Wednesday, August 03, 2005

When Science and Business Clash, Ethics Must Rule

Former Metabolife chief executive Richard Ellis now awaits sentencing following his conviction for fraud in his safety claims for herbal extract ephedra. Vitamin E producers are reporting sales dives as great as 40 per cent on the back of consumers’ safety concerns about high doses of the supplement. And just last week, lutein makers, too, began grappling with the findings of one unexpectedly unwelcome study, according to a recent article at BeverageDaily.

If people consuming a lot of beta-carotene suffer fewer heart attacks, is it actually the beta-carotene that are delivering the heart bonus? Or something else, that is often present alongside beta-carotene?

Do you really get the same results for a synthetic Vitamin C as you would from say... eating an orange, or from drinking the whole unpasteurized juice from the extremely high Vitamin C goji berry?

In nutrition we rarely yet have insight into the precise mechanism through which a nutrient delivers a health benefit. In some cases, isolating one single nutrient from a whole fruit or vegetable may not be as beneficial as originally thought. So our chief way forwards is by testing over and over for correlations, with different populations, in different circumstances, to build a body of evidence.

Those with strong scientific understanding appreciate that science is not the body of perfect knowledge that it is often viewed as by outsiders. It hypothesizes, tests, and re-hypothesizes, in an endless circling in on the fullest picture.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... one single clinical study doesn't necessarily mean "absolute proof" exists.

In fact, if one were to see the results of many studies completed, one might find the following recommendation popping up quite a bit: "further study recommended."

Even the tiny goji berry is still under very serious study --- an entire research center in China is actively studying every little bit they can learn about this powerful fruit. With 63 astonishing health benefits already confirmed thus far, there are still many many more studies underway.

What's interesting to note is how many studies confirm findings from earlier less intense studies.

This is not always the case in other nutrition scientific studies.

Sadly, consumers often choose the nutrients they purchase basing their decisions on normally grossly simplified science, brought to them as commercial marketing, or by a media with an eye on word-count, accessibility and drama.

The latest ORAC rating system is one example of some pretty lousy science, in my humble opinion. Many manufacturers are racing to get their latest and greatest product the highest ORAC rating they can. The misguided public gets fed the rating, often believing this makes the product/s powerful in the antioxidant realm. Sadly, owing to lack of information and education about this poor measure of antioxidants in a substance, these ratings will most likely cause a great many consumers to be innocently fleeced.

Even worse, the way many manufacturers and distributors report their ORAC rating in many cases without even mentioning the unit of measure their score relates to ...well, that's positively unethical, in my humble opinion.

For manufacturers, here are the advantages of the ORAC assay:

-- the test score will reflect the antioxidant activity of any and all antioxidants in the liquid, whether they are known or unknown, named or unnamed.
-- the ORAC assay does not bother to try to measure presence or absence of individual antioxidants (a task which is difficult and very expensive), but rather, it measures total antioxidant reactivity (against only one type of oxidative radical known as the peroxyl radical) of any and all substances present in the liquid, whether known or unknown, and even those as yet unknown to, and unnamed by, modern science.
-- the ORAC assay is not particularly expensive, and often costs well under $400.
-- the test is quick and simple
-- the assay is offered by a number of commercial independent testing laboratories in the USA and around the world
-- the turnaround time on a test is quick, on the order of a week or less
-- as with any "single-score" "total antioxidant" measure, the score is seductive, because it allows a vendor to offer a single score on their label (or on their website) which purports to state the minimum antioxidant-power value per gram (or per 100 grams or per liter) of a food or nutritonal supplement product. This is obviously simple, clean, clear and neat, or at least it appears so at first glance.....

However, there are some marked drawbacks to the ORAC score.

The disadvantages of using the ORAC score, or at least in relying too much upon it, are several, beginning with the #1 reason, as follows...

The #1 Disadvantage of Using the ORAC Score

Despite the fact that it is sometimes touted as a "Total Antioxidatve Power" score, the ORAC assay can only measure one particular type of antioxidative activity, namely the ability of antioxidants to quench or neutralize only one specific type of oxidizing free radical (aka “reactive oxygen species”, or ROS) known as the peroxy (e.g., as found in peroxide) radical. Thus, the ORAC score offers only a partial picture of the true antioxidant power of an antioxidant or mixture of antioxidants, since some will have little or no activity against peroxides but great quenching activity against other oxidizing free radical species commonly found in the body such as superoxides, triplet oxygen, singlet oxygen, the hydroxyl or nitroxy radicals, and others. Indeed, some highly powerful and effective antioxidants show no activity at all against peroxide radicals (in other words, they are not peroxide-specific), but show great activity against other types of oxidant free radicals, and such antioxidants would score extremely poorly on an ORAC assay.

Two excellent examples of such antioxidants (and in reality there are plenty more) are:

1) The carotenoid family of antioxidants, which includes beta carotene, lycopene, canthaxanthxin and zeaxanthin, among others, and which are found extensively in strongly-colored fruits and vegetables, and in some shellfish. Most carotenoids show little activity against the peroxy radical.

2) The simple hydride family of antioxidants, also known as the negative hydrogen ion, or hydride ion, and also known as active hydrogen, which is a primitive and primeval hydrogen antioxidant which existed on earth even before life evolved, and which may be found in fresh raw fruits and vegetables, raw meats, and in some natural and unprocessed sources of water (such as some deep wells, some high-altitude mountain wells, and glacial runoff water.) The hydride antioxidant may also be found in so-called “alkaline ionized water” (more accurately described as “electrolyzed reduced water” or ERW) produced by commercial countertop devices known as water ionizers, and also in some nutritional supplements, which give only a very modest score on the ORAC assay.

Most of the members of the two antioxidant families cited above show little or no antioxidant activity against peroxide radicals, but show strong antioxidant activity against other oxidizing free radicals, including singlet oxygen and the superoxide radical.

Sidenote: some later off-shoots of the ORAC Assay (such as ORACHO) also look at one additional oxidant radical, the hydroxyl radical, as well, but this hardly solves the deficiency which has been briefly addressed here.

Have you noticed... we're one of the few companies NOT playing the ORAC marketing game? For good reason. When a scientific test that is this high for being potentially misleading, it would not be ethical (in my humble opinion) to wave the ORAC banner... at least, not until a considerable amount of scientific advances are made to render it more useful, make sense?

I hope so. Because there are many many more reasons you should NOT rely on the ORAC score ...and I'll be bringing those reasons to you at Best Liquid Vitamins in a very special feature article coming at the end of August.

Stay tuned. Stay healthy... and whenever possible, stay informed.

PS: For those of you who are using the ORAC scale to market your products --- gosh, don't you feel silly now?

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