by Nick Soloway

Keep That Runner Running

from Jonathan Wright, MD


Q: My husband was devastated when his doctor gave him a diagnosis of severe osteoarthritis in both hips. He’s an avid runner, and can’t imagine having to give it up. Is there anything we can do?


Dr. Wright: My first suggestion to all osteoarthritis sufferers is to eliminate nightshade vegetables — such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, paprika, and eggplants — from the diet. I also suggest 500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate three times a day — but stay away from chondroitin, since it may increase the risk of prostate cancer. A separate note of caution, in people with diabetes, glucosamine may elevate blood sugar.


Along with the glucosamine, I recommend 1,000 milligrams of niacinamide three times daily. Many people report complete relief of their pain and swelling within three or four weeks of taking niacinamide.


Also quite effective, yet largely unknown to many, is boron. I advise taking 3 milligrams twice daily. As an added bonus, boron also is a treatment for osteoporosis and aids in cancer prevention.


If adjusting the diet and these supplements don’t bring relief, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may be worth trying. It can be expensive, but some patients — though not all — have been helped by it. I usually recommend 400 milligrams once or twice daily. These supplements are all safe and natural, and I have been recommending them for years to relieve arthritis pain with great success.


From Health Info Newsletter September 4, 2012: EFT Workshops, Osteoarthritis, Diabetes, Flax Seed


by Nick Soloway

Curcumin May Prevent Diabetes

Curcumin is a derivative of turmeric, a common spice in South Asia and a standard component of curry powders. It has numerous healthful properties. Consumption of curcumin is associated with a decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, and it has anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet effects. A new study shows that it can also help prevent diabetes.


In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with 240 subjects with pre-diabetes, researchers gave either curcumin or placebo capsules for nine months. They assessed the progression of their condition to diabetes and also did other testing. This included changes in beta-cell function (the cells that produce insulin), insulin resistance, C-peptide levels, and anti-inflammatory cytokines. (Chuengsamarn S, et al., Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2012 Jul 6. [Epub ahead of print])


After nine months, 16.4 percent of the placebo group were diagnosed with diabetes, while none of the curcumin treatment group developed the disease. The curcumin group also had lower insulin resistance, better beta-cell function, and lower C-peptide levels. Curcumin is one of many natural treatments for diabetes and its prevention. These include high-fiber diets and exercise, and supplements of chromium, alpha-lipoic acid, cinnamon, milk thistle (with standardized amounts of silymarin), and coenzyme Q10.


From Health Info Newsletter September 4, 2012: EFT Workshops, Osteoarthritis, Diabetes, Flax Seed


Tinnitus: Can Melatonin Stop the Ringing?

Tinnitus refers hearing a constant ringing, roaring, clicking or hissing sound. It is Millions of people in the U.S. have tinnitus. People with severe tinnitus may have trouble hearing, working or even sleeping. Causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, exposure to loud noises or medicines (particularly Valium-type drugs [benzodiazepines]). Tinnitus may also be a symptom of other health problems, such as allergies, high or low blood pressure, tumors and problems in the heart, blood vessels, jaw and neck.

Treating Tinnitus
Treatment depends on the cause. If it is due to barotraumas from long-term exposure to load noise or music, scuba diving, or other causes of damage it is more difficult to treat. Magnesium supplementation may help, however. Other natural medicines that have been shown to be useful include:

  • Zinc supplementation can relieve or eliminate tinnitus in those with zinc deficiency – a common occurrence in many cases of tinnitus.
  • The results double-blind studies with Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) are contradictory. People with recent-onset tinnitus are more likely to respond to GBE compared to those who have had tinnitus for at least 3 years.
  • Forty-seven percent of patients with tinnitus are deficient in B12. Many people with low B12 levels experience complete resolution of their tinnitus when given methylcobalamin. Take 2000 mcg twice daily for one month and then reduce it to 1000 mcg daily as a maintenance dose.

New Data:
A previous study demonstrated that 3 mg of melatonin at bedtime significantly improved tinnitus as well as sleep quality. In a new double-blind, crossover clinical trial 61 adults with chronic tinnitus were randomized to receive 3 mg melatonin or placebo nightly for 30 days followed by a 1-month washout period before switching over to the other treatment. Results demonstrated very convincingly that melatonin was associated with a statistically significant decrease in tinnitus intensity and improved sleep quality in these patients with chronic tinnitus. Melatonin was most effective in men, those without a history of depression, those who have not undergone prior tinnitus treatments, those with more severe and bilateral tinnitus, and those with a history of noise exposure.

Hurtuk A, Dome C, Holloman CH, et al. Melatonin: can it stop the ringing? Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2011 Jul;120(7):433-40.

Green Tea Extract and L-Theanine Improve Mental Function

L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea leaves, helps reduce stress, promote relaxation and improve the quality of sleep. L-theanine is found in tea leaves in low concentrations (less than 2 percent), which means that effective dosage levels (of 100 – 200mg/day) cannot be delivered from drinking tea. Recently, animal studies and human studies have shown that a high dose of L-theanine (100 mg) combined with caffeine about at the level of a single cup of tea (40 mg), can help to improve attention, memory, and cognition.

