All posts tagged dietary supplement

Dietary Supplements: The Real Wart of St. John’s Wort

I’ve been watching the uptick in negative press about dietary supplements recently with much interest.  Having worked in both the packaged food and dietary supplement industries for the past nine years, I’ve often described dietary supplements as the Wild West.  Especially when compared to food, it’s an industry where, unfortunately, almost anything goes, and that’s certainly proved to be the case in recent months with multiple reports of product contamination…and not just with something benign, but major prescription drugs that carry real risk of side effects and harm.

This major quality flaw is often paired with reports citing research that vitamins and dietary supplements don’t work anyway.  Just last month, an editorial piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine gathered a great deal of attention as its authors seemed to close the book once and for all on the whole discussion, concluding that dietary supplements just aren’t worth the price or the potential risk.

Given the unfortunate string of contamination cases, it’s hard to dispute this conclusion.  However, dismissing vitamins and dietary supplements as worthless is absolutely the wrong decision.  Obviously, the industry needs to get its act together and prioritizing quality and efficacy need to be at the top of the list.  A good PR agency to fix this nightmare of bad press is probably a good immediate next step.

Really, the issue I believe the industry is facing is a pool of poorly designed research.  Poor research provides poor results.  And poor results can be interpreted as a poor (aka worthless) product.  When research is well designed, dietary supplements show incredible benefit at both prevention and treatment of a wide-range of diseases.  Dr. Alan Gaby, a leader in the natural medicine community is a wonderful spokesperson for the benefits of dietary supplements (hint, hint PR agencies) and does a much more eloquent job than I ever could at responding to dietary supplement neigh sayers.  Here’s a piece Gaby did for Huffington Post that responds to the Annals piece.  It’s a great read.

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Image by Nico Paix

Stinging Nettle Tea: A Natural Remedy to Fight Spring Allergy Symptoms

I don’t know how you fare this time of year, but it’s usually right around now that I start to experience seasonal allergies.  For me that means itchy eyes and throat and sneezing, especially in the morning.  However, seasonal allergies can present in many ways, with symptoms that span from a mild runny nose to severe chronic headaches.

For the past few years, I’ve mostly just toughed it out (thankfully my symptoms are mild enough that this is an option), but this year I have a natural medicine plan – Stinging Nettle tea.

In the United States, Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is considered a weed by many given the ease with which it grows.  Its funny name comes from the Latin verb urere, meaning “to burn,” because of its urticate (stinging) hairs that cover the stem and underside of the leaves.  So, while walking through a field of this plant is probably not a good idea, using it for its anti-allergic activity can be an effective way to manage seasonal allergy symptoms.  It has a nice amount of published research demonstrating positive benefit for a host of allergic and inflammatory conditions.

Stinging Nettle contains a set of compounds that act on the immune system to provide anti-inflammatory action and block histamine release.  Perhaps you are familiar with over-the-counter medicines called “anti-histamines”?  Well, Stinging Nettle works in a similar fashion, blocking the release of histamine compounds that alert our immune system and stimulate inflammation, redness and all those pesky symptoms those of us who are sensitive to pollen, etc. experience this time of year.

Because Stinging Nettle doesn’t contain caffeine, you can brew it as tea and exchange it for your water source throughout the day.  Here’s my recipe/plan:

  • Add 1tsp dried Stinging Nettle leaf to 16oz hot water.  Steep for 2-3 minutes.
  • Drink right away in the morning when I experience the most symptoms
  • Re-fill tea infuser with hot water and re-use same team leaves a couple more times throughout day (although most of the anti-histamine activity will come from the first steep, there is a mild benefit from re-using the leaves)
  • Continue as I feel like I need symptom relief throughout day

I order my bulk herbs online from Starwest Botanicals, but depending on where you live you may be able to find quality bulk herbs at your local grocery or health food store.  The key to buying dried herbs is to make sure they are quality and have been stored properly.  In the case of nettles, the leaves should be dark and smell slightly sweet.  Just like spices in your kitchen, you want them to have color and scent…that’s a sure sign they are still good.

With any treatment, you should always talk to a licensed health professional to make sure the products and medicines you are using are appropriate for you.

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Image of Urtica dioica by John Tann

How to Make a Super Smoothie

I really love smoothies.  Not only do they taste great, but they are a fabulous way to pack in serious nutrition.  I regularly prescribed medical smoothies for my cancer patients while in private practice to minimize side-effects from chemotherapy and radiation and I personally used smoothies before and during both of my pregnancies to get my body ready and to make sure I was providing all the extra nutrients I needed to grow beautiful healthy babies.

My basic smoothie recipe is the following:

  • ½ banana
  • 1 cup whole fat, plain yogurt
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • Water to desired consistency

Smoothie text pic

Other things I often add:

  • Frozen kale – you can either buy kale this way or cook, puree and drop into ice cube trays to use as you need them
  • Chia seeds
  • Fair trade honey or agave syrup
  • Liquid fish oil – I like Frutol by Pharmax LLC
  • Vitamin D drops
  • Powdered supplements such as multivitamins or liver support herbs – for both I use a brand called Karuna

If you’re not big on pills, smoothies can be a great way to deliver your medicine as it’s easy to mask the flavor. They are also great to have for breakfast.  I’ll often get my ingredients ready the night before and store in the fridge, then blend right before I leave so I can drink it on my way into the office.  A smoothie plus a hard-boiled egg or a slice of whole grain toast with nut butter spread is a complete breakfast full of all the things you need to give you energy and brain power!

If you’re vegan or just avoiding dairy, try using ½ an avocado instead of yogurt.  Avocados provide a nice creamy texture and are loaded with healthy fat (Please don’t be scared of fat.  It’s a good thing!).  Also, it’s important that all the ingredients (especially the dairy) be organic certified or sourced from a farm that avoided conventional pesticide practices.  Obviously, any fruit/veg is better than none at all, but clean versions are even better.

Starting my day off with a smoothie really makes a big difference in how I feel overall at the end of the day.  I know no matter what, I’ve given my body a great boost of fiber, antioxidants, dark green veggies and specific nutrients from my dietary supplements.

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Natural Products Expo West – Show Re-cap

From early morning yoga classes to a well-timed GMO labeling announcement by Whole Foods Market, Natural Products Expo West 2013, the largest natural products expo in the country, delivered once again on its reputation as the epicenter for all things “natural”.  If you read my previous post, you’ll know I love to make predictions about the show and that I’d marked a few different brands I was looking forward to connecting with.

While I predicted pea protein would be the “it” ingredient of the show, I realize my prediction may be a bit premature.  Versus highlighting this ingredient specifically, a major focus for food brands was on “soy free” proteins and claims.  Although pea was certainly in the ingredient mix, other soy alternatives such as grass-fed whey and brown rice were often part of the protein blend as well.  Focusing on “soy free” claims versus the ingredients themselves may be a reflection of a need to shift more gradually with consumers…stay-tuned as I think we will see more specific ingredient callouts in 2014 and beyond.

A new brand I disco6 Expo West imagevered at the show and fell in love with is Elli Quark.  Quark is a German form of soft cheese (think pureed cottage cheese minus the sodium).  The company was founded by a woman, who with the help of her husband, created a higher protein, lower sugar competitor to the booming Greek yogurt market.  With 80-90 calories, 14 grams of protein and clean ingredients, I’m super excited to see what happens with this brand.

The topic of GMO was a theme across categories throughout the show this year.  Whereas the Non-GMO Project, the leading 3rd party certifier of Non-GMO Verified products, felt as though it was still working to get on the radar in 2012, this year their verification label could be seen everywhere.  And the announcement by Whole Foods Market to enforce GMO labeling at their stores starting in 2018 managed to officially light the topic on fire.  Although I doubt Whole Food’s threat to electively label in their stores will be necessary by 2018 (federal labeling will likely exist before then), the changes it will create throughout the food and agricultural community as brands shift ingredients to organic and identity preserved sources will have a major impact on our food supply.

And although my fears regarding a lack of transparency around ingredient sourcing and processing were confirmed within the dietary supplement side, I was incredibly impressed by a relatively new traceability program, Meet Your Herbs, by Gaia Herbs.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve always respected Gaia Herbs for their transparency when it comes to their ingredient standards.  They’ve now taken it to a whole new level where consumers can enter an ID code located on each product into a program on their website to trace each ingredient back to its source.  It’s an amazing demonstration for not just the dietary supplement industry, but all industries for what is possible when it comes to providing transparency.  I look forward to other brands in the natural health and medicine community following suit.

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When is the right time to take digestive enzymes?

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 1.47.21 PM (2)I get asked this question on a pretty regular basis. And it’s true, WHEN you take digestive enzymes will have an impact on how well they will work for you to support digestion, and minimize irritating symptoms like heartburn, bloating, etc.

To answer the question about timing once and for all, a randomized intervention trial published in the journal, Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, used three randomized groups of people to look at the digestive ability of lipase (a digestive enzyme that breaks down fat). Lipase was given to each group either before, during or just after eating and the ability to digest fat was measured using a breath test. The winner? The group given lipase during or just after eating experienced the most effective breakdown of ingested fat.

How do you know if digestive enzymes are right for you? If you experience bloating, gas, or excessive burping after a meal, digestive enzymes may be worth a try. I’ve had good results using a product like, V-Zyme by Pharmax, that provides a blend of enzymes to support the digestion of carbohydrate, protein and fat.

Dominguez-Munoz JE, Iglesias-Garcia J, Iglesias-Rey M, et al. Effect of the administration schedule on the therapeutic efficacy of oral pancreatic enzyme supplements in patients with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency: a randomized, three-way crossover study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2005;21:993-1000.

Thanks, Pharmax, for use of your product image.