Controversy is no stranger to vitamins and herbs, albeit there are periods of more and of less attention. Popular news sources recently have been making much of a couple of issues: To start, there has been a regular drumbeat regarding the uselessness of vitamins, either alone or in combination, for either preserving or improving health. Multi-vitamin/mineral supplements are common targets, but so are vitamins such as vitamin D and a number of popular herbs. Next, we are warned routinely of possible interactions between various supplements, especially herbal extracts, and prescription drugs. In particular, blood-thinning medications and certain immuno-suppressants used to treat HIV have been emphasized as being incompatible with a number of popular plant products, including St. John's wort and Chinese ginseng. Both sets of issues are real, to be sure, and need to be considered for safety's sake. Nevertheless, the ensuing controversy over supplements is perhaps just as important for what it reveals about American dietary and other habits as for what it reveals about the safety of vitamins and herbs.

Two years ago, in this space the magazine took a look at bone health and the role of some non-calcium factors in benefits. (See Not by Calcium Alone.) As was observed at that time, to improve bone health and reduce fracture risk, Americans have been taught to focus on calcium supplements and bone mineral density (BMD).

Above: Osteoporosis medical illustration healthy bone and unhealthy bone—osteoporosis. Osteoporosis may lead to bone fracture.

However, the weak relationship between BMD and fracture risk has led experts to look elsewhere for support for bone health. These experts draw a distinction between bone quality (which concerns reduced risks of fracture) and bone quantity (which is concerned exclusively with bone mineral density).

milk thistle not just for the liverMilk thistle, as is true of similarly classic liver tonics from the Chinese tradition, such as bupleurum, has occupied a central spot in herbalism for good reasons, many of which remain true today.

This herbal tonic generally ranks high in recognition and sales with the American public in comparison with other botanical products. Nevertheless, its sales here are small on a per capita basis compared with, say, Germany, perhaps as little as 25 percent of what might be expected. Both old research and new suggest that milk thistle deserves even wider appreciation.

Garlic, a traditional medicine for centuries, is now validated by modern science to have a wide range of medicinal properties. Fresh garlic however is not for everyone, as its lingering odor on breath and skin and its potential gastric side effects make people reject fresh garlic, thus depriving themselves of its benefits. An important alternative, chosen by many is odorless Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract (AGE) that is higher in antioxidants than fresh garlic and often more effective in protecting health.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) result from elevated levels of bacteria colonizing the urogenital tract (including the bladder and urethra; the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body), and are one of the most commonly acquired bacterial infections in both non-hospitalized and hospitalized individuals. UTIs lead to about 8 million visits to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms each year in the U.S., and are a substantial burden to healthcare costs.1 Although UTIs are generally not serious if treated promptly, they can cause significant discomfort and difficulty with urination; complications of an untreated UTI include kidney infection with the possibility of permanent damage.

Toxins come in a variety of forms. Our environment is full of them, and not all of these are man-made. Many toxins are found in everyday foods. Worse yet, some of the most dangerous toxins—toxins linked to breast and prostate cancers, for instance—are made in our own bodies. Of course, we are not without inborn defenses against toxic assaults. Indeed, the liver, in particular, is an organ, which is equipped to deactivate and remove poisons from our systems.

The stakes are high in the fight against toxins. Cancers and cardiovascular disease are two common results of toxic assaults upon the cells. The best known of the toxic compounds are free radicals, molecules generally produced by the action of oxygen and which can attack cell membranes and cellular DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, the “blue print” for cell functions and cell division). Antioxidants and free radical scavengers, such as the vitamins C and E, and plant compounds such the anthocyanidins and ellagic acid found in fruits and vegetables, prevent free radicals from causing damage to the tissues.

“For every dollar we spend on prescription drugs, we spend a dollar to fix a complication. Understanding how nutritional supplements affect these drugs could make them safer andmore effective.”

—Mehmet Oz, M.D.

A little known but potentially life-saving fact is that common medications deplete vital nutrients essential to your health. Here’s a practical guide to avoid drug-induced nutrient depletion, and even, replace your medications with natural supplements.

Recently, this magazine ran a series of articles on vitamin and mineral supplements addressing the seemingly simple question, “Who needs them?” This seemed like a good jumping off point. Whenever you look at a supplement, you ask yourself what benefits its various ingredients will deliver. One formula promises to provide insurance against a multitude of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, another to supply protection against stress, and a third claims to protect against, say, bone loss. Athletes, in particular, constantly push their bodies “to the edge,” and they rightly expect ergogenic aids to be just that—substances that improve the body’s capacity to engage in physical activities. Moreover, serious athletes and body builders often cross the line between training and over-training. Dietary supplements are expected to a variety of needs, both minor and major. However, is choosing a supplement merely a matter of finding one with ingredients that match perceived needs?

Most of us are all too familiar with the feeling of being stressed—your heart races, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your blood pressure rises and your hands become cold or clammy as blood rushes to your limbs to prepare for escape. Most of the time; however, there is no life-threatening need for escape as we sit trapped in traffic or in front of our computers. This is our initial response to stress, otherwise known as an adrenalin rush or a sympathetic nervous system response. The parasympathetic nervous system response, or relaxation response, is just the opposite; your breathing slows and deepens, your muscles relax, your blood pressure lowers, your pulse rate slows and blood flow is directed back to your internal organs.

Magnesium deficiency is very common because it has been removed from our grains and water supply. A deficiency in this mineral is the leading cause of many health concerns, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beat/heart palpitations
  • Muscle pain or cramping
  • Restless legs
  • Twitching eyelids
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Headaches/or migraines
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Osteoporosis

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