Friday, August 31, 2007

Wham: Pomegranates and Prostate Cancer

A new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reports that biochemicals in the pomegranate slow the growth of prostate cancer cells. These biochemicals, "ellagitannins" and their metabolites, are "shown to be concentrated to a high degree in mouse prostate tissues," wrote the authors.

The current study contributes to the increasing body of evidence demonstrating the prostate cancer chemopreventive potential of pomegranate. The fruit, a rich source of antioxidants, has been linked to improved heart health as well. Other varied claims have been made including protecting against prostate cancer and slowing cartilage loss in arthritis. One major grower and supplier of pomegranates has quite a large research program going, and collaboration with numerous research labs. (See link at headline of this post).

It is the antioxidants present in the fruit, and particularly compounds like punicalagin (which accounts for about half of the fruit's antioxidant ability) that are behind the proposed anti-cancer effects observed in this new study by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles. Their work suggests that the ellagitannins may also play a role in prostate cancer protection.

Seeram and co-workers looked at the effect of ellagitannins and metabolites to accumulate in the tissues in male mice.

"It is unclear why pomegranate ellagitannin metabolites localize at higher levels in prostate, colon, and intestinal tissues relative to the other organs studied," wrote the authors. This suggests the potential for pomegranate products to play a role in prostate cancer chemoprevention, per the authors.

When the researchers investigated the potential of the pomegranate extract to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells grafted onto mice with impaired immune function, the pomegranate extract was found to significantly inhibit the growth of the grafted tumors.

"Future animal studies using preclinical chemoprevention models and human studies evaluating metabolite uptake into human prostate tissue, together with studies of the effects of these metabolites on relevant tissue biomarkers, are warranted," concluded the researchers.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wham: Flax Seeds for Menopausal Hot Flashes

A new study from the summer 2007 issue of the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology shows that Flax seed, a rich source of plant omega-3 and lignans, may reduce the frequency of hot flashes by almost 60 per cent. This news could mean that an alternative to black cohash and soy isoflavones is near for the reduction of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.

A hot flash is often described as a rush of intense warmth across much of the body that may be accompanied by sweating, reddening of the skin, or, occasionally, cold shivers.

The Mayo Clinic researchers recruited 29 postmenopausal women who suffered from hot flushes and refused to take estrogen because of their belief about an increased risk of breast cancer. They women were assigned to receive daily supplements consisting of 40 grams of crushed flax seed for six weeks. Full data was obtained from 21 of the women.

Participants described the frequency and severity of their hot flashes before and after the trial. The authors report that the frequency of hot flashes decreased 50 per cent over six weeks, and the overall hot flash score decreased an average 57 per cent for the women who completed the trial. The researchers also report improvements in mood, joint or muscle pain, chills and sweating among the participants. Not only does flax seed seem to alleviate hot flashes, but it appears to have overall health and psychological benefits as well.

The researchers proposed that the phyto-estrogen content of flax - most notably lignans - is behind the apparent benefits. Flax seed has been shown in some recent research trials to decrease breast cancer risk.

Research in this field is ongoing. The team hopes to open a new, larger clinical trial in 2008 evaluating flax seed against a placebo to better refine the results, and to hopefully confirm flax seed as a new alternative for hot flashes in women.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wham: Ingredient in Garlic Found to Kill Brain Cancer Cells

I thought this news today on Garlic was important enough to publish immediately, despite the fact that I had already printed today's blog article.

For the first time, compounds found in garlic have been identified as effective against glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor equivalent to a death sentence within a short period after diagnosis.

Scientists at the Medical University of South Carolina studied three pure organo-sulfur compounds (DAS, DADS, and DATS) from garlic and the interaction with human glioblastoma cells. All three compounds demonstrated efficacy in eradicating brain cancer cells, but DATS proved to be the most effective. The study will be published in the September issue of the American Cancer Society's journal, Cancer.

Cancer cells have a high metabolism and require much energy for rapid growth. In this study, garlic compounds produced reactive oxygen species in brain cancer cells, essentially gorging them to death with activation of multiple death cascades.

This research highlights the great promise of plant-originated compounds as natural medicine for controlling the malignant growth of human brain tumor cells. While more studies are needed in animal models of brain tumors before application of this therapeutic strategy can be recommended for brain tumor patients, it is indeed a very positive breakthrough.

"Our basic studies will eventually be translated to clinics for patient care. We may have to wait several years before its application to humans, but the significance of this discovery is enormous," Dr. Banik, lead author, said. "The benefits from this research to brain cancer patients will bring great satisfaction to researchers and clinicians who are trying to find a successful treatment for this devastating cancer."

Garlic-derived organo-sulfur compounds are small molecules that would not necessarily require complicated methods of delivery for treating brain tumor patients, the scientists said, and their natural origin is probably better for the human body than synthetic treatment options.

To take advantage of any potential anti-cancer benefits from garlic now, certain rules apply. These authors say to cut and peel a piece of fresh garlic and let it sit for fifteen minutes before eating or cooking it. This time allows for the release of the enzyme allinase that produces the anti-cancer compounds. Eating too much garlic can cause diarrhea, allergies, and internal bleeding, so it is important to monitor garlic consumption. As always, talk to your holistic MD or naturopathic physician about your plans.


Moderate to Heavy Drinking Raises Blood Pressure in Middle-Aged Men

There have been a number of studies recently which show that moderate alcohol intake can be good for you, by raising the amount of "good" cholesterol. But a large new Japanese study suggests that middle-aged men who drink heavily could also see their blood pressure rise, regardless of whether their levels of “good” cholesterol goes up. Middle aged men were found more susceptible to the blood pressure-boosting effects of heavy drinking than younger men.

While there are signs that drinking can be good for the heart and boost good cholesterol levels, “this emphasizes that alcohol is not for everyone,” said Kenneth Mukamal, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who is familiar with the study findings.

