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All Posts in Category: Supplements

Spirulina

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that nutritionists are calling the superfood of the future. It is an easily produced, non-toxic species of Arthrospira bacteria.
You probably never thought you would be adding algae powder from tropical lakes to your smoothies, but spirulina is becoming quite the popular addition for many health-conscious eaters. Even though this superfood is in the spotlight right now because of its nutritional profile, bright green color, and bounty of health benefits, spirulina has been a superfood long before 21st-century nutritionists began adding it to their smoothies.
Spirulina is quite possibly one of the oldest life forms on Earth. The first people to ever use this algae as a food source is unclear, but Aztecs for sure and African natives may have consumed the algae in their daily diet many centuries ago in the shape of cakes and broths.


Similar to other sea vegetables, like kelp and chlorella, as far as its nutritional makeup, spirulina is grown around the world, from Hawaii to Mexico and Africa.
Dried spirulina contains about 60 to 70 percent protein. It’s actually considered one of the few plant-based sources of “complete protein,” meaning it contains all essential amino acids your body needs but can’t produce on its own (other foods in this category: quinoa, buckwheat, hummus, soy, hump and chia seeds). It’s also a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, E, and K.
Spirulina may be more beneficial for vegans or vegetarians that lack adequate iron and vit.B12 in their diet (even though vit.B12 in not absorbed well after ingestion). Touted as a “superfood,” health claims surrounding the blue-green algae include its ability to boost immunity, fight inflammation, and reduce fatigue. It was also proved effective in fighting allergies (allergic rhinitis).
Human evidence suggests that spirulina can improve lipid and glucose metabolism, while also reducing liver fat and protecting the heart. Animal studies are very promising as well, as spirulina has been shown to be of similar potency as commonly used reference drugs, when it comes to neurological disorders. These effects also extend to arthritis and immunology. Given its high antioxidant content, spirulina has often been praised as an immune system booster.


Spirulina has a few active components. The main ingredient is called phycocyanobilin, which makes up about 1% of spirulina (and gives spirulina its deep bluish/greenish hue). This compound mimics the body’s bilirubin compound, in order to inhibit an enzyme complex called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate (NADPH) oxidase. By inhibiting NADPH oxidase, spirulina provides potent anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.
Spirulina – like any blue-green algae – can be contaminated with toxic substances called microcystins. It can also absorb heavy metals from the water where it is grown. For these reasons, it is important to buy spirulina from a trusted brand.
The easiest way to utilize spirulina is to mix it into various foods. While you could simply mix a spoonful into a glass of water, many people find its pungent taste rather off-putting, but adding it to a smoothie, fruit juice, soup or other foods, even dips, can be a great way to take advantage of its many benefits without suffering through the experience. Enjoy!

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Can a vitamin be a drug?

Sometimes patients are confused about this topic: aren’t the supplements (vitamin, minerals, fatty acids etc) drugs too? Don’t they “treat” diseases too? What’s the difference between them?

Let’s start with the definition of a drug first.

According to Health Canada, drugs include both prescription and non-prescription pharmaceuticals; biologically-derived products such as vaccines, blood derived products, and products produced through biotechnology; tissues and organs; disinfectants; and radio-pharmaceuticals. According to the Food and Drug Act, a drug includes any substance or mixture of substances manufactured, sold or represented for use in:

  1. the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder, abnormal physical state, or the symptoms thereof in man or animal
  2. restoring, correcting or modifying organic functions in man or animal, or
  3. disinfection in premises in which food is manufactured, prepared or kept

Natural health products, such as vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal products for which therapeutic claims are made are also considered drugs at the level of the Food and Drugs Act; however, these products are regulated as natural health products under the Natural Health Products Regulations and not as drugs under the Food and Drug Regulations. They are seen as a sub-set of drugs now.

