mother’s mouth can be transmitted through the blood and amniotic fluid in the womb to her unborn child, posing a potentially great risk to the infant. This evidence could have an important implication for women and babies’ health since simple improvement of dental hygiene may help to reduce the incidence of unknown complications in pregnancy and newborn babies.

At the Society for General Microbiology (UK) meeting on the 31st of March, Cecilia Gonzales-Marin and colleagues from Queen Mary University of London, described how they had tested the stomach contents of 57 newborn babies, and that the amniotic fluid contained there held as many as 46 different species of bacteria. The most prevalent bacteria in the samples may have come from the vagina; however, two of the frequently seen species were recognized as coming from the mouth and are not normally found elsewhere in the body. These particular bacteria, Granulicatella elegans and Streptococcus sinensis, are known to be able to enter the bloodstream and have previously been associated with infections both in and out of the mouth.

Gonzales-Marin's research group is using DNA techniques to confirm if bacteria from the newborn matches the bacteria in the respective mother’s mouth, but it certainly appears by work so far that germs from a mother with poor oral health can be later found in the infant. Oral health care is extremely important for pregnant women -- poor oral health contributes to the risk of a premature delivery, a low birth-weight baby, premature onset of contractions, or rampant infection.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Fish Oil May Come to the Rescue to Reduce Flatulence from Cows

By now, no matter what you've been reading, you know that Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils have been well documented for their positive effects on the heart and circulatory system. And in the agricultural sector, it has been found that the same fatty acids also improve meat quality. New research, however, has stumbled upon another ag-industry benefit . . . that of reducing methane emissions coming from flatulent cows.

Lowering emissions from cows is important for the environment, as methane given off by farm animals is a major contributor to greenhouse gas levels. Today researchers from University College Dublin reported that by including 2% fish oil in the diet of cattle, they achieved a significant reduction in the amount of methane gas released by these animals.

Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology meeting in the UK, Dr Lorraine Lillis, one of the researchers, said "The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cows gut, leading to reduced emissions." Evidently there are certain microbial species which are particularly influenced by changes in the animals' diet and, as a result, it now seems possible for producers to bring about a much more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions. Its an easy one as well, because there's one thing that cows know how to do quite well . . . eat.

More than a third of all methane emissions, around 900 billion tons every year, are produced by methanogen bacteria that live in the digestive systems of ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats. By volume, methane is 20 times more powerful at trapping solar energy than carbon dioxide, making it a potent greenhouse gas.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Drinking Water Contaminated with Potent Estrogen

Here's a scary new report about water contamination. Not free flowing water as you'd get from the tap, but bottled, supposedly super-clean water in plastic bottles.

According to scientists Martin Wagner and Jörg Oehlmann from Goethe University in (Frankfurt, Germany), plastic packaging is not without its downsides. Plastic mineral water bottles contaminate drinking water with estrogenic chemicals. In an analysis of commercially available packaged mineral waters, the researchers found evidence of estrogenic compounds leaching out of the plastic packaging into the water. Their studies have found that these chemicals are potent and, when tested in the embryos of snails, the man-made chemicals enhance the development of the embryos.

This is the first time that scientists have proven that substances leaching out of plastic food packaging materials act as functional estrogens. The work has been published in Springer's journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

This study was to determine whether the migration of substances from packaging material into foodstuffs contributes to human exposure to man-made hormones. They analyzed 20 brands of mineral water available in Germany - nine bottled in glass, nine bottled in plastic and two bottled in composite packaging (paperboard boxes coated with an inner plastic film). The researchers took water samples from the bottles and tested them for the presence of estrogenic chemicals in vitro. They then carried out a reproduction test with snails to determine the source and potency of the estrogens.

By breeding snails in both plastic and glass water bottles, the researchers found more than double the number of embryos in plastic bottles compared with glass bottles. Taken together, these results demonstrate widespread contamination of mineral water with potent man-made estrogens that partly originate from compounds leaching out of the plastic packaging material.

The authors conclude that plastic packaging may be a major source of contamination of many other edibles.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Omega 3 In the News Again - Lower Advanced Prostate Cancer Risk

A new (March 24th) report in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, shows that Omega-3 fatty acids appear protective against advanced prostate cancer.

