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Posts Tagged ‘nutritional supplements’

Blackhawks win — did vitamin D give them the edge?

Posted by Richard on June 11, 2010

Belated congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. I'm not a Blackhawks fan (although I do have fond memories of their coach, Joel Quenneville, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche). But their victory is an opportunity to recall a bit of supplement-related news from Life Extension Foundation last month: 

The Chicago Blackhawks are the First Vitamin D Team in Modern Professional Sports History



SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif., May 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Chicago Blackhawk team physicians began diagnosing and treating vitamin D deficiency in all Blackhawk players about 18 months ago. Apparently, most players are on 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. To confirm this assertion, simply ask the Blackhawk organization.

After many losing seasons, last year the Blackhawks came out of nowhere to get to the Western conference finals. This year the Blackhawks are playing even better.

According to my sources, improved athletic performance is only one of the benefits for the Blackhawk players. The other is a reduction in the number and severity of lower respiratory tract infections and a reduction in the number and severity of repetitive use injuries.

Did those vitamin D supplements give the Blackhawks the edge they needed to end their long drought? Well, they certainly didn't hurt.

In the past couple of years, about a bazillion studies have shown that most people are deficient in vitamin D, and that restoring one's vitamin D levels to the optimal range has significant health benefits. I'm taking 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day.

If you're not currently using nutritional supplements to enhance your well-being, you might want to look into vitamin D and other substances that can enhance your health and life. Start here.

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Soy saves bones

Posted by Richard on February 29, 2008

Two new meta-analyses of soy studies provide strong confirmation that women can improve bone mineral density, inhibit bone resorption, and increase bone formation by supplementing with soy isoflavones. The meta-analyses, one by Chinese and one by Japanese researchers, appear in the February issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the journal Clinical Nutrition, respectively. According to Life Extension Foundation (emphasis added):

The first meta-analysis found an average decrease in urinary deoxypyridinoline [bone resorption marker] of 2.08 nanomoles per millimole, and an average increase of 1.48 micrograms per liter of BAP [bone formation marker] in women who received isoflavones compared with those who received a placebo. “Isoflavone intervention significantly inhibits bone resorption and stimulates bone formation,” the authors stated. “These favorable effects occur even if less than 90 milligrams per day of isoflavones are consumed or the intervention lasts less than 12 weeks.”

The second review also found a bone-building benefit for soy. In the clinical trials examined, women who received soy experienced a significant increase of 20.6 milligrams per cubic centimeter in spine bone mineral density compared with those who received a placebo. Bone mineral content also increased, but to a lesser extent. Benefits were greater when more than 90 milligrams per day isoflavones were consumed, or when the trial lasted at least six months. “The results clearly suggested that isoflavones contributed significantly to the increase of spinal bone mineral density, especially in postmenopausal women,” Dr Wang and his coauthors conclude.

… The lower incidence of osteoporosis-related fracture among Asian women who consume 10 to 20 times more soy than Western women may point to a bone-protective effect of soy isoflavones. The authors recommend large randomized clinical trials using graded dosages of isoflavones to measure their long term effects on bone mass as well as fracture risk.

Larger studies would indeed be helpful. But if you're concerned about osteoporosis, you may not want to wait for those. You may want to take soy supplements or add soy milk, edamame, tempeh, or tofu to your diet. The latter, I understand, can be made quite palatable by wrapping it in bacon.  

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Health news updates

Posted by Richard on March 6, 2007

Back in September, I warned you to start taking vitamin D supplements as the days grew short. I hope you did, and I hope it helped you avoid the flu this winter. The February issue of Life Extension Magazine (yes, I’m a bit behind in my reading) has an article that goes into much greater depth regarding the connection between seasonally low levels of vitamin D and high rates of influenza. It includes information about how vitamin D helps protect you:

In the past few years, several independent researchers have shown that vitamin D significantly enhances the genetic expression of antimicrobial peptides in human monocytes (precursors to macrophages), neutrophils, and other immune system cells.15,1617-19

