October 29, 2012

189 Antioxidants & Heart Disease [29 October 2012]

Antioxidants are certain vitamins, minerals and other molecules that protect the body from oxidative stress from highly charged molecules called free radicals, more technically called “reactive oxygen species”. Oxidative stress is believed to be a factor in the development of atherosclerosis – plaque formation in the arteries – and therefore heart disease, but is not generally accepted in North America. A recent study from Israel should increase the popularity of antioxidant therapy as an adjunct for the treatment of vascular heart disease.

The study, published in Nutrition & Metabolism in July 2010, followed 70 adults with at least two of these risk factors: smoking, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, low HDL cholesterol, or high triglycerides. They were examined after 3 and 6 months. Half of the participants received daily antioxidant supplements containing 1,000mg vitamin C, 400iu vitamin E, 120mg coenzyme Q10, and 200mcg selenium; the other half a placebo. Those taking the antioxidants, but not the control (placebo) group, had the following benefits:
• significant increase in elasticity of both large and small arteries
• significant increase in HDL-cholesterol (the good kind)
• a small decrease in triglycerides
• significant reduction in HbA1C (a measure of long term blood sugar levels)
• reduced blood pressure

Although the study was too small in number of participants and too short in duration to measure risk of heart disease, all of these improvements would be expected to prevent heart attacks and deaths. The authors conclude that the findings of the study “justify investigating the overall clinical impact of antioxidant treatment in [patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors]”. But if you have some of these risks, you don’t have to wait for more studies before using antioxidants to improve your own health. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can add these antioxidants to your current medications.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

October 22, 2012

188 Vitamin D Window [22 Oct 2012]

The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. The vitamin D synthesized in our skin in the presence of UVB rays is the sulfate form which is water soluble and therefore more physiologically active. But for most of the year in Saskatchewan unless you use a safe sunlamp or take a holiday in the tropics, supplementation is the only way to keep your D levels up.

The UVB rays necessary for vitamin D synthesis can only penetrate the atmosphere when the sun is at 50° or more above the horizon. I knew that our vitamin D season was short, but when I did the calculations (using a US Navy website) I was shocked. The last day we could make vitamin D was August 21 and the next day will be April 18. On those two days there is about a half hour “window” centered on 1:15 pm (which is the sun-noon for Rosetown’s longitude). For most of June the “window” extends from 11:00 am to 3:30 pm. On sunny days outside these time “windows”, and on cloudy days, you can still get a sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer from UVA, but you can’t make any vitamin D.

A recent study from New Zealand published in JAMA in October found a small but statistically insignificant reduction in upper respiratory tract infections (colds & “flu”) in healthy adults with supplementation of 100,000iu D3 monthly (equivalent to 3,330 daily). The average vitamin D level of the test population was low but not severely deficient (likely due to sun exposure), which may explain the small difference. For example, two previous studies with children in Mongolia and in Japan who had severe D deficiencies, showed much more significant improvement with D supplementation. Other studies have found that people with lower levels of D had more frequent colds or missed more work due to colds, and that newborns with a D deficiency were more susceptible to bronchitis and pneumonia. In any case there are many other good reasons to keep up your D levels – this is my 23rd column on this important vitamin.

To give credit where due, the New Zealand study appears to me to be well done. It was a fairly large controlled study with over 300 people. The dose was adequate - much closer to what some researchers are calling for. Having the subjects take their vitamin D dose monthly rather than daily seems unusual but since D is a fat soluble vitamin it's not unheard of (I recently heard a Naturopathic Doctor tell us that he takes his D once a month). It may not be the best way to keep one's level consistently up, though. And their conclusion, although disappointing, was not overstated. I quote:
In conclusion, we report that monthly administration of 100 000-IU doses of vitamin D3 did not reduce the incidence or severity of URTIs in healthy, predominantly European adults with near-normal vitamin D levels. Further research is required to clarify whether there is benefit from supplementation in other populations and with other dosing regimens.
Similarly, after my previous rants about reporters exaggerating the dangers of vitamins in their news reports, I was pleased to see the Globe & Mail article actually tell people not to quit taking D:
That doesn’t mean you should stop supplementing with vitamin D. Mounting evidence suggests vitamin D deficiency may be linked to a number of diseases, most notably cancer, and that supplementation could be an effective way to reduce the risk. Although humans produce vitamin D through exposure to the sun, countries like Canada, that have lengthy winters and limited sunshine during those months, are increasingly advised to take vitamin D supplements.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

October 15, 2012

187 Vitamin E & Liver Cancer [15 October 2012]

Finally some good news about Vitamin E! It has been getting a lot of bad press lately, most of it undeservedly – like the study I wrote about a few months ago in column #176 which found that synthetic E raised the risk of prostate cancer.

