Today’s assignment – forget everything you learned in yesterday’s assignment.
That’s the way things are going in the arcane pseudoscience of nutritional supplements and herbal remedies, which cost Americans 5 to 7 billion dollars a year.
Two research studies within the past three months (and several convincing experts) have concluded that virtually all of the many thousands of supplements we buy are worthless in terms of improving our health or prolonging our lives.
And even if they weren’t, the substance on the label may not be the one in the bottle, and the actual contents could be tainted or toxic. The supplement industry is largely unregulated (thanks to our vigilant Congress), so we may never know the full story.
What we do know (unless tomorrow’s assignment changes everything we know today) is that there are two important sources of dietary supplements that actually do help to ward off disease, and that neither comes in a bottle.
One is in the coffee house. The other is in the trees.
We covered coffee here a year or so ago – growing evidence that people who drink 4 to 6 or more cups a day (regular, not decaf) are less likely to suffer dementia, depression, prostate and several other cancers, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and a number of other maladies. Our conclusion at that time:
“If coffee had been developed by Pfizer or Merck, it would cost $1,600 a cup.”
Two weeks ago, Jane Brody in the Times made an equivalent case for nuts – both tree nuts and peanuts. Much of her data came from the New England Journal of Medicine’s report on two major studies covering 119,000 nurses and other professionals over a span of several decades.
Among the highlights:
> The more often people consumed nuts, the less likely they were to die of cancer, heart disease, or respiratory disease.
> Those who ate nuts 7 or more times a week were 20% less likely to die from 1980 to 2010.
> But aren’t nuts fattening? You would think so, with 160 to 200 calories per ounce. Yet in study after study, the more often people ate nuts, the leaner they tended to be.
> Most nuts are good sources of vitamin E, folic acid, selenium, magnesium, and several phytochemicals – natural compounds with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, or anti-cancer properties.
As Brody sums it up, “All nuts are powerhouses of biologically active substances, most of which are known to protect and promote health.”
In both cases – nuts and coffee – there’s no bottle, no label. Not even unregulated free-market capitalism can counterfeit a good cup of coffee or mislabel a pistachio.