Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sham: Vitamin C Fails in Cold Challenge Test

As we get closer to the big cold season, it is important to review the literature about what works, and what doesn't work. I hate to knock the air out of Vitamin C because it is such an important vitamin for many reasons. (Besides, whenever I write anything negative about "C", I hear from people who are very upset with me. Vitamin C has more "fans" around the world than any other single product of the alternative healthcare industry.)

Well, here I go, putting Vitamin C into the "Sham" category (at least for it's use in megadoses to knock out a cold). Don't get me wrong--I take a gram of Vitamin C every day. But I don't expect it to take away cold symptoms when they come up!

A medium-to-large trial took place in Australia where researchers looked at what would happen if large doses of vitamin C were taken directly at the onset of a cold. Four hundred healthy volunteers took a daily dose of vitamin C (1 gram, 3 grams or a placebo).

This group was instructed to begin taking the medication when they experienced the common symptoms of a cold. Participants were asked to keep a simple record of their colds and return them to the researchers conducting this double-blind, randomized clinical trial.

149 participants kept up the trial process, returning cold records describing a total of 184 cold episodes. Researchers found no real differences between the vitamin C and the placebo group. In other words, there was ZERO difference in cold severity or duration for those who were taking the megadoses of Vitamin C. In fact, the placebo group had the shortest time for symptoms (nasal, systemic and overall symptoms). This group also had the lowest severity score at 14 days, seven days and 28 days. Researchers found that this study confirms four other randomly controlled clinical trials on vitamin C in colds -- there's just not a lot of evidence showing its value in knocking out colds.

A recent article in Natural Health, October 2007 issue, describes four products that can be used to knock out a cold. For some reason, Vitamin C was listed as one of those, despite the negative value shown in the science above. One of the other products was Echinacea, one was Zinc, and one was Andrographis (Kan Jang® was described specifically, which is a herbal combination of andrographis and eleuthero).


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sham: Mixing Caffeine and Acetaminophen Increases Risk of Liver Damage

Some people are unknowingly damaging their livers by downing a can or two of Red Bull and then later taking Tylenol or Excedrin painkiller. The combination of caffeine from coffees or energy drinks along with these pain medicines may increase the risk of liver damage.

A new report, a preliminary laboratory study, is announced in the upcoming Oct. 15 print issue of Chemical Research in Toxicology, a monthly journal published by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The toxic interaction could occur not only from drinking caffeinated beverages while taking the painkiller but also from using large amounts of medications that intentionally combine caffeine and acetaminophen for the treatment of migraine headaches, menstrual discomfort and other conditions, the researchers say. (As most readers know, one common product that combines these two is Excedrin.)

In the past, health experts have warned that consuming alcohol while taking acetaminophen can trigger toxic interactions and cause liver damage and even the rare death. In previous studies, the same researchers showed that high doses of caffeine can increase the severity of liver damage in rats with acetaminophen-induced liver damage. So, there has been supportive evidence from the past which backs up the current study.

While these studies are preliminary, and the findings are from laboratory animals, they do suggest that consumers may want to limit caffeine intake--including energy drinks and strong coffee--while taking acetaminophen.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to stop taking acetaminophen or stop taking caffeine products, but you do need to monitor your intake more carefully when taking them together, especially if you drink alcohol.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sham:Common Painkillers Can Really Aggravate Prostate Problems

A report in the Harvard Men's Health Watch speaks of the problems that men have in deciding how to take their doctor's advice. It's frustrating . . . Your doctor tells you to take one Advil or an Aleve daily to help stave off the seemingly inevitable enlarged prostate, and then you find that the frequent urination you are experiencing comes because you took your doctor's advice.

Well, as it turns out, these common anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) may indeed lower the risk of developing an enlarged prostate, just as the doctor said. The problem is that researchers are discovering there are some effects of this treatment that are unintended, and annoying. Men who already have the urinary symptoms can be adversely affected by NSAID's.

Prostate enlargement, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is common among older men. The condition is unrelated to prostate cancer, but it does cause troubling symptoms such as difficulty with emptying the bladder completely and the frequent need to use the toilet.

According to the Harvard publication, it's known that certain medications, most commonly cold and allergy remedies, can make BPH symptoms worse. Now, a large study in the Netherlands recently implicated NSAIDs as another cause of worsening BPH.

Using data from 5,900 men age 45 and older, researchers found that men using NSAIDs were twice as likely as non-users to develop acute urinary retention (a sudden inability to empty the bladder). And yet, at the same time, the findings from a recent U.S. study of more than 2,400 men with no history of urological problems show that those who regularly used NSAIDs were less likely to develop BPH.

In men who already have BPH, the painkillers may worsen urinary symptoms because they block production of chemicals called prostaglandins; the bladder produces prostaglandins to enhance contractions of surrounding muscles, and blocking this process may make it even harder for men with BPH to empty their bladders.

