Making Insulin Irresistible?
Soy beans Pinitol—a sugar found in pine trees, soybeans, alfalfa and legumes—has no calories but may actually influence blood sugar metabolism, a desirable effect for anyone suffering from diabetes or other insulin-resistant illnesses such as Syndrome X. Recent test tube and animal studies show pinitol enhances the action of insulin in mice with Type I-like (but not Type II) diabetes. The first and only published human study tested the effects of soy-derived pinitol. These subjects were obese and had mild Type II diabetes or impaired blood sugar control. Although pinitol had no adverse effects, it performed no better than placebo in improving insulin action in carbohydrate or fat metabolism. Additional studies being reported later this year may better determine the role and action of this plant extract in human metabolism, specifically in insulin-resistant diseases.

More on Boron
In the late '80s, the little-known mineral boron became known for its potential in hormone production and osteoarthritis treatment. In one study, postmenopausal women on a diet devoid of fruits and vegetables—the main dietary sources of boron—were given a boron supplement of 3 mg a day. They showed dramatic increases in blood estradiol (the most potent of the naturally produced estrogens), increased calcium retention and, surprisingly, a significant increase in testosterone. This suggests boron could exert bone-protecting properties. Later studies with young men taking 10 mg a day found no substantial effect on testosterone but a notable increase in the female hormone estradiol—not a desirable effect for men.

Recent studies are focusing on the naturally occurring molecules boron has an affinity for, which may include SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) and the bioactive form of the B vitamin niacin. Since early evidence suggests boron may be beneficial in treating osteoarthritis, it could possibly operate in concert with SAMe, another natural product that reduces osteoarthritis symptoms. The bottom line: Postmenopausal women and osteoarthritis patients may benefit from boron supplementation.

GinsengAmerican Roots
Panax ginseng is the most popular and treasured herb in China. But North America has yielded its own species, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), which seems to benefit breast cancer treatment and blood sugar metabolism.

Studies reveal that, in a test tube, American ginseng works synergistically with chemotherapy in treating breast cancer. From the protective perspective, American ginseng displays potent antioxidant protection against free radical damage.

Perhaps the most striking results attributable to this American root are its ability to smooth out post-meal blood sugar surges and carbohydrate metabolism in both nondiabetics and Type II diabetics. Two recent studies found a single 3-gram capsule of one ginseng extract favorably altered blood sugar metabolism. For the greatest benefit in non-diabetics, the extract was taken 40 minutes before a 25-gram glucose challenge. For diabetics, the dose could be taken prior to the glucose intake or with the glucose. Long-term effects are not yet known.

"Supplements" is written by nutrition and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada, MS. He has collaborated on more than 45 university-based studies, is co-founder of Experimental and Applied Sciences (EAS) and founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition.