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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Food companies sign anti-clone pledge

by Vicky Uhland

In a gesture that organizers hope will end the cloned-foods controversy, 20 American food companies and retailers have stated they will not use cloned animals in their products. Nonprofit, activist organizations Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety announced Sept. 3 that manufacturing behemoths Kraft Foods, General Mills, Nestle and Campbell Soup Co. have pledged to avoid cloned-animal ingredients.

Ben & Jerry's, Amy's Kitchen, the Hain Celestial Group, Clover-Stornetta Farms, Oberweis Dairy, Prairie Farms Dairy, Plainview Dairy and Gossner Foods have taken the pledge one step farther, announcing they won't use products from clones or their offspring.

"Cloning is incompatible with the Organic Foods Production Act and prohibited under the National Organic Program regulations, with which we comply," said Hain spokeswoman Mary Anthes.

Retailers that have agreed to the noncloning pledge include Albertsons, SuperValu and Harris Teeter. Washington-based PCC Natural Markets, the first retailer or manufacturer to sign the pledge, also won't allow products from cloned offspring in its stores.

The pledges are a result of a CFS survey of food-industry members that began in January, after the Food and Drug Administration announced it wouldn't require special labeling of foods made from cloned animals or their offspring because "meat and milk from cow, pig and goat clones and the offspring of any animal clones are as safe as food we eat every day."

Because the FDA's animal-tracking system ends at the slaughterhouse, it's difficult for manufacturers or retailers to follow an animal all the way through the supply chain and ensure it doesn't have any cloned DNA, said Gillian Madill, FOE genetic-technologies campaigner. In addition, "Since they've been selling cloned bull semen for five years, there's likelihood you could encounter a cloned offspring without knowing it," she said.

As a result, "There is truly no way to be 100 percent sure" food producers aren't using ingredients from cloned animals or their offspring, Madill said, unless they're able to set up a system like PCC Natural Markets', which requires all suppliers to state the origin of their products. Therefore, the goal of the FOE/CFS cloned-food pledge is to "try to destroy the market before it exists. We don't want to get into a situation like [genetically modified organisms], where they were out there before anyone could stop them becoming a full-scale process," she said.

If enough companies sign the anti-clone pledge, they hope the groundswell will "prevent the undesirable production and use of this technology," Madill said. Added Lisa Bunin, campaigns coordinator for CFS, "This rejection of food from clones sends a strong message to biotech firms that their products may not find a market."

According to CFS, a General Mills spokesperson said "consumer acceptance" is an important consideration in the company's pledge not to use ingredients from clones, and Kraft noted that although the FDA said cloned foods are safe, "Product safety is not the only factor we consider in our products. We must also carefully consider additional factors such as consumer benefits and acceptance, … and research in the U.S. indicates that consumers are currently not receptive to ingredients from cloned animals."

Madill said FOE and CFS are working to create an online registry to show the status of companies and retailers that have either been asked to sign the noncloning pledge or are in the process of doing so. She hopes the registry will be available in October, she said. In the meantime, retailers and manufacturers can sign up at or

Other food producers that have agreed not to use cloned animals in their products include Smithfield Foods, California Pizza Kitchen restaurants, Cloverland Green Spring Dairy and Byrne Dairy.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 21

Natural Foods Merchandiser

The spice of a healthier life

by Densie Webb

Spices are used by civilizations worldwide for both flavoring and healing.1 Phenolics, especially flavonoids, are thought to be essential bioactive compounds in spices' health benefits.2 Research demonstrates that several culinary spices possess disease-preventing and antimicrobial properties when taken in large quantities.

Commercial saffron is produced from dried pistils of Crocus sativus, a member of the large family Iridaceae, and is cultivated in Azerbaijan, France, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Spain, China, Israel, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and Mexico.3 Saffron is the world's most expensive spice, primarily because it is still cultivated and harvested by hand, as it has been for thousands of years.3,4

Saffron is studied for its potential as an anticancer agent, memory enhancer, depression treatment and premenstrual syndrome reliever. Both laboratory and animal studies indicate that saffron and its pharmacologically active components possess anticarcinogenic and antitumor activities.3 In mice, saffron extract (200 mg per kg of body weight) inhibits the growth of tumors and increases life span two- to three-fold.5 One study found that crocin, a carotenoid isolated from saffron, increased survival time and decreased tumor growth in female rats, but had no effect on male rats; this suggests hormones may influence saffron's therapeutic effectiveness.6 The scarcity and expense of obtaining large quantities of saffron may impede its use in cancer treatment.3

Studies have tested the effectiveness of saffron extract in the treatment of depression and compared it with commonly used antidepressants (e.g., imipramine and fluoxetine). In one study, 30 people diagnosed with mild to moderate depression were given either 30 mg per day of saffron extract or 100 mg per day of imipramine for six weeks.7 Both groups improved equally. In a similar study, the same dose of saffron was compared with fluoxetine for six weeks. Again, both groups improved.8 Researchers from both studies concluded that saffron may be beneficial in treating depression. Crocin and safranal, two major components of saffron, may inhibit the re-uptake of the neurotransmittters dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin,8 which are widely believed to improve mood.

