A reader has asked my opinion about the use of retinol, which is Vitamin A, in skin creams, and whether it might cause cancer.
The use of retinol in skin creams has been around for quite a long time- at least 25 years. The prescription forms of it usually contain an analogue of Vitamin A, such as Retin-A, and the over the counter forms contain regular Vitamin A, retinol.
Whether it's the natural Vitamin A or an analogue, the benefit from using it comes from its mildly irritating effect, which causes the outer skin cells to shed. A comparison has been made to an onion. If you peel the outer, dry, crusty layers of an onion, you get to a layer that is smooth and soft and moist. And it certainly looks much younger.
As to whether the use of retinol might cause or increase the risk of skin cancer, it is, after all, an irritant, and chronic irritation is a factor in many cancers. Moreover, it increases sun sensitivity, and the sun is obviously a factor in skin cancer. That's the reason why the use of sunscreen is recommended to all those using Vitamin A creams.
But, you should also know that some dermatologists prescribe Retin-A as an ancillary treatment for some kinds of skin cancer. The same is true for pre-cancers such as actinic keratosis. And I mean they have the patient apply the Retin-A directly on the affected skin.
I feel that as long as the individual pays attention to the signs of excess irritation (such as redness, excessive shedding, peeling) and backs off when necessary, and so long as sunscreen is applied daily, that there should be no cause for concern. I think it's safe, and used properly and cautiously, it may actually reduce the risk of skin cancer.
However, I would not use a sunscreen that contained retinol. We're talking apples and oranges here. An anti-aging skin cream with retinol or one of its derivatives is one thing. A sunscreen is something else. They're two separate products, or at least they should be.
Again, used properly, I feel that retinol creams are safe, and I have no compunction to discourage their use.
This is a good follow-up to the previous article which covered the use of diuretics to treat high blood pressure. I am opposed to that practice, and I am opposed to all the drugs that are used to treat high blood pressure, except in emergencies. Many of the anti-hypertensive drugs affect the kidneys in one way or another. But think about it: for most hypertensives, the disease exists in their arteries. It is the condition of their arteries that causes the elevated pressure. So, why treat the kidneys? Instead, why not take actions to make the arteries healthier? Isn't that the logical thing to do? Moderate hypertension should be treated with diet, lifestyle, and specific nutritional practices to improve arterial health. And there are so many safe and constructive ways that you can lower your blood pressure without causing havoc in your body.
One of the most healthful things you can do is to eat walnuts regularly, as I do. I eat walnuts almost daily and throughout the year.
A new study done at Pennsylvania State University found that adding 1.3 ounces of walnuts and 1 tablespoon of walnut oil to people's diets lowered their resting blood pressure significantly. However, it also produced a lower blood pressure response to stress- when the individuals were placed under stressful conditions.
Some of the participants were also given a vascular ultrasound test which measures arterial dilation. The walnut diet was found to significantly improve vascular function. They also found that the walnuts lowered C-reactive Protein or CRP, which is a cardinal sign of inflammation, which means that the walnuts were having an anti-inflammatory effect.
The trial lasted for 6 weeks, during which the control group was fed the standard American diet. The experimental group was fed the same diet except that some of the fat and protein were replaced with the walnuts and walnut oil, so that calorically, the diets were equal. However, it should be noted that there was no attempt to optimize the entire diet. The benefits accrued even though the subjects were still eating standard fare- except for the small portion of their diet comprised of the walnuts.
Of course, in real life, a person would be wise to eat walnuts and other raw nuts, and also to optimize their entire diet by eating a lot of fresh produce (fruits and vegetables), wholesome carbohydrates (such as whole grains and legumes) and minimizing or excluding all the bad foods.
My point is that if noticeable improvement occurred just from adding a small handful of walnuts to an otherwise mediocre diet, imagine if you really tried to eat healthfully in all respects. That's when the "power of your plate" can really turn your life around.
I'm not inclined to use walnut oil. Why bother? It's in the walnuts, so I say just eat them. I don't see any advantage in taking the oil separately. I think we should be quite restrained in our use of oils, period. And for what limited use I make of oil, I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil because I think it's superior, and I think it's far more practical.
Of course, walnuts is one of many fine nuts, and I don't doubt that it is one of the best. But in sizing up nuts, surely the almond has got to be near or at the top of the list. Nutritionally, almonds are in every sense a super-food. If I were limited to just 5 foods and no others- say for the rest of my life- I can assure you that raw almonds would definitely be one of my choices.
