Monday, December 31, 2007

Sham: Chinese Supplements a Worldwide Concern

News sites are reporting an FDA investigation into dietary supplements that are marketed to provide male sexual enhancement. It has been discovered that a number of these contain undeclared erectile dysfunction drugs, which may be putting users at risk. The Food and Drug Administration has indicated these impure products are sold by a company called "Shangai Distributor Inc." out of Puerto Rico.

The agency advised consumers to stay away from supplements sold under the names Super Shangai, Strong Testis, Shangai Ultra, Shangai Ultra X, Lady Shangai and Shangai Regular. Product testing indicates that some of these so-called supplements contain Viagra's active ingredient, sildenafil, or a compound with a chemical structure that mimics sildenafil.

These news reports bring up a larger problem, that of severely compromised botanical products that come from China in packages that don't always state the country of origin. A Chinese dietary supplement can have an American or Euro company's name on the box and not say anything about the location of the original compound. The Vitamin C manufacturer Emergen-C, for example, is just one company that produces a popular product made for the vitamin supplement market here in the USA, out of Chinese-produced compounds. There are many, many other companies that produce their products in China or who buy Chinese herbs to be repackaged in Western countries.

Right now China is going through huge upheaval in its systems for quality control and may end up on the right side of the problem in the next year or two. Beyond the quality control issue, however, lies a bigger problem. Chinese manufacturers must deal with the huge problems of contamination that result from groundwater and air pollution. Plants absorb anything and everything from their environment, and until China cleans up its growing environmental problems, this will affect the world of dietary supplement customers.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wham: Older Adults Find Quality of Life Improvements by Vitamin/Mineral Supplementation

A new research study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that the general health of elderly hospitalized patients improves, along with their physical and social functioning, when they are given nutritional supplements in addition to their normal diet.

Researchers describing a nutritional supplementation regimen for these hospitalized patients found that paying attention to and correcting nutrition in older people, specifically those who are ill, can lead to a significant improvement in their well-being. Tests were done both at six weeks and at six months after the start of the supplement regimen.

225 men and women, aged 75 years on average, were hospitalized for cardiovascular problems, lung disease, fractures, or infections. They each received a normal hospital diet plus either a placebo drink or a 995-calorie nutritional supplement twice daily for 6 weeks. This particular mix of vitamins and minerals provided vitamins A, C, D, E, B1, B6, B12, folic acid, niacin, biotin, and pantothenic acid, as well as the minerals potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, iodine, copper, manganese, and selenium.

Quality of life assessments at 6 weeks did not identify significant differences between the patients who received the supplements compared with those who were given the placebo. However, after 6 months the patients given the nutritional supplement showed significantly better quality of life scores compared with patients who got the placebo. These former patients had improved measures of physical and social function, their overall vitality was better, and the patients' mental health improved in comparison to those non-supplemented patients.

The researchers say that this trial demonstrated the value of nutritional supplementation in hospitalized older people, which provided clinically important benefits. It is the belief of many doctors that widespread use of nutritional supplements among older adults could have a substantial impact on the quality of life for senior citizens.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wham: Fish Oil Confirmed as Alzheimer's Deterrent

UCLA scientists are now reporting that fish oil is indeed a deterrent against Alzheimer's, and they have identified the reasons why. This confirms a lot of research that has shown the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of this neurodegenerative disease.

Reporting in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, Dr. Greg Cole (Professor of Medicine and Neurology at UCLA and Associate Director, UCLA's Alzheimer Disease Research Center) and his colleagues report that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil increases the production of a protein (LR11) that is found at reduced levels in Alzheimer's patients and which is known to destroy the "plaques" associated with the disease.

These plaques are deposits of a protein called beta amyloid that is thought to be toxic to neurons in the brain, leading to Alzheimer's. Since having high levels of the LR11 protein prevents the toxic plaques from being made, it is assumed that low levels in patients are a factor in causing the disease.

These researchers examined the effects of fish oil (specifically its component DHA) in multiple biological systems and administered the oil or fatty acid by diet and by adding it directly to neurons grown in the laboratory. They found that even low doses of DHA increased the levels of LR11. Cole said that dietary DHA increased LR11 in brains of rats or older mice that had been genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's disease.

To show that the benefits of DHA were not limited to nonhuman animal cells, the researchers also confirmed a direct impact of DHA on human neuronal cells in culture as well. Thus, high levels of DHA leading to abundant LR11 seem to protect against Alzheimer's, Cole said, while low LR11 levels lead to formation of the amyloid plaques.

Fish oil and its key ingredient, omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon), have been a mainstay of alternative health practitioners for years and have been endorsed by the American Heart Association to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cooking Vegetables May Not Always Kill Nutrients

I'm a vegetarian, and I try to eat as many fresh veggies as possible, because Mom always told me that they lose all their nutritional value when they are cooked. But that may not be necessarily true.

The University of Parma's Nicoletta Pellegrini, PhD, and colleagues bought freshly harvested carrots, zucchini, and broccoli at a local market and tested the levels of various phytochemicals and antioxidants in them while they were raw. Then, they boiled, steamed or fried the veggies and measured them again.

Raw vegetables were, of course, loaded with antioxidants. After cooking the veggies lost antioxidants, but the story wasn't as bad as expected; not all antioxidants decreased when cooked. Certain antioxidant levels actually went higher. Steamed broccoli contained higher levels than raw broccoli of glucosinolate compounds, which may reduce cancer risk. And boiled carrots contained higher levels than raw carrots of carotenoids, which give carrots their bright orange color.

Their findings appear in the ACS publication, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In another press release from the ACS (American Chemical Society), the organization discusses the effect of cooking peanuts, which is actually a bean and not a true nut. Many people in the southern states love to eat "boiled peanuts," which is a regional treat. Raw peanuts are boiled in a pot of hot, salted water to create this snack, and many people assume that the good substances in the peanuts are driven out by this process.

Now it appears that boiled peanuts might actually contain higher amounts of substances that can help prevent diseases than regular peanuts. Most of the peanuts we eat by the handful (or in peanut butter or candy bars) have been roasted in ovens. Dr. Lloyd Walker, a scientist from Alabama A&M University, discovered that boiling is a very healthy way to prepare peanuts.

His study, in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that boiled peanuts have four times as many healthy isoflavones as raw peanuts or roasted peanuts. These chemicals may help to keep people healthy and prevent dangerous illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

It's interesting to note how cooking, heating and preparing cooked vegetables and peanuts doesn't necessarily kill off what is good about that food. It has been known for some time that tomatoes show the most lycopene, another healthy substance, only when they are cooked.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Wham: Honey's Natural Wound Healing Ability

A research review published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice (Oct, 2007) advises surgeons that their patients may find a lot of value at the grocery store, in the honey aisle. Evidently, honey has a long and distinguished history as a wound protectant and wound-healing aid, and this recap of the research shows that this is still very valid advice.

“Honey is one of the oldest foods in existence and was an ancient remedy for wound healing” explains lead author Dr Fasal Rauf Khan in the press release published by the AAAS. “It was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun and was still edible as it never spoils. Researchers started to document the wound healing properties of honey in the early 20th century, but the introduction of antibiotics in 1940 temporarily halted its use."

Now it seems that concerns about antibiotic resistance and a renewed interest in natural remedies has prompted a resurgence in the antimicrobial and wound healing properties of honey. Patients who’ve undergone surgery should ask their doctors whether they should apply honey to their wounds to speed up healing and reduce infection.

The paper goes on to say that “. . . honey has a number of properties that make it effective against bacterial growth, including its high sugar content, low moisture content, gluconic acid – which creates an acidic environment – and hydrogen peroxide. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling. Researchers have also reported that applying honey can be used to reduce amputation rates among diabetes patients."

Stressing that patients should always check with their surgeon before applying any substance to post-operative wounds, Dr Khan adds that studies have found that honey offers a number of benefits.

“It can be used to sterilize infected wounds, speed up healing and impede tumors, particularly in certain types of surgery. The research suggests that honey seems to be especially indicated when wounds become infected or fail to close or heal” says Dr Khan. “It is probably even more useful for healing the wounds left by laparoscopic surgery to remove cancers.””

Studies have suggested that honey should be applied at regular intervals, from hourly to twice daily and that wounds can become sterile in three to 10 days. The authors stress that doctors be involved in the decision to use honey in this way.

A search on this site for honey leads you to other re-discovered medical benefits of this wonderful substance. There are some honey precautions listed in the Wikipedia website linked to the headline of this blog.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wham: Rosemary is Great for Your Brain

Did you know that eating Rosemary Chicken or Rosemary Potatoes will help protect your brain from free radicals? A recent discovery at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research has found a mechanism for the herb’s action in ameliorating neurological conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer's disease. This is one powerful little plant.

Rosemary not only tastes good in culinary dishes, but scientists have now found it is also good for your brain. A collaborative group from Burnham (La Jolla, CA) and their Japanese colleagues reports that the herb rosemary contains an ingredient that fights off free radical damage in the brain. The active ingredient in rosemary, known as carnosic acid (CA), can protect the brain from stroke and neurodegeneration that is due to injurious chemical free radicals. These radicals are thought to contribute not only to stroke and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, but also to the ill effects of normal aging on the brain.

Two recent publications in The Journal of Neurochemistry and Nature Reviews Neuroscience reported for the first time that carnosic acid activates a novel signaling pathway that protects brain cells from the ravages of free radicals. In animal models, the scientific group, led by Drs. Takumi Satoh (Iwate University, Japan) and Stuart Lipton (Burnham Institute), found that CA becomes activated by the free radical damage itself, remaining innocuous unless needed.

Burnham researchers say that this is exactly what is wanted in a drug. The scientists call this type of action a “pathological-activated therapeutic” or "PAT" drug. They use this term because the action of CA represents a "gentle tap" in comparison to the heavy sledge hammer that some drugs produce, including significant side effects in areas of the body where their effects are not needed and not wanted.

That's the beauty of nature. Stuart A. Lipton, MD, PhD, the senior author on the paper and Director, Professor, and Senior Vice President at the Burnham Institute says “Moreover, unlike most new drugs, this type of compound may well be safe and clinically tolerated because it is present in a naturally-occurring herb that is known to get into the brain and has been consumed by people for over a thousand years.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sham: Dolphin Therapy: Bad For You, Bad For The Dolphin

There are some really weird therapies out there on the lunatic fringe. One of these strange alternative therapies is "Dolphin 'therapy," and it has recently been called a dangerous fad by Emory University researchers who warn us that not only is this a fraud being perpetrated on people who are often quite ill, the practice mistreats these animals who have no desire to be rounded up and used as "therapy" for humans.

These Emory scientsts say that people suffering from chronic mental or physical disabilities should not resort to a dolphin-assisted therapy experience, or what is often referred to as DAT. "Dolphin-assisted therapy is not a valid treatment for any disorder," says Lori Marino, a leading dolphin and whale researcher. "We want to get the word out that it's a lose-lose situation, both for people and for dolphins."

Doesn't swimming with dolphins sound like a great thing to do, and possiblly even therapeutic? However, no scientific evidence exists for any benefit from DAT. People who spend thousands of dollars for DAT don't just lose out financially, they put themselves, and the dolphin, at risk of injury or infection. And they are supporting an industry that takes dolphins from the wild in a brutal process that often leaves several dolphins dead for every surviving captive.

Marino her colleagues at Emory reviewed five studies published during the past eight years and found that the claims for efficacy for DAT were invalid. Their conclusions were published recently in AnthrozoŇ°s, the journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology, in a paper entitled "Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: More Flawed Data and More Flawed Conclusions."

While Marino is against taking dolphins from the wild and holding them captive for any purpose, she finds DAT especially egregious, because the people who are being exploited are the most vulnerable--including desperate parents who are willing to try anything to help a child with a disability. Many people are under the impression that dolphins would never harm a human. "In reality, injury is a very real possibility when you place a child in a tank with a 400-pound wild animal that may be traumatized from being captured," Marino says.

In some countries dolphins are often taken from the wild. "If people knew how these animals were captured, I don't think they would want to swim with them in a tank or participate in DAT," Marino says, referring to an annual "dolphin drive" in Japan. "During the dolphin drives hundreds of animals are killed, or panicked and die of heart attacks, in water that's red with their blood, while trainers from facilities around the world pick out young animals for their marine parks. They hoist them out of the water, sometimes by their tail flukes, and take them away." Each live dolphin can bring a fisherman $50,000 or more.

Dolphins appear to be one of the most loved--and most exploited--animals in the world.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ethnicity/Skin Color May Link to Vitamin D Deficiency

Canadian researchers are working on a new study which confirms that people of color--those of African and east Asian backgrounds--may be dangerously low in vitamin D. Dr. Esteban Parra and his colleagues at the University of Toronto were surprised by these deficiencies. Their study was conducted last winter through blood tests performed on students of the Mississauga campus at the University of Toronto. The students were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

He asked 106 healthy young adults to report their ancestry and to keep a diary of everything they ate and all the supplements they took for a week. He then tested their blood for vitamin D, which are measured in 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) levels.

When testing for Vitamin D, anything above 75 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) of 25-OHD is considered optimal. Anything less than 25 nmol/L is considered seriously deficient, a level at which the bones go soft (commonly called rickets). A level between 25 and 50 nmol/L is considered insufficient; but it is not yet low enough to lead to a deficiency.

Parra and his colleagues found a very high prevalence of insufficiency. Their first surprise was just how many of the otherwise healthy students were seriously deficient in vitamin D during the winter months, when the number of daylight hours is shortened and when people are less likely to absorb sunlight through exposed skin.

The big shock came when it was discovered that the darker the skin of the students, the lower their levels of vitamin D.

Among those of European origin, 34 per cent had insufficient levels of vitamin D. For those from East Asian or Chinese descent, 85 per cent had insufficient levels. The students from South Asia--countries such as India--93 per cent had insufficient levels And among those of African ancestry, 100 per cent--everyone tested--had insufficient levels. In this last group, about 43 per cent were considered deficient, with levels below 25 nmol/L.

Parra says that the reason that the darker-skinned students had lower vitamin D levels is that darker skin contains a natural sunblock, making it harder for the skin to produce vitamin D from the sun. The fact that darker-skinned people are not as able to absorb is not new, but the results startled the research team.

"Vitamin D affects lots of aspects of health. I mean there is the bone but also cancer, and even risk of type 2 diabetes. These are not minor items," said one author.

A landmark study, released earlier this year, found that a combination of vitamin D3 and calcium had a substantially marked effect on reducing cancer incidence. The four-year study found that women who regularly took vitamin D3 had a 60 per cent reduction in cancer infections compared to a group taking placebos.

Shortly after the release of that study, the Canadian Cancer Society issued a recommendation that Canadians take 1,000 International Units of vitamin D during winter months. It also advised those with darker skin to take 1,000 IU units year-round.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wham: Breast Health Benefits for Soy Isoflavones Extended Beyond Cancer

It's been known for some time that soy isoflavones appear to benefit breast health for those with malignant tumors. However, this updated research now shows that isoflavones may extend a benefit for women beyond malignant tumors . . . the new study suggests a lower incidence of benign breast cysts as well.

The research, published in the December 2007 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, adds to an ever-growing body of studies linking these phytochemicals to improved breast health. Dr. Johanna Lampe and her team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle) writes that benefits may also extend to fibrocystic breast conditions, a very common and benign condition characterised by lumpiness and discomfort in one or both breasts.

Population studies from heavy soy use countries have shown that a diet rich in soy is associated with fewer cases of breast cancer. This has been linked to the presence of soy isoflavones. In this case, the study was conducted in China where the researchers recruited 196 women with breast cancer, 304 women with benign breast condition, and 1,002 healthy, breast cancer-free age-matched controls from the Shanghai region. The benign conditions were further classified as proliferative (173 women) or nonproliferative (131 women).

Increased plasma levels of the isoflavones were associated with a reduced risk of both types of benign conditions, in addition to breast cancer. Indeed, the highest plasma levels (more than 76.95 nanograms per millilitre) were 74 per cent less likely to have breast cancer, and 60 per cent less likely to have benign conditions relative to women with the lowest average levels (less than 9.42 ng/mL).

"Isoflavone exposure was inversely associated with fibrocystic breast conditions and breast cancer, and the results suggest that effects on cancer risk occur early in carcinogenesis," wrote Lampe.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sham: Farm Raised Fish: Bad for You, Bad for the Planet

A study appearing in the December 14 issue of the journal Science shows, for the first time, that parasitic sea lice infestations caused by salmon farms are driving nearby populations of wild salmon toward extinction. The results show that the affected pink salmon populations have been rapidly declining for four years. The scientists expect a 99% collapse in another four years, or two salmon generations, if the infestations continue.

“The impact is so severe that the viability of the wild salmon populations is threatened,” says lead author Martin Krkosek, a fisheries ecologist from the University of Alberta. Krkosek and his co-authors calculate that sea lice have killed more than 80% of the annual pink salmon returns to British Columbia’s Broughton Archipelago. “If nothing changes, we are going to lose these fish.”

Previous peer-reviewed papers by Krkosek and others showed that sea lice from fish farms can infect and kill juvenile wild salmon. This, however, is the first study to examine the population-level effects on the wild salmon stocks. Things don't look good out there for wild-caught salmon. And as you know, Salmon that are wild-caught are much, much healthier food.

According to experts, the study also raises serious concerns about large-scale proposals for net pen aquaculture of other species and the potential for pathogen transfer to wild populations. Nowhere is this more visible than in China, where a probing New York Times article today describes the total mess that China is making of its environment due to fish farms that are set up to send this "food" to the USA and other countries. Here's a brief clipping of that commentary:

Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is No. 1 on a list for refused seafood shipments from China. It is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

It appears that this tremendous environmental degradation on the other side of the world has become a food safety problem for us in the USA, and scientists say the long-term risks of consuming contaminated seafood could lead to higher rates of cancer and liver disease and other afflictions. It is time to stop this nonsense. The only one who can stop it is the consumer. Insist on wild-caught fish.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Japanese Scientists Develop Fearless Mouse: What Future Implications?

Japanese scientists say they've shed some new light on mammal behavior, by developing a new mouse that has basically "no fear."

Reuters reports that these scientists at Tokyo University, using genetic engineering, have successfully switched off the rodents' instinct to cower at the smell or presence of cats. They believe this shows that fear is genetically hardwired and not learned through experience, as commonly thought. This is a very interesting piece of science because of what it potentially says about human fear, and how it is that we instinctively cringe at certain things.