Similarly, 30 mg per day of saffron extract relieved PMS symptoms in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial over the course of two menstrual cycles. PMS symptoms were measured using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. A responder was defined as a woman showing 50 percent reduction in severity of symptoms. Sixty percent of the 25 women in the saffron group were responders, compared with 4 percent of the 25 women in the placebo group.9

While studies have shown saffron extract to be nontoxic and nonmutagenic,3 it can inhibit platelet adhesion, resulting in abnormal bleeding, and is not recommended during pregnancy.4,7

The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians used Thymus vulgaris as a medicine and to embalm the dead.10 The ancient Romans used thyme to flavor cheese and alcoholic beverages, and they bathed in it to "provide vigor."10 Thyme is the most popular medicinal plant in Morocco and has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years in African and European countries.11,12

Thyme is an antimicrobial, antifungal, antitussive, spasmolyitc and antioxidant.12,13 The essential oil derived from thyme is a mixture of monoterpenes, which are nonnutritive dietary compounds believed to have anticancer activity; one of the main monoterpenes is thymol, which has anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and free-radical-scavenging properties.14 Thymol makes up almost 49 percent of the total essential oil of thyme.15

Traditionally, thyme has been used as an expectorant and cough suppressant, and as an antiseptic or antimicrobial.16 In vitro studies show that a water-soluble extract of thyme is effective against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes most stomach ulcers.17,18 Recently, researchers observed that the essential oil of thyme prevented chemotherapy-resistant ovarian tumor cells from multiplying.12 In addition, laboratory studies found that thyme's phenolic compounds thymol and carvacrol, as well as thyme extracts, inhibited DNA damage in human white blood cells.19

Thyme oil and thymol improve the antioxidant status of the aging rat brain. Thyme oil and thymol may increase the concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid. DHA is important for the proper growth and functioning of nervous tissue and may help protect against oxidative stress in the brain.15,20

Germany's Commission E approves thyme as a treatment for coughs and upper respiratory tract congestion and also for symptoms of bronchitis and whooping cough.21 However, there are no well-defined, controlled clinical trials for the use of thyme to treat these diseases.10,13 Despite a lack of controlled clinical evidence, thyme also has been used as a treatment for fingernail and toenail fungus.10

Thyme is safe in food and for limited medicinal use. However, it should never be used orally or in undiluted form.10 Controlled clinical trials for thyme's traditional medicinal uses are still needed.

Sage is a perennial shrub, native to the Mediterranean rim, especially around the Adriatic Sea; it is cultivated in Albania, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S.22 Sage tea is the most common form of sage consumed by humans.23 The leaves from Salvia officinalis are reported to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses, and also have cholinesterase-inhibiting properties, which may improve mood.24,25 Sage-leaf extracts exhibit strong antioxidant activity, probably due to phenolic constituents such as carnosol and rosmarinic acid.26 Commission E has approved the internal use of sage leaf for stomach upset and excessive perspiration and external use for inflammation of the mucus membranes of the nose and throat.22 It has also traditionally been used to suppress lactation in nursing mothers.27

Sage has been found to improve mood and cognition. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, 30 healthy young men and women were given either 300 mg or 600 mg of dried sage leaf or placebo on three separate days at seven-day intervals. A single 600 mg dose of sage improved mood and cognitive performance.25 Sage's ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, could explain the effects. Patients with dementia and depressed mood have reduced levels of acteylcholine, a chemical that carries messages in the brain. Inhibiting acetylcholinesterase could help increase acetylcholine levels.

Sage also has potential to treat Alzheimer's disease and dementia. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 42 patients age 65 to 80, diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia and probable Alzheimer's disease, were given 60 drops per day of sage extract (1 kg of dried leaf to 1 liter of alcohol) or a placebo for four months.28 The sage extract produced a significantly better outcome on cognitive function tests than placebo. A 2008 study found memory-enhancing effects of a single dose of sage extract at 333 mg a day in 20 older adults, whose average age was 73.29 In vitro studies of rat brain cells suggest rosmarinic acid is one of the components of sage responsible, at least in part, for sage's neuroprotective effects.30

Sage also may help decrease blood glucose and prevent type 2 diabetes. Sage tea lowered blood-glucose levels in healthy rats given the tea in place of water for 14 days, but not in diabetic rats. The effects were similar to Metformin, a medication commonly prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes.23 In another experiment, both sage oil and sage extract were tested in diabetic rats. Sage extract decreased serum glucose in the rats within three hours of dosing, but the sage oil had no effect, suggesting that the active compound(s) are water-soluble and not found in the oil.24

The amount of sage leaf consumed as a culinary herb in foods is not hazardous, but larger amounts are toxic due to the presence of thujones and camphor in the essential oil. Neither ethanolic extracts nor the essential oil from sage leaf have shown mutagenic potential.26

Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a large tuberous perennial plant native to southern Asia and now cultivated extensively in almost all tropical and subtropical countries,31 though China and India are the world's leading producers of ginger.31 Ginger's medicinal use, which was recorded in early Sanskrit and Chinese texts, may date back 2,500 years.31 In Asian medical practices, dried ginger has been used to treat stomachache, diarrhea and nausea.31 Ginger is approved in the Commission E monographs as a component of anti-emetic stomach medicines. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Finland, a standardized extract of ginger is approved as a nonprescription medicine to prevent motion sickness.31

The mechanism underlying ginger's anti-emetic activity is unclear, but its aromatic properties, as well as its ability to relax muscles and reduce flatulence, suggest it has direct effects on the gastrointestinal tract. Ginger contains more than 400 chemicals. However, only a few—mainly gingerols, shogaols and paradols—have been evaluated for their pharmacological properties.32 Studies suggest that short-term use of ginger can safely relieve pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.33 Though the Commission E monograph on ginger does not recommend it for morning sickness, reviews of the literature conclude that ginger is an effective, low-risk treatment for these symptoms, compared with placebo.34,35 The typical dose used in the studies reviewed was 1,000 mg per day. This dose effectively relieved nausea, even among women with severe nausea and vomiting leading to dehydration. Studies have also found ginger to be an effective treatment for nausea resulting from motion sickness (1 g to 2 g per day) and surgery (500 mg to 1,000 mg per day). 36,37 One study in dogs found that doses of 100 mg, 200 mg and 500 mg per kg of body weight effectively reversed the delay in gastric emptying caused by chemotherapy, which can cause nausea.38

