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Health News Archive 7 - Minerals & Vitamins
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Alpha-tocopherol Supplementation Reduces Gamma and Delta-tocopherol Levels

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland have found a possible reason for the conflicting results obtained from vitamin E supplementation in cardiovascular and cancer trials. Clinical research has most often utilized alpha-tocopherol. Yet alpha tocopherol is only one of four tocopherols that combined with four tocotrienols, form the full complement of vitamin E fractions. Although the major form of vitamin E found in the blood is alpha-tocopherol, a typical American diet provides over two-thirds of its vitamin E in the form of gamma-tocopherol. Recent research has found that the other tocopherols and tocotrienols, particularly gamma-tocopherol, have disease preventive benefits. In the current study, Dr. Han-Yao Huang and Dr. Lawrence J Appel found that supplementation with alpha-tocopherol lowered concentrations of both gamma and delta-tocopherols.

One hundred eighty-four (184) adult nonsmokers were randomized to receive 400 international units alpha-tocopherol or a placebo daily for a two-month period. Study participants who were regular users of vitamin E supplements were asked to stop supplementing during the two months prior to the trial. Even with a washout period of 2 months, this group had higher serum levels of alpha-tocopherol and lower levels of gamma-tocopherol than those who had not used Vitamin E supplements prior to the study's onset.

Predictably, alpha-tocopherol supplementation increased serum levels of the vitamin in the group that received it. However, at the study's conclusion, participants who received alpha-tocopherol experienced a reduction in serum gamma-tocopherol levels of approximately 58 percent. While delta-tocopherol concentrations were detectable in half of the subjects in each group at the study's onset, alpha-tocopherol supplementation for two months reduced detectable levels to 13 percent.

The researchers suggest that alpha-tocopherol supplements may compete with gamma and delta-tocopherols for hepatic transfer, thereby lowering their concentrations. Although they did not test for beta-tocopherols or the tocotrienols, serum levels of these fractions may also be reduced by supplementing with only alpha-tocopherol. Thus people who obtain the full compliment of tocopherols and tocotrienols (from food or supplements) may be more protected than those who just obtain alpha tocopherol supplementation. 

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New UK Study Shows Decline in Fruit and Vegetable Mineral Content

New government statistics show fresh fruit and vegetables are not as good for us as they were 60 years ago. The report, by nutritionist and chiropractor Dr. David Thomas, shows the content of natural minerals, such as iron, calcium, copper and magnesium, has decreased by up to 76 per cent since 1940. The growth of intensive farming methods, which use artificial fertilizers to get plants to grow bigger and faster, is blamed for the decline.

Dr Thomas said: "The findings suggest that our diet is now far less nutritious than it was 60 years ago. It is likely that levels of a whole host of other trace elements which have proven benefits to health and whose absence can create disease conditions, have also been depleted. "Nowadays you need to eat three times as many oranges as you would have done in 1940 to get the same amount of iron. Dr Thomas compared statistics for the mineral content of fruit and vegetables in 1940 with the latest figures from 1991.

In vegetables the level of magnesium had dropped by nearly 25 per cent, calcium by 46 per cent, and sodium by 50 per cent, while copper levels had slumped by more than 75 per cent. In fruit, sodium had dipped by 27 per cent, iron by 25 per cent and copper by 20 per cent.

A lack of iron can impair intellectual functions, while calcium is vital for strong teeth and bones, particularly in children. A shortage of magnesium can lead to neurological and heart problems.

Although modern intensive farming allows fruit and vegetables to grow faster as they receive lots of nutrients, it does not necessarily create produce with the same amount of minerals as in previous generations. A greater number of crops growing in one area means less nutrients from the soil per plant.

Mike Lean, professor of nutrition at Glasgow University who is also a director of the Health Education Board for Scotland, said: "Advice at the moment is to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables combined every day. Maybe we should be eating considerably more than that.

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"Calcium Crisis" Affects American Youth

Monday, December 10, 2001

Only 13.5 percent of girls and 36.3 percent of boys age 12 to 19 in the United States get the recommended daily amount (RDA) of calcium, placing them at serious risk for osteoporosis and other bone diseases, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because nearly 90 percent of adult bone mass is established by the end of this age range, the nation's youth stand in the midst of a calcium crisis.

"Osteoporosis is a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), sponsor of the Milk Matters calcium education campaign. "Preventing this and other bone diseases begins in childhood. With low calcium intake levels during these important bone growth periods, today's children and teens are certain to face a serious public health problem in the future."

The health risks related to low calcium intake are not just years away, explained Dr. Alexander. Children are drinking more soft drinks and more non-citrus drinks than they used to; meanwhile, milk consumption has dropped. The number of fractures among children and young adults has increased, probably due to lower intakes of calcium. Pediatricians are also seeing the re-emergence of rickets, a bone disease that results from low levels of vitamin D. Rickets became almost nonexistent after vitamin D was added to milk in the 1950s, but is now appearing at greater rates around the country.

But the major effects of this crisis are yet to come.

