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.