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Science Beat 4421

April 24, 2008

7 Min Read
Science Beat

Soy may help infertile women get pregnant
Infertile women may improve their chances of becoming pregnant by supplementing with soy phytoestrogens when undergoing in vitro fertilization, reports a study in Fertility and Sterility. Phytoestrogens are compounds found in certain plants that have hormonelike activity in the body. Isoflavones derived from soybeans are one kind of phytoestrogen.

The new study investigated the effect of phytoestrogen supplementation on pregnancy rates in 213 women undergoing IVF for infertility. After the retrieval of the eggs, the women were assigned to receive either 50 mg of progesterone plus 1,500 mg of isoflavones derived from soy per day, or 50 mg of progesterone per day plus placebo. The women were assessed for rates of embryo implantation, biochemical pregnancy (based on levels of hormones in the blood), clinical pregnancy (based on seeing an embryo with a heartbeat on ultrasound), miscarriage, and ongoing pregnancy and delivery.

The women receiving phytoestrogens had significantly higher rates of embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy, and ongoing pregnancy and delivery than the women receiving placebo. Among the women supplementing with phytoestrogens, 30 percent gave birth, versus 16 percent of the women in the placebo group. There were no adverse effects noted by any of the women taking the phytoestrogen supplement.

The results of this study suggest that phytoestrogen supplementation is a promising adjunctive treatment for women undergoing IVF for infertility. Further studies are needed to determine exactly how phytoestrogens exert their effect on the reproductive system.


Low iron linked to attention disorder
Iron deficiency may worsen the symptoms of attention deficit?hyperactivity disorder, and supplementing with iron may increase the body?s iron stores and decrease the condition?s severity, reports the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

ADHD is a behavioral disorder affecting about two million Americans, characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The multifaceted treatment approach usually taken for ADHD includes behavioral therapy, medication, and individual and family counseling. Stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine mixtures like Adderall are commonly prescribed. Atomoxetine (Strattera) is a nonstimulant medication used to treat ADHD. Many children are not able to tolerate the side effects of these drugs or do not respond to the medications.

There is some evidence that ADHD may be related to the metabolism of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Iron is needed to help the body manufacture dopamine. Therefore, it is possible that levels of iron in the brain may influence ADHD symptoms.

Ferritin is a storage protein for iron in the body, and measuring the ferritin level in the blood is a sensitive test for iron deficiency. When ferritin levels are low, brain development may be compromised, causing mental retardation and behavioral disorders in children. Ferritin levels rise in response to supplementation with iron. The new study, which compared ADHD symptoms in 53 children with ADHD and 27 children with a mild reading disability (control group) looked at blood levels of ferritin and other indices of iron status and the results of the Conners? Parent Rating Scale.

Ferritin levels were significantly lower in the children with ADHD than in those in the control group, indicating that the children with ADHD had lower iron status. Of the 53 children with ADHD, 84 percent had abnormally low ferritin levels, with 32 percent having extremely low levels. Other indices of iron status were comparable between the two groups. Blood ferritin levels were significantly correlated with the severity of ADHD symptoms; the lower the ferritin level, the more severe were the symptoms, including distractibility, inattention and learning disorders.

Iron supplementation has previously been shown to decrease the symptom severity and cognitive problems in children with ADHD who had inadequate amounts of iron in their diets. The results of this study suggest that a large percentage of children with ADHD may actually be iron-deficient, and that supplementing with iron may be beneficial in the treatment of the condition.

Taking iron is not appropriate for all people and can even be dangerous for people who have inherited a condition that causes them to accumulate iron (hemochromatosis). A health care professional should be consulted prior to initiating iron treatment.


SAMe boosts antidepressants
People taking antidepressant medications who continue to suffer from the symptoms of depression can benefit from the dietary supplement SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine), according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Antidepressant medications usually work by increasing levels of serotonin or norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that calm or excite the nervous system and improve mood. Some of these medications can cause serious and uncomfortable side effects, including sexual dysfunction; however, they are generally effective at relieving the symptoms of depression. But some people do not respond to these medications; adding a second type of antidepressant medication is sometimes helpful to these people.

SAMe is a chemical produced in the body from the amino acid methionine. SAMe raises levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate moods. Most, though not all, controlled trials have found that supplementing with SAMe can be an effective treatment for depression. Results from two studies suggest that SAMe might speed up the response to antidepressant medications in some depressed people.

Twenty-three people with depression participated in the current study. All had been taking serotonin-enhancing antidepressants for at least four weeks but were still suffering from depressive symptoms when they entered the study. The participants added 400 mg of SAMe two times per day at the beginning of the study. After two weeks, the amount of SAMe was increased to 800 mg two times per day for an additional four weeks. Symptoms were evaluated weekly for the first four weeks and at six weeks. Several rating scales were used to analyze depressive symptoms and all showed significant improvement at the end of the study compared with the beginning. Sexual function scores also improved significantly from the beginning to the end of the study.

This study suggests that SAMe might be helpful in people with depression who do not respond to treatment with one antidepressant medication. It is possible, however, that some of the participants in this study merely had a delayed response to their initial antidepressant medication. Placebo-controlled trials are therefore needed before SAMe can be recommended as an adjunctive therapy.


Berberine offers heart disease help
Berberine, a component of several medicinal herbs, may help prevent heart disease, as it can lower total cholesterol, low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to Nature Medicine.

Known for its antibacterial and immune-enhancing properties, berberine is a component from several medicinal plants including goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) and Huanlian (Coptis sinensis), a traditional Chinese herb. Berberine-containing herbs have long been used to treat respiratory and digestive infections. The effect of berberine on cholesterol levels has not been previously studied.

In the current study, extracts from 700 Chinese herbs were studied for their ability to stimulate LDL-cholesterol receptors to appear on cells in a test tube. These receptors take LDL cholesterol out of the blood and lower circulating levels. Of all the extracts, berberine (from Huanlian) showed the strongest ability to increase the number of LDL-cholesterol receptors. Ninety-one people with elevated cholesterol levels were then randomly assigned to receive either 500 mg of berberine twice per day for three months or placebo.

In people using berberine, total cholesterol levels dropped 18 percent, LDL-cholesterol levels dropped 20 percent, and triglyceride levels dropped 28 percent, while there was no change in people using placebo. The effect of berberine was even more pronounced in people who were not doing any other cholesterol-lowering treatment: a 29 percent drop in total-cholesterol levels, a 25 percent drop in LDL-cholesterol levels, and a 35 percent drop in triglycerides.

The results of this study suggest that berberine might lower heart disease risk. More research is needed to identify the best amount to use and the long-term effects of supplementation. The combined effect of berberine and other therapies, such as dietary changes and statin drugs, also needs further study.


Kimberly Beauchamp, N.D., is a practicing physician at South County Naturopaths Inc., in Wakefield, R.I. Maureen Williams, N.D., has a private practice in Quechee, Vt., and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Copyright ? 2005 Healthnotes Inc.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 3/p. 114-115

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