Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wham: CoEnzyme Q10 Trial: Heart Health Benefits

A new clinical trial of CoEnzyme Q10, a very popular supplement in the USA, has been published which shows the coenzyme boosting antioxidant enzymes and improving endothelial functions in patients who have coronary artery disease. These results reflect the broad heart health benefits of supplementation with Co-Q10.

Researchers performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial (similar to trials for drugs) and then published their results in the July, 2007 issue of European Heart Journal. The patients they were working with already had Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which is a blockage of the vessels that supply the heart with blood.

Dr. Luca Tiano of Italy's Polytechnic University divided 38 CAD patients into two groups, with one receiving 100 mg/d of CoQ10 and the other a placebo for one month. Generally, the disease CAD reduces extracellular superoxide dismutase (ecSOD), a major antioxidant enzyme system found in blood vessel walls. However, in this trial, the CoQ10 group had more ecSOD at the end of the trial than the placebo group.

Dr. Tiano also reported that CoEnzyme Q10 also boosted endothelial function in patients with heart disease. Patients with low initial endothelium-bound ecSOD, those who were more prone to oxidative stress, showed the highest level of improvement.

CoEnzyme Q-10 is one of the fastest growing product categories in the Nutraceutical industry. When my doctor, an MD, suggested that I supplement with CoQ10, he told me that "it is drug-like in its immediate beneficial effect on your cardiovascular system."


Monday, July 30, 2007

Air Pollution the Culprit in Cardiovascular Disease

A new scientific study, published in the July 26th edition of the online journal Genome Biology, shows how fine particles in air pollution conspire with artery-clogging fats to switch on the genes that cause blood vessel inflammation and that lead to cardiovascular disease. This UCLA team links diesel exhaust to hardening of the arteries, which significantly increases one’s risk for heart attack and stroke. If you are one of the millions with high cholesterol, you might want to stay away from air pollution.

There's a hidden synergy behind these diesel exhaust particles and artery-clogging fats; together, they have a much larger effect than individually when they switch on the genes that cause blood vessel inflammation and eventually cardiovascular disease. The combination wreaks cardiovascular havoc far beyond what’s caused by the diesel or cholesterol alone.

The researchers set up a scenario to investigate the interaction between diesel exhaust particles and the fatty acids found in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” type of cholesterol that leads to artery blockage.

“Diesel particles are coated in chemicals containing free radicals, and the fatty acids in LDL cholesterol generate free radicals during metabolism in the cells,” said first author Ke Wei Gong, a UCLA cardiology researcher. “We wanted to measure what happens when these two sources of oxidation come into contact.”

The scientists combined the pollutants and oxidized fats and cultured them with cells from the inner lining of human blood vessels. A few hours later, the team extracted DNA from the cells for genetic analysis. They saw that the diesel particles and oxidized fats had worked in tandem to activate the genes that promote cellular inflammation — a major risk factor for atherosclerosis. It is vascular inflammation that leads to cholesterol deposits and clogged arteries, which can give rise to blood clots that trigger heart attack or stroke.

For anyone experiencing high cholesterol, getting out of traffic and into the country would be a very, very healthy idea. Although it wasn't mentioned in the article, their research seems to suggest that anti-oxidants in supplement form would be beneficial.

Another research report on the same topic, this one from Germany and published in the journal Circulation is linked to the headline of today's topic.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Do Our Belief Systems Help or Hinder our Health?

It's a slow news day on the medical front. On this Sunday afternoon, I have nothing to report so I want to take a couple of paragraphs and direct them to what is a purely personal opinion.

There's something I've noticed about the difference between people, and that is "what you believe will help you often does." I believe there are different approaches to healthcare systems, and most people lean in one direction. Either you believe in the conventional Western MD approach, or you have another belief--perhaps that herbs or acupuncture works best to keep you healthy. But there are few people who actually believe strongly in ALL these approaches.

In my family, I'm the only one who leans towards the alternative healthcare approach. While I certainly go to the doctor for my annual physicals, I'm more apt to go to a Naturopath or to a holistic MD, someone who may know just as much about the use of medical herbs as he/she does about pharmaceuticals. My sisters and my mother are pure, by-the-book conventional medicine followers. In other words, you get sick, you go to an MD. Getting them to take an herb of some kind, or to even consider something like acupuncture would be like pulling teeth.

What gets me is how well the ideas I support work for me, and how lousy they work on someone who tries it without a similar belief system. When I wrote recently here on this forum about Arnica Gel, for example, it was only because the stuff worked so darn well on my lower back pain that I wanted to share it with the world. And yet, that same product wouldn't make the tiniest difference in Mom's aches and pains. Why is this? Is this a type of placebo effect? If it is, it is a very powerful force. The "get sick and see a doctor" approach works well for my family because they believe it will help them.

And I know that my belief system works for me, as well. I haven't had a cold or flu for six or seven years, perhaps longer, and I am sure that is due to my use of Rhodiola rosea (in my case, MIND BODY & SPIRIT) on a daily basis. An adaptogen, that product happens to have the long-term effect of strengthening the immune system. Besides that, I get a direct uplift in mood and brain clarity that I can sense within 30 minutes after taking it.

Recently I've seen a positive development in that wall between my family and I on this healthcare subject. My 84-yr. old mother has been taking Rhodiola rosea as a favor to me for several months, and she just asked to get more before she runs out. I'm sure her doctor will be shocked at her transgression!


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wham: Dietary Supplement for Developing Countries Cuts Anemia in Half

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition describes the great success of a nutritional supplement known as Sprinkles, which can be added to children's food in developing countries. A new study shows that Sprinkles can reduce the incidence of anemia among poor children enrolled in an ongoing fortified food aid program implemented under difficult conditions.