"Mice are naturally terrified of cats, and usually panic or flee at the smell of one. But mice with certain nasal cells removed through genetic engineering didn't display any fear," said research team leader Dr. Ko Kobayakawa. "The mice approached the cat, even snuggled up to it and played with it," Kobayakawa said. "The discovery that fear is genetically determined and not learned after birth is very interesting, and goes against what was previously thought."

Kobayakawa said his findings, published in the science magazine Nature last month, should help researchers shed further light on how the brain processes information about the outside world. To me, an avid science fiction reader, I can see how information of this sort could be used in some hidden research lab in countries trying to develop the ultimate soldier -- one with no fear whatsoever. Or, a pharmaceutical product that counteracts the effect of this "fear gene" and allows the salesman or surfer an unlimited ability to pursue their sport without the fear of rejection, or the fear of drowning.

Scary thought?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cholesterol Reducing Drugs Having Impact but Problems Remain

The US government reported yesterday that results from a national survey found the total average cholesterol level dropped to 199 last year. Experts consider 200 and lower to be ideal. This is a very significant outcome, and the first time in 50 years that the US population, on average, has been in the healthy range.

Experts say that the growing use of cholesterol-lowering pills in middle-aged and older people is believed to be a key reason for the improvement. When the survey began in 1960, the average cholesterol was at 222.

High cholesterol can clog arteries and lead to heart disease, which is why pharmaceutical companies have targeted this area with heavy investment both in R&D and marketing. The result? Cholesterol medications are the top-selling class of U.S. drugs, and sales have grown steadily from about $13 billion in 2002 to nearly $22 billion in 2006, according to IMS Health, a Connecticut-based consulting company that monitors pharmaceutical sales.

These drugs include Lipitor, made by Pfizer Inc.; Zocor, by Merck & Co.; and Pravachol, from Bristol-Meyers Squibb. A new product from Merck is Mevacor, a product the firm hopes to begin selling over the counter if they can convince the FDA that consumers are smart enough to know when they need it.

Doctors' groups have increasingly recommended more aggressive use of these drugs in patients seen to be at risk from heart disease. And screening has become common -- two-thirds of men and three-fourths of women have been screened for high cholesterol in the last five years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers also found that the percentage of adults with high cholesterol, 240 or higher, dropped to 16 percent, down from 20 percent in the early 1990s. As an indicator of the possible problems with surveys of this sort, they also reported that the most pronounced declines were in men aged 40 and older and women 60 and over.

"These age groups are the ones most likely to be treated with medication," said Susan Schober of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the report. There was little change in cholesterol levels for other age groups, prompting some experts to suspect the news may not be all good. This is the kind of incomplete information that can be confusing when large reports like this are released showing national averages.

"If you take away the people on medication, I don't think there's been as much of a meaningful improvement as we would like," said a spokesperson from the American Heart Association. Obesity rates in teens and young adults have been shooting up, and it's possible they are experiencing gains in triglycerides and losses in "good" cholesterol.

While it is entirely possible to "fix" things via pharmaceutical medicines, what would be better for society in the long run is an understanding of nutrition-based remedies, and alternatives derived from natural products.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sham: Anti-Microbial Ingredient "Triclosan" a Dangerous Overkill

Ever run into one of those Howard Hughes-type people who are so afraid of bugs that they quiver before shaking hands, and then immediately reach into their pocket for a vial of antimicrobial hand sanitizer? Well, if not, you will sooner or later. More and more people are so concerned about "germs" that they want to spread these antimicrobial compounds all over their bodies and their living quarters.

Everywhere you turn, there are new "Anti-Bacterial" coatings on kitchen items and in an increasing variety of soaps, shampoos, and hand sanitizers. Many of these contain the ingredient Triclosan, once touted as a modern-day miracle to keep the bugs at bay.

But Saint Joseph’s University medical microbiology expert Michael McCann, Ph.D., says to think twice before reaching into your pocket for a tube of antimicrobial hand cream.

“The use of antimicrobials by the general public may be a literal case of over-kill,” notes McCann. “Research suggests wide-scale application of these sanitizers promotes the evolution of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. Many contain chemicals like triclosan that specifically kill bacteria, but do not harm us. The problem is, triclosan can trigger ‘selection.’”

McCann explains that selection occurs when conditions become favorable or unfavorable for individuals of the same species, based on genetic variation. In this case, if millions of bacteria are exposed to triclosan, it kills almost all of them. But if one of those bacteria has a genetic mutation that enables it to survive the lethal chemical, then the application of triclosan will select for that individual. Only bacteria resisting the chemical survive. Descendants of resistant bacteria also carry the mutation, which leads to the generation of large populations of resistant organisms.

I've found in reading about Triclosan that there are many opinions on this matter, a lot of them disagreeing with Prof. McCann. Still, I believe we must take McCann's point seriously. The problem of "selection" is exactly what happened with antibiotics, and why some strains of bacteria are no longer susceptible to many commonly used antibiotics.

Dr. McCann says studies have shown sanitizers that use alcohol (ethanol and/or isopropanol) are much more effective at killing microorganisms and inactivating viruses than Triclosan. Further, there does not seem to be a mechanism by which bacteria and other organisms can evolve resistance to alcohols. . . that's another reason to use these products.

So if you can’t get to soap and water quickly, it’s safe to break out the hand sanitizer, as long as it contains alcohol and not triclosan.


Wham: Eating the Mediterranean Way Can Extend Your Life

A new study is out that looks at how dietary patterns relate to mortality in a US population.

Those whose diets were closest to the Mediterranean ideal (lots of fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts) were 21% less likely to die over five years than those whose diets were least Mediterranean-like.

"These results provide strong evidence for a beneficial effect of higher conformity with the Mediterranean dietary pattern on risk of death from all causes, including deaths due to cardiovascular disease and cancer, in a US population," the authors conclude.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, discusses the previous work in this area as well, which has all noted health benefits to this type of diet. Researchers looked at diet and mortality in 380,296 men and women, 50 to 71 years old, who were participating in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study.

The researchers found that the risk of death from any cause over the five-year follow-up period was lower for those with the most Mediterranean-like diets. Deaths from cancer or cardiovascular disease were also significantly lower in this group. The size of the group being studied means that this is one of the largest studies done on this topic.

An interesting sidenote for smokers . . . the benefit was especially strong in smokers who were not overweight, who nearly halved their risk of death if they closely followed the Mediterranean diet pattern. The authors suggest that smokers may have had the most to gain from the antioxidant and blood fat-lowering effects of Mediterranean-style eating.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Sugary Beverages Add to Alzheimers Risk

Excess drinking of sugary beverages like soda may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, suggests new research in mice. Although the exact mechanisms aren’t known, obesity and diabetes are both associated with higher incidences of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Ling Li and her colleagues presented this data through the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; her studies tested whether high sugar consumption in an otherwise normal diet would affect Alzheimer’s progression.

The researchers used a genetic mouse model that develops Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in adulthood, and over a 25 week period supplemented the regular, balanced diet of half the animals with 10% sugar water. Afterwards, they compared the metabolism, memory skills (by means of various mazes) and brain composition of the regular and sugar-fed mice.

The results were quite obvious. The sugar-fed mice, which had gained about 17% more weight than controls, had higher cholesterol levels and they had also developed insulin resistance. Those results may have been expected. However, these mice also had worse learning and memory retention and their brains contained over twice as many amyloid plaque deposits. These plaque deposits are an anatomical hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the researchers cannot be certain if the increased mental impairment resulted specifically from the higher sugar intake or higher calories in general, these results do highlight the potential risk of sugary beverages. They note that the human equivalent of the mouse diet would be roughly 5 cans of soda per day, although since mice have a higher metabolism, it may actually take less sugar intake in humans.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wham: Tomato Benefits Include Lower LDL Cholesterol Levels

Any health conscious reader knows that tomatoes are a valuable source of nutrients. Their unique mix includes beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and lycopene, a potent antioxidant that gives the fruit its characteristic red color. A new study from Finland adds some interesting angles to what we already know about the benefits of eating tomatoes and tomato products. It seems that integrating tomato products such a sauce and juice into the everyday diet may cut LDL cholesterol levels by 13 per cent. Anyone taking drugs for this same effect should take note.

The study, performed with 21 healthy volunteers and published in the British Journal of Nutrition, shows that a high dietary intake of tomato products has a strong protective effect, by significantly reducing LDL cholesterol levels and adding increased LDL resistance to oxidation.

Dr. Marja-Leena Silaste from the University of Oulu, says that "these atheroprotective features are associated with changes in serum lycopene, beta-carotene and gamma-carotene levels."

In previous research,the link between lycopene and prostate cancer risk has been reported, but doubts have been raised about the benefits of the carotenoid after the FDA reported finding no credible evidence supporting lycopene intake and a reduced risk of prostate, lung, colorectal, gastric, breast, ovarian, endometrial, or pancreatic cancer. Still, the FDA has approved a claim on the role of tomatoes in reducing the risk of these cancers, indicating that the other compounds found in the whole fruit may be conferring benefits, possibly in synergy with lycopene. This lends credibility to the whole food approach, as opposed to taking lycopene alone in a supplement.