L-Theanine Actions
There is no question that caffeine increases alertness, but this effect comes at a price. L-Theanine appears to counteract some of the stimulatory effects of caffeine while exerting benefits of its own. Some of the effects noted for L-theanine include:

  • Increasing brain serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels.
  • Binding to various brain receptor sites.
  • Improving learning and memory in animal studies.
      • Positive results in double-blind studies showing it:
      • Reducing feelings of stress.
      • Improves the quality of sleep.
      • Diminishes the symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome
      • Increasing the production of alpha brain waves


L-theanine is a very is a popular ingredient in function foods and beverages as well as dietary supplements designed to produce mental and physical relaxation, without inducing drowsiness.

New Data

In a study of 91 subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), subjects were given either the green tea-theanine combination or a placebo. Neuropsychological tests (Rey-Kim memory test and Stroop color-word test) and electroencephalography (EEG) were conducted to evaluate the effect of green tea-theanine on memory and attention. The results demonstrated that the green tea-theanine product led to improvements in memory and attention. The EEG tracings indicated an increase in brain theta waves, an indicator of cognitive alertness.

Park SK, Jung IC, Lee WK, et al. A combination of green tea extract and l-theanine improves memory and attention in subjects with mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Med Food. 2011 Apr;14(4):334-43.

Search for both green tea and Theanine, there is more info here.

“A Randomized, Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Patients with Active Rheumatoid Arthritis,” Chandran B, Goel A, et al, Phytother Res, 2012 March 9; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Nirmala Medical Centre, Muvattupuzha, Kerala, India).

In a randomized study involving 45 patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, supplementation with 500 mg/d curcumin (an active agent found in the yellow curry spice, turmeric) was found to be associated with significant improvement in symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Subjects were randomized to: a) curcumin (500 mg/d); diclofenac sodium (50 mg/d); combination of curcumin and diclofenac sodium. Subjects in the curcumin alone group showed the greatest improvements in Disease Activity Score and American College of Rheumatology criteria for reduction in tenderness and swelling of joint scores. Curcumin was found to be safe and no adverse effects were noted. The authors conclude, “Our study provides the first evidence for the safety and superiority of curcumin treatment in patients with active RA, and highlights the need for future large-scale trials to validate these findings in patients with RA and other arthritic conditions.

Here is a very good article on using Lavender and its use in anxiety and depression both as aromatherapy and orally. The oral form is Lavela WS 1265 60 softgels and can be purchased through Emerson Ecologics. See the top of the page on how to order.


From Health Info Newsletter July 13, 2012: Tinnitus, Green Tea/brain function, Rheumatiod Arthritis, Lavender & mood


by Nick Soloway

Red Clover for Menopausal Symptoms


Red Clover Isoflavones in Postmenopausal Women: Skin, Appendages, Mucosal Status


“Effect of Red Clover Isoflavones over Skin, Appendages, and Mucosal Status in Postmenopausal Women,” Lipovac M, Chedraui P, et al, Obstet Gynecol Int, 2011; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, General Public Teaching Hospital Korneuburg, 2100 Korneuburg, Austria).


In a crossover, placebo-controlled study involving 109 postmenopausal women, supplementation with red clover extract isoflavones was found to improve scalp hair and skin status, libido, mood, sleep, and reduce tiredness.


Subjects were randomized to: 2 daily capsules of the red clover extract (80 mg), or placebo, for a period of 90 days, after which the interventions were crossed over (after a 7 day washout period). Subjective improvements in scalp hair and skin status, libido, mood, sleep, and tiredness were found after supplementation with red clover extract.


No significant differences in urinary complaints, nail, body hair, and oral/nasal/ocular mucosa were found. Subjects in the red clover extract group reported higher overall satisfaction. The authors conclude, “RCE supplementation exerted a subject improvement of scalp hair and skin status as well as libido, mood, sleep, and tiredness in postmenopausal women.”


Red Clover Isoflavones and Vasomotor Symptoms in Postmenopausal Women




“The effect of red clover isoflavone supplementation over vasomotor and menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women,” Lipovac M, Chedraui P, et al, Gynecol Endocrinol, 2012 March; 28(3): 203-7. (Address: Martin Imhof, General Public Teaching Hospital Korneuburg, Wiener Ring 3-5, A-2100 Korneuburg, Austria. E-mail: martin.imhof@meduniwien.ac.at and martin@imhof.at ).


In a placebo-controlled study involving 109 postmenopausal women aged 40 years or older, supplementation with red clover isoflavones (80 mg/d) for a period of 90 days, was found to be associated with reducing daily hot flashes and vasomotor symptoms and overall intensity of menopausal symptoms.


Specifically, subjects were randomized to 80 mg/d red clover isoflavones or placebo for a period of 90 days, after which the interventions were crossed over (following a 7 day washout). Supplementation with red clover isoflavones was associated with significant reductions in daily hot flashes, night sweats, and overall menopausal symptom intensity, while placebo was associated with increases in all indices.


The authors state, “Red clover isoflavone supplementation was more effective than placebo in reducing daily vasomotor frequency and overall menopausal intensity in postmenopausal women.”

From Health Info Newsletter February 24, 2012: GMOs, Red Clover for Menopause, Green Tea

Green Tea

by Nick Soloway

Green Tea

Green tea contains volatile oils, vitamins, minerals, and caffeine, but the primary constituents of interest are the polyphenols, particularly the catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). The polyphenols are believed to be responsible for most of green tea’s roles in promoting good health.51

Green tea has been shown to mildly lower total cholesterol levels and improve the cholesterol profile (decreasing LDL “bad” cholesterol and increasing HDL “good” cholesterol) in most,52, 53, 54, 55 but not all,56 studies. Green tea may also promote cardiovascular health by making platelets in the blood less sticky.

