Nutritional and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada reviews the research behind some of the latest products on the market. Do they stand up to their claims, is the product built on marketing rather than science, or is the jury still out?
The first fraction of mother's milk, called colostrum, is rich in immune-boosting antibodies, growth factors and protein hormones. Clinical studies have shown that specially produced bovine colostrum designed to contain high levels of antibodies is sometimes successful in treating infectious diarrhea and other gut infections. Animal studies suggest colostrum may reduce the GI damage associated with regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. And a recent human study hints at colostrum boosting memory, antioxidant function and immunity in the elderly. Furthermore, two studies on athletes point to anabolic hormone changes and increased performance. However, colostrum products vary widely in their composition and bioactivity, and large doses are required. Buyer beware: All colostrum products are not created equal.
Supreme Antioxidant Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Touted to be the supreme antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) can operate in concert with vitamins C (water soluble) and E (fat soluble). Much research has been dedicated to examining ALA's effects on diabetes, especially the nerve disease (neuropathy) accompanying the progression of diabetes. Although a lot of advertising and marketing has promoted the potential "insulin-boosting" action of ALA, very little evidence points to this effect in humans. Indeed, the minimum effective dose of ALA required to improve some aspects of diabetic symptoms is not cheap: 600 mg/day.
ALA is comprised of a pair of nearly identical molecules called isomers. New research indicates that the active half of ALA, the R isomer, may be far more effective than what is currently available. This super ALA loaded with R isomers may enable consumers to use a lower dose with potentially greater effects.
Rev up with Ribose
The carbohydrate D-Ribose is a sugar, but not of the super-sweet variety. A number of clinical studies have shown ribose to improve the efficiency of both heart muscle and skeletal muscle (such as biceps) in the presence of some diseases and/or genetic impairments. However, the recent excitement surrounding ribose has to do with the muscles we can see and feel during exercise.
To date, two studies using high doses of ribose (24-30 grams over a 24-hour period) hint at ribose revving up muscle performance. However, doses at this level are very expensive. No studies using "recommended doses" (1-5 grams/day) have yet been reported. A couple of "affordable dose" university studies are under way, with results expected this summer.
Human Growth Hormone
Human Growth Hormone (hGH) products have shot up in prominence over the last few years. The hope behind this hormone: the fountain of youth. Possibilities include increased leanness, strength and sleep as well as decreased body fat and lower cholesterol — without the side effects seen by injections of hGH (increased organ size, bone pain, diabetes-like changes in metabolism or even reduced resistance to infection). To date, however, the research to reinforce the claims is lacking. One homeopathic product has been subjected to a placebo-controlled clinical study, but the study itself was poorly designed, leaving the lingering question of efficacy unanswered. More studies on other hGH products are planned for this year.
Anthony Almada, M.Sc., is a nutritional and exercise biochemist who has collaborated on more than 45 university clinical trials. He is the co-founder of Experimental and Applied Sciences, Inc. (EAS) and founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition (www.imaginutrition.com).