In this study, the volunteers had an initial three-week low tomato diet before a three-week high tomato diet. Subjects consumed 30 mg of tomato ketchup and 400 ml of tomato juice daily. At the end of the intervention period, the researchers report that total cholesterol levels were reduced by 5.9 per cent, while LDL levels were reduced by 12.9 per cent. Blood samples also revealed that lycopene, beta-carotene, and gamma-carotene levels were increased.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Wham: Anti-Aging Properties of Rhodiola rosea

Today's science news features a headline about a life-extension benefit from the herb Rhodiola rosea. A report published online ahead of print in the journal Rejuvenation Research revealed the finding of researchers at the University of California, Irvine. These scientists found that supplementing the diet of fruit flies with the herb Rhodiola rosea extended the life span of the insect by 10 percent.

Fruit flies are often used by researchers, as they have a fully-documented genome and reproduce so easily in experiments. In this case, Professor of pharmaceutical sciences Mahtab Jafari and associates gave adult fruit flies varying doses one of three Chinese herbs (Lu Duo Wei, Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang and San Zhi Pian) or Rhodiola rosea mixed in yeast paste. The specific type of extract used was not identified. The flies received the herbs every other day for the duration of their lives. A control group received an unsupplemented diet.

While the other three herbs did not affect the flies’ life span, rhodiola increased it by an average of 10 percent, equivalent to 3.5 days in males and 3.2 days in females. The authors noted that “correcting for a possible dietary restriction effect still did not eliminate the difference between supplemented and control flies, nor does the effect of Rhodiola depend on dietary manipulation, strongly suggesting that Rhodiola is not a mere dietary restriction mimetic.”

Rhodiola, an herb that grows in high altitude Arctic regions of Europe and Asia, is believed to have antioxidant properties, and has been used by many individuals to relieve depression and improve energy levels and stress response. Dr Jafari is currently evaluating Rhodiola’s molecular mechanism by measuring its effect on fruit flies’ energy metabolism, oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses, and is initiating studies with Rhodiola in mice.

Another group in Sweden has been studying the effects of Rhodiola rosea on freshwater snails exposed to toxins. Rhodiola rosea has protected the snails and allowed them to live while others in a control group that weren't eating Rhodiola died or were not able to reproduce. This work, and much of the other published research from Sweden and Russia, involves Siberian Rhodiola. Both the Swedish and the SIberians have been consuming Rhodiola since Viking days, where it had great value as a medicine and stimulating tonic. (Even Dr. Oz discussed Rhodiola on The Oprah Show recently).

Although these studies do not present clinical evidence that Rhodiola can extend human life, the finding that it does extend the lifespan of model organisms, combined with its known health benefits in humans, make this herb a promising candidate for further antiaging research.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wham: Meditation Reduces High Blood Pressure

Lately I've been working with a Resperate Blood Pressure reducing device. I'll let you know when I've had some results. My initial impression is that the device is a $20 Chinese CD player masquerading as a $300 medical device, but who knows . . . it may yet improve my blood pressure readings. At this point, with only two days of testing, all it has done is wet my appetite for more information on how meditation lowers blood pressure. The slowed breathing process inspired by the device is much like a form of meditation.

Researching this further, I found that there actually is some science that shows meditation can be very helpful for high blood pressure. According to a definitive new meta-analysis of 107 published studies on stress reduction programs and high blood pressure, published in the December issue of Current Hypertension Reports, the Transcendental Meditation technique produces a statistically significant reduction in high blood pressure that is not found with other forms of stress management.

The new meta-analysis reviewed randomized, controlled trials of all stress reduction and relaxation methods in participants with high blood pressure that have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Blood pressure changes for the Transcendental Meditation technique included average reductions of 5.0 points on systolic blood pressure and 2.8 on diastolic blood pressure, which were statistically significant, according to the review. The other stress reduction programs did not show significant changes in blood pressure.

Blood pressure changes associated with Transcendental Meditation practice were consistent with other controlled studies showing reductions in cardiovascular risk factors, improved markers of heart disease, and reduced mortality rates among participants in the Transcendental Meditation program.

The new meta-analysis was conducted by researchers at the NIH-funded Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management and the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

According to Dr. James Anderson, professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky and co-author of the new meta-analysis concluded that previous reviews of meditation research were incorrect, as they suggested that studies are of low quality with little evidence that the practice effectively lowers blood pressure. The new meta-analysis identified all high quality meditation studies published through 2006 and rigorously analyzed their effects; Anderson said the new meta-analysis includes only high quality studies on all available stress reduction interventions. The studies on Transcendental Meditation were conducted at five independent universities and medical institutions, and the majority of them were funded by competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“The magnitude of the changes in blood pressure with the Transcendental Meditation technique are at least as great as the changes found with major changes in diet or exercise that doctors often recommend,” Anderson said. “Yet the Transcendental Meditation technique does not require changes in lifestyle.

Thus many patients with mild hypertension or prehypertension may be able to avoid the need to take blood pressure medications--all of which have adverse side effects. Individuals with more severe forms of hypertension may be able to reduce the number or dosages of their BP medications under the guidance of their doctor.”

Anderson added that long-term changes in blood pressure of this magnitude are associated with at least a 15 percent reduction in rates of heart attack and stroke. “This is important to everyone because cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide,” Anderson said.

I'll let you know later this month if the Resperate device is a Sham or a Wham,

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sham: Antibiotics or Sprays for Sinus Problems Just Don't Work

Yesterday's commentary was about cough medicine and how trials are reporting their ineffectiveness. In today's comments, another journal article reports that routine sinus infections aren't helped by antibiotics and other prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

In this British study, appearing in today's Journal of the American Medical Association people suffering from facial pain and a runny nose with greenish or yellowish mucous generally improved within about two weeks - whether they took the standard antibiotic amoxicillin, steroid nose spray or fake medicine.

The results, based on patients' reporting whether their symptoms had improved, echo previous findings in children. These categories of medicines, sprays and treatments for sinusitis just don't seem to have much going for them, and why they continue to be prescribed by doctors is just amazing. The penicillin-like drug amoxicillin is among the most commonly prescribed medicines for sinus infections.

Steroid sprays sometimes are used, but the study found they also were no better than dummy drugs, although they appeared to provide some relief for patients with only minor symptoms.

Inhaling steam and squirting salt water into the nose to flush out thick mucous are among other methods that sometimes provide relief. One method that wasn't mentioned in the article is the use of an Andrographis/Eleuthero herbal remedy called Kan Jang® (Swedish Herbal Institute) which has a tremendous drying-effect on the nasal passages, as well as an anti-microbial nature.

In this study, researchers randomly assigned 240 adults to receive one of four treatments: 500 milligrams of amoxicillin three times daily for seven days and 400 units of steroid spray for 10 days; only amoxicillin; only steroid spray; or fake medicine. Patients on the drugs didn't get better quicker than those using the placebo.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sham: Over-the-Counter Cough Medicines for Kids -- YUCK!

One of the single biggest complaints for children in the doctor's office is a cough. A new study by a Penn State College of Medicine research team found that honey may offer parents an effective and safer alternative than those over-the-counter children's cough medicines, which include chemicals that have not proven their effectiveness.

This study, reported in Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, found that a small dose of buckwheat honey given before bedtime provided a better relief for nighttime cough and sleep difficulty in children than dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medications. It also provided a better night sleep than no treatment at all.

Honey did a better job reducing the severity, frequency and bothersome nature of nighttime cough from upper respiratory infection than DM as well. Honey also showed a positive effect on the sleep quality of both the coughing child and the child's parents. DM was not significantly better at alleviating symptoms than no treatment.

It is absolutely amazing that we could have had these products approved and on the market for as long as they have been since they show no clinical effectiveness at all.

An FDA advisory board recently recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be given to children less than 6 years old because of their lack of effectiveness and potential for side effects. In fact, a previous study published in 2004 from Penn State showed that neither DM nor diphenhydramine, another common component of cold medications, performed better than a placebo at reducing nighttime cough or improving sleep quality.

Honey has been used for centuries in some cultures to treat upper respiratory infection symptoms like cough, and is considered to be safe for children over 12 months old. Honey has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, which could explain its contributions to wound healing. Honey also soothes on contact, which may help explain its effect on cough as suggested by the World Health Organization.

[Please note that honey is not for children younger than 2 years old]


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Can Working at Night Be a Cause of Cancer?

A report published in The Lancet appears to question whether working the night shift is a good idea. The report comes from several dozen scientists in 10 countries commissioned by the World Health Organization's International Agency on Cancer Research to investigate the idea that breaking one's circadian rhythm could cause cancer.

The report shows "limited" evidence of a connection between cancer and night shift work in people. That evidence included a higher rate of breast cancer in female nurses who work night shifts. While the studies of nurses were purely observational, and didn't prove cause and effect, the scientists also reviewed animal studies.

In this case, animals were exposed to light at night, disrupting the animals' so-called body clocks, or their circadian rhythm. In this case, those studies provided "sufficient evidence" of a connection between circadian rhythm disruption and cancer. This is concerning.

The scientists concluded "shift work that involves circadian rhythm disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans." One of the co-authors speculated that shift work may raise cancer risk by suppressing production of melatonin, a chemical involved in circadian rhythm.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Wham: Stevia is Picking Up Steam

The US FDA has indicated that they expect to soon be petitioned for an approval for the sweetener derived from the plant Stevia. This will be good news for the world over, because so much of what the FDA does affects other nations. Approval in Europe, if granted in the USA (or vice-versa) would likely follow.

