Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Aloe vera: healing or harmful?

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Image by Andreas Issleib on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A little while ago when I was looking for blogspiration a friend told me to take a look at a certain “nutritionist” on twitter. Since then, I’ve had her on my back burner because she certainly looked like she would have some good blog fodder (cured her incurable illness through diet) but I couldn’t be bothered to look through all her posts. Well, today’s the day I move her to the front burner.

I was reading her post on the healing properties of aloe. I found myself hoping that she would provide a balanced picture because I didn’t really want to write about aloe. Sadly, she did not, so here we are. As I feel that simply extolling the virtues of a food, without providing cautions is irresponsible, even if you don’t have a regulatory body protecting the public from you. Sorry, sorry, I digress.

In her post she writes about the magical properties of aloe: anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, there she didn’t link to any research so I can’t comment on the quality of the studies used to make these claims. As far as I can tell, to date there’s been very little (if any) research on human subjects. However, some in vitro studies and animal have shown some promise when it comes to the anti-viral (1, 2) and anti-microbial (3, 4) properties of aloe vera. Of course, based on the current research, there’s no way to know what dose or form of aloe would (if at all) be effective in humans. It’s entirely possible that oral ingestion of aloe would not have any positive benefits in relation to viruses and bacteria.

Some mouse studies and in vitro have shown promising wound healing and anti-inflammatory effects of aloe vera (when administered both topically and orally) (5, 6). Again, there has yet to be any conclusive research done in humans.

Okay, it sounds a bit promising but… Then come the concerns. Before you start adding a handful of aloe vera plant to your smoothie you should be aware that the exterior portion of the leaf has a laxative effect. There are other longer lasting concerns about aloe vera consumption than diarrhea. My friend Helen has written about many of them on her blog Food and Nonsense. These include a risk of cancer and impaired liver function. Over at Examine, the only conclusive research they’ve found so far for aloe supplementation is for increased intestinal motility (i.e. to combat constipation). The Mayo Clinic provides a long list of cautions against the ingestion of aloe vera products, including the risk of inducing uterine contractions in pregnant women. I’ve also blogged about the consumption of aloe vera juice in the past.

I believe that my final statement in that post stands the test of time: Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

 


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Of wellness chats, dietitians, and L-Glutamine

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The other night I had my first exposure to a “wellness chat” on twitter. It was interesting to say the least. The guest* was a registered dietitian in the US. A few of her statements surprised me, and at least a few other RDs. The most surprising tweet read:

What to do when U have a craving? Have a balanced #PFC (protein, fat, carb) snack AND take an L-Glutamine capsule #cravingfree #wellnesschat

A few of us tweeted back at her asking for her to share a link to the research supporting the use of glutamine to reduce cravings. As far as I’m aware, none of us received a satisfactory response. The only response I saw to our requests for research to support her statement was: “Get your supplements where u like, just make sure they’re high quality for effective results.”  This response was also in reply to our expressed concerns that she is selling these supplements (among many others) on her website. In my mind that’s an ethical concern. No health care professional should be profiting from the sale of medications/supplements. It’s an obvious conflict of interest. It’s also a little baffling that she’s doing podcasts extolling the benefits of real food (while also patronizingly insulting many other dietitians by suggesting that we are “brainwashed” into following obsolete dogma taught in school and don’t keep up with current research. Odd, in Canada at least, as part of our professional standards we must demonstrate continued competence by keeping up with current research and new developments in the field) yet profiting from the promotion and sale of supplements.

But… Back to the glutamine issue. My first stop to answer this question was examine.com. They do a great job of slogging through all of the research to get the facts about supplements. The short version of what they say about glutamine is:

A conditionally essential amino acid, only appears to benefit the body as supplementation when otherwise deficient (vegans, vegetarians with low dairy intake) or during prolonged endurance exercise. Anecdotally reported to reduce sugar cravings.

Yes, anecdotally reported to reduce sugar cravings. That means that there is no actual research to support the use of glutamine to reduce sugar cravings. A search of google scholar shows that there are no scientific studies supporting the use of glutamine to reduce sugar cravings. As dietitians we have an obligation to employ evidence-based best practices. This means that we cannot ethically recommend unproven treatments or supplements. I’m not saying that glutamine doesn’t work to reduce sugar cravings. I’m saying that we have no evidence either way. Until there is evidence to support its use in reducing sugar cravings dietitians cannot ethically recommend its use for that purpose.

I have yet to meet a dietitian who fails to keep up to date with current research. It does a great disservice to our profession when one of our fellow RDs suggests that many of us are not up to speed and that she is somehow special and superior to others in the field  because she is “science-based”, especially when she is making recommendations that are not actually based in science. Please be wary of any healthcare professional who is profiting from selling you a cure.

 

*Name has been omitted to protect the guilty. This is something that I struggled a bit with. I decided not to identify the RD in question because I don’t want this to be viewed as a personal attack, it is not.