Monday, September 28, 2009

Deceptive Practices in the Yogurt Business?

A recent class action lawsuit against Dannon resulted in a $35 million out of court settlement, which as you know, means that a lot of consumers will get a 50 cent discount on yogurt while the attorneys take home millions in legal fees. But, at least it taught this manufacturer a lesson that it cannot tout health benefits that are not there.

It has been announced that the same firm which succeeded with Dannon is now going after General Mills, which is being sued over probiotic claims once again (like Dannon) for its products in the Yo-Plus lineup. The action was brought to a Florida court and it claims that General Mills has made misleading and completely unsubstantiated gut health claims.

The lawsuit claims that the General Mills’ statements were “immoral, unethical, unscrupulous and substantially injurious to consumers”, and in breach of both its contract with consumers and its warranties. Wow, that's a fairly broad argument, especially throwing in morality and all. The claims in question suggest Yo-Plus could regulate digestive health benefits that other similar products could not.

General Mills told an industry reporter that it would not comment on ongoing litigation. Yo-Plus contains the Bifidobacterium lactis strain BB12 and is one of the best-selling probiotic products in the US, behind Dannon’s spoonable yougurt, Activia, and drinkable one-shot yogurt, DanAactive (the subjects of the earlier lawsuit). The lawyers state that not only do studies conducted by General Mills fail to support their claims, some of them, “flatly contradict” them.

I hate class action lawsuits. But I guess my opinion is that if there is no other way to clean up faulty claims, than a large penalty should make most companies pay attention. I just wish that someone would benefit other than the attorneys, or that they would give a significant portion of their earnings back to some non-profit in the natural products industry.

Let's face it -- you can't get a significant dose of probiotics from a yogurt. It just ain't there. You need BILLIONS of colony forming bacteria, and there isn't a yogurt manufacturer today putting that quantity of this expensive ingredient into a yogurt. If you want to try a great tasting product with 20 Billion CFU's per serving, try somethlng like Good Belly, the wonderful little fruit drink in a shot-glass sized container. (We have no affiliation - that's a personal recommendation only).


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Study Shows Probiotics Easing Anxiety

In a study done earlier this year, one of those "good bacteria," Lactobacillus casei (strain Shirota) has been shown to ease symptoms of anxiety in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It seems that two months of supplementation with the bacterial strain was associated with a decrease in anxiety symptoms, according to findings published in the journal Gut Pathogens.

University of Toronto researchers recruited 39 chronic fatigue patients and randomly assigned them to receive daily supplements of either Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota or placebo for two months. The probiotic used was a relatively strong one, with 24 billion colony forming units per dose.

At the end of the study, the researchers reported significant increases in the faecal levels of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in people receiving the bacterial strain, compared to placebo. A significant reduction in the symptoms of anxiety was recorded in the Lactobacillus group.

“These results lend further support to the presence of a gut-brain interface, one that may be mediated by microbes that reside or pass through the intestinal tract,” wrote the authors, led by Dr. Venket Rao from the University of Toronto.

The researchers admitted the research was preliminary and raises many questions regarding the mechanism of action. “The results of the present study should be viewed simply as a stimulus for further research,” they added.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Can CoEnzyme Q-10 Slow Progression of Parkinson's Disease?

A large scale, multi-center clinical trial is underway on one of the supplement industry's hottest sellers -- the product CoEnzyme Q-10. Rush University Medical Center is participating in this trial taking place in the U.S. and Canada to determine whether this vitamin-like substance, in high doses, can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects about one million people in the United States.

“The very best therapies we have for Parkinson’s can only mask the symptoms – they do not alter the underlying disease,” said neurologist Dr. Katie Kompoliti, a specialist in movement disorders at Rush. “Finding a treatment that can slow the degenerative course of Parkinsons’s is the holy grail of Parkinson’s research.”

Coenzyme Q10 is produced naturally in the body and is an important link in the chain of chemical reactions that produce energy in mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of cells. The enzyme is also a potent antioxidant – a chemical that "mops up" potentially harmful chemicals generated during normal metabolism.

In the Phase III trial, the highest dose of 1,200 mg. appears promising. Over the course of 16 months, patients taking this dose experienced significantly less decline than other patients in motor (movement) function and ability to carry out activities of daily living, such as feeding or dressing themselves.

