Thursday, August 30, 2012

Super Sphaghetti: Coming to a Market Near You Soon?

Researchers in Italy and Australia are seeking to create a "super spaghetti" that is lower is carbohydrates, higher in fiber, and even contains some complex plant chemicals that stimulate the immune system.

In a copyrighted article by Nathan Gray published on the website, Australian scientist Rachel Burton of the University of Adelaide is quoted as saying that the research will begin with a new investigation of the fiber in the cells walls of red durum wheat, the kind of wheat most commonly used to make pasta. Then there will be a second study of how the complex carbohydrates known as beta-glucans and arabinoxylans affect the "stretch" of pasta dough and its cooking properties. Dr. Burton will lead both studies, which will be conducted at the universities of Molise and Bari in Italy.

The objective of this research is to make spaghetti a fiber-rich food that may reduce the risk of heart disease and colorectal cancer. Additional fiber in wheat is known to slow the rate at which the stomach empties itself of digested food, reducing stress on the insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas, and to serve as a prebiotic food for healthy probiotic bacteria from probiotic supplements.

Photo credit: Daniel K. Gebhart, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

High-Dose Niacin May Stop "Superbug" Staph Infections

Very high doses of niacin (vitamin B3) may help control antibiotic-resistant staph infections, an article in the August 27, 2012 edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports.

Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon and the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles tested the effects of very high-dose vitamin B3 against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in both mouse and human blood. The dosage of B3 used in the study was equivalent to a 100-pound human being taking 12 grams of vitamin B3 every 24 hours, an amount that is almost certain to cause side effects, but one that potentially could be tolerated for a short time.

In this test-tube study, scientists noted that treating blood with niacin activated and increased the numbers of neutrophils, white blood cells that destroy bacteria by inflammation. In human blood samples, treatment with niacin wiped out methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in just a few hours.

There are several caveats to applying this research at home. Using niacin as an oral supplement (rather than directly mixing it with a blood sample) is not yet known to be effective against staph or any other antibiotic-resistant germ. High doses of niacin are dangerous to people who have liver disease. The dosage used in this study--intentionally high so the study would be likely to show a significant antibacterial effect--makes almost anyone break out in rosacea-like blotches and blemishes on the face and neck. And niacin has been found useful in this study against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, not other germs.

Still, this study is an indication that there are simple and relatively inexpensive treatments for increasingly common and dangerous staph infections. Don't try this at home except under a doctor's direction.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Medical Marijuana Chewing Gum Debuts Next Month

The American marketing firm Medical Marijuana has acquired a 50% stake in Can Chew Industries and plans to begin marketing a medical marijuana chewing gum in October.

Sold as an over-the-counter product, Can Chew gum will be marketed as a natural pain reliever with "organic benefits." The product initially will be sold at retail outlets in Arizona, California, Colorado, and the District of Columbia, with a European roll-out scheduled in December. Medical Marijuana says that this product is the first time any cannabinoid has been sold as a nutritional supplement.

You may also be interested in my article on marijuana and diabetes.

Boosting Male Fertility Rates Naturally: Nuts for Your Nuts

A study recently published in the medical journal Biology of Reproduction finds that young men can boost male fertility rates and improve sperm quality by eating walnuts regularly.

Dr. Wendie Robbins of the University of California at Los Angeles and her collaborators conducted a study of healthy, young men aged 21 to 35 to see if plant-derived essential fatty acids may improve male fertility. The researchers recruited 117 young men, and asked 59 to eat 75 grams (a little under 3 oz) of walnuts every day, and the other 58 to avoid eating walnuts or any other kind of tree nuts for the duration of the study.

At the beginning of the study and at the end of 12 weeks, study volunteers were asked for semen samples. Men in the walnuts group had semen that showed better morphology and greater vitality ("swimming ability") after eating walnuts for 12 weeks.

The researchers also noted that bloodstream concentrations of omega-6 (pro-inflammatory) but not omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) essential fatty acids were elevated in the group of men who ate walnuts. Prior research had failed to find a beneficial effect for semen production when men were asked to take omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements, and when men were asked to eat foods rich in other healthy fats. This study seems to suggest that there is something about inflammation that powers sperm to travel from the cervix to the opening of the Fallopian tubes after intercourse.

The researchers also found a reduction in sperm aneuploidy, abnormal chromosome count, in the sperm of men who had eaten walnuts.

This study suggests that eating walnuts may help healthy young men become fathers. Whether eating walnuts every day would have the same beneficial effects in men who have been diagnosed with common causes of male infertility is an open question.

Photo credit: J. Dsncn, via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Could Taking Curcumin Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

One of the latest stories in the news about nutritional supplements is that curcumin may help prevent the progression of pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes. The facts have been pretty badly mangled by the news media (including the ConsumerLab site, where I first noticed the story), but here's the scoop.

Dr. Somlak Chuengsamarn and collaborators at several prestigious universities in Thailand tested curcumin (not turmeric, as the news reports have been saying) as a possible preventive agent for type 2 diabetes. The Thai researchers recruited 240 people with prediabetes to take a daily dose of 1500 mg of either curcumin or a placebo for nine months.

At the end of the nine-month trial, the researchers found that 16% of volunteers who had been taking the placebo had developed full-blown, type 2 diabetes, but none of the volunteers who took curcumin had. The researchers also found better beta-cell function in the volunteers who had been taking curcumin.

This finding is being reported as "curcumin gave beta-cells a boost," but actually that's probably the exact opposite of what happened. In type 2 diabetes, the insulin-making beta-cells of the pancreas work so hard they eventually "burn out." Probably curcumin did not so much give the beta-cells a boost as protect them from free radical processes that destroy the ability of the cells to "unzip" stored insulin.

The researchers also found that taking curcumin raised levels of adiponectin, which tends to lower levels of body fat.

So is curcumin a cure for type 2 diabetes? No, but it probably helps a lot.

The best way to preserve beta-cell function is simply not to give your beta-cells too much to do. Don't eat sweets. Don't overeat carbs--or anything else.

If you just can't control your appetite, curcumin can still help. Evidently it can help a lot, but it is also possible that there is something about the Thai diet or the genetics of the test participants that makes curcumin uniquely effective in diabetes prevention.

If I were prediabetic, I'd definitely give curcumin a try. It's inexpensive, it's largely without side effects, and it helps in a variety of conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to the early stages of colon cancer and lung cancer.

Just be sure you are getting 1500 mg of curcumin daily, not 1500 mg of turmeric. Turmeric is about 3% curcumin, and if you are relying on the spice, not the supplement, you aren't getting enough curcumin. It's OK to take a supplement that contains both curcumin and turmeric (most do) as long as you get 1500 mg of curcumin per day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Pro-Inflammatory Food that's Good for You

Now for something a little different, an article on a pro-inflammatory food from Tibet that's actually good for you. Not to mention delicious.

Like so many other things Tibetan, Tibetan foods are good for you, but in counterintuitive ways. Take what I am told is one of the most common street foods in Tibet, for example, mung bean noodles. These are the "cellophane" noodles you can also find in a lot of Chinese and Korean dishes, such as the jop jae pictured to the left.

Tibetan mung bean noodles tend to be thicker and a little chewier, but the health benefits of mung bean noodles are the same all over the world. Mung bean noodles are pro-inflammatory.

Most natural health experts practically make "inflammatory" a four-letter word, so it's probably helpful to point out that inflammation is a good thing in the right context. Our immune systems are activated by and fight infectious microorganisms by inflammation. When we cut ourselves or we suffer a burn or a body blow, the healing process is initiated by inflammation. Our bodies have to clear out injured tissues to rebuild healthy tissues.

And while inflammation causes retention of fluid in belly fat, stress hormones activated by inflammation also liquify the solid fat inside fat cells so that they can release fatty acids into the bloodstream to be burned in the muscles. It is not the case that inflammation is good and fighting inflammation is bad.

The problem for most people in the industrialized world is that we get about 20 times as many pro-inflammatory fats as anti-inflammatory fats in our diets, due to our consumption of highly processed foods. If you milk the yak every morning and then churn your own yak butter to add to your tea, chances are that the pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid in your chosen energy source really isn't going to do you any harm.

And if you want the vegan alternative to yak butter, at least in terms of your body's balance of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory hormones, go for mung beans.

Mung beans don't just provide essential compounds for regulating inflammation. They also provide the skin with a way to deal with bright sun, fierce wind, and high altitude.

A research team of Chinese scientists has confirmed that mung beans, more than any other plant food, provide a chemical known as an anti-tyrosinase. If you happen to have been endowed with either Asian or African skin types, anti-tyrosinases can be a big deal. Many people of either sub-Saharan African or East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, or Indonesian) descent inherit genes that modify chemical pathways through which the skin uses the amino acid tyrosinase.

 Long explanation made short, an enzyme called tyrosinase kinase activates the production of pigment in the skin. If you have either an Asian or African skin type, your skin tends to concentrate pigments and make spots. Most people who have gold or deep brown pigments in their skins have far more problems with sun spots (the kind that appear on your skin) or age spots than they ever have with acne or wrinkling. And some of the products that are intended to get rid of spots, such as hydroquinone, sometimes activate another set of chemical reactions that dye the skin purple. These pigments tend to concentrate on the ridges of the ears and the tip of the nose.

