GLYPHOSPHATE……It’s in everything and you’ve probably never heard of it.

Here is my “roundup” (pun intended) of what is known of the worlds most widely used insecticide. It’s the primary controversial active ingredient in Monsanto Chemical’s “Roundup” as well as in many other herbicides.

Glyphosphate levels have increased. The chemical was introduced in 1974 as a weed killer that works by targeting the plant enzymes that produce required amino acids for growth. It also targets certain bacteria.

Glyphosphate usage has increased significantly with the introduction of genetically modified, Glyphosphate resistant, crops (GMO) that grow well in the presence of this chemical in the soil.  This chemical can enter the body via direct skin absorption, by eating treated foods or by drinking contaminated water. It has been found in breast milk at higher than permitted levels in drinking water.

Many scientists believe that Glyphosphate is toxic well below the currently accepted standards. It appears from my review of these maximum standards that when there is suspected toxicity, the standards are raised to accommodate the increased levels found in these foodstuffs. Nevertheless, in 2017, some countries, including Belgium, Malta, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands have banned or are in the process of banning the use of Glyphosphate on crops.The World Health Organization for cancer research lists Glyphosphate as a potential human carcinogen.

Angelika Hilbeck, PhD., senior scientist at the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich says that “Glyphosphate has become a ubiquitous chemical in terms of presence and persistence” in everything and everywhere.

I found it interesting to note that pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, and Clostridium Botulinum are resistant to Glyphosphate, but most beneficial bacteria including Lactobacillus are moderately to highly susceptible.

Looking at the health risks of Glyphosphate, I note that nutritional deficiencies occur with ingestion of a treated crop as well as systemic toxicity, imbalance of gut bacteria and food intolerance such as with gluten. A by-product of the breakdown of Glyphosphate by certain microbes is ammonia, which can lead to brain inflammation associated with Alzheimers Disease.

Many foods are contaminated because the crops are being sprayed with Glyphosphate just weeks before being made in the cereal and grains that you eat. This is a process called dessication.  Crops associated with this spraying process are wheat and oats in addition to lentils, peas, soybeans, corn, beets, potatoes and others. Oats seem to be particularly susceptible to high levels of Glyphosphate.

I have reviewed many other cases of kidney, liver and bone diseases that seem attributable to food and environmental contamination.  There is a case of a 54 year- old man who accidentally sprayed himself with “Roundup” prior to developing multiple skin lesions within hours of the exposure and subsequent Parkinsons disease within one month.

How to avoid Glyphosphate in your food:

Two of the best ways to avoid Glyphosphate in your food are eating organic non-GMO (genetically modified organism) foods and drinking reverse osmosis water.

People eating certified organic food have considerably lower concentrations of Glyphosphate in their urine. Drinking extra water may also be helpful since Glyphosphate is water soluble. Note that more than 90% of soy and corn are GMO type, and treated with the crop drying (spraying) procedure and it will take diligence to avoid these foods.

Eating organic food will not only support your health but also protect the environment from chemical pollutants and the spread of genetically engineered seeds.

You may wish to review the U.S. maximum allowances for Glyphosphate in foods as I have done but the site is cumbersome and the levels seem arbitrary and are essentially what the foods actually contain so as not to be a limiting factor.

As I am writing this information it seems that the German company Bayer has agreed to buy Monsanto. Should this come to pass, as it likely will, I am reminded of who produced “Zyklon B”, the poison gas that was used to exterminate millions of people by Germany in WWII. Yes, it was Bayer (of the popular aspirin brand) as a corporate unit of IG Farben. So, they are a perfect partner for Monsanto.

IS YOUR “K” OK?

Just as with “B-Complex” vitamins, Vitamin K is now known to be a series of related vitamins with somewhat different origins and effects in our bodies. The label “K” comes from the German spelling of “Koagulation” as it was applied on discovery in 1935, an essential for preventing abnormal bleeding, as in decreased ability to clot.

In relatively recent years, many body proteins have been found to be dependent on adequate sources of Vitamin K, which an insufficiency of, may lead to increased mortality, cardiovascular events, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, diabetes and other age related diseases related to reduced levels of Vitamin K. There is a lower incidence of prostate cancer in men taking increased amounts of Vitamin K. There are other risk reduction examples and of particular importance is the action of “K” in reducing arterial wall calcifications, perhaps by inhibiting the inflammatory “cytokines” that stimulate plaque and calcification in arterial walls. These are some of the observations leading some scientists to claim that Vitamin K contributes to human longevity.

The predominant source of Vitamin K in your diet is K1 (phylloquinone) which is found only in plants with the best sources being green and leafy. In humans and animals, Vitamin K1 converts to K2 by the action of intestinal bacterial flora. The efficiency of this conversion varies in individuals and species, so it should not be relied upon in the opinion of many physicians, myself included. To compound the confusion, there are different types of K2, these being MK-4 through MK-13. MK4 (menaquinone) is mostly found in animal tissue and is the likely product of the intestinal activity on K1.

It is likely that Vitamins K1 and K2 are required for the metabolic benefits of what was originally called Vitamin K. The benefits of Vitamin K2, also known as “Activator X” are what I want to focus on because it is found to be diminished in our modern day diet as we tend to avoid fatty meats. The amount of K2 in factory farmed meat rather than grass fed beef is much lower and this along with the excess use of antibiotics (affecting gut flora) also decreases the body’s ability to convert K1 to K2.

Vitamin K2 is required for the beneficial activity of Vitamins A and D, and plays a major role in bone health where it keeps your dietary calcium in your bones, not in your arteries where it becomes a major permanent component of plaque.

I personally believe in supplementing my diet with Vitamin K2, although there are presently no definitive human clinical trials regarding supplementation. A word of caution: Prior to considering Vitamin K1 or K2 supplementation, you should consult your physician and be aware that if you are taking the anticoagulant Warfarin or Coumadin, your drug may be inactivated or efficacy affected by Vitamin K. Talk to your Doctor!