The question of how to reduce iron and other micronutrient deficiencies among poor people in developing countries has been taken on by an organization called the Sprinkles Global Health Initiative. These deficiencies are a devastating problem worldwide, causing poor health, premature death and impaired development. Sadly, children age 6 to 24 months prove to be the most vulnerable to suffering from iron-deficiency anemia.

"When combined with other food aid initiatives, the potential impact of Sprinkles is huge," said Dr. Marie Ruel, a co-author of this study which described the health of poor children both before and after Sprinkles distribution.

The findings are based on a study in rural Haiti, where at least two out of every three children under age 3 are anemic. Children in the study were enrolled in a food aid program that included cereals fortified with iron and other micronutrients. After Sprinkles, a dry powder containing iron and other vitamins and minerals, were added to their food for two months, anemia rates among the children were reduced from 54 percent to 24 percent, and further reduced to 14 percent seven months later. However, anemia rates remained unchanged for those children in the study who did not receive Sprinkles.

While the study took place in Haiti, its implications are global. Sprinkles have been tried in other developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Ghana and Indonesia, and were found to be a very effective way to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.

Sprinkles were developed by the University of Toronto's Stanley Zlotkin and are licensed by the Sprinkles Global Health Initiative, which works closely with an international network of approved suppliers.

I can't think of a better way for those of us who are health and nutrition oriented to give back to society than supporting the effort to get Sprinkles out into the world community. Sprinkles cost between 1.5¢ and 3.5¢ per sachet and have a huge impact on the health of a child, and as a result, the health of our society. The Sprinkes Global Initiative is linked to the headline of this post. There is a clearly marked page for individual or corporate donations.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Sham: Over-Reliance on Antibiotics Leads to Resistant Strains of Bacteria in Children

I've written before on this forum about the dangers of antibiotics when they are over-prescribed. Antibiotics are so valuable and have saved so many lives--but as they are often prescribed unnecessarily, their use can lead to the rise of resistant organisms. Scientists publishing on the website for BMJ (British Medical Journal) warn of a potential rise in antibiotic resistance in the general population as a result.

While general practitioners have been strongly encouraged for years to reduce antibiotic use to minimize the risk of drug resistance, prescribing antibiotics to children remains a common practice. Author David Mant and colleagues at the University of Oxford report that they've seen a reduction in prescriptions due to the strategy of recommending a 24-48 hour delay before filling antibiotic prescriptions; this has resulted in a 40% fall in consumption in England. But new data suggests that community antibiotic prescriptions are once again rising.

The authors set out to assess the effect of antibiotics on antibiotic resistance in individual children in primary care. They identified 119 children with acute respiratory tract infection, of whom 71 received the antibiotic amoxicillin and 48 received no antibiotic. Background medical information was recorded and throat swabs were taken at the start of the study and again at two and 12 weeks to measure whether resistant bacteria were present.

In children who did not receive an antibiotic, there was no increase in the proportion carrying resistant bacteria in the throat from the initial level at 2 or 12 weeks. However, in children who received an antibiotic, the number carrying resistant bacteria more than doubled at the two week follow-up, but fell back close to the initial level by 12 weeks.

The authors believe these results show that prescribing amoxicillin to a child doubles the risk of finding antibiotic resistant strains in that child later. They warn that although this effect is temporary in the individual child, it may be sufficient to sustain a high level of antibiotic resistance in the population.

In the same issue of BMJ, a study shows that British doctors are still prescribing antibiotics for a large proportion of patients with minor infections, despite British guidelines about their use. I am certain this is happening here in the USA as well.

Antibiotics can be life saving drugs. Let's preserve and protect their ability to work by limiting their use. (Original research article linked to the headline of this post).


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wham: Great Things from the Color of Berries

Scandinavian researchers have found that compounds behind the reds and blues of berries and fruit, whether from food sources like blueberries or supplementation, may protect against the ravages of inflammation.

Norwegian scientists, writing in the August 2007 edition of the Journal of Nutrition, have found that increased intake of anthocyanins, the phytochemical behind these colors, can lead to reductions in inflammation. The chemicals are actually responsible for mediating a transcription factor which could be behind inflammation in a wide variety of diseases.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to type-2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and perhaps even Alzheimer's disease.

A parallel-designed, placebo-controlled clinical trial was run by this team, involving 120 men and women with an average age of 61. Researchers assigned them to receive the anthocyanin supplements or placebo (simple maltodextrin mixed with blue coloring). The dosage was 300 mg. a day of an anthocyanins supplement (derived from bilberry, or "bog blueberries"), and the goal was to see a reduction in inflammation responses.

Anthocyanin supplementation showed 38 to 60 per cent decreases from baseline, compared to four and six per cent decreases in the placebo group. Research will continue in Oslo and other locations around the world as scientists struggle to determine the mechanisms by which anthocyanins inhibit NF-kB activation.

This research, and future work on anthocyanins, may translate to anthocyanins being found more frequently in supplements. Unfortunately, Chinese and South Asian imports have been found to contain black bean skins meant to replace quality anthocyanins with a similar color.

As in all supplement products, stick with major brand names and quality vendors. Better yet, buy the brands that are sold through your doctor or holistic healthcare practitioner.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Questions about Statins and Cancer Deserve More Research

There's no disputing the fact that millions of Americans have had their LDL lowered by taking statins. Recent data from large-scale statin trials has shown doctors that more intensive LDL lowering can provide significant cardiovascular benefits to higher-risk patients; this has led to higher doses of statins being prescribed to reach those lower goals. Potential problems have arisen because informal observations have begun to link intensive LDL lowering with a higher incidence of reported health issues (including liver and muscle toxicity and cancer). The safety of such treatments is being called into question by some, requiring more research to prove the safety of aggressive use of statins.

