As 2014 comes to an end, I’d like to share some good news about supplements which hasn’t garnered much attention in the mainstream media. As a side note, a few of these items were recently featured on my Twitter thread as well. So, if you’d like to stay current on everything I post, which may or may not appear on this site, follow me on Twitter or review my Twitter profile on a regular basis. I find that it’s a great way to communicate a lot of breaking information on a daily basis.
There is often disagreement about the safety and validity of medical tests in the holistic, health community. Perhaps the best examples are the use of mammography to detect breast cancer and the PSA blood test to ferret out prostate cancer. However, colonoscopies tend to be less controversial for a number of reasons. Firstly, there really isn’t any alternative, stand alone test currently available. Secondly, the documented benefits of colonoscopies far outweigh the low risk of significant side effects. Lastly, as I stated in part one of this column, colonoscopies not only detect potential malignancies, they also remove questionable growths while still benign. For these reasons, integrative health experts such as Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Stephen Sinatra endorse this particular test.
Nobody wants to get a colonoscopy. But, much like going to the dentist, it’s a preventive care necessity. Unlike most other diagnostic tests, colonoscopies not only detect cancer, but can also prevent it by removing polyps which may develop into cancer. In fact, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard recently concluded that colonoscopies are by far the most accurate tests to identify and reduce the risk of cancerous growths both in the distal (right) and proximal (left) sides of the colon.
A stunning new survey sponsored by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reports that 20% of all college students and roughly 15% of non-student young adults abuse stimulant medications. The legal drugs in question, intended to treat ADHD, include best sellers such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse. The most commonly cited reasons for the noted abuse include a desire to enhance academic or work performance and to stave off normal feelings of nighttime sleepiness. What’s even more disturbing is that 28% of the young adults surveyed, aged 18 to 25, misrepresented the severity of their ADHD symptoms in order to attain higher dosages of these conditionally dangerous drugs. In addition, the practice of selling and/or sharing said medications with family, fellow students and friends is quite common.
By now, the health benefits of exercise have been fairly well established in the scientific literature. In fact, there’s very little controversy or debate regarding the general value of physical activity on everything from cardiovascular to mental health. Even so, research into the therapeutic effects of exercise is ongoing and continues to reveal intriguing, new applications. One of the more exciting findings of late is the role which aerobic exercise plays in the promotion of liver health.
It’s estimated that approximately 30%-50% of the population is affected by chronic halitosis or oral malodor, the technical terms for ongoing bad breath. In most instances, the cause originates in the oral cavity. Improving dental hygiene is sometimes enough to remedy the situation. In practice, this means brushing at least twice-daily and flossing prior to retiring at night. However, if proper oral care is already in place, then odiferous foods and substances (alcoholic beverages, cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions, tobacco, etc.) and/or other factors, including diabetes, gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD), medication side-effects and metabolic disorders may be involved. When in doubt, it’s best to identify the cause with the assistance of a health care professional as any underlying medical condition should be addressed and not masked.
Many people aren’t getting enough magnesium (Mg) in their daily diets and through basic supplementation. Now, you might think you’re not one of those people. But, recent studies reveal that magnesium deficiency is surprisingly common. Sometimes it’s even present in otherwise healthy young adults and in those who take multivitamin/mineral supplements. What’s more, certain popular medications, including those used to treat gastric reflux or GERD often contribute to a lack of magnesium or hypomagnesemia.
For Mexican food lovers (myself included!) there is a simple approach to improving the health benefits and nutritional quality of Mexican-style meals. It really doesn’t matter if you’re eating out at Mexican restaurants or preparing it yourself at home. There are potential pitfalls in both instances which can be largely avoided by practicing a basic technique I call “crowding out”. The concept is that you crowd out most or some of the unhealthy foods and replace them with better options. In the realm of Mexican cuisine, this means minimizing your intake of chips, rice, sweetened beverages and tortillas and focusing instead on foods containing more fiber, healthy fat, nutrients and protein.
