B vitamins for eye health

A heart disease study sponsored by the NIH has also yielded some interesting information about the relationship between B vitamins and eye health. The research study, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, found that taking a mixture of B vitamins, including B-6, folic acid and B-12, lowered the chance of middle-aged women developing macular degeneration (a common form of vision loss in older adults) by one-third. The study, which tracked more than 5000 women age 40 and older, was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Feb. 23, 2009.

Note that NYBC stocks this B vitamin supplement:

B-right (Jarrow)

B-right includes folic acid, B-6 and B-12; one of the rationales for its formulation is to prevent buildup of the chemical homocysteine, which in studies has been associated with heart attacks.

Ginkgo biloba: new research on a traditional botanical used for cognitive decline and circulatory health issues

Ginkgo biloba, thought to be the oldest living tree species on Earth, is also the source for one of the most widely used medicinal botanicals in the world. It is widely prescribed in Europe as a treatment for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and for memory loss and cognitive decline. In the US, where it is available as a dietary supplement, ginkgo has been the subject of intensified research in the last few decades, which has highlighted its capacity to improve blood flow/circulation and the benefits of its particular blend of antioxidants (called “flavonoids” and “terpenoids”).
There are a number of impressive findings from research on gingko:
1. Several investigations have found that ginkgo is comparable in effectiveness to leading prescription medications for Alzheimer’s in delaying the symptoms of dementia. In people with Alzheimer’s it has been shown to improve thinking, learning, and memory, and may also relieve depression.
2. A clinical study suggested that ginkgo can reduce the side effects of menopause and the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Menopausal women seeking to avoid hormone replacement therapy due to the side effects (such as increased risk of breast cancer) may be able to use ginkgo as an alternative.
3. The flavonoids in ginkgo may lessen problems in the back part of the eye (the retina). In particular, research suggests that ginkgo may help preserve vision in people with age-related macular degeneration, a retinal condition that is the number one cause of blindness in the US.
4. Ginkgo has been used for erectile dysfunction, especially in people who experience sexual dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants. In one study of 60 men with ED, there was a 50% success rate after six months of treatment with ginkgo.
5. Three research centers at the National Institutes of Health are collaborating on a large-scale, long-term study to find out if ginkgo can prevent or delay the kinds of changes in memory and thinking that can occur as people get older. A secondary aim of the study is to assess the botanical’s ability to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease as people age. This research may provide further guidance about the potential of ginkgo to prevent the onset of cognitive decline and cardiovascular disease.
6. A two-year study of health outcomes for HIV positive people who use botanical or herbal remedies concluded that ginkgo was associated with beneficial results in several measures of health status. This research was presented at the 15th International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand in 2004.
For further information, see the description of the MMS standardized Ginkgo Biloba Extract on the NYBC website. Concentrated extracts, which are prepared from the green leaves of the tree, appear to be the most clinically effective form. Note that ginkgo is well tolerated and has few side effects, but should not be used with blood-thinning medications (like aspirin or Coumadin), since one of its main actions is also to thin the blood.

NYBC also stocks the SuperNutrition product Think Clearly, a formula that includes Ginkgo biloba along with other nutrients that support cognitive function.

Flaxseed as a dietary supplement: A review from the Wake Forest Center for Botanical Lipids

We recently took a look at The Wake Forest University Center for Botanical Lipids website. This Center is one of five such dietary supplement research centers funded through the federal government’s National Institutes of Health–so this website represents our tax dollars at work!

The main goal of this new research center is to “determine the role of fatty acid based dietary supplements in the prevention and treatment of chronic human diseases associated with inflammation.” The center’s website also makes the point that “nearly 20% of Americans use dietary supplements, many of them botanicals, but scientific evidence for their safe and effective use in the prevention or treatment of human diseases has lagged behind the use of the products.”

