Of 30 ginkgo products tested, eight contained little or no ginkgo extract. In one case of milk thistle, unidentified substances were present in place of milk thistle.
The UCL team tested around 70 products overall, using two methods – nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and high performance thin layer chromatography – to study their composition.
Herbal products can be sold either as food supplements, or as Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) remedies.In every THR tested, the product contained what was claimed on the label- however the food supplements showed a wide range of quality.
Whilst many food supplements contained high amounts of the herbal ingredient as claimed, several had none at all.
The manufacture of THRs falls under regulation by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), but herbal food supplements come under the remit of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Trading Standards at local authority level. Their manufacture is not regulated.
Head of the UCL research team Professor Michael Heinrich said: “I think some of the suppliers of food supplements are lying. In other cases I think they don’t know what they’re doing. Many of the botanical drugs come from rare or increasingly rare species, so it makes perfect sense to get something cheaper…which helps to you get a better price at a lower cost.”
He warned consumers that a high price tag was no guarantee of quality.
A spokesman for the Food standards Agency said: “The FSA champions the rights of consumers and misleading them in this way is unacceptable.”
He said a herbal food supplement would be investigated if a complaint was made about a specific product, if members of the public were to fall ill as a result of taking these products, or if evidence of mislabelling were provided.
The results of the BBC/UCL tests have been passed on to the FSA’s Food Crimes Unit.
It follows the death of Chris Wilcock from Darwen, Lancashire, who died on the day that he took the tablets- which were the equivalent to 300 cups of coffee.
A coroner ruled his death in April was due to caffeine toxicity. At least four deaths in the UK have been linked to caffeine pills in the past year.
Neal Patel, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said regulation was a “problem”.
“Unfortunately it does seem to fall between the Food Standards Agency and the medicine agencies and, in fact, it tends to be left to Trading Standards locally to pick out the products and see what’s in them.
“That doesn’t seem good enough given the number of deaths we’ve seen this year.”Mr Patel added: “There is really flimsy evidence at best that caffeine can help reduce weight.”
Mr Wilcock, who was a pub landlord, died after taking a supplement known as T5, which contained caffeine equivalent to 300 cups of coffee.
T5 is a generic name for products that are often marketed as slimming aids. They are classified as food supplements instead of medicines, are legal and widely available.
Mr Wilcock’s fiancée Heather Thompson said she “tried to talk him out of” taking the pills.
“He just got told to take one a day and avoid alcohol with them – that was it. He didn’t get told of the side effects, he didn’t get told anything. It didn’t even say it on the actual bottle.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said caffeine overdose could lead to symptoms including palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, convulsions and, in some cases, death.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency added: “There is a variety of different ingredients used in the various products with high levels of caffeine being one of the most popular ingredients.
“Such products are typically regarded to be food supplements rather than medicines. In instances where slimming products contain ingredients that are regarded to be medicinal the MHRA will investigate whether there is a breach of human medicines regulations and take action accordingly.”
Scientists suggest chokeberries could work in combination with conventional drugs to kill more cancer cells, but the UK research is at an early stage, with experiments carried out only on cancer cells in laboratories.
Researchers from the University of Southampton and King’s College Hospital London, tested a berry extract on pancreatic cancer samples.
Pancreatic cancer is particularly hard to treat and has an average survival period of just six months after diagnosis.
The study found that when the berry extract was used, together with a conventional chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine, more cancer cells died than when the drug was used alone.
But the scientists say the chokeberry had no effect on normal body cells tested in this way.
They believe compounds known as polyphenols in the chokeberries may reduce the number of harmful cells.
And the team previously carried out similar early work on brain cancer cells.
Henry Scowcroft, at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s far too early to say from this small laboratory study whether chemicals extracted from chokeberries have any effect on pancreatic cancer in patients.”
“And the findings certainly don’t suggest that the berries themselves should be taken alongside conventional chemotherapy. But innovative approaches are urgently needed to improve treatment for people with pancreatic cancer – a disease for which there has been precious little progress over recent decades.”
Chokeberries grow on the eastern side of North America in wetlands and swamp areas.
Scientists say this work- based in rats, may pave the way for future drugs for strokes and Alzheimer’s disease, but they say more trials are needed to see whether this applies to humans.
Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, studied the effects of aromatic-turmerone – a compound found naturally in turmeric.
Rats were injected with the compound and their brains were then scanned.Particular parts of the brain, known to be involved in nerve cell growth, were seen to be more active after the aromatic turmerone infusion.
Scientists say the compound may encourage a proliferation of brain cells.
In a separate part of the trial, researchers bathed rodent neural stem cells (NSCs) in different concentrations of aromatic tumerone extract.
NSCs have the ability to transform into any type of brain cell and scientists suggest they could have a role in repair after damage or disease.
Dr Maria Adele Rueger, who was part of the research team, said: “In humans and higher developed animals their abilities do not seem to be sufficient to repair the brain but in fish and smaller animals they seem to work well.”The research found the higher the concentration of aromatic turmerone, the greater the growth of the NSCs.
