NorthStar Nutritionals Blog

Join the conversation and stay up to date on all your natural health news. Plus, discover solutions to everything from arthritis to blood sugar.

  1. Do Not Add Milk To Your Tea?

    Adding milk to your tea may block the tea‘s natural heart-healthy properties according to a recent study, conducted at the Charité medical school in Berlin, Germany, reported in the European Heart Journal.

    The study looked at black tea specifically. Which scientists have long known has the ability to relax the heart and arteries – helping to lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health.

    However, the proteins found in milk completely blocked this effect.

    So, while a little honey in your tea is just fine, if you‘re looking to improve your health with the help of black tea, you might want to leave out the milk!

  2. Cancer-fighting chicken?

    Apples are good for us, so we eat apples. Vitamins are good for us, so we take vitamins. If we get sick, there are medications we might need to take. And when we‘re thirsty, we drink water.

    Yet, for some reason, a potentially powerful, cancer-fighting extract, found in the oil of cotton seeds, is going a completely different route.

    The extract is called gossypol and in well-controlled lab tests on breast cancer tissue, it slowed the growth of cancer by up to 94 percent.

    Granted, positive lab results don‘t always translate into similar results in human trials. But rather than create a pill, potion or powder containing gossypol, researchers want to add the substance to chicken feed.

    No, not to stave off breast cancer in chickens. But they figure, if the chickens eat the gossypol and then people eat the chickens (and their eggs), they‘ll be absorbing all the cancer-fighting nutrients as well.

    Interesting.

    So there may come a day when a doctor‘s prescription goes something like, "Got cancer? Eat two chickens and call me in the morning."

    It‘s a unique approach to say the least. But it begs a number of questions. Like, how much would these chickens cost? And would this powerful cancer-fighter offset the affects of all the chemicals and hormones already in the chicken?

    Would one need a prescription for such a chicken? How would they stuff it into one of those little brown bottles?

    This may not necessarily turn out to be a bad thing. But it reeks of incredibility. I‘m going to keep my eye on this one…and I‘ll be sure to keep you posted.

  3. Chewing may help ward off dementia

    Seems like an odd correlation, but Japanese scientists say it‘s there. They noted that as we age, cells in the hippocampus begin to break down. The hippocampus is the area of the brain most closely associated with short-term memory. They also noted that people tend to lose their teeth as they age...reducing the ability to chew. So the scientists put an interesting theory to the test. In mouse studies, mice with their molars removed showed significantly poorer memory skills than mice with their teeth in tact. The team then used magnetic imaging to scan people‘s brains while they chewed. The imaging showed significant increases in brain signals in the hippocampus while chewing took place...yet no one seems to understand why. In the mean time...perhaps you should keep a pack of gum handy to help improve your memory.
  4. Silver…not so precious anymore

    My colleague, William Campbell Douglass, MD, is somewhere dancing a jig in celebration. After a decade-long battle between the FDA and a fistful of consumer advocacy groups, the FDA has announced that mercury amalgam fillings may be harmful to some people. Dr. Douglass has been telling his readers the same for more than 30 years…minus the caveat about "some people." Mercury itself has been linked to neurological disorders and kidney disease. While the amalgam fillings, which are about 50 percent mercury, can be linked to diseases like Alzheimer‘s and multiple sclerosis, according to some consumer advocacy groups. As part of a settlement with advocacy groups, the FDA has agreed to post information about the dangers of mercury fillings on their website, with the potential next year for stricter usage guidelines and/or restrictions. In a new notice posted on their site, the FDA states:
    Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous system of developing children and fetuses. When amalgam fillings are placed in teeth or removed from teeth, they release mercury vapor. Mercury vapor is also released during chewing. FDA‘s rulemaking…will examine evidence concerning whether release of mercury vapor can cause health problems, including neurological disorders, in children and fetuses… Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner.
    According to the American Dental Association, since 2003, only about 30 percent of fillings contained mercury. Newer procedures employ the use of resins, ceramics and glass. Gold can be used as well, but it‘s comparatively pricey and not as durable. The FDA stresses that those who currently have amalgam filings should not necessarily have them removed. As, in some cases, this can increase mercury exposure. That said, be sure to consult with your practitioner about available options before proceeding with any new dental work.
  5. Those antimicrobial wipes may be doing more harm than good