On the other hand, there's evidence that inflammation contributes to the development of BPH, so NSAIDs may help prevent the condition.

The Harvard publication recommends that men who already have BPH should pay attention to whether their symptoms increase when taking an NSAID. If this does happen, they should tell their doctor, and possibly switch to acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain relief.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wham: Acupuncture Treatment May Be More Effective than Conventional Therapy for Lower Back Pain

A new study in the September 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (one of the JAMA/Archives journals) shows that six months of acupuncture treatment appears to be more effective than conventional therapy in treating low back pain. Oddly, however, a "sham" version of acupuncture performed well also.

Low back pain is a common, impairing and disabling condition, often long-term, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 70 percent to 85 percent. It is the second most common pain for which physician treatment is sought and a major reason for absenteeism and disability. Acupuncture is increasingly used as an alternative therapy, but its value as a treatment for low back pain is still controversial. This trial was conducted in Germany, involving 1,162 patients (with an average age 50) who had experienced chronic low back pain for an average of eight years.

Patients underwent ten 30-minute sessions (approximately two sessions per week) of real Chinese acupuncture (387 patients), "sham" acupuncture (387 patients) or conventional therapy (388 patients). The Chinese or "verum" acupuncture consisted of needling fixed points to a depth of 5 millimeters to 40 millimeters based on traditional Chinese medicine. The sham acupuncture consisted of inserting needles superficially (1 millimeter to 3 millimeters) into the lower back avoiding all known verum points or meridians. Conventional therapy consisted of a combination of medication, physical therapy and exercise.

Response rate was defined as a 33 percent improvement in pain or a 12 percent improvement in functional ability. “At six months, response rate was 47.6 percent in the verum acupuncture group, 44.2 percent in the sham acupuncture group and 27.4 percent in the conventional therapy group,” the authors note. “Differences among groups were as follows: verum vs. sham, 3.4 percent; verum vs. conventional therapy, 20.2 percent; and sham vs. conventional therapy, 16.8 percent.”

The authors conclude that “The superiority of both forms of acupuncture suggests a common underlying mechanism that may act on pain generation, transmission of pain signals or processing of pain signals by the central nervous system and that is stronger than the action mechanism of conventional therapy. Acupuncture gives physicians a promising and effective treatment option for chronic low back pain, with few adverse effects or contraindications. The improvements in all primary and secondary outcome measures were significant and lasted long after completion of treatment.”

What was the reason the "sham" acupuncture gave a lasting and pronounced benefit--even better for the patient than conventional drugs and exercise? In this writer's opinion, the answer is still unclear. While it sounds like it could be "placebo effect," it obviously has much more to it than that.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Wham: Significant Stress Reduction Via Massage, Aromatherapy and Music

Nurses in Australia were super stressed-out during their shifts in an emergency room environment in a major hospital. But, after short aromatherapy massages while listening to music, their stress levels fell--dramatically--to levels that meant additional satisfaction for patients, and a lot more happiness for the nurses. This is based upon recent research in the September 2007 edition of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Researchers found that 60 per cent of the nursing staff--54 per cent in summer and 65 per cent in winter--suffered from moderate to extreme anxiety. This fell to just eight per cent, regardless of the season, once staff had received these 15-minute aromatherapy massages while listening to relaxing new-age music.

A qualified therapist provided the massage, and that person sprayed aromatherapy mist above the heads of participants and then massaged their shoulders, mid back, neck, scalp forehead and temples while they listened to relaxing music on headphones. Participants were able to choose the essential oil used, from rose, lavender, lime or ocean breeze (a combination of lavender, ylang ylang, bergamot and patchouli).

Sixteen massages were carried out over a two-day work period each week for 12 weeks in summer and 12 weeks in winter, with the names of all staff working those days put into an envelope and selected at random.

"There is scope for a lot more research into this area," concludes one of the authors. "We would be interested to see if different types of alternative therapy produced different results and whether factors such as age, gender and health status had any effect on the outcome. But what is clear from this study is that providing aromatherapy massage had an immediate and dramatic effect on staff who traditionally suffer high anxiety levels because of the nature of their work."

Reading stories like these points to the need for introducing stress reduction strategies in the workplace for other types of workers. This could be a valuable tool for employers who are interested in tackling anxiety levels in high-pressure roles in order to increase job satisfaction and reduce employee turnover.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wham: Large Study on Lycopene Shows Reduced Risk of Advanced Prostate Cancer

A large European study has been done on micronutrients, and there were mixed results, with the exception of the Lycopene portion of the study. The work showed that increased blood levels of this tomato micronutrient may reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer by 60 per cent.

This research was reported on in the current issue (Volume 86, Pages 672-681) of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers taking part in this "European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition" report say this is the largest study to date of plasma carotenoids, retinol, and tocopherols in the area of prostate cancer risk.

