Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Leave a comment

Dangerous Supplements

Some diet supplements can cause serious harm. This is not surprising due to the fact that the FDA does not require any supplement  be tested for safety or efficacy until a problem occurs.  An internet search showed that this particular product was sold by many online supplement suppliers. Buyer beware!!!


Leave a comment

The Dangers of Herbal Supplements

Folk medicine has used herbs for  centuries to treat and prevent disease. Today, they appear to be more popular than ever. It is estimated that about 1 in 6 Americans use herbs to treat or prevent illnesses. Herbal supplements are relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain – no prescription necessary.  Prescription medicines are tested for safety and efficacy and side effects are clearly available from the manufacturers.

Doses are regulated and standardized and physicians and pharmacists are trained to be aware of drug interactions that may occur that can cause dangerous sometimes fatal results. Herbal preparations have none of these safeguards. Here is what you need to know:

  • Many botanical components are toxic by themselves or in combination with other herbal components.
  • The FDA has issued warnings about ingredients such as comfrey, kava, and aristolochic acid.
    • Ephedra found in many weight loss preparations was found to cause heart attacks and strokes and was removed from the market in 2004. Ephedra extracts not containing ephedrine are not banned (according to Wikipedia) and can be found on the Internet.
  • Herbal supplements are subject to contamination of pesticides, microbes, metals and other toxins.
  • Doses are not thoroughly tested for purity and concentrations.
  • Some supplements should not be taken two to three weeks prior to surgery, e.g. St. John’s wort can prolong and intensity narcotic drug effects.
  • Herbal supplements should not be taken during pregnancy.
  • Do not give herbs to children.
  • Do not use herbs for long periods of time.
  • Do not fall for false health claims made by the manufacturer.

Source:   Smolin, Lori A., Grosvenor, Mary B. Nutrition: Science and Applications, Third Edition.


Leave a comment

Do We Need Dietary Supplements?

March is National Nutrition Month. How ironic that the news this month includes the probability that Gwyneth Paltrow is initiating a new line of vitamin and mineral supplements. In the first place, do we really need another line of diet supplements?   I would also like to know just what are her credentials to offer the consumer any nutritional advice?

According to Dr. Paul Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine,  clinical trials have shown no differences in the claimed beneficial effects versus placebo of the following popular supplements: Ginko biloba, St. John’s wort, garlic, saw palmetto, milk thistle, echinacea, or chondroitin sulfate.


Leave a comment

Super Fortified : “Foods” or Supplements?

Should You Get your Nutrients from Super-fortified Foods?

The label on the orange juice container says “calcium added”. The water bottle label says “fortified with vitamin C”; the energy drink s is “fortified with 23 added vitamins and minerals.” Do you need all these extra nutrients ?

These foods may actually act like dietary supplements. If you eat nutritious unprocessed whole foods, you probably do not need fortified foods and even may go over the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL).

The UL is a set of values that are well above the needs of everyone in the population and represents the highest amount of the nutrient that will not cause toxicity symptoms in the majority of healthy people. As intake rises above the UL so does the risk of adverse health effects.

To establish a UL, a specific adverse effect is considered. For example, for niacin, the ill effect is flushing, and for vitamin D it is calcium deposits in soft tissue or kidney damage. For vitamin C it is digestive disturbances. For some nutrients, these values represent intake from supplements alone; for some, intake from supplements and fortified foods, and for others, total intake from foods, fortified food, water and nonfood sources and supplements. For some nutrients, data are insufficient to establish a UL.



“In traditional foods, the amounts of nutrients are small and the way they are combined limits absorption, making the risk of consuming a toxic amount of a nutrient almost nonexistent. On the other hand, this risk rises from eating an excess of a supplement or excessive servings of super-fortified foods.”

Young children may be particularly at risk for toxicity. “A new report says that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts” of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, with fortified breakfast cereals the leading source of the excessive intake because all three nutrients are added in amounts calculated for adults.”

“Outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by food manufacturers who use high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious fuel this potential risk, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based health research and advocacy organization.”

