Monday, December 31, 2007

Sham: Chinese Supplements a Worldwide Concern

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wham: Fish Oil Confirmed as Alzheimer's Deterrent

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cooking Vegetables May Not Always Kill Nutrients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 24, 2007

Wham: Honey's Natural Wound Healing Ability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wham: Rosemary is Great for Your Brain

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ethnicity/Skin Color May Link to Vitamin D Deficiency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wham: Breast Health Benefits for Soy Isoflavones Extended Beyond Cancer

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 14, 2007

Japanese Scientists Develop Fearless Mouse: What Future Implications?

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

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

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

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

Scary thought?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cholesterol Reducing Drugs Having Impact but Problems Remain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wham: Eating the Mediterranean Way Can Extend Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 10, 2007

Sugary Beverages Add to Alzheimers Risk

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wham: Tomato Benefits Include Lower LDL Cholesterol Levels

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 7, 2007

Wham: Anti-Aging Properties of Rhodiola rosea

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wham: Meditation Reduces High Blood Pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Can Working at Night Be a Cause of Cancer?

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

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

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

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