And the cells bathed in the turmeric compound seemed to specialise into certain types of brain cells more rapidly too.
Dr Rueger added: “It is interesting that it might be possible to boost the effectiveness of the stem cells with aromatic-turmerone. And it is possible this in turn can help boost repair in the brain.”
She is now considering whether human trials may be feasible.
Aromatic turmerone is the lesser studied of two major compounds in turmeric that may have an effect on the human body.
Previous studies suggest the other compound, curcumin, could reduce inflammation in the body and have anti cancer benefits.
Its report says children should get free supplements and calls for supermarkets to sell low cost tablets.
NICE focused on groups most at risk of having low levels of the vitamin.
The chief medical officer in England has already urged doctors to prescribe tablets to these populations, and similar advice has been issued in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.But experts are concerned many are still not getting the Vitamin D they need. Official estimates suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels.
People get most of their vitamin D from the action of sunlight on their skin. But the amount in food is small, unlike many other vitamins.
The low level of sunlight during winter months means people in the UK must rely on stores built up during the summer.
Professor Mike Kelly, who was involved in producing the NICE guidelines, said: “Around 10 million people in England may have low vitamin D status and so could be at risk of health problems – and they may not know it.
“People with darker skin are particularly at risk – during winter months nearly 75% of adults from Asian or African and Caribbean backgrounds may have low vitamin D levels.”People at risk include of Vitamin D deficiencies:
- Children and babies
- Pregnant women
- People with darker skin, including many people from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds
- People who don’t get much exposure to the sun, such as those who cover up their skin for most of the year
- People who are housebound.
The NICE report sets out a number of measures, including encouraging local authorities to provide tablets free of charge to children.
The advisory body also urges manufacturers to ensure supplements are sold at the recommended dose – 10 micrograms a day for adults.
And NICE recommends supermarkets stock low-cost vitamin D tablets and promote them to those at risk.
Doctors and other health workers are encouraged to take every opportunity to discuss and record vitamin D intake with any patients who are at risk.
Employees who drank a moderate amount of coffee – three to five cups a day – were less likely to have early signs of heart disease on their medical scans.
The findings reopen the debate about whether coffee is good for the heart.
There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the effect of coffee on heart health- as some studies have linked consumption to heart risk factors, such as raised cholesterol or blood pressure, while others suggest the beverage may offer some heart protection.
But there is no conclusive evidence either way, and the latest research from South Korea, which is published in the journal Heart, only adds to the discussion.
In the study, the researchers used medical scans to assess heart health. Specifically, they were looking for any disease of the arteries supplying the heart – the coronary arteries.
In coronary heart disease, the coronary arteries become clogged by the gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.
The scan the researchers used looks for tiny deposits of calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries to provide an early clue that this disease process may be occurring.
None of the employees included in the Korean study had outward signs of heart disease, but more than one in 10 of them were found to have visible calcium deposits on their scans.
The researchers then compared the scan results with the employees’ self-reported daily coffee consumption, while taking into account other potential heart risk factors such as smoking, exercise and family history of heart problems.People who drank a few cups of coffee a day were less likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries than people who drank more than this or no coffee at all.
The study authors say more research is needed to confirm and explain the link.
Coffee contains the stimulant caffeine, as well as numerous other compounds, but it’s not clear if these might cause good or harm to the body.So how much caffiene should one drink?
In the US, experts say up to 400mg a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. There is no recommended daily upper limit for caffeine consumption in the UK, except for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, you should limit the amount of caffeine you have to 200mg a day – equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee.Caffiene per serving:
- one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- one mug of tea: 75mg
- one can of cola: 40mg
- an espresso contains about 50mg of caffeine However, please note- coffee shop caffeine levels can vary widely.
We have known for a long time that eating more fruit and vegetables is likely to be good for us, and the famous five a day campaign was always intended as a recommendation aimed at promoting the minimum we should eat, rather than a maximum.
What this study adds to things we had previously known is that eating vegetables is better for us than eating fruit (probably because fruit has far more sugar in it) and that eating tinned fruit seems to be positively bad for us (again, probably because it is often in a syrup).
On the basis of this study, you should aim to eat at least four portions of vegetables a day and around three portions of fruit. Importantly, you should eat them, not drink them. The study found no real benefit from drinking fruit juice.
So how do you reach your seven-a-day? If you’re feeling continental, you might start the day with an omelette containing a decent handful of spinach. The protein in the eggs will keep you full for longer and spinach is rich in folate and betaine – vitamins that help regulate homocysteine (high levels of which are associated with heart disease).
Alternatively you could add a handful of strawberries or blueberries to your cereal, or wolf down an orange
For lunch and your evening meal you are going to be eating vegetables, with fruit as a dessert. But which vegetables? Again, the recommendations are that you add as much colour as possible to your diet. The different colours of different plants represent some of the thousands of different bioactive compounds, known as phytochemicals, which keep plants alive and healthy.Eat them raw or lightly steamed rather than boiled to death.