Dr. John S. Witte, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, says that previous research has shown protection against prostate cancer, but that this is one of the first studies to show protection against advanced prostate cancer.

For this study, researchers performed a case-control analysis of 466 men diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and 478 healthy men. Their diet was assessed by a food frequency questionnaire and researchers did a genotype study to see which of the men had a gene that accounts for a very aggressive form of cancer.

Researchers divided omega-3 fatty acid intake into four groups. Men who consumed the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids had a 63 percent reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Then, researchers assessed the effect of omega-3 fatty acid among men with the variant gene that causes the aggressive cancer. Men with low omega-3 fatty acid intake and this variant had a more than five-fold increased risk of advanced prostate cancer. Interestingly, men with high intake of omega-3 fatty acids had a substantially reduced risk, even if they carried the variant gene.

“The increased risk of disease was essentially reversed by increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake by a half a gram per day,” said Witte. “If you want to think of the overall inverse association in terms of fish, where omega-3 fatty acids are commonly derived, the strongest effect was seen from eating dark fish such as salmon one or more times per week.”


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Healthy Relationships vs. Social Isolation

Here's a news report that I came across recently that appears to prove how important it is that we have healthy relationships. This new research was conducted with both "single" and "attached" mice -- and it suggests that social isolation may promote more damaging inflammation in the brain during a stroke.

Ohio State University scientists found that all the male mice that lived with a female partner survived seven days after a stroke, but only 40 percent of socially isolated animals lived that long. In addition, those mice with a mate suffered much less brain damage than did the surviving solitary mice.

“Under nearly every measure, it seems that there was something about living together that protected the mice by reducing the damaging inflammatory response,” said Kate Karelina, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in neuroscience at Ohio State University.

Some of the mice lived with a female partner for two weeks before the stroke and continuing afterwards. Other mice lived alone before and after the stroke.

The reasons for the higher survival rate for the socially housed mice were evident when the researchers compared brain tissues of mice after the stroke. The amount of tissue damage in the brain was about four times larger in the mice housed alone compared to those housed with another mouse.

In addition, socially housed mice had significantly less edema, or excess water in the brain, when compared to the isolated animals.

“In clinical stroke, edema is a major concern because it can lead to additional neuronal damage, so it is significant that pair housing reduced edema,” Karelina said.

In addition, findings revealed that mice that lived with others had significantly higher levels of a cytokine in their brain called interleukin-6 (IL-6) that has an anti-inflammatory response in the brain, helping to limit damage caused by the stroke.

Overall, the study provides some early clues as to how social support may protect people who suffer strokes. “We’re learning more about what it is about social support that helps stroke victims have more positive outcomes,” Karelina said.

The research is scheduled to appear this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More News on Drug and Food Interactions

Licorice -- widely used in foods and herbal medicines -- appears to block the absorption of cyclosporine, a drug used by transplant patients to prevent organ rejection. This drug interaction could potentially result in transplant rejection, causing illness and even death among patients worldwide who take cyclosporine and licorice together, the researchers caution.

Because licorice is such a common food and candy ingredient (the root of licorice is used as a traditional remedy in several types of supplement products as well) scientists suggest that the use of licorice be carefully monitored by a doctor if you are taking cyclosporine.

The researchers say they do not know exactly how much licorice it takes to have a toxic effect in humans taking this drug. Since licorice-based products vary widely in their content of its main active ingredient, a substance called glycyrrhizin, the authors suggest that patients taking cyclosporine avoid licorice altogether. Thousands of patients also take cyclosporine for rheumatoid arthritis, certain skin conditions, and other diseases -- and it is worth noting that this same interaction may occur there as well.

Researchers have known for years that certain medications, foods, and herbs can reduce levels of cyclosporine in the body and should be avoided when taking that immunosuppressant drug. Problem compounds along with this drug include St. John’s wort, quercetin (an ingredient found in onions, as one example), ginger, and ginkgo. Other studies have shown that some substances, such as grapefruit juice, can actually boost cyclosporine levels, which is also something that should be watched carefully.

Now, it appears that licorice will join the growing list of substances with significant potential harm via drug interactions, at least when it comes to this particular drug, cyclosporine.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Health Benefits of Reducing Red Meat Consumption

According to a new research report, there are two types of meat consumption that are getting us into health-related trouble: red meat and processed meat. Those who eat more of these appear to have a modestly increased risk of death from all causes and also from cancer or heart disease over a 10-year period.

