Monthly Archives: May 2014

Curcumin as Good as Prozac for Depression

Curcumin for Depression – Eat More Curry!

Reference:  Sanmukhani Phytotherapy Research

Depression!  Ugly.  At least 10% of us have it at any given time.  “You are mentally ill,” we say and turn away.  Not only do you suffer, but you get left out in the cold.  So we give you all sorts of drugs to boost your “serotonin”.   Trouble is, those drugs don’t work very well for very long.  Let’s take a new look at it.

Depression is not a mental illness.  It is inflammation of the brain.  The brain, gut, immune system triad work together in a fashion that inflammation in the gut often affects the brain.  The glia cells that protect your neurons are effectively white cells because they react to inflammation and inflammation markers just like other white cells.  Only difference, they don’t move. They stay wrapped around the neurons.  But when they get inflamed, the neurons underneath suffer.   That’s the current concept of depression.

And that’s why curcumin (derived from turmeric) works in depression.   In this study, 60 patients with major depression were randomized to get curcumin or Prozac or both.   The observers who graded their range of depression didn’t know what they were getting.  At the end of the study, the folks with just the curcumin had the same response rate as the Prozac group.  Both groups were thought to have about a 65% increase in their standardized depression scoring by Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.  Guess who had no side effects?   But did you get that – just as effective as Prozac, without the side effects.

Now, the tricky thing is effective dose.  Curcumin is not easily absorbed.  The study had 1000 mg doses which was in a twice a day formulation.   To be really well absorbed, curcumin needs to be attached to oil.  In India, folks fry their turmeric after mixing it with water and making it into a slurry. That’s the way you start making curry.  But the dry spice by itself isn’t nearly as well absorbed.  The current thought is you have to mix it with 10% black pepper to make it more absorbable.  Not a problem when making curry.   Many companies are now making curcumin attached to a fatty acid molecule to increase the absorption – in effect, they are frying it for you.   Those forms are 7-10 times better absorbed than the raw spice.

Turmeric is known to do several remarkable things.  First and foremost, it dramatically blocks NFκ B.   NFκ B is the common pathway to inflammation.  It is the protein inside cells that responds to C-reactive protein and turns on cellular inflammation.   It also lowers interleukin-1 by as much as 60%.  Interleukin-1 is a potent initiator of inflammation.   Curcumin inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), another inflammatory initiator.  But most intriguing, turmeric turns on new brain cell growth.   Interestingly enough, that’s what tricyclic antidepressants also do.  A critical brain growth factor called BDNF that stimulates new brain cell growth is depressed under stressful circumstances.  Not if you are taking curcumin.   Look in the hippocampus part of animal brains taking curcumin, and you can easily find the newly generated brain cells.

WWW.  What will work for me.  We keep finding new reasons to take turmeric.  This article caught my eye because I just found a fantastic new Pakistani restaurant that serves delicious dishes with gobs of curry sauce made from turmeric.  I’m not sure if my cheerful mood came from the great flavors or from the boost the turmeric gave me.   I didn’t list the reduction in Alzheimer’s with turmeric, or the cancer risk reduction.  I thought mood would be good enough.  Anmol on Mitchell Street in Milwaukee.   Yelp rated 5.   Get cheerful and try it yourself.  Or find an Indian Restaurant close to you and have meal.

Pop Quiz

1.  Depression is rare? T or F

False.  10 % of us at any given time

2.   Curcumin is derived from turmeric, one of the principal spices in curry.   T or F


3.   Curcumin has many dramatic effects on inflammation?  T or F


4.   Depression is being thought to be a disease of inflammation of the brain.  T or F


5.  The glial cells that protect the brain respond to inflammatory signals, just like white cells everywhere else.  T or F


6.  Curcumin also helps keep BDNF, a nerve growth factor, elevated and functioning in face of stress.  T or F


7.   BDNF helps new brain cells grow. Antidepressants may work through that channel.  Curcumin does the same thing.  T or F


8.  Curcumin has the same toxicity profile as Prozac.  T or F

False.  No known toxicity.

We get fat because….? We never have winter

We Get Fat Because….?  We never have winter.

Reference:  Ludwig JAMA  May 16 2014

You have heard it said a hundred times.  “You are fat because you overeat!”   That means the flaw is in you.  You don’t have enough will power.  You must be lazy as well as glutinous.  We quote the laws of thermodynamics and tidily wrap it up with the stock phrase, “Calories in, calories out.”   The only problem is, it doesn’t work.  It’s not true.   For all of us who have tried to lose weight, and can’t, it is because it isn’t true.  We’ve had it exactly, immutable, precisely backwards.