“This really fits well with the observation that the risk of stroke — which is more sensitive to blood pressure than heart attack — is not really substantially lower in moderate drinkers,” Mukamal said. According to him, an increase in blood pressure might eliminate any benefit from higher levels of good cholesterol.

The Japanese study was launched to explore whether high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — which is thought to protect the heart from disease — might play a role in how drinking affects blood pressure in men. Researchers looked at two groups of male workers, one 20 to 29 years old and the other 50 to 59 (in all, 21,301 subjects). All had periodic health examinations.

Young drinkers with low HDL cholesterol levels were no more likely to have high blood pressure than were nondrinkers with similar cholesterol levels. However, young men who drank heavily and had higher levels of HDL were more likely than nondrinkers were to have high blood pressure, suggesting that the “good” cholesterol did not stop the bad effects of drinking.

When looking at men of all ages, those with the lowest level of good cholesterol had the highest blood pressure in all three groups: nondrinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers. However, high levels of good cholesterol HDL did not do as much for the heavy drinkers.

Among older men, blood pressure was “significantly higher” in both light and heavy drinkers, regardless of their HDL cholesterol levels, according to the study's lead author Dr. Wakabayashi, who was not available for comment.

The findings appear in the September issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Wham: Selenium Connected to Muscle Strength in Older Adults

A new research study conducted by scientists from Italy, as well as Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (Baltimore) has found that low blood levels of selenium could double the risk of weaker muscles in the elderly.

This study was published in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Aug. 2007), where researchers from the Tuscany Regional Agency, (Italy), Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Azienda Sanitaria Firenze, (Italy), and the National Institute on Aging, report that people with the lowest blood levels of the mineral were 94 per cent more likely to have poor knee and grip strength (in comparison to those with the highest selenium blood levels).

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to show an association between plasma selenium concentrations and poor muscle strength in older adults," wrote the researchers, who stopped short of recommending selenium supplementation until they have done more research.

In this study, plasma selenium levels were measured in a cross-section of subjects from two towns in the Chianti area of Italy. These tests measured the strength of the hip, grip, and knee of 891 elderly men and women above the age of 65.

After adjusting the results for potential confounding factors, such as age, sex, total energy intake, and BMI, the researchers report that people with the lowest plasma concentrations were 69, 94 and 94 per cent more likely to have poor hip, knee, and grip strength, compared to those with the highest selenium levels.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Sham: High Fructose Corn Syrup Concerns Regarding Diabetes in Children

Researchers have found new evidence that soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children. In a laboratory study of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels. They reported these findings today at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more economical, sweeter and more easy to blend into beverages than table sugar. Some researchers have suggested that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim which the food industry disputes. Until now, little laboratory evidence has been available on the topic.

In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. He found ‘astonishingly high’ levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages. These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, says Ho, a professor of food science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are “bound” and chemically stable, the researcher notes.

Reactive carbonyls also are elevated in the blood of individuals with diabetes and linked to the complications of that disease. Based on the study data, Ho estimates that a single can of soda contains about five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person with diabetes.

Ho and his associates also found that adding tea components to drinks containing HFCS may help lower the levels of reactive carbonyls. The scientists found that adding epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a compound in tea, significantly reduced the levels of reactive carbonyl species in a dose-dependent manner when added to the carbonated soft drinks studied. In some cases, the levels of reactive carbonyls were reduced by half, the researchers say.

“People consume too much high-fructose corn syrup in this country,” says Ho. “It’s in way too many food and drink products and there’s growing evidence that it’s bad for you.” The tea-derived supplement provides a promising way to counter its potentially toxic effects, especially in children who consume a lot of carbonated beverages, he says.

But eliminating or reducing consumption of HFCS is preferable, the researchers note. They are currently exploring the chemical mechanisms by which tea appears to neutralize the reactivity of the syrup.

Ho’s group is also probing the mechanisms by which carbonation increases the amount of reactive carbonyls formed in sodas containing HFCS. They note that non-carbonated fruit juices containing HFCS have one-third the amount of reactive carbonyl species found in carbonated sodas with HFCS, while non-carbonated tea beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup, which already contain EGCG, have only about one-sixth the levels of carbonyls found in regular soda.

In the future, food and drink manufacturers could reduce concerns about HFCS by adding more EGCG, using less HFCS, or replacing the syrup with alternatives such as regular table sugar, Ho and his associates say. Funding for this study was provided by the Center for Advanced Food Technology of Rutgers University.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vitamin E Heart Studies Have been Underdosed

The reported failure of vitamin E to prevent heart attacks may be due to underdosing, according to a new study by investigators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The findings, published early online in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, suggest that these earlier studies all had a fundamental flaw – the doses used weren’t high enough to have a significant antioxidant effect. In fact, no studies have ever conclusively demonstrated the dose at which vitamin E can be considered an antioxidant drug, the researchers report.

Oxidant injury, or oxidative stress, occurs when highly reactive molecules called free radicals attack and damage cellular proteins, lipids (fats) and DNA. Free radicals, which are byproducts of normal metabolism, are produced in excess in certain disease states, including heart disease.

Epidemiological data and animal studies suggested that antioxidant compounds like vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene might offer some protection against heart attack in individuals at risk.

But subsequent controlled clinical trials of vitamin E – which showed little to no benefit from the vitamin – stymied that hope.

“Multiple human trials looking at the effect of vitamin E supplementation on coronary events and atherosclerosis have all failed,” said Jack Roberts, M.D., the T. Edwin Rogers Professor of Pharmacology, professor of Medicine, and lead author on the study.

“We’re talking about trials that examined quite high doses,” added Jason Morrow, M.D., F. Tremaine Billings Professor of Medicine & Pharmacology and chief of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology. “Short of a couple of studies, there was no benefit in terms of prevention of cardiovascular events and deaths.”