No side effects have been observed in pregnant women taking ginger at the 1,000 mg-per-day dose. However, researchers express concern about the lack of consistency in levels of active ingredients and dosages, or serving sizes, among commercially available ginger-root powder supplements.39

This gold-colored spice is related to ginger and is the powdered roots and rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa.40 It is used in India and China for medicinal purposes, for the preservation of food and as a yellow dye for fabrics. Turmeric is one of the primary ingredients in curry. Curcumin, the compound that gives turmeric its yellow color and is believed to be the biologically active component of the spice, was first isolated almost two centuries ago.40,41

The Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists 78 biological activities associated with curcumin, from anti-HIV actions to antiulcerogenic actions.40 Most research with curcumin has been done in animals and in laboratory cell cultures. Substantial laboratory data indicate that curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-amyloid activity (i.e., it appears to prevent aggregation of beta-amyloids, believed to play a pivotal role in the development of Alzheimer's).42 Test-tube and animal studies demonstrate that curcumin exhibits significant anticancer activity.

Though inconclusive, studies in humans also suggest that turmeric consumption may reduce the risk

of some forms of cancer and render other protective biological effects in humans.44 A phase 1 clinical trial evaluated the effects of curcumin on people who had one of five high-risk conditions for several kinds of cancer. Researchers gradually increased doses of curcumin from 500 mg to 8,000 mg per day.45 Biopsies of precancerous lesions were performed immediately before and three months after starting curcumin treatment. Histologic improvement of the precancerous lesions was observed in five of the 19 patients taking curcumin.

Curcumin shows anti-inflammatory activity in human and laboratory studies.46 Recent studies show that curcumin also inhibits autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, by regulating inflammatory cytokines, immune cells that signal other immune cells to act.47 A study of diabetic rats in which the animals were given 15 mg and 30 mg per kg of body weight of curcumin or no treatment for six weeks revealed that renal dysfunction and oxidative stress decreased in the rats receiving the curcumin when compared with the control group.48

Preliminary findings from a study with a group of elderly Asian men and women suggest eating curry more than once a month, but less than once a week, results in better cognitive function than in those consuming less. Cognitive function was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination, which measures memory, attention, language, praxis and visuospatial ability.49 However, a study of the curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders found that while the highest curcumin concentration of pure turmeric powder was 3.14 percent by weight, curry powder had a relatively small amount of curcumin, and the variability in content was great.41

Reviews of the literature found curcumin to be safe for humans in doses up to 10,000 mg per day.46,50

Several common culinary spices have beneficial health effects when consumed in large quantities. Most of these spices exhibit some degree of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antimicrobial activities. Some researchers suggest that future dietary guidelines should include more explicit recommendations about spices' place in a healthful diet.51 Most studies, however, have found beneficial effects from much larger amounts of spices than can be obtained from the diet.

Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D., is a freelance writer and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 108,110


Can Newman’s Own Survive Without Paul? That’s What the Company is Planning


Fortune Small Business and numerous other publications pondered the question of what will happen to the natural and organic food company Newman’s Own following the death of legendary actor and company founder Paul Newman on Sept. 26. “When a celebrity dies without a plan, [his] company and product can die with him,” Les Banwart, vice chairman of the nonprofit organization Aileron, which consults on issues of professional management, told Fortune Small Business.

But it doesn’t seem like that will be the case for Newman’s Own, which the movie star founded more than a quarter century ago as a way to provide money for worthy causes. Profits generated by the family-owned business—whose motto is “Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good”—are donated by the Newman’s Own Foundation to benefit a wealth of charities, ranging from an elephant sanctuary to Hole in the Wall camps for children with serious illnesses.

“Soon it will be a quarter of a billion dollars that’s been given away since Paul started the company,” Peter Meehan, board member of Newman’s Own and CEO of Newman’s Own Organics told Nutrition Business Journal in April of this year. “It’s really amazing that by the simple act of buying food, you could generate that much money for charities.”

In a statement issued by the company earlier this week, Robert Forrester, vice chairman of the Newman’s Own Foundation, said that Newman began planning several years ago for the future of his charitable organization, which will continue giving the profits from the Newman’s Own business to those in need. “What started as something of a joke in the basement of his home, turned into a highly-respected, multi-million-dollar-a-year food company,” Forrester wrote. “And true to form, he shared this good fortune by donating all the profits and royalties he earned to thousands of charities around the world.”

Read the Fortune Small Business story here ( NBJ subscribers can read the profile we wrote about Newman’s Own and Newman’s Own Organics, the company run by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell, here (

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Grocery & Produce Bites

Troops get gourmet perk

Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon receive a gourmet pick-me-up thanks to Denver-based Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee and Smoothies, which is donating more than 100 pounds of 100 percent Kona Coffee and other Hawaiian food products to troops overseas. Jill Summerhays, the company's founder, hopes to give the troops a little taste of home via coffee, cookies and popcorn, and to assure America's finest that they are in the thoughts of their ohana—the Hawaiian word for "family"—back home.

Hain Celestial's profits take a little dipper

Hain Celestial Group, the parent company of a slew of natural foods brands including Celestial Seasonings and Earth's Best, saw net profits dip 13 percent in the 2008 fiscal year, even though the company's net sales rose 17 percent during that time. Rising operating costs led to the drop in profits, one industry analyst said. The company pointed to strong performances from subsidiaries Arrowhead Mills and Spectrum (the maker of dairy-free products such as Rice Dream and Soy Dream) as the driving forces behind increased sales. The company recently raised prices in the U.S. and expects to see bottom-line results by the second quarter of 2009.

