December 23, 2013

248 Phosphatidyl Serine [23 Dec 2013]

Last week I discussed the uses of phosphatidyl choline in cell membrane function; this week we’ll look at its molecular cousin, phosphatidyl serine (or PS for short) and its role in the brain. Like its choline counterpart, PS is a phospholipid found in the cell membrane, but in much smaller amounts. PS is particularly abundant in nerve cell membranes of the brain where it plays a role in inter-cell communication. Our bodies can create PS from phosphatidyl choline but can also obtain some directly from our food. PS occurs in meat, fish, and organ meats particularly brain, but by far the most abundant food source of PS is soy lecithin. As with phosphatidyl choline, our production of PS decreases as we age which may contribute to a decline in brain function.

Double-blind studies in the USA and Europe have shown that PS supplementation can reverse this trend. Specifically, taking PS has been found to improve short and long-term memory and concentration in people with mild to moderate cognitive dysfunction (it doesn’t help much with more severe dementia). PS has also been shown to improve mood, reduce depression and increase social interaction in older people. Phosphatidyl serine supplements, in dosages of 200mg per day, have been used successfully for children with ADHD. PS has also been used, in higher doses, by athletes to reduce exercise-induced stress and soreness.

Phosphatidyl Serine supplements used to be extracted from bovine brain but since the BSE (mad cow) epidemic manufacturers have switched to making it from either soy or sunflower lecithin. Most of the early studies were done with bovine PS – more recent studies with soy based PS have shown less consistent results.

Because phosphatidyl serine is found in every cell of the body, it is a very safe nutrient with only a few rare, mild side effects. The goal of supplementation is to bring the levels of PS in the cell membranes back to what it was when we were younger. Therapeutic effects are dose dependent. For prevention 100mg per day is recommended; to treat age-related mental impairment 200-300 may be needed. PS is commonly sold in 60 and 100mg strengths.

Wikipedia Phosphatidylserine
Web MD PS Overview Information
Web MD PS Uses, Side Effects, Interactions
Soy PS study in Japan
Natural Factors monograph

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

December 16, 2013

247 Phosphatidyl Choline & Cell Membranes [16 December 2013]

Healthy bodies depend on healthy cells which in turn require healthy cell membranes. Cell membranes (CM) are the “skin” around each of the 100 trillion cells in our body that protect the cells, control movement of nutrients and waste products in and out of cells, and help give cells their shape. CMs are composed of proteins, cholesterol, and special fats called phospholipids, of which the most important is phosphatidyl choline (PC).

Phosphatidyl choline keeps cell membranes strong, supple and functioning properly. When we are born, 90% of the phospholipids in our CMs are PC; as we age this decreases until by 70 it can be as low as 10%. This affects all aspects of our health including our heart, blood vessels, liver, brain and other organs causing cardiovascular problems, memory loss, poor sleep, and much more. PC is also a precursor to acetylcholine, an important brain neurotransmitter.

Fortunately increasing our intake of this vital nutrient can reverse many of these conditions – turning the clock back as it were. Supplementing with PC can:
• normalize cholesterol and reduce triglycerides
• lower homocysteine levels, a known risk factor for heart disease
• improve health of arteries and veins and improve circulation
• reduce inflammation
• improve liver health and function
• improve digestion of fats
• improve brain health and function (memory)
• be used to treat Alzheimer’s, PMS, bipolar disorder and tardive dyskinesia
• boost the immune system
• increase production of glutathione, our body’s most important antioxidant
• make your skin look and feel healthier
• increase energy and endurance

Food sources of PC include egg yolks, liver, peanuts, sunflower seeds and soybeans. It is also available as a supplement in capsule form. PC is similar to, and is a component of, lecithin.

Institute for Natural Healing newsletter 9 Dec 2013
Wikipedia "Phosphatidyl Choline"
WebMD "Phosphatidyl Choline"
Natural Factors (a manufacturer of PC) "Phosphatidyl Choline"

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

December 9, 2013

246 Fruit and Fruit Juice [9 Dec 2013]

Last week I wrote about the benefits of eating nuts. Today I want to warn you of the risk of eating too much fruit, including dried fruit, and especially fruit juice.

Fruit is included in the Canada Food Guide for a reason. It provides us with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant based nutrients like flavonoids, resveratrol and polyphenols, which are essential for good health. The drawback is that it also contains a lot of sugar (and most of it is fructose, the worst sugar as previously discussed).

The Food Guide (which I understand is greatly simplified to improve understanding and compliance) unfortunately lumps fruit in with vegetables, giving a range of 8-10 total servings for adult males aged 35-50. It is assumed you will choose a variety from both as there is a big difference nutritionally between 10 bananas and 5 cups of broccoli!

I also disagree with the Guide’s inclusion of canned fruit and fruit juice. Canned fruit is peeled and cooked so is depleted of most of its nutrients, and has added sugar (or pear juice which is really no better). Fruit juice is just as bad and is not much better than soda pop. There are few nutrients and little fiber left in juice but it has all (or more) of the sugar. And it’s much easier to over-consume juice than whole fruit.

A recent study from Harvard (published in the August 2013 British Medical Journal) using data from the Nurses Health Study (1991-2009) – the same source as the nut study in last week’s article – found that certain whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, reduced the risk of Type 2 Diabetes while fruit juice significantly increased the risk. Because of its high fructose content, fruit juice also increases your risk of gout, high blood pressure and, of course, obesity.

Dried fruit has most of the nutrients and fiber but also has all of the sugar of whole fruit. The problem, as with juice, is that it’s easy to overdo it. Eat no more of it than you would the whole fruit, and drink extra water to help with digestion.

The best way to eat fruit is fresh, whole and raw. Berries have the most nutrients and the least sugar. Other fruits with lower sugar are prunes, apricots and kiwifruit. The highest are mango, pears and watermelon. If you are diabetic or insulin-resistant be especially careful to limit these. See Dr. Mercola's fructose chart here.

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

December 2, 2013

245 Enjoy Nuts and Live Longer [2 Dec 2013]

A recent study out of Harvard brings good news for nut lovers – just in time for the holidays. Published November 21, 2013, in the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors showed that those who ate a handful of nuts daily lived longer and healthier.

The data was taken from the Nurses’ Health Study (1980-2010) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2010) which followed 76,464 women and 42,498 men over 25 to 30 years making it the largest study of its kind. Total mortality and cause-specific mortality was correlated with nut consumption. They found that those who ate more nuts had:
• 11% reduction in cancer deaths (during the study period)
• 29% reduction in deaths from heart disease
• 20% reduction in deaths from any cause

Those who ate nuts more frequently generally had a healthier lifestyle – they were also leaner, less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise, take multi-vitamins, and to eat more fruits and vegetables. Curiously they also drank more alcohol (beer and peanuts watching TV sports?). The study was designed to isolate the effect of nut consumption from these other factors. Both peanuts and tree nuts provided similar reductions in mortality.

The more frequently that nuts were consumed, the lower the risk of death. The reduction in mortality varied from 7% for once a week through to 20% for once a day. While this study does not prove cause and effect, it is (to quote the authors)
“consistent with a wealth of existing observational and clinical-trial data in supporting the health benefits of nut consumption for many chronic diseases. In addition, nutrients in nuts, such as unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins (e.g., folate, niacin, and vitamin E), minerals (e.g., potassium, calcium, and magnesium), and phytochemicals (e.g., carotenoids, flavonoids, and phytosterols), may confer cardioprotective, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.” [NEJM 21 Nov 2013]
See my column #43 21 Dec 2009 for more on “nut-rition”.

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

November 25, 2013

244 Cholesterol & Saturated Fat [25 Nov 2013]

A few weeks ago (#241 “Fatheads” column) I discussed the importance of good fats for brain health and assured you that you would not be trading a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s for a higher risk of heart disease. Since North Americans have been bombarded with the message of “artery-clogging saturated fats” for 60 years (my entire lifetime) this merits further discussion.

Critics of the cholesterol-saturated-fats-heart-disease theory claim overwhelming evidence that not only are these nutrients not the cause of heart disease, but they are essential for good health including heart health. Here are a few of the studies they cite (source:
• A 2010 meta-analysis found no difference in risk of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat
• The Framingham Heart study found that those with higher intake of saturated fats and cholesterol actually had lower serum cholesterol and body weight
• A 2010 article in Am J Clin Nutr argues that the benefits of reducing saturated fats depend on what replaces it and concludes “dietary efforts to improve the … CVD risk associated with … dyslipidemia should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intakes and a reduction in excess adiposity.”

