A reader asked me about prescription blood thinners, such as Plavix. When I think of such powerful blood thinners, I think of the former Prime Minister of Israel, Arial Sharon. He is in a permanent vegetative state since 2006 from having been given a strong blood thinner (not Plavix) which caused a massive hemorrhagic stroke. It is amazing that he is still alive, although one has to assume that he doesn’t really have a life, and the most merciful thing might be to let him pass on. At the time, his doctors gave him a potent blood thinner because previously he had had a small ischemic stroke, and they were trying desperately to prevent another one. Keep in mind that Israel has one of the most advanced medical systems in the world, and he was the leader of the country, so unquestionably, he was getting the best medical care that money can buy. Still, this catastrophe happened to him.
And there have been similar catastrophes with Plavix. Right now, there are many class-action and independent lawsuits against the maker of Plavix- Bristol Meyers Squibb. There are quite a few lawyers who specialize in Plavix litigations. Here is one: http://www.plavixlawsuit.com. Gastrointestinal bleeding, other internal hemorrhaging, heart attacks, strokes and more have been linked to Plavix. It is going to take years for these cases to wind their way through the courts, and in the meantime, new cases will arise because Plavix is still widely prescribed (it is one of the bestselling drugs in the world) and more people will be similarly affected. So, this is now the normal landscape for pharmaceutical drugs of this kind: lots of prescriptions, lots of catastrophes, lots of lawsuits, lots of judgments and settlements, but still a lot of profit, and so it just keeps going and going and going.
And, I had a minor emergency with one of my patients relating to blood thinning. Be aware that just about everything you put in your body has a net influence as either pro-coagulant or anti-coagulant, including the foods you eat. For instance, green vegetables are high in Vitamin K1, which is a pro-coagulant. However, green vegetables are also high in natural salicylates, which are aspirin-like compounds, and the net effect of green vegetables is to have a blood-thinning effect. Well, a young Iranian woman came to my health retreat to lose weight. She had a congenital liver disorder which posed a danger of blood clots, so doctors had her on Wayfarin (also known as Coumadin) permanently. Coumadin is much weaker than Plavix, but it’s stronger than aspirin. I didn’t tamper with it. I just put her on a high fruit and vegetable, plant-based diet. The result was that in short order, she started bleeding. You could see the hemorrhaging underneath her skin. We rushed her to the ER, and her doctor in California was contacted. They gave her a shot of Vitamin K, and they had her temporarily discontinue the Coumadin. Slowly, the hemorrhaging receded, and when it was gone, the doctor had her resume taking a lower dose of Coumadin. In her case, the blood-thinning effect of the unrefined plant diet was added to that of the drug, and it was too much.
Plavix is much higher risk than Coumadin, and they use it in high-risk cases. Basically, it knocks out every platelet in your body. But, those platelets are there for a reason, and it isn’t to sabotage you. On the contrary, they are there to protect you. I realize that a patient may be at high-risk from his condition, but he will also be at high-risk from taking Plavix. So, it is truly a devil’s gambit.
Obviously, the goal should be to never let oneself to get into such a dire state that such a stark choice becomes a reality.
Still, it is a fair question to ask: what would I do if I faced such a choice? I will answer that, but first I want to emphasize that I am only speaking for myself. I do not pose this as advice to anyone else. I am not speaking generally about what others should do. My advice to others is to work with a doctor whom they can trust- and hopefully one who is broadly educated and not just a pharmaceutical shill. But, I think I know myself well enough to realize that I would never be comfortable taking a drug like Plavix, and I don’t think I would ever do it. I would take my chances going without it. But, it doesn’t mean that I would do nothing. Here is what I would do if I thought I was at risk for having a deadly or catastrophic clot:
First, I would certainly be willing to take natural blood thinners, such as Vitamin E, fish oil, and turmeric. I already take those things as part of my daily program, but, I would increase the doses if I thought I was at risk for a clot. And I would be open to taking aspirin. And, I am sure I would consult with physician friends of mine, such as Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Dr. Ward Dean. I have already discussed this matter with Dr. Dean- although not concerning myself- and he told me that using natural blood thinners and other nutritional and lifestyle measures, that the only blood-thinning drug he ever has to resort to, even in advanced cases, is aspirin. He never prescribes Plavix or the likes of Plavix. That is heartening to know.