Part of the Shanghai Men’s and Women’s Health Studies, run from 1997 to 2006 and published in July 2012 in J. National Cancer Inst., looked at liver cancer risk in middle-aged and older adults with differing vitamin intakes. They found that both dietary and supplementary vitamin E intake was inversely associated with liver cancer risk. This held true for participants both with, and without, existing liver disease or family history of liver cancer. And the results were dose dependent, meaning the more E ingested, the lower the risk. This finding agrees with previous studies which showed vitamin E is protective of the liver; it is even used as a treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Disturbingly though, it also found that for those with an existing liver disease or family history of liver cancer, high intake of vitamin C from supplements (but not from food) increased the risk of liver cancer. This is a surprise because Vitamin C has long been thought to be protective from cancer. A 1991 review published in the Am. Soc. Clinical Nutrition found that in 33 of 46 studies examined, vitamin C provided a significant protection from various cancers. But a 10 year clinical trial – the Physicians Health Study II – published in 2008 found that 400iu of E or 500mg of C did not reduce the risk of cancers, but also did not cause any harm. I would consider both doses to be low, and the E was undoubtedly pure alpha-tocopherol with no gamma-tocopherol, known from another study to significantly reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Because of inconsistent study results like these medical scientists are reluctant to make dietary recommendations based on one or two studies.

Back to vitamin E. There are two families of E – four tocopherols and four tocotrienols – each with their own physiological functions. The best E supplement has all 8 vitamin Es, and uses the natural d not the synthetic dl forms. For more detail on this interesting vitamin family, see my December 2011 column #143.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

October 9, 2012

186 Amino Acids & Mood Disorders [9 October 2012]

Customers at my store often ask for certain supplements – usually single amino acids or other neurotransmitter precursors – to help with mood disorders. For example: tryptophan and melatonin for insomnia; theanine and 5-HTP for anxiety; or tyrosine and glutamic acid for depression. These can be effective and safer than pharmaceuticals but still don’t get at the root cause of the problem.

Dr. Jonathan Wright in his website Nutrition and Healing recommends testing for amino acid levels and supplementing with a customized supplement that includes all eight essential aminos. This is preferable to just taking one or two because balance is critical with aminos. Then he takes it a step further and looks for possible causes of amino deficiencies. It may be a diet lacking high quality protein, low stomach acid, insufficient pancreatic enzymes, gluten sensitivity or food allergies. Another possible root cause is dysbiosis – a lack of beneficial bacteria in your intestines (see my column #147 “The Brain-Gut Connection”).

If you think you might benefit from amino acid supplementation, ask your doctor for an amino acid level test. If that is not possible, a compromise would be to take an amino complex along with one or two of the aminos you think would help you. Dr Wright recommends B12 & folic acid supplementation along with the aminos. Betaine hydrochloride and digestive enzymes will help with protein digestion. A good probiotic program will restore beneficial gut flora. A fish oil supplement would be another good addition to your mood enhancement program. For more ideas see my columns #24 “Food & Mood”; #74 “Depression”; #75 “Omega 3s & Depression”; and #167 “Zesty or Tranquil”. These are available from my website (see below). It may take several months for your body to build up the neurotransmitter levels back to normal, so don’t give up too soon.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

October 1, 2012

185 Benefits of Organic – the Stanford Study

Eating organic foods is believed by many to be a healthier choice, but is it? A recent study put this question in doubt. A systematic review of 240 English language studies by researchers at the Stanford University was published September 4, 2012, in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The abstract concluded: “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria”.

The Stanford University press release, titled “Little evidence of health benefits of organic foods, Stanford Study finds”, downplayed the positive findings. Mainstream news items with few exceptions repeated the negative tone. Two health writers that I follow - the Health Sciences Institute and Dr. Joseph Mercola - dug a little deeper into the study and discovered several benefits of organic foods that are not that insignificant:
• 30% less pesticide residue in organic produce
• 33% lower risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in organic meat
• higher levels of phenols and other antioxidants in organic chicken
• higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk

There are many other studies that weren’t included in the Stanford analysis that show greater benefits of organic farming. A University of Stuttgart study, for example, published in July 2012, found that organic fruits and vegetables averaged 180 times lower pesticide content than conventional produce. And a well controlled study at University of California-Davis found that kiwis grown organically had a higher mineral, vitamin C and antioxidant content.

I buy and eat organically grown food whenever possible, but realize that it is what foods we eat (and how much), rather than how they were grown, that has the biggest influence on our health.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.