A Note to Big Pharma: The “Poly-Pill” Has No Clothes

June 6th, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

Polypharmacy is defined as the use of multiple medications to treat an individual patient. Given the toxicity of even a single pharmaceutical, it is an especially inelegant medical technique and soon it won’t even have to involve taking lots of pills practice. That’s because scientists are working feverishly to produce the world’s first “polypill”, a four-in-one combination pill, which is supposed to cut the predicted risk of stroke and heart disease in half.

No mention is made however, in the glowing drug company promotional material for the high-tech medication monster 4-plex, of whether side effects are also quadrupled. Composed of four off-patent drugs, aspirin, a cholesterol lowering statin and two blood pressure drugs (and ACE inhibitor and a diuretic) , the polypill, in my opinion, simply represents another egregious attempt by drug companies to extract hard-earned dollars from patients and insurance companies by painting old-time inelegant medical interventions with a shiny new coat of marketing and product positioning.

In any case, the best protection from stroke and heart disease remains lowering blood sugar and insulin levels, nutritional supplementation with cardiac friendly nutrients like the B-vitamins, Vitamin C and essential fatty acids and moderate exercise.

Omega-6 EFAs

June 3rd, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

The Borage flower contains high levels of essential fatty acids.

The second essential fatty acid is generally known as Omega-6 and like its aforementioned cousin Omega-3, supplementation is critical. While Omega-6 EFAs are found in many commonly used food oils, such as corn, soy, sunflower and safflower, production that occurs at manufacturing and food processing levels as well as simple cooking in restaurant and homes depletes most of them of this vitally important nutrient.

This makes supplementing diet with Omega-6 oils an important part of a good nutritional program. The best nutritional sources of Omega 6 oils include evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil. Omega-6 fats are associated with lowering the incidences of various common health ailments including diabetic nerve pain, rheumatoid arthritis, attention deficit disorder, eczema and menstrual and menopausal symptomology.

Most nutritionists recommend taking Omega 6 and Omega 3 EFAs in proportion with each other in a 2:1 to 4:1 range. The so-called “Mediterranean Diet”, which is associated with good health and longevity, is noted for its optimum Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio.

Serotonin: Sensations of Satisfaction

June 3rd, 2011

By Ben Fuchs
GCN Live.com

When I was a kid, I knew a girl who had a true obsession with sidewalk cracks. Just as the popular rhyme says, she believed that stepping on one would result in the fracture of her mother’s back. Despite merciless teasing from the neighborhood boys, she stepped carefully around every crack, slowing us all down and making somewhat of a spectacle of herself.

Today I understand this kind of ritualistic compulsion to be the sign a mental health issue known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which affects 2.3% of American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While trauma, genetics and nutritional deficiencies often contribute to OCD, a condition shared by victims of all mental disorders is a disruption in the production of serotonin, one of the central nervous system’s most important chemical substances. Furthermore, we have learned that much of what passes for normal, day-to-day worry and anxiety may also be associated with deficiencies in this vital mediator of brain chemistry.

According to the Hypoglycemic Health Association of Australia, serotonin “conveys the positive sensations of satiety, satisfaction and relaxation.” Physicians and pharmaceutical companies are also aware of the link between serotonin deficiency and mental illness. Since their debut in the late 1980‘s, pharmaceuticals that regulate the presence of serotonin have become a mainstay of modern psychiatric drug therapy. The so-called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SRIs) enhance the activity of this critical brain chemical and account for almost $6 billon of the estimated $307 billion dollars Americans spent on prescription drugs in 2010. Of course SRIs are not without side effects. Apathy, nausea, vomiting and headaches are commonly experienced by SRI patients.

One of the key factors behind low levels of serotonin that play such an important role in the mental health of so many Americans is the relative deficiency of the amino acid, tryptophan, which is required to produce serotonin. Given the low protein intake of many Americans combined with common digestive impairment afflictions that compromise amino acid absorption, in most people, the amount of tryptophan naturally available for serotonin manufacture is often far too low. Additionally, because tryptophan is required to make niacin, when intake of niacin is not sufficient, tryptophan will be shunted towards the manufacture of niacin at the expense of serotonin production.

Lastly, Fructose Malabsorbtion Syndrome also creates shortages in the tryptophan available for serotonin production. One out of three Americans suffer from this fructose metabolism issue, which causes high blood levels of the ubiquitous sugar. Fructose binds with tryptophan, thus rendering the amino acid unavailable for other chemical reactions.