And, I would be very diligent about my food, casting aside anything suspect. And I would also consider fasting, which has its own blood-thinning effect.
But, I have no expectation of facing such a predicament. I am confident that the actions I am taking now to safeguard my health will keep me far removed from having blood clots. The idea is to never get anywhere near that territory.
A reader asked me to comment on a study which found that women with greater bone density had a higher risk of breast cancer. It is one of those statistics that I think it is best to ignore. The association may be due to the fact that larger, heavier women have a higher risk of breast cancer, and being larger and heavier, it also keeps their bones more dense. Or it may be due to the fact that women with higher estrogen levels tend to have a higher risk of breast cancer, while estrogen also increases bone density. But, it doesn’t mean that if you take nutritional and lifestyle measures to preserve your bones that you will be increasing your risk of breast cancer. Besides, it has also been found that women who develop osteoporosis have a higher risk of developing cancer- of all kinds.
Remember, a tremendous amount of medical research is being done. High-speed computers are running 24/7 crunching numbers and looking for all kinds of associations. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that women who wear green hats have a higher incidence of some disease. Again, sometimes you just have to dismiss the data.
And, you definitely should aim to maximize your bone density as much as possible. However, I, personally, don’t do anything with that focus in mind. That is, I am not doing anything or taking anything specifically for that purpose. I am on a program to preserve my general health that involves diet, exercise, supplementation, and more. . . but, there is no one thing that I am doing especially for my bones. I don’t have that mindset. And the reason I don’t have it is because I just don’t think I have any problem going on that way. I have never had a bone density test done, but if I did, I am confident that my bones would measure up well. I really think my bones are in good shape for my age. And there are several reasons why I think that which I will share with you:
1. I think my bones are holding up well because my muscles are holding up well. I am 60, and I haven’t experienced any significant muscle loss. And, my strength is holding up well too. You have to realize that muscles and bones sink or swim together. You should think of osteoporosis as a kind of bone atrophy. Most people think of it as a loss of calcium from the bone, but that is incorrect. There is a term for that: osteomalacia. Osteoporosis is different, and it starts not with calcium loss but with the loss of the protein matrix of bone. The calcium loss occurs secondarily. Therefore, osteoporosis is more like sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle atrophy. And you will notice that those with osteoporosis also have sarcopenia or muscle wasting; the two go together. So, because I don’t have muscle wasting, I presume I do not have bone wasting. Then. . .
2. I think my bones are holding up well because I haven’t lost any height. Well, maybe I have lost a little, but it’s a small fraction of an inch at the most. And that’s darn good for 60. I weigh people and measure their height all the time, and people are often surprised to find out that they are not as tall as they used to be. And that includes people in their 40s, never mind 60s. So, I feel that I am doing well that way, and I take it as a sign that my bones haven’t shrunk. Of course, the loss of height is due to several factors. Part of it is postural- people get more bent over with age; they don’t stand up straight any more. Another factor is the thinning of the intervertebral discs, which are composed of cartilage, not bone. Still, disc thinning goes along with bone loss; the two almost always go together. And lastly.. .
3. I think my bones are holding up well because my teeth are holding up well. After all, teeth are really just specialized, exposed bones. And I am doing well with my teeth, and the x-rays that I have taken periodically always show good density of the dentin. I do have some erosion of my enamel, which is probably from fruit acids. And I have a moderate amount of grinding damage- my teeth have definitely gotten shorter. I am sure I am a good candidate to wear a night-guard mouthpiece at night to prevent teeth grinding. I haven’t done it mainly because I am afraid it would disrupt my sleep. But, I think about not grinding my teeth, and I try diligently not to do it. But, if it were bad enough that I woke up with a sore jaw, I would definitely get and use the night-guard device. Fortunately, it’s not that bad. Overall, I feel I am doing well with my teeth.
