Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Obesity in Children Going Undiagnosed

As you know, there has been widespread media attention given to studies that have indicated as many as one-third of American children have a weight problem.

Sadly, a new study shows just 30% of children who are overweight or obese actually receive that diagnosis by a pediatrician. The study, led by researchers at The MetroHealth System and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, also stresses that this failure to diagnose appears to mostly impact children who may most greatly benefit from early intervention. The study is published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers reviewed Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements recorded on electronic medical records for more than 60,000 children (2-18 years) who had at least one visit between June 1999 and October 2007 at a group of health care facilities under the Metrohealth banner. The BMI measurement showed that 19% (11,277) of the children were overweight, 23% (14,105) obese, and 8% (4,670) severely obese.

Only 76% of severely obese children and 54% of obese children were diagnosed that way – and, just 10% of overweight patients received a proper diagnosis. (Overweight is defined as a BMI between the 85th-95th percentile. Obesity is defined as a BMI greater than 95th percentile. And severely obese is a BMI equal or greater to the 99th percentile.)

“Despite having set pediatric BMI guidelines, this is a bit of a wake-up call to pediatricians that as many as 90% of overweight children are not being properly diagnosed,” said David C. Kaelber, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “Better identification of this group of children who have just crossed into the ‘unhealthy’ weight category is essential for early intervention which will hopefully prevent not only a childhood of increased health problems, but also what now often becomes an ongoing battle through adulthood with life-long issues.”

As a parent, I can tell you that it is easy not to "see" problems in your own children. Having a doctor look you in the eye and tell you that your child is obese could be the only thing that will wake you up and force a change.


Monday, December 29, 2008

High Fat Diets Affect Your Biological Clock

Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers have shown that indulgence in a high-fat diet can not only lead to obesity because of excessive calorie intake, but it can also affect the balance of your circadian rhythms – an important 24-hour biological clock.

This biological clock regulates the expression and/or activity of enzymes and hormones involved in metabolism. Because of this, any disturbance of the clock can lead to such phenomena as hormone imbalance, obesity, psychological disorders, sleep disorders and even cancer.

Light remains the strongest factor affecting the circadian clock. However, Dr. Oren Froy and his colleagues in Rehovot, Israel, have demonstrated in their experiments with laboratory mice that there is a cause-and-effect relation between diet and biological clock imbalance as well -- and, its a strong one.

The researchers fed mice either a low-fat or a high-fat diet, followed by a fasting day, then measured components of the metabolic pathway at various levels of activity. In an article soon to be published by the journal Endocrinology, the researchers suggest that this high-fat diet could contribute to obesity, not only through its high caloric content, but also by disrupting the phases and daily rhythm of clock genes. They contend also that high fat-induced changes in the clock and its signaling pathway may help explain the disruption of other clock-controlled systems associated with metabolic disorders, such as blood pressure levels and the sleep/wake cycle.

Just another good reason to avoid the high-fat diet.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Study Shows Valuable Effects of Probiotics Taken with Antibiotics Regimen

According to a study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine published in American Family Physician, one in five people on antibiotics stops taking his or her full course of antibiotic therapy due to diarrhea. It is the authors' belief that physicians could help patients avoid this problem by prescribing probiotics to be taken along with the antibiotics.

Antibiotics target “bad” bacteria but may also kill the “good” bacteria in the large intestine, leading to diarrhea. Of course, diarrhea can also result from bacterial and viral infections, but it is often caused by the antibiotics themselves.

Probiotics -- cultures of “good” microorganisms similar to those normally found in the gut ─ have been promoted as restoring the microbial balance disrupted by antibiotics and infections. Probiotic bacterial strains are added to certain yogurts and are also available as powders and pills sold in health food stores.

The authors reviewed the medical literature and found seven, high-quality studies in which probiotics were administered. In these studies, the researchers concluded that there is a good reason for the use of probiotics to avoid diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use or from gastrointestinal viral or bacterial infections. In addition, the probiotics used in these studies were found to rarely cause adverse effects, even in children.

“With the level of evidence that probiotics work and the large safety margins for them, we see no good reason not to prescribe probiotics when prescribing antibiotics,” says Dr. Benjamin Kligler, a co-author of the study and associate professor of clinical family and social medicine at Einstein. “The only drawback is that probiotics are not covered by health insurance.” On average, a one-month supply of probiotics costs between $8 and $22. (Side note: Isn't it interesting how valuable proactive healthcare products like these are not covered by insurance but the pharmaceutical products which simply treat symptoms are??)

Dr. Kligler notes that the effects of probiotic doses are short-lived, so they should be taken throughout a course of antibiotic therapy. The study says that probiotics will not diminish the effectiveness of antibiotics. Kligler adds that products vary widely in bacterial dose and in quality. The Einstein paper specifies several commercial probiotic preparations of sufficient strength to offer health benefits. In general, probiotic doses of more than 5 billion colony-forming units per day for children and more than 10 billion colony-forming units per day for adults were associated with the best outcomes.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shade Grown Coffee: Delicious and Better for the Planet

There's news out today about the big differences in coffee quality, and how some of the very best coffees in the world come from what are called "shade coffee farms." These farms grow coffee under a canopy of multiple tree species, and they not only harbor native birds, bats and other beneficial creatures, but the farms also also maintain the genetic diversity of native tree species. 

Researchers are now showing how these shade coffee farms can act as focal points for tropical forest regeneration. The findings come from a study published by University of Michigan researchers Shalene Jha and Christopher Dick in the Dec. 23 issue of the journal Current Biology.

Typical of many coffee farms in the area, the three farms in this study were clear-cut and burned in the late 1930s and immediately replanted with coffee bushes and canopy tree species, including nitrogen-fixing legumes and fruit trees. Since then, farmers have allowed local trees such as Miconia to invade because they help prevent soil erosion. These trees spread into the farms when birds and bats carry their seeds from "mother trees."

"We found that clustered trees in the forest were highly related to one another, suggesting that the seeds are not moving far from the mother trees," said Jha. "In the coffee farms, however, even in close clusters, the trees were very distinct from one another genetically, indicating that the seeds came from multiple mothers." The difference likely occurs because small, forest-dwelling birds like the chestnut-sided warbler are the main seed carriers in forested areas, while large, ubiquitous birds like the clay-colored thrush spread seeds throughout coffee farms.

Lower genetic diversity is a concern in agricultural areas because increasingly fragmented landscapes isolate native plant populations. But this study shows that shade coffee farms, by being hospitable to the right kind of birds, support widespread dispersal of native trees. What this has done, in effect, is to actually connect patches of surrounding forest. These farms have the potential of sewing up the forest -- from a fragmented state into a place of genetic diversity and healthy growth.

In addition, shade coffee farms may serve as reservoirs for future forest regeneration, as the farms typically fall out of production in less than a century. Given that potential---as well as their roles in connecting habitat patches, preserving genetic diversity and sheltering native wildlife---it is important to encourage this traditional style of agriculture.

In spite of the trendiness of shade coffee, the enormous demand for java is pressuring some farmers into converting their traditional farms to intensive, industrialized plantations.

"A lot of the rustic coffee farms are turning into sun-intensive operations, where farmers cut down the overstory and try to level out the fields so it's easier to get machines in," said Jha. "It's more essential than ever to pay attention to the ecological benefits shade coffee farms provide."

Please ask for "shade grown coffee" the next time you are at the market.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Ties Found Between Psoriasis and Coronary Disease

The December 10 issue of The American Journal of Cardiology describes new research for patients with severe forms of the skin disease psoriasis. It is now believed that these patients should receive evaluation and possible treatment to reduce their risk of coronary artery disease (also known as CAD), which is a narrowing of the arteries supplying the heart that can lead to heart attack and other complications.

Psoriasis is a common skin disease affecting two to three percent of the world population, including 7.5 million Americans. The most common type of psoriasis causes a scaly rash that can cover large areas of the skin; some patients develop arthritis as well. Some cases of psoriasis are particularly severe -- it is these cases that doctors believe need to be looked at closely to determine if there may be a CAD link.

An "Editor's Consensus" article in the journal provides an update on the little-recognized link between psoriasis and heart disease, focusing on a new area of evidence strengthening the connection between inflammatory processes and coronary artery disease. Dr. Vincent E. Friedewald, M.D., of the University of Notre Dame, comments that the article is a "particularly interesting and unique document in that it bridges current knowledge from two medical disciplines—dermatology and cardiology—that rarely interrelate."

The explanation for the link between psoriasis and CAD risk is not yet clear, but a leading candidate is inflammation. Regardless of the cause, the expert panel believes that the current evidence is strong enough to recommend that doctors assess CAD risk in their patients with psoriasis.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Low Carb Dieting and Impact on Cognitive Ability

Holly A. Taylor, professor of psychology at Tufts, has recently published a new study that highlights some serious concern about the way low-carb diets affect cognition. When dieters eliminate carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduce calories, but maintain the carbs. When carbohydrates were reintroduced, cognition skills returned to normal.