This new report has been published in the March 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. In contrast, a higher intake of white meat appeared to be associated with a slightly decreased risk for overall death and cancer death.

In what is a very large piece of biostatistics, Dr. Rashmi Sinha and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md., assessed the association between meat intake and risk of death among more than 500,000 individuals. All of them were part of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, which is ongoing. Participants were between 50 and 71 years old when the study began in 1995 and they provided demographic and food frequency information to estimate their intake of white, red and processed meats. They were then followed for 10 years.

Over the followup years, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died. Those men and women who ate the most red meat had a higher risk for overall death, as well as death from heart disease or death from cancer than the men and women who ate the least red meat.

The results for "white meat" were completely different; comparing the one-fifth of participants who ate the most white meat to the one-fifth who ate the least white meat, those with high white meat intake had a lower risk of death.

“For overall mortality, 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption," the authors wrote. The impact on cardiovascular disease mortality was an 11 percent decrease in men and a 21 percent decrease in women if the red meat consumption was decreased to the amount consumed by individuals in the first quintile. “For women eating processed meat at the first quintile level, the decrease in cardiovascular disease mortality was approximately 20 percent.”

There are several mechanisms by which meat may be associated with death, the authors note. Cancer-causing compounds are formed during high-temperature cooking of meat. Meat also is a major source of saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer. In addition, lower meat intake has been linked to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Because there are health benefits to eating some red and white (although not processed) meats, the consensus is not for a complete shift to vegan or vegetarian diets, according to Dr. Barry Popkin (UNC Chapel Hill) who added in an editorial that, “The need is for a major reduction in total meat intake, an even larger reduction in processed meat and other highly processed and salted animal source food products and a reduction in total saturated fat."

For the time being, the PDF (while available) of the original research article (quite a comprehensive piece) is linked to the headline of today's blog post. It may answer more of your questions.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Call to Shut Down America's Only Research Center for Alternative Medicine

I'm concerned, and you should be as well. We are now seeing calls to stop funding the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM). This center has been a part of the National Institutes of Health since it was funded in 1992, and today it is the only site where "official" U.S. research is being done on alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, herbal supplements, vitamins, mineral supplements, etc.

This is just another example of our need to take sides. In one corner you find allopathic medicine, and on the other, kooks. Can't we have a dialog about the many different therapies that seem to do some good for people, especially in painful, debilitating diseases where the available pharmaceutical medicines just don't do the job? It seems to me that having a national center for this discussion is a benefit to all.

Unfortunately, NCCAM has been most effective in running trials that disprove many of these theories about complementary medicines. You might remember the large and well-published Echinacea trial which was run using the wrong dosage of the herb and which then failed -- as of course it would. Even NCCAM has people running research studies who are just not knowledgeable about their subject matter.

Despite it's inherent problems, I think that some good can come out of keeping an open mind, and an NIH with a place to put ideas about alternatives is a better NIH. Click on the headline in today's blog post to link to a Washington Post article which describes the push to de-fund the NCCAM.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tart Cherries and Osteoarthritis Pain Relief

There's a cherry that appears to promise some relief for the estimated 27 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis. These patients have searched for pain relief from many quarters, and it is interesting that a new natural product may indeed offer pain-relief for this common and debilitating form of arthritis.

A 2007 pilot study at the Baylor Research Institute (Houston) showed that more than half of those in the trial experienced a significant improvement in pain and function after taking tart cherry for eight weeks. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is considered degenerative and typically affects the hands, feet, spine, and large weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Patients with osteoarthritis of the knees were enrolled in this pilot study to assess potential efficacy of supplements made from Montmorency tart cherries. The preparation is made up of ground whole cherries and is provided to trial participants as a soft gelatin capsule.

“The current treatment of osteoarthritis is largely focused on controlling pain through use of over-the-counter acetaminophen or prescription pain medications as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” explains John J. Cush, M.D., rheumatologist and principal investigator of the study. “These conventional medications are widely used, but have not been shown to alter the natural history of the disease. In some cases, overuse may contribute to significant gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, hematologic, renal and liver toxicity.”

