Pfizer announced yesterday that they were abandoning their newest “miracle drug”, torcetrapib. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Torcetrapib.
Turns out that in a recent large-scale controlled study, “rolls-off-the-tongue” killed more people than even the previous miracle drug, Lipitor. Pfizer had invested over $800 million in their most recent attempt to stem the rise of heart attacks and stroke by lowering cholesterol.
The main focus of torcetrapib was to raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol that has been shown to reduce fatty plaque formation on arterial linings). Since Lipitor is coming off patent soon, Pfizer needs a new blockbuster to fill the income pipeline – now at $51 billion a year. Meanwhile, news wire services are suggesting that this is a huge setback for millions with heart disease who have been awaiting another magic pill to reverse the damage brought on by poor lifestyle choices.
Here’s the deal: as long as the medical community continues to approach heart disease by promoting cholesterol reducing drugs, they will fail.
Cholesterol is not necessarily the bad guy here. It is the inflammatory processes of C-reactive protein and homocysteine, occurring within the arterial walls, that begin the process of coronary artery disease. These inflammatory processes are the real culprits. Cholesterol production is merely the response mechanism! Attempting to avert heart problems by reducing cholesterol is literally akin to removing scabs from wounds as they try to heal. (If that analogy turns your stomach, you’ll have an inkling as to how sickened I am by Big Pharma.)
The root cause of inflammation is a combination of poor diet, sloth and stress. The good news is that most cardiovascular disease is completely preventable and largely curable without side effects.
Cholesterol is the unfortunate scapegoat in all this. It’s a shame, because this endlessly-eviscerated lipid is one of the body’s most useful and dynamic substances. Among other duties, it’s a necessary component of every cell membrane and it’s involved in hormone production. The body makes about 1400 mg a day just to keep reserves up. Unfortunately, when you have a stressful lifestyle, toss in a bad diet and lack of exercise and you can get an inflammatory process within the arteries that causes lesions on arterial walls. The inflammation problem is completely unrelated to amounts or types of cholesterol.
Nevertheless, the ever-inventive human body adapts to this inflammation sequence by using cholesterol as a band-aid to cover up the lesions until healing can take place – which, of course, almost never happens since most of us keep living the inflammatory lifestyle with little regard for how destructive it is. We’re inflammation rock stars.
Eventually, the cholesterol band-aids harden (sclerosis), narrow the arteries and sometimes break off, causing a heart attack or stroke. Of course, we blame the cholesterol for all this and embark on a national campaign to rid the body of this important substance by dousing everyone with drugs, instead of focusing on the foods (and other stresses) that promote inflammation in the first place. And these drugs have some pretty nasty side effects. And yet, we continue to worship at the idol’s altar.
Bottom line: In my opinion, diet, exercise, stress reduction and prudent supplementation should be the primary focus of any primary care physician.
UPDATE 12/11/06: Another interesting analysis.
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WHAT IT DOES: Vanadium, a trace mineral, was only recently discovered to be essential to human growth. Vanadium plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and well as cholesterol and lipids. Vanadium is often useful for diabetics wishing to help regulate their blood sugar. Vanadium is derived from seafood, grains, beans and mushrooms, though it is present in other foods in very small amounts.
STUDIES SHOW: Studies of vanadium supplementation have shown that vanadium offers the potential to regulate blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. A recent study found that vanadium supplementation was helpful for patients with diabetes mellitus (type-2 diabetes). With adult-onset, or type 2, diabetes rapidly spreading in this country, supplementing with vanadium may become increasingly important.
WHY WE LIKE IT: An essential mineral, vanadium offers potential blood sugar regulatory support. Vanadium appears to be an important part of fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and it is thought to be supportive to the metabolism, blood, muscles, and pancreas.
For these reasons, vanadium may be useful for those wishing to lower their cholesterol or maintain healthier insulin and blood sugar levels. Diabetics and those with hypoglycemia may derive additional benefit from vanadium. Athletes have used vanadium for years to improve glycogen metabolism, boost circulation, and support the muscles.
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WHAT IT IS: Grapeseed extract is derived from grape seeds. Usually, red grapes make the best source. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Like green tea, bark and some fruits, grapeseed extract contains particular antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. But some grapeseed extracts vary in the type of polyphenols they contain. There are a handful of different types, depending upon the length of the “chain” in the extract. They range from short monomers to long cyanidins, which is the scientific name for those headache-inducing tannins. The longer the chain, the less beneficial. The best grapeseed extract contains chains of 2-7, usually called oligomers.
The typical grapeseed extract supplement won’t mention any “mer” at all, and it’s hard to ensure that the product is actually beneficial.
