The skinny on health Supplements

daily dose

Supplements….do they actually work?  Are we wasting hundreds of dollars a year or more on products that are useless or are we spending good money on products that will benefit us and prevent us from getting ill…or better still keep cancer at bay?  This is a very VERY difficult question to answer.  I unfortunately will not give you the best answer but help point you in a direction that will help.

There are hundreds of supplemental products out there that claim to help with sleeplessness, eye sight, brain development (cognitive function), over immune health, and energy…just to name a few.  Some of these are mixtures of herbs such as fruit concoctions that are sold for various ailments and other products are vitamins, or single agents such as vitamin C, garlic, folic acid, etc.  If you have noticed, these supplements are getting more and more expensive as demand increases.  Multiple brands are competing against each other for the same product.  For example, in health care store and most pharmacies, you will see sever different companies selling fish or linseed oil that are high in omega 3 fatty acids.  The prices can differ significantly as some manufactures claim that they have more active ingredients, etc. 

However, as a consumer who is subjected to tons of adds in the newspaper, TV, and peer pressure (usually…or almost exclusively from people who have no expertise in health sciences) we are constantly pressured to take these.  How do we know what is real and what is pure crap and marketing.  As a rule of thumb, the vast majority of information out there is pure marketing…and if studies are referred to…they are typically very week and prove nothing.  That’s just a rule of thumb.  That does not mean that Omega 3 fatty acids are bad for you…for example.  It just might mean that the evidence that they actually lower blood cholesterol might be weak at best.  So, spend money at your own risk. 

Ok, this is not very helpful I know…so let me help you a little bit more.  There is a group out there who have looked at the most common supplements out there such as iron, different omega, vitamins, chocolate, green tea, honey, iron, glucosamine, and others and tried to help you determine how much evidence supports their use for the indications recommended in a help visualization.  Please see the following visual miscellanium health supplement website to see this tool: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/play/snake-oil-supplements/

the authors of this tool have nicely ranked various health supplements in such a way that it is easy to visually see which products are likely to work and those that have no or weak evidence.  And it makes it easy to see how many studies have been done for each of the products in questions.  For example, folic acid for the prevention of birth defects is very strong and is in fact supported by the clinical community and ranked very high in this visualization.  However, vitamin C for colds is in the middle of the chart…and data suggests that the evidence for prevention of colds using vitamin C is quite weak….despite the huge number of studies that have been done.  So, saving money by not buying this product to prevent colds may be a good idea.  There are some products or supplements that show no benefits at all after the evidence has been examined.  These items are at the bottom of the chart and would be a waste of money.  An example of this would be garlic for the prevention of cancer….the evidence for this is severely lacking.  Another example is the use of coenzyme Q10 for diabetes…..zero benefit. 

So, this helpful visualization tool is backed up evidence.  Scientific publications over many years have been analyzed for each of these products.  Some products have multiple claims….some are thought to prevent cancer and colds, etc.  Remember, when ads on the TV claim that certain health products can prevent cancer, can prevent colds, and so on and so forth, you are wise to dismiss this altogether.  It is simply not true. 

In this chart the authors have drawn a ‘worth it line’.  This means that items above this line have evidence that support the claims of the manufacturer, while items below this line have less or no evidence.  Thus, green tea is below the line because the data on this is mixed…alot of data shows little benefits and some data shows benefits…conflicting at best.  I ask you to think about the following: which one would be more harmful if you took too much….green tea or certain vitamins like vitamin B2.  You would have to drink gallons of green tea before your body would be damaged by that beverage.  The liver and kidneys can handle large amounts of green tea before they might shut down.  However, vitamins in large amounts (are not only useless) can be damaging.  These are single compounds whereas tea has many thousands of compounds in tiny amounts.  So, remember this when you take supplements…some will hurt you if you take too much.  In fact, most of us get most of the vitamins and minerals we need in our food, and the extra we take in supplements add little benefit and potentially causes harm.  So, be careful when consuming these. 

So taken together….the health supplement fad is here to stay for a long time.  It is a huge money-making revenue stream for many companies.  The more claims the manufactures/companies can make the better the sales.  At the moment there is very little regulation that prevents companies for overstating the claims of their products.  These products are not regulated by the FDA which insists on hard evidence.  So, take these with caution.  Do not take too much of any one supplement…use moderation.  Take a look at the link I showed you for more information on the evidence or lack of it, for the item you take or wish to take.  In short…..be careful.

Thanks for reading and as usual, please leave me a comment or two.  Let me know what you think?  I want to make one more comment and that is that my blog is written by me and I DO NOT pay others to write as is very common.  Please do visit my web page for more information.  Cancer Made Simple

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Old drugs get a new lease on life: cancer!

Age-standardised death rates from Breast cance...

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When drug companies make new drugs they often spend million and millions of dollars on them.  Due to regulatory issues, new drugs can only be used for one very specific purpose (that at which is was designed and tested for).  However, if the drug is included in the treatment cycle and FDA approved it can ear a company billions of dollars in income.  As you might imagine the incentive to discover new areas of treatment for the new drug is huge.  This is not a bad thing.  There are conditions here one’s immune system is too active and needs to be suppressed.  For example, for transplantation where a donors organ or blood is put into a patient, large amounts of immunosuppressant drugs are used.  These drugs often inhibit the growth or activation of immune cells in the patient.  It turns out that the very same pathways that some of these drugs work in blocking the immune system also work fairly well in blocking cancer cells.  This is where the link is now being pursued by many drug companies.  I will just bring up one example here below but in the future I will introduce other examples.

