Vitamin A

Skin Care and the Cosmaceutical

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The skin care business is, like many other businesses, steeped in and dependent on consumerism and marketing. Rather than having real effects, products have come to rely much more on sizzle. Many purchases are the result of nothing more than hype, and buying decisions are often functions of ignorance and advertising. The world of cosmetic products, as we know it today, was birthed in the late 19th and early 20th century. At the same time business enterprises were beginning to understand Freudian psychological theories of human motivations and buying behaviors, and how to use them to exploit and manipulate consumer minds and emotions. No business has leveraged human desires and vulnerabilities via sales and advertising more than the business of beauty. We are endlessly manipulated and contorted into spending our hard earned cash via celebrity sales pitches and the recommendations of dubious department store “advisors”.

Skin Care and the CosmaceuticalBut that all changed with the active ingredients dubbed “cosma-ceuticals” which worked as powerfully as prescriptions but were only regulated as cosmetics. The father of the cosmaceutical, Dr. Albert Kligman coined the term to distinguish inactive and superficial ingredients from those that went “…beyond mere camouflage…” and could achieve real and often long-term results. While it’s true that everything including water will inevitably alter the skin in some way, only true cosmaceuticals can provide the kind of performance most consumers expect, and are (mis-)led to believe, they’ll get when they purchase and apply their cream, lotion, toner and treatment skin care preparations and products.

The retinoids, Vitamin A molecules, were the first cosmaceutical substances and, to this day, are the most effective. These were followed by alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are low pH extracts from fruit and plant materials that can achieve dramatic anti-aging and skin re-texturing effects. Then, most recently, a class of actives called peptides which affect the structure of the skin like a “-ceutical”, but that were intended to beautify like a “cosma-“, have become all the rage. The most important and the gold standard of peptides is a substance called “Matrixyl”.

The bottom line is, if you’re looking for skin care that works, look for cosmaceuticals. While the vast majority of products that you put on your skin are ineffective and inactive, using real cosmaceutical actives will allow you to bypass the standard, “extract-from-a-melon-that-grows-of-the-coast-of-France” type ingredients that you hear about on infomercials and promoted by movie stars. Retinoids, (retinol and retinoic acid primarily) and alpha hydroxy acids are cosmaceutical elements that really work. And Vitamin C, in its fat-soluble (the proper term is “lipophilic”) format, is one of the most effective topicals you could ever use. In fact, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids, (which include glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and acetic acids), are the most important active ingredients and ones that everyone over the age 40 (or even 30) should be applying on a regular basis. I call them “The Big 3”: lipophilic Vitamin C, Vitamin A and AHAs, and they should be the core ingredients of any anti aging skin care program. And for the consumer who wants everything, consider adding in a peptide containing product, ideally one that contains proven and time-tested ingredient like Matrixyl.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Lupus is a Disease of the Immune System

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Lupus is a non-tissue specific (it can show up in many parts of the body) autoimmune disease with broad based symptoms, the most common of which is a butterfly shaped pattern of redness that appears on the face. At one time physicians used to believe it was caused by a bite from a wolf (lupus is the Latin word for “wolf). Today doctors and other medical geniuses will tell you that there is no known cause, but I’m only a simple little pharmacist so I’m going to tell you that there is. Lupus is a disease of the immune system. It represents a characteristic immune system malfunction called autoimmunity, which simply means the body’s defensive chemistry turns on itself (auto = “self”). According to the Lupus Foundation website the symptoms of lupus “mysteriously” show up. They claim that they are “devoted to solving the mystery of lupus”. Oh really? Well, perhaps they should listen to The Bright Side where we talk about the real causes of lupus and other autoimmune diseases, which is quite obviously a jacked up and malfunctioning immune system. The only mystery is what exactly is it that is causing this hyperactive and misguided immune initiation.

Lupus is a Disease of the Immune System

Drawing of the typical “butterfly rash” found in lupus. By National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Ok, good question. What is it that causes a confused defensive response? That is, a defensive response that instead of focusing its wrath on an enemy instead turns its considerable biochemical firepower on the organism that it’s supposed to be defending. Well, in order to answer that question we have to understand where in the organism the immune system is located.
The vast majority of the immune system, anywhere from 70 to 80 percent, is located in a specialized tissue of the digestive tract. It’s technically called “Gastro Intestinal Lymphoid Tissue”, or GALT, and it’s responsible for initiating all immune responses to troublesome foods that pass through the digestive tube called the intestine. The most significant GALT response involves increasing the permeability of the digestive lining thereby allowing immune cells, which live in the blood, to have access to said troublesome food.