More on the coffee buzz

The next time a U.S. college student gears up for a late-night cram session at the campus coffee shop, he or she might be able to energize organically. A number of different companies across the nation are importing organic coffee and supplying it to college campuses, according to the Organic Trade Association. The North American market for organic coffee, which reached $1 billion in 2007, continues to percolate: the U.S. and Canada imported 40,500 tons in 2007, 29 percent more than in 2006, according to the recent North American Organic Coffee Industry Survey. "Many college students have grown up with organic foods," said David Gagnon, OTA interim executive director. "Students are the key drivers changing campus food toward organic products and more sustainable choices."

—David Accomazzo

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 72

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Creative commuting: How to lead the way to work

by Carolee Colter

The price of oil may fluctuate but its general direction is up, and with it, the cost of getting to work. As a retailer, assisting your employees with commuting alternatives can not only ease environmental effects but also spark creativity and build loyalty.

"Rising gas prices are cutting into everyone's personal budgets," says Susan Meisinger, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management, a professional association based in Alexandria, Va. "Employers are offering extra help as a tool to retain employees and improve employee morale."

A June survey by SHRM shows that the most common employer response to the gas crisis is to increase reimbursement for miles driven in personal cars on company business to the maximum the Internal Revenue Service allows, which was 58.5 cents per mile as of July.

Other retailers say they have attempted to cut down on the amount of driving required by offering flexible work schedules or telecommuting. Fewer retailers report encouraging alternatives to solo driving. Only 14 percent say they offer discounts on public transportation, while 12 percent assist with organizing carpools.

Of course, rising gas prices isn't the only issue at stake—there's also the health of the planet. Actively assisting employees to bike, walk, bus or carpool to work not only helps retailers financially but also helps a naturals-focused employer "walk the talk."

For example, take the Good Food Store in Missoula, Mont. With 195 people on staff, the store was Missoula's Sustainable Commuting Champion in the 2007 and 2008 Bike Walk Bus Week Commuter Challenge for the 100-plus-employee category.

The yearly Commuter Challenge is sponsored by a county government program that helps local businesses, institutions and individuals make transportation choices that improve air quality and reduce congestion. Companies compete for the highest percentage of workforce commuting by means other than driving alone in a car.

The Good Food Store supports a vigorous bike-to-work culture. A secure shed accommodating up to 20 employee bikes gets heavy use, even in winter. Among the dedicated bike riders is Doug Burke, human resources and payroll assistant. Burke's boss, Human Resources Director Adina Roe, calls him "our champion" and credits his leadership for the store's victory in the Commuter Challenge.

In 2007, Burke had departments compete for the highest participation rates. While this generated interest among staff, Burke concluded that departments varied too much in size to allow a level playing field.

For this year's challenge, he randomly sorted all employees into five teams. On a chart in the hallway outside the store offices, team members noted for each scheduled shift whether they traveled by bike, bus, walking or carpool. As the week progressed, the buzz increased, and staffers congregated in the hall between shifts to see how their teams were doing.

In addition to the challenge's official prizes and raffles for all contestants, the Good Food Store held its own drawings. Store management also committed to donating a bike to a local nonprofit if the store won the challenge.

The Good Food Store hosted a bike maintenance workshop for employees and customers, with bike mechanics providing parts and labor free of charge, while representatives from the county organization sold bike helmets for $6 each.

Throughout Bike Walk Bus Week, the store offered "nonpolluter commuter" deals every day on cookies, smoothies, juice and coffee to biking, walking, busing or carpooling customers. In the end, the Good Food Store won the challenge with 57 percent participation, and a 14-year-old girl got a new bike donated by the store. Employees won prizes ranging from $100 gift cards to an iPod. Of the 749 participants, 639 took sustainable transportation to work every day, helping the planet by saving 3,237 single-occupancy vehicle trips in the process.

They all saved money, too.

Carolee Colter is the principal of Community Consulting Group. Contact her at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 70

Metabolife's® Break Through Offers a Solution for Diet Rebound Problems

While searching for the next big weight loss breakthrough, one of America's most successful diet supplement brands, Metabolife(R), invented a proprietary formula of nutrients that is clinically tested to address the frustrating "rebound stage" that occurs after weight loss. Break Through, a clinically tested, patent pending formula, is the only one of its kind to help the body get past its biological survival mode sluggishness to the most challenging part of weight loss: maintaining the results. Break Through is part of the Metabolife(R) 2-stage weight loss system that supports a mission to help Americans "get the life they deserve" and includes a patent pending combination of key nutrients such as green tea, caffeine, cayenne, and the amino acid L-Tyrosine. Break Through can be found online at and at drug and grocery retailers nationwide, including Walgreens, Kmart, RiteAid, CVS and Fred Meyer, for a suggested retail price of $29.99.

Though many diet supplements on the market help initial weight loss, this product uniquely addresses the critical post weight loss rebound period, where a natural metabolic slowing may contribute to weight regain. Break Through was developed by some of the world's foremost obesity researchers in Denmark.

"In our clinical trials at the University of Copenhagen," said Dr. Soren Toubro, "we started with a group of 80 obese individuals who lost a significant amount of weight on a hypocaloric diet. The effect of adding our compound was a sustained increase in thermogenesis for eight weeks combined with an improved reduction in fat mass. The results of the double blind study are exciting because we were able to maintain the metabolic increase from week one to week eight. This is unprecedented with an ephedra free compound. The key base of the formula became Metabolife(R) Break Through and is distributed to millions of Americans who want to maintain their success after initial weight loss."