That's why it is nice to see studies being conducted on a natural product for this problem; many people have had success with tart cherry long before this trial. Its surprising to me that every supplier of tart cherry has received warning letters from the FDA about their label claims. I would think that there is now enough evidence for tart cherry to allow some kind of supplement statement referring to pain relief in osteoarthritis.

Baylor Research Institute together with the Arthritis Care & Research Institute is currently enrolling patients in a second study, which will test cherry pills versus placebo in an eight week double blind study.


Surgical Complications Dramatically Higher for Smokers

Wouldn't you think that if you were going into the hospital to have surgery, and your doc asked you to stop smoking in advance of the operation (and for a few weeks afterwards) that you might at least consider that request?

It turns out that in a study of exactly this, the great percentage of smokers who were told about prospective complications to their surgery declined to stop smoking for the operation. Still, more than a third of patients who took part in this eight-week smoking cessation program before and after their planned surgery were able to give up and most of them were still smoke free after a year.

This study was published in the March 2009 issue of Anaesthesia. In the article, the lead author, Dr. Omid Sadr Azodi of the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm) describes how they also experienced half as many complications after surgery as the patients who did not receive help to give up smoking, with 21 percent experiencing problems as opposed to 41 percent. While doctors have long suspected that smokers have a greater risk for complications of any surgery, this is the first published trial I've seen that confirmed it.

It's also the first published trial I've seen which shows just how difficult it is to get those smokers to stop temporarily for their hospital visit. Patients declined to take part in the research because they were unwilling to give up smoking or were stressed by their forthcoming surgery.

“Smokers are prone to developing a number of complications after surgery, ranging from impaired wound and bone healing to life-threatening pulmonary and cardiovascular problems” says Dr Sadr Azodi. “This is why it is so important to find feasible, financially attractive and effective ways to help patients stop smoking before surgery."


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Low G.I. Meals Affect Appetite Reducing Hormone Production

It's been discovered that eating a meal with a low GI (glycemic index) increases gut hormone production, which leads in turn to suppression of appetite and the feeling of fullness. This new research was presented at the annual Society for Endocrinology meeting in the U.K.

Researchers from King’s College (London) studied the effects of a low versus high GI meal on levels of gut hormones. It has long been known that eating low GI foods seems to provide a feeling of fullness, but this is the first study to provide clues as to how it works -- there actually appears to be a physiological effect going on.

Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking assigned to carbs based upon their effect on the body’s blood sugar levels. It's already been shown that a low GI meal takes longer to digest and releases sugar into the bloodstream more slowly than a high GI meal. High GI foods include white bread, donuts and cornflakes, whereas multi-grain breads, soy milk and most fruit and vegetables are all classed as low GI foods.

Dr Reza Norouzy and colleagues at King’s College London looked at the effects of a single low GI meal and compared the gut hormone levels in twelve healthy volunteers with those who had eaten a single high GI meal. Blood samples were then taken every 30 minutes for 150 minutes, and levels of the gut hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and insulin were measured. This particular hormone, GLP-1, is produced by the gut and it has been shown to cause a feeling of fullness and suppression of appetite.

Volunteers who ate a low GI breakfast had 20% higher blood plasma levels of GLP-1 compared to those who had consumed a high GI breakfast. These results show for the first time that eating a low GI meal increases GLP-1 production. This means that there is indeed a physiological response to the feeling of fullness you get after eating low GI foods. Click on the headline of today's post if you want to see a chart of various foods and their Glycemic Index positioning.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dangerous Antibiotic Resistant Microbes - Now Spread by Flies

Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD) found evidence that houseflies collected near broiler poultry operations may contribute to the dispersion of drug-resistant bacteria and thus increase the potential for human exposure to drug-resistant bacteria. In fact, there is a great concern now about these resistant strains, and a lot can be learned about what not to do based on a study of the commercial poultry industry.

Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Center for a Livable Future (Johns Hopkins) believes that confined animal feeding operations—where thousands of birds are crowded together and fed antibiotics—create the perfect environment for new strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Although he didn't state it in the release from JHU, I believe that this same issue is seen in commercial production of hogs and other animals as well.

“Antimicrobials are among the most important developments of the twentieth century in managing infectious diseases in people. We can’t afford to squander them by using them as growth promoters in industrial food animal production. The increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should quickly phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production,” said Lawrence.

