Category: NAP Earlier Blogs
by Peter D'Adamo
Although we very often hear of health problems such as female menopause being linked with low estrogen, there are many clinical and subclinical conditions that can benefit from inhibiting the excess production of estrogen and enhancing the production of testosterone.
Though we think of declining estrogen as the hallmark of menopause, it's actually common for women to experience surges of abnormally high estrogen levels during the menopausal and premenopausal periods, as well as earlier in life.
Estrogen dominance can start early on in a women's menstrual cycle. Young women who suffer from this enter menarche with tremendously difficult periods, and doctors sometimes give these teenage girls birth control pills to help regulate the frequency and severity of their periods.
Some women will develop the estrogen dominance syndrome much later in life, sometimes as a result of diet, liver impairment, or environmental factors or also as a result of anovulatory cycles before menopause -- that is, menstrual cycles in which no ovulation has occurred. Ovulation is necessary in order to produce the corpus luteum, (which means "yellow body") that is found on the surface of the ovary after ovulation. Surrounding the ripening egg, the corpus luteum remains after ovulation to produce progesterone for the last half of the menstrual cycle. Without ovulation, less progesterone is produced, which can cause estrogen imbalance in some women.
Diseases or problems that are thought to be related to or affected by excess estrogen and deficient progesterone in women are:
Fibrocystic breast disease
Certain types of PMS
Menstrual disturbances--irregular and heavy bleeding.
Endometriosis, the uterine tissue disorder, which is helped by the use of estrogen blockers.
Fibroids, a sign of excess proliferative capacity of the uterus, which may not be balanced with sufficient progesterone.
We live in an estrogenic or feminizing environment. Certain chemicals in the environment and our foods, one of which is DDT, cause estrogenic effects. Although banned in 1972, DDT, like its breakdown product DDE, is an estrogen-like substance and is still present in the environment. Chlorine and hormone residues in meats and dairy products can also have estrogenic effects. In men, the estrogenic environment may result in declining quality of sperm or fertility rates. In women, it may lead to an epidemic of female diseases, all traceable to excess estrogen/deficient progesterone.
Aromatase is an enzyme required for the conversion of androgens to estrogens. Aromatase inhibitors thus decrease the concentrations of estrogens in the body and are effective against tumors that depend on estrogen for growth. They are usually used as second-line therapy (after tamoxifen) for the treatment of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Clinically, there are a variety of reasons why doctors would prescribe an aromatase inhibitor for women. These include:
Healthy breast tissue
Proper estrogen levels
Healthy lean muscle mass
In men aromatase activity increases with age, converting what little testosterone is left into estrogen. It is perhaps this event that is most responsible for the many symptoms of “male menopause,” and possibly even enlarged prostates and prostate cancer. In women, most of the research on aromatase inhibitors addresses the treatment of clinical conditions known to be linked with excess estrogen production or sensitivity. In the general population, aromatase inhibitors are used by the bodybuilding community to increase lean muscle mass and decrease body fat.
Clinically, there are a variety of reasons why doctors would prescribe an aromatase inhibitor for men. These include:
Healthy prostate tissue
Proper testosterone levels
Healthy sperm count
The long-held theory of prostate cancer, that testosterone is bad stuff, and even worse when it's converted to dihydrotestosterone, is gradually falling into disfavor. A more prevalent current opinion is that prostate cancer has more to do with estrogen than with dihydrotestosterone. It appears that many men, as they get older, convert too much testosterone to estrogen and that this excessive estrogen is the cause of prostate enlargement or prostate cancer. For men, we're just beginning to recognize that the overproduction of estrogen may be a large part of the problem. (We should remember, by the way, that in both sexes, testosterone metabolizes to estrogen by the action of aromatase. In women, of course, the great majority of the testosterone is converted, whereas in men, it's the opposite: most of the testosterone in a healthy man stays as testosterone, and only a little bit becomes estrogen.) The reasons for an excess of estrogen in some men may be genetic or are perhaps environmental - we've all heard about those environmental "estrogen-mimicking molecules."