"Our bodies were built to survive a naturally harsh environment and scarcity of food due to seasonal changes and nomadic moves from one place to another," says Greg Grochoski, Chief Science Officer for Metabolife(R). "Even today, an initial weight loss signals the body to go into a conservation mode as it biologically expects winter or a move to a scarce food area. We are built to conserve fat to protect the internal organs until spring arrives or the situation changes. This 'rebound' is therefore a natural reaction, but a problem in today's world, when we lose weight for different reasons."

Metabolife(R) ( is a dietary supplement brand with six products that include Metabolife Ultra(R), Metabolife(R) Green Tea, Metabolife(R) Caffeine Free, Metabolife(R) Break Through, Metabolife(R) Extreme Energy and Metabolife(R) Aqua Slim(TM). All the Metabolife(R) products are supported by MLifeSupport on, a free online community of inspiration, motivation and real help from experts and peers. Metabolife(R) is a product of ISI Brands(R) Inc. ( ISI Brands is a proactive health and wellness educator and provider of over 850 high-quality, ready-for-sale natural and vitamins, nutrients and other health supporting tablets, capsules, powder drink mixes, nutritional snacks and bars. ISI Brands(R) include Twinlab(R) Fuel(R), Twinlab(R) Nutrition, Alvita(R), Nature's Herbs(R), Cole Water(R), Dr. Weil(TM) and Dr. Greene(TM) brand products. ISI Brands(R) Inc. provides end-to-end product formulation, manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, marketing, sales, and fulfillment services.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Explain the 'Japanese Paradox' Regarding Low Rates of Heart Disease

Why is it that Japanese men have half the mortality from heart disease as American Caucasian men in spite of smoking and having high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension? The September 2008 Fats of Life and PUFA Newsletter electronic publications suggest why, summarizing new research about long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

When Japanese men migrate to America, they develop atherosclerosis as readily or more so than their Caucasian compatriots, according to a recent study. The reason is likely dietary.

"This study suggests that the long-term habit of eating plenty of fish rich in long-chain omega-3s tends to counteract the development of atherosclerosis," said Editor Joyce Nettleton, D.Sc. "The findings are consistent with other evidence that the consumption of long-chain omega-3s is associated with having less carotid artery plaque and low incidence of nonfatal heart events among the Japanese."

Another paradox is why mothers who eat plenty of fish, and have higher levels of mercury as a result, have children without adverse effects. According to new research, beneficial nutrients counter-act and protect against potential harm from mercury. In fact, children whose mothers eat more than 12 ounces of fish/week outperform those whose mothers avoid eating fish.

In other reports, the long-chain omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in seafood was linked to fewer nonfatal heart events in women and eating tuna or other non-fried fish more than three times/week was associated with fewer tiny hemorrhages in the brain. People without these brain lesions are less likely to have a stroke or impaired cognition. Another study showed that EPA supplementation reduced the likelihood of having a second stroke in those who had already had one.

New research also demonstrated that a 200 mg daily supplement of the long-chain omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) taken during pregnancy improved the DHA status of mothers and their infants and doubled the mothers' DHA milk content. In people with major depression, EPA was significantly lower compared with non-depressed individuals. Another study showed that low-dose DHA improved the symptoms of depression.

"Omega-3 fatty acids appear integral to the healthy performance of nearly all of the body's major systems," Nettleton said.
The quarterly Fats of Life and PUFA Newsletter, sponsored by DSM Nutritional Products, are at

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Saving children: One vitamin at a time

by Karen Raterman

It had been a long day. The wake-up call at India's Ravishankar Maharaj Eye Hospital was at 3:30 a.m. to drive to the Ahmedabad airport for a flight to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). By evening, Howard Schiffer, founder of Vitamin Angels, was addressing a crowd of parents and children in the Kolkata's Madhyamgram neighborhood. In this city of more than 13 million people, these children live in, at best, overly crowded conditions in two-story shanties and cement-block houses. Few homes have running water or proper sanitation.

But thanks to the Believers Church and its Bridge of Hope Project, these children will have vitamin A. An important new partner for Vitamin Angels' India program, the Bridge of Hope group has arranged for Schiffer and his team to distribute vitamin A capsules and antiparasitic tablets. One of many in-country partners to Vitamin Angels, Bridge of Hope serves more than 12,000 poor children, both Christian and non, in and around Kolkata, India's second-largest city. The children welcomed the Vitamins Angels team, throwing flowers at their feet and greeting them with songs, speeches and dances. Schiffer was in his element as he looked out at the sea of curious faces.

Hygiene, sanitation and water, as well as nutrition, are key to a solution for malnutrition-based blindness.

"Vitamin Angels believes every child has the right to grow up healthy," he says. "Each of you has a gift to give India and the world. But to do that you have to be healthy, and vitamins help give you the best chance to be healthy."

Schiffer detailed Vitamin Angels' mission to eradicate childhood blindness from vitamin A deficiency, and then explained to parents and children that vitamin A is important for good vision, immune health and normal body development. As he finished his speech, missionary workers from the Bridge of Hope swung into action. Nearly 100 children politely formed a line and awaited their turn, mouths open, eyes wide, as the workers squeezed the golden liquid vitamin A into their mouths and then encouraged them to chew the antiparasitic tablet that came next. A distasteful grimace usually followed.

As the distribution took place, Schiffer wandered among the parents and children, chatting and asking mothers their children's names, ages and about living conditions in the neighborhood. He singled out mothers with children who looked particularly malnourished or ill and gave them bottles of multivitamins with instructions to take one every day.

This scene played itself out two to three times daily for Schiffer, who, with his videographer and some accompanying journalists, was on a February and March trip to India to distribute vitamins in six cities. The schedule was grueling. The next morning began at 6:30 a.m. in Kolkata with a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride covering only about 125 miles. Traveling by road in India is laborious. Narrow, poorly maintained local roads, coupled with the congestion of foot travelers, street vendors, rickshaws, bicyclists, cars, buses and the ever-present sacred cows, make for a harrowing, stomach-churning experience.

Nagendrapur is located on Raidhigi Island in the backwaters of the Bay of Bengal, between Kolkata and the border with Bangladesh. From the bus, the group hitched a ride with rickshaw wallahs to a congested port town, where they boarded a canopied boat for the one-hour journey to the island. Every aspect of the trip was orchestrated by the Believers Church team.

Hospitality and ceremony were an important and necessary part of the Vitamin Angels tour in India. When the team arrived in Nagendrapur, they were welcomed riverside by village children in their school uniforms and by four sari-clad women, who performed the traditional West Bengal welcome by blowing conch shells, offering blessings and presenting the visitors with marigold necklaces and colorful cotton shawls. The whole party then walked together along a makeshift road of inlaid bricks and straw on an elevated section of land between rice fields. Along the way, they were greeted by curious villagers going about daily tasks of washing clothes, tending fields and drying peppers.

Space and locally grown food appeared more abundant here than in poor neighborhoods in Kolkata, but conditions in Nagendrapur are still primitive. Families live in one-room mud huts where cow dung rests on rooftops to dry so it can later be used as fuel. There is no running water, electricity or latrines, and few children have shoes.

This lack of sanitation is the crux of health problems in the developing world, and, in particular, in India. Because of the large number of people without basic services, hygiene, sanitation and water, as well as nutrition, are key to a solution for malnutrition-based blindness, Schiffer says. It has become Schiffer's mantra during the past 14 years as he has traveled the world bringing vitamins to medically underserved children in poor urban and rural areas.

Worldwide statistics are alarming. According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency affects between 100 million and 140 million children around the world every year. Of those, 250,000 to 500,000 go blind. The primary cause of VAD is chronic malnutrition from a lack of red, green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables—foods rich in vitamin A. The issue is finally receiving some attention. Shortly after Schiffer's trip to India, the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus, a priority rating of the world's biggest challenges by 50 top economists, put distribution of essential vitamins as the No. 1 investment.

Vitamin Angels' program is a no-brainer, according to Schiffer. "Chronic malnutrition and poverty are the immediate crisis," he told missionaries at the Believers Church. "This is a problem, but we know the solution today, and we can change lives dramatically."

Vitamin A can have an important impact on public health. Statistics show that vitamin A supplementation in deficient populations can reduce child mortality by 23 percent. It helps children under 5 who are most vulnerable, and it is especially important for babies under age 1. While blindness is the most commonly known effect of vitamin A deficiency, children who lack this micronutrient may also suffer from infectious diseases, such as measles, diarrhea and malaria, according to WHO reports. "The further we get into this," Schiffer says, "the more we see that blindness is just the sentinel marker. In the end, the malnourishment is taking their lives."

Industry support

The Vitamin Angels plan is simple. The blindness-prevention program administers two high doses of vitamin A, along with two antiparasitics, per child, per year. The de-worming tablets are necessary, Schiffer explains, because if the child has worms, parasites will consume the vitamin A before the child can absorb it. The cost of the vitamins and antiparasitics as well as the logistics, education and administration is 25 cents for each child each year. The total cost of a four-year program is $1 per child. In March 2006, Vitamin Angels set a goal to eradicate VAD by 2020. The India trip was the group's first major step in its Operation 20/20 global campaign.

But distribution of vitamins is only part of the story. Schiffer spends countless hours in his Santa Barbara, Calif., office and traveling around the country soliciting funds and product donations from the natural products industry, including companies such as NOW Foods, Zsweet, Irwin Naturals, Purity Products and retailers like the Vitamin Shoppe and Pharmaca Integrated Pharmacy. "There are so many organizations that people can donate to where they don't know if they are going to make a real impact in the world. This isn't one of them," Schiffer says. "We know that with vitamin A, these children won't go blind."

"For us, Vitamin Angels is the choice because it is a low-tech, low-cost program that is efficient and has high impact," says Tim Avila, president and CEO of ZSweet. "There is not a lot of overhead. It is not like a program where they have to make expensive AIDS drugs." Working with Vitamin Angels is attractive to many industry companies because its mission is well-aligned with the industry and provides a positive message about the value of nutrition and efficacy of dietary supplements. The Vitamin Shoppe, based in North Bergan, N.J., which recently announced it would double its support of Vitamin Angels in 2008 to impact 1 million children in the Operation 20/20 program, reports that Vitamin Angels resonates with its employees and customers. "Rarely does a company have the opportunity to associate its charitable giving with an organization so closely aligned with its own mission," says Tom Tolworthy, CEO of the Vitamin Shoppe.

Companies working with Vitamin Angels can also customize programs specific to individual businesses. For example, Purity Products makes a donation for every person who purchases a cup of coffee at its offices. With 150 employees, the company has been able to generate more than $600 a month through its Coffee Clutch for a Cure program, which amounted to more than $5,000 a year for Vitamin Angels.

Los Angeles-based Irwin Naturals developed a program that involves consumers and store employees to maximize donations to Vitamin Angels. The company supports its in-store campaign, which launched last May, with promotional efforts such as store displays, informational brochures, signs and television advertising to create consumer awareness about Vitamin Angels.