In the work done by Johns Hopkins, Graham and his colleagues collected flies and samples of poultry litter from poultry houses along the coastal region shared by Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, which has one of the highest densities of chickens per acre in the United States. The research team isolated antibiotic-resistant enterococci and staphylococci bacteria from both flies and litter. These flies, of course, have a large radius from where they are discovered, with lots of human interactions along the way.

“Flies are well-known vectors of disease and have been implicated in the spread of various viral and bacterial infections affecting humans, including enteric fever, cholera, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and shigellosis,” said lead author Jay Graham, PhD, who conducted the study as a research fellow at JHU. "Our study found similarities in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both the flies and poultry litter we sampled. The evidence is another example of the risks associated with the inadequate treatment of animal wastes.”


Monday, March 16, 2009

Frankincense Oil Shown as Possible Bladder Cancer Treatment

Over many centuries, Frankincense oil has been found to have medicinal benefits. Now, an enriched extract of the Somalian Frankincense herb (Boswellia carteri) has been shown to kill off bladder cancer cells growing in culure. Research presented in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine demonstrates that this herb has the potential to become an alternative therapy for bladder cancer.

Originating from Africa, India, and the Middle East, this herb has a variety of sub-species types, and the oil tested in this research study was that originating from B. carteri. There is quite a history of using Frankincense oil in Ayurvedic medicine as well.

Bladder cancer is twice as common in males as it is in females and it is the fourth most frequently diagnosed type of cancer (in the USA) in men, while in the UK it is the seventh most common cause of death amongst males.

Dr. H.K. Lin and his team, from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, set out to evaluate Frankincense oil for its anti-tumor activity in bladder cancer cells growing in culture. The authors investigated the effects of the oil in two different types of cells: human bladder cancer cells and normal bladder cells. What was most interesting was that the team found frankincense oil is able to discriminate between normal and cancerous bladder cells in culture where it specifically killed cancer cells.

Gene expression analyses were performed to determine how Frankincense oil affects bladder cancer cell survival. The team found that the oil suppresses cancer cell growth by arresting cell-cycle progression and induces bladder cancer cell death by activating multiple cell death (apoptosis) pathways. In other words, it tricks cancer cells into killing themselves.

“Frankincense oil may represent an inexpensive alternative therapy for patients currently suffering from bladder cancer,” said the author, Dr. Lin. Knowing that cells in culture do not always operate the same way in the body, I expect that there will need to be considerably more work before practitioners are using this alternative remedy or pharmaceutical companies are developing a chemical spin-off which they can patent.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Urban Dwellers Alert: Exhaust Fumes Cause Arterial Stiffness

Do you live in a big city or an area where you are sometimes forced to inhale car and truck exhaust? If so, you should strongly consider using a face mask, because exhaust causes arteries to lose their flexibility. Researchers writing in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology found that exposure to engine pollution resulted in arterial stiffness in a group of healthy volunteers.

Nicholas Mills from the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues investigated the cardiovascular damage that can be caused by inhaling diesel smoke in particular. “Acute exposure to diesel exhaust is associated with an immediate and transient increase in arterial stiffness. This may, in part, explain the increased risk for cardiovascular disease associated with air pollution exposure."

A group of 12 non-smoking young men were set up in this experiment to cycle on exercise bikes while breathing air that had either been filtered or contaminated with smoke from a diesel engine. Researchers found that when the subjects were exposed to the polluted air, the blood vessels in their wrists temporarily lost the ability to expand and contract. According to Mills, this can have serious consequences, “Stiff arteries can result in raised blood pressure and reduced blood flow in the heart. Arterial stiffness plays an important role in hypertension and is an independent predictor of mortality.”

There is, however, something that cyclists and pedestrians in smog shrouded cities can do to limit the vascular effects caused by diesel exhaust. It turns out that wearing a facemask reduces exposure to airborne pollution particles and leads to a reduction in blood pressure and improved heart rate during exercise in an urban environment.

With regards to which type of facemask to use, Dr. Jeremy Langrish from the University of Edinburgh said, “We tested a range of facemasks that differed widely in their efficiency as particle filters. In general, those masks designed to reduce occupational exposure to dusts in the workplace were more efficient than those marketed to cyclists and pedestrians.”


