Nutrition, Healthy Diets, Weight Loss, Supplements and Heart Health

Dr. Larry Weinrauch Health Pro
  • Here are some examples of commonly discussed products (chosen because they were recently the subject of a conference at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions):

    1. Folic acid and vitamin B6 to reduce homocysteine and therefore heart disease. After considerable study, this turns out to be a dud. Folic acid supplementation does lower homocysteine, but doesn’t lower risk of any measurable cardiac problem. It may raise some risks too.

    2. Beta-carotene to reduce coronary artery disease has been tried over the years in a study of thousands of physicians, and it too had no benefits.

    3. How about vitamin E (alpha tocopherol)? This is supposed to be an antioxidant vitamin (definition: any of various organic substances essential in small quantities to the nutrition and normal metabolism of most animals. There is a problem here--no human has ever been demonstrated to be deficient in alpha tocopherol, so it may not actually be a vitamin at all).
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    4. Coenzyme Q10 (also known as ubiquinone, ubiqunol and ubidecarone has been shown to be of no benefit with respect to reducing the muscle pains related to the use of cholesterol lowering medication, or the development or treatment for heart disease.

    5. Policosanols (found in sugar cane) were claimed to lower cholesterol (in Cuban studies, which is not a surprise), but several studies do not confirm this.

    6. Plant stanols and sterols are said to lower cholesterol in vegetarians, but supplementation of the diet with these substances has at best a minimum effect on cholesterol even at very high doses.

    7. Green tea extracts such as theaflavin, and green tea are said to be helpful in preventing heart disease, however there is no credible evidence to demonstrate any benefit.

    Others, not specifically discussed at the conference included red wine (which has been related to lower cardiovascular risk when held to one to two glasses per day) and chocolate (an antioxidant with flavanoids) which is said to improve blood pressure, improve blood flow to the skin, improve sex life and make the heart “happy” by a number of means.

    I guess that the combination of red wine and chocolate should be forgiven for their effect on the weight if they can make life better and longer. Neither has really been proven to prolong life in a properly designed study.

    The FDA does not regulate “food supplements” which is the loophole through which “nutriceutical” makers jump to earn profits by manufacturers marketing to the unsuspecting.

    Often products are marketed as “herbal Viagra”, “herbal weight reduction” products, “herbal” cholesterol lowering products. Their claims are most often not verifiable and much of what is sold is hype.

    The same cannot be said of herbal weight loss products especially those containing ephedra. Although many of these have been outlawed by various organizations including the Food and Drug Administration and major league baseball and football leagues.

    Despite this, toxicology studies consistently are appearing demonstrating that these products may be laced with yet other toxic products. One such report appeared in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings resulting from amphetamine lacing of an imported supplement. Even if these products were effective for greater than short-term use, they can be dangerous.

  • Other interesting substances being increasingly sold but backed by rather poor scientific basis included black cohosh and soy protein, among other agents which have been among many demonstrated to give no benefit whatsoever for women with the hot flashes and sleeplessness of menopause. More on these subjects as time permits.
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    Unfortunately, we still have to look at how good the science is and who supports it. If the chocolate company and almond company support all the research that shows chocolate almond bars to be beneficial, I would be very skeptical about the claims of benefit (though with respect to dark chocolate and nuts they don’t need to prolong life and be in pill form to be enjoyed).
Published On: January 10, 2007