March 3rd, 2015

Alpha-lipoic Acid Promotes Weight Loss

Alpha-lipoic Acid Promotes Weight LossIntroduction:

With the growing epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes it is imperative that Americans utilize safe and effective strategies for achieving and maintaining their ideal body weight. The various drugs used to promote weight loss, as well as many dietary supplements for the same, are fraught with both efficacy and safety issues. A new study conducted in Spain indicates that the dietary supplement alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is both a safe and effective adjunct to calorie reduction in promoting weight loss.

Background Data:

ALA is a naturally occurring and necessary biological factor. Although it has some vitamin-like functions, as it can be synthesized in the body, it is not classified as a vitamin. ALA has several unique abilities, including the ability to work as an antioxidant in both water and lipid soluble parts of the cell and cell membrane; the ability to regenerate other antioxidants; and the ability to remain activity once it neutralizes free radicals.

The medical use of ALA has focused on its positive effects in patients with diabetes. Double-blind clinical trials in humans have demonstrated that ALA improves insulin sensitivity, blood sugar control, cardiovascular health, nerve function and lipid levels, and reduces symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.

Studies have also shown beneficial effects in slowing down the aging process, especially in the brain. It has been shown to improve mental function in elderly subjects and in a study in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, ALA was found to dramatically slow the progression rate of Alzheimer’s Disease compared to untreated patients or patients receiving standard treatment of cholinesterase inhibiting drugs.

Recent pre-clinical studies indicate that ALA may help to boost metabolism, promote the burning of fat as energy, reduce food intake, and therefore, potentially aid in weight loss.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oils have also been shown to promote weight loss in some, but not all, studies in humans.

New Data:

To better clarify the weight loss promoting effects of ALA and omega-3 fatty acids, 97 overweight or obese women were put on a weight loss promoting diet of 30% less than total energy expenditure. The women were then divided into four groups. One group served as the control group the others were given either ALA 300 mg; EPA 1.3 g; or ALA 300 mg and EPA 1.3 g.

The study lasted 10 weeks. Effectiveness was determined by measuring changes in body weight, body composition, basal metabolic rate, waist-to-hip ratio blood pressure, serum glucose, and insulin and lipid profiles.

Results showed that weight loss was associated with positive changes in lipid and glucose. In regards to weight loss, ALA supplementation alone or in combination with EPA enhanced the effects of dieting. The control group lost an average of 11.44 pounds; the EPA group 11.88 pounds; the ALA group 15.4 pounds; and the ALA+EPA group 14.3 pounds. Hence, ALA contributed approximately 3 pounds of extra weight loss over the course of the 10 weeks.


There are a couple of important points to take away from this study. First, the subjects were able to follow the reduced calorie diet and that allowed even the control group to lose weight. The effect of ALA in promoting additional weight loss is quite encouraging. In addition to ALA being very safe, it also produces a multitude of other benefits in addition to promoting the weight loss. Most notably it exerts antioxidant and anti-aging effects (especially in the brain).

To enhance the absorption of ALA, it is recommended that it be taken on an empty stomach or 2 hours after eating as food intake may reduce the bioavailability of ALA.

Dosage adjustments for insulin or oral hypoglycemic drugs may be required since supplementation with ALA may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels. Self-monitoring of blood glucose levels is encouraged.


Huerta AE, Navas-Carretero S, Prieto-Hontoria PL, Martínez JA, Moreno-Aliaga MJ. Effects of α-lipoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in overweight and obese women during weight loss. Obesity 2015 Feb;23(2):313-21.

Dr. Michael Murray

February 26th, 2015

Dreaming of Better Sleep: 7 Natural Cures for Insomnia

7 Natural Cures for InsomniaWhen sleep seems an impossible dream, it’s tempting to reach for the pill bottle–and an instant fix. But sleeping drugs are not the answer to insomnia. In fact, they can be the stuff of nightmares. But here’s some good news: Some key dietary changes and supplements can give you the rest you’re dreaming of.


If you have difficulty achieving or maintaining normal sleep, you have insomnia. Trouble falling asleep at bedtime is referred to as sleep-onset insomnia. If your trouble is with waking frequently or very early, you have sleep-maintenance insomnia. Insomnia usually has a psychological cause–depression, anxiety, or tension. But it can also be triggered by various foods, drinks, and medications. Numerous compounds in our diets (most notably caffeine)–as well as more than 300 drugs–can stand in the way of a good night’s sleep.


The first step in improving slumber is to look for–and eliminate–triggers. Here are some dietary tips for promoting healthy sleep.


Stimulants are a no-no for people with insomnia. Eliminate coffee, as well as less obvious caffeine sources such as soft drinks, chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream, hot cocoa, and tea. Even small amounts of caffeine (as in decaf coffee or chocolate) may be enough to trigger insomnia in some people. But caffeine isn’t the only culprit. Some food colorings can act as stimulants. Food sensitivities and allergies can also cause insomnia. And while they’re not technically stimulants, sugar and refined carbohydrates can interfere with sleep. Eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and eating irregularly can cause a reaction in the body that triggers the “fight or flight” part of the nervous system, causing the mind to be alert– and therefore wakeful.


Even though it’s a depressant, alcohol can interfere with healthy sleep. It causes adrenaline to be released and disrupts the production of serotonin (an important brain chemical that initiates sleep).


