The main problem in choosing a natural health product is assessing its quality or effectiveness. The amount of active ingredient many Natural Health Products contain is quite variable and in many cases the active ingredient is not clearly identified or quantified on the label. In some cases there is a range of active ingredients sometimes acting in synergy but more often only existing in quantities that would not give a health response at recommended dose rates. Thus it is often a major problem to know how really effective a specific product is likely to be. Even when some good evidence from well regulated scientific research shows that an active ingredient in the specific product has beneficial effects. This article gives some examples of this and suggests possible solutions for those who want a high quality effective product to deal with their health problem.

In today’s health supplement market the Internet has allowed consumers a huge range of products and within many products a huge range of brands, formula variations and quality. Often the active ingredient is not present in sufficient quantities to be really effective and the advertising is very “sales orientated” rather than genuine product information or solid research. This makes it very hard for the consumer to know just how effective a product is likely to be. Consumers should use desktop research to help make a wise choice. Harvest the power of the Internet, to first ascertain what type of product offers the possibility of helping with their specific health problem, including the active ingredient that makes the product desirable. Once you have sorted out the product, then search for different brands and list them based on price, active ingredient present and likely bioactivity. Generally with top products there will only be 1-3 main active ingredients.
Be wary of claims of a large number of active ingredients, often they will be present in such small amounts that they will have no effect at all. Deer Velvet is a good example, it is a product I am very familiar with having farmed a large herd of velveting stags for many years and also been involved in velvet research and marketing velvet products. Now velvet has some useful therapeutic uses especially when taken in a high dose but many websites make ridiculous claims for it. It does contain literally 100’s of complex proteins that when isolated can be shown to have real effects, however in a standard deer velvet capsule only a few are present in the quantities needed to have any effect. To make the example more real I was in Singapore a few years ago talking to their Health Authority trying to get approval to get a deer velvet based product entry to their market. In trying to explain what the product contained I mentioned Insulin Growth Factor One (IGF1) along with a range of other compounds. They seized on this and said product with IGF1 can’t get entry. My answer was that it was in such low quantities it would have no effect. IGF1 is present in meat milk and in fact most animal products and this was no different. However I had to come back to NZ and test our product for IGF1 and also milk as a comparison. Our velvet product had 1/8 the IGF1 that was in standard milk and was allowed entry. However if you look at some websites selling velvet you will see them touting IGF1 as an active ingredient which is a nonsense as it is only in trace amounts. It is possible to concentrate it in a velvet extract but only at uneconomic prices.
Another factor to look at is purity, here I am not talking about quantity of active ingredient but what contaminants are present, if any. Common environmental pollutants are heavy metals like lead or mercury, persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) such as dioxin, PBC’s and other organochlorines. A good example is Omega3 when even after molecular distillation fish oils of North Hemisphere origin can have 20 times the pollutants of fish oils derived from fish caught in the Southern Ocean south of New Zealand. The Northern Hemisphere product may well be within allowable limits of regulators such as the FDA but cannot be as safe as the southern products. Often purity levels are difficult to obtain without direct contact to the manufacturer and in this case you have to use your judgement based on the source of the base product and manufacturer credibility.
Also be wary of sites that claim a myriad of benefits and active ingredients, sites that use a lot of hyperbole and “hard sales” copy. Look for hard facts on what is present and in what concentration. Check that the dose you will be taking links with that used in any successful research results.
The best products are usually from specialist formulators and manufacturers who only have a small range of products rather than large scale bulk producers and marketers. That is not to say that some of our large scale well known brands cannot produce a good value product. Value in this case is being judged on a combination of price and quality, checking price against the known active ingredient.
Often to get the required active ingredient strength you require you may need to go to an extract. Extracts are generally much more expensive but more effective. It needs a substantial research input to produce a quality extract and usually some quite sophisticated equipment although sometimes a simple crushing and pressing will produce a concentrated product. However even with extracts you need to have confidence in the manufacturer and read the active ingredient present in the final product.
So to summarise the Internet allows us to
• Research the type of product that is likely to help your condition
• Research the active ingredient in the product that is causing the effect and the likely dose needed
• Ascertain the brands/products available with this active ingredient
• Check on the likely level of environmental pollutants
• Beware of products that have a very wide range of ingredients and claims
• Rank the product on basis of the price of the active ingredient/ingredients
• Also assess credibility of the manufacturer/retailer
• Check and compare extracts on the same basis if they are available
• If effectiveness is more important than price you may choose an extract
This may sound complicated but with modern search engines is not too difficult and will allow you to make a much better choice of a Natural Health Product.

