NorthStar Nutritionals Blog

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  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. This just in (again)...vitamins may kill you

    It’s not even shocking anymore. The mainstream media sinks their teeth into a single line, phrase or sound byte…they take it out of context, blow it out of proportion and then drop it in your lap as credible and noteworthy information. This time, supplemental vitamin E increases risk of lung cancer…but smokers who take supplemental vitamin E are at highest risk. Well, in all fairness, smokers who watch M.A.S.H., take walks or enjoy a hearty political debate are still smokers. So it really doesn’t matter what vitamins they’re taking – of course they’re at higher risk of lung cancer. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, also contends that vitamins C, E and folate offer no protection against lung cancer. Problem No. 1? The study results were based on a survey of 77,721 Western Washington men and women. Surveys are subjectivity at its finest and a poor means for garnering objective research data. That said, their reports of a seven percent increase in lung cancer risk are hardly a concrete fact. Much less grounds for dismissing the benefits of supplemental vitamin E (provided we’re talking about a natural blend of mixed tocopherols). What it boils down to is, studies like this are difficult to analyze. You‘d have to go back over all the members in each group and check out how each was selected to see if the groups are truly random. With statistics so minimal the tiniest bias would blow up the whole thing. Plus, what kind of vitamin E was used? Well, they’re really not entirely sure. According to the published study, “the vitamin content of each individual’s multivitamin was estimated.” And since their estimates showed that dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate was the form of vitamin E used by over 90 percent of subjects, that was used as the default. Although alpha-tocopherol is considered one of the more bioactive antioxidant forms of vitamin E, the “dl” indicates that they were examining a synthetic form of vitamin E…a form that the body doesn’t necessarily metabolize the same as it would a natural form. Another point to consider is that this entire study is based on subjective reporting—so just how compliant the subjects were is anyone’s guess. In an article published in “The Daily of the University of Washington,” pulmonary fellow and study author, Dr. Christopher G. Slatore imparts that despite the reported statistic, the relationship between vitamin E and lung cancer is unknown—there are only speculations. But that, “this is one of the best studies for looking at supplements.” What? The study findings provided only speculative data…but it’s one of the best studies? That’s still not the best part. The article goes on to say that Slatore has no intentions of studying the affects of vitamin E any further. But he hopes his findings will be useful to other researchers. Granted, I‘m biased with pro-nutrient therapy motives. But I have to be honest…the entire study means nothing to me. What I can say is that such a study flies in the face of so much data, from so many decades, that its value shrinks to insignificance. To pay it any credence at all, you‘d have to throw out so much research that you‘d be justified in throwing out this study as well.
  11. Water water everywhere

    ...but not a drug-free drop to drink. According to a chilling Associated Press report, the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas tested positive for the presence of pharmaceuticals. That is, approximately 41 million Americans are getting more than just H20 from their faucets. Everything from anti-convulsants, cholesterol-lowering drugs, antibiotics and sex hormones to acetaminophen and ibuprofen, were found in both the drinking water and the watersheds. All things not being equal, some areas scored far worse than others. Philadelphia’s drinking water tested positive for 56 pharmaceuticals (63 in the watershed) while Washington, DC showed only 6. Although only trace amounts of these, and dozens of other pharmaceuticals, were detected, researchers have no idea how long-term exposure to this cosmic cocktail will affect people down the road. And initial studies are showing “alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.” Benjamin H. Grumbles, the assistant administrator for water at the EPA said, “We recognize it as a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously.” So how do these drugs get into the water? When people take medications, their bodies only absorb a portion of it. The rest is passed into the toilet and flushed. But most waste water treatments don’t account for pharmaceuticals. Nor do most of the simple home-based filtration systems like Pur or Brita. The report also found that is doesn’t seem to matter if your water is from a municipal reservoir, a deep aquifer or your own personal well. Pharmceuticals still find a way to leach down into the water supply. Naturally, the pharmaceutical industry claims these contaminants pose no threat to humans. But this is the same team that thinks everyone in the world should be taking a cholesterol-lowering statin…and would gladly add it to the drinking water if they could. So, what are your available options? Well, right now, it looks like a reverse osmosis filter is the only option for filtering out all pharmaceuticals. And while they are cost-prohibitive for large-scale use. With a simple Google search you can find a “whole house” system online for about $500 - $700.
  12. The Problem with Anti-Bacterials

    Antibacterial soaps, detergents and hand gels are “all the rage” these days. Thanks to prime-time advertising, Americans have a relatively new-found obsession with anything “anti-bacterial.” There are some theories, however, that implicate this obsession with maintaining a perfectly germ-free environment with the increased incidence in autoimmune disorders like asthma and both seasonal and food allergies. Regarding the sanitizing hand gels specifically, there’s an additional, yet 100 percent avoidable, danger. There have been at least two reported cases of children suffering from severe alcohol poisoning as a result of finding and ingesting hand sanitizer. It seems these gels are about 124 proof (62% alcohol). For basis of comparison, a typical bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey is 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. In fact, the gels were recently banned from most prisons due to the increased incidence of inmate intoxication! The necessity of such anti-bacterial products is probably a debatable one. But if you’re going to keep them around, it’s very important that you keep them where your kids, grandkids or...well...prison inmates, can’t get at them.
  13. Some hearts like whiskey better

