Thursday, April 30, 2009

Folate's Role in Regulating Inflammation & Allergies

Our customers have long gotten the value of folic acid (also known as folate), B6, and B12 for reducing homocysteine levels and protecting heart health, as our B-Trio Chewable formula is a consistent top seller.

It was interesting to read this morning that Johns Hopkins Children's Center researchers tracked the effect of folate levels on respiratory and allergic symptoms and on levels of IgE antibodies, immune system markers that rise in response to an allergen.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins believe their research supports growing evidence that folate regulates inflammation in the body. They found that people with higher blood levels of folate had fewer IgE antibodies, fewer reported allergies, less wheezing, and lower likelihood of asthma. They also found that:

  • People with the lowest folate levels (below 8 nanograms per milliliter) had 40 percent higher risk of wheezing than people with the highest folate levels (above 18 ng/ml).
  • People with the lowest folate levels had a 30 percent higher risk than those with the highest folate levels of having elevated IgE antibodies, markers of allergy predisposition.
  • Those with the lowest folate levels had 31 percent higher risk of atopy (allergic symptoms) than people with the highest folate levels.
  • Those with lowest folate levels had 16 percent higher risk of having asthma than people with the highest folate levels.
There's pollen in the air and more to come as climates keep warming up. For those of you with allergies who want to start taking supplemental folate, it's important to know that high intake of folic acid can mask vitamin B12 deficiencies, thus you'll want to consider the value of taking these two water-soluble vitamins together.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu & Immune System Protection

It's not difficult to recognize that familiar New Jersey accented voice that greeted me at the other end of the line this morning.

I was interviewing Mike Ciell, a registered pharmacist, who prefers to go by "clinical biochemist" and has the formal title of "Chief Science Officer"at his new company, Ideal Protein of America. In an upcoming newsletter, we'll be featuring my interview, which focuses primarily on how Mike's diet program helps people achieve healthy insulin levels, lose weight, and gain muscle mass. I won't spill the proverbial beans before the interview goes live but there is one thing I've been reflecting on since Mike and I talked.

When asked about the current swine flu, Mike noted that everyone is looking for a silver bullet but the real silver bullet is a healthy immune system. He said, "There is no man-made defense more sophisticated than the immune system."

Mike went on to talk about the standard American diet as being "crummy for the immune system" by creating too much insulin, too much sugar that binds to proteins, making the glommed proteins targets for unnecessary immune system responses. Alas, too many pro-inflammatory signals create a cascade of "friendly fire" and damage to tissues, organs, and cellular function.

When truly pathogenic organisms show up, the immune system is already overextended. Hence the importance of ditching the sugar (and that means carbs, as morning bagels or hashbrowns, sushi rice, orange juice, apples, beer and wine, and other carbohydrates convert directly into sugar).

It's valuable to remember a few statistics about pandemic influenza viruses (infectious diseases that spread widely across populations):
  • The Spanish flu of 1918-1919 killed up to 5% of the entire human population, while one in five people around the world were infected with the virus.
  • Almost 700,000 people died in the United States; some 17 million are believed to have died in India; while up to 100 million died worldwide.
  • The Spanish flu was identified as an H1N1 virus as has the current swine flu virus.
  • The Spanish flu was so virulent because it overstimulated the immune system (causing a "cytokine storm" and consequent damage to organs and tissues in the lungs).
Personally, I'm not so much of an alarmist. As a writer, I am simply addressing a topic that is in the news and that has already created a whole lot of anxiety.

Here's the bottom line. You can tune up you immune system. Harmful inflammatory cascades can be controlled by reducing your sugar intake (and reducing exposure to any allergens, which can trigger autoimmune responses and thus weaken your system in the face of pathogens).

Antioxidants help out further by scavenging free radicals, those highly reactive entities that wreak havoc by stealing electrons. My subscribers tend to know a whole lot about antioxidants, as many of our top products are antioxidants (Heart Plus, Green Tea Extract, Coenzyme Q-10, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Constant Health, Immune Health, and so forth).

A commonly overlooked member of the immune system is the lymph system, which essentially "takes out the trash," filtering lymph fluid of bacteria, cancer cells, and antigens of all kinds (real and imagined). Lymph fluid also transports white blood cells (lymphocytes) to help fight infection (think: swollen lymph nodes) and macrophages in the lymph nodes themselves devour foreign particles.