Green tea has been shown to protect against the oxidation of cholesterol to a more toxic molecule (oxidized cholesterol).57 Consumption of green tea increases antioxidant activity in the blood.58Oxidative damage to LDL can promoteatherosclerosis. While population studies have suggested that consumption of green tea is associated with protection against atherosclerosis,59 the evidence is still preliminary.

Several animal and test tube studies have demonstrated an anticancer effect of polyphenols from green tea.60, 61, 62 In one of these studies, a polyphenol called catechin from green tea effectively inhibited metastasis (uncontrolled spread) of melanoma (skin cancer) cells.63 The polyphenols in green tea have also been associated with reduced risk of several types of cancer in humans.64, 65, 66However, some human studies have found no association between green tea consumption and decreased cancer risk.67, 68

In a double-blind trial, people with leukoplakia (a pre-cancerous oral condition) took 3 grams orally per day of a mixture of whole green tea, green tea polyphenols, and green tea pigments orally, and also painted a mixture of the tea on their lesions TID for six months.69 As compared to the placebo group, those in the green tea group had significant decreases in the pre-cancerous condition.

Compounds in green tea, as well as black tea, may reduce the risk of dental caries.70 Human volunteers rinsing with an alcohol extract of oolong tea leaves HS each night for four days had significantly less plaque formation, but similar amounts of plaque-causing bacteria, compared to those with no treatment.71

Green tea polyphenols have been shown to stimulate the production of several immune system cells, and have topical antibacterial properties—even against the bacteria that cause dental plaque.72, 73, 74

One study found that intake of 10 cups or more of green tea per day improved blood test results, indicating protection against liver damage.75 Further studies are needed to determine if taking green tea helps those with liver diseases.

Tea flavonoids given by capsule reduced fecal odor and favorably altered the gut bacteria in elderly Japanese with feeding tubes living in nursing homes.76 The study was repeated in bedridden elderly not on feeding tubes, and green tea was again shown to improve their gut bacteria.77 These studies raise the possibility of using green tea in other settings where gut bacteria are disturbed, such as after taking antibiotics. Further studies are needed to clarify the role of green tea in this respect, however.

High-tannin tea has been shown to reduce the need for blood removal from people with iron overload, or hemochromatosis, in an open study.78 The tea had to be taken with meals and without lemon or milk to be effective. Tea is believed to help in hemochromatosis by preventing iron absorption.

In a double-blind trial, men with precancerous changes in the prostate received a green tea extract providing 600 mg of catechins per day or a placebo for one year. After one year, prostate cancer had developed in 3.3% of the men receiving the green tea extract and in 30% of those given the placebo, a statistically significant difference.79 These results suggest that drinking green tea or taking green tea catechins may help prevent prostate cancer in men at high risk of developing the disease.

There are four case reports in which certain types of leukemia or lymphoma (low grade B-cell malignancies) improved after the patients began taking green tea extracts.80

Recommended Dosage

Much of the research documenting the health benefits of green tea is based on the amount of green tea typically consumed in Asian countries—about 3 cups (750 ml) per day (providing 240–320 mg of polyphenols).81 However, other research suggests as much as 10 cups (2,500 ml) per day is necessary to obtain noticeable benefits from green tea ingestion.82, 83


To brew green tea, 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of green tea leaves are combined with 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water and steeped for three minutes.


Decaffeinated tea is recommended to reduce the side effects associated with caffeine, including anxiety and insomnia. Tablets and capsules containing standardized extracts of polyphenols, particularly EGCG, are available. Some provide up to 97% polyphenol content—which is equivalent to drinking 4 cups (1,000 ml) of tea. Many of these standardized products are decaffeinated.


From Health Info Newsletter February 24, 2012: GMOs, Red Clover for Menopause, Green Tea


by Nick Soloway


Things are heating up in the GMO wars. In California, an initiative is underway to force GMO labeling on all food products. Joe Mercola, MD is helping us fight this battle here in California, as this state is the bellwether state for political action. What happens here usually happens around the country. And it’s already starting to happen.

Further east, two U.S. Senators have written a “Dear Colleague” letter and released it to the public on February 8. They urged their colleagues to support the labeling of GMO foods. This is the first of its kind in Congress. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get your Congressional representatives to listen to you for once, instead of predatory industry giants like Monsanto.

The Center for Food Safety has this to say: “Genetically engineered foods are required to be labeled in nearly 50 countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, China, New Zealand, and many others. A recent poll released by ABC News found that 93% of the American public wants the federal government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. As ABC News stated, `Such near-unanimity in public opinion is rare.’ Yet the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require labeling of GE food!”

It’s time for that to change! Please call or email your legislators repeatedly this month (the close date is Wednesday, February 29th).. And we need to encourage them to support the labeling of GE salmon and other foods. For other legislators, please use the following links to find their email and phone number, or use the zip code access available at the listed link.

(1) To locate your House Representative:
To enter your zip code: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.
If you know your Representative’s name: http://www.house.gov/representatives/.
(2) To locate your Senators:


Thank you for taking action! This is a health and medical freedom issue. Please make your voice heard to the above officials as well as any Congressional leaders not specifically named above.

