>Seriously. People who are ill are always looking for ways to feel/get better. Other people take advantage of that, surprise, surprise. Found an article about food as medicine. Here’s a section from this:
“Even clinical-trial failures can make great marketing copy. POM Wonderful, the privately held Los Angeles maker of pricey pomegranate juice ($5 a pint), has spent $32 million funding scientific studies, including trials in 2,500 patients. “We’ve tried to bring modern science to bear on this ancient fruit,” says POM President Matthew Tupper. “We’re not aware of any other beverage supplement that has the same level of clinical research behind it.”
In fact, there’s not a single definitive result among studies listed on POM’s website. The biggest experiment, with 289 patients, used ultrasound on the neck to test whether drinking pomegranate juice reduced hardening of the arteries in heart patients. It found “no significant difference.” (The authors hypothesized that the juice may have helped sicker patients.) Other trials in prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction are more preliminary.
In February the FDA warned POM it was marketing its juice as an unapproved drug and demanded it tone down its sales pitch. The FDA cited all sorts of glowing testimonials on its site, including how the juice saved the life of a cancer patient, made mysterious lumps disappear and helped treat a heart-valve infection. POM says it’s negotiating with the FDA.
Plant sterols derived from nuts and grains are one of the few food additives with a proved health claim. They can lower cholesterol by up to 10%, human trials have found. Cardiology guidelines recommend them. Brands containing sterols include Promise Activ butter substitute (Unilever), Minute Maid Heart Health Orange Juice (Coca-Cola) and Smart Balance Peanut Butter (GFA Brands).
But sterols have never been proved to avert heart disease. “I don’t think anyone knows if they prevent heart attacks,” says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen. “There are basic scientists who are worried they don’t.” Some preliminary data suggest that sterols might harm arteries. In 2006 a small Finnish human study published in Atherosclerosis found that sterols keep arteries from relaxing, which indicates worsened blood vessel function. In a 2008 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, mice that were fed plant sterols suffered more-severe strokes. The researchers also found evidence that sterols collected in the blood vessel walls of human patients–just like cholesterol. Douglas Balentine, the head of nutrition at Unilever, says the animals in the studies were given massive doses that aren’t relevant to humans.
In the wake of these studies preventive cardiologists at the University of Wisconsin Hospital stopped recommending foods with sterols, says James Stein, UW’s head of preventive cardiology. “I don’t think a margarine should be considered a health food,” he says. For patients who want a cholesterol-lowering margarine, he says, Johnson & Johnson’s Benecol is a better choice because it contains plant stanols, which also block cholesterol but aren’t absorbed into the body.
Vitamins have been getting great p.r. ever since host Buffalo Bob Smith crowed on the U.S. TV show Howdy Doody, “Wonder Bread builds strong bodies eight ways,” in the 1950s. The latest fad: lacing sugar water with vitamins and positioning it as a health drink. The concept was dreamed up by entrepreneur and health nut Darius Bikoff, who started selling Vitaminwater in 1996 and sold the brand to Coke in 2001 for $4.1 billion. Pepsi and other beverage companies sell competing versions.
Nutritionists declare that there is no benefit to getting more than your recommended daily allowance of vitamins. “If you ingest what you need, that’s fine–and that’s it,” says Hans Verhagen, head of nutrition research at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health & the Environment. Westerners get enough of most vitamins, he says.
Excess vitamins can be dangerous. Supplement guru Gary Null claims he became severely ill after ingesting his own supplement that contained 1,000 times as much vitamin D as it was supposed to. He blames a contract manufacturer and is suing them.
