A pharmacist's look at the supermarket and beyond

Month: July 2019

I Hear Crickets

I was unable to find them in my marketplace, but crickets (and other insects) are on the way to the mainstream. At a recent Fancy Food Show there were at least three enterprises offering cricket-based, high-protein products. Although there are still some questions regarding labeling, preparation, and safety, with a potential billion dollar market predicted in the US alone, these will be resolved. Much like those who question almond “milk,” (where are the mammaries on an almond?), some take exception to the term “cricket flour,” saying that flour can only come from grain. Most of the commercial products that I have seen use the description, “cricket protein powder” and the word flour sometimes appears in parentheses. It’s already getting resolved.

Cricket farming, or ranching, does require plenty of preparation and some pretty precise housing requirements, including a nursery, if you want to keep regenerating a supply. The turnaround time is pretty quick. Crickets are usually harvested at 6 to 8 weeks. Much is being learned and many proprietary feeds and methods are being developed. Crickets are omnivores and crickets might do well on the grain leavings from large scale breweries and other wasted by-products. The protein profile is robust but with current prices somewhere in the area of $40 per pound, we have a ways to go to make cricket powder a family staple.

Crickets can be sun-dried, freeze-dried, dehydrated, or baked in an oven. If you’re willing you can add seasoning along the way during any of those processes or season them later. They’d be ready to eat as a crunchy snack at that point. Kind of hard to dip though! Most popular is to grind or mill the crickets to a fine powder that can be added to a variety of foods. The high quality stuff gets two or more millings, one rough grind from which legs, wings, and other bits which might get stuck in your teeth are removed. That would help!

All this makes me think back to summers in Maine when the family would drive to Lake St. George for a swim and a picnic. There was this little country store on the way that all kinds of things that we never saw in town. One of our favorites was a small box of foil-wrapped chocolates. Each bite-sized morsel contained different insects: grasshopper, cricket, bee, or ants. I think they were color coded and I recall the bees as being a favorite. I have no idea where they came from or how much they cost but for a couple preteen boys it was way cool to eat those suckers! But I digress.

Be prepared. The crickets are coming to your table. With low impact on the environment, cricket ranching is a growth industry. Even cricket poop is good shit. It’s dry, easy to handle, and ship. It has good amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (i.e. good NPK values, for you farmers). The official term for cricket waste is frass, by the way, and I don’t know why. Frass goes for about $10 a pound. Don’t eat it, fertilize your garden.

Canada’s largest grocer already offers cricket powder under their President’s Choice private label. The supplier of the cricket powder is Entomo Farms of Ontario. Cricket farm co-founder Jarrod Goldin says,”The taste varies based on concentration. A small amount won’t add any flavor, otherwise it has a very lovely, earthy, nutty, mushroomy kind of flavor.”

Other bugs are out there too, waiting to jump onto your plate and provide a greener alternative to high environmental impact meats like beef, chicken and pork. Hmm. I’ll have top check and see if bugs are part of the Green New Deal!

I dare you. Eat a bug!

She So Horny

With props to 2 Live Crew.
On June 21, 2019, the FDA approved bremelanotide (Vyleesi) injection, indicated to increase sexual desire and libido in premenopausal women with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or HSDD. Of course, I had to take a closer look. First I had Shay, pharmacy intern, write up the basics. Seems bremelanotide is an analog of naturally-occurring melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH). Both the drug and the hormone are melanocortin receptor agonists, associated with skin pigmentation, weight regulation, and sexual responses. Note that the drug is not reported to enhance sexual response nor satisfaction, only desire, aka horniness.

The drug is injected under the skin at least 45 minutes before sexual activity, has a half-life of 2.7 hours, and is not to exceed 8 doses per month. The most common side effects (some you might guess) are hyperpigmentation of the face, gums, and breasts (incidence >50%!), flushing (about 20%), headache (about 10%), and nausea (up to 40%, but reportedly less with subsequent doses). Wow, doesn’t that sound sexy!?! The Vyleesi website cautions that “The duration of its effect after each dose is unknown.” Damn, they really studied the Hell out of this, huh? The hyperpigmentation is more common in patients with dark skin AND, so far, it does not seem to go away, even after the drug is stopped.

On the positive side, the web site also claims that Vyleesi will (oops, they use words like “could” and “may”) improve negative body image, relationship stress, and will improve self esteem. The super hip web site even uses text shorthand, saying “Low self-esteem: It can even impact your confidence. (ICYMI: you are great!)” In Case You Missed It.

Does it work? Well, there were two 24-week randomized, double-blind studies, and the FDA reports: “In these trials, about 25% of patients treated with Vyleesi had an increase of 1.2 or more in their sexual desire score (scored on a range of 1.2 to 6.0, with higher scores indicating greater sexual desire) compared to about 17% of those who took placebo.” So a bit better than placebo in 1 in 4 women that tried it. Not great, but maybe it could help some, although I have my doubts considering the side-effect profile.

Check this out: In 2012, the FDA identified female sexual dysfunction as one of 20 disease areas of high priority and focused attention. Take heart ladies, the FDA is focused on your sexual dysfunction! For the past seven years! Vyleesi may by only the beginning. More drugs are on the way. I’m sure many women would like to see an injectable drug (with a big needle!) for men that are assholes. We could have IAD, Inappropriate Asshole Disorder, and it would be treated with a drug with many side effects. But I digress.

HSDD was examined fairly well in a study published in Sexual Medicine. The drug will be launched in September 2019 and I was unable to find pricing information. Note that an increase in melanocortin leads to an increase in dopamine (which likely plays the key role in increasing desire), so perhaps you would be better off trying bupropion first!