3 posts tagged “supplements”

From tomatoes to turmeric: Can foods fight inflammation?

Posted October 26th, 2017 by

Inflammation is a hot topic. What’s it all about? And what’s the scoop on certain diets, foods and supplements, such as turmeric, when it comes to fighting inflammation?

What is inflammation?

Not all inflammation is “bad.” Acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural way of defending itself from foreign substances like viruses, bacteria, cuts and splinters. It may cause redness, swelling, heat and/or pain. The upside is, these symptoms are a sign that the body is responding after an injury or infection by triggering white blood cells and disease-fighting chemicals.

But some “other” kinds of inflammation — like chronic inflammation (which may include constant low-grade or systemic inflammation) and inflammation from autoimmune disorders (where the body attacks its own healthy cells as if they’re foreign) — doesn’t always show visible or obvious symptoms and can play a more long-term and complex role, according to Mayo Clinic.

Which diseases or conditions does it affect?

Mounting research shows that inflammation is a common underlying factor (and possibly a cause) in many — perhaps even all — diseases.

You’ve probably heard about the role of inflammation in arthritis or heart health. But researchers and doctors have also studied inflammation’s link to a wide range of other diseases and conditions, including cancerdiabetesAlzheimer’s diseasemultiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ALS (note: in the case of ALS and some other conditions, researchers are still determining whether some inflammation may be protective rather than harmful, so more research is needed).

Over the past decade, scientists have also started to identify certain genes associated with inflammation, and research on that front continues.

What can food do?

Some people follow an “anti-inflammatory diet,” but the science behind these particular diets does not clearly support the theory that they thwart inflammation, and doctors advise being wary of the health claims they make.

That said, taking steps to maintain a healthy weight and eat a variety of foods with anti-inflammatory properties (rather than follow a certain “Diet” with a capital “D”) may benefit your health.

“Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The team at Harvard says these foods have anti-inflammatory properties:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and collards
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines
  • Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges

On the flip side, they say, some foods promote inflammation — so try to avoid or limit these (hint: they’re already foods with a pretty bad rap):

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • Margarine, shortening and lard

Talk with your doctor or a registered dietician about a healthy eating plan with your health condition(s) in mind.

What’s the deal with turmeric?

There’s currently a lot of buzz around turmeric and some other supplements believed to help fight inflammation. Turmeric, a plant related to ginger, is a common spice known for its gold color and use in curry powder.

On top of being used as spice, it can be taken as a supplement. The main anti-inflammatory ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is available as a supplement on its own (the content of curcumin in turmeric spice is only around 3%, so curcumin supplements may pack more of an anti-inflammatory punch). One study found that curcumin may have the same anti-inflammatory effects as NSAID pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofin, (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

Preliminary studies have shown promise for curcumin’s use in people with ulcerative colitismultiple myelomalupus and depression. However, there’s still a lack of conclusive research on the effects of turmeric or curcumin in people with many other conditions, so these supplements typically aren’t recommended as part of a treatment plan at this point. Additional studies on curcumin are currently underway for people with some forms of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, MS and PD.

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new vitamin, supplement or treatment.

What about other supplements?

Overall, the potential role of dietary supplements is “largely uncharted when it comes to carefully done clinical trials for safety and effectiveness,” according to Brent Bauer, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness. Keeping that in mind, here are some other supplements with possible anti-inflammatory effects that researchers have studied to some extent, the Mayo Clinic says:

  • Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) — This could ease rheumatoid arthritis joint pain and osteoarthritis knee pain during activity, but more research is needed.
  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) — It’s commonly used in Europe and may be effective in the short-term treatment of osteoarthritic pain.
  • Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) — Made from the mangosteen fruit, this supplement may have anti-allergy, antibacterial, antifungal, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory qualities, but more research in humans is needed.
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) — This may help improve organ function in people with cirrhosis, a chronic liver disease. It may also be helpful in treating chronic hepatitis. But more research is needed before it can be recommended.

“My best advice concerning chronic inflammation is to stay tuned,” says Dr. Bauer. “This is a huge area of interest in the medical world and there are bound to be discoveries down the road that can improve well-being and the quality of health.”

On PatientsLikeMe

Hundreds of patients report using turmeric for a wide variety of health reasons — see what they have to say. Join the community for even more details on the treatments patients have tried and to learn and share about nutrition with your condition.

