Monocular Vision & The Lone Gunwoman
Nature meets science: one molecule, one target mantra or...systems nutrition?
ByAnthony Almada, B.Sc., M. Sc.
Inset: If diet is the root of many degenerative diseases, who has the pipeline to the Supreme Scientist upstairs and knows which pure chemical, bio-identical or bio-similar entities can correct our dietary indiscretions?
Decades ago forensic epidemiologists began to assemble an intriguing montage of evidence pointing to a small cartel of low molecular weight suspects (LMWs), among those whose diets and/or body tissues and fluids were relatively higher in one or more molecules a lower incidence of certain ravaging diseases manifested. Using elegant (albeit fallible) investigative tools, other dietary and lifestyle suspects were removed from the lineup. And then something happened: despite the absence of causal relationships, observational circumstance and circumspection ushered in widespread antioxidant advocacy, even zealotry.
And what antioxidants were incorporated into the pills to be pushed and popped? Those that were capable of being produced with scalability and purity: RRR- (natural) and all-rac-(synthetic)-alpha tocopherol, ascorbic acid and its less acidic siblings (and even some “specialty” forms that LACKED any evidence evincing “superiority”) and beta-carotene. Antioxidants (and botanicals) ushered in the Golden Age of Dietary Supplements, achieving celebrity and a status of media darlings. No doubt the genesis and ultimate passage of the U.S.’s Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act fueled the fanfare.
Two of the most widely read, non-tabloid format nutrition science journals (TIME and Newsweek) made covergirls out of antioxidants. To shine at cocktail parties and gala dinners, popping a softgel or tablet laden with antioxidants with the pesto drizzled Chilean sea bass and Pouilly Fuisse was de rigueur. The powers of production engendered antioxidants of the highest purity, be they derived from natural biomass or from synthetic chemical (even petroleum) intermediates. After all, the forensics pointed to the discrete dietary markers alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene! Far away in the Linxian province of China supplementation with antioxidants (synthetic alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene and selenium) indicated a reduction of cancer incidence among malnourished Chinese (JNCI, 1993)—the evangelists were vindicated! And then something happened: despite the dervishes that evangelized and extolled the benefits of antioxidants, larger and longer intervention trials began to appear with results that scratched the record and decelerated the train.
On the back of Superman we can fly back in time to the publication of the results of the Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene (ATBC) Cancer Prevention Study (which indicated that supplementation of all-trans (synthetic)-BC to long-term “well-nourished” Finnish smokers may actually increase the risk of lung cancer or decrease that of prostate cancer; N Engl J Med, 1994) and hear the cacophony.
Natural beta-carotene producers camp: “The diet provides a cornucopia of carotenoids, not just beta-carotene, and even different isomers of beta-carotene. These results don’t apply to our ingredients!” [Shortly after this one natural vitamin E producer bought a natural mixed carotenoid producer…]
Synthetic beta-carotene producers camp: “It is unwarranted to assume that supplementation with BC for only several years could turn back the tide of tumorigenesis and reduce cancer incidence. Besides, they may not have received a sufficient quantity to exert a measurable biologic effect.”
Natural vitamin E camp: “A dose of 50 mg of synthetic vitamin E is likely insufficient, especially given the inferior bioavailability and retention of synthetic vitamin E.”
Synthetic vitamin E camp: “We now know that a higher dosage should have been implemented. But prostate cancer risk was reduced!”
Uber Natur zealots: “The capsules were manufactured with a synthetic dye, with unknown carcinogenic potential in humans over a long term [both placebo and active capsules had the dye].
After this study it appeared that the dam broke from the results of a multitude of multi-year intervention trial results. Similar rantings echoed through the publication of the “CARET study” (N Engl J Med, 1996], the “Physicians Health Study” (N Engl J Med, 1996), the “HOPE trial” (N Engl J Med, 2000) and the “HATS trial” (N Engl J Med, 2001). The epiphany of significance and allegiance manifests when a zealot is asked the question: “If the results of most or all of these negative or non-positive trials were positive, what criticisms would you render and would they efface the criticisms you have rendered to date?” Hmmmmmmmm…
If Mother Nature knows best why not pursue a proprietary nutraceutical composition that more closely reflects the diet and tissues of the healthiest within the target population e.g., gamma- + alpha-tocopherols + tocotrienols, the carotenoid alphabet and its isomers, lycopene plus tomato phenolics, and lutein plus more zeaxanthin? Consider this the natural product extension of what used to be the number one selling prescription drug cocktail (almost two dozen constituents)—Premarin—yet hope that its ultimate fate fares better…NW