"Overall, we observed no significant associations between plasma micronutrient concentrations and prostate cancer risk," wrote one of the main authors. However, the team did observe a significant connection between localized and advanced prostate cancer with lycopene and for the sum of these various micronutrients, both of which were significantly associated with a reduction in risk of advanced prostate cancer.

For years now, the evidence has suggested that tomato-based foods can protect men from prostate cancer. As an example, one study found that men eating 4-5 tomato based-dishes per week were 25 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer compared to men eating the occasional tomato.

This new study followed 137,001 men from eight European countries for an average of 6 years. After adjusting the results to account for potentially confounding factors, the researchers reported no reduction in overall prostate cancer risk for the micronutrients, which included vitamin A, selected carotenoids, lycopene, and alpha- and gamma-tocopherols, which are different forms of vitamin E.

However, when they studied only advanced prostate cancer, or nearly one-third of their cases, significant protective associations were observed. In fact, the highest lycopene levels were linked to a 60% reduction, and total micronutrients were linked to a 65 per cent reduction in advanced prostate cancer risk. In reading about this study, I found it quite interesting how the numbers change when comparing protection against prostate cancer with overall risk reduction for advanced cancer. It seems that lycopene and other micronutrients can be considered very valuable for people in the latter category!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Antibiotic Resistance is on an "Alarming" Rise

Microbes develop fast, and changes can take place in them over a short period of time compared to other species of life on Planet Earth. When less than a decade ago, scientists first noticed an antibiotic resistant gene in bacteria taken from East Coast patients, they had no idea that the gene would be passed along so quickly to other strains of bacteria, and that it could actually be tracked as it marched across America.

Scientists found that this bacteria with an active copy of the gene could defeat carbapenems, a relatively young family of antibiotics that works on a wide variety of bacteria. Physicians generally reserve carbapenems for use in the most critically ill patients. That's why it is so distressing to doctors to find this gene popping up in more and more hospitals as it moves westward.

This new study, recently presented in Chicago at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy is among the first to detect the resistance gene in samples taken from a Midwestern hospital.

Researchers found the gene in only four of 243 samples from 223 patients with bloodstream-based bacterial infections. But this gene, known as "BlaKPC" spreads easily among bacteria, and scientists found the method most hospitals use to check for resistance genes didn't detect all BlaKPC-positive strains.

It requires a very sophisticated high-tech method to detect this gene, something that most hospitals don't have. And detecting it in advance is necessary to save lives of those critically-ill patients whose lives could be threatened while in the hospital for other illnesses. To help slow the spread of this gene, scientists need to look at whether they can develop a more effective way to detect it using widely available equipment and procedures. In other words, something "low tech" that hospitals might already have or acquire easily.

This resistance gene was originally identified during an East Coast outbreak of the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae. What makes it so dangerous is that the gene can be easily copied and passed around not just among bacteria of the same species but also from one bacterial species to another. Subsequent studies found mortality rates climbing as high as 50 percent when bacteria with the resistance gene infected patients.

Many people believe that antibiotic resistance began when doctors would too easily prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to their patients. Others believe that this problem originates because of the many different consumer products such as soaps, kitchen products, etc, which have "anti-microbial" components. Regardless of the cause, it is a growing problem that we all need to contend with. See the excellent Wikipedia article linked to the headline of this post.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sham: US FDA Considering "Changing Definition" of Chocolate

There are some things that should be sacrosanct. When I read recently about the Food and Drug Administration considering the "re-definition" of chocolate, I just about fell over. Yes, that's right--your government is considering messing with what can be labeled as chocolate. What's next, changing the ingredients of what we know as red wine?

Currently, companies are able to produce chocolate products without milk and cocoa butter and call them "chocolate flavored." With this new proposal, these products will soon be labeled as the real deal, which is a scary proposition for those who believe in the purity of real foods.

While I am certainly not a chocoholic, I enjoy a good piece of chocolate from time to time and have written about the various health benefits of small amounts of high-quality chocolate on a daily basis. (High-cocoa dark chocolate has blood-pressure reducing qualities, as just one benefit.)

The proposal to change the formulation was announced earlier this year by the FDA following petitioning from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA) along with other industry bodies. These people are calling for more flexibility in the current regulations to reflect "changing consumer attitudes and advances in manufacturing technology and ingredient supplies." What a crock of cocoa that is.

Amendments to the current standard of identity could lead to chocolate containing vegetable oils instead of cocoa butter and milk substitutes in place of milk. Personally, I'll stick with imported, quality European brands if this occurs and avoid anything made by CMA-affiliated companies. I hope you will do the same.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Men and Women Experience Totally Different Reactions to Reduced Seratonin

A new study published in the September 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry reports on important sex differences in the way that men and women react to reductions in serotonin function, specifically in terms of their mood and impulses.

One of the most studied conditions in the field of biological psychiatry is Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD. In this new work, scientists found that women and men appear to respond differently to the same biochemical manipulation. These differences between the sexes are seen when serotonin levels in the brain are reduced.