Another important theoretical distinction in the eyes of the authorities is this:

  • Drugs are considered unsafe until proven safe
  • Dietary supplements are considered safe until proven unsafe

Based on this conceptual difference, FDA and Health Canada consider new drugs to be unsafe until they are proven safe through clinical trials. And they must approve any new drug before it can be legally sold in the US or Canada. Clinical trials are studies done under well-controlled conditions on human volunteers. They are expensive. These tests must be done on all drugs – even those that are sold over the counter (without a prescription). The Health Canada approval process requires that the drug be proven in a series of clinical trials. These studies must show “substantial evidence” that the drug is both safe and effective for each of its intended uses. This level of scrutiny does not apply to natural health products. Manufacturers of supplements are not required to test new ingredients or supplements in clinical trials.

Under the Natural Health Products Regulations in Canada, which came into effect on January 1, 2004, natural health products (NHPs) are defined as:

  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Herbal remedies
  • Homeopathic medicines
  • Traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines
  • Probiotics
  • Other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids

Natural Health Products must be safe to use as over-the-counter products and not need a prescription to be sold. Vitamins and minerals are regulated as a sub-set of drugs because they are considered to be natural health products.

A quick search in the Drug Product Database for vitamins, mineral and other so perceived “natural products” will reveal this: vitamin A, D, Folic acid (vit.B9), vit.K1, vit.K2 all have this duality – they are dietary supplements that become drugs at certain dosages specified in the law.

Vitamin A, for example, requires a prescription when a practitioner recommends that a patient take more than 10,000 international units (IU) per dose or in the total daily intake.  Similarly, vitamin D becomes a drug when taken at more than 1,000 IUs/day; vitamins K1 and K2 require a prescription at more than 0.120 mg per day.

Folic acid (vit.B9) also “behaves” like a drug when used “in oral dosage form containing more than 1.0 milligram of folic acid per dosage form or, where the largest recommended daily dosage shown on the label would, if consumed by a person, result in the daily intake by that person of more than 1.0 milligram of folic acid”.

Why is this important?  For naturopaths who commonly incorporate recommendations for supplements and vitamins as part of their practice, this is extremely important.  In order to do so at the levels noted above (where the vitamin becomes a drug), a naturopath must first have successfully completed the Ontario Therapeutic Prescribing course and examination.  It is fairly common for naturopaths to recommend high dose vitamins to patients; however, naturopaths who recommend patients take vitamins at levels that are above the limits and who have not completed the necessary course and exam will have breached the regulation and are subject to prosecution by the College for professional misconduct.

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Cordyceps: the killer fungus!

Cordyceps sinensis is a very interesting medicinal mushroom that has been used for medicinal purposes in Asia for centuries. It is used mainly to restore lost energy and vigor and to stimulate a fatigued immune system acting like a general tonic for the body.

In addition to the English term “caterpillar fungus” there are other interesting names of this killer fungus. In Tibetan it is referred to as Yartsa gunbu. The Chinese name is dong chong xia cao (meaning “winter worm, summer grass”). The Latin name cordyceps means “club head”, and sinensis is “from China”. According to the recent DNA review of the genus Cordyceps, the new name for Cordyceps sinensis is actually Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

It grows only in the mountains of Himalaya, on the Tibetan plateau, at the altitude of 3,000-5,000 m in cold snowy marsh lands of China (Tibet), Nepal, India or Bhutan.

This fungus is also known for its unique way of reproducing. It sprouts from the body of dead caterpillar in the wild, entering the body of a live caterpillar while it is in the larval form of a large moth (Thitarodes spp.) native to the region. Upon infection from the spores, strands of filaments called “hyphae” begin to sprout from the spores that then leads to the death of the caterpillar. That’s a parasite with no scruples! The hyphae grow longer and multiply and develop into a relatively large stalk-like fungal fruiting body that emerges from the insect’s carcass after having sapped the caterpillar’s body of all nutrients thus killing and mummifying the remains. This horror movie action makes Cordyceps one of the coolest mushrooms around!

The killer fungus in action!

The fruiting body is usually up to 4 inches (around 10 cm) long and 0.3 inches (1/2 cm) wide. Unlike a typical mushroom, these are curved and finger-shaped like a small cane. They’re usually orange or brown. It can be a very important source of income for people living in rural Tibet.

