Beta-carotene (BC) is a carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables, and perhaps is best known for giving squashes, sweet potatoes, and carrots their bright orange hue. A diet rich in whole food sources of BC such as orange and green fruits and veges has been shown to support the immune and reproductive systems, and protects the body’s cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Many folks include BC in the daily regimen of nutritional supplements, but perhaps they should keep them in the bottle or, better yet, don’t purchase BC at all. Evidence from studies done in 1994 and 1996 by the National Cancer Institute indicated that high-dose BC supplementation significantly increased the risk of heart disease and lung cancer among smokers (the researchers halted testing 21 months early due to the alarming side-effects). Even six years into the post-intervention study in 2001, the effects still lingered, especially for female smokers, who continued to have a 30% increased risk of lung cancer. They hypothesized that since BC is a precursor of vitamin A, any excess amount accumulates in fat cells, and women have more body fat. However, food sources of BC posed no such risk. Again, the safest and most effective way to ward off chronic disease appears to be through a whole foods-based diet. Good BC sources are pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach, kale, butternut squash, beet greens, cantaloupe, and broccoli.

Recently I’ve noticed advertisements for including supplements of Omega-7 fatty acids to help with arthritis, stomach ulcers, and lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall inflammation. Most Omega-7 research has been done with mice, and only two human studies to date have been done with conflicting results. One human study showed promise for diabetes treatment, the other showed a rise in LDL cholesterol. Most nutritionists agree that there is insufficient evidence to begin adding this to your regimen unless you get it from whole foods. Macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn (available as an herb or a jelly) are the primary sources. Omega-7’s are also found in some animal, fish, and vegetable fats.

Sucralose (Splenda), the artificial sweetener, can change the body’s insulin response. A study published in Diabetes Care, 4/30/13, looked at non-diabetic obese people who did not consume artificial sweeteners, drank either water or sucralose before taking a glucose test to see whether insulin or blood sugar levels were affected by sucralose. The blood sugar of participants peaked at a significantly higher level than those who drank water, and their insulin levels rose 20% higher, linking sucralose to increased insulin and glucose response. Consistently high levels of insulin can lead to type 2 diabetes. I don’t let artificial sweeteners get anywhere near my mouth.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.