Using a technique in healthy participants called acute tryptophan depletion, which decreases serotonin levels in the brain, these scientists found that men became more impulsive, but did not experience any mood changes in response to the induced chemical changes. However, women in this study reported a worsening of their mood and they became more cautious, a response commonly associated with depression.

One of the study's authors, Dr. Espen Walderhaug, explains, "We were surprised to find such a clear sex difference, as men and women normally experience the same effect when the brain chemistry is is possible that men and women utilize serotonin differently."

Most of today's most popular antidepressants block the serotonin "uptake site", also known as the transporter, in the brain. This is done in order to keep adequate levels of serotonin in the brain.

In another category of support for low serotonin levels, the classification of plants called adaptogens are thought to work by making serotonin's precursors, tryptophan and 5-HTP, more available to the brain, thus increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Many people have found that adaptogens can be used instead of prescription antidepressants, or along with the pharmaceuticals at reduced levels.

Dr. Walderhaug comments that their study's findings "might be relevant in understanding why women show a higher prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders compared to men, while men show a higher prevalence of alcoholism, ADHD and impulse control disorders."


Monday, September 17, 2007

Wham: Pregnant Mothers Can Positively Affect their Children's Health by What They Eat

Scientists writing in the journal Thorax found that eating apples weekly could help mothers reduce the chance of asthma in their offspring, while oily fish could cut eczema.

This study adds further strength to the concept of dietary planning for pregnant mothers who want to establish a protective effect in their infants. Past studies have linked apples, rich in antioxidants, with having an anti-cancer effect and Alzheimer's. In this case, apples now look to be great for pregnant women hoping to positively affect their child's future health.

Asthma is on the rise all over the world. Oddly, apple consumption in the Western world is actually decreasing.

The researchers studied 1924 children born to women recruited during pregnancy and then followed up five years later. The women were eating a diet which consisted of a variety of fruits and vegetables, including bananas, oranges and pears and broccoli, spinach and peas. Most of these foods showed no effect on the health of the babies.

Researchers said "No consistent associations were found between childhood outcomes and maternal intake of the analyzed foods except for apples and fish. Maternal apple intake was beneficially associated with wheeze, asthma and doctor-confirmed asthma in the children. Maternal fish consumption was also beneficially associated with doctor-confirmed eczema."

In the past, other work has shown an association between maternal vitamin E, vitamin D and zinc intakes which have protected against childhood asthma, but few studies on the relationship between particular foods and asthma have been carried out. That's why this one is so interesting. Foods contain a mixture of micronutrients that may contribute more than the sum of their parts.

The authors concluded that, "The specific association found with apples in this study suggests an effect specific to apples, possibly because of their phytochemical content such as flavonoids."


Friday, September 14, 2007

Chinese Production of Vitamin C: Changes Affect the World Market

Big changes are ahead for Vitamin C. Prices for this ingredient are skyrocketing. The market for vitamin C is shifting as reports circulate that prices from China - the world's primary supplier - have gone through the roof. The days of dumping cheap Vitamin C on the market may be over.

We'd all had those little EMERGEN-C fizzy Vitamin C drinks--did you know that you are downing a glass full of a "health product" produced in China? Yes, the same country that brought us tainted toothpaste, poisoned fish and dangerous children's toys. But recently, China has had to crack down on quality problems and environmental issues stemming from some of their largest manufacturing centers. Production of Vitamin C in the country has been cut over the past several months, pushing prices up by more than 200 percent to a new, four-year high.

This news also shows us the risks of the world's growing dependence on China for this important vitamin. European producers, who had nearly been put out of business in the last few years by what were possibly artificially-low Chinese prices, may now have the opportunity to come back into the marketplace so that consumers are not force-fed Chinese health products.

In the last two years, both BASF and DSM have closed production facilities because of Chinese competition. Dutch-based DSM closed a manufacturing facility for Vitamin C in the United States because at the time of closing production in New Jersey, the cost of vitamin C had dropped to as low as $2 per kilo (it is now around $12).

Four of the biggest Chinese producers of Vitamin C are now facing a price-fixing suit in a New York court.

It is a shame that the little fizzy drink packages mentioned above do not have to be labeled as Chinese. I would prefer to have the option of avoiding Chinese "health products," and look forward to the day that this company and others like them find a supplier from another region of the world for Vitamin C.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Loneliness Presents an Actual Physical Health Risk that is Mitigated by Friends and Family

Researchers have known for many years that a person’s social environment can affect their health. Those who are socially isolated—that is, lonely, tend to suffer from higher mortality than people who are not. But a new study shows how loneliness actually acts like a physical element of some kind on the genes and activity of the human body.