These results caused many to discount vitamin E supplementation as a cardioprotective treatment, but Morrow and Roberts suspected that the studies had been poorly designed. All of the trials simply gave a dose of vitamin E and looked for end points such as heart attack occurrence. But Morrow and Roberts found a critical piece of information missing.

“All of these studies were designed in a way that they never assessed the ability of the dose of vitamin E tested to effectively reduce oxidant stress,” Morrow said.

Without determining whether the dose of vitamin E given was exerting sufficient antioxidant effects, the previous clinical trial results were flawed, the researchers said.

In the new study, Morrow and Roberts determined the optimum antioxidant dose of vitamin E using an assay they developed to measure compounds formed by oxidative stress processes, called F2-isoprostanes. This measure, said Roberts, “has been independently validated as the best measure of oxidative stress status in vivo.”

The researchers first determined how long it took for a very high dose of vitamin E – 3200 IU/day – to suppress oxidative stress in individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease.

To their surprise, it took 16 weeks for this dose – which is more than 100 times the recommended daily intake and about four times higher than doses used in most previous clinical studies – to maximally suppress F2-isoprostane formation.

In another group with similar cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers administered varying doses (0, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200 IU/day) over the 16-week period to find the minimum effective dose.

They found that it was necessary to give at least 1600 IU per day to cause a significant reduction in oxidative stress – twice that used in some of the previous clinical trials.

“It was clear that large doses – and doses in excess of what all clinical studies had used – were necessary,” Morrow said.

“Even with this massive dose of vitamin E, you only observe a 50 percent reduction in F2- isoprostanes,” added Roberts. “So in my opinion, vitamin E is not the spiffy antioxidant everybody thinks it is – it’s a pretty poor antioxidant.”

Because the long-term safety of such high doses is unknown, “we are not touting taking vitamin E in large doses,” Morrow said. “We are saying that, in the design of clinical trials, one needs to have good surrogate biochemical markers.”

Based on their findings, the investigators suggest that measures like F2-isoprostane measurement should be incorporated into any future studies of antioxidants in atherosclerosis prevention.

And since oxidative stress has been linked to numerous other diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Morrow suggests that F2-isoprostane measurement “really ought to be incorporated into studies assessing disease prevention by antioxidants in general.”


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wham: Fish Oil Benefits MS Patients

New research findings confirm previous results that suggest the intake of fish oil containing Omega-3 fatty acids could provide a measure of relief for those with MS -- a disease that is progressive, debilitating, and without a cure.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease found in one in 700 Americans. It affects women more often than men, and generally begins to show signs between ages 20-40. While the cause is unknown, many physicians believe it is the result of damage around nerve cells. Inflammation destroys the myelin sheath which covers the nerve cells, and leads to multiple areas of sclerosis (scar tissue).

A new study evaluating the effects of omega-3 on patients with MS suggests that the intake of fish oil, containing omega-3 fatty acids, may have potential benefit in MS by decreasing levels of a key blood protein produced by the immune cells of individuals with MS. Previously, health care practitioners have recommended eating fish at least twice per week because fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are known to affect those key blood proteins.

The study was conducted by L. Shinto, ND, MPH, S. Baldauf-Wagner, A. Strehlow, V. Yadav and D. Bourdette, all of the Department of Neurology, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR; and G. Marracci of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Portland, OR. It is entitled, “The Immunomodulatory Effects of Fish Oil in Multiple Sclerosis.” Dr. Shinto is presenting the team’s findings at the 22nd annual meting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP;

I will be reporting from the AANP meeting this week. The conference will be held at the Palm Springs Convention Center, Palm Springs, CA, August 22-25, 2007.

The purpose of the Fish Oil study was to evaluate the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on ten patients with MS. Ten MS participants received 9.6 grams of fish oil/day in an open-label study. An in vitro study using immune cells from healthy subjects was also conducted simultaneously to evaluate concentration effects of EPA and DHA on levels and activity of the blood protein produced by the immune cells of MS patients.

The researchers found there was a 58 percent decrease in levels secreted from immune cells of MS volunteers after three months of fish oil supplementation compared to baseline levels. At three months, both EPA and DHA levels were significantly increased in red blood cell membranes. The in vitro study showed a significant decrease in levels of this blood protein of concern (MMP-9) and activity for EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease both MMP-9 levels and activity and may act as immune-modulators that could benefit MS patients.

I am looking forward to the AANP meeting this week. Naturopathic physicians are trained in the art and science of natural healthcare at accredited medical colleges. Integrative partnerships between conventional medical doctors and licensed naturopaths are becoming more available. This cooperation makes more effective therapies available to consumers. It increases patient satisfaction in their relationships with their care providers.

As reported many times in Sham vs. Wham, more people are recovering their health by adding naturopathic medicine to their health care options.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Wham: Rhodiola rosea root shows benefit in mild-to-moderate depression

It's not often that results of herbal clinical trials are published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. One herb, Rhodiola rosea, has just had such an honor, and came out as very powerful support for those with mild-to-moderate depression. The abstract for this double-blind, placebo controlled study is show below. But first, a bit of general information about Rhodiola.

This tonic herb dates back to the early history of Scandinavia. Viking kings passed laws that prohibited taking more than a certain amount of root out of the ground, as the plant was valuable as a medicine and in demand by their trading partners. In 1943, this herb was discovered to be one of a category called “adaptogens” by scientists working under top-secret "Order #4654P of the People’s Commissar’s Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

This secret research was being conducted to improve the stamina and performance of soldiers and Olympic athletes.

As originally defined by the Soviets, an adaptogen was a substance that had to 1) show some non-specific effect, such as increasing bodily resistance to physical stress, chemical stress, or biologically noxious agents, 2) have a normalizing effect on the pathology, and 3) be innocuous and not disturb bodily functions at normal levels. In other words, adaptogens help the body resist the effects of stress of all kinds and help to normalize the workings of the body. These plants identified by Soviet scientists were indeed special tonics.