    Red wine is believed to be the key behind the “French Paradox.” The idea that one can eat, drink and be merry to their heart’s content…provided that drink is red wine. What I mean is, the typical French cuisine leans primarily on red meats, heavy carbs and rich buttery sauces. And yet the incidence of heart disease in France is shockingly low. One theory being that they benefit from the antioxidant power of resveratrol—a powerful polyphenol found in red wine. Which the French are also known for indulging in liberally. Aside from this apparent paradox, resveratrol has also been associated with life-extending powers in mouse studies and its ability to counter the effects of a high-calorie diet. In an effort to prevent other forms of alcohol from being jealous of red wine’s power, researchers at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, in Toronto, Canada, set out to see how other alcoholic beverages affected heart health. As it turns out, red wine isn’t the lone superstar it’s been chalked up to be. In the study, one drink of spirits had the same affect on heart health as one glass of red wine. Researchers believe that alcohol in general has a relaxing effect on blood vessels, thus its beneficial effects. They noted, however, that two or more drinks put more of a stress on the cardiovascular system—increasing heart rate, blood pressure and overall activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Even though this was a very small study, involving only 13 people, it certainly speaks to the benefits an occasional drink. And while no one could fault you an occasional drink in the name of good health, the American Heart Association does not recommend implementing a glass-a-day heart health regimen.
  14. Twist on the Side

    Next time you order your drink with a twist. Or even a glass of water with lemon…you may want to ask them to put it “on the side.” A recent report, put out by heathinspections.com, found four organisms on the lemon wedges they inspected—two of which were, “definitely fecal in origin.” Anne Loving, the microbiologist quoted in the report, said that the fecal particles may have come from the dirty unwashed hands of a food preparer or from raw meat. Either way…I suggest you squeeze the lemon juice into your drink and leave the wedge on your napkin.
  15. Still smoking? Suicide is not the answer...

    Chantix was approved by the FDA in 2006 and soon after was lauded as the best smoking cessation crutch since the cold turkey.

    The only notable side effects (which were originally described as mild and rare) of this wonder drug were constipation, gas, nausea, vomiting and “changes” in dreaming. Which are far better than the headache, crankiness and irritability typically experienced by those who quit without the help of a drug. A closer look at this study and we see that participants were white men and women with an average age of 43. Excluded from the study was anyone with a history of depression, panic attacks, heart, liver or kidney disease, diabetes and those who use drugs and/or alcohol. Leaving the 3,659 people who made the cut a poorly-represented sample of your average smoker. But thanks to this study, Chantix boasts a 44 percent success rate. That is, 12 weeks into one study, 44 percent of participants hadn’t touched a cigarette in the last four weeks of treatment. And when we look at participants in weeks nine through 52 that number drops to 23 percent. A relapse rate of about 77 percent. Hardly a remarkable statistic when the average relapse rate for ex-smokers is estimated to be between 60 and 90 percent in the first year. After 34 suicides and 420 instances of suicidal behavior, on February 1 of this year, the FDA warned that Chantix may cause “serious psychiatric problems, including suicidal thinking.” According to a first-person account from a former Chantix user, published in the February 10 issue of New York Magazine, “...self-destructive fantasies slowly began cropping up as cartoonish flights of fancy...that became a little more concrete and domineering with every passing day.” A small price to pay for a 23 percent chance that you’ll never smoke another cigarette. He went on to describe five and six hour blackouts, complete social withdrawal and a climax that included a complete ransacking of his own house. Chantix is designed to work by blocking the pleasure receptors in the brain that are activated by nicotine. Thus removing any pleasure one might receive from smoking a cigarette. But one theory behind the development of such destructive behaviors is that perhaps it works almost too well, blocking the pleasure one receives from all of life’s more pleasurable experiences—socializing, exercising, eating, etc. As of today, the Chantix packaging is in the process of being updated to include warnings about all of the above. Meanwhile, there are still doctors calling it a wonder drug. And it is still being prescribed, albeit with a “keep an eye on yourself” type warning. Do you really want to kick the habit? Try the patch, chew some gum and task your friends and coworkers with keeping you on the right path.  
  16. Trouble Swallowing Pills

    One of the only complaints we receive with any regularity is that people have trouble swallowing pills. Whether they’re big or small, coated or uncoated, there are some people who wince at the very idea of swallowing a pill. More often than not, capsules can be opened and sprinkled into a beverage or onto your food. But for caplets, tablets and softgels, you might try one of the following tactics:
    • Try drinking liquids of more substance like milk, a milkshake or liquid yogurt when trying to swallow a pill. The thicker liquids could help “mask” a pill easer than thin liquids like water.
    • Try placing the pill on the back of your tongue, take a sip of water, tilt your chin closer to your chest and then swallow.
    • Try placing the pill on the tip of your tongue, take a sip of water, tilt your head back and then swallow.
    In the mean time, as powders, fast-melts and other, more convenient, delivery methods are introduced, we will continue to investigate the opportunity to offer our products in non-pill formulas.
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