Friday, December 01, 2006



We humans are exposed a many environmental chemicals that may interfere with DNA, the blueprints of our cells... One of the latest cited involves DHC (Dihydrocoumarin), widely added to our foods and cosmetics. In my Dictionary of Food Additives I describe it as “a flavoring from many plants including sweet cover and Tonka bean used in many flavorings for beverages, ice cream and baked goods.” I noted that prolonged feeding revealed a possible trend towards liver injury. In my Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, DHC is listed as “a fragrant ingredient and is related to is related to coumarin that has anti-blood clotting effects and is prohibited in foods because it is toxic by ingestion and carcinogenic on the skin.”

Now researchers at the School of Public Health, University of California at Berkley headed by Andrew J. Olaharski, found that DHC can interfere with sirtuins, a family of enzymes. In recent years, scientists have learned that sirtuins play critical roles in a wide array of vital life processes, including metabolism, aging, and gene expression. Some studies have shown that low-calorie diets that extend life boost sirtuins activities dramatically, suggesting an intriguing link between metabolism and aging through the enzymes. Humans have at least seven different sirtuins performing different tasks, and given the evident importance of the work they do, researchers have been trying to better understand how they function. Insights into their mode of action could represent early steps toward developing a novel class of drugs that might promote health in various ways and also identify environmental toxins that may interfere with sirtuins.

Reporting their research in journal PLos Genetics published by The Public Library of Science, the Californians found that DHC damages sirtuins .The scientists tested a number of environmental chemicals known to inhibit sirtuins and concluded that DHC is one of the culprits.

If you wonder why DHC is necessary to be added to our food and cosmetics, sit down and relax with a glass of red wine. A number of researchers have reported found that a sirtuin-activating compound found in red wine, reservatol, increased the life span of yeast cells by more than two-thirds . Resveratrol is synthesized by plants in response to stress, like a lack of nutrients or contracting a fungal infection. It exists in the skin of both red and white grapes but is found in amounts 10 times higher in red wine because of differences in the manufacturing processes.
According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Pinot Noir tends to have high levels of the chemical, while Cabernet Sauvignon has lower levels. "Wines produced in cooler regions or areas with greater disease pressure, such as Burgundy and New York, often have more resveratrol," the book says, whereas wines from drier climates like California or Australia have less.
On the other hand, Dr. Toren Finkel, the head of cardiovascular research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said that "I would be cautious in sending out the message that one glass of wine a day will make you live 10 years longer." "The concentration of resveratrol in different wine differs," he said. "As a drug, it is not ready for prime time." But he acknowledged that the concept of a drug that mimicked caloric restriction "is a great idea.”

Monday, November 13, 2006


When I was a girl, I used to watch my mother get her “nails done” by a manicurist in the back of the New Jersey beauty parlor. Today, stand-alone nail salons are proliferating so rapidly that two New Jersey towns passed ordinances prohibiting nail salons from being within 500 feet of each other. In some districts nail salons growth force out shops offering goods to shoppers and thus weakening downtown enticements. Today, free-standing nail salons dot the commercial blocks and strip malls of cities from Southern California to South Carolina. According to nail trade journals, Americans are spending more than 6 billion a year on salon services and about 239,000 people work as "licensed nail technicians.” Reportedly more than 400 manufacturers make everything from polishes, nippers, and acrylic nail-sculpting compounds to manicure tables, polish racks, and toeless pedicure socks, none of which were available when my mother had her nails done. She never heard of “basic acrylic overlays with tips” or silk or cotton nail wraps and organic and botanical products for pedicure as well as flower power wraps.

As the author of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, I am, of course interested in the ingredients in the products applied to fingernails and toe nails.

Efforts by The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics, a lobbying group, are now producing results after many years. The campaign has targeted specific brands of nail varnish that are reportedly contain ingredients including phthalates, formaldehyde, and toluene---all of which as described in my book have potential health consequences.

Sally Hansen, a major producer of nail varnish, said it is reformulating all its products to remove dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene. Other companies are also removing these ingredients prodded by California’s Prop. 65 listing chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

The European Union has banned DBP. Recent scientific studies have linked the chemical to underdevelopment of newborn baby boys.

Toluene has also been linked to skin irritations, liver damage and anemia, while formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and lung problems.