"As these children get older, this calcium crisis will become more serious as the population starts to show its highest rate of osteoporosis and other bone health problems in our nation's history," Dr. Alexander said. "But we need to remember that this is a preventable and correctable public health problem."

Getting children to pay attention to their calcium needs is a challenge for scientists and educators, he adds. For this reason, the NICHD has expanded its Milk Matters campaign and Web site to speak directly to children and their parents about calcium.

Previously, the NICHD developed educational materials that are used primarily by educators, nurses, and physicians to convey the importance of adequate calcium consumption among children and teens. Now, NICHD has expanded its Web site to give children and their parents more direct access to the information and will be adding games and other interactive content specifically for kids.

The Institute's Milk Matters campaign stresses low-fat or fat-free milk as the preferred source of dietary calcium because:

    • Milk has a high calcium content.
    • Calcium in milk is easily absorbed by the body.
    • Milk contains other nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin A, B12, potassium, magnesium, and protein, that are essential to healthy bone and tooth development.

The NICHD bases its recommendations on the 1994 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Conference on Optimal Calcium Intake, and on additional guidance from the 2000 NIH Consensus Development Conference on Osteoporosis Prevention, Diagnosis, and Therapy. "If you don't drink milk, it's important to get calcium from other sources, like other dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and foods with added calcium," explained Dr. Alexander. 

View more info on Calcium

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Adults Urged to Take Daily Multivitamin

June, 2002

Even people who eat a normal diet may not be getting enough of certain vitamins, according to researchers. The elderly and those who follow restrictive diets often face the risk of vitamin deficiency. Because low vitamin intake has been linked to a host of illnesses, Drs. Kathleen M. Fairfield and Robert H. Fletcher of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, recommend that everybody--regardless of age or health status--take a daily multivitamin.

In two articles in the June 19, 2002 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Fletcher and Fairfield reviewed studies published between 1966 and 2002 that investigated the links between vitamin intake and diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

For example, studies have shown that taking the B-vitamin Folic Acid early in pregnancy can help prevent certain birth defects, while others have suggested Folic Acid may cut the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Other vitamins, such as vitamin E, have been found to reduce cancer risk when consumed at recommended levels, and vitamin D plus calcium supplements have been shown to decrease the risks of bone loss and fracture in the elderly.

Fletcher pointed out that most Americans--except those who follow what he described as a "super-perfect" diet--likely do not get enough of certain vitamins in their diets and would benefit from multivitamins, as well. A recent survey showed that only 20% to 30% of Americans consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, the recommended amount.

The evidence promoting the benefits of various vitamins is relatively new, Fletcher explained, so doctors may not yet be aware of it. Furthermore, vitamins are considered to be somewhat of an alternative therapy and some doctors have "this prejudice against anything that's not very orthodox," Fletcher stated. 

As people age, they also become less able to absorb some vitamins from their diets, and research has suggested that people who drink alcohol may need extra folic acid.  In addition, Fletcher said, some physicians may not understand the importance of vitamin deficiency and may fail to recommend multivitamins.

Fletcher and Fairfield point out that excessive vitamin doses can have adverse effects--including higher-than-recommended vitamin A intake during pregnancy, which is linked to certain fetal anomalies.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:3116-3126, 3127-3129.

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Supplementation with B Vitamins Could Save Lives

Fortifying foods with B vitamins and giving additional supplements to people with heart disease--and those at risk--could save lives and money, according to a new report published in JAMA, August, 2001.  

People with high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine experience more heart attacks and death from heart disease, said lead author Dr. Jeffrey A. Tice from the University of California, San Francisco. And giving patients inexpensive and safe therapy with the B vitamins, folic acid, and cyanocobalamin can lower homocysteine levels, he explained.

Tice's team built a computer model to estimate the benefit of fortifying bread and cereal with folic acid, along with any additional benefits from taking supplements of folic acid and cyanocobalamin, in preventing heart disease. 

Grain fortification alone--which the Food and Drug Administration has required since January 1998--was predicted to cut the number of heart attacks and other heart disease events by 8% in women and 13% in men over a period of 10 years, they found, with similar reductions in deaths from heart disease.

And if patients with known heart disease took vitamins containing 1 milligram (mg) of folic acid and 0.5 mg of cyanocobalamin, Tice and colleagues report, about 310,000 fewer people would die from heart disease over a 10-year period compared with grain fortification alone.

Furthermore, supplements could also help certain groups of people with no known heart disease, the researchers predict.

"Many lives could be saved. In people with heart disease and men 45 years and older without known heart disease, vitamin therapy would save money," Tice said. "In women 55 years and older without heart disease, the cost would be low compared with other therapies currently used in medicine," he added.

Tice also noted that "the evidence for the beneficial effects of vitamin therapy to lower homocysteine is much stronger than that for other dietary supplements promoted for heart disease prevention like garlic and vitamin E."

Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) is found in meat, fish, poultry and fortified milk and breakfast cereals. Folate or folic acid is found in many fruits and vegetables and in fortified foods.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2001;286:936-943.

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