Recently, it has become increasingly difficult to make sense of widely distributed health and dietary information. Not only are the news media reports numerous and overwhelming, they are oftentimes contradictory. Sifting through the data has become a daunting task.
In this issue, Life Extension magazine interviews Drs. Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen, authors of Formula for Life, The Ultimate Sourcebook on Nutritional Supplements, Healthy Diet, Disease Prevention, and Longevity. The interview is an effort to cut through the hype and get at what it really takes to live a healthy, rewarding life.
Drs. Kronhausen earned their doctorates in psychology and marriage and family life education from Teachers College, Columbia University. They also studied psychotherapy at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis and did groundbreaking research in the non-institutional treatment of severely disturbed young people, on which they reported at the International Congress of Psychiatry, Zurich, Switzerland, 1957. They are also internationally recognized and widely published experts in the field of human sexuality.
For the past 15 years, the Kronhausens have expanded their academic interests to include the study of nutrition, antioxidants and longevity. The result of these private investigations was the publication of the original edition of Formula for Life (New York: William Morrow & Co.; 1989). Their most recent work is the completely revised and updated edition of that pioneering bestseller.
Eberhard Kronhausen: I am 85 and Phyllis is 71. It is interesting, though, that every physician who has ever examined us has commented that our biological age is at least 10 years less than our chronological age. The more open-minded ones even credited our nutritional supplement program for having kept us biologically so much younger than our actual age.
LEM: On that note, let's take a step back. Previously ,you were renowned experts in the field of human sexuality. What made you decide to change focus from sexuality to health and life extension?
EK: Actually, we did not change focus, but rather expanded it. We believe [sexuality and health] go hand in hand. That's part of our holistic philosophy of life.
Phyllis Kronhausen: Our conviction is that it is important to have one in order to have the other.
LEM: Why don't we explore that connection.
EK: Well, to begin with, every man over 50 and every post-menopausal woman should have his or her hormone levels checked. In the case of men, they should insist that their doctor check both their total and free testosterone levels. It may sound strange, but it is a good idea, even for men, to know their estrogen levels. Many men forget that their bodies might produce too much estrogen, which can cause a lot of trouble.
On the other hand, if a man's DHEA and testosterone levels have started dropping with age, as is almost universally the case, it is only logical to take hormone supplements to bring these hormones back up to a youthful level. If not, the lack of adequate hormone supplies-especially testosterone-cannot help but impact negatively on performance in general. We have seen absolutely dramatic improvements with regard to general stamina and, specifically, sexual performance, with DHEA replacement alone. There is, of course, even greater improvement by taking both DHEA and adrostenidione. But it all depends on a man's total hormone situation, which should be explored first by consulting a good internist or endocrinologist.
PK: When it comes to women, many post-menopausal women are afraid of estrogen replacement therapy because of its possible cancer risk. For that reason, if tests show that a woman is only marginally short of estrogen and only very small amounts of estrogen are needed, she may consider taking only phytoestrogens. That is, estrogens from plant sources. On the other hand, lack of estrogen has its own risks, for instance, with regard to osteoporosis. So there is always some kind of trade-off in these matters.
LEM: In your book, you also recommend the master-hormone pregnenolone, in addition to DHEA. Please tell us your reasons for doing so, for many people seem to think that if they take DHEA, they need not take pregnenolone.
EK: Recently, we began experiencing a certain amount of memory loss. That is why we began taking pregnenolone-mainly for its specific memory-enhancing effect. But our memory loss is very slight and does not interfere with our work. In fact, it was much worse before we started taking memory-enhancing supplements such as pregnenolone.
PK: We are also considering taking some memory-enhancing plant remedies, such as gingko biloba and gotu kola extracts, if we notice any further problems along these lines.
EK: Pregnenolone also has other benefits, though, aside from improving memory function. It is, for instance, protective with respect to Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, a recent study by the National Institutes of Mental Health showed that people suffering from chronic depression have very low levels of pregnenolone. So, we would advise anyone with a chronic depression problem to take pregnenolone, even if DHEA levels are normal, and regardless of whether the person is on any antidepressant.