A rapid drop in blood sugar during the night is an important cause of sleep-maintenance insomnia because it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels, such as adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone. These compounds stimulate the brain. They are a natural signal that it is time to eat. Eating to control blood sugar levels throughout the day is the first step in stabilizing the blood sugar levels throughout the night. A good bedtime snack that can keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night is a small bowl of oatmeal. Or try the Thanksgiving meal trick: tryptophan. Foods high in this amino acid, such as turkey, milk, cottage cheese, chicken, eggs, and nuts (especially almonds), may help promote sleep. In the brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin and melatonin, natural sleep-inducing compounds.


There is a long list of natural sleep aids. Check with your doctor before adding supplements or making significant changes to your regimen. The four that I like the best (either alone or in combination) are:

1. MELATONIN is an important hormone secreted by the pineal gland, a small gland in the center of the brain. Melatonin is one of the best aids for sleep. Melatonin supplementation has been found helpful in inducing and maintaining sleep in both children and adults. It appears that the sleep-promoting effects of melatonin are most apparent when a person’s melatonin levels are low. So it’s not like sleeping pills or even 5-HTP–it will only produce a sedative effect when melatonin levels are low. A dosage of 3 mg at bedtime is more than enough. I prefer under-the-tongue (sublingual) tablets.

2. 5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN (5-HTP) is converted in the brain to serotonin–an important initiator of sleep. 5-HTP has also been reported to decrease the time required to get to sleep and to reduce awakenings. Boost 5-HTP’s effects by taking it near bedtime at the recommended dosage of 50 to 100 mg.

3. L-THEANINE, a relaxing amino acid found in green tea, is available as a supplement. L-theanine induces a sense of calm in people with anxiety. At typical dosages (100-200 mg) L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. That makes it a good supporter of melatonin and 5-HTP. At higher single dosages (400 mg) L-theanine does act as a sedative. I like L-theanine the best for children.

4. GAMMA-AMINOBUTYRIC ACID (GABA) is a natural calming and antiepileptic agent in the brain. In fact, it is one of the brain’s most important regulators of proper function. It appears that many people with anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and other brain disorders do not manufacture sufficient levels of GABA. PharmaGABA is a special form of GABA naturally manufactured with the help of a probiotic (Lactobacillus hilgardii) that has been shown to improve sleep quality.

There are a lot of reasons to try to get a good night sleep without resorting to prescription sleeping pills. These pills are habit forming, have significant side effects, and are associated with increasing the risk of dementia and earlier death. For more information, sign up for my newsletter and receive a free PDF copy of my book, Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia – What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know

Dr. Michael Murray

February 25th, 2015

How to Juice for Healing Power

Benefits of JuicingJuice has gotten a bad rap. We’re often advised to eat whole fruits and vegetables—for the fiber and because they are lower in calories than an “equal” amount of juice. But for the many Americans who don’t eat the recommended three to five servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruit daily, juice can be a lifesaver—literally. Juice is loaded with nutrients that protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions.

We can pack in a day’s worth of fruits and vegetables in just 12 to 16 ounces of juice. How to do it right…

Opt for fresh juice, not packaged. Packaged juices, whether in a can, bottle, carton or frozen, are lower in nutrients. And packaged juices have been pasteurized, which destroys health-­giving compounds.

Example: Fresh apple juice contains ellagic acid, an anticancer nutrient that shields chromosomes from damage and blocks the tumor-causing action of many pollutants. In contrast, commercial apple juice contains almost no ­ellagic acid.

Use a quality juicer. If you juice once or twice a week, try a high-speed centrifugal juicer. They’re relatively inexpensive, starting at $100 or so. (Examples: Juice Fountain Duo or Juice Fountain Elite, both from Breville.)

If you juice more frequently, consider investing in a “slow juicer” ($300 and up) that typically operates at 80 revolutions per minute (RPM), compared with the 1,000 to 24,000 RPM of a centrifugal model. (I use The Hurom Juicer.) A slow juicer expels significantly more juice and better preserves delicate nutrients. And because the damaged compounds produced by a centrifugal juicer taste a little bitter, a slow juicer provides better-tasting juice.

Follow this basic juice recipe: Use four unpeeled carrots and two unpeeled, cored apples cut into wedges as a base for creating other juice blends by adding such things as a handful of kale, spinach, radishes and/or beets. Ideally, use organic fruits and vegetables. If not, be sure to wash them thoroughly.

Keep blood sugar balanced. Fruit and vegetable juices can deliver too much natural sugar, spiking blood sugar levels, a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

What you need to know: The metabolic impact of the sugar in a particular food can be measured using the glycemic index (GI)—how quickly a carbohydrate turns into glucose (blood sugar). But a more accurate way to measure this impact is with the glycemic load (GL)—a relatively new calculation that uses the GI but also takes into account the amount of carbohydrate in a specific food. Beets, for example, have a high GI but a low GL—their carbohydrate is digested quickly, but there’s not a lot of it. Charts providing the GI and the GL are available on the Internet. I like those at

Bottom line: Limit the intake of higher-GL juices such as orange, cherry, pineapple and mango. You can use them to add flavor to lower-GL choices such as kale, spinach, celery and beets.

Dr. Michael Murray