Rhodiola was one of the original adaptogens identified in this early work, which also included Eleutherococcus senticosus, Schizandra chinensis and several other botanicals -- each of which had the common effects of the adaptogen category, along with specific advantages for each herb in a given area. For Rhodiola, it was energy and mood elevation.

Much of the Vikings early use of Rhodiola would later be substantiated by clinical trials performed by a variety of academic researchers in Russia, Sweden and other parts of the world where these plants grow. Those benefits include protection against stress, support of a positive mood, mental clarity, and assistance in bringing the body back to its normal level of energy. The follow research paper is published in the September 2007 issue of the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry:

Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 2007 V. 61, No. 5, Rhodiola rosea and the Treatment of Depression

V.Darbinyan, G.Aslanyan, E.Amroyan, E.Gabrielyan , C.Malmstro, A.Panossian (The PBM Clinic, Institute of Health Competence, Stockholm-Globen,Sweden)

Abstract: The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy and safety of standardized extract SHR-5 rhizomes of Rhodiola rosea L. in patients suffering from a current episode of mild/moderate depression. The phase III clinical trial was carried out as a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study with parallel groups over 6 weeks. Participants, males and females aged 18-70 years, were selected according to DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for depression, the severity of which was determined by scores gained in Beck Depression Inventory and Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD) questionnaires. Patients with initial HAMD scores between 21-31 were randomised into three groups, one of which (group A: 30 patients) received 340 mg/day, a second (group B: 29 patients) received two tablets 680 mg/day, and a third (group C: 29 patients) received two placebo tablets daily. The efficacy of the extract with respect to depressive complaints was assessed on days 0 and 42 of the study period from total and specific subgroup HAMD scores. For individuals in groups A and B, overall depression together with insomnia, emotional instability and somatisation, but not self-esteem, improved significantly following medication, whilst the placebo group did not show such improvements. No serious side effects were reported in any of the groups A-C. It is concluded that the standardised extract shows anti-depressive potency in patients with mild to moderate depression when administered in dosages of either 340 or 680 mg/day over a 6 week period.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Colon Cancer Issues Stemming from "Western Diet"

New work done for the August 15th, 20077 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) says that the high calorie and low fiber dietary pattern associated with the "Western diet" are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer recurrence. This study is said to be the first to consider cancer recurrence--previous studies have already shown how the Western Diet affects the risk for colorectal cancer.

The "Western Diet" consists mainly of processed foods, junk foods and fast foods with a high sodium, sugar and saturated fat content and a low nutrient density.

Jeffrey Meyerhardt, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, writes "This is the first study, to our knowledge, in a potentially cured population of colon cancer survivors to address the effect of diet." Meyerhardt was the lead author on this study.

"The data suggests that a diet characterized by higher intakes of red and processed meats, sweets and desserts, French fries, and refined grains increases the risk of cancer recurrence and decreases survival," the authors stated.

A recent epidemiological study from researchers at the Institute Gustave Roussy linked people with a dietary pattern closely matching the "Western" diet to a significantly increased risk of the cancer (American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 164, pp. 1085-1093). The new study looked at dietary patterns on cancer recurrence and survival in a group of 1,009 stage III colon cancer patients, those with cancer present in the colon and lymph nodes.

During the average follow-up period of 5.3 years, 223 patients died with cancer recurrence out of 324 cases of cancer recurrence. Twenty-eight people died without documented cancer recurrence. The researchers found that a diet with a higher correspondence to the Western dietary pattern after cancer diagnosis were at a significant increase in the risk of cancer recurrence or death. Indeed, the top 20 per cent of people with the greatest Western-style diet were 3.3 times more likely to have cancer recurrence or death that those with least Western-style diet.

The Western dietary pattern has earlier been blamed by scientists for the obesity crisis in the USA and other developed nations.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

All That Exercise Could Kill You

As in most everything, too much exercise--normally a very good thing--can actually be bad for you.

Even though a key part of managing high blood pressure and heart disease, new animal research suggests there can be too much of this good thing. The August edition of the journal Hypertension reports that researchers from the University of South Dakota found in experiments with rats that excessive exercise worsened high blood pressure and led to progression to heart failure in rats with high blood pressure.

Because of all the previous findings about the benefits of exercise, these new findings in rats are unexpected. An editorial published with the study says that the implications for humans are not yet certain. Dr. Paul Christian Schulze, of Boston University Medical Center, and Satyam Sarma of Brown University Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island warn that the findings "should raise our awareness" of the potential harm intense exercise might do to people with untreated high blood pressure.

Researchers found that rats which lived with a running wheel tended to exercise excessively. The results, over time, were structural abnormalities in the heart and a reduced pumping ability -- all of which were worse in the active animals than in the sedentary ones. It's likely that the rats "simply exercised too much."

It's obvious that scientists and clinicians now need to focus on defining the fine line between beneficial and detrimental effects of exercise.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Wham: Salvestrols: Naturally Derived Anticancer Agents?

Scientists are still uncovering more evidence about how healthy the natural biochemicals are that are found in fruit and vegetables. Every day you find more in the press about one plant or biochemical, and about how eating that fruit may prevent cancer or aid in fighting off disease, etc.

Recently, the attention as gone to a category of natural biochemical called "Salvestrols." These are a class of natural molecules with dozens of different names. Resveratrol was the first to be identified, from grape skins, but scientists are still looking at this one to determine its true value. Other more recently identified salvestrols have turned out to offer what looks like even higher levels of potency than this one.

