Herbal supplements all too often ignore underlying principles, experts say

Herbs and Helpers

Fitting ingredients that come out of traditional medical systems into the modern marketplace can be a fraught exercise, experts say.

The increasing uptake of ingredients with roots in Chinese, Ayurvedic and other systems highlights the difficulty of fitting the square peg of traditional herbal knowledge into the round hole of modern product development. All too often, formulators pay only lip service to the principles that underlie these ingredients, these experts told NutraIngredients-USA.

Traditional herbal systems typically assign qualities to certain plants. Cooling or warming, moistening or astringent and so forth. These qualities can determine where that plant fits into the formulation scheme, which in the case of Traditional Chinese Medicine runs into thousands of formulas with thousands of possible constituents that amounts to hundreds of thousands of possible perturbations.

History spanning hundreds of years

TCM has been formally codified for hundreds of years. Roy Upton, founder of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, just returned from a turn as a presenter at an event in Hong Kong presaging the upcoming 500th anniversary of the birth of Li Shizhen, a towering figure in the history of TCM. In the mid 1500s Li put together a reference work on TCM, which is still ranks as one of the most comprehensive tombs of herbal knowledge ever assembled.

“He is considered the greatest compiler of Chinese herbal knowledge in Chinese history. He cited more than 850 different previous herbal authors. In most historical materia medica in the West they cite three people, or five,” Upton said.

Traditional herbal systems tend to be rooted in an ‘energetic’ view of the human organism. According to the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences, disability or disease in this system is seen as an imbalance in the energy flow in an individual, and formulas are put together to address these concerns individually, for that particular patient. Plants are assigned qualities according to how they affect these energy imbalances in the body.

“Virtually all traditions of herbal medicine, Western herbal medicine included, describes herbs according to their ‘nature.’ That is where descriptors of actions such as hot and cold, moistening or drying, ascending or descending come in. Such actions are based on the inherent qualities of the herb itself, which are then applied to address the constitutional or pathological symptoms expressed by a patient,” Upton said.

“Some of the traditional herbal knowledge in many parts of North America, Central America and South America is similar in the sense of giving some qualities to plants. These systems tend to share some of that same classification,” said Ezra Bejar, an expert in Latin American herbs who is a member of the scientific advisory board for the American Botanical Council.

Looking toward the disease

In the West, as the understanding of chemistry advanced along with the understanding of the nature of communicable diseases, researchers began to look away from the nature of the patient toward the nature of the disease itself. Cure the disease, attack the way it propagates in the body or is transmitted from one infected person to the next, and all will be well.

There is no denying the vast improvements in public health wrought by modern drugs and sanitary practices. But something was lost or at least overlooked, too, Upton said. Traditional systems looked at the whole person individually; Western medicine, which by extension has informed how many dietary supplements in Western markets are formulated, takes a one size fits all approach. You’ve got X problem, here is Y solution.

Along with the turn toward looking at disease processes as opposed to a holistic view of the person, Western medical ideas started to take a reductionist approach, Upton said. Herbal ingredients began to be plugged into a drug-like system according to how they could affect, ameliorate or interrupt these disease processes. It’s a long step away from their roots in traditional systems, in which herbal preparations were akin to food, both of which could affect the human organism in positive ways.

“A lot of these ingredients could be equally used in a nourishing soup or syrup as well as in a medicinal extract. For many botanicals, there was not a lot of distinction between food and medicine,” he said.

Tension between individual and mass market

Practicing herbalists in the West still use these traditional ideas. Formulas will be put together based both on the patient’s particular issue and his or her particular nature. For the same complaint, an upper respiratory infection, for example, a thin patient tending toward dry skin, hair and mucous membranes would need a different type of formulation than one who is fleshy, flushed and exhibits oily skin.
“The body type will drive the kind of herbs that one would use,” said Beth Lambert, CEO of Herbalist and Alchemist, a company that puts out a line of tinctures and other products formulated along traditional lines.

But those kinds of ideas don’t marry well with the way dietary supplements are marketed and consumed in the West, Upton admitted.

“When you are selling products over the counter you have to do the best you can. What’s the most common cause for fatigue, for blood sugar control issues, for blood pressure problems? Then you try to mix and match the herbs to hit the middle of those ideas,” Upton said.

Shotgun approach

But all too often, in that process, the underlying concepts are jumbled or ignored altogether. Lambert said David Winston, the master herbalist who is her company’s principal formulator, often is taken aback by what he sees when he walks the aisles of trade shows.

