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, … Continue reading “Why Melatonin Is a Dangerous Supplement”
Sara here. Osteoporosis has been in the news again, and I want to share some important missing information with you. (If you want the nitty-gritty osseous-related research, please shoot me a line on the Forum.) In brief, though, here’s what every woman, and especially all the moms out there, must know: Osteoporosis is not going to be prevented, treated or cured with three glasses of milk a day or yogurt every morning. Never was, never will be. A few things the dairy people don’t want you to think about: 1) Dairy is not a common food in much of the world, 2) Osteoporosis is not a common disease – often, it’s not even heard of – in much of the world. However, osteoporosis is most common in Europe and in the United States, where dairy intake is exceptionally high. Strange? Sure, because there are other factors you need to know about. Osteoporosis is not simply a matter of calcium depletion. Osteoporosis is caused by many factors, but here are the four key ones: 1) Vitamin and mineral deficiency. Although the western world has incredible abundance and access, centralized mass production of food leaves a lot to be desired in the nutritional department. And our calcium emphasis is skewed. Though calcium is important, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin D, and countless other vitamins and minerals are crucial to bone health. In fact, recent studies show that magnesium may actually be more important to bone health than calcium is. Not saying calcium isn’t important. It is. It’s vital. It’s just not the only thing you need. I hate to beat a dead llama, but take a multi-vitamin, ladies! 2) Soda consumption. (Even diet soda.) The worst, and I mean worst thing you can do to your bones is to drink death-by-can. There are lots of studies that prove this, but a recent long-term study published in the much-respected American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consume just one soda daily have 5 to 7 percent less bone material than women who limit fizzy stuff to just once a month. 3) Lack of fruits and vegetables. Most Americans eat only 1-3 servings of produce daily. Blech! No wonder we’re all so chunkity chunk. A recent study from the British Journal of Nutrition found that postmenopausal women who ate adequate vegetable matter (at least 5 servings) in their daily diets were between 200 and 400% better in terms of bone mineral density loss. (Now, here’s a handy time to talk about studies and statistics. This doesn’t mean that these bone-hardy women have bones that weigh 2 to 4 times as much as other women. What it means is relative loss compared to veggie-avoiding women. So, that might mean a few ounces on up to a few pounds – scientists generally break things up into quartiles so they can examine a range of factors. Fascinating, I know!) In other words, vegetables will not make you gain 300 pounds, and they will also not give … Continue reading “Ladies: We Can Stop With the Calcium Chews, Already”
Something I read in the New York Times the other day got me steamed faster than fresh spinach. Apparently, fish oil prescriptions are not only standard practice in Europe – they’re handed out like candy corn on Halloween – but heart patients who don’t get a prescription can actually sue for malpractice.
Pure fish oil is so clearly supported by the international body of science that European doctors who don’t prescribe the stuff to anyone worried about their cardiovascular health are considered grossly incompetent.
Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies support fish oil for great health. Some of the healthiest peoples in the world – from Japan to the Mediterranean – rely heavily on fish fats for great health. Fish oil = better body is not some radical new idea, but try telling that to the American health business. Er…health establishment.
Now, this doesn’t really surprise me; after all, the safest, longest-lasting, most effective, non-drug form of birth control favored in Europe and tested safe for decades is also basically nonexistent here in the Fabulous 50. America may have the best life-saving surgery techniques in the world, but when it comes to basic illness recovery or health maintenance, one would think fish oil must be some risky, mind-altering substance right up there with caffeine and alcohol. The difference being those are both substances prescribed by doctors.
I’m not asking a lot of our federal government. I know they have lobbyists to cuddle. But would it kill anyone over at the FDA or the N.E. Journal of Medicineyness to admit that fish oil has excellent therapeutic properties for people in general and heart patients in particular, and – gasp – recommend prescribing the stuff? They accept the data. Why not recommend?
Here’s the part of the article that really burned my mocha:
“For example, on Solvay Pharmaceutical’s Web site for Omacor (a Euro fish oil supplement), the first question a user sees is ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?’
If the answer is yes, the user is sent to a page where heart attacks are not mentioned.”
I’m so thrilled with our government for censoring accurate scientific information about cardiovascular health on a European company’s website so we citizens can remain both ignorant and unhealthy. Fish fat in its pure form is vital to cardiovascular health, brain health, and the strengthening of the linings of cells. Considering the damage that free radicals and inflammation whack cells with every day, and the difficulty in getting low-mercury fish filets at the local market, wouldn’t recommending and even prescribing fish oil be a prudent thing for the medical “establishment” to do?
Thanks to Elisabeth Rosenthal at the Gray Lady (the Times) for this piece. To the rest of you, get thee to a fish oil supplement, stat!
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[tags] Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Omacor, fish oil, omega-3, Europe, New England Journal of Medicine, FDA, NEJM, supplements, New York Times [/tags]