Unfortunately this permeability of the digestive lining is a two way street. In addition to allowing immune system cells to enter into the intestine from the blood, it unfortunately also permits food particles to enter into the blood from the intestine. Big problem!

Once food particles enter into the blood, a second defensive response is then initiated within the blood. And now we really have problems! The immune system is intelligent; it learns and “remembers”. Foods have a chemical constituency and the immune cells learn to respond to and can “remember” the specific chemical constituency of a food particle. Once the offending food structure is “remembered”, the immune system will become activated by ANY similar chemical structure. In other words, it will attack any substances with that same or a similar chemical constituency. Because chemical constituencies are consistent throughout nature and biology, there are many organs and systems in the body that “look” like foods that the immune system has learned to react to. The immune system will then react to those tissues too. If, for example, the immune system learns to react to a chemical structure in hamburger particles that have entered in to the blood AND those hamburger chemical structures are similar to patterns of chemicals in the skin, the immune cells can (cross-) react to the skin, in addition to hamburger. Thus will be born an autoimmune disease of the skin perhaps psoriasis or vitiligo or scleroderma. If you’re eating soy and a defensive response is triggered, the immune system can learn to respond that troublesome legume’s chemical makeup. Soy’s chemical structure may resemble the structure of the thyroid, which can then become a victim of the immune activity that was supposed to be defending the body from soy. That’s called autoimmune disease of the thyroid, or Hashimoto’s Disease, which is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. If you eat bread or pasta and a wheat particle get into the blood, the immune system can learn to react to the chemical makeup of the wheat particle. Wheat particles may resemble the chemical structure of the intestine, and voila, autoimmune disease of the intestinal lining which is known as Celiac Disease. Sometimes learned immune reactions to food can affect connective tissue which provides structural support for everything in the body. If this occurs the disease is given the term “lupus”, which is essentially an autoimmune disease that can affect anything, including the joints, kidneys, lungs, blood and heart. In other words lupus can be a big autoimmunity mess!

If you’ve been diagnosed with lupus (or any other auto immune disease) there are NO curative medications. But that’s not a problem because immune system issues need not be medical issues. By definition, an immune health condition is a defensive (immune) response to an offending agent. An immune (and autoimmune) disease means we’re doing something that is activating the immune system. Best bet is to figure out what the heck we’re doing to activate the immune system and then STOP DOING IT! Clue: it usually involves food. Eliminate foods that cause any digestive distress. Using nutrition to build up the digestive tract is also important. Probiotics are always helpful. Glutamine powder can help rebuild the digestive lining, and polysaccharides from aloe, noni and ocean vegetation can have a wonderful soothing and supporting effect for digestive tissue. And strengthening the immune system with Vitamins E, C, and A; and minerals like selenium and zinc is a good idea for any autoimmune or immune health condition.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Asthma Epidemic

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Get ready for another epidemic! According an article posted on the annual “September Asthma Epidemic” (their words, not mine) is coming, although the only evidence they cite are clinical studies that have shown the greatest number of hospitalization due to asthmatic attack are highest 17 days after labor day. Whether an epidemic is on the way or not may be up to conjecture, but what is not debatable is the well-documented fact that asthma is a big and getting bigger problem. From 2001 to 2010, the asthma incidence increased almost 15 percent. By 2009, asthma accounted for nearly 3,400 deaths, nearly 480,000 hospitalizations, 1.9 million emergency department visits, and 8.9 million physician office visits.

Asthma Epidemic

By BruceBlaus (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Asthma, which affects almost 13 percent of adults, and over 29 million Americans at least once in their lives is best thought as an inflammatory condition of the airways. The airways are the passageways where air, or more specifically oxygen, gets transferred into the blood. The net effect is an obstruction or a blockade of oxygen which causes the wheezing and shortness of breath, and a sense of suffocation that occurs with a asthmatic attack. The key word in the above description is inflammatory, which alludes to the microscopic blockages where inhaled oxygen from the air we breathe is transferred to the blood.

And inflammation? Well, that’s always the manifestation of a jacked-up immune system. ALWAYS! I can think of no more fundamental concept in all of physical health. Inflammation is the way a defensive (immune) response shows up; a defensive response to some kind of stressor. And a defensive/stress response means something is getting into the body or something is happening to the body that the body perceives as an attack. In order for a DEFENES-ive response to be initiated there has to be a preceding OFFENSE-ive agent; And the main routes for an offensive agent to get into the body for a defensive response to be triggered, such as those observed with an ordinary asthmatic attack, are typically through the lungs (they are breathed in) or the digestive system (they are eaten). In the case of exercise induced asthma the stress results from the need to heat and humidify large amounts of air that enter into the lungs during exercise.