Thursday, March 12, 2009

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

I enjoyed this short video, an excerpt from an upcoming PBS special about the profession of Naturopathic doctors, and how they fit into today's healthcare picture.

It is worth watching if you've seen references to these doc's but never understood exactly what they do,

Naturopathic Doctors


Fermented Asian Food Shown to Have Possible Protective Effect in Alzheimer's

People in Asia have been eating fermented foods for more than 1,000 years. One vegan fermented food, renowned in Asia for its ability to protect against heart attacks, was recently shown to have a powerful ability in lab experiments to prevent formation of the clumps of tangled protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease. if this works as well in the human brain as scientists expect, it will be a great addition to the tables of anyone who is concerned about this terrible disease.

Of course, every culture has a different view of what tastes good, and as I have not yet had a chance to try this food, I'll have to report back to you on what this product tastes like. If you've eaten natto, please post a comment below advising us about the taste and consistency.

Scientists in Taiwan are reporting in the Feb. 11 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication from the American Chemical Society, that "natto", a food made from fermented soybeans, has a very powerful effect in the lab.

Rita P. Y. Chen and colleagues point out that this food is made from boiled soybeans, and that it contains an enzyme (nattokinase) with effects similar to the clot-busting drugs used in treating heart disease. Nattokinase is also sold a dietary supplement to improve the body’s circulatory system. This appears to be the first study on whether nattokinase also can dissolve amyloids, those tangled proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease and several other health problems.

In the study, the nattokinase degraded several kinds of amyloid fibrils, suggesting its possible use in the treatment of amyloid-related diseases. And because natto has been ingested by humans for a long time, it is worth noting that the normal safety-testing concerns for new therapies may not have to be quite as rigorous.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Herbal Products "Standardization": Boon or a Bust?

Recently I wrote one of the large herbal extract producers and asked them to be more conscientious about the parallels they draw between their products and published research on other companies' products. I received a somewhat nasty reply from their Medical Director, and I think that it shows how the dietary supplement industry dumbs itself down in order to produce what they consider to be "standardized" products. The short version is that this doctor claims that everybody does it, and therefore it is OK by her.

Let's take one particular plant as a case in point, the beautiful little Arctic bush called Rhodiola rosea. This company produces a Rhodiola extract which is sold in a black tar-like liquid form inside a capsule. There are about fifty brands of Rhodiola on the market, and this company is probably in the top ten. Now, as a guy who has sampled every single one of them, I can tell you that I do NOT get that "Rhodiola feeling" when I take their capsules. So, when I saw that they were using another company's clinical trials to back up their claims, I investigated further.

I found that the company with all the clinical trial data standardizes their formula to the actual ingredients ratio in the plant. This differs -- significantly -- from the "standardization" that the firm I wrote uses, in which only one of the plant's biochemicals is identified, where it is labeled "Rosavins at 3%" on the bottle. Other companies use a 3% Rosavins/1% Salidrosides figure, which is similar. What makes this company unique is that they use the published literature of other companies to promote their benefits, when those other products are not "standardized" in the same way.

So, to use an analogy, if you were going to the store to buy a 12-Pack of Budweiser, you'd be pretty sure of what you are getting in the box. You'd be getting what God and man determined should be in a twelve pack of beer. On the other hand, how would you feel if you were to go out to buy an extract of a plant that had twelve phytochemicals in it, and yet when you brought it home and tried it, you got different results than you expected? Back to the beer analogy, when you looked inside, there were only one or two bottles of beer in that 12-pack!

Do you think it is right for a company to highlight the clinical trials of another when the two products are not identical? There's nothing wrong with making comparisons when the published literature describes a product with a similar standardization. But when X product does not in any way resemble product Y, it's just not right to promote X as having the capabilities of Y.

Industry standardization, if done like this one, is like "standardizing" our education in the USA so that every child comes out with a 3rd grade education. Who needs it!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just Returned from the Healthy Products "Expo West" Trade Show

My partner and I have just returned from the Expo West meeting in Anaheim, one of the most amazing trade shows that I've ever attended. It was a jam-packed three days filled with new experiences in healthy supplements and just about every kind of food and drink that you can possibly imagine.

