Supplement Scope
by Anthony Almada

Nutrition and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada reviews the latest research behind hot products on the market. Do they live up to their claims? Do they stand on hard science or simply marketing hype? Or are more studies needed before determining if they really work?

Not the SAM-e Old Thing
Catapulted into fame by media campaigns orchestrated by large pharmaceutical companies, S-adenosylmethionine — nicknamed SAM-e (sam-ee) — became an overnight success for treatment of joint degeneration and depression. However, true understanding of this amino acid metabolite is still forthcoming. In clinical studies, SAM-e has improved symptoms of liver disease, depression and chronic inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis. Several joint-disease studies were conducted with SAM-e given intravenously. However, in the United States, SAM-e injections are not readily available, and the supplement is generally taken orally.

Despite SAM-e's high price, it's still in great demand. It should be purchased in blister pack form and validated for potency and shelf life. And it's important to note that SAM-e is one of the most unstable and sensitive supplements on store shelves — but could also be one of the most powerful if you come across the real thing.

Magical MACA?
couple.jpgThe sex potion of the Incas, maca (Lepidium meyenii) still lacks the blessing of science. To date, no human studies have been conducted. The basis for purported "aphrodisiac" and "potency-promoting" effects comes out of one recent animal study that gave male mice and rats enormous doses (between 81­1,818 mg/pound of body weight) in an alcohol solution. The rats, which were surgically castrated to mimic a state of "erectile dysfunction," were tested for "potency" with electrical stimulation, which showed positive results. Does this mean, then, that maca would work for men?

The active component or components in maca responsible for the so-called sexual enhancement effects have yet to be identified, which would determine standardization. Furthermore, the study was problematic in that it used two different extracts with unknown compounds.

Maca remains a product awaiting confirmation in the human world. However, the hope for a natural sexual enhancer and this animal study may be convincing enough for some to give it a test drive!

Drink Green Tea, Shed Pounds?
Second only to water, green tea is the world's most popular beverage. The health benefits of green tea — including antioxidant, anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects — have long been known. And now, in origami-like fashion, green tea is unfolding yet another section of its complex bioactivity profile: calorie burner. Last year, studies revealed the combination of green tea's natural phytochemical dynamic duo — polyphenol catechins and caffeine — to be a potent, and perhaps even synergistic, cocktail. By enhancing thermogenesis, which stimulates metabolism, this combination is better than caffeine alone.

Could this be the next great weight-loss product? Not yet. Although current advertising hype is making such claims, no studies have yet proven that green tea extracts actually produce weight loss.

Similar to soy, red clover extract is packed full of isoflavones, a few of which are not found in soy. Although some argue this exotic isoflavone cocktail is a more potent one, there have been no human studies comparing the two. One study last year found an improvement in the elasticity (compliance) of the arteries of menopausal women taking a commercial standardized red clover extract. However, researchers found blood cholesterol levels were not lowered, and the study made no mention of changes in menopausal symptoms. More studies on menopausal symptoms, bone metabolism and cardiovascular protection are needed to confirm red clover's efficacy.

Red Clover, Red Clover, Send Soy Right Over
red cloverSimilar to soy, red clover extract is packed full of isoflavones, a few of which are not found in soy. Although some argue this exotic isoflavone cocktail is a more potent one, there have been no human studies comparing the two. One study last year found an improvement in the elasticity (compliance) of the arteries of meno pausal women taking a commercial standardized red clover extract. However, researchers found blood cholesterol levels were not lowered, and the study made no mention of changes in menopausal symptoms. More studies on menopausal symptoms, bone metabolism and cardiovascular protection are needed to confirm red clover's efficacy.

Anthony Almada, M.S., is a nutrition and exercise biochemist who has collaborated on more than 45 university-based clinical trials. He is the founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition (www.imaginutrition.com).

Photography by: ©Telegraph Colour Library/FPG and Jeff Padrick