In this first study of its kind, from the current issue of the journal Genome Biology, UCLA researchers have identified a distinct pattern of gene expression in immune cells from people who experience chronically high levels of loneliness. The findings suggest that feelings of social isolation link to alterations in the activity of genes that drive inflammation, the first response of the immune system.

This important research provides a framework for understanding why social factors are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections and cancer. It appears that loneliness is actually a physical attack on the body.

It has been previously established that lonely people suffer from higher mortality than people who are not. “What this new study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes, the activity of our genes.” said Steve Cole, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA.

“We found that changes in immune cell gene expression were specifically linked to the subjective experience of social distance,” said Cole. "The differences we observed were independent of other known risk factors, such as health status, age, weight, and medication use.”

Cole and colleagues at UCLA and the University of Chicago found genes overexpressed in lonely individuals included many involved in immune system activation and inflammation. But interestingly, several other key gene sets were underexpressed, including those involved in antiviral responses and antibody production. These findings show direct evidence of the adverse health effects of social isolation.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wham: Mind/Body Therapies Effective for Chronic Pain in Older Adults

For years, holistic healthcare practitioners such as Naturopaths and open-minded MD's have recommended certain non-drug therapies to their patients suffering from years and years of chronic pain. And yet, despite the success of many of these programs on chronic pain sufferers, there have been a lot of detractors who believe that this is just so much eyewash.

Now, a new study published in the Blackwell publication Pain Medicine provides a structured review of eight mind-body interventions for older people, including well known practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, hypnosis, tai chi and yoga. All eight of these treatments were found to be feasible for older adults, and no adverse events or safety issues were reported.

The article goes on to provide evidence that, in particular, progressive muscle relaxation may be effective for older people with osteoarthritis pain, while meditation and tai chi appear to improve function and coping with low back pain as well as osteoarthritis.

Chronic pain is most common among older adults. These chronic sufferers are often unable to receive adequate treatment because their physicians have a very limited training in pain management. There is also the problem of a greatly increased likelihood of side effects from pain medication.

Many naturopaths, in particular, have been trained throughout their medical upbringing to include these non-drug alternative therapies in the chronic pain regimen for older patients. But, older adults are often concerned about moving to a new physician. Change is difficult for them, and anyone counseling an older adult about this kind of healthcare issue should make them aware that Naturopaths work very closely with MD's, and in fact many modern healthcare clinics have these professionals working side-by-side.

“The trials we reviewed indicated that mind–body therapies were especially well suited to the older adult with chronic pain,” concludes lead author Natalia E. Morone, M.D., MSc. “This was because of their gentle approach, which made them suitable for even the frail older adult. Additionally, their positive emphasis on self-exploration was a potential remedy for the heavy emotional, psychological and social burden that is a hallmark of chronic pain.”

Anyone who suffers from chronic pain, not just an older adult, should seek consultation with a Naturopath or Holistic MD in order to explore other options besides pharmaceutical pain relief, cortisone injections, etc.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wham: Mediterranean Diet Research Shows Great Benefits

Previous research by Nikos Scarmeas, MD, and his colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center (New York) has demonstrated that healthy people who eat a Mediterranean diet lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This work, and the research of other scientists as well, has shown that healthy people who follow this type of diet live longer than those who eat a more traditional Western diet, higher in saturated fat and meats and lower in fruits and vegetables.

The Mediterranean diet includes a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, mono-unsaturated fatty acids; a low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat and poultry; and a mild to moderate amount of alcohol.

Now the same group has shown how the above diet may help people with Alzheimer’s disease live longer than patients who eat a more traditional Western diet. The study is published in the September 11, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study followed 192 people with Alzheimer’s disease in New York for an average of four and a half years. During that time, 85 of the people died. Researchers found that those who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were 76 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who followed the diet the least.

Study author Scarmeas says "The more closely people followed the Mediterranean diet, the more they reduced their mortality. For example, Alzheimer’s patients who adhered to the diet to a moderate degree lived an average 1.3 years longer than those people who least adhered to the diet. And those Alzheimer’s patients who followed the diet very religiously lived an average four years longer.”

“New benefits of this diet keep coming out,” said Scarmeas. “We need to do more research to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet also helps Alzheimer’s patients have slower rates of cognitive decline, maintain their daily living skills, and have a better quality of life.”

See the excellent Wiki post on this diet linked to the headline of this article.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Wham: Vitamin D - Greatly Reduced Risk of Preclampsia for Pregnant Moms

Once again, Vitamin D is making the news.

A new study has linked low vitamin D levels in mothers to a 5-fold increased risk of preeclampsia, a serious complication in pregnancy which can lead to fetal death. Preeclampsia is marked by soaring blood pressure and swelling of the hands and feet. It is the leading cause of premature delivery and maternal and fetal illness and death worldwide and may contribute to over 76,000 deaths each year!

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh writing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism said that there was a risk of preeclampsia even with supplementation of up to 400 International Units (IU). Still, they concluded that "Vitamin D supplementation in early pregnancy should be explored for preventing preeclampsia and promoting neonatal well-being."