How low should you go when lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol? Many scientific studies support the benefits of lowering LDL, which is one of the most important steps in preventing heart disease. Published research, however, is now providing evidence for an association between low LDL levels and cancer risk.

A study published in the July 31, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology set out to understand how and why statins cause side effects, particularly damage to the liver and muscle cells. The study findings support taking multiple medications rather than high-dose statins to minimize those side effects. The researchers were not looking for a cancer risk, but they did discover one additional incident per 1,000 patients with very-low LDL levels. Additional studies have already begun to investigate this potential risk further.

The authors make it clear that this analysis doesn’t implicate statins in increasing the risk of cancer, but it does point the way for more research on certain aspects of lowering LDL with statins. Aggressive statin use may remain controversial until this cancer connection becomes clear.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wham: Probiotics found to aid burn patients

A new study out from Israel describes how a probiotic supplement of Lactobacillus bacteria may help reduce sepsis and cut mortality from acute burns. These researchers, from Ben-Gurion University and Soroka University Medical Center, studied the effects of probiotic supplementation on 28 patients with second and third degree burns on less than 70 per cent of their body.

They found that in acute burns, lactobacillus bacteria food additives were clinically beneficial in patients with a total burned body surface area of 41 to 70 per cent; their research was published in the journal Burns.

In the research study, the team recruited 56 burns patients, of which half were given a placebo and half were given lactobacillus supplements. The 25 patients on probiotics received capsules containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and yogurt containing Lactobacillus casei.

At the end of the study, the researchers report that a significant benefit of probiotic supplementation was observed, specifically in those patients which had burns covering 41-70% of their body. In that subgroup, none of the patients died. This compares with five patients who died in the corresponding placebo group.

Probiotic benefits have long been highlighted for gut and immune health. Products containing these friendly bacteria are now well accepted by consumers in Europe, and they appear to be on a fast track for acceptance in North America.

Probiotics continue to churn out positive reports in trials, and this category of supplement will certainly be more influential in daily healthcare around the world in the future.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Wham: FDA Does its Job and Protects Americans from Dangerous Drug

You read all the time about the US Food and Drug Administration, many of them negative editorials about this or that dangerous drug that got approved. The FDA is one of the hottest topics on Internet discussion forums, where FDA bashing has become an art. In this case, however, I'd like to pat them on the pack. Heck, I'm going to put them into the WHAM category here, because they deserve it. They just saved a lot of Americans from a dangerous new drug that many in Europe are scratching their heads over, wondering "how did this get approved???"

This weight-loss pill, Acomplia, heightens the risk of suicide among those taking anti-depressants. "Patients with severe depression should not be prescribed this drug," said the European Medicines Agency. However, before this warning came out last June, more than 40,000 in Great Britain alone have been treated with the pill which is also known as rimonabant.

Initially, this product was hailed as a wonder drug (probably by the pharmaceutical companies) after trials showed it could help dieters lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight. It was also seen as a good way to help smokers quit cigarettes.

But last month a committee advising our Food and Drug Administration, which approves drugs in the U.S., said Acomplia should be banned because of an increased risk of suicide, and the FDA listened to them. A study showed that of 120 patients taking the drug, two had committed suicide and one was considering it--another man had also tried to strangle his daughter.

The European Medicines Agency said the drug should still be licensed but with conditions placed on prescriptions.

Peronally, I'm happy to say that the FDA made the right call on another dangerous pharmceutical chemical. Want to lose weight or quit smoking? You don't need a pharmaceutical product to manage either of those goals.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Possible Grapefruit link to Breast Cancer for Post-Menopausal Women

I've read with interest a new study, from the University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii, which was just published in the British Journal of Cancer. This study of 50,000 women states that eating Grapefruit can increase the risk of breast cancer. The fruit is believed to boost blood levels of estrogen, the hormone associated with increased risk of the illness.

The researchers claim that post-menopausal women who eat as little as one quarter of a grapefruit per day could see their chances of a certain breast cancer increase by 30 per cent. (Perhaps you remember the popular "Grapefruit Diet" that made the rounds years ago--most dieters would have been eating at least six times this amount!)

Previous studies have shown that a molecule called cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) is involved in metabolising estrogen hormones. Grapefruit may boost blood estrogen levels by inhibiting this molecule, allowing the hormones to build up.

Grapefruit has had other health cautions over the years. You may remember the Grapefruit warning a few years ago when scientists found that Grapefruit can dramatically affect the way that drugs are metabolized in the body. There were strong cautions at the time to avoid taking Grapefruit juice with prescription medicine. The same thing could be going on here with estrogen.

It's clear that there is a lot we don't understand yet about fruit and vegetables; while they provide us with life-enriching vitamins, minerals and fiber, they also are delivery vehicles for powerful phytochemicals, an understanding of which hasn't been clearly developed by scientists.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wham: Validation of the Value of Organic Produce?

Perhaps you've chosen organic produce, as my family has, and yet you really don't know if the extra expense is worthwhile. Well, you can relax, because research is starting to come in about the nutritional content of that organic produce. The benefits may, if this research continues to bear fruit (sorry, couldn't help it), go further than just reducing the amount of pesticides in your body.