In other words replacing fat in your diet with refined carbohydrates will, as I’ve explained before, lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high serum triglycerides & LDL cholesterol, and ultimately heart disease. The best way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease is to reduce refined carbohydrates and maintain a healthy weight. And saturated fats can safely play a larger role in that plan.

A good source of information on cholesterol is the website by Chris Masterjohn PhD. He explains the problems with the lipid hypothosis and describes the newer “Oxidized LDL” theory which more accurately models the formation of atherosclerosis. The war on cholesterol (and saturated fat) has been misguided at best. As Masterjohn puts it “the war they are waging is not the path of science. Science is not a war against molecules. It is a search for truth.”

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

November 17, 2013

243 Re-Colonizing Our Gut Flora [18 Nov 2013]

There are about 200 trillion microbe cells of over 1,000 species living in or on our body. Many of these are beneficial to us; most are harmless; and the few that are pathogenic are kept in control by healthy populations of the others. When some of the bad guys proliferate, we become sick and are usually prescribed an antibiotic to get rid of them. The problem with this is that the drug indiscriminately kills all the bacteria in the gut, including the good guys.

Michael Tennesen in an article “The Ecosystem Inside” (Discover, March 2011) described the use of antibiotics as “dropping a bomb on a microbial community”. I use the analogy of spraying your entire lawn with Roundup to kill a few weeds. Sure if the weeds are bad enough it may be justified, but then you need to reseed your lawn right away or it will grow up with solid weeds the following year. Healthy grass is the best way to control weeds.

Similarly antibiotic use often results in various digestive complaints due to the loss of beneficial bacteria, but can occasionally lead to something more serious. After an antibiotic treatment pathogens are able to repopulate the microbial desert that your gut has become and grow unchecked. Then you become really sick and antibiotics may no longer be effective. A good example is Clostridium difficile, a bacterium which causes life-threatening diarrhea.

A novel treatment that has shown great promise in dealing with C difficile is fecal transplants – implanting fecal material from a healthy donor into the patient’s gut to replenish the beneficial flora. A recently published trial in the Netherlands had a 93% success rate with fecal transplants compared to 31% for vancomycin, the usual antibiotic for this infection. Other trials are underway around the world.

But you don’t need to wait for a serious infection, or to go to the extreme of a fecal transplant, to replenish your gut flora following antibiotics. Probiotics, sold in most health food stores and pharmacies, provide beneficial bacteria of known species and strains. Probiotics now come in potencies of 50, 80 and even 100 billion, strong enough to quickly recolonize the gut and prevent serious infections.

"The Ecosystem Inside", Michael Tennesen, Discover magazine, March 2011
"Fighting Microbes with Microbes", Margaret Munro, PostMedia News, Star Phoenix, Nov 13, 2013
"Duodenal infusion of donor feces for recurrent Clostridium difficile" NEJM 16 Jan 2013

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

November 12, 2013

242 Exercise for your Brain [12 Nov 2013]

The third way to improve your brain’s health and lower your risk of dementia, as described in the book “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD, after reducing carbs and increasing good fats, is exercise. That’s physical exercise, not mental exercise like playing Scrabble© and doing crossword puzzles (which also helps but surprisingly not as much).

Perlmutter is not alone in promoting exercise to improve our brains. Various studies have found that exercise benefits our brains in many ways and at all ages from elementary school students to seniors:
• exercising before a test increased scores by 17%
• the fittest Grade 6 students scored 30% higher on tests
• 40 minutes daily exercise increased IQ by 3.8 points
• older students who play vigorous sports improved 20% in math, science, English and social studies
• employees who exercise regularly are 15% more efficient

So how exactly does exercise benefit our brain? Exercise:
• promotes growth of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis
• promotes production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which improves brain function and enhances learning, and helps preserve our existing brain cells
• reverses shrinkage of the hippocampus (the memory and learning part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s)
• protects the brain from atrophy and white matter lesion in seniors
• improves our brain’s ability to handle stress and reduces anxiety
• increases blood flow to the brain, and
• reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

A variety of exercise works best. Both aerobic and resistance training are important for maintaining brain health as we age. I started working out at the Rosetown Fitness Centre last month to get more fit, build some muscle, and keep my fat weight down. Looks like I might be getting smarter too!

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

November 4, 2013

241 We’re All “Fatheads” [4 November 2013]

Last week I discussed the book “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD which argued “…to a large extent numerous neurological conditions often reflect the mistake of consuming too many carbs and not enough healthy fats”. Last week I concentrated on reducing carbs; this week I want to focus on the other half of the equation – increasing good fats. Perlmutter suggests that up to 75% of our diets should be fat, rather than the current average of 20%.

Our bodies, and particularly our brains, require fat for optimal health. Our brains are 60-70% fat, so if someone calls you a “fathead” they are right – but that’s a good thing because our brains couldn’t function without it. Saturated fats are an essential component of brain cells. Similarly cholesterol is essential for every cell of the body and particularly for the brain. The brain contains 25% of our body’s cholesterol, and it’s there for a reason. Cholesterol is essential for proper brain and nervous system function. It facilitates nerve cell communication and acts as an antioxidant to protect the brain. Vitamin D is essential for brain health and is synthesized in our skin from cholesterol.

So do we have to trade off increased risk of heart disease and early death to enjoy a healthy brain? Fortunately, not at all! The same dietary changes that reduce risk of dementia also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and death. Recent research has found that elderly people with the lowest cholesterol levels are at the highest risk for Alzheimer’s and of death from all causes, while those with the highest cholesterol have a significantly lower risk for dementia.

Good fats include olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, avocado, eggs and fatty fish like salmon. Bad fats to avoid are trans fats and hydrogenated (artificially saturated) fats – the fats found in most processed foods. Cooking oils that have been processed to prolong shelf life are also best avoided. Dr. Perlmutter also recommends an Omega 3 essential fatty acid supplement high in DHA.

Finally, Perlmutter also promotes physical exercise as beneficial for the brain. More on that topic next week.

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 28, 2013

240 Grain and our Brain [28 October 2013]

A recently published book, “Grain Brain – the Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers” by David Perlmutter, MD argues that “…to a large extent numerous neurological conditions often reflect the mistake of consuming too many carbs and not enough healthy fats”. Perlmutter argues that a diet closer to what our ancestors ate (75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs) would be healthier for our brains than our modern diet of 20%, 20% & 60% respectively. In addition to simple carbohydrates like glucose, he particularly singles out wheat as the main culprit. His healthy brain diet does allow some alternate grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, brown rice and oats. Watch an interview with Dr Perlmutter here.

In the book Perlmutter lays out the research and evidence to support his theory, backed by years of experience as a practicing neurologist in Florida. Hidden sensitivity to gluten and other components of grains goes beyond celiac disease and affects many, possibly all, of us to some extent. Gluten causes the gut membrane to become permeable to partially digested proteins which then enter the blood and cause inflammation. Similarly gluten disrupts the blood-brain barrier leading to brain inflammation which can develop into serious neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. All carbs raise blood sugar, even the complex carbs in whole grains, and elevated blood sugar damages the brain and increases risk of dementia. Patients started noticing clearer thinking and improved memory after only two weeks following Dr Perlmutter’s program.

Perlmutter’s theory agrees with that of Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride who treats neurological disorders with what she calls the GAPS diet: eliminating grains, dairy & processed foods; reestablishing healthy flora in the GI tract, and elimination of toxins. I wrote about her work and diet in columns 147, 172, 173, 175.

Reaction from nutritionists was swift to support whole grains as part of a healthy diet. Cynthia Harriman, a director of the Whole Grains Council, refutes Perlmutter: “Grain Brain is a misleading and sensationalist title for a book that distorts current science and contributes, sadly, to public confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet”. Personally, I (Stan) think that Grain Brain is a valuable contribution to the literature on diet and mental health and, while I still eat whole wheat bread, we have been enjoying more quinoa, millet and rice lately.

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 21, 2013

239 New Hope for Neuropathy [21 October 2013]

Neuropathy is a painful condition caused by damage to the nerves. Symptoms include: numbness and tingling; inability to feel temperature; and intense, often crippling, pain.

Neuropathy can be caused by traumatic injury to the peripheral nerves or spinal cord; diabetes; chemotherapy; stroke; certain auto-immune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis; and some viruses including HIV. Neuropathy often responds poorly to normal analgesics so antidepressants, steroids, and opioid drugs are often used to manage the pain. Unfortunately with chronic use, these often develop significant unwanted side effects.