PK: By the way, we much prefer that people take natural products, such as St. John's Wort, rather than prescription pharmaceuticals for depression. In times of great stress we have taken it ourselves, and everybody we have recommended it to has had positive results. Besides, the antidepressant effect of St. John's Wort is very well documented, both in this country and in Europe, especially Germany. In Germany, for instance, doctors prescribe St. John's Wort five times more often than any other anti-depressant.
EK: The same goes for passionflower, in case of anxiety. It works as well as or better than prescription medications and leaves the mind perfectly clear. And it does not appear to have any side effects. It also works wonders for insomnia, if taken a little before bedtime, and again, if one wakes up during the night and cannot get back to sleep.
LEM: Let's move to another area of your new book. In Formula for Life, you take on critics who are outspoken against vitamin supplements or, for that matter, any kind of nutritional supplements. Their idea is that people should get all their vitamins and nutrients from food. Why did you bother taking issue with them-especially since you have no financial interests in any of this?
EK: We did it simply to set the record straight. We are very concerned that some of this anti-supplement propaganda is confusing many people and preventing them from using antioxidants and other supplements, which they may desperately need. This may be especially significant in the case of cancer treatment and prevention-not to mention the need for high-dose antioxidant therapy for HIV-positive persons.
PK: We find it very upsetting to see people like that being discouraged from using things that would help them immensely with their serious health problems.
EK: Take, for instance, the recent assault on one of the most beneficial and most "innocent" supplements of all- vitamin C. I call it "innocent" because it is virtually impossible to overdose on it. If you take too much, your body eliminates it.
LEM: As psychologists, what do you think motivates these anti-supplement supporters?
PK: I wish I knew what motivates these professional anxiety-makers! I hate to think that some of them may be influenced by special interests, such as the food or pharmaceutical industries, which sometimes see vitamins and other natural products as competition. But then again some of them may simply be prejudiced and cannot jump over their own shadow, no matter how much scientific evidence is presented to them. In most cases, I believe common human weakness is at the root of it, rather than any sort of conspiracy-though, in some cases, one cannot rule that out either.
LEM: You were talking about vitamin C. . . how much are the two of you taking yourselves?
EK: We have been taking between 2,000 and 3,000 mg a day of ascorbic acid for the past 30 years. We can be sure of the length of time because we began taking it the moment Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling first popularized it in the '60s. Now, when we have a cold or the flu-which, by the way, happens very seldom-we will take up to 10,000 mg of vitamin C a day. The reason being that when there is an infection or an injury, the body sends all available vitamin C to the site of infection or injury, but at the expense of other organs. So we have to make up for this shortfall by taking very high doses of vitamin C. Surprisingly, our bodies tolerate up to 20 or 30 grams of it under these conditions.
PK: But that does not stop some prejudiced, anti-supplement people such as Ms. Brody, health writer of The New York Times, from writing against vitamin supplements, including vitamin C. As recently as April of last year, if I remember correctly, she published an article, with the message, "Taking too much vitamin C can be dangerous." The whole article was based on a small British study with only 30 people, which showed that taking 500 mg of ascorbic acid, and no other supporting antioxidants, produces both an antioxidant and a pro-oxidant effect. That's all these scientists said, and it's no big news. But it shows what anti-supplement journalists can make of it.
EK: Another foe of nutritional supplements, Dr. Victor Herbert, a physician and self-appointed watchdog against what he calls "health fraud," recently claimed that vitamin C supplements are not antioxidants at all. Only vitamin C in foods such as orange juice, he claimed, works as an antioxidant. But soon he seemed to realize that he had overstepped and quickly started paddling backward and conceded that "in some circumstances" vitamin C supplements actually do work as antioxidants.
PK: It apparently escaped Dr. Herbert that much vitamin C is actually made from natural sources-rose hips, for instance. But even that is beside the point, for a molecule of synthetic vitamin C is identical to a molecule from "natural" vitamin C-a fact that anyone who has gone to medical school should certainly be aware of.
EK: What the anti-supplement crowd forgets to mention, though, is the good news about vitamins. Most recently, for instance, scientists from the University of Alabama reported about a rat study with "megadoses" of vitamin C. The study showed that these very high doses of vitamin C reduced the levels of stress hormones in the blood of the animals.