And when I say raw almonds, I do mean totally raw almonds, and they are increasingly difficult to find. You can't find them in stores. Those almonds have all been pasteurized. You can only buy raw almonds online. But, it's worth the trouble because almonds, like all nuts with the exception of chestnuts, should be eaten raw.
Frankly, at age 60, I have the blood pressure of a 20 year old, and I've been eating raw nuts daily for 40 years!
In the November issue of Nutrition and Cancer, Italian researchers reported on a protective effect against cancer from plant compounds that include flavinoids and proanthocyanidins. Collectively known as "polyphenols" these compounds are found in fruits and vegetables, and other plants foods, including whole grains, nuts, and legumes. It's believed that the protective effect of plant foods against a wide range of chronic diseases is due largely to polyphenols.
Dr. Carlo La Vecchia and colleagues from the University of Milan evaluated data collected at multiple Italian centers since the early 1990s. The studies included a total of 9,622 cases of cancer and 16,050 controls. Based on questionaires, the participants' diets were analyzed for 6 classes of flavonoids: isoflavones, anthocyanidins, flavanols, flavanones, flavones and flavonols. Also, 6 distinct classes of proanthocyanidins were evaluated. And the results showed the following:
For those whose intake of total flavonoids was in the top one-fifth of participants, there was a 44 percent lower risk of oral cancer and a 40 percent lower risk of laryngeal cancer compared to those whose intake was in the lowest fifth. Participants whose intake of flavanones was among the top one-fifth had a 49 percent lower risk of oral cancer and a 40 percent lower risk of laryngeal cancer, and those whose flavonols were highest experienced 38 percent less oral cancer and 68 percent lower risk of laryngeal cancer. Among those whose flavanol intake was highest there was a 36 percent decrease in laryngeal cancer compared to the lowest group, and for subjects whose flavanone intake was highest, the risk of esophageal cancer was 62 percent lower.
When colorectal cancer was considered, subjects whose intake of anthocyanidins was highest had a 33 percent less risk of this disease compared to the lowest group, and for those having the highest intake of flavonols, flavones and isoflavones, there was a 36 percent, 22 percent and 24 percent lower risk respectively. Proanthocyanidins lowered the risk of colon cancer by 42 percent.
The researchers found that rates of breast, ovarian, and kidney cancers were similarly slashed by high polyphenol consumption.
Dr La Vecchia and coauthors noted that a recent Japanese investigation revealed a decreased risk of localized prostate cancer among those with the greatest intake of isoflavones- a class of nutrients with low intakes among Italians. He concluded by saying:
"The findings from this large network of Italian case-control studies have provided support for an apparent protective role of flavanones on upper aerodigestive tract cancers; flavonols, anthocyanidins, and proanthocyanidins on colorectal cancer; flavonols and flavones on breast cancer; isoflavones on ovarian cancer; and flavonols on renal cancer."
So, what foods are highest in polyphenols? Berries top the list, including all berries, and blueberries may be at the very top. Fruits in general are very high in polyphenols, particularly richly-hued fruits. Pomegranites, cherries, red grapes, and red plums are very high in polyphenols, but even apples and pears score high. Vegetables are generally lower in polyphenols than fruits, but red vegetables, such as red beets and red cabbage are exceptions.Then, nuts, beans, and whole grains are close to equal in their phenolic content. Cocoa is a legume, and it's high in polyphenols, but obviously, it takes a lot of processing to transform cocoa beans into chocolate. If you consume chocolate, you should avoid milk chocolate, and you should look for chocolate that is sweetened with fruits rather than refined sugar. However, even with that, I don't think chocolate should be eaten as a dietary staple. I think we all know, intuitively, that when we eat a plum, we are eating a natural food, but when we eat chocolate, we are eating candy.
The most important thing is to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
Note: This article is an expanded form of a previous blog concerning diuretics. It was written for publication on another website. But, you should read it, even if you have read the earlier blog. I believe it offers valuable information on the proper management of various conditions for which diuretics are commonly, and erroneously, prescribed.
The greatest thing about the Internet is that it allows public debate of issues that would not otherwise be publically debated. For instance, although almost 10 years have passed since 9-1-1, the 911 truth movement is alive and well and growing, and it's all because of the Internet. The JFK truth movement too has benefted greatly from the Internet.