But there is hope. Researchers testing an amino acid, acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), are finding that it effectively relieves the pain of neuropathy but even more importantly, it also assists with repair of the damaged nerves and reverses numbness. People with neuropathy were able to feel their arms and feet again within a year of starting ALC. And all this without long-term side effects.

Acetyl-L-carnitine has also been used, with varying success, for a variety of neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s, memory loss, depression, alcoholism, and Down syndrome. It is also touted as an aid to weight loss and men’s sexual function, but there is little evidence to support these uses.

ALC is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that your liver can synthesize it from another amino acid (lysine). But as we age and our health deteriorates our ability to create ALC diminishes.

ALC is mostly found in meat, especially lamb. ALC is available as a supplement in Canada without prescription. ALC is a special, more bioavailable, form of L-carnitine and appears to work better for this purpose. Alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C and a B complex, taken along with ALC, may improve its effectiveness.

Caution: medical supervision is strongly recommended for anyone considering taking ALC who is taking blood thinning medication, certain cancer or HIV medications, or has a severe mood disorder (eg Bipolar Depression).

This Amino Acid Reverses Nerve Damage Institute for Natural Healing, October 2013
L-Acetylcarnitine: A Proposed Therapeutic Agent for Painful Peripheral Neuropathies Current Neuropharmacology, July 2006
Acetyl-L-carnitine (levacecarnine) in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. A long-term, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
Acetyl-L-carnitine improves pain, nerve regeneration, and vibratory perception in patients with chronic diabetic neuropathy: an analysis of two randomized placebo-controlled trials. Diabetes Care, Jan 2005
The Therapeutic Effects of Acetyl-L-Carnitine on Peripheral Neuropathy: A Review of the Literature. Natural Medicine Journal 8/1/2010

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.

October 14, 2013

238 Skin Cancer Lowers Risk of Death! [15 Oct 2013]

Exposure to the sun has both negative and positive effects on our health. While sunlight produces beneficial vitamin D in our skin, too much sun can lead to skin cancer. What is the relative risk versus benefit of sun exposure? A recent study from Denmark provided a surprising answer.

For this study researchers examined the entire population of Denmark ages 40 to 90 – 4.4 million people – for 25 years. Now that’s a large study! They looked for correlations between non-melanoma skin cancer, melanoma, heart attacks, hip fractures and death from all causes. As might be expected, they found that those diagnosed with skin cancers had a significantly lower rate of hip fractures. This makes sense because of the role vitamin D plays in calcium metabolism. Heart attacks were also significantly lower in the skin cancer groups, which can be explained by vitamin D’s known role in preventing heart disease.

Most significantly, incidence of death from all causes was a whopping 48% lower for those diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer (common but rarely fatal), and – what really surprised me – was still 11% lower for the melanoma group (rare but with higher mortality). As one reviewer in the Vitamin D Council blog put it “…here we have a study that shows that…even among individuals who have had skin cancer, increased levels of UV exposure are related to better health.”

Note that this study did not determine the cause of the results. I think we can safely assume, based on previous research, that the best explanation for the improved health outcomes in the skin cancer groups is that they had higher vitamin D levels. Outdoor exercise may also be a factor.

Fortunately we can minimize the risk of skin cancer and still reap the benefits of vitamin D. I have previously written about safe sun exposure for maximizing vitamin D production during the summer months. Since that season won’t return until next May, supplementation remains as the only option through the winter.

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 7, 2013

237 Bioidentical Hormone Safety [7 Oct 2013]

Back in July (#225 “Preventing Post-Menopausal Fractures”) I mentioned the benefits of bioidentical hormone replacement. This week I want to explore the safety of bioidentical hormones, as the recent publicity over hormone replacement therapy side effects may cause some women – and their physicians – to avoid it.

A review of the medical literature on the subject by Dr. Kent Holtorf MD was published in June 2007 in the Townsend Letter. In it Dr. Holtorf explains that natural bioidentical hormones are very different from the synthetic hormones (made from horse urine or synthesized in a lab) and do not have their serious side effects.

While the 2002 WHI study found that synthetic hormones, particularly the synthetic progesterone MPA, increased the risk of heart attack and stroke, natural estrogen and progesterone have the opposite effect of actually reducing the risk of these cardiovascular diseases. Long term use of both estrogen and synthetic progesterone increase the risk of breast cancer. Natural hormones, particularly estriol and progesterone, lower the risk of breast cancer.

Holtorf also comments from his own professional experience that women on the natural hormones feel great and are more satisfied than women on synthetic hormones. Jeffrey Dach, MD explains the importance of balancing hormone levels on his website. He claims that age-related hormone imbalance is at least partially responsible for most of the degenerative diseases of aging: osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cognitive dysfunction (Alzheimer’s), loss of libido, and depression.

Ideally all of the hormones should be measured and balanced – estrone, estradiol, estriol, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA – not just one or two. It takes all of your hormones, in balance, to keep you healthy. Periodic hormone testing is also important to ensure that your hormones stay in balance. For more information on bioidentical hormones, contact Cindy Johns at 306-463-4565.

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

September 30, 2013

236 Melatonin Benefits [30 Sept 2013]

Melatonin is well known as the “sleep hormone” but it does much more than allow us to sleep better.

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland when the retina of our eyes are no longer exposed to light. Melatonin then tells the brain to go to sleep. After 4-5 hours, production of melatonin stops and the brain returns to wakefulness.

But the benefits of melatonin go far beyond getting a good night’s sleep (although sleep is essential for good health, as I have written previously – # 8, 104, 105). Natasha Turner, ND describes several additional benefits of optimum melatonin levels in a recent Huffington Post blog article.

PMS symptoms are significantly reduced. Research found that low melatonin levels were linked to PMS symptoms. Supplementing with melatonin on days 12-28 of the cycle should improve mood and sleep.

Low melatonin levels are a risk factor for diabetes. The Nurses’ Health Study found that the lowest melatonin levels doubled the risk of diabetes. Another study found that melatonin supplementation increased weight loss without reducing caloric intake. I previously wrote about the connection between sleep and weight (#103). A poor night’s sleep is known to cause sugar cravings on awakening. Melatonin curbs the appetite and increases satiety (feeling full).

Low melatonin levels have been linked to several types of headache including migraines. In one study, supplementing with melatonin reduced frequency of headaches by 50% and also decreased their intensity and duration.

Along with melatonin production, thyroid hormone production also declines as we age. An Italian study of menopausal women found that melatonin supplementation significantly improved thyroid function and improved mood and symptoms of depression.

Finally, melatonin has been found to slow the aging process in animal studies. It likely does this by its action against free radicals which are responsible for aging. Melatonin may be the key to looking and feeling younger!

Some of these benefits are no doubt linked to getting better sleep, but others are likely a result of the melatonin itself. Either way, it appears important to ensure that our melatonin levels are adequate which may require supplementation.

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

September 23, 2013

235 Boosting Testosterone [23 Sept 2013]

Men’s production of the male hormone testosterone declines as we age, approximately 10% each decade after age 30. This brings with it a number of health problems including fatigue, hair loss, lower libido, ED, moodiness (think “grumpy old men”), increased belly fat, muscle loss, reduced bone density, BPH, and increased risk of prostate cancer. I wrote about this in April 2009 #009. Hormone therapy is not recommended because of the side effects (like testes atrophy!). A better approach is to boost your body’s natural production. But how?

Brad King in his 2008 book Beer Belly Blues describes in a humorous way, how to increase testosterone with stress reduction, exercise (resistance and interval training), diet improvements, and certain supplements.

Dr. Jonathan Wright M.D. suggests this program:
• 30-50mg zinc;
• 40,000-50,000 IU vitamin A;
• 3 mg Boron; and
• 250-750 mg Tribulus terrestris (optional).

The Institute for Natural Healing offers "5 easy ways" to raise testosterone:
1. Reduce stress – high cortisol levels reduce testosterone production
2. Get enough sleep – missing sleep can lower testosterone levels 10-15%
3. Eat sufficient healthy fats – EFAs are required for testosterone production
4. Get enough vitamin D – a precursor for sex hormones including testosterone
5. Get adequate zinc – from oysters, crab, liver, pumpkin seeds & supplements

King in Beer Belly Blues discusses additional supplements:
• whey protein isolate – increases bone and muscle
• Chrysin – inhibits conversion of testosterone to estrogen
• Maca, Horny Goat Weed and Tongkat Ali – improve sexual function
• Beta Sitosterol – reduces BPH and prostate cancer risk
• Nettle root extract – increases free testosterone and protects prostate
• Indole-3 Carbinol (I3C) – from cruciferous vegetables, suppresses “bad” estrogens
• Lycopene – promotes prostate health

Conveniently there are testosterone boosting supplement formulas available with many of these ingredients. I still recommend reading King’s book for the full picture.