Asian skin care gets a little complicated. But all those mung beans in Asian cuisine contain an anti-tyrosinase. The anti-enzyme stops the production of "clumps" of melanin in the skin that cause the spots after exposure to sun or inflammatory chemicals.

If you pay attention to photos taken of people in Tibet, you might see a lot of evidence of a difficult life, but at least you don't usually see evidence of sun damaged skin, despite the fact that no people on earth are exposed to harsher skin. I think mung beans are part of the Tibetan skin care equation. The challenge in using them is making them tasty. The video here gives you a far better recipe for a mung bean salad than my own.

 Photo Credit: Junho Jung (Wikicommons)

What Are the Best Brands of Curcumin?

Curcumin is the up and coming antioxidant supplement. There is solid evidence for the use of curcumin for treating indigestion, curcumin for treating skin problems, and even curcumin for supporting colon cancer and curcumin for heart disease. Curcumin is not a cure-all, but it is reliable part of programs for nutritional support for many kinds of disease treatment and many kinds of disease support. But which are the best brands of curcumin?

What Is the Difference Between Curcumin and Turmeric?

Turmeric is a spice. Curcumin is an antioxidant.

Turmeric naturally contains about 3% curcumin. The curcumin in turmeric gives turmeric its distinctive orange-yellow color. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine almost always combines turmeric with black pepper.

About 30 years ago, scientists discovered that an alkaloid in black pepper called piperine helps the body absorb the curcumin in turmeric. Piperine was chemically modified to make "biopeperine," a proprietary ingredient to make curcumin supplements more fully absorbed.

There are also some manufacturers who make a curcumin phytosome by combining curcumin and lecithin. The phytosome form is slightly better absorbed than the piperine form, and both are better absorbed than the curcumin in turmeric used in cooking. It is only possible to get a low dose of curcumin by eating foods cooked with curry powder or even by eating raw turmeric.

To get a 500 mg dose of curcumin, you would need to consume about 30 grams (a little over an ounce) of turmeric powder. That's equivalent to a huge bowl of curry. Preventing and treating cancer require up to 8,000 mg of curcumin, which is equivalent to a little over half a pound (about 240 grams) of turmeric, each and every day. That's the equivalent of maybe 10 pounds (over 4 kilos) of curry powder, not curry, each and every day. There's just no way to get high doses of curcumin unless you take a supplement.

Price Differences Among Curcumin Supplements

It is a general rule that the most expensive supplements provide the fewest nutrients, and curcumin is no exception. The cost of a 500 mg dose of curcumin ranges from $0.33 for Swanson Superior Herbs Curcumin Extract, which includes bioperine, to $1.33 for Paradise Herbs & Essentials Turmeric, which doesn't.

If you are taking curcumin to support a chronic condition like cancer, you could spend about $2 a day for the lower-priced products that work well or about $20 a day for high-priced products that don't work as well. And while I'm not free to disclose the results of proprietary testing, I can tell you that the least expensive products typically deliver exactly what they claim on the label and some of the most expensive products don't. I'll just stick to the brands that get good lab reports. If I have left a product off this list, it doesn't mean it's inferior, but if I've put a product on the following list, it's because I know it works.

Swanson's Superior Herbs Curcumin C3 Complex is a reliable formula from a reliable company, and at $0.33 for a 500-mg dose, the price is hard to beat. There have been some reports of consumers receiving product that apparently had been stored in heat and humidity on the way from the company to the consumer--but that's something you can avoid by choosing a reliable online vendor with a good returns policy.

In general, Swanson's makes good, reliable product at very low cost. That's both a plus and a minus. Retailers don't make a priority of selling low-cost products. They want you to pay as many dollars as you will. That's why some retailers don't store or update their Swanson's products quite as frequently as they should. That's not the fault of the company, but it might be something you have to deal with.

Doctor's Best Curcumin C3 Complex with Bioperine costs about $0.03 a dose more than Swanson's, but there are no reports of any problems with dated product. Doctor's Best has a reputation for providing exactly what's on the label and only what's on the label. The only thing you may not like about this product is that the capsules are made with gelatin. They are kosher and hallal but not vegan.

If you have a bare-bones budget and the total you pay per bottle right now is critical to you, then I might go with Swanson's. But if you sign up on Amazon for their discounted monthly purchase program, you will be able to get Doctor's Best for a little less even than Swanson's. However, if $5 right now isn't critical, I'd buy the Doctor's Best Phytosome product listed below because it's just a little more effective.

At the time I'm writing this article, Doctor's Best Meriva Phytosomes with Curcumins is an especially good buy. It's made with Meriva, their lecithin formula. This makes the product more a completely absorbed than either of the piperine-added formulas above. And when it's 50% off on Amazon, it's only about $0.25 a dose.

Another good brand, Thorne Research Meriva-SR (Curcumin Phytosome) Formula, is just a few pennies more. Doctor's Best also makes a product of the same formula. When bought online, it's about $0.38 per capsule, but each capsule contains as much curcumin as two $0.25 500-mg capsules. If you are taking larger doses of curcumin for a chronic condition, this is the better buy. It just costs more per bottle.

There are many other perfectly good brands of curcumin that only suffer by virtue of the size of the capsule. Douglas Labs makes a perfectly good formula called Ayur-Curcumin. The issue with Ayur-Curcumin is that because the capsule contains just 275 mg of curcumin, I couldn't find any deals that brought the price below $0.41 per 500-mg dose.

Natural Factors Canada makes a combination proudct that costs just $0.26 per 500-mg dose, but if you are allergic to pineapple, you probably need to be careful with bromelain. On the other hand, if you are taking curcumin for ulcerative colitis or joint pain, the Natural Factors product is a good choice.

Solgar makes a curcumin product that provides 372 mg of curcumin per capsule or about $0.25 per 500-mg dose. My only concern with this product is you have to do a little math to figure out higher doses. It's a good product in a smaller dosage. Life Extension Super Bio-Curcumin stands out as the product made with vegan capsules. It's a good formulation, made with bioperine, slightly less absorbable than the phytosome, and the company that makes it is known to be a stickler about quality.

Can Curcumin Really Improve Heart Health?

Recently week blogs were abuzz with reports about how to prevent heart problems with curcumin.

Chances are that you have heard about curcumin. Curcumin is the bright orange pigment that gives curry powder its distinctive color. Curcumin is often recommended for preventing heart problems because it is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Excessively enthusiastic natural health authorities often tout curcumin and the turmeric from which is obtained (you'll usually  get both curcumin extract and the raw herb turmeric in the same capsule) as some kind of miracle cure for many of chronic diseases of aging, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and heart problems, and especially curcumin for skin cancer and curcumin for colon cancer.

 The truth is that curcumin is almost certainly helpful for many disease indications. Curcumin is a complement to good medical care, not an alternative to it. But let's take a closer look at the reports about turmeric that are going around this week.

Curcumin and Inflammatory Heart Disease

The latest spurt of interest in curcumin and turmeric was inspired by an article published in a scientific journal called the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. It's a legitimate scientific publication. It's listed in PubMed.

In the March 2012 edition of this journal, a group of researchers at the Heart Research Center and Chonnam National University in Korea report a study conducted with Sprague-Dewey rats. The scientists fed the rodents 30 milligrams of curcumin per every kilogram of body weight per day. That's roughly equivalent to a 200-pound human being eating an ounce of curry powder per day, although not all the curcumin in the curry powder would be absorbed in that amount.

After the scientists gave the rats curcumin for two weeks, they gave them artificially induced heart attacks. They killed the rats and observed how the heart cells responded to oxygen, after being deprived of it in the "heart attack," with and without curcumin pre-treatment.

The researchers observed that heart cells were less likely to "burn out" when oxygen was reintroduced if they came from rats that had been given high-dose curcumin. To me, these results don't scream that curcumin is a miracle cure for heart attacks and everybody should run out and buy a bottle right now.

Actually, if you have the kind of heart trouble that the scientists gave the rats, running is not a good idea. Curcumin probably is nonetheless a legitimate heart health supplement. Here's why.

 urcumin and How Heart Attacks Are Caused

The phenomenon the Korean scientists were studying is something called reperfusion injury. This refers to the fact that after a blood clot causes a heart attack, it sooner or later breaks up. Heart cells that were deprived of oxygen during the heart attack go into a kind of resting mode. Breaking up a clot restores the flow of blood (assuming the heart attack was not fatal), and wakes up the resting cells.

Lots of changes take place in heart cells during a heart attack. I'm only going to address a few of them here. One of the changes that happens in individual cells in the heart muscle after a heart attack, at least in the cells that survive a heart attack, is a tremendous change in its sensitivity to oxygen. While the cell has been resting, it has been using its stored energy in a way that creates a chemical called hypoxanthine. This makes the cell very sensitive to oxygen, which is a good thing when the cell is oxygen-deprived.

