Nutrition Supplement: Vitamins, Minerals and More

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spirulina cultivation ponds at Earthrise Farms in California.
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Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis, shown in the round-shaped photos here)is a spiral-shaped, blue-green algae


AHAs and sun don’t mix

With the coming of warmer months, more people expose at least a little skin to the sun. Although sunscreen is always important, it is especially so for those using skin-care products containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), according to a recent study. Derived from fruit, sugar, or milk, alpha hydroxy acids are used in many skin-care products to smooth fine lines and improve skin texture by exfoliating old cells.

The study, conducted by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association and sponsored by the cosmetic industry, indicates that AHAs may make skin more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can cause skin cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing this and related research and recommends that people who use AHAs apply sunscreen even if their product already contains sunscreen. People are also advised to apply sunscreen even if they are in the sun during a day when they did not use AHAs.

According to the FDA, the most frequently used AHAs in cosmetics are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Others include malic acid, citric acid, mixed fruit acid, triple fruit acid, and sugarcane extract.

For more information and a complete list of AHAs used in cosmetics, visit the FDA’s Web site at or contact the Cosmetic ­Ingredient Review’s Web site at 202-331-0651. (1)

Plant-based diets receive high marks

Now there is another reason to eat more vegetables, fruits, and grains. According to a recent report, a predominantly plant-based diet is fundamental to reducing the risk of cancer.

The report, sponsored by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, agrees with the American Cancer Society’s dietary guidelines: Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily; eat foods from plant sources such as breads, cereals, grain products, rice, pasta, or beans several times each day; and limit intake of high-fat foods, particularly from animal sources.

But in some areas, the report is more stringent than the American Cancer Society’s recommendations, suggesting one hour of daily physical activity (rather than thirty minutes), no more than three ounces of red meat daily (rather than merely limiting consumption), and no more than two alcoholic drinks a day for men and one for women. (2)

More evidence links iron, heart disease

It may be better to pump iron than to eat it. A new study adds to the mounting evidence that high iron ­levels may increase the risk of heart attacks.

Finnish researchers reported at the American Heart Association’s 70th Scientific Session in November, 1997, that men with the highest levels of stored iron had three times more heart attacks than men with less stored iron. The researchers say the data justify screening for high iron stores in people at risk for heart attack. The American Heart Association says, however, that more research is needed before screening can be recommended.

William Brereton, a medical doctor at Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, Pennsylvania, says most people get the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iron (10 mg per day for adult men and postmenopausal women, 15 mg for premenopausal women in their diets.) Many manufacturers make iron-free supplements for men.

Iron comes from animal and plant sources and is vital for many body functions, including the production of hemoglobin. (3)


(1) U.S Food and Drug Administration press release.
(2) American Cancer Society press release.
(3) American Heart Association press release.

Smoothing on youthful skin

The beauty of antioxidants

AS OUR MOST VISIBLE ORGAN, the skin is a prominent reflection of our health and, often against our wishes, our age. Paradoxically, it’s also easy to forget to care for it–until being reminded by a sunburn or a wrinkle.

To stay healthy and supple, the skin depends in part on antioxidant vitamins, minerals, herbs, and enzymes. Although we get many of these cell protectors from foods or supplements, research shows that our skin can also benefit from applying them externally.

With 20 percent of the population projected to be age sixty-five or older by the year 2030, skin-care product manufacturers are churning out anti-oxidant elixirs to help counteract the effects of age, sun exposure, and environmental factors on skin. Common antioxidants in these products include bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, and vitamins C, E, and A. (See “Make sense of your skin care” on page 69.)

“Antioxidants, especially vitamin C, were originally used in skin-care products to stabilize the formula,” says Wilma Bergfeld, director of clinical research in the dermatology department of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Now, however, antioxidants are most often used to protect skin from the sun or to repair sun damage, she says.

Sun damage is responsible for an estimated 90 percent of all age-associated skin problems, most of which are preventable with the regular use of sunscreen, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Vitamin C is one of the most popular antioxidants in skin-care preparations because it can prevent the burst of free radical activity that normally occurs when sunlight hits skin, Bergfeld says.

Free radicals are wayward molecules that damage the skin’s tone, texture, and color. They can also cause cancer. These molecules are missing an electron and, in order to balance themselves, steal electrons from other molecules. In doing so, they make even more free radicals, creating a vicious cycle. An antioxidant eliminates the free radical by donating one of its own electrons.

How long do you need to use antioxidants to see benefits? “Some studies show benefits for the skin after as short a time as three weeks of use,” says Marcus Laux, a naturopathic doctor, author, and lecturer. “The body is very responsive, even more so when antioxidants are taken preventively, before ­exposure to sun, for example. The longer we use antioxidants, the better, both internally and externally.”