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

September 16, 2013

234 Garcinia cambogia [16 Sept 2013]

The latest weight loss fad promoted by Dr. Oz is Garcinia cambogia. An extract from the rind of this south Asian fruit contains hydroxycitric acid (HCA) which is claimed to increase weight loss. According to the Dr Oz website (and a few others selling Garcinia), studies have shown that HCA, along with a reduced calorie diet and moderate exercise, can double or triple weight loss. For example, in one 8 week controlled study dieters taking HCA lost an average of 14 lbs compared to 6 for the control group.

HCA aids in weight loss by blocking an enzyme – citrate lyase – necessary to convert carbohydrates into fats. Garcinia helps dieters in two additional ways: it suppresses appetite and it boosts serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) which may reduce emotional eating. Seratonin also helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol which promotes fat storage. HCA extract appears to be safe in recommended amounts but is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women or anyone taking diabetic medications or a statin drug.

While websites selling Garcinia claim there are many good studies supporting the product, a neutral website – by Randy Shore of the Vancouver Sun – tells another story. He refers to a 12 week trial published in JAMA in 1998 which found no significant difference with the use of HCA on either total weight loss or fat mass loss. A 2010 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Obesity found 12 scientifically-sound trials on the supplement. These showed a small but significant weight loss increase with HCA but one of the studies reported twice as many “gastrointestinal adverse events” in the HCA group.

So try Garcinia if you wish – it could help you to lose weight. But if it doesn’t, it may not be the fault of HCA. As I have explained before in several articles, there is an overriding hormone that, in excess, prevents fat loss – insulin. If your insulin level is high (and even Type II Diabetics’ can be), nothing you can do will burn fat. Until you normalize insulin, no diet or diet aid – garcinia, raspberry ketones, green coffee bean, L-carnitine, CLA, etc – will work. Ask me how you can do this easily and safely.

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

September 9, 2013

233 Why Aspartame is Toxic [9 Sept 2013]

Last week I discussed a soda company’s ad campaign promoting aspartame as a “safe, high-quality alternative to sugar”. I then showed that artificial sweeteners, even more than sugar, have been found to increase appetite, fat storage, carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain. Aspartame also impairs memory and learning, and can cause headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal problems, and blurred vision. It has even been shown to increase risk of liver, lung, brain and blood cancers in rats. So what makes aspartame so toxic?

Aspartame is composed of two naturally occurring amino acids – phenylalanine and aspartic acid – and a methyl ester bond. The amino acids are in a much higher ratio (90%) than normally found in protein (9%) which can cause an over-stimulation of neurotransmitters leading to serious neurological, hormonal and emotional symptoms. This over-stimulation is called excitotoxicity and aspartame is known as an excitotoxin (as is MSG). Powdered aspartame (Equal) reportedly makes an effective ant poison.

But it’s the methyl ester that’s the biggest problem with aspartame. It occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables where it is strongly bonded to pectin and safely passes through the GI tract. The methyl ester in aspartame, however, readily breaks off to form methanol (wood alcohol) which is absorbed into the blood and carried to every cell in our body. Inside our cells methanol converts to formaldehyde, which is a serious toxin, and then to the less harmful formic acid, and finally to carbon dioxide and water. Humans lack an enzyme to convert formaldehyde to formic acid, so this process is less efficient than in other animals.

Aspartame was first approved for use in sodas in the USA in 1983. In 1988 80% of the consumer complaints to the US FDA were for aspartame (4 times as many as for all other products combined). By 1995 aspartame had received well over 7,000 complaints. Despite these numbers, the FDA, Health Canada’s Health Protection Branch, and most other official health organizations maintain that aspartame is perfectly safe. Makes you wonder whose health they are protecting.

Sweet Deception, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Nelson Books, 2006. (one of many articles on artificial sweeteners)
Health Canada's position on aspartame
Evidence Analysis Library - plausible sounding article on the relative safety of aspartame re formaldehyde

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

September 3, 2013

232 Diet Soda Makes us Fat, Sick & Stupid* [3 Sept 2013]

* What's not to like??

There is growing awareness of the negative health effects of diet soda (and aspartame, the artificial sweetener of choice for beverages). To combat this trend a leading soda company has rolled out an ad campaign to “fight obesity” and to reassure customers that aspartame is a “safe, high-quality alternative to sugar”. How sound are their arguments?

First, sugary beverages have been shown in many studies to be a major factor in the growing rates of obesity in both adults and children. For this company to campaign against obesity is ironic at best and fraudulent at worst. It implies that at least their “diet” soda does not contribute to weight gain. Unfortunately studies have shown that aspartame, even more than sucrose: increases appetite, stimulates fat storage, increases carbohydrate cravings, and ultimately contributes to weight gain.

Even for diabetics there is no advantage in diet sodas. Recent research surprisingly found that aspartame lowered insulin sensitivity (a measure of how effectively insulin works) even more than sugar.

In a previous article [191] I discussed the connection between diet soda and increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, and certain blood cancers. Other symptoms associated with aspartame include: impaired memory and learning, headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal problems, and blurred vision. The best way to determine if your symptoms are caused by artificial sweeteners is to eliminate them from your diet for two weeks, then reintroduce them for one or two days, one sweetener at a time.

We are better off avoiding all sodas (even the brand I sell sweetened with stevia) because not all the problems are from the sweetener. The phosphoric or citric acid, common to all sodas, will leach calcium from our teeth and bones, contributing to caries and osteoporosis. The flavors are artificial chemicals of no nutritive value and questionable safety. The beverage of choice for good health is still pure water.

Mercola: Why Coke is a Joke - New Ad Campaign Defends Aspartame (28 August 2013)
Artificial Sweeteners May be Worse than Sugar for Diabetics (9 August 2012)
See also my post #142 Soda Pop (28 Nov 2011)

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.

August 26, 2013

231 Obesity is Deadly [26 August 2013]

Medical researchers have known for a long time that obesity reduces life expectancy. Previous estimates believed it accounted for 5% of American adult deaths. But a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health found that obesity is much more deadly than was previously thought.

The study linked data from the National Health Interview Survey with mortality information in the National Death Index from 1986 to 2006 to analyze obesity and mortality among 332,093 men and 385,475 women aged 40 to 85, divided by race into “white” and “black”.

Being overweight or obese accounted for 18.2% of deaths overall. It was highest for women: 26.8% for black women and 21.7% for white women, and lower for men: 5.0% for black men and 15.6% for white men. Although black men and white men had similar rates of obesity, smoking and socioeconomic factors skewed the results.

Not surprisingly the data showed the problem is worse for the younger generations. Obesity-related mortality was higher for those born in the 1960s than those born in the 1930s or 1920s. And the trend will continue to rise as overweight people now in their teens, 20s and 30s grow older.

One of the authors, Ryan Masters, wrote:
Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe. We expect that obesity will be responsible for an increasing share of deaths in the United States and perhaps even lead to declines in U.S. life expectancy.
Being overweight or obese has a much greater effect on you than how it makes you look or feel, or even than the wear and tear on your joints; it can shorten your life. Fortunately there is an easy, safe and effective way to lose that unwanted weight and provide the opportunity to enjoy a longer, healthier life.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.

August 19, 2013

230 Agave Syrup [19 August 2013]

Agave syrup (also called “agave nectar”) is marketed as a healthy natural sweetener. I have some for sale in my store. But just what is agave syrup and how healthy is it?

The syrup is made from the agave plant which grows in Mexico and southwestern USA (and from which Tequila is made). The best quality syrup is made from the leaf sap which is processed at a low temperature using enzymes and chemicals. Most syrup, however, is synthesized from the starch in the root with a similar process that converts cornstarch to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Agave syrup comes in two main grades: light syrup which is more highly filtered and has a mild flavor, and the darker colored amber syrup which has a stronger flavor. Agave syrup has become quite popular as a sweetener because of its flavor, sweetness, and perceived health benefits. A strong selling point is its low glycemic index, which is a measure of its effect on blood glucose levels.

