Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mercola, Weston Price wrong on Soy "dangers"

I regularly see research on soy and the vast majority of research papers prove the health benefits of soy. Based on the body of science and the errors evident in his "Facts", what Dr. Mercola has stated is undocumented, unreferenced bull recycled from Weston Price.

All legumes contain significant levels of phytoestrogens; why is soy singled out for this abuse using cherry-picked out-of-context "facts" that aren't really backed them up when the research is reviewed. Do you ever hear such slanders against the #2 source of phytoestrogens (pinto beans)?

In fact, many of the negative studies cited come from the animal feed industry and refer to raw defatted soy meal, the pulp left over after extracting soybean oil. This is not what humans eat! We aren't fed raw defatted soy meal as the major protein source in our diet, and many of the negative issues with raw dried soybeans disappear with proper food preparation (i.e., cooking). They also don't apply to edamame (raw soybean pods with the beans inside), since some of these "anti-nutrient" factors form during drying and are removed during cooking (except for genetically engineered soy that contains exceptionally heat-resistant anti-nutrient compounds).

Here are some actual facts about soy (in contrast to the Mercola/Weston Price data dump of uncritically collected studies); and I have the studies to back this up:

  • Phytates are common in grains, less in legumes; the supplement IP-6 is this exact compound, useful to stimulate NK cells and immunity
  • Trypsin inhibitors are only a problem in raw soy flour and GMO soy products, not the typical uses of non-GMO soy
  • Phytoestrogens such as isoflavones are not endocrine disruptors, this is nonsense; have you ever heard of these problems with pinto beans, the #2 most abundant food source and a major component of the Mexican diet? Of course not.
  • Soy, like cruciferous vegetablles, only affects thyroid function if one is iodine deficient and the addition of iodine to the diet corrects this symptom. The real problem is a nutrient deficiency.
  • Most plant foods are known to be poor sources of bioavailable B-12, not just soy, and this is common knowledge so why single soy out? Bias?
  • D-2 is a natural compound found in the food supply and is neither toxic nor a synthetic form; all vitamin D is produced by chemical synthesis, whether in the body or in a lab, but the forms of D-2 and D-3 utilized in supplements and food fortification are both nature-identical natural forms synthesized in labs.
  • Most soy protein isolate is not denatured; by the way, another term for denaturing is "digestion" and this is good unless you need intact proteins from food (as in whey protein isolate's valuable immunoglobulins).
  • All proteins when digested produce free glutamates; this is natural. Only susceptible people who have had severe chemical exposure or are low in protective nutrients like antioxidants and magnesium suffer from this. I have spoken with and attended lectures by Russ Blaylock for about 20 years and am well versed in this mechanism and its causes and solutions.
  • Soy proteins do not test high in heavy metals; rice protein is actually far higher in actual tests at parts-per-billion detection levels.
  • Asians consume far more soy products than is claimed by your sources; the typical isolflavone content of the diet there is established to be about 50 mg daily, the amount found in a couple ounces of soy protein at 90% strength, which represents several ounces of unconcentrated soy at about 30% protein.
  • Soy is not carcinogenic; review studies confirm that soy protein isolate, not fermented soy, has been proven to reduce cancer rates from breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers by about 30%.
  • Soy upregulates Phase 2 liver detoxification, much like cruciferous vegetables, and is actually a detox aid rather than a source of toxins.
  • Long term studies of infants fed soy formula find no differences in age of puberty, sexual maturity, or other hormonal measures; soy is 'implicated" only by those unwilling to openmindedly review the research to confirm or prove false their wild theories.
  • PS, I was in China recently and they eat plenty of tofu and edamame, both unfermented soy foods, in greater quantities than fermented soy.
Some of Weston A. Price Foundation's citations listed as "evidence" of soy's "toxicity" include these titles that obviously don't fit the negative label; that's why I characterize their list as a "data dump":

  • "Salt poisoning due to ingestion of soy sauce." (How does this prove that non-fermented soy is toxic?)
  • "Hypothesized health benefits of soybean isoflavones." (A study that is positive of soy's health benefits)
  • "Rhinitis and dermatitis caused by exotic woods." (This is a non-soy herb: Pterocarpus soyauxii)
  • "A nutritional comparison of rapeseed oil and soybean oil."
  • "[Concerning the absence of goitrogenic factors in soybean oil for cooking.]" (Exonerates soybean oil from thyroid issues)
  • "Eastern black nightshade: An increasing concern for soybean and forage producers." (A farming issue, not a nutritional one)
  • "Medicinal Plants of lndia and Pakistan." (Actually refers to a non-soy plant: Indian red wood tree, Soymida febrifuga Adr. Juss.)

Increased US Vitamin D Recommendations

Chicago Tribune’s report “Don’t overdo vitamin D, calcium, experts warn” focused only on the risks of taking very high doses of these essential nutrients but missed the most important part of the new NIH Institute of Medicine (IOM) report by omitting that there are now higher daily recommended allowances (RDA) for vitamin D intake. It’s uncommon to take toxic amounts of vitamin D but far more common for some to be deficient, with resultant health deficits and increased healthcare costs.

Trib readers didn’t learn that the IOM panel raised vitamin D’s RDA by 50% to 600 IU (800 IU if over age 70), while doubling the tolerable Upper Limit (UL) to 4,000 IU.

In Chicago, it’s already been months since we could make any of the “sunshine vitamin” from sunlight, since the sun must be high enough in the sky so one’s shadow is shorter than his/her height. Darker skin allows less vitamin D production even with adequate sunlight; sunscreen blocks it. Chicagoland residents must rely on fortified foods and dietary supplements as primary sources of vitamin D for over half the year.

The IOM statement that people get enough vitamin D refers only to its conclusion that bone health is the only as yet proven role for this nutrient. Yet the IOM’s European counterpart, the European Food Safety Agency, recognizes an established cause and effect relationship between vitamin D and normal muscle health, immunity, inflammation, reproduction, and cellular health. Researchers have estimated that these additional benefits occur when people take 1,000-2,000 IU daily. Scientific toxicity reviews show safety up to intakes of 10,000 - 20,000 IU daily; multiples of the recently doubled UL.

By ignoring vitamin D’s increased RDAs and other benefits, and publishing broad statements that focus primarily on the unlikely “risks” of vitamin D and calcium supplementation, Tribune readers missed important parts of the IOM report.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

New evidence that many Americans don't get sufficient vitamin D!

These quotes are from an NIH-funded study at Mayo Clinic, just published by the the American Society of Hematology in its medical journal "Blood" (Shanafelt TD, et al. Vitamin D insufficiency and prognosis in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Blood. 2010 Nov 3. PMID: 21048153). It suggests that 30-40% of the general population is deficient in vitamin D, and that this vitamin has a "central role" in the body beyond bone health:

"Vitamin D insufficiency is common globally and in the United States. Approximately 25-50% of patients seen in routine clinical practice have vitamin D levels below the optimal range, and it is estimated that up to 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D insufficiency." 1-3

"Vitamin D has a central role in maintaining serum calcium and skeletal homeostasis as well as multiple other cellular effects including regulation of differentiation, proliferation, apoptosis, metastatic potential, and angiogenesis.5 Several reports now suggest low serum 25(OH)D levels may be associated with increased incidence of colorectal,6,7 breast,8,9 and other cancers.10 Consistent with these results, one population based, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial found women who increased their daily vitamin D intake by 1100 IU reduced their risk of cancer by 60-77%." 11

"Consistent with the prevalence of hypovitaminosis D in the general population,1-3 30-40% of CLL patients in the two observational cohorts studied had vitamin D insufficiency."

These quotes cited the following references in the statements posted above:

1.Thomas MK, Lloyd-Jones DM, Thadhani RI, et al. Hypovitaminosis D in medical inpatients. N Engl J Med. 1998;338(12):777-783.
2. Holick MF. High prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. Mayo Clin Proc. 2006;81(3):353-373.
3. Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med. 2007;357(3):266-281.
5. Bikle D. Nonclassic actions of vitamin D. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009;94(1):26-34.

