Lowering Cholesterol Raising HDL
Organic Strawberries Better
Grape Juice Equals Red Wine Benefits
Telling Doctors about Alternatives
Probiotics for Infant Colic
Folic Acid for Hearing and Cognition
Exercise and Diet for Obese Elderly
A recent article in the New York Times (An Old Cholesterol Remedy Is
New Again, January 23, 2007) reported that a highly touted new drug designed
to raise HDL-cholesterol levels failed in research studies, leading to
increased cardiac disorders and higher mortality in those given the drug
(torcetrapib) than those on placebo. The article went on to note that
raising HDL is a very desirable goal, and the only way to do it has been
known since 1975 – by taking high dose supplements of a simple
vitamin – niacin (vitamin B3). (Other ways that they did not mention
include aerobic exercise and supplements of policosanol, derived from
The article pointed out that the particular beneficial effect
of this versatile vitamin has been shunned by the medical profession,
even though it is extremely safe and has a variety of other benefits.
It lowers triglycerides and total cholesterol, and in that earlier study
reduced heart attacks and strokes by 26 and 27 percent respectively.
Perhaps the problem with medical acceptance of niacin is that it is safe,
cheap, and effective.
Berries are known to be high in antioxidants that protect against heart
disease and cancer. Strawberries are among the most nutritious foods,
but conventionally grown strawberries have some of the highest levels
of pesticide contamination.
Recent research shows that the antioxidant capacity of organically
grown strawberries is higher than conventional berries. This is in part
due to more vitamin C content. (Olsson ME, et al., Antioxidant levels
and inhibition of cancer cell proliferation in vitro by extracts from
organically and conventionally cultivated strawberries. J Agric Food
Chem. 2006 Feb 22;54(4):1248-55.)
The researchers incubated colon and breast cancer cells with
extracts of the different strawberries. They found that the extract from
organic berries inhibited the cell growth more effectively than extracts
from conventional fruit. This might be due to the vitamin C content or
synergistic action with other antioxidants contained in strawberries,
such as ellagic acid, anthocyanidins, procyanidins, phenolic compounds,
and flavonoids. These chemicals also reduce excessive blood clotting
and improve circulation.
Although most people know about the potential benefits of red wine for
the heart, they are not aware that some grapes provide the same apparent
benefits without the risks of consuming the alcohol in the wine. A new
study from France shows that Concord grapes also contain the beneficial
polyphenols found in wine (Anselm E, et al., Grape juice causes endothelium-dependent
relaxation via a redox-sensitive Src- and Akt-dependent activation of
eNOS. Cardiovasc Res. 2007 Jan 15;73(2):404-13).
The lining cells of the arteries (endothelium) produce nitric
oxide (NO), a relaxing factor that improves blood flow by opening up
the blood vessel. Synthesis of NO is dependent on an enzyme, and the
polyphenols in grape juice enhance the activity of that enzyme. This
was a lab study on artery tissue, and it showed that the benefits were
likely due to antioxidant function of the grape polyphenols.
A recent survey by the AARP showed that most Americans over 50 use some
form of alternative medicine, but they do not discuss it with their other
doctors (Reuters Health, January 26, 2007). The authors noted that it
is unwise not to inform a doctor of other therapies that you might be
using, and this is true, but telling them may not be so simple.
Often when a patient does tell the doctor about their other
therapies, they are met with resistance, disdain, and sometimes mockery.
I know of many examples. Recently, a friend went to a compassionate group
of doctors who usually understand the importance of patient communication.
When she said she preferred to avoid statins, and that she was able to
lower her cholesterol in the past with nutrients, she was met with icy
dismissals from both of the doctors she saw there. This was in spite
of the fact that she had had past side effects from statins. These reactions
do not encourage further communication.
I suggested that she take supplements of policosanol and
red yeast rice and follow her diet and have her cholesterol rechecked
in a few months. Even with a strong family history, supplements along
with the healthy diet and exercise are likely to make a significant difference
in reducing her risks or cardiac disease.
It is still important to tell your doctor of any alternative
therapies you are doing, especially supplements, but you should not be
put off your own program without specific and documented objections.
It is highly unlikely that you will harm yourself with nutrition and
New research shows that friendly bacteria known as probiotics (such
as lactobacillus) can help infants with colic (Savino F, et al., Lactobacillus
reuteri…versus simethicone in the treatment of infantile colic...
Pediatrics. 2007 Jan;119(1):e124-30). Although the infants can’t
clearly report their symptoms, it appears that their crying and distress
may be due to excessive gastro-intestinal gas.
In this research, an anti-stomach gas drug, simethicone,
was compared to Lactobacillus supplements. For 28 days, 95 percent of
the infants on the Lactobacillus were better compared with only 7 percent
of those on simethicone. By the end of the 28 days, the infants on Lactobacillus
cried only 51 minutes per day, compared with the simethicone group with
145 minutes of crying. This treatment could bring great relief to numerous
infants, to say nothing of their parents.
Supplements of folic acid help to reduce hearing loss associated with
aging. In a study in the Netherlands, 728 participants between 50 and
70 years old received either supplements of 800 mcg daily or a placebo.
After three years, hearing loss was significantly less in the group receiving
the supplements. Because foods were not fortified in Holland at the time,
baseline folate levels were lower among the participants than in a comparable
US population, so it is unclear whether the same benefits would be seen
here. However, folate is safe, inexpensive, and has many other health
benefis, so it would not hurt to take supplements. (Durga J, et al.,
Effects of folic acid supplementation on hearing in older adults: a randomized,
controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Jan 2;146(1):1-9.)
In a related study, the researchers also evaluated cognitive
function in participants on folate supplements compared with a placebo.
After three years, sensorimotor speed and infor-mation processing were
significantly better in the supplemented group. In both studies, homocysteine
levels were reduced by supplementation.
It is well known that age and obesity increase heart disease risks.
In the obese elderly, a new study shows that it is never too late to
benefit from starting lifestyle changes to reduce those risks. Researchers
studied 27 adults over 65 years old with body mass index (BMI) over 30
(indicating obesity) for six months (Villareal DT, et al., Effect of
lifestyle intervention on metabolic coronary heart disease risk factors
in obese older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Dec;84(6):1317-23).
Compared with the 10 controls, the 17 patients put on a diet
and exercise program had an 8.4 percent loss of weight, a decrease in
waist circumference, a drop in blood sugar, lowered serum triglycerides,
and improvement in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The inflammatory
markers, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (both risk factors
for heart disease) were also significantly reduced.
It is never too late to benefit from starting a health program.
Of course, it is also never too early to start taking better care of
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