Imagine an area the size of four or five football fields filled with exhibitors showing off their wares from every supplement company in the world, and in the same space, all the healthy "organic" food products that you'd find in a Whole Foods Market or similar. It was quite an experience.

One thing that I noticed is that most companies sell "me too" products, to the point where one can get totally burned out on a category. For example, there were more liquid supplements at this event than I've ever seen before, and I have the feeling that the "superfruit" phenomenon has reached its peak. How many $30 bottles of fancy berry juice can companies really market successfully? I'd say that we've reached the top of the market for these liquid supplements (especially those marketed by multi-level marketing companies).

There were fewer new energy drinks in the small can developed first by Red Bull; my guess is that we are at the top of the market there as well. Many new energy products were being introduced in either fizzy tablets or in single serving powder pouches that you rip open and throw into a bottle of water. I counted over 70 varieties of those single serve packs that I hadn't seen before.

There were far fewer food and energy bars at this meeting than in previous years, even though my bag of swag from this show beats anything I've ever hauled home after a meeting. Two excellent products that we came back with were the Lifeway Kefir bars (probiotic enhanced bars-- they taste better than a Hershey's and are actually healthy) and Glenny's Brown Rice Marshmallow Snack Bar, which I personally can't get enough of. The single most impressive item was a small fruit jelly called "Berry Bites," from Artemis International, which offers a full serving's worth of Fruit and Vegetables antioxidants in three tiny (and oh, so delicious) berry flavored gummy bites.

I'll let you know of more WHAM's that I uncover from Expo West.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Second Hand Smoke and Alcohol

According to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, there is a lot more danger involved in exposure to alcohol and second-hand smoke than originally thought. In fact, the combination significantly raises the risk of liver disease.

This finding, which adds to a stack of mounting evidence, shows that tobacco smoke and alcohol are worse as a combination, beyond their individual exposure risks. Dr. Shannon Bailey, an associate professor in the UAB Department of Environmental Health Sciences, was a co-lead author on this study, published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

“This new data is a significant finding considering the combined effect of alcohol and cigarette smoke exposures, and the implications for public health,” Bailey said. While the study was done in mice, it mimics the problem experienced by those who sit in smoky bars and consume alcohol.

This report described results with mice who were exposed to smoky air in a laboratory enclosure and then fed a liquid diet containing alcohol. These animals had 110 percent more liver fibrosis proteins than mice who breathed filtered air. Additionally, the twice-exposed mice had 65 percent more liver fibrosis proteins than mice who breathed smoky air but did not drink ethanol. (Fibrosis is scar-like tissue in the liver that can lead to cirrhosis).

Second-hand smoke kills 53,000 nonsmoking Americans every year and is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, low birth weight and chronic lung ailments, according to the American Cancer Society. Excessive alcohol consumption is ranked as the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study highlights the need to further probe negative biological impacts from multiple risky behaviors. It appears that our bad habits are -- when they gang up on us -- far more deadly than when we experience them one at a time.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Link Found Between Vitamin D Deficiency and MS

Canadians are getting very worried about the high levels of multiple sclerosis (MS) in their country. With an estimated 55,000 to 75,000 people affected by the disease, Canada has one of the highest MS rates in the world. More than 2.5 million people worldwide are thought to suffer from the condition.

Sheryl Ubelacker, reporter for The Canadian Press, writes on February 5th of this year about a study by a team of Canadian and British researchers that suggests that too little of the "sunlight vitamin" in a mother during pregnancy and a child's early years may boost the risk of that child developing MS later in life. This is just one more piece of evidence of how critically important that Vitamin D is for human health.

The researchers in Ubelacker's story found that vitamin D activates proteins that lock onto a segment of DNA next to a certain gene (called DRB1-1501) which has been implicated in the development of MS. These proteins regulate what the gene does, in effect switching it on. If there is a lack of vitamin D in the body, the gene may not function properly.

"We have known for a long time that genes and environment determine MS risk," said Dr. George Ebers, a neurologist at Oxford University in England. "Here we show that the main environmental risk candidate - vitamin D - and the main gene region are directly linked and interact."

MS, a degenerative neurological condition that causes the destruction of the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, is most common in people living in northern regions with low annual average sunlight levels.