The Week That Wasn't: Kimchi, Light Therapy, FDA Bleach Warning

Ellie Kincaid


August 23, 2019

You may have recently seen articles about consuming kimchi to combat hair loss, intense light therapy for heart health, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning about a bleach-like "miracle mineral solution" that is being marketed for conditions from autism to AIDS. Here's why you didn't see them on Medscape Medical News.

Kimchi for Hair Loss?

Earlier this month, a group of Korean researchers published a study of the effectiveness of a probiotic at reversing hair loss. They enrolled 46 people with hair loss, half women and half men, in a clinical trial and twice daily gave them 80 mL (less than 3 oz) of a probiotic product derived from the traditional Korean fermented foods kimchi and cheonggukjang.

The researchers evaluated the thickness of the participants' hair in patches on their scalps, as well as the thickness of individual hairs, at baseline and at 1 month and 4 months after they began consuming the probiotic. As reported in the World Journal of Men's Health, the mean hair thickness increased from 85.98 hairs/cm2 (with a standard deviation of 20.54 hairs/cm2) at baseline to 90.28 hairs/cm2 (standard deviation, 16.13 hairs/cm2) at 1 month after starting the probiotic regimen.

We should note that two of the study's authors are advisors, and one other is a non–executive director of the company that made the probiotic product used in the study. The company, Coenbio, also funded the study. That doesn't mean the results can't be trusted, but it's another reason for us to be cautious about drawing conclusions from — or paying too much attention to — a small study with no control group that showed a minimal effect.

A Lighthearted Hypothesis

It's not every day we read a medical study with this grand of an opening statement: "The appearance of sunlight and the advent of oxygen on Earth were undoubtedly the most dramatic environmental changes during evolution." So begins a study published in Cell Reports that explored the molecular mechanism through which intense light could have cardioprotective potential. The idea is that light-sensing and oxygen-sensing biological pathways have what the authors call an "evolutionarily conserved relationship," so light could make up for a lack of oxygen in conditions such as myocardial ischemia.

After conducting mouse experiments, the researchers recruited healthy human volunteers, exposed them to intense light for 30 minutes, and analyzed protein levels in their blood to confirm that the biological changes from intense light that they observed in mice also occurred in people. The researchers posit that intense light therapy might be helpful for treating cardiovascular disease.

Basic scientific research, like in this study, is often fascinating and can generate hypotheses for testing in rigorous, controlled clinical trials. But for our purposes at Medscape, we would like to see the results of such a clinical trial before reporting on the possible applications of light therapy for heart health.

No Man-Made "Miracles"

The FDA recently received new reports of severe vomiting, diarrhea, life-threatening hypotension, and acute liver failure in people who drank bleach products sold as a "miracle mineral solution" to treat conditions that included autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and flu, according to an agency news release earlier this month.

"Consumers should not use these products, and parents should not give these products to their children for any reason," FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless, MD, said in the news release.

Official warnings about the dangers of these bleach products are not new. The FDA has been issuing them since 2010, the agency said in its release. We expect that Medscape's readers already know that bleach, however it's labeled, is not an appropriate medical treatment for any condition and that drinking it can be harmful.

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