Vitamins, Minerals, Nutrients, and Other Dietary Supplements

Saw Palmetto Study Disappoints


Men who take saw palmetto to relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate may be disappointed by the results of a recent study.


Enlarged prostate is a problem many men cope with as they get older. Doctors call it benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH for short. In plain language, that means the prostate gland is larger than normal size and its size is not due to a malignancy such as cancer.


Symptoms of BPH can include increased frequency of urination (translation: you need to pee more often) and urgency (you can’t wait) but even when the urge to go is very strong, it may be hard to get the flow started because the oversized prostate surrounds and squishes the urethra, the tube urine flows through, which slows the flow, and then the flow can be difficult to stop, so dribbling may be a problem. [Learn more about BPH from the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases information clearinghouse at Prostate Enlargement: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia and the American Urological Association Foundation’s brochure, Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH).]


BPH is not only uncomfortable–it also disrupts men’s lives. Bathroom breaks become more frequent. Planning daily activities means making sure there’s a nearby restroom wherever you go. Long drives are risky, unless you carry a portable urinal. And sleep is disrupted by frequent, frustrating, and can’t-wait need to empty the bladder.


No wonder men want a simple and effective remedy. Those who prefer not to use prescription drugs or who’ve had problem side-effects from medications, may turn to herbs and supplements like saw palmetto.


And now we learn that when researchers compared the herb to a placebo, their tests showed that saw palmetto did not work better than the dummy pill. To quote the authors of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study, saw palmetto berry extract “did not reduce lower urinary tract symptoms more than placebo.”


Is the study believable?

When people who use alternative medicine read about a study that says a long-trusted remedy doesn’t work or doesn’t do as much as we thought it did, we can’t help but question quality of the research. And doubters have found some “doesn’t work” studies were flawed in one way or another. 

How could that happen? 

  • The dose given in the study may have been lower than the recommended dose, too low to show any positive results


  • They researchers may have tested the wrong form of the herb – for the findings to be useful, they should have tested the same form that herb experts recommend


  • The test may not have lasted long enough – measurable improvement may take more time than the study allowed


  • There may gave been “confounding factors” such as testing in an inappropriate group, testing people who already have multiple other conditions that could muddy the findings, relying on memory and patient recollection of how much and what type of substance they tried in the past, failure to exclude factors that could alter the test results, and so on. Confounding factors may cloud even well-intended studies so much that we have no way of knowing whether the tested product or herb actually worked or not.


But that didn’t happen this time. Holistic health experts agreed that this JAMA study was well designed and was well executed, according to NUTRAingredients-USA’s report Saw palmetto no better than placebo for urinary tract symptoms?


On the plus side, other research has shown that saw palmetto did help and the herb is generally recognized as safe, according to, a highly a highly respected organization that tests and reviews herbs, vitamins, minerals and other supplements.


Men who are interested in supplements for BPH may be interested Prostate Supplements, a ConsumerLab review that includes the results of their lab tests of brand name prostate supplements. (They measure how much of each ingredient was actually in a particular supplement, whether it was the correct form, and whether the supplement contained anything it shouldn’t.) Full access requires joining the site at a cost of $2.25 to $2.75 per month, but Member benefits make it well worth the investment for anyone who is interested in supplements.


So what should men with BPH do now? 


First, remember this is only one study.


Second, remember that the study did not say saw palmetto does not work. What it did say was that  in this trial, saw palmetto did not work better than the placebo.


Third, remember that this study showed both saw palmetto and the placebo did work to some degree.


What we need to know now is why? How? What else could have affected the findings?  And that means more research before anyone knows for sure whether saw palmetto is a keeper or not. 


Until then, as one long-time user of saw palmetto said, “I’ve done my own tests to see if it really was helping me. When I stopped taking it, my symptoms got worse – fast. When I started taking it again, they got better. That’s good enough for me.”


© 2012, all rights reserved

Coming Back to Life…

As the old Big Bands song said, It’s been a long, long time…  But now, at last, Alternative Medicine For You is coming back to life.


To help start the ball rolling, this blog will be participating for the first time ever in the annual WordCount Blogathon (learn more here: The 2012 WordCount Blogathon), starting May 1, 2012.


Tomorrow, you’ll see a report on a September 2011 study on the effectiveness of saw palmetto, a popular herb that many men use to relieve the problem symptoms of enlarged prostate.

During this month, other topics we’ll cover include:

  • Acupuncture for migraine pain


  • Cancer five-year survival rates dramatically higher for cancer survivors treated with integrative medicine


  • Medicinal food research news including olive juice for antioxidants, chili pepper for cholesterol reduction, prunes for osteoporosis


  • Verdict on vitamin E: to take or not to take, that is the question


  • Resveratrol related compound in red wine and grapes wine fights fat


There’s so much news to share, so many important developments in alternative medicine to report, so many good sites to link… it’s going to be a great month!


Stay tuned … and stay healthy!


© 2012, all rights reserved

Who uses Alternative Medicine? Some answers from a University of Michigan Health System Study


Ever wonder who is using alternative medicine?  A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, found that a third of people who have chronic pain seek relief from complementary and alternative medicine therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic, and physical therapy.

In fact, a U-M news release about the study says: “Chronic pain has been found to double the odds of seeking alternative services.”

Race and age also played a role. The U-M study showed that elderly people and whites used AltMed more than younger people or blacks and AltMed users have higher levels of education and income.

The income part of that finding makes sense when you think about how much herbs, supplements, a nutritious diet, and treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic can cost if they’re not covered by health insurance. 

As evidence from scientific studies supporting the use of alternative therapies grows, coverage may improve and cost may become a less important factor in deciding whether AltMed is right for you.

The U-M study was published in Vol. 11, No.1, of  the January 2010 journal Pain Medicine.

To read the U-M news release about the study, click on this link:

  U-M study: Alternative medicine use for pain increases with age and wealth

To read another News report about the study from Alternative Therapies in Health And Medicine – A Peer-Reviewed Journal, click this link: 

Study: Use of Alternative Therapy for Pain Treatment Increases With Age and Wealth

(c) 2010, all rights reserved.

The Vitamin D Solution

Vitamin D info coming soon…. There’s been a surge of new information from studies exploring the benefits of vitamin D and you’ll be hearing more about that research on this site soon.

In the meantime, you may enjoy reading a new book from vitamin D expert Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., M.D., who has been studying vitamin D for more than 30 years:

THE VITAMIN D SOLUTION: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem

Prevent and treat:

* Osteoporosis

* Heart Disease

* Cancer

* Autoimmune Diseases

* Depression

* Insomnia

* Arthritis

* Diabetes

* Chronic Pain

* Psoriasis

* Fibromyalgia

* Autism

…as well as other diseases, chronic conditions, and mild ailments


The book includes a Foreword by Andrew Weil, M.D.

Publisher:  Hudson Street Press

ISBN:  978-1-59463-067-5

Ask for it at your favorite bookstore or order it from your favorite online book seller, such as Books.

(c) 2010, all rights reserved.

Herb Combats Pancreatic Cancer


Cancer News

April 21, 2009 

There’s new hope for pancreatic cancer thanks to new studies on an herb whose seed and oil have been used in Middle Eastern and Asian traditional medicine for thousands of years. 

Research reported at the American Association for Cancer Research’s (AACR) 100th Annual Meeting 2009 in Denver, Colorado, showed an extract of the herb, Nigella sativa, appears to inhibit the development of pancreatic cancer cells. Previous research found the same extract kills pancreatic cancer cells.  Thymoquinone, the major component in oil extracted from Nigella sativa, is the key.


If further studies prove the initial findings, this herb could offer preventive and therapeutic benefits for people who have chronic pancreatitis, people at high risk for pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic cancer patients who have had surgery for the condition,           according to researcher Hwyda Arafat, MD, PhD, associate professor of surgery at the Jefferson Medical College and Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Dr. Hwyda Arafat photo courtesy of Thomas Jefferson University)

“These are very exciting and novel results,” Dr. Arafat said.   “More importantly, the herb and oil are safe when used moderately, and have been used for thousands of years without reported toxic effects.”

The study abstract (#494) is posted on the AACR site (linked above) and the research will be published in the Oxford journal HPB: The Official Journal of the International Hepato Pancreato Biliary Association 



Deaths:  Annual number of pancreatic cancer deaths (USA):  32,000

Survival:  Average 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer:  5.5%


For more information:

* Middle eastern herb shows potential against pancreatic cancer, by Stephen Daniels, 21 April 2009,

* An herbal extract inhibits the development of pancreatic cancer, News Release from Thomas Jefferson University, 19 April 2009,

* Nigella sativa, Cancer Information / Integrative Medicine, Sloan-Kettering Memorial Medical Center. Includes sketch of the herb and information about its uses. Last updated July 28, 2008.

* A Snapshot of Pancreatic Cancer, National Cancer Institute, last updated September 2008  (NOTE: This is a PDF document that requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader – choose the version that fits your computer here)


© 2009, all rights reserved





(c) 2009, all rights reserved.

Vitamin E Opened The Door

It all started with a dog’s nose.

I used to be a confirmed skeptic – one of those people who scoffed at vitamins, minerals, herbs, supplements and “health stuff.”  I trusted conventional Western medicine to cure whatever might ail me, my family or my pets. They have pills for everything, right? If one pill couldn’t fix it, try two. If two didn’t do it, try a different pill.

Back then, I thought people who shopped at health stores were a little on the wacky side. To me, it seemed they had crossed the line from health-conscious to health-self-conscious, even health-obsessed. If their health store stuff worked so well, why did the people who shopped at those places look so … well …unhealthy?  Okay, there were plenty of healthy looking customers in those stores too but back then my selective vision focused only on the sick people who sought natural solutions they hoped would make them well again.

I was young and strong, fit and healthy. I exercised. I ate “right” and watched my diet. I didn’t over-indulge in any of the no-no’s. Why should I care about – much less believe in – what alternative medicine offered?

Ah, the arrogance of ignorance!

Then our dog developed a sore on his nose that wouldn’t heal. Duffy was a fine, healthy black and white German shepherd.  He had a great, goofy sense of humor and was always making us laugh.  He never was sick and the only time he saw his veterinarian was when he was due for his annual check-up and shots. DuffyFez-cropped

At first we thought he must’ve scratched his nose while playing and assumed it would quickly heal. It didn’t. We asked the vet to take a look.

Hmm… he said.  Could be several things. Not cancer, fortunately. Try applying this topical ointment. Panalog [read what’s in it] should clear it up.

We followed directions faithfully. But it didn’t clear up. We tried a second course. Now the sore was a little larger. Other topicals produced the same result. By then our vet was truly puzzled and suggested we take Duffy to the veterinary center at a nearby University to let the expert vets there try to figure out how to get that nose to heal.


Just one problem: We’d have to leave Duffy there for an indefinite period. That might be good from a medical point of view but from the we-love-our-dog point of view, there had to be a better way than abandoning our big, goofy canine buddy who had never been away from home to the care of strangers, even though they were kind and caring strangers.

What else could we try?



Well, the vet said hesitantly, vitamin E might work. 

What? You’re suggesting a plain old vitamin when high powered medicines didn’t work? 

It’s supposed to be good for things like this, the vet explained. Why don’t you try it and see what happens and if he’s not better, you can take him to the University vets.

Armed with that threat… er, incentive, we shelved our skepticism and ventured into the unknown. 

So what exactly do we do with this stuff, I asked the vet, and where do I get it?  (See? I told you I was clueless back then!)

He explained that we could buy vitamin E at grocery stores or health stores. To use it, we were to “break open” (excuse me, but why do they always say “break open” when they mean cut open? have you ever tried to “break” open a gel-cap?) one of the golden capsules, squeeze out a little of the oily liquid and rub it on the sore on Duffy’s nose. Ideally three times a day. And we could let him eat the rest of the capsule if we wanted. (Turned out he loved it so he was getting topical and internal E every day.)

After a few days, the sore was visibly smaller and soon it was completely gone. We stopped the E treatment, though maybe a little too soon because the sore returned. But the good news was another round of E did the trick. The sore never came back and, surprise, Duffy was perkier and his coat was even silkier than before.

Seeing how well this simple, natural remedy worked for our dog was an eye-opener.  Hmm, I thought.… maybe there was something to this vitamin stuff after all.


© 2009, all rights reserved