But when oxygen supply is restored, some of the extra oxygen become free radicals. They damage DNA and set off a process called apoptosis. This "takes out" the cell because the DNA is read as dysfunctional. This is the reason the "attack" of  heart attack may not occur right after a blood clot is formed in a coronary artery. It may only occurs hours or days later.

That's not all. Restoring blood flow brings both red blood cells and white blood cells. One of the tasks of white blood cells is to remove damaged cells with inflammation. A white blood cell comes in with contact with a reawakening heart cell and destroys it by releasing inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals injure more than just the target cell. They can also take out healthy cells and cause swelling--which blocks off circulation again.

Curcumin seems to stop the inflammation that damages cells that survive the heart attack. This is undoubtedly a good thing. But you'd have to have the curcumin in your system before you have the heart attack and you'd have to have a sufficiently mild heart attack that most of your heart muscle was still functioning. But that isn't all curcumin can do.

Curcumin for the Diabetic Heart

Another area of curcumin research has been the relationship between blood sugar levels, insulin levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and heart health. It gets a little complicated, but the key relationships go something like this: Diabetics, as you probably know, often have high blood sugar levels.

In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, the pancreas tries to produce more insulin to lower blood sugar levels. The problem is that the insulin does not work because muscles, including the heart muscle, can't respond to insulin without risking cellular damage (that "burning out" thing again) so they become insulin resistant. The pancreas makes more and more insulin that is less and less effective.

This induces another set of changes that activate an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase. This enzyme locks fat inside fat cells to "force" the heart and other muscles to burn glucose (sugar) instead of fat.  Fatty acids build up in the bloodstream.

Blood vessels tighten. This makes them easier to block when a clot forms. And since the heart can't find a second source of fuel (it is resistant to insulin bringing in glucose and it is also blocked from burning fat) it slows down to a steady beat. It can't pump blood faster when needed to supply the brain. The tight blood vessels lead to greater risk of heart attack.

The loss of heart rate variability makes a heart attack much more damaging to the rest of the body. This is the reason diabetics are at greater risk of heart attacks and they are more likely to die of a heart attack if they have one. Some studies with laboratory animals indicate that curcumin and turmeric turn off the enzyme that keeps the heart from using fatty acids as a back-up fuel. Science really has not proved that curcumin or turmeric can do this in humans, but it is known that populations of people who eat lots of curry have fewer heart attacks and the heart dysfunction known as congestive heart failure.

How Much Curcumin Is Enough?

The short answer to how much curcumin is enough to produce a measurable difference in heart disease is "a lot." You don't need a whole field of turmeric, but about 20,000 mg a day and even as much as 30,000 mg a day would seem be to be most likely to be effective for most adults, or at least that is the implication of the laboratory studies.

But it's important to remember three things about translating the results of experiments with lab rats to people.

1. Humans and lab rats won't necessarily react to a supplement or a medication in exactly the same way.

2. Experiments are designed to get unquestionable results. They use a maximum dose rather than an optimal dose because otherwise the statistics won't come out right.

3. The supplement has to be absorbed into the bloodstream to make a difference.

Most makers of curcumin supplements add a compound called piperine to help make their products more absorbable. Piperine is extracted from black pepper.

The ancient sages of Ayurvedic medicine recognized centuries ago that black pepper made turmeric more effective. That same principle seems to apply to piperine (from black pepper) and curcumin (from turmeric).

Dr. Peter Liu of the Canadian Institutes of Health isn't recommending that people take curcumin prophylactically on the basis of his laboratory's research, but he found heart-protective benefits for lab rats (preventing scar tissue in the heart) from a dosage equivalent to 2,000 to 4,000 of mg per day for humans. There are no reports of side effects from that dosage, or even 10 times as much, but 2 to 4 curcumin capsules a day is probably heart-protective.

Is curcumin the same thing as turmeric? Actually, tumeric, the herb, is up to about 3% curcumin, the pigment and antioxidant. A tablespoon of curry powder a day probably gives you about 1,000 mg of curcumin.

But it's easier to buy a good quality product so you can know your dosage and eventually know what to expect in the way you feel after you take it.

Will curcumin prevent a heart attack? Nobody can say that yet. But there are many indications it just might help you survive one. It's just better to eat right, keep your blood pressure under control, and do what your doctor tells you is best. If you are destined to have a heart attack anyway, then it might be a good thing also to have taken your curcumin.

Curcumin as a Natural Treatment for Lung Cancer: What Are the Facts?

Curcumin is a potential treatment for lung cancer that is not going to cost more than about $100 a month, and possibly a lot less. It is available over the counter, and there are doctors, especially at the Baylor Medical Center in Houston, Texas, who have experience in using curcumin for modest increases in stage IV lung cancer life expectancy--usually a few weeks to a few months.

I have to admit I'm not objective about natural treatments for lung cancer. My own mother, who did not smoke, died of lung cancer (that had begun as breast cancer) over nine horrible months in 1995.

She put her hopes in a then relatively new treatment called Taxol (paclitaxel). Nowadays it is made in the lab, but in 1995 it was still usually extracted from yew bark, requiring whole groves of yew trees to make a $100,000 dose. My mother got three. She seemed to perk up a little with the second one. Nonetheless she just knew that this treatment was going to save her life.

Six days before she died, however, my mother's oncologist told her she "wasn't worth" another treatment and the hospital-owned HMO was not going to pay for one. She cried and cried and cried, and then you could see how she gave up. It was like the life was just oozing away and you could see it.

The day before Thanksgiving the hospice people showed up in force, but they did things like fluffing pillows and doing her makeup. She passed away the early morning of Thanksgiving of 1995. So, like I said, I'm not objective on this topic.

But one thing I know for sure is that if I am going to write about any natural treatment for lung cancer is going to be about a treatment people can actually get. Curcumin is a potential treatment for lung cancer that is not going to cost more than about $100 a month, and possibly a lot less. It is available over the counter, and there are doctors, especially at the Baylor Medical Center in Houston, Texas, who have experience in using curcumin for modest increases in stage IV lung cancer life expectancy--usually a few weeks to a few months.

If you have stage IV cancer, and you are having a good day, a few weeks to a few months is a wonderful gift. So let's take a look at what the research is telling us about curcumin and lung cancer. Curcumin works extremely well for a subset of people who have lung cancer.

About 10 percent of cancer cases in the USA and up to 80 percent of cancer cases in some parts of China involve mutations in genes that control the activity of epidermal growth factor receptors, or EGFRs. These are "lock and key" sites on the surface of cells that receive hormones that stimulate multiplication of cancer cells.

Curcumin acts a little like jamming the wrong key in a lock so that other cell-stimulating hormones can't come in. This doesn't kill cancer cells. It just keeps them from multiplying. Maybe the immune system can find them and kill them, but at least they won't be multiplying and forming still more tumors. Curcumin does not cure cancer.

But it can slow progression from stage 3 to stage 4 by 300 percent to 400 percent and it usually extends life expectancy in stage four about 10 percent.  Altogether it might add a year or so to life, and some of those days will be probably be good days.

 Is curcumin for people who have lung cancer? Taking more than 10,000 mg of curcumin a day can cause constipation and acid reflux. If you are already on Vicodin or some other opium-like pain killer, you certainly don't need to take a dosage that can cause constipation.

No one in the two clinical trials involving curcumin and late-stage cancer treatment found any side effects from taking up to 3,500 mg a day, one study finding it was safe up to 8,000 mg a day. About 75% of ordinary curcumin never is absorbed into the body. It is eliminated in bowel movement.

Micronized (very finely ground) curcumin, however, is better absorbed, and piperine  (a black pepper extract) greatly reduces the rate at which the liver deactivates curcumin. Products that combine curcumin and "biopiperine" get the best results.

 Although your doctor can run tests that will tell whether you will respond well to curcumin, there is no do-it-yourself way to predict how your will respond. You might do really well. You might not. But at least the product is relatively safe and relatively inexpensive. I wish I knew about it many years ago.

Curcumin for Skin Cancer

For the past several days I have been writing about curcumin as a a nutritional supplement for supporting recovery from several forms of cancer. The most common form of curcumin used in cancer treatment, however, is a curcumin creams used to treat skin cancer.

 If you have ever had an advanced basal cell carcinoma, you probably had the experience of itching skin all the time. Basal cell carcinomas itch and ooze and ache. They may bleed incessantly. The flow of blood from a basal cell carcinoma is similar to a pin prick, but it can make an unsightly drip across your face and it can stain clothes and bed linens.

I'm not going to tell anyone not to get basal cell carcinoma or any other form of cancer treated by a doctor. It is important to get the medical care you need in a timely fashion to cure the cancer. This is especially true of melanoma, which is almost always curable when treated before it metastisizes to other locations in the body but extremely hard to treat once it has spread from the skin.

Squamous cell carcinoma can also become aggressive. Even basal cell carcinoma can spread through the body if the immune system is weakened by chronic viral infection or radiation or chemotherapy for another form of cancer.