From www.moveon.org
Below is an email from Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation”, and Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm. Eric and Gary created a petition on SignOn.org that is getting a lot of attention.

The FDA is on the brink of approving genetically engineered salmon for human consumption. This would be the first genetically engineered animal on supermarket shelves in the United States.


The salmon is engineered to produce growth hormones year-round that cause the fish to grow at twice the normal rate. The government already requires labels to tell us if fish is wild-caught or farm-raised—don’t we also have a right to know if our salmon is genetically engineered? Without labels, we’ll never know.


More than forty countries, including Russia and China, already require labels on genetically engineered foods. As Americans, we firmly believe that we deserve the same right to know what we are eating.


That’s why I created a petition to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on SignOn.org, which says:


Commissioner Hamburg, we urge the FDA to require the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. We have a right to know about the food we eat and what we feed our families, but under current FDA regulations, we don’t have that ability when it comes to genetically engineered foods.


Polls show that more than 90% of Americans support mandatory labeling. Such near-unanimity in public opinion is rare. Please listen to the American public and mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods.


Will you sign the petition? Click here to add your name, and then pass it along to your friends:






–Eric Schlosser and Gary Hirshberg



by Nick Soloway

Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer

About three to four weeks ago a study was reported the said that taking Vitamin E increased prostate cancer risk. About a year ago there was a study that seemed to show that Vitamin E did not have any value in preventing heart disease. Below is an explanation of the reason why these results may have happened.

Vitamin E and prostate cancer: does the type of vitamin E matter?
by Alan Gaby, MD

In the other study, 35,533 men were randomly assigned to receive 400 IU per day of vitamin E (in the form of alpha-tocopherol) or placebo for an average of 5.5 years, and the men were then followed for a total of approximately 7 years. During that time, the incidence of prostate cancer was significantly higher by 17% in the vitamin E group than in the placebo group.

Although the study was well designed from a technical standpoint, it suffers from an important weakness, in that the type of vitamin E used was not the same as the vitamin E that occurs in food. Vitamin E is found in food in 4 different forms: alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol. However, as is the case with most vitamin E research, the men in this study were given only alpha-tocopherol. Early research suggested that most, if not all, of the biological activity of vitamin E is due to alpha-tocopherol, but it is now known that at least one of the other components-gamma-tocopherol-has important functions. Furthermore, treatment with large doses of alpha-tocopherol has been shown to deplete gamma-tocopherol, potentially upsetting the natural balance of the different forms of vitamin E in the body. “Mixed tocopherols,” on the other hand, a supplement that contains all four types of vitamin E, would not be expected to cause such an imbalance.

In a previous study, both alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol inhibited the growth of human prostate cancer cells in vitro, but gamma-tocopherol was the more potent of the two.3 In another study, higher blood levels of alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol were each associated a lower risk of developing prostate cancer, but the protective effect of gamma-tocopherol was greater than that of alpha-tocopherol.4

Clinical trials that used alpha-tocopherol in doses lower than 400 IU per day did not find an adverse effect on prostate cancer incidence. In a double-blind study of male smokers, compared with placebo, supplementation with 50 IU per day for 5-8 years significantly decreased the incidence of prostate cancer by 32%.5 In a double-blind study of male physicians, supplementation with 200 IU per day (400 IU every other day) for 8 years resulted in a nonsignificant 3% decrease in prostate cancer incidence, compared with placebo.6 Thus, the effect of alpha-tocopherol on prostate cancer appears to be dose-related: protective at low doses (50 IU per day), neutral or modestly protective at intermediate doses (200 IU per day), and harmful at high doses (400 IU per day).

The totality of the evidence suggests that alpha-tocopherol has a protective effect against prostate cancer. However, when alpha-tocopherol is given by itself in large doses (such as 400 IU per day or more), it depletes gamma-tocopherol, which could more than negate any beneficial effect that alpha-tocopherol might have. If that is the case, then taking vitamin E in the form of mixed tocopherols would not be expected to increase prostate cancer risk, and might even help prevent prostate cancer. Further research is needed to examine that possibility.


How to supercharge your prostate formula

from Robert J. Rowen, MD



If you’re taking a prostate formula to prevent prostate enlargement or cancer, good for you! But what if I told you there’s a simple way to supercharge your prostate formula and make it work substantially better? Interested?

Well, I’ve just discovered another possible wonder supplement for prostate protection. It’s grapeseed extract.

Yes, the stuff you might spit out when eating those delicious small globes really offer tremendous protection for your prostate. A report in a respected cancer journal found that any intake of grapeseed extract in a large group of 35,239 men (aged 50-76) reduced their risk of prostate cancer.


Interestingly, they didn’t find any protection from other supplements they followed in the study. These included chondroitin, CoQ10, fish oil, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, glucosamine, or saw palmetto. The participants were questioned specifically about their use of supplements.

While questionnaire studies are not the most accurate, they can point of value when the results are significant. And the results of this study in favor of grapeseed extract were very significant.

The researchers found any use of grapeseed supplements reduced the total risk of prostate cancer by a whopping 41%. That’s a huge finding. Imagine if Big Pharma found a patentable drug that produced these results. You would hear the news all over the media. But in this case, even the researchers weren’t impressed. The authors weren’t ready to endorse the use of grapeseeds at this time.

When I read this report I dug a little deeper. Another research team became aware of the use of the extract by men with prostate cancer. This team studied possible mechanisms of why it might be effective in this common disease. Here’s what they found.