For Dr. Cannell, these various clues led to one inescapable conclusion: vitamin D—which is produced when the skin is exposed to summer sunlight, and which, conversely, declines in winter—plays a critical role in our vulnerability to influenza infection. In fact, vitamin D must surely be Hope-Simpson’s mysterious “seasonal stimulus.” Dr. Cannell consulted a number of leading vitamin D researchers, all of whom agreed with his conclusions. They include researchers from such venerable institutions as the National Institutes of Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. One of these scientists, Dr. Michael F. Holick, has been studying vitamin D for three decades.1,7,20

In an interview with Life Extension, Dr. Holick alluded to the special relationship between vitamin D and the body’s primary immune system defenders, the macrophages. “What intrigues me the most,” Dr. Holick noted, “is that we’ve always known that macrophages activate vitamin D.” The form of vitamin D generated through the skin’s interaction with ultraviolet B radiation (from sunshine or artificial sources) is a pre-hormone. It must be converted in the body to its active hormone form, called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3. An intermediary form, known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D, is the major circulating form of vitamin D, and is measured to determine vitamin D status.20

Most of this activation of vitamin D occurs in the liver and kidneys. However, the fact that macrophages facilitate the conversion of circulating vitamin D to its active form,20 and that activated vitamin D in turn regulates the activity of macrophages, suggests an important relationship between the two. These antimicrobial proteins help to destroy invading infectious microbes. With their broad-spectrum activity, they are capable of killing everything from bacteria to viruses. They have been shown to be an important part of the respiratory tract’s defense against invaders, and likewise show promise in fighting the influenza virus.

Life Extension Foundation has also taken aim at the shoddy supplement study I wrote about last week, issuing a consumer alert entitled "Another Flawed Attack against Antioxidants." Among other issues, LEF looked at the ridiculously wide range of nutrient dosages in the studies:

The JAMA review that attacked the value of antioxidants included vitamins A, C, E, and selenium and evaluated these very basic nutrients in a very wide & inconsistent dosage range:


Dose range

Vitamin A (synthetic)

1,333200,000*** IU

Alpha Tocopherol (synthetic)

105,000 IU

Vitamin C (synthetic)

60 – 2,000 mg

Selenium (natural)

20 – 200 mcg

As an example of the strange decisions made by the JAMA authors as to which studies to exclude or include in their analysis, they selected a single dose study*** of patients using 200,000 IU of vitamin A, who were subsequently followed for 3 months.8

LEF also found that the authors misrepresented some of the included studies, attributing deaths that didn’t happen, and seem to have intentionally omitted a long list of studies that demonstrated positive benefits from antioxidants from their cherry-picked (68 out of 815) sample. LEF characterized the JAMA study as an "irrational and highly biased attack," and quoted several other respected scientists who dismissed this study as deeply flawed.

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Another shoddy supplement study

Posted by Richard on March 1, 2007

Last March, I commented on several shoddy studies of nutritional supplements, singling out a calcium / vitamin D study that Life Extension Foundation’s Bill Faloon described as perhaps "one of the most poorly designed studies in the history of modern medicine." Well, the February 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports a "meta-analysis" of antioxidants that has to rank pretty high on the list of bogus studies. It purports to demonstrate that there is no health benefit associated with vitamins A, C, and E, beta carotene, and selenium, and that A and E may "significantly increase mortality."

The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University was quick to criticize the study. Its director, Balz Frei, said the meta-analysis had multiple serious flaws:

“This is a flawed analysis of flawed data, and it does little to help us understand the real health effects of antioxidants, whether beneficial or otherwise,” Frei said.

The “meta-analysis” published in JAMA, which is a statistical analysis of previously published data, looked at 815 antioxidant trials but included only 68 of them in its analysis, Frei said. And two of the studies excluded – which were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the prominent British medical journal Lancet – found substantial benefits and reduced mortality from intake of antioxidant supplements.