    As we hear more reports about "superbugs" and other evolving microbes, our obsession with antibacterial everything continues to flourish. Yet a new study shows that those antimicrobial wipes may be doing more harm than good. In efforts to control "superbugs," like MRSA, hospital protocols call for all surfaces to be cleaned with antimicrobial wipes. However, in a study conducted by the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University, researchers found that, while the wipes successfully removed most bacteria from a given surface, the antibacterial agents do not kill off the actual microbes. So a wipe used on more than one surface may actually deposit more than it‘s clearing away. That‘s not to discount their effectiveness entirely. But it‘s important to dispose of wipes properly. And, obviously, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after sneezing, coughing or wiping down surfaces that might carry harmful bacteria.
  6. IBS Rx is BS

    Which came first? The cure or the disease? Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) didn‘t "exist" before the advent of FDA-approved drugs like Ritalin and Adderall…kids were just kids. Doctors all but dismissed restless leg syndrome (RLS) until all-of-a-sudden FDA- approved drugs like REQUIP and Mirapex hit the market. Today it‘s a mainstream newsworthy disease affecting millions. And fibromyalgia sufferers were told "it‘s all in your mind" until the FDA let Lyrica loose on the medical scene. Now dozens of cases of unexplained pain can be treated with this "miracle." Well, we can add a new drug to this list of which-came-first diseases as the FDA gave Amitiza a wink and a nod for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS affects between 10 and 15 percent of the population and can involve gas, pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Amitiza, however, is designed to help only those women who have the form of IBS that causes constipation…but not other symptoms, like diarrhea. And it was shown to be effective for 20 percent of the women studied…after a week of use. In other words, the FDA has just approved a prescription-only constipation drug…that needs a week to be effective. Don‘t have the time or the inclination to get a prescription? No problem…you can find prune juice and fiber supplements on just about any grocery store shelf. Plus, my colleague, Dr. Alan Inglis, has been treating constipation with magnesium supplements for years…and with fantastic results. If that doesn‘t do the trick, there are any number of OTC laxatives that can get things moving as well. Heck, even a cup of coffee will sometimes do the trick. That‘s not to downplay the torments of women who are truly suffering through IBS. It is very real and can be rather debilitating. However, best as I can tell, Amitiza is not an IBS drug…it‘s a constipation drug. But they happened to test it on women with IBS, so now they get to market it as such. My opinion? Don‘t bother.
  7. Help prevent sunburns?

    I‘ve written several times on the benefits of a diet high in antioxidants for protection against sun-damaged skin. But a new study shows that, the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene, may help prevent actual sunburns as well. In a recent meta-analysis, seven studies showed that supplementing with beta-carotene for at least 10 weeks provided skin protection with an approximate SPF of four. However, the study went on to show that, the protection level increased for each additional week of supplementation. And while beta-carotene is not meant to be a replacement for responsible sunscreen use, it is a fantastic natural way to further protect your skin from the inside out.
  8. Tea for type 2...

    New hope for type 2 diabetics may be found lurking in both tea cups and wine glasses alike. A University of Massachusetts study found that the polyphenols found in both wine and tea have a beneficial effect on alpha-glucosidase-an enzyme responsible for the absorption of glucose in the small intestine. For the study, researchers looked at four kinds of red and white wine and four types of tea (black, green, white and oolong). Results showed that red wine inhibited alpha-glucosidase by almost 100 percent.White wine showed only a 20 percent reduction while black tea, the most active of the four teas tested, came in at over 90 percent. White tea and oolong tea came in at a close second and third with 87 and 80 percent respectively. Many of the more common diabetes treatments are designed to inhibit alpha-glucosidase production, so these findings show great promise for developing a natural solution for people with type 2 diabetes. Neither wine nor tea had any effect (or only minimal effects) on alpha-amylase levels. Alpha-amylase is an enzyme used in the small intestine to break down starches and is usually inhibited along with alpha-glucosidase by a lot of the more conventional medications. Another key point in favor of this natural approach. Although these findings are both significant and promising, one obvious limitation is that the study was done in vitro. And although animal and human clinical studies are on the horizon, it‘ll be quite some time before your doctor prescribes a bottle of merlot to help treat your diabetes. In the mean time, both tea and red wine get to add another feather in their respective caps for yet another fantastic health benefit!
  9. Can not put down the sweets?

    Can‘t put down the sweets? A study conducted by University of Toronto shows it‘s not your fault. It turns out they‘ve identified a gene, aptly named glucose transporter type 2, or GLUT2, that plays a key role in sugar intake. And people with a particular variation of this gene are significantly more likely to consume sugar than others. Although it‘s not an excuse for throwing all dietary caution to the wind, those of us who find it tough to turn down a dessert, can stop beating ourselves up for lack of will power...it‘s simply part our genetic code!
  10. Has MRSA met its match in a cup of tea?