In some salons, air filters are used to stop the smell of acrylics from hurting the client's nose or eyes.

And then there is the danger of infection from improperly sterilized instruments and water in nail salons. This has led to many physicians recommending you bring your own clippers and other tools to a salon you are patronizing. The California Department of Consumer Affairs, in the meantime, recommends the following tips. Make sure:

• The establishment license is posted prominently in the reception area
• Each operator's license is posted in plain view at his or her work station• The Board’s Health and Safety poster is displayed in the reception area
• There is adequate ventilation for release of fumes created by artificial nail products, nail polish, or other chemicals

• The salon must have clean working equipment and a clean work area.

• Licensees must wash and disinfect all tools and instruments before they can be used on customers.

• Make sure the operator never uses the same tools on you that were just used on someone else without first disinfecting them. If an item cannot be disinfected (such as a nail buffer block or an emery board), it must be throwaway immediately after use.

• Don’t allow an operator to perform a service on you if the manicurist doesn’t use a clean set of tools. The improper disinfecting of tools and equipment can spread disease and bacteria from one person to another. A prime example would be the spread of nail fungus during a manicure or pedicure.

• You have every right to ask the operator to explain the disinfection procedures before a service begins. Various viruses can be transmitted through the use of dirty instruments, including HIV and Hepatitis B.

• In addition to disinfecting tools and instruments, operators are required to wash their hands before their next client. Before an operator begins nail care services, they should also ask their clients to wash their hands.

• Don’t risk your health. If the disinfection procedure doesn’t sound adequate, you should refuse the service.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Tanosa, an extract from the bark of the Pau d’Arco tree is being promoted in cosmetics to suppress inflammation. The bark, itself, is very interesting. Found in the rainforests of Central and South America, its common names include lapacho, taheebo and trumpet tree. The inner bark of pau d’arco is used by native tribes to treat cancer, lupus, infectious diseases, wounds, backache, toothache and sexually transmitted diseases. Pau d’arco is available in health food stores as capsules, tablets, alcohol solutions, dried bark and tea. However, pau d’arco must be boiled for at least eight minutes to release the active ingredients, making a tea from the bark ineffective unless properly prepared.

How is pau d’arco thought to treat cancer? Researchers at Moores University of California San Diego Cancer Center, the medicinal value of pau d’arco is thought to reside in certain compounds, called naphthaquinones, in the inner bark. Proponents claim that naphthaquinones enhance the immune system, cleanse the body and stimulate the production of red blood cells, which can increase the amount of oxygen the blood can carry contributing to healing.

What has been proven about the benefit of pau d’arco for cosmetics? Naphthaquinones, the active ingredients in pau d’arco bark, have shown potent antifungal properties in laboratory tests. These same compounds also have anticancer properties. Pau d’arco has killed lung cancer cells grown in the laboratory and reduced the rate of lung tumor growth in mice. Unfortunately, it must be taken in very toxic doses for any effects to occur. Because of the toxic effects, the National Cancer Institute did not seek approval to use pau d’arco as an anticancer drug and research has, for the most part, ceased. The American Cancer Society urges patients to avoid pau d’arco as an alternative treatment for cancer until more evidence is available.

What is the potential risk or harm of pau d’arco? The whole bark has no known side effects. The unrefined bark is much safer than taking extracts of the active ingredients. High doses of naphthaquinones can cause uncontrolled bleeding, nausea and vomiting.

How much does pau d’arco cost? Costs will vary depending on the health food store or the cosmetic outlet where it is purchased.

Pueraria mirifica is another natural substance being promoted in cosmetics. It comes from the White Kwao Krua herb (also known as Kwao Krua or Butea Superba) found in Thailand and Myanmar.

Its tuber contains phytoestrogens ( estrogen-like substances made by some plants) such as miroestrol, deoxymiroestrol, and coumestans, and has been used in breast enhancement supplements such as Mirifem and St. Herb. Miroestrol and deoxymiroestrol contain stronger phytoestrogens than soy or red clover, and are under investigation for possible use in hormone replacement therapy. Now in skin creams, pueraria mirifica reportedly promotes “healthy, vibrant skin” and helps to bring the body into natural balance when estrogen deficiencies are present.”