“The formulas sometimes look like people just picked up a book, opened it up and found a list of herbs,” she said.

It’s a shotgun approach that Upton said is still all too common in dietary supplement formulation.

“There are some companies that don’t have a clue. I like to call it the ‘everything in the kitchen sink and then some more’ approach. There is no rhyme or reason to some of these formulas,” he said.

“Over the years those companies don’t tend to last but they do tend to have excellent graphics and some exciting marketing concepts,” Lambert said.

Upton said he’s not optimistic that the picture will change in terms of the market’s adherence to traditional ideas of formulation.

“I do not see the magic bullet style of formulation changing. Yes, there are some companies who apply traditional principles, but most do not. Often just the opposite, I see greater and greater levels of reductionism such as making herbal products with nano technology,” Upton said.

And the consumers are becoming better informed and more often understand what to look for, Lambert said. And this is partially driven by the higher profile herbal ingredients and their effects have among health care practitioners.

“Every week I’m asking people how they heard about us and why they came to us,” Lambert said. “I get answers like I heard about from you my practitioner, my homeopath, my doctor. I think these practitioners are seeing what herbs can do and see things that work, over and over again.”

Traditional opportunity

Bejar said as overall herbal knowledge increases in the marketplace there is more and more interest in ingredients from traditional systems like those of South America. But there is still a long way to go before modern herbal dietary supplements more closely resemble their traditional forebears.

“There is still very little formulation know how. I have attempted to bring this knowledge and these ingredients to more companies because there is a huge opportunity,” he said.

Source: Nutraingredients

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Licorice during pregnancy linked to health issues for kids

Herbs and Helpers

(Reuters Health) – Women who consume licorice during pregnancy might be more likely to have children with cognitive or behavioral problems than mothers who don’t eat a lot of this candy while they’re pregnant, a small Finnish study suggests.

Some previous lab experiments have linked glycyrrhizin, a natural sweetener in licorice root, to changes in the placenta that may make it easier for the stress hormone cortisol to travel from mothers to their developing babies, said lead study author Katri Raikkonen of the University of Helsinki. Some cortisol aids fetal development, but too much may alter neurodevelopmental processes and contribute to cognitive or behavior issues later in life, Raikkonen said by email.

For the current study, researchers examined data on 378 children born in Helsinki in 1998 and their mothers, quizzing the women on licorice consumption after they gave birth and then assessing children for developmental issues when they were about 13 years old.

Girls and boys born to mothers who ate a lot of licorice during pregnancy – which researchers defined as an amount containing at least 500 milligrams (0.02 ounces) of glycyrrhizin a week – scored lower on intelligence tests, had poorer memory and higher odds of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than children whose mothers consumed little or no licorice during pregnancy, the study found.

Girls also appeared to start puberty sooner when mothers ate a lot of licorice during pregnancy.

“Our findings therefore suggest that it would be sensible to avoid licorice and other food products that contain glycyrrhizin during the 40 weeks of pregnancy,” Raikkonen said.

Because licorice extracts are used extensively as sweeteners in food, drinks and some herbal products, one 2006 study estimated average glycyrrhizin consumption in the U.S. at anywhere from 1.85 mg to 205 mg per day for a 150-pound person.

In the current study, 327 of the children were exposed to no licorice at all in utero or no more than 249 milligrams of glycyrrhizin a week, researchers report in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Mothers of these kids consumed 47 mg of glycyrrhizin a week on average while they were pregnant.

Another 51 kids had mothers who consumed at least 500 mg of glycyrrhizin a week during pregnancy, or about 845 mg a week on average.

When compared to the children exposed to little or no licorice in utero, kids exposed to a lot of licorice scored more than 7 age-standardized points lower for estimated general, verbal and performance IQ and also did worse on tests measuring verbal productivity and memory.

Kids with high glycyrrhizin exposure also had more than three-fold higher odds of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the study found.

Girls with higher glycyrrhizin exposure in the womb appeared to weigh more and start breast development sooner than girls whose mothers consumed little or no licorice.

Beyond its small size, another limitation of the study is that it’s not a controlled experiment designed to prove that licorice consumption during pregnancy directly causes developmental problems in children, researchers note. They also lacked data on the amount of glycyrrhizin in any licorice women ate during pregnancy or other food or drink they might have consumed with glycyrrhizin in it.

Not all licorice contains a lot of glycyrrhizin, Katherine Keyes, a public health researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York said in a phone interview.