6. Gorham ED, Garland CF, Garland FC, et al. Vitamin D and prevention of colorectal cancer. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2005;97(1-2):179-194.
7. Yin L, Grandi N, Raum E, Haug U, Arndt V, Brenner H. Meta-analysis: longitudinal studies of serum vitamin D and colorectal cancer risk. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009;30(2):113-125.
8. Crew KD, Shane E, Cremers S, McMahon DJ, Irani D, Hershman DL. High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency despite supplementation in premenopausal women with breast cancer undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy. J Clin Oncol. 2009;27(13):2151-2156.
9. Chen P, Hu P, Xie D, Qin Y, Wang F, Wang H. Meta-analysis of vitamin D, calcium and the prevention of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2009.
10. Garland CF, Gorham ED, Mohr SB, Garland FC. Vitamin D for cancer prevention: global
perspective. Ann Epidemiol. 2009;19(7):468-483.
11. Lappe JM, Travers-Gustafson D, Davies KM, Recker RR, Heaney RP. Vitamin D and calcium
supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(6):1586-

Monday, December 06, 2010

European regulators recognize effects of vitamin D beyond bone health

To date EFSA (the European Food Safety Agency), has published positive opinions on article 13.1 health claims relating to beneficial effects of vitamin D supplements not only on bones and teeth, but also relating to muscles, immunity, inflammation, and reproduction. * Yet the United States' Institute of Medcicine (IOM) committee did not reach similar conclusions and therefore did not consider the need for amounts higher than needed just for bone health when recently resetting the recommended and upper limits for vitamin D. (* from For more on the FDA decision, see:

Here's what the EFSA has published about these positive benefits (I bolded some text to highlight these points):

"The Panel concludes that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the dietary intake of vitamin D and contribution to the normal function of the immune system and healthy inflammatory response, and maintenance of normal muscle function."

"The Panel concludes that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the dietary intake of vitamin D and maintenance of normal bone and teeth, absorption and utilisation of calcium and phosphorus and normal blood calcium concentrations, and normal cell division."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U.S. Increases Recommendations for Vitamin D Intake but Misses the Mark

U.S. Increases Recommendations for Vitamin D Intake but Misses the Mark

As you probably know from news reports, the recommendations for individual consumption of vitamin D has now increased, as has the tolerable Upper Limit (UL) that indicates a higher intake level at which the vast majority of people will not suffer any unpleasant side effects. But these recommendations are controversial for being too conservative, and at the same time the report has been sensationalized in the popular media with an inappropriate emphasis on possible side effects of megadoses.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public. Through more than three dozen sets of guidelines, known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), IOM provides estimates of the amounts of nutrients that individuals need to consume each day. Health care professionals and policy makers, including federal nutrition officials who develop nutrition programs as well as the food industry, rely on this guidance from the IOM. The reference numbers that you see on food and dietary supplement labels, such as Daily Values (DV), DRIs, and Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs), are generated by IOM. (1) These values are also utilized by some foreign governments as authoritative references on which to base their own food and supplement regulations.

The good news is that, in a report issued by IOM on November 30, 2010, the RDA has now increased by 50% (from 400 IU to 600 IU) and the tolerable Upper Limit has now doubled (from 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU). Also, the RDA for adults over 71 years old has increased to 800 IU daily. (2) This means that the new recommendations are often higher than the 400 IU that is found in a typical multivitamin or calcium+D formula, thus requiring additional supplementation to meet the RDA. And the leeway for safe use at the upper end is now double what it was before, making such supplementation at higher levels still within a margin generally accepted as safe; at least up to 4,000 IU, though as usual that number is deliberately set low and has a large safety margin.

IOM’s report stating that most Americans have adequate circulating levels of vitamin D is somewhat controversial, as it utilizes a standard of 20 ng/mL (equivalent to a measure of 50 nmol/L) (3) that is not universally accepted as adequate for optimal health by many modern vitamin D researchers. While that amount may adequately support bone health, which was (as usual) the primary focus of the IOM committee, there are vitamin D receptors on many other human cells and this vitamin reportedly plays an important role in cardiovascular disease (4), immune health (5), prostate and breast health (7), blood sugar metabolism (6), cancer prevention (7,8) , and a host of natural processes. One recent report stated that, “The desirable serum 25 (OH) D levels is at least 100 nmol/L, a level that has generally been found to provide most of the health benefits of vitamin D.” (9) This recommendation is twice as high as the new RDA, evidencing the controversial nature of IOM’s RDA process.

However, the IOM committee admittedly based its recommendations solely on vitamin D’s effects on bone health after reviewing numerous studies on other benefits and concluding that more study is required to generate the level of evidence that IOM requires to set its recommendations. Committee chair Catharine Ross was quoted as saying, “Amounts higher than those specified in this report are not necessary to maintain bone health.” (10) As the amount of science in these other areas grows, so should the levels recommended for general health. But statements such as that by Dr. Ross that “people don't need more than the amounts established in this report” refer only to bone health and should not be construed as denying the fact that other benefits at higher levels of intake have been reported, though not as consistently as the IOM committee would need to accept them as conclusive enough to revise its recommended levels upward.

Based on current research, natural health advocates typically recommend levels 50-100% higher than the IOM report recommends in order for people to obtain the full protective benefits of vitamin D, and many physicians who test for this vitamin ask their patients to meet or exceed that higher level. This is perhaps the most controversial part of the report, and I predict that a barrage of higher numbers appearing in medical reports as protective will force another overdue round of RDA changes in perhaps another 10-15 years. In my opinion, the IOM is always behind the times in the area of nutrient recommendations, being by nature super cautious. We dared to hope, but nobody really expected the IOM panel to accept the evidence of recent published review studies in medical journals and raise both the RDA and UL to the recommended five times their previous levels, and frankly we were not surprised that they didn't. These special panels are typically very conservative and hesitant to make dramatic changes, and are comprised with well-qualified general nutrition experts but not with experts in the particular area in question who might push for acceptance of higher levels.

People have already been taking over 2,000 IU daily, the old tolerable Upper Limit, without apparent harm and will probably continue to take over the new 4,000 IU UL as well. Clinical science indicates that higher levels are still quite safe, at least up to 10,000 IU daily for most adults. In 2007 a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition applied the same risk assessment methodology used by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) to derive a proposed revision of the safe Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin D. (11) Noting an absence of toxicity in trials conducted in healthy adults that used a vitamin D dose ≥250 µg/d (up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3), a new UL of 10,000 IU was confidently proposed, but was apparently not accepted by the IOM. Nor was the recommendation for a new RDA to be raised to 2,000 IU.

In fact, the 10,000 IU daily UL proposal may have been conservatively low; so what does that make the revised tolerable UL of only 4,000 IU? According to a report in the journal Nutrition Reviews, "The input needed for efficacy, in addition to typical food and cutaneous [sunlight] inputs, will usually be 1000-2000 IU/day of supplemental cholecalciferol [vitamin D3]. Toxicity is associated only with excessive supplemental intake (usually well above 20,000 IU/day)." (12) [Italicized words added for clarity]

Dietary supplement manufacturers already were not allowed to make disease claims on dietary supplements without (always reluctant) FDA approval, so the IOM’s report that vitamin D has not been proven to prevent various diseases is not news for them. However, consumers will continue to be exposed to positive reports on the vitamin and most will understand that just because it has not yet been "proven" to prevent certain diseases doesn't mean that it doesn't, especially at levels higher than needed purely for bone health, nor does it suggest that there is no supporting evidence that it still may be an important preventative factor.

The government standard of proof in the dietary supplement area has been frequently criticized and the FDA in fact has lost several federal court cases, where courts have ordered the agency to comply with the law allowing such claims where substantial evidence already exists for some supplements’ role in disease prevention (for example, selenium and cancer). (13,14) Of course, almost never is anything "proven" in a scientific field; theories rule most scientific endeavors. But that should not suffice to allow the government to muzzle legitimate science nor to prevent the public from taking natural nutrients at levels that they may require due to their own individual biochemistry and relevant environmental factors. In this case, the new RDA and UL are simply baby steps in the right direction, but perhaps the full knowledge of vitamin D’s health benefits is still in its infancy.


  1. Accessed November 30, 2010
  2. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. Released: November 30, 2010
  3. Accessed November 30, 2010
  4. Wallis DE, Penckofer S, Sizemore GW. The "sunshine deficit" and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2008 Sep 30;118(14):1476-85. Review. Erratum in: Circulation. 2009 Jun 2;119(21):e550. PubMed PMID: 18824654.
  5. Cannell JJ, Zasloff M, Garland CF, Scragg R, Giovannucci E. On the epidemiology of influenza. Virol J. 2008 Feb 25;5:29. Review. PubMed PMID: 18298852; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2279112.
  6. de Boer IH. Vitamin D and glucose metabolism in chronic kidney disease. Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2008 Nov;17(6):566-72. Review. PubMed PMID: 18941348; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2882033.
  7. Skinner HG, Michaud DS, Giovannucci E, Willett WC, Colditz GA, Fuchs CS. Vitamin D intake and the risk for pancreatic cancer in two cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Sep;15(9):1688-95. PubMed PMID: 16985031.
  8. Garland CF, Garland FC, Gorham ED, Lipkin M, Newmark H, Mohr SB, Holick MF. The role of vitamin D in cancer prevention. Am J Public Health. 2006 Feb;96(2):252-61. Epub 2005 Dec 27. Review. PubMed PMID: 16380576; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1470481.
  9. Grant WB, Schwalfenberg GK, Genuis SJ, Whiting SJ. An estimate of the economic burden and premature deaths due to vitamin D deficiency in Canada. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Aug;54(8):1172-81. PubMed PMID: 20352622.
  10. Accessed November 30, 2010
  11. Hathcock JN, Shao A, Vieth R, Heaney R. Risk assessment for vitamin D. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jan;85(1):6-18. Review. PubMed PMID: 17209171.
  12. Heaney RP. Vitamin D: criteria for safety and efficacy. Nutr Rev. 2008. Oct;66(10 Suppl 2):S178-81. Review. PubMed PMID: 18844846.
  13. Accessed November 30, 2010
  14. Accessed November 30, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bitter Orange Safety Concerns Are Overblown: study

A review of bitter orange safety was published in a peerr-reviewed journal. Analyzing the adverse event reports (AERs) submitted to the FDA, Sidney J. Stohs, dean emeritus of the Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, reported that, “The belief that p-synephrine exerts serious cardiovascular and other events continues to be believed by the lay public as well as healthcare professionals, in spite of the lack of clearly defined supportive evidence for this supposition, as well as extensive evidence to the contrary.”

"An 8 oz glass of Californian mandarin orange juice may contain up to 35 mg p-synephrine (USDA). A sweet orange typically contains about 6 mg p-synephrine."

Source: Journal of Functional Foods. Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2010.10.003
“Assessment of the adverse event reports associated with Citrus aurantium (bitter orange) from April 2004 to October 2009” Author: S.J. Stohs

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cholesterol measures

Total cholesterol means nothing in terms of health. Just as many people have fatal heart attacks with low total cholesterol as high, and there are additional health risks if it is too low. Flipping a coin gives you just as good data. I have seen people whose total cholesterol is high but who seem to have little risk. There may also be a genetic component to the baseline total cholesterol number that defies easy changes.

The main relevant and meaningful cholesterol number today is the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol (over 5 is not good; lower means lower risk). This means that, if you have high total cholesterol but your ratio is good, your HDL number is high and that makes you better protected than someone whose HDL is low. Routine blood screenings now tend to include this important number. Homocysteine is another number that indicates your risk of inflammatory conditions affecting the brain and cardiovascular system.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Women's Health Interview, October 2010

Women’s biggest health challenges tend to be related to three general areas: hormonal health (including PMS and menopause issues), pregnancy, and maintaining health as they age (bone health and avoiding chronic degenerative conditions).

Women do seem to suffer more from certain problems related to inflammatory challenges and hormonal changes. Because of their regular, or sometimes irregular hormonal cycles, there are both advantages and disadvantages compared with men; at least until menopause tends to even the field regarding heart disease, for example. Regular menstruation lowers iron stores, reducing health problems related to oxidative and microbial challenges from free radicals that can be elevated due to the actions of uncontrolled free iron. Because of this, premenopausal women tend to have lower levels of heart disease than either post-menopausal women or adult men.

Also, because of their greater reliance on three major forms of natural estrogen as a dominant hormone complex, women seem to have greater risks of getting hormonal abnormalities and elevated cancer rates related to breast, endometrial tissues, etc. There are numerous factors involved, but oxidation of estrogens into more dangerous forms has been suggested as a major contributor to those risks. The fact that certain volatile plastics containing free BPA and specific other chemicals are known to be strong estrogen mimics makes exposure to those substances very dangerous to women, in particular.

Men do share some of those risks; for example, some estrogenic agricultural chemicals widely used on lawns, golf courses, and farms (herbicides, pesticides) are suggested to elevate the risk of prostate abnormalities. But men’s consequences tend to be more subtle and drawn out than the very real risks that women face from both these exposures and lack of protective nutrients such as a range of antioxidants and detoxification aids such as silymarin, broccoli and cruciferous vegetable consumption, and various liver supporting herbs and nutrients. The regular use of NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs – often utilized for PMS and other aches and pains – is associated with side effects that similar-acting nutrients and herbs lack: negative effects include reducing availability of some important nutrients, upregulation of pain triggers, negative effects on mood, stomach and GI problems, and degenerative cascades. Bless their hearts; many women don’t have it easy.

Women who eat enough legumes, flax seeds, and other sources of plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) tend to have more manageable menstrual cycles. Certain signs, like menstrual-related migraine headaches, indicate a deficiency of adequate natural progesterone levels that can be helped either by supplying the herb Vitex (chaste berry) if premenopausal or by applying natural progesterone cream to the skin. Certain herbal formulas and isoflavones from foods are utilized to preserve healthy and more comfortable menstrual cycles.

One thing that women should do to prepare for menopause is to maintain their bone mass by exercise and getting adequate supplies of not only calcium but also vitamins C, D, and K, magnesium, boron, and other bone support nutrients. The value of an alkalinizing whole food diet is of primary importance. The presence in the diet of legumes and flax seeds eases the transition to menopause, which is a normal part of a women’s life cycle.

The existence of biofilms informs our understanding of areas where bacteria and microbes can gown in the body. The fact that certain organisms – helpful or harmful – can create a mass that is layered like chainmail to resist removal is a powerful visual image that aids in understanding why it takes so long to effect changes in our inner ecology. Ideally, we have friendly probiotic bacteria coating our GI and urinary tracts to crowd out undesirable organisms. In fact, it was recently discovered that the purpose of the appendix was to serve as a reservoir of such probiotics to help “reboot” the system in case of problems that kill off the good bacteria; of course, with antibiotics, high sugar diets, stress, and other factors lowering the vitality of our probiotics, some people will grow the nasty stuff in their appendixes, presenting a serious health risk. The ability of Candida albicans live yeast and other organisms to overgrow at undesirable levels at the expense of more beneficial probiotic microbes means that some of our layered biomass colonies are undesirable and difficult to remove quickly. D-Mannose and cranberry (blueberries, too) tend to help prevent the spread of these colonies by preventing undesirable particles from adhering to the urinary tract walls but don’t kill off existing colonies. Still, these natural substances are helpful in curtailing their spread while other strategies are implemented, such as low sugar intake or even pharmaceuticals.

To support breast health it is wise to avoid BPA plastics, don’t microwave food in plastic, don’t consume agricultural chemicals on food, eat a plant-based diet providing antioxidant-rich produce, and eat plenty of broccoli, cruciferous vegetables, and non-GMO legumes, especially soy.

Various experts warn us against eating soy, with the suggestion that plant estrogens are dangerous. I have investigated the scientific literature to determine the risk and found that the scientific consensus is that there is no risk for healthy women, and even no indication that soy foods are unsafe for women who have had breast cancer! That is amazing when you consider all of the negative theories being hyped on the Internet. Soy prevents oxidation and conversion of estrogen into its more dangerous forms, aids in liver metabolism of these hormones and various toxins, and has been “proven” to protect against heart disease (soy actually has an FDA-approved qualified health claim related to this benefit).


The Truth About Fructose Dangers

Pure crystalline fructose is an alternative natural sweetener that has long been used in the natural products industry as a common sugar substitute. Its major claim to fame is that in the short term fructose raises blood sugar far less than sucrose, the primary sugar found in white sugar that is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Crystalline fructose should not be confused with the synthesized liquid sweetener called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is made by a different process and is a mixture of roughly half fructose and half glucose (dextrose) that is widely used in the beverage and processed food industries. Unlike HFCS, fructose is a naturally occurring sugar made by plant photosynthesis that is a primary sugar in many healthy fruits. Being about 50% sweeter than sucrose, fructose can also be used more sparingly in recipes to cut their caloric intake by about 1/3.

Because of the unique challenges of formulating natural products without the use of artificial sweeteners or flavorings, sometimes a small amount of fructose is the best match for the flavorings in a product. For example, liquid vitamin B-12 has a distinct flavor profile and other sweeteners do not mask it quite as well as fructose can. Often a mixture of sweeteners may be used to create a “mouth feel” that is acceptable to consumers, who often use white sugar as their sensory standard for sweeteners. While some people may intellectually prefer other sweeteners or even white sugar, in sensory tests the fructose mixture often gets higher marks from consumers, and this leads to high compliance with recommended label uses.

I appreciate the concerns over the use of fructose. It has certainly been abused in the Western diet, especially in the form of HFCS. Americans' fructose consumption on average has tripled over the past century. But increased consumption of fruit juice and sucrose itself also are implicated in our national health decline; certainly not fructose alone, nor fructose in low doses.

According to Dr. Lustig*, an authority on fructose metabolism, human studies have not consistently shown the effect of fructose to induce insulin resistance; a negative effect reported in some animal and preliminary human studies related to altered liver metabolism. Dr. Lustig also admits that not all human studies show a negative effect of fructose on liver health or metabolic syndrome. There appear to be certain individual factors involved that make such effects somewhat idiosyncratic. Many of the studies cited are cell studies, animal studies giving high doses of fructose to mutant mice, or human studies where consumption of a lot of soft drinks were involved that provided a large number of calories comprising an unhealthy proportion (25% or more) of total daily caloric intake (about 500 calories as fructose every day). Contrast this with a healthy nutritional product that provides only a few calories, a very low percent versus those unhealthy diets!

Dr. Lustig notes that "In the hypocaloric (eg, starvation) state, fructose is as beneficial as glucose"; while also noting it has ill effects in the "hypercaloric state". He also discusses how a small amount of ethanol, a substance with similar liver effects to high fructose diets, is actually health-promoting while large amounts have the opposite effect. This reinforces that the ability of substances to elicit ill effects on the liver are typically dose dependent and require larger-than-normal amounts. In effect, 'the dose makes the poison;' as has been noted for many substances throughout history.

Dr. Lustig specifically cites three what he calls "antidotes" to the negative hepatic (liver) effects of fructose:

1. reduce the amount consumed

2. exercise

3. increase fiber intake.

So, upon reviewing these facts, the consumption of a small amount of fructose is unlikely to be harmful to the general public. Additionally, consumption of reasonable amounts may also be quite harmless if the person gets enough fiber and/or exercise. And the accepted fact that fructose does not directly raise blood glucose still gives it some short term advantages over certain other sweeteners for many people, if consumed at appropriate levels. Faster acting sugars that are higher on the Glycemic Index like glucose (which represents close to half of the sugar content of HFCS) would more immediately impact one's blood sugar, with chronic overuse eventually leading to insufficient/reduced insulin sensitivity (increased insulin resistance) that is associated with a loss of blood sugar control. Higher Glycemic sugars would affect this blood glucose control system much faster than an equivalent amount of pure fructose. And a lack of insulin sensitivity also indicates a problem in properly absorbing and recycling vitamin C in many of our body's cells; especially immune, muscle, and bone cells.

There are a variety of natural sweeteners to fit into most individuals' personalized dietary regime; but I do not promote the indiscriminate use of any sweetener, especially refined or synthetic ones. People like to have choices and will select sweeteners according to their own taste and health issues. For example, some avoid barley malt because of gluten sensitivity or certain other sweeteners because of corn allergies. People on limited diets need to scrutinize the available sweeteners and select what seems right for their own situation. But it's clear that a small amount of almost any natural sweetener, say to sweeten a cup of tea, does not seem to have any demonstrable health risk. For overly large amounts, the potential risks do increase. But a demonstrated risk level typically represents consumption of several hundred calories a day of refined sugars, including fructose, and it obviously is unwise to take in most of our daily carbohydrates in the form of refined sugars of any kind.

Consumption of small amounts of pure crystalline fructose simply doesn’t have a measureable effect on health and doesn’t need to be avoided. It’s the fructose consumed in large quantities in processed foods and beverages, where it comprises perhaps the major source of carbohydrates in the modern diet, that is the real health concern.

* Lustig RH. Fructose: metabolic, hedonic, and societal parallels with ethanol. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Sep;110(9):1307-21. PubMed PMID: 20800122.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

NHRI Symposium on Cost-Effectiveness & Safety of Dietary Supplements

The NHRI (Natural Health Research Institute) is a non-profit institute dedicated to research in natural cost effective dietary supplements and natural products.

NHRI will be hosting a scientific symposium in November in the local area. Click on this link for more details:

NHRI symposium announcement

We hope that this symposium "Natural Products – Cost-Effectiveness & Safety of Dietary Supplements" will help boost awareness of the safety and cost effectiveness of dietary supplements and natural products.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Calcium & Cardiovascular Health: My review of the latest meta-analysis

At the end of July (2010) there was another nasty swipe at dietary supplements (Natural Health Products, for our Canadian friends). Again, the negative report came not from a single study, but from a particularly troubling type of report called a meta-analysis. Rising like a spider on a lethal web, this type of report keeps popping out of nowhere, attempting to make connections between studies where none may have been found before. In fact, we rarely see a competently designed meta-analysis on nutrients because there are many variables that come into play that simply don’t exist for isolated pharmaceutical drugs that aren’t (or at least aren’t supposed to be) present in our normal food supply. The interplay of nutrients affects each others’ metabolism, serum levels, and activities in a live human body. So when I see yet another meta-analysis getting major press coverage based on fairly flimsy evidence, I cringe and wonder why researchers and journalists fail to see the obvious flaws in their big story. Perhaps drug researchers are trying to branch out into nutrient research and just get in over their heads because they fail to see the complexity of nutrient research design.

The alleged danger this time: supplemental calcium was associated with a 30% increased risk of myocardial infarction, so the risks now outweigh the benefits. But was this proven? NO! Absolutely not. Nada. Zilch. Even the authors of this analysis know better than to claim that their report was definitive proof of these alleged dangers.

First of all, there was no increase in deaths in the groups given supplemental calcium. There was an increase in non-fatal heart attacks; but only in people who had already high calcium intake from their diets and also took high doses of supplemental calcium that they apparently didn’t need. And there was no problem demonstrated when calcium was given along with supplemental vitamin D, so maybe the problem was really that some folks had inadequate levels of that essential vitamin to deal with a high calcium intake.

But since vitamin D is both in the diet (as is calcium) and made from sunshine under the right conditions, these meta-analysis authors don’t really know how much vitamin D these people actually had, confounding their data. They don’t know because it would have required a rigorous study design that looked at all three intakes: food, supplements, and sunlight exposure at the times of day and year where vitamin D could be internally produced. Or at least measuring the serum before treatment to detect vitamin D levels and eliminate that as a variable. But that wasn’t done, perhaps because these researchers only looked at other people’s studies rather than running a human clinical trial themselves.

This points out perhaps the major problem with this type of study: since a meta-analysis is only a statistical model that cannibalizes previously published work to “mine” data in ways that were not planned by the original study designers, it has many built-in limitations. For example, cardiovascular outcomes were admittedly not intended as the primary endpoints in any of the 15 studies ‘Mixmastered’ together to make up this meta-analysis, so data on cardiovascular events were not gathered in the usual standardized manner. In plain English: the few cherry-picked studies included in this report had not done the type of standardization and control of variables needed to properly design a robust cardiovascular study because the original studies actually were looking at calcium’s effects on bone health, not heart health. This was, in fact, an admitted limitation of the current meta-analysis.

A good meta-analysis tries to pick the largest possible number of studies with similar designs to pool their results and in effect try to get a larger, hopefully more significant number of virtual test subjects. The farther from that model the meta-analysis gets, the more variables get introduced to confound the researchers. And since control of variables is the essential competence of the scientific method, we unfortunately find that an inexpertly executed meta-analysis is a misleading and erroneous scientific tool; like a ruler that has not been calibrated correctly and implies that our measurements are accurate when they may be way off the mark.

Researchers utilizing the imprecise tool of meta-analysis should not delude themselves that their work is definitive, because it almost never is. Nor should they become media darlings because they have espoused new theories - based on an unproven brew of mathematical models - that usually are already contradicted by a lot of better designed primary science. Nor should their attempts to re-examine previously published studies for results which were never intended to be measured scare us away from taking essential nutrients, which are commonly more healthful than harmful. As the current meta-analysis reported, the problem was that people who ate a lot of calcium who also took a lot of supplemental calcium without the benefits of taking vitamin D or other bone-forming cofactors had more non-fatal heart attacks. No one died. This implies that, at the most, one should not take a single nutrient in excess as if it were a magic drug, especially when they probably already get plenty in the diet. Don’t most of us know that already?

Nutrients are synergistic; therefore an imbalanced diet, including unneeded supplements that may tilt one even more into imbalance, may not properly support good health. Heck, I could have told you that before all this media fuss. But, with enough vitamin D the problem magically disappeared!. Supplementation of vitamin D apparently re-established good calcium metabolism, even at high levels of intake. The true issue then isn’t so much related to variations in calcium and vitamin D supplies, not to mention the unknown availability of other essential bone nutrients. It’s the misapplication of a drug model to a nutrient while ignoring known variables that affect the body’s proper use of that nutrient. One shouldn’t give a lot of calcium to those with adequate dietary intake, nor to those with insufficient vitamin D (and K, magnesium, et al) intake. This type of thought process is elementary to a nutritionist, of course, but apparently not to the well credentialed authors of many flawed drug model meta-analyses and their often overreaching conclusions.

You may be interested to know that a world-class researcher who has been working on calcium metabolism and osteoporosis for more than 50 years, the respected scientist who drafted the World Health Organization’s dietary calcium recommendations, strongly opposed the conclusions of the current calcium meta-analysis. Professor Chris Nordin from the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia was interviewed by ABC News. This news report cited Professor Nordin as saying that the meta-analysis was misleading because it improperly included studies involving a mixture of men and women, and the findings were not statistically significant. "Men are much more liable to heart attacks than women but women need calcium far more than men, so it is absurd to publish a study of the effect of calcium on the heart without separating men from women," he was quoted. Professor Nordin noted the fact that calcium supplements are predominantly recommended for and used by postmenopausal women because their bone loss is due to an increase in bone breakdown, which responds well to calcium supplementation (and vitamin D, if necessary). But he reports that calcium is seldom recommended for elderly men because their bone loss has a different cause, which is seldom caused by a need for more of that mineral. "Concluding that calcium supplements can lead to a 30 per cent increase in heart attack risk is quite premature and alarmist and can only set back the cause of osteoporosis prevention which should be our primary objective," he said.

According to ABC News, Osteoporosis Australia has also questioned the findings of the meta-analysis because many long-term studies have shown calcium supplements are safe and effective. In a statement posted on its website, Osteoporosis Australia says the weight of evidence to date indicates no increased risk of heart attacks from taking calcium supplements, which it says are an effective way of reducing fracture risk and bone loss in older men and women who have diets low in calcium.

This should point out the folly of well-meaning researchers who design studies to investigate topics that they don’t properly understand. In those cases, they simply don’t realize that there are other essential factors that can change everything and require a completely different and more comprehensive study design. That’s par for the course when meta-analyses are used to sort through previously published nutrient studies. Basic design flaws often make meta-analyses fatally flawed, despite the apparently sophisticated mathematical models and methods that researchers incorrectly try to apply to the data. Is it any wonder that we’re so confused about nutrition when researchers gain worldwide prominence for issuing highly questionable sensational reports that contradict the scientific consensus - but never have to say they’re sorry?

Calcium does not cause more heart attacks in well-designed primary human clinical studies. Healthy people should not be concerned about taking essential nutrients just because certain studies were flawed or performed on sick or at-risk populations and may have had negative results. Many of those negative reports have been challenged and may not have been verified and replicated in well designed clinical trails. The conclusions of such reports are sensational and well publicized precisely because they seem to negate our previous scientific consensus; which should make them more, not less, suspect. But the modern news cycle seems to thrive on such controversy, without caring how confused we get about what’s healthy and what’s not. But don’t worry; you have Honest Nutrition to help you sort it all out!


Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Baron JA, Grey A, Maclennan GS, Gamble GD, Reid IR. Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2010 Jul 29;341:c3691. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c3691. PubMed PMID: 20671013.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My report on regulation of health claims

On April 24, 2010, I was asked as a representative of the American Nutrition Association to participate in a panel discussion at the annual conference in Chicago called Health Journalism 2010, held by the Association of Health Care Journalists. The panelists presented short statements and slides, then answered audience questions. This is a link to my report and slides from that event:

Dietary Supplements are now Safely Regulated


1994 The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)

• Requires manufacturers to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) set by the FDA

     o GMPs were fully implemented between June 2008 and June 2010

• Continues to define dietary supplements as Food

• Regulates labels

     o All claims must be truthful and not misleading

     o All ingredients must be on the labels

     o Documentation to prove claims must be maintained

• Approves pre-existing dietary ingredients already on the market as of October 15, 1994

     o Common vitamins, minerals, herbs

     o “Grandfathering” was twice applied to pharmaceuticals already on the market:

     o  The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act & 1962 Kefauver-Harris Amendments

• Requires pre-market submission to the FDA of all New Dietary Ingredients marketed after October 15, 1994

     o The agency questions the majority of submissions

     o The agency has the power to reject applications; and has done so

     o This is analogous to pharmaceuticals where all drugs entering the market after October 10, 1962 require an FDA submission/approval process

1997 Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (FDAMA)

• Provides for health claims based on an authoritative statement by a scientific body of the U.S. government or the National Academy of Sciences

• Such claims may be used only after submission of a health claim notification to FDA

2002 The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act

• All food manufacturers, including dietary supplement manufacturers, are required to be registered with the government and give advance notification of raw materials imports

2003 The FDA Consumer Health Information for Better Nutrition Initiative

• Provides for qualified health claims where the quality and strength of the scientific evidence falls below that required for FDA to issue an authorizing regulation

     o Such health claims must be qualified to assure accuracy and non-misleading presentation to consumers

2004 The Anabolic Steroid Control Act amendment

• Bans steroid precursors sold as dietary supplements

     o The FDA and DEA have authority to take action against adulterated products

2006 The Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act

• Requires reporting of all serious adverse events (AERs) for both dietary supplements and OTC drugs

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act

• Requires label disclosure of the 8 major allergens that cause 90% of all food allergies

2010 The most recent annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers

• Published in the journal Clinical Toxicology

• Reports zero reports of accidental deaths from dietary supplements

     Full implementation of mandatory federal cGMPs was completed in June

• All manufacturers & suppliers are now bound by FDA standards of safety and documentation

     The Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act

• Introduced in Congress to increase funding for FDA enforcement of dietary supplement laws

     The Food Safety bill

• Includes enhanced mandatory recall authority for all foods, including dietary supplements

• Expected to pass Congress soon

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How proteins are digested to liberate amino acids

Digestion is obtained by actions of stomach acid (low pH) and enzymes both in the stomach & intestines (pancreatic protease). In the acidic environment of the stomach, the negatively charged side chains are removed by pepsin. In the more alkaline environment of the intestine, the positively charged side chains are removed by trypsin. In the stomach, Pepsin helps to "unwind" the proteins and breaks the bonds between the amino acids in certain places. In the small intestine other enzymes break the bonds between different amino acids than pepsin does. Because proteins are such complicated molecules it takes a long time and more than one enzyme to completely break them down into amino acids. Digestion results in about 60% small peptides (or peptide bound), which are longer chains of amino acids, and 40% free amino acids (free form). Peptides can be further broken down by hydrolysis in enterocytes (intestinal absorptive cells, simple columnar epithelial cells found in the small intestines and colon).

All proteins are naturally hydrolyzed by stomach acid during normal digestion and the amounts in mineral chelates are in milligram, not gram, strengths. Fermentation to make healthy foods like cheese, vinegar, yogurt, miso, etc. also digests proteins and liberates amino acids, which are of course essential to human nutrition.

Although the excitatory amino acids aspartic acid and glutamic acid are not essential amino acids, the body can create them from numerous sources. In fact, glutamine is the major circulating amino acid and the brain will break down muscles to get it for fuel if the blood sugar is too low to support brain function. Glutamine also fuels some intestinal cells.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sports Supplements Are Regulated

To the editor (Times Herald-Record, Hudson Valley, New York state):

Your special report, “Supplements for athletes stir serious debate” (June 29, 2010) is interesting but presents some misleading ideas.

For example, the quote that “18.8 percent of supplements are tainted with steroids or other illegal, potentially dangerous ingredients” is seriously flawed, since the percentage actually refers to 240 sports supplements tested, a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of dietary supplements on the market. These products were actually tested 9 years ago when steroid precursors were legal; spiking them with steroids was always illegal. Today, thanks in part to the dietary supplement industry lobbying for a federal ban on steroid precursors, that product category is dead and this inflammatory quote does not reflect the present market. If any illegal drug is present in a product it is defined by law as an unapproved drug, not a dietary supplement, subject to FDA and DEA enforcement.

Regarding Senator McCain’s bill to more strictly regulate supplements: I met with him after the bill was introduced to present the inconsistencies between the actual bill and how he described it. Under the anti-bioterrorism bill of 2003 all dietary supplement manufacturers are already required to register with the FDA; as do all domestic or foreign food manufacturers selling in the US. Under several federal laws all ingredients already must be on dietary supplement labels. Failure to do so makes the products adulterated and subject to a range of FDA actions. His bill would actually have subjected each new product introduction to prior FDA approval, expanding the federal bureaucracy and amounting to a government takeover of the entire dietary supplement industry. Importing this Canadian-style regulatory scheme would duplicate that system’s failures: half as many products on the Canadian market, products considered safe in the US are effectively banned, waits of over 4 years to introduce variations of existing products, higher prices, etc.

Your series promises to disclose how the dietary supplement industry “is opposed to regulations.” That is absolute nonsense! The dietary supplement industry has long supported new laws and regulations that are reasonable, with these already in place: all vitamin companies must follow FDA-audited Good Manufacturing Practices requiring safety and identity testing, only FDA-approved ingredients can be used, steroid precursors are banned, and companies must disclose all complaints of adverse events requiring medical attention to the FDA within 15 days. The dietary supplement industry supports increased government authority to mandate product recalls in the Food Safety Bill. But the American people won’t stand for a major expansion of government power that gives bureaucrats absolute veto authority over each new consumer product, stifling innovation. That’s not only anti-capitalism, it’s un-American.

Original story

This reply published:


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Still Fighting to Protect Our Access to Vitamins!

Over the last week or two, a joint House-Senate conference committee has been considering ways to reconcile two competing federal Wall Street reform bills and turn them into a single bill that both chambers can support. The US House’s Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 (HR.4173) and the US Senate’s Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (S.3217) differ in cost and content, most notably for us in that the Senate version does not give the broad new regulatory powers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that the House version would. By removing limits on its power that are enshrined in current laws, the FTC could impose harsh new requirements on all businesses, even those completely unrelated to Wall Street, banking, or the financial sector; including NOW Foods and other food and dietary supplement manufacturers.

How do we expect that the FTC would act if given such new power? The agency has indicated that it wants to impose stricter standards on any advertising of dietary supplements. Past consent decrees that settled disputes with supplement companies have required strong disclaimers and much more evidence to support any future promotional claims. Consumer advocate organizations have urged the agency to require that multiple clinical trails be done on any advertised product, not just on its ingredients, to support advertising claims. However, such trials take many months, are very expensive, and are not required by current law allowing claims to be based on the body of science backing the active ingredients in a product. If the FTC and anti-business consumer advocates have their way, label claims and advertising will be far more restricted than is presently allowed. Of course, ads already have to be truthful and not misleading, so that’s not really an issue. But the FTC still wants more power so it can unilaterally impose a new regulatory scheme that bypasses today’s requirements for hearings, public comments, and due process before it can change the rules that we operate under.

Do you support another government takeover of an American industry? But this time, for an industry that is not hurting or asking for federal bailouts? One whose products are overwhelmingly proven in the real world to be safe and that helps Americans to maintain good health? Do you believe in freedom of speech for commercial interests like vitamin makers, as long as their ads continue to be honest and not misleading? If so, we are fighting to be protected from a big federal power grab.

Take action now to tell your Senators and Representative in Congress that you want to continue to impose Congress’ reasonable limits on the FTC, rather than expanding its powers. Go to to learn how to Take Action and express your concerns!

Following is a list of the people on the joint Congressional committee deciding how the bill will be reconciled. They have the most immediate say on how the reconciled bill will read. However, all Senators and representatives will be asked to vote on the final reconciled bill, so it doesn't hurt to ask them to tell the negotiators to pull the FTC provision out of the bill even if they're not on the joint committee!

House of Representative members on Conference Committee: Frank (D-Massachusetts); Kanjorski (D-Pennsylvania); Waters (D California); Maloney (D-New York), Gutierrez (D-Illinois); Watt (D-North Carolina); Meeks (D-New York); Moore (D-Kansas); Kilroy (D-Ohio) and Peters (D-Michigan); Bachus (R-Alabama); Barton (R-Texas); Graves (R-Missouri); Issa (D-California); Lucas (R- Oklahoma); Smith (R-Texas); Royce (R-California); Biggert (R-Illinois); Capito (R-West Virginia); Hensarling (R-Texas) and Garrett (R-New Jersey).

Senate conferees: Dodd (D-Connecticut); Shelby (R-Alabama); Johnson (D-South Dakota); Reed (D-Rhode Island); Schumer (D-New York); Corker (R-Tennessee); Crapo (R-Idaho); and Gregg (R-New Hampshire). Also appointed as negotiators are Senators Lincoln (D-Arkansas); Chambliss (R-Georgia); Leahy (D-Vermont); and Harkin (D-Iowa).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Excerpts from an iterview with me about natural sweeteners

A whole leaf, full spectrum extraction of stevia preserves the many phytonutrients naturally present in the plant. One study reported over 100 natural stevia phytonutrients; the majority being polyphenols and other plant antioxidants. By contrast, there are about 9 steviosides. But the new “Reb A” fraction products being sold as food sweeteners (PureVia™, Truvia™) represent only a single chemical isolated from the stevia plant, though these two sweeteners are actually sold with added sugar alcohol (Erythritol, see below) and “natural flavors”.

Some artificial sweeteners cannot be used in cooking; for example, aspartame. By contrast, natural sweeteners typically do not lose their sweetness when cooked. And studies have indicated that artificial sweeteners may backfire by shutting down the satiety signals that tell us when we’re full…in those studies the groups fed artificial sweeteners ate up to 3 times the calories as control groups.

Sugar alcohols don’t raise blood sugar as rapidly as sugar does, yet they’re as bulky as sugar so they can be used “spoon - for - spoon” to replace sugar. But their level of sweetness may vary, with xylitol being the closest to sugar. Sugar alcohols have a range of sweetness and absorption; the amount that is absorbed from the GI tract affects the possibility of it being somewhat laxative at high levels, which can vary from person to person. Sorbitol may be laxative at moderate levels of 10 grams or more, mannitol at over 20 grams; xylitol at over 30 grams. Erythritol is virtually free of a laxative side affect even at higher levels, but is expensive. Also, sugar alcohols tend to have a cooling effect in the mouth and actually taste better when combined with a different type of sweetener.

Sugar alcohols also boast an FDA-approved health claim: “Frequent between-meal consumption of foods high in sugars and starches promotes tooth decay. The sugar alcohols in [name of food] do not promote tooth decay.”

I think that organic maple syrup, agave and xylitol are doing quite well as natural sweeteners, with erythritol a more recent option that is catching up. The recent crossover of a certain isolated fraction of stevia (Reb A) as a mass market sweetener has some drawbacks: it doesn’t taste like whole leaf extract, and is combined with both erythritol and natural flavors. And there are certified organic full spectrum extractions without the typical bitter aftertaste or added flavoring agents.

Many stevia products are still only legal to sell as herbal dietary supplements, not as sweeteners. Some companies may think that all stevia products are now approved for use in foods, but that is not true. Retailers should take their cues from the packaging, and only carry reputable brands that strictly follow labeling laws. It is primarily the isolated “Reb A” fraction of stevia that can be used in foods. Most other stevias have not been approved for food use, with some exceptions.

Excerpts from my interview about nutrition and diabetes

Fasting blood sugar tests are how doctors have long checked patients for blood sugar issues. A person’s options are greatest when they first discover that their blood sugar has gone out of balance. If they wait until after they’re on insulin or other medications, any natural means for improvement in blood sugar control could cause a dose of medicine to become an overdose. It is very important that your physician knows if you are going to try to control your blood sugar naturally, and that you test your blood sugar levels every time before taking medication in order to avoid dangerous interactions.

It normally takes several years to progress to full diabetes, and many people make diet and lifestyle changes that can control their blood sugar and prevent the development of diabetes without the use of drugs. But prolonged pre-diabetes weakens the system, being inflammatory and unsustainable over the long term. Of course, progression to full-blown diabetes is the biggest risk; meaning medications for the rest of your life, circulatory problems that can lead to blindness, neuropathy and amputations, more risks from infections, inflammatory problems, and even premature death. Adjustments to medications are needed and there is the possibility of insulin shock or diabetic comas. Frequent urination, high blood pressure, even the elevated risk of heart attack and stroke are other serious issues that diabetics face.

It’s a positive development that more people address health conditions when they first have indications of a growing problem. This may be partly because of high health care costs, but many people are motivated to improve their health for its own sake.

Metabolic Syndrome is a pre-diabetes condition defined as a combination of three or more of these symptoms: waist circumference over 40” for men and over 38” for women, high blood sugar (defined as a fasting blood glucose level over 100 mg/dL), high triglycerides (over 150 mg/dL), low high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the "good" cholesterol, levels below 40 mm Hg for men and under 50 for women), and hypertension (high blood pressure; the top number (systolic) over 130 and/or the bottom number (diastolic) over 85). Medical treatment for one or more of these symptoms is also considered a risk factor. Metabolic Syndrome increases belly fat and is a step on the path towards developing adult-onset diabetes. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) may be a symptom of yo-yo blood sugar regulation, a loss of control that could develop into pre-diabetes and diabetes.

There are a number of factors, but lifestyle choices are controllable, whereas a genetic predisposition is not. Most gene expression, the way that genetics actually plays out in real life, responds to environmental factors. For the gene itself, nutrients are part of its environment that trigger or suppress specific genetic responses.

Dr. Thomas A. Barringer of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina reports that his studies show that multiple vitamins benefit our diabetic population. He states that “any population at risk of having marginally inadequate nutrition, such as the elderly in general, might also benefit." Dr Barringer adds: “all obese people might benefit." He pointed out that supplements are safe and relatively inexpensive, so taking a daily multivitamin is "a reasonable option" for people who are overweight, who have any type of diabetes, who may not receive adequate nutrition or whose immune system is weak. (March 4th 2003 Annals of Internal Medicine)

Take a good multiple vitamin with a fat-containing meal in order to absorb the fat soluble nutrients. If you take green foods or other nutritionally dense dietary supplements, take them with a meal to help increase the total nutritional value of that meal.

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant that reduces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs from swings in blood sugar from poor diets high in refined carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup) that eventually lead to the hormone Insulin becoming ineffective at moving carbohydrates out of the bloodstream into the cells. ALA has the additional benefit of protecting cells from oxidative damage, including liver cells.

Chromium is available in several forms. While much of the current evidence is on the form called chromium picolinate, other forms may be gentler and more active in controlling cholesterol, such as chromium nicotinate that’s bonded to niacin (Vitamin B-3). This mineral helps us to properly manage blood sugar and is a component of Glucose Tolerance Factor. Chromium may also help maintain lean body mass (muscle) during calorie-restricted dieting.

Citrin® helps to limit the liver's production of fat from carbohydrate.

GlucoFit® is a source of corosolic acid for proper insulin sensitivity to allow sugars to be moved from the bloodstream into cells.

Gymnema sylvestre improves uptake of glucose into cells, may block ability to taste “sweet” and may be useful for maintaining healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels

HCA (-Hydroxycitric acid) is an extract from the fruit rind of Garcinia cambogia may reduce the body’s ability to convert carbohydrates into stored fats.

Stevia extract is a natural herbal product that is non-caloric, may support pancreatic function and promote insulin sensitivity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Agave Nectar Dangers; facts and myths

The people claiming that fructose is worse than sucrose are ignorant and plain wrong. HFCS is typically 42% fructose, mostly glucose; some is 55% fructose.

Is blood sugar no longer an important issue? Diabetes statistics would seem to insist that it is still relevant. In that regard alone, fructose (with a Glycemic Index rating of 20, versus 100 for 100% sucrose white sugar) is far better than sucrose in terms of not provoking high blood sugar and the resulting insulin reactions.

And the repetition that agave nectar production is analogous to HFCS production is mind numbingly simplistic and misleading. In terms of agave production, taking inulin that's made of chains of fructose, adding non-GMO "plant enzymes" to free the fructose, then heating and filtering is not really that unnatural a process; in fact, in some ways quite similar to human digestion. HFCS production involves converting 100% sucrose corn syrup into fructose and then adding pure corn syrup to achieve the 42% or 55% fructose syrup (the rest of the 100% in each form is pure corn syrup as sucrose). There is no corn used to make agave nectar, and sugars are not converted into other forms or blended.

Studies showing that getting 25% of daily calories, around 500 calories, solely from fructose is related to obesity begs the question of why getting nearly all of our carbs from a single sugar, rather than from a mix of sugars along with fiber and starches, is anything other than a fast food worst case scenario. This is not relevant to those taking a little agave nectar in place of other sweeteners. Trying to frighten people who now won't even take a piece of whole fruit or a couple of calories worth of fructose in a chewable or liquid dietary supplement (this is actually happening!) is in my opinion both cynical and misleading. That is not honest nutrition. Common sense should be more common.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To My Canadian friends and colleagues

Thanks for your hospitality last week while I was in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. Everyone was very friendly and courteous. I appreciate your being willing to share your time with me and to discuss nutritional issues.

If any of you will be in Vancouver at Expo West in May, please come see me on Friday morning for the organic program
and also at the Puresource booth. I look forward to seeing you!

Neil to be on radio in Las Vegas, also streaming live on Internet

Monday, April 19, 2010

8 am Pacific, 10 am Central time


Neil to speak at organic program in Vancouver, BC

Canadian Health Food Association's Expo West trade show

Expo West, Organic Program, Friday, May 14th, 10:30 am – Noon


By Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA

The method by which similar types of crops are grown - organic, conventional or genetically engineered (GE, biotech, GMO) – can produce food with different nutritional profiles. Are organics really no more nutritious than conventionally grown crops? Do currently grown biotech foods really provide more nutrients than similar types of conventional foods? What do we know about the heavy metal content of foods grown by different methods? Are USDA food nutrient tables even accurate in this era of changing agricultural practices? Learn the secrets of how our foods are changing, for better or for worse.

Neil to Speak to Health Journalists: Assessing claims of functional foods and nutritional supplements

The Association of Health Care Journalists meeting in Chicago on April 24, 2010

"Health Journalism 2010"
Program: "Assessing claims of functional foods and nutritional supplements"

• Neil E. Levin, C.C.N., D.A.N.L.A., programs chair, American Nutrition Association; nutrition education manager, NOW Foods

• Marilynn Marchione, medical writer, The Associated Press

• Bruce Silverglade, legal director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

• Moderator: Bianca Alexander, chief executive officer, Conscious Planet Media

Neil will be giving a presentation in the Oak Park, Illinois area on 4/28/2010

Less of You to Love: A Nutritionist's Secrets for Successful Weight Management

Lecture presented by Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA

•Principles for gradual & sustainable natural weight loss

•What to eat: Including the one essential metabolism boosting component of every meal

•When to eat: How often and how many meals a day

•How to eat: Conscious eating and digestive tips

Wednesday, April 28th - 7:00pm Meet & Greet, Lecture 7:30pm

LOCATION: Concordia University, Christopher Center, 7400 Augusta St., River Forest, IL 60305

Call 708.246.FOOD (3663) or email for tickets

Admission $20 - Free for ANA Members & Concordia Students / Employees

Lecture presented by the American Nutrition Association® with the cooperation of Concordia University

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Risk factors in developing Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes

Improper diet and lack of exercise are major risk factors in developing Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes. Prolonged stress and too high proportions of carbohydrates (carbs) in the diet also contribute to blood sugar problems. The problem carbs are excess levels of sugars – especially simple sugars - and starches. Complex carbs from vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains and beans are used to fuel brain activity and other body functions without excessively elevating our blood sugar. Fiber content will also help the ability of food to make us feel full. Fiber also helps to slow the introduction of other carbohydrates into the bloodstream, reducing blood sugar “peaks” after a meal. Another bonus of whole foods is that fiber can absorb cholesterol-containing bile salts, a key way to dump excess cholesterol from the body.

Eating a diet composed largely of processed/refined foods means that the carb level is probably too high while nutrients that help us to deal with blood sugar (B vitamins, fiber, chromium, etc.) are stripped from our food supply. This leaves us defenseless against weight gain, abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and elevated stress hormones.

Many of us are literally drowning in excess empty calories that affect our metabolism. But skipping meals doesn’t help, nor does eating meals that lack adequate protein. Both habits discourage calorie burning.

Spikes in blood sugar are the main enemy of dieters and those with blood sugar control issues. Elevated blood sugar triggers the release of the hormone insulin, which can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which makes us fatigued after a meal. If this happens too often it can create insulin resistance, eventually causing a loss of blood sugar control that can result in Metabolic Syndrome. This is a pre-diabetes condition defined as a combination of two or more of these symptoms: insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, abnormally high insulin levels, high triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein (the "good" cholesterol), and hypertension (high blood pressure). Metabolic Syndrome increases belly fat and is a step towards developing adult-onset diabetes.

Your options are greatest when you first discover that your blood sugar has gone out of balance. If you wait until after you're on insulin or other medications, any natural means for improvement in blood sugar control could cause a dose of medicine to become an overdose. It is very important that your physician knows if you are going to try to control your blood sugar naturally, and that you test your blood sugar levels every time before taking medication in order to avoid dangerous interactions.

Going on a low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diet is the next step. The worst carbs are the simple sugars, found in processed foods, sweets, table sugar and soda pop. Processed grains and starchy vegetables are sometimes a problem, especially in excess. Flours (especially white flour) are more of a problem than whole cooked or sprouted grains. Even carrot juice is high in sugar!

If you tend to have weight gain and blood sugar problems in middle age, the good news is that you are genetically programmed to survive a famine. The bad news is that it's a prolonged feast which can kill you! Portion control and exercise are important for your health. Controlling stress will also help your sugar balance.

The balance of nutritional components within a meal regulates fat storage and fat burning. Try to balance each meal using the ZONE diet, where at least 30% of the calories in every meal are from protein, about 30% from healthy fats and about 40% from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits or vegetables. This balance will minimize blood sugar increases. Blood sugar spikes can lead to more fat storage and less fat burning, especially without enough protein to start the calorie burning cycle after a meal.

To improve the insulin response that moves sugar out of the blood and into cells for fuel instead of turning into fat, supplements of Omega-3 fish oil (or flax oil for vegetarians), Alpha Lipoic Acid and Chromium may be helpful. Phase 2®, from a white kidney bean extract, will block some digestion of starches to sugar and therefore effectively lower your carb and calorie intake. Antioxidants of all kinds are very protective for people having blood sugar issues.

Take a good multiple vitamin with a fat-containing meal to enhance absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients. If you take green foods or other nutritionally dense dietary supplements, also take them with a meal to help increase the total nutritional value of that meal.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In Defense of Natural Foods: Fish Oils

In Defense of Natural Foods

By Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA

A public debate is now raging over the safety of natural fish oils. In truth, though, this should be more properly recognized as a narrowly focused legal debate rather than representing any real question as to whether these natural food products are good for us to eat; because health authorities around the world have already acknowledged that it is generally better to eat natural fish and fish oils than to avoid them. Yet a quirk in California law makes it possible for some environmental lawyers to argue that the general scientific and medical consensus on the known health benefits of natural fish products be ignored; instead touting zero tolerance for pollutants that are widespread in our food supply and advocating that only highly processed oils be sold.

I am certainly not in favor of pollutants; my bona fides are clear. As a student I led environmental classes in my school on the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and have broken whole grain bread with the late Earth Day founder Senator Gaylord Nelson at a natural food Thanksgiving dinner. I spent a day with Al Gore at a solar symposium that he hosted in Tennessee in the late 1970’s. My wife and I live on a 4-acre wooded hillside that is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat™. We have recycled, grown and bought organic food, used primarily natural and biodegradable products in our home, politically and financially supported several environmental groups, and otherwise have been ardent environmentalists for some 40 years. I’ve worked in the natural food industry for my entire adult life and am so into it that I became a clinical nutritionist who reads complex nutrition studies for kicks. So when I question other environmentalists for creating a public panic that may turn people off from eating foods that provide scientifically demonstrated health benefits despite the possibility of tiny amounts of pollutants being in them, it may merit some attention.

The attorneys argue that only highly processed fish oils are acceptable; all other fish oil products should have label warnings that they may contain parts-per-billion (ppb) amounts of PCBs, a banned industrial chemical that is still so widespread in the environment that the native people of the far north have it in their bodies from the wild fish that is the base of their traditional diet.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Small amounts of PCBs can be found in almost all outdoor and indoor air, soil, sediments, surface water, and animals. However, PCB levels have generally decreased since PCB production stopped in 1977. People are exposed to PCBs primarily from contaminated food and breathing contaminated air. The major dietary sources of PCBs are fish (especially sportfish that were caught in contaminated lakes or rivers), meat, and dairy products.”

What are the health impacts of PCBs? That is really hard to say. Most negative reports are from rodent studies, where the animals are fed huge amounts for long periods. The FDA reports that, “PCBs are not known to cause birth defects,” and has no cases on record, so that concern seems unfounded, despite the claims of the current private lawsuit. The agency does report that PCBs are probable carcinogens based on such animal studies and cases of industrial workers exposed to substantial amounts of the chemicals. It also reports developmental problems in children of mothers exposed to “high” amounts, but not specifically birth defects and not at significantly harmful levels. “Some studies have estimated that an infant who is breast fed for 6 months may accumulate in this period 6–12% of the total PCBs that will accumulate during its lifetime. However, in most cases, the benefits of breast-feeding outweigh any risks from exposure to PCBs in mother’s milk.”

Fortunately, the FDA has also estimated that the amount of PCBs in food is steadily declining since the chemicals were banned. Between 1978 and 1991, the estimated daily intake of PCBs in adults from dietary sources declined by about 62%. “Meat and dairy products are other important sources of PCBs in food, with PCB levels in meat and dairy products usually ranging from less than 1 part in a billion parts (ppb) of food to a few ppb.” That means a Quarter Pound burger weighing about 113 grams could lawfully contain hundreds of nanograms (billionths of a gram, or parts-per-billion) of PCBs, approaching about half a microgram (a microgram is one-millionth of a gram, or one part-per-million). If you got somewhat less from a natural fish oil, plus enjoyed the added cardiovascular benefits of the essential Omega-3 fatty acids it provides versus the known cardiovascular risks of beef and other animal fats, should that really be a great concern, especially when heart disease is blamed for about half the deaths in this country?

The official Health Canada federal agency reports that, “Exposure to these low levels does not appear to affect human health. Based on recent results from Total Diet Studies (a series of studies organized by Health Canada), the average daily dietary intake of PCBs is thought to be less than half of one microgram (one microgram = one-millionth of a gram). People who eat large amounts of sports fish, wildlife or marine mammals may be exposed to higher dietary levels of PCBs…Media reports have raised concerns about PCBs in farmed salmon. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently completed a survey of farmed and wild fish. The survey analyzed a large number of samples for PCBs. The results showed that eating salmon from the commercial food supply (whether farmed or wild) does not pose a health risk to consumers.”

The UK Food Standards Agency has reported that the health benefits of eating moderate amounts of fish, including salmon, as part of a healthy balanced diet outweighed any potential risk from PCBs. Based on 21 surveys carried out by the Agency results found that exposure to these contaminants from the diet has fallen by about 75% between 1982 and 1997.

How has the U.S. federal government determined safe levels of PCBs in foods? “The FDA has set residue limits for PCBs in various foods to protect from harmful health effects. FDA required limits include 0.2 parts of PCBs per million parts (ppm) in infant and junior foods, 0.3 ppm in eggs, 1.5 ppm in milk and other dairy products (fat basis), 2 ppm in fish and shellfish (edible portions), and 3 ppm in poultry and red meat (fat basis).” Two ppm in fish is equivalent to 2,000 ppb (parts-per-billion) in fish. The fish oil products in question today contain less as a percentage by weight than is allowed even in baby food, and are taken in far smaller amounts by total weight per serving than whole fish. Yet these fish oils are now being targeted for added label warnings that they are known by the state of California to contain toxins with the false implication that these minute dietary amounts are proved to be harmful and should be avoided at all costs.

What are the alternatives? Apparently eating actual fish won’t do; they would be consumed at far larger serving weights and naturally contain far more PCBs than a serving of natural fish oil. Yes, some fish oils are highly purified, which is what the lawyers argue as a reasonable alternative to the natural oils. Yet there are legitimate critics who argue against chemically processing and refining natural food products such as this, even for reasons of purity. And some of the oils most likely to have accumulated PCBs are from long-lived fish which are higher in the ocean food chain and have been long valued as health foods with strong evidence of enhancing human health, like cod liver and salmon oils.

If we force all foods to either have disproportionally scary warnings or be processed out of their natural states, pushing only the least natural products as the “best” choices, this has serious implications for the nature of our food supply and how it impacts our nutritional status. We have seen degenerative disease rates soar as the amount of refined foods in the diet increases, and natural food advocates have long argued that we return to unrefined whole foods in order to naturally maintain health. This current fish oil scare is capable of needlessly frightening people away from taking safe healthy fish oils that could improve their health. That would be the real crime.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2000. Toxicological profile for Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.

Health Canada

The UK Food Standards Agency

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Vitamins Are FDA-Regulated

Contrary to popular myth and The Healthy Skeptic (LA Times 3/1/10), the federal FDA (Food and Drug Administration) already regulates dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals and herbs. These are NOT “unregulated” products. What actually makes critics’ teeth grind is the fact that vitamin formulas do not need specific pre-approval from the federal regulators, which is the true endgame of many skeptics. But all ingredients used in nutritional supplements before mid-October of 1994 are already pre-approved by the FDA under an often-misrepresented law called DSHEA, which also requires all new dietary ingredients to be submitted to the FDA for pre-market review before a product is sold. This gives the agency a chance to review the required submission of safety and efficacy data before any new ingredient can be sold, and the power to veto its introduction.

Dietary supplement manufacturers are already required to submit label claims along with scientific documentation to the FDA, but are paradoxically required to use a label disclaimer that the agency has not evaluated the formula. Vitamin makers are already registered with the government, are already prohibited from making medical/drug claims for dietary supplements, and are already required to identity-test and list all ingredients on product labels. A recent adverse event reporting law promptly lets the FDA know of virtually any problem requiring medical attention in order to trigger recalls and new label warnings. Under DSHEA, the FDA can regulate the manufacture of all dietary supplements, an oversight that was dramatically improved over the past 3 years with the rollout of mandatory Good Manufacturing Practices. Obviously, this is not an “unregulated” industry, even if enforcement can be improved in some areas.

Advocates of pre-approval of dietary supplement formulas want to import a highly flawed and controversial Canadian health care program in a misguided effort to give our own unelected government bureaucrats absolute power over already-regulated vitamin products. Many Canadians now cross the border to buy American supplements because their own government arbitrarily delays entry of new products for years at a time, miserly approving only 42% of products that have been submitted with all of the required safety and efficacy documentation. This is not a free market model, does not work well, and is not worth copying.

A permanent government takeover will strangle a preventive health industry that, in America’s free market, has added jobs and exports during our recent recession. Vitamins help Americans meet basic nutritional needs in a cost-effective manner without government funding; and probably decreased some Medicare spending, according to the conclusions of authoritative Lewin Group reports. There is a complex regulatory structure for vitamins and other dietary supplements in the U.S. that is working quite well; there were ZERO deaths officially reported from these products last year even though about 2/3 of Americans use them. Claims that “vitamins are unregulated” are woefully inaccurate and should not be published by news outlets with competent fact checkers.,0,2486837.story