Friday, November 30, 2007

Wham: Stevia is Picking Up Steam

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sham: Unnecessary CT Scans are a Growing Cancer Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Decrease the total number of CT scans prescribed.

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


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mother's Diet May Indeed Impact Sex of Offspring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Concern for Bone Health in Today's Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 26, 2007

Wham: Impact of Vitamin D on Breast Cancer

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

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

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


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wham: Impact of Vitamin B Deficiencies on Colon Cancer

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 23, 2007

Wham: Vitamin E Supplementation Reduces Heart Attack Risk in Diabetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 19, 2007

Wham: Marijuana Contains Possible Cancer Aid

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wham: Compound in Milk Thistle Shows Anti-Cancer Promise

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 12, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sham: The Sad Death of a Raw Food

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Antimicrobial Film Being Developed for Meats, Veggies, Fruits

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

From Newswise wire services:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wham: NSAID Use Reduces Parkinson's Risk Substantially

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 5, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 3, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Controversial Studies Continue to Appear Regarding Soy and Male Infertility

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Jensen