It’s not as if the researchers conducting this meta-analysis carefully selected the best, most unambiguous 68 trials out of the 815 they considered. Instead, they picked mainly various clinical trials of subjects with existing health problems. Furthermore, these sick subjects were getting a variety of pharmaceutical drugs, other nutrients, or other treatments, thus making any conclusions about the specific nutrients being "meta-analyzed" ambiguous and suspect.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition argued that this study represents a misuse of meta-analysis (emphasis added):

"Healthy consumers can feel confident in continuing to take antioxidants for the benefits they provide. This meta-analysis does nothing to change those facts," said CRN’s Andrew Shao, Ph.D., vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs. "While meta-analyses can be useful when the included studies are very similar in design and study population, this meta-analysis combined studies that differ vastly from each other in a number of important ways that compromise the results."

For example, the meta-analysis included clinical trials that varied widely in terms of dosage, duration, study population and nutrients tested — such as data from a one-day study with a vitamin A dose of 200,000 IU mixed with data from other studies lasting years.

200,000 IU of Vitamin A?? According to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, the "Tolerable Upper Intake Level" of retinol (vitamin A) is 10,000 IU.

"Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the clinical trials included in the meta-analysis tested for secondary prevention, looking at how a nutrient works in those who already are diseased, instead of primary prevention studies in healthy populations.

"Combining secondary prevention and primary prevention trials and then making conclusions for the entire population is an unsound scientific approach," said Dr. Shao. "Additionally, many of the treatment trials had limitations, including the expectation that a simple antioxidant vitamin could be expected to overturn serious illness, such as cancer or heart disease. These trials likely statistically skewed the results."

When it comes to studying nutrients, herbs, and the like, the methodology favored by many mainstream medical researchers seems to be something like this: Give a bunch of people who have, say, heart disease some supplement. If lots of them die, announce that taking the supplement can kill you. If lots of them get well, caution the public that further study is needed. Meanwhile, try to come up with a chemical analogue of the supplement that works about the same, but can be patented and sold as a prescription drug.

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Drink up, fatsos!

Posted by Richard on November 6, 2006

So, let’s say you’re one of the 65% of Americans who are obese. And let’s say you’re worried about the health consequences of those extra pounds — including double the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and arthritis, and triple the risk of diabetes. So, what are you going to do about it?

Well, you could walk more, join a gym, and start working out. You could forego that plate of ribs and order a nice salad with low-fat dressing.

Or you could just order a nice bottle of Shiraz to go with those ribs:

Good news for gluttons and anyone else who gets old: Scientists are looking for the antidote for age and disease in a glass of red wine.

Harvard Medical School and National Institute of Aging researchers have found that a natural susbtance found in red wine, known as resveratrol, countered the ravenous ways of mice fed a high-calorie diet and even prolonged their lives.

“Resveratrol can excuse most of the negative effects of being obese in the mice,” said Harvard Medical School professor David Sinclair, one of the study’s authors.

The study compared three groups of mice. The first ate a standard (30% fat) diet, the second ate a high-fat (60%) diet, and the third ate the high-fat diet supplemented with resveratrol.

The third group got just as fat as the second, but suffered none of the ill effects. Their hearts, livers, and other organs remained normal (in fact, somewhat healthier than the standard-diet group’s). Their blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity mirrored the lean group’s. And they lived longer:

… After 114 weeks, 58 percent of the normally fed mice and the resveratrol group were still alive, compared with only 42 percent of the untreated, high-calorie-intake mice. Sinclair reports that resveratrol reduced the risk of death from a high-calorie diet by 31 percent, leading to an increase in life span of 15 percent thus far. More accurate numbers will be available when all the mice pass away. "We are around five months from having final numbers," Sinclair notes, "but there is no question that we are seeing increased longevity." The researchers also note that the resveratrol-treated mice not only live longer than their untreated counterparts, but have more active lives, too–their motor skills have actually improved as they have aged.

Of course, there are caveats. To get as much resveratrol as the mice, you’d have to drink a hundred or more glasses of wine (depending on which news report you believe) — clearly, supplement capsules would be a more practical choice. And everybody from the science reporters to the researchers is mouthing the usual warnings that you always hear regarding nutritional supplements:

While resveratrol supplements are available at many health food stores, experts caution that no one knows whether the compound will work the same way for humans and, perhaps more important, whether high doses of resveratrol are harmful in the long run.