There is no clear-cut dose regimen for Vitamin K2 because you can’t know if your personal diet is providing enough of it. However, I believe that adequate amounts are not provided from your diet alone. Bear in mind that there is no study as to how much is too much K2.

While I think that my own gut flora are reasonably happy, I don’t eat much animal fat or their by-products, such as butter, so I have my own simple dose regimen which I will share with you.

Vitamin K2 (menaquinone-7), 100mcg daily with a meal.

If supplements are not your thing….foods rich in Vitamin K are:

  •  Green leafy Vegetable
  •  Broccoli
  • Prunes
  • Fermented dairy
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Scallions
  • Fermented soy (natto)
  • Cucumbers

A “green drink” breakfast that includes many of the above is another way of getting “K” that I favor.

YOUR MEMORY…Not Your Computer’s

Simply defined, your memory is the faculty of your mind by which information is encoded, stored and retrieved. It is therefore an information processing system with long term memory, short term memory and other specific functions that give rise to descriptions and further definitions like descriptive, episodic, and declarative. I will leave it to you to explore these terms that are readily found on the internet. I will confine this article to what contributes to memory loss and what if anything can affect your memory in a positive way.

I should emphasize that your family medical practitioner is equipped, or should be, to make an assessment of your memory loss as it relates to specific illnesses such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons Disease, mixed Dementia, Diabetes and others such as aging with mild cognitive disorder. Treatment of an underlying condition is essential in the evaluation of memory loss and its specific remedies that may be available. This information in no way is meant to replace appropriate evaluation and medical treatment.

There are many claims made daily on the Internet and in various reports regarding the effect of vitamins and other supplements regarding enhancing memory whether caused by old age or various medical conditions. I will attempt to report on clinical and evidence-based information, but some of my anecdotal experiences may influence my thinking on the topic, and I will indicate this as needed.

Age related memory loss –

Stress Reduction: An article in the British Medical Journal suggests that chronic stress with its concomitant exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol in humans can impair memory. Stress contributes to anxiety and depression which interfere with memory processing.

Physical activity is likely to increase cerebral blood flow which in turn promotes nerve cell growth and is thought by most clinicians to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease in later life. Exercise also produces “brain derived neurotropic factor”, known as BDNF, which preserves brain cells and promotes growth. I also personally subscribe to the theory that “executive control”, the monitoring, planning and scheduling of mental tasks, improves memory when performed in association with aerobic exercise. There is some evidence that exercising after learning something new helps you to remember it long term. In the Journal NEUROLOGY, there is a report that moderate to intense exercise can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years.

There is a study indicating that 20 minutes of leg muscle exercise, in particular, enhanced long term memory by a significant margin. This is likely related to the increased production of BDNF in both muscle and brain. I am fond of saying that “sitting is the new smoking” and so I recommend walking more every chance you get.

Healthy Diet: Obesity related conditions increase the risk for memory loss and general cognitive decline. Epidemiology studies show that while some fats, such as olive oil, may benefit brain health, lower fat diets in young and middle aged adults may reduce the risk of disorders in later life.

Dr. Steven Pratt, author of “Super Foods, RX” points to these foods as memory enhancing: nuts and seeds, avocados, deep water fish such as salmon, blueberries, (which he calls “brainberries”) lentils and other beans. Dark chocolate, freshly brewed tea and whole grains. The brain is particularly affected by free radicals and these foods have high anti-oxidative benefits. 

Drug related memory loss –

Many drugs have side effects that result in long term and/or short term memory loss and this should be pointed out by the prescriber so that symptoms may be observed by the patient or family members.

Benzodiazepines: examples are, by trade name, Xanax, Librium and others. Long term memory is affected, subsequent to ingestion, because events are not transferred from short term to long term storage. Patients are often unaware of this occurrence, and may depend on it being pointed out to them.

Anticholinergic drugs: These are the acid reducers such as Pepcid, Zantac and, particularly, the proton pump inhibitors like Omeprazole which are non- prescription drugs and used for “heartburn.” They should not be used for prolonged periods because of memory loss and other serious (bone fracture) side effects. These drugs are also used for incontinence with the same side effects.

Cholesterol lowering drugs: Statins in particular have been known to affect memory and learning in a negative way.

Anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants and Narcotics: have been shown to increase the risk of memory loss.

Parkinson’s medications affect signaling pathways in the brain and can cause memory loss that may be associated with delusional and compulsive behavior.

Antihypertensive drugs, particularly Betablockers, by interfering with Epinephrine and Norepinephrine which are chemical messengers in the brain.

Antihistamines: Allergy medications are also anticholinergic, as above, but require special mention because of their wide usage.

Sleeping pills: such as Ambien and related drugs have been reported as causing memory loss.

Diabetes medications- Metformin, a commonly prescribed type 2 Diabetes drug, with off label indications as well, has been associated with memory problems. This is likely because it interferes with the action of vitamin B-12….requiring concomitant additional doses of this Vitamin as indicated below.

Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies –

The vitamin deficiency most often associated with memory loss is vitamin B-1 or Thiamine, which is involved in production of required neurotransmitters in the brain. The deficiency of this, as well as vitamin B-12, B-6, and B-9, are linked to early onset of dementia and memory loss according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

Recent studies by NIH, report that the majority of dementia patients were also deficient in vitamin D. This may be an incidental finding that requires more research to establish a direct link to cognitive decline. While vitamin B-12 can be measured in patient’s serum, I have seen normal levels in patients that had other reasons for not utilizing the adequate amounts in their blood.

