Bone to be Wild
Ipriflavone, a lesser-known isoflavone not found in soy, has been used in Japan as a drug to slow bone loss, especially the type linked with menopause. More than 60 human studies, lasting up to 2 years, have been done on ipriflavone taken in combination with 500­1,000 mg of calcium. The results: Reduced bone loss in the hip, spine and forearm, with very few and only mild side effects. A new study, however, questions these earlier findings.

A long-awaited three-year study of almost 500 postmenopausal women, designed to test ipriflavone's ability to prevent bone fractures in the spine — the ultimate test of any bone-builder's benefit — yielded surprising results: No improvement in bone density or reduction of fracture risk compared to women receiving calcium alone. In fact, there appeared to be one potentially serious side effect: More than 10 percent of the women taking ipriflavone experienced a noted decrease in one type of white blood cell involved in fighting infections and tumors; however, none of these women showed a higher incidence of either. Although no other side effects were found, those taking ipriflavone may be wise to have a blood count performed every 3­4 months to check for any changes.

"A" for Alzheimer's?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) rarely uses a pure animal- or plant-derived chemical for therapy, but huperzine A, derived from the Huperzia serrata club moss, is one exception. Alzheimer's disease is marked by inadequate amounts of the nerve chemical messenger acetylcholine — produced from choline, a common "pseudo" B vitamin. Like numerous other neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer's is also associated with extra free radicals, which may foster progression of the disease.

Huperzine A has been studied extensively in Asian countries, with a few human studies exploring its memory-enhancing effects in young and old individuals without Alzheimer's. The studies with Alzheimer's patients have lasted between 2 and 8 weeks and have shown the promise of improved cognitive performance and memory with doses of 200­800 mcg/day. More rigorous and longer-lasting clinical trials are needed to assess both safety and effectiveness. Like a number of natural products, huperzine A as a dietary supplement exists in two forms: a 50/50 mixture of natural and synthetic and a 100 percent natural form, which has shown better activity.

PillsStroke victims strike back
Although Vinpocetine — a synthetic derivative of a compound found in the periwinkle plant — has traditionally been used in the United States to promote blood flow, it's been used in Europe to treat stroke patients for more than two decades. Intravenous dosing with vinpocetine increases glucose (blood sugar) to the brain in both the unaffected and stroke-affected regions, enhancing rehabilitation for stroke patients. Blood flow, however, appears to increase only in the unaffected region.

Although several human studies have been conducted on vinpocetine, many lack the quality needed to assess its real merits. Nevertheless, the overall research shows great promise for vinpocetine as a post-stroke agent with an apparently exceptional safety record.

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

Photography by: Jeff Padrick