For example, if you drank the recommended two to three liters of fluids as water fortified with vitamin C, niacin, vitamin E and vitamins B6 and B12, you would exceed the UL for these vitamins. Then add two cups of fortified breakfast cereal and two protein bars during the day, your risk of toxicity increases even more. In many of these products, you also could be getting a not so healthy dose of sugar. Should we be consuming super-fortified foods without a thought? I think not. For a previous post, click HERE.

Source: Lori A. Smolin, Mary B. Grosvenor, Nutrition: Science and Applications. Third Edition.

Source:  USA Today, Michele Healy, June 24, 2014.




Leave a comment

Food Fads or Scams?


Where is the Federal Trade Commission when you need  them? By definition one of its major goals is:

“the nation’s consumer protection agency and one of the government agencies responsible for keeping competition among businesses strong. Its job is to make sure companies compete fairly and don’t mislead or trick people about their products and services.”


Leave a comment

The Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A D,E, K

adekfatsolubleBy Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RD

There are four vitamins that are soluble in fat (A, D, E, K) that affects the way they are absorbed, transported, stored and excreted. In developing nations, deficiencies of vitamin A and D are quite common and even in the United States, deficiencies may occur due to a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet or limited sun exposure.

VITAMIN A  is found as  preformed retinoids (retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid.)  Retinol can be converted to retinal or retinoic acid. Retinal binds to opsin in the eye to form rhodopsin that participates in the light or visual cycle.  Retinoic acid  affects cell differentiation by altering gene expression. It is needed for healthy epithelial tissue and normal reproduction and immune function. The other form of vitamin A is carotenoids, primarily beta-carotene  that functions as an antioxidant and can be converted to preformed vitamin A (the retinoids). it is the primary form of vitamin A found in dietary supplements.

Mild deficiency causes night blindness and more severe deficiency can lead to blindness or increased infections,  a problem in the developing world, primarily children.  Golden Rice was genetically engineered to alleviate vitamin A deficiency in some developing countries. See a previous post HERE.

Vitamin A is found in foods as both preformed  retinoids and precursor forms as carotenoids. The major food sources of preformed vitamin A include liver, eggs, fish and fortified dairy products. Carotenoids are found in plant foods such as yellow-, orange-, and red-colored fruits and vegetables and leafy greens. Need for the vitamin can be met by both forms. Preformed forms can be toxic at doses only 10 times the RDA and may increase the risk of bone fractures and birth defects. In fact, the RDA does not increase for pregnant women. Plant forms are not toxic, but at high doses can turn the skin orange.

VITAMIN D can be made in the skin from sunlight exposure. it is not found in many foods (unless fortified), but occurs naturally in fish oils and fortified milk. Vitamin D must be altered by the kidneys and liver in order to be used by the body. It then promotes calcium and phosphorus absorption and regulation. Deficiency can result in rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Deficiencies are exacerbated by time spent in the sun, the frequent use of sunscreen,  living at high latitudes or having dark skin.

The RDA depends on sun exposure and would obviously vary considerably for individuals. Vitamin D research has increased lately and in time may result in additional functions and/or relationships to disease. Vitamin D supplements are sometimes recommended for a number of groups who do not drink milk, older adults and people with limited sun exposure. Too much supplemental vitamin D is toxic, but not from sun exposure.

VITAMIN E  is found in nuts, soybean oil, sunflower seeds and  almonds It functions primarily as an antioxidant and necessary for reproduction and protects cell membranes from oxidative damage. Deficiency can cause hemolytic anemia and neurological problems. Vitamin E supplements are popular and there is little risk of toxicity. However, there is also very little evidence of any benefits from supplementation.

VITAMIN K is found in soybean oil,  green leafy vegetables, brussels sprouts  and kiwi and is made by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Vitamin K is a cofactor needed for the synthesis of blood clotting factors and for proper bone formation. Deficiency can cause bleeding and low bone density.  Since it takes time for newborn infants to begin to synthesize their own vitamin K from gut bacteria, it is routinely given as injections at birth.

A word of caution:  Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body for long periods of time, and pose a greater risk for toxicity than water-soluble vitamins, so with the possible exception of vitamin D, do not generally need daily supplementation.