Hysteria over Listeria
Coenzyme Q10 and Parkinson's Disease
How Coenzyme Q10 Might Work
Other Treatments for PD
Ask Dr. J: Lithium and Mood
In the Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of the Month: Wild Rice and Mushrooms
Recent warnings have made people aware of the risk of infection
from eating contaminated meat products, and many of them have
been recalled because of the presence of E. coli, Listeria
monocytogenes, and other infectious agents. Much news was
made of the 23 deaths and 120 illnesses from listeriosis this
summer in the Northeast.
Since then, another recall of processed meats, this time
of 27 million pounds of potentially contaminated poultry products
from a factory of Pilgrims Pride (Wampler brand) in
Pennsylvania, has reignited the concern over the potential
for lethal infections.
Listeriosis is a serious disease. Symptoms may include fever,
muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea. Spread of the infection
to the nervous system may lead to headache, confusion, stiff
neck, and loss of balance, and even convulsions and death.
Of those infected with the disease, about 25 percent will
Listeria is more serious in the elderly, the frail, those
who are immune compromised, or people ill with diabetes, cancer,
or kidney disease. Pregnant women are much more susceptible
to the infection, but the most serious effects are in the
newborns of these infected women.
With the many other reasons to avoid meat and chicken in the
diet (last month I wrote about the salmonella contamination
in sausages), and to say nothing of mad cow disease, this
is just one further indication that you have to be diligent
in your food choices.
It is curious to me that the 23 deaths from listeriosis have
created such a stir in the news, when it is possible to relate
the consumption of meat and poultry to hundreds of thousands
of deaths every year from coronary heart disease, cancer,
hypertension, strokes, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, kidney disease,
and other conditions, plus increases in rheumatoid disease
and gall stones. Without diminishing the importance to public
health of acute infections, the real problem with western
dietary choices are the chronic, degenerative diseases from
foods that are not contaminated with bacteria and parasites.
Although the disease picture in China is changing (as the
diet is westernized), when T. Colin Campbell reported in 1998
on the Cornell-China study, it was clear that in rural areas
of China consumption of animal protein was about 10 percent
of the US intake, and dietary fat was about half of that in
the US. Among men, coronary disease was only one-sixteenth(!)
that in the US. High intake of plant protein, legumes, and
vegetables was associated with lower rates of these diseases.
Further benefits accumulated with every increase in the proportion
of plant-based foods in the diet.
Parkinsons disease (PD) is a disease of neurons
in the area of the brain that affects muscle movement. Symptoms
include tremors, difficulty with walking and balance, rigidity,
and poor coordination. The incidence is greater in people
over 50, and increases with age (certain drugs can cause these
symptoms in younger people).
PD is a degenerative disease, and the deterioration progresses
with time. The cells in one region of the brain, called the
substantia nigra, are affected and the production of
the neurotransmitter dopamine is reduced. So far, no treatments
have been able to slow the progression of the disease. A number
of drugs can temporarily reduce the symptoms. The medications
that help control PD may have side effects, including excessive
episodes of sleepiness (somnolence) or involuntary writhing
It was widely reported in the news recently that coenzyme
Q10 could help delay the development of symptoms in patients
with early signs of Parkinsons disease. The researchers
tested unusually high doses of 300, 600, and 1200 mg daily,
and compared them to placebo over a period of 16 months.
Although there was some trend toward benefit from doses of
300 and 600 mg daily, the most (and statistically significant)
benefits were seen with doses of 1200 mg. This is far more
than is usually given for heart disease, cancer, and immune
enhancement (common doses being from 100 to 400 mg daily).
Coenzyme Q10 is normally manufactured in the body, but the
amount produced declines with age. It is an essential cofactor
for the production of energy in the cell components called
mitochondria. These mitochondria make the energy-storage molecule
The health of the mitochondria is reflected in the proper
function of many organs, including the heart and the brain.
PD patients have both poor mitochondrial function and particularly
low levels of coQ10.
Now it appears that health of the neurons affected in PD
may be maintained longer in people who take coenzyme Q10 supplements.
Two years ago, it was shown that neuronal degeneration was
related to oxidative damage. In addition to the production
of energy and maintaining mitochondrial health, coenzyme Q10
is also a potent antioxidant, so this may be one of the mechanisms
by which it helps protect the nervous tissue in patients with
Damage to mitochondria from pesticides has also been linked
to PD in animal studies, particularly in the cells that produce
dopamine. Coenzyme Q10 may protect the mitochondria from such
This new study only involved 80 subjects, but the results
are very provocative because of the authors conclusion
that there was a reduction in disease progression. Because
patients did not improve in the first month, but were better
at later evaluations, the authors suggested that this is a
sign of prevention of neuronal degeneration, rather than just
symptom relief. This study is also important because even
administration of these high doses was effective, but caused
no significant side effects.
In spite of this, one of the authors of the study suggested
that the information was too limited, and it would be premature
to recommend that patients start taking coenzyme Q10 because
it was such a small study. The research team is planning to
expand the study and add specific evaluation of neuronal degeneration.
Based on previous information, it is likely that the new study
will show that the neurons are protected by coQ10. If you
or a loved one has PD, is it really wise to wait for the further
research? This is a particularly poignant question, considering
the safety of the treatment.
Previous studies have shown that high doses of vitamin E
can help PD. In 1992, a pilot study showed benefits in delaying
symptom progression with 3000 mg of vitamin C and 3200 IU
of vitamin E. Lower doses did not work. High doses may be
essential for benefits because of the difficulty of getting
antioxidants into the brain.
Other nutrients that protect the brain include alpha-lipoic
acid, acetyl L-carnitine, and proanthocyanidins, which I have
discussed previously. A combination of these nutrients may
make a significant difference to PD patients and their families.
Dietary supplements are not the only natural treatments that
can help people with Parkinsons disease. Exercise has
been shown to help reduce depression as well as improve motor
skills, and general signs of well being. In the 1999 study,
intensive exercise was performed twice a week by patients
with moderate PD symptoms.
Diet may also play a role. For patients who respond to the
drug Sinemet, very low protein diets improve their response
to the drug. The benefits are seen within one week, and it
appears to be even better if most of the protein intake is
toward the end of the day. It appears that protein interferes
with the absorption of the medication.
To prevent PD, reduce your exposure to pesticides by eating
organic foods, eat a wide variety of foods with antioxidants
(vegetables, fruits, and legumes), and take brain-protecting
antioxidant supplements, including coQ10. For treatment, take
high doses of coenzyme Q10 and other antioxidants, get regular
exercise, and eat a low protein diet, with most of the protein
in the evening.
Q. I have been having problems with mood swings and a Dr.
suggested lithium carbonate. He said its a natural mineral
and may help. Is this safe? JY, New Jersey, via Internet
A. Although lithium is a natural mineral, it is not free
of side effects when used to treat bipolar disorder
or manic-depressive illness. The amounts in the diet (and
it is not clearly essential) are in the range of 100 mcg
per day, and doses for treatment are 500 mg daily.
Side effects include drowsiness, weakness, tremors, blurry
vision, ringing in the ears, loss of appetite, heart arrhythmias,
low blood pressure, abnormal kidney function, headaches, and
others. Also, they can occur close to the therapeutic level
of the drug, but it can help some patients.
If you need treatment for mood swings, you may benefit from
some nutritional alternatives to lithium. One is to try a
diet for blood sugar regulation as hypoglycemia can also cause
mood swings. I recommend small meals spread through the day,
with a high fiber content. Avoid sugar and white flour, caffeine,
alcohol, and hydrogenated oils.
Regular exercise can help stabilize mood and relieve depression.
Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling,
or swimming may be effective. Some evidence also supports
the value of resistance exercise (weights).
A number of supplements can help. St. Johns wort is
as effective as antidepressant medications for mild to moderate
depression. You can try 300 mg of standardized extract 3 times
a day for 6 to 8 weeks. Be careful to avoid excessive sun
exposure while taking St. Johns wort, as it can cause
Omega-3 oils (9 gms a day, equal to 9 oz of oily fish) can
also help manic depression. Other supplements that may be
beneficial include 5-HTP, a precursor to the neurotransmitter
serotonin (100 to 200 mg daily), and melatonin, the hormone
from the pineal gland that regulates the body clock ( 3 mg
at bedtime). In my clinical experience, vitamin B3 (I usually
recommend inositol hexaniacinate, 800 to 1200 mg daily) and
vitamin C (3000 to 4000 mg) can also help.
You only need to look around to see it, but scientific
data now shows obesity in adults and children has increased
in recent years. Two recent studies published in the Journal
of the AMA show about a 50 percent increase in overweight
children, from 10 percent among teens in 1994, to 15 percent
in 2000, and in adults from 22 to 30 percent in the same time
period. (Flegal KM, et al., Prevalence and Trends in Obesity
Among US Adults, 1999-2000. JAMA 2002 Oct 9;288(14):1723-7,
and Ogden CL, et al., Prevalence and Trends in Overweight
Among US Children and Adolescents, 1999-2000. JAMA 2002 Oct
9;288(14):1728-32.) The authors point out the serious public
health problems that this presents.
Last year, I reported on the anti-inflammatory and
antioxidant effects of curcumin (the yellow pigment in turmeric),
and its apparent benefit in preventing Alzheimers disease
(but neglected to mention it again last month in the brain
article). Earlier studies also showed that it could decrease
tumors. New information confirms that curcumin is valuable
for reducing pancreatic cancer cell growth in cell cultures
(Hidaka H, et al., Curcumin inhibits...human pancreatic carcinoma
cell growth by autocrine regulation. Cancer 2002 Sep 15;95(6):1206-14).
The Japanese researchers conclude that curcumin is a potent
A study of low-carbohydrate diets showed more weight
loss compared to a diet with 30 percent fat (erroneously called
a low fat diet), and cardiac risk factors were not increased.
However, this is a six-month study, the controls were not
on a real low-fat diet (15 percent). The weight loss itself,
not the diet, could explain the normal blood pressures and
blood sugars, but risks of cancer, heart disease, and more
make this an unhealthy long-term diet plan. (Reuters Health,
October 21, 2002.)
I buy real wild rice from Minnesota Native Americans in a
land recovery project (Native Harvest at 888-779-3577, or
www.nativeharvest.com). Add one cup of wild rice to two cups
of organic brown rice and rinse three times, then cook in
6 cups water. Sauté onions and garlic with marjoram,
thyme, and sage for a savory flavor. Add some diced mushrooms
(I like to mix a variety of wild mushrooms) and a small amount
of soy sauce, umeboshi plum vinegar, or lemon juice, and cook
lightly, adding enough water to make a sauce (option: add
some diced tofu to the onions). Serve this over the rice.
Variations: add different spices, such as curry, cumin, and
cayenne pepper, or simply cumin, turmeric (for extra color
and antioxidants), and crushed black and white pepper.
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Pilgrims Pride Begins Record
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