So what’s an asthmatic to do? Though the medical treatments of choice are inhalers, which are usually some kind of steroid type drug or a nervous system agent that dumbs down respiratory responsiveness or suppresses immunity. Pharmacological intervention is not without toxicity or side effects. The questions for asthmatics are: Do you really want to suppress the immune system that is so essential for protecting the body from the environment assaults, animate and inanimate Or, do you really want to dial down your nervous system that distributes the electrical energy that runs our bodies and brains?

In my opinion the best way to deal with asthma is to take a healthy, natural and multi-pronged approach. In the case of asthmatic attacks that are directly caused by something you’re eating, obviously you want to eliminate those kinds of foods. Dairy and grains are likely suspects. Sometimes legumes, including peanuts and soy, can be problematic. Even vegetables can induce an asthmatic attack in those who are predisposed. Be especially careful of the nightshades which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers.

In addition to avoiding foods that can trigger asthmatic attacks it’s important to reduce the load on the immune system, from non-triggering substances that simply burden the immune system without directly causing respiratory symptoms. If there are predisposing immune loads(mostly problem foods), these can contribute to the signs of inhalation asthma albeit without directly causing asthmatic symptomology. Even if it doesn’t seem like there is a connection between foods and asthmatic symptoms, foods can still PREDISPOSE even if they don’t immediately CAUSE an asthmatic attack. This is kind of tricky, because the connection between predisposing factors that weaken the immune system or burden the immune AND immediate triggers might not be obvious. You might think your asthmatic symptoms are the result of exposure to pollen, not realizing that the pollen is merely the trigger and the cause is really an overburdened immune system that is struggling to keep up with food allergens or toxins that are getting into the body on a regular basis, even if they are not causing immediate symptoms or problems. I call it the “straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back” effect where the inhaled substance is not the actual cause but merely the “straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back”. What’s worse, if you have an immune system that is burning through nutrients or if you are malnourished, either because you’re not absorbing or nor getting nutrients this undernutriation can also be a contributing factor.

Look for other indicators of immune activation. Skin problems, rashes, frequent colds, autoimmune disease are all signs. If you have any of these symptoms associate with them foods and eliminate those foods. And if you don’t have any of those symptoms, then look for digestive difficulties. And really look. Bowel movement issues and gas are especially good clues. So is heart burn. If you have any of these symptoms connect them to food and eliminate those foods. This will decrease the burden on the immune system and reduce the “straw-that-breaks-the camel’s-back-effect”.

And don’t forget to add in the digestive support nutrients including probiotics, digestive enzymes with food, glutamine powder, juices of aloe vera and noni. There are also important nutrients for the lungs and blood and immune system. Magnesium is an asthmatic’s best nutritional friend. It can help relax constricted blood vessels and strengthen the immune system too; use 1000-2000mg of the glycinate form. Vitamin C is especially important for lung health. I’d be using 100-5000 mg a day. Vitamin E is also an important respiratory nutrient. Use the tocotrienol form, 400 IU daily, for best results. Vitamin E’s cousin, CoQ10 can be helpful, use the oil soluble gel-caps and take 100mg a day. And don’t forget about Vitamin D which can provide respiratory health benefits and beef up a burdened immune system. Sun exposure is always the best way to get your Vitamin D, but if you prefer to go the supplement route, take 5,000 to 10,000 IU. And always balance out your Vitamin D supplementation with Vitamin A, which can provide its own respiratory health benefits. I’d be taking 20,000 IU of Vitamin A at least 4 or 5 days a week. It’s stored in liver so missing a day or two isn’t going to hurt. Don’t forget your EFAs especially Omega-3 s from fish oil which can have wonderfully beneficial benefits for addressing the inflammation associated with asthma. Finally, in addition to supporting digestive health, probiotics can strengthen the immune system and keep it from being so sensitive and jumpy. Take 80 billion units a day and look for products that contain multiple strains of good bacteria.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Osteoporosis, Blood Sugar and Insulin

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Osteoporosis is a textbook example of degenerative disease and affects nearly one out of 8 people in this country, mostly women. Degenerative disease is the leading cause of illness in this country, and a condition that affects nearly 70 percent of Americans. While awareness of the condition has increased dramatically over the last few years, which has seemed to lower the incidence of this potentially life threatening disease, it continues to escalate steadily in this country, and around the world.


By James Heilman, MD, via Wikimedia Commons

These days, even the most nutritionally obtuse person can tell you that taking calcium supplements can help strengthen the bone. More sophisticated aware nutrition minded folks may tell you about Magnesium and Vitamin D, and a so-called expert may even mention the importance of Vitamin K, zinc, and protein.
However, one of most significant keys to dealing with osteoporosis involves blood sugar and insulin, and hardly anyone ever addresses the importance of these two key health markers. Yet, in an article published in Annals of Endocrinology from December 2012, researchers bluntly remarked that “Diabetic osteoporosis (OP) is increasingly recognized as a significant co-morbidity of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2-DM)” , and further stated ”…elderly patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus are prone to develop OP. The insufficiency of insulin, the decreased insulin sensitivity….is important causes for OP in the patients with type 2 diabetes.”

Dysglycemia (a fancy way of saying messed up blood sugar) is tragic, and pervasive biochemical pathology with involvement in almost all degenerative disease. But, because blood sugar and insulin can be manipulated and controlled by our food choices, for better or worse, this is actually good news. In other words, if we change the way we eat we can change our blood sugar too!

And, as far as osteoporosis goes, it means one of the most important things you can do to keep bones from dissolving (which is essentially what osteoporosis is) is to stop eating the pasta! And the grains, and bread, and the cereal, and the fruit juice, and all the other blood sugar busting foods that form such a significant part of the Standard American Diet. And It wouldn’t hurt to throw in sugar metabolizing nutrients either. Alpha lipoic acid 200mg-400mg is a great blood sugar stabilizing supplement. Magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin A can help too. And then there are the B-Vitamins, best added to water and sipped on throughout the day.

Of course there’s more to building bone than just controlling sugar. Even if you just want to prevent osteoporosis, in addition to calcium, there’s lots of great under-appreciated and underutilized nutritional supplements that will help build and strengthen bone. Check out my favorites below. While by no means complete, it represents a great place to start if you’re looking to start an anti-osteoporosis nutritional program.

1. Protein – especially whey and egg. Bone soup is a good way to get bone building protein too.
2. Magnesium – the glycinate form is great. Use 1200mg a day.
3. Vitamin D3 – cod liver oil and adequate sun exposure (maybe 10-15 minutes a day 3 or 4 days a week) are the best ways to get this important nutrient.
4. Vitamin K2 – 5,000mcg daily. It’s a calcium magnet that helps harden bones.
5. Chromium Picolinate – helps stabilize blood sugar – 200mcg after meals.
6. B-Complex – use a powder form (Sanitas B-complex Power Blend or Youngevity’s Beyond Tangy Tangerine are both good sources) and add to water and sip all day.
7. Essential Fatty Acids – Udo’s Blend or Youngevity’s ultimate EFA caps are both good sources.
8. Vitamin C – Bones are 30% collagen, and you can’t make collagen without Vitamin C.-Take 5,000 to 10,000 mg a day.
9. Silica – Abkit Liquid Silica Gel is a good source, take maybe 1-2 tablespoons a day.
10. Hyaluronic acid capsules – 100 to 200mg a day. Your nails and hair will benefit too!
11. MSM (Sulfur) – 1000 mg a day. Extra benefit: it’s great for liver detox.
12. Vitamin A – Take 20,000 i.u daily. I call it Vitamin Anabolic. Important for building bone tissue and protein utilization. Take it with fatty foods or meals.
13. Zinc Picolinate 50mg a day – works synergistically with Vitamin A. It’s the anabolic mineral.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Vitamin A Part 2

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Athletes take note:  Vitamin A can improve performance and provide tremendous benefits because it helps increase protein synthesis from muscle cells.  This means Vitamin A is one of the most important nutritional supplements for weight lifters and body builder and anyone interested in improving athletic performance.  And you don’t have to be pumping iron or running a marathon to benefit; the increased protein synthesis cans also improve vitality and energy and day to day strength for sedentary couch potatoes too.

Vitamin A Part 2

By Martin Doege (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most well-known role for vitamin A involves vision.  Some of the Vitamin A you ingest ends up in your eyes where it acts to turn light into our reality (!).  In other words, if you think see the world through rose colored glasses think again.  You actually observe the world through lenses made up of (partially, at least) of Vitamin A! From a historical perspective, the most significant sign of a lack of Vitamin A was night blindness, which can which can ultimately result in total blindness.  This was noted as early as 3500 years ago by ancient Chinese and Egyptian physicians used Vitamin A-rich fish liver oil as a treatment and cure.  The health of the cornea also depends on Vitamin A and deficiencies can lead to swelling, inflammation and ultimately ulceration and blindness.

It’s also important for the immune system.  While most people think of Vitamin Cwhen it comes to warding off colds and supporting the body’s defenses, as it turns out Vitamin A plays even more significant anti-pathogenic, anti-toxin role.  In addition to having an enhancing effect on specific antibodies, the workhorses of immunity, Vitamin A upregulates the body’s non-specific, general resistance to infection.  Dr. Robert Atkins, of Atkins Diet fame recommended taking extremely high doses (up 100,000 i.u., 50 times RDA) to be taken (along with Vitamin C and Zinc) at the first sign of a cold.

Finally, no discussion on Vitamin A would be complete without mentioning its non-essential cosmetic properties.  Topical Vitamin A is one of the most important and powerful anti-wrinkle ingredients you could every use.  The same connective tissue and protein stimulating properties you can get from eating or supplementing with Vitamin A can be targeted to the skin by directly applying the stuff.  It’s so effective at driving protein and collagen synthesis that it’s regulated by the FDA as a drug.  The brand name for this prescription Vitamin A cream as most people know is Retin-A and it contains just .01 to 1 percent retinoic acid (the most potent form of Vitamin A)  and that’s all you need to use just a few times a week to have noticeably smoother, healthier and younger looking skin.

Worldwide, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is considered a serious problem by the World Health organization.  Because of its growth stimulating properties, children are especially susceptible to the negative health impacts of VAD. According to the World Health Organization, deficiencies in Vitamin A affect nearly 250 million preschoolers; it’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and it increases the risk of disease and death from serious infections. In addition to visual problems some of the indicators of VAD include dry eyes, skin conditions including acne and dermatitis and decreased resistance to infections and chronic colds and respiratory conditions.

Luckily, while Vitamin A deficiency is relatively common in undeveloped countries, in the United States and Europe full blown deficiencies are rare. Yet, it’s safe to say, most people could benefit from extra Vitamin A taken as a nutritional supplement. This critical nutrient is important for bone and eye health, the immune and reproductive systems and it helps keep skin looking soft, supple, and blemish-free. It acts synergistically with thyroid hormone and helps the body use protein and iron more efficiently. If you’re deficient in Zinc or if you have problems absorbing fats, you’re probably not getting the benefits you need from this versatile and very important vitamin.

Vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk for Vitamin A deficiency which is only found in animal products. Eggs, beef organ meats and dairy are nature’s richest sources of Vitamin A and especially high concentrations are found in liver and kidney.  Non-meat eaters (as well as carnivores that want make sure they’re getting enough) may want to consider supplementation with 20,000 international units a day.  The RDA for Vitamin A is a paltry 5000 i.u., but daily doses as high as 50,000 iu have been used for short periods of time for treating acne and heavy menstrual bleeding.  In one study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 1993,la whopping 300,000 iu daily dose was used to suppress the formation of tumors in lung cancer patients.

While Vitamin A is only found in animal products, many fruits and vegetables do produce a “phyto” version of this important nutritional molecule.  It’s called beta carotene and can be obtained via dark green leafy vegetables as well as red and orange fruits veggies like cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkins and squash and sweet potatoes.  Kale and turnip greens are particularly good source of beta carotene which is essentially 2 molecular chunks of Vitamin A stuck together to form what can be considered pre-vitamin A.   Beta carotene conversion to Vitamin A requires enzymes and effective biochemistry and depending on the health of the individual this may or may not occur.

Last, but most certainly not least, Vitamin A absorption requires bile and that means you want your gall bladder, and hundreds of thousands of patients lose theirs every year.  Liver disease, which affects 30 percent of Americans, can mess up the body’s ability to process Vitamin A too.  Pretty much anything that impairs fat absorption, including pancreatic insufficiency, small intestine inflammation and lymphatic congestion, can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to process and utilize vitamin A from foods and even supplements. If you suspect any issues with fat malabsorbtion or you are sans gall bladder, you might want to think about taking a vitamin A supplement and eating vitamin A rich foods with fat absorption aids such as lecithin, digestive enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, bile salts, probiotics and apple cider vinegar.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Nutrition