A word about MAGNESIUM: Some years ago, there was a research article, published in the MIT Journal “Neuron” entitled “Magnesium May Reverse Middle Age Memory Loss”. The study suggested that, at least in animals, Magnesium helps neurotransmission and that increasing its concentration in the brain allows for more meaningful input. The only Magnesium supplement that I believe raises the brains magnesium levels is a patented form known as MAGNESIUM L-THREONINE, or “Magtein” which has shown promise in animals regarding tissue and cell membrane penetration. The research on Magtein was performed by a group of scientists at MIT and it indicates, at least in animals, increased cognitive function. There are many other magnesium preparations having a variety of effects on other conditions not discussed here with their minimal brain absorption making them less suitable for the indication we are discussing here.

Sleep disorders – 

The Journal of Neuroscience reports that sleep apnea affects navigational memory, such as “where did I put my keys?” a result of oxygen deprivation during a fitful nights sleep.

Since memory loss may be attributable to a variety of causes as indicated above, it must be clear to the reader that there is no specific single “cure” for the condition. In order to be sure no possible cause is overlooked, when visiting a health care provider a patient must address all possible causes and act as his/her own advocate.

This essay on memory is by no means intended to be all-inclusive as there is a vast amount of medical and anecdotal information on this topic available to you. I hope it will however stimulate you to discuss your memory issues with your health provider because cognitive decline is not necessarily a requirement for healthy aging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My “Sleep” Prescription

Although we spend about a third of our lives doing it, many people don’t understand the importance of it. Those of us that sleep well, give it little thought and those of us with insomnia may not realize that it is on a par with obesity, among other conditions, making it a real health epidemic in America. Sleep issues are actually a contributing factor to weight gain. It is reported that approximately 70 million of our citizens suffer from sleep disorders.

Research Professor, Sara Mednick says “Sleep is really critical for all different kinds of memory, for motor tasks, learning how to do and see things and learning to be creative. Whenever the brain requires some change in order to make itself faster, better or think clearer, usually sleep is involved”. Those of you that have sleep problems already know its negative effects on your waking hours. This problem is particularly noted in elderly patients with difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling “unrefreshed” on awakening.

Most of you know that lack of sleep has many deleterious effects on your mind and body and these effects are often discussed in lay and scientific articles of all types.

Therefore, for the sake of brevity and to keep you from falling asleep from reading this blog, I will concentrate on outlining the things that will help you conquer the lack of sleep and optimize your chances of obtaining 6-8 hours of sleep, nightly, which seems to be optimum for most people.

  1. Strive for Complete darkness: Even a little light can disrupt your body’s natural rhythms and your pineal glands production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the glow of your alarm or radio or night-light can prevent “sound” sleep. A red or orange light is preferable as a night-light. Blackout shades are appropriate and even if you have to get up to use the bathroom…don’t turn on the light if feasible.

Limit your exposure to “blue light” 1-2 hours before going to sleep. This is the light that is emitted from TV and computer screens and taken together with room light can delay your melatonin production and sleep onset by at least one hour.

  1. Keep electrical devices away from your bed: Don’t keep or charge your cell phone or computer on your night table. The surrounding electro-magnetic fields are a sleep disrupter so keep these devices at least 3-4 feet away from your bed.
  1. Bedroom temperature: It has been shown that the best room temperature for sleep is not higher than 70 degrees. Try this for yourself as in most cases, a higher temperature may cause restlessness in sleep.
  1. Sleep alone: Some people even require a room alone so as not to be affected by a restless partner or snoring. Going to bed not later than 11pm seems to allow the required “recharging” that most people require, but there are many variances in individual requirements, based on age as well as other parameters.
  1. Establish a sleep rhythm and a bedtime routine: Going to bed at the same time each night should make it easier to fall asleep. Some type of relaxing technique each night is advisable. Massage, meditation, calming music or reading something spiritual or pleasant are some examples to consider. Avoiding working or studying at bedtime is helpful. Attempt to identify a cause of your sleep disturbance such as any annoyance or anxiety in your daily routine.
  1. Food: Eliminate sugary foods and drinks a few hours before bedtime and use the bathroom just before bedtime….for obvious reasons. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, both obvious sleep deterrents even if initially, alcohol may cause drowsiness.
  1. Exercise: Not a good idea before bedtime as it will stimulate you….morning is best to help you at night.
  1. Drugs and hormones: Avoid self directed antidepressants and antianxiety medications where an underlying problem can be addressed. Melatonin which is a natural substance made in your body may be beneficial as an additive on your physician’s advice to induce sleepiness. It can be increased naturally by exposure to bright sunlight in the day and darkness at night.
  1. Socks: You may find that you have less interrupted sleep if you wear socks (as I do) for sleep because the circulation in your feet is diminished in the temperature decreased environment sleep position, particularly if you have any vascular disease.
  1. Pillow: Not the “my pillow” that is so heavily endorsed on TV or the “sleep number” bed that some people find to be their panacea. The “PILLOW “that I am referring to is a FREE application for your iphone or android that monitors your sleep patterns and records the stages of your sleep by the sounds and movements it observes as you sleep. Using it in conjunction with another free app…”Health” will allow it to send data to another recordable site for the results.

It’s the one electronic exception that I allow directly on my mattress as a sleep tracker because of the information it provides. Maybe not the most scientific, but it’s a beginning to understand your sleep cycles. You can always do more research on your own.

These 10 insights to bettering your sleep experience are perhaps not for everyone, but certainly may “awaken” you to remedies that you may not have considered.

 

How Sweet It Is

As I was adding a bit of sweetener to my coffee this morning I thought of how confusing it must be to the average consumer who thinks that all sweetening agents are the same. Thinking of the multiple choices available for our hot and cold drinks made me think of the title for this blog. It’s a quote from that great comedian Jackie Gleason and his “The Honeymooners” show of the sixties.

So….what are the sweeteners?