STUDIES SHOW: Studies show that grapeseed extract has excellent antioxidant abilities similar to green tea and vegetables. It’s one of the most potent antioxidant sources in the world, containing even more than the famously hyped pycnogenol. Grapeseed extract contains polyphenols, also called flavonoids or catechins. These compounds strengthen the arteries, improve free radical destruction and even help to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Studies have also shown the important cancer-fighting potential of grapeseed extract, as well as the tremendous potential benefit to the heart. And recent studies have established that the extract can help to reduce inflammation.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Grapeseed extract fights free radicals and oxidative stress. This means that grapeseed extract can also be of great potential benefit for fighting or preventing cancer, heart disease, and effects of aging. Studies done on grapeseed extract give scientists a clue as to why moderate wine intake may be beneficial for the heart. Known as the “French paradox,” scientists have been puzzled for years as to why the French, who consume large amounts of fat, have low rates of heart trouble. Scientists know explain it has something to do with the antioxidant, cardio-protective properties contained in grapeseeds. Grapeseed extract contains all the benefits of antioxidants without the toxic effect of too much alcohol.
Melatonin is a popular supplement for the sleep-deprived, namely because it carries rather innocent associations. Melatonin is “natural” and “safe” and “herbal”, right?
Wrong. I’ve been arguing with the melatonin prophets for years because I believe the image melatonin has, and what melatonin really is, are vastly different. Like so many things that we trust in, consume or think we understand, the truth may not be what we want to believe.
My caution with melatonin is simple: melatonin is a hormone.
That’s right – a hormone. Like estrogen. Like testosterone. And just like taking estrogen (whether it’s Hormone Replacement Therapy or the Pill) or testosterone therapy, melatonin comes with risks. Frequent melatonin use – especially in the typical dosage of 3-6 milligrams – can trigger a bit of a vicious cycle in the brain. Supplement with melatonin regularly to get to sleep, and your body is going to produce even less, creating even greater need for the hormone. It’s not that you can’t ever take melatonin; but I think it’s important that people understand the facts.
A caveat: While I am generally against using hormones (it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature), I am in favor of using the natural version of the hormone melatonin to “reset” the diurnal clock when traveling across time zones. Because, after all, you got there by fooling Mother Nature in the first place! Humans did not evolve a mechanism to adapt to changing time zones. Jet travel can be some of the most destructive stress you can encounter, especially the older you get.
In fact, a recent article in ScienceNow Daily News reported on the growing concern in the scientific community over the dangers of jet lag. Turns out it’s more serious than we previously realized. Jet lag increases risk of cancer, ulcers, and sleep disorders, as well as weakening the immune system. Now, this isn’t reason to stop traveling; simply be aware of the risks and take some smart precautions (drinking alcohol on the plane: not a good idea).
I travel frequently, and I don’t suffer from jet lag, because I use melatonin judiciously in these instances. I also have a few rules about travel (feel free to crib my notes):
- Once you’ve landed and checked in to your lodgings, immediately get an aerobic workout. This will help stimulate circulation, hormones and serotonin production – it’ll just be that much easier adjusting to the new time zone. Don’t tuck into a glass of wine or take a nap. Spend 30 minutes getting your heart racing instead.
- Eat a small, protein-rich meal that also includes some fiber. But keep it light so your body isn’t further stressed.
- Reset your watch and then… lie to yourself. Don’t think about it; just immediately adapt to the new time zone.
- Of course, the goal is to adjust as soon as possible to your new time zone. If you’re flying overnight or flying to a place where everyone else will have just finished sleeping, by all means, do what you can to nap on the plane or otherwise refresh yourself.
- Drink at least a quart of water your first day there (4 glasses).
- Go to bed when everyone else in your new time zone goes to bed, and take 3-6 milligrams of melatonin an hour before you plan to fall asleep to make that possible.
Here’s the ScienceNow clickativity.
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WHAT IT IS: Did you know? The bilberry is just the European relative of the blueberry. Bilberries are now grown in the United States. Scientists happened upon the bilberry’s health properties accidentally, when American fighter pilots found their vision improved after eating bilberries in Europe during WWII.
As it turns out, the little fruits contain beneficial flavonoid pigments called anthocyanins. These flavonoids are among nature’s most potent antioxidants, capable of fighting free radicals uniquely.
Bilberries are especially helpful for the eyes and arteries. The extract offers potential protection from diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, hemorrhoids, varicose and spider veins, cataracts, macular degeneration and other common vision and cardiovascular problems.
STUDIES SHOW: Capillary damage is involved in the onset of many diseases because of its relationship to inflammation. People suffering from glaucoma and cataracts – the latter being an especially big problem for Americans – can benefit from bilberry extract. Bilberry extract, in recent studies, appears to help reduce lesions associated with eye problems.
Additionally, current research is examining whether bilberries can also help collagen tissues rebuild and repair, which would mean that bilberry extract can offer benefits for circulation. The research so far is very promising. Research has shown that bilberry extract is one of the best therapies for venous disorders – inflammatory problems involving hemorrhoids.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Bilberry extract can help to strengthen the veins and capillaries, minimize bruises, clots and inflammation. The extract can also promote better vision and overall eye health, especially for diabetics, seniors and those who are obese. Bilberries have also been shown to help ease and prevent painful hemorrhoids.
Bilberry extract is very safe, even for pregnant women. Many doctors now prescribe bilberry extract as a safe, effective therapy for pregnant women who struggle with varicose veins, inflammation and hemorrhoids.
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