But how healthy is it? It has more calories than table sugar but is sweeter so you can use less. It is highly processed so has few trace nutrients, unlike raw honey. But the biggest problem with agave is the amount of fructose it contains, from 60-90 % (compare with high fructose corn syrup at 55%). It is the fructose content that creates the low glycemic index often touted as a benefit. I have written before about the dangers of fructose [#55 22 March 2012]. It increases uric acid which causes gout; it contributes more to insulin resistance and obesity than other sugars; and it has a toxic effect on the liver [“Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome” Elliott et al, 2002, JAClinNutr].

Dr Joseph Mercola recommends people in good health consume less than 25g of fructose per day (about 1 tablespoon of the syrup). He also advises those with gout, diabetes or insulin resistance to avoid it completely. From what I’ve read, I tend to agree with Mercola, and suggest that agave syrup be used sparingly by healthy people only.

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

August 12, 2013

229 A Calorie is NOT a Calorie [12 August 2013]

Traditional nutritional wisdom teaches that “A calorie is a calorie”. Whether it comes from carbohydrates, fat or protein, weight gain (and loss) is a simple matter of total calories in minus calories burned. But is it really that simple?

One obvious difference between foods of equal calories is the amount of micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and fiber – associated with it. If weight loss or maintenance is your goal, you simply can’t afford to eat high-calorie low-nutrient foods. Another difference between foods is how the calories are used – burned for energy or stored as fat. Calories from simple carbohydrates – sugar and refined flour – are more likely to be stored, since carbs stimulate release of insulin which acts as a key to promote fat storage. Carbs also supply the “glyceride” part of triglycerides.

A study published in JAMA in June 2012 discovered a third difference between foods of equal calories – how they affect metabolism. A significant problem with weight management is that after losing weight on a diet, the metabolism slows (referred to as metabolic adaptation) which makes it more difficult to keep it off. This study compared the effects of three different diets on obese people who had just lost weight. All participants were put on each diet for a month: a) low-fat high-carb; b) low glycemic index; and c) low-carb high-fat high-protein. The results showed that the fewer carbs consumed, the smaller the metabolic adaptation. On average, the low-carb group expended only 100 fewer calories than before (and 8 of 21 actually expended more) while the high-carb group expended 400 fewer calories. This 300 calorie difference is equivalent to an hour of moderate exercise. This shows that a low-carb diet gives dieters the best chance at losing weight and keeping it off, and may prevent susceptible people from becoming overweight in the first place.

This study also found that the low-carb diet reduced triglycerides and HDL cholesterol more than the other diets; and improved insulin sensitivity – a measure of insulin resistance believed behind metabolic syndrome – the most.

"What Really Makes Us Fat", Gary Taubes, New York Times, June 30, 2012
Good science, bad interpretation”, Peter Attia MD, on his blog The Eating Academy

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

August 5, 2013

228 Omega-3 & Prostate Cancer [5 August 2013]

Men - did you see any of the headlines last week about fish oil causing prostate cancer? If so, I hope you didn’t swear off salmon and throw away your Omega-3 capsules. The evidence the headlines were based on is pretty flimsy.

In an observational study published July 10 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, data from the SELECT Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial were extracted to examine a possible link between omega-3 levels in blood and prostate cancer risk. A positive association was found with DHA, one of the fish oil Omega-3 EFAs and both low-grade and high-grade prostate cancer (44% and 71% increase respectively).

These numbers sound pretty significant, but are they? First of all, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. The lowest risk of prostate cancer in this study happened to correlate with the highest trans fatty acid levels, but no one is even suggesting that TFAs, with well-known harmful effects, prevent cancer.

Blood levels of EFAs depend on your most recent meal, not on long term eating habits, which is not included in the data. So we don’t know how much fish, if any, the men in this study ate or if they took omega-3 supplements.

The total omega-3 levels, as a percent of total blood lipids, in both groups was quite low – 3.66% in the group who got cancer and 3.62% in the group who didn’t, and the difference very slight. Yet Japanese men, who consume 8 times as much omega-3s as Americans, have a much lower prostate cancer rate.

The researchers in this study did not control for age, race or diet and other known risk factors may not have been completely accounted for. Of the men who got cancer, 53% were smokers, 64% regularly consumed alcohol and 80% were overweight or obese.

The overwhelming majority of valid studies – larger and much better designed – show that omega-3s lower cancer risk, including prostate cancer. One study from Harvard School of Public Health which followed 20,000 men for over 22 years found that men who ate fish 5 or more times per week had a 48% lower risk of prostate cancer death than those who ate fish less than once a week. And a 30 year study from Sweden concluded that eliminating fish from your diet could increase your risk of prostate cancer by up to 300%. Now that’s significant!

The only way to explain the study’s conclusions - and the news stories that promoted them – is a desire for sensational headlines and a strong anti-supplement bias. And I don’t think I’m stretching it here. One of the researchers, Alan Kristy, was quoted: “We’ve shown once again that use of nutritional supplements may be harmful.” Baloney! What they have shown is that following nutritional advice from mainstream media may be harmful.

Dr. Jonny Bowden in Huffington Post
Dr. Michael Murray
Dr Robert Rountree, Chief Medical Officer at Thorne Research, in Dr Nalini blog

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

July 29, 2013

227 Herbs for Healthy Veins [29 July 2013]

Varicose veins are blue, bulging, swollen veins typically occurring in the legs. Spider veins are smaller, either red or blue, and occur in patches of connected lines like a spider web. More than just a cosmetic problem, varicose veins can be painful and are a sign of impaired circulation. Hemorrhoids is a painful condition caused by varicose veins occurring at the rectum. Several herbs have been found effective in the treatment and prevention of varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Horse Chestnut is a popular herbal remedy for these conditions. Seed extract from this tree reduces inflammation, improves venous wall tone, increases blood flow, and reduces capillary permeability. Precautions – avoid horse chestnut extract during pregnancy and breast-feeding; monitor blood sugar if diabetic; and avoid if taking lithium or blood-thinning drugs. The herb Butcher’s Broom and extracts of Pine Bark (pycnogenol) and grapeseed are also used for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Two bioflavonoids, hesperadin and diosmin, both from the white of citrus rinds, are proving effective for these conditions. These two extracts work together to:
• reduce swelling and inflammation
• strengthen blood vessel walls which reduces bruising
• improve venous tone and elasticity in Chronic Venous Insufficiency
• increase capillary circulation of blood
• speed healing of leg ulcers due to poor circulation (common in diabetes)
• improve lymphatic drainage
• and often take two to three months to achieve full beneficial effects.

Diosmin reduces stickiness of blood platelets so it is important to consult your physician if you are on blood thinning meds as they may need to be reduced. As a precaution, check with your health care practitioner before using while pregnant or breastfeeding.

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

July 22, 2013

226 Sugar in Milk [July 22, 2013]

Two Harvard medical doctors writing in the July 2013 JAMA Pediatrics question the evidence for recommending 3 cups of low-fat milk for children and adults. David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD and Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH noted that while dietary recommendations typically limit consumption of calorie-containing liquids, they encourage 3 cups daily of reduced-fat milk (2% or skim) which contains 12g of sugar per cup.

Two possible rationales for this recommendation – to reduce calories and to reduce saturated fats – are not supported by available evidence. The few studies comparing whole milk and reduced fat milk show equal or even greater weight gain in the low fat group. Ludwig and Willett suggest the lower satiety of low-fat milk causes an increase in consumption of other foods which often contain high-glycemic carbohydrates (i.e. the child is still hungry so eats another cookie).

And reducing saturated fat to prevent heart disease may or may not be effective – it depends on what it is replaced with. If replaced by unsaturated fats or low-glycemic carbs (whole grains and vegetables), the blood lipids (cholesterol levels) should improve. But if replaced by high-glycemic carbs (sugar and starch), cholesterol may not change but triglycerides will increase and so will the risk for a heart attack.

The authors then discuss sweetened chocolate milk. Adding 14g of sugar per serving to encourage children to drink more, undermines the nutritional advantage of the milk. And the added sugar is sucrose (glucose + fructose) which is harder on the liver than the natural milk sugar lactose (glucose + galactose).

Finally the authors question the requirement of milk as a calcium source. They argue that the USA RDA for calcium is probably higher than it needs to be, and certainly higher than in other countries like the UK. They also point out that countries which do not eat dairy have a lower bone fracture rate than those that do; and that a recent meta-analysis found that milk consumption does not protect against fractures in adults.