But researchers cited the need for a more extensive review to confirm the results. In the present trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological and Disorders and Stroke, 600 patients will be enrolled at 60 centers in the U.S. and Canada. Two dosages of coenzyme Q10 are being tested,1,200 mg and 2,400 mg, delivered in maple nut-flavored chewable wafers that also contain vitamin E.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Cocoa Benefits the Cardiovascular System

I enjoy reading "HerbClip," a summary of recent news about plant-based health benefits. The newsletter is published by the American Botanical Council, an important organization in the USA (and one that is very active globally as well). Plants have few champions -- I'd say that the ABC is one of the most important voices. (Click on the headline of this post to visit the homepage of non-profit ABC).

Herbclip recently described many of the findings on this plant, one that has been shown to have a great benefit to the cardiovascular system. An interesting piece of research was published earlier this year in the journal Circulation.

In the piece from Circulation, the authors describe a bit of history for cocoa. Cocoa consumption dates back to 1600 BCE and was introduced from the New World to the Europeans in the 16th century. Cocoa is processed in many different ways, and of course the major processing method led to the development of chocolate. Purported health benefits of cocoa consumption include improvements in heart function, digestion, and kidney and bowel function. However, in a discussion of cocoa's health benefits, It is very important to distinguish between the natural product cocoa and the processed product chocolate, because the fat and sugar content of chocolate really does nothing healthy. The authors note in their research article that the effects of cocoa may not apply to chocolate.

The Kuna Indians, a tribe indigenous to islands off the coast of Panama, was the first population to show health benefits from cocoa consumption. The Kunas consume what is considered to be huge amounts of cocoa and yet they have "markedly lower" cardiovascular mortality than other Pan-American citizens and no age-dependent increase in blood pressure or decline in kidney function. This by itself is a strong pointer to what could be gained by more cocoa consumption.

The authors point out that this mechanism is environmental and not genetic, because these cocoa benefits are lost after migration to urban Panama City where cocoa is replaced with lower flavanol content foods. A number of other cited studies shows that the health benefits of cocoa may be linked to its constituent flavonoids (e.g., flavanols and procyanidins)—a subgroup of polyphenols. Both the flavanol content and the total antioxidant capacity have been shown to increase plasma after cocoa consumption.

These same biocompounds (flavanols) can be found in high concentrations in grape juice, wine, and various berries. In cocoa, conventional chocolate processing can markedly reduce the levels of flavanols. Detrimental effects to the healthy content include roasting or fermenting the beans. In addition, the location where the cacao beans are grown also determines the flavanol content.

Research has shown that cocoa consumption affects nitric oxide levels in a positive way, increasing its production in humans. Cocoa flavanols have also been shown to improve circulation to the brain in elderly subjects, suggesting protection against dementia and stroke. A number of studies also appear to correlate cocoa consumption with lowered blood pressure, with some evidence for reduced insulin resistance. It has also displayed antioxidant properties, increasing overall antioxidant capacity and decreasing several markers of oxidation. Even cocoa butter, which is the fat portion of cocoa, appears to not affect cholesterol negatively as most fats would.

What a plant! If only chocolate brought with it all of the health benefits of cocoa.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Supplement Marketing Going Over the Top

I've been a supplement user for two decades. I've never seen anything like the wacky marketing of some supplements today -- I believe that companies selling this way are going to completely screw up their own industry. If firms don't stop with the exaggerated claims and the heavy-handed push that they use to market their products, they'll find themselves regulated to death.

It's not just sleaze operators in the berry business, those who use the names of unwitting personalities like Oprah, Dr. Oz and Britney Spears to sell their cheazy supplements. Even DOCTORS are going over the top now. I just got an email from Dr. Marcus Laux for a new product he sells, which looked interesting to me. I am a customer of his already.

So I clicked on the "more information" button to get more details, and I was directed to one of those long, never ending scrolling web pages with gobs and gobs of detail and claims about this product. Unfortunately, there was not a single picture on that page of the back of the bottle showing a clear description of what is in the product. In other words, a SUPPLEMENT PANEL, which is the first thing that a savvy consumer is going to look at on a supplement product. It was nowhere to be found.

When I called the company's 800#, the salesperson told me she didn't know what a supplement panel is. I asked her to read off the ingredients, and instead, she starts to read off the long list of claims. No way I could get her to even answer my question of WHAT IS IN IT???

There are rules in place right now that should work to prohibit this kind of behavior. For some reason, they don't. I don't want more rules. My fear is that the sleaze element in supplement marketing is going to spoil the industry for everyone.