"This study demonstrates that the food you eat can have an immediate impact on cognitive behavior. The popular low-carb, no-carb diets have the strongest potential for negative impact on thinking and cognition," says Dr. Taylor.

She collaborated with Professor Robin Kanarek, former undergraduate Kara Watts and research associate Kristen D'Anci in the study entitled "Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets: Effects on Cognition and Mood," which appears in the February 2009 edition of the journal Appetite.

The study says that while the brain uses glucose as its primary fuel, it has no way of storing it. Instead, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is carried to the brain through the blood stream and used immediately by nerve cells for energy. Reduced carbohydrate intake should thus reduce the brain’s source of energy. Therefore, this study hypothesizes that diets low in carbs would affect cognitive skills.

Study participants included 19 women ages 22 to 55 who were allowed to select the diet plan they preferred -- either a low-carbohydrate diet or a low-calorie, macronutrient balanced diet recommended by the American Dietetic Association. Nine women chose a low-carbohydrate diet and 10 selected the low-calorie diet.

"Although the study had a modest sample size, the results showed a clear difference in cognitive performance as a function of diet," says Taylor. Five testing sessions were performed by these patients that assessed cognitive skills such as attention, long-term and short-term memory, visual attention, and spatial memory. The first session was held before participants began their diets, the next two sessions occurred during the first week of the diet, which corresponded to the week when low-carb dieters eliminated carbohydrates. The final two sessions occurred in week two and week three of the diets, after carbohydrates had been reintroduced for those on the low-carb diet.

The data suggest that after a week of severe carbohydrate restriction, memory performance, particularly on difficult tasks, is impaired. Low-carb dieters showed a gradual decrease on the memory-related tasks compared with the low-calorie dieters. Reaction time for those on the low-carb diet was slower and their visuospatial memory was not as good as those on the low-calorie diet. However, low-carb dieters actually responded better than low-calorie dieters during the attention vigilance task. Researchers note that past studies have shown that diets high in protein or fat can improve a person's attention in the short-term, which is consistent with the results in this study.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Cough Medicine Could Treat Prostate Cancer

A new study published today in the December issue of the European medical journal Anticancer Research demonstrates that an ingredient used in a common cough suppressant may be useful in treating advanced prostate cancer. Researchers found that a natural ingredient, noscapine (used in cough medication for nearly 50 years) reduced tumor growth in mice by 60% and limited the spread of tumors by 65% without causing harmful side effects.

This study is the first to demonstrate noscapine's effectiveness in treating prostate cancer. The laboratory study was a joint effort by Dr. Israel Barken of the Prostate Cancer Research and Educational Foundation, Moshe Rogosnitzky of MedInsight Research Institute, and Dr. Jack Geller of The University of California San Diego. This ingredient, noscapine, had previously been studied as a treatment for breast, ovarian, colon, lung and brain cancer and for various lymphomas, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and melanoma.

Noscapine is a naturally-occurring substance, a non-addictive derivative of opium. That's good and bad -- good because there are many people who believe that natural products are received by the body with less side effects than synthetic drugs. It is bad for drug companies, natural substances like noscapine cannot be patented. The potential for clinical trials is also limited, because there are few companies who can risk that kind of investment if they don't have a proprietary compound to later market.

In the rush to find some way to profit via this ingredient, a synthetic derivative of noscapine has been patented -- but has not yet reached the clinical testing phase. (Yes, that means that we'll soon find a product making its way to the clinic which foresakes the advantages of the natural product and gives us TV commercials and coupons for a chemical version of the same.)

Since noscapine is approved for use in many countries as a cough suppressant, it is available to doctors to prescribe for other uses as well. This common practice is known as the "off-label" prescription. Noscapine is increasingly being used off-label to treat a variety of cancers. Dr. Barken used noscapine to treat a handful of prostate cancer patients before retiring from clinical practice. Encouraged by the success of these treatments, his foundation then funded the laboratory study being reported in this study.

Hormone therapy and chemotherapy, along with radiation and surgery, are currently used to slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer. Side effects resulting from these treatments include impotence, incontinence, fatigue, anemia, brittle bones, hair loss, reduced appetite, nausea and diarrhea.

In contrast, there were no toxic side effects observed in studies of noscapine.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Fertility Drugs and Cancer Connection

Millions of women have used egg inducing drugs over more than 30 years as a part of their IVF treatment to help them have children. A new study of more than 15,000 women - 30 years after they gave birth - has suggested they are at least three times more likely to develop cancer of the womb.

The scientists who carried out the survey believe it is worth further investigation and that those who undergo the treatment should be carefully monitored. While the risks are still low, it points to a major concern as it is estimated that one in six couples have difficulty conceiving and many of them seek out help.

Dr. Ronit Calderon-Margalit at Hadassah-Hebrew University in Jerusalem and colleagues have studied the effects of these drugs by comparing cancer incidence in a group of 15,000 Israeli women 30 years after they gave birth. Ovulation-inducing drugs were prescribed to women who had trouble conceiving or who were undergoing IVF.

Of the 567 women who reported having been given ovulation-inducing fertility drugs, three times the normal incidence was reported in members of the group compared to those who had not been given these drugs. For the 362 women who took clomiphene, which tricks the body into making extra eggs by blocking oestrogen receptors, the risk was over four times that of women who did not take the drugs.

An earlier study relating fertility drugs and a link to ovarian cancer found there was no link, so this major study was quite concerning to IVF doctors.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Ultimate Sham: Pyramid Marketing Schemes Trash the Supplements Industry for Personal Gains

I'm fed up - sick and tired of being approached by this company or that company through yet another robotic sales pitch coming from a multi-level marketing company. I was approached recently, and it reminded me how this marketing method has the potential to trash the supplements business.

Supplement companies sell you your vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanical extracts. And while this industry sector has admittedly harbored a broad range of players, some of whom earn a "C-" grade or worse for their ethics and marketing, it is only through "multi-level marketing" that the industry could potentially take a complete nosedive. When science (and formulas that work) go out the window, products become window dressing only for discussions on how the purchaser can become a millionaire through huge "residuals." 

A product that should sell for $15 in a store or through a doctor ends up being a $39.95 item, pushed by layers of salespeople who each have to earn some kind of commission. The company who approached me describes themselves as "the Adaptogen Company," offering herbs in a variety of little breath spray bottles. Their brochure claims they are the world leader in this field, and yet they've never contributed a bit of science to the field of adaptogenic herbs. In short, it is 100% marketing . . . with more space in their literature on becoming a millionaire than how their products could possibly work (with adaptogens delivered in homeopathic doses, it's not likely).

Exaggerations, claims, and bogus statements fill the literature of companies like these that have no reason for being other than the desire of someone to get rich. I'm sorry if my rant tarnishes some good companies, because quality products can be found sold via multi-level. But those are the few. In the business of making millionaires, the vast majority of products and claims are bogus. Buyer beware.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vision Improvement Seen in Children Who Play Outdoors

Myopia, often called nearsightedness, is the leading eye disability in the world. One researcher recently called it a “significant global public health concern,” because about one-third of the population suffers from it. The number of individuals with myopia is estimated to grow from 1.6 billion worldwide today to 2.5 billion by the year 2020.

When a study recently appeared in the January issue of Optometry and Vision Science, many were surprised to read that spending two to three hours a day outdoors can markedly lower a child’s risk of developing this vision ailment. According to the research, the critical factor for reducing the development of myopia in children seems to be total time spent outdoors during daylight hours. Sports or physical activity does not appear to play a role: studies found that both active and passive outdoor activities had a protective effect on vision, while sports played indoors were found not to have this effect.

Donald Mutti, OD, PhD, reports that a child’s chances of becoming myopic--if he or she has two myopic biological parents--are about 6 in 10 for children engaging in 0-5 hours per week of outdoor activity, but the risk drops to 2 in 10 when outdoor activity exceeds 14 hours a week.

This appears to be a great reason to push kids outside, away from the television and video games, and into the daylight. What is it exactly that provides the protective effects of outdoor time? The reasons are not yet clear, and more research is needed. But it certainly looks like something to consider seriously for those children or grandchildren sitting in that living room!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Alzheimers Results Shown from Existing Epilepsy Drug

Researchers at the University of Leeds in Great Britain have discovered that a drug commonly used to treat epilepsy could help clear the plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques are known to lead to the progressive death of nerve cells in the brain linked to many forms of dementia.