There are three categories: Artificial Sweeteners, Sugar Alcohols and Natural Sweeteners.

ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS:

  1. ASPARTAME (Nutrasweet, Equal) – This is a synthetic chemical that came into use, although with some restrictions, in 1974. Its two primary components are phenylalanine and aspartic acid. These amino acids are certainly safe when consumed in foods. When the ester link between these acids are broken down the free amino acids may have a variety of neurotoxic effects i.e. headache, dizziness and seizures.

Ten percent of the aspartame absorbed in your body becomes Methanol (wood alcohol) which can break down into formaldehyde, a toxin that can accumulate in your cells. The EPA claims that it is carcinogenic in humans and that its waste product, formate, can cause blindness, kidney failure and death.

Phenylalanine, the major component of aspartame, is an amino acid that converts to neurotransmitters, including L-dopa, norepinephrine and epinephrine. The excessive use of Aspartame can affect the physiology of your brain resulting in anxiety, depression, headache and tremors.

The second largest component of aspartame is aspartic acid, of which Dr. Russell Blaylock has said, “certain amino acids like MSG and aspartic acid cause an “excitotoxicity” that literally excite cells to death. Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers as neuro-degenerative diseases may be linked to this concept.

Whether or not you experience immediate negative effects from aspartame in your morning coffee, keep in mind that it is completely metabolized into by products discussed and that neurological damage may occur with its use over a period of years.

My own experience with aspartame relates to discontinuing its use in coffee and cola products, to name a few, in more than a few patients than suffered from cluster and migraine headaches. They were all amazed at the elimination of their headaches that ensued. I was an FAA medical examiner early in my career and advised civilian pilots not to use products containing aspartame because the US Air Force linked it to seizures, and temporary loss of vision.

I believe that the use of aspartame in food and drink is linked to eye and brain damage as well as to lymphomas.

  1. SPLENDA (Sucralose) – is a synthetic organochlorine that is found in many thousands of processed foods in the U.S. , the European Union (where it is known as E955, an additive code) and most other countries. Animal and human in vitro studies show that its use is associated with many adverse effects. These include GI problems relating to damaged micro-flora, that are gut beneficial and indeed are required for your immune system.

The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health discusses Sucralose and its use in cooking. High temperatures cause the release of chloropropanols, which are in the class of dioxins and are potentially toxic. The Journal concludes that “sucralose is not a biologically inert compound” and this is contrary to earlier studies on which its approval was based.

Other recent studies express concern regarding its use in diabetics and weight reduction programs where it may have the reverse effect.

I believe that it is certainly time for the FDA to review recent studies regarding the safety of sucralose in human nutrition. Physicians and the consumer must heighten their suspicions of GI, neurologic , and skin symptoms that may be related to synthetic sweeteners as a class.

  1. SACCHARIN (Sweet ‘n Low): This artificial sweetener has been in use for at least 100 years and claims that it is “the best researched sweetener.” It is about 500 times sweeter than table sugar, but does have a bitter after taste. Research in the 70’s demonstrated that it caused bladder cancer in rats thereby causing its removal from our food supply. Congress later allowed its use providing it had a warning label on it. Later studies removed this warning when it was found that human bladder cancer was not caused by its use in “acceptable” quantities based on weight of the consumer. Bear in mind that the public outcry against the removal of saccharin from their diet programs caused congress to intervene. Mind you, there were no other available non-caloric sweeteners available at the time that congress intervened……not the case today.

Currently available data leads me to believe that this coal tar derivative in the “sulfa” class may be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, as it is known to be in rats and mice.

Another often overlooked concern is the possibility of allergic reactions, particularly in those allergic to sulfa drugs. Headache, skin eruptions, and diarrhea are suggested to me. Again, another timely look by the FDA is in order.

4. ACESULFAME K: This is made from a process that transforms an organic intermediate, acetoacetic acid, in combination with Potassium (K) to form a purportedly highly stable non-nutritive, non caloric sweetener. In addition to the consumers’ use of it, sometimes in combination with sucralose and other synthetics, it is often listed as an excipient in over the counter and prescription drugs. Its purpose is to bulk up or stabilize an active ingredient.

While I have a personal bias against synthetic sweeteners, I could not find any science that would preclude its use by consumers. There are some references to its containing methyl chloride, which is a toxic carcinogen, but on thorough review I found that it is a possible contaminant resulting from the manufacture of Acesulfame….that has not been substantiated with proper standardized testing. If it is present in the end product you would have to consume a huge amount to be affected by it.

SUGAR ALCOHOLS (sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, glycerol, erythritol):

These are carbohydrates that are found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables and are also manufactured. They contain fewer calories but are not calorie free or non-nutritive. Their sweetening effect depends on their slower and incomplete absorption. Xylitol is often used in chewing gum and toothpaste. See my comments on this additive under “What’s in your toothpaste?” – an earlier blog.

As an artificial sweetener, it is regulated by the FDA. The slow absorption of these alcohols is likely responsible for the GI bloating and gas that many experience when consuming foods with these additives.

It is worth noting that while Erythritol is also a sugar alcohol, the “Journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology “confirms my own experience that this particular sugar alcohol is not noted for the bloating and GI distress usually accompanying the others. I like the brand “swerve”. I also find it in mixtures of sweeteners mostly containing Stevia as in “Truvia.” While they all end in “ol,” they don’t contain ethanol and are not alcoholic.

NATURAL SWEETENERS:

  1. SUGAR: SUCROSE, DEXTROSE GLUCOSE, FRUCTOSE, AGAVE and HONEY:

While all of these are sugars, the only one you are “designed” to use in your diet is glucose. Your common table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Agave syrup is usually 75% fructose when processed, and is not a natural product. Honey is a natural product as found and is 50% fructose. While it has certain health benefits it should be used in moderation.

