Monday, April 15, 2013

Raspberry Ketones: Solvents for Fat?!

Everyone was raving about raspberry ketones last year for ravishing results in fitting rooms and on scales alike. And, I mean everyone. Dr. Oz. Fitness trainers. Consumers. My own brother, Stephen, is pretty sure his intake of two capsules a day is helping him stay trim.

I'm not sure what we will learn about raspberry ketones in the future but I think it's interesting that ketones as a chemical class are often used as solvents (like butanone for major industrial applications) or as thinners (think acetone for nail polish and paint thinning) or as other kinds of diffusers (ketones cannot bond to one another, so they are quite volatile and disperse easily, making them good for use in perfumes).

Hmm. Solvents, thinners, diffusers. Wouldn't these all be nice ways to deal with fat?

It's been a little over a year since Dr. Oz promoted raspberry ketones as a "miracle fat-burner in a bottle" for weight loss. With similarities to cayenne pepper's active ingredients, capsaicin and synephrine, raspberry ketones appear to have this solvent kind of action that breaks fats down.

They also may have an ability to get "brown fat" to turn up the heat and increase metabolism. Brown fat, it turns out, helps the body warm itself up and use up energy stores (as opposed to white fat, whose job it is to store fat). And, brown fat is likely to keep attracting research attention as our nation keeps getting fatter.

While the studies on raspberry ketones have only been with mice and with cells in the laboratory, the results point to potential for reduced fat in the liver and in the belly (that nasty "white" fat that is associated with stress and markers for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, bone loss, and even dementia, yikes!). Clearly, much is left to be explored.

I have just started taking raspberry ketones, so I have nothing (zip, nada) to report just yet. I'm keen to drop the belly fat I've put on in the last two years (never had problems with putting weight on but now I've got that proverbial 10 pounds to drop!).

I'm interested in your results if you've been taking them over the last year. Write to me with your experiences.

Cancer & Vitamin C by Linus Pauling

"Vitamin C" and "Linus Pauling" seem to go hand in hand. Many forget that Pauling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 and also the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.

Fewer people know that Pauling's work, influenced by Dr. Irwin Stone, who argued that nearly all human beings were suffering from vitamin C deficiencies and that everyone requires 50 or 100 or even 200 times as much vitamin C as typical diets or the RDA provide.

Even fewer know that this work was preceded by a Canadian's work, Dr. William McCormick's, on collagen production and the role of weak collagen in many chronic  diseases--from stretch marks to heart disease. McCormick's theory was that cancer was intrinsically a collagen disease, caused by insufficient vitamin C (since the late 1700s, scurvy and cancer have been seen as "going steady," showing up together as terrifying dating partners).

Last week, I finally cracked open Linus Pauling's book "Cancer and Vitamin C" (co-authored with Scottish cancer surgeon, Ewan Cameron). Written in 1979 and updated in 1993, it's somewhat dated (much has happened in the last two decades) but it's still worth a read.

Lots of discussion on collagen and its role in keeping cancers from spreading. The first big idea is that strong collagen makes for a strong "intercellular cement," making good, healthy walls between organs and blood vessels (basically keeping the right things in and the wrong things out). Modern doctors know that wounds heal dramatically better with high-dose vitamin C after surgeries, so this is a well-understood concept.

Cancer's deadly strategy involves a kind of chemical warfare, which uses a specific enzyme (hyaluronidase) to weaken or dissolve collagen walls and increase tissue permeability. When cancer breaks through vulnerable cellular walls, gangs of rogue cells are freed to rove and search for new territories to plunder. New colonies of renegade cells, no longer interested in supporting the health of the wider organism, survive as bandits and ninja assassins. This is the process we know as metastasis.

The second big idea is that vitamin C is nectar from the Gods for collagen production. Yet, the evolutionary joke is that humans and apes (in a strange party with guinea pigs, a fruit-eating bat, trout, and some grasshoppers) lost the ability to create vitamin C inside their bodies. Nature selected for our bodies to do other things given abundant ascorbic acid in the fruits and vegetables found in the tropics, where all primates evolved.

Daily chow for a healthy guinea pig involves 4 grams of vitamin C. Doesn't it make sense that demands for a person with cancer would be much higher? Encapsulating a tumor requires loads of vitamin C in order to mend weakened collagen and knit together a dense membrane of collagen fibrils (essentially scar tissue), which effectively imprison invasive tumor cells. This was Pauling's and Cameron's hypothesis, and they started treating hundreds of "untreatable" or "terminal" cancer patients with high-dose vitamin C--with extremely promising results in both quality of life and longevity of patients studied.

The third big idea is that ascorbic acid levels are also correlated to activity of disease-fighting lymphocytes (the white blood cells that determine the immune system's response to invaders). Vitamin C does a lot more than just mend and strengthen collagen, although that's a big deal by itself.  Higher ascorbic acid status directly correlates to higher levels of lymphocytes, with a dose of 10 grams per day for three days causing lymphocyte production to triple, while 18 grams per day quadrupled lymphocyte production.

Studies by Yonemoto while working in the National Cancer Institute in the 1970s leave "little doubt that a high intake of vitamin C by cancer patients increases the effectiveness of the body's protective mechanism involving lymphocytes and leads to a more favorable prognosis for the patient."

A fourth big idea is that vitamin C is adept at promoting detoxification. In concert with oxygen and enzymes, vitamin C "converts toxic substances, including those that cause cancer, into nontoxic derivatives that then are eliminated in the urine. This detoxifying action has been demonstrated in scores of substances. Among these substances are the carcinogenic hydrocarbons, the nitrosamines, and other cancer-producing chemicals."

The authors state in no uncertain terms: "No matter what the mechanisms of its action might be, there soon was no doubt that when dying cancer patients were given large doses of vitamin C they felt much better...and it seemed certain that the ascorbate-treated patients were living much longer than would have been expected." Pauling and Cameron went on to encourage the use of high-dose vitamin C immediately upon detection of cancer, when it could be more effective in helping prevent traveling cancer cells from colonizing in distant parts of the body.

There is much more that we've learned about cancer, nutrition, and orthomolecular medicine since the early '90s, but clearly many great minds have built on what Pauling and Cameron pushed so hard to get validated. The National Cancer Institute's Symposium on Vitamin C (September 1990)  had this statement in a summary report that advised more study: "The take-home message was that vitamin C has multiple complex effects on a variety of biologic activities, perhaps wider than any other nutrient."

For another more recent study:
Effect of high-dose intravenous vitamin C on inflammation in cancer patients

For a video:
High-dose vitamins and vitamin C for fighting cancer by Dr. Andrew Saul

Please share your perspectives on this topic, just write to me directly.

CAUTION: None of this material can replace good advice and treatment by a trained healthcare professional. Please consult with your physician before attempting to treat yourself, as each individual has special needs and special genetic considerations.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

DHEA, Sex Hormone Production, Bone Density

DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is used by the body to produce male and female sex hormones, aid in bone density, and support general feelings of well-being and energy.

DHEA levels decrease dramatically with age, with people at 70 having only 20% of the levels they had in their 20s. Add chronic stress, which depletes the adrenal glands, and many people can end up with critically-low DHEA levels even in their 40s. And, low DHEA levels are not just about vanity and anti-aging concerns.

Low DHEA levels have been correlated with many chronic disease states, including: anorexia, depression, bone density problems, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue, lupus, and erectile dysfunction in men under age 60.

Boosting declining DHEA levels has been associated not only with easing menopausal symptoms and improving sex lives of women.  Men use DHEA to build muscle mass, improve energy, and as a cheaper alternative to those little blue pills (but the research doesn't actually support this latter aim). Did you know that DHEA boosts testosterone more than estrogen in women and estrogen more than testosterone in men? Think of DHEA as balancing what needs balancing.

Quality Control. A number of medical resources (WebMD among them) caution people, as DHEA supplements have been found to have quality control problems. Alas, this problem is far-flung, with many, many more supplements other than DHEA being affected by loose quality control practices. This industry drives me crazy sometimes but that's another story.

Why, then, do I mention DHEA quality control, in particular then? Because DHEA is a "parent hormone" or a precursor to the male and female hormones, which promote youthful bodies but also must be balanced properly. It's one thing to get too much of a water-soluble vitamin and quite another to be taking too much of a hormone that drives production of both estrogen and testosterone.

My recommendation is to be careful where you buy DHEA and make sure the company has a good quality program to ensure you know what you are getting. Also know that "natural" sources of DHEA, such as wild yam and soy, are not converted in the body; they must first be converted in a laboratory into the form of DHEA that your body can use.

Finally, when it comes to daily amounts, a range between 15-75mg is used with 25-50mg being most common. Write to me about your experiences with DHEA.

L-Carnitine for Heart Health & Cocoa for Brain Health in the News

Sometimes, I just like to share what I'm reading. Here's my Sunday browsing results. :-)
"Just a few days ago there were multiple news reports about a study  in Nature Medicine by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic that suggested that there was supposedly one more reason not to eat red meat—it contains high levels of the amino acid L-carnitine, which is metabolized by bacteria in the gut to give trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a substance that could play a part in atherosclerosis.
Well, sometimes science is like the weather. You wait a day and it changes.
Today, a report of a meta-analysis of 13 controlled studies reported in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings arrived at the exact opposite conclusion—that supplemental L-carnitine provides significant cardioprotective properties to patients that had previously had heart attacks....(more)."

Power of Cocoa Polyphenols Against Neurodegenerative Diseases -- From Sbarro Health Research Organization -- April 12, 2013

A new study from the Sbarro Health Research Organization shows that cocoa polyphenols offer potent neuroprotection by activating an important cellular survival pathway (the BDNF pathway). Published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, these findings may help prevent cognitive impairment in the elderly and progression of neurodegenerative diseases in general. 

Our studies indicate for the first time the cocoa polyphenols do not act only as mere antioxidant but they, directly or indirectly, activate the BDNF survival pathway counteracting neuronal death” says Annamaria Cimini of the University of L’Aquila, lead author of the study.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Auto-Immune System Recovery Plan - Recommended

Dr. Susan Blum (a consultant to Dr. Oz) just published "The Immune System Recovery Plan: A Doctor's 4-Step Program to Treat Autoimmune Disease."  Her book addresses why these seemingly unrelated symptoms could point to an autoimmune disorder:
  • Constant exhaustion, irritability, or feelings of being sick
  • Feeling hot or cold when others are not
  • Brain fog and lack of ability to concentrate
  • Hair loss, dry skin and unexplained weight fluctuation?
  • Swelling, aching joints without obvious causes
Dr. Blum emphasizes gluten up front for its increasingly-acknowledged role in causing these and many other problems. She gives a history of gluten that includes:

"(T)here has been an increase in the use of genetic modification in the wheat grown in our country since the 1940s. The genetically modified wheat has been altered to have more gluten because it is thought to make the plant heartier. In addition, there are several different proteins that make up gluten, and it is the most toxic variety that has become more concentrated."

Blum goes on to cite Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and healer of diabetes-related conditions, who detailed how wheat has changed over time in "Wheat Belly." According to Dr. Davis, "wheat really changed in 1943, when it was intentionally reengineered so that there would be more yield per acre, in a misguided effort to help end world hunger."  Sad but true. 

Beyond gluten, Blum talks in easy-to-understand terms about autoimmune triggers, including environmental toxins and infections; recommends specific supplements; offers recipes (for going gluten/dairy/soy/corn free to get started--they look good, by the way), and has step-by-step recommendations for healing the gut, liver, nervous system, and adrenal glands. She includes plenty of great research citations as well as self-guided workbook--to assess everything from food sensitivities and stress to levels of pancreatic enzymes, stomach acid, and bile.  

Autoimmune issues plaguing you? I can definitely recommend Dr. Blum's book--as someone who has overcome Sj√łgren's and leaky gut and dealt with multiple food sensitivities. Write to me or add your comments below. 

Green Coffee Bean Extract: Blood Sugar & Cravings & Weight Loss

Diabetes affects about 11% of Americans 20 years of age or older and that number climbs to more than 26% with people over the age of 65 (with slightly more men than women affected by diabetes).  Pre-diabetes, however, affects 35% of people over 20 years and over 50% of people over 65, contributing to all sorts of chronic disease!

This week, scientists shared more evidence that green coffee beans can help control blood sugar and reduce weight related to type 2 diabetes. 
Chlorogenic acids are believed to be central. Some highlights from research by Joe Vinson, Ph.D.:

In a previous study, Vinson found that overweight or obese people who took such an extract lost about 10 percent of their body weight in 22 weeks. The new study sought to document the effects of various doses of a commercial green coffee extract on the blood sugar levels of 56 men and women with normal blood sugar levels. They got a glucose tolerance test to see how their bodies responded to the sugar. Then over a period of time, they took 100, 200, 300 or 400 milligrams (mg) of the extract in a capsule with water. Follow-up glucose tolerance tests showed how the green coffee extract affected their responses.
“All doses of green coffee extract produced a significant reduction in blood sugar relative to the original blank glucose challenge. The maximum blood glucose occurred at 30 minutes and was 24 percent lower than the original with the 400 mg of green coffee extract and the blood glucose at 120 minutes was 31 percent lower.”
Vinson's earlier work with green coffee bean extract has shown that without significant changes to diet, the body mass index for subjects shifted from preobesity to normal weight range. The study was small. Still, that's intriguing given the epidemic with obesity and diabetes. 

Detractors think this is all ridiculous because you can't eat the same diet and lose weight. However, green coffee bean extract seems to neutralize an enzyme (glucose-6-phosphatase) that promotes blood sugar surges after meals, basically the sugar swings that are not measured by fasting for 6-8 hours.

As a dietary supplement, it may be equally important for those of us with so-called "normal" blood sugar levels. That's because only fasting blood glucose levels over 125mg/dL (clear-cut cases of diabetes) concern most physicians. Fasting blood glucose levels between 100-125mg/dL are also  problematic and should be called out and treated as "pre-diabetic."

There's no getting around diet and lifestyle change but addressing blood sugar swings that lead to cravings is critical. Willpower is an expensive resource in the brain/body system, and with fatigue, hunger, and stress, willpower flags, leading to a desire for more sugar to fuel willpower (a vicious cycle when it comes to weight loss). The good news is that
 green coffee bean extract shows high bioavailability in humans and is widely available.

Having a little help from green java beans may be just the ticket. Write to me and let me know your own experience with green coffee bean extract!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Melatonin for Sleep, Cancer Protection, IBS and more

I am what even my favorite airline calls a frequent, frequent flyer (I have Diamond status on Delta). It's no surprise that I consider melatonin one of my favored friends, especially as melatonin decreases with each new birthday.

Every evening, when I take my melatonin, I think about the benefits it will offer to my body in addition to sleep. I'm not a mantra or affirmations kind of person (I tend to like understanding the science of cause and effect). Still I have often reflected on the benefits that my belief bestows, as imagery of cancer protection always comes to mind.

So what does sleep and cancer protection have to do with one another? The answer may be in something called "chronobiology," which studies how time and daily biological (or circadian) rhythms affect our health.

According to Melatonin, Chronobiology and Cancer, presented back in 2003, melatonin and chronotherapy "have been studied for many years but, despite largely positive findings, have not been brought into mainstream cancer therapy."  This is a shame. The word should be spread more effectively, especially with the results that collaborators on this work have reported.

Dr. Paolo Lissoni, from Italy, notes that melatonin helps survival rates  for patients with inoperable, advanced stage solid tumors and with chemotherapy-resistant tumors as well.  Doses of melatonin in cancer treatment are far higher than for promoting sleep (20-40mg versus 3-6mg), with Dr. David Blask, from New York, stating: "At pharmacological concentrations, melatonin suppresses cancer cell growth and multiplication."  In other research, scientists have found that women who work nights are more prone to breast cancer and irritable bowel patients with sleep disturbances have less abdominal pain with melatonin. Lots and lots of great research on melatonin.

I have to put a warning in here though for people reading my blog: some people start to have nightmares and disrupted sleep if on too high a dose of melatonin, so it is best to work with your healthcare practitioner before doing anything with hormones on high doses.

I think this is pretty cool given how inexpensive melatonin is.  I take 3mg of melatonin most nights, even when I am not particularly worried about falling asleep. Melatonin. Rest. Sleep. Potential protection.

It makes me think of this lovely little poem (yes, I'm finally revealing my love of this art that pairs so nicely with rigorous science):

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Cancer & The Healing Force in Sweet Oxygen

People often wonder: How did that person get cancer? The word "get" signals a kind of contagion or triggering event. Genetics, environmental exposures, nutritional status, exercise patterns, emotions, and stress all weave in uncertain ways to produce cancer, so it can be hard to determine the exact triggering causes.  An old wisdom tradition poem I was reading says:

Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain,
But at the peak
We all gaze at the same
Single bright moon

When it comes to cancer, we might revise the passage along the following lines:

Many paths lead to the foot of the mountain
But at the peak
We all inhale the same fresh wind of a
Single healing force in sweet oxygen

Many cancer communities quote Dr. Otto Warburg, who won a Nobel Prize in 1931 for proving that cancer is caused by a lack of respiration in the cells. Many paths, one core cause: lack of oxygen. 

Normal cells need oxygen or respiration to "breathe" and function properly. Cancer cells, in contrast, thrive in oxygen-deprived environments (and on fermentation instead of respiration). Significantly, cancers with the fastest growth rates also have the highest fermentation rates (this means that more sugar in the diet turbocharges fast-growing cancers). To put this into a gardening equation of sorts:

Lack of oxygen (the right "soil") + Sugar (the right "fertilizer") = Cancer (the deadly weed)

Many know that eliminating sugar (a kind of Miracle Grow for cancer) is critical to curing cancer.

However, increasing oxygen is equally important, as high oxygen status in the body is lethal to cancer. To boost oxygen in your body, there are some basic practices to adopt
  1. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose and with your diaphragm (versus high and shallow or fast breathing from your chest)
  2. Reduce stress with time in nature, contemplative practices, meditation, or even Tai Chi (stress boosts blood pressure, which reduces oxygen to organs and tissues)
  3. Stay hydrated (dehydration drops blood fluids and blood pressure and thus fluids that deliver oxygen to the cells in need)
  4. Exercise gently each day with at least a 10-15 minute walk and 2-3 minutes on a mini trampoline (this combo boosts oxygen flow and helps your lymph system eliminate waste as cancer cells get oxidized)