The anti-seizure drug Epilim, consisting of Sodium valproate, has been shown by scientists at this British university to reactivate the body’s own defences against a small protein called amyloid beta peptide. This is the main component of the brain plaque characteristic in Alzheimers.

Lead researcher Professor Tony Turner from the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences. says “The fact that we’ve been able to show that a well-established, safe and relatively inexpensive drug could help treat Alzheimer’s is an extremely exciting development. We hope colleagues will be able to progress this research with clinical trials in the near future.”

Sodium valproate has been used for many years to suppress epileptic seizures and the many sufferers of epilepsy have been taking the drug for decades with few side effects. The development of Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is widely believed to be caused by the gradual accumulation in the brain of amyloid-beta peptide which is toxic to nerve cells. This is thought to be caused by a key enzyme called neprilysin (NEP) gradually switching off in later life. The epilepsy drug was found to stimulate the production of neprilysin.

Personally, after being an Alzheimers caregiver and experiencing the anguish of this disease on the patient and family, I'd be making a beeline straight to Mexico and the pharmacies that are plentiful on that side of the border, as trying to get a prescription from a US doctor for something this far off-label could be a nightmare. I don't know what Canada is like, but Mexican pharmacies do not ask for prescriptions.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Wham: The Power of Selenium to Offset Bladder Cancer Risk

Selenium, a trace mineral found in grains, nuts and meats, may aid in the prevention of high-risk bladder cancer. A new study published in the December issue of Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, tells how researchers from Dartmouth Medical School compared selenium levels in 767 individuals newly diagnosed with bladder cancer to the levels of 1,108 individuals from the general population.

Their findings showed an inverse association between selenium and bladder cancer among women, some smokers and those with p53 positive bladder cancer. In the entire study population, there was no inverse association between selenium and bladder cancer. However, looking at the results for several groups, this association was clear. Specifically, this was with women (34 percent reduction in cancer) and moderate smokers (39 percent reduction in cancer). Both groups had significant reductions in bladder cancer with higher rates of selenium.

“There are different pathways by which bladder cancer evolves and it is thought that one of the major pathways involves alterations in the p53 gene,” said author Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., professor at Dartmouth. “Bladder cancers stemming from these alternations are associated with more advanced disease.”

While other studies have shown a similar association between selenium and bladder cancer among women, this study is one of the first to show an association between selenium and this nasty form of bladder cancer.

“Ultimately, if it is true that selenium can prevent a certain subset of individuals, like women, from developing bladder cancer, or prevent certain types of tumors, such as those evolving through the p53 pathway, from developing, it gives us clues about how the tumors could be prevented in the future and potentially lead to chemopreventive efforts,” Karagas said.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cell Phone Damages Memory and Nerve Cells

I don't know about you, but I am getting frustrated waiting for the "official" word on the safety of cell phones while various scientific groups on both sides of the safety divide offer up their evidence. There's a new study out today that is particularly concerning for those who use their cell phone frequently . . . This one is from Sweden, which is one of the most advanced countries in the world for cell phones and the home of cell phone giant corporations.

One researcher, Henrietta Nittby of Lund University's Department of Neurosurgery, asked if radiation from cell phones can affect the memory, and the rat studies she and her colleagues performed found that it does. They examined rats that were exposed to mobile phone radiation for only two hours a week for more than a year. These rats had much poorer results on a memory test than their control rats (those that had not been exposed to radiation).

A box with four objects mounted in it was the key ingredient in the memory test. These objects were different on the two occasions, and the placement of the objects was different from one time to the other. The control rats remembered objects they had seen before and expressed much more interest in newer objects, while the cell phone influenced rats were less able to distinguish objects they had already seen.

Henrietta Nittby and Professor Leif Salford of Lund believe that the findings may be related to the team's earlier findings in which they found microwave radiation from cell phones affecting the blood-brain barrier. Leif Salford and his associates have previously found that albumin, a protein that functions as a transport molecule in the blood, leaks into brain tissue when laboratory animals are exposed to mobile phone radiation.

The research team also found certain nerve damage in the form of damaged nerve cells in the cerebral cortex and in the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. Albumin leakage occurs directly after radiation, while the nerve damage occurs only later, after four to eight weeks. Moreover, they have discovered alterations in the activity of a large number of genes, not in individual genes but in groups that are functionally related.

"We now see that things happen to the brains of lab animals after cell phone radiation. The next step is to try to understand why this happens," says Henrietta Nittby. And, of course, to determine if these same cells are affected in the human body.

Interestingly, this researcher has a cell phone but never holds it to her ear, using hands-free equipment instead. I'm now going to start taking full advantage of the wired mic that is attached to my iPhone headset.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

More Good News for Wine Drinkers

It now appears that a moderate alcohol intake is associated with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells. These findings will be published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an official publication of the American Society for Nutrition. The study authors imply that wine does a better job than other alcoholic drinks, which may be the key to understanding the mechanism behind the heart protection that wine appears to offer moderate drinkers.

This study examined 1,604 citizens from three geographical areas: south-west London in England, Limburg in Belgium and Abruzzo in Italy. Thanks to a close cooperation with General Practitioners of these areas, all participants underwent a comprehensive medical examination, including a one year recall food frequency questionnaire to assess their dietary intake and alcohol consumption levels.

Omega-3 fatty acids, mainly derived from fish, are considered as protective against coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death, thus their high blood concentration is definitely good for our health. What's interesting about this study is that European researchers found that moderate alcohol drinking acts like a 'trigger,' boosting the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the body. People drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, one drink a day for women and two for men, had higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells independently of their fish intake.

One author, Licia Iacoviello of Catholic University of Campobasso, says that while the results showed that the association between alcohol and omega-3 fatty acids was present in both wine drinkers and beer or spirits drinkers, the association was stronger between wine drinking and omega-3 fatty acids levels. "This suggests that components of wine other than alcohol is associated with omega-3 fatty acids concentration. We may guess this effect can be ascribed to polyphenols".

Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds contained in a different variety of food and beverages, such as wine. Polyphenols such as resveratrol have been shown to have a strong antioxidant activity.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Vitamin E and Chronic Muscle Inflammation

United Press International (UPI) is today reporting on work that a U.S. researcher and her team have published which suggests that chronic muscle inflammation may be lessened by taking vitamin E. This scientist, Kimberly Huey of the University of Illinois in Champaign, says that vitamin E may be linked to a reduction in cytokines -- proteins that spur the immune response.

Huey's work was published in Experimental Physiology, and involved mice that were administered vitamin E for three days prior to giving them a minor systemic bacterial infection. This dose of e.coli was given the animal to induce a broad inflammation in the body of the animal, so that they could study the effect of Vitamin E.

The mice given vitamin E had less oxidized proteins in muscle tissue than the mice given a placebo. That's really good, because, as Huey says, "Oxidation can be detrimental, and in muscle has been associated with reduced muscle strength." This means that if you can reduce the oxidized proteins, it may correlate to increased muscle strength.

The authors report that vitamin E "may be beneficial in individuals with chronic inflammation, such as the elderly or patients with type II diabetes or chronic heart failure."


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Link Between Oral Health and Cardiovascular Risk

Don't be surprised when your cardiologist starts to ask you questions about your oral health and how well you've taken care of your gums. That's because new research in this field has shown a link between the two fields.

Investigators from Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital have published findings which suggest that persons with cardiovascular disease might be identified by asking those patients about their oral health history. It's an interesting approach for diagnosis, because this group might not be detected by traditional cardiovascular risk screening. Individuals reporting a history of periodontal disease were more likely to have increased levels of inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease, compared to those who reported no history of periodontal disease, according to an American Journal of Cardiology report.

Inflammation is now suggested as a potential link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. To examine whether oral health history and inflammatory markers associated with cardiovascular disease were linked, the investigators followed participants in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Family Intervention Trial for Heart Health (F.I.T. Heart).

In this study, 421 individuals who were blood related to and/or living with a person recently hospitalized due to cardiovascular disease were screened for traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as elevated blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels. They were also asked standardized questions about their oral health status, including whether they had ever been diagnosed with periodontal (gum) disease, whether they had ever been treated for periodontal disease, whether they used partial or complete removable dentures, and the date of their last teeth cleaning. The oral health history was then correlated with standard markers of inflammation.

Results found that almost one in four were found to have a personal history of periodontal disease and higher levels of an inflammatory marker which has been found present in inflamed rupture prone plaque in heart arteries/valves.

It is important to note that it is not possible to determine from this study that poor oral health causes cardiovascular disease risk or that any therapy based on oral health status would be effective in preventing cardiovascular disease. However, the findings are novel because the research suggests the dentist and oral health exam may be the latest weapon in identifying persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Abdominal Fat Tied to Depression

The December issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, indicates that older adults with symptoms of depression appear more likely to gain abdominal fat. Oddly, these results don't appear to mean that there is a gain in overall fat for depressed adults, but there is definitely an issue with fat around the middle.