“If you are going to avoid something in pregnancy, there is much more evidence for avoiding alcohol or smoking,” said Keyes, who wasn’t involved in the study. “With licorice consumption the science is still not clear.”

“Women are bombarded during pregnancy with so many things they can’t do and not listen because it’s too much,” Keyes added. “Focusing on alcohol and tobacco is the most important, and focusing on other things like licorice is less important.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2m5zXep American Journal of Epidemiology, online February 3, 2017.

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Mulberry leaf extract could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

Herbs and Helpers

Consuming refined carbohydrates is linked to a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes, not to mention heart disease. But what if a supplement could decrease the breakdown of carbohydrates into simple sugars? That might reduce a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Our latest study, published in PLOS ONE, shows that an extract made from mulberry leaves might do just that.

Previous research shows that herbal medicines could be effective in regulating blood glucose levels. Indeed, the history of the commonly used diabetic drug metformin can be traced back to the use of a herbal medicine, Galega officinalis (goat’s rue or French lilac) in medieval Europe. G. officinalis was found to be rich in guanidine, a substance with blood glucose-lowering activity that formed the chemical basis of metformin (biguanide). This insulin sensitising drug was introduced in 1957.
Metformin, the first-line drug used to treat diabetes was also developed from a herb. Thinglass/Shutterstock.com
Mulberry leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for several millennia and its use was first recorded in around 500AD. In the Grand Materia Medica, it states that “if the juice (of the herb) is decocted and used as a tea substitute it can stop wasting and thirsting disorder”. Wasting (weight loss) and excessive thirst along with increased urination and tiredness are symptoms associated with diabetes. We aimed to investigate the effects of mulberry extract on blood glucose and insulin responses in healthy volunteers with a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial – the gold standard for a clinical trial.

Promising results

We took blood samples from 37 healthy volunteers after they had consumed a carbohydrate rich drink (containing maltodextrin, a dietary starch with a high glycaemic index that is commonly added to many foods and beverages). Each participant took either a placebo or one of three doses of the extract along with the drink on four separate days. We measured each person’s glucose and insulin levels over the following two hours.

Our analysis showed that the standard strength mulberry extract (250mg) reduced the total glucose and insulin rises by 22% and 24% respectively compared to a placebo. These results were both statistically significant (unlikely to be due to chance) and clinically significant, and thus could have meaningful health benefits. The extract effectively reduced the total amount of sugar being absorbed into the bloodstream by over 20%.

The extract didn’t cause any side effects in the volunteers, such as nausea and flatulence – side effects which are common with many diabetic medications. An active component in the extract, 1-deoxynojirimycin (DNJ), blocks the breakdown of carbohydrates into simple sugars, preventing the absorption of sugar, lowering blood-glucose rises. Although mulberry leaves can be used to make tea, the particular extract we used had undergone strict quality control processes in order to guarantee consistency of its DNJ content.

In order to draw definitive conclusions about the long-term health benefits of mulberry leaf extract, longer, more pragmatic trials reflecting real-life dietary habits are needed to show if this herbal supplement could prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. The initial results are certainly promising.

Source: The Conversation

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From quinoa to spinach to tuna: Why these 7 ‘superfoods’ are NOT as healthy as you think

Herbs and Helpers

Tuna, spinach, almonds, and other foods are touted as rich nutrient sources

However, nutritionist Rob Hobson warns they may not be as rich as we think

Here he explains how much nutrients you get from each item, and what’s better

Are you relying on almond milk to get your daily calcium intake or canned tuna for omega 3?

You may need to think twice, warns leading nutritionist Rob Hobson.

While they do contain some essential nutrients, Hobson believes their good-for-you powers have been over-exaggerated.

All unprocessed foods in their natural state are healthy and should be included as part of a healthy balanced diet.

And food companies cannot make a claim of being healthy unless they stick to strict guidance laid out by the EFSA in Europe, or USDA in America.

But in some cases, Hobson warns, their nutritional benefits may be misunderstood or over-reported.

Whilst there is definitely no reason to eliminate any of these foods from your diet, relying on them to boost your intake of a specific nutrient may be misleading.

Here, Hobson, co-author of the Detox Kitchen Bible, explains which foods to be wary of, and what might be a better alternative…



YOU NEED: 10-15mg iron per day

SPINACH GIVES: 2.2mg ironper 80g serving

BETTER OPTION: Red kidney beans, 6.6mg iron per 80g serving

This nutritious green vegetable is a rich source of vitamin C, magnesium, folate and vitamins A and K.