Likewise, the Internet has become a bastion for medical skepticism. Look what happened last year with the supposed swine flu pandemic. Tens of millions of Americans refused to get the swine flu shot. The majority of Americans didn't get it. Where did such skepticism come from? It came from the Internet. And it's not just the swine flu shot. The Internet puts all medical drugs on trial like never before. Do an online search, and you can find a torrent of information about the harms from statin drugs, NSAIDs, acid blockers, arthritis medicines, horse estrogen, and more. I dare say, if you are prescribed a drug, and you don't do an online search about it before taking it, something is wrong with you.
However, there is one class of prescription drugs that has largely escaped critical analysis on the Internet: diuretics. That is about to change. This article makes the case against diuretics and why you should think twice about taking them. And, diuretics are a very widely prescribed class of drugs. Diuretics are considered first-line treatment for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, and edema from just about any cause. You don't like the puffiness around your eyes in the morning? A doctor will give you a diuretic for that too.
We all know what diuretics do- increase the urinary output- but how do they do it? To grasp that, you have to understand how the kidneys work.
Kidney filtration starts with blood passing through a specialized cluster of high-pressure capillaries called a glomerulus. Because of the high pressure, water and disssolved substances are forced out of the capillaries into the capsule that surrounds the glomerulus, called Bowman's capsule. Then comes a long tubular system known as the renal tubule. There, the body reclaims some of the initial filtrate, including about two-thirds of the salt and water, and virtually all of the organic compounds, such as glucose and amino acids. The whole idea is to reclaim the good and leave behind the bad and to get the balance of everything just right. The whole filtering unit is called a nephron, and there are about a million nephrons in each kidney.
Diuretics work by sabotaging the reclamation process so that more of the initial glomerular filtrate reaches the bladder. So, more water comes out, and also more minerals, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. There are different kinds of diuretics. For instance, loop diuretics interfere with reabsorption at the ascending loop, whereas thiazide diuretics interfere at the distal convoluted tubule. There are other kinds of diuretics, but those two seem to be the most widely prescribed. Keep in mind that the function of the kidneys is a very delicate and intricate process. It's influenced by multiple hormones, some of which are produced by the kidneys, and some of which are produced elsewhere, such as the pituitary gland and the adrenals. It's influenced by the body's pH, because, among other things, your kidneys work to maintain the proper acid/base balance. It's a vast, complicated, finely-tuned, precision process, and again: it's very delicate. To go in there, as with a sledgehammer, and pharmacologically force changes on this delicate process is certain to cause havoc. You wouldn't try to adjust a wrist watch with a sledge hammer, but they might as well be doing that when they give people diuretics.
So, do diuretics make your kidneys work better? No, they make them work worse. The fluild output goes up but only because the whole discriminatory process has been seriously corrupted. The result is pharmacological dehydration. That's what you get when you take a diuretic. A diuretic adds a layer of pharmacological dehydration to whatever condition you started with. It doesn't address the causes of the original condition. It doesn't normalize anything. On the contrary, it adds another abnormality to the one that already exists. It certainly does not cure, fix, or correct anything. What it does do is camouflage the original condition. So, no matter what disease you started with, you now have two diseases, one naturally occurring, and the other drug-induced. The result of that morbid combination may kinda, sorta look like normal. But, the devil is in the details.
Hey, don't be fooled by appearances! If you, an LRC reader, are smart enough to see through fake economic recoveries, you ought to be able to see through fake medical recoveries. They're both as phony as a three dollar bill. (Or maybe I should say a five dollar bill.)
Just because your swelling goes down a little in response to the diuretic does not mean you are getting better. You, the poor patient, are being deceived by your misguided doctor. The "improvement" is just a trick, a charade, a medical shenanigan. Nobody gets their issues resolved by taking a diuretic. All it does is mask symptoms while putting an additional strain on the body. I suppose it wouldn't matter if it were harmless. But, it is not harmless. It starts a train of evils that reaches far and wide. For example, JAMA reported in 2002 that patients in kidney failure who were given diuretics to "help" their kidneys had a 68% higher death rate!