Background information provided in the Archives piece says that about 10 percent to 15 percent of older adults have symptoms of depression. “Depression has been associated with the onset of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiac mortality [death],” the authors write. “To better prevent occurrence of these major disabling and life-threatening diseases, more insight into underlying mechanisms relating depression to these disorders is needed.”

Nicole Vogelzangs, M.Sc., of VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and her colleagues studied 2,088 adults age 70 to 79 years. Participants were screened for depression at the beginning of the study and their overall and abdominal obesity was recorded then and again five years later. Measures of overall obesity included body mass index and body fat percentage, while abdominal obesity was assessed using waist circumference and a number of sophisticated measurements taken by lab instruments.

At the beginning of the study, 4 percent of participants had depression. After adjusting for sociodemographic and other characteristics associated with weight changes, depression was associated with an increase in abdominal fat over five years. “Such an association was not found for an increase in overall obesity and also appeared to be independent of changes in overall obesity, suggesting that depressive symptoms are rather specifically associated with fat gain [only in this] region,” the authors write.

There are several mechanisms by which depression might increase abdominal fat. Chronic stress and depression may activate certain brain areas and lead to increased levels of the hormone cortisol, which promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat. Individuals with depression may have unhealthier lifestyles, including a poor diet, that could interact with other physiological factors to produce an increase in obesity in this part of the body.

“This could also help explain why depression is often followed by diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Future research should further disentangle these mechanisms because this will yield important information for prevention or treatment of depression-related health consequences," state the authors.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Fast Food Connection to Alzheimers?

Sweden's prestigious medical university, the Karolinska Institute, just published an interesting study that may link fast food and junk food to Alzheimers. It seems that mice fed a diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol for nine months developed a preliminary stage of the irregularities that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Karolinska researchers believe that this shows how this difficult-to-treat disease might one day be preventable.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. The underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still something of a mystery, but there are a number of known risk factors. The most common is a variant of a certain gene (apoE4) that is found in 15-20 per cent of the population.

Susanne Akterin of the Karolinska studied mice that had been genetically modified to mimic the effects of apoE4 in humans. The mice were then fed for nine months on a diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol, representing the nutritional content of fast food (the diet we promote around the world from the USA).

“On examining the brains of these mice, we found a chemical change not unlike that found in the Alzheimer brain,” said Akterin, postgraduate at KI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

A substance was seen that forms the neurofibrillary tangles observed in Alzheimer’s patients, which prevents the cells them from functioning normally and eventually leads to their death. Akterin and her team also noted indications that cholesterol in the junk food reduced levels of another brain substance, Arc, a protein involved in memory storage.

“We now suspect that a high intake of fat and cholesterol in combination with genetic factors, such as apoE4, can adversely affect several brain substances, which can be a contributory factor in the development of Alzheimer’s,” says the Karolinska press release.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Mothers Exposed to Fragrances in Hair Sprays and Nail Products Under Increased Risk for Male Infant Birth Defects

If you are pregnant, it would be best to stay away from those "smelly" hair sprays and nail polishes. That's because exposure to hair and nail products and even some deodorant sprays has been linked to hypospadias in newborn boys, according to a study accepted for publication today by the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. Hypospadias is a birth defect of the male urethra that results in an abnormally placed urinary opening. It is one of the most common urogenital congenital anomalies among baby boys.

Oftentimes, surgeons can not perform a circumcision when this defect is seen on the penis. The culprit in causing this condition appears to be products that contain chemicals known as phthalates.

Phthalates, predominantly diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), are present in many cosmetics including deodorants, fragrances and -- especially -- nail and hair products. Studies have linked the phthalates or their ingredients with androgen-lowering activities, abnormal cell function, a decrease in the distance between the anus and the genitals in male infants, and reproductive tract malformations including the aforementioned hypospadias.

The case–control study included 471 hypospadias cases referred to surgeons, and 490 randomly selected birth controls, born over a 21-month period in South East England. Sons of women working in industries where there is exposure to phthalates—including hairdressers, beauty therapists, research chemists, line operators, pharmaceutical operators, electrical assemblers, and factory assistants—had a 2- to 3-times greater risk for hypospadias. The results add to growing evidence that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as phthalates may play a role in hypospadias.

The study indicates, however, that folate supplementation in the first three months of pregnancy can actually reduce the risk of hypospadias by 36%.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sun Deprived? Odds of Disease or Death are 30-50% Worse

Sue Penckofer, PhD, is a study author and professor at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing at Loyola University in Chicago. She recently discussed with the press a study in which chronic vitamin D shortages were examined in people with a reduced exposure to sunlight. This problem is common during cold weather months and when days are shorter; people spend more time indoors during these conditions.

These Loyola researchers found that the risk of severe disease or death may be 30 to 50 per cent higher among sun-deprived individuals with heart disease. The research team led by Penckofer suggests that diet alone is not sufficient to manage vitamin D levels.

Treatment options to correct the deficiency, such as supplemental vitamin D2 or D3, may decrease the risk of severe disease or death from cardiovascular disorders. "Most physicians do not routinely test for vitamin D deficiency," said Penckofer.

"However, most experts would agree that adults at risk for heart disease and others who experience fatigue, joint pain or depression should have their vitamin D levels measured," she added.

This is simply the latest news in a long, long list of pro-Vitamin D press over the last year or two.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stem Cell Technique for Heart Failure

In an investigational study of new heart failure treatments being conducted at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, a promising new technique had scientists injecting highly-concentrated stem cells directly into a patient’s heart. It is hoped that this will repair the damaged heart tissue.

This new technology may be more effective in regenerating healthy heart tissue than other methods that use a catheter to put standard stem cells through the bloodstream into the heart.

Currently, the 58-year-old veteran and businessman is resting comfortably and is expected to be discharged this weekend. “Some patients have such severe heart failure that their only current option is a heart transplant,” said Dr. Brian Bruckner, cardiac surgeon at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston. “We hope that stem cells will stimulate angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, restore mechanical function in diseased heart tissue, and return patients to a much better quality of life without a transplant.”

In a novel process, the patient’s strongest and most robust stem and progenitor cells, derived from the patient’s own bone marrow, are amplified up to 1,000 times before they’re injected back into the patient’s heart. In the procedure, Dr. Bruckner made a small incision in the left side of the patient’s chest and administered approximately 25 injections of concentrated stem cells into the patient’s heart. All patients in the trial will be followed for 12 months after the injections.

There are currently 5.5 million people in the U.S. suffering from chronic heart failure.


Friday, November 21, 2008

You -- Becoming Your Disease

I attend a lot of trade shows and health-related events, and in some of those I speak about herbs or supplements. Recently, I had a chance to talk to a Texas man about his situation. He's had a chronic health concern for many years, and he approached me to talk about whether a particular herb might be good for him.

Whenever I am approached for medical advice, I do two things. First, I make sure that person knows that I am not a doctor and that medical advice should come from their MD, Naturopath or a trusted advisor like a Chiropractor. Secondly, I tell them that supplements like herbs and vitamins are not sold with health claims for a reason. The FDA and the FTC do not allow supplements to be sold with claims that a packaged herb "cures this disease," or "treats this ailment." Products like these are dietary and nutritional aids that, in many cases, can make a great improvement in quality of life. They support your body in healing itself; they aren't drugs, and anyone who makes such claims is breaking the law.

When this fellow I was speaking with didn't seem to get this message, I asked him to simply tell me a bit more about himself; not medically, but just to talk with me about his day-to-day life. As he did so, I began to notice what the author Eckhart Tolle mentions in his book "The Power of Now." This fellow had actually become his disease. His chronic candida infection had become his entire self-identification.

Tolle's book describes this phenomenon, and I have met many people who have this same identity issue. For one reason or another, a person can become so consumed with her health issues that the disease actually takes over the persona. Instead of being Jill, the accountant in Spokane, that person becomes Jill, the cancer patient. (My analogy doesn't work all that well, because Tolle would say that Jill's self-identification shouldn't be "the accountant," either. But I think you get my point.)

The path to true health and happiness lies in seeing oneself as separate from any health issue. Don't let health issues and concerns become "you," because that's a sure path to continued pain and anguish.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Get Religion and Reduce Your Risk of Death

Reports are out today describing a scientific study that actually shows a very significant benefit from regular attendance at religious services. It doesn't matter which faith you might be, but the very fact that you attend and participate in an organized religion appears to put you one-up on non-believers.

This work, published by researchers at Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, suggests that regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death by approximately 20 percent. The findings, published in Psychology and Health, were based on data drawn from participants who spanned numerous religious denominations. 