If you suspect mental health can be improved by increasing serotonin levels, the first thing you want to do is supplement with 5-HTP. 5-HTP is a direct precursor to serotonin and research shows 5HTP may improve mental health. For example, numerous clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of 5-HTP in the treatment of depression. In one study, the effects of 5-HTP were compared with those of fluvoxamine, a Prozac-like drug used in Europe. The 5-HTP patients showed an improved response with fewer and less-severe side effects than the fluvoxamine group. Start off with 50 mg and move up to up to 300 mg daily, taken at bedtime. Supplementing with Niacin (Vitamin B-3) will also help ensure enough tryptophan is available for serotonin manufacture. Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is also an important cofactor for the production of serotonin. Try 50 to 100 mg dose, twice daily, of each B-3 and B-6. As always, when supplementing with one B-vitamin it’s best to take it with the entire B-complex.

Finally, magnesium is not only required for converting tryptophan into serotonin, but it is also commonly deficient in the standard American diet. According to research published in the Journal of Neural Transmission, magnesium exerts an anti-depressant effect that may “involve an interaction with the serotonergic system”. Taking 1000 mg of magnesium at bedtime has a relaxing effect and also improves serotonin levels.

Whether it’s OCD, anxiety or full-blown depression, mental health issues are typically associated with low levels of the important brain chemical, serotonin. While the medical approach manipulates neurochemistry, drugs always come with the cost of unpleasant side-effects. Because nutritional substances are non-toxic and deficiencies are associated with low levels of serotonin, strategic supplementation is the best path to correct biochemical imbalances without adverse effects.

authorBen Fuchs, R.Ph. (“Pharmacist Ben”) is the talk radio host of The Bright Side on the Genesis Radio Network. The program airs live Monday – Friday, from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. CST. Or listen On Demand anytime.

When Is Fat Not Just Fat?

June 2nd, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

Question: When is fat not just fat? Answer: When it’s essential and an acid. It’s then referred to as an essential fatty acid and they’ve got some tremendous nutritional benefits.

There are only 2 essential fatty acids, sometimes called Omega-3 and Omega-6. They’re found in seed and grain oils as well as seafood and ocean vegetables and deficiencies in these significant nutrients are common.

Among other important roles, Omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in fish and flaxseed and hempseed oil are critical for calcium absorption and without enough, the vital bone-building mineral can be lost in the urine. The anti-inflammatory properties exhibited by Omega-3 EFAs can also be important for bone-building. If you’re concerned about osteoporosis, or have a broken bone that needs healing, or if you simply want to make sure you’re not losing precious calcium, make sure you’re getting Omega-3s on a daily basis.

Omega-6 fatty acids are important too. We’ll address those next…

More About Glutamine

June 1st, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

To follow up on Tuesday’s blog entry, glutamine is not only important for digestive health. There’s a reason why it’s the most abundant amino acid in the body. Every cell system needs glutamine!

It plays a critical role in detoxification especially of drugs, heavy metals and radiation and is important for muscle growth and wound healing. It also can be helpful for brain health and taking 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoonful with a glass of water before meals or in the middle of the day may alleviate sugar cravings. Diabetics, pre-diabetics and those suffering from low blood sugar problems can benefit from taking this important amino acid.

It’s mostly found in high protein foods like meat, fish and dairy products. Soy and whey protein powders are also good sources. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get glutamine in cabbage, spinach, parsley and beans. Even if your digestive system is operating efficiently, making sure that you’re getting at least a gram or two on a daily basis is an important nutritional strategy.

What Do Enterocytes Love? Glutamine!

May 31st, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

Glutamine is one of the most important supplements you can take for digestive problems. While it plays a significant role in the functioning of the entire digestive system from mouth to anus, it is especially important for the “enterocytes” which are cells of the small intestine. Enterocytes use glutamine as a preferred fuel for producing the large quantities of energy they require for food absorption.

Glutamine supplementation has a well-deserved reputation for helping heal small intestinal health issues. In 1990, research published in the Archives of Surgery showed that oral glutamine accelerated the healing of the small intestine after abdominal stress. Anyone suffering for Crohn’s or Irritable Bowel disease would be well-advised to begin supplementing with at least 1 or 2 grams of glutamine daily.

The Secret of Coenzyme Q-10

May 27th, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

While not strictly a vitamin, Coenzyme Q-10 can be considered a vitamin-like substance. Its power and effectiveness has been validated by literally hundreds of studies. And its clinical applications number in the thousands. Yet deficiencies of this vital nutrient are far from uncommon.

What’s even more significant is that low levels of CoQ10 have been noted in a wide variety of diseases in both animal and human studies. Decreased levels are an especially unfortunate side effect in patients who are on statin drugs as Co Q-10 has been shown to be especially important for cardiovascular health.

Look for the oil-soluble gel capsules and try to take at least 50-100 mg of a day. If you are a statin drug patient you might want to consider taking up to 200 mg of CoQ-10 a day. There is virtually no toxicity associated with this important nutrient.