Although they don’t come out with a conclusion or recommendation, it appears that Ludwig and Willett would prefer 1 or 2 cups of whole milk rather than 3 of low-fat milk, and certainly than sweetened flavored milk.

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

July 15, 2013

225 Preventing Post-Menopausal Fractures

A wipe-out on my bicycle last week makes this topic timely. I didn’t break any bones but easily could have. A study from the U. of Buffalo published in June looked at the effectiveness of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and supplementation with calcium and vitamin D (CalD) in preventing fractures in post-menopausal women.

The study “Women’s Health Initiative clinical trials: interaction of calcium and vitamin D with hormone therapy” found that HT and CalD together reduced hip fractures by 50% over placebo, and that the combination was more effective than either alone. Curiously bone mineral density was unchanged in the lower fracture group. Personally I suspect that if a better form of calcium than carbonate was used, vitamin D3 was given at 4,000iu instead of 400iu, and vitamin K2 was added, the fracture rate would be much lower and a bone mineral density increase would be measurable, with or without the HRT.

Hormone Replacement Therapy has fallen out of favor since the publication in July 2002 of a study by the Women’s Health Initiative which linked it to increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. One year later breast cancer rates, which had been climbing steadily, dropped by 7% overall and by 12% in women over age 50. See Mercola's post on this topic for additional information.

Fortunately there is a safer alternative – bio-identical hormones. Because of patent laws, the hormones used in HRT are synthetic, similar but not exactly like the ones produced in our bodies. Bio-identical hormones are just that – the exact same molecules, so they work better without the side effects. Ideally all of the hormones should be measured and balanced – estrone, estradiol, estriol, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA – not just one or two. It takes all of your hormones, in balance, to keep you healthy. Periodic hormone testing is also important to ensure that your hormones stay in balance. For information on bio-identical hormone therapy, contact Cindy Johns at 306-463-4565.

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

July 8, 2013

224 Nutrients for Healthy Eyes [8 July 2013]

Most people would consider vision to be the most precious of their senses, so it makes sense to protect it. Certain nutrients prevent damage to the eyes and improve vision. A few of these nutrients can be obtained sufficiently in food; most only by supplementation.

Beta-carotene occurs as retinal in the photoreceptor cells; protects the cornea; improves night vision
Lutein, astaxanthin & zeaxanthin are fat-soluble antioxidants concentrated in the lens and macula; protect delicate photoreceptor cells from UV rays and free radicals; prevent cataracts and Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Astaxanthin is the most potent antioxidant for protecting the eyes; protects DHA oxidation in the eye; inhibits inflammation; reduces eyestrain fatigue from computer use; protects or treats AMD, Cataracts, Diplopia (double vision), Diabetic Retinopathy, and depth perception problems
Anthocyanins, water-soluble antioxidants found in dark berry pigments (bilberries, blackberries, blueberries), protect the eyes and improve vision
Cyanidin-3-glucoside (C3G) is the most important anthocyanin for the eyes; improves night vision, reduces eye fatigue from computers
Vitamin E: gamma tocopherol (GT) and alpha tocopherol (AT) work more effectively together, with GT the most important; protect eyes from free radicals and inflammation; help prevent cataracts and AMD
Benfotiamine is a special form of Thiamine (B1) for the eyes; helps prevent glaucoma, cataracts, AMD, Diabetic Retinopathy and eye inflammation
Zinc and Selenium are mineral antioxidants; methionine form best for safety and bioavailability for the eyes; selenium reduces risk of AMD, cataracts and glaucoma; zinc is concentrated in choroid layer of the retina which provides oxygen and nutrients to the photoreceptor cells
L-Taurine is a sulfur containing amino acid essential for healthy eyes; improves Diabetic Retinopathy; helps prevent AMD

Source: Vision Health Formulas - powerpoint by RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc.Pharm. 2013

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

July 2, 2013

223 Restless Leg Syndrome [2 July 2013]

Most people, at least those who’ve never experienced it, think of restless leg syndrome (RLS) as more of a nuisance than a serious health problem. A recent study published in the Journal Neurology last month should change that thinking.

A prospective cohort study of 18,425 adult men in the USA found a 35% greater mortality over the 8 year study period for those who had RLS. When those with major chronic conditions – cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, etc – were factored out, the increased rate of mortality jumped to 95% - nearly double the rate of death!

The study didn’t determine if the increased mortality in RLS was due to an underlying cause of RLS, co-occurring conditions, or to consequences of RLS.
There are many natural treatments for RLS to reduce or eliminate symptoms:
• increase magnesium and potassium foods or supplements
• increase iron foods or supplements – if your iron is low
• increase folic acid (B10) and B complex
• homeopathic remedies like Hylands “Restful Legs”
• herbs to increase circulation such as Ginkgo, Horse Chestnut and Butcher’s Broom
• massage and stretch the leg muscles
• alternate hot and cold baths or compresses
• hot bath with Epsom salts (rich in magnesium)
• avoid alcoholic and caffeinated (coffee, tea, cola) drinks in the evening
• stop smoking
• drink plenty of water

Successful treating of RLS may or may not reduce your risk of death, but it will improve your sleep. And that alone will make a world of difference to your 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.

June 24, 2013

222 Salt – how much is too little? [24 June 2013]

The Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s DASH diet for lowering high blood pressure recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. But some organizations like the American Heart Association are pushing for as little as 1,500 mg (half a teaspoon) per day. A recent report questions the benefits and safety of this lower amount.

The report, titled “Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence” by an expert group of the Institute of Medicine for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was published in May 2013. The group looked at new evidence that had been published since the last report in 2005. The new data showed no health benefit in restricting sodium below 2,300 and indications of possible harm. The “possible harm” included increased rate of heart attacks and risk of death. It looks like the Canadians, with their more conservative recommendation, got it right this time.

Previous predictions on benefits of sodium reduction (like the prevention of 14,500 heart attacks each year in Canada that I quoted in my column #022 July 27, 2009) are based solely on salt’s effect on blood pressure. Actual studies of health outcomes found that groups with the lowest salt intake often had worse health outcomes, including higher death rates. Obviously salt plays many important roles other than affecting one’s blood pressure.

Over-restricting salt in seniors is especially dangerous because symptoms of hyponatraemia (low sodium levels) are commonly associated with aging – fatigue, confusion and poor balance – and can easily be overlooked.

Potassium in balance with sodium is more important than just sodium levels – see my columns #129 and #211 for more on potassium.

Hyperinsulinism (high insulin levels) is the underlying cause of metabolic syndrome which includes high blood pressure. See my column #084 Insulin and Blood Pressure (03 Oct 2010). The insulin causes the body to retain sodium and excrete potassium. Normalizing insulin not only prevents type 2 diabetes but also reverses high blood pressure with normal salt consumption.

Additional points not mentioned in the Eagle ad article:

Salt is a nutrient and is essential for life so can't be completely eliminated. There are however sources of sodium other than salt that are not essential (and likely harmful) so should be avoided: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate, and MSG.

80% of sodium in the typical American diet comes from processed foods; 10% from natural foods; and only 10% added at the table. The best way to reduce sodium would appear to be to reduce processed foods.

Iodine is added to commercial table salt which is believed responsible for the lower rates of hypothyroidism in North America. There is some concern that reducing salt, or switching to the marginally more nutritious sea salts, could lead to more iodine deficiencies. Probably true but it need not be the case. There are other sources of iodine supplementation readily available, either as a liquid supplement or some form of kelp supplement.

To recap, the only benefit to reducing salt is to lower blood pressure. Levels below 2,300 mg have no blood pressure lowering effect. Levels lower than 2,300 can be detrimental to our health.

IOM Report
New York Times article and opinion piece
Health Sciences Institute articles 1 and 2
Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation – DASH diet

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

June 17, 2013

221 Barry Marshall story [17 June 2013]

Barry Marshall won the 2005 Nobel Prize for his discovery that ulcers were caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. In his online autobiography he tells the story of his discovery and the path that led to the Nobel Prize.

One factor favoring his discovery was his general medicine training – he hadn’t been indoctrinated into the gastroenterology specialist dogma (for example that bacteria cannot live in the acidic stomach). Thus he was able to draw logical conclusions from his observations (that H. pylori occurred in all the ulcer patients and in few others). He then went about testing his theory, including infecting himself with the bacteria to see what would happen (he got very sick). By 1984 he was successfully treating ulcer patients with antibiotics and bismuth.