Dr. Eliezer Schnall, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at Yeshiva University, and Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Einstein, combined their resources in this study of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI is a national, long-term study aimed at addressing women's health issues and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

It was one of those really, really large studies -- the kind that often produce the most convincing results. In this case, the researchers evaluated the religious practices of more than 92,000 post-menopausal women participating in the NIH's study. They examined the prospective association of religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion with subsequent cardiovascular events and overall rates of death. The study showed as much as a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality for those attending religious services; however, for a reason that is not clear, it did not show any consistent change in rates of morbidity and death specifically related to cardiovascular disease.

Scientists adjusted their study for participation of individuals within communal organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness. However, even after controlling for such behavior and other health-related factors, the improvements in morbidity and mortality rates exceeded expectations.

One of the authors commented, "Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained," and further, "There is something here that we don't quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results." 

Study participants were generally aged 50 to 79, and were recruited on a voluntary basis from a variety of sources, from all over the nation. The women answered questions about baseline health conditions and religiosity and were followed by WHI researchers for an average of 7.7 years, with potential study outcomes of cardiovascular events and mortality adjudicated by trained physicians.

More work is in the cards, because investigators are considering doing an analysis of psychological profiles for study participants to determine if this can help to explain the apparent protective effects of attending religious services. Oddly enough, researchers don't want to leave it a religious mystery.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Three Weight Loss Lessons

Here are the three lessons I've learned personally about weight loss. For the first time, I've had some real success and have lost 24 pounds in the last two or three months.

1) Don't let the clock tell you when to eat. Only your stomach tells you when it is time to eat, and unless you start to listen to your stomach and not your clock, you'll always be eating "three solids" without even thinking about whether you needed to eat or not. I've found that I really don't need huge meals at Noon and 6PM, and that I am actually hungry for smaller meals around 2PM and 7:30 PM. I enjoy my breakfast and after that I will only eat when I feel hungry.

2) Eat until you are 80% full, and no more. I mentioned this on another post a few weeks ago. This is a very healthy way of eating. Listen to your stomach (once again) and eat only until you are at what you believe is the 80% mark. When you are done, the feeling of fullness will expand to 100% and you will have eaten far less food than normal.

3) Save the wine or beer for the weekend. If you enjoy a glass of beer or wine after work each night, try putting off this source of calories until weekend nights. For me, it wasn't difficult to substitute a glass of cold water during the week. But I still enjoy a glass of red wine on Friday and Saturday nights!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Biotech Discovery: Ovarian Cancer Cells Turn Cannibal

Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center report in the Nov. 15 issue of Cancer Research that they have discovered a naturally occurring protein in the body that inhibits the growth of ovarian cancer by forcing cancer cells to eat themselves until they die.

Senior author of the research was Naoto T. Ueno, M.D., Ph.D. associate professor of breast medical oncology. Ueno says that presence of this protein, known as PEA-15, is also an independent indicator of a woman’s prospects for surviving ovarian cancer. This laboratory's analysis of ovarian cancer tumors from 395 women showed those with high levels of PEA-15 had a median survival time of 50.2 months compared with 33.5 months for women with low levels of the protein in their tumors.

“These findings provide a foundation for developing a PEA-15 targeted approach for ovarian cancer,” Ueno said. It should also be useful research for later development of a novel test that can predict patient outcomes for those with ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer kills about 15,000 women in the United States annually, and is notoriously hard to diagnose in its early stages, when it is also most optimal to treat.

First author Dr. Chandra Bartholomeusz did a series of experiments that showed how high levels of PEA-15 inhibits the growth of ovarian cancer cells by killing cells via autophagy, which means "self-cannibalization." Autophagy kills when a cell entraps parts of its cytoplasm in membranes and digests the contents, leaving a cavity. When this goes on long enough, the cell essentially eats itself until it dies, its cytoplasm riddled with cavities.

Let's hope that further research on PEA-15 proves that it can be the useful predictor and possible future therapy for ovarian cancer that it now appears to be.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bone Marrow Transplant Yields Clean Bill of Health for AIDS Patient

A remarkable operation in Berlin, a bone marrow transplant using stem cells from a donor with natural genetic resistance to the AIDS virus, has left an HIV patient free of infection for nearly two years. This patient, an American living in Germany, was infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and was also deteriorating from leukemia.

Standard operating practice for this person's type of leukemia is a bone marrow transplant. In this case, German doctors searched all over the country for a donor who could not only help this patient with the leukemia, but who would have a special type of bone marrow that exhibits a genetic mutation that has been shown to help the body resist the move to AIDS.

The Germans found this donor with the mutation and used that person's bone marrow to treat their patient, providing a two-fold medical miracle. Not only did the leukemia disappear, but do did the HIV.

"As of today, more than 20 months after the successful transplant, no HIV can be detected in the patient," the clinic said in a statement to the press. The researchers stressed that this would never become a standard treatment for HIV. Bone marrow stem cell transplants are dangerous and require the patient to first have his or her own bone marrow completely destroyed.

Patients risk death from even the most minor infections because they have no immune system until the stem cells can grow and replace their own. But, HIV has no cure and is always fatal, so this is a remarkable development nonetheless. The medical team said they have been unable to find any trace of the virus in their 42-year-old patient, who remains unnamed, but that does not mean it is not there.

"The virus is tricky. It can always return," Hutter said.


My Experience with "HealthGrades" Reports

My wife is considering a tricky surgical procedure here in my small town, and as a result we both felt that we needed a bit of outside information on the doctors, the hospital, etc. As many readers have probably seen, a company known as "HealthGrades" advertises all over the Internet for these reports they sell about doctors. Just do a Google search on a doctor name and the Healthgrades ad for this report is bound to be the first thing that pops up.

I have always hesitated buying these "online reports," and would -- as a rule -- avoid any offer for information-at-a-price, whether it is on a particular company, a telephone number, etc. But, in this case, we bit. I spent $12.95 to read the report that promised information that you just can't get from the doctor's office staff.

It was disappointing, to say the least. Part of the problem is that this doctor had no other consumer comments, so there was just not much to learn. We saw his years of medical practice, and the fact that he's had no disciplinary actions (that was comforting and worth a part of the admission price). But overall, it wasn't worth my $12.95.

Content to just leave it as a small wasted expense, I put it aside. That is, until I read the small print on an invoice that came to my email. As it turns out, by ordering this report I had given them permission to bill my credit card on a monthly basis for "watchdog subscriptions" on the two doctors we investigated. That's right . . . without my specific permission, this company was going to nibble away at my credit card each month, hoping that I wouldn't catch on to what they were doing.

All in all, "HealthGrades" falls into the Sham category in this blogger's editorial opinion. Watch out -- if you do buy a report on a doctor, go immediately to your account and cancel all "subscriptions."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Antidepressant Drugs May Damage Sperm, Hurt Male Fertility

Today, Reuters is reporting on new research being done on male treatment with paroxetine (Paxil), which belongs to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of antidepressant drugs. It has been found that Paxil increases DNA fragmentation in sperm. This new research is being presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 64th annual meeting in San Francisco.

The five-fold increase in the number of men who developed abnormal sperm DNA while being treated with paroxetine is "troubling" and "suggests an adverse effect on fertility," according to co-investigator Dr. Cigdem Tanrikut, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, who was interviewed by a reporter from Reuters.

This clinical trial is considered by researchers to be the first study to assess the impact of an SSRI on semen parameters in healthy men, and consisted of a relatively small group of 35 men who took paroxetine for 5 weeks. The drug was administered in once-daily doses of 10 mg the first week, 20 mg in the second week, 30 mg the third and fourth week, and 20 mg in the fifth week. At the conclusion, tests were conducted on semen and comparisons were made with the semen analysis done before the Paxil regmen.

Tests were conducted on semen samples obtained prior to starting paroxetine and after 4 weeks of treatment. The average DNA fragmentation score increased from 13.8 percent before paroxetine was begun to 30.3 percent at week 4, a statistically significant amount. Sperm damage in the men rose 10% to 50% higher than their pre-treatment figures.

Paxil was associated with significant sexual dysfunction as well; one third of men reported problems with erectile function and nearly half reported ejaculatory difficulties (although their sperm looked normal in all aspects during the tests).

"DNA integrity is crucial to normal fertility," Tanrikut said.

At the 2008 American Psychiatric Association meeting in Washington DC, which I attended, I noted that many MD's are getting fed up with side effects stemming from pharmaceutical antidepressants. Still, they remain some of the most often prescribed drugs in the United States. Herbal products are gaining momentum in this important health category as well.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Caution Raised for Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD)

This news story brings to mind how annoying it is for the medical profession to constantly use jargon and acronyms to describe medical conditions. In this case, OSA may cause SCD.