    Green tea is well-known for its powerful antioxidants and the dozens of health benefits that come along with them. But Egyptian scientists were "stunned" to discover that green tea increased the effectiveness of certain antibiotics by as much as 99.99%...even when pitted against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The 12-month, in vitro study was conducted by a research team lead by Dr. Mervat Kassem, of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Alexandria University in Egypt. The results show that green tea boosted the performance of several antibiotics used in the treatment of 28 different disease-causing bacteria -- including several strains of Staphylococcus. For example, 20 percent of previously drug-resistant bacteria were killed when green tea was combined with cephalosporin. This is great news because Cephalosporin is a widely used antibiotic - however many strains of bacteria have developed immunity against it. Green tea was also shown to effectively support the antibiotics tetracycline, cefuroxime and it helped prevent the production of beta-lactamases-substances produced by bacteria allowing them to develop resistance to antibiotics. Not only does this show new hope for fighting off previously resistant strains of bacteria, but it may allow doctors to cut down on the amount of antibiotics prescribed. Naturally, additional green tea studies are on the horizon. And Dr. Kassem‘s team plans to look at other herbs, like thyme and marjoram, to see if they have similar effects as well. The 12-month study is currently under peer review, but is scheduled to be published in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
  11. Coffee Power

    Coffee has picked up a lot of press lately over its health benefits and powerful antioxidant properties. And now, a Swedish study shows that women who drink at least two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day may delay the onset, or prevent the occurrence, of breast cancer, depending upon a particular gene. In a study of 460 breast cancer patients, approximately half of the women had a gene variant called A/A. Those women were about 10 years older than the non-coffee consuming women when they were diagnosed. While women with the A/C or C/C variant saw about two-thirds the overall risk of contracting breast cancer when compared to non-coffee consumers. Study leader Helena Jernstrom stresses that, since these findings are very preliminary, it‘d be premature to make coffee-consumption recommendations at this point. In the mean time, if you‘re on the fence about having another cup...why not go ahead and enjoy!
  12. My drug can beat up your supplement...

    In yet another attempt by the mainstream pharmaceutical world to discredit the benefits of natural supplements, GlaxoSmithKline—along with their buddies, The American Dietetic Association, The Obesity Society and Shaping America‘s Health—attempted to squeeze a petition under the radar… …asking the FDA to treat weight loss claims as disease claims! If the FDA agrees, nutritional supplement distributors would no longer be allowed to sell anything designed to support healthy weight loss without first having their product (and/or claims) approved by the FDA. A move that would be in direct conflict with the tenets of Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. It seems, now that GSK has an over-the-counter, FDA-approved, weight loss pill (Alli, launched last June), they want to stamp out any potential competition from the nutritional supplement world. The petition actually acknowledges that obesity, in and of itself, is not a disease. But, notes that there is significant research associating obesity with a number of disease states. And, as such, they might as well classify obesity as a disease too. In essence, it‘s a petition to bend the rules in the name of "bully" capitalism. In the statement prepared by President and CEO, Steve Mister, the Council for Responsible Nutrition has already stepped up to the plate and announced their plans to "vigorously defend the industry‘s rights in this area." Provided supplement companies are able to produce credible substantiation, the CRN statement continues, weight loss claims are actually "legitimate and appropriate." Dozens of other nutritional supplement companies and their advocates are ready to join the fight against this petition as well. Interestingly enough, the petition doesn‘t ask for the outright banning of weight loss supplements—so you‘d still be able to get your hands on the ones you already know about. They just don‘t want supplement companies to be able to say "weight loss" in their claims—crippling new companies‘ and supplements‘ ability to get into the public view. At this point, the FDA hasn‘t taken any specific action and has not addressed (at least not publicly) its take on the petition. So, for now we‘ll have to sit tight and see what happens next. I‘ll be sure to keep you posted!
  13. Play it Safe

    You know that rapid-fire laundry list of potential side-effects you hear at the end of television drug ads? You know…the ones that sometimes sound even worse than the condition the drug is designed to treat (loss of bowel control?!)? Well, a University of Georgia study found that that laundry list may not even be the half of it. In 1997, the FDA gave drug companies permission to advertise directly to consumers, provided they provided just as much information about benefits as they do about risks. However, the study found that, on the average, drug ads only dedicate about 15 percent of their air time to potential side-effects. Plus, according to Keith M. Olsen, chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Nebraska, "Most adverse events of new drugs are reported within two to four years." That means, all of the potential side effects aren‘t even known when those commercials for new drugs hit the TV. Want to play it safe? Don‘t let your doctor talk you into the latest and greatest as soon as it hits the market. If your current meds are getting the job done, better to stick with it and let the "new kid on the block" prove that it truly is better.
  14. Sticks and stones may break your bones...