As reported here in Sham vs. Wham earlier, Coca-Cola and other very large companies have been working with Stevia and in fact have submitted a number of patents regarding the processing of the sweetener, derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, to remove its somewhat unfortunate aftertaste. Anyone who has tried a variety of over-the-counter Stevia products knows that there are as many different qualities of this product as there are brands . . . Some of them taste really bad. (We recently tried a bargain bottle of Trader Joe's powdered "Super Stevia Extract" and found it was impossible to control the consistency of the sweetness, and it had a very unpleasant aftertaste.) At this time, the sweetener is sold as a dietary supplement only. Approval as a sweetener would have the product showing up in a number of foods.

Stevia is said to have up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar. Its taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar. Today, new research seems to indicate that there is also a great deal of antioxidant in the plant as well. (An extract from Stevia rebaudiana leaves was found to contain an abundance of antioxidant polyphenols, including quercitrin, apigenin, and kaempferol. Subsequent tests showed that the extract could protect against DNA strand scission by hydroxide radicals, states the report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.)

This is one herbal product that is really on a roll. Once approval hits, we'll see Stevia everywhere. I wonder how companies producing products like NutraSweet and Splenda feel about this business-killing potential!


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sham: Unnecessary CT Scans are a Growing Cancer Risk

One of the fastest growing diagnostic tools in the medical world is the CT scan (Computed Tomography). It is estimated that more than 62 million CT scans per year are currently given in the United States, compared to three million in 1980. Doctors love the intense amount of detail provided in a CT, and many of them believe that it is the only way to examine certain organs or tissue. However, a new article in the New England Journal of Medcine cautions doctors that this remains a dangerous procedure, and that it is being used in some cases unnecessarily.

The amount of radiation received from a CT scan is about the same dose as that received by nuclear bomb survivors who lived two miles away from the explosions in Japan at the end of WWII. In other words, its a huge dose of radiation. And because we know of the health history of those Japanese survivors, we can assume that there will be later health problems with the huge numbers of people who are now getting CT scans.

David J. Brenner, Ph.D., and Eric J. Hall, Ph.D. (Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center) argue that the potential carcinogenic effects from using CT scans may be underestimated or overlooked. This is of particular concern, because perhaps one-third of all CT scans performed in the United States may not be medically necessary, the radiation researchers say.

Because CT scans result in a far larger radiation exposure compared with conventional plain-film X-ray, this has resulted in a marked increase in the average personal radiation exposure in the United States, which has about doubled since 1980, largely because of the increased CT usage.

Drs. Brenner and Hall suggest that, in a few decades, a significant rise in the number of cancers in the United States will be seen, due to the radiation from CT scans now being performed.

The authorsl suggest three strategies for proactively addressing the potential increased radiation risks associated with CT scans:

1. Reduce the CT-related radiation dose in individual patients.

2. Replace CT use, when appropriate, with other options that have no radiation risk, such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

3. Decrease the total number of CT scans prescribed.

Drs. Brenner and Hall suggest in their paper’s conclusion that these strategies could potentially keep 20 million adults and, crucially, more than one million children annually in the United States from being irradiated unnecessarily. They stress, however, that in the majority of individual cases, the benefits associated with a correct diagnosis through a properly prescribed CT scan will far outweigh the individual risk.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mother's Diet May Indeed Impact Sex of Offspring

The idea of diet influencing sex ratio is already part of traditional wisdom. You may have heard the old folklore that mothers should "eat more red meat and salty snacks if you want a boy, and fish, vegetables, chocolates and sweets if you want a girl." Well, as it turns out, new science is proving that much of this old folklore may indeed be correct.

A new study performed in mice shows that a mother’s diet in the run-up to conception could influence the sex of her child. The research shows that mice given drugs to lower their blood-sugar levels produced significantly more female than male pups. These findings lend credence to traditional beliefs that eating certain foods can influence the sex of offspring.

The conventional wisdom is that the father’s sperm is the main determinant of the sex of a child. But, Elissa Cameron at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and her colleagues wanted to study how changes in diet might influence sex ratios – the proportion of males to females in a population.

They altered the levels of blood-sugar in female mice during conception, by feeding the mice a steroid which inhibits the transport of glucose into the bloodstream. The scientists gave 20 female mice water dosed with this steroid for the first three days that the females were exposed to males. Afterwards, the mice were given plain water. Cameron’s team measured the blood-sugar levels of these mice, as well as that of 20 control females several times during the experiment.

The average blood-glucose levels in mice that received the steroid dropped from 6.47 to 5.24 millimoles/litre. And the team found that 53% of the pups born to the control females mice were male, but only 41% of those born to the mice receiving the steroid were male.

Exactly how a drop in blood sugar causes more female births remains unclear. But the opposite also seems to work. A previous study involving diabetic mice, found that rodents with high blood-sugar levels produced more male offspring than expected.

It does seem that sugar levels could have an effect on the sex of the child.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Concern for Bone Health in Today's Children

The Associated Press is reporting today about the increased concern that doctors and healthcare organizations have for the bone health of children. It seems that today's child drinks more soda than milk, and gets a lot less sunshine and exercise than children of the past. Shockingly, it's leading to rickets, the soft-bone problem of the 19th century.

It appears that millions of otherwise healthy kids aren't building the strong bones that they should be building, and even if they are not affected today (as some are, with rickets) they may grow to be adults with bone problems later in life. It certainly doesn't look like we're going to be eliminating osteoporosis any time soon if this continues.

Dr. Laura Tosi, bone health chief at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, described it in an AP interview as "a potential time bomb."

Already there's evidence that U.S. children break their arms more often today than four decades ago — girls 56 percent more, and boys 32 percent more (according to a Mayo Clinic study).

Almost half of peak bone mass develops during adolescence, and the concern is that missing out on the strongest possible bones in childhood could really bring on the bone-related trouble decades later. By the 30s, bone is broken down faster than it's rebuilt; this means that from then on, it's a race to maintain bone and avoid osteoporosis in old age.

"There's some early data showing that even a 10 percent deficit in your bone mass when you finish your adolescent years can increase your potential risk of having osteoporosis and fractures as much as 50 percent," says Dr. James Beaty, president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

The problem isn't that kids don't drink fortified milk as much today. Our bodies make vitamin D with sunlight, and with teen computer use it's no wonder D levels are low. Plus, no child gets the exercise of a child from 50 years ago.

Rickets marks the worst deficiency, where bones become so soft that legs literally bow. Rickets was once thought to have been eradicated with milk fortification, but now doctors see this bone issue on a regular basis.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Wham: Impact of Vitamin D on Breast Cancer

It's clear from the wide variety of recent research on vitamin D that this is a valuable part of our nutrition. In a recent trial published in Carcinogenesis (Epub Oct. 31, 2007), women with a higher endogenous (produced in the body, ie. not supplemented) production of vitamin D may have a lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.

This population-based case-control study in Germany studied the relationship between serum concentrations of vitamin D and the incidence of postmenopausal breast cancer. Included in the study were 1,394 incident breast cancer cases and 1,365 controls, matched on year of birth and time of blood collection.

Vitamin D concentration was shown to be inversely associated with postmenopausal breast cancer risk. The findings strongly suggest that the better a person's vitamin D supply, characterized by serum measurement, the more protective effect for this type of breast cancer that person would show. The largest inverse associations were in women with low serum concentrations of vitamin D.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wham: Impact of Vitamin B Deficiencies on Colon Cancer

As a vegetarian, one of the things that I have to keep track of is my level of Vitamin B12, because it doesn't occur in the plant world. Naturally vegetarian animals, like the rabbit, find their Vitamin B12 in plants that are infested with insects. But that isn't going to happen in today's spotless kitchens.

When reading about the issues that can crop up for vegetarians with B12 shortages, I came across a relatively new piece of research published in the Journal of Nutrition (Volume 137, Pages 2701-2708) which describes the effect on risk for colon cancer in animals with a shortage of the B family of vitamins. This will be of interest to anyone, and not just vegetarians. Although the research was performed in mice, the gene defects caused by this vitamin shortage could later prove applicable to humans.

Researchers from Tufts University studied the process linked to more than 85 per cent of colon cancers - and found that mild depletion of all four B vitamins (folate, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12) would promote the risk of tumor formation. Previously, studies have suggested that folate deficiency alone promotes the risk of colon cancer. The new research suggests that it isn't just a lack of folate, it is the family of B vitamins that is essential.

Liu and collaborators used cancer-susceptible mice to test if mild folate depletion alone or in combination with the other B-vitamins resulted in changes to the cancer pathway. They tested several biochemical, immunological and genetic markers over a ten-week dietary period, and found that a mild depletion of all four B-vitamins significantly increased the DNA damage localized at an important tumor suppressor gene. Damage to the DNA that codes for this gene would therefore raise the risk of tumor formation.

The problem with this subject of research is that it is stil somewhat controversial. Some earlier studies had reported that folate may in fact increase the risk of the disease. On the other hand, a number of other studies have reported protective benefits from folate. in this most current research, it is folate plus the other family members in the vitamin B group that appear to be so helpful.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Wham: Vitamin E Supplementation Reduces Heart Attack Risk in Diabetics

There has been a lot written about Vitamin E and its effects in the last two years, some of it negative. Here's some new research conducted at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, one of Israel's top research schools. In this case, researchers found that Vitamin E supplements can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks and related deaths for diabetics who carry a particular version of a gene.