Take the tomato, for example, which is a relatively "hot" organic, selling at a 19% increase annually. According to new research, organically grown tomatoes contain higher levels of beneficial flavonoids. The science, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reports that tomatoes grown organically contained higher levels of the nutrients quercetin and kaempferol aglycones than their conventionally grown counterparts.

Alyson Mitchell from the University of California-Davis, and researchers from University of Minnesota studied the levels of these important nutritional ingredients in dried tomato samples over a period of ten years. The tomatoes were grown and processed conventionally or organically.

The organic tomatoes contained on average 79 and 97 per cent more of the nutrients than conventionally grown tomatoes.

The authors propose that "over-fertilization" is behind of the loss of these chemicals in conventionally grown plants. Flavonoids are produced as a defence mechanism of the plant in response to nutrient deficiency. In the organically grown plants, no fertilization occurred which was mirrored in increasing levels of the flavonoids over time as the soil fertility decreased.

To me, it sounds like organic farming provides produce with the ingredients intended by nature. That ought to be considered a good idea at most tables.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Ritalin Use May Affect Developing Brain

New research in animals suggests that use of the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Ritalin by young children may cause long-term changes in their developing brains. This new study was performed by a research team at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City; it was reported on in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Between 2 and 18 percent of American children are thought to be affected by ADHD, and Ritalin, a stimulant similar to amphetamine and cocaine, remains one of the most prescribed drugs for the behavioral disorder.

The study's senior author Dr. Teresa Milner, professor of neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, describes the research: "The changes we saw in the brains of treated rats occurred in areas strongly linked to higher executive functioning, addiction and appetite, social relationships and stress." she said.

The findings, specially highlighted in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that doctors must be very careful in their diagnosis of ADHD before prescribing Ritalin. That's because the brain changes noted in the study might be helpful in battling the disorder but harmful if given to youngsters with healthy brain chemistry, Dr. Milner says. There were changes evident in a part of the brain responsible for higher executive thinking and decision-making. There were also significant changes in catecholamine function in the hippocampus, a center for memory and learning.

Other clinical studies are underway that are testing the drug in 2 and 3-year old children, but at this moment, putting a child on Ritalin seems to be a major decision requiring strong consideration by parents and healthcare provider. I didn't put Ritalin into the Sham category because, for the right child, it can make a difference. It would be in the Sham category for those thousands of kids who have been given it needlessly.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sham: The Power of the Placebo

Scientists have long asked why some people experience a “placebo effect” that makes them feel better even when they receive a sham treatment they believe to be real--while other people don’t respond at all to the same thing, or even feel worse?

A new study from the University of Michigan Health System may help explain why. These Michigan researchers have found that the extent to which a person responds to a placebo treatment is closely linked to how active a certain area of their brain becomes when they’re anticipating something beneficial.

Specifically, the research finds strong links between an individual’s response to a placebo “painkiller”, and the activity of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine in the area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. That’s a small region at the center of the brain that’s involved in our ability to experience pleasure and reward, and even to become addicted to the “high” caused by illicit drugs.

The new research, published in the July 19 issue of the journal Neuron, builds on research previously published by the same team in 2005. That study was the first to show that just thinking a placebo “medicine” will relieve pain is enough to prompt the brain to release its own natural painkillers, called endorphins, and that this corresponds with a reduction in how much pain a person feels.

Sadly, there are a number of products sold both in the pharmaceutical category as well as the dietary supplement category which I believe rely on the "placebo effect" for patient results.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Going Beyond Your General Practitioner for Depression and Other Psychosocial Problems

When many people discover that they have a problem such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse, the first healthcare professional they see is probably their family doctor. That would be a good move if that doctor is a holistic practitioner, someone who understands a variety of alternative medicine treatments for the problem. But a new study examines how well GPs treat these conditions, and the picture is not all rosey. What you might end up with is a pharmaceutical prescription for an anti-depressant -- or additional appointments scheduled for "talk therapy."

The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

“Many patients visit their GP because of problems that are psychosocial in origin,” according to the team led by Marcus Huibers, of the Department of Clinical Psychological Services at Maastricht University. “Consequently, GPs could benefit from tools to help those patients.”

The reviewers looked at 10 studies and found no strong evidence for either the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the psychosocial interventions by GPs. The brightest note is that some GP's will now use a "problem-solving treatment," which is a type of talk therapy. The goal is to help patients understand that their symptoms are caused by everyday problems and to teach them ways to tackle these problems.

Personally, for "talk therapy," I'd head to a therapist. If I wanted to talk to a doctor, I'd visit with a healthcare practitioner such as a holistic MD or Naturopath--even a Chiropractor. The key is to find a person locally who would have access to a full range of information about alternative approaches to these problems. There are more and more reported problems from pharmaceutical anti-depressant chemicals.

And now for the shameless self-promotion that allows us to keep up this blog and all the interesting content! (I only do this about once a month - forgive the intrusion, but I am personally very sold on this next suggestion, as it has helped my family so much, from an 84-yr old mother to my teenage son):

Alternative approaches for many people include meditation as well as herb-based solutions, such as mood-elevation and mental clarity product, MIND BODY & SPIRIT, a Rhodiola-based herbal extract which has helped thousands of people come back by supporting an energized, positive viewpoint and reducing the stress which lies behind so much of today's mild-to-moderate depression. (That product changed my life). An article in Newsweek originally turned me on to Rhodiola, as it described the effect of Rhodiola on the mind. The purest form of Rhodiola is MIND BODY & SPIRIT. This product is distributed in the USA by ProActive BioProducts Inc.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wham: Curry ingredient as possible aid in Alzheimer's

Researchers reporting in in the July 16 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have isolated bisdemethoxycurcumin, the active ingredient of curcuminoids (a natural substance found in turmeric root) that may help boost the immune system in clearing the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This proves to be additional support for the belief that curcumin, a curry ingredient, could have a beneficial action on Alzheimers.