But smaller doses may do harm, too. A 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association study pooled 68 trials of 232,000 patients and observed a 5% higher death rate among people who took high doses of beta-carotene, vitamin E or vitamin A. A 1999 study of 9,500 patients found that taking 400 international units of vitamin E daily raised the risk of heart failure by 13%. Swallowing enough fortified waters, snack bars and breads could edge consumers toward the upper limits for vitamins set by the U.S.’ National Institutes of Health, worries Marion L. Neuhouser, a diet researcher at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Water plus sugar plus questionable doses of vitamins. What’s Coke’s explanation? It says that Vitaminwater has less sugar than soda and that vitamins’ role in health “has been thoroughly documented.” It says the doses it uses are safe.
Web ads for FRS healthy energy boast the steely face of cyclist Lance Armstrong with the caption “Tired of being tired?” The liquid concentrate contains quercetin, a chemical derived from the skins of berries and grapes. The ads claim quercetin is “the only antioxidant clinically proven to boost energy.”
This bold promise is based on science done in animals and cells, along with some small human trials. One study of 11 elite cyclists found that those who took quercetin for six months were able to complete a time trial 3.1% faster than before, though the difference compared with a placebo was not significant.
Some scientists say quercetin holds promise for fighting fatigue and even infection. “The science is far beyond almost all of the other nutritional supplements on the market,” says University of South Carolina professor Mark Davis, who has consulted for the FRS Company.
But last year researchers at the University of Georgia found no benefit from the supplement in 30 healthy volunteers tested on seven different performance measures. (The study was funded by Coca-Cola, which apparently was thinking of launching its own quercetin supplement.) Lead researcher Kirk Cureton has tested 60 more patients since then, with the same null result. He says there is little evidence backing other popular energy additives, including the amino acid taurine in Red Bull. The exception: caffeine.
“It’s the marketing folks within these companies that make these decisions, not scientists,” says Cureton. “When the marketing people decide what they want to say, they go try and find some evidence to back it up.” FRS says the science behind its supplement is “unassailable.”
Emerging basic research suggests that imbalances in good gut bacteria may be involved in obesity, diabetes and other ills. Yogurt companies aren’t waiting for definitive answers. They’re touting all sorts of health benefits to their probiotic yogurts right now.
Danone’s Activia ($2 billion in annual sales) contains special bacteria that concentrate in the intestines and, in some studies, decrease the time it takes for food to move through the digestive system. Danone can’t claim it treats constipation, but it devised ingenious television ads in which actress Jamie Lee Curtis talks about “digestive issues.” “I’ve just discovered a yogurt that can help,” she says in one. An animation–just like the ones in drug ads–shows the good bacteria working in a woman’s belly.
Some human trials of other probiotics show they modestly reduce the incidence or severity of diarrhea in young kids. But it depends on which strain you eat. A 201-patient Israeli study from 2005 showed that two strains, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus reuteri, reduced diarrhea in infants. But reuteri was far more effective. “Think about probiotics how you think about antibiotics,” says Michael Cabana, the chief of pediatrics at UC, San Francisco. Probiotics are “not interchangeable.” But food companies aren’t required to say how much of which strains are in their yogurts, and many don’t.
Researchers once blithely assumed that any amount of probiotics was safe. Dutch researchers definitively disproved this in 2008 when they administered massive doses of good bacteria to the intestines of severe pancreatitis sufferers. Patients who got the good bacteria were more likely to die, according to results published in The Lancet.
Everyone knows that omega-3 fatty acids can protect the heart. Less well known: Not all omega-3 fatty acids are created equal.
Most big studies confirming the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3s have tested either docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 found in salmon, sardines and breast milk, or another fish oil called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). But many foods that brag about being “an excellent source” of omega-3 fatty acids instead contain alpha-linolenic acid (ala), derived from nuts and flaxseeds. Because only a small percentage of ala is converted into EPA and DHA inside the body, it may not have the same heart benefits, cardiologists say. Kellogg’s GoLean Honey Almond Flax cereal says it contains 500mg of omega-3, but it’s all ala. If you want omega-3s for your heart, read the fine print and look for products with EPA or DHA. Kashi says people don’t get enough omega-3 and that it makes no specific health claims.”