    But Fosamax is not the answer. According to Merck, their drug Fosamax (which is in a class of drugs called bisphosphonates) is designed to change the way the body breaks down and builds up bone in an effort to help curtail the bone loss associated with osteoporosis. But recent reports are showing that it does way more than that. Forms of the drug are taken either once a day, first thing in the morning, or once a week, also first thing in the morning. According to the Fosamax website, it reduces the activity of cells that cause bone loss, decreases the rate of bone loss and increases the amount of bone in most patients. Something else you might notice on the Fosamax website is that the benefits of the drug take up about a third of the page while the side-effects and precautions take up the balance. Aside from the fact that you can‘t eat or drink anything for 30 minutes after taking it, you can‘t lie down for 30 minutes either because it can cause severe damage to the esophagus and stomach. Additional side effects can include severe bone, joint or muscle pain. As well as something called osteonecrosis of the jaw…also known as bone death. Just to make sure we‘re on the same page here…a drug designed to prevent and reverse bone loss, can actually cause bone death. But I‘m still not done… According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, women using Fosamax are nearly twice as likely to develop an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation): a condition that can cause palpitations, fainting, fatigue, or congestive heart failure. It might also interest you to know that osteoporosis diagnoses shot from roughly half a million to about 3.6 million once the class of drugs was introduced in the mid 1990s. It was around that time that Merck also started selling bone density testing equipment… …hardly a coincidence I‘m sure. So, do the risks outweigh the benefits? Well that depends on who you ask. Study leader, Dr. Susan Heckbert, thinks that, although careful judgment is required, the benefits do justify the risks for women at high risk for fractures. But according to a report written by Dr. Susan M. Ott in the Annals of Internal Medicine, while much of the Fosamax advertising would lead you to believe it‘s a bone-builder, the evidence shows it is actually a bone hardener…and that bones could actually become more brittle with long-term use. Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, further supports this. It notes that six patients using this class of drug had spontaneous fractures that took anywhere from three months to two years to heal during therapy with the drug. Conversely, in an I-wish-it-was-funnier-than-it-is study, funded and published by Merck, they found that women using the drug for five years or more could expect its effects to last indefinitely. It‘s hard to say if that‘s a good thing or a bad thing. In the mean time, a new "medical food" recently hit the market called Fosteum. It‘s essentially a soy derivative with zinc and vitamin D and it‘s meant to be taken along with a calcium supplement. "Medical foods" is new category that allows drug companies to make the claims that supplements can‘t—while still requiring a prescription. Just how effective is it? Well, there‘s not a ton of information available just yet, but in clinical studies, 85 percent of patients saw increases in bone density (compared to those taking vitamin D and calcium only). And since all of the ingredients are considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe), at least you don‘t have to worry about your jaw rotting away if you take it. I‘ll be sure to keep you posted as more information becomes available.
  15. What is that smell?

    The smell of rotten eggs can come from any number of unmentionable sources…and it can easily clear a room. But new research shows that, despite the repulsive scent, this gas, called hydrogen sulfide, may actually help lower blood pressure. Fortunately enough, English researchers are working on a version of the molecule that can be introduced to the blood stream more easily than sniffing it from a can!
  16. Forget about incontinence

    Despite the title of this article, I wish I had better news to share. It seems that several mainstream drug treatments for incontinence have been found to cause significant mental decline. U.S. Navy neurologist, Dr. Jack Tsao, decided to research these side effects after meeting with a 73 year old patient who’d started having memory problems and conversations with dead relatives shortly after adding an incontinence drug to her daily regimen. The incontinence drugs fall into a class of drugs called anticholinergics, which also include drugs for high blood pressure, asthma and Parkinson’s. They work by altering a chemical messenger called acetylcholine—a chemical responsible for nerve impulses (including those related to bladder control)…it’s also closely associated with memory and focus. In an analysis of 870 men and women with a mean age of 75 over the course of eight years, annual cognitive exams showed those who were using this particular class of drug had a mental decline rate that was 50 percent faster than those who weren’t using the drugs. Although the problems seemed to disappear once the drugs are discontinued, it begs the question, would it be better to control your bladder and give up memory and sharpness? Or wear a diaper and maintain your mental facilities? Prime time television ads for prescription drugs rattle off their potential side effects at the end. And it’s almost laughable how often the side effects are far worse than the problem they’re designed to treat. Obviously, I’m biased. But it’s been my experience that for just about every illness or ailment, nature has provided us with a remedy that comes with no side effects. A track record the mainstream would be hard-pressed to beat. But if you find yourself in a situation where your only option is a prescription drug, be sure to read the fine print…all of the fine print. And be sure to ask questions about anything that jumps out at you. Getting back to the topic of urinary incontinence, remember that the bladder is a muscle like any other muscle in the body. And that means there are both exercises and powerful muscle and nerve-supporting nutrients that have been shown to help strengthen the bladder and urinary tract. The herbs horsetail and crateva nurvala have an ancient history of use for toning and soothing the bladder. While minerals like calcium and magnesium play important roles in healthy nerve and muscle function. None of which have any known side effects! So, contrary to what the mainstream might have you believe…you can have the best of both worlds.
  17. Sunlight may be good for breast health