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The bioactive milk protein lactoferrin has been used for many years to stimulate the immune system particularly in infant formulas where it has had wide acceptance. Work at the University of Auckland led by Dr Jill Cornish published in 2004 showed the product had strong bone building properties. Subsequent work has confirmed these first findings and it seems likely that lactoferrin may well replace the use of some of the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat osteoporosis. This article looks at some of this research and discusses the results.
Lactoferrin is a bioactive milk protein particularly concentrated in both human and bovine colostrum and has been sold for many years as a nutritional supplement with anti bacterial, anti fungal, anti viral and immune stimulating activities. However the work showing its bone building properties shows even greater potential. Dr Jill Cornish of the University of Auckland has shown it is a natural medicine that stimulates the activity of osteoblasts the cells that build new bone, at the same time it inhibits the growth of osteoclasts. Lactoferrin is doing what no pharmaceutical drug can do, it is stimulating bone growth and slowing the removal of bone at the same time.
Synthetic drugs used for the treatment of Ostepenai or Osteoporosis can only do one or the other of these tasks. Bisphosphonates (Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax) and Calcitonin (Calcimar, Cibacalcin, Calsynar, Miacalcin, Osteocalcin and Salmonine) slow the removal of old bone by inhibiting the activity of osteoclasts. These drugs do nothing to stimulate osteoclasts to create new bone growth. Raloxifene (Evista) and Strontium ranlelate (Protelos) stimulates the growth of new bone but they do not inhibit the work of osteoclasts in their work of removing old bone. So this recent research showing a substance that can do both tasks is really quite exciting. As well many of these drugs have potentially serious side effects that preclude their use by many people. The bone building ability is further shown when it is directly injected to a fracture site where Dr Jill Cornish states that healing rates increase phenomenally.
A company called LactoPharma which is jointly owned by University of Auckland and the dairy company Fonterra have patents on the intellectual property and are currently developing consumer products in the bone health field with USA interests. Meanwhile the knowledge and acceptance of lactoferrin as a bone health product is growing rapidly and many mainstream medical professionals are accepting the research. Internet searches indicate Lactoferrin is freely available and the recommended rates for bone health are two 250 mg capsules per day. Trials with human patients have been carried out as well as the original Dr Jill Cornish work and can be found on the Internet. The product is very safe and I have found nothing in the medical literature suggesting that there would be any negative effects of this treatment approach
To me this is a great example of how natural products can often be better than pharmaceutical drugs which often cause more problems than they cure. There are many other examples. One is where another natural product was tested at Massey University recently for the same bone health qualities and Lactoferrin used as a control. An extract of this product Nuzeacal produced by “The Wise Old Owl” came out 25% better than Lactoferrin in inhibiting osteoclasts and increasing osteoblasts. This could in a few years be another great natural product discovery. New Zealand has a huge future in biotechnology, developing natural health products from our wide range of plant and animal life grown in what is perceived by much of the world as a clean green desirable environment.
The Wise Old Owl found at http://www.seniorhealthcare.co.nz
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1183439/ for the Dr Cornish research
http://ihfglobal.com/Documents/NaiduFeb09Article.pdf for a human lactoferrin trial

Glucosamine has been used to ease joint pain by consumers for over 20 years and many believe sincerely that it has been beneficial to them in terms of pain relief. However over the period there have been literally many hundreds of trials with glucosamine with varied results. In fact a recent major study in USA concluded that there was little benefit to be gained from taking glucosamine. This blog suggests the likely reasons for this variation in results and suggests how consumers might maximise their chances of getting a positive result from taking glucosamine for joint pain.

Glucosamine is supplied in two main forms glucosamine sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride both sourced by hydrolysis of crustacean skeletons. In terms of effectiveness there is little to choose between them. As the bulk of trial work has been with the sulphate form, this is the form that I would recommend. The only reason to use the hydrochloride form would be to reduce the sodium intake if that were a worry to the consumer.
The second point is the purity/concentration of the product. There are many 100’s of large scale commercial bulk producers of glucosamine, the majority of them being in Asia. They sell product of varying concentration and pricing to supplement manufacturers with of course varying prices. In order to produce a competitively priced product a supplement manufacturer may not use the best quality base glucosamine. You need to buy from a trusted manufacturer and be wary of very low priced product.
Next the dose rate needs to be adequate and by adequate I believe you need to be taking at least the commonly accepted rate of 1,500mg of 100% glucosamine. In fact a dose rate of 2,000mg per day would be preferable. The product is relatively safe and even higher dose rates are likely to show little in the way of side effects. Only warnings are if you are a diabetic you need to monitor the effects carefully when you start a glucosamine programme and if you are on anti coagulants similarly monitor the effects. There should be none but some research indicates there could be minor effects in the odd case.
Then there is the formulation which in the vast majority of products is in a capsule, often a large capsule. This is because over time the product tends to break down in the liquid form, giving problems in stability with any liquid formulation. However this can be overcome by formulating in a powder which is then mixed with water at the appropriate dose rate at the time of usage. Pure glucosamine is relatively very soluble if ground finely and easily mixed. Taking in the liquid form enhances and increases the bio availability and effectiveness of the product which is only in the 20% area with the dry product in a capsule. As well it is an easier more pleasant method of ingestion as compared to a bulky capsule.
Finally there is the point of what else you take with the glucosamine as it can act in synergy with quite a number of products. The most common of these is Chrondroitin, another natural product that can have a positive effect on joint pain. The two together give more benefit than either separately (a case of 2 + 2 = 5). Other products that can also work in synergy are Omega3, Collagen 2 and at times a product called MSM.
So to summarise these points
• Take Glucosamine Sulphate
• Make sure it is from high quality base product – trusted manufacturer
• Take adequate dose rate – suggest 2,000mg/day
• Ingest in a liquid form (recently dissolved powder)
• Look at also taking products that will act in synergy with glucosamine
If you take heed of these points it is likely you will get a positive response, it will not cure the condition but it may make it easier to live with and slow the progression. In my experience some 80% will gain measurable relief.
Try it for two months which is long enough for the effects to be seen, if you are one of the 20% who see little effect, give it up. Surprisingly often when you stop the pain comes back and you realise it was working.