Fructose and high fructose corn syrup are metabolized differently than glucose and should be avoided as found in foods and drinks. Large quantities in your diet may damage your liver, turn into fat and lipids. It can lead to weight gain and stomach bloating and obesity.

When fructose is consumed in its natural state as in fruits and vegetables, it is associated with fiber, nutrients, enzymes and other beneficial elements. When fructose is associated this way in nature, any untoward effects are minimized or eliminated. This is not the same fructose added to foods and beverages, and is made from corn, likely GMO as well.

There is evidence that cancer cells (particularly, brain cancers) require sugar to reproduce and thrive. I believe it should be eliminated from the diet of cancer survivors and those receiving chemotherapy currently.

  1. STEVIA (Truvia, Purevia, Stevia in the raw, Sweetleaf): Stevia, as do other plants, contains multiple compounds such as raubaudiosides and glycosides. The raubaudioside is responsible for the sweetness and is often extracted from the whole plant for its effectiveness while other formulations exist with more of the whole leaf itself. The product has been in use for centuries in Japan, Brazil and China, but was only approved for use in the U.S. as a “food additive” and that is how I employed it as my sweetener of choice for over 20 years. I found it to be a very safe natural product with its former labeling and now….as an approved FDA sweetener.

Some people find a metallic aftertaste or a hint of licorice or fennel in their use of Stevia, but I have not found it objectionable. I suggest that the product varies as to processing, active compound extraction and possible additives like dextrose.

Stevia extract is generally hundreds of times sweetener than sugar. Liquid stevia extract used as drops seems to be least bitter or metallic. “Coca Cola Life” is a recent addition to its products and it contains both sugar and stevia to reduce the calories imbibed. There are plenty of reasons to avoid carbonated beverages, but that is another story.

By now you have likely surmised that my “go to” natural sweetener is Stevia….for my coffee and as a “looked for” ingredient in soft non caloric drinks. Two that I note are “Lifewater” and “Vitamin Water-Zero.”

It is likely that further studies regarding all of the above sweeteners will be forthcoming and that the FDA will have further imprint on their use. Until then, I   hope that those of you interested in the puzzle of what is and is not healthy will find my review and my opinions helpful in your choices.

To tea or not to tea? That is the question.

A few months ago I gave you my views on coffee and I think I made a good positive case for drinking it at least once daily. Many of my friends and family are inveterate tea drinkers and I myself drink tea for certain effects that are not necessarily found in coffee. So, because it’s not always “either or” I want to share my thoughts on tea.

What is it anyway? And am I really drinking tea or just an herbal infusion disguised as tea? Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second only to water and all tea comes from an evergreen shrub (camellia sinensis) which is native to Asia. So called “herbal teas” are not true teas and are made from other plants. The plant produces Green, Black, White and Oolong, depending on the variety of plant and processing method. If you are drinking “red tea,” it is actually an herbal infusion marketed as tea, and while it does contain antioxidants, they are not the same as the ones in tea that are currently under scientific study. I wrote a paper many years ago, in Pharmacy college, about tea and although there has been much study since then, the actual positive findings are still not conclusive as to its health value. The more substantive studies are found in regard to coffee, but that shouldn’t stop you from drinking tea for the following reasons.

Both Green Tea and Black Tea and many other plant foods like coffee and cocoa contain hundreds of pharmacologically active chemicals, notably flavonoids and polyphenols, which the body utilizes. Dried tea leaves are by weight, one third polyphenols, a veritable storehouse of this botanical chemical with potentially beneficial properties. The chemistry of tea depends on such factors as its age, growth habitat, storage and brewing method. For example, while longer brewing time relates to greater release of polyphenols, brewing for longer than 3 minutes has no increased benefit in release of this compound.

There is more to concern the tea drinker. Decaffeinated tea has reduced catechins while instant and bottled tea have lower levels of polyphenols. There is research to suggest that adding milk binds the chemicals, thereby reducing the positive effects. Lemon addition, on the other hand, may enhance the body’s absorption.

When I wrote my first paper on tea, I recall finding that it contained an amount of caffeine similar to coffee. Today as I review recent findings it seems that tea averages about 40 mg. of caffeine versus about 100mg. in coffee with many variables depending on brewing time, type of each, and origin. Black tea generally contains more caffeine than green.

I believe that green tea is the most beneficial with its richness in catechins (phenols) including a potent antioxidant known as EGCG. Black tea undergoes a fermentation process that converts the catechins to other chemicals. Oolong tea is about midway in composition of polyphenols. I refer to catechins and phenols interchangeably as they are the same but labeled differently by various researchers.

By now, you probably want to know, is it good or bad for my health? Unfortunately, while studies are somewhat positive, they are inconsistent. I have alluded to the fact that tea content varies greatly as do the method of utilization. Botanicals in general when used for medicinal purposes, all suffer from this drawback of non-standardization. It is important to note that variables within your own digestive system [microflora], and digestive enzymes may affect the utilization of beneficial biologicals and tea is no exception.

The major beneficial claims for tea are as follows:

CANCER:

There is insufficient support for studies that propose tea for treatment or prevention of any cancer. That being said, there are lab studies that show green tea polyphenols inhibiting a wide variety of cancer cells. A researcher in food science at Penn State University has found that a compound in green tea killed oral cancer cells. The EGCG that I mentioned earlier (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) targeted cancer cells while not harming normal cells by a yet unexplained mechanism. An article in “Molecular Nutrition and Food Research” suggests that this same EGCG actually increases the protective ability of normal cells. These are lab studies in petri dishes, not the human environment, but are promising nevertheless. It is interesting to note that the problem with most chemotherapy drugs is that they target rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. So too, do hair follicle cells and those in your intestines …..you know the side effects…..none of which are caused by green tea consumption.