Regulation and safety

Cosmetic preparations, including antioxidant skin-care products, are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being released into the marketplace. Exceptions to this are products that claim to affect a structure or function of the body and are therefore considered drugs, such as shampoos that treat dandruff or mouthwashes that prevent dental decay. In addition, the FDA does not recognize health claims for vitamins, which include many antioxidants, in cosmetics. As a result, the word “vitamin” cannot be used, and any vitamin ingredient–for example, vitamin E–must be listed by its chemical name, in this case, tocopherol.

To sidestep this legislative jumble, most manufacturers of antioxidant skin-care products avoid making specific health claims and use low levels of antioxidants to keep their product from being considered ­either a prescription or an over-the-counter (OTC) drug. Most manufacturers conduct safety testing and voluntarily make research and testing results available to the FDA.

Because the levels of antioxidants are so low in skin-care products, you probably don’t need to worry about toxicity, but more research is needed to verify the effectiveness of the products at these levels, Bergfeld says.

This year, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) committee, an independent panel of scientists that assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics, plans to study antioxidants. The panel intends to collect published and unpublished studies, and manufacturers will be asked to provide data on antioxidants in their formulations. Results are likely to be available in early 1999, says Alan Andersen, CIR director. 8


Balch, J., and P. Balch. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Garden City Park, New York: Avery, 1990.

Darr, D., et al. “Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamins C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants.” Acta Dermato Venereologica 1996, 76(4): 264-268.

Fuchs, J. “Impairment of enzymic and nonenzymic antioxidants in skin by UVB irradiation.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology 1989, 93(6):769-773.

Miller, S. “Antioxidants and aging.” Medical Laboratory Observer 1997, 29(9):42.

Miyachi, Y. “Photoaging from an oxidative standpoint.” Journal of Dermatological Science 1995, 9(2):79-86.

Algae may be full of nutrition

WHEN MOM TOLD YOU to eat your greens, most likely she wasn’t referring to microalgae. But ask the staff in today’s health-food stores to direct you to the green foods and, alongside wheatgrass and alfalfa, you’ll probably find a wide range of microalgae products. That’s right–algae, cousin to seaweed.

Before you turn up your nose, consider the facts. Three types of microalgae have become very popular: spirulina, chlorella, and blue-green algae (which is really a “cyanobacteria”, not a true algae). They’re usually cultivated in fresh-water ponds, lakes, or manmade pools, not dredged up from the bottom of the sea, and they’ve piqued the interest of many researchers for their therapeutic qualities.

Microalgae have an impressive nutritional resume. They contain carotenoids, including the antioxidant beta-carotene, as well as B vitamins, minerals, amino acids, protein, and chlorophyll, the plant pigment that helps plants absorb light and convert it to energy.

“Green foods can be a fundamental source of many of the building blocks of health,” says Chris Meletis, dean of clinical affairs and chief medical officer at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Microalgae’s high nutritional value give them an advantage over produce grown in nutrient-deficient soil, he says.

For example, 1 g of spirulina contains 1 mg to 4 mg of carotenoids–more than are found in any vegetable, says Padmanabhan Nair, Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Nair says spirulina’s carotenoids–a rich source of beta-carotene–are also more readily absorbed by the body. Beta-carotene is a well-known antioxidant that destroys free radicals, which radicals are unbalanced molecules that can damage cells and cause cancer.

New drugs from low life

Microalgae are a keystone in the aquatic food chain–all other life depends on them. They are being researched as sources of compounds that may fight cancer, infections, viruses, and heart disease.

Researchers have discovered that some blue-green algae contain active compounds called cryptophycins, which appear to prevent cancer cells from reproducing. At Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, researchers found that cryptophycins acted so powerfully on tumors in mice that a near “cure” was obtained, in the researchers’ words.

Of the microalgae, spirulina is the most clinically researched for safety and efficacy. About thirty to forty scientific journal articles appear each month on spirulina alone, says Richard Kozlenko, Ph.D., director of research and development for Healthshares, a company that assists manufacturers with formulation and pharmacognosy of natural products. Studies focus on using spirulina as a treatment for high cholesterol, cancer, HIV, herpes simplex, and diabetes.

“Spirulina, even in small amounts, supports several immune functions, such as supporting white blood cells, creating enzymes, and stabilizing stressors to the immune system, including bacteria and yeast,” Kozlenko says. At 1 g to 3 g a day, spirulina effectively boosts the immune system, he says.

In 1996, researchers isolated the spirulina compound known as calcium spirulan, which appeared to fight HIV and the herpes simplex virus in cell studies. Researchers from Harvard, the Dana-Farber Laboratory of Viral Pathogenesis, and Earthrise Farms (spirulina producers) reported that calcium spirulan prevents the HIV virus from penetrating cell membranes. The research was originally presented at a South African algology conference and reported in the May 6, 1996, issue of AIDS Weekly Plus.