Their work showed that grapeseed extract inhibits the cancer growth and also induces apoptotic death of human prostate cancer cells. This was true both in a lab culture and in living mice with implanted human prostate cancers. They found the toxic effects on the cancer cells to be “rather strong.” They found that grapeseed induced specific damage to cancer cell mitochondria and their membranes. The result was cell suicide (apoptosis), which is what we want wayward cells to do.

I have always been a fan of grapeseed extract supplements. They are packed with oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes, much like the bilberry supplements we use for eye health. These are potent bioflavonoids (plant chemicals) with enormous preventive and healing powers. After reading all of this information, I’m not recommending my prostate cancer patients take grapeseed extract. In fact, I’ll likely add the extract to all of my cancer programs.

I strongly believe that anything that can treat a cancer will likely be effective at preventing it. So I’m also recommending every man over the age of 40 take a grapeseed extract every day.

From December 5, 2011 Health Info Newsletter: Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer, Prostate Health, Warts


by Nick Soloway

You really can use it for everything

by Jonathan Wright, MD


Q: Okay, how do I get rid of this unsightly wart on my finger?


Dr. Wright: One of the best treatments I have found for removing warts is one that doesn’t actually involve any vitamins, herbs, or other nutrients. In fact, all it involves is duct tape.


Several years ago, Dr. Dean Focht, a medical resident at Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, had 51 individuals, ages 3 to 22, use either standard liquid nitrogen freezing therapy or “duct tape therapy” for wart removal.


Of the 25 individuals using duct tape, 85 percent had their warts disappear, usually within a month. In the 26-member liquid nitrogen group, only 60 percent of the warts went away.


The therapy itself is fairly easy: Just cut the duct tape to the size of the wart and stick it on for six days. Then remove the tape, soak the wart in water, and buff it with pumice or an emery board. Twelve hours later, apply new tape. Repeat this cycle until the wart disappears.


If you find that the duct tape keeps falling off, or if you just want to disguise it, the easiest solution is to put a band-aid over the tape.


From December 5, 2011 Health Info Newsletter: Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer, Prostate Health, Warts

Brain Boosters

Brain Boosters

Some nutritional supplements provide real food for thought
By Janet Raloff
Science News February 26th, 2011; Vol.179 #5 (p. 26)

On his third consecutive evening of air combat, a military pilot closes in on the night’s quarry, a suspected Taliban fuel depot in Afghanistan. Fatigued, his alertness flagging, the pilot throws some chewing gum into his mouth. Laced with caffeine, it’s the cockpit alternative to a cup of coffee.


This pilot would probably suspect that the gum is just a perk-me-up. But several caffeinated military rations — including this relatively new one — do more than stave off sleepiness. Emerging data indicate that these rations boost not only attention but also cognitive performance, features that do not necessarily climb in lockstep.


The U.S. Department of Defense has been investigating such supplements to improve the ability of U.S. armed forces to maintain sustained periods of intense vigilance and focus, explains Harris Lieberman, a psychologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass. Another hope, he notes: These dietary aids might minimize the risk of “friendly fire.”

Army researchers at the institute, including Lieberman, are at the forefront of a small but growing cadre of investigators exploring how to boost what they call mental energy. This rather fuzzy phrase embraces wakefulness, but also includes mood, motivation and the capacity to perform key mental tasks.


Increasing mental energy is important for those enervated because of a lack of sleep or for those whose jobs, like those of fighter pilots, require vigilance even in the face of sleep deprivation. Compounds that keep you awake, it turns out, can also boost other aspects of mental performance. Improved cognition is emerging as a quantifiable side benefit of many of these substances — in some cases, even for those folks who aren’t sleepy to begin with.


But the data can be hard to interpret, primarily because no test exists to directly measure mental energy, explains Patrick O’Connor of the University of Georgia in Athens. It must be inferred from other indicators. Still, it is fair to view fatigue and mental energy as anchoring opposite poles of a common spectrum, he says.


Similarly, caffeine anchors the stimulatory end of a spectrum of natural products exhibiting promise in hiking or sustaining cognitive aspects of mental energy. Others include L-theanine in tea, guarana, cocoa constituents and ginseng.


Learning how these compounds work, at what doses and under what circumstances, is important, argues O’Connor, because “mental energy underlies everything in our lives.” It’s key, he says, to achieving goals at home and work — and even to the success of the economy.


Perky brews


More data has emerged on caffeine’s role in promoting mental energy than on any other dietary constituent. The stimulant blocks the activity of adenosine, a molecule that slows heart rate and induces drowsiness. Caffeine perks people up, Lieberman says, “by blocking something that normally slows you down.”


At the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in April in Anaheim, Calif., he described how, some 25 years ago, his team found that as little as 32 milligrams of caffeine — equivalent to what’s in a 12-ounce can of cola or less than a cup of regular coffee — improved attentiveness for auditory and visual cues.


People had thought that any improved performance from caffeine might be limited to people who were tired. Here, though, the young men in the study were well rested, suggesting broader benefits.


Lieberman’s more recent work has tested caffeine’s effects on tasks especially relevant to the military. For instance, a study conducted during the training of 68 Navy SEALs assayed the effects of caffeine after 72 hours of sleep deprivation and round-the-clock exposure to cold and other stressors. The men were taking part in a weeklong test of endurance known as Hell Week.