So, the totality of what I am doing to preserve my general health- including the foods that I eat and the exercising that I do- does seem to be preserving my bones. As for calcium, I don’t take any, per se. However, the Extend Core multi that I take from VRP provides 150 mgs of calcium a day. I think that’s enough for me considering that I eat high-calcium foods, including green vegetables (both raw and cooked), raw almonds, sesame seeds, and more. For instance, right now, I am eating tender raw bok-choy leaves in my salad every night- straight from my fall garden. And with a little luck weather-wise, it should continue all winter. Bok-choy is loaded with calcium.
Note that there is also 150 mgs of magnesium in the Extend Core multi that I take, which was formulated by Dr. Ward Dean. He feels very strongly that when you take calcium, it is very important to take an equal amount of magnesium with it. He believes that magnesium helps prevent the harmful pathways of calcium in the body. Of course, there is also a vitamin that helps in that regard: Vitamin K2. And you will notice under the Daily Program tab (which are the supplements I take) that one of them is Vitamin K 1.5 mg. Two-thirds of the Vitamin K in it, therefore 1 mg, is Vitamin K-2. So, I guess I am taking something specifically for my bones. However, if I were a petite woman and therefore more concerned about osteoporosis, I would take the higher dose K2 product that we offer, called Ultra K2. I would also consider taking strontium, which is a natural mineral with the same valence as calcium, and it is used by the body like calcium, except that it is harder than calcium and makes the bones even stronger. A lot of people are uneasy about taking strontium because they think of Strontium 90, which is a radioactive byproduct. But, there is nothing radioactive about the strontium we offer, and it is perfectly safe.
Finally, to preserve their bones, people should think about maintaining youthful hormone levels. I, for instance, take DHEA and Pregnenolone. I use my HGH spray. And I take melatonin at night. And, I also take high-dose Vitamin D3 (5000 IUs), which is a pro-hormone. I do not take testosterone, but I check my testosterone level, and it’s high, probably from everything else that I am doing. And, I have no doubt that these hormones are helping me maintain my muscles- and my bones.
So, that’s it for me for bone density. I have no worries about it. I fully expect to cruise into my 70s and beyond with strong, healthy bones, and I trust you will be doing the same.
This brings us to the subject of sedative herbs, and it is a big area because there are a lot of them, and they have been around for a long time. Some of these herbs have been in use for hundreds- or even thousands- of years. They include chamomile, hops, passion flower, lavender, and many more.
Because these herbs are plants, people tend to regard them as safe. And, I do think that, overall, they have better safety profiles than any comparable drugs. In fact, I would say that there is no comparison. But, each herb is separate and distinct, and we should evaluate each one separately. And, we should never forget that there are plenty of potent and deadly plant toxins. Hemlock, anyone? Being a plant or being derived from a plant does not guarantee safety.
For instance, I am not a fan of valerian, which may be the most popular and widely used herb for sleep. For one thing, some studies have shown elevated liver enzymes from prolonged use of valerian. Nobody ever died from it, that I know of, or needed a liver transplant. But still, it is a little concerning. But, there was a famous case of a woman who tried to commit suicide by swallowing a whole bottle of valerian. But, they rushed her to the hospital, pumped her stomach, and she was OK afterwards. Still, I am not enthused about valerian. It is thought to work in a manner similar to the benzodiazepine drug Valium. But, that is not a selling point to me. It tells me that I have no reason to think that valerian supports normal sleep mechanisms. Valerian really is just a drug that happens to be a plant. Plus, it happens to be a stinky plant, which doesn’t help matters.
Another once popular sedative herb is Kava kava from the South Pacific. But that too resulted in reports of elevated liver enzymes, and worse yet, there were a few cases of liver failure. Several individuals had to undergo liver transplants. However, it’s puzzling because there were only a few cases out of many hundreds of thousands of known users. And all of the cases were in Europe. Not one in the USA despite widespread use here. So, was it a source issue? A contamination issue? And in all the reported cases, kava was not taken alone, but rather, with alcohol and/or other sedative drugs, particularly benzodiazepine tranquilizers. And it’s well known that kava should never be combined with alcohol or other tranquilizers. There is an additive effect that is so strong, it can knock a person out.