Using blood samples from Alzheimer’s disease patients, researchers found that this isolated chemical from curry boosted immune cells called macrophages which then went on to clear amyloid beta, the peptide responsible for the plaque in the brain. In addition, researchers identified the immune genes associated with this activity.

This important study provides more insight into the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s disease and points to a new treatment approach. Researchers say that it may be possible to test a patient’s immune response with a blood sample in order to individualize treatment. The work also suggests a new drug development approach for the disease that differs from the amyloid-beta vaccine. The new approach relies on the innate immune system, which is present at birth rather than on antibodies produced by B cells, which is a later developed part of the active immune system.

A number of curcumin extracts are available today as dietary supplements. The authors of this study, however, did not make any recommendations about the value of adding that supplement to the daily regimen. It is interesting to note, however, that where curry is a daily staple (India) the Alzheimer's rates are among the world's lowest.

An excellent article about curcumin and previous research with Alzheimer's Disease is linked to the headline of this article, which may interest some readers in starting on curcumin as a daily dietary supplement.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Wham: Folic Acid in Flour is a Valid Recipe

A new study shows that the incidence of neural tube defects in Canada has dropped by 46 per cent since the country began adding folic acid to flours. Support for the benefits of folic acid seems to be coming in all the time.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, has implications for countries debating the effectiveness of adding this ingredient to flour. Currently, only Canada, the United States, and Chile require that folic acid be added to flour, but the signs seem to indicate that it will be introduced in other countries soon. An announcement is expected within the next month in Ireland, and similar measures are under scrutiny in Australia.

Author Philippe De Wals of Université Laval and his colleagues found that food fortification with folic acid was associated with a significant reduction in neural-tube defects in Canada. "Furthermore, the risk reduction appeared greatest in regions in which the rates were highest before the fortification program was implemented," he writes in NEJM.

Folate is found in foods such as chick peas and lentils as well as green leafy vegetables, and a large body of evidence links now links folate deficiency in early pregnancy to increased risk of neural tube defects. These are most commonly spina bifida and anencephaly, which occur in infants.

Since 1997, public health measures in Canada (the US followed suit a year later) have all grain products fortified with folic acid - the synthetic, bioavailable form of folate.

"Canada decided to add folic acid to all flour produced in the country because formation of the neural tube in embryos is particularly intense during the first four weeks of pregnancy, which is before a lot of women even know they're pregnant. Since half of pregnancies are unplanned and the human body can't store folic acid, it is better to integrate folic acid into the food chain than to focus exclusively on taking vitamin supplements," say the authors.

The researchers compared the incidence of neural tube deformations before and after the introduction of folic acid-enriched flours for over 2 million births in Canada. Between 1993 and 1997, the incidence was 1.58 per 1,000 births. Between 2000 and 2002, the rate dropped 46 per cent to 0.86, showing the effectiveness of adding folic acid to foods.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wham: Dark Chocolate for Blood Pressure Reduction

The July 4 issue of JAMA indicates that eating about 30 calories a day of dark chocolate was associated with a lowering of blood pressure, without weight gain or other adverse effects. Good news for chocolate lovers!

The consumption of high amounts of cocoa-containing foods can lower blood pressure, (reported earlier in Sham vs. Wham) and this is believed to be due to the action of the cocoa polyphenols (a group of chemical substances found in plants). However, of particular concern in previous studies is that the potential BP reduction contributed by the flavanols could be offset by the high sugar, fat and calorie intake with the cocoa products.

At the University Hospital in Cologne, Germany, Dr. Dirk Taubert and colleagues assessed the effects of low regular amounts of cocoa on blood pressure. The trial, conducted between January 2005 and December 2006, included 44 adults (age 56 through 73 years; 24 women, 20 men) with untreated upper-range prehypertension (BP 130/85 – 139/89) or stage 1 hypertension (BP 140/90 – 160/100). Participants were randomly assigned to receive for 18 weeks either 6.3 g (30 calories) per day of dark chocolate containing 30 mg polyphenols or matching polyphenol-free white chocolate.

The researchers found the dark chocolate intake reduced average systolic BP by −2.9 (1.6) mm Hg and diastolic BP by −1.9 (1.0) mm Hg without changes in body weight, plasma levels of lipids or glucose. Hypertension prevalence declined from 86 percent to 68 percent. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure remained unchanged throughout the treatment period for those in the control group who were eating white chocolate.

Although the magnitude of the BP reduction was small, the effects are clinically noteworthy because on a population basis, it has been estimated that a 3-mm Hg reduction in systolic BP would reduce the relative risk of stroke mortality by 8 percent of coronary artery disease mortality by 5 percent, and of all-cause mortality by 4 percent. These numbers represent significant improvements in death and stroke.

The authors report that "The most intriguing finding of this study is that small amounts of commercial cocoa confectionary convey a similar BP-lowering potential compared with comprehensive dietary modifications that have proven efficacy to reduce cardiovascular event rate. Whereas long-term adherence to complex behavioral changes is often low and requires continuous counseling, adoption of small amounts of flavanol-rich cocoa into the habitual diet is a dietary modification that is easy to adhere to and therefore may be a promising behavioral approach to lower blood pressure in individuals with above-optimal blood pressure."

That's just a complicated way of saying that eating a small piece of dark chocolate every day is an easy thing for people to do, and the fact that it is good for them ends up as a great bonus!