One clinical study tested a 1% curcumin cream as a skin remedy for actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma, and external genital warts in 62 volunteers. In about 70% of cases the curcumin cream stopped any oozing and itching. It usually reduced skin pain. There was one person in the trial who turned out to be allergic to curcumin, so it is probably a good idea to do a test patch to make sure there are no allergies to the product first. (Just put a dab of the cream on the underside of your forearm and wait 24 hours, without washing your arm, to see whether you break out.)

Curcumin cream is cheap and it works. It is not a substitute for medical care but it may be very helpful while you are waiting to see the dermatologist to get your skin lesion removed. You could make your own curcumin cream by mixing 1 part of turmeric to 2 parts of coconut oil, keeping the mixture at room temperature and applying once or twice a day as needed. (It's not a bad idea to keep coconut oil around for other uses.)

It is a lot easier, however, simply to buy Xymogen or Clear Face Turmeric Cream and apply as directed. Curcumin isn't a miracle cure for skin cancer. In fact, it is not a cure for skin cancer at all. If you have to deal with the night-and-day itching of "benign" skin cancer, however, curcumin probably will offer you real relief.

Using Curcumin in Skin Care

Curcumin supplements and curcumin creams are extraordinarily useful in supporting the repair process in wound healing, but curcumin is not equally useful at every stage of the healing process.That is because every wound heals in an orderly progression of events.

In the very early stages of a wound, a little inflammation is actually beneficial. That is why wounds itch when they are healing. The hormones that cause inflammation also constrict blood vessels and keep bleeding in check.
Similarly, during the early stages of a wound, a minimal amount of blood clotting is also beneficial. Thromboplastin and platelets make a clot that closes the skin and closes the unnatural exposure of the circulatory system to air.
After a few days of inflammation, however, wounds begin to heal through a process called proliferation. Specialized skin repair cells known as fibroblasts manufacture collagen. Collagen fills in the wound. Inflammatory processes taper off and allow new blood vessels to provide oxygen and nutrients to tissues as they repair themselves. Collagen continues to form and give shape to tissues under the scar.
So when do you use curcumin?
Never apply curcumin, and avoid taking supplemental curcumin, right after you notice a wound. You really ought to avoid curcumin during the 3 to 4 days your skin is healing through an inflammation process. That is because curcumin is anti-inflammatory. In the earliest stages of wound healing, the wound needs inflammation to stop bleeding and prevent infection.

Curcumin is not helpful until after inflammation has stopped. If you have a diabetic ulcer or a pressure wound, this could be while the wound is still being debrided (cleaned), but taking curcumin while the wound is bleeding is too soon.
What does curcumin do after inflammation has stopped?
Both curcumin and the turmeric from which it is extracted activate a compound known as transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-b). Curcumin helps the tissue under the newly re-forming skin to model to fit the space left by the wound. Curcumin encourages the formation of new skin, and also enhances a signal to the immune system that recruits macrophages to “recycle” dead tissue.
Many people don’t get good results from curcumin creams for wound care because they use them too soon. Wait until your skin begins to heal before you apply curcumin, or any homemade skin cream you make with turmeric. Once the healing process is underway, however, curcumin and/or turmeric will help skin come back smoother and stronger faster than skin healing under its own power alone.
Photo credit: Harry Klenda

Curcumin for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Several years ago I got to know a lot more about inflammatory bowel disease than I could ever read in books or medical journals.

Curcumin in Colon Cancer Treatment

Over the 20 years I have been writing about and consulting to manufacturers about natural remedies that work, a question that comes up over and over again is the role of curcumin in colon cancer treatment.  There is actually very good reason to take another look at curcumin treatments for colon cancer.

The problem with curcumin has always been that it is difficult for the body to absorb it. Even the lining of the colon itself has difficulty absorbing this herbal antioxidant. The good news is that researchers at Shandong University in China recently invented a new way to combine curcumin with the B-vitamin folic acid to make a product that emulsifies in the colon and is much better absorbed. But before I get into what makes this new form of curcumin exciting and different, let's review what curcumin does for colon cancer.

The Stages of Colon Cancer and the Usefulness of Curcumin Treatment

Curcumin acts in different ways at different stages of colon cancer.  Before colon cells ever develop cancerous characteristics, curcumin (1) stimulates the production called glutamate cysteine ligase, which helps them make a cancer-protective chemical called glutathione. Curcumin also (2) reduces the activity of a liver enzyme called CYP1A1, which the liver needs to process petrochemicals (such as the benzene and toluene in gasoline) to make them toxic.

Curcumin stops the progression of colon polyps to colon cancer by inhibiting the adenomatous polyposis coli (apc) gene. It also inhibits the action of a group of enzymes known as metalloproteinases. These help clusters of colon cancer cells eat through surrounding tissues to establish their own connections to the bloodstream.  Curcumin also stops the production of colon cancer "stem cells" that seed the cancer in other locations in the body.

By the time colon cancer has reached stage III and has begun to spread through the rest of the body, however, curcumin ceases to be helpful and may even cause problems. In colon cancer cells, a "watch dog" gene called p53 is deactivated by curcumin. This means that curcumin stops the p53 gene from shutting down the cell by preventing it from detecting damaged DNA. Curcumin is not a metastatic colon cancer treatment.

In effect, this turmeric extract actually counteracts one of the body's natural defenses against colon cancer. The bottom line is that, in the absence of medical treatment, curcumin and turmeric are useful for preventing cancer and for slowing down the growth of colon cancer in the early stages, while it is still confined to the colon, but it is important to discontinue curcumin when the cancer has begun to spread--unless the user of the supplement is taking chemotherapy. Curcumin for heart disease is more appropriate in later stages of the disease, but curcumin for colon cancer is more appropriate in earlier stages of the disease.

Curcumin with Other Colon Cancer Treatments

Oncologists at Baylor Medical School in Houston, Texas report that giving curcumin to patients receiving radiation helps prevent dry mouth, mucositis (mouth sores), and stomach upset. Reducing these side effects of radiation makes it easier to eat and to get the nutrition needed to fight the disease and go into remission--in addition to relieving extraordinary discomfort to the patient and distress to families unable to get their loved ones to eat enough to keep up their strength.

Medical researchers at Baylor also have found that curcumin increases the sensitivity of colon cancer cells to a tremendous variety of chemotherapy agents, including bortemozib, doxorubicin, 5-FU, paclitaxel, vincristine, melphalan, butyrate, cisplatin, celecoxib, vinorelbine, gemcitabine, oxaliplatin, etoposide, sulfinosine, and thalidomide. Anything that makes cancer cells more sensitive to a chemotherapy drug may reduce the number of treatments needed to bring the cancer back into remission. And the shorter the course of chemotherapy, the fewer and less severe the side effects of chemotherapy.

Is Curcumin a Proven Alternative Treatment for Colon Cancer?

The simple fact is that cancer researchers have never studied curcumin as a sole treatment for colon cancer and it is unlikely they ever will. The problem with a double-blind "either-or" drug or placebo study of this turmeric extract as a treatment for colon cancer is that chemotherapy, for all its drawbacks, extends life a little. In this model of doing science, curcumin by itself is not yet known to extend life at all.

That's also why the clinical trials of almost any cancer drug only involve the more advanced cases in which the volunteers for studies have less to lose. However, the Baylor research team found that using a combination of both curcumin and chemo extended life for Stage IV colon cancer patients on average 3 weeks to 3 months. That's a lot of life for a small expense with minimal downside. How curcumin is appropriate for colon cancer patients? Up to 8 grams (8,000 mg) a day have been used in advanced cancer without report of side effects. Although curry powder is about 3% curcumin, it's really only practical to use capsules of the nutritional supplement. Most cancer patients just can't keep that much curry down. (A much lower dose of curcumin in inflammatory bowel disease is appropriate.)

And what of those exciting new developments from China? The latest development from Shandong combines curcumin with folic acid to make a mixture that coats the lining of the small intestine and is more completely absorbed. This comes after the discovery at West China Medical School of a way to "micronize" curcumin, converting it into nanoparticles that can adhere in the villi, or pouches, of the colon, ensuring better absorption.

Supplement makers have known for many years that mixing the curcumin/turmeric blend with bean gum helps it stick to the lining of the colon better, for greater absorption into the bloodstream, and that combining curcumin with the black pepper extract peperine likewise increases absorption. Taking the most affordable good quality up to 8,000 mg a day, is probably a good idea (although not an absolute necessity) for anyone who has a family history of colon cancer.

It's probably a good idea to take curcumin if you have been told you have colon polyps, or even if you have had a colonoscopy and one or more polyps tested positive for cancer. Curcumin is likely to be helpful when you are being given chemotherapy for colon cancer, and it may help extend remission after successful treatment of colon cancer. Don't take curcumin for advanced colon cancer, however, without your doctor's prior approval. In the most advanced cases, this turmeric compound is a complement to difficult medical treatment, not an alternative to it.

Photo Credit: Surya Prakash, S.A.

Does Sunshine (Or Any Other Natural Remedy) Cure Breast Cancer?

The simple truth is that there is no natural cure for breast cancer, but there are many natural approaches women can take to prevent it. The important thing to understand about lowering your risk of breast cancer is that extreme measures are unnecessary. The relationship between nutrition and breast cancer is far more complex than commonly believed.

