Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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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!!!


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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.


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Magnesium: The Forgotten Nutrient?


Functions of Magnesium

Magnesium is often a neglected nutrient. Low intakes are common and are associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. Along with an adequate intake of potassium and calcium, these minerals favor a lower risk of hypertension.

50 to 60% of magnesium in the body is found in bone. The rest resides inside the body cells with a small percentage in the blood. It functions in over 300 enzyme systems, many of which involve the release of energy, proper functioning of nerves and muscles including those of the heart and in the many steps of DNA, RNA and protein synthesis. It also affects the metabolism of calcium, sodium and potassium.

How Much Do We Need?

The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) is 400 mg for adults and children over the age of 4. The Upper Tolerable Level (UL) is 350 mg from non-diet sources.

An intake below the RDA is commonly seen in the population but a blatant deficiency is rare. The use of diuretics can increase urinary loss and the use of proton pump inhibitors to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD) can interfere with magnesium absorption.

Food Sources

The best food sources are:

Seeds and nuts

Garbanzo beans

Leafy greens like spinach

Processed foods are poor choices. For example, a cup of whole wheat flour contains about 166 mg. of magnesium. When that grain is refined and thus more processed, the white flour only contains 28 mg.

Magnesium Supplements

Since magnesium is not found abundantly in many foods, magnesium supplementation is popular and claimed to be beneficial for just about any disorder.

Research on the role of magnesium in other medical conditions is sparse. For example, magnesium levels in the body may alleviate the effects of osteoporosis. Dietary magnesium may have some benefit, but using supplements does not appear to have the same effect. The same may be true for its role in controlling hypertension. Its claims often include treating anxiety, ADHD, depression, and muscle cramps; however, most research does not report much help from supplements. One common side effect of magnesium supplementation is its laxative effect with some forms. Magnesium taurate and magnesium glycinate appear to not have this effect.

Always tell your doctor about any supplements you take. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so buyer beware.















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Antioxidants: Cancer Cures?


The following article provides the facts about antioxidants in general.  However, getting your antioxidants from foods like fruits and vegetables is a  habit that contributes to overall positive healthy benefits. Check out my previous post on supplement use  HERE.


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Antioxidant Supplements and Cancer Cells

The structure of the antioxidant vitamin ascor...

The structure of the antioxidant vitamin ascorbic acid (vitamin C). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RDN

Antioxidants are supposed to protect our cells from free radicals that are dangerous highly reactive molecules seeking a missing electron. In that process, cell and DNA damage can occur contributing to disease. Antioxidants are claimed to help prevent many chronic diseases thought to be due to this damage like heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration and others. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests antioxidant supplements may actually promote cancer and not prevent it as they are claimed to do.

Most dietary supplements that do not exceed the Daily Values are harmless, but it is a good idea to avoid any supplement that boasts vitamin and/or mineral content over 100% of the Daily Value. Keep in mind that the studies that showed potential harm used what is known as megadoses (those greatly exceeding 100% RDA.)

Antioxidant vitamins include: beta carotene (a form of vitamin A), vitamin E and vitamin C. The mineral selenium is also considered an antioxidant.

The notion that megadoses of beta carotene might be harmful comes from studies in 1994 that resulted in smokers given megadoses of beta carotene developed 18% more cases of lung cancer than those individuals in the placebo group. A subsequent study with men smokers or those exposed to asbestos reported 28% more lung cancer cases in the beta-carotene and vitamin A groups. See my previous post HERE.

More recently, a trial in 2011 with 35,500 men found that men older than 50 years of age had a 17% higher risk for prostate cancer when given large doses of vitamin E.

Due to these disturbing studies, conclusions point to the possibility that antioxidants at least at high doses may protect cancer cells from free radicals. A recent study gave the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) to mice genetically susceptible to melanoma. In this case, the dose was similar to those found in human consumption of antioxidants. The treated mice developed more tumors in lymph nodes that suggested a higher rate of metastasis (spread of cancer).

In addition, they added NAC or vitamin E to cultured human melanoma cells and found that antioxidants aided the cell’s ability to invade nearby tissues (a sign of increased metastasis)

In a lung cancer study using antioxidant supplements, researchers found that they turned off the activity of a known tumor suppressor gene called p53. The protein encoded by the gene monitors cells for damage to their DNA. It can trigger DNA repair; stop cell division; and even cause cancer cells to commit suicide (apoptosis).

Cancer develops in three stages: initiation, promotion and progression. It is thought that antioxidant supplements do not initiate cancer cells but speed up the progression to malignancy of undiagnosed or already present cancer cells.

To give us an idea of the labels on some selected products at a popular health food store:

Beta Carotene is a form of vitamin A.

1 capsule provides 15 mg – 500% Daily Value.

Vitamin C 1000 mg.

! caplet provides 6667% Daily Value

Health Claim on Label: A protective antioxidant that provides immune support.

Vitamin E 1000 IU

1 capsule provides 3333% of Daily Value

Health Claim on Label: Helps support a healthy cardiovascular system

Some cancer researchers believe that people who are at a higher risk for lung cancer or melanoma or have any form of cancer should avoid antioxidant supplements. However, there is widespread evidence that eating fruits and vegetables can help lower the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Do not fall for the hype of supplement sellers and manufacturers who ignore the science. The concept of the free radical theory of disease is a complex issue and should not be left to the interpretations of those who only take in the profits of possibly harmful products.