Healthy Diet Costs
St. John's Wort Research
Other Treatment Options
Vitamin E Protects Muscles
Allergies: Ask Dr. J
In the Health News
Recipe of the Month: Mashed Sweet Potato
I recently saw a TV discussion group on healthy diets, and
the commentators was saying that shopping at the health food
store was expensive, and several others nodded in almost
automatic agreement, as though this were a well-known fact.
It is true that some foods at the health food store, particularly
organic foods, are somewhat more expensive than their
conventional counterparts. However, it is not true that eating
healthy diet has to be expensive, even if you shop at a health
food store. This is a myth, because it totally depends on
A healthy diet based on unprocessed fresh vegetables, fruits,
whole grains, and legumes is generally quite inexpensive.
example, a nutritious breakfast of oatmeal, banana or shredded
apple, and raisins, cooked in dilute soymilk, with sunflower
seeds and some cinnamon and nutmeg, usually costs under a
(a little more if you use almonds instead of sunflower seeds).
provides a lots of fiber, phytonutrients, and essential fatty
acids, and helps to control blood sugar and appetite for a
Similar choices of basic foods as I describe in my recipes
lunch and dinner are just as cost effective. Costs are higher
when you buy prepared foods (rice cakes, for example, cost
more than brown rice that you cook; granola is more expensive
I was recently reducing clutter in my home office (an action
is as therapeutic as any that I recommend in my newsletter!),
while clearing up a pile of papers, I came across a Boston
article from 1996. The headline said, "Poor people's
winning the hearts of the affluent." The winning diet
of basic foods, mostly vegetarian, minimally processed, and
varied nutritional content, such as they eat in most of the
economically emerging countries. They might eat this way for
religious or economic reasons, and sometimes for health reasons,
but the fact is they can afford to eat this way, and people
developed countries can't afford not to.
I realize that even when that article was written the costs
eating three meals a day at the fast junk joints (formerly
fast food restaurants) could be quite cheap (in every sense),
although that was not the comparison I envisioned. However,
direct costs of the diet are only one consideration. The costs
illness, degenerative diseases, and accelerated aging must
added to the price of the food. And these costs go beyond
monetary to the emotional and spiritual drain on individuals,
families, and friends. It is unfortunate that unhealthy diets
now so widely exported to other countries.
In choosing a healthy diet for yourself, you will not only
protect your health without straining your pocketbook, but
will set an example for others, and you will add to their
while supporting increased availability of healthy food, and
promoting a healthier environment.
Recent headlines repeating previous negative claims about
John's wort (SJW) are apparently designed to discredit natural
remedies in general, and particularly SJW in this case. So
to repeat myself in criticizing these reports. The study in
question suggested that SJW appears useless in the treatment
moderately severe depression. This is not news and it is not
No one so far has claimed that SJW is useful for severe
depression, only mild to moderate depression, although in
right dose with the right combination of other supplements,
might still help more serious psychiatric illness.
To do a study such as this, and make the claim that SJW is
better than placebo, leaves the reader thinking it is useless.
This is misleading at best, and deceitful at worst, and many
people may miss out on this beneficial treatment, because
research shows that it is very useful for treatment of other
levels of depression.
Interestingly, in this study, published in the Journal of
American Medical Association, Sertraline (Zoloft), a "serious"
treatment for depression, and one that generates billions
dollars in sales each year, was also no better than placebo,
for the most part no better than SJW. The report says "On
primary outcome measures, neither sertraline nor H perforatum
significantly different from placebo."
Another study a week later drew the same negative conclusion,
spite of the authors' statement that "The number reaching
remission of illness was significantly higher with St John's
than with placebo."
The newspaper headlines blared the supposed ineffectiveness
SJW, but little mention was made of the uselessness of Zoloft.
Perhaps they should have read "Zoloft no better than
severe depression." SJW has been shown to help with mild
Studies Support St. John's Wort:
For example, a German study published in the British Medical
Journal showed that SJW was equivalent to imipramine (Tofranil)
in treatment of mild to moderate depression, but with fewer
effects. A 2001 German study showed significant benefit compared
to placebo after just 4 weeks on SJW, and the benefits started
appear after just one week.
Another placebo-controlled, double blind study in 1998 showed
similar results using standardized extract containing hyperforin,
one of the components of SJW. A 1995 study showed similar
benefits compared to placebo, and a 70 percent response rate,
which is as much as you can see with the drugs. In addition,
SJW also relieved anxiety, and had no side effects in this
This does not mean that SJW has no side effects. It can cause
sensitivity, which is lessened if you divide the dose to three
times per day. Interference with some medications is possible,
and occasional digestive upset.
It is interesting to note that the lead authors of the JAMA
hold stock in, have received grant money from, and been paid
consultants to Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zoloft, and have
paid speakers for this and other drug companies. They note
all the previous studies have flaws (as all studies do), implying
that their study corrects all prior research. I don't believe
In addition to SJW for depression (the usual dose is 300 mg
standardized extract taken three times a day), I also recommend
number of other treatments. Not surprisingly, regular aerobic
exercise frequently helps relieve depression. It is not uncommon
to see poor regulation of blood sugar contributing to mood
abnormalities, so a diet free of sugar and refined foods can
help. Food allergens often play a role, and avoiding them
an essential part of treatment.
Other supplements that help include 5-hydroxy tryptophan
100 to 200 mg daily), which is a precursor of serotonin, one
the neurotransmitters. The SSRI medications (Zoloft, Paxil,
Prozac) increase the available serotonin in the junction between
nerves, but increasing the production of serotonin can help
I have found that B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin
helpful. S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe, 400 to 800 mg) is another
valuable treatment. For the elderly, B12 and ginkgo biloba
relieve depression, and finally, melatonin (3 mg at night)
The antioxidant activity of vitamin E is well known, and as
result, it appears to reduce damage to muscles related to
free radicals. A report at the Experimental Biology 2002
conference in San Diego showed that vitamin E can reduce muscle
soreness, inflammation, and fatigue that occur after strenuous
Vitamin E mops up these harmful chemicals, reducing symptoms
aiding recovery. The researchers used 1000 IU of vitamin E
both younger and older age groups. The younger group responded
better, but both groups were helped by the supplements. The
researchers noted that this is a high dose, and suggested
lower doses might also be effective, although this appears
Earlier studies have shown that vitamin E can protect the
muscle in congestive heart failure, in which the muscle is
and cannot pump blood as effectively as in healthy people.
study in animals revealed that antioxidant supplements reduced
oxidative stress on heart muscles and improved cardiac function.
They used either a combination of vitamins C and E and
beta-carotene, or vitamin E alone, and found good results
both regimens, but the combination was better than the single
vitamin. The researchers suggested that these antioxidants
help congestive heart failure in humans. I would suggest adding
Q. It seems to be a terrible allergy season this year. Any
suggestions? (J.R., Connecticut)
A. Probably because of the warm winter, especially in the
northeast, allergies do seem to be more prevalent this year
most. Symptoms of hay fever or pollen allergies include runny
nose, watery eyes, sneezing, conjunctivitis, sinus congestion,
even cough, and asthmatic breathing.
Staying away from food allergens is a good start, particularly
milk products, which always seem to exacerbate the congestion
from other allergens. Other foods may be allergens also, but
is individual, so you may need to do some self testing to
out which ones may be causing your sensitivity.
Environmental controls that reduce exposure to allergens,
a home air filter, hypoallergenic bedding, and air conditioning
on hot, humid days, play a large role in reducing symptoms.
Supplements can also help a lot with both allergies and asthma.
Vitamin C (2 to 6 gms daily) reduces the histamine response,
has anti-inflammatory benefits. Vitamin B6 (50 to 200 mg)
magnesium (500 to 1000 mg) both relax the airways and are
treatments, especially if asthma is part of the allergic
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that reduces the histamine release
from the tissue mast cells and blood basophils. It works by
stabilizing the cell membranes and making them less sensitive
the allergic trigger for histamine release. The usual dose
to 1200 mg daily.
Nettle (250 to 1000 mg of standardized extract) is an herb
long history of use for inflammation and allergies. It works
fairly quickly to reduce symptoms such as runny nose, sinus
congestion, and watery eyes.
a. Antioxidant vitamins are associated with protection of
heart from atherosclerosis. A new study shows that heart
transplant patients, 70 percent of whom develop atherosclerosis
within 3 years, are protected by supplements of vitamins C
(Fang JC, et al., Effect of vitamins C and E on progression
transplant-associated arteriosclerosis: a randomised trial.
Lancet 2002 Mar 30;359(9312):1108-13). It is suspected that
transplant operation itself leads to oxidative stress that
increases the risk of atherosclerosis. The researchers gave
supplements of 500 mg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E
a day and compared this to a placebo. They measured damage
lining cells in the arteries, and found significant protection
those subjects receiving the vitamin supplements.
b. Antibiotics in animal feed and overuse in humans is an
increasingly serious problem. About 50 percent of all antibiotics
in the US are put into animal feed as a growth enhancer. The
European Union has just banned such use of antibiotics in
feed (Reuters Health, March 25, 2002). In the US, overuse
antibiotic prescriptions has led to increasing resistance
group A Strep to erythromycin and azithromycin (Martin JM,
al., N Engl J Med 2002 Apr 18;346(16):1200-6). Reducing
unnecessary prescriptions can reverese this trend.
Eating oatmeal daily can reduce blood pressure and allow
hypertensive patients to reduce their medications. Oatmeal also
reduced their total cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and fasting
glucose (Pins JJ, et al., J Fam Pract, 2002 April;51(4):353-9).
The same researchers also found that all whole grains reduce
insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease
(Pereira, MA, et al., Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 May;75(5):848-55.)
For those of you who want a side dish rich in natural carotenoids
and the vitamin C and other beneficial phytochemicals found
lime juice, this one is delicious and simple. Wash, trim,
two or three medium sweet potatoes (with or without the peel,
your choice, but I usually leave it on), and put them in a
steamer until they are quite soft. Squeeze the juice of one
two limes and mash together with the sweet potatoes, into
creamy blend. You can add a pinch of sea salt if you choose.
serve this with a salad and either a piece of wild salmon,
grilled tofu or grilled portobello mushroom from previous
newsletters. You can also make the same dish with butternut
squash, or a pumpkin, although these are not usually as rich
the sweet potatoes (or as easy to prepare).
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Boston Globe, September 5, 1996, Poor
people's diets winning
hearts of affluent.
Hypericum Depression Trial Study Group,
Effect of Hypericum
perforatum (St John's Wort) in Major Depressive Disorder.
2002 Apr 10;287(14):1807-14.
Shelton RC, et al., Effectiveness of St
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Kalb R, et al., Efficacy and tolerability
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Laakmann G, et al., St. John's wort in
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Witte B, et al., Treatment of depressive
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Philipp M, et al., Hypericum extract versus
imipramine or placebo
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Penninx BW, et al., Exercise and depressive
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Vitamin E May Lessen Post-Workout
Muscle Soreness, Reuters
Health, April 23, 2002.
Shite J, et al., Antioxidant vitamins attenuate
and cardiac dysfunction in tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy.
Am Coll Cardiol 2001 Nov 15;38(6):1734-40.
Middleton E, Effect of flavonoids
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Mittman P, Randomized, double-blind study
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