Naturally Marshall was anxious for his discovery to be quickly accepted so that millions of other ulcer patients could also benefit. Instead he became frustrated with the opposition he faced from the medical community. In his words: “I was met with constant criticism that my conclusions were premature and not well supported. When the work was presented, my results were disputed and disbelieved, not on the basis of science but because they simply could not be true.”

Proctor & Gamble, an American pharmaceutical company which made a bismuth drug, came to his rescue and helped Marshall patent and promote his work. Gradually his theory became more accepted and finally in 1994 it became the standard treatment for duodenal and gastric ulcers. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Although those 10 years of opposition must have seemed like a long time to Marshall, he was really very fortunate to have such a revolutionary idea accepted so quickly. I wonder how many other health discoveries are being ignored (or worse) because “they simply could not be true” or because there is too much money being made with the status quo.

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

June 10, 2013

220 Red Meat & Heart Disease [10 June 2013]

Have you heard about the recent study connecting red meat with heart disease? Briefly the theory holds that carnitine, an amino acid found in red meat, is converted in the intestine to trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) by bacteria found in omnivores (people who regularly eat meat) but not in vegetarians. High blood levels of TMAO had previously been correlated with atherosclerosis, providing a new explanation for red meat as a risk factor for heart disease (besides its content of saturated fat and cholesterol).

Well, don’t swear off steaks just yet. The New York Times article questions whether the association between high TMAO levels and heart disease is cause & effect (i.e. will lowering TMAO reduce your risk?) and concludes “the study does not mean that red meat is entirely bad or that it is best to avoid it entirely…”

Chris Masterjohn, writing for the Weston A. Price Foundation, critiques this study raising other questions and objections:
• a 1999 study showed that beef did not generate significantly more (and often less) TMAO than most other foods including chicken and pork; vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, peas, and tomatoes; and milk, eggs and bread
• the only foods in the 1999 study which produced significantly more TMAO than beef (up to 100 X higher!) was seafood, which of course is known to lower the risk of heart disease
• the steak eating experiment studied only 5 people – one vegan and 5 omnivores – and the results were too varied to draw any firm conclusions
• numerous studies have shown that carnitine supplementation is beneficial to patients with heart disease
• finally, the whole premise of red meat and heart disease is debatable. Masterson writes “…the balance of epidemiological evidence fails to show an association between fresh, unprocessed red meat and heart disease.”

So don’t give up your steaks yet, at least not based on this study.


original article
"Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis" Nat Med. 2013 May;19(5):576-85

New York Times article
Culprit in Heart Disease Goes Beyond Meat’s Fat" New York Times, Gina Kolata, 7 April 2013

Weston A. Price Foundation - critique
Does Carnitine From Red Meat Contribute to Heart Disease Through Intestinal Bacterial Metabolism to TMAO? Chris Masterjohn, 10 April 2013 article - more on the subject
Will Eating Meat Really Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease? 22 April 2013

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

June 3, 2013

219 GMO Myths & Truths [3 June 2013]

I have written about genetically modified organisms before (# 052, 110, 111 & 195). This week I want to share a recent report that I just learned about.

GMO Myths and Truths – An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops is a 123 page report published in June 2012 by a not-for-profit organization called Earth Open Source. The authors have impressive backgrounds. Michael Antoniou is a genetics professor at King’s College London school of Medicine, UK, with 28 years experience in genetic engineering technology and over 40 peer reviewed publications plus several patents in gene expression biotechnology. John Fagan is founder of one of the world’s first GMO testing and certification companies and previously conducted cancer research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Claire Robinson is an investigative reporter specializing in public health, science and the environment. So these are solid scientists and science writers, not just crackpot environmentalists.

The authors concluded that, contrary to industry promotional claims, GM crops:
• are totally different from natural breeding and pose different risks
• can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than natural crops
• are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
• have not increased yield potential
• increase rather than decrease pesticide use
• create serious problems for farmers including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility
• are as energy-hungry as other chemically-farmed crops
• cannot solve world hunger but distract from its real causes.

You can read the entire report online at
For further discussion of this report and an interview with Thierry Vrain, a former research scientist with Agriculture Canada, see

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

May 27, 2013

218 Triphala [27 May 2013]

Triphala is an Ayervedic herbal compound whose name means “three fruits” in Sanskrit/Hindi. Ayervedic is a traditional herbal medicine from India. The three medicinal fruits making up Triphala are: amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. Together, these three herbs have many uses and benefits:
• Blood cleanser
• Gentle, effective, non-habit forming laxative
• Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral
• Effective antioxidant
• Reduces high blood pressure
• Stimulates production of bile
• Helps with hemorrhoids and gallstones
• Aids blood circulation and supports heart function
• Lowers high cholesterol
• Cleanses and improves function of the liver
• Expectorant - clears mucus from lungs and respiratory tract
• Improves reproductive health in men and women
• Helps regulate menstrual cycle in women
• Improves eyesight
• contains a unique heat and age-stable vitamin C
• animal studies have found it promising in cancer treatment

With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why Triphala is the most popular Ayervedic herbal in India. Thanks in part to Dr Oz, it is also becoming popular in North America. Triphala is most effective when taken as a tea but is also available in tablets or capsules.

Triphala should be avoided during pregnancy and by underweight people as it promotes weight loss. Also avoid if taking blood thinning medication. Possible (temporary) side effects from the cleansing action include intestinal gas, diarrhea, nausea, and headaches.

The Dr. Oz Show
East West School of Planetary Herbology - Alternative Medicine

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

May 20, 2013

217 Serrapeptase – the Anti-inflammatory Enzyme [21 May 2013]

Serrapeptase is a proteolytic enzyme used as a natural anti-inflammatory for a wide variety of conditions. Its full name serratiopeptidase reflects its origin in the bacterium Serratia found in the gut of silkworms.

Serrapeptase is commonly prescribed (as a drug) in Europe and Asia as a safer alternative to pain relievers and NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug). Robert Redfern explains that serrapeptase works by clearing unhealthy inflammation and affects only dead tissue, and that unlike NSAIDs it has no gastrointestinal side effects (like ulcers, bleeding stomach, and much worse) and has no interactions with any drug. He has found it safe in pregnancy, breastfeeding (it helps with engorged breasts), and with bleeding disorders (the Canadian label requires a warning to check with your physician if taking warfarin).

Serrapeptase has been used for a wide variety of conditions:
• pain of any kind including back pain, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome
• lung problems including bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, emphysema
• rhinitis, sinusitis, ear infections, laryngitis, hay fever
• varicose veins, peripheral vascular disease, blood clots, arterial plaque
• fibromyalgia, cystitis, fibrocystic breast disease
• headaches and vascular migraines
• inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s
• pain and inflammation from trauma (eg sprains) and surgery

Despite the safe and amazingly successful use of serrapeptase over 40 years, there are few controlled studies published, so it is underutilized in North American medicine. I carry serrapeptase but my supplier recently had their product refused an NHPN number (and I expect other brands will have as well) so it will soon be unavailable in Canadian stores.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. See this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.

May 13, 2013

216 Magnesium Bisglycinate [13 May 2013]

Since I wrote about magnesium a month or so ago (#209 Magnesium – A Crucial Mineral; and #210 Magnesium – Getting Enough) I have learned about a new form of this critically important mineral.

Magnesium bisglycinate – magnesium attached to two glycine molecules – has several advantages over other forms of magnesium. It is absorbed faster and more efficiently than other forms. It is better utilized by the body and hence more effective in filling magnesium’s many roles. And it avoids the laxative effect of magnesium, especially at high doses. It is available in powder or capsule form.

To review, you should consider supplementing with magnesium if you:

• are pregnant or breastfeeding to prevent pre-eclampsia, reduce risk of gestational diabetes, and prevent muscle cramps
• suffer from Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue
• have ADD or ADHD – to reduce symptoms
• have Type 2 diabetes – to improve insulin response
• want to increase bone strength – to convert calcium to hydroxyapatite, the form found in bones and teeth
• want to reduce cholesterol (without side effects)
• have high blood pressure, heart disease or abnormal heart rhythms
• suffer from headaches or migraines
• are stressed out and need to relax
• have trouble sleeping
• suffer from PMS – to reduce cramping and other symptoms
• have loss of appetite or nausea
• have muscle spasms and cramping
• are taking more calcium than magnesium (check your cal:mag ratio)
• are taking vitamin D – Mg is required for proper metabolism of D

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

May 6, 2013

215 Beet Juice & Blood Pressure [6 May 2013]

Two recent studies have brought the humble beet root vegetable back in style.