Recently, Novartis (a big pharmaceutical company) had good success with an immunosuppressant for Breast Cancer.  The drug Afinitor (R) is a type of drug known as Everolimus which was originally designed to block a protein pathway in the cell known as MTOR.  This pathway if blocked prevents activation and proliferation of T cells and is thus acts to prevent immune responses.  Over the years it has also been approved by the FDA to be used to treat late stage kidney cancer, certain metastatic pancreatic cancers and a few other conditions. 

Recently, ver strong clinical data has encouraged the maker of Afinitor (R), Novartis to file for worldwide approval for the use of this mTOR inhibitor in breast cancer patients.  Phase III clinical trials with 700 patients have shown that patients who took this drug plus a hormone inhibitor in advanced breast cancer settings had delayed tumor growth in comparison to estrogen inhibitor therapy alone.  This combination of the two drugs allowed patients who had breast cancer delay their treatment with chemotherapy and slows down the hormone resistance that develops after a time in many of these women.  If awarded, this drug will make over a billion dollars for Novartis. 

So, this is just one example of re-use of a drug that had once been used only for inhibiting the immune system and now used in breast cancer.  It’s an example of an old drug with a new target.    

Thanks …Dr C

Cancer Made Simple

Alternative forms of cancer- part IV (specifics)

The kelp forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aq...

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Before I launch into the specific form of Alternative cancer therapy that I will focus on in todays’ blogs it is important to cover a few more additional issues about this form of anti cancer therapy in general. If you have ever come across any product that is considered a form of alternative cancer therapy you will notice one very common thing.  All the products must have a warning sign that says something like this, “These statements or these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug administration.  XYZ is not intended to cure, prevent, or diagnose any disease”.  It might also say something like, “this information is provided for your information only and is not directly associated with XYZ”.  XYZ is the specific product name.  I think both of these statements need some clarification.  Why are they on the products in the first place (and usually ont he web site where the product is being sold or promoted)?  This is because it is illegal in the US and in many other countries to sell products that claim to have anti cancer properties and that are to be ingested without the approval of the major drug regulators in the US.  Actually, any products which claim to provide medical benefits and can be classified as a drug needs approval.  Getting this approval requires many years of indirect study (and most of the common alternative medical products do have this) but they also need to have close to five years of specific and direct study in humans and animals of the products effectiveness, side effects, and so forth.  This studies are rarely conducted as they are VERY expensive and take a lot of time and work.  They might be done by a slightly different (but sometimes quite similar) product, but the FDA requires the exact formulation to be tested extensively.  European regulators also have their own strict rules.  Thus, in order to sell these products one has to say the above things or they can be sued or shut down by drug regulators, etc. 

Now let me bring up a specific therapy that is available on the market.  In this blog I will focus on just one and later I will focus on others. Fucoidan is a polysaccharide (or type of starch) found in common brown alge found in Japan.  Kambu, Mozuku, and Mekabu are different kinds of algae or kelp that are commonly eaten in large amounts by the Japanese living in the Okinawan area.  This material is what makes up the slimy texture of the algae and is full of L-Fucose and sulphated ester groups that are thought to be healthy.  How did this become of interest for cancer.  It is because it is believed that the Okinawan’s who have some of the longest lived individuals in Japan and the some of the lowest rates of cancer  in the country.  Japan as a whole is considered on of the healthiest amongst the advanced countries.  Thus, through studies over the years the brown algae diet and lower cancer rates link was made.  There are many studies on Fucoidan, but many of them are not related directly to its anti cancer properties.  However, those that are do show in the laboratory that the sea weed product seems to induce some types of cancer cells to die (something called apoptosis or programmed cell death).  There are even some studies that show exactly what mechanisms Fuciodan is working to kill the cells. It may also act as a natural antioxidant and anticoagulant.  This means that in some cases, this agent helps to remove harmful reactive oxygen species which leads to tissue damage, aging and a host of other things and that they can help thin the blood and improve clotting, etc. There are even some reports that seem to suggest that they help break apart adipocytes (cells that make fat).  The idea that oxidation of fats and generation of reactive species which are damaging and then finding agents that clean up the reactive oxygen free radicals (or things that are potent antioxidants) is very popular at the moment.  And it seems as if there is quite a bit of data to support this concept for fucoidan. 

There are some very important studies that are missing however.  They may not be absent but just don’t appear in major english based science/medical journals.  These have to do with human clinical trials. Studies that determine in reality that what is shown in the laboratory actually works in the human body.  It is common for claims to be made based on thousands of different studies that something will work in humans with cancer.  Many compounds DO NOT work the same way as they do int he laboratory. The simple reason for this is that one can control almost everything in the laboratory, such as the cell line, the nutrients that the cells get, the PH, the temps, etc.  There are no detoxification mechanisms in the lab, no body buffering systems, no bioavilibity issues in the lab, etc.  So, often the drugs do more harm than good when the go into the human body.  So, human clinical trials with the EXACT formulation that will be sold is absolutely essential before it can be used as treatment.  However, this agent is being sold as a anti cancer product. In this case it is sold as capsules, drink solution, and powder. 

I will end now and continue with more product ideas later.  I think it is important to know about what cancer is in general first before one takes any product if possible.  So, please do check out my website cancer made simple when you have some time.  Soon I will be offering some very simple but effective tutorials on cancer. 

 Dr. C