A surprising number of Americans fall short of micronutrient intake recommendations, as we have discussed in previous blog posts. While most of us are not suffering from rickets or pellagra (vitamin D and niacin deficiency diseases, respectively), many people may experience micronutrient ‘inadequacy’—insufficient intakes for optimum health.
It is hard to know if you have an inadequate diet. Often there is no telltale sign of an existing micronutrient inadequacy, as many have non-specific symptoms or no symptoms at all. Yet, the evidence suggests that these inadequacies may have very real and long-term consequences on our health and well-being.
As an example, we turn to Dr. Maret Traber’s new review on vitamin E inadequacy. Marginal vitamin E status is difficult to define, and its effects on neurological function are often subtle, in contrast to frank or severe vitamin E deficiency.
Recent research at the Linus Pauling Institute has found that lipoic acid, a substance found in many plants and animals and also made in the body, modulates circadian rhythms in laboratory rodents. We realize that circadian rhythms aren’t something you hear about every day, so here is a primer on circadian rhythms and their importance.
The Linus Pauling Institute has some very exciting research to report on potential therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Using a mouse model of ALS, Dr. Joseph Beckman (one of the leading researchers in this field, and a distinguished professor at the Linus Pauling Institute) and his colleagues in Australia and the United Kingdom have shown that a copper compound, called CuATSM, delayed the onset of symptoms and extended lifespan.
If you were only to follow nutrition news headlines the last few months, you might think that multivitamins are useless and that the scientific community is in complete agreement that multivitamins are a waste of money. These headlines stem from an editorial written by medical doctors (Guallar et al., “Enough Is Enough”), which claimed that “the case is closed” on vitamin and mineral supplements and that there is “no clear benefit” of taking them.
This is simply not the case. In a recently published letter in Annals of Internal Medicine, nutrition experts from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Tufts University, and the Harvard School of Public Health gather scientific evidence to show that the conclusions by Guallar and colleagues are just plain wrong.
Perhaps it would be instructive to take a closer look.
This is confusing and frustrating for all of us. As is the case with most headlines, when you look more closely at the study details, explanations emerge. We have been gathering information on omega-3 fatty acids for decades and slowly learning about the many, varied, and complex effects of omega-3 fatty acids on health.
When you read the next news headline, consider these important issues:
A report from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) was published recently (February 25 issue) in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This report focused on the use of vitamin, mineral, or multivitamin supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The conclusions of the task force were largely that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the benefits and harms of most single-nutrient and multivitamin/mineral supplements with respect to prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer, although they did issue caution for vitamin E and beta carotene supplements. For the most part, experts at the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) at Oregon State University agree with these findings, and state they are supported by an evidence-based review of the scientific literature on vitamin and mineral supplements.
But do these conclusions mean you should stop taking your vitamins? Not in the slightest.
This article specifically takes excerpts from Offit’s recently published book “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.” The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University has a different point of view – one that is based on the totality of the evidence, rather than selective claims:
This week’s (December 16, 2013) headlines stated that adults should stop taking multivitamin/mineral supplements (what some refer to simply as a ‘multivitamin’) as they have no apparent health benefit and may potentially be harmful. We at the Linus Pauling Institute believe that these conclusions are wrong and ignore the totality of the evidence from decades of nutrition research.Continue reading →
Although the Linus Pauling Institute has a long-standing, deep relationship with micronutrient research, we also study other compounds for their role in human health and disease. If you ever read nutrition research or see it discussed in the news, you may come across the unusual word ‘phytochemical.’
Put simply, the word ‘phytochemical’ means ‘chemicals found in plants’ (phyto means plant or plant-derived). However, that is a very poor definition for the compounds that LPI is interested in, since it could apply to virtually anything from a plant. Starches, oils, and sugars, for example, could all be considered phytochemicals by this vague definition. Micronutrients could also be considered phytochemicals, as long as they originated from a plant source. Scientists have a more specific meaning for the word: phytochemicals are classes of compounds that are only found in plants that do not also fall into the category of essential nutrients. In other words, phytochemicals are compounds that we ingest when we eat plants, but they are the parts that aren’t absolutely needed by the body – in other words, they are not nutritionally essential.
Part of a healthy immune system involves responding to bacterial invasion. The body has many mechanisms to combat bacteria, including the white blood cells or leukocytes. Several types of leukocytes produce small strings of protein (referred to as peptides) that target invading bacteria. Through a variety of mechanisms, these peptides can associate with a bacterial cell membrane, breaking the cell open and driving it toward death. Collectively, these are known as “antimicrobial peptides”.
One of these antimicrobial peptides is known as cathelicidin. What makes cathelicidin unique among these peptides is that the gene associated with it (known as CAMP for Cathelicidin Antimicrobial Peptide) is regulated by vitamin D. Providing vitamin D to leukocytes promotes the expression of CAMP and to increase their bacteria-killing activities.
Regulation of the CAMP gene, especially in context of vitamin D, has been a central question driving the research of Dr. Adrian “Fritz” Gombart at the Linus Pauling Institute for many years. Recently, he spearheaded an effort at LPI to look for additional small molecules that may work alongside vitamin D to regulate cathelicidin production.