This study is just extra fuel on the fire for the importance of vitamin D, which has been linked to a host of health benefits, including cancer (breast and colon cancer), improving diabetes prospects, and heart health.

Women who developed preeclampsia had vitamin D concentrations that were significantly lower early in pregnancy compared to women whose pregnancies were normal. And even though vitamin D deficiency was common in both groups, the deficiency was more prevalent among those who went on to develop preeclampsia.

Data was analyzed for 1,198 women enrolled in the Pregnancy Exposures and Preeclampsia Prevention Study, a prospective survey designed to examine factors that may predispose women to preeclampsia. Out of this group, 55 cases of preeclampsia and 220 controls were selected for further study.

Low vitamin D early in pregnancy was associated with a five-fold increase in the odds of preeclampsia.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Should Terminally Ill Patients Have the Right to Take Unapproved Drugs?

The United States is currently considering allowing experimental drugs to be given to people at their end of life. I found the discussion on this subject from the British Medical Journal fascinating. What do you think? Should terminally ill patients have the right to take drugs after the initial safety trials but before final approval?

Professor Emil Freireich at the University of Texas believes that patients should be allowed to judge the risks for themselves. Around half a million people will die from cancer-related causes in the Unites States alone this year, and many are given a hopeless prognosis. Most cancer patients are unable to participate in clinical trials of new therapies.

So why not offer these drugs to these patients on a compassionate basis?

Freireich points to several objections that include safety and interference with the development of the drug or the clinical trial process. But he rejects these. He argues that patients with advanced cancer and limited life expectancy should have the same privilege as all individuals in a free society – that is, to decide their own benefit-to-risk ratio.

It is tragic, he says, that regulatory bodies have created a circumstance where people have to live in an aura of hopelessness even though they have the will, the resources, and the ability to expose themselves to the risk of participating in investigational studies and to enjoy the potential for benefit. He ends his argument by saying that the solution is legislation or judicial action to permit expanded access to experimental treatments for patients with limited life expectancy.

On the other side of this ethical divide, Dr. Dean Gesme, a medical oncologist in Minneapolis, believes that use of drugs after phase I testing and outside clinical trials will damage both individuals and science. He points out that more than 90% of drugs entering phase I trials are found unacceptable, and, of those approved, most provide only incremental improvements as opposed to lifesaving treatments.

Gesme believes the allure of promising new drugs continues to engender false hope, which may delay approval and erode the clinical trials system by substituting clinical enthusiasm and wishful thinking for evidence-based medicine. And who will bear the costs of open access to these partially-tested drugs, he asks? Will government and HMO's be willing to pay for unproved drugs outside of formal clinical trials? Society is having a hard enough time getting them to pay for marginally beneficial therapies.

While we all dream of the miracle cure for each terminally ill patient, appropriate end of life care remains one of the most challenging questions there is for society.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Wham: The Pineapple and Its Wonderful Digestive Enzyme, Bromelain

Here's something that's not all that "newsy," but it sure isn't a bad idea to bring a fresh pineapple home now and again from the grocery store. They have such a wonderful flavor, and a complex of truly unique healthy ingredients.

Thanks to Lori Glenn of the American Botanical Council for this information. Lori is the editor of their excellent news service, HerbClip:
Pineapple contains beta-carotene, B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. However, the pineapple is best known for the enzyme bromelain which digests protein and reduces inflammation. Bromelain has the potential to decrease pain, edema, and platelet aggragation (as well as aforementioned inflammation), and it may also increase the effect of antibiotics. Bromelain has been used in the treatment of upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and sinusitis. It has the potential to aid in burn treatment and may aid skin grafting.

Bromelain is being tested now for use in the treatment of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It may also be useful in the treatment of other connective tissue disorders including scleroderma, bursitis, and tendonitis.

Because this enzyme has digesting ability, bromelain is being examined for its possible use in the treatment of amyloidosis, the buildup of a protein-like substance, amyloid, which can cause damage to the kidney, liver, and heart.

Along with enzymes such as amylase (which digests starch) and lipase (which digests fat), bromelain is an important component in maintaining healthy digestion. While children have an abundance of digestive enzymes to process food, adults who have consumed a largely processed, cooked food diet have used up a large portion of their digestive enzyme supply. Live, organic food contains the enzymes necessary to bring this back in balance and aid in digestion. Processed and cooked foods -- not at all. Enzyme supplementation can therefore aid in maintaining a healthy digestive system. Many maladies are linked to the body's inability to process toxins; the inclusion of enzymes, whether through supplements or live organic foods, allows the digestive system to process these toxins more effectively.
I would add that even when the digestive tract is doing its job well, there are enough toxins present in the environment and the food we eat to make it worth considering adaptogens to help the body do well despite the toxins.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Sham: Ingredient Found in Bodybuilding Supplements Found to Cause Hypertension

I've long had the suspicion that some of the ingredients in bodybuilding supplements could be dangerous. Some of these guys pop so many supplements and drink so many shakes made with powders that it just can't be good for them. Now, from the University of Virginia, comes research in animals that an antioxidant found in these dietary supplements can lead to hypertension.