BONE HEALTH:

Researchers are in agreement that while polyphenols in tea have beneficial effects on bone mass and strength, more research is needed on humans to eliminate discrepancies in current studies. Some findings indicate that post menopausal women with high intakes of green tea, in particular, have increased bone density.

BRAIN HEALTH:

Most studies in Asia suggest that older people who regularly drink green tea had a reduced risk of mental impairment, compared to non-tea drinkers. Perhaps the caffeine and amino acid content increase concentration.

DIABETES:

There is research that links the poly phenol content of both green and black tea to improved blood sugar control. A British Medical Journal in 2012 and a Chinese Journal both found in clinical trials that green tea helps reduce blood sugar. My own experience with green tea in particular showed no significant blood sugar reductions in Type 2 Diabetes, but much anecdotal reports persist.

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE:

There are researchers that promote the intake of green and black tea in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and prominent among them is Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg , professor of nutrition science at Tufts University. Many observational studies have found that people who consume moderate amounts of either tea have a reduced risk of this disease, particularly stroke (cerebrovascular accident), usually higher consumption suggesting greater protection.

I reviewed a recent article in the NIH, Library of Medicine which confirms that both black and green tea have a beneficial effect on blood lipid levels (cholesterol components) and blood pressure with the caveat that results were based on only a few trials. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 concludes that “the administration of green tea beverages or extracts resulted in significant reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol concentrations but no effect on HDL cholesterol”.

There you have it. I have not addressed other limited research and anecdotal evidence for the benefits of tea in Weight Control, Parkinsons Disease, and Dental Health, among other illnesses because of limited evidence of efficacy in these conditions. I do have an opinion in each case however and can respond to questions regarding them and tea.

One tea that has particular notoriety is MATCHA TEA, that is a green tea that is prepared from a high quality shade grown leaf known as “Tencha.” It is covered before the leaves are picked to accentuate the color, usually steamed to protect from oxidation and preserve flavor, then stone ground and packaged as a bulk powder. It has been an important part of a 900 year-old tea ceremony in Japan and people in the West are lately enamored of its purported health benefits.

Matcha is rich in components with super antioxidant activity, including polyphenols, and chlorophyll. In addition it contains Vitamin A, B-complex, vitamin C, Vitamin E, K, and trace minerals. The presence of amino acids including L-Thionine in the tea make Matcha a nutrient rich drink.

One important caveat regarding green tea and Matcha in particular. Because the polyphenols and EGCG are present in the greatest concentrations in Matcha there is potential for toxicity, usually in the liver. The United States pharmacopeia gives review evidence of the potential for green tea to cause liver injury evidenced by serum enzyme elevations and hepatitis like symptoms. Usually these reverse on cessation of the tea use. You may ask …how much is too much? As I mentioned earlier, botanicals such as tea are not standardized as to potency because of variants mentioned in production, so it is difficult to say what is too much. I believe that it would take in excess of 20 cups of green tea (less in the case of Matcha) taken daily to cause the toxicity mentioned above. Watch for headache, dizziness and nausea as early signs of excess use.

In my clinical practice I have never seen dangerous effects of heavy use of green tea but I have asked patients to discontinue its use in some cases of persistent vertigo and headache where no other cause was evident. Good results were often obtained. Generally where I was confronted with unexplained liver or other probable metabolic problems I would suggest eliminating all herbal “medications” as an early step. Considering that the use of Tea and Green tea and its extracts is so widespread, liver injury must be said to be rare.

Bottom line for me is… enjoy your tea, if that is a preferred beverage. Be cognizant of possible problems with excessive use, although “excessive” may be difficult to define for reasons I have given.

Curcumin…and its story

You may have encountered the kitchen spice turmeric, a major constituent of curry powder, to which it imparts its yellow color. What you may not know is that there are important, unique medical and therapeutic benefits to its use.

The active ingredient in turmeric is Curcumin, a natural polyphenol that has been used in traditional Asian and African medicine for almost 4000 years. Today there is a renewed interest in plant based, naturally occurring (remedies) medications, although this is not a new idea at all as the first English language research study of its medical usage was published by “The Lancet” in 1937. Don’t confuse Tumeric, in your use of it as a spice, with the medical uses of Curcumin its active ingredient.

More recent reports in the British Journal of Nutrition and other sources cite it as non-toxic to humans at high doses, with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti- cancer properties. The International Journal of Cardiology discusses pre-clinical findings of cholesterol reduction, and prevention of cardiac rhythm irregularities in animal models. There is ongoing investigation regarding its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects that may play a role in cancer prevention. It is clear, however that its anti-inflammatory effects are useful in arthritic and other conditions like tendonitis and various sports injuries that are more commonly experienced.

I have used it following a required cortisone joint injection for patients knee problems for its followup anti-inflammatory effect to prevent further injections.

In my own experience, I believe it has been successful, in combination with various anti-cancer drugs, in creating more efficient and less toxic cancer treatment modalities. It has been shown to inhibit certain adaptive cancer cell pathways resulting in the death of these (apoptotic response) cells.

The barrier to the efficacy of Curcumin is that its bio-availability after oral dosing is limited and therefore sufficient concentrations may not be available for pharmacologic effects outside of the GI tract. Much study is in progress regarding the enhancement of its absorption in body tissues.

We already know, however, that Curcumin is not water soluble and that it mixes well with oil and fat. If it is boiled for 15-20 minutes in water (3 capsule contents totaling 3000 mg.) its bio-availability in the resulting liquid is increased 12 fold.

Boiling Instructions: Recommended for the more serious diseases indicated above.

  • Bring 1 quart of water to gentle boil in glass or stainless pot.
  • Add powder of 6 capsules (500mg/per capsule)
  • Boil gently, covered, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
  • Cool and allow sediment to settle; pour off the water into a container
  • Drink “curcumin boiled in water” in divided doses over 6-12 hours.
  • May be flavored with small amounts (no sugar) of natural fruit

Mixing the capsule powder with organic coconut oil and warmed milk, almond milk, or just with either is a simpler solution for many. Try sprinkling the powder on avocado, salad, or making a paste with it. Any palatable fat or oil mixture will improve the solubility and therefore its availability to your tissues.