The problem is, as pointed out in a fascinating article on this topic appearing in the British Naturopathic Journal (Volume 23, issue 1), that modern agricultural methods prevent plants from producing salvestrols since they are not challenged by fungal infection. Salvestrols are anti-fungal compounds produced by the plant when fungal attack is likely. Modern plants (non-organic) are usually low in salvestrols because they are sprayed with fungicides and so do not need to mount their own defence against attacks by fungus.

Also, most processed foods, such as many fruit juices, may have salvestrols removed during processing, to ‘improve’ the flavor of the product. Sometimes the biochemicals that are most good for you have a somewhat bitter taste. They are found heavily in the skins, pulp and stones of the fruit - and commercial juicers, even for healthy plants like the pomegranate, purposely remove these valuable components of the fruit for their juices.

Work continues all over the world, summarized nicely in the British article, on the anti-cancer benefits of salvestrols. Much more powerful plant biochemicals may be identified in the near future which will make for some very interesting future news stories on this topic.

By the way, one method of getting as many salvestrols as possible into your diet is to use organic produce, and to use a device like a Vitamix for making smoothies and juices instead of a typical juicer which leaves the salvestrols behind. The Vitamix basically dissolves anything and everything, and when my family uses ours, the seeds and skin get thrown into the mix with no ill effect on the taste!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wham: Milk: The New Sports Performance Drink?

What's the last thing in the world you'd think of drinking after a workout at the gym? For me, that would be a big tall glass of skim milk.

But, drinking fat-free milk after resistance exercise has a greater effect on helping to increase lean body mass compared to soy or carbohydrates in young male weightlifters according to a new study from researchers at McMaster University, Canada. They found that taking milk after a work-out promotes a greater protein balance than consuming a soy protein drink.

The work, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adds to an increasing body of evidence pointing to the positive health benefits of milk in the sports nutrition market. As you know, the sports nutrition market is absolutely huge, and dominated primarily by isotonic drinks.

And there's other evidence to support this weird claim . . . Earlier this month researchers from the UK's Loughborough University's School of Sports and Exercise Sciences found that drinking skimmed milk after exercise may promote recovery and rehydration better than water or drinks like Gatorade. This research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that those working out remained hydrated after drinking milk, but remained dehydrated after drinking the other drinks!

Here are additional details from this study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 2, 373-381, August 2007:
56 healthy young men were recruited, split into three groups, and asked to train five days a week for 12 weeks on a rotating split-body resistance exercise program.

They were then randomly assigned to consume drinks immediately and again after one hour exercise. The groups were given fat-free milk, fat-free soy protein that was isoenergetic, isonitrogenous, and with macronutrient ratio matched to milk. The third group had maltodextrin that was isoenergetic with milk and soy.

Muscle fiber size, maximal strength, and body composition by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) were measured before and after training. The researchers found that no between-group differences were seen in strength and that type II muscle fiber area increased in all groups with training, but with greater increases in the milk group than in both the soy and control groups.

Type I muscle fiber area increased after training only in the milk and soy groups, with the increase in the milk group being greater than that in the control group. DXA-measured fat- and bone-free mass increased in all groups, with a greater increase in the milk group than in both the soy and control groups.
I am sure we'll soon be seeing new products from companies like Gatorade, using skim milk as the major component for rehydrating, muscle-building drinks.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Milk in Tea May Negate Positive Vascular Health Effects

Anyone who reads the headlines can see that tea is beneficial. Green tea, and tea in general, is being shown as having tremendous health benefits due to its antioxidant effects, anti-inflammatory action, and vasodilating effects (which help to prevent cardiovascular disease.) In fact, I've tired of writing about the positive effects of tea drinking on Sham vs. Wham and will now only discuss major clinical trials and updated news of significance.

But there is a new, smaller study from Germany which caught my interest because this study found that one of the ways that many of us drink tea may actually be dampening, or eliminating, the benefits of the beverage in the area of vascular health.

The European Heart Journal reports in the January 2007 edition that a German team at Charité University Hospital (Berlin) studied healthy women who were not taking medications or drinking tea. They tested these women on various tea preparations, including a group on simple boiled water and another on tea with milk.

As it turns out, in this test using black tea (the drink of choice in Germany), the woman with black tea and no milk had the best results. Tea drinkers who put milk in their tea lost most of the advantages of the tea. The scientists closed by stating that "adding milk to tea completely prevents the biological activity of tea" (in terms of improvement of endothelial function). Similar results were obtained in cell culture studies; when tea was added without milk, a positive vascular effect could be forecast. When the milk was added, there was no vasodilatory effect.

Sounds like tea is best enjoyed without milk. Further studies will be reported here. (Oddly, the BBC shows a big mug of milk with tea on the attached headline link for an article regarding tea's health benefits).


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Beverage Yerba Maté May Have Ties to Head and Neck Cancers

The American Botanical Council, a non-profit dedicated to the development of research and information sharing about botanical and herbal products, has issued an abstract in their July 31st edition of HerbClip that discusses the South American beverage Maté, sometime called "Yerba Maté," and its possible ties to head and neck cancers.

This beverage is increasingly seen in coffee shops, health food stores, natural products retailers and sometimes even mainstream grocery stores. It's popularity is gaining in the USA, and it is reputed to have more than $250 Million in sales in this country.

Yerba mate (pronounced yair-ba mah-tay) is known to South Americans as the "Drink of the Gods;" it is a hot beverage made from the dried leaves of the Ilex Paraguariense bush indigenous to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. And thanks to its robust caffeine content, the drink is a natural stimulant. The drink is traditionally steeped and served in hollowed-out gourds, sipped through metal straws designed to filter out stems and leaf bits. It was first consumed by the Guarani Indians centuries ago. Today, it is not uncommon in Argentina to see businessmen walking down the street sipping out of a Maté gourd.