An ideal diet allows for a combination of health benefits and sensory pleasure. The problem with many dietary plans is that they tend to be rather restrictive. It doesn’t matter if it’s gluten free, low carbohydrate, Mediterranean or Paleo. So, while they likely fulfill the “health benefits” part of the bargain, they frequently fall short of the “sensory pleasure” component. To some extent, this is a fact of life that needs to be accepted as a necessary compromise. Having said that, on occasion research reveals that select foods typically forbidden in specific meal plans do not have to be avoided altogether. In fact, some commonly shunned foods often add both enjoyment and a healthful boost to restrictive diets.
In modern times, the concept of preventive medicine has been widely embraced by virtually all branches of the health care system. Perhaps the most common example is the recommendation to get an annual physical exam. The idea behind a yearly “check up” is to find developing health issues early on and to evaluate the efficacy and safety of longer term treatments which may require adjustments. Periodically, this very same practice can and should be applied to natural health routines as well.
One of the joys of my work is being able to share information about little known healing options. My exuberance only increases when the remedies I write about are inexpensive, non-toxic and widely accessible. So today is a very happy day for me! The following is positive research on a humble, traditional remedy that could help me, you and many people we know.
Availability and convenience play major roles in maintaining a healthful eating plan. The trouble is that many readily available foods and snacks such as muffins, protein bars and smoothies contain questionable additives and ingredients. But, there’s no rule that says you have to compromise convenience in order to stick to a wholesome diet. All you really need to do is learn how to make the types of food you wish you could find at your local market. It’s probably easier then you’d imagine and usually a whole lot less expensive as well.
It’s rare to find someone who is entirely satisfied with how their brain functions. Some people have periodic or persistent episodes of “brain fog”. Others find themselves prone to distraction. Also, complaints about sluggish cognitive processing and memory recall are commonplace in my consulting work. Then, there are those who are relatively pleased with their mental acuity, but would be even happier to have an added edge. In all of these cases and more, certain supplements can make a difference above and beyond the basic measures that most people employ to stay healthy.
Question: I’ve read that an enzyme supplement called catalase helps reverse hair graying. I think this sounds too good to be true. But, I hope I’m wrong! What’s your opinion about these products?
Answer: For starters, let’s briefly review what causes the graying of hair and the potential role of catalase. The loss of melanin, a pigment which colors hair, is partially induced by a build up or overproduction of hydrogen peroxide in hair follicles. Catalase, an antioxidant enzyme produced by the body, helps convert hydrogen peroxide into two, non-bleaching substances – oxygen and water. This is the rationale for some of the supplements you’ve likely seen. However, it should be noted that there are other enzymes (MSR A and B) which also affect melanin production and tend to decline with age. For this reason, L’Oreal, the cosmetic giant, is currently developing a supposedly all-natural supplement which targets yet another hair graying mechanism – tyrosine-related protein TRP-2 production.
Many holistically-minded consumers have heard of and/or tried Maca – a root vegetable belonging to the mustard family which has been used medicinally for thousands of years in the Andean region of South America. In health food stores, you’ll frequently find it in supplements intended to support athletic performance, hormonal regulation and virility. In addition, Maca powder is sometimes featured in juices and smoothie concoctions for added nutrition and unspecified health benefits. In essence, Maca has taken on a similar reputation as ashwagandha or ginseng, as an adaptogen which promotes balance in various systems in the body. However, not all Maca products are created equal.
The number of scientific studies devoted to specific natural remedies and traditional foods is difficult to predict. For instance, it’s possible to have a few to several studies published in one year and then virtually nothing more for another decade. Certainly, this is partially due to economics. Big cash crops and patented products tend to receive more scientific attention because of funding and financial interests. On the other hand, more generic herbs and nutraceuticals often fall into the previously mentioned, erratic pattern of research. Pumpkin seed oil is an example of the latter.