Because cosmetics and health food products are not regulated for quality and purity, the amount of pau d’arco or pueraria mirifica in different products may vary. Some may only contain trace amounts of the active ingredients.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Hope springs eternal for eternal youth. What are some of the products promising to turn back the clock? The following are just a few of the latest:

• Jujube fruit, long used by the Chinese as a body invigorator, is being marketed by Boscia, Japanese Company in the United States, as rejuvenating the skin. A small, edible fruit, Jujube is claimed to encourage cell turnover, improve elasticity, and reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks.

• Glucosamine, promoted as an arthritis remedy, is now being advertised to prevent and lighten age spots on the skin. Procter & Gamble Beauty scientists and dermatologists found a combination of the compound and a B vitamin derivative “significantly reduced” the amount of melanin in skin cells, meaning there was less excess pigment to cause age spots.

• ExxonMobil, perhaps thinking we won’t be able to afford gas anymore, is launching a lubricating emollient for the skin. An emollient is a preparation to make the skin feel softer and smoother and may possibly help retard the fine wrinkles of aging. The new ingredient offers, the company says,” ease of application, the correct texture (not to thick and not to runny) as well as the ability to spread evenly on the skin.”

• Anti-aging Patch manufactured by Israeli and South Korean companies combines anti-aging cosmetic ingredients with a thin flexible battery. The device contains an “anti-aging” serum that is placed over wrinkles and delivers a mild electric current.

What about anti-aging devices?

Billed as an alternative to anti-aging creams and cosmetic surgery, Oralift brace is said to train facial muscles around the mouth to tighten up, preventing the sagging affect that is associated with aging. A dentist, Dr. Nick Mohindra, who developed the brace, has set up a practice in Dubai to serve patients from around the world who want the device applied.

And if you are concerned about losing teeth as you age, a team of University of Alberta researchers has created technology to regrow teeth. Using low-intensity pulsed ultrasound, Dr. Tarak El-Bialy from the Faculty and Medicine and Dentistry and Dr. Jie Chen and Dr. Ying Tsui from the Faculty of Engineering have created a miniaturized system-on-a chip that offers a non-invasive system to stimulate jaw growth and dental tissue.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Would you use a poison to keep you looking younger? Evidently millions of people are willing to do so.

In the past, many women used arsenic on their skin ---but of course they died to look good. Not too long ago, Botulinum toxin A ----popularly known as Botox®--- has come into wide use. A substance derived from a potentially fatal poison, it works by preventing nerve impulses from reaching the muscle, causing the muscle to relax and reduce or eliminate wrinkles or frown lines. Botox is also used clinically in small quantities to treat strabismus (eye muscle imbalance) and facial spasms and other neurological disorders characterized by abnormal muscle contractions. It also currently promoted to stop excessive sweating. If used under careful expert supervision, Botulinum toxin A is believed to be harmless.

A Canadian skin care company Euoko, has now put on the market a new anti-aging poison. A synthetic tripeptide protein that mimics the activity of a protein found in Wagler's pit viper venom, Walgerlin-1. A green snake, it is also called a “Temple Viper” because certain religious cults place it in their temples. Bites are not uncommon for the species; fortunately, fatalities are very rare. It has long fangs. Its venom is hemotoxic causing cell and tissue destruction. It is an arboreal species and its bites often occur on the upper extremities. The cosmetic manufacturer, however, says that the protein is totally safe and has been clinically proven to reduce the size, depth and number of wrinkles---particularly expression lines---by relaxing facial muscles.

Botox injects cost around $400 per procedures and the effects are said to last from two to nine months. Euko claims that its “Intense Lift Concentrate” retails in stores for $450 and is six times more effective than leading competitive products and performs its magic within a month. The copy of the snake venom is combined with a number of other peptides, vitamins and amino acids.

If you really hate your wrinkles, maybe taking a little expensive poison is worth it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


We should have known when they told us not to have birds in the kitchen when cooking with Teflon pans. Canaries were used to warn miners of toxic gases. The birds keeled over first. Now, we are being told that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), an ingredient in Teflon, may be harmful to our health. PFOA is also in grease proof wrapping for foods. In fact, it is in 95 percent of us.

