Appliance Of Science

Cracking Seeds To Prevent Broken Bones
The safflower seed has mostly been used to make a vegetable oil, but in Korea the seeds historically have a long history of use to strengthen bones. Safflower seed extracts have been shown to favourably alter blood cholesterol in animals.1 In a recent study, animals made postmenopausal via surgical removal of the ovaries and fed a defatted safflower seed concentrate (SSC) showed a slowing of osteoporosis that nearly matched the effects of estradiol treatments equivalent to oestrogen replacement therapy.2

Additionally, the SSC did not promote uterus growth, unlike that seen with estradiol. An SSC extract was shown to stimulate bone-building cells called osteoblasts similar to stimulation of bone-building seen with the isoflavone genistein (prominent in soy and red clover) and estradiol (the most potent of the natural estrogens). This extract contained lignans similar to those found in flaxseed and burdock root, flavonoids, and serotonin complexes.

Is Ephedra Safe?
The best-selling class of diet pills uses the herb ephedra (ma huang; Ephedra sinica) because it contains ephedrine, an amphetamine-like molecule (from Sida cordifolia, another source of ephedrine), combined with an herbal caffeine source. Numerous studies have shown both the safety and effectiveness of synthetic ephedrine plus caffeine mixtures, for periods of up to 12 months.3

A second study by the same researchers gave 167 overweight subjects a generic blend of ephedra and kola nut (a caffeine source) or placebo for six months.4 They found that herbal E+C doubled the weight loss and fat loss of subjects. Within the E+C group, subjects experienced a mild, persistent elevated heart rate and blood pressure, as well as an increased frequency of dry mouth, heartburn and insomnia.

In a 14-day study, 27 overweight subjects used a different herbal E+C product (Xenadrine RFA-1) with no adverse changes in EKGs or echocardiograms.3 From the available evidence, among people who do not have pre-existing cardiovascular or metabolic conditions such as diabetes, herbal E+C products appear to be both safe and effective, with the side effects being mild.

Puffing Up Cocoa?s Chemical: Theobromine
Chocolat—is there a better food on the planet? This pleasure food with delectable flavour is derived from the plant Theobroma cacao, the source of cocoa. One of the constituents of cocoa and chocolate products is theobromine, which occurs in amounts 10 to 15 times higher than caffeine.5 Theobromine is also found in various teas and coffee and is a primary metabolite of caffeine.

Because of the very mild stimulant effects of cocoa powder, attributable to the theobromine/caffeine mix,6 cocoa extracts standardised for theobromine have recently entered the market and been promoted for weight loss. To date there appear to be no studies showing that theobromine or cocoa powder extracts containing theobromine and caffeine have any impact on weight or fat loss, or appetite, in humans. One very short-term study, lasting four days, that fed lab rats a dose of theobromine not even a chocolate lover could attain (700 mg/kg body weight) found very favourable changes in blood fats.7 Theobromine looks like another wait-and-see diet ingredient, but it does appear to be safe.6,7,8

Anthony Almada, BSc, MSc, is a nutrition and exercise biochemist and has collaborated on more than 50 university-based clinical trials. He is the co-founder of EAS and founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition in Laguna Niguel, California.


1. Moon KD, et al. Safflower seed extract lowers plasma and hepatic lipids in rats fed high-cholesterol diet. Nutr Res 2001;21:895-904.

2.Kim HJ, et al. Bone-protecting effect of safflower seeds in ovariectomized rats. Calcif Tissue Int 2002 (in press).

3. Boozer CN, et al. Herbal ephedra/caffeine for weight loss: a 6-month randomised safety and efficacy trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002;26:593-604.

4. Boozer CN, et al. An herbal supplement containing ma huang-guarana for weight loss: a randomized, double-blind trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2001;25:316-24.

5. Matissek R. Evaluation of xanthine derivatives in chocolate: nutritional and chemical aspects. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch A 1997;205:175-84.

6. Naik JP. Improved high-performance liquid chromatography method to determine theobromine and caffeine in cocoa and cocoa products. J Agric Fd Chem 2001;49:3579-83.

7. Eteng MU, RR Ettarh. Comparative effects of theobromine and cocoa extract on lipid profile in rats. Nutr Res 2000;20:1513-17.

8. Eteng MU, et al. Recent advances in caffeine and theobromine toxicities: a review. Plant Fds Hum Nutr 1997;51:231-43.

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