Life Extension Magazine®

In The News February 1999

Pasta: Another source of folic; St. John’s Wort; Soy Protein

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: Life Extension Editorial Staff.

Pasta, B-Complex and Health
Another source of Folic Acid

Rich in folic acid, pasta makes it easy for consumers to meet the recommended daily allowance of the vitamin. In addition to helping prevent neural tube defects in newborns and perhaps helping to thwart heart and cardiovascular disease, folic acid may also reduce the risk of colon cancer in women by as much as 75%, according to the Nurses' Heath Study.

A B-complex vitamin, folic acid is found naturally in green, leafy vegetables, beans and nuts. The vitamin is also found in grains, breads, breakfast cereals and pasta, all of which are fortified with folic acid. According to the National Academy of Sciences, folic acid, found in fortified foods and supplements, is more easily absorbed by the body than folate found in naturally occurring foods.

The Nurses' Health Study found that folic acid obtained from dietary supplements had a stronger protective effect against colon cancer than folic acid consumed in the diet. So take your vitamins with your pasta.

A Broadening of The Minds

A survey of United States medical schools reveals that almost two-thirds have incorporated courses on alternative therapies, including chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal remedies and mind-body medicine into their curriculum. Of the nation's 125 medical schools, 75 of the responding 117 offered elective courses on alternative medicine or included such topics in required courses. The study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The survey shows an increase in alternative medicine courses in a relatively short period of time. Less than two years ago, an American Medical Association poll found that only 46 medical schools were offering courses on alternative medicine. Given that millions of Americans are visiting alternative practitioners yearly, the blending of alternative medicine with traditional medical practices is a smart choice.

Insurers are also starting to pay attention, as some alternative therapies may be less expensive and more effective than traditional procedures and treatments.

St. John's Wort

image A survey released at the annual American Academy of Family Physicians meeting in San Francisco revealed that one in three primary care doctors recommend herbal supplements to patients on a weekly basis. And the herbal supplement doctors have found most useful and effective is St John's wort, a mood stabilizer that may help treat minor depression.

The survey, conducted by Pharmaton Natural Health Products, also found that physicians are practicing what they preach: On average, 28 percent of doctors use herbal supplements themselves.

According to a survey conducted by addiction researchers at the University of North Carolina, alcoholics also may benefit from St. John's wort. Both alcoholism and depression have been linked to a deficiency of serotonin in the brain. Researchers in the study speculate that hypericin, St. John's wort's main active ingredient, may ease alcohol addiction as it does depression: by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Further, St. John's wort may also influence dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), neurotransmitters that may be key in alcohol addiction.

However, a word of caution: The possibility exists that St. John's wort may cause further complications when taken with alcohol or any other drugs.

Soy Protein
Official, if Belated, Recognition

image Soy made headlines late last year when the Food and Drug Administration said studies showed that soy protein, in combination with a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can reduce heart disease, the number-one cause of death in the U.S. The FDA also said that soy protein, when part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, can lower total blood cholesterol and reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol.

In its report, the FDA said soy protein differs from other vegetable proteins because it changes the way the liver processes cholesterol. According to the agency, the benefit to the heart comes from consuming a minimum of 25 grams of soy protein per day.

Soybeans are the source of soy protein, a major protein source worldwide. It is used in making soy noodles and tofu, as well as meat substitutes such as tempeh and soy burgers. It is also available as a dietary supplement.