The study examined the effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and was published in the September 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The work indicates this antioxidant can form a red blood cell-derived molecule that makes blood vessels think they are not getting enough oxygen. This can lead to pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a condition characterized by high blood pressure in the arteries carrying blood to the lungs. This is occurring in animals, and new studies will be needed to see whether this effect is reproduced in humans.

The researchers claim to have uncovered a new understanding of the way oxygen is sensed by the body and the chemical reactions that take place as a result:

"NAC fools the body into thinking that it has an oxygen shortage," said Dr. Ben Gaston, study leader at the UV Hospital. "We found that an NAC product formed by red blood cells, know as a nitrosothiol, bypasses the normal regulation of oxygen sensing. It tells the arteries in the lung to 'remodel'; they become narrow, increasing the blood pressure in the lungs and causing the right side of the heart to swell."

The team says it is now necessary to determine the threshold past which this antioxidant use may be detrimental to heart or lung functioning. They call for health practitioners to check bodybuilding patients for PAH.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Wham: Biotech Researchers Offer Clues to "Natural" Drug Development

There's been a unique discovery by biotech researchers who have developed a simple method to create natural drug products. While there will be a lot of work to transition this discovery into the large scale pharmaceutical industry, it really gives us a glimmer of hope that not all future drugs will be synthetic chemicals or bioengineered in some way.

Scientists have found a way to replicate assembly of antibacterial molecules in a process previously exclusive to cells. In other words, they found a way to produce new antibiotics inside cells in exactly the same way that the natural world produces them. This means that a whole new world full of natural drugs could someday be in our medicine cabinets.

Until now, only the intricate machinery inside cells could take a mix of enzyme ingredients, blend them together and deliver a natural product with an elaborate chemical structure such as penicillin. Researchers at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the University of Arizona have for the first time demonstrated the ability to mimic this process outside of a cell.

A team led by Scripps was able to synthesize an antibiotic natural product created by a Hawaiian sea sediment bacterium. They did so by combining a cocktail of enzymes, the protein catalysts inside cells, in a relatively simple mixing process inside a laboratory flask. The research paper, along with a companion study describing a similar process achieved at Harvard Medical School with anti-tumor products, is published in the September issue of Nature Chemical Biology. It was like using these little cells as miniature factories, to churn out an antibiotic as they would do in nature.

Dr. Qian Cheng, lead author of the Nature Chemical Biology research paper, said "This study may signal the start of a new era in how drugs are synthesized. Assembling all the enzymes together in a single reaction vessel is a different way to make a complex molecule."

While much more work is needed to employ this process on a mass scale, the achievement proves that such synthesis is possible relatively cheaply and easily. Complex products can be made without the use of man-made chemicals--this "green" chemistry could bring biotech and the natural products industry a lot closer than they've been in the past!


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Wham: Red Wine Benefits Shown For Prostate Cancer

A new study is out involving compounds in red wine which may help reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. The findings were published in August through the online edition of the journal Carcinogenesis.

The study, done by scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), involved male mice that were fed a plant compound found in red wine called resveratrol, which has shown in earlier studies a strong tie to anti-oxidant and anti-cancer activities. (If your diet include grapes, raspberries, peanuts and blueberries, you may already be getting some resveratrol, but red wine seems to be the best source.)

These resveratrol-fed mice showed an 87 percent reduction in their risk of developing prostate tumors that contained the worst kind of cancer-staging diagnosis. The mice that proved to have the highest cancer-protection effect earned it after seven months of consuming resveratrol in a powdered formula mixed with their food.

Other mice in the study did develop tumors, even those fed resveratrol, but those mice developed a less-serious form of prostate cancer and were 48 percent more likely to have their tumor growth halted or slowed when compared to mice who did not consume the compound.

This study adds to a growing body of evidence that resveratrol consumption through red wine has powerful chemoprevention properties, in addition to its apparent heart-health benefits.

Lead study author Dr. Coral Lamartiniere of UAB’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology said "A cancer prevention researcher lives for these days when they can make that kind of finding. I drink a glass a day every evening because I’m concerned about prostate cancer. It runs in my family."

An earlier UAB study published May 2006 in the same journal found resveratrol-fed female mice had considerable reduction in their risk of breast cancer as well.

Lamartiniere said his research team has been pleasantly surprised at the chemoprevention power of wine and berry polyphenols like resveratrol in animal models. More work, of course, needs to examine whether these benefits are also seen in humans.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Sham: Deodorants a Potential Cause of Breast Cancer?

A new piece of scientific research, published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry has shown that a common ingredient of deodorant may be putting you at risk for breast cancer.