As a consumer of supplements, PLEASE stick to products you know are sold by quality marketing. Do not fall prey to companies that make wild claims and then don't stick to the rules, or that avoid showing you what's in the product. Steer clear of buying products that show up on pop-up boxes on the Internet, and those sold by multi-level marketers, at least from those who exaggerate claims. Let's clean up the business ourselves, as consumers, by buying smart.


Monday, September 14, 2009

My Problems with Trader Joe's

I'm feeling very bad right now about one of my favorite companies in the world, Trader Joe's. For anyone who lives near a Trader Joe's store, you know the feeling of a visit to TJ's. It's like going to see old friends. Great products, friendly staff, reasonable prices, and I always thought that it was heads and shoulders above the big natural food chains.

That is, until my doctor reminded me to avoid foods that are high in sodium.

Trader Joe's makes its fortunes based upon the impression that anything you buy in the store is going to be natural, organic and healthy. Well, my friends I've got to tell you that this isn't necessarily true, and it breaks my heart. I live in a small town in Northern Arizona, and I have frequently arranged "Trader Joe trips" to the city, two hours each direction to Phoenix, just to pick up groceries for our family and often others as well.

Those came to a screaming halt when I started to look at the sodium content of the Trader Joe's brand foods. I'd suggest that you do the same. Even if you are a diehard Trader Joe's fan, as I have been, it's time to consider giving your local store some feedback about how displeased you are with their level of sodium. Take a look at those wonderful salads and wraps, for example. I would buy these delicious fresh treats and tuck them away for a quick and "healthy" lunch. Then, I started looking more closely.

Trader Joe's plays the same tricks that other companies do with sodium, except they play them even better. A sandwich or wrap that shows 400 mg. of sodium (high, but do-able if you are hungry) ends up being eaten before you notice that this tiny little wrap was TWO PORTIONS, and you actually just consumed 800 mg of sodium! A small tray of "Arabian Joe's" Middle Eastern treats that could be downed in five minutes by one adult ends up being two or three servings, each with nearly 1000 mg of sodium in it.

Crackers, frozen foods, deli items . . . they are all the same at Trader Joe's. As full as you can get of sodium, with no effort to provide a healthy sodium level ANYWHERE in the store.

Readers, it's time to let Trader Joe's know (or any other local store you have which plays the same portions-trickery that these guys do) that we aren't going to take it anymore. Today, I visited a new competitor, a place called Fresh 'n Easy, that seems to offer an alternative. While they aren't ideal, I found a lot of lower-sodium choices.

Let's get the word out.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Traffic Noise Adds to High Blood Pressure

Do you ever have a feeling that you are gritting your teeth together or tensing up when you are subjected to a constantly noisy environment? I know that I do. Recently I sat in a hotel room writing an article and it was right next to the freeway. Soon, I had a jaw ache and I didn't even realize where it had come from.

Now I do. That's because it's been proven that traffic noise raises blood pressure. And when blood pressure is up, you know that other parts of your body are being stressed at the same time.

Researchers writing in the journal Environmental Health have found that people exposed to high levels of noise from nearby roads are more likely to report suffering from hypertension.

Researchers from Lund University Hospital, Sweden, investigated the association between living close to noisy roads and having raised blood pressure. The main author said, “Road traffic is the most important source of community noise. Non-auditory physical health effects that are biologically plausible in relation to noise exposure include changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones. We found that exposure above 60 decibels was associated with high blood pressure among the relatively young and middle-aged, an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke”.

Modest exposure effects were generally noted in all age groups at average road noise levels below 60 dB(A). More marked effects were seen at higher exposure levels primarily among relatively young and middle-aged people.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vitamin C Now Proven to Protect Skin Cells

Recently, scientists at the University of Leicester and Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology in Portugal studied new protective properties of vitamin C in cells from the human skin, which could lead to better skin regeneration.

Some manufacturers have included Vitamin C in skin preparations for years. But it wasn't until recently that science has actually shown a significant benefit for this vitamin when applied topically.

The work found that a form of Vitamin C helped to promote wound healing and also helped protect the DNA damage of skin cells. Their findings have been published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, the same journal that recently featured the news about Rhodiola protecting human cells from ultraviolet radiation (reported on here). This is the latest in a long line of publications from these researchers (University of Leicester) concerning vitamin C.

Tiago Duarte, formerly of the University of Leicester, and now at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology in Portugal, said: “The exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation increases in summer, often resulting in a higher incidence of skin lesions. Ultraviolet radiation is also a genotoxic agent responsible for skin cancer . . . Our study analyzed the effect of sustained exposure to a vitamin C derivative (ascorbic acid 2-phosphate) in human dermal fibroblasts. We investigated which genes are activated by vitamin C in these cells, which are responsible for skin regeneration. The results demonstrated that vitamin C may improve wound healing. . . and also protect the skin by increasing the capacity of fibroblasts to repair potentially mutagenic DNA lesions.”

Dr Marcus S. Cooke from the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine and Department of Genetics, at the University of Leicester, added: “The study indicates a mechanism by which vitamin C could contribute to the maintenance of a healthy skin by promoting wound healing and by protecting cellular DNA against damage caused by oxidation."

The study has the potential to lead to advances in the prevention and treatment of skin lesions specifically, as well as contributing to the fight against cancer.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Research on Rhodiola rosea - the Cold Weather Herb that Reduces Stress

A new piece of research on the arctic-grown Rhodiola rosea root has just been published in the Elsevier publication Free Radical Biology & Medicine ( 2009 Sep 1;47(5):577-84), done by the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California at Irvine. It is quite interesting work because it has been shown that there is protection developed for human cells cultured in the laboratory against oxidative stress -- this comes with strong anti-aging possibilities.

Generally, when an herb or nutrient acts on cells this way, it is through activation of antioxidant defenses. In this case, however, there was no such activation. Instead, the herb enhances oxidative stress protection to the human cells via another method, not determined in this research and still considered somewhat of a mystery. More work is ongoing in this laboratory.

The authors state that Rhodiola rosea root has been long used in traditional medical systems in Europe and Asia as an adaptogen to increase an organism's resistance to physical stress. Recent research has demonstrated its ability to improve mental and physical stamina, to improve mood, and to help alleviate high-altitude sickness. On the "mood uplift" front, many holistic psychiatrists now recommend Rhodiola much more frequently than St. Johns Wort to their patients to support mild-to-moderate depression, primarily because of mixed reviews and drug interactions with SJW. Rhodiola does not appear to have any of these drug interactions. (It is noted that Rhodiola is not to be used by the biopolar).

Previously this same laboratory at UCI found that R. rosea extends the life span of the fruit fly. In this new research, scientists found that R. rosea supplementation could protect cultured cells against ultraviolet light and even the toxin paraquat. These results suggest that more research is needed in order to determine the method of action of this mysterious herb, used for nearly 1,000 years, and to better understand its protection against oxidative stress and what could prove to be a significant anti-aging benefit to humans.


PS - Readers, my biosketch to the right makes it perfectly clear that I have an involvement in a business that produces world class Rhodiola rosea. My passion and enthusiasm for this plant goes back many years. ProActive BioProducts sells what is the purest (and most potent) form of Rhodiola. Click on the headline of this article to see that product from Verde Botanica brand . . . "Mind Body & Spirit".

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Low-Carb DIets and Possible Damage to Vascular System

There are some health concerns creeping into the previously good news about low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets. Researchers have discovered that atherosclerosis is a problem. While these diets have proven successful at helping individuals rapidly lose weight, little is known about the diets’ long-term effects on vascular health.

Now, a study led by a scientific team at Beth Israel Deaconess provides some of the first data on this subject, demonstrating that mice placed on a 12-week low carbohydrate/high-protein diet showed a significant increase in atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries (and an issue that remains a leading cause of heart attack and stroke). The findings also showed that the diet led to an impaired ability to form new blood vessels in tissues deprived of blood flow, as might occur during a heart attack.

This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s very difficult to know in clinical studies how diets affect vascular health,” says senior author Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, Director of Cardiovascular Research in BIDMC’s CardioVascular Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We, therefore, tend to rely on easily measured serum markers [such as cholesterol], which have been surprisingly reassuring in individuals on low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets, who do typically lose weight. But our research suggests that, at least in animals, these diets could be having adverse cardiovascular effects that are not reflected in simple serum markers.”

Rosenzweig and his coauthors found that the increase in plaque build-up in the blood vessels and the impaired ability to form new vessels were associated with a reduction in vascular progenitor cells, which some hypothesize could play a protective role in maintaining vascular health.

If you are like me, you know plenty of people who are on these low-carb, high-protein diets and who are losing weight. What they may not be clear on is their possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease.