Holistic Healthcare News Briefs: Stampin' for Supplements

A new bill, introduced to Congress early in August would amend existing food stamp regulations to allow recipients to use their food stamps to buy vitamin and mineral supplements. The bill, entitled The Food Stamp Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act of 2005, was authored by the supplement industry's favorite legislative tag-team, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Under existing rules, recipients can use food stamps to buy all the corn chips, donuts and bologna they want, but purchase of nutritional supplements is prohibited.

Supplement industry organizations and health advocacy groups applauded the Harkin-Hatch effort, claiming that passage of the bill would enable millions of low-income people, especially young children in poor families and indigent elderly, to improve their nutritional status. This is not the first time the Harkin-Hatch team has pushed for such a reform. They introduced similar bills in 1999 and 2001.

The US Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program has consistently argued against inclusion of supplements, contending that it would encourage recipients to eat poorly and then try to "make up" for it with supplements. Advocacy groups like the Council for Responsible Nutrition squarely dismiss that argument.

Steve Mister, CRN's President, stated, "Americans who make the choice to be healthy should have the means and tools to do so." He urged legislators to support this bill which would, "allow the millions and millions of low-income Americans who rely on food stamps to better meet their nutritional needs". Currently, an estimated 21.3 million people use food stamps. (Source: NutraIngredients USA daily newsletter)

Grapes, Gals & Good Heart Health

Resveratrol, anthocyanins, catechins and other good stuff from grapes can reduce heart disease risk in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women, according to a joint study from Columbia University and the University of Connecticut.

Women who took 36 grams per day of a lyophilized grape powder containing high concentrations of these polyphenols and antioxidants showed significant reductions in triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and apolipoproteins B and E, all of which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

The study involved 24 pre-menopausal and 20 post-menopausal women, randomized to receive either the grape extract powder, or a placebo powder containing equivalent amounts of fructose, dextrose, and total energy content. After four weeks, and a three-week washout period, the two groups switched treatment arms.

The pre-menopausal women showed a mean 15% decrease in plasma triglycerides while on the grape powder. The figure was lower at 6% for post-menopausal women. In both groups, LDL and the apolipoproteins were reduced by roughly 15%. There was an overall reduction in oxidative stress when the women were taking the grape extract (Zern TL, et al. J Nutr 2005; Jul; 135: 1911–1917. This is some "grape" news, given that heart disease is now the number one killer of women in the US. (Source: NutraIngredients USA daily newsletter)

Kudzu Curbs Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Southerners wishing to curtail their alcohol consumption might find the answer growing—rampantly—in their backyards. According to a recent study in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, an extract from the Kudzu vine—the wanton weed covering much of the South—reduced beer consumption in a cohort of heavy drinking guys and gals.

In one of the more interesting lab set-ups in recent memory, researchers at the McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical Center, designed a studio apartment, complete with satellite TV and a well-stocked refrigerator, and then studied the beer-drinking patterns of 14 men and women invited to hang out at the cushy "crib" to watch movies and drink as much beer as they desired.

All participants were self-confessed heavy drinkers, consuming an average of 25 beers per week. Their drinking behavior was monitored after 1 week taking placebo pills daily, and again after one week taking the Kudzu extract.

Participants downed an average of 2.5 beers per 1.5-hour hang-out session while on placebo, but only 1.5 while taking the Kudzu. They also took smaller sips and drank more slowly while on Kudzu. Participants did report feeling more buzzed, more tired and experienced greater "floating" sensations following the first beer while taking the Kudzu (Lukas S, et al. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2005 May; 29(5): 756–62).

The investigators hypothesize that isoflavones in Kudzu somehow prolong and intensify the effect of a first drink, thus reducing the desire to have more. There were no adverse effects from the Kudzu extract, which was standardized to 25% isoflavones. Scott Lukas, MD, the lead investigator, believes Kudzu might be an ideal medication for limiting alcohol consumption in teens, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. (Source: Health Behavior News Service)

AHPA Shuns Ayurvedic Heavy Metal

While heavy metal might be okay blasting from your iPod (and who doesn't enjoy a good dose of Slipknot every once in a while), it has no place in Ayurvedic herbal medicines, according to the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA).

The group recently published a position paper strongly recommending that "manufacturers and marketers of herbal products that are based on Ayurvedic traditions refrain from the inclusion in such products of any ingredient that is processed with metals if the resultant presence of heavy metal(s) would cause the product containing the ingredient(s) to be adulterated under labeled or ordinary conditions of use."

Ayurvedic medicine, like yoga, is increasingly popular in the US. Traditional methods for preparing Ayurvedic formulas in India often include processing herbs with small amounts of mercury, lead, or other heavy metals. Some Ayurvedic practitioners hold that these metals, at low levels, have therapeutic properties.

AHPA has taken a zero-tolerance stance toward heavy metals in Ayurvedic preparations sold in the US. The organization's President, Michael McGuffin, stated that the problem is primarily with Ayurvedic products imported to the US from India, rather than with products that are made here. The issue came to light last December, when an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that 20% of off-the-shelf Ayurvedic preparations in the Boston area contained excessive levels of lead, arsenic or mercury. (Source: NutraIngredients USA Newsletter)

NIH Severs Ties That Bind Science to Industry

The National Institutes of Health, responding to pressure from Congress, has taken a tough stance against collaboration between Institute scientists and pharmaceutical companies.

Last February, NIH Director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, proposed an agency-wide ban on all consulting agreements between NIH researchers and drug or biotech companies. The proposal also forbids NIH scientists from holding shares in such companies, and from accepting company gifts of more than $200. The proposal has not yet been made official policy, and Dr. Zerhouni has said it could scare away top scientific talent but that it is a necessary risk to ensure objectivity in government funded biomedical research. In July, Dr. Zerhouni issued a report indicting 44 NIH investigators on violations of Institute ethics by collaborating with pharmaceutical companies. Nine of the 44 may have engaged in criminal activity.

Dr. Zerhouni gave his report to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been pressing NIH on the issue of scientific conflict of interest. The report summarizes NIH's investigation of 103 agency scientists, and contends that the 44 researchers had either failed to disclose income obtained from drug companies for work outside official NIH projects, failed to obtain permission from Institute directors for consultation work, or inappropriately conducted drug company work on NIH time.

Thirty-seven of the 103 scientists have been cleared of wrong-doing, and 8 of the 44 in question no longer work at NIH institutes. Nine cases in which researchers may have engaged in criminal activity have been turned over to the inspector general of the Department of Health & Human Services for further investigation. (Source: The New York Times)

Queuing Up for Q10

Once called "ubiquinone" for its widespread presence in tissues throughout the body, coenzyme Q10 has been anything but ubiquitous these days.

Everybody's favorite coenzyme has been in short supply lately. Growing recognition of the need for the supplement in patients who take the enzyme-depleting statin drugs, along with a clinical trial showing it can slow the progression of Parkinson's disease has been driving demand, and manufacturers have had a hard time keeping up.

CoQ10 is produced via a complex and expensive yeast fermentation process. Until recently, four Japanese companies have had exclusive worldwide patents. Kaneka, by far the largest producer, supplies between 60% and 70% of all Q10 on the market. The company doubled its output last year, but still cannot meet demand. CoQ10 hit an all-time high price of $4,000 per kilogram last spring.

If findings from a new phase III Parkinson's disease trial, to begin later this year at the University of California, San Diego, prove positive, demand will soar.

Fortunately, relief is on the horizon. Kaneka recently began construction of an $80 million plant in Pasadena, Texas, and is establishing a US subsidiary to serve the American market. In June, Frontier Scientific, a Utah-based ingredient supplier, announced an exclusive licensing agreement with Taiwan's PharmaEssentia, to import PharmaEssentia's CoQ10 into the US.

Unlike its Japanese competitors, PharmaEssentia produces CoQ10 through organic synthesis rather than fermentation. The company is the first multi-ton supplier of the ingredient outside of Japan, and expects to be bringing in tonnage quantities by the end of the year. (Source: NutraIngredients USA daily newsletter)

Subscribe to Holistic Primary Care