Not surprisingly, the exhausted trainees didn’t do nearly as well on tests of vigilance and other measures of cognitive performance three days into Hell Week as they had before the training marathon began. But those who got between 100 and 300 milligrams of caffeine an hour before a battery of mental tests made fewer mistakes and responded more quickly.


One task asked SEALs to scan for faint images that appeared for a couple of seconds on a computer monitor. Trainees who got no caffeine scored an average of 7.9 correct hits out of 20, while those given caffeine averaged between 10.6 and 12.2 correct responses. Caffeine recipients also had nearly 30 percent shorter response times. Scores on several other tasks, including a test of marksmanship, were unaffected.


Other scientists have been exploring caffeine’s impacts on the brain. Andrew Smith of Cardiff University in Wales, for instance, asked 118 students to watch a computer screen where three-digit numbers appeared at a rate of 100 per minute. When two consecutive numbers matched, participants were to note it with a keystroke. Before the tests, 84 students were given chewing gum; roughly half (41) got gum laced with 40 milligrams of caffeine.


Students reported feeling substantially more alert after chewing the caffeinated gum. They also performed better on some tests, including the one in which they had to identify repeated numbers. Those given caffeine were 4.4 percent faster than those who worked gum-free and 4 percent faster than noncaffeinated-gum chewers. The stimulant also appeared to speed up people’s ability to learn new information, Smith reported in the April 2009 Human Psychopharmacology.


Tea’s bonus


Tea, which people worldwide drink more of than any other beverage except water, is a major dietary source of caffeine. Unlike coffee, it contains another potentially powerful ingredient for brain activity: L-theanine, an amino acid that can alter alpha brain wave rhythms, inducing wakeful relaxation.


In 2008 in Nutrition Reviews, Janet Bryan of the University of South Australia in Adelaide observed that alpha wave activity has been linked to “increased performance under stress and improved learning and concentration” and reduced anxiety. L-theanine seems to enhance caffeine’s mental benefits, she noted.


Unilever, which owns Lipton, is actively investigating L-theanine’s effects. Neither caffeine nor tea’s caffeine-theanine combo augment performance on all types of mental tests, says Eveline De Bruin, a cognitive neuro scientist with Unilever’s R&D facility in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands. The biggest impacts, she says, are in enhancing what’s known as executive function — the ability to perform complex tasks that rely on planning or decision making.

For instance, in an upcoming issue of Appetite, De Bruin’s team reports that tea brings boosts in executive function that increase with dose. On each day of a two-day study, 26 volunteers drank either strong tea or a tealike placebo before testing. One test asked participants to listen to rules on how to respond to sounds or images on a computer screen — and the rules changed every few seconds during each five-minute session. The men and women responded correctly in the auditory test almost twice as often (around 15 to 20 percent of the time versus 8 or 9 percent) after drinking tea rather than the placebo. Participants were also marginally — but reliably — more accurate after tea on a test that looked at the ability to plan and execute decisions (see “Switch test”).


Switch test


Used to assess some cognitive impacts of food supplements, this test asks participants to hit a computer key when either of two combinations appears on-screen. Screens refresh once a second for five minutes, and target combinations may switch during the task. The example here prompts participants to respond when they see a letter and an even number (but only if green) or a number and vowel (but only if orange). L-theanine-rich tea boosted scores on this task, which measures one aspect of attention: the ability to plan and execute decisions.


While Unilever has demonstrated that tea enriched with triple the normal amount of L-theanine improves attention, De Bruin says Lipton has no plans to market such a product. “It is an interesting idea,” she concedes, “but at present Lipton is proud of producing an all-natural leaf-tea product that is unmodified yet capable of noticeably improving attention and alertness.”


Sweet paradox


Thinking, calculating, planning, learning, remembering — such mental tasks consume plenty of energy. Because glucose, better known as blood sugar, fuels body and brain, it might seem that a good dose of something sweet would be just what Mother Nature ordered to kick-start your neural hardware. Yet people with diabetes and high blood sugar levels can suffer from cognitive impairments.


Studies have begun probing this seeming contradiction. Two papers in August in Psychopharmacology, for instance,report a boost in mental performance when healthy people down a drink fortified with at least 50 grams of glucose (about 10 teaspoons worth) following a 12-hour overnight fast.


Christine Gagnon of the University of Quebec at Montreal and colleagues showed that in 44 people age 60 and up, drinking the glucose 15 minutes before the start of testing led to better scores on some tests than did the sugar-free alternative. Those on a sugar rush performed faster and accrued fewer errors when asked to quickly read a color name or name the color of words (even if a color word, such as green, appeared in a different color, say red). Glucose appeared especially beneficial in tasks that required switching and dividing attention, the researchers observed.


Among 90 undergrads, a sugary drink improved immediate recall of words, not faces, compared with a sugar-free one, reported a team led by Lauren Owen of the Brain Sciences Institute at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Recall of large numbers that had appeared in earlier math calculations also improved.


Doses given in each study were high and would be ill-advised for people with trouble controlling their blood sugar, such as those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. But David Benton of Swansea University in Wales has shown there may be a way to get the benefits of a glucose burst without overdoing sugary drinks. At the experimental biology meeting, he presented data indicating that for mental performance, it’s actually better to deliver glucose parsimoniously. He does it by giving subjects foods containing carbohydrates that digest slowly.