A small controlled trial in Melbourne Australia with 15 men and 15 women was published in December 2012 in Nutrition Journal. It found that a single dose of 500ml beet juice significantly lowered blood pressure, at least temporarily. The reduction was greatest for the men, lowering the systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 4 or 5 points.

In April 2013 a smaller study from London England was published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. Eight women and 7 men with mild hypertension were given a single dose of 250ml beet juice or a placebo, and monitored over 24 hours. The beet juice lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in both men and women by about 10 points. The reduction was greatest after 3-6 hours but was still measurable after 24 hours.

The ingredient in beet juice believed responsible for the reduction in blood pressure is the nitrates which are converted in the body to nitric oxide (NO). See my columns #180, 181 & 182 from August & September 2012 on NO. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessel walls, lowering blood pressure. Other sources of nitrates include leafy green vegetables, especially spinach.

Beet juice has been used by athletes to increase endurance and has many other health benefits from the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it contains. For example, beets are high in iron which I wrote about last week. There are some cautions however. Due to beets’ high oxalate content, people who are prone to kidney stones or gallstones should check with their physician before taking beet juice. An allergic reaction to beets is possible but rare.

Beet roots and leaves can be cooked but for best nutrition they should be juiced raw. You can juice your own beets, along with other vegetables like carrots or fruit like oranges and apples to improve the taste. Beet juice is also available in health food stores as concentrated liquid or dehydrated crystals. For best effect, take the beet juice on an empty stomach and “chew” the juice to mix it with saliva.

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

April 29, 2013

214 Zinc – the Sex Mineral

The final mineral in this series is zinc. Zinc plays many roles in the body as a component of over 100 enzymes – including insulin and SOD – but is best known for its roles in sexual maturation and function in both males and females.

Zinc is found in all tissues and organs but is concentrated in the prostate, liver, eye, pancreas, blood cells and the part of the brain associated with smell. A steady intake of this mineral is required as the body has no zinc storage system.

A zinc deficiency can occur during infancy, puberty, child-bearing years, use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, periods of high stress (physical, mental, emotional), diabetes, alcoholism, or high copper levels. A deficiency can result in:
• delayed sexual maturation of both boys and girls
• some types of adolescent acne
• loss of taste and smell; loss of appetite
• enlarged prostate in older men
• delayed wound healing
• frequent colds and infections
• offensive body and breath odors
• white spots on fingernails
• hair loss

Health Canada’s daily RDA varies with age and gender: infants & young children 2-4mg; male teens & adults 11mg; female teens & adults 8mg; pregnancy 11 and breastfeeding 12. Good food sources include sardines, herring, beef liver, beef, lamb, egg yolks, dark poultry meat, grains, legumes, nuts and pumpkin seeds.

Zinc is available as a supplement, either as part of a multi vitamin/mineral or on its own. Typical strengths are 15 to 50 mg, as zinc sulfate, citrate or chelate. Caution – the higher doses should only be used for a short time while treating a known deficiency. Zinc and copper are antagonists so a high intake of one can cause a deficiency in the other. For this reason oysters and lobster, although high in zinc, are not a dependable source as they can also be quite high in copper.

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

April 22, 2013

213 Iron – the Energy Mineral [22 April 2013]

Iron is one mineral that is important to keep at the optimum level. On one hand iron is often described as the most common nutritional deficiency; on the other, excess iron can be a serious problem for many people.

Iron’s main function in the body is as a component of the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin found in red blood cells. Severe iron deficiency results in anemia which impairs the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the cells of the body. Symptoms include: fatigue, pale skin, poor appetite and low resistance to infection. Three groups most affected by iron deficiency are: growing children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and pre-menopausal and elderly women. Anemia can also be caused by hidden internal bleeding so should be investigated.

A common genetic condition called hemochromatosis increases absorption of iron which then builds up in the body affecting the liver, pancreas and heart. Men aged 50 or more are most commonly affected. The best treatment is frequent blood donation (although the donated blood cannot be used). A simple blood test can tell you if you have enough, too much, or insufficient iron.

If you are deficient, you can increase consumption of iron rich foods like liver, red meat, egg yolk, legumes and leafy green vegetables like spinach. Spinach by the way is not the iron super power that Popeye thought – a transcribing error in 1870 showed it having 35mg/100g instead of 3.5, an error that wasn’t caught until 1937. Cooking in a cast iron pan is another easy way to add iron to your diet.

There is a variety of iron supplements available, should they be necessary. Inorganic iron salts are not recommended as they are poorly absorbed and tend to be constipating. Ferrous fumarate is a better, organic form. For people with a sensitive digestive system, ferrous bisglycinate chelate is a form that doesn’t cause constipation or diarrhea. The best iron supplements, in my opinion, are the organic herbal iron tonics with a small amount of a highly bio-available form of iron.

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

April 15, 2013

212 Silica – the Health and Beauty Mineral [15 April 2013]

Silicon is the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust after oxygen. It commonly occurs as silicon-dioxide, also called silica. Silicon is a useful mineral to man. Glass is about 75% silica. Silicon’s semi-conductor property created the electronics revolution. And it’s a component of silicone rubber, famous for its flexibility and heat resistance.

But silica’s most important use to man is as a nutrient.. Silica promotes the synthesis of the proteins collagen (Type 1) and elastin. Collagen is an abundant protein in mammals, making up the majority of connective tissue like cartilage, tendons, ligaments, gums and skin. Elastin is a stretchy protein, important for healthy skin, lungs and arteries (especially the aorta). Silica also promotes stronger thicker hair, stronger nails, and stronger bones. Although silica only makes up a tiny proportion of bone, it’s important for promoting re-calcification of bone and speeding healing of fractures. As we age the silica content of our tissues decreases, especially for post-menopausal women.

Clinical trial results have shown that a silica supplement:
• increased hair diameter by 12.8%
• increased hair strength by 13.1%
• reduced facial wrinkles by 30%
• increased skin elasticity by 89%
• strengthened nails making them more resistant to breaking
• increased collagen formation and mineral density in bones.

Although silica is abundant in the earth, it is less common in our food. Silica is abundant only in grass-related foods such as the bran or hulls of oats, wheat and rice, which is almost entirely eliminated from our foods by processing. There are several different silica supplements formulated to provide this nutrient in an easily absorbable form for your body to use:
• aqueous extracts of horsetail or oatstraw – orthosilicic form of silica
• silica gel – a colloidal solution from quartz crystals
• silicon as orthosilicic acid – probably the most effective form

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

April 8, 2013

211 Potassium [8 April 2013]

Potassium is one of a special group of minerals called electrolytes which includes calcium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorous. Electrolytes occur in the blood in an ionic form, meaning they carry an electric charge and are not attached to anything. Electrolytes affect the acidity of the blood (pH), the amount of water in the blood (and therefore blood pressure), and muscle function (including the heart). Potassium is essential for bone growth, proper nerve transmission, heart and kidney function, and adrenal function.

The role of potassium in regulating blood pressure is often overlooked. Potassium deficiency is at least as important, and possibly more so, than excess sodium (see my column #129 Salt in Balance, 29 August 2011). Other signs of potassium deficiency include:
• water retention
• muscle weakness and cramps
• heart arrhythmia
• constipation

Our diets are often deficient in potassium. The Paleolithic diet was estimated to contain 11,000 mg potassium and 700 mg sodium. Compare that with our modern diet with 2,500 mg potassium and over 4,000 mg sodium. (Not that the Paleolithic diet ratio was necessarily ideal; the point here is that the ratio has flipped). The Health Canada “Adequate Intake” amount for potassium is 4,700 mg for adults.

Good dietary sources of potassium include vegetables like lima beans, squash, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, avocados and asparagus, and fruits including papaya, prunes, cantaloupe and bananas. Don’t overdo the bananas, though, as they are high in sugar and have only half the potassium of the green vegetables. Unrefined sea salts with a pink color are another source of potassium. Potassium is also available as a supplement, usually in citrate form.

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


Mercola: The Guilty Pleasure that Could Save you From Heart Disease, 5 March 2012

"Paleolithic Nutrition – A Consideration of Its Nature and Current Implications", New England Journal of Medicine, January 31, 1985: 312; 283-289, S. Boyd Eaton, M.D. and Melvin Konner, Ph.D.