Archives for October 2008

Saint John’s Wort as Effective as Prozac

This is an interesting article, that details the results of an analysis of many scientific studies:

Experts do not know exactly how the plant lifts depression, although most believe it probably works by keeping the chemical serotonin, which is linked to positive moods, in the brain for longer.

The study’s lead author, Dr Klaus Linde, from the Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich, pooled data from 29 studies involving 5,489 patients with mild to moderately severe depression.

‘Overall, the St John’s Wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard anti-depressants, and had fewer side effects than standard anti-depressants,’ he said.

But he pointed out that St John’s Wort products available in health food shops and chemists differed greatly and some may be more effective than others.

‘Using a St John’s Wort extract might be justified but products on the market vary considerably, so these results only apply to the preparations tested,’ he explained.

The findings were published by the Cochrane Library, which specialises in systematic reviews of research studies…

The studies I have seen on Saint John’s Wort are mixed. Some say it is effective, others say it is not. It seems to be effective for mild depression (exercising and getting fresh air seem to be as well). Either way, it is nice to know there is a safer, cheaper, alternative to prescription anti-depressants (although I would not go off one without working with a doctor!; It is also not wise to self-treat depression).

Chromium Picolinate Helps You Eat Less

…or so says one study on Chromium Picolinate. In this study, women receiving chromium picolinate supplements reduced food intake by 25% compared to 8% for the placebo. The women in the experimental group, who were chosen because they were overweight and carb-addicted, received 1000 mcg of Chromium Picolinate a day. This amount that seems kind of high to me, but apparently it had a desirable effect.

Chromium Picolinate is pretty cheap, and may be worth trying for self-professed carb addicts. Chromium Picolinate is the trace mineral Chromium bound to Picolinic Acid. Some studies have connected it to weight loss, while a few others have shown no results (or even modest weight gain). I take about 50 mcg of it every so often (not usually daily).

Seven Anti-Aging Foods

Eating Well Magazine has listed seven anti-aging foods, an article precipitated by the author’s discovery of her first gray hair. Ouch. I am still waiting for mine.

The foods are:

Cocoa (not chocolate per se, as the article suggests)

Blueberries

Fish

Nuts

Wine

Olive Oil

Yogurt

These foods all contain a variety of beneficial compounds, including monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, good bacteria, resveratrol, etc. I am happy to say that I eat a lot of these foods, and even like most of them. One way I get extra cocoa in my diet is to add it to my coffee. It actually improves the taste of cheaper, supermarket coffee, and gives it a mocha feel. Cocoa powder is pretty cheap too, and when you add it to your coffee you aren’t getting the extra sugar and fat (and cost) of getting your cocoa through chocolate bars.

How to Lose Weight: #21 Eat Eggs for Breakfast

Eggs have gotten a bad rap lately. Yes, they contain cholestertol, but experts aren’t even sure that a) cholesterol has an effect on blood cholesterol (saturated fat seems to be the culprit), or b) blood cholesterol is even correlated with heart attacks. However, a new study suggests that eating eggs for breakfast may help you lose weight.

In a study of dieters, those who ate 2 scrambled eggs and unbuttered toast (with jelly) for breakfast lost 65 percent more weight than those that had a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast. I think many people would assume that the bagel and cream cheese is healthier, but this study shows that those who had eggs and toast lost a lot more weight than the others. Remember though, that the people in this study were restricting calories. This means that we can’t fry up a big sausage, bacon, and cheese omelet and expect to lose weight!

Another benefit of eggs? They are cheap. I got a 6 dozen at Kroger for 99 cents a dozen. That means each egg costs less than 10 cents, so my two eggs I eat each morning cost me about 16 cents.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I am a big fan of stevia, the natural sweetener. I’ve always defended the taste and since it comes from a plant it also has some natural advantages over the artificial sweeteners. Yet, being natural doesn’t necessarily make it perfect. When my employer ran out of Splenda for a couple of days, I started using stevia at work (normally I use stevia at home and Splenda at work). Since I’m a pretty heavy coffee drinker, I started consuming a lot more stevia. I developed a strong metallic taste in my mouth that only went away in the morning. Since I consume a lot of supplements I started removing supplements from my diet to see the source. Sure enough it was from stevia. Does anyone else have this problem? With the upcoming marketing of stevia based drinks and the bad news on Splenda, this metallic taste is a pretty big bummer for me. Any suggestions?

Fish Oil: October 2008 Nutrient of the Month

Fish Oil really isn’t a nutrient per se, but an oil that contains a high concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. Most 1000 mg softgels are standardized to contain 18% EPA and 12% DHA. You may have heard before that fats are bad, so you avoid eating fatty fish or taking fish oil softgels. Fats, especially the wrong kind (like saturated fats and trans-fats), in excess amounts can be bad for you, but ensuring that you get the right amount of the good fats is very important to your health.

I have been taking fish oil softgels, and eating a lot of fish, since 2004, when I began studying for the GRE. I did this because I read fish oil was good for the brain, and studies have shown that it halts cognitive decline. It also seems to help treat depression. Fish Oil supplementation has been found to benefit Attention Deficit Disorder and ADHD. So, before trying drugs to treat these increasingly common disorders, it makes sense to give good old fashioned fish a try.

Additionally, fish oil has been found to be beneficial against heart disease, cancer, and obesity. When I went looking for studies on fish oil, I found a great site that contains virtually every study I was familiar with, and many, many others, Oilofpisces.com. I recommend checking it out for fish oil information and news.

Humans used to eat 2 grams of Omega-6 fats (e.g. Linoleic Acid) for every 1 gram of Omega-3 fat (e.g. DHA). Today the ratio is 10-20:1. This is because we eat a lot of foods rich in Omega-6 fats, like Corn Oil, but not a lot of foods rich in Omega-3 fats. This out-of-whack ratio creates many problems in the body, which explains why supplementing with Omega-3 fats is effective in treating a variety of conditions.

You may be asking, what about mercury? Doesn’t fish contain mercury? Unfortunately, some fish do contain high concentrations of mercury. The worst offenders are bigger fish like swordfish, tuna, and king mackerel. Wild (not farmed) Pacific salmon is one of the safer bets. Higher quality fish oil softgels are generally mercury free, because supplement companies use smaller fish to make the fish oil, and any mercury present is removed during the distillation process. This page from the EPA has mercury content of common fish.

Emulsified fish oil seems to be better absorbed than regular oil. You can emulsify (mix two unblendable liquids by dispersing one within the other) regular fish oil by taking it with a little lecithin, which is a natural emulsifier. Lecithin is a cheap supplement you can easily buy in bulk. I refrigerate all opened fish oil bottles to prevent rancidity. I also suggest buying fish oil with a little vitamin E (listed as tocopherol or mixed tocopherols on the ingredient list) added to prevent oxidation.

Fish oil may seem like a smelly way to get healthy, but it is well worth the pennies it costs per softgel. Think about the last time you or family ate non-fried fish rich in Omega-3 fats, like Salmon or Albacore Tuna (particularly high in DHA). Can you remember when that was? Well, if you can’t remember it, you should look into fish oil, because it very well may help your family’s health improve significantly. Also, if you can’t remember it, fish oil may just help your memory!