In the late 1990s, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received information that perfluorooctyl sulfonates (PFOS) were widespread in the blood of the general population, and presented concerns for persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity. Following discussions between EPA and 3 M, the manufacturer of PFOS, the company stopped producing these chemicals. EPA then began to review similar chemicals, including PFOA, starting in 2000.

The Agency found that PFOA, like PFOS, is persistent in the environment and is in the blood of the general US population. Studies indicated that PFOA can cause developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals. PFOA also appears to remain in the human body for a long time.

Fluoropolymers impart properties, including fire resistance and oil, stain, grease, and water repellency. They are used to provide non-stick surfaces on cookware and waterproof, breathable membranes for clothing. They are employed in hundreds of other uses in almost all industry segments.

“At present,” the EPA says, “there are no steps that EPA recommends that consumers take to reduce exposure to PFOA because the sources of PFOA in the environment and the pathways by which people are exposed are not known.”

Hey gang, what about DuPont. The company has agreed to phase out PFOA used in grease proof wrapping for foods. PFOA is used to line grease-resistant packaging for candy, pizza, microwave popcorn and hundreds of other food products. DuPont was hit last year by allegations that it hid studies showing the high health risks of the chemical. DuPont denied the charges. The move to phase out PFOA, however, came just a month after DuPont reached a $16.5 million settlement with EPA over the company's failure to report possible health risks associated with PFOA.

The EPA has recently called on DuPont and six other corporations to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. So far, only DuPont has agreed, but says eliminating it altogether may be impossible.

Other US agencies concerned with PFOA include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Toxicology Program. You can obtain more information about their concerns at and

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Beans are supposed to be a healthy food high in fiber and low in fat. Besides creating intestinal gas, beans also raise blood sugar. A water-extract of a white kidney bean, however, Phase 2, may not cause such a problem. Manufactured by Pharmacem Laboratories, the kidney bean extract coats alpha-amylase, an enzyme that digests starch. By temporarily coating this enzyme your body then digests less starch, which results in a lower Glycemic Index (GI).

What is the Glycemic Index? Originally developed over 20 years ago to help diabetics manage their condition, the GI ranks foods based on their effect on blood sugar (glucose) levels. Foods with a high GI (70 and above) are digested and metabolized rapidly, triggering large fluctuations of blood sugar levels and thus insulin demand to process it. Low- or medium-GI foods (40-69) are digested and absorbed more slowly, giving a slower and sustained release of energy and contributing to longer-lasting feelings of satiety.

The manufacturer is touting it as a potential ingredient for white bread because Phase 2 Starch Neutralizer has been shown to delay the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and to reduce weight. It is already being used in a variety of weight loss supplements.

A recent study, presented at the Third Annual Natural Supplements Conference, reported that the Phase 2 is suitable for use in baked goods, cheese, spices and sweeteners. It appears to be effective for reducing the GI of existing foods without modifying their ingredient profile.

Another bean ingredient has also been in the news recently---soy. An American Heart Association committee reviewed a decade of studies on soy's benefits and came up with results that are now casting doubt on the health claim that soy-based foods and supplements significantly lower cholesterol.

The findings could lead the Food and Drug Administration to re-evaluate rules that currently allow companies to tout a cholesterol-lowering benefit on the labels of soy-based food.

The panel also found that neither soy nor the soy component isoflavone reduced symptoms of menopause, such as ``hot flashes,'' and that isoflavones don't help prevent breast, uterine or prostate cancer. Results were mixed on whether soy prevented postmenopausal bone loss.

Based on its findings, the committee said it would not recommend using isoflavone supplements in food or pills. It concluded that soy-containing foods and supplements did not significantly lower cholesterol, and it said so in a statement recently published in the journal Circulation. Nutrition experts say soy-based foods still are good because they often are eaten in place of less healthy fare like burgers and hot dogs. But they don't have as much direct benefit as had been hoped on cholesterol, one of the top risk factors for heart disease.