ESTROGEN BLOCKERS AND AROMATASE INHIBITORS
Indole-3-Carbinols: These compounds, found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards and broccoli, help to transform dangerous estrogen into more benign forms, as recognized by the National Cancer Institute. They have also been shown to stop the growth of breast-cancer cells by inhibiting the action of a specific enzyme.
Chrysin: Found in the herb Passiflora incarnata, the flavone chrysin is a potent natural aromatase inhibitor. In a study published 1993 chrysin and 10 other flavonoids were compared to an aromatase-inhibiting drug (aminoglutethimide). Chrysin was the most potent aromatase-inhibitor, and was shown to be similar in potency and effectiveness to the aromatase-inhibiting drug. The scientists conducting the study concluded by stating that the aromatase-inhibiting effects of certain flavonoids may contribute to the cancer preventive effects of plant-based diets. (1)
Apigenin: Found in most species of Chamomile, the flavone apigenin is also a safe and effective aromatase inhibitor, with an inhibitory effectiveness about equal to chrysin. (2)
Isoflavones: The isoflavones in soy, most notably genistein and diadzein were shown in studies to be potent aromatase inhibitors (4)
An advantage to using plant extracts to boost testosterone in lieu of drugs is that the plant extracts have ancillary health benefits. Chrysin, for example, is a potent antioxidant that possesses vitamin-like effects in the body. It has been shown to induce an anti-inflammatory effect, possibly through inhibition of the enzymes 5-lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase inflammation pathways.
AROMASTAT is an all natural blend of herbs shown in clinical studies to inhibit the enzyme aromatase.* Aromatase is an enzyme found in the liver that converts testosterone into estradiol and androstenedione into estrone. Thus, its primary action is to convert steroid hormones into estrogen class hormones.
1. Pelissero C, Lenczowski MJ, Chinzi D, Davail-Cuisset B, Sumpter JP, Fostier Effects of flavonoids on aromatase activity, an in vitro study. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1996 Feb;57(3-4):215-23.
2. Jeong HJ, Shin YG, Kim IH, Pezzuto JM. Inhibition of aromatase activity by flavonoids. Arch Pharm Res. 1999 Jun;22(3):309-12.
3. Kellis JT Jr, Vickery LE. Inhibition of human estrogen synthetase (aromatase) by flavones. Science. 1984 Sep 7;225(4666):1032-4.
4. Kao YC, Zhou C, Sherman M, Laughton CA, Chen S. Molecular basis of the inhibition of human aromatase (estrogen synthetase) by flavone and isoflavone phytoestrogens: A site-directed mutagenesis study. Environ Health Perspect. 1998 Feb;106(2):85-92.
Designed by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, these products feature a unique natural source of calcium: The small red seaweed called "Maerl" found only in the isolated areas off the pristine coast of Northwest Ireland. Of all sources of calcium Maerl has one of the lowest levels of undesirable contaminants. Using Maerl calcium as a base, Dr. D’Adamo has crafted four different mineral formulas using unique cofactors and micromineral ratios specific for each blood type.
Maerl is composed of a wide variety of essential nutrients including calcium, magnesium, boron and zinc. Maerl’s unique structure gives it great versatility, and when woven into formulas tailored to the genetics of ABO blood type, insures a phenomenal rate of bioavailability and utilization.
All Phytocal® mineral formulas feature Maerl-based sea calcium, the only natural source of calcium with a broad enough buffering range to work effectively amid the widely differing digestive capabilities of each blood type. Because each blood type possesses variable assimilation capabilities and requires differing cofactor and trace mineral requirements Dr. D'Adamo designed four different formulas:
Phytocal A®: features higher levels of the important antioxidant selenium; the gastric activating cofactors betaine hydrochloride, renett and gentian root (Gentiana lutea) plus the mineral-rich herb horsetail (Equisetum arvense). Phytocal A® also features significant levels of the important calcium absorption enhancer ipriflavone and a small dose of vitamin A to enhance the activity of the calcium absorbing enzyme intestinal alkaline phosphatase.