    But don’t worry; this has nothing to do with indecent exposure. A recent study, comparing 1,400 breast cancer patients to a healthy group, concluded that women with the least amount of vitamin D in their blood had the highest risk of getting breast cancer. And while foods like fish, eggs and dairy are good sources of vitamin D; a little sunlight is one of the best. So get out into the sun.
  18. Asthmatics find new-found passion

    Asthma currently affects about 10 million Americans. With overall incidence and asthma related deaths rising exponentially from year to year, new and affective treatments can’t be developed fast enough. But a recent study, published in Nutrition Research, shows that an extract from the purple skin of the passion fruit may hold the key to an effective natural treatment. Study subjects were randomly assigned to receive either 150mg of passion fruit peel extract, or placebo, every day for four weeks. At the end of the study, coughing amongst test group subjects had been reduced by 76.2%, wheezing was reduced by 80.9% and people experiencing shortness of breath fell from 90% to 10%. However the control group saw only very minor differences in the incidence of asthma symptoms. Researchers are still unsure of the exact mechanisms at work, but there are two theories being considered. The first being the ability of the powerful antioxidants found in the passion fruit peel to help reduce bronchial inflammation. While the other involves the flavonoids’—which are powerful antioxidants in their own right—ability to inhibit histamine release and reduce allergy-related inflammation. At just 42 people, the sample of asthmatics studied was admittedly small. But the results of this double-blind, placebo-controlled study still offer exciting possibilities for the future of natural asthma treatments.
  19. Confirming the obvious - how the FDA loves money more than people

    I’m not sure why we needed a study to prove it—but we’ve got one. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine is a Harvard study proving that, when the FDA approves a drug right before its deadline, there’s a four to five-fold chance it’ll be taken off the market or relabeled with stern health safety warnings. As if the FDA wasn’t already tucked comfortably in Big Pharma’s back pocket, in 1992, Congress passed a law that would allow drug makers to pony up a few extra million dollars to get their drugs pushed through faster—an approval or rejection within 12 months. In 1997 that deadline was squeezed down to 10 months. And sometimes as little as six months for cutting edge drugs considered to be of the highest priority. So as not to sound like an outright bribe, the FDA—who’re forever crying poverty—are supposed to use the additional money to hire more reviewers so that all of the necessary diligence could be performed within the allotted period of time. The caveat being, if the FDA misses a deadline, they lose out on that cash as well. So it’s really no wonder that a significant number of drugs, approved in the last two months before deadline—arthritis drugs Vioxx and Bextra, diabetes drugs Rezulin and Avandia, and the cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol among them—are later recalled outright, or relabeled with stern safety warnings. As opposed to drugs approved after the user-fee deadlines or those considered to be “slam dunks” that are approved almost immediately. In the FDA’s defense, drug chief, Dr. Janet Woodcock said, “[The] FDA won’t approve a drug if we are not ready. And we have the option of denying approval altogether if there is any question about safety.” And Janet is absolutely right. The problem lies in the fact that they don’t exercise that option with nearly as much discretion as they should.
  20. Red Wine and Pancreatic Cancer

    Adding to the ever-growing list of good news about red wine, it looks like the tasty red stuff is also a pancreatic cancer fighter. Researchers believe the powerful antioxidant resveratrol is the secret behind red wine’s myriad health benefits. And in a recent study, not only did resveratrol increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy on pancreatic cancer cells, it helped protect healthy cells as well. In case you hadn’t heard the other news, studies have not only deemed resveratrol a potent antioxidant, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties and appears to help offset the effects of a high-calorie diet as well!
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