Friday, July 13, 2007

Sham: Antibiotic Use in Children Can Be Dangerous if Over-Prescribed

Recent research shows that the over-prescription of antibiotics for children can actually lead to resistant infections. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming more and more of a problem worldwide, and the practice of daily, prophylactic antibiotic use may be behind the problem in small children.

As an example, urinary tract infections (UTI's) are extremely common in children. The use of prophylactic antibiotics for this condition, which involves daily administration of antibiotics after an initial infection, is associated with an increased risk of resistant infections, according to a study in the July 11 issue of JAMA. Here is more detail from this research:
Estimates of cumulative incidence of UTI in children younger than 6 years (3 percent - 7 percent in girls, 1 percent - 2 percent in boys) suggest that 70,000 to 180,000 of the annual U.S. birth cohort will have experienced a UTI by age 6. Daily antibiotic treatment is recommended in an attempt to destroy or suppress the growth of microorganisms present in recurrent UTIs.

Patrick H. Conway, M.D., M.Sc., of the University of Pennsylvania Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted a study to identify risk factors for recurrent UTI and estimate the effectiveness and possibility of resistance of antimicrobials in preventing recurrent UTI. Patients in the study were from a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia supported network of 27 primary care pediatric practices in urban, suburban, and semi-rural areas spanning three states, with children ages birth through 6 years, who were diagnosed with first UTI between July 2001 and May 2006.

Among 74,974 children in the network, 611 had a first UTI and 83 had a recurrent UTI. The researchers found that exposure to prophylactic antibiotics significantly increased the likelihood of resistant infections (7.5 times increased risk).

“Given … previous findings and the unfavorable risk/benefit ratio demonstrated by the current study, we think it is prudent for clinicians to discuss the risks and unclear benefits of prophylaxis with families as they make family-centered decisions about whether to start prophylactic [antibiotics] or to closely monitor a child without prescribing [antibiotic] prophylaxis after a first UTI,” the authors write.
Many scientists believe it is critical that we learn to live with less indiscriminate use of antibiotics, as the issue of resistant bacteria is real and can cause huge complications to society down the road. An article from the FDA which explains the process of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is linked to the headline of today's post.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wham: Good Carbs Reduce Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

New research supports the belief that people consuming diets with a higher glycemic index than average are at greater risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This new study from Tufts University suggests that 20 percent of cases of advanced AMD might have been prevented if individuals had consumed a diet with a glycemic index below average.

In the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Allen Taylor and colleagues of the Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision Research at Tufts University confirmed earlier findings linking dietary glycemic index with the risk of developing AMD. Here's how Taylor describes this work, and the lessons learned from his research:
“Men and women who consumed diets with a higher glycemic index than average for their gender and age-group were at greater risk of developing advanced AMD,” corresponding author Taylor says. “The severity of AMD increased with increasing dietary glycemic index.”

Glycemic index is a scale applied to foods based on how quickly the carbohydrates in foods are converted to blood sugar, or glucose. Foods like white rice, pasta and bread are examples of foods with a high-glycemic-index, meaning that these foods are associated with a faster rise and subsequent drop in blood sugar. Whole wheat versions of rice, pasta and bread are examples of foods that have a low-glycemic-index. These foods are often considered higher quality carbohydrates because they are associated with a slower and less dramatic rise and fall of blood sugar.

In this study, Taylor and colleagues analyzed data from 4,099 men and women participating in the nationwide Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS). Detailed dietary histories were obtained at the start of the study when participants were 55 to 80 years of age and had varying degrees of AMD.

“Although carbohydrate quality was not the main focus in the AREDS, we were fortunate that the investigators had collected the dietary carbohydrate information we needed to do our analyses,” says Taylor. “Our findings suggest that 20 percent of the cases of advanced AMD might have been prevented if those individuals had consumed a diet with a glycemic index below the average for their age and gender,” notes Taylor.

AMD typically occurs after middle age, although the events which cause it may begin earlier. A leading cause of irreversible blindness, AMD results from the gradual breakdown of light-sensitive cells in the central region of the eye’s retina, called the macula. Although there is no effective therapy for AMD, dietary intervention may delay its progress. Identifying modifiable risk factors for AMD is becoming increasingly important as the population ages. As Taylor and colleagues point out, the number of people in the US with visually impairing AMD is expected to double and reach three million by 2020.

Taylor speculates that carbohydrates that comprise a high-glycemic-index diet may provide eye tissue with too much glucose too quickly, and overwhelm the ability of the eye cells to use the carbohydrate properly. “It is possible that the type of damage produced by poor quality carbohydrates on eye tissue is similar in both diabetic eye disease and AMD.”
The risk for AMD may be diminished by improving dietary carbohydrate quality, as defined by dietary glycemic index. This may be achieved by relatively simple dietary alterations, such as replacing white bread with whole grain bread.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

FDA Finds No Link Between Tomatoes and Reduced Cancer Risk

Despite the fact that a number of studies have been reported that show an association between tomato and/or lycopene intake and a reduced risk of some types of cancer, the FDA has seen a different picture.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received two petitions for qualified health claims regarding tomatoes, lycopene, and the risk reduction for some forms of cancer. (Health claims that characterize the relationship between a food or food component and a disease or health-related condition require premarket approval by FDA to be included on the labels of conventional foods and dietary supplements.) Since then, the agency has been investigating the matter further.