Now, it is well known that stress hormones suppress the immune system. So, any reduction in stress hormones is more than welcome. The study also showed that there were favorable changes in the thymus and spleen, which produce immune cells. Furthermore, the study showed that large doses of vitamin C resulted in a reduction of both physical and emotional stress in these animals. If follow-up experiments with humans confirm these findings, we have here a brand new mechanism of action for vitamin C, in addition to its well-known antioxidant functions.
LEM: In the original, 1989 edition of Formula for Life, you pretty much stuck with the better known, standard vitamins such as vitamin C, E, beta carotene and the B-complex. In the new edition, you are adding many more antioxidants and other supplements. Did you have a change of mind?
PK: Again, the answer is no. At the time, all of these supplements-including coenzyme Q-10, l-carnitine, lipoic acid, proanthocyanidins, etc.-were still poorly researched. There was no way of knowing whether they would do us any good or not. Today we know how important they are for our health.
EK: The same goes for biological antioxidants and anti-cancer substances such as curcumin and lycopene. Now that all of this has been extensively researched, we felt we had to completely revise and update the 1989 edition of Formula for Life to include all of these new, health-protecting compounds and tell people how to use them correctly.
LEM: You also emphasize the role of glutathione, which is not really a vitamin, but a so-called "peptide." As you say in your book, most so-called "multivitamin" products don't include this powerful antioxidant at all, because it is so expensive. You call it "Japanese gold dust" because the Japanese have a virtual monopoly on its production. Why is it that you feel so strongly about this supplement and the important role it plays?
EK: There are many reasons why we consider glutathione one of the most important antioxidants around. For one thing, it binds to toxic, car- cinogenic chemicals and turns them into harmless substances our bodies can eliminate. Another reason is that it is a first-class free radical scavenger. Still another reason is that glutathione has a strong protective effect, both in the initiation and promotion stage of cancer. It also protects against radiation. I could go on and on singing the praises of this much under-used antioxidant.
PK: Sure, glutathione is relatively expensive. Nonetheless, for older people and anyone at special cancer risk, glutathione is not a luxury but a necessity.
LEM: We understand that it is very hard to get sufficient glutathione from foods.
PK: That's right, at least if you're on a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet. As it happens, most glutathione is found in the red blood cells of meat. But if you eat a lot of red meat, you will get more glutathione, but will also have to take a heavy dose of homocysteine into the bargain-not to talk about the fats in meat! So, that's obviously not a solution.
But there are some vegetarian foods with reasonable amounts of glutathione. Avocados and asparagus, for instance, are good sources of it, as are watermelon and grapefruit.
EK: Another antioxidant that's not yet as much recognized and used as should be is lipoic acid. It is an amazingly broad-spectrum antioxidant, mopping up a wide range of free radicals. Moreover, it is effective in both the aqueous [watery] portion of cells, as well as in the lipid [fatty] parts, which is very rare among antioxidants. For those reasons, some researchers have called it an "ideal" antioxidant.
PK: It is "ideal" in other respects, too. It is able to regenerate other antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, coenzyme Q10, and glutathione, after they have put out free radical fires and have spent themselves in doing so. In addition, it is good for diabetes and helps prevent the progress of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease.
EK: Unfortunately, lipoic acid-just like the equally important glutathione-is rather pricey. But, finances permitting, it would be false economy not to include these two vital antioxidants in one's supplement program.
PK: Yes, all of these plant compounds are relatively inexpensive. Yet, many people still don't fully understand why these important anti-cancer nutrients should not only be part of our daily diet, but also be taken as supplements.
EK: The fact is that, as in the case of vitamins, we simply cannot get large enough amounts of these nutrients from foods.
PK: Take curcumin for instance, which is an extract of the spice turmeric. It has been used in the traditional Ayurvedic medicine of India for hundreds and maybe thousands of years. And for good reasons: not only is it a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, but it also has anti-cancer effects. Besides, it inhibits gram positive and gram negative bacteria and boosts the immune system. That's why it can be useful as adjunct therapy in AIDS and cancer.
We use the spice turmeric in our meals, wherever it improves the taste of the food-in soups, vegetable stews and so on. And, of course, it is an essential part of Indian curry, along with cumin and other spices, which we use a lot to flavor our foods and because they are good for our health.
