The Hopkins Health Watch - Vol 2, Issue 1
& Nutrition News,
Drug Watch and More...
A review of the new generation of weight loss supplements.
As it became evident that ephedra was going to be pulled from the market, supplement companies scrambled to find other natural products for weight loss. One new trend is to promote weight loss by reducing cortisol levels and balancing blood sugar.
Cortisol is one of the hormones released by the adrenal glands in excess when you’re chronically stressed, which applies to many of us these days. Like other hormones, cortisol is essential to good health but damaging when it’s too high or too low. Chronically high cortisol increases appetite, especially for sugar and carbohydrates; creates weight gain around the middle; contributes to short term memory loss; depletes bone and suppresses the immune system. It also increases your risk for breast cancer. If your cortisol is elevated for years on end, eventually you’ll end up with tired adrenals, never-ending fatigue and unstable blood sugar that may lead to diabetes.
Ideally you would revive your adrenals and reduce your cortisol levels by reducing and managing stress, eating well, exercising moderately and getting plenty of sleep in a dark room.
The New Generation
If you need a little extra help, the new generation of supplements such as Relacore and Cortislim are designed to reduce cortisol levels by helping you relax and stabilizing your blood sugar. The primary ingredient is an extract of magnolia bark (Magnolia Officinalis Cortex), which has a long history of use in Chinese medicine for “wind-stroke, cold damage, headache, cold and heat, fright qi, blood impediment and dead muscle (from Subhuti Dharmananda of the Institute for Traditional Medicine). The term “fright qi” probably comes closest to describing the condition of chronic stress, which Dharmananda says is associated with “emotional distress, …digestive disturbances associated with fear and anxiety, and shortness of breath due to emotional turmoil.”
Along with the magnolia, both Cortislim and Relacore contain some vitamin C and calcium. Cortislim also contains chromium, a trace mineral that helps stabilize blood sugar; L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that promotes relaxation, and a handful of other ingredients that promote balanced blood sugar.
Relacore contains a smattering of B vitamins, magnesium, and a smattering of herbs that promote relaxation and stable blood sugar.
Source Naturals has a product called Relora that contains magnolia and Phellodendron amurense. There’s not a lot of research available on Phellodendron, but in Chinese medicine it’s used as an anti-inflammatory and to help balance blood sugar.
Chinese medicine texts warn against the use of both magnolia and phellodendron if you have digestion problems.
Can these products help you lose weight? Maybe. But this has to be said: they’re no substitute for a wholesome diet and moderate exercise.
As an aside, it’s interesting that the FDA removed ephedra from the market but left allergy and cold medications containing pseudoephedrine on the pharmacy aisles. They’re basically the same thing. Thus one is led to assume that the motivation for removing ephedra from the market was about something other than protecting the public health.
According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of ephedra in 2002 amounted to $1.28 billion. Those who still want to lose weight by using “uppers” are probably now putting all that money into the pockets of the drug companies that sell pseudoephedrine.
Drugs that lower cholesterol levels are among the top sellers in the pharmaceutical industry, and yet for decades the research on them has clearly shown that their side effects often outweigh their benefits. And believe it or not, there has never been any definitive proof that high cholesterol levels are a cause heart attacks. The “disease” of high cholesterol was created around and for cholesterol-lowering drugs. In truth, high cholesterol is a symptom of heart disease in much the same sense that a fever is a symptom of the flu. Lowering your fever might help you feel a little bit better, but it won’t make the flu go away, nor will lowering cholesterol with a drug make your heart disease go away.
Heart disease isn't the only disease that causes high levels of blood cholesterol. Diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease and liver disease can also significantly raise cholesterol levels.
The “High Cholesterol Levels Cause Heart Attacks” Myth
Cholesterol is a fat-like material which is found in the brain, nerves, blood, bile and liver. It is the stuff from which your steroid hormones are made, and it is essential for good brain function. Another function of cholesterol is to stick to damaged places in the arteries as part of a repair process, and that’s where it got it’s reputation for causing heart attacks. However, what actually causes the damaged arteries in the first place are factors such as excess sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet, hydrogenated oils, obesity, stress and toxins.
The “Saturated Fats Raise Cholesterol Levels” Myth
The myths about cholesterol are closely tied into the myths about cholesterol-containing saturated fats, which were incorrectly pegged as a major cause of heart disease more than 40 years ago. Ironically, saturated fat probably became linked to heart disease because in studies it was lumped in with hydrogenated oils. In other words, in heart disease studies, consumption of hydrogenated oils was never separated out from consumption of other oils—it was ignored or included with data on saturated fats. In all likelihood, it was the hydrogenated oils causing the damaged arteries, not the saturated fats.
It is also a myth that eating cholesterol-containing foods raises your cholesterol levels. This is only true for about 30 percent of the population. Your body manufactures about 75 percent of its own cholesterol from the breakdown products of foods we eat. The rest we get directly from what we eat. If we eat more cholesterol, the body makes less or it is broken down by the liver and excreted. People who eat extremely excessive amounts of cholesterol-containing foods so that the body is unable to keep up with the elimination process, or whose livers are not functioning properly, may have high cholesterol due to their eating habits, but this is an exception, not the rule.
A recent Harvard School of Public Health study published in the November 2004 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the daily diets and coronary arteries of 235 menopausal women for three years. Three quarters of the women were overweight, and the majority of them were eating less fat overall than the average American. The researchers were surprised to find that the women who had eaten the highest amount of saturated fats had the least amount of additional plaque buildup in their arteries and better cholesterol profiles (lower LDL, higher HDL, lower transfatty acids). The women with the most plaque buildup were eating the most refined carbohydrates and exercising the least.