I know that my friend and colleague, Dr. Ward Dean, believes that there is a safe use of kava. And, he believes that the “kava lactones” do support sleep through normal sleep mechanisms. However, like many companies, VRP has voluntarily ceased offering kava out of safety concerns. Note that the FDA never did ban it in the United States. And, it’s probably because there were no catastrophes here- and nor have there been any in the South Pacific, where strong kava is drunk as a traditional social beverage, the way coffee is consumed here.
But, even though kava is still available online, I don’t recommend it. For one thing, there is a Catch 22 in effect now: You take it to relax, but how can you do so with the worry that it could damage or even destroy your liver? Being my mother’s son, I’d figure that if there’s a one-in-a-million chance of liver failure from taking kava, that I would probably win that lottery. So, how can I sleep through that? Therefore, it’s sianara, kava kava.
Sedative herbs are often sold in combination formulas, and we offer two such formulas on this website. However, I am not so keen on the idea because how can you judge what is helping you and what is not if you take a bunch of herbs at once? This isn’t like mixing up a salad where it’s the more the merrier.
So, I think it’s better to start with one herb, and the one I recommend because I think it’s the best of the lot, is:
6 Lemon Balm This is a Mediterranean herb that is a member of the mint family, and it has been in use for many centuries as a mint flavoring in foods, such as meats, and also in desserts calling for mint. Cows have been known to graze on lemon balm, and any time a large beast can eat wholesale quantities of a plant, it assures me that it is safe. Lemon balm has never been associated with any liver problems. It contains rosmarinic acids which are believed to calm the nicotinic and muscarinic areas of the cerebral cortex in a way that is physiological. Lemon balm definitely has a calming, relaxing effect without having a drug-like effect. You can take it during the day and it won’t make you drowsy at all, which I think is good. But again, if you are lying in the dark with your eyes closed at night, it may very well help you fall sleep. And we’re talking good, solid, restorative, un-drugged, natural sleep. I have taken lemon balm myself, and I am convinced that the qualitative effect of it is very good. The sleep you get on lemon balm is sound. It is not drugged sleep. I think lemon balm is the best of the calming herbs.
There is a product from the Life Extension Foundation called Natural Stress Relief which contains just two ingredients: Sun Theanine, which I have already raved about, and Lemon Balm. I have taken Natural Stress Relief myself, with benefit, and I have often recommended it to others, who have also liked it. Natural Stress Relief is available from the Life Extension Foundation at www.lef.org.
To sum up, we have discussed 6 products to aid with sleep but only 5 am I recommending: Melatonin, Magnesium, L-Taurine, SunTheanine, and Lemon Balm. They are all safe, and they all support natural, wholesome, restorative sleep. To give you an idea how safe I think they are, you could take all 5 every night indefinitely, and I would not be at all concerned about the safety of what you were doing. And note that I consider myself adamant about safety. The adage to “First, do no harm” is something I take very seriously.
I know there are other natural products that are sometimes recommended for sleep, and I don’t say that these five run the gamut. But, these five I have experience with, both personally and professionally, and I feel very good and confident about recommending them.
But ultimately, we have to earn our sleep, and we do that by how we live our days. Obviously, I can’t tell you how to cope with all the problems in your life. But, I do know that if you get overly stressed out that it may be too much to come down from at night. The night may not be long enough for you to unwind sufficiently to sleep. So you have to contain the stress before it gets out of hand. And I mean, of course, the stress within you. We can’t always control the external. Who am I kidding? There is very little of that that we can control. But, I believe that we can consciously choose to reject despair as a reaction to the external. Staying in control and remaining in charge of our emotions is a choice we should make out of self-preservation. Be selfish and protective of your right to sleep. You are entitled to it.
I want to express my outrage about the horrific killing of Muammar Gaddafi. First, I cherish freedom, so I have no love for dictators- of any stripe. But, I also know that it is illegal to abuse a prisoner of war. The Geneva Conventions state that prisoners of war must be “treated humanely.”
