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Vitamin B for Genetic Disorders, Ames Report, Saint John's Wort

May 2002 - Print | Index

Top nutritional researcher Bruce N. Ames at UC Berkeley is back with more evidence of the benefits of nutrients. (For an earlier article about Ames' work, see our March 2002 Newsletter, "UC Berkeley Scientist Teaches Rats the Macarena.") In the April 1 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Ames reported that more than 50 genetic disorders can be successfully treated with high doses of vitamins, in particular the B vitamins including thiamine (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pyridoxine (B-6), cobalamin (B-12) and biotin. And he suggested that many more diseases might be treatable with mega-dose vitamins.

This result is especially important for older people, Ames said, because the ageing process often involves genetic changes including oxidative damage to proteins and enzymes, similar to what happens in the diseases helped by vitamin therapies.

Vitamins are converted to coenzymes, which team up with enzymes to perform essential metabolic functions. These diseases result from a genetic mutation that reduces the ability of an enzyme to bind to its coenzyme, thereby reducing the rate at which the enzyme catalyses a molecular reaction. Ames reported that high-dose vitamin therapy is effective because increasing the intake of the appropriate vitamin increases coenzyme levels to overcome the binding defect.

"These 50 diseases are just the tip of the iceberg," Ames said. "Individual doctors have noticed this, but nobody put it all together. Now, doctors are going to try high-dose vitamin therapy the minute they know a coenzyme is involved in a disease or there is a problem with the substrate. It makes sense, since many of the vitamins are generally recognized as safe in large doses. I think this kind of thing will turn up all over once people start looking."

Ames is not only looking, he's finding some important results. When more doctors begin to question a long-held "article of faith", namely, that "you get all the nutrients you could ever need from a well-balanced diet," there will be a sea change in how nutrients are utilized. In the meantime, Vitamin Express customers can know they are already way ahead of the ballgame.

Ames has long had a visionary understanding of the benefit that optimal antioxidant nutrition can make on health and how helpful that could be for all segments of society. Here he expands this vision, saying that by eliminating vitamin and mineral deficiencies, "metabolic harmony" can be restored. Over the years here at Vitamin Express, many of you have personally discovered something similar in your experiments with supplements.

We'll close with a few quotes from Ames' report.

"What's interesting is, health food stores sell B-100 pills with 50 times the normal requirement for vitamin B-6, which is about a milligram. It never made much sense to the [tenured] nutrition community, and yet the public is buying these pills. Why?"

"Maybe somebody just feels better when they take these high B-vitamins. All the neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, use vitamin B-6. So maybe when you take high levels it raises serotonin levels in the brain. There is some evidence for that."

"...there is potentially much benefit and possibly little harm in trying high-dose nutrient therapy because of the nominal cost, ease of application and low level of risk."

Why Take Supplements, Really?

You take a supplement because you will benefit from it. You have to be patient. You have to be observant - expectant, but not fooled. You have to maintain your objectivity in a subjective world. Practice paying attention to how you feel when you take supplements. Scientists have taken time to perform studies, run tests, and make judgments about these substances. It is now your turn to make your own judgments. You need to decide if you wish to continue using each of these supplements in your daily life.

The longer you take a supplement, the more you will know if you like what it does for you. You may need to vary the dosage. You may need to take it over a period of time. Or, you may only have to take it once or twice to determine if you like the effects it produces.

What we ingest is directly correlated with a multitude of factors. It affects how we think, act, and perceive the world. Optimal nutrition has a definite place for everyone at every stage of his or her life. Ideally, awareness of one's personal nutritional needs should begin as early in life as possible. It is from this perspective that youthful arrogance develops into mature responsibility for one's health. Being knowledgeable about what your body needs to operate at the peak of energy, and in a state of health, is your means of maintaining optimum health far into a vital and vigorous old age.

Can Media Stories be a Health Hazard?

A "storm of controversy" broke out after the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in the April 10 issue showing that both St. John's Wort (SJW) and the prescription drug Zoloft were bested by a placebo for the treatment of severe depression. Like most of our readers, I already knew that St. John's Wort is not effective for severe depression, as well as the fact that it has been extensively studied in Europe and proven to be safe and effective for mild to moderate depression.

What is severe depression? According to the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-IV, severe depression involves a depressed mood or loss of interest in normal activities that lasts most of the day nearly every day for two weeks or longer. Additional symptoms include at least four of the following: significant weight loss or gain, sleep disturbances, agitation or unusual slowness, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, lack of concentration, or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

For depression that doesn't last as long, or that does not involve such a wide and extreme array of symptoms, SJW has been found to be very helpful.

Nevertheless, headlines trumpeted the "news" about St. John's Wort. If you have been using St. John's Wort and read this story, did you notice any effect? Did you question any positive results you had previously noted, doubting the validity of your own observations? Did you begin to worry, and perhaps start to look at how you feel through a dark, critical lens? Hyla Cass, MD, and author of St. John's: Nature's Blues Buster, commented on this in a recent press release about this study and the ensuing media stories:

"The conclusions also do a great disservice to the public. Speaking as a clinician who regularly prescribes St. John's wort, I have seen negative repercussions with this kind of interpretation of an herbal study. The human mind is complex, and many factors go into the healing process. As we see in all placebo-controlled trials, the placebo effect is actually a very significant aspect of treatment, and as physicians, we do best when we fully support it. Research has shown that this is true for almost all medications. Moreover, there is no way to tell in any one individual how much relief is due to the placebo and how much, the herb or medication."

"At this point, many individuals who have been successful in relieving their depression with St. John's wort may question their positive response, lose confidence in the herb, discontinue use, and revert to their depressive state. Or they may turn to medication, with its more severe side effects, not to mention expense. In addition, many who have been considering taking the herb may not now even give it (and themselves) a chance."

"We know that even mild to moderate depression can be a debilitating illness, and yet we are in effect 'hexing' the use of a perfectly good herbal medicine that has been prescribed successfully in Europe. Does St. John's wort lose its efficacy when it crosses the Atlantic? The medical profession is bound by the Hippocratic oath to "first do no harm," and to use the simplest most natural least harmful medicines first. Why put so many people as risk?"

Before the recent concentration on St. John's Wort's mood-enhancing qualities, there were many other well-known uses of it. Here is a realistic and concise summary of SJW's range of use: "St. John's Wort is used to treat depression, but is also excellent for infections, wounds, burns, bruises, sprains, nightmares, and bedwetting. It is an immune-system stimulant, an expectorant, and an anti-bacterial agent. It can cause sensitivity to sunlight, and should not be taken with MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors."

Additionally, there are innovative modern uses of SJW and of hypericin, one of its major active ingredients. Bernard Bihari, MD, a researcher into the use of low-dose naltrexone, studied St. John's Wort in 15 patients with HIV in 1990, and accidentally discovered a significant benefit to liver function in two patients with hepatitis B. He followed this lead and has since used SJW to successfully treat hepatitis B, and concentrated hypericin to successfully treat both hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

The BEST of health to you!
Michael LeVesque, President

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products listed in this newsletter are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with your physician before taking any of these products.