However, there may be a very dangerous connection between cancers of the head and neck and maté consumption. HerbClip reports on a study done in Head and Neck which used modern informatics on a number of previously published research studies. Although there were a number of issues that need further research (difference between hot and cold maté consumption, smoking and alcohol use among participants, etc.) the researchers made some very specific claims: "Maté consumption plays a significant and independent role in the development of upper aeodigestive tract cancers," and "Maté drinking should be considered one of the risk factors for cancer of the neck and head."

It should be noted that further research is being conducted to determine the mechanism of carcinogenic action.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sham: Can Giant Corporations Produce Seriously Healthy Products?

I read recently about a new Diet Coke product, called "Diet Coke Plus," which has a number of vitamins and minerals added to it. Later that same day, I read a story about Coke and Cargill getting together to market a new type of natural sweetener based upon the ancient plant Stevia. These items seem to be the start of a trend where some of the world's largest companies are sitting up and taking notice of the natural products industry.

This new Stevia work on the part of Coke and Cargill is really getting a lot of play because giant corporations such as these are not most people's choice for natural, healthy products.

A closer examination of Diet Coke Plus shows that it is the standard Coke product with the addition of a very small amount of nutritional supplements (B6, B12, niacin, zinc, and magnesium). These five ingredients are present in this drink at an absurdly small level, most likely due to cost. There's about a penny's worth of these ingredients in a can of Diet Coke Plus (my guess).

Is this going to mean that Coke drinkers are suddenly going to start to be a lot healthier? I don't think it will make any difference at all for most people--certainly not enough of a health difference to overcome the health cost of drinking all those artificial sweeteners. What it WILL do, however, is cause some people to grab a Diet Coke when they might have instead enjoyed something more healthy, perhaps a spring water or juice drink.

In short, it's a marketing gimmick, pure and simple.

While I wouldn't want to see Coke or Cargill start messing with Stevia (modifying the plant for patent purposes), Stevia as a sweetener could indeed be a revolutionary change in a product like Diet Coke if the sugar substitute was left in its natural state.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Not all Probiotics Work in Children with Severe Diarrhea

I was recently disappointed to see a study from Italy in which scientists studied children with severe diarrhea. Probiotics are often prescribed by holistic physicians for treatment of acute diarrhea in children, and I have heard that they often work. In fact, I remember using them for my own son as a small boy.

But it appears that several probiotic products marketed as effective treatments for this problem are not at all effective; scientists have discovered that it seems to depend upon the strain of bacteria that is included in the probiotic supplement.

Probiotics are defined as "micro-organisms that exert beneficial effects on human health when they colonize the bowel." There are a great number of products in this category from supplement suppliers, and in some countries the regulatory agencies allow for very specific labeling. This is the case in Italy.

Researchers at the University of Naples tested five different preparations in 571 children with acute diarrhea. All the children were aged 3-36 months and were visiting a family pediatrician. Children were randomly assigned to receive either a specific probiotic product for five days (intervention groups) or oral rehydration solution (control group). They chose to use a variety of probiotics that were among the best known--those that are available through pharmacies in Italy. However, only two of the five tested preparations showed any effectiveness.

Duration of diarrhea and daily number and consistency of stools were monitored as primary outcomes. Secondary outcomes were duration of vomiting and fever and rate of admission to hospital. Safety and tolerance were also recorded. One strain of bacteria, Lactobacillus GG, worked very well when compared to patients receiving oral rehydration alone, as did a product with a mix of four strains. The three other preparations had no significant effect, however, which suggests that not all commercially available probiotic preparations are effective in children with acute diarrhea.

Several previous studies have shown similar, successful results with the effectiveness of Lactobacillus GG. The other effective preparation contained four bacterial species, two of which have also been shown to protect against diarrhea in chronically sick children.

The authors conclude that the efficacy of probiotic preparations for the treatment of acute diarrhea in children is related to the individual strains of bacteria, and physicians should choose preparations based on effectiveness data. I would add to this that the effectiveness of probiotics has a lot to do with the brand name as well. Buying from a Naturopath, a holistic MD, etc, would likely lead to a better quality product, as it is very difficult to keep organisms alive in tablets sitting on a supermarket or pharmacy shelf over months.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Good vs. Bad Bacteria in the Gut

A team of Cornell University scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College have discovered that a novel group of E. coli bacteria is associated with intestinal inflammation in patients with Crohn’s disease. This research was published in the July 12 edition of The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology.

Crohn’s disease, an incurable inflammatory disorder of the intestine, is found most frequently in the lower part of the small intestine called the "ileum," and it affects 1-in-1,000 people in Europe and North America. Thus far, gut bacteria have long been suspected in playing a pivotal role in the development of Crohn’s disease, but the specific bacterial characteristics that drive the inflammatory response have remained elusive.

Researchers at Cornell examined possible causes for the disease in patients with Crohn’s restricted to the ileum and the colon versus healthy individuals. Their findings raise the possibility that some strains of E. coli bacteria are opportunistic pathogens that may be causally related to chronic intestinal inflammation in susceptible individuals. The researchers go on to suggest that "an integrated approach that considers an individual’s mucosa-associated flora in addition to disease phenotype and genotype may improve outcome."

Other studies have been performed on E. Coli and have found that certain probiotic bacteria (the "good" gut bacteria as you might find in a quality yoghurt or probiotic supplement) can actually dampen the effect of these bad bacteria in the gut. This area of "good vs. bad bacteria in the gut" is an important area where new research may soon prove that probiotic supplementation is a must to reduce the effect of Crohn's in the population.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

More on Coffee as a "Health Drink"

I am always amazed at how controversial the topic of coffee drinking is when you bring the subject up around health-conscious people. Recently, when I posted an earlier essay on this subject to the newsgroup, there were many different responses, on both sides of the issue.