If you click the following link, you will see excerpted frames from the mobile phone video showing Gaddafi being sodomized with a stick by one of our NATO-backed rebels:
I don’t claim to know what Gaddafi’s crimes were. But, I know a crime when I see one, and this was definitely a crime. I would call it bestial except that there is no beast capable of such savagery- only humans.
The lack of outrage and condemnation of this atrocity by our government and media tells me that the decadence of our leadership has reached a new low. I curse them. I curse them. I curse them.
Now we will continue our discussion of natural sleep aids. A good way of framing it is to say that we are only interested in substances that may help sleep indirectly rather than directly. Anything that helps directly- to put you out, or knock you out- is, undoubtedly, a drug and therefore a harmful influence. We're not looking for some drug-induced "altered state." Don’t settle for anything less than real sleep.
2 Tryptophan- This essential amino acid was off the market as a supplement in the USA for about 15 years but came back in 2008. A bad batch out of Japan resulted in several dozen cases of eosinophilia myalgia, and there were several deaths. It was not due to the tryptophan; it was due to a contaminant derived from the manufacturing process. It was an awful tragedy, but now, the problem is completely understood and rectified, and so long as you source it reliably, that is, from a reputable, first-rate company, there is no outstanding risk from taking tryptophan.
However, I do not take tryptophan, and I am not that enthused about it. For one thing, presumably, the purpose of taking tryptophan for sleep is because it is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. But, since I am taking melatonin, I really don’t need tryptophan. Another factor is that tryptophan usually involves heavy dosing to get the desired effect- as much as 3 grams a night. That’s a lot of bulk, especially if you are going to take it every night. It’s cumbersome.
Tryptophan is a normal dietary component, and presumably, if you are getting enough protein, as most people do, including most vegetarians, there should be no need to take supplemental tryptophan. However, some individuals, particularly those who follow low-protein, vegan diets, may have marginal tryptophan status. Also, there are some people who just do not want to take hormones, including melatonin. They’re afraid of it, and they are unwilling to do it, and for such people, taking tryptophan is an alternative. There is also 5htp which is an intermediate metabolite between tryptophan and serotonin. It has the advantage of lower dosing. Typically, people take only 50 to 100 mgs of 5htp. However, there is some concern that 5htp may produce elevated serotonin levels where you don’t want it. The advantage of tryptophan is that it only raises serotonin levels in the brain where you do want it. So, I would have to say that taking tryptophan is more natural and safer than taking 5htp, although some people swear by 5htp, and in low doses, I am not opposed to it. But, for myself, I don’t bother with 5htp or tryptophan.
3 Taurine- This is an amino acid that I am much enthused about taking than tryptophan. Taurine is not considered an essential amino acid because it can be made from cysteine, which can be made from methionine. However, there is no taurine at all in plant foods (which presumably comprise a large part of every healthseeker’s diet), and all of these biochemical conversions- such as methionine to cysteine to taurine- tend to slow down with age.
A relative deficiency of taurine is extremely common. Vegans, of course, get none, but even milk and eggs are low in taurine. And, muscle meats aren’t swimming in it either. The only way to get a substantial amount of taurine from food is to load up on organ meats and seafood. How many people do that? Therefore, taurine is a marginal nutrient for a great many people, and not just vegetarians.
Taurine has great importance to the heart, but in the brain, taurine acts as a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter. Taurine increases GABA levels in the brain- GABA being the most abundant inhibitory neurotransmitter. The irony is that taurine is often added to energy drinks, such as 5 Hour Energy and Red Bull. I don’t know why they include it, but it may be to counteract the jittery effect of all the caffeine they include. Research studies on the cerebral effects of taurine are ongoing. I have mentioned before on this blog that taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in the heart. Well, the same is true in the brain, and that speaks volumes for its importance.
Taking taurine may benefit your sleep- and I mean that in two ways. It may help in the immediate sense of helping you relax and fall asleep on the night that you take it. But, it may also help in the cumulative sense, meaning that over time, if you start taking taurine regularly, that it may help you gravitate to a more wholesome sleep pattern. A good dose would be 500 mgs a night.
4 Theanine is an amino acid from green tea. It may occur in other plants, but it is not widely distributed in other plants. It’s just one of those rare and unique things about tea. But, that’s no reason to reject it. Theanine is an excellent way to encourage relaxation. Theanine fosters alpha brain waves, which are not sleep waves, but they are conducive to transitioning to sleep because they are associated with feeling calm and relaxed. Second, theanine, like taurine, increases GABA levels in the brain. Gamma amino butyric acid is the most abundant inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA supplements are available, but there is concern that GABA does not pass through the blood-brain barrier very readily or at all. It has been shown that theanine increases GABA levels in the brain better than GABA itself. Theanine also increases dopamine, which has been described as your brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of well-being. And feeling well is certainly conducive to sleep, is it not? For example, by raising dopamine levels in the brain, having sex is conducive to sleep. Does that mean that if you are having trouble sleeping that you should try having sex? Well, sure; why not? You have my permission.
Theanine does not make a person drowsy. You could take it during the day and function just fine. In Japan, theanine is added to children’s soft drinks instead of caffeine- and presumably, they are not trying to put the kids to sleep. And, theanine has been shown to increase attention, concentration and learning in both children and adults. However, if you are lying in the dark with your eyes closed, theanine may indeed foster a smooth transition to sleep- and I mean good, natural, wholesome, restorative sleep with plenty of deep sleep and without the slightest morning hangover. For these reasons, I consider theanine to be one of the best sleep aids out there- even though it only helps indirectly, and precisely because it only helps indirectly. I take it myself- not every night, but whenever I feel that I need help relaxing. And I have never had the slightest negative after-effect from theanine, and I have been using it for years. The only caveat is that you should make sure to take SunTheanine, which is from a Japanese company called Taiyo International. Sun Theanine is the purest and most stable form of theanine. Many American companies distribute SunTheanine, including VRP, which I offer on this website. So, you will definitely get Sun Theanine if you order theanine here.
5 Magnesium –This white mineral has a relaxing effect on nerves and muscles, and that, obviously, is conducive to sleep. Of course, people take magnesium during the day, and they get it from foods, particularly unrefined plant foods, and it doesn’t put them to sleep. But again, if you’re lying in the dark with your eyes closed, a little extra magnesium in your system may help you get to sleep, and it certainly can’t hurt. The same is true of calcium, but I’m a little reluctant to recommend more calcium in light of recent perturbing reports that calcium may be a renegade factor in heart disease. There is definitely a huge problem with calcium being deposited in the wrong places, that is, soft tissues, and that includes arteries. When they speak of “hardening of the arteries” it’s calcium that makes them hard- not cholesterol. However, it’s hard to know what role calcium supplements play in this patholotical process, per se. Even people who go their whole lives without ever taking calcium supplements can and do wind up with pathological calcinosis, and, to some degree, it is considered universal. But, could calcium supplements be feeding the process? A little, perhaps? Who can say no? So, when it comes to supplemental calcium, I think it should be kept low, and I would not want to increase it just for the sake of sleep. But, magnesium is a different story. People do not build up magnesium in their arteries. And, it does not wind up in any wrong places that I know of. If you took too much magnesium, you might get some loose stools, as in “Milk of Magnesia” but that’s about it. And magnesium does so much good for the body. Magnesium lowers your blood pressure, and it should be a prime consideration for anyone with hypertension. Magnesium helps your body utilize sugar, and it helps lower blood sugar and prevent diabetes. Magnesium acts as a co-factor in over 300 enzymes. So taking a little extra magnesium before bed is not a bad idea. We offer an excellent magnesium supplement called Opti-Mag which contains several highly available forms of magnesium. Opti-Mag is one of our oldest and most popular products. Two small capsules provide 240 mgs of magnesium.
We’ll stop now, but next time, I am going to delve into the whole area of herbal sleep aids. Some I like, and some I don’t, and I’ll tell you why. And then, I’ll share some final thoughts with you about sleep. So, please tune in next Sunday, and we’ll put this sleep series to bed, which is exactly where I’m going. Good night.