On the other hand, we also take curcumin supplements, curcumin being the essence of turmeric and, hence, much more concentrated and powerful than the spice that contains it.
EK: The same applies to lycopene, which is present in tomatoes. It has been found to be highly protective against prostate cancer. But contrary to the vitamins in vegetables, most of which are lost by cooking, lycopene becomes more available by heat processing. That's why it is better to eat tomato sauce rather than raw tomatoes if the aim is protection against prostate cancer.
PK: Of course, we should also eat raw tomatoes because they contain many other good things-vitamin C and glutathione. But for Eberhard's benefit, we eat, maybe once or twice a week, pasta with tomato sauce, adding fresh garlic-another good cancer fighter. Unfortunately, though, the beneficial allicin it contains is destroyed by cooking. That's why we add it to our food at the table, freshly squeezed into a plate with a little olive oil, from which everybody can help themselves.
LEM: Are you also taking garlic in the form of supplements?
EK: No, because we are eating raw garlic with almost every meal. There are, however, people who cannot digest raw garlic very well. They should definitely take a good garlic supplement, preferably one with standardized allicin content, because the effectiveness of garlic supplements varies greatly among different brands.
PK: We don't take any green tea supplements either, because we drink green tea all day long. First of all, we like the taste. Secondly, we have studied the science behind it and know about the anti-cancer effect of the epigallo catechin in green tea. There is some of it also in black tea, but not nearly as much. Still, even drinking black tea is a lot better than drinking coffee. Coffee simply has no redeeming health value at all. On the other hand, there seems to be no particular risk in having a cup or two of coffee in the morning, if that's what one likes. I sometimes do it myself, especially in Costa Rica, where we spend the worst winter months, and where coffee is excellent and cheap. But if I have coffee in the morning, I make up for it by switching to green tea for the rest of the day.
EK: Both green and black tea have, of course, a certain amount of a caffeine-like substance and are similar to coffee in that respect. Since neither one of us has heart disease or hypertension, though, we are not worried about it. If it were otherwise, we certainly would take decaffeinated green tea supplements, instead of drinking the tea.
PK: I hope your readers realize that there is a big difference between brewing green tea and black tea, though. If you pour boiling hot water on a green tea bag or on green tea leaves, you burn the tea and it will bring out the bitter tannins. I think that's why some people say they don't like the taste of green tea. But good green tea, when brewed correctly, is delicious and should not taste bitter.
LEM: In Formula for Life you distinguish between what you call "friendly" and "unfriendly" foods. Give us a couple of examples of each.
PK: Assuming that your readers are on a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, let me mention some "friendly" foods that are less well known and under-used. One group is sea vegetables, disparagingly called "seaweeds." They are simply chock full of anti-cancer compounds and all kinds of minerals, as well as beta-carotene. In our book, we tell people how to use them, where to buy them and all the rest.
Another little known but delicious and highly practical health food is miso, which is fermented and aged soy bean paste. We use it like soup stock and add it to brown rice, vegetables, egg whites, tofu and so forth.
In the book, we mention several other such important but little known "friendly" foods. They are all heart-friendly, delicious anti-cancer foods. Yet few people know about them.
EK: As to "unfriendly" foods, we especially call attention to the many health hazards in eating red meat. The list of its problems is long yet not well understood, even by the nutrition-savvy. We go into all of this in some detail in our book.
We also talk a lot about the health problems with any kind of barbecued, fried or grilled foods. Here again, many people who otherwise take good care of themselves underestimate the health risks involved in these types of cooking methods. In the book, we explain, of course, the scientific reasons for all of this.
LEM: You are making the rather startling statement in Formula for Life that negative mental attitudes can short-circuit even the best life extension program and the best diet. Give us some examples of how negative attitudes can shorten our lives and how positive ones can prolong life.
PK: Negative emotions such as chronic anger, discontent and hatreds activate powerful brain chemicals that literally poison our whole system and weaken our immunity. Similarly, chronic anxiety and a fearful disposition can undo much of the good that right diet, antioxidants and other health-promoting supplements are doing you.
