April 9, 2007
CNN.com reports, not surprisingly, that dietary supplements have not been proven scientifically to provide health benefits. What was surprising to me was what a large number of these supplements some people take and how much money Americans spend on them each year. CNN.com states,
Every morning, Dr. Frank Pinto pops not one or two vitamins, not just a handful, but more than two dozen dietary supplements, washing each one down with a sip of water.
When afternoon rolls around, he takes 20 more: all told, nearly 50 pills, every day. Pinto, a dermatologist, and his wife, Rosemary, a family therapist, are chasing life with a vengeance under the guidance of Dr. Ana Casas, an Atlanta-based specialist in "age management."
Like millions of Americans, the Pintos, who live in Tifton, Georgia, take supplements in hopes of gaining energy, warding off disease and slowing down the aging process. The federal government says Americans spend at least $5.8 billion a year on dietary supplements.
To look at the labels, you would think that vitamins and supplements are powerful medicine. Yet for all the money spent, and growing interest from mainstream physicians, virtually no evidence exists that supplements can improve your health.
Mmm, now why isn't this something that a consumer protection agency should be all over -- ooo -- thanks to Congress, these supplements are exempt from FDA coverage. As CNN notes,
Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, nutritional supplements do not have to be tested for safety or effectiveness before going on the market. As long as the manufacturer doesn't claim that a product treats or cures a specific disease, it can advertise any health benefit whatsoever. The next time you're in a health food store, just count the bottles that promise to "strengthen your immune system."
Perhaps Congress should revisit this decision to not regulate the supplement industry.
Stem Cell Funding Vote in Congress
Congress will vote again to approve federal funding for stem cell research this week according to Scientific American.com. The website reports,
Stem cells will be at the top of the agenda for the U.S. Senate when it returns on Tuesday with supporters of the research hoping they can change the president's mind on the issue and opponents hoping to have a say about their stand.
The Senate will consider two bills, one virtually identical to a bill vetoed by President George W. Bush last year that would have expanded and encouraged federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.
The other is a compromise measure worked out by Republicans Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. It would encourage stem cell research on embryos that have naturally lost the ability to develop into fetuses, such as those that have died "naturally" during fertility treatments.
The compromise bill also would support the creation of a bank of stem cells taken from amniotic fluid and placentas -- two recently discovered potential sources.
This bill replaces last year's alternative sponsored by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, which would ban human embryonic stem cell research and encourage research using other types of stem cells.
The House of Representatives passed a bill in January that would expand federal funding of stem cell research, which is now restricted by Bush to batches available as of August 2001. But the bill does not have enough supporters to override a second presidential veto.
It is not clear how much support there is for either Senate bill, although opponents of human embryonic stem cell research, such as Brownback, have signaled they will vote for the compromise bill. They also said they were looking forward to making use of up to 20 hours of scheduled debate. . . .
In other news relating to stem cells, an article in Science Daily discusses recent findings by researchers at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, that "female stem cells derived from muscle have a greater ability to regenerate skeletal muscle tissue than male cells, according to a study," published in the April 9th issue of the Journal of Cell Biology. Science Daily reports,
This finding could have a major impact on the successful development of stem cells as viable therapies for a variety of diseases and conditions, according to the study's senior author, Johnny Huard, PhD, director of the Stem Cell Research Center at Children's and the Henry J. Mankin Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"Regardless of the sex of the host, the implantation of female stem cells led to significantly better skeletal muscle regeneration," said Dr. Huard, also the deputy director of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine. "Based on these results, future studies investigating regenerative medicine should consider the sex of the stem cells to be an important factor. Furthermore, investigations such as ours could lead to a better understanding of sex-related differences in aging and disease and could explain, at least partially, the high variability and conflicting results reported in the literature on stem cell biology."
Dr. Huard's team, and the study's first author, Bridget Deasy, PhD, director of the Live Cell Imaging Lab at Children's Stem Cell Research Center, made the discovery while working with a population of stem cells they isolated in the lab while searching for a cure for Duchene muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD is a genetic disease estimated to affect one in every 3,500 boys. Patients with DMD lack dystrophin, a protein that gives muscle cells structure. Using an animal model of the disease, his laboratory is using stem cells to deliver dystrophin to muscles.