Being a bicyclist, I like to make an analogy to a bicycle wheel being "out of true." To get that perfect rotation back, a wobbly wheel is placed in a device, and then the spokes are adjusted- some tightened and some loosened until the wheel rotates evenly again. But, you can't go about it willy-nilly. If you don't know what you're doing, and you start cavalierly tightening and loosening spokes to correct a wobble, you can easily create a worse wobble elsewhere. You'd be surprised how easy it is to make a bad wheel worse when trying to fix it- if you don't know what you're doing. You can easily dig yourself in deeper. And that's exactly what happens when you take a diuretic; you're just digging yourself in deeper, making a bad situation worse. You're just complicating your condition and taking your whole biological system further "out of true." And you are setting yourself up for unending medical dependency. So, don't be lured by the prospect of a symptomatic improvement from taking a diuretic. It's not worth it. It will always prove to be meager and temporary. No real good comes from it. I assure you that diuretics never restored anyone to health. It's really just a trap- a deceptive medical trap. The list of potential side effects from diuretics is long: headaches, weakness, faintness, nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, muscle cramps, etc. etc., but, what concerns me most is the damage to the kidneys (which is irreversible) and the cardiac arrhythmias (which can cause sudden death).
So, what should you do instead of taking a diuretic? Let's take it one condition at a time.
Heart Failure: If your heart is failing, taking diuretics is not going to make it stronger. Fluid pools in the legs with left-sided heart failure. I say just live with it. Don't cover it up with diuretics. What you need is a total health program to rehabilitate your heart. That means getting the right food (ie, whole natural foods, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, while avoiding junk carbs and junk fats) the right exercise (being careful and diligent about it, respecting your limitations) shedding excess weight, tightly controlling sodium (ie, the amount you put in your mouth, not what your kidneys do with it), etc. Heart-supporting supplements such as Coenzyme Q10, Taurine , Acetyl-l-carnitine, high-dose Vitamin D3, and others should be considered. And of course, you should work with a doctor, but not one who is going to lace you with diuretics. Look, the fluid in your legs is there; you can live with it for a while. Just accept it. Use it as a way to monitor your progress. If you do many things right, the fluid buildup will slowly dissipate- without forcing measures. And as it starts going down- on its own accord- you'll know you are on the right track. What you want is a real recovery- not some medical fabrication.
High Blood Pressure: You could say that most people with high blood pressure have walking high blood pressure, meaning that there is no emergency, and they don't feel sick. It means they have time to apply natural methods and avoid the pharmaceutical route. Again, it starts with natural diet, exercise, weight control, habit control, de-stressing, de-caffeinating, etc. etc. And again, there are natural supplements worth considering, such as fish oil, resveratrol, CoQ10, policosonal, magnesium, and more. It's all very safe stuff. But, why take a diuretic? You don't have high blood pressure because your kidneys are impaired. You may have impaired kidneys because you have high blood pressure, but don't get the cart before the horse. And as I explained, you can't normalize your kidneys by taking diuretics. Even the seeming good that comes from taking a diuretic for high blood pressure isn't all that much. Why do you think they often combine diuretics with other anti-hypertensive drugs? It's because the results from taking a diuretic alone is often unsatisfactory and inadequate. I say forget about it. Adding a layer of pharmacological dehydration to your condition is not going to help you. And don't let them use fear to control you. OH, you're gong to have a heart attack or a stroke if you don't start taking the drugs right away! You may have had high blood pressure for years without knowing it. Millions of Americans have it right now and don't know it. And yes, some of them will go on to have heart attacks and strokes, but don't assume for a second that those who take diuretics and other prescriptions for hypertension become immune to heart attacks and strokes. That's part of the big lie. They're selling this stuff- just like flu vaccine.
There is one caveat regarding high blood pressure, and that concerns malignant hypertension. Malignant hypertension is a condition in which the blood pressure spikes so high and so fast, that it is truly a medical emergency. Symptoms are acute: extreme headache, visual disturbances, gait disturbances, cognitive disturbances- even speech impediments. I am not challenging emergency medical treatment of malignant hypertension. However, keep in mind that it comprises a very tiny percentage of cases of hypertension. The vast majority of patients fall into the walking hypertension category, for which natural alternative methods are far superior.