That’s what Ludwig is arguing in this editorial in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).  The idea is now hitting mainstream if it’s showing up in JAMA.  The implications should be huge.  We need to redo all of our concepts of calories in and out.  Most of all, we need to recognize that how we get fat.  Then we need to redo 100% of our flawed national guidelines in the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association and every other “backwards” advice source that doesn’t work, and perpetuates disease and misery.

Here is the simplest explanation of what Ludwig is arguing.   Insulin is your strorage hormone, designed to put calories into storage when they are abundant.  It reacts to glucose calories that come from carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are foods that are abundant at the end of the growing season, the are then followed by the starvation season (winter or dry season).   Throughout human history, insulin served us well as we were meant to pork up  and gain weight when carbs were around so that we would have adequate calories to tide us through the following season of no carbs.  Our seasonal year first had green plants for the first 3-4 months which are high in fiber, nutrients, minerals, protein but low in carbs (think broccoli, spinach, asparagus, kale).

Along comes civilization and the growing of crops we store and save for year around use.  In the modern world, we have carbs around all the time.  We put out insulin to store those carbs every time we eat that because that’s what our bodies were designed to do with carbs.  Our fat cells get bigger.  They become insulin resistant.  Our insulin level rises.  We store calories all the easier as our insulin goes up.  Our fat cells get more and more bloated, our insulin rises higher and higher, we get fatter and fatter.  Round and round and round we go.  And then we blame you.

How do you get off this bus?  You have to get rid of insulin and calm it’s effects. The only way to do that is to simulate the season that follows summer and fall with the abundance of carbs. That season would be …?   Winter!   (Or dry season if you are in Africa).  The only calories around for the next four-six months will be meat and fat.  Meat runs away when it sees you coming, looking hungry.  So you don’t always eat.  To survive, insulin disappears and your fat cells get the message, “It must be that time of year we share our calories.”  They open up.  You get those calories flooding into your system, providing the fuel you need.  You feel fine.   You have enough energy to chase down that kudu (elk, deer, bison, gnu, llama) by running after it for 20 miles until it drops from heat exhaustion.  You lose weight.  That’s the teleological explanation – based on how our body would need to perform throughout most of human history prior to our learning to grow carbohydrates.

That explanation also fits precisely with what our body does when we go on a low carb diet.  It has to be low enough in carbs for our body to believe it’s winter, and not have a shred of stimulation to put out insulin.  It may take drastic effort at first to break the insulin resistance we are caught in by the nature of our accumulated obesity.

But did you get the change in direction?   It’s our HORMONES that drive our behavior.  We eat carbs (the wrong food if you want to lose weight, the right food if you want to gain weight) that change our hormones.  That’s what comes first.  It’s not a flaw in your personality that comes first, it’s eating the wrong food.  That drives up insulin and you drive calories into storage, and don’t have them to burn.  The direction is thus:  wrong environment (free carbs) comes first, increased appetite and storage hormones come second, behavior inexorably driven comes last.  (And anyone who argues that hormones don’t drive behavior haven’t watched teenagers anytime recently)

WWW. What will work for me?   This is easy.  Now that the lights are on.  Ludwig is our most brilliant advocate and prophet.  My addition is to recognize the seasonality of food.  We were designed to survive in wicked world that kept throwing drought, dry or freezing cold seasons of prolonged calorie shortage, alternating with carbohydrate abundance.   If you want to lose weight, you have to intentionally and carefully manage your hormones and recreate winter.  (Just skip the living outside in the snow part.)  In winter, you just eat meat and fat.  That’s it!  Do it every year for three –four months and make up for the gains of the prior eight.  If you gain too much, you might need a longer winter.     Balanced diet is a bunch of hooey.  If you want balance, eat your hearts out on green plants, the kind that ripen in May (asparagus, spinach, kale).


Pop Quiz

1.  Human history designed us to eat carbs year around?  T or F

Go back to square one and read this article over again. F.  Through the vast majority of human history, we got carbs only at the end of the growing season, and that signaled our body that winter was coming soon.