A very large study on people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which the sleep characteristics of nearly 11,000 adults were examined in an overnight sleep laboratory, shows that OSA - and, in particular, the low nighttime oxygen saturation of the blood it causes - may be a risk factor for SCD, or "sudden cardiac death."

OSA is a condition that disrupts breathing during sleep and is associated with obesity. SCD can occur when the heart's electrical system malfunctions. When treatment such as defibrillation is not administered quite quickly, that person dies.

If further studies validate these recent findings, OSA would join established risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Apoor Gami, M.D., the lead researcher on the study, has shown thatlow oxygen alters the blood vessels in a way that promotes heart disease. Gami says that the new Mayo work is the first large study to rigorously test the hypothesis.

“Nighttime low oxygen saturation in the blood is an important complication of obstructive sleep apnea,” says Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. “Our data showed that an average nighttime oxygen saturation of the blood of 93 percent and lowest nighttime saturation of 78 percent strongly predicted sudden cardiac death, independent of other well-established risk factors, such as high cholesterol. These findings implicate OSA, a relatively common condition, as a novel risk factor for SCD.”

Dr. Somers says these early results are relevant to clinical care. He urges physicians to watch for OSA in their heart patients and consider treating severe cases. “It is possible that diagnosing and treating sleep apnea may prove to be an important opportunity to advance our efforts at preventing and treating heart disease,” he says.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Astragalus: A Potential for HIV Therapy

Biotechnology and ancient Chinese medicines have little in common, but it now looks as if the two might be coming closer together with the development of a new immune system therapy based on the root of a plant that is used often in Chinese medicines -- Astragalus.

Astragalus might benefit those with HIV because immune cells often lose the ability to divide as they age, compromising the disease fighting ability of the body; this plant seems to ease that problem for immune cells. Damage occurs when a part of the cell chromosome known as a telomere becomes progressively shorter with cell division. A new UCLA AIDS Institute study has found that a chemical from the Astragalus root can prevent or slow this progressive telomere shortening.

This ability of Astragalus could make it a key weapon in the fight against HIV. Study co-author Rita Effros, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UCLA AIDS Institute, said that "The problem is that when we're dealing with a virus that can't be totally eliminated from the body, such as HIV, the T-cells fighting that virus can't keep their telomerase turned on forever." The immune cells' telomeres get shorter and they enter a stage of degradation; Astragalus has now been shown to impact this condition favorably.

The new study, to be published in the Nov. 15 print edition of the Journal of Immunology describes how the Astragalus plant may be turned into a new biotechnology therapy by the Geron Corporation, a biotech outfit located in Menlo Park, CA. It is not clear if the root itself can be taken to have the same effect without further manipulation, but I would strongly suggest that any immune compromised person check with their doctor to see if this herb could be a part of their daily regimen.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Children Who Avoid Nuts as Infants May Be at Risk for Peanut Allergy

According to a November report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, peanut allergy affects an estimated 3 million Americans. And, it is one of the most common triggers of anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life-threatening reaction. The incidence of peanut allergy has been on the rise in the United States, doubling in the five-year period from 1997-2002.

Now, new research from that same journal casts doubts on current government health recommendations. These potentially harmful government suggestions recommend that pregnant moms and infants avoid peanuts to prevent development of food allergy.

The study shows that children who avoided peanuts in infancy and early childhood were 10 times as likely to develop peanut allergy as those who were exposed to peanut.

Researchers measured the incidence of peanut allergy in 8,600 Jewish school-age children in the United Kingdom and Israel. They compared these results with data on peanut consumption collected from mothers of infants age 4 to 24 months. At 9 months of age, 69 percent of Israeli children were eating peanut, compared to 10 percent of those in the U.K.

Dietary guidelines in the United Kingdom, Australia (and – until earlier this year – the United States) advise avoidance of peanut consumption during pregnancy, breastfeeding and infancy. Researchers suggest these recommendations could be behind the increase in peanut allergy in these countries.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) cautions that although the results are promising, they shouldn’t translate to changes in treatment just yet. They advise you to check with your family doctor or allergist.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Large Study Confirms Heart Attack Risk for Women on Hormone Replacement

New research on the association between Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and heart attacks has been published online by Europe’s leading cardiology journal, the European Heart Journal. The study is the largest to look at the effects of HRT since the Women’s Health Initiative trial was stopped early after finding that HRT increased the risk of women developing a range of conditions including breast cancer and other health risks.

In this study, it appears that it is not so much the HRT that is the problem for women with heart attacks, it is the way that the hormone regimen is taken.

The research is a study of nearly 700,000 healthy Danish women, aged 51-69, who were followed between 1995-2001. The study found that in younger women (aged 51-54), their risk of heart attacks was 24% higher than in women who had never taken HRT. In addition, in younger women there was an increasing risk of heart attack the longer the HRT continued, which was not seen in the older age groups.

The study found that the type of HRT and the way that the women took it made a difference to the risk of heart attacks. Continuous HRT (a continuous combination of estrogen and progesterone) carried a 35% increased risk of heart attacks compared with women who had never used HRT. But if HRT was taken on a cyclical basis (estrogen, followed by a combination of estrogen and progesterone) there was a tendency for these women to have a reduced risk of heart attack. If the method of taking the estrogen was via a patch or gel on the skin or in the vagina, the risk of heart attack was reduced by more than a third (38% and 44% respectively).

Dr Ellen L√łkkegaard, an MD who led the study at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, said: “Our study does not change indications and duration recommendations for HRT. But the main message is that when hormone therapy is indicated for a woman, then a cyclic combined regimen should be preferred, and that application via the skin or the vagina is associated with decreased risks."

Since the WHI trial was stopped, no further randomized controlled trials of HRT have been started.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The WHAM of Grapes: Possible High Blood Pressure Aid?

A new University of Michigan study suggests that eating grapes can help fight high blood pressure related to a salty diet, as well as calm some of those other factors related to heart diseases.

The new study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, gives clues to the potential of grapes in reducing cardiovascular risk. The effect is thought to be due to the high level of phytochemicals – naturally occurring antioxidants – that grapes contain. (As you know, grapes have shown other cardio benefits when they are used in the production of wine, as well.)

The researchers noted that while these study results are extremely encouraging, more research needs to be done in humans, as this work was with animals.

The researchers studied the effect of regular table grapes (a blend of green, red, and black grapes) that were mixed into the test animals' diet in a powdered form, as part of either a high or low-salt diet. They performed many comparisons between the rats consuming the test diet and the control rats receiving no grapes — including some that received a mild dose of a common blood-pressure drug. All the rats were from a research breed that develops high blood pressure when fed a salty diet.

In all, after 18 weeks, the rats that received the grape-enriched diet had lower blood pressure, better heart function, reduced inflammation throughout their bodies, and fewer signs of heart muscle damage than the rats that ate the same salty diet but didn’t receive grapes. The rats that received the blood-pressure medicine, hydrazine, along with a salty diet also had lower blood pressure, but their hearts were not protected from damage as they were in the grape-fed group.

U-M heart surgeon Steven Bolling, M.D., a professor of cardiac surgery at the U-M Medical School, notes that the animals in the study were in a similar situation to millions of Americans, who have high blood pressure related to diet, and who develop heart failure over time because of prolonged hypertension.

“The inevitable downhill sequence to hypertension and heart failure was changed by the addition of grapes to a high-salt diet,” he says.

“Although there are many natural compounds in the grape powder itself that may have an effect, the things that we think are having an effect against the hypertension may be the flavanoids – either by direct antioxidant effects, by indirect effects on cell function, or both. These flavanoids are rich in all parts of the grape - skin, flesh and seed." Bolling explained that all of these ingredients were in the rats' diet.

I don't know about you, but I am going to start placing "table grapes" on my table more often!


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Horny Goat Weed May Live Up To Its Name

Scientists in Milan have found that an herb long used by traditional practitioners for sexual potency may indeed lead to a new drug for erectile dysfunction. I think it is great when natural products like this are proven in the laboratory -- this has happened with Rhodiola rosea in the past, and now "Horny Goat Weed."

Horny goat weed may end up helping the 50% of men worldwide (aged over 40) who suffer from erectile dysfunction at some point. These plants, also known as Barrenwort, Bishop's Hat, or Fairy Wings have been used as sexual dysfunction treatments for years, and scientists have now inched a little closer to discovering exactly how it works.

Blood needs to flow into – and stay in the penis in order to get and maintain an erection. Viagra and its many copies work by inhibiting PDE-5, an enzyme that helps keep blood flowing to the penis.

