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Nutrition and media mistakes, Echinacea

January 2000 - Print | Index

1. It is always a struggle to keep nutritional information accurate and clear. Sometimes this means focusing on misinformation, which we do in this newsletter. I received a mailing from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. It focuses on "Healthy Aging" and begins with an anecdote in which the writer’s father was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and the required lauded treatment was steroids. It’s a disappointment that there is no mention of nutritional alternatives for rheumatoid arthritis. This is not to say that the publication doesn’t contain possibly some excellent information. It's just that, in my estimation, the benefits, costs, and safety of nutritional therapies far outweigh that of steroids, especially with current information leading the way to empowering people to take care of themselves and avoid drugs that incur severe side (bad) effects...

2. The University of California, Berkeley puts out a Wellness Letter from the School of Public Health. It is to inform and advise. In regard to multivitamin and mineral formulas, the July 1999 (Vol 15, Issue 10) issue blatantly states " Words you don’t need to see listed on the bottle: ‘stress formula’, ‘sugar free’, ‘starch free’, ‘natural’, ‘super-potency’, ‘senior formula’, ‘slow release’, enzymes, hormones, amino acids, PABA, or ginseng and other herbs. These serve no purpose and add to the price." The writer is obviously not informed about the nutritional benefits of enzymes, hormones, PABA, amino acids or ginseng, to state that they are on the label without purpose. I suggest a reading of "Present Knowledge in Nutrition" from The Nutrition Foundation, Inc. in Washington D.C. There are also many other incorrect observations and errors in the newsletter. What this does suggest is the importance of offering solid classes in nutrition in the School of Public Health, at UC Berkeley.

3. Next we have Dr. Dean Edell, nationally syndicated TV and radio host, who stated an extraordinarily preposterous statement in Bottom Line Health-Wellness Strategies, Dec. 1999, Vol 13 No.12, from the "World’s Leading Medical Insiders". Now keep in mind that his column heading is Medical Misinformation (which I realize should be taken literally), and is titled "Eight Persistent Myths Debunked." The statement that "herbal remedies are inherently safer than conventional drugs" is one so-called "myth" he attempts to debunk. He says many of the conventional medications contain ingredients that are similar or identical to those found in herbs. (This is quite true.) He then goes on to say, "Getting these compounds in natural rather than synthetic form doesn’t make them safer. Just the opposite is true." (It is not! The American Medical Association [AMA] documents the bad effects of synthetic drugs as the fourth leading cause of death in the United States for 1998. The safety of herbs is unquestioned, as verified by the Poison Control Centers throughout the US. It is documented that in the last ten years there have been no deaths and a handful of bad effects.)

Dean Edell continues by stating his ridiculous reason, "When you take a conventional drug, you’re getting a single active ingredient. Herbal remedies often contain thousands of active ingredients." (Yes, that is true and may well be the reason why the herb is safe and not harmful.)

He continues, "We don’t always know which of these compounds are truly beneficial." Again, a very accurate statement, and why "standardization" or "isolation" is not always a key to the quality and effectiveness of an herb. Science first sees one activity as the key for a certain result and then, with time, finds some other active constituent to be even more involved in the result. This reductionist thought was the goal of the past. The goal of the present is synthesis and a holistic approach.

For instance, herbalists have used St. John's Wort for many benefits. It is an immune system stimulant, helpful for retro-viral infections including HIV and hepatitis C. It can increase the life of and potentiate the effects of neurotransmitters. It has been found useful as an expectorant and as an anti-bacterial that can speed wound and burn healing. Traditionally it has been used to treat bedwetting and children's nightmares. The extract and oil may be used externally for bruises, strains, sprains, contusions, and wounds. Also it can have some antidepressant, nerve toning, and mild sedating effects.

Then some good research reinforced the idea that it could help with mild depression. Suddenly, St. John's Wort became the "anti-depressant herb" and all of it's other benefits considered "unproven"! The known active ingredient Hypericin was mistakenly identified as the important marker of anti-depressant activity, but recent research shows it more of an immune supporting ingredient and some other portion of St. John's Wort aids depression. Given the bias of post war reductionist medical mindset, this would mean St. John's Wort should not be used to treat mild depression until the specific active ingredient is isolated.

Herbalists in the past focused on the quality of the herb and its fingerprint as a match for its effectiveness and not its separation into certain components for activity. Herbs are extremely complex and incapable of being reproduced in a laboratory. Yet their consistent performance remains timeless and documented.

Science Confirms Echinacea's Benefits

In 1989 when we opened the Berkeley Vitamin Express, I brought in a selection of products that I knew were good, and invited our new East Bay customers to tell us what else they wanted in the store. Within a month nearly a dozen people requested HerbPharm Super Echinacea. We already had a good selection of products we knew to be very effective, including Gaia Herbs Echinacea and Zand Insure Herbal. Many of our customers had used these products with good effect but they still wanted the HerbPharm product. They could feel a difference.

People can and do gain accurate information through careful and sensitive observation of themselves. They know how they respond to dietary supplements. Human beings have been making these kinds of observations for thousands of years.

So we brought in the HerbPharm Super Echinacea liquid extract and tablets, and they quickly became our best-selling Echinacea's. Interestingly, the October 1999 issue of Natural Pharmacy reported that an independent study comparing the quality of six Echinacea products showed HerbPharm Super Echinacea as top-rated. It contained the highest amounts of important markers of activity, the hydrophilic phenolic compounds cichoric acid and caftartaric acid. We weren't surprised. Our customers had already indicated that outcome. Still, it's great when Western science can partially corroborate what has already been ascertained through a more fundamental way of knowing.

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.