Natural Foods Merchandiser

Nutrition Q&A with Dan Lukaczer, N.D.

What nutrients, in addition to folic acid, B12 and B6, may help lower elevated serum homocysteine levels?

Betaine might. Also called trimethylglycine, betaine works with choline, folic acid and vitamin B12 to carry and donate methyl molecules to assist necessary chemical processes. The donation of methyl groups by betaine is important to proper liver function, cellular replication and detoxification reactions. TMG's primary use as a nutritional supplement is in supporting liver function. However, betaine also has a role as a methyl donor in homocysteine metabolism.1 Homocysteine is a toxic byproduct of methionine metabolism. A considerable amount of research suggests elevated homocysteine levels may promote atherosclerosis. Although the main nutrients involved in controlling homocysteine are folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, betaine may help some people who don't see improvement from the B vitamins.2 If homocysteine does not respond to B6, B12 or folic acid, it might be worth trying 500 mg to 1,000 mg betaine daily.

Does fiber help prevent colon cancer?

In the past few years, fiber's image has been slightly tarnished. The results of several trials have caused researchers to question whether fiber really has a protective effect against colon cancer. But new findings are helping fiber gain some ground. In the largest study to date on this subject, researchers examined the association between dietary fiber intake and colorectal cancer incidence in more then half a million men and women between the ages of 25 and 70 taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer study. They found a relative risk from the highest to lowest fiber intake quintile of 0.58, meaning those who ate the most fiber (35 grams daily) had more than 40 percent less chance of developing colon cancer compared with those who ate the least (15 grams daily).3 No particular food source of fiber was significantly more protective than any other. Importantly, researchers only studied fiber from food, so it is not known if supplementing with a pill or powder is as protective. These results coincide with and support the conclusions of a recent U.S. study. For this research, more than 30,000 participants who did not have colorectal cancer were compared with more than 3,500 who did. Participants in the highest quintile of dietary fiber intake had a 27 percent lower adenoma risk than those in the lowest quintile.4 It appears the argument can be put to bed regarding fiber and colon cancer: Fiber's good for you—at least if it is coming from food.

Is cinnamon good for treating diabetes?

It's too early to say definitively, but it may be. The work on cinnamon began a few years ago with in vitro studies suggesting this common spice had bioactive compounds that might have insulin-like effects.5 Other in vitro work seemed to confirm this,6 and sophisticated analysis seemed to isolate a specific molecule called methylhydroxychalcone polymer, which is thought to be responsible for the insulin mimetic effect.7 Follow-up animal experiments suggest long-term cinnamon-bark use might protect against diabetic conditions.8 Unfortunately, it is hard to extrapolate in vitro or animal data and doses for human applications, and there are no human studies published as yet. Therefore, a wholesale endorsement of this spice is a bit premature. However, because it has no known adverse effects at normal doses, it may be a good idea for diabetics and those with Syndrome X or insulin resistance to keep cinnamon at the front of their spice racks.

Dan Lukaczer, N.D., is director of clinical research at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of Metagenics Inc., in Gig Harbor, Wash.


1. van Guldener C, Stehouwer CD. Homocysteine-lowering treatment: an overview. Expert Opin Pharmacother 2001;2(9):1449-60.

2. Brouwer IA, et al. Betaine supplementation and plasma homocysteine in healthy volunteers. Arch Intern Med 2000;160(16):2546-7.

3. Bingham SA, et al. Dietary fibre in food and protection against colorectal cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): an observational study. Lancet 2003;361(9368):1496-501.

4. Peters U, et al. Dietary fibre and colorectal adenoma in a colorectal cancer early detection programme. Lancet 2003;361(9368):1491-5.

5. Imparl-Radosevich J, et al. Regulation of PTP-1 and insulin receptor kinase by fractions from cinnamon: implications for cinnamon regulation of insulin signaling. Horm Res 1998;50(3):177-82.

6. Broadhurst CL, et al. Insulin-like biological activity of culinary and medicinal plant aqueous extracts in vitro. J Agric Food Chem 2000;48(3):849-52.

7. Jarvill-Taylor KJ, et al. A hydroxychalcone derived from cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. J Am Coll Nutr 2001;20(4):327-36.

8. Onderoglu S, et al. The evaluation of long-term effects of cinnamon bark and olive leaf on toxicity induced by streptozotocin administration to rats. J Pharm Pharmacol 1999;51(11):1305-12.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 8/p. 46

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