Now University of Milan researchers have discovered that icariin, the main compound in horny goat weed, acts the same way Viagra does.The scientists examined icariin alongside other plant compounds by adding an enzyme that regulates penile blood flow, and found that icariin was the most potent out of all the plants tested. When they chemically modified the icariin they found its effect mimicked that of Viagra, noting that this is “a promising candidate for further development."

The University of Milan study will be published in the October issue of the Journal of Natural Products.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Pistachio's Looking Good for Heart Health

Researchers at Penn State who conducted the first study to investigate the way pistachios lower cholesterol have determined that the delicious snack, like so many other nuts, has a positive effect on the heart.

"We investigated mechanisms of action to explain the cholesterol-lowering effects of the pistachio diets," says Dr. Sarah K. Gebauer, a research associate at the USDA Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center who did much of this work in her PhD program at Pennsylvania State University.

The researchers conducted a randomized, crossover design, controlled feeding experiment to test the effects of pistachios added to a heart healthy moderate-fat diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors. Controlled feeding experiments provide all the food eaten by study subjects for the duration of the study segment.

The participants began the study by eating a typical American diet consisting of 35 percent total fat and 11 percent saturated fat for two weeks. They then tested three diets for four weeks each with about a two-week break between each diet. All three diets were variations on the Step I Diet, a cholesterol-lowering diet in general use. The diets included, as a control, a Step I Diet with no pistachios and about 25 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat. The pistachio enhanced diets were Step I Diets with 10 and 20 percent of the energy supplied by pistachio nuts, respectively. The 10 percent pistachio diet had 30 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat and the 20 percent pistachio diet had 34 percent total fat and 8 percent saturated fat.

The participants ate half their pistachios as a snack and the rest incorporated into meals. Personally, I don't know how they ate only a controlled amount of pistachios . . . once I start, I can not stop. That appears to be the major problem with the nut, plus the sodium content in salted pistachios.

They found the pistachio eaters had significantly lower cholesterol, suggesting that pistachios have a terrific lipid-lowering effect. This study begins to unravel the way in which pistachios improve cardiovascular health.

Compared to the control diet, the 20 percent pistachio diet lowered LDL cholesterol -- bad cholesterol -- about 12 percent and the 10 percent energy pistachio diet lowered LDL cholesterol by 9 percent that suggests a 9 to 12 percent decrease in coronary heart disease risk. The relationships of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol may be more powerful predictors of cardiovascular risk.

However, the researchers note that the reduction in LDL cholesterol observed was seven times greater than would be expected from only the fatty acid profile of pistachios. They suggest that the lipid lowering effects not only reflect the fatty acid profile of the diet, but also are the result of other bioactive substances in pistachios, perhaps phytosterols and fiber.

"Our study has shown that pistachios, eaten with a heart healthy diet, may decrease a person's CVD risk profile," says Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition and who is listed as the primary investigator of the study.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Small Trial with Low-Salt vs. High-Salt Diet

Those with high blood pressure should read the information below describing a small trial that was conducted at the University of Alabama. The study clearly show what the results can be for those who are able to eliminate or dramatically scale back on their ingestion of salt, just as their doctors have often recommended.

Sodium is one of the most difficult substances to eliminate from the dinner table. I recently visited a Trader Joe's store -- shame on them. Their prepared sandwiches, salads and frozen foods are a nightmare for those concerned with sodium. A small package of BBQ ribs had over 2300 mgs of sodium; a salad with nothing but lettuce and some chicken with dressing had over 900 mg. Stores like this, particularly chains that have the ability (as Trader Joe's does) to negotiate with suppliers on their food ingredients, really need to get in line with the fact that high blood pressure is a major problem worldwide. They are not doing their customer base any favors by selling such products.

In the Alabama study, a team of researchers enrolled 13 patients with resistant high blood pressure who were taking at least three blood-pressure-lowing medications. The participants were randomly assigned to a high- or low-salt diet and then monitored using a recorder worn continuously for 24 hours. Researchers found that those on the low-salt diet saw a 22.6 mmHg drop in the systolic (top number representing pressure while the heart contracts) blood pressure, along with a 9.2 mmHg drop in their diastolic blood pressure (bottom number representing the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats), as compared to patients on the high-salt diet. The amount of sodium excreted in their urine was also markedly reduced. Overall, the patients on the low-salt diet reported a better health state than the others, with appropriate body weight and levels of thoracic fluid and brain natriuretic peptide, which are two parameters that indicate fluid retention in the body.

“The blood pressure reduction achieved with a low-salt diet was higher than some antihypertensive drugs,” said lead researcher Dr. Eduardo Pimenta. "We were expecting blood pressure reduction with low-salt diet but the reduction was larger than we expected.”


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Developing a Simple Blood Test for Alzheimers

In England, researchers from two universities are joining forces to develop a simple blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. How would this change our world if anyone could be tested, easily and inexpensively, to determine if they were in the very early stages of this devastating disease?

This is a good day to ask that question, as today (September 21st) is World Alzheimers Day, which aims to raise awareness about the reality of living with dementia.

This study, funded by the leading UK charity (Alzheimer’s Research Trust), will aim to find out whether ‘biomarkers’ in blood could be used to identify someone with Alzheimer’s.

A biomarker is a term for something present in the body which can indicate disease, such as a certain protein or molecule. The team of researchers from two universities in the Nottingham area will be identifying biomarkers by looking at proteins in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients compared to a control group of healthy older people.

As you probably know, identification of Alzheimer’s disease is difficult in its early stage. Unfortunately, delays in diagnosis can mean that irreversible damage to the brain has already occurred before treatment can be given. Most doctors believe that catching the disease in its early stages and beginning treatment at that time could be a much more effective approach. It would also give people with dementia and their families more time to prepare and plan for the future.

Researchers at The University of Nottingham hit upon the idea of using biomarkers as a means of diagnosis and will be involved in collecting the samples in conjunction with collaborators in the UK and EU, while the samples will be tested using technology based at Nottingham Trent University.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vitamin C and Lowered Blood Pressure?

New research coming out of Italy suggests that there may be a role for Vitamin C in lowering blood pressure.

Dr. Rosa Maria Bruno from the University of Pisa has indicated that the work done by her group, using intravenously delivered mega-doses of Vitamin C, reduced sympathetic nervous system overactivity, and consequently blood pressure, by targeting oxidative stress.

The sympathetic nervous system is part of the body's central nervous system that controls non-voluntary activities, such as blood pressure, and over-activation of the system has been identified as an underlying foundation for the onset of elevated blood pressure and resulting organ damage. The Italian team reported its findings yesterday in Atlanta at the American Heart Association's Conference of the Council for High Blood Pressure Research.

Recent research has made it appear that there is a big role for antioxidants in the cardiovascular health arena. This past January, British researchers presented evidence in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggested high levels of vitamin C in the blood might even help reduce stroke risk.

Because the Vitamin C in the Italian study was injected intravenously, we can't necessarily draw the conclusion that typical Vitamin C supplements will work the same way. But it is interesting to see how antioxidants like Vitamin C keep coming back through research as strong potentials for overall health. At various times, antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E have been completely written off by many in the press.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tylenol (Acetometaphen) Appears Linked to Asthma Risk

Adults who take acetometaphen products like Tylenol on a weekly basis (also known as paracetamol in Europe) were nearly three times more likely to have asthma than those taking paracetamol less often, according to a study organized by the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network. The study found that use of other painkillers was not linked to asthma as paracetamol was.

In this study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, researchers across Europe compared the frequency of analgesic use in over 500 adults with asthma and over 500 controls. Their results suggest that the risk of asthma symptoms is increased by frequent paracetamol (acetometaphen) use. This may be the consequence of the action of paracetamol that reduces levels of ‘glutathione’ in the lungs, an antioxidant substance needed to defend the airways against damage from air pollution and tobacco smoke.

Dr. Seif Shaheen from Imperial College London, one of the authors of the study, says “Epidemiological evidence is growing that shows a link between paracetamol and asthma. Since 2000, several publications have reported this association for instance in the UK and the USA. We have also shown that asthma prevalence is higher in children and adults in countries with higher paracetamol sales.”

“Considering asthma is a common disease and paracetamol use is frequent, it is now important to find out whether this association is really a causal one. A clinical trial may be the only way to answer this question conclusively.”


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I did it! My Weight Loss Routine

When I got married 31 years ago, I weighed 188 lbs. But gradually over the years, my weight crept up to an average of about 218. (Hey, I'm 6' 3" tall, so I carry it well. No one ever called me hefty.) I think it is probably normal for men to gradually gain weight as they assume desk jobs and go home at night to have a big supper. At least that's my justification for having gained thirty pounds over the course of my marriage.

It didn't help that my wife has always told me that I look good, and that she likes "men with some meat on their bones." So, I guess my attention was elsewhere for the last decade or two, and as long as I was healthy and getting good physical checkups every year, the extra weight didn't bother me.

