Ahead of the Curve: Early-Stage Studies Show Promise

science of supplements

Herbs may have a long-standing history of traditional uses, but what happens when you place them under the microscope, so to speak? These studies of various promising supplements show the potential for further exploration, as well as the growing body of evidence for the efficacy of proper nutrition and health.  In fact, good results in the lab can lead to larger human trials. Here are some of the most promising recent findings.

Sea buckthorn protects heart, liver, immunity

Doctors reviewed four human studies and 11 animal studies on the effects of sea buckthorn. One study found sea buckthorn protected the liver against oxidized lipids; in another, the fruit, seeds, and peel protected against stress-induced suppression of natural immune killer white blood cells; and in five studies, sea buckthorn had heart-protective benefits. The unsaturated fatty acids, phytosterols, and vitamins A and E in sea buckthorn may produce these benefits.

Reference: Journal of Ethnopharmacology; 2018, Vol. 213, 183-90

Aloe vera boosts beneficial gut bacteria

Fructans and mucopolysaccharides in aloe vera stimulated the growth of common probiotics. In the lab, doctors used these aloe vera extracts to ferment several common probiotics in the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium families. On average overall, aloe vera fructans boosted these beneficial bacteria populations by two to three times, comparable to the fructooligosaccharides in inulin. In a separate test in human fecal bacteria, aloe fructans boosted the bifidobacterium population by 14 percent.

Reference: Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry; 2017, 7b04100, Published Online

L-glutamine may slow liver disease

A high-sugar, Western-style diet can trigger non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In the lab, doctors fed mice a high-fructose, high-fat diet or a healthy high-complex carbohydrate, low-fat diet. Some in each group got 2.1 grams of l-glutamine per kilogram of body weight. After eight weeks, those on the high-fructose diet without l-glutamine had significantly higher levels of liver inflammation, while those with l-glutamine had levels similar to those on the healthy diet.

Reference: Journal of Nutrition; 2017, Vol. 147, No. 11, 2041-149

Selenium and seizure

Special nerve cells in the brain, called parvalbumin PV interneurons (PVI), connect the nerve cells responsible for the senses (sensory) to the nerve cells responsible for actions and movement (motor). The body builds PVIs using an enzyme that normally contains selenium. In the lab, doctors found that mice lacking selenium in these enzymes failed to develop PVIs and subsequently had a fatal seizure within three weeks.

Discussing the findings, doctors said that this study demonstrates for the first time that selenium is an essential factor for early development of a specific type of interneuron, PVI.

Reference: Cell; 2018, Vol. 172, No. 3, 409-22


In the lab, doctors introduced S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) into human breast cancer cells and found a direct link between the dosage of SAM and decreases in cell proliferation, invasion, migration, growth, and programmed cell death. SAM also reduced tumor size and the spread from an initial cancer site to other sites. Doctors analyzed gene expression and found SAM decreased the expression of several key genes that promote cancer growth and spread.

Discussing the findings, doctors said the results provide compelling evidence that SAM can reduce cancer-related disability and death, and call for further therapeutic study.

Reference 2: Oncotarget; December, 2017, Vol. 9, No. 4, 5169-83

Synbiotics, body weight and fat

Synbiotics combine probiotics with prebiotics, such as inulin. In the lab, mice that had synbiotics added to their diets for the first six weeks after birth had reduced body fat mass and lower body weight after an eight-week high-fat diet, compared to those that did not get synbiotics. The synbiotics group also had lower total cholesterol levels, and greater insulin sensitivity—the ability to use insulin to efficiently metabolize sugar—as adults. The gut microbiome in the synbiotics group also had higher levels of bifidobacterium as early as three weeks of age and continuing through 14 weeks.

Reference 3: Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism; 2018, Vol. 20, No. 6, 1408-18

Article copyright 2018 by Natural Insights for Well Being. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Betsy’s Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Consult your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement, especially if you take medications, even OTC drugs, or have a medical condition. For example, SAMe is contraindicated with bipolar disorder. Many of these supplements thin blood. Many supplements are also contraindicated with serious medications such as those prescribed for seizure disorders.