Phytocal AB®: features higher levels of the important co-minerals magnesium, manganese and molybdenum; the stomach-acidifying cofactors betaine hydrochloride and renett. Phytocal AB® also features yellow dock (Rumex crispus) as a gentle source of iron.
Phytocal B®: features the highest levels of magnesium -an important nutrient for nerve and muscle function; chromium to help balance carbohydrate function and proper doses of iron and copper -two important blood-building nutrients. Phytocal B® also features higher levels of vitamin D and vitamin K -important calcium absorption cofactors.
Phytocal O®: features balanced levels of the micro and macro minerals magnesium, iron, copper and zinc; manganese to help insure proper joint and ligament function and micro-trace amounts of iodine to enhance thyroid function. Phytocal O® also features nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) an important aid to proper intestinal assimilation.
Q: What qualities make the calcium in PHYTOCAL® usable by all blood types?
A: Its superior buffering capacity allows Phytocal® Maerl-based calcium to maintain very high rates of absorption despite the variable acid and alkaline levels found in the digestive tracts of the various ABO groups.
In addition, the performance characteristics of Phytocal® exceed all of the critical requirements for effective calcium absorption:
PARTICLE SIZE: Phytocal® calcium is of highly consistent particle size with excellent dispersion qualities.
ACIDITY OF THE MEDIA: Phytocal® calcium is fully soluble below pH 5.0.
SOLUBILITY: The solubility of Phytocal® calcium can be appreciated visually: There is virtually no sedimentation after dispersion.
Introduction In the book Eat Right 4 Your Type, Dr. D'Adamo introduced readers to the concept of Secretors/Non-secretors. By now you are familiar with the concept that your ABO blood type is controlled by your genetics. The gene coding for your blood type lies on chromosome 9q34. However, a separate gene actually interacts with your blood type gene, determining your ability to secrete your blood type antigens into body fluids and secretions.
In the genetics of the secretor system two options exist. A person can be either a Secretor (Se) or a Non-secretor (se). This is completely independent of whether you are a blood type A, B, AB, or O. This means that someone can be an A Secretor or an A Non-secretor, a B Secretor or a B Non-secretor etc.
In a simplified sense, a Secretor is defined as a person who secretes their blood type antigens into body fluids and secretions like the saliva in your mouth, the mucus in your digestive tract and respiratory cavities, etc. Basically what this means is that a secretor puts their blood type into these body fluids. A Non-secretor on the other hand puts little to none of their blood type into these same fluids. As a general rule, in the U.S. about 20% of the population are Non-secretors (with the remaining 80% being Secretors).
Advantages and Disadvantages:
The Secretor Edge
With respect to the ABO blood types, it is very difficult to state that one type is more advantageous than another. Each blood type has its own strengths and characteristic weaknesses. However, this does not appear to be the case with the Secretor gene. As a generality, being a Non-secretor (based on all of the available information) does actually appear to be a potential health disadvantage. At a very basic level, being able to secrete blood type into your saliva, mucus, etc. allows for an added degree of protection against the environment, particularly with respect to microorganisms and lectins.
An additional advantage of being a Secretor might be a generalized tendency to promote a stabilized, blood-type friendly intestinal bacterial ecosystem. Many of the friendly (probiotic) bacteria in your digestive system actually use your blood type as one of their preferential foods. Since Secretors have a steady supply of blood type in the mucus that lines the digestive tract; their bacteria have a much more constant food supply.
Metabolic Differences Between Secretors and Non-Secretors
Similar to the ABO blood types, it appears additional genetic information must be linked to the Secretor gene, because predictable trends in non-blood type aspects of physiology have a close association with Secretor/Non-secretor status. Aspects of physiology such as the relative activity of an enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase; propensities toward clotting, reliability of some tumor markers, and generalized performance of your immune system have predictable trends depending upon your Secretor status.