But in my recent physical, the doctor suggested that my borderline high-normal blood pressure might go away if I could lose a few pounds. I've never had to take regular pharmaceutical medicines so that was strong motivation -- the last thing I wanted in my life was blood pressure medication.

Six or seven weeks ago, I took a close look at my habits and found that there were indeed some things I did to excess, and I began to cut back on those. I read as much as I could about diets that work, and those that don't, and opted to go with my own program. In one publication, I read that the people who live on the Japanese island of Okinawa practice a type of eating they call hara hachi bu, which means "eat till you are 80% full." I instantly liked the sound of that and I put it into practice right away. I also added an Adapt 232 tablet to my daily supplement regimen to provide energy due to my missing intake of calories.

The other advice I took to heart was to get up from the desk and start walking. And you know what? Between the "80% full" and the appx. 30-45 minutes I walk each day, something worked. This morning I dropped below 200 for the first time in 31 years. I'm now on my way to matching my "fighting weight" of 188 lbs.

Of course, I'm not there yet. I'll let you know when I make it!


Monday, September 15, 2008

British Researchers Dispute Coffee/Tea Dehydration Claims

The BBC is reporting on research today that shows drinking tea is as healthy as drinking water - perhaps even healthier. This research was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and it dispels the long-term belief that tea dehydrates the body of fluids.

My doctor, and probably yours as well, has always advised me to avoid caffeinated beverages because they are dehydrating; they drain the body of necessary fluids. This research, however, shows that tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also protect against heart disease and some cancers.

As we've written here previously, experts believe flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that promote health. That part of the research may not be new. . . these polyphenol antioxidants are found in many foods and plants, including tea leaves, and have been shown to help prevent cell damage.

British public health nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, and her colleagues at Kings College London, looked at published studies on the health effects of tea consumption and found clear evidence that drinking three to four cups of tea a day can cut the chances of having a heart attack. They also broke up that urban legend that caffeine beverages dehydrate the body.

The authors stated, "Studies on caffeine have found that very high doses dehydrate, and so it is that everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid."


Saturday, September 13, 2008

No Such Thing as a Safe Suntan

According to a series of papers published in the October issue of Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, the official journal of the Society for Melanoma Research, there is no such thing as a safe suntan.

These leading researchers in the fields of cell biology, dermatology and epidemiology have examined the effects on skin of UV radiation, including the radiation received from indoor tanning beds, and they've called for the use of such beds by under 18-year olds to be banned, along with any publicity that claims that tanning beds are safe. It appears they are not - at all- safe.

Sunbathing or using an indoor tanning bed affects the skin negatively in a number of ways, including DNA damage, photoaging (damage to the skin from chronic exposure to sunlight) and skin cancer. UV radiation is the most widely present carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) for humans; in fact, skin is the organ most commonly affected by cancer in the human body.

Although more research is required, published data suggests that indoor tanning beds, which are frequently used by young women, are linked to an increased risk of melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer), and do not support the idea that tanning beds are safe. This "perfectly safe" mantra is used by the tanning bed industry and has been for decades.

In one of three papers in the series published in the mentioned journal, Dr David E Fisher, dermatologist, and his colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston) have explored the social issues and molecular mechanisms related to tanning caused by UV exposure. Reviewing published data in the field, the authors report that both tanning and skin cancer seem to begin with the same event – DNA damage caused by UV exposure. This leads them to suggest that a ‘safe’ tan with UV may be a physical impossibility.

The authors conclude: "[This] exposure represents one of the most avoidable causes of cancer risk and mortality in man. Whereas genetic and other factors undoubtedly contribute importantly to skin cancer risk, the role of UV is incontrovertible, and efforts to confuse the public, particularly for purposes of economic gain by the indoor tanning industry, should be vigorously combated for the public health.” The WHO estimated that, in the year 2000, up to 71,000 deaths worldwide were attributed to excessive UV exposure.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Dental Problems and Bleeding Gums Can Lead to Heart Disease

Scientists meeting in Ireland on September 11th (Society for General Microbiology's Autumn meeting) have been discussing how bad teeth, bleeding gums and poor dental hygiene can end up causing heart disease. This is a link that many of us may not be aware of.

If you don't care for your teeth properly, you will end up with bleeding gums, which provides an entry to the bloodstream for up to 700 different types of bacteria found in our mouths. This increases the risk of having a heart attack, according to microbiologists from the University of Bristol and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Dr Steve Kerrigan from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, is one of the authors of this work. He says, "The mouth is probably the dirtiest place in the human body," said . "If you have an open blood vessel from bleeding gums, bacteria will gain entry to your bloodstream. When bacteria get into the bloodstream they encounter tiny fragments called platelets that clot blood when you get a cut. By sticking to these platelets, bacteria cause them to clot inside the blood vessel, partially blocking it. This prevents the blood flow back to the heart and we run the risk of suffering a heart attack."

The only treatment for this type of disease is aggressive antibiotic therapy, but this is a short-lived solution, due to the increasing numbers of multiple drug resistant bacteria.

"Cardiovascular disease is currently the biggest killer in the western world. Oral bacteria such as Streptococcus gordonii and Streptococcus sanguinis are common infecting agents, and we now recognise that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases," said Professor Howard Jenkinson from the University of Bristol. "In other words it doesn't matter how fit, slim or healthy you are, you're adding to your chances of getting heart disease by having bad teeth."


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wham: Vitamin B12 Appears Vital for Brain Health In Aging

A new study published in the September 9, 2008, issue of Neurology® shows that vitamin B12, a nutrient found in meat, fish and milk, may protect against brain volume loss in older people.

For the study, 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87 underwent brain scans, memory testing and physical exams. Researchers also collected blood samples to check vitamin B12 levels. Brain scans and memory tests were also performed again five years later.

While none of the people in this study had vitamin B12 deficiency, the study did find that people who had the higher vitamin B12 levels were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had lower levels of the vitamin in their blood.

“Many factors that affect brain health are thought to be out of our control, but this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory,” said study author Anna Vogiatzoglou, MSc, with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Research shows that vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly, so more vitamin B12 intake could help reverse this problem. Without carrying out a clinical trial on Vitamin B12 supplementation, these researchers can not say with certainty that B12 supplements would make the same difference in elderly persons at risk for brain shrinkage. Still, it seems logical to me to include plenty of B12 foods (as listed above) in the diet as well as Vitamin B as a daily supplement.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wham: Women Wine Drinkers Less Likely to Suffer Dementia

I pulled this interesting health clip out of Wine Spectator, a different kind of journal for health news. In this case, the magazine was reporting upon research that took place earlier in 2008 in Sweden. The American Journal of Epidemiology reported the study initially.

Swedish researchers followed 1,458 women between the ages of 38 and 60 for a full thirty years. (This is possible because Sweden not only has an excellent healthcare system, they also were one of the first countries in the world to develop a fully electronic medical records system. Any doctor, in any location, can find the medical history of any patient simply and easily by logging into this system). In this case, the study examined female patients for their lifestyle and its effect on health.

During the 34 years, 162 of the women developed dementia. By eliminating mitigating factors (such as smoking, socioeconomic status,etc) and then examining lifestyles, they found that women who drank wine every week were a full 70 percent less likely to get dementia. Women who drank beer or spirits were 15 to 20 percent MORE likely to get dementia.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Drugs Under Investigation

The Associated Press has released this list of drugs which are currently under FDA investigation for a number of issues. Check it out to see if you may be on one of these possibly dangerous medications:

_R-Gene 10, a growth hormone, pediatric overdose due to labeling/packaging confusion.
_Suprane, an anesthetic, cardiac arrest.
_Cymbalta, for depression and other conditions, urinary retention.
_Intelence, an HIV medication, bleeding into joints.
_Carac and Kuric, creams for skin conditions and fungal infections, name confusion.
_Heparin, a blood-thinner, serious allergic reactions.
_Extraneal, used in kidney dialysis, low blood sugars.
_Humulin R (U-500), insulin for diabetes, dosing confusion.
_Stromectol and Warfarin, an anti-parasite drug and a blood thinner, drug interaction.
_Tykerb, for advanced breast cancer, liver damage.
_Revlimid, for multiple myeloma, severe skin blistering and bleeding.
_Tysabri, for multiple sclerosis, skin melanomas.
_Nitrostat, for angina, overdose due to labeling confusion.
_Sandostatin LAR, for abnormal bone growth, bowel obstruction.
_Oxycontin, a pain killer, drug misuse, abuse and overdose.
_Definity, used in cardiac imaging, cardiopulmonary reactions.
_Dilantin injection, for epileptic seizures, serious skin reaction.
_Seroquel, for bipolar disorder, overdose