Cordyceps sinensis – sprouting from buried caterpillars

BBC News reported a few years ago that some Himalayan villagers make their living by collecting the fungus along the mountainous regions of Tibet to sell to a Chinese market that can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. In fact, the money to be made is so lucrative that it resulted in multiple homicides as villagers from one region tried to prevent outsiders from cashing in on their limited supply. It was estimated that the price of Cordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau rose dramatically by 900% between 1998 and 2008 due to the demand from the Western hemisphere and Europe Today, in order to meet this demand, Cordyceps is grown in climate-controlled greenhouses within a grain-based substrate.

Tibetan mountains

Cordyceps fungus has a long history of use in traditional medicine in China and now worldwide. It has numerous bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides and nucleosides (organic molecules that will be converted into building blocks of the genetic material DNA) which have been studied for their broad range of biological activities. Its main constituents are Unsaturated fatty acids, Amino acids and Adenosine, Adenine, Uracil, Uridine and Cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine). It is usually standardized to 4% cordycepic acid and 0.25% adenosine (Metagenics). Cordycepin is known as a nucleotide analogue, due to its structural similarities to adenosine.

It is sweet in flavor, slightly warm in nature and in Traditional Chinese Medicine this fungus mainly manifests its therapeutics actions in the Lung and Kidney meridians (enhances Kdnney Yang and replenishes Essence, invigorates the Lungs, stops bleeding and dissolves Phlegm).

In the Western medical world, the health benefits of Cordyceps sisnesis are:

  • Stimulation of the immune function
  • General adaptogen, resulting in more energy, strength and stamina
  • Anti-tumor properties (good for cancer)
  • Anemia (builds bone marrow)
  • Persistent cough (reduces excess phlegm and increases oxygenation in the lungs)
  • General sexual tonic and libido/performance enhancer (“Viagra” of Asia)
  • Reduces cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, VLDl and increases HDL
  • Improves Arrhythmia
  • Improves Tinnitus
  • Hypoglycemic effects (reduces blood glucose and benefits insulin resistence)
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How many B vitamins are out there?

Have you ever wondered how many B vitamins there are? And what’s with all those numbers? I did and here is the answer.
First of all, let’s start with the definition of a vitamin and a brief introduction to vitamins.
Vitamins are organic components in food that are needed in very small amounts for growth and for maintaining good health.
The word vitamin was coined in 1912 by Polish chemist Casimir Funk as a combination of the Latin word vita for life and amine because vitamins were thought initially to contain nitrogen-containing components known as amino acids. By 1920 the -e- was removed from the end to reflect the new science of the day that recognised that not all vitamins contained nitrogen and that they were not in fact related to amino acids.
Today only 13 vitamins are recognised: Vitamins A, B1, C, B2, D, E, B12, K1, B5, B7, B6, B3, B9.
Most vitamins generally cannot be synthesized by animals or humans, and if synthesized, the amounts are insufficient to meet body needs and must be obtained from the diet or from some synthetic source. For this reason alone, vitamins are called essential nutrients because they are essential for life and optimum well-being.
Vitamins are classified by their solubility, or, in other words, the vitamin’s ability to dissolve into another substance. For instance, fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins that dissolve in fat. Because fat is easily stored on your body, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored within your fat. This means they can accumulate and be saved for later use. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.
If a vitamin is not fat-soluble, then it is classified as one of the water-soluble vitamins, which are vitamins that dissolve in water. Because your body is a watery environment, these vitamins can move through your body pretty easily, and they can also be flushed out in your urine with ease. So, your body does not store water-soluble vitamins, and you need to replenish them daily. Water-soluble vitamins include the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C.
Most vitamins have official scientific names, such as thiamine (vit.B1), but letters and numbers began to be used in the early 1900’s for classification purposes. Scientists then knew of only two factors that needed to be present in a diet for an animal to survive in a lab; these were deemed: fat-soluble A and water-soluble B. As more vitamins were discovered, they were classified by a letter – either alphabetically in order of discovery, or by a letter suggesting its role in nutrition. For example, vitamin K came from scientists who identified its role in blood clotting – koagulazion in Danish or Koagulation, because the initial discovery was reported in a German journal.
Now let’s get back to the B-complex vitamins.
These B vitamins play an important role in cell metabolism. These essential nutrients help convert our food into fuel, allowing us to stay energized throughout the day. While many of the following vitamins work in tandem, each has its own specific benefits, from promoting healthy skin and hair to preventing memory loss or migraines.
So, here we go:

  • Vit.B1 (Thiamin): thiamin is needed to help produce cellular energy from the foods you eat, and also supports normal nervous system function.
  • Vit.B2 (Riboflavin): riboflavin supports cellular energy production; good for eyes and migraines.
  • Vit.B3 (Niacin): niacin, or nicotinic acid, supports cellular energy production. Niacin, in the form of nicotinic acid and not nicotinamide (or niacinamide), helps support cardiovascular health. Good for mental health too. None of the forms are related to the nicotine found in tobacco, although their names are similar.
  • Vit.B5 (Pantothenic Acid): pantothenic acid is widely available in plant and animal food sources and helps support cellular energy production in the body. Promotes wound healing.
  • Vit.B6 (Pyridoxine): pyridoxine is critical to all rapidly dividing cells. It is needed to metabolize amino acids and glycogen (the body’s storage form of glucose), and is also necessary for normal nervous system function and red blood cell formation.
  • Vit.B7 (Biotin): biotin, or vitamin H, may help support healthy hair, skin and nails. Biotin also supports carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. Good for diabetic neuropathy also.
  • Vit.B9 (Folic Acid): folic acid is most commonly known for its role in fetal health and development as it plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system. Also good for gout.
  • Vit.B12 (Cobalamin): cobalamin plays a critical role in the pathways of the body that produce cellular energy. It is also needed for DNA synthesis, proper red blood cell formation and for normal nervous system function. Good for depression. Individuals who follow vegan or vegetarian diets may benefit from a B12 supplement since B12 is predominantly found in foods of animal origin such as chicken, beef, fish, milk and eggs.

But now the question begs: where did all the missing numbers go?
Many of the following substances have been referred to as vitamins as they were once believed to be vitamins. They are no longer considered as such, and the numbers that were assigned to them now form the “gaps” in the true series of B-complex vitamins described above (e.g., there is no vitamin B8). Some of them, though not essential to humans, are essential in the diets of other organisms; others have no known nutritional value and may even be toxic under certain conditions. This might change in the future.
Vitamin B4: can refer to the distinct chemicals choline, adenine, or carnitine.
Vitamin B8: adenosine monophosphate (AMP), also known as adenylic acid. Vitamin B8 may also refer to inositol.
Vitamin B10: para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), a chemical component of the folate molecule produced by plants and bacteria, and found in many foods. It is best known as a UV-blocking sunscreen applied to the skin, and is sometimes taken orally for certain medical conditions.
Vitamin B11: pteryl-hepta-glutamic acid (PHGA; chick growth factor).
Vitamin B13: orotic acid.
Vitamin B14: cell proliferant, anti-anemia, rat growth factor, and antitumor compound.
Vitamin B15: pangamic acid, also known as pangamate or DMG; may play a role in glucose oxidation and cell respiration. Promoted in various forms as a dietary supplement for various conditions, including cancer; considered unsafe and subject to seizure by the US Food and Drug Administration. Banned in Canada too.
Vitamin B16: dimethylglycine (DMG) is synthesized by the human body from choline.
Vitamin B17: pseudoscientific name for the poisonous compound amygdalin, also known as the equally pseudoscientific name “nitrilosides” despite the fact that it is a single compound. Trade name: Laetrile. Amygdalin can be found in various plants, but is most commonly extracted from apricot pits and other similar fruit kernels. Amygdalin is hydrolyzed by various intestinal enzymes to form, among other things, hydrogen cyanide, which is toxic to human beings when exposed to a high enough dosage. Some proponents claim that amygdalin is effective in cancer treatment and prevention, despite its toxicity and a severe lack of scientific evidence. The actor Steve McQueen was treated with Laetrile for his terminal mesothelioma (a rare form of lung cancer) in 1980 but without success. Banned in Canada and USA.
Vitamin B20: L-carnitine.
There they are. Too many of them? Too complicated? Maybe.

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