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.