But it is best known as being a rich source of iron – helped along by a huge PR boost from the Popeye show.

However, while it is a useful source, it does not contain as much iron as other vegetable sources.

An 80g serving of spinach provides 11 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron.

However, the same amount of edamame beans provides 15 percent of your RDA of iron.

Even better, a similar serving of red kidney beans provides 17 percent of your RDA.

Source of iron? While spinach does contain iron, it is not the richest source you could have

Researchers at UCR try to answer how clean is your spinach?


KNOWN FOR: Omega 3

YOU NEED: At least 450mg omega 3 per day

CANNED TUNA GIVES: 271mg omega 3 per 100g serving

BETTER OPTION: Salmon, 2,250mg omega 3 per 100g serving

We should all be eating 450mg of omega 3 per day, according to health guidelines in the US and the UK.

For many of us looking to boost our omega 3 levels, canned tuna seems an easy solution – it lasts months unopened, and can be thrown into any salad or sandwich.

However, due to the canning processing involved, much of the omega 3 is lost.

A survey of 1000 people carried out by leading supplement brand Healthspan found that 58 percent considered canned tuna to be a good source of omega 3.

Compared to other fish, however, the health benefits are minuscule.

For every 100g of canned tuna, you get 271mg of omega 3.

Fresh salmon, on the other hand, contains eight times that amount – around 2,250mg of omega 3 per 100g.

That said, canned tuna can be a rich source of protein, niacin and vitamin B12.

  1. COD

KNOWN FOR: Omega 3

YOU NEED: At least 450mg omega 3 per day

COD GIVES: 160mg omega 3 per 100g serving

BETTER OPTION: Salmon, 2,250mg omega 3 per 100g serving

Ultimately, salmon is the supreme when it comes to omega 3.

Another misconception is that many breeds of white fish are thought to be just as nutritious.

The Healthspan survey showed that 33 percent of people considered cod to be a good source of omega 3.

But a 100g serving contains only 160mg compared with salmon at 2,250mg.

Cod is a rich source of protein and a source of vitamin B6 and B12.

Even less omega 3? A 100g serving of cod contains less omega 3 than canned tuna

  1. EGGS

KNOWN FOR: Vitamin D

YOU NEED: 400 International Units vitamin D per day

EGGS GIVE: 35IU vitamin D per two-egg serving

BETTER OPTION: Eggs + supplements

Eggs are rightly touted as one of the few foods high in vitamin D.

But it is not enough alone.

While you may think a two-egg omelette is a solid dose of vitamin D, that barely scratches the surface.

According to official guidelines, we need to consume 10 micrograms of (or 400 International Units) of vitamin D.

Two eggs provide just 35 International Units.

Eggs are a rich source of protein and riboflavin as well as being a source of B12.

Eggs are rightly touted as one of the few foods high in vitamin D. But it is not enough alone


KNOWN FOR: Protein

YOU NEED: About 56g protein per day for sedentary people

QUINOA GIVES: 8g protein per 180g serving

BETTER OPTION: Greek yogurt, 23g protein per 8oz serving

This ‘pseudo-grain’ is in fact a seed, which is why it has a good protein profile containing all the essential amino acids.

This is a great food for vegans who may struggle to get a full range of amino acids in their diet.

Whilst it’s often reported as being a rich source of protein and is certainly useful, it only contains 8g per 180g serving.

That means it is classed as a source and not a rich source of protein, according to the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) food labeling guidance.

Quinoa is a source of folate and iron as well as being a rich source of magnesium.

Quinoa is a source of protein, but not a rich source of protein like chicken or Greek yogurt

Gluten free and full of nutrients, Teff is the superfood of 2017


KNOWN FOR: Calcium

YOU NEED: 1,000mg calcium per day (different for pregnant women and elderly)

ALMOND MILK GIVES: 80mg calcium per 25g serving

BETTER OPTION: Tofu, 434mg calcium per half-cup serving

Like other nuts, almonds are a highly nutritious food and valued addition to the diet.

Nuts are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats that are good for the heart.

Almonds are often reported as being a rich source of calcium but a single 25g serving only contains around 7 percent of the RDA.

Whilst this still contributes to your daily intake you can’t rely on this nut if you don’t eat dairy foods (richest source of calcium).

If you choose to replace cow’s milk for any plant-based alternative such as almond milk, then look for brands that fortify with vitamins and minerals (especially calcium).