Venous insufficiency: This is where the venous valves which prevent backflow are defective causing the ankles and legs to swell, and there is also an unsightly appearance of the broken, damaged veins. If it were me, I would walk as much as possible, use the slant board every day, wear supportive legwear, raise the foot of my bed slightly, eat well (again, lots of fruits and vegetables), and I would take natural botannicals that have been shown to support vascular health, such as horse chestnut, butchers broom, and grape seed extract. But, I would not take diuretics, which can only mask the condition.
Ascites: This is where the abdomen swells because of liver disease. There are a lot of things you can do to aid an ailing liver, but taking diuretics is not one of them. On the contrary, diuretics strain the liver. Obviously, the lifestyle issues must be addressed, including eating habits, drinking habits, drugs habits, etc. And there are many supplements that can aid an ailing liver, including Silymarin from millk thistle, NAC, SAM-e, TMG, lipoic acid, and more. Obviously, a bloated abdomen can look alarming, but it's not usually painful. Just let it subside by itself (which it will) when you do everything else right. And again, as the swelling slowly subsides, you will know that you are on the right course. So, you can use it as a barometer of your progress. There is no good reason to mask it with diuretics.
This doesn't begin to cover all the conditions for which diuretics are used, but hopefully, you are getting the idea. Am I saying that there is no legitimate, beneficial use of diuretics? Let me put it this way: I can't think of a single condition for which I, Ralph Cinque, would be willing to take a diuretic. Not one. Whatever the problem might be, I would deal with it in other, more constructive ways.
In case I haven't made myself clear, I DON'T LIKE DIURETICS. They don't do any good. They just create the illusion of improvement. You can't force the kidneys to work better. It just isn't possible. It only invites trouble. Serious, major trouble.
A new study out of the University of North Carolina has shown that those who consume the most magnesium cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next 20 years, approximately in half. That's a huge difference. But, it's not the first such study. A large study out of Harvard Univeristy done in 2003 and involving over 125,000 people produced similar results.
Why would magnesium lower the risk of diabetes? We think of magnesium as a hard mineral, like calcium, and it is the second most abundant mineral in bone after calcium. However, magnesium is more than a structural mineral. It is also an enzymatic mineral. It acts as a "co-factor" in many of the body's chemical reactions, including reactions that process glucose. So far, we know of over 300 biochemical reactions in which magnesium serves as co-factor, but there may be more.
Magnesium is widely distributed in natural foods, and the best sources are plants. Nuts, beans, and whole grains are all rich in magnesium. Green vegetables are high in magnesium, and the greener they are, the more magnesium they have. That's because magnesium is at the center of the chlorophyll molecule which produces the green color. Hence, the green color is the visual manifestation of the presence of magnesium. It's odd because magnesium, by itself, is white, not green. But, within the ring-like structure of chlorophyll with magnesium at the center, it acts like a prism that turns it green. Spinach is often listed as a rich source of magnesium, and that's because it is so green. Fruits also provide magneisum, with bananas and figs being the highest among the commonly eaten fruits.
If your diet is high in animal foods and refined foods, you will come up short in magnesium. You must eat a wide variety of unrefined plants in order to get enough magnesium. How much magnesium do you need? The current RDA for magnesum in adults is 400 mgs. If every bite of food you eat is an unrefined plant, I do believe you will get that much or more. The average American is said to be getting only 250 to 300 mgs a day- a marginal deficiency which, over time, increases the risk of disease. And, it's alarming to realize that children are among the most shortchanged in magnesium.
But, if you are an adult eating a healthy, plant-based diet, as I recommend, do you also need magnesium supplements? I'll answer by saying that I don't mind a bit that my Extend Core Multi from VRP provides an extra 150 mgs of magnesium per day. I consider it good insurance, and it has the most absorbable forms of magnesium, such as magnesium aspartate and magnesium citrate. Magnesium succinate and magnesium taurinate are also good forms of magnesium, much better than the old standard magnesium oxide, which is poorly absorbed. So, I'm sure I'm getting enough magnesium, but if I had certain health problems, such as high blood pressure, I would take even higher amounts. We offer an all-magnesium supplement called Opti-Mag which is excellent and has multiple forms of readily absorbed magnesium. And, I think of Opti-Mag as a therapeutic supplement, as a way of using magnesium to address certain health issues. ADD in children or adults is another condition for which extra magnesium is warranted.
But, it starts with eating an unrefined, plant-based diet. That's the key to getting enough magnesium and so many other vital nutrients. Plants rule!