After 18 months of treatment, people with the haptoglobin (Hp) 2-2 gene who took 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin E daily had more than 50 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes, and related deaths than Hp 2-2 patients who took a placebo pill. The full study appears online in the November 21 edition of the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

This isn't unimportant news for diabetics -- a full 40% of individuals with diabetes carry the Hp 2-2 gene. These researchers discovered that diabetic patients with Hp 2-2 are two-to-three times more likely than other diabetics to suffer a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack.

"Genetic testing for the Hp 2-2 gene may be useful to identify a large group of diabetes individuals who could potentially derive cardiovascular benefit from a very inexpensive treatment," said the lead author. A commercial test is available for diabetics to determine if they have this gene variant; an even less expensive ($30 USD) diagnostic kit is planned for the near future from the biotech company, Synvista Therapeutics, which owns a patent on the use of Hp testing to predict diabetic complications.

There was a significant difference seen in the reduced number of heart attacks among those taking vitamin E in this study. In the group of 1,434 Hp 2-2 individuals taking part, seven people had a heart attack -- compared to 17 who did not take the vitamin. Dr. Andrew Levy, of the Technion Faculty of Medicine, said there were no side effects observed in patients who took vitamin E.

The finding is a new answer to an old question: can antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E help prevent heart disease? Previously, cardiologists routinely prescribed vitamin E for their patients, but the practice has dwindled as several major studies in the past decade showed no heart-protective effects and potential harm from vitamin E mega-doses. (Many of those trials were discounted by experts because of dosage or study errors).

In this case, it is clear that Vitamin E has a great benefit to a certain percentage of those with diabetes.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wham: Stem Cell Breakthrough - The Ability to Proceed Without Ethical Concerns

Studies published this week in the journals Cell and Science offer new hope for advancing stem cell research and therapies while fully respecting the dignity of human life. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, considers this a "major breakthrough."

Scientists in Japan and Wisconsin used four genes to 'reprogram' ordinary adult human cells, creating 'induced pluripotent stem cells.' Dr. James Thomson, head of the Wisconsin team and the founder of human embryonic stem cell research, says these cells 'meet the defining criteria' for pluripotent human embryonic stem cells, 'with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos.'

As Cardinal Rigali says, "Thus the goal sought for years through failed attempts at human cloning - the production of 'pluripotent' stem cells that are an exact genetic match to a patient - has been brought within reach by an ethical procedure. This technology avoids the many ethical landmines associated with embryonic stem cell research: it does not clone or destroy human embryos, does not harm or exploit women for their eggs, and does not blur the line between human beings and other species through desperate efforts to make human embryos using animal eggs."

Ian Wilmut, head of the team that cloned 'Dolly' the sheep, now says he is abandoning efforts at human 'therapeutic cloning' to pursue this adult cell reprogramming avenue instead, because it is technically superior as well as 'easier to accept socially.'

This appears to be a very significant development and the world will be better off with the medical discoveries that are now much closer to our reach.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Large Study Shows Effect of Beverages on Weight Gain, Obesity Crisis

The holidays are here, and with them, the usual mix of sparkling fruit beverages, eggnog, beer and wine. We all know the effects of eating that huge Thanksgiving meal, but a new study published by the University of North Carolina shows that it is not just sugary sodas that are adding to the obesity crisis – it’s fruit drinks, alcohol and a combination of other high-calorie beverages.

Over the past 37 years, the number of calories adults get through beverages has nearly doubled, according to this study published in the November issue of Obesity Research. The study used nationally representative data to quantify both trends and patterns in beverage consumption among 46,576 American adults aged 19 and older. Patterns and trends of all beverages adults consumed were examined between 1965 and 2002.

Researchers found that over these 37 years the total daily intake of calories from beverages increased by 94 percent, providing an average 21 percent of daily energy intake among U.S. adults. That amounts to an additional 222 calories from all beverages daily.

Sadly, water intake was measured from 1989 to 2002, and during that time, the amount of water consumed stayed roughly the same. It was shown that the average adult consumed an additional 21 ounces per day of other beverages. This has considerable implications for numerous health outcomes, including obesity and diabetes as this is just adding several hundred calories daily to our overall caloric intake.

Because beverages do not fill you up regardless of beverage type – water, sodas, milk, orange juice or beer – those extra calories are not compensated for by a reduction in food intake. In short, beverages can make you fat. Drink water.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wham: Vitamin B's Possible Effect on Weight/Health of Children in Later Life

A new study written up in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that babies whose mothers do not get enough essential B vitamins around the time of conception may grow up to be obese and suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.

Using research in a study of female sheep, researchers showed that reducing their intake of B12 and folate prior to pregnancy produced major physical effects in the female sheep's future offspring. At two years old the young sheep were 25% fatter than normal, had significantly raised blood pressure, and already showed signs of insulin resistance.

Male offspring were far more affected than females. At that age the young sheep were the equivalent of 20 to 30 years old in human terms. They are now being monitored to see how they progress. Scientists are forecasting, based on these early results, that there is a good chance of them becoming obese, prone to heart disease, and afflicted by Type 2 diabetes.

It is believed that the same pattern might occur in humans, but is masked as people grow older because of the effects of diet and lifestyle.

Women are already advised to watch their intake of folate up to three months before pregnancy. Low folate consumption is associated with neural tube defects such as spina bifida in unborn babies. The addition of Vitamin B12 is known to be important for the synthesis of red blood cells, the maintenance of a healthy nervous system, and healthy fetal development. It can be found in red meat, eggs and dairy products, but is absent from most plant foods.

Study leader Dr Kevin Sinclair, from the University of Nottingham, said: "The message here is that women who intend to get pregnant should ensure they have a balanced diet. For folate, they should make sure they get enough green leafy vegetables. They should also eat moderate amounts of red meat, which is the best source of vitamin B12." Obviously, vegetarians will have a problem with that suggestion, and alternatives would include vitamin supplementation.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Wham: Marijuana Contains Possible Cancer Aid

The journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics has just published a new study from the scientists and doctors at California Pacific Medical Research Institute which shows that a compound found in cannabis may prove to be effective at helping stop the spread of breast cancer cells throughout the body. The study is raising hope that CBD, a compound found in Cannabis sativa, could be the first non-toxic agent to show promise in treating metastatic forms of breast cancer.

“Right now we have a limited range of options in treating aggressive forms of cancer,” says Sean D. McAllister, Ph.D., a cancer researcher at CPMCRI and the lead author of the study. “Those treatments, such as chemotherapy, can be effective but they can also be extremely toxic and difficult for patients. This compound offers the hope of a non-toxic therapy that could achieve the same results without any of the painful side effects.”

The researchers used CBD to inhibit the activity of a gene called Id-1, which is believed to be responsible for the aggressive spread of cancer cells throughout the body, away from the original tumor site. Stopping or slowing down progress in the spread of the disease is a prime target for cancer researchers.

“We know that Id-1 is a key regulator of the spread of breast cancer,” says the senior author of the study. “We also know that Id-1 has also been found at higher levels in other forms of cancer. So what is exciting about this study is that if CBD can inhibit Id-1 in breast cancer cells, then it may also prove effective at stopping the spread of cancer cells in other forms of the disease, such as colon and brain or prostate cancer.”

Unlike cannabis or THC, an ingredient also isolated from marijuana that is used in some medical treatments, CBD does not have any psychoactive properties, so using it would not violate any state or federal laws. However, the researchers point out that this is not a recommendation for people with breast cancer to smoke marijuana. They say it is highly unlikely that effective concentrations of CBD could be reached by smoking cannabis.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wham: Compound in Green Tea (EGCG) has Huge Anti-Sepsis Punch

A major component of green tea could prove to be a great elixir for severe sepsis, an abnormal immune system response to a bacterial infection. In a new laboratory study, Haichao Wang, PhD, of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and his colleagues have been studying the therapeutic powers of dozens of Chinese herbal compounds in reversing a fatal immune response that kills 225,000 Americans every year. They found that an ingredient in green tea rescued mice from lethal sepsis – and the findings could pave the way to clinical trials in patients.

The study was published this week in the Public Library of Science. Dr. Wang had previously discovered a late mediator of sepsis called HMGB1, a substance expressed in the late stages of lethal sepsis. The research team wanted to figure out a way to block this substance, which they felt would prevent the lethal sepsis process from moving forward. And it worked.

Scientists worldwide have been stumped by sepsis. Even with the most advanced medical techniques available, half of those who develop sepsis die of the massive assault on the body. Several laboratories at the Feinstein Institute are working on sepsis – both on the basic biological level and in patients.

In the latest study, Dr. Wang’s group gave a substance in green tea called EGCG to mice in the throes of severe sepsis. (The dose was equivalent to 10 cups in a human). Survival jumped from 53 percent in those who didn’t receive the green tea substance to 82 percent in those who did. “Clinically, even if we could save five percent of patients, that would be huge,” said Dr. Wang. “In this study, we saved 25 percent more animals with the green tea.” He said that the green tea component, EGCG, is readily available.

There have been more than 100 papers focusing on this natural substance and its anti-cancer benefits. “This compound prevents HMGB1 from being released by immune cells and it also prevents it from activating immune cells to produce more cytokines,” he said. Cytokines are produced by immune cells and act as weapons to defend the body against invaders. “We are hoping to stimulate future interest in clinical studies,” said Dr. Wang, who worked on the study in collaboration with Wei Li, PhD, Andrew Sama, MD, chairman of emergency medicine at North Shore University Hospital, and other Feinstein investigators.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wham: Compound in Milk Thistle Shows Anti-Cancer Promise

A new piece of research, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that a flavanone compound in milk thistle, silibinin, may stop the growth and spread of liver cancer. This laboratory study from the University of California at Irvine used human liver cancer cells exposed to different doses of the compound. Researchers found that the biochemical could inhibit the spread of the cells and as well as promote programmed cell death. (This work did not use milk thistle dietary supplements, but pure silibinin, the active component in milk thistle; it is unclear by this report that you could achieve these results through supplements.)