So-called “leafy greens”, which include spinach, chard, lettuce and kale, are a good source of minerals like magnesium, manganese and potassium.
Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and other members of the brassicas family contain sulphur and organosulphur compounds. Sulphur is essential for the production of glutathione, an important antioxidant, as well as amino acids like methionine and taurine.
Fruit and vegetables with yellow or orange in them are rich in carotenoids. Foods rich in carotenoids include, not surprisingly, carrots. The type of carotenoid you find in carrots can be converted to retinol, an active form of vitamin A. As vitamin A is important for healthy eyesight, this may explain why carrots are supposed to help you see in the dark. Vitamin A also plays an important role in bone growth and regulating our immune system. As well as carrots you will also find carotenoids in melons, tomatoes, peppers and squash.
Another class of carotenoids that produces the colour red are called the lycopenes. You’ll find lots of lycopene in rich, red tomatoes. Oddly enough cooking tomatoes actually boosts the levels of lycopene. The reason is that heat helps break down the plant’s thick cell walls, making the nutrient more available.
Blue and purple foods get their colouring from a group of flavonoids called anthocyanins. You’ll find decent levels of these particular flavonoids in blackberries, blueberries, purple carrots and red cabbage. There is some evidence that anthocyanin – rich blueberries may improve memory and cognitive function in people as they get older. White
Examples include garlic, white onions, shallots and leeks. These are rich in alliums and allyl sulphur compounds. Although there is no compelling proof that garlic will ward off vampires, it does appear to be quite good at killing microorganisms.
Until now, the rationale for following an ultra-low calorie diet to ward off ageing has been based on experiments in worms and mice but now studies reported in Nature Communications found that primates also benefited from the regime.
Advocates of the Calorie Restriction (CR) diet claim that by severely restricting the number of calories they consume they will live longer, perhaps into their hundreds.
They cite a wealth of scientific evidence dating back more than 75 years.
Much of the research is based on experiments in animals such as mice and worms, with primate studies giving conflicting results. Now, a US team has published new evidence showing CR also shows benefits in primates.
“CR works to delay ageing in primate species,” Dr Rozalyn Anderson of the department of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told BBC News. “Our study data is consistent with that.”
The study found CR boosted survival in a group of rhesus monkeys studied over the course of decades.
And she said conflicting findings, from a previous study at a different institute, might be due to flaws in the control group. But she said CR was a research tool not a lifestyle recommendation.
“The concept is to delve into the biology of ageing and try to understand what’s the basis for increased risk for diseases as you get older and with advanced age,” she said. “It would be very difficult to implement CR in a long term way in humans.”
A US study is currently looking at whether healthy humans live longer on less food.
The participants restrict calories by 25% over several years, existing mainly on a diet of vegetables, fruits (especially apples), and soups.
US experts say people need to place a greater focus on cutting sugar intake and suggest the benefits of lowering salt levels are “debatable.” Their arguments are published in the journal Open Heart.
But other researchers have said the claims are “disingenuous” and “scientifically unnecessary”. They maintain both need to be reduced.
Researchers from St Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, and Montefiore Medical Centre in the USA reviewed a selection of evidence from basic science experiments, animal studies and human research.They came to the conclusion that sugar – particularly fructose – may play a stronger role in high blood pressure and other cardiac conditions than salt.
And they say lowering salt consumption under certain levels may do more harm than good as the research team suggests attempts to reduce salt in processed food may drive people to eat more.
The US experts focus on a particular type of sugar – added fructose – often found in processed foods and sugary beverages.
But they say naturally occurring sugars in whole foods, for example those in fruit and vegetables, are not a cause for concern.
Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in England suggests most adults and children eat more sugar than recommended.
The World Health Organization recommends sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day – this works out at about a maximum of 50g (1.7oz) of sugar for the average adult.
But the global health body recently acknowledged that halving this, to 5% of total energy intake per day, would have additional benefits.
Fasting for at least 12 hours appears to switch on important fat burning pathways in the body.
The US team told the journal Cell Metabolism they now plan human tests to see if the same is true in man.
During the study around 400 mice were fed diets high in sugar or fat or both, or normal diets and over different time periods.Overall, mice that were only allowed to feed for nine or 12 hours gained less weight than mice that could eat the same amount food but at any time they wanted in a 24-hour period.
Even when the restricted feed time mice were allowed a blow out at weekends and could eat when they liked, they still gained less weight, suggesting that the diet can withstand some temporary interruptions, the researchers said.
And when obese mice who had been eating freely were moved to a restricted schedule they lost 5% of their body weight even though they were eating the same number of calories as before.
The researchers believe a key to controlling weight gain could be sticking to a consistent 12-hour fast every 24 hours.
In the experiments, fasting at night had beneficial effects on blood sugar and cholesterol and reversed the effects of diabetes in the mice.
Study leader Dr Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor at the Salk Institute in California, said that brown fat, which burns energy at a much higher rate is also activated by this approach.
Additional work in mice by another team showed that limiting eating to half the day also altered the balance of microbes in the gut, which experts say might be important.