The Grapefruit Challenge

May 26th, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

Grapefruit contains a nutritional compound that can interfere with the breakdown of certain prescription medications. According to Amy Karch, R.N., M.S., of the School of Nursing at the University of Rochester Medical Center in her paper “The Grapefruit Challenge”, the popular citrus fruit contains “narigenin” a substance that can slow down drug metabolism “with possibly fatal consequences”.

Interactions between grapefruit and certain medications have been known in pharmacy world for a long time and I first became aware of it almost 30 years ago as a pharmacy school student.

Interestingly, the same substance may be able to provide liver protection and is being researched for its ability to block the secretion of the hepatitis C virus from infected cells, a process required to maintain chronic infection. If you’re not sure if your prescription medication is affected by citrus fruits, make sure you ask your pharmacist.

The Beauty of Bile

May 24th, 2011

By Ben Fuchs

Bile is a bitter, complex fluid produced in the liver and secreted by the gall bladder. It acts as a cleansing agent, helping to clear out digestive toxins and residues, hormones and hormone byproducts and drugs and other poisons. It is also responsible for releasing nutritional fats and fatty vitamins from foods.

Liver disease and blockages as well as gall bladder issues can compromise bile activities and result in malnourishment as well as toxic overload. Digestive pain after ingestion of fatty meals may be a sign that bile or related structures may not be functioning correctly. Nutritional supplements including digestive enzymes, bile salts, lecithin, taurine and B-vitamins (especially choline and inositol) may be helpful.

Obesity “Gene” a Ploy of Big Pharma

May 24th, 2011

By Ben Fuchs
GCN Live.com

This week, scientists from King’s College in London proudly proclaimed success at finding an obesity-causing gene. It’s linked to diabetes and functions as a “master switch” in controlling other genes that are involved in obesity and obesity related disease. While some may feel like congratulations are in order, others, including myself, are taking the approach that the obesity epidemic that is currently raging across the planet (100 million obese or overweight in America and 500 million worldwide) would be more appropriately treated as a biochemical breakdown due to poor lifestyle choices than as a genetic malady.

It can be instructive to recall that research requires funding and drug companies are always on the lookout for data that can support and lead to profitable pharmaceutical treatments. Scientific manipulation of DNA can provide a cornucopia of potential drug treatments and pharmaceutical companies love research that studies the genetic links to disease. Even in today’s unfavorable economic climate, there are lots of dollars available to researchers who are willing to participate in the genetics-causes-disease hypothesis.

Clearly, weight and obesity issues are significant health problems. However, while obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10% of medical spending in the United States, what are needed are not more pharmaceutical remedies. For most people, weight loss can be easily and simply accomplished through effective nutritional strategies.

The most important of these involves taking advantage of the glycemic index (GI), which measures how much carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI value cause a surge of the hormone insulin and this is one of the most significant causes of weight gain issues. The so-called fat-insulin axis has been regarded as a key component of the body’s obesity-inducing mechanism for over a decade. In fact, it is now recognized that fat tissue actually secretes hormones that have an impact sugar metabolism.

Nutritional supplements that improve blood sugar control can and should also be included in a nutritional weight loss-based program. Chromium and vanadium are two such mineral supplements.

Chromium is a component of the glucose tolerance factor, which is a dietary agent that is involved in sugar control. Taking 200 mcg with every meal is probably a good idea.

Vanadium is an insulin-supporting mineral. Some research suggests it may even act to replace insulin in some cells. There is a a lot of research currently being conducted on vanadium’s use as a blood sugar control agent. I’d suggest at least 200-400 mcg a day.

The B-complex of vitamins, especially thiamin and niacin, play an important role in sugar metabolism. You can take as much of these as you want and err on the side of extra. The B’s are non-toxic and because of their important role in helping the body process all food material including sugars, you want to take these around mealtime.

Magnesium, the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, helps improve blood sugar control. Take at least 1000 mg a day. The mineral zinc is involved in several hundred chemical reactions in the body. Some of these involve sugar control and 50 mg a day is a standard daily dose.

The genetic connection to disease is a red herring that serves to distract us from the real issues confronting us in the fattening of America (the title of an interesting book by health economist Eric Finkelstein). As always, good nutritional behaviors should be the first place we look to improve our health.

The obesity crisis we’re confronting can be corrected without genetics, medicine or academic posturing. It’s simply a question of the lifestyle choices we make. The correct application of dietary and nutritional strategies are a healthy, non-medical route to blood sugar control, and weight loss that can play an important non-pharmaceutical role in alleviating the obesity epidemic.

authorBen Fuchs, R.Ph. (“Pharmacist Ben”) is the talk radio host of The Bright Side on the Genesis Radio Network. The program airs live Monday – Friday, from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. CST. Or listen On Demand anytime.