 Sunshine a Preventative for Breast Cancer?

Australian women have nearly 50 percent lower breast cancer rates than American women, and the most likely explanation is that Australian women get more sun. The skin uses sunlight to make vitamin D, which suppresses hormonal signals that make breast cancer cells grow. Despite the fact that there have been over 390 studies of the role of vitamin D in breast cancer, the medical community is not ready to recommend routine supplementation with vitamin D to prevent breast cancer. But getting 20 minutes of sun a day, without getting sunburn that could set the stage for skin cancer , seems like a sensible idea.

Dietary Fat Not a Risk Factor for All Women

The latest research suggests that dietary fat is a risk factor for the first occurrence of breast cancer only among women who have had fibrocystic breast disease. A 10-year study of over 60,000 women recently concluded that there is no difference between the “Western”dietary pattern (including red and processed meats, refined grains, fat, and sweets) or the “healthy” dietary pattern (fruit and vegetables, fish and poultry, low-fat dairy, and whole grains) in predicting breast cancer risk. Even extreme low-fat diets intended to lower the risk of recurrent breast cancer get very poor results.

Weight Reduction May Help Other Health Issues, But Not Breast Cancer

A recent study at the University of California at San Diego found that the average weight loss after a year on a rigorous high-fiber, low-fat diet was 0.04 kilograms (a little more than an ounce, and less than the weight loss in a control group of women who did not diet), and the risk of breast cancer was nil. The relationship between weight and risk of breast cancer is also complex.

An analysis of studies including over 337,000 women found that before meno pause, overweight women are less likely to develop breast cancer. A woman with a body mass index (BMI) of 31 (for example, a woman 5’4” tall weighing 181 pounds) is 50 percent less likely than a woman with a BMI of 21 (5’4”, 122 pounds) to develop breast cancer. After meno pause, overweight women are more likely to develop breast cancer. A postmenopausal woman with a BMI of 28 (5’4”, 163 pounds) has about a 25 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer.

What About Antioxidants for Breast Cancer?

 Higher antioxidant levels, however, are associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. In a study of 304 women in Australia, the highest levels of the antioxidants alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamin A, and vitamin E were associated with approximately a 50 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer (when other variables were accounted for).

The study did not find that vitamin C reduced the risk of breast cancer, but vitamin C is an important cofactor for vitamin E, helping the body conserve it. The very best way to get all of these nutrients is to eat 5 to 9 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, but there are also comprehensive antioxidant supplements for women who can't always eat their veggies and fruits.

Curcumin a Cure-cumin?

Another antioxidant, curcumin, the yellow pigment in curry powder, stops the development of breast cancer cells in at least three ways. Laboratory studies find that curcumin makes breast cancer cells less responsive to the most abundant form of estrogen and stops estrogen from activating genes that control cell growth.

Curcumin also has an effect on breast cancer cells that are not activated by estrogen. The plant chemical deactivates a hormone cancer cells need to break out of the tissue matrix that contains them and stimulates a hormone that makes them stay put. Curcumin is also a well-known activator of the p53 gene. It helps p53 deactivate defective cells at G2, a second gap or resting phase in the process of cell division just before the cell divides. Scientists at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have found that at least in the test tube, green tea is a perfect complement for curcumin, since it activates p53 at G1, the first gap in the process of cell division.

Cabbage Family Vegetables (Crucifers) May Lower Risk in Some Women

Indole-3-carbinol, a chemical found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, makes estrogen less active in breast tissue. The latest thinking is that this chemical could become a substitute for Tamoxifen, which also reduces the activity of estrogen in breast tissue but increases the risk of developing cancers that are not stimulated by estrogen. 

Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, curcumin, green tea polyphenols, indole-3-carbinol, lycopene, vitamin A, and vitamin E are all available as dietary supplements. (Women who are or who could become pregnant should strictly limit their intake of vitamin A to 5,000 IU per day or less, since a massive overdose of the vitamin in the first 3 months of pregnancy could cause birth defects.) No one knows whether taking these nutrients as supplements would also lower the risk of breast cancer, and it is possible that the risk of certain other cancers could be increased by taking antioxidants on a long-term basis—for more than 5 years—especially by women who smoke. At this time, the best preventive measure for breast cancer in women is a diet with daily servings of colorful vegetables and avoiding extreme consumption of fat.

An Important Warning for Women Who Drink Alcohol

There is an important exception to this rule for women who drink. Several studies in the United States and China have found that folic acid lowers the risk of breast cancer in women who drink more than 1–2 drinks per day, and one study has found taking a multivitamin containing folic acid lowered risk of breast cancer by 26 percent in these women. Taking folic acid supplements seems to be better for lowering breast cancer risk than consuming large amounts of folic acid in food.

 Photo Credit: Otto Magnus

Fibromyalgia as Food's Revenge

Over the years I've met about a dozen people who excitedly announced to me that they had found the "cure" for fibromyalgia.  One woman total me she got total pain relief by going on a vegan raw foods diet. Another did a 10-day juice fast. And I've also known people who achieved pain relief when they went on all-natural diets, all-organic diets, aspartame-free diets, fast foods-free diet, and even the Atkins diet.

The sad fact is that each and every one of the people I've met who found their personal dietary treatment for fibromyalgia later told me the diet didn't work.  Two dieters just couldn't stick to their programs. One of the women who went on a raw foods diet found out that she had an addiction to Lay's Sour Cream Potato Chips, and the man who gave up aspartame found that he couldn't stop after having "just one" Diet Coke. But the others enjoyed pain relief for 10 days to 2 years until suddenly their diets just didn't work any more. They all thought the problem was their diets.  I have come to think that the problem was

their food, probably just one or two foods that act as triggers for pain. I'm not really basing my belief on solid scientific evidence. No American food manufacturer is ever going to fund a multi-center clinical trial to determine whether or not fibromyalgia patients should eat their products. Some European countries that have nationally funded health care plans, however, have looked at the general question of diet and pain.

French Fries and Fibromyalgia

One of the best-known studies of the connections between food and pain is the 1958 British Cohort Study. This survey follows the diet and health outcomes of people born in England, Scotland, and Wales during a single week in March 1958.

The National Health Service collected data on their diets at ages 33 and 42 and on their general health at the age of 45.  There were 8,572 people still alive and still available to the survey at the age of 45. Of the women in the study, 12%, or about 1 in 8, had been diagnosed by a doctor as having chronic widespread pain syndrome, which we refer to as fibromyalgia in the USA. Two features of diet stood out as statistically significant. The women who were most likely to have fibromyalgia were the most likely to eat one serving or less of vegetables per week. The women who were most likely to have fibromyalgia were also the mostly likely to eat one serving or more of French fries or potato chips per day.

Not eating vegetables and eating French fries and potato chips were not predictive of fibromyalgia in men, but that could just be due to the fact that fewer men in the study developed fibromyalgia and larger samples sizes are needed for statistical significance. Both men and women who developed fibromyalgia were more likely to have other chronic diseases (such as heart disease and cancer), more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to have worked at physically demanding jobs.

Before we jump to the headline-making conclusion that "French Fries Cause Fibromyalgia!" it is important to consider what kind of study this was. The 1958 British Cohort Study is an after-the-fact, correlational study. The data in the study show coincidence rather than causation.

They only lead to the question, "Which comes first, fibromyalgia or French fries?" If you have severe fibromyalgia, you may have difficulties getting to the market, buying vegetables (especially if you are on a limited income), washing them, dicing them up, putting them in the refrigerator, cooking them, eating them, and cleaning up. You may have just enough money and energy to creep down to the nearest fast food place.

It's possible that fibromyalgia causes excessive French fry consumption rather than the other way around. But maybe there's something in potatoes that triggers fibromyalgia attacks. That might explain why vegan and vegetarian diets sometimes fail.  One likely culprit is the chemical solanine.

This plant chemical is in all the nightshades, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Solanine accumulates in potato peel when potatoes are exposed to light and the peel begins to turn green. The green in the peel is actually chlorophyll.  The potentially toxic solanine is found throughout the potato.

Poisonous Potatoes Cause Fibromyalgia?

Solanine in small doses is so bitter that it can cause nausea and vomiting. It's the potato's way of ensuring it's not eaten in early spring. There is some debate just how much solanine a woman can consume in early pregnancy without risk of birth defects, but it's never a good idea for any woman who is or who could become pregnant to eat green or bitter-tasting potatoes.  But does solanine also trigger fibromyalgia?

The answer is a definite maybe. A letter to the British Medical Journal published in December of 1979 recounted the experience of 78 English public school boys who were fed boiled potatoes that had gone bad. Most only experienced nausea and vomiting, but two experienced what the physician writing the report called "central nervous depression." Several went into comas, and some developed uncontrollable twitching. It's important to note that this almost never is a problem for people who eat potatoes.

But "poisonous" potatoes only contain about 5 times as much solanine as "safe" potatoes. Maybe the problem for people who have fibromyalgia is that they are unusually sensitive to solanine. We may never know whether potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are generally a contributing cause of fibromyalgia, but if you have fibromyalgia, it's not that hard to find out if they are a contributing cause of fibromyalgia for you.