There is, therefore, a definite need for greater awareness of our moods, attitudes and prejudices, even among the health-conscious community, because they all impact our health negatively. As far as chronic anger and anxiety are concerned, there already exists a scientifically established cancer risk. It has to do with stress hormones and their suppressing effect on the immune system, as well as on many other vital, physiological functions. Anger, for instance, has been proverbially known to be particularly hard on the liver. So have jealousy and envy-Shakespeare's "green-eyed monster."
EK: Chronic depression, too-aside from making life miserable-is hard on our health. It tends to slow the whole physiology, producing sluggish digestion, dulling one's mind, and making one less reactive, which can have serious consequences-while driving, for instance.
So we must see the urgency of doing something about it. Fortunately, natural St. John's Wort extract definitely helps with depression, as does SAMe, which incidentally also helps with migraine headaches and arthritis. SAMe, again, is a bit pricey, but for a product with so many benefits, one should not hesitate using it, if at all financially possible.
PK: There are also natural products that can help a lot with anxiety and have fewer side effects, if any, than the prescription drugs. In our counseling practice, we have had only positive experiences with passionflower and kava kava, which have very calming effects and help with sleep problems, too.
LEM: In the second half of the book, you surprise us again by introducing us to three other health professionals-two medical doctors and a microbiologist. Can you just give us the gist of these interviews, so our readers will get a general idea of their contribution?
PK: That whole section of the book deals, in one way or another, with cancer. A few years ago, Eberhard had a colon resection to remove a fairly large tumor that was just at the point of getting really dangerous. That's how we met Dr. Robert Nagourney, an oncologist affiliated with Long Beach Memorial Hospital where Eberhard had been hospitalized.
Through many bedside discussions with him, we found out that he had a very different "take" on cancer and chemotherapy. After Eberhard was released, we conducted two major interviews with him, in which he explained his very different way of using chemotherapy more rationally and effectively.
EK: The point is that not every breast, colon or prostate cancer is alike. And yet conventional chemotherapy, as routinely conducted, pretends that there are no individual differences. The prevailing medical approach is purely statistical, the reasoning being: most breast cancers, say, respond to such-and-such a combination of drugs, so that's what we'll use for all breast cancers. The trouble is, What happens to those 20%, 30% or 40% of breast, prostate or colon cancer patients who do not respond to this 'one-size-fits-all' type of chemotherapy? The answer, as the reader of our book will discover, is not very pretty.
PK: Dr. Nagourney's solution is to expose the patient's own cancer cells to a certain laboratory test, with which he can see beforehand whether standard chemotherapy will work with the patient's cancer or not. Many oncologists, however, are prejudiced against this kind of test. Some of them confuse it with a somewhat similar test that was tried many years ago and didn't work. Others have tried using Dr. Nagourney's test, but couldn't make it work because it takes a lot of experience to get results. Consequently, many cancer patients are exposed to the wrong kind of therapy that only debilitates them still more and afterwards makes it that much harder for even the right drugs to work. Many cancer patients die needlessly because of this kind of prejudice and confusion in the medical community. That's why we want people to know about this and possibly save lives by alerting cancer patients to this sorry state of affairs.
EK: To be more even-handed, we also asked permission from microbiologist, Dr. Alan Kapuler, to reprint his full account of controlling and perhaps "curing" his serious case of lymphoma with little more than a macrobiotic diet.
PK: As much as we appreciate macrobiotics, we do not really believe in using it routinely as an alternative to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, except in special cases like Dr. Kapuler's where standard chemotherapy or radiation are too problematic. On the other hand, patients in conventional cancer therapy would do well to consider macrobiotics as an effective and easy to follow adjunct therapy to it.
EK: We met the other doctor by chance when a good friend of ours came down with a tough case of advanced prostate cancer. Our friend successfully underwent an alternative, knife-less type of surgery-called cryosurgery-performed by Dr. Giovanna Casola. The surgery is much less invasive and has lower rates of incontinence and impotence than standard surgery. Here again, there is a lot of medical prejudice against this kind of alternative surgery. Most people with prostate cancer don't even know that this option exists. That's why we want people to know about it and empower them to make their own choices.
LEM: It appears that you have given many the tools that have enabled them to make their own choices. Thank you for taking the time to share some of those tools with us. We look forward to the impact your book will have on readers, and await future works that will be equally beneficial to all.