The FDA has found "no credible evidence to support an association between lycopene intake and a reduced risk of prostate, lung, colorectal, gastric, breast, ovarian, endometrial, or pancreatic cancer." The FDA also found no credible evidence for an association between tomato consumption and a reduced risk of lung, colorectal, breast, cervical, or endometrial cancer. Because the FDA found "very limited evidence" to support the reduced risk of cancer claim, those seeking functional food status for their lycopene containing products will not be getting their wish.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wham: Fruit and Omega 3's Effect on Asthma

A new study reports that a diet rich in fruit, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.

There is now a significant body of research, including this new study published in July's issue of the journal Chest, which shows that a healthy diet rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins is quite good for asthma.

The new work suggests that higher intakes of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory micronutrients are associated with lower reports of cough, respiratory infections, and less severe asthma-related symptoms. The lead author, Dr. Jane Burns, is from the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Teenagers who have low dietary intakes of fruit, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids are at greater risk of having asthma, emphasizing the importance of a balanced diet, composed of whole foods," she advised.

According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma. The condition is on the rise all throughout the Western world.

The researchers report that at least one third of the students' diets were below the recommended levels of fruit, vegetable, vitamins A and E, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acid intake.

"Vitamin supplements can help teens meet their daily recommended levels," said Dr. Burns, "and surprisingly, even relatively low levels of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to protect teens from higher reported respiratory symptoms."

Results showed that low dietary intakes of fruit, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids were associated with decreased lung function and a greater risk of chronic bronchitis symptoms, wheezing, and asthma. These risks were further increased among students with the lowest intakes and who also smoked.

During the past year, studies have been published that report increased intake of vitamins C and E, with some research suggesting that the mother's intake of such nutrients during pregnancy may have lifelong benefits for the respiratory health of the offspring.


Monday, July 9, 2007

Sham: Should we allow drugs to tamper with our memories?

In a move reminiscent of the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," one drug company is pursuing research for a new psycho-drug with the aim of lessening the impact of long-term bad memories.

Have a car wreck you'd like to forget? Or, a bad date that you just can't get out of your mind? Well, if that's the case, we've got just the dandy new drug to sell you . . .

A US and Canadian team used a drug called propranolol to target unwanted memories, while leaving others intact. They injected the drug, which is more often used to treat heart patients, while a volunteer was asked to recall a painful memory. (Propranolol is commonly marketed by Wyeth under the trade name Inderal.)

The Journal of Psychiatric Research study found that this seemed to disrupt the way the memory was then stored.

The researchers, from McGill University, in Montreal, and Harvard University in Boston, hope their work could lead to new treatments for patients with psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress. However, others have warned the research is still at a very early stage - and expressed concern that it could potentially be abused easily.

The researchers believe that memories are initially stored in the brain in a malleable, fluid state before becoming hard-wired into the circuitry. They believe propranolol disrupts the biochemical pathways that allow a memory to "harden" after it has been recalled.

The BBC (link in headline of this post) quotes one expert as saying "One does not know what effect such a drug could have in the long term . . . After all, fear reactions are there to protect people from danger in the future."

This sounds to me like one of the worst ideas I've ever seen for selling quantities of pharmaceutical chemicals.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Wham: Probiotics for Faster Ulcer Healing

An animal study from Hong Kong seems to show strong evidence that people with stomach ulcers may benefit from probiotics to speed up recovery.

This research, published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, looked at the effects of Lactobacillus, one of the most extensively studied strains of probiotics, on gastric ulcers. Here is more detail from the report:
"In this study, we demonstrate for the first time that a probiotic strain L. rhamnosus GG is capable of accelerating gastric ulcer healing," wrote lead author Emily Lama from the University of Hong Kong.

Stomach or peptic ulcers are a small hole or erosion in the gastrointestinal tract. Most stomach cancers are caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, with some studies already showing that probiotics may have benefits against these types of bacteria. According to statistics from the US National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, peptic ulcers affect 14.5 million Americans.

Lama and co-workers used acetic acid to induce ulcers in rats and the animals were then given L. rhamnosus GG intragastrically for three days. It was observed that the probiotics successfully colonised in the stomach lining, especially around the ulcer.

A mechanistic study suggested that the probiotics influenced protein expression in the stomach wall cells, which led to increases in the formation of new blood cells and increased healing of the ulcer.
The new research, if it can be reproduced in humans, suggests that probiotics may also offer benefits for people already suffering from stomach ulcers.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Wham: Watermelon, Delicious and Healthy

Did you know that Watermelon is a rich source of Lycopene, the same phytochemical found in the tomato, which has been reported to be such a healthy cancer-fighter? Many people think that a watermelon is just sugar and water -- and while it is a sweet treat indeed, that melon doesn't have all THAT much sugar in it. A cup of diced watermelon contains only about 50 calories. It is about 90% water, as well.

Here are some tips from Spoofee.com about how to choose a terrific, sweet watermelon this summer:
Summer is here and I always have a hard time picking a watermelon at the groceries. I did a little research and here is what you should watch for to get a sweet watermelon.

- Tap the watermelon with your knuckles and listen for a hollow sound
- There should be little color contrast between the green stripes
- The end should be going from white to light yellow
- Press your thumbs into the skin from all angles. It should be hard all around.
Enjoy a great, healthy watermelon this weekend!

A great article about watermelons is linked to the headline of today's post, and a reader named Patrick suggested another GREAT link in the commments box today,


Friday, July 6, 2007

Study finds no link between soft drinks and obesity in kids

A new study from the UK suggests that children consumption of soft drinks between age five and seven is not linked to obesity later in childhood, challenging previous studies that have targeted soft drinks as a major driver in the obesity epidemic.

The research used data from a sub-sample of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, and found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) during childhood was not associated with fatness at age nine.