Simply eliminate them from your diet for two weeks. Don't make any other changes in your routine. If you feel markedly better--and feeling better is what it's all about--then keep them out of your diet for another two weeks. Don't let potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers creep back into your diet.

If you decide to eat them, eat a lot. If your symptoms suddenly get worse, you'll know for sure that nightshades were a problem for you. Frying potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, by the way, lowers their solanine content, but probably not enough to compensate for excessive consumption. After all, if a "bad" potato only contains 5 times as much as solanine as a "good" potato, then eating five potatoes as French fries probably still delivers a toxic dose of the compound. Not to mention the 2000 calories and 180 grams of fat. Nightshades, of course, are only one of many possible trigger foods for fibromyalgia.

 Glutamate, MSG, Meat, NutraSweet, and Fibromyalgia

Nutrition experts often point their fingers at glutamate (the food form of the amino acid glutamic acid) as a contributing factor for fibromyalgia. When august experts in the field ran studies of glutamate consumption and sensitivity to pain, essentially by injecting volunteers with glutamate into their muscles and waiting for them to cry "Ouch," they not surprisingly found that glutamate does not have a statistically significant relationship to sensitivity to pain.

But they weren't looking at the right kind of glutamate. Or in the right places. Overdoses of monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, don't cause birth defects. Otherwise, they tend to cause the full range of symptoms associated with solanine from potatoes and other nightshade vegetables.  It can take as little as 1 gram of MSG to trigger "Chinese restaurant syndrome."

It probably only takes 1 gram of MSG to trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. It's very easy to get that 1 gram of MSG. It isn't just powdered MSG and soups and stocks that are the problem. MSG is added to all kinds of products in major amounts. The third-listed ingredient in one fast food purveyor's "whole wheat" buns, for example, after white flour and sugar, whole wheat flour coming fourth, is MSG.

Tomatoes--which are also nightshades--contain large amounts of natural MSG, as do most of the cheeses used to make pizzas. And it may be that the researcher who injected glutamate into muscles and didn't note a pain response weren't testing it the right away.

Dr. Brian Cairns, a professor at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Peter Svensson, a professor at the Royal College of Dentistry in Aarhus in the Denmark, believe that glutamate causes pain inside muscles by changing the chemical environment outside the muscle. If that's they case, it would explain why some people who have fibromyalgia get great results when they go on vegan diets.

Meat is loaded with natural glutamate, not the MSG kind. However, the body can also transform excesses of alanine and aspartate into glutamate. There's lots of alanine in meat and dairy, but there's also lots of alanine in soy, nuts, seeds, and yeast spreads. There's lots of aspartate in lunch meats, sausages, and wild game, but there's also lots of asparate in asparagus, avocados, oat flakes, molasses, and, of course, aspartame (Nutrasweet). All of these foods probably can trigger attacks of fibromyalgia.

Making Sense of Out of Diets for Fibromyalgia

 When you begin to look at how the body can transform one amino acid into another, some of the failings of diets for fibromyalgia begin to make sense. Giving up meat probably reduces fibromylagia triggers. But overdoing nuts, seeds, Vegemite, asparagus, and avocados can activate them anyway. Many people who have fibromyalgia have trouble tolerating Nutrasweet.

 Giving up nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers) probably reduces fibromyalgia triggers. But eating prepared foods that contain MSG probably cancels out the effects. I'm not going to tell anyone who pursues a vegan diet for ethical reasons to do otherwise.

But I will suggest that if you pursue a vegan diet, or any other kind of diet, for fibromyalgia, that what you really need to focus on is avoiding solanine and keeping glutamate and glutamic acid in moderation.

This means that if you eat meat, don't eat a lot. The excess protein gets converted into glutamic acid. If you eat potatoes, don't eat more than one serving a day. And make sure you don't eat potatoes that have green peels. If you eat all those healthy (and they really are healthy) nuts and seeds and avocados, don't overindulge. They can also be your triggers.

 People who pursue diets for fibromyalgia usually do have the willpower to stick to their programs. The problem usually is that "vegan" or "natural" or "organic" isn't what really makes a difference. It's foods that you need to limit, not diets that you need to follow.

The Sea Buckthorn Diet: How to Make It Work

Recently I offered a more or less technical explanation of how sea buckthorn oil enhances weight loss. In case you missed it, the bottom line is simply this: The omega-7 fatty acids in sea buckthorn oil help liquify solid fat inside fat cells so it can circulate to the muscles that burn it.

When you buy sea buckthorn oil to help you in your weight loss program, the sea buckthorn oil is not the fat burner. You are. How does this work?

Sea buckthorn oil just helps fat go out of fat cells instead of in. You still have to burn them with at least a little exercise, like walking around the block, if that's your level of fitness, and you still have to eat less.

The eating less to weigh less principle is what causes problems for a lot of dieters. We are brainwashed to believe that some magical principle or product will help us weigh less if we eat more. It just doesn't work that way. Ever.

 And when we eat the same and just exercise more, unless it's exercising for two or more hours a day without a break (sorry, weight lifting won't cut it for fat loss, although it's great for blood sugar control), we never get around to breaking down the fat stores in our fat cells that keep the bulge around the belly or make the thunder in the thighs.

No Magic Foods, Either 

So what foods help you lose weight fastest when you are doing sea buckthorn weight loss? Do you need to eat raw foods, and by that I mean raw vegetables and maybe fruit? Or do you need to emphasize lean protein? Or maybe even high-fat? How about taking sea buckthorn oil ten times a day?

No, I'm not telling you that you need to take sea buckthorn oil ten times a day. Take it with meals once or twice a day, just a scant teaspoon (2-3 ml) at a time. Don't take it between meals or when you are doing a short-term fast. Sea buckthorn is a not a magical fat burner. No particular food or combination of foods is, either.

You Have to Eat Less to Weigh Less, Or At Least to Have Less Body Fat

 The most helpful food for losing weight is no food at all. We lose weight by exercising more or by eating less. Since most of us can't do the the hours and hours of exercise it takes to trigger the enzymatic processes that fuel fat loss, we have to eat less.

Of course, just about every diet guru tells you that you need to eat more to weigh less. It's nonsense, but it sounds so good--and people will stay on the eat-more diets long enough to lose the receipt for the diet book so they can't take it back for a refund. It is simply not possible to lose fat and lose weight when you have more fatty acids going into your fat cells than you have going out.

And unless we have someone else measure our portion sizes for us (and sometimes even when we do) out appetites usually get the better of our brains. We all tend to eat more than we think we do.

People who eat 3 meals a day and snacks and lose weight either have spectacular willpower--and congratulations to those who do--or they have someone else counting calories for them. There's nothing wrong with using pre-packaged meals to lose weight if that's the way you need to do it. But there is another way to make sure you don't overeat when you are on a weight loss diet. Just stop eating. Don't eat any food at all for at least part of a day up to about 24 hours.

Short-Term Fasting Isn't for Everyone. Just Most People.

Some people can't go on fasts. If you take the same dose of insulin every day, you can't do a fast. If you take insulin and don't measure your blood sugar levels several times a day, you should not try to lose weight by fasting. If you have a glycogen storage disease or you have liver disease or you have been told by your doctor you have hypoglycemia, then you are going to go the calorie-counting, portion control route to weight loss.

Don't do any diet your doctor does not approve. But if you have the kind of middle aged spread that most of us do, then the best way to reduce your weight is to go at least a few hours without eating anything at all. Drinking water is OK.

The 17th Hour Is When Fat Burning Kicks In

Research scientists have known since the 1990's that short-term fasting enhances weight loss. The critical number is about 17 hours. When you don't eat anything at all for about 17 hours, your body runs through its supply of glucose stored as glycogen in your liver.

Since the liver combines four molecules of water with one molecule of glucose to make a single molecule of glycogen (the storage form of glucose that occurs in both your liver and your muscles), you lose both sugar weight and water weight fast. You can wake up the next morning 2 to 5 pounds (about 1 to 2 kilos) lighter if you just skip dinner and snacks.

The rate at which your body burns fat continues to increase from hours 17 to 24 and then evens out at a steady, higher rate. Since the body also needs protein and essential fatty acids, it's best to make sure you eat every single day. Just not every single meal. Skipping two meals in a row is enough to activate the changes in enzymes that help your body burn fat.

The research shows that even if you "make up" for missed food when you stop fasting, your body does not replace all the fat you lost on a short-term fast. Your weight will go up and down as you fast and eat, fast and eat, and so on, but over a period of weeks the long-term trend is downward. You don't plateau until you reach a relatively low level of body fat. It's important to understand that this is not a juice fast or a 3-hour fast or anything other than just not eating. If you go on a juice fast, you continue to supply your body with sugars.

As long as your body is burning sugars, your fat cells respond to an enzyme that keeps fat locked inside them in a solid form. This same enzyme also locks fatty acids outside your muscles so they burn sugar rather than fat. You might lose water weight if you go on a juice fat, but you won't lose fat mass.

Similarly, you don't need protein during the few hours you aren't eating. There is a popular and totally fabricated myth that we all need protein every 3 hours or our body will start breaking down muscle tissue to provide it.