In addition to rallying industry support, Schiffer travels at least once a month, talking about the program and developing partnerships in all 18 countries in which Vitamin Angels operates. In its 14 years, Vitamin Angels has distributed approximately 100 million vitamins around the world. Vitamins have been given to pregnant mothers in Bali, to children in Tibet, to the survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Local partners
In-country partners are essential to the operation, and Schiffer makes connections with local agencies to piggyback on existing programs. These partners, which include everyone from village midwives to ministers of health and education, provide a local infrastructure to keep costs down, provide better navigation through bureaucracies and easier acceptance with villagers. "To expand and ramp up, you have to have a plan," Schiffer says. "Most partners have good intentions, but they often have no idea what it takes. The people who excel are the ones who keep asking questions and monitor what's happening."

Vitamin Angels relies heavily on its partners to educate local villagers about the purpose of vitamins and to help with distribution logistics. "We can't do our work without you," he told the Believers Church missionaries. "Women control health care at the village level," he explained. "It's the mothers, grandmas and aunties who know who's pregnant and who's sick. We must get them involved."

Nourishment for the lowest castes

Back in India, Schiffer and his team were in the southeastern coastal city of Chennai (formerly Madras), India's fourth-largest city with 6.4 million people. The Believers Church-Bridge of Hope is once again the guide as the team visited a slum near the outskirts of Chennai called Kodungaiyur. This distribution was similar to the others: Children offered an assortment of skits, traditional dances and speeches. There was one notable exception. The party was joined by a visiting government dignitary, Salma Roakkiah, chairwoman of Tamil Nadu's Social Welfare Board, who offered her support and endorsement.

One of the poorest areas Vitamin Angels visited, the Kodungaiyur neighborhood is flanked by a city dump and a recycling facility with mountains of trash surrounding it. Most children in this Bridge of Hope project are part of Chennai's lowest caste. Their parents are mostly rickshaw wallahs and rag pickers, people who sort through the trash for discarded items to sell. The families live in government housing in the area—a grouping of four-story cinderblock buildings with one-room apartments and multiple families living in each. There is no running water and the children play in a trash- and debris-filled road surrounding the complex.

Schiffer took an unscheduled tour through the neighborhood, chatting with the residents through Bridge of Hope translators. The group was invited into a one-room house with a corrugated tin roof. A family of four lives in the house, which has a small kitchen area in front. A single bed and a small black-and-white television are the only furniture. The family said it is a pretty nice place to live—until the annual monsoons come, when the low-lying area floods and the residents must evacuate.

Schiffer and the team rejoined the guides and headed off to another distribution outside the city. They ended their day at a dinner with Chennai-based philanthropist Dr. N Sethuraman, a long-time partner with Vitamin Angels and one of the few India-based business supporters of the program. He is a restaurant entrepreneur as well as board chairman of the Menakshi Mission Hospital and Research Center in Madurai, the group's next stop. Dinner conversation inevitably moved toward reaching more children and longer-term solutions to poverty and malnutrition.

That vision is never far from Schiffer's thoughts. Back in Santa Barbara following two more tours, one in Guatamala and one in Honduras, he mused that the goal is clear, even if the exact road to it is not. "It is just becoming so obvious—the opportunity is enormous. We are in a good position to reach these people, but we must grow the organization."

For Karen Raterman's online travel diary with the sights and sounds of her trip to India, go to

Schiffer's plan is to capitalize on growing validation, such as that from the Copenhagen Consensus, to enlist more corporate partners and create market-based distribution in these developing countries. "It would be a lot of work for Vitamin Angels on the front end—we would identify health promoters in the villages and provide education, mechanics and product, but once they got the product, they would know what to do with it."

Eventually, if he gets his wish, Schiffer will see more than vitamins distributed to these villages. He envisions sending seeds, fertilizer and volunteers to help train communities in basic gardening skills. Children must be involved, he is fond of saying. "They are very proud to help feed their village and classmates. And we want them to understand that vitamin A comes from food, not just capsules."

Schiffer would be happiest of all if he came back to find villagers growing gardens full of vitamin A-rich foods. After all, he says, "We can't give out pills forever."

But for now, he soldiers on. At the last distribution in Chennai, in the village of Padappai about an hour outside the city, Schiffer delivered yet another speech and praised the Bridge of Hope's effort to embrace both traditional Hindu culture while teaching Christian values. Its goal, according to the Rev. Praison John, back in Kolkata, is to create healthy, productive citizens and a new vision for India. "We are honored to help Vitamin Angels fulfill their mission," he says. "Not only are we strengthening the children, but we are strengthening the country too."

Despite the fanfare in Padappai, stray dogs looked on, goatherds shepherded their animals by and women in saris plodded past, loads of wood on their heads for the evening fire, only mildly curious about the strange visitors in their midst. The India of today, while in transition, still has a long way to go.

Karen Raterman is a freelance writer who has been covering the natural products industry for more than 12 years. On her trip to India she was blessed by an elephant in the Sri Meenakshi temple in Madurai and is awaiting the good fortune it will bring her. You can contact her at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 60,62,64

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Scientists explore chocolate genes to fight blight, save species

by Shara Rutberg

Witches' broom, frosty pod rot and black pod might sound straight out of Harry Potter. But they're very real diseases that could wipe out the world's supply of chocolate. In lieu of magic, scientists—and a chocolate company owner with terrific taste buds—are working to smite the blights with two cutting-edge projects.

The global cocoa industry has lost an estimated $700 million annually during the past 15 years due to fungal diseases, according to Alfredo Flores, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. Since 1999, the ARS has partnered with McLean, Va.-based Mars, the world's largest manufacturer of chocolate-related products, to apply modern molecular genetic techniques to cocoa production in the ARS Miami research facility. In June, it announced a new collaboration with IBM, with the goal of sequencing the entire cacao genome using its Blue Gene supercomputer.