Nevertheless, there is extensive published literature on the use of Curcumin as a therapy for malignant and inflammatory disease, as well as potential benefit in neurologic disease and pre-invasive lesions of the gastrointestinal tract.

The bottom line for me and my family….particularly for its anti-inflammatory effects (all forms of arthritis, neuralgias, myositis etc.) is a daily dosage of a minimum of 2000 mg. of curcumin standardized extract in combination with black pepper (read the ingredients) to aid in its absorption. May be taken with or without food. Reread my comments on boiling or oil/fat mixtures!

This is available in a capsule formulation of either 500 or 1000mg. with the latter capsule being rather large in size. I suggest taking it in divided doses for convenience although I take it all with breakfast.

Some people find that the liquid formulation concentrate is tolerated better although I have experienced few GI complaints from patients using capsules.

I firmly believe in the benefits of including Curcumin in your daily food or supplement intake, with greater benefits to be forthcoming with ongoing current research.

If you are thinking of using Curcumin for any of the above conditions, I strongly suggest that you discuss it with the physician whose care you are under, without relying on studies I have cited. Much of the above concerns my own opinion and findings, and experience. Once again, my purpose in writing this blog is not to supplant the recommendations of your health provider. I merely want to provide additional information to help you make informed decisions and to stimulate your thinking in your health matters…….because your health matters!

It’s YOUR coffee, make the best of it!

Just a few days ago an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Ethiopians Desperate to Keep Their Coffee Fix” made me think about this beverage that is so loved by Americans and yet full of contradictions about its health benefits.

First, let me share some brief historical information. There is anecdotal evidence that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia by a Goat herder named Kaldi. When his goats seemed especially frisky after nibbling on a bush with red berries, he tried it himself and coffee beans were never looked at the same way again. It’s appropriate to note that Ethiopians are now Africa’s top coffee consumers although the WSJ notes that the better beans are not available to them, being an export dollar earner. Coffee’s apparent introduction as a beverage in 800 AD was followed by an amazing course, from being forbidden to the masses in Arab countries to its ready availability in 16th Century Europe. The name “Java” comes from coffee propagation in a province that is now in Indonesia.

That’s enough history for our purposes, but I must tell you one bit of trivia. A small coffee shop in London in 1668 was run by Edward Lloyd. Perhaps because it facilitated an exchange of ideas and commerce over a cup, it eventually became the still operating Lloyds of London Insurance (Exchange) Company.

Roasting Coffee at home should be discouraged. I tried it with a popcorn air popper before I knew that the fumes coming off the roasting beans are quite toxic. Fortunately I did it outside on my patio. The chemicals, diacetyl and 2,3 pentanedione, formed naturally during the roasting, may without proper ventilation cause non-reversible lung disease. A study published in the National Institute of Health Library in December 2015 discusses the consequences of inhaling roasting fumes. The mass commercial roasting and grinding of beans produces the same gases, but is not a problem for the home brewer.

Pesticides in Coffee– The neurotoxic organophosphates used extensively on coffee plantations are probably destroyed by the high temperatures used in roasting. However, I prefer to use USDA certified organic beans as a precaution. It is worth the extra cost in protection of the environment and the health benefits to workers not exposed to this toxin.

Health Benefits- Antioxidant activity of Coffee polyphenols including chlorogenic acid, has been measured (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry) and the results show a greater effect of coffee as to antioxidant activity compared to equivalent quantities of cocoa or tea (including green tea). In this connection, I refer to an article in The New England Journal of Medicine that suggests that drinking coffee may add years to your life span. I subscribe to this theory myself and it is furthered by studies at NIH in conjunction with AARP. Findings were that there is a remarkable strong association between coffee drinking and length of life. The protective effect of coffee drinking was evident with either regular or decaf coffee. An American Chemical Society study found that people who drink four or more cups of coffee a day (if tolerated) reduce their chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Similar studies in Science Daily suggest that drinking coffee may help people with Parkinsons Disease control their movement. In my own patients I have seen a positive effect of caffeine in assisting depression associated with Parkinsons as well as with movement control.

My own belief based on extensive reading and observations is that the polyphenols and chlorogenic compounds remaining in roasted coffee have a positive effect on tissue repair, sustained cognition, atherosclerosis, and cancer prevention, fatty liver disease (associated with alcoholism) and Alzheimer’s Disease.

One cup of coffee in the morning is the minimum to obtain the benefits described, but it seems that the more you drink to toleration, the better. I only drink one cup of caffeinated coffee daily in am and an occasional decaf later in the day or in the evening.

Flavors and creamers– It is very easy to dilute and even cancel the good effects of coffee, just add creamer that contains high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, carrageenan, etc. Read the small print. If you don’t like your coffee black you can add cream, milk, almond milk or your favorite alternative to cow’s milk without negating the good effects of your morning beverage.

Caffeine– Brewed coffee depending on the type of bean, method of brewing and filtration contains approximately 80-125 mg. of caffeine. We all know that it stimulates mental acuity and alertness. This occurs because caffeine blocks the action of a group of brain chemicals called adenosines, which are natural triggers for fatigue. Note that the amount of caffeine in your bloodstream peaks 15-45 minutes after ingestion. Not much more to say except that more than 500 mg/day has, in my experience, had the effect of increasing anxiety and insomnia. I had the experience years ago of treating a caffeine “addiction” of over 50 cups a day in a computer programmer that worked lengthy shifts. Many months of replacing his standard brand with decaf on a gradual mixture basis proved successful, but challenging.