When I wrote Super Soy The Miracle Bean published by Crown in 1996, scientific studies at the time found the small bean may:

• Lower cholesterol
• Fight cancer
• Reduce blood pressure
• Protect the heart
• Regulate blood sugar
• Ease menstrual and menopausal symptoms
• Promote healthy bowel function
• Nourish babies and adults suffering from allergies
• Strengthen bones

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, on August 3, 1995, created quite a stir among professionals and consumers. Dr. James Anderson and his colleagues at the University of Kentucky and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kentucky analyzed thirty-eight carefully performed studies of the effect of soy protein on blood cholesterol in patients. The Kentuckians concluded that as little as twenty-five to forty-seven grams (about 1/8the to ¼ of a cup) of soybean protein significantly lowered cholesterol. Less publicized but equally as exciting to researchers were reports that nonnutritive substances in soybeans, such as genistein and daizein, show activity against breast, prostate, leukemia, and melanoma (deadly skin) cancers.

The Chinese still believe in the health benefits of the soybean They call the soybean ta-tou— which means "greater bean"—and have been using it for thousands of years as a medicine as well as food. The soybean has been so essential to Chinese civilization in fact that it is considered one of the five sacred grains (the others being rice, barley, wheat, and millet). Legend has it that around 1500 B.C., Yu Xi-ong and Gong Gang-shi—who were either bandits or warlords—became lost in a desert in northern China. They survived on the "peas" of a hitherto unknown plant, believed to be the soybean's wild ancestor, a rambling vine (Glycine ussuriensis). Some centuries after Yu Xi-ong and Gong Gang-shi were long gone; the soybean became a cultigen, a species created by cultivation.

Miso, fermented soybean paste, appeared in Japan in the 600s as a treat for the shogun and his imperial household. The first mention of soybeans in Japanese literature occurred in 712 A.D. in a book of mythology, Kojiki. The current Japanese diet is high in soy and the bean has been credited by some scientists with the lower prostate cancer in Japanese men and lower breast cancer in Japanese women when compared with the rates in Americans.

Stay tuned!

Monday, January 02, 2006


New promotions for old natural ingredients are filling the media with promises about improving health and beauty. Whether they offer hope or hype, time will tell.

Extracts of pine have long been used in flavorings such as pineapple, citrus and spice. Extracts of various species of Pinus are popular in bath oils, bath salts, and perfumery. In concentrated form, pine oil can cause irritation, allergy and in large amounts, intestinal hemorrhage if ingested. Now, an extract of pine bark known as Pycnogenol® has been reported potentially useful in the treatment of skin ulcers. Varicose veins, the kind that are blue and stand out on the legs of about half the adult population can lead to swollen legs and sometimes ulcers, which are very difficult to treat. Pycnogenol®, distributed by Natural Health Science Inc. of Hoboken, NJ, is a brand of a pine bark that grows along the coast of southwest France. It contains a combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids. In a study in which one group of ulcer sufferers received Pycnogenol® oral tablets and powdered Pycnogenol® sprinkled into the ulcers had complete healing of the sores,. The results were published in Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis in 2005.

Clinical trials for patients suffering from inflammatory problems, primarily osteoarthritis, are now underway with a volcanic mineral deposit found only in the high Sierra Mountains,SierraSil™. While other joint health supplements like chondroitin and glucosamine reduce pain by rebuilding cartilage, an earlier mechanism of action study indicated that SierraSil™ works by inhibiting the gene that causes inflammation.

An eight week, double-blind study involved 107 participants, all with mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee. They were divided into four groups: one group received 3g of SierraSil™ a day; one received 2g of SierraSil™; one received 2 grams of SierraSil™ plus 100mg of botanical cat's claw extract; and the last group received a placebo., The researchers, led by Marc Miller of the Center for Cardiovascular Sciences at Albany Medical College, decided to include cat's claw extract in the study since the Amazonian vine has a long history of use for joint pain and inflammation, and earlier in vitro studies suggested a complementary effect when used in combination with SierraSil™. The study was reported in Journal of Inflammation. The advocates of SierraSil™ say it works faster than chondroitin and glucosamine which may not show benefits for several weeks.

Beta-glucan, a soluble fiber derived from the cell walls of oat kernels has long been touted as a food ingredient that lowers cholesterol. Oatmeal, which is listed on European cosmetic labels as Avena sativa, has been used through the ages as a soothing face mask. Oat root extract is used in cosmetics as an astringent. In a study reported in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, it was found that beta-glucan colored by a dye, did indeed penetrate the skin. In a follow up study, 27 subjects applied beta-glucan to fine lines and wrinkles on their faces over an eight week period. Investigators using digital imaging determined that there was a reduction of wrinkle depth and the skin was less rough.