Today there is another piece of coffee news out on the medical press. Caffeine may help older women protect their thinking skills, according to a study published in the August 7, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Here's how the press release reads for this study:
The study found that women age 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee (or the equivalent in tea) per day had less decline over time on tests of memory than women who drank one cup or less of coffee or tea per day. The results held up even after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect memory abilities, such as age, education, disability, depression, high blood pressure, medications, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses.

“Caffeine is a psychostimulant which appears to reduce cognitive decline in women,” said study author Karen Ritchie, PhD, of INSERM, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, in Montpellier, France. “While we have some ideas as to how this works biologically, we need to have a better understanding of how caffeine affects the brain before we can start promoting caffeine intake as a way to reduce cognitive decline. But the results are interesting – caffeine use is already widespread and it has fewer side effects than other treatments for cognitive decline, and it requires a relatively small amount for a beneficial effect.”

The study involved 7,000 people whose cognitive abilities and caffeine consumption were evaluated over four years. Compared to women who drank one cup or less of coffee per day, those who drank over three cups were less likely to show as much decline in memory. Moreover, the benefits increased with age – coffee drinkers being 30 percent less likely to have memory decline at age 65 and rising to 70 percent less likely over age 80.
The lead author went on to say that researchers aren’t sure why caffeine didn’t show the same result in men. “Women may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine,” she said. “Their bodies may react differently to the stimulant, or they may metabolize caffeine differently.”

I'm still in the "wait and see" mode with coffee. Everytime I enjoy a cup (and enjoy it I do) my blood pressure moves up uncomfortably. For those with the viewpoint that coffee is healthy, however, today's news is welcome.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Wham: Olive Extract for Osteoarthritis

Scientists have long suspected that there was something inherently good about all those things which make up the "mediterranean diet." The olive is one of the most important ingredients of that diet.

Last year, French researchers looked at the effects of different doses of oleuropein, an olive polyphenol, on inflammation-induced bone loss (osteopenia) in rats and found that bone loss was reduced as a result of supplementation (that study appeared in Clinical Nutrition).

Now, new studies show that supplementation with an olive extract actually decreased pain and inflammation as well as improved the quality of life of people who were suffering from osteoarthritis.

This study, appearing in the August issue of the journal Nutrition Research, was conducted by researchers from Arizona State University and a California-based company (CreAgri). The scientists report that the supplements also had the added benefit of decreasing homocysteine levels, a marker of improved cardiovascular health in these same patients.

The new double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study recruited 90 people, ranging in age from 55 to 75, to receive either 400 mg of freeze-dried olive extract per day or a placebo for eight weeks. The scientists report that the subjects receiving the olive extract had significantly lower homocysteine levels than the placebo group.

This is good news, because high homocysteine levels in patients has been associated with higher rates of mortality from cardiovascular events. Plus, C-reactive protein (CRP) levels decreased by about 50 per cent as a result of olive extract supplementation, while CRP levels in the placebo group increased. CRP is a well-known marker for inflammation. With the onset of type-2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, CRP goes up.

With an aging population and problems with obesity, there will no doubt be more emphasis on olive extract products in the near future.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Wham: Folic Acid Protects Against Damage by a Chemical Ingredient of Plastic

Tests in animals have confirmed that an ingredient of plastic, bisphenol A (BPA) causes noticeable changes in the appearance of offspring if the mother had been exposed during pregnancy. The effect actually creates "fat yellow mice" in a line of mice that are known to be brown colored, and slim. These experiments in provide tantalizing evidence that what a pregnant mother eats can make her offspring more susceptible to disease later in life.

This phenomenon has spawned a new avenue of genetic research known as epigenetics, a name which refers to changes happening over and above the gene sequence without altering its code. In this case, Duke University investigators demonstrated that exposure within the womb to bisphenol A (BPA) caused changes in the offspring; along the way the team also discovered that administration of folic acid or genistein (an active ingredient in soy) during pregnancy would actually protect the offspring from the negative effects of BPA.

This study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, July 30, 2007.

The researchers found that when the mouse mothers received BPA, a significant number of their offspring were born with a yellow coat (this type of mouse is generally slim and brown). Yellow mice of this variety are at a much greater risk for obesity, cancer and even diabetes.

When pregnant mothers were given folic acid or genistein, the negative influence of BPA was counteracted, said the authors. There has been considerable debate in the United States and Europe about what levels of BPA are considered safe for human consumption. A number of US States have attempted to ban its use entirely.

Both genistein, an active ingredient in soy, and folic acid supplements are readily available in the supplements market, but there is no clear definition from this study or any other about the proper amounts to assure protection against BPA.

One of the lead authors of this study proposed that the reason Asians have much lower rates of obesity and certain cancers is that their diet typically includes greater use of soy products than Western diets. However, he pointed out, it is not known at what doses genistein would be protective or harmful in humans. Future studies would be needed to determine optimal doses. (Read more details on the article linked to the headline of this post).


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Wham: Vitamin D Increases Immunity to Tuberculosis

It's rare, but sometimes scientists find that going backwards in medicine actually has an advantage. Do you remember the recent Tuberculosis scare that many airplane passengers had when that passenger was discovered to be flying against doctors' orders? If I had been a fellow passenger on that airplane, I would have loved to have known about the way they used to treat tuberculosis patients before the antibiotic era.

Scientists have recently found that in healthy people who have been exposed to tuberculosis, a single oral dose of vitamin D enhances their immunity against this bacterial infection. It was this same vitamin that was used to treat TB years ago, said the authors of a new report on vitamin d supplements and TB, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, July 15th 2007 edition.

The problem in the past was that no doctor ever studied this therapy using modern clinical trial protocols. This group therefore conducted a clinical trial in which they assigned 192 healthy adults who had been exposed to tuberculosis to receive a single oral dose of 2.5 milligrams of vitamin D or a placebo. Of the 192 subjects, 131 participants were included in the final analysis of primary outcome after losing some in the followup.