It’s worth noting, though, that researcher David Sinclair founded a company to develop resveratrol-related drugs (in which he and Harvard Medical School have a financial interest).

And Sinclair has been taking resveratrol supplements himself for three years already.

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World Heart Day

Posted by Richard on September 25, 2006

Today was World Heart Day, and I missed all the festivities. It’s intended to promote awareness of heart disease and its prevention. The World Heart Federation sponsors the annual world-wide event:

World Heart Day is run by the World Heart Federation’s member organizations in more than 100 countries. Activities on the day include health checks, walks, runs, jump rope, fitness sessions, public talks, stage shows, scientific forums, exhibitions, concerts and sports tournaments. Last year in Singapore for example, a World Heart Day heart fair attracted over 60,000 participants who took part in health screenings, aerobics classes, health quizzes, exhibits, school performances, nutritional counselling and food sampling. Similar events will be taking place this year asking participants: "How Young is Your Heart?"

The "How Young Is Your Heart?" theme encouraged people to think about how their lifestyle choices affect the effective "age" of their heart and their heart health. According to the World Health Federation, the three major risk factors — physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and tobacco use — account for 80% of heart disease and stroke.

Personally, I’m doing OK on two out of three. I’m still an ex-smoker (closing in on two years), and I’ve been walking pretty regularly. Diet — well, that could be better. But I take about 3 dozen nutritional supplements a day to counteract some of the harm from my diet — and from 40 years of smoking.

In honor of World Heart Day, today I ran a 10k, ate an arugula salad with fat-free dressing for dinner, and then worked out on the rowing machine.

Just kidding!

Actually, I cleaned out the garage, ate a pizza, and hit the recliner to watch the Broncos spank the Patriots. Again! We’ve got your number, Brady!

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Why the flu strikes in winter and what you can do about it

Posted by Richard on September 18, 2006

The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler. Fall begins this Friday. That means that any day now, we’ll start seeing news stories about "flu season" and getting vaccinated. But why is there a flu season in the winter? The influenza virus is around all year, and there are people catching it throughout the year — just not very many. So why are so many more of us susceptible when the days get short? Well, it’s because the days get short:

Now a group of researchers has come up with a novel answer to the conundrum. The "seasonal stimulus" behind the annual winter flu epidemics is a lack of vitamin D due to shorter days and lack of sunlight.

And they have even suggested that by taking a mega-dose of the vitamin at the first sign of the illness, its worst symptoms might be alleviated – which could prove to be a potential life-saver in the event of the threatened avian flu pandemic.

The traditional explanation for the winter flu epidemics is that we tend to crowd indoors in the winter months, which aids the spread of the virus. Fifty years ago, when millions of manual labourers earned their living working outdoors, that may have been true.

But in the modern world, where most people work in offices and factories, travel on buses and trains, and share the same indoor spaces in summer and winter, the explanation rings hollow. Some of the people most vulnerable to flu – elderly people living in nursing homes – are there all year round yet are at greatest risk from the virus in winter, much like everybody else.

A glass of milk contains about 100 units of vitamin D, and the RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 400 units. But twenty minutes in the summer sun can produce up to 20,000 units in your body, and levels like that were the norm for humans until very, very recently:

Throughout evolutionary history, humans obtained tens of thousands of units every day from the sun. Even after migrating to temperate latitudes, where skin colour rapidly lightened to allow for more rapid vitamin D production, humans worked outdoors. Only in recent decades as we have increasingly lived and worked indoors, travelled in cars and lathered on sunblock have levels of vitamin D sunk chronically low, according to Dr Cannell.

It may not replace the flu shot, but I strongly recommend a hefty daily dose — say, 2,000 units or more — of vitamin D during the fall and winter months. It’s not just to ward off the flu and bolster your immune system — vitamin D plays many other important roles. The U.S. government’s RDA is enough to prevent rickets, but woefully inadequate for optimum health. That, by the way, is true of many vitamin RDAs — they’ll keep you from having clinical signs of deficiency, but that’s far below the optimum levels for health.

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Turn off the night light, ladies!