Writing in the journal Nutrition, researchers from MRC Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge and the University of Bristol report that heavier children tended to consume more low-energy beverages, possibly as a result of parental attempts to curb their child's calorie intake.

"Our analysis shows no evidence for an association between SSB consumption at age 5 or 7 y and fat mass at age 9 y in this cohort of British children," wrote lead author Laura Johnson.

"In this prospective analysis the relation between consumption of low-energy beverages and high fat mass at age 9 y, which is explained by overweight at 5 and 7 y, suggests that heavier children may consume low-energy beverages as part of an ineffective weight-control program," she added.

The rate of childhood obesity is set to double by the end of the decade, says new forecasts by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF). The alarming figures on childhood obesity estimate that by 2010 almost 287 million kids will be obese, and the overall obese population could rise to 700 million by 2015.

The overall number of overweight people worldwide could top two billion, said the task force - without taking account a lower overweight threshold set for Asians.

Johnson and co-workers report that 33 per cent of the five-year olds and 38 per cent the seven year olds consumed sodas, and the drink accounted for three per cent of the total energy intake for both age groups.

The researchers no evidence that consumption of the sodas at either age five or seven was associated with fatness at age nine, measured using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An Early Test for Alzheimers?

I've always wanted to know if there was an "early warning system" for Alzheimers disease. Because we have a family member who has Alzheimers, it is important to us all to recognize, as early as possible, if the disease has been passed along. Recently I discovered some new research, about how older adults who have difficulty identifying common odors may have a greater risk of developing problems with thinking, learning and memory. This report is in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Mild cognitive impairment—or a decline in thinking, learning and memory abilities—is increasingly recognized as a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, according to background information in the article. Impairments in the ability to recognize odors have been associated with more rapid cognitive decline and also with the development transition from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. However, little is known about factors that predict the development of this cognitive impairment. Here is more from the research:
Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and colleagues studied 589 older adults (average age 79.9) who did not have cognitive impairment in 1997. At that time, the participants took a smell identification test, during which time 12 familiar odors were placed under their nose. They were asked to match each odor to one of four possible alternatives, and were scored from one to 12 based on the number of correct responses. At the beginning of the study and again every year for up to five years, the participants underwent a clinical evaluation that included a medical history, neurological examination and testing of their cognitive function.

During the study, 177 individuals (30.1 percent) developed mild cognitive impairment. Risk of developing mild cognitive impairment increased as odor identification decreased, so that those who scored below average (eight) on the odor identification test were 50 percent more likely to develop the condition than those who scored above average (11). This association did not change when stroke, smoking habits or other factors that might influence smell or cognitive ability were considered. Impaired odor identification was also associated with lower cognitive scores at the beginning of the study and with a more rapid decline in episodic memory (memory of past experiences), semantic memory (memory of words and symbols) and perceptual speed.
Evidence suggests that even before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease develop, hallmark tangles develop in certain areas of the brain that may be associated with the processing of smells. “Among older persons without manifest cognitive impairment, difficulty in identifying odors predicts subsequent development of mild cognitive impairment,” the authors conclude. “The findings suggest that olfactory dysfunction can be an early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease … and that olfactory assessment may be useful for early disease identification.”


Monday, July 2, 2007

Cat allergen found bad for all allergy sufferers

I hate to be the one to break the bad news . . . Your little pussycat, Fluffy, may be making your allergies far worse than they need to be, even if you aren't allergic to cats. New discoveries from researchers in London have found that reduced exposure to cats may be beneficial for allergic individuals, regardless of their specific allergies.

These new findings have just been reported in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society. Dr. Susan Chinn, of the Imperial College in London, and 12 other researchers from the United Kingdom did this study.

“This was an unexpected finding,” said Chinn, lead author of the study. Her team presupposed that they would find allergy problems only in those individuals who were exposed to cat allergen and whose blood tests showed that they were allergic to cats. "But our studies suggest that all allergic individuals have signs of asthmatic responses if exposed to cat allergens--even if blood tests show that they are not allergic to cats.”

“Based on the current research, it appears that many individuals could benefit from reduced cat ownership and exposure,” says Dr. Chinn. The researchers could not rule out the possibility that cat allergen exposure or cat ownership could be a proxy for exposure to endotoxin, known to be an immune stimulant marginally associated with asthmatic symptoms, which is found in higher concentrations in cat owners’ homes.

Bad news for cat owners with allergy symptoms, regardless of what you're allergic to.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Wham: Blueberries reduce neurodegenerative effects of aging

If results from an animal study can be translated into humans, eating a diet rich in blueberries may reduce the severity of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or cognitive disorders relating to aging. What a wonderful food the blueberry is turning out to be based upon the last several years of research.

Appearing in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, these findings suggest a diet enriched in blueberry might attenuate degenerative processes due to oxidative or inflammatory stressors. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 Billion in the US alone.

The researchers, from the National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health), Tufts University, and Louisiana State University System, randomly assigned Young male rats a diet containing blueberry extract (two per cent) or a control diet for at least eight weeks. After this the rats were then randomly assigned a similar neuronal loss to that experienced by people suffering a neurodegenerative disease.

Behavioural studies were then performed and brain functioning was studied to determine any differences in neuronal loss.

The researchers reported that the rats that were fed a blueberry supplemented diet had enhanced behavioural performance as measured using performance in a 14-unit T-maze. These scientists also report that the blueberry-fed animals experienced significantly less brain cell loss, and had more viable brain cells following oxidative stress. The lead author, Dr. Duffy, reports that "a blueberry enriched diet provided significant protection against these decrements in performance."

While further research is required in the area, these results suggest that fruits rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, could play a role in the prevention and possible treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.