YOU CAN TELL IF YOU ARE DRINKING TOO MUCH COFFEE IF: You chew on other people’s fingernails, all your kids are named “Joe”, you answer the door before people knock, or you ski uphill.                                                                                                              

BOTTOM LINE FOR ME– One cup of Organic Ethiopian Yergacheffe coffee with stevia and almond milk. I prefer organic because pesticides are commonly employed in coffee bean growing and I am not certain that the residue in the beans is destroyed in roasting. Yergacheffe beans are Arabica, but smaller in size, less oily and more aromatic. It is certainly a variety worth trying. My preference is for freshly ground beans, a simple task in your kitchen, but if ground is what you prefer, be certain that it is fresh. If long storage required, I prefer the freezer, but this is controversial, so as I say about most things, it’s safe to experiment.

What’s in YOUR toothpaste?

While most dental organizations and government agencies consider commercially available toothpastes to be safe, my own view is that if a product is not naturally available in our environment, it may be toxic to the body in any concentration and should be avoided. Many conventional toothpastes and even “natural” ones contain ingredients that you would not apply or ingest as a stand alone (chemical) ingredient.

My comments do not apply to specific dental formulations that may be required on a dentist’s advice for treatment of a specific dental malady, i.e. periodontal disease and gingivitis. For this reason I am avoiding discussion of fluoride in toothpaste at this time.

These are ingredients that I avoid:

TRICLOSAN is a potent, wide spectrum anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent sometimes listed as “Microban.” A small amount may be absorbed through your skin or mouth membranes. The general medical view is that there is not enough evidence to preclude its inclusion in toothpaste. However, there is research that shows that it alters hormone regulation in animals and that it may encourage antibiotic resistant germs. The immune system may be affected according to some researchers. A 2012 study published by the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. indicated that it weakens heart and muscle contractions.

ASPARTAME, also known as “Equal” and “Nutrasweet,” is an artificial sweetener that is toxic in large quantities. It is approved by the FDA and other health regulatory organizations, but not by the Harvard School of Public Health and others. There are multiple studies on mice, in particular, that suggest Aspartame is safe as a food sweetener in limited quantities. However, an MIT funded researcher claims that the chemical reacts more negatively in humans than in mice. My personal patient experience is that it can cause headaches, dry eyes, and mood disorders. The fact that Aspartame forms Methanol when it breaks down, travels to your brain and forms formaldehyde is likely responsible for the headache related effects. There are many other negative claims on line concerning Aspartame, including “mother in law problems,” that I have discounted. I have discouraged my own children and family from using any artificial sweeteners in any product in favor of natural plant STEVIA formulations.

PROPYLENE GLYCOL is an organic chemical that is formed by fermentation of yeast with certain carbohydrates. This is why some labels list it as a carbohydrate, which it is not. I have a very strong aversion to the use of this product in any food product and in any amount. It is an alcohol used as a solvent, surfactant and carrier of flavor and moisturizer in toothpaste and food. While its toothpaste uses are for the pharmaceutical grade, not the industrial grade used in paints, anti-freeze and varnishes, it is not something I want in my mouth. The FDA states that “it is generally accepted as safe.” This is not good enough for me as it remains a toxic agent that is foreign to our bodies.

GLYCERINE is what gives toothpaste its pasty feel. It is often obtained from lard, tallow and sometimes from bio-diesel processing. It is used as a sweetening and preserving agent and sticks to your teeth forming a “plastic like film.” This may block the naturally occurring minerals, including calcium and phosphorous, in your saliva from free flow and re-mineralizing your teeth. There are dentists that take issue with this theory, and admittedly, that is what it is. Still, this is just another chemical that I don’t want in my mouth. It may produce an “elegant” paste….but certainly nothing beneficial.

SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE’s stated purpose is to act as a foaming agent (surfactant), but in so doing it may interfere with the taste buds on your tongue and cause a bitterness in your mouth after brushing. This may be one of the reasons certain foods taste bad after brushing your teeth. The product is irritating to skin in varying concentrations as well as allergenic to some. I don’t see a need for it in toothpaste.

DIETHANOLAMINE, also found as Lauramide DEA, is used as a foaming agent and may be absorbed in the mouth and concentrate in the liver, stomach and other organs. I am not convinced, as some sources are, that it is carcinogenic, but then again, I don’t want or need it in my mouth.

ARTIFICIAL COLORING may be a selling point for some, but adding red, blue or other dye has no place or value in a safe natural toothpaste, so why chance its effects?

CARRAGEENAN is an additive found in many foods that is extracted from Seaweed. In toothpaste it has a thickening and stabilizing effect that is useful in commercial preparations. It was typically used in nut milk products, but recently it has been removed from most as well as from toothpaste because some researchers (University of Illinois College of Medicine) found that it may cause stomach inflammation and may be carcinogenic. The bottom line is that you don’t want it in your mouth where it is readily absorbed.

MAKE YOUR OWN NATURAL TOOTHPASTE

Here is my own prescription for toothpaste that can be made at home and requires none of the above, at least suspicious, ingredients:

Mix equal parts (1/4 cup each) of Organic Coconut oil and Baking Soda (not baking powder) in a small glass container and stir in ¼ teaspoon or more to taste, of Ceylon Cinnamon. In place of cinnamon you may use any organic or all natural essential extract such as peppermint or spearmint if that taste is what you are used to. Liquid Stevia may be added as well if you want it sweeter and helps to minimize the salty taste from the baking soda. Experiment!

Store the mixture in a glass jar and in refrigerator if you are in a warm climate and want a creamier, more solid toothpaste.

I’m partial to Cinnamon and I will discuss the differences in Cinnamon and its sources at a later date. The baking soda is a scrubbing agent and the Coconut oil (which will vary from liquid to solid depending on temperature) is an antiviral and antibacterial agent.