The activity of intestinal and serum alkaline phosphatase is strongly correlated with secretor phenotypes. Basically, Non-secretors, independent of their ABO blood groups (as you might remember type O's have the highest alkaline phosphatase activity and type A's the least), have lower alkaline phosphatase activity. It has been estimated that the serum alkaline phosphatase activity of Non-secretors is only about 20% of the active in the secretor groups.
As was mentioned in Eat Right 4 Your Type, blood type impacts the clotting ability to a significant degree. In fact, it has been estimated that a significant fraction (30%) of the genetically determined variance in plasma concentration of the von Willebrand factor antigen (vWf) is directly related to ABO blood type. As a rule, it is blood group O individuals who have the lowest amount of this clotting factor and the tendency for the lowest degree of clotting/platelet aggregation.
In the Secretor/Non-secretor world, Secretors have the slowest clotting while Non-secretors have shorter bleeding times and a tendency towards higher factor VIII and vWf. ABO and Secretor genetics actually further interact to influence blood viscosity. In essence what this means is that an A Non-secretor will be at the far end of the spectrum with the slowest bleeding times, thickest blood viscosity, and the most probability to have high platelet aggregation. On the other end on the continuum will be O Secretors, who will have the longest bleeding time, thinnest blood, and least tendency for platelet aggregation. Because of this, Non-secretors (especially the type A's) tend to be at the highest risk for future atherothrombotic and heart disease.
Disease Susceptibility among Secretors and Non-secretors:
As a general rule, a higher intensity of oral disease is found among Non-secretors. This includes dysplasia (precancerous changes to the tissue) and an increase in cavities. Statistically speaking, blood type A Secretors have the lowest number of cavities.
Non-secretors also tend to have more digestive problems. Several studies have indicated that Non-secretors have a significantly higher rate of duodenal and peptic ulcers. Non-secretors are also less resistant to infection by Helicobacter pylori (a microbe associated with ulcers). It appears that this organism can colonize more readily and generate more inflammation in individual's incapable of secreting their blood type into the digestive tract.
Non-secretors are at an increased risk for development of celiac disease (up to 48% of patients with celiac disease have been reported to be Non-secretors).
With regards to aspects of lung function, being a Non-secretor takes its usual place as a health disadvantage. Several researchers have suggested that being a Non-secretor might predispose an individual to damaging effects, while being a secretor might add a degree of protection against harmful environmental assaults to our lungs.
Among coal miners, asthma was significantly related to Non-secretor phenotype. Secretors also appear to receive a degree of protection against some of the deleterious effects of cigarette smoking. Evidence suggests that the ability to secrete ABO blood type antigens might decrease the risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Being a Non-secretor also offers a slight increase risk for having a problem with habitual snoring.
Non-secretors appear to have an increase in the prevalence of a variety of autoimmune diseases including ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthropathy, Sjogren's syndrome, multiple schlerosis, and Grave's disease.
Diabetes, Heart Disease, & Metabolic Syndrome X
Non-secretors are at a greater risk of developing diabetes (especially adult onset diabetes); and they might be at a greater risk of developing complications from diabetes. Data allows the conclusion that Non-secretors are a risk factor for myocardial infarction and heart disease (note: this is particularly true for men).
Several different researchers have noted a connection between a metabolic syndrome called "Syndrome X" and Non-secretor blood types. Syndrome X is a clustering of metabolic problems comprised of insulin resistance (your cells do not respond effectively to the insulin that you create), elevated plasma glucose (high blood sugar), lipid regulation problems (elevated triglycerides, increased small low-density lipoproteins, and decreased high-density lipoproteins), high blood pressure, a prothrombic state (tendency to clotting), and obesity (especially central obesity or a predisposition to gaining weight in the abdomen). This cluster of metabolic disorders seem to interact to promote the development of diabetes (adult onset type II), atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. And while insulin resistance might lie at the heart of the problem, all of these metabolic disorders appear to contribute to health problems.
Alcoholism has been associated with the Non-secretor blood type. On the positive side, alcohol consumption appears to exert a protective effect on lung function and to lower the risk of heart disease more in Non-secretors than in Secretors. The key principle with the use of alcohol is for Non-secretors (and everybody actually) is moderation.
Bacteria Urinary Tract Infections
Non-secretors are at a greater risk for recurrent UTI's, have a greater tendency to increased inflammation, and are much more likely to develop renal scars. Being a blood type Secretor on the other hand offers a degree of protection; cutting your risk of recurrent UTI's by greater than 50% and dramatically decreasing the likelihood you will have renal scars develop.
Based upon this tendency of Non-secretor saliva to not only fail to prevent attachment of Candida., but maybe actually promote the binding of Candida to your tissue, we would expect that research would show higher tendency to Candida problems among Non-secretors. This is what we find to be true. Non-secretors are much more likely to be carriers of Candida and to have problems with persistent infections. Blood type O Non-secretors might be the most affected of the Non-secretor blood types, since Candida also appears to have an easier time colonizing (attaching to) the blood type O antigen.
Secretors are known to have higher levels of IgG and IgA antibodies. The lack of IgA antibodies perhaps explains the link between non-secretor status and an increased frequency of heart valve problems secondary to bacteria infection. Because IgA functions much like the way a rampart or palisade wall protects a town from invasion, most if not all non-secretors have problems with gut permiability ("leaky gut").
Determining Your Secretor Status
I hope you can begin to appreciate that having information about your Secretor/Non-secretor status might be a valuable piece of health information. While, unfortunately, the news for Non-secretors is not as rosy, it is better to have information. With information comes knowledge. And with knowledge, comes the ability to intervene.
Dr. D'Adamo has done blood testing for Secretor/Non-secretor status for years. Now, through an arrangement he has made with a lab, you can order a test kit to determine your Secretor/Non-secretor status. The test will need to be returned to the lab for results to be obtained.
Look for further information on Secretor/Non-secretor blood type in the book Live Right 4 Your Type. In addition to allowing important diet refinements, knowing your secretor status can help you use nutritional supplements more effectively and intelligently while adding to your awareness of illness and metabolic dysfunction you may be prone to because of your secretor genetics.
Previously, secretor status could only be determined by select labs using sophisticated forensic techniques. Now North American Pharmacal has made available this important test directly available to the general public using a simple saliva sample to perform the determination.
To order the NAP secretor test CLICK HERE.
The new NAP secretor test was developed in cooperation with Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratories, a renowned industry leader in innovative diagnostic testing.
Dr. D'Adamo has been utilizing a device called BIM-4 to monitor the progress and efforts of his patients to build a healthier body composition. BIM-4 is the abbreviation for a tool called a Bioimpedance Machine (version 4) and it is used to gather information on several biomarkers of a healthy metabolism.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis is not a new technology. In fact, it has been used in research since 1940. In essence, the concept of bioelectrical impedance is used to describe the measurement of electrical current changes across limbs, organs and other body sites. Without getting into the "why" or "how" of the workings of the machine, this device allows us to quickly gather extremely useful information regarding a client's body composition (amount of body fat, amount of muscle tissue and the ratio between these two) and body fluid dynamics/distribution.
Let's take a moment to discuss the difference between "weight" and "body composition". We routinely hear people refer to their weight and their desire to lose weight. Unfortunately, this is a very unspecific goal. A more appropriate goal would usually be to lose fat. What is the difference you might ask? Body weight consists of other components besides fat. These include muscle tissue, bone weight, and water primarily.
Clearly losing weight in your bones would not be a healthy goal. We are all familiar with osteoporosis and the need to sustain thick strong bones, so we are probably in agreement that this is not the type of weight we would like to lose.
Similarly, if we were to look at all of the advantageous functions muscle tissue contributes to on behalf of our health (including being the primary furnace to burn fat) we would be in agreement that losing muscle tissue would not be a good form of weight loss either. In fact, we find that health suffers not so much from too much weight, but from too much body fat and too little muscle. As such, it is much more important to know the amount of muscle mass you have rather than to solely focus on your weight.
We actually have water weight both inside and outside of our cells. In a healthy state, there is a tendency to maintain greater quantities of fluid inside your cells. The opposite of this would be edema or fluid build-up outside of your cells, which is obviously not reflective of perfect health.
So, with respect to water weight, it is fine (in fact desirable) to lose or lower the water outside of your cells (extracellular fluid) while it is not such a good thing to have the amount of fluid inside (intracellular) your cells decrease.
The BIM-4 gives an estimation of intracellular and extracellular water, as well as the ratio between the two. The best way to think of the intracellular water is as a measurement of the internal environment. A higher reading of intracellular water generally indicates a happy and healthy internal cell environment. Factors like compliance to your blood type diet, detoxification, appropriate exercise, and stress management will usually move this number in a positive direction over time.
Extracellular water is the flip side of intracellular water and is a measurement of the fluid outside of your cells. In a state of great health, this number should be less than the intracellular value. Factors like eating avoid foods, sedentary lifestyle habits, high amounts of cellular toxicity, and high stress tend to drive this number higher.
If you are seeking to improve aspects of your intracellular/extracellular water parameters, in addition to following the lifestyle activities mentioned above, you might also consider supplementing your diet with dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale).
Historically, Taraxacum was used in Europe to treat fevers, boils, eye problems, diarrhea, fluid retention, liver congestion, heartburn, and various skin problems. In most other parts of the world, dandelion has been used primarily as a tonic for the liver. Taraxacum has also been used historically as a food. The leaves can be added to salad greens, or utilized as a steamed vegetable or tea. The root can serve as a coffee substitute and the flowers can be used to make dandelion wine or schnapps.
Taraxacum has significantly different physiological activity depending upon which part of the plant is used. The root is classified as a liver tonic and has been shown to enhance aspects of liver performance. The leaf, on the other hand, is considered to be more specific for the kidneys.
In animals, Taraxacum leaf has been shown to have diuretic activity, stimulating the loss of excess water and promoting weight loss. Much of the weight loss activity is thought to be a result of the elimination of excess extracellular water. Taraxacum was shown to have diuretic activity comparable to furosemide (Lasix). However, since Taraxacum is also a rich source of potassium, capable of replacing potassium lost through diuresis, it is not associated with the side effects of furosemide, such as hepatic coma and circulatory collapse. In other words, Taraxacum is considered to be extremely safe.
In the experiments, the dosage of Taraxacum leaf given to the animals was 8 ml/kg of body weight daily of an aqueous fluid extract. This dose produced a 30% loss of body weight in mice and rats in a 30-day period, with much of the weight loss attributed to the loss of excess amounts of extracellular water.
To put this dose in perspective, this would be approximately equivalent to drinking about 3/4 of a quart of a dandelion leaf water extract (think of this as a very strong tea) daily. Another option for consuming dandelion leaf is supplementation with a freeze-dried extract of the leaves. Since freeze-drying preserves and stabilizes the active ingredients in the plant, and since removing all of the water weight from the plant substantially decreases the weight of the material, a little of the freeze-dried leaf goes a long way. A dose of 2 capsules daily for the first week (to make sure the dietary supplement is agreeing with you) is a good starting point for adding this nutritious plant into your diet. After this initial week, it is fine to increase the amount you consume to two capsules twice or three times daily. Dandelion (both root and leaf) is considered safe even in very high quantities and is perfect dietary additions to enhance your body's natural self-cleaning processes.
Dandelion (Taraxacum) Order Page
1. Racz-Kotilla E, Racz G, Solomon A. The action of Taraxacum officinale extracts on the body weight and diuresis of laboratory animals. Planta Med 1974;26:212-217.
by Gregory Kelly
My first encounter with stinging nettle was on a hike in San Diego County in the summer of 1989. At that point in my beginning steps of self-education (I was a newcomer to herbs and herbal medicine in 1989), I was inclined to touch and examine every new plant I encountered. For those of you familiar with stinging nettles, I am sure you have already guessed that I was in for quite a shock that day. Yes, I discovered that stinging nettle's do sting!.
For those of you who have never seen a stinging nettle plant, the stem is covered with fine hair-like protrusions. When they are touched, watch out. They release a burning fluid made of histamine and formic acid. It is believed that the histamine is responsible for the immediate stinging sensation (very much like a bee sting for those of you lucky enough to have not been as silly as I was). The sting ultimately produces a temporary inflamed and irritated welt. Ironically, the juice from the stinging nettle acts as an antidote to the sting when applied topically (I wish I had known this in 1989).
Today both the root and leaves of stinging nettle are used in the supplement industry; however, many traditional cultures used nettles topically to stimulate paralyzed muscles or to provide temporary relief from rheumatic pains.
While the leaf and root overlap a bit in their activities (especially in the area of balancing immune messenger molecules), each of these parts of the plant have some unique actions.
Stinging nettle contains formic acid, a high proportion of chlorophyll, flavonoids, plant sterols, plant enzymes, a wide range of minerals, and plant lignans. Stinging nettle also contains a small-molecular-weight lectin (Urtica dioica agglutinin (UDA)) purified from the rhizomes (roots), which exhibits antiviral activity and is capable favorably inducing a balanced immune response. This lectin is an example of a "good" lectin. It is probably a major reason for the plant's cytokine (immune messenger molecules) balancing activity. Choline acetyltransferase has been demonstrated in stinging nettle plants, as well as, choline, acetylcholine and serotonin.(1) Since these components of the plant are critical for nervous system health and neurotransmitter balance, this plant might have some usefulness as added nutrition in neurological disorders. However, to date this aspect of the plant has not been explored.
Stinging nettle demonstrates anti-inflammatory activity in experimental situations. The extract partially inhibits the activity of 5-lipoxygenase and shows a concentration dependent inhibition of the synthesis of cyclooxygenase derived reactions.(2) (Note: these are the same enzymes that aspirin inhibits). A new class of drugs (called Cox2 inhibitors) aimed specifically at modulating cyclooxygenase enzymes is one of the new darling in the pharmaceutical industry.
Stinging nettle (both the leaf and root) also appears to prevent the over stimulation of proinflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 beta. Cytokines can be thought of in simple terms as immune system messengers. And while a discussion of these proinflammatory cytokines and immune system balance is beyond the scope of this column, cytokine balance is a growing area of interest in medicine. In fact, virtually all immune disorders (from HIV, to cancer, to autoimmune diseases), allergic conditions (like asthma and allergies) and even obesity/insulin resistance have characteristic imbalances in cytokine levels as part of the functional derangement occurring at a metabolic level.
Between the lipoxygenase, cyclooxygenase, and cytokine modulating activities of this plant, stinging nettle is literally a treasure chest of unexplored potential.
Anti-viral and Immune Balancing
UDA Superantigen Stinging nettle actually contains a "super lectin" called UDA superantigen (UDA for short). For those interested, UDA appears to be an N-acetylglucosamine specific lectin. Evidence indicates that this super lectin can inhibit a range of viruses including those responsible for HIV, colds, and influenza.(4)
UDA is also T-cell mitogen, distinguishable from classical T-cell lectin mitogens, by its ability to discriminate a particular population of CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells, as well as its capacity to induce an original pattern of T-cell activation and cytokine production.(5) Basically, what this means is that unlike most things that stimulate the immune system only toward greater activity, the super lectin in stinging nettles appears to stimulate the immune system to be in balance.(6)
While studies in humans are lacking (and would be extremely desirable), the UDA super lectin has been shown to prevent the progression of experimentally induced systemic lupus erythematosus-like pathology in mice. In the experiment, UDA-lectin treated animals did not develop overt clinical signs of lupus and nephritis (kidney disease). UDA was also shown to alter the production of autoantibodies in a sex-dependent manner.(14)
The leaf of stinging nettle was investigated for allergies (the root is typically not used for this application). Sixty-nine individuals completed a double-blind randomized study comparing the effects of a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettle with placebo on allergic rhinitis. Efficacy with stinging nettle was rated higher than placebo in global assessments and slightly higher than placebo when comparing diary data.(7) While the overall improvement in this study was not mind-boggling, I have had many patients who have felt benefits from taking this as a dietary supplement during allergy season.
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy
Extracts of the root of stinging nettle are approved for the treatment of prostatic diseases in Germany. In the U.S., the roots are classified as a dietary supplement. Experimental evidence suggests that some constituent in the roots (maybe the UDA super lectin or the plant sterols or some combination of all the ingredients) inhibit the membrane sodium- and potassium-ATPase activity of the prostate, which may subsequently suppress prostate-cell metabolism and growth.(8) Since BPH is characterized by cells that have grown to large (the "H" in BPH stands for hyperplasia which translates in simple terms as enlarged cells), this ability to limit the growth and metabolism of prostate cells would seem to be of obvious importance.
Aqueous extracts from the root are also capable of inhibiting the binding of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) to its receptors on human prostatic membranes, in a dose-dependent manner.(9) It is believed that the lignans found in the root are responsible for inhibiting the binding of SHBG with receptors.(10) The net effect of this anti SHBG activity is a positive influence on testosterone metabolism. Testosterone is also metabolized by enzymes called aromatase and 5-alpha-reductase. Prostate enlargement is characterized by elevated testosterone levels (specifically elevated levels of the enzymes involved in testosterone metabolism), and stinging nettle is thought to lower the activity of one or both of these enzymes (probably aromatase).
In German research, the combined use of extracts of stinging nettle root and saw palmetto has shown efficacy in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. A before-and-after comparison revealed an improvement in the pathological findings and in the obstructive and irritative symptoms. For the most part, the efficacy and tolerability of the preparation was assessed as very good" or "good".(11) When an extract combining stinging nettle and saw palmetto was compared to Finasteride in patients suffering from benign prostatic hyperplasia, similar improvements in measured parameters were observed; however, in terms of safety, fewer reports of diminished ejaculation volume, erectile dysfunction and headache were reported in the patients utilizing the herbal combination.(12) A combination of stinging nettle and Pygeum (an African plant) has also demonstrated efficacy in benign prostatic hyperplasia. Urine flow, residual urine, and night time urination were significantly improved by treatment.(13)
Nettle root taken orally can occasionally result in mild GI complaints and a burning sensation of the skin. Occasionally swelling of the skin (fluid retention and diminished volume of urine as compared with the amount of fluid consumed are observed subsequent to the use of root preparations. Allergic reactions to the leaf (edema and skin reactions) have been reported in rare cases. In case of any of these side effects, it is recommended that the stinging nettle product be discontinued. In both cases, reports of side effects have been exceedingly rare.
North American Pharmacal produces 2 different Urtica dioica preparations:
UDA PLUS: The rhizome (root) preparation
URTICA DIOICA: The leaf portion of the plant
1. Smallman BN, Maneckjee A. The synthesis of acetylcholine by plants. Biochem J 1981;194:361-364.
2. Obertreis B, Giller K, Teucher T, et al. Anti-inflammatory effect of Urtica dioica folia extract in comparison to caffeic malic acid. Arzneimittelforschung 1996;46:52-56. [Article in German]
3. Obertreis B, Ruttkowski T, Teucher T, et al. Ex-vivo in-vitro inhibition of lipopolysaccharide stimulated tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1 beta secretion in human whole blood by extractum urticae dioicae foliorum. Arzneimittelforschung 1996;46:389-394.
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