Liver cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, and third most common cause of death from cancer. The highest incidences of the disease are in East Asia and Southeast Asia, particularly China.

Measurements of cell death in the cancer showed that, at a dose of 240 micromoles per litre, silibinin killed off the cancer cells by a factor of nine. The researchers states that further work is necessary to fully elucidate the mechanism, as it is unclear right now how it is that the Milk Thistle component produces this effect. It is also not known if the doses required to offer the potential anti-cancer benefits could be achieved using milk thistle supplements, which are relatively big sellers in North America. (!2th largest selling herbal product in the US mass market).

"Our findings not only indicate silibinin's novel anti-cancer mechanisms, but also provide additional targets for the search for new agents," concluded the researchers. Previously, silibinin has linked to similar benefits against lung cancer growth (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 98, pp. 846-85).

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used for a long time as a food in Europe. Young leaves are used in salads, the stalks eaten like asparagus, and the heads boiled like artichoke. Read about the plant by using the link at the headline of this article.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wham: Diet Rich in Omega-3 Oils, Fruits and Veggies Lowers Risk of Dementia

According to a new study published in the November 13, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, diets rich in fish, omega-3 oils, fruits and vegetables lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Choosing the wrong kind of oils, omega-6 rich oils, could provide the opposite results; they may actually increase your chances of developing memory problems.

Researchers in this study examined the diets of 8,085 men and women over the age of 65 who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. Over four years of follow-up, 183 of the participants developed Alzheimer’s disease and 98 developed another type of dementia. The dietary habits of these over 8,000 people were studied closely.

The study found that people who regularly consumed omega-3 rich oils, such as canola oil, flaxseed oil and walnut oil, reduced their risk of dementia or Alzheimers by 60 percent compared to people who did not regularly consume such oils. People who ate fruits and vegetables daily also reduced their risk of dementia by 30 percent compared to those who didn’t regularly eat fruits and vegetables.

It was also discovered that people who ate fish at least once a week had a 35-percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a 40-percent lower risk of dementia. This was only if they did not carry the ApoE4 gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. (Most people do not carry the ApoE4 gene, so these results could have considerable implications in terms of public health).

In addition, the study found people who did not carry the ApoE4 gene and consumed an unbalanced diet characterized by regular use of omega-6 rich oils, but not omega-3 rich oils or fish, were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who didn’t eat omega-6 rich oils. Omega 6 oils include sunflower or grape seed oil.

“While we’ve identified dietary patterns associated with lowering a person’s risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s, more research is needed to better understand the mechanisms of these nutrients involved in these apparently protective foods,” said the lead author of this study which was supported by the National Agency for Research in France.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Wham: Add some superfoods to this year's Thanksgiving feast!

Are you tired of spinach, bored with broccoli? If so, read further for some new tips for Thanksgiving from the Baylor Health System. These experts say there’s a new generation of superfoods that promise to do double or triple-duty when it comes to preventing illness. Now is the time to think about how you can integrate some of these new superfoods into your Thanksgiving meal planning.

At the top of the list is Kiwi fruit, a wonderful addition to a fruit salad. “In a recent study, kiwi was found to be one of the most nutritionally dense fruits out of 27 fruits,” says Stephanie Dean, R.D., dietitian with Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

Kiwis are full of antioxidants, vitamin E and lutein. They ward off vision problems, blood clots, and even lower cholesterol—almost as effectively as the second new superfood on the list, barley.

“The USDA found that barley specifically could lower your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol by 17.4 percent which is a phenomenal percentage,” adds Dean. Barley, a type of wheat, can be added to soups or even eaten instead of oatmeal for breakfast.

Next on the list is a traditional Thanksgiving favorite, cranberries, which continue to receive lots of attention in the medical press for their health benefits.

“The crimson color of cranberries signal that they are full of flavonoids,” explains Dean. Flavonoids are high in antioxidants and they help prevent everything from infections to strokes and cancer.

Next, the Baylor doctors recommend a different type of drink for Thanksgiving day, Kefir.

“Kefir is a wonderful source of calcium. Every eight ounce glass has about 300 milligrams which is a little less than one-third of the recommended daily intake for adults,” says Dean. Kefir not only contains just as much calcium as milk, but also a huge serving of beneficial probiotic bacteria. More so than yogurt!

Lastly, the final superfood recommendation is a cousin to an old healthy food we've all eaten at Thanksgiving. This time, make it broccoli sprouts.

“Broccoli sprouts have been shown to actually contain 20 percent more anti-cancer agents than regular broccoli,” says Dean. These sprouts are sold by the package and can be thrown on top of salads or can be a great addition to leftover Turkey sandwiches after the holiday.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sham: The Sad Death of a Raw Food

Something like 85% of the almonds in the world are grown right here in the USA, in Northern California.

Most of us who read and write about health subjects have touched on the health benefits of almonds. It's a great food -- but one that changes very dramatically, from good to bad, when heated. As Dr. Oz, Oprah's favorite physician has said, they should not be roasted because that can change the chemical composition of the almond oil, making it unhealthy. Heating almonds also destroys other beneficial nutrients. For those who are on a raw food diet, healthy almonds have been a staple.

But now, buying almonds in the USA means that you are getting, by law, pasteurized almonds. That's right, the government has outlawed its first raw food. Any almond shipped in the USA has to be pasteurized, according to new regulations passed in September. This means that the almonds you buy will be heat-treated, or else chemically treated with propylene oxide (PPO) a chemical that was once an ingredient in race car fuel. PPO has been found to cause tumors in rats, but for some reason the FDA considers it safe for human consumption.

These kinds of "safe for human consumption" things always amaze me. Are you going to purposely ingest a component of race car fuel? No way . . .

What we are left with is "treated" almonds, whether it is pasteurization by heat or chemicals. Not a good prospect for a delicious taste treat that once had been known as a substantially healthy product. The jury is not out . . . more research needs to be done on just exactly has been done to our favorite nut. But it certainly doesn't bode well for a big, California industry.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, visit the link at the headline.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Antimicrobial Film Being Developed for Meats, Veggies, Fruits

I'm not sure how I feel about this news report which follows. A new, edible film has been developed which in the near future may be applied to meats, fruit and vegetables. The product will release anti-microbials when nasty pathogens are present. While in one hand it appears to be a potential solution for the food poisonings we hear so much about in the press, I am also concerned that consuming anti-microbial compounds may not be a good idea. Read the press release which follows, and my editorial comments at the end.

From Newswise wire services:

Ready-to-eat meats are popular with consumers. But after the initial food processing, they are also vulnerable to recontamination by pathogenic bacteria. A solution turns out to be an application of an antimicrobial-incorporated edible film coating that will fend off the pathogens.

“We have used film coatings with raw and cooked ready-to-eat meat products,” said Navam Hettiarachchy, a food science professor in the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture who led the research for the Food Safety Consortium. “We have also included red meat in our studies as well. In all these products, we have observed a protective effect of antimicrobial incorporated edible films against the pathogens.”

The researchers used a whey protein film coating as a vehicle for the antimicrobials. The actual barrier to pathogens was provided by various combinations of grape seed extract, nisin (a peptide, protein fragment), malic acid and EDTA, which is a ring-forming compound of metal ion known as a chelator.

The tests showed effective results in controlling the growth and recontamination of Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella Typhimurium and E. coli O157:H7 on ready-to-eat meat products. Hettiarachchy’s team tried different combinations of the antimicrobials and found some variances in levels of effectiveness. For example, in experiments on turkey frankfurters, a combination of nisin, malic acid and EDTA was more effective against E. coli O157:H7 when grape seed extract was not part of the mix than when it was included.

“In most of the cases we focused on the type of meat products,” Hettiarachchy said. “The types of proteins, lipids and other components will vary in each meat product. The protective effect is based on the type of antimicrobials and the product matrix, and the film acts as a vehicle to deliver antimicrobials.” She said the film containing antimicrobials was effective for reducing pathogens on raw chicken, ready-to-eat chicken and red meat, and the degree of effectiveness was dependent on the product.

The key to the workings of edible film on meat is the ability to sustain the release of antimicrobials against the pathogens. The antimicrobials are held in the film matrix by weak forces, not by chemical bonding.

“The antimicrobials can be released immediately or the release can be delayed from the film matrix based upon the affinity of antimicrobials to various amino acids and others that are present in the film,” Hettiarachchy said. “A greater affinity of antimicrobials to the film matrix will facilitate sustained release of antimicrobials and will extend the shelf life of the product.”

Some industrial interest is already being shown in the edible film. Hettiarachchy said there are prospects of its commercialization and some companies are looking into its use for coating fruits, vegetables and even flowers.


DGJ editorial comment: While I would love to see some progress in the war against food contamination, I would resist any effort to have a broad-based antimicrobial compound applied to my food. The contents of that compound don't appear to be a natural part of our environment and it wouldn't fit my lifestyle as a result. However, there is an additional concern here . . . that is, too many products now have an "anti-microbial" element to them, and the result has been huge armies of antibiotic-resistant organisms that we now have to deal with. Microbes learn fast, and they adapt to their environment at light speed. If we allow anti-microbial films on our foods, we would in effect be producing future strains of microbes that would be potentially quite nasty. This idea of a film applied to our food is really a bandaid; instead of developing better quality processes to prevent contamination, companies seek to find a way to simply "spray and go" to avoid the bugs.

Lastly, our bodies have many good types of bacteria at work in various functions. These probiotic bacteria could vanish if the food we ate contained anti-microbial films of the sort described above.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wham: NSAID Use Reduces Parkinson's Risk Substantially

Over-the-counter pain medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may reduce a person’s risk of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published in the November 6, 2007, issue of Neurology.

“Given our results and the growing burden of Parkinson’s disease as people age, there’s a pressing need for further studies explaining why these drugs may play a protective role,” said study author Angelika D. Wahner, PhD, with the UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles.

This study shows that regular NSAID use may have more long-term value than previously believed.

Regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs were found to have reduced their risk of Parkinson’s disease by as much as 60 percent compared to non-regular users and non-users. Women who were regular users of aspirin reduced their risk of Parkinson’s disease by 40 percent, especially among those who regularly used aspirin for more than two years.

“Our findings suggest NSAIDs are protective against Parkinson’s disease, with a particularly strong protective effect among regular users of non-aspirin NSAIDs, especially those who reported two or more years of use,” said Wahner. “Interestingly, aspirin only benefited women. It may be that men are taking lower doses of aspirin for heart problems, while women may be using higher doses for arthritis or headaches.”

“It’s possible the anti-inflammatory agent in NSAIDs may contribute to the observed protective effect of the drugs, but the exact mechanism isn’t clear and further research is needed,” said the study’s principal investigator Beate Ritz, MD, PhD, with UCLA School of Public Health.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Natural Products Researchers Using Chemistry to Further Improve Plant Compounds - Good or Bad?

I've just returned from a trip to Sweden, and noticed on this business trip how many companies are experimenting with a variety of high-tech methods to improve products obtained from herbs and other plants. It is becoming increasingly important for those companies in the natural health marketplace to have highly effective supplements; equally important, these products need to be differentiated from the competition.

The reasons for this requirement of "differentiation" can easily be understood when you think about how important it is to have an edge on the competition, in a marketplace where most products can not be patented. One standardized version of St. Johns Wart, for example, is not appreciably different than another, which means that it is difficult to have a proprietary edge to the extract. This keeps profit potentials low as well as presenting barriers to innovation. No company wants to innovate when they can't have a proprietary edge.

That is why many of them would love to have their botanical extract modified or improved in some way -- something that clinically improves its effectiveness and provides for differentiation.

Recently I read about the efforts that researchers in Japan are making to take a common biochemical from curry and improve its healing ability -- perhaps in a quest to have something "patentable" that will increase the value of the intellectual property of a company or institution.

In this case, two variations of a molecule commonly found in curry have shown a greater potential than naturally occurring molecules to suppress colon cancer. These researchers (Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan) synthesized and tested variations of curcumin, the yellowish component of turmeric that gives curry its flavour, in a bid to boost its anti-cancer effect.

Curcumin has already been linked between having a positive effect on cancer as well as potential benefits for reducing cholesterol levels and improving cardiovascular health. The natural curcumin, however, quickly loses its anti-cancer attributes once it is ingested.

These researchers looked at more than 90 variations of this molecule, structures synthesized by the team, and found that two versions of the curcumin molecule proved to be more potent and bioavailable (more accessible to the body). While the work from Tohoku University adds even greater weight to the potential of curcumin, it also shows that high-tech analogues of the original compound could indeed be produced and used to target cancers.

This is all very similar to the way that the drug industry initially developed. Traditional, home-brew remedies became chemically-modified and "enhanced" products that later built the huge pharmaceutical industry we have today.

While I welcome better botanical products, I personally want to see them remain as natural as possible. Many who feel as I do would resist a chemical version of curcumin (as an example) in favor of using the plant the way that it was intended. I urge natural products companies to work on improved and more efficient extraction processes, where great strides can still be made, and to avoid chemical modifications of botanical products.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Stress and Its Impact on the Body's Natural Microbial Defenses

Everyone knows that there are a lot of health issues for those living with stress; in fact, damage from stress can affect most of the major organs and bodily systems. Now, a team of researchers has found that there is another part of the body affected . . . they've identified the biological mechanism by which stress increases susceptibility to skin infections.

Interestingly, this appears to have nothing to do with the classic explanation of the immune system breaking down; Study author Dr. Peter Elias, a professor of dermatology at the University of California (San Francisco) believes that it's a breakdown in the skin's antimicrobial defense. This study appears in the November issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Elias and his team subjected mice to psychological stress and found them more susceptible to group A Streptococcus pyogenes skin infections than mice kept under less stressful conditions. When these results were analyzed more closely, it was discovered that the stressed-out mice showed a decrease in the expression of antimicrobial peptides by the skin's epidermis.

The high stress levels had somehow convinced the body to slow down in the production of these important antimicrobials.

Streptococcal bacteria can cause many problems, such as skin infections, severe sore throats and even the flesh-eating disease that has been seen notably in hospital environments. The role of the peptides that Elias and his team studied have come to light in recent years, and it has been found that they are the "front line" of the immune system. They act like antibiotics, attacking bacteria and killing them on the skin, before the microbes have the chance to enter the body.

In the study, this research team also found that stress led to the increased production of glucocorticoids, which inhibited the synthesis of fat in the skin's epidermis. This reduced the secretion of vesicles containing antimicrobial peptides, setting up the mice for skin problems of all kinds. Skin infections became more severe in the stressed-out animals.

When Elias' team blocked the production of the glucocorticoids, the skin's antimicrobial defenses returned to normal.

While many people think of the immune system's T-cells, which attack invaders, as the first line of defense, recent research suggests otherwise. "The antimicrobial defense mechanisms are so effective, they deal with 99.5 percent of all challenges by microbial pathogens, such as bad viruses, bad bacteria," said the study's lead author.

In an accompanying commentary, Dr. Andrzej Slominski, of the University of Tennessee, wrote that "this study provides what I believe to be the first mechanistic link between psychological stress and increased susceptibility to microbial infection." The research may eventually lead to new treatment options.

One of the best options available would be the preventative option; see a naturopath or holistic MD and discuss your options for stress reduction, which may include meditation, yoga, or perhaps supplementation with herbs like Arctic Root®, whose most recent double-blind, placebo-controlled studies show a great effect upon mood support and stress relief.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Controversial Studies Continue to Appear Regarding Soy and Male Infertility

Another journal has published reports of lowered male sperm counts in men with a higher intake of soy isolflavone. This Cross-sectional study, published in UroToday, assesses isoflavone intake in males of sub fertile couples who had a semen analysis conducted. Along with the analysis, the men were given a questionnaire designed to assess intake of 15 soy-based foods in the last three months.

Soy Isoflavones are plant-derived polyphenoloic compounds with weak estrogenic activity; they are found mainly in soybeans and soy-derived products. In previous research, high isoflavone intake has been reported to be associated with decreased animal fertility. The impact of high isoflavone intake on human fertility is unknown, and the subject remains a bit controversial. This Cross-sectional study looked at 100 men with semen data and completed questionnaires. There was an inverse association between soy food intake and sperm concentration that remained significant when evaluated with respect to age, abstinence, body mass, and caffeine or tobacco intake.

This study was conducted at the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health (Boston, MA) as well as the Department of Urology, Massachusetts General Hospital Boston, MA. Contributors included Vincent Memorial Obstetrics and Gynecology Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital, (Boston, MA) as well as the Departments of Environmental Health and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

This is an area which will undoubtedly be the subject of further investigation.


Wham: Sleep Apnea and Depression May Be Related in Some Patients

Scientists have discovered that the use of a breathing treatment called continuous positive airway pressure may improve depressive symptoms in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. This study was described in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Obstructive sleep apnea is frequently seen in individuals who are obese and those who snore. It is a common problem in which patients stop breathing for short periods during sleep, and it occurs because soft tissues in the back of the throat relax and temporarily block the airway.

With continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), the patient wears a special mask that continuously blows air into the throat, preventing the tissues from collapsing. You may have seen this strange device; those who use it report that while it is difficult to get used to, once adjusted to the change in sleep it offers a marvelous improvement in getting a good night's rest.

Dr. Daniel J. Schwartz, lead author from the Sleep Center at University Community Hospital in Tampa, said, "Symptoms which might otherwise be ascribed to depression -- feelings of sadness, discouragement about the future, feelings of excessive personal failures, perceived decreases in self-confidence, a sense of being overly self-critical, the inability to derive pleasure from things, and even suicidal thoughts -- may at times be attributable to obstructive sleep apnea, an easily treatable medical illness."

In an earlier study of 50 obstructive sleep apnea patients, 32 of whom had symptoms of depression at enrollment, the researchers noted a marked improvement in standard depression test scores after initiation of in-home CPAP therapy. Their latest assessment of these patients, conducted about 1 year after the initiation of CPAP, shows that ongoing CPAP therapy is associated with sustained improvement in depressive symptoms.

It is entirely possible that at least some patients being treated with antidepressant medications such as SSRI's -- those whose symptoms are due to obstructive sleep apnea -- might be better served with this airway therapy.

Dave Jensen