Spirulina’s preventive effect against cancer has also been documented in other studies worldwide. In one study by Johns Hopkins researcher Nair and his colleagues, taking 1 g of spirulina a day for a year reversed the growth of oral cancer in African tobacco chewers. So far, Nair says, spirulina appears safe, and there are no known cases of toxicity associated with using 1 g of dried spirulina daily. 8


Babu, M., et al. “Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with spirulina.” Nutrition and Cancer 1995, 24(2): 197-202.

Hayashi, K., et al. “A natural sulfated polysaccharide, calcium spirulan, isolated from spirulina platensis: In vitro and ex vivo evaluation of anti-herpes simplex virus and anti-human immunodeficiency virus activities.” AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses 1996, 12(15):1463-1471.

Kay, R. A. “Microalgae as food and supplement.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 1991, 30(6):555-573.

Therapies for cancer

An interview with author Patrick Quillin

With more than 2.5 million Americans currently being treated for cancer and another 1.3 million diagnosed each year, it seems that we still have a lot to learn about the disease. Author Patrick Quillin wants to make sure that we don’t overlook a treatment as accessible as the kitchen cabinet: nutritional therapy.

Quillin, a registered dietitian and certified nutrition specialist with a Ph.D. in nutrition education, has devoted his professional life to the study of nutrition and its relationship to cancer. He has seen both the heady politics and concrete realities of cancer treatment firsthand as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Army Breast Cancer Research Group, Scripps Clinic, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and as the vice president of nutrition for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. His eleven books include Healing Nutrients (Random House, 1989) and Beating Cancer with Nutrition ­(Nutrition Times Press, 1995).

Currently, Quillin directs the Rational Healing Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an organization that develops literature, products, and professional networks to expedite the integration of conventional and alternative medicine in international health care.

We asked him to shed some light on nutritional therapy for cancer.

Herbs for Health: How can nutrition help prevent and treat cancer?

Patrick Quillin: First, consider that malnutrition kills 40 percent of cancer patients. Common nutrient deficiencies in cancer patients include protein, calories, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamin K.

Second, proper nutritional therapy can make radiation and chemotherapy more toxic to the tumor and less toxic to the patient. Third, nutrition can support the immune system in its work to destroy abnormal cells before they turn into cancer. Fourth, cancer thrives on sugar, so diets must be well balanced with plenty of fiber and few sweets. Fifth, we can consume high doses of nutrients that are selectively toxic to tumor cells and may even reverse cancer.

HH: Do you believe that nutrition can work alongside medical therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation?

PQ: Yes, I do. There are a number of alternative therapies, including nutrition therapy, that can be valuable in cancer treatment. We need to look at the risk-to-benefit of any therapy, including vitamins and herbs. Nothing is totally safe in huge quantities; there is a window of efficacy. Above that it is toxic and below that, ineffective. With nutrients, there is a wider window of efficacy, but they still must be used with discretion and guidance to avoid causing further harm.

HH: Is nutritional therapy gaining wider acceptance with the medical community?

PQ: Very few oncologists are in favor of nutritional therapy. But the use of nutrition to reduce toxic side effects is well documented, even if it isn’t well supported. Patients must remember that they can demand nutritional therapy.

Traditional therapies alone offer almost no hope for many cancer patients, especially those with lung, pancreas, liver, bone, and advanced colon and breast cancer. While nutrition should not be the sole therapy for cancer, it is a vital part of a comprehensive treatment.

At the National Cancer Institute, nutrition therapy is inadequately addressed. Less than 5 percent of the budget is spent on prevention. If these were reimbursable medications, there would be more acceptance. The $1 trillion a year we spend on health care is built around the $80 billion medicine industry. A company can’t patent an herb, for example, and no pharmaceutical company is going to conduct the expensive research required for drug development on an herb as a treatment for cancer unless they can protect it with their own name brand.

HH: How do you recommend that cancer patients begin learning about nutritional therapy?

PQ: Consult a certified nutrition specialist.

To find a certified nutrition specialist in your area, contact the American College of Nutrition at (212) 777-1037.

For more about nutrition and cancer, contact:

• The American Cancer Society, (800) 227-2345
• The American Dietetic Association, (800) 877-1600
• The Rational Healing Institute, Box 700512, Tulsa, OK 74170. Phone/fax (918) 495-1137; www.4nutri

“Nutrition Supplement: Vitamins, minerals, and more” is offered as a bimonthly supplement to Herbs for Health and is written by Monica Emerich and Elizabeth Bertani of Natural Information, 2888 Bluff Street, Suite 301, Boulder, Colorado, 80301. Design: Bren Frisch. “Nutrition Supplement” is intended as an educational service, not a source of medical advice or guide for self-medication. Please consult a qualified health-care professional for treatment of any serious health problems.

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