Calcium supplements are more widely used in the world than any other dietary supplement including all minerals, vitamins, and herbal, marine, animal or apiary products. For example the National Centre for Health Statistics shows that in USA six out of 10 women over 60 years of age take a calcium supplement. It is the most abundant mineral in the body and essential to a wide range of critical body functions as well as its known role in bone structure. Yet there are widely published results from the medical world warning of dangers in calcium supplementation (particularly in the field of heart and stroke attack probabilities) and advising to obtain all calcium from food and avoid calcium supplements. This has led to widely differing views from medical professionals as to the advisability or otherwise of taking calcium supplements. Which in turn has led to confusion in the mind of many consumers, as to just what they personally should do? The Wise Old Owl does not want to add to that confusion but feels a checklist of the key factors would help consumers make a more informed decision as to what action to take to maximise their longterm health and longevity.

To start the checklist you first need to establish your current daily intake of calcium from food. Obviously you cannot do this in highly accurate detail but all we are looking for is placing your intake in broad bands.

Under 500 mg elemental calcium per day
500-1,000 mg elemental calcium per day
Over 1,000 mg elemental calcium per day

To make this calculation you need to write down a list of the foods you would eat and their approximate amounts on an average day. Then from the Internet obtain a Calcium Food Chart, there are many available (one is given in the resource box) and calculate your daily calcium intake.

This should place you in one of the board bands shown above.

Next we need to look how this intake measures up against your requirement. Charts on requirements based on age and sex are also readily available on the Internet. You ned to print one of these off.

From this chart you will see that young children on a normal diet are likely to be getting adequate calcium. Teenage children may need checking but given they have normal appetite/intake and reasonable diet makeup they should be fine as well.

When we come to the adult / middle age stage, if we are in the 1,000 mg per day plus band for our intake there is no real worry for either sex.

However if you are in the 500-1,000 mg per day band we have to add some more factors to our checklist.

Family History
Heart Health

First your Family History. This gives your likely genetic effect on any development of weak bones or osteoporosis. If you have a parent or close relative that has had osteoporosis or history of bone fractures and you are in this band of 500 mg-1,000 mg intake you need to look at a calcium supplement to take your total intake up to the 1,200+ mg mark. However before doing that you need to look at the second point – your Heart Health, specifically those factors relating to heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and family history of heart disease. If you have these factors present you will need to try to get your calcium intake up by food. If this is difficult you can look at alternative food based calcium supplements rather than conventional calcium carbonate/citrate supplements.

Finally coming to the most important group of all – the older age group. Here based on requirement we group women from menopause on and men from 65 on, in this group the requirement is quite high and often their dietary intake of calcium is declining. If their intake is well over the 1,000 mg band they should be fine. Although if there is a Family History of osteoporosis it may pay to have a check bone scan.

However if you end up in the 500 mg-1,000 mg band you are likely to need a calcium supplement. It is unlikely that you will be able to lift or change your diet sufficiently to ensure adequate calcium levels unless you are already at the top end of the band. This requirement will be even more urgent if your Family History includes osteoporosis. But again this is tempered by your Heart Health situation. If this is not good you should check with your health professional and consider one of the food based calcium supplements. Some information on Calcium Supplementation and Heart Attacks was given in a previous article.

So to summarise if you

Calculate what your current calcium intake is
Based on age and sex read off your requirement
If requirement is greater than intake
Provide difference by (a) modifying diet or (b) adding a calcium supplement
Decision on (a) or (b) depends on Family History and Heart Health factors
If (b) look at use of a food based calcium supplement

Carrying out this checklist should allow decisions in your calcium intake to give you the best combination of benefits and risks.

The Wise Old Owl found at

http://www.seniorhealthcare.co.nz

Where more information on calcium may be found

A good food chart can be found at

http://healthyeatingclub.com/info/books-phds/books/foodfacts/html/data/data5c.html