In an early study, Benton’s team gave cereals, breakfast bars or biscuits with roughly equal calories to 106 undergraduate women. The main difference between the meals was their glycemic index — how quickly the carbs break down into glucose.


Thirty minutes later and at regular intervals thereafter, the women took memory tests. Those who got the low-glycemic breakfast performed progressively better than those eating the rapidly digested meals. The difference was most dramatic for a later testing, 3.5 hours after breakfast, Benton says.


His group ran a similar test in rats, feeding them either quickly or slowly digested carbs. The rodents exhibited a similar improvement in learning when they got the slowly digested chow.


In a follow-up test, Benton’s group administered breakfast to kids in an elementary school class for four weeks. Kids got a meal with high-glycemic carbs on one-third of the days, low-glycemic foods on another third, and carbs that broke down at an intermediate rate on the remaining days.


On various days throughout the trial, hidden cameras recorded the 19 children while they were supposed to be working independently on a reading or math assignment. The behavior of each child was recorded over a 30-minute period and scientists later logged what the youngster had been doing: working, looking around the room, talking to others, fidgeting, acting out or moving around the room. On days when the kids had eaten the low-glycemic breakfast, they were much more likely to remain on task — 26 percent of the time versus 18 percent or less on the other days.


The kids also took simple memory tests and played with a video game that was rigged to be frustratingly difficult to master. On days they had eaten the slow-to-digest breakfast, kids exhibited more initial patience with the game. Their recall was also better — “about 10 percent better,” Benton says. It’s a small difference, he acknowledges. “But if your child came home with 10 percent better scores on a test, would it matter to you? Most parents would say yes.”


Herbal therapies


Tea and coffee aren’t the only natural stimulant-laced plant extracts to show energizing as well as brain-boosting attributes. There’s also guarana. Seeds of this Amazonian plant are an especially potent source of caffeine, which can constitute 5 percent of dried extracts. But guarana may have more than caffeine going for it.


At the experimental biology meeting, David Kennedy of Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, described cognitive benefits in young adults given small amounts of guarana — more benefits than when those volunteers received high doses. Indeed, Kennedy noted, guarana amounts needed to boost test scores and mood contained just 4 to 9 milligrams of caffeine. “That’s only about a tenth as much as you’d find in a cup of coffee,” Kennedy points out. “So guarana was doing something that wasn’t attributable to its caffeine” — although his team doesn’t yet know what.


He and colleagues have also been investigating other natural products that might elevate energy, attention and mental performance. Among these: Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng). Young adults scored better on a battery of mental tests — including serial subtraction of numbers in their heads — and exhibited less mental fatigue after getting this herbal supplement rather than a placebo.


How Chinese ginseng may improve performance is unknown, but Kennedy suspects the effect might have to do with ginseng’s ability to moderate blood sugar levels. At least at the 200-milligram dose used by his group, this supplement caused a drop in blood-glucose levels one hour after consumption.


Researchers report that American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) also shows promise. Compared with a placebo, all doses improved some aspect of cognition, Swinburne’s Andrew Scholey and colleagues report in October in Psychopharmacology. One difference: This herbal supplement had no effect on blood glucose.


The Northumbria researchers are also exploring the idea that some natural products bolster brain function by affecting blood flow. For instance, if they dilate vessels, the products might allow more fuel — glucose — in to power brain activities. Kennedy and colleagues tested the idea by giving 30 students a cup of cocoa on three mornings. Each day’s formulation contained a different amount — 46, 520 or 994 milligrams per serving — of cocoa flavanols, natural agents that have antioxidant and sometimes heart-healthy properties.


The cocoa packages used in the study were prepared by Mars, a candy company that has been exploring health attributes of some chocolate products.


Both higher-dose formulations, especially the middle one, improved performance during mentally challenging tests involving math and the visual processing of information, the scientists report. At the same time, the college students receiving the middle dose reported a reduction in mental fatigue. Maximum benefits showed up two hours into testing, which roughly corresponds to the expected peaks in concentrations of flavanols in the blood and in blood flow to the brain, Kennedy’s team reported in the October Journal of Psychopharmacology.


Buyer beware


The concept of mental energy is hardly new; recognition of it, on some level, dates back to Aristotle. But only during the last two decades has a steady trickle of studies begun quantifying how various dietary constituents battle fatigue and the fuzzy thinking that may accompany it.


The food industry has paid rapt attention to study findings (and, as is the case with Unilever and Mars, has even helped pay for some of the research). Indeed, O’Connor observes, hundreds of new products claim to boost mental energy. And their appeal is understandable since mental energy helps motivate people not only to work but also to stick with it when the going gets hard.


“Unfortunately,” he adds, product claims “rarely are supported by compelling, unbiased scientific evidence.”


Michael Falk and colleagues at the Life Sciences Research Organization in Bethesda, Md., recently conducted a major review of supplements and ingredients (other than caffeine) that purport to boost attentiveness and mental performance in people. The researchers identified 265 research reports in the scientific literature that met certain criteria.


Falk’s team focused on 35 dietary constituents or factors, such as meal timing and the number of calories consumed. Promising data exist for ginkgo, ginseng, glucose and a few others, Falk says. But overall, his team concluded, for most “insufficient evidence is available to evaluate mental energy claims.”


