In this issue of HEALTHbeat:
  • Health benefits of peppermint
  • Should I supplement my diet with Ambrotose?

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Harvard Health Publications -- Harvard Medical School HEALTHbeat
July 31, 2007

Dear HEALTHbeat subscriber,

My favorite ice cream is mint chocolate chip. And while ice cream may have its (occasional) medicinal use as a comfort food, peppermint has been used for centuries as a treatment for a variety of ailments. This issue of HEALTHbeat reveals the potential heath benefits of this ancient herbal medicine. Also in this issue, Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson, editor in chief of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, discusses whether there is a benefit to taking the health supplement Ambrotose.

Wishing you good health,


Nancy Ferrari
Managing Editor
Harvard Health Publications
HEALTHbeat@hms.harvard.edu

In This Issue
1 Health benefits of peppermint
[READ]
2 Notable from Harvard Medical School:
* The Sensitive Gut
* Weigh Less, Live Longer
[READ]
3 Should I supplement my diet with Ambrotose?
[READ]

From Harvard Medical School
The Sensitive Gut
Do you suffer from a sensitive gut? For most people, episodes of gastrointestinal upset are infrequent and relatively tolerable, but one in four people has frequent gastrointestinal (GI) problems that can severely disrupt a normal lifestyle. Whether you suffer from chronic indigestion (also called GERD or acid reflux) or other chronic GI problems like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers, The Sensitive Gut explains the causes behind many common GI problems, outlines the lifestyle changes and medical treatments that will help you feel better.
[READ MORE]
 
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1\ Health benefits of peppermint

Candy and ice cream come to mind. But peppermint is also an age-old herbal medicine that has been used to treat a wide range of abdominal woes, from flatulence to stomach cancer to gallbladder disease.

But does it really work? Peppermint has fared a bit better than many herbal medicines in clinical trials. Several studies have shown that peppermint oil seems to be fairly effective at relieving irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a collection of symptoms that includes abdominal cramping and pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. In 2007, Italian investigators reported that 75% of the patients in their study who took peppermint oil capsules for four weeks had a major reduction in their IBS symptoms, compared with just 38% of those who took a placebo pill.

There are also findings — admittedly from studies of iffy quality — that topical application of peppermint oil helps relieve tension headaches and that a combination of peppermint and caraway oils can help with recurrent indigestion.

The oil that’s extracted from the peppermint plant contains lots of compounds. Menthol is the most abundant and pharmacologically important.

Menthol is an ingredient in many conventional over-the-counter products, including cough lozenges and muscle pain ointments like Bengay. Menthol creates that familiar cooling sensation by stimulating nerves that sense cold (your mouth has some of these nerves, which is the reason products containing menthol “taste” cool); it also inhibits those that react to painful stimuli. The effect doesn’t last long, but sometimes a brief reprieve or distraction from a cough or a muscle ache does wonders.

One explanation for how peppermint oil might help IBS sufferers is that the oil — and perhaps especially the menthol — blocks calcium channels, which has the effect of relaxing the “smooth” muscles in the walls of the intestine.

Peppermint oil also relaxes the sphincter that keeps the contents of the stomach from backing up into your esophagus. That’s why people troubled by heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux) are advised to avoid peppermint. It’s also the reason peppermint oil is often sold these days in enteric-coated capsules designed to bypass the stomach and dissolve in the small intestine.

People do occasionally have bad reactions to menthol and peppermint. In 2007, Swedish doctors reported the case of a 44-year-old man who got a runny nose every time he brushed his teeth. Allergy tests showed he was allergic to the menthol in his toothpaste. Several years ago, Israeli doctors reported the case of a woman whose mouth and throat were chemically burned by the large amount of peppermint oil she took to treat a cold.

For more information on treating IBS, order our Special Health Report, The Sensitive Gut, at www.health.harvard.edu/SG.

 
FOR FURTHER READING
For more information on treating IBS, order our Special Health Report, The Sensitive Gut.
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2\ Notable from Harvard Medical School
** The Sensitive Gut
Do you suffer from a sensitive gut? For most people, episodes of gastrointestinal upset are infrequent and relatively tolerable, but one in four people has frequent gastrointestinal (GI) problems that can severely disrupt a normal lifestyle. Whether you suffer from chronic indigestion (also called GERD or acid reflux) or other chronic GI problems like irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers, The Sensitive Gut explains the causes behind many common GI problems and outlines the lifestyle changes and medical treatments that will help you feel better.
 
[CLICK TO READ MORE or BUY]
** Weigh Less, Live Longer
Not long ago, obesity was seen mainly as a cosmetic problem. In just the last few years, however, the medical view of excess weight has changed. Obesity is known to be a public health problem of the same magnitude as smoking. The rates of overweight and obesity are soaring. More than half of all adults in the United States are overweight, and 26% are obese — an increase of more than 50% in the last three decades. The good news is that many people can lose weight and keep it off, as this report explains, and even a modest reduction of 7%–10% of your starting weight can lead to significant improvements in health. This report will help you determine the cause of excess weight and tailor a plan to your particular needs.
 
[CLICK TO READ MORE or BUY]
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3\ Should I supplement my diet with Ambrotose?

Q: What do you know about the health supplement Ambrotose? I looked it up on the Internet, where it’s described as an “advanced glyconutrient.”

A: The term “glyconutrient” sounds impressive, but it simply means sugar (glyco) that the body can use (nutrient). Ambrotose is a combination of eight sugars the body uses to make glycoproteins (proteins with sugar molecules attached). Proponents claim that Ambrotose has beneficial effects on conditions ranging from sleep, memory, and mental disorders to hypertension, asthma, and allergies. On the basis of limited research in cell cultures, they also say that it boosts the immune system. There’s no good evidence to back any of these claims.

Glycoproteins are important in communication between cells. Although they’re required for normal biological functioning, our bodies make all we need from the food we eat. Except for a few people with rare genetic conditions, there’s no evidence that humans are deficient in glycoproteins, and there are no controlled studies showing that “glyconutrients” can help treat or prevent any disorder.

These supplements are not rigorously tested for safety, but they’re probably fairly safe, apart from occasional allergic reactions, because the ingredients come mainly from food plants. The real danger is that they’ll be substituted for proven therapies. The American Cancer Society has issued a statement warning cancer patients against using glyconutrient supplements, supposedly to boost their immune systems, in lieu of medical treatment.

— Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch

This Question and Answer first appeared in the July 2007 Harvard Women’s Health Watch, available at www.health.harvard.edu/women.

 
FOR FURTHER READING
For more information on treating obesity, order our Special Health Report, Weigh Less, Live Longer.
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Harvard Medical School publishes authoritative Special Health Reports on a wide range of topics. Each report delivers practical information on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of major health concerns in clear, easy-to-understand language. For more information on a specific topic, click the appropriate link below:

Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Bladder, Cholesterol, Depression, Diabetes, Digestion, Energy, Exercise, Eye Disease, Headache, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Memory, Menopause, Prostate, Sexuality, Sleep, Stroke, Vitamins

 
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Harvard Medical School offers special reports on over 50 health topics. Visit our Web site at http://www.health.harvard.edu to find reports of interest to you and your family.

Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
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