Of these, 64 received placebo and 67 received vitamin D. After 6 weeks, the subjects were tested for evidence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bug that causes TB. The researchers found that the vitamin D supplement significantly enhanced the subjects' immunity to M. tuberculosis compared with those who received the placebo.

Based on these findings, the team is now going back to determine if the same vitamin can actually prevent the reoccurrance of latent infections.

It's amazing how some of our oldest remedies actually have their basis in fact!


Friday, August 3, 2007

Wham: Another Form of Vitamin E Showing Potential Against Cancer

What to do about Vitamin E is a common question asked of holistic physicians and Naturopaths. I know, because I've asked my own doctor on numerous occasions. After reading negative results on mortality associated with some kinds of Vitamin E in studies, I stopped taking it and waited for my next physical in order to ask him for advice.

"Just stick with natural and not synthetic Vitamin E, 400 units a day, and you'll be fine," he replied. And yet, even while I took his advice, there were continued reports of problems plaguing this potentially very important antioxidant.

That's why I read with interest the reports about new work on another form of Vitamin E, one that is getting some serious attention due to its effects, in animals, of reducing blood vessel growth--particularly, the blood vessels that feed cancer cells.

Tocotrienol, the less well-known form of vitamin E, could prevent the formation of these new blood vessels, and therefore it holds promise against a range of diseases. Japanese researchers looked at the ability of tocotrienol to prevent angiogenesis, associated with tumor growth, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetic retinopathy:
"Our findings suggest that tocotrienol has potential as a therapeutic dietary supplement for preventing angiogenic disorders, and therefore continued clinical study will be required to evaluate the efficacy and safety of tocotrienol," wrote the researchers in the Journal of Nutrition, August 2007 edition.
There are eight forms of vitamin E, which is why it can be so confusing. There are four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta). Alpha-tocopherol (alpha-Toc) is the main source found in supplements and in the European diet, while gamma-tocopherol (gamma-Toc) is the most common form in the American diet.

The researchers' studies found that tocotrienol was effective at inhibiting angiogenesis (the growth of vessels) in both bovine aortic endothelial cells and human umbilical vein endothelial cells.

While the majority of research on vitamin E has focused on alpha-Toc, studies into tocotrienols account for less than one per cent of all research into vitamin E. Tocotrienols are only minor components in plants, although several sources with relatively high levels include palm oil, cereal grains and rice bran.

Tocotrienols got a lot of press earlier this week when a researcher from Ohio State University told attendees at the Institute of Food Technology gathering in Chicago that this form of vitamin E shows great potential against neurodegenerative diseases as well.

It seems as if we'll be hearing more about new types of Vitamin E supplementation shortly down the road. My guess is that they will first show up in products available through Doctor's offices (those who have their own dispensaries, such as holistic MD's, Chiropractors and Naturopaths).


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Coffee: A "Health Drink" or a "Health Hinderance?"

It's incredible the amount of conflicting evidence about coffee. No matter which way you turn, there's someone who touts coffee as a health drink, while another set of researchers finds that coffee is bad, bad, bad.

Personally, I enjoy drinking coffee, and in fact I am writing today's post from our local coffee shop. Most readers of our daily news on Sham vs.Wham are, howewver, very aware of their health and their bodily processes. I know when I drink coffee that everything gets "speeded up," and the effect on my blood pressure has been noted on numerous occasions by my doctor. And yet, I still drink it on occasion.

One example of the "good news" about coffee from today's medical wire:
Regular and high coffee drinking may reduce the risk of liver cancer by 55 per cent, says a new meta-analysis of observational studies. The study, published in the August issue of Hepatology, pooled data from six case-control and four cohort studies and found that an increase of one cup of coffee every day was associated with a 23 per cent reduction across all the studies. Moreover, the apparent favorable effect of coffee drinking was found both in studies from southern Europe, where coffee is widely consumed, and from Japan, where coffee consumption is less frequent, and in subjects with chronic liver diseases. The authors go on to say that liver cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, and third most common cause of death from cancer.

These authors calculated that moderate coffee drinking was associated with a 30 per cent lower risk, while heavy coffee drinking was associated with a 55 per cent lower risk.
Coffee, one of the world's largest traded commodities produced in more than 60 countries and generating more than $70 billion in retail sales a year, continues to spawn research and interest, and has been linked to reduced risks of certain diseases, especially of the liver and diabetes.

Still, I know what it does for my blood pressure, and that certainly isn't good. In this case, the verdict of whether or not coffee is "good" is an entirely personal decision, and no matter which way you go on it, you'll find evidence to support your decision. (Read the excellent US News and World Report article on Coffee, which is linked to the headline of today's post.)


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wham Omega 3 Potentially More Powerful In Prevention of Certain Cancers than Drugs

New studies in animals suggest that supplementation with Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids could be more useful at preventing colorectal cancer than current drugs.

The study, by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Charité University Medicine, Germany, was published in the July, 2007 edition of the journal Carcinogenesis. The authors found that out of two sets of mice, the group with the highest amount of omega-3 in tissues showed some 15 per cent less inflammation in the colon. This difference, if it translates to humans as it should, could make a significant impact on this cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It is hoped that further work in this field could help find natural alternatives to drugs for this disease; current pharmaceuticals are reported to have side-effects over long-term use.

The two lead authors say in this report: "Dietary supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may be an effective and safe means of colorectal cancer prevention and it may be an alternative to the use of anti-inflammatory Cox-inhibitors, particularly Cox-2 inhibitors, which exhibit side effects when used for a long term."

The doctors also stated that because these fatty acids have many other beneficial effects (cardioprotective), supplementation with Omega 3 to prevent colon cancer is a strategy worth pursuing right now for anyone concerned about this potential cancer.

I find it interesting that this report is the second study in the last week which adds support to the role of Omega 3 oils in suppressing tissue inflammation.