I keep hearing I should drink kombucha. Is it really as healthful as people claim?
Dr. Michael Murray: Kombucha is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, and a glob of yeast and bacteria starter. It’s sometimes called “Manchurian mushroom,” but it’s not a mushroom at all. Some companies market kombucha as a panacea, for everything from boosting energy to curing cancer, but there is little scientific information on the benefits of this tea. It does provide a tremendous amount of immune-enhancing and other health-promoting compounds such as beta-glucans, polyphenols, and various organic acids like gluconic acid, propionic acid, and malic acid.
As a cautionary note, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put out a warning about homemade kombucha. It’s difficult for home brewers to properly sterilize their facilities, and contamination can occur. Mold, fungi, and excess alcohol have all been associated with homemade kombucha. Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t make it yourself! Buy a respected, established, commercially available brand.
In my late 30s, I began to have menstrual-related headaches. As the years progressed, they became migraines, and in the last year they have become more frequent and severe. My OB/GYN has suggested that I take a low-dose birth control all through the month with no break. Her reasoning is, “no period, no migraine.” Do you have any suggestions?
You have to weigh any potential benefit from oral contraceptives with their risks. In general, though, symptom relief is bad medicine. The best medicine is to identify the root cause of your migraines. Though it could be fluctuating hormones, it might also be something as simple as low magnesium levels, which can trigger both migraine and tension headaches. Magnesium deficiency is extremely common and has been linked to premenstrual symptoms, including headaches. Try taking a highly absorbed form of magnesium citrate at a dosage of 150 to 200 milligrams twice daily. Or, for another approach, biofeedback and relaxation training have been judged from the results of clinical trials to be as effective as medication but are without any side effects.
It’s my understanding that bone-density tests measure only the hardness, or stiffness, of bones, not the flexibility or bone quality. Couldn’t poor bone flexibility lead to more fractures?
Yes, increases in bone mineral density do not necessarily improve bone quality. For example, chalk is denser than bamboo, but bamboo is more flexible and less likely to break. What makes bone flexible is collagen—the structural protein of bone. It provides a matrix that the bone mineralizes onto; collagen is to bone what two-by-four lumber is to the frame of a house. Thirty to 40 percent of bone is actually composed of collagen, so if the collagen content is low, the bone becomes more brittle.
One of the ways to increase the manufacture of collagen is to supplement with a highly bioavailable form of silica (choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid or ChOSA). In a detailed double-blind study involving postmenopausal women with low bone density, ChOSA increased the collagen content of the bone by 22 percent and increased bone density by 2 percent. The recommended dosage is six to 10 milligrams per day.
Sometimes I just do not have time to eat properly. I’d like to find a veggie supplement to help during those busy times. What do you recommend?
Look to “green drinks” containing dehydrated barley grass, wheatgrass, or algae sources such as chlorella or spirulina. These products—packed full of phytochemicals, especially carotenes and chlorophyll—are more convenient than trying to sprout and grow your own source of greens. They can also taste better than straight wheatgrass juice. Some of the better available choices are Enriching Greens (sold by Natural Factors, where I serve as director of product development), as well as Green Vibrance, Kyo-Green, Greens Plus, Barlean’s Greens, and ProGreens.
Drinking one to two servings daily, in addition to eating a diet rich in phytochemicals whenever possible, is a fantastic way to flood your system with these life-giving compounds.
I don’t really understand what the concerns are regarding genetically modified foods. What’s the big deal?
I am concerned for many reasons. Proponents of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, argue that without engineering, there will not be enough food to meet the demands of the world’s population. But I see the primary reason for popularizing GMO foods as generating profits for large corporations. For example, Monsanto created “Roundup Ready” soy, corn, and cotton so that farmers would continue to buy Roundup, the company’s best-selling weed killer.
GMO crops are more resistant to weeds, pests, and diseases, which should lead to a reduction in the use of pesticides. Instead of reducing pesticide use, they’ve increased it. One study showed that farmers who plant Roundup Ready soy use two to five times more herbicide than farmers who do not.
There is little scientific data on the long-term safety of GM foods. And, manipulating genetic material changes the expression of proteins and antigens in foods, which could lead to allergic reactions.