2.   Humans make it through a starvation period better is they have more calories stored.  T or F


3.  Insulin is your storage hormone.   T or F

True.  Repeat.  It is your STORAGE hormone.  Not your glucose controlling hormone.  We have had its teleological use confused and backwards, much to our suffering.

4.   We gain weight easily when we eat asparagus and broccoli.  T or F

False.  Again, that’s your spring veges and you don’t signal your body that starvation is coming.  You don’t need to gain weight in May.   Bears don’t.   They weight till September.

5.    The concept of a balanced diet with equal parts of carbs, veges and meat is sensible – all things in moderation.  T or F

False as it can be.  Brought to you by the American food industry through the channels it can manipulate and give money too.

6.  The Paleo diet makes more sense now.  T or F

True – but only in the bigger picture.  It doesn’t take into account the seasonality of our lives and environment.  I suspect it leads to eating too much meat all the time.  We are likely better off eating more veges more of the time. (Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not too Much – Michael Polan)


Pycnogenol: Sex, Tinnitus, Alzheimer’s and Heart Attacks

Pycnogenol: Long Overdue Claim to Fame

Reference: Enseleit European Heart Journal Stuard Panminerva Med

French maritime pine bark. That’s it! Pine bark. Who would have thought it had medicinal value? Well, the Europeans have been interested in it for over 30 years and have over 300 publications about it. In America, we seem to put our trust in chemicals we invent. Bark is a source of other medicinal foods. Another interesting example would be willow bark – the source of aspirin, one of our most effective heart attack preventing medications.

What’s so hot about pycnogenol? It seems to be a critical heart disease medication. Bill Davis, of Wheat Belly fame, loved pycnogenol as part of his heart disease reversing therapy. It appears that there are a host of means by which pycnogenol works. Stuard combined pynogenol with an ace inhibitor in folks with metabolic syndrome and kidney damage (protein in their urine).   After just 6 months, the pynogenol group (that also had the ACE) had a 25.3% decrease in CRP, a 6% weight loss, a 53% decrease in urinary protein. In another study, Belcaro took folks with metabolic syndrome and gave them 150 mg a day of pycnogenol and was able to show better triglycerides, better blood pressure, 14% less glucose, 3 inches off waist sizes and plasma free radicals down some 35%.   Now, add those two studies to Enseleit’s research in which folks who had had a heart attack were given pycnogenol and had their “endothelial function” measured (how stretchy and elastic their blood vessels are).   With just 8 weeks of therapy there was a 32% improvement.

The improvements seen in Enseleit’s study speak to making blood vessels healthier. Hmmm!   Can we see effects in other circumstances where blood vessels may not be so good? For example, something as intractably irascible as tinnitus, ringing in the ears. It’s thought to come from lower blood flow in a considerable number of folks. If you improve blood flow to the inner ear, what happens? Grossi et al showed that you can help tinnitus in as little as a month.   Sexual function also depends on good blood flow. In a Japanese study, men were helped in mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.   But wait, there is research to support huge benefit in women too when the pycnogenol is combined with L-arginine! That makes sense because the sexual response is mitigated by healthy blood vessels, and L-arginine is the amino acid your body makes Nitric Oxide from. Pycnogenol then seems to be the party that sweeps in and cleans up the inflammation in the blood vessels that is at the root of the problem.

There are other illnesses that are strongly associated with lousy blood flow and subsequent organ dysfunction.  Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s both have extensive research showing benefits.

WWW. What will wok for me?   We really should be decreasing our damage to our blood vessels by eating tons of vegetables, avoiding sugar and trans fats, exercising and sleeping well. Oh well. For those of us who aren’t perfect angels or who are already in deep, a trial of the stuff might be just what the doctor ordered. Simple measures of success could easily be achieved by monitoring CRP before and after. Or, there are your own personal measures of success. For those with tinnitus, does that ring a bell?


Pop Quiz

1.   Pycnogenol is an extract of Polish Pine Bark?   T or F

False. Give the French their due.

2.   It’s core effect appears to be decreasing oxidative stress, that subsequently leads to many other problems, particularly with blood vessel health.   T or F

That’s it in a nutshell.

3.   It could be used as a weight loss drug as it helps lower inflammation and waist lines in many folks. T or F


4. Ringing in the ears has had few useful treatments to date, and this breaks open a therapy for millions of sufferers. T or F


5.   Oxidative stress, caused by lousy life style choices (like too much sugar and white flour foods) is at the root of many of our modern scourges like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.   T or F


6.   There is ample proof that pycnogenol will reverse Alheimer’s? T or F

False. These are all pilot studies of small size. Reversing may be a stretch. But preventing may not be.

7.   If you are worried about developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, this might be a good choice to start on?   T or F

CoQ10 and Heart Failure

CoQ10 and Heart Failure

Reference   Mortenson European Heart Journal 2013

Half of us die with heart failure as one of our significant contributing factors to our death.  That’s what death is, your heart finally giving up.  A failing heart can only pump 20% or so of its volume with each beat.  A healthy heart can push out about 60%.   You can live a pretty decent life with 40%, though you will be limited and can’t do everything.  The goal of  heart failure therapy is to get your heart to push out more than 20%.  Improving from 20% to 29% is a huge win.

That’s what CoQ10 will help you do.  Prof. Mortenson from Denmark, gave a poster presentation at the European Heart Meetings and presented his findings on CoQ10 use in heart failure.  In this study, 420 patients from all over the world with severe heart failure were given CoQ10 in addition to their usual medications and then observed for how long it took them to have a major cardiac event (including admission for heart failure to a hospital).  Taking CoQ10 halved the admission rate!  They lived longer.   Out of the hospital is better!

What does CoQ10 do?  Here is a simple explanation of its physiology.   Your heart is 33% mitochondria, and 66% muscle fiber.  The mitochondria make energy, the muscle burns it.  It’s a pretty simple formula.  If you look at cardiac cells, you can see the huge number of mitochondria.  They comprise 33% of the weight of that cell!  Essentially, mitochondria turn fat molecules into carbon dioxide and water, and make ATP in the process.  Just like a gasoline engine, they turn hydrocarbons into productive energy.  Unfortunately, some of the electrons in the electron transport chain escape and attach themselves to oxygen, making ROS (Reactive oxygen species) or Oxidants.  That highly reactive oxygen is like a little hand grenade and is very damaging to the mitochondria.   As the mitochondria get damaged from the ROS, it loses efficiency.  And as it loses efficiency, the heart cell loses efficiency.

In effect, if we can make the analogy to a gasoline engine, it’s as though our cylinders are leaking and we are getting less compression.  We still burn the energy but our core energy production is damaged.   Our horsepower wavers.  Our pumping ability gets worse.

Now, there is pretty good evidence that you need more than CoQ10.  With damaged mitochondria, the first thing to fall apart are their membranes and lots of good stuff leaks out. You may want to replenish the good stuff that leaks out too. That would means you need supplements of ribose (what you make ATP from – 1 grams a day), magnesium, (what your stabilize ATP and many other proteins with – 400 mg a day) and carnitine (what your mitochondria use to transport fat – fuel – into the mitochondria. 1 gram a day).   We’ve known this for a while.   Vitamin D helps too.

Now, your brain has as many mitochondria as your heart.  If it’s happening to your heart, guess what!  And as we hit age 50, we start making less CoQ10, just by being older.

WWW. What will Work for Me.  What seems to matter is the quality of CoQ10.  Ubiquinol is better than CoQ10.  If you take a statin, you destroy CoQ10.  And many heart and diabetes drugs deplete it.  A pretty good formula is that you need about 100 mg of CoQ10 a day for every heart and diabetes medication you are on.   I gave my father this regimen when his heart was at a 20% ejection fraction and he was in desperate Stage IV failure.  He got up to 29%, and out of the hospital for 3 extra years.  Just with supplements, a 30% boost.  If you know anyone with heart failure who doesn’t know about this, please have them see a functional medicine doctor – forward them this email.  In the meantime, you might consider it for yourself.


Pop Quiz

1.  CoQ10 is a pharmaceutical drug that should be given to folks with failure.  T or F

False and True. It is not a drug.  It’s naturally inside you but declines as we age so that it can’t protect our power production in our mitochondria.  Yes, we should take it as we age.

2.  Our heart is 10% by weight mitochondria.  T or F

Wow, you really missed the details.  It’s 33%!  Just like your brain.

3.   Heart medications dramatically deplete CoQ10.  T or F


4.   Ubiquinol is a better form of CoQ10.  T or F

Yes.  It’s worth it.  Pay for it.

5.  You can see up to a 30% boost in cardiac output when you take a mix of all the missing micronutrients your mitochondria need.  T or F

Yup.  Try it.  You might like it.  Can take up to a month to feel the full effect.