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A Day in the Life of Health Data and Drug Information Clinical Specialist David Blaser

Posted January 11th, 2013 by

What’s it like to work at PatientsLikeMe?  We are continuing to reveal just that with our ongoing blog series “A Day in the Life,” which features PatientsLikeMe employees from different departments.  Today we’d like to introduce you to David Blaser, PharmD, a registered pharmacist who decided to trade his white lab coat for the more casual dress of the startup world in early 2011.  Find out what drew him to PatientsLikeMe, how his pharmacy background factors into his work and more.

1.  What led you to join PatientsLikeMe?

My journey had a few twists and turns, but now that I’m here, I can’t imagine working anywhere else.  I started studying pharmacy at Northeastern in 2003. Toward the end of my time there, I started to consider the career paths I could take and didn’t find any of the traditional ones particularly compelling. Maybe it was part of being young and naïve, but I continually was disappointed and perplexed by our healthcare system in the US. I felt like there had to be a better way.

David Blaser

Then I took a great class called Pharmacoeconomics and Health Outcomes. During this class, you take a medical question (e.g., Should I take drug A or drug B for this problem?) and develop computer models that take into account how it would affect the overall health of the population. It made perfect sense to me, and I didn’t understand why this wasn’t done in our system.

Fascinated with this area of medicine, I started a two-year research fellowship at UMass Medical School to learn more about it. During this time, I worked on lots of models examining conditions from insomnia to hepatitis C. Toward the end, I was looking at career opportunities in this area and got an alert about a posting on PatientsLikeMe. I was amazed how the system PatientsLikeMe had put together was even better than the models I was working on and how it could revolutionize our healthcare system. So I immediately contacted Paul Wicks, the head of R&D at PatientsLikeMe, and was able to set up an internship to work a few days a month on various projects. This eventually turned into a position on the Health Data Integrity Team with Christine Caligtan, Sally Okun and Shivani Bhargava.

On a more personal note, during this time my family and I went through the death of my brother due to substance abuse. This has had a deep impact on me and made me reflect on how can I help others avoid a similar fate. One of my long-term goals at PatientsLikeMe is to develop a better support community for other patients with substance abuse disorders.

2.  What’s surprised you the most about the health startup world?

The majority of my previous work experience was in pharmacies, which is one of the most heavily regulated professions. The amount of documentation, guidelines and laws you have to follow is staggering. When I started at PatientsLikeMe, I would find myself asking, where are our guidelines or what is the protocol?  I remember asking Co-Founder Jamie Heywood, and his response really changed my way of thinking.

He told me that no one else has ever tried to do what PatientsLikeMe is doing and there is no rule book. When you reflect on it, it is amazing to be part of the first company to try to accomplish our mission and develop a rule book for something that’s never been done.  Besides this, there is nothing better than having a job where you can have a beer in the office at the end of a stressful day and others join in with you.  (This is frowned upon in hospitals!)

3.  How does your doctoral and fellowship training inform your work?

While at Northeastern, I completed a doctor of pharmacy degree (PharmD). This gave me the knowledge needed to maintain our drug database and think about how medications should be added to our user profiles. There is still a lot to be done in this area, but I’m looking forward to improving it as we continue to develop our site.

David Blaser (second from left) at play

While at UMass, I studied the different ways that ‘health’ can be measured. This seems like something that should be straightforward, but I found a whole new way of evaluating medicine and health. In theory, you give one group a drug and give another group a sugar pill and see who lives longer, but many patients don’t have the time for that. We need to get answers now, so how can we measure more intermediate outcomes to give us a clue about which medications work better? And what about medications that don’t make you live longer, but make your life better? It’s a difficult process that will never be perfect, but I think that the surveys and tools PatientsLikeMe has developed do an excellent job of measuring these things.

4.  What are the challenges of overseeing the wealth of drug information on the site?

People love sharing information! I recently talked with a member who entered information related to a hand injury they experienced while cutting some fruit, including every nerve and tendon that was injured and the different surgeries and operations to heal it. We love that people share such detailed information, but it can create some difficulty in designing profiles so that they are not overwhelming.

As for the drug information on the site, there are many ways that medications are formulated and taken that are difficult to show in the system. Medications can have different dosages, different formulations (e.g., creams, syrups, pills, injections), different schedules (e.g., take one daily, take one every six weeks, etc.), and they can come in a variety of combinations with other drugs. Not to mention the same medications may be available as a prescription drug, over-the-counter drug and supplement all at the same time. The medication databases that are available don’t always meet the needs of our users, but I do my best to put the right information and options in front of them.

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Interested in making a difference in patients’ lives?  Check out our Careers page to see our current job openings.  Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, PatientsLikeMe is looking for a Senior Visual Designer, Client Services Program Director, HEOR Research Scientist and more at the moment.