Exercise, jumping around, even flailing around, anything that gets lymph fluids moving helps your immune system function more effectively. Stalled lymphatic fluids are like fetid swamps in nature (just say eeew!).

It's spring. Throw out the excuses for not moving and help ward off infection by ditching refined sugar, adding supplemental antioxidants, and moving a whole lot more to get your lymph system in gear.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lycopene Gets Plug for Combating Metabolic Syndrome

It's that time of year when lycopene's rosey blush should indeed get prime time attention. I just wrote about grapefruit juice and lycopene and drug efficacy.

As a refresher, lycopene helps the body (along with plants and algae) to synthesize other carotenoids, including beta carotene. Lycopene gets transported around the body by lipoproteins and accumulates in the liver, adrenal glands, and testes.

Many people don't know that lycopene is fat-soluble and is not water soluble. For supplements, this means that it takes solvents and oil to dissolve lycopene (and, as I've said before, lycopene is unstable in formulation, so best to get lycopene from dietary sources).

Back to carotenoids in the news for helping combat metabolic syndrome. Dutch scientists reported in the Journal of Nutrition that middle-aged and elderly men with the highest average intake of carotenoids overall had a 58% lower incidence of metabolic syndrome, while the highest intake of lycopene was associated with a 45% lower incidence of metabolic syndrome.

The findings were based on data from a population-based, cross-sectional study involving 374 men aged between 40 and 80, 22 per cent of whom had metabolic syndrome. Intakes of the carotenoids, including alpha- and beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, were assessed using a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ).

In the Dutch study, lycopene and beta carotene trumped other carotenoids in combatting metabolic syndrome, which translates into smaller waistlines and fat mass along with lower levels of triglycerides in the blood stream of folks ingesting these carotenoids.

Remember, spring and summer are ideal times to boost your own levels of disease-fighting carotenoids, especially lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink guava, red bell pepper, and even some green leafy vegetables. However, as a fat-soluble nutrient, lycopene is more bioavailable after cooking tomatoes and when served in oil-rich tomato sauces than in raw veggies (a bonus for those of you who prefer cooked over raw foods).

Saliva Test for Detecting Diabetes

I never have liked needles. My mom says I had one broken off in my arm when I was a kid (either I was a little high strung at the doctor's office or they were totally incompetent). I don't remember the experience but I've never liked needles.

Come to think of it, my dad was a real baby when it came to having blood drawn and my mom follows suit when it comes to needles, so I guess it runs in our family.

Anyway, when I saw that there's a new saliva test for assessing pre-diabetes and diabetes, well, I thought everyone should know about it. The research will be shared at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists 18th annual meeting in Houston, Texas on May 15th. The AACE folks are also going to be looking at the "wide-ranging impact of vitamin D on the human body."

Kudos on both fronts: a needle-less test for detecting diabetes and publicity for all the compelling research of late on vitamin D.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Curcumin & Weight Loss

A common curry spice -- known as "turmeric" as well as "curcumin" and part of the ginger family -- has been found to help mice on a high fat diet remain svelte as well as keep their cholesterol down.

Curcumin is known for its anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant value, and now it is being heralded for reducing angiogenesis (i.e., the blood vessel formation required to create new fatty tissues) as well as lowering cholesterol. Gotta love this bright orange spice, used in Ayurvedic medicine for 1000 years, for all the good press it keeps getting!

Folks who take our Arthro 3 product--which has 300mg each of curcumin, boswellia, and MSM--are devoted enough that when prices for curcumin rose substantially for a period of time (based on all the promising research on this botanical), the clamor was loud to bring Arthro 3 back ASAP! The anti-inflammatory value of this product seems to be quite strong indeed.

While I haven't heard anyone taking Arthro 3 bragging about inexplicable weight loss, I have heard tales of weight loss from taking Constant Health, which does have 250mg of turmeric (curcumin) in every scoop, along with 15g of protein and 5g of fiber, some better-known allies of healthy blood sugar levels and thus weight management.

One of my dear friends, Lynda St. Dennis, is a big fan of our Constant Health, drinking a shake every morning. Lynda finds that her mid-morning cravings disappear and that she can easily go until lunch with no more than a Constant Health shake for breakfast (she drinks it plain, no rice or soy milk, in just water, by the way).

The mouse studies on the relationship between curcumin and weight management have not yet been duplicated in humans; however, with weight loss being the biggest category in both foods and dietary supplements, you can count on more studies getting funded to explore this relationship. Meanwhile, my readers can "weigh in!" :-)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Grapefruit Juice, Lycopene, Drug Efficacy, etc.

I love ruby red grapefruit, in the morning and in the evening too. It seems Whole Foods has not been able to buy a sour grapefruit this season, and so I keep buying them a half dozen at a time.

As with all citrus, grapefruit boasts a good amount of vitamin C. Pink or "red" grapefruit also offers lycopene, perhaps the most powerful cancer-fighting dietary carotenoid, with the greatest capacity to scavenge cell-damaging oxygen free radicals.

Lycopene, importantly, is stored in the testes, prostate, and adrenal glands. According to a University of Toronto study:

"Although, the antioxidant properties of lycopene are thought to be primarily responsible for its beneficial properties, evidence is accumulating to suggest other mechanisms such as intercellular gap junction communication, hormonal and immune system modulation and metabolic pathways may also be involved."

Our Health Co-op used to offer lycopene in a softgel form, but the more we studied lycopene and tested the raw materials, the more we realized that lycopene is a delicate, finicky substance that is not so stable or useful when taken in supplemental form. It's far better to ingest lots of reddish-pigmented fruits, like watermelon, cooked tomatoes, apricots, papayas, etc. and get stable lycopene with the sundry phytonutrients that Mother Nature blended in to perfection.

Meanwhile, while scanning the news releases this morning, I noticed a piece on grapefruit juice and how it boosts the efficacy of drugs (by interfering with enzymes that break drugs down), as much as three to five times, enabling patients to take lower doses of pharmaceuticals.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center combined a mere 8 ounces of grapefruit juice with the drug rapamycin (an anti-cancer drug used to treat advanced solid tumors) and found that many patients experienced reduced tumor growth.

Alas, patients also experienced side effects that included elevated blood sugar levels, diarrhea, low white blood cell counts, and fatigue.

My take? Grapefruit juice, raw grapefruits, lycopene, all good. Grapefruit juice combined with drugs? Yep, genuinely valuable for folks who are not interested in a lifestyle overhaul.

However, the best approach, in my humble opinion? The dietary and lifestyle programs that authors like Patrick Quillin and Bill Henderson promote to intervene at the cellular roots of cancer.

If you follow Quillin's or Henderson's work, please leave a comment with your experiences for my readers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Botanical "Nigella Sativa" Fights Pancreatic Cancer & More

Hot off the press, a Middle Eastern botanical, Nigella sativa, sometimes called black cumin oil, has been shown to inhibit the development of pancreatic cancer cells. The active ingredient, thymoquinone, offered anti-inflammatory benefits that stopped pancreatic cancer cells from releasing inflammatory mediators.

In a recent study conducted by Dr. Hwyda Arafat, an associate professor of Surgery at the Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, 67 percent of pancreatic cancer tumors were shrunken and proinflammatory cytokines in the tumors were significantly reduced with the use of thymoquinone from Nigella sativa.

Pretty cool, especially when it turns out that this same herbal extract (the oil from the Nigella sativa seed) has shown anti-cancer properties against prostate and colon cancers.

The flowers from this botanical are quite attractive, and the herb has been used both as a spice in foods and liquors as well as in folk medicine to treat a variety of conditions, including those of the respiratory, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, ciculatory, and immune systems. Clearly, there are a lot of traditional botanicals that have yet to find their way into "mainstream" integrative medicine!

Understanding CAM Research & Evidence for Integrative Medicine

Most physicians are unaware of the growing research and evidence supporting complementary and alternative (CAM) medicine. And, those who stay abreast of CAM research are often only moderately confident in their abilities to interpret findings.

Alas, there are no armies of sales reps helping educate physicians on the latest research being conducted by the federal government (the NIH has spent more than $2 billion over the last decade on CAM research) much less the many smaller studies taken on by universities and foundations.

Interestingly, “Compared with those who were not aware of CAM trials, clinicians who were aware of CAM trials were much more likely to be rheumatologists, to be practicing in an institutional or academic setting, to have some research experience, to express greater ability to interpret evidence and to report greater acceptance of evidence,” according to a report in the April 13, 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

I wish my friend, Dr. Hugo Rodier, could go on the road full-time and educate his peers given his ability to cite, explain, and interpret thousands of studies on CAM research, especially nutritional studies.

If you are a clinician interested in learning more about integrative medicine and CAM research, drop a line to me, as I think I can convince Dr. Rodier to do a monthly workshop if there is enough interest (for a lecture and detailed Q&A style teleconference each month on the latest research findings)!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Study Shows Cayenne Pepper & Green Tea Combo Suppresses Hunger

A combination of capsaicin (from cayenne pepper) and green tea may "promote the feeling of fullness and sustain satiety, indicating it could be successful for weight management, according to a new research study from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Apparently, Europeans are almost as fat as Americans (50% compared to our embarrassingly high rate of 62%) and Europeans are equally hungry for weight loss miracles and thus weight management studies.

We sell a cayenne product aimed at cardiovascular health (Garlic & Cayenne) and a green tea product that is among our top sellers for heart health and immune system function (Green Tea Extract). Combining these two botanical products may indeed support hunger and weight management. And, it's probably worth a try for folks who need to bring their weight down.

However, managing glycemic index and bacteria balance in the gut should also be a part of anyone's long-term commitment. You can't manage weight so well without managing hunger and modern diets promote both sugar loading and imbalances of bad bacteria to good bacteria.

More dietary sugar equals glucose spikes (read: hunger from blood sugar swings). Remember, starchy foods like rice and bagels are high in glycemic index and count as sugar.

More sugar also feeds bad bacteria, which crave sugar to support their hostile colonization of the gut (read: more hunger from cravings). It's a vicious cycle of cravings for sugar, proliferation of bad bacteria, which crave more sugar, all leading to weight gain.

Suggestions? Go low glycemic and include more high-fiber foods (fiber is considered a "prebiotic"), which feed to good bacteria (probiotics). And experiment with botanicals like cinnamon (1-3 grams per meal can help normalize blood sugar when taken with meals) along with cayenne and green tea extract (for hunger management and thermogenetic activity).

Let us know what you experience with your comments here!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mom Going Home with Good Progress on Her Knee

My mom goes home tomorrow after a couple of weeks at the Spring Tree Rehabilitation and Health Center in Sunrise, Florida (west of Fort Lauderdale). It was a good place for her rehab, thankfully (heaven knows, finding a good nursing home is such a challenge). She was incredibly complimentary about the quality of the physical therapists, the friendliness of the nurses and staff, and how often someone would just check in on her without requiring a call button plea for help.

The kitchen honored my request to keep my mom dairy-free and voila, my mom's itchy skin magically started to disappear. Now my mom thinks rice milk is the bomb, better than real milk even. Another convert!

Although my mom never did join in on any of the activities at Spring Tree, she never minded the bustle of the hall outside her room a few steps from the nursing station. She preferred to keep her door open so she could observe and hear people going by. And she kept her shades open so she could see the plants outside. Such a contrast with my dad, who always preferred his door closed and his room dark, with no interest in any "views." Funny thing is that my mom lives practically like a hermit on her 2 acre property in the sticks, while my dad always coveted an audience and attention from people.

Stephen picked up where I left off in visiting mom and taking her out to meals (she liked the boiled dinner from Joe's Crab Shack) and out to feed the ducks cracked corn (you see, bread is considered "junk" food for ducks).

We shared stories about how incredibly appreciative mom always is, whether it's a dinner out (every meal out brings an effusive response) or flowers from the grocery store (she wanted "tall" flowers and I created an arrangement of lilies and chrysanthamums) or watching an episode of Dancing with the Stars (she has big opinions about dancing and considers current choreography routines less dance than "gymnastics!") or House or Law & Order with her.

On Tuesday, Stephen took mom to get the staples out of her knee at the Cleveland Clinic, and he came away totally impressed, saying if he ever had to have surgery, he would go there. Mom's surgeon was quite pleased with her progress, and he gave her the green light to go home, with home health care for 2 hours a day for the first week or so.

Mom's orange tabby cats will be delighted to have her home, and they should provide a fair amount of help in her healing (rumor has it that the frequencies of a cat's purring are supposed to help heal bones as well as encourage hearts!). Maybe my mom will be well enough to travel by summer's end after all!