Scientists hope mapping the gene will allow future farmers to grow more disease-resistant cacao plants, said ARS plant geneticist and project leader Ray Schnell. Heartier plants could increase farmers' incomes and "potentially prevent the spread of witches' broom from South America to the rest of the world's cacao-producing regions. Moreover, resistant cacao cultivars may preclude the need for agricultural chemicals that can have harmful effects on the environment," according to the Mars Web site.

Brian Irish, a horticulturist and geneticist, leads the USDA cacao research at the organization's Tropical Agricultural Research Station in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. There, he oversees an ambitious project to identify and analyze the DNA fingerprint of each strain of cacao in a 70-year-old collection of plants from around the world. By cataloging the cacao in a "cocoa bank," Irish hopes to better understand the unique characteristics of each strain and to add varieties, such as ancient strains, that might be missing from the collection.

Irish will be aided by the taste buds of Timothy Moley, owner of Boulder, Colo.-based Chocolove, whose company also helps fund the project. Moley is part of an expert panel that will help expand the profiles of each strain of cacao by identifying the flavor nuances that distinguish each type. "The core of everything I've done has been about taste," said Moley, who founded Chocolove 13 years ago. He's also worked as a tea and spice taster and is a level-two sommelier. "Basically, I've made my living tasting things for almost 30 years," he said.

Irish ships samples to Moley, who enjoys—then evaluates—each one. Tastes range from "classic baked brownie and Oreo cookie and hot chocolate flavors to hints of toasted, roasted or burnt flavors," Moley said. "There's also varying degrees of acidity and bitterness as well as a range of nutty flavors, like coconuts, or raw or roasted peanuts. Leafy aromas of flavors like tea and tobacco can also be present." It's hoped the work being done in Miami and Puerto Rico will help ensure a sweet future for cacao and the people who love it, and guarantee that the plants' genetic secrets remain safe from brooms and rots.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 28

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Reports conflicted, retailers wary of BPA

A new report from the National Institutes of Health's National Toxicology Program says that a chemical found in hard plastic water bottles might be harmful to fetuses, infants and children, contradicting a previous statement from the Food and Drug Administration that said otherwise.

The news leaves wary retailers even more skeptical about the safety of products containing the substance bisphenol A, and some natural products retailers continue to advise caution to their clients.

"As far as BPA goes, we tell our customers that if they're using BPA, [they should] minimize [those products'] exposure to heat, don't put them in the microwave, don't leave them in the car," said Jeff Watson, store manager of Life Source Natural Foods in Salem, Ore., who added, "I sort of view all plastics as something to avoid."

BPA is found in some food and drink packaging such as water bottles, infant bottles as well as compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment and medical devices. It's also found in lacquers used to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water-supply pipes, according to the NTP Web site. The ubiquity of BPA in canned goods makes it especially difficult for retailers to avoid it, Watson said.

"The industry's starting to understand this issue, but it looks like it's going to take awhile to change," Watson said. "We're letting our vendors know that we're concerned about it. Eden Foods has been on the forefront of this for years, and they have a non-BPA liner in their cans, so we promote them to our customers."

When managers at Better Life Natural Foods, in Ellensburg, Wash., first heard the buzz about BPA about a year ago, they started selling BPA-free bottles like the stainless-steel ones made by Chico, Calif., company Klean Kanteen.

"We got the Klean Kanteens to offer an alternative bottle to our customers," Better Life Manager Delana Carr said.

The NIH report expressed "some concern," the institutes' third-highest level of concern out of five, that current levels of human exposure to BPA may cause harmful effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in the unborn and the very young.

The potential dangers of BPA have been well-known for years, but the FDA, which started an investigation into potential dangers, had recently issued a statement saying, "[The] FDA is not recommending that anyone discontinue using products that contain BPA while we continue our risk-assessment process."

BPA may cause harmful effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland.

After the NIH's report came out, the FDA, which did not return a call by deadline, issued the following statement to the NIH in response:

"We are pleased to see the finalization of the NTP report," FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner and Chief Scientist Frank Torti said. "The FDA will consider this final report in our role as a regulatory agency and joins NTP in the call for additional research in this important area."

In an audio file posted on the NTP Web site, John Bucher, the organization's associate director, said the concern stemmed from a lack of studies on human subjects.

"The studies in humans are really inadequate to reach any kind of conclusion, but the studies in animals have shown a variety of effects at very, very low levels when BPA is given to pregnant animals," Bucher said. "Although these are not completely understood with regard to how these effects might transfer to actual human effects and human risks, the fact that we are seeing these at levels ... not particularly different from those experienced by humans would indicate to us that these effects cannot be completely dismissed at this point."

The news came as no surprise to John Pittari, owner of New Morning Natural & Organic in Woodbury, Conn.

"We don't sell any consumer products with BPA and have not for many years. We have always offered alternatives which have become phenomenally popular," Pittari said, adding he has trouble keeping stainless-steel water bottles in stock. "We offer glass and corn-based plastic baby bottles or other plastic-resin children's pacifiers or teething rings and sippy cups that are BPA-free."

The report also expressed "minimal concern," the second-lowest level, that BPA exposure might harm workers exposed to high levels of BPA on the job and that the more typical levels of exposure might harm the female mammary gland in fetuses, infants and children. The report showed "negligible concern," the lowest level, that BPA exposure could cause birth defects, and that adults would experience harmful reproductive effects at current exposure levels.

The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group issued a press release lauding the NTP report and bashing the FDA. "NTP reviewed over 100 independent scientific studies before reaching its conclusion, while FDA relied solely on three chemical-industry-funded reports," the release said.

The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, a division of the NTP, conducted the NTP investigation.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 24,28