Much of the problem may reflect how the testing was conducted, he points out. For about three-fourths of the substances, there were no more than 10 qualifying studies; for more than half, there were five or fewer, the team reported in the December 2010 Nutrition Reviews. And for any given nutrient, Falk notes, different trials often applied different tests to assess mood, motivation and mental prowess — which made comparisons difficult.

Many of the reports also tested very different populations (young adults in some, the elderly in others), had different criteria for whether subjects were healthy, and failed to establish baseline measures of mood and mental proficiency before administering a potential brain booster. Further complicating the picture: “You’re looking at what are relatively small effects and hard to measure,” he says. “And these are against a background of high methodological and statistical noise.” Such variations “undermine our ability to make strong conclusions.”


But Falk suspects that may change fairly soon. Researchers have been investigating what to measure and how to do it. And they’ve determined that agents with promise don’t always point to common benefits. Some may aid memory. Others may sharpen mental focus or speed up reaction times. Still others might make decision making easier.


When scientists begin standardizing tests, “I’m betting they’ll come out with stronger, more narrowly focused and more [scientifically] supportable conclusions,” Falk says. Findings that he says should point to whom these dietary supplements will benefit — and under which real-world conditions.




On the mental menu


Recent work suggests dietary substances such as caffeine and glucose may boost mental skills. Evidence for others (“Emerging substances”) is preliminary.




Increases visual and auditory vigilance; speeds reaction times, improves accuracy and limits false positives on vigilance tasks; and increases learning and short-term memory on computer tests that require keystroke responses.




Increases speed and accuracy of pattern recognition that switches arbitrarily over time, increases relaxation, boosts accuracy of processing of rapidly delivered visual information and reduces susceptibility to distracting information during memory tests. May improve aspects of cognitive performance when delivered with caffeine, as in tea.




Enhances memory of recent words or images, increases verbal fluency, improves pace of some types of serial subtraction, speeds decision times, enhances facial recognition and, among children, limits vulnerability to distraction when working alone.




Increases alertness and the ability to recall words and images at a later point in time.


Emerging substances

Ginkgo biloba


Improves pattern recognition and sustained attention, enhances delayed recall and memory of faces, and improves pace of serial subtraction and executive decision making.


Chinese ginseng

Enhances speed of recall, improves performance on simple arithmetic tasks and decreases false alarms on tests that require rapid processing of visual information.


Cocoa flavanols

Increase processing of rapid visual information and improve the ability to count backward (though have led to more errors in some serial subtractions).


From March 7, 2011 Health Info Newsletter: Brain Boosters

Cancer Fighting Berries

by Nick Soloway

Different berries, similar cancer-fighting effects

Animal tests suggest esophageal and breast cancer might be targets of several types of berries • Sciencenews.org July 17th, 2010; Vol.178 #2


Garden-variety berries provide about the same cancer-fighting punch as more exotic ones, a study of rats with esophageal cancer shows. A separate study finds a potentially protective effect against breast cancer as well.

Cancer biologist Gary Stoner of Ohio State University in Columbus and his colleagues tested seven berry types against cancer of the esophagus in rats —black raspberries, red raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, noni berries, açai berries and wolfberries (also called goji berries).


The scientists injected the animals with a carcinogenic chemical and gave some of the rats normal food, while others got similar chow containing 5 percent of one of the berries in dehydrated form.


While nearly all of the rats fed normal chow developed tumors rapidly, only about two-thirds of the berry-supplemented rats did. Overall, these rats had about half as many tumors as the others, the researchers report in the June Pharmaceutical Research. The berry-fed rats also had lower concentrations of interleukin-5 and a rat version of interleukin-8, inflammatory proteins implicated in esophageal cancer.


Earlier work by Stoner’s group found that black raspberries contain ample amounts of the two cancer-fighting compounds ellagitannin and anthocyanin. Ellagitannins also show up in nuts, pomegranates and other berries, while anthocyanins give many berries a red, purple or blue color.


But the new work shows that a berry need not have large concentrations of either compound to be a cancer fighter. For example, blueberries and açai berries are high in anthocyanins but low in ellagitannins. And wolfberries are low in both, Stoner says.


“There may be different things in different berries that are providing these [anticancer] effects,” says Ramesh C. Gupta, a cancer biologist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky. “It’s a good thing,” he says, since availability varies by region.


In the other study, Gupta and his colleagues induced breast cancer in female rats by implanting estrogen in the animals. Some animals received a diet comprising 2.5 percent dehydrated blueberries or black raspberries and others got food without berries. Those getting berries showed less tumor growth, the researchers report in the June Cancer Prevention Research. The berries also decreased activation of two genes implicated in breast cancer, CYP1A1 andCYP1B1.


Although the various berries tested in these studies differ from one another in chemical composition, they have things in common, such as an anti-inflammatory effect, Stoner says. They also contain cellulose, lignin and pectin. These fibrous compounds “may be the common denominator,” he says, because in digesting these fibers, the body makes butyrate, which previous research has shown may have anticancer properties.


“It could be the presence of more conventional antioxidants such as the carotenoids, or more likely vitamin C, which was not measured in this study,” says Susan Duthie, a nutritional biochemist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.


In any case, the potent anticancer effect of berries shown in lab-dish and animal studies has yet to be replicated in people, she cautions. A huge European study reported earlier this year found only very modest protection against cancer from a diet high in fruits and vegetables. “There is stronger protective evidence for berries and the compounds in them against heart disease and cognitive decline in humans,” Duthie says.

From February 7, 2011 Newsletter