Nonsense. The 3-hour diet people don't set their alarm clocks to eat protein in the middle of the night. Even they don't believe it. Our bodies do break down cells for protein--whether we are eating or not. The cells in our saliva and gastric juices contain complete protein.

Our own bodies are designed to provide us with about 100 grams of complete protein each and every day as long as stay hydrated. You do need to drink water even when you don't eat. And even when our supplies of individual amino acids run short, they don't run out in just 3 hours. It's more like 72.

Our tissues buffer our supplies of individual amino acids so that we don't absolutely have to have each and every amino acid at every meal, or even every day. Moreover, going without food for at least 7 hours (that's just overnight) activates the production of growth hormone.

Growth hormone locks proteins inside muscle so the body does NOT break them down. This process also keeps muscle intact for about 72 hours even when we don't eat. Add to that, sea buckthorn itself provides 16 different amino acids.

So while you don't take sea buckthorn while you are doing a short-term fast, either, it helps preserve muscle when you do. I know this is a hard concept, eating less to weigh less. But the simple fact is, if you lose weight, you're the one who does it. Your weight loss is never attributable to some pill or some food or even some combination of foods. Not even sea buckthorn oil. You get all the credit. And you develop your character and self-esteem as you lose weight by this method.

How Sea Buckthorn Helps You Lose Weight

Sea buckthorn helps fat burning kick in a little faster and fat storage take a little longer. It helps you burn fat and preserve muscle. But the real hero in your weight loss story will always be you.

Sea buckthorn just helps your weight loss efforts work a little better. OK, a lot better. Maybe a pound or two (about a kilo) a month, while you keep your muscle mass.

Just know that you absolutely, positively have to eat less to save muscle mass. I'm hoping to get a lot of questions about how all this works. If you want to read a book about by an expert in the field, I suggest Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat.

Sea Buckthorn Oil and Weight Loss: How It Works

About a year ago, American television's Dr. Oz made sea buckthorn oil at least momentarily famous when he introduced it as "one of the most effective weight loss supplements on the market today."

Dr. Oz actually is right. If you are a dieter, the chances are good that sea buckthorn oil really can help you lose fat while you maintain muscle. The fact that gets lost in all the hype is that it's really you who does the hard work of losing weight. Sea buckthorn just makes your efforts a lot more efficient (usually). It does this by changing the rate at which your fat cells store fat and release fat. But it's not exactly a "fat burner."

This article explains how fat storage, fat burning, sugar levels, insulin levels, and sea buckthorn oil are all related. It gets a little technical. If you just want the executive summary, here it is:

Sea buckthorn oil lets fat out that excessive sugar consumption keeps in. Your body still has to burn it to make it go away, and you still have to reduce your overall calorie intake to make sure that you don't replace fat as fast as you get rid of it. But sea buckthorn oil can help smooth out the process so you get predictable results from your weight loss efforts. 

Eat less, weigh less. And that's probably a better result than you usually get from dieting.

Fibs About Fat Burners

A lot of weight loss supplements are marketed as "fat burners." It's not because scientifically minded formulators of natural products want them to get marketed that way. I myself created the formula for a product that got marketed all over the United States as a "green tea fat burner."

My client's marketing department didn't pay a lot of attention, or any attention, to what I had to say on the subject. But they certainly knew how to name and package the product so it flew off the shelf, at least when it first came out.

The thing that is important to know about natural products and weight loss medications alike is that they don't burn fat. You burn fat. The so-called "fat burners" just alter the balance of fatty acids going into fat cells and fatty acids being released from fat cells so that your body has a chance to burn them. That is, your body will burn fat as long as you are not eating still more fat and you are doing something (even breathing counts) that requires the fatty acids as an energy source. No pill can do all the work. There just aren't any fat burners that let you eat as much as you want of everything you want any time you want.

How Fat Storage Works 

Fat cells store energy in the form of triglycerides. A triglyceride is a molecule that combines three fatty acids and water. Triglycerides are more stable than the fatty acids from which they are formed. They don't readily combine with oxygen to form the free radicals that could damage DNA. They are bulky enough to provide the cells that store them a kind of "bounce" that keeps them from being damaged by stresses on the tissue, like getting punched in the gut.

A belly blow is a lot more damaging to a thin person than to a fat person. And when there is famine, something that world hasn't experienced on more than a local scale in about 50 years, fat people live longer. 

Fighting famine is the reason fat cells are programmed to hang on to triglycerides until the body absolutely, positively has to use them for energy. Fat cells won't give up their fatty acids if they get hormonal signals that the body actually has more energy than it needs. In fact, the triglycerides inside fat cells are so bulky that they can't pass across the cell membrane to get back into the bloodstream to circulate to the muscles that would burn them.

The signalling chemical for fat cells is insulin. As long as there are high levels of insulin (the hormone the body uses to transport sugar into cells for energy), fat cells are more responsive an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, commonly abbreviated LPL. This hormone activates a series of processes that literally make them suck fatty acids out of the bloodstream for storage.

At the same time LPL is changing the chemistry of fat cells so that they take fat out of the bloodstream and store it as triglycerides, insulin makes the muscles--which actually burn fat--less able to absorb fatty acids. LPL tells the body to burn sugar first. Fat cells don't actually respond to blood sugar levels (at least in this regard). They respond to blood insulin levels.

If your insulin levels are high, your body is poised to store every extra calorie as fat and your fat cells won't let fatty acids go. That is, unless something changes the balance of fatty acid storage and fatty acid release. Is all of this a little hard to follow? Here's the bottom line.

Anything that increases your insulin levels, like eating sugary foods, keeps fat locked in your fat cells until you have gone long enough without eating that your body absolutely, positively has to use body fat for energy. The more sugar you eat, the longer the effect lasts. And if you are a diabetic who takes medications that increase your body's production of insulin or you inject large amounts of insulin, you naturally tend to get fatter and fatter.

And don't a of us know all about getting fatter and fatter no matter how hard we try?

How Fat Burning Works 

 That something that lets fat cells release their fatty acids is a second enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase, or HSL for short. HSL liquifies the trigylcerides stored inside your fat cells. This allows the fat cells to break them down into the fatty acids that can cross the cell membrane.

Once fatty acids are liberated from the fat cell, then they can travel through the bloodstream to muscles that can burn them. You actually have HSL working on your fat cells all the time. The problem is that if your insulin levels are high, then the fat cell will be more responsive to LPL, keeping fat in its solid form inside the cell, than it is to HSL, liquifying fat so it can get out. And your insulin levels will be high if:

You take insulin injections,

You use diabetes medications that increase your body's production of insulin, or

You tend to eat a high-carb diet.

Going on an Atkins-style high-protein high-fat diet, however, does not necessarily help you lose weight. Why is this?

What the weight loss gurus don't tell you is that the body turns about 30% of protein in sugar. Our bodies break down protein in food into amino acids to make our own specialized proteins. You can't graft a beefsteak protein into your brain or a tofu protein to your tuccus. The body makes human proteins from a unique sequence of individual amino acids.

 If it doesn't have the right amino acids in the right order, the liver just recycles them into glucose and urea. (Urea is what makes the urine acidic. You've probably heard something about eating meat and acid-alkaline balance.) Too much glucose from meat can cause just as many problems as too much glucose from sugary, high-carbohydrate foods.

How Sea Buckthorn Oil Shifts the Balance of Fat Storage and Fat Burning

 If you are getting the impression you really do have to eat less or exercise more to lose weight, you have got the right idea. You aren't going to lose weight if you eat, eat, and eat some more. However, there is one class of naturally occurring chemicals that can help you shift the balance of LPL and HSL, the balance of fat storage and fat burning, so more fatty acids leave your fat cells so your muscles can burn them.

These are the omega-7 fatty acids. "Omega-7" is a technical term that just means that a molecule has its terminal double bond at the seventh carbon in its chemical chain. You don't really have to worry about the chemistry (although feel free to comment) to use the products that contain omega-7 fatty acids to lose weight. The bottom line about how they work is that they make fat cells more responsive to HSL than to LPL. Your muscles will then have more fatty acids to burn.

As I mentioned earlier, breathing does in fact count. You can lose weight lying in bed if you just cut calories enough and you don't stoke yourself with sugar. However, the beauty of omega-7 fatty acids is that when you do exercise, and it can be something as simple as walking (or if you are like I was at one point in my life, waddling) around the block. You'll burn more fat than carb. Especially if you aren't eating a lot of carb or eating too much protein.

What are the natural sources of omega-7 fatty acids?

One is macadamia nut oil. There really are people who lose weight when they add limited amounts of macadamia nuts to their diets. The problem is keeping the amount limited.

The other source of omega-7 fatty acids is sea buckthorn oil. Sea buckthorn oil doesn't taste bad, but nobody is going to get addicted to it. It's OK but not delicious.

And that is precisely what makes it so useful for dieters who get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day while reducing their overall consumption of food. Remember, you want sea buckthorn oil, not sea buckthorn tea. Sea buckthorn juice also contains omega-7's, but only about 1/3 as much as sea buckthorn oil. You can get results by taking just 1 tablespoon (10 to 15 ml) of sea buckthorn a day.

