Natural Foods Merchandiser

Science Beat

Certain Amino Acids Alleviate Cirrhosis Symptoms
Branched-chain amino acid supplements may make a dramatic difference in advanced cirrhosis, according to a double-blind study conducted by Giulio Marchesini, M.D., of the University of Bologna in Italy. In the multicenter, year-long study, 174 people with advanced cirrhosis were randomly assigned to take a BCAA supplement containing leucine (7.2 g/day), isoleucine (3.6 g/day) and valine (3.6g/day); a placebo supplement of lactoalbumin; or a placebo supplement of maltodextrins. Most of the participants had been hospitalized in the past year for liver problems, and 53 percent had hepatitis C. Compared with the placebo groups, the BCAA group fared much better. Group members were significantly less apt to require hospitalization during the year. Their liver function tests stabilized or improved compared with the placebo group. They reported less anorexia, probably resulting in improved food intake and nutritional status. Finally, they felt much better. The BCAA supplements were not especially appealing, however, and five of the 59 participants assigned to take them discontinued them due to nausea, gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea. Whether BCAA makes a difference in advanced cirrhosis has been debated for years, but this study appears to unequivocally support its benefits. The authors suggest that BCAA supplementation might prevent liver failure in people awaiting liver transplants.


Iron Fights Fatigue in Women
Iron supplements have long been prescribed for anemic women who complain of fatigue. (Anemic women have insufficient red blood cells, of which iron is a key component.) Now a new study has found that iron supplements may reduce fatigue for women who are not anemic. In this double-blind study conducted by F. Verdon, M.D., of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, 136 women between the ages of 18 and 55 who consulted their medical practitioners because of fatigue were randomly assigned to take either 80 mg of iron supplement (in the form of ferrous sulphate) or a placebo daily for four weeks. The study excluded women who were anemic or had chronic fatigue syndrome, psychiatric conditions or another explanation for being tired. Before and after the study, the women judged how tired they were on a scale of 1 to 10. Both groups initially rated their fatigue at 6.4 to 6.5. After treatment, those given the placebo reported a drop to a fatigue level of 5.6, while those taking the iron supplements had a significantly greater improvement to 4.5. However, the iron supplements only benefited women whose initial levels of iron were low or at the low end of the normal range.

(Brit Med J 2003 May 24;326(7399):1124)

Research Explores Zinc in Prostate Cancer
A new study has found that men who take extremely high levels of supplemental zinc double their risk of prostate cancer. The study found no increased risk for men who take less than 100 mg of supplemental zinc a day. In this study, Michael Leitzmann, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., analyzed data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of 46,974 men. The men had been queried in 1986 about their use of supplements and about their dietary habits. Since then, 2,901 of the men developed prostate cancer. Almost a quarter of the participants (11,853) took supplemental zinc, which represented a third of the total zinc consumed by the entire group of men. Most of the men took less than 25 mg a day of zinc. Men taking up to 100 mg of zinc daily showed no increased risk of prostate cancer. However, the small percentage of men who took more than 100 mg of zinc daily had 2.29 times the rate of advanced prostate cancer compared to the other men. Leitzmann does not know what role excess zinc may play in prostate cancer, but zinc is highly concentrated in the prostate, where it may enhance proliferation of tumor cells.

(J Nat Canc Inst 2003 Jul 2;95(13):1004-6.)

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 9/p. 106

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