Statin Drugs Interfere with Brain Function
The most popular class of cholesterol-lowering drugs is the statins, also known as cholesterol blockers, which interfere with an enzyme needed for cholesterol production. The most common side effect of these drugs is liver damage. Other side effects include enlarged breasts in men, impotence, hair loss in women, insomnia and fatigue. The fatigue may have to do with the fact that statin drugs block the production of coenzyme Q10, a substance essential to a healthy heart and healthy muscles. About one in every 200 people who use statins has side effects of muscle pain and weakness. All indications are that the cause of these symptoms is a deficiency of CoQ10.
Now a new study published in the December 1, 2004American Journal of Medicine points up another side effect of the drug simvastatin (Zocor), which is that it reduces cognitive function, in this case attention, working memory and overall mental efficiency. The same team at the University of Pittsburgh that did this study also found that statin drugs reduce blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids which are well documented to be essential for good brain function.
Back to Basics
A good cholesterol profile is a reflection of good overall health. The basics of maintaining a good cholesterol profile are avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates, eating fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, beans and vegetables, and getting plenty of exercise.
For more details on how cholesterol really works in your body, read the booklet John R. Lee M.D.'s Commonsense Guide to a Healthy Heart, available on the website.
If you’d like to know more about saturated fat myths and research, as well as get a wonderful cookbook, read Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig.
Last fall research compiled from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was presented at a medical meeting and not coincidentally was picked up by all the major news networks. It claimed that birth control pills reduce breast cancer risk and heart disease risk. This was big news because it contradicts decades of research, but coming from the WHI, most people took it at face value. Then in December, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which is in charge of the WHI, announced that the research had not been reviewed by the study’s leaders nor by the government before it was presented, and that it was flawed. However, that news did not make it into all of the major news outlets. In fact, it would probably never have shown up anywhere if it wasn’t for the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN), an activist group that publicly challenged the findings of the research.
This is pretty much politics as usual in the drug industry. I would hazard a guess—and this is my opinion only—that this “research,” the presentation at the medical meeting, and especially the coordinated and widespread airing of the results in the media, was a shadow play completely orchestrated by PR companies working for the pharmaceutical industry. The drug companies don’t really care about the back peddling on the results by the WHI, because the damage has already been done—millions of women and their doctors now happily but incorrectly believe that using chemical birth control will help them live a longer and healthier life because they heard it on CNN and the nightly news. I sure am looking forward to Michael Moore’s expose on the pharmaceutical industry.
If you’d like details on the effects of chemical birth control, please read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About PREmenopause.
Letter to a Patient: Resolving the Underlying Causes of a Stroke
Dear Mrs. M,
Over the past 30 years, a number of studies have confirmed that five years of Premarin (when not balanced with progesterone) increases stroke risk by 300%. While it is impossible to say that any given stroke is due to any certain cause, it is my opinion that, given your excellent health and family history, unopposed estrogen (Premarin) was most likely the cause of your stroke.
Further, if your doctors had been aware, they could have given you progesterone starting the day of the stroke. Research has found that progesterone limits the area of damage to any given stroke or head injury. I hope that you will make a complete recovery.
Yes, you should be using progesterone in doses of 10 to 12 mg per day for 25 to 26 days of the calendar month. If vaginal dryness is a problem, it is safe to use small doses of estriol (not estradiol or estrone) as a vaginal application using just 0.5 mg of estriol twice a week. Estriol is the estrogen made in large amounts during a pregnancy. Unlike other estrogens, there is no evidence that estriol causes breast cancer or strokes. It should eventually help your hot flashes, also.
If your doctor prescribes a low fat diet it means that he/she has not kept up with health science over the past 10 to 15 years. Fats and oils that humans used for millions of years are all fine. There are bad fats called “trans fats” [e.g. hydrogenated oils] which have become altered in processing. They are no longer fats found in nature and they are all bad.
Drink plenty of good water to prevent dehydration. And avoid sugar and highly refined starches, such as rolls, sweets, pancakes, waffles, etc. You are probably a bit too young to remember that in, in primary school grades, children made paste from flour and water. Your don’t want to have flour and water in your blood vessels.
It is usually best to choose a diet of fresh, unprocessed vegetables, fruit, seeds, and nuts picked in season and in good variety. Fish, seafood in general, eggs, and cheese are fine. But avoid drinking milk. Cows’ milk is meant for baby cows, and not meant for adults of any mammals including humans. Cheese, which has undergone some fermentation, seems to be OK. Red meat is OK in modest amounts, and best obtained from free-range, rather than feed-lot animals.
Hope the above is helpful.
John R. Lee, M.D.
Helene Leonetti, M.D. who was a great friend and colleague of Dr. Lee’s has gotten approval from Lehigh Valley Hospital in Bethlehem, PA to begin a major research study titled “The Role of Transdermal Progesterone Cream in Increased Osteoblastic Activity and Delay of Osteoporosis in Women over 70 Years of Age.” This was a study that Dr. Lee had wanted done for years.
Dr. Leonetti is looking to recruit 200 women, 70 years and older, living within a few hours’ drive of Bethlehem with the following qualifications:
- Not be taking thyroid replacement, hormone replacement
- Not taking anti-resorptive drugs (e.g. Fosamax, Actonel, Evista)
- Must be independent and responsible enough to commit to this regimen for at least one year.
Each woman will receive a baseline bone mineral density test and have blood drawn to measure TSH, FSH, and for a lipid profile.
If you’re interested in participating, please call Dr. Leonetti’s office at: (610) 882-3100.