Almonds are a source of riboflavin and magnesium as well as being a rich source of vitamin E.

Whilst almond milk contributes to your daily intake of calcium you can’t rely on this nut if you don’t eat dairy foods (which are the richest sources of calcium)

  1. HONEY

KNOWN FOR: Being the ‘healthiest sweetener’; supposedly ‘rich in iron’

YOU NEED: 1,000mg iron per day (different for pregnant women and elderly)

HONEY GIVES: To get just 3.5mg (15 percent) you need to consume 750g honey

MAJOR CAVEAT: 750g honey equates to 123tsp added sugar – 20 times the daily limit

BETTER OPTION: No sweetener

This is the most naturally sourced form of sweetener and considered by some to be a healthier choice.

However, it still contains 17g (3.4tsp) of ‘added sugar’ per tablespoon.

That is 56 percent of the recommended limit of 6tsp per day.

To get any iron from honey, you would have to consume 750g of the sticky stuff. That, however, would equate to 123tsp of ‘added’ sugar – more than 20 times the daily limit

Honey is also often touted as being rich in minerals.

Whilst the most abundant might be iron, you would need to eat 750g to provide a source (at least 15 percent of the RDA). That, however, would equate to 123tsp of ‘added’ sugar.

Bottom line is that there is no such a thing as a healthy sweetener and all of them should be used in moderation.

If you’re trying to boost your intake of a specific nutrient, then look for reliable information that can be found at websites such as NHS choices.

Source: Daily Mail

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Stress hormone may help explain health advantages of marriage

Herbs and Helpers

(Reuters Health) – Married couples may be healthier than single, divorced or widowed adults at least in part because they have lower levels of a stress hormone associated with a variety of medical problems, a recent study suggests.

Previous research has linked marriage to a longer life and other health benefits, which could be due to the relationship itself or to other factors like higher household income, better medical insurance or improved access to care. The current study, however, offers fresh insight into another possible benefit of marriage: less stress.

For the study, researchers tested levels of cortisol, a hormone released under stress, in 572 healthy men and women aged 21 to 55. They found married individuals consistently had lower cortisol levels than people who never married or who were previously married.

“Our findings provide new and important initial insights into how our most intimate social relationships can ‘get under the skin’ to impact physical health,” said lead study author Brian Chin, a psychology researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“We aren’t able to draw any strong conclusions from our study about exactly how this happens, but we are able to make some educated guesses based on earlier research,” Chin added by email.

It’s possible, for example, that married people might have better access to care than single individuals because they have good health insurance through a spouse or more funds available to pay for care, Chin said. Being married might also help encourage people to stick to a healthier lifestyle or avoid behaviors that can lead to illness like smoking or excessive drinking.

To assess stress levels based on marital status, Chin and colleagues collected multiple cortisol samples throughout the day from each participant on three separate days.

The 292 people who never married were younger, averaging around 29 years old, compared with about 37 years old for the 160 married individuals in the study and an average age of 40 for the 56 adults who were previously married.

In addition to looking at overall cortisol levels, researchers also analyzed fluctuations in participants’ cortisol levels during the course of a day.

Typically, cortisol levels peak when a person wakes up and decline as the day progresses, the study team writes in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Married people in the study had faster drops in cortisol levels during the day, a pattern that’s associated with health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease and longer survival among cancer patients, researchers note.

Differences in cortisol during the day between married and unmarried people were not due to variations in participants’ starting levels of cortisol at the beginning of the day.

Instead, it appeared that married people had a more rapidly accelerating decline in cortisol during the afternoons than people who were never married, though not individuals who had been previously married.

Married people might have lower cortisol levels and steeper declines in the hormone during the day because they’re more satisfied with their relationships and lack the kind of stress that’s associated with being in a poor relationship or being unmarried, the authors speculate.

However, the researchers note that some previous studies have not found a relationship between marital quality and changes in cortisol levels over the course of a day.

The current study isn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how marriage influences cortisol or stress levels or to assess any related health benefits, the researchers add.

“This study is exciting because we know being married is associated with better health but we don’t know why this association occurs,” said Kira Birditt, a researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Cortisol is a measure of stress response and may provide interesting insights into how relationships affect health,” Birditt added by email. “Unfortunately, this study did not include assessments of daily stress exposure or daily social interactions to understand if these associations may be accounted for by variations in the daily lived experiences of married versus unmarried individuals.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2mi99U1 Psychoneuroendocrinology, online January 19, 2017.

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