Actually, we think the 20% estimate may be on the low side, especially if you include use of basic multivitamins; and certainly among groups with chronic conditions (such as osteoarthritis) the rate of supplement use is often higher than 20%. But we certainly agree that we need more scientific evidence about the effectiveness and safety of supplements, and we’re glad to know that the NIH has continued to fund such research, especially through its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and its Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

OK, enough of the federal governmental acronyms, and back to the Wake Forest website. We’re pleased to see that it includes a user-friendly section with some publications easily understood by the general public (“Articles for Everyday People”). Here’s a sample from the piece entitled “The Use of Dietary Flaxseed for the Prevention of Human Disease”:

Flaxseed (also called linseed) has been a part of the human and animal diet for thousands of years. It is the richest known plant source of omega-3 fatty acids – 58% of the total fat in flax is composed of alpha-linolenic acid (LNA); however, this fatty acid is a short chain omega-3 as opposed to the long chain omega 3s found in fish oil. A number of studies have shown that flaxseed does not replace fish oil in the diet because the conversion of LNA to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil is very inefficient.

Flaxseed is also a minor source of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), which makes up about 14% of the total fat content. LNA and LA are essential fatty acids, meaning they cannot be made in the body and instead must be present in the diet. LNA is thought to be necessary for the proper function of cell membranes and nerve cells. In addition to LNA, flaxseed also contains soluble and insoluble fiber and lignans, which are antioxidants and estrogen precursors called phytoestrogens.

Flaxseed provides a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which is thought to have beneficial effects on many diseases, especially those with a strong inflammatory component, such as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, asthma, gout, and lupus. Flaxseed oil has been used to treat burns, acne, eczema, rosacea, and other skin disorders, and it promotes healthy hair and nails. Flaxseed has been suggested to minimize nerve damage in degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and may guard against the effects of aging.

The lignans in flaxseed may also play a role in cancer treatment and prevention, especially in women with breast cancer. The phytoestrogens found in flaxseed are thought to act as “designer estrogens” and are a good supplement to regular therapy (1). In a study of women with breast cancer, those who consumed 25 grams of flaxseed oil per day saw a reduction in tumor growth compared to placebo controls (2). The LNA in flaxseed may decrease the risk of sudden cardiac death by stabilizing the electrical system of the heart and preventing potentially fatal irregularities in heart rhythm. In a study of more than 75,000 women, those who consumed more than 1.5 grams of flaxseed per day had a 46% lower risk of cardiac death than women who consumed less than 0.5 grams per day (3).

While most studies show a benefit of flaxseed oil, there have been studies which have not been positive. In 5 out of 6 epidemiological studies on prostate cancer, flaxseed was shown to increase cancer risk, and LNA is a strong growth stimulus in isolated prostate cancer cells (4). Neither of these effects has been seen with fish oil. In addition, recent studies suggest that flaxseed may increase the risk of macular degeneration or speed up the progression of the disease.

In a nutshell: flaxseed looks to be very interesting for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, but not recommended when prostate cancer or prostate cancer risk is present.

UCLA Division of Geriatrics/David Geffen Medical School on “Four Supplements Seniors Should Take”

We took a look at the recent issue of the Healthy Years newsletter (Volume 4G) from the UCLA David Geffen Medical School’s Division of Geriatrics, and were pleasantly surprised to find a good balance of advice ranging from exercise, diet, medication regimens when called for…and a number of on-target recommendations for promoting long-term health with the aid of dietary supplements.

The UCLA newsletter, which is directed especially to people 60 and older, offers several general supplement recommendations to promote healthy aging: a multivitamin/mineral supplement (because diet and digestive capability tend to change as you age); Vitamin D plus calcium for bone health; fish oil supplements to keep triglyceride levels down; glucosamine and chondroitin for moderate to severe arthritis knee pain; and CoQ 10 to help keep blood cholesterol down when taking a statin drug.  

A couple of other recommendations emerge for specific conditions: non-smokers with early-stage macular degeneration may want to consider an NIH panel’s advice to supplement with zinc and the antioxidant vitamins C, E, and beta carotene. And niacin and/or a fibrate drug could be beneficial in raising HDL (the so-called “good cholesterol”) levels in a person taking a statin.

Thanks, UCLA Division of Geriatrics! It’s nice to see a general-audience publication from a mainstream medical source include balanced information about supplements, and not just fixate on prescription drugs as the only possible choice for every condition.