Scientists from the UK have found that the aluminum content of breast tissue and breast tissue fat was significantly higher in the outer regions of the breast. This is, of course, in close proximity to the area where there would be the highest density of antiperspirant.

Other recent research has linked breast cancer with the use of aluminum-based, underarm antiperspirants. There has been a known, but unexplained, increased incidence of tumors in the upper outer quadrant of the breast which seems to support such a theory. The identification of the actual mechanism of antiperspirant-induced breast cancer has been quite elusive, however.

This UK team (Keele University and Wythenshaw Hospital, Manchester) measured the aluminium content of breast tissue from breast cancer patients at Wythenshaw and published their findings of this increase, potentially due to the aluminum content of antiperspirant deodorant.

Aluminum salts are a major ingredient of some deodorants, and these salts have long been associated with cancer, as well as other human disease. The daily application of aluminum-based antiperspirants most likely results in the presence of aluminum in the tissue of the underarm and surrounding areas.

Each of the patients in the study had tests which showed “a statistically higher concentration of aluminum in the outer as compared with the inner region of the breast." The authors also state that there is evidence that skin is permeable to aluminum when applied as antiperspirant. They have not yet discovered the direct evidence that the aluminum measured in these breast biopsies originated from deodorant.

Still, these findings and previous research on the same subject have certainly increased the sales of products for "natural" or "healthier" deodorants that are free of aluminum salts.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Consumer Research Shows "Healthy" Restaurants Inspire Increased Calorie Intake

[Pardon my abbreviated post on this holiday weekend in the States.]

A new report is out dealing with the behavior of Americans who visit so called "healthy" restaurants. It appears that when offered a lower-calorie main course, whether in a fine dining establishment or in a fast food location like a Subway sandwich shop, the average consumer will more than make up for the calories saved by ordering other items in larger quantities.

This important new study from the Journal of Consumer Research explains the “American obesity paradox”: the parallel rise in obesity rates and the popularity of healthier food.

These researchers reveal that we over-generalize “healthy” claims. In fact, consumers chose beverages, side dishes, and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main dish was positioned as “healthy." And as the author's point out, our impressions of what is "healthy" are often completely overblown--some Subway sandwiches contain more calories than a Big Mac, for example.

In one study, Chandon and Wansink had consumers guess how many calories are in sandwiches from two restaurants. They estimated that sandwiches contain 35% fewer calories when they come from restaurants claiming to be healthy than when they are from restaurants not making this claim.

“These studies help explain why the success of fast-food restaurants serving lower-calorie foods has not led to the expected reduction in total calorie intake and in obesity rates,” the authors write (see link attached to headline).


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Mystery Allergy Symptoms: Oral Allergy Syndrome

For years, my son and I have suffered from problems that have gone undiagnosed, but which we always suspected were allergies. Regularly, and for no reason that doctors could determine, the throat constricts, causing choking problems when eating. My son also has problems with his mouth and throat getting itchy and uncomfortable when he eats certain foods. While this sure sounds like allergies, no doctor has ever been able to explain to me how this occurs only some of the time, and not consistently.

Today, I read a press release from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) about Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS), which may explain a number of mysterious allergy symptoms that show up when you eat certain foods. Up to one-third of people with seasonal allergies may suffer from this syndrome, which results from a cross-reactivity between seasonal airborne pollen proteins (from weeds, grass and trees) and similar proteins in some fresh fruits and vegetables.

It is the interaction of these proteins that is causing the problem.

Common symptoms of this problem -- also known as "pollen-food syndrome" -- include itchiness, tingling or swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat immediately after eating fresh fruits, vegetables and certain kinds of other foods. In some cases, as in my family, severe throat swelling or even a systemic reaction can occur.

People with ragweed pollen allergies might experience symptoms if they eat foods such as bananas, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, sunflower seeds, chamomile tea and Echinacea. Those who have birch tree pollen allergies may experience OAS symptoms if they eat food such as peaches, apples, pears, cherries, carrots, hazelnuts, kiwi fruit or almonds.

As the AAAAI now recognizes, the best way to eliminate the problem is by cooking these foods, which reduces or prevents the allergic reaction that results from the protein/protein interaction. This organization recommends that you consult an allergist/immunologist if you are experiencing any of these typical symptoms of OAS:

- itchy mouth from raw fruits or vegetables;
- prolonged or severe symptoms of rhinitis;
- nasal polyps;
- co-existing conditions such as asthma or recurrent sinusitis;
- symptoms that interfere with your quality of life and/or ability to function, such as choking or difficulty eating;

For my family, we've found medications to be ineffective. Other people have had adverse reactions to medications. In both of these cases, the AAAAI recommends the immunologist or allergist, especially for children with allergic rhinitis. It seems that if you begin a course of immunotherapy early enough, this often prevents the development of asthma in that child later in life.