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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine September 1997

America's Turn Toward Longevity
A Flurry of Mass Media Attention
Focuses on Life-Enhancing Nutrients

By Saul Kent

image It's nice to be first.
It's better to be vindicated.
For years the Life Extension Foundation has led the way in bringing supplemental nutrients and scientific reports to members and readers. Now, all of America seems to be turning our way, reflected by intense mass-media attention.

Since 1980, the Life Extension Foundation has been reporting the results of the latest scientific studies on the value of supplemental nutrients and drugs for health and longevity. The Foundation also has emphasized the need for the pursuit of an extended, healthy lifespan through anti-aging research and medicine.

These days, the mainstream media are finally beginning to catch up with the Foundation by reporting some of these advances. Here, we feature a sampling of these media reports with commentary.

This story in USA Today (below) is one of a recent flurry of stories on the risk for heart disease of elevated homocysteine. It reports on the findings of a recent European study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The Foundation has been reporting the results of similar studies for years. Life Extension magazine carried a comprehensive story on the health risks of homocysteine in the July issue, and we will soon carry an interview with Dr. Kilmer S. McCully, the originator of the homocysteine theory of cardiovascular disease. It's good to see a mass media publication beginning to take this message to the general public.

The abstract from the study cited in the USA Today article is in the Abstracts section of this magazine.

The second part of the message is that you can lower homocysteine by taking vitamin B6 and B12, folic acid and trimethylglycine (TMG) supplements. The USA Today story states that subjects in the study who took B6, B12 and folic acid had "lower homocysteine levels and less risk of heart disease." USA Today included a disclaimer that more research is needed to determine whether these supplements were responsible for the lowered risk.

We believe in "more research" more than anyone, but we also know there already is strong evidence that taking these vitamins can lower the risk of heart disease. With millions of people dying of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, the potential cost of deferring a recommendation to take these vitamins is very high. For years the Foundation has been recommending B vitamins and TMG, as well as vitamin E and magnesium to protect against cardiovascular disease.

This Newsweek cover story (June 30, 1997, pictured below) is one of a number of recent mass media stories about longevity. It focuses on the increasing numbers of centenarians in the population ("from 3,700 in 1940 to roughly 61,000 today") and predicts that one in 26 (or 3 million) baby boomers will reach the age of 100. Indeed, today's oldsters are livelier than ever, and baby boomers are striving to remain healthy as they grow older.

The article goes on to discuss the value of diet, exercise and estrogen replacement in staying youthful and vigorous, but fails to discuss the prospect (and desirability) of a dramatic leap in health and longevity through research, except for a section entitled "Miracles That May Keep You Going." Here, there is a superficial, confused discussion of the possible roles of telomere research, genetic enhancement of antioxidant production, caloric restriction and organ replacement in extending lifespan. Reading this section fosters appreciation of the far greater, authoritative, and in-depth coverage of longevity research in Life Extension magazine, as well as the growing financial support of the Life Extension Foundation for such research.

In January 1997, we carried a story on hypericum (St. John's Wort), an herbal extract used extensively in Germany to treat depression. On June 27, 1997 ABC-TV program "20/20" featured an extremely favorable story about St. John's Wort that has caused a run on health food stores for this "new" natural antidepressant. The ABC report featured psychiatrist Harold Bloomfield, co-author of "Hypericum & Depression," who said that St. John's Wort is a good alternative to Food And Drug Administration-approved drugs for mild or moderate depression.

The report also featured interviews with patients who said they had improved dramatically with St. John's Wort after failing to gain relief from antidepressant drugs. In recent weeks, there have been other stories about St. John's Wort for depression in newspapers and magazines. In light of this media blitz, we present a short review of the subject.

Scientific Evidence

To date, there have been case reports and drug monitoring studies in more than 5,000 patients on the efficacy and safety of standardized St John's Wort preparations. Twenty-three controlled double-blind studies have been conducted on more than 1,757 patients. Sixteen of these compared hypericum with placebo (sugar pills) and nine with standard reference treatments including Imipramine-2, Amitryptilin-2, Maprotiline-1, Desipramine-1, Diazepam-2 and light therapy.

In most of these studies, both depressive symptoms (depressed mood, anxiety, loss of interest, feelings of low worth, decreased activity) together with secondary symptoms (sleep disturbance, lack of concentration, bodily complaints such as fatigue) showed general clinical improvement, ranging from 50 to 80 percent when compared to low- to medium-dose treatment with "classic" synthetic anti-depressants.

In a German study by 663 private practitioners on 3,250 patients (76 percent women and 24 percent men), the percentage of patients who showed improvement in depressive and secondary physical symptoms (ranging from fatigue, cardiac, digestive and sleep disorders, to generalized pain) was similar to previous studies, with about 80 percent of patients feeling better and only 15 percent unchanged or worse. In these studies, St. John's Wort was significantly superior to placebo and similarly effective as standard antidepressants, with significantly fewer side effects.

Dosage and Indications

Although St. John's Wort is available without a prescription, it should be used for clinical depression under the care of a physician. The evidence shows that St. John's Wort is effective only for mild or moderate depression and should not be relied on for severe depression.

The evidence also shows that St. John's Wort is slow-acting, and that it can take up to six weeks before it begins to relieve depression. Anyone seeking a fast-acting alternative to antidepressant drugs should consider S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), which has been shown to have potent antidepressant effects in a week or less in some studies.

The most commonly used dose of St. John's Wort for depression is 300 mg, three times a day for four to six weeks. If benefits are found after this period, the dosage is usually reduced somewhat. If you already are taking prescription antidepressants, do not alter your dosage or combine with St. John's Wort without first consulting with your doctor.

St John's Wort should not be used with MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors such as Nardil or Parnate. There is some evidence that at least part of the action of St. John's Wort is as a serotonin uptake inhibitor (SRI). Combining an SRI with a MAO inhibitor can cause a dangerous rise in blood pressure.

For further information we recommend the book "Hypericum & Depression" by Harold Bloomfield, M.D., Mikael Nordfors, M.D. (With Peter McWilliams).