 Thanks for hanging in there with this relatively technical explanation. Tomorrow's post on sea buckthorn dieting won't be as complicated. And I'll explain how I have the nerve to write about weight loss.

Rye Bread for Weight Loss

 A reader of one of my other sites sent in a question about rye bread and weight loss.  "Are there any health benefits of rye bread?" she asked. "Is rye the healthiest bread, or at least a healthier bread? Is rye bread good for diabetics? Does rye bread have gluten?"

When I look in the mirror I have to be flattered that someone respects my intellect enough to ask me about rye bread for weight loss, but the truth is that rye flour makes probably the best whole grain bread.

It's not possible to use rye flour to make truly gluten-free breads, because rye does contain a small amount of gluten. But if you are going to eat bread on a diet, or if you are going to eat bread at all,  I think rye bread beats whole wheat bread hands down. And health is not the only reason to eat rye bread.

Rye Bread for Losing Weight

First I'll get the technical question out of the way. The reason rye bread is favored for dieters is that it is anti-inflammatory. Actually, the interactions between the kinds of carbohydrates we eat and how our bodies produce inflammatory compounds are very complicated.

Some researchers at the University of Kuopio in Finland recruited overweight diabetics for an assessment of how carb foods interact with genetic triggers of inflammation in belly fat. They had one group of overweight diabetics get their daily carbohydrates from wheat bread, potatoes, and that breakfast food we are all taught is ever so healthy, oatmeal. They had another group of overweight diabetics get their daily carbohydrates from rye bread. Then the scientists biopsied samples of belly fat to see which genes had been switched on and which genes had been switched off.

The differences between the two groups were striking. The group that had eaten wheat bread or "white" bread, potatoes, and oatmeal had 71 different genes related to inflammation "switched on" by their diets. About 1/3 of the mass of belly fat is fluid and white blood cells that get stuck in the twists and turns of blood vessels between fatty tissues. Even if you don't eat extra calories, this inflammation-inducing diet can cause you to gain weight. The group that had gotten its carbohydrates from rye bread had 52 different genes related to inflammation "switched off" by their diets.

Fat cells that aren't as inflamed aren't as large. That means don't use as much insulin. That leaves more insulin in the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels normal. That's a great thing for diabetics. And because there is less inflammation, there are fewer white blood cells and less fluid trapped in belly fat tissue. This group tended to lose weight even if they were eating a few too many calories. But that wasn't all.

In my article on sea buckthorn oil and weight loss I mention the role of an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase in storing and releasing fat. Hormone-sensitive lipase causes fatty acids to solidify inside fat cells. They can't pass out of the cell because they are in a solid form, rather than a liquid form. This means that even if you diet and exercise, your muscles will burn sugar instead of fat because the fat stays locked inside fat cells.

In the Finnish study, rye bread consumption was tied to lower levels activity of the fat storage (or fat lock-up) enzyme. It's still necessary to do the activities that burn the fat, but getting your carbohydrates from rye bread and leaving wheat, potatoes, and oats off your meal plan makes burning fat easier. But even if you aren't dieting, there is a lot to like about rye bread.

Artisan Rye Breads

It is hard to imagine the cuisines of northern Europe without rye bread. Whether it is the tan rye bread you might find on a hotel breakfast buffet in Copenhagen or the purple pumpernickel bread you can find in every bakery in Berlin, northern Europeans eat rye bread--nearly 180 pounds (about 80 kilos) per person per year.

Rye grows well in climates that too cool and damp for wheat. It bakes into a moist and malty bread that keeps from going stale not just for days but for weeks and even months, depending on the time of year. And if you don't care for rye bread, there are always rye crisps for making open-faced sandwiches that are almost carbohydrate free.

Some brands of whole rye crisps contain just a measly 2 grams of carbohydrate (8 carb calories) per serving. When I have stayed in Germany, I typically have been served rye bread with cheese and cold cuts for breakfast and rye bread with different kinds of cheese and cold cuts for dinner. Germans love their rye bread and beer.

But you don't have to use rye bread with deli food. It is good with butter or jam, or just jam, and even with cold veggies, cream cheese, fish, or pickles. There are rye breads studded with walnuts, or flaxseeds, or (traditionally) caraway seeds, or pumpkin seeds. In Germany the "vegetable" added to the rye bread sometimes is ham (which requires refrigeration). I've eaten rye bread with ice cream, but that's really kind of an acquired taste.

Does Rye Bread Have Gluten?

Traditional rye bread is made with no fat or oil. There is never any bleached flour, with its potentially toxic bromides. There are only rye flour, a little bit of sugar for the yeast to grow in, water, salt, baker's yeast, and the sourdough starter--plus a bit of wheat flour. Wheat flour is added precisely because it contains gluten.

There are brands of rye bread that contain no wheat flour at all, but they are, well, chewy. Really chewy. But they keep for months if you don't open the package, even without preservatives. If you are gluten sensitive or if you have celiac disease, you will have to avoid any brand of rye bread that contains wheat flour. Some American "rye" breads are actually more wheat than rye. Be sure to read the label.

The Secret to Success Eating Rye Bread on Your Diet

 Rye bread is healthy bread, but it is possible to go wrong. A Czech rye bread recipe calls for 50 rye crisps, a pound (450 g) of Emmenthaler cheese grated fine, a stick (1/4 pound/110 g) of butter, some grainy mustard, a little dill, and some caraway seeds. Pulse the rye crisps in a food processor until broken up but not powdery.

Add enough water, about a cup (240 ml) to the mix to make a dough, and work in the cheese, butter, salt, mustard, and caraway.  Form bite-sized balls of rye, butter, and cheese and place on wax paper. Refrigerate for at least two hours and serve. The mixture stays fresh for about two days.

This Czech rye bread recipe is delicious, but it's really not likely to help you lose weight. Sorry--you'll have to forego the butter and the cheese to use rye bread in weight loss plans. But if you just use rye for your carbohydrate portions instead of white bread, wheat bread, potatoes, and oatmeal products and don't change anything else, you may notice a lighter feeling around the waist. And if you can cut back calories and exercise even a little, you will lose weight faster than on any other reduced-calorie diet plan. Rye isn't a miracle food. But it's really good for you.

 Photo credit: Hellahulla

Easy Detox 1-2-3

Interested in quick detoxification? The best detox method I know involves three simple steps--and doesn't cost a lot of money.

Detoxification means many things to many people. For decades, detoxing was associated with colon cleansing and liver flushes, two activities that have some benefit for some people, although they can hardly be recommended for everyone. If you have any kind of perforation in your bowel, you certainly don't need to be taking enemas at home. And if you have gallbladder disease or biliary dyskinesia, you don't need to be doing liver flushes.

I'll just tell you without further commentary here that many "cleansing" products are designed to give you just enough results to think they are doing you some good so you will keep buying them for months. I don't want to get sued, so I'm not going to name names here. What I will do you is how to detox with a nearly-free detox plan that really works.

1.First, reestablish the healthy bacteria in your intestinal tract. The best way to do this is by taking a probiotic product in capsule form. Enteric capsulation helps the bacteria survive passage through the stomach acids. The more strains of bacteria included in the product the more good it will do you. You can also use probiotic yogurts, but make sure they contain live organisms.
2. Add fiber to your diet, slowly. Soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables is better than insoluble fiber from bran, and either is better than fiber supplements. But if you just can't work the nine servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day, take a fiber supplement (preferably one you can dissolve in water). Start slowly.
3. Then start making changes in your diet. See if cutting out one food you eat every day makes a difference. For instance, if you eat scrambled eggs each and every morning of your life, try a week without them. See how you feel. If you drink Diet Coke every single day, try switching to something else bubbly and calorie-free, like mineral water (which doesn't have aspartame and does provide a little magnesium). The time for allergy elimination diets, gluten-free diets, and diets for food allergies is after you reestablish probiotic bacteria and you are feeding them with fiber.

How does this detox work?

There's good evidence that probiotic bacteria reduce inflammation. They also produce chemicals that modulate the hypothalamus in the brain in ways that fight depression. "Detoxing" your brain activity is the place to start with detoxing your body.

The fiber helps your body in two ways. If you have established healthy bacteria in your colon, they start changing fiber into cancer-protective butyric acid and also into some vitamins, such as vitamin K. They prevent the reaccumulation of hormones your liver has sent into the gut for elimination with feces. And the bulk of the fiber makes your more regular. You'll lose a pound or two (up to about a kilo), provided you are getting plenty of fluid, preferably water.

Then your body takes over the detoxification process as you just eliminate any offending substances. It doesn't do you nearly as much good, however, to stop eating a food to which you are allergic before you have taken the first two steps.

Do you have to eat all organic food? That may be ideal, but if you can't afford organics, at least alkalize by eating vegetables and, if you don't have a problem with blood sugar levels, dried fruit. The alkalization of your urine both kills toxin-producing bacteria and helps your body retain the calcium and glutamate that help keep it stable. Photo Credit: Biswarup Ganguly