Posted by Richard on June 22, 2006

According to a National Cancer Institute study, women who sleep with a light on, stay up late, or work night shifts face an increased risk of breast cancer.

The researchers exposed human breast cancer tumors, grafted to mice, to blood collected from women under three different conditions: in the middle of the day, after spending the night in darkness, and after being expose to light during the night. The blood collected after darkness suppressed the tumors, while the blood collected after night-time light exposure stimulated tumor growth.

The study suggests the importance of a critical hormone:

The research by the American scientists showed that exposure at night to artificial light could stimulate the growth of human breast tumours by suppressing the levels of the key hormone melatonin.

Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland at night and helps to regulate a person’s sleeping and waking cycles. Light, however, stops the body from producing it, making the body think that it is daytime.

I’ve been taking melatonin supplements at bedtime for years. It’s cheap, and there’s a wealth of data suggesting it has significant anti-cancer, anti-aging, and anti-oxidant properties. Not to mention that it enhances sleep and cures jet lag.

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They call this science?

Posted by Richard on March 31, 2006

In the past few months, several studies have been widely reported that supposedly discredited some widely-used nutritional supplement or alternative treatment. The fine folks at the Life Extension Foundation (LEF) have had enough of the shoddy studies, misleading press releases, and terrible reporting, and they’re preparing a full-fledged response. A preliminary article is available on their website now:

Over the past several months, the media has questioned the efficacy of several popular dietary supplements. In the upcoming June 2006 issue of Life Extension magazine, we dissect these negative media reports down to the bone to reveal the hard scientific facts.

In doing so, we expose the absurdity of the headline-hungry media making proclamations such as “another natural remedy bit the dust” when describing the recent glucosamine study. We also reveal the inappropriateness of conventional doctors, with little knowledge about the proper use of nutrients, but with strong financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, conducting studies that contain so many flaws that their findings are largely irrelevant.

As usual for LEF, this article is footnoted to a fare-thee-well — 181 references, most to studies published in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals. If you print the article, it runs about 6 pages, depending on margin settings, etc. The references add about 6 more pages. The article provides brief preliminary critiques — scathing ones — of studies claiming that:

  • Eating a low-fat diet doesn’t reduce women’s risk of heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, or colon cancer.
  • Calcium and vitamin D don’t protect women’s bones.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin aren’t effective for osteoarthritis of the knee.
  • Saw palmetto is ineffective in treating prostate enlargement.

Each of those four claims is easily shown to be false. In fact, a couple of them are even contradicted by the studies, which were mischaracterized in press releases and media reports.

My favorite is the calcium and vitamin D study, which appeared in February’s New England Journal of Medicine. LEF’s Bill Faloon said it may be  "one of the most poorly designed studies in the history of modern medicine."

In theory, one group of women was assigned to take a calcium – vitamin D supplement and another group was assigned to take a placebo. Reportedly, the supplement group had just as many hip fractures as the placebo group.

Actually, the study did find a 29% reduction in hip fractures among the subset of the supplement group who actually took the supplements. You see, about 40% of the supplement group didn’t "achieve a standard rate of compliance," meaning they took less than 80% of the calcium and vitamin D they were supposed to take. But that didn’t matter to the MDs and PhDs conducting the study (emphasis and footnote from article):

This meant that women in the active group (the one given the calcium-vitamin D supplements) were counted as having taken the calcium-vitamin D, whether they really took the supplement or not. According to the scientists who conducted this study:

“Participants were followed for major outcomes, regardless of their adherence to the study medication…”

The “study medication” mentioned above is the calcium-vitamin D supplement. The fact that a study could be published in a medical journal “regardless” of whether the participants actually took the active ingredient defies logic.

Presumably, the placebo group had the same poor rate of compliance (since participants didn’t know whether it was the supplement or the placebo they were failing to take). So what we really have here is a $10 million federally-funded study proving that women who fail to take their calcium and vitamin D are just as likely to break a hip as women who fail to take a placebo. Unbe-frickin-lievable.

There’s more. That’s only one of several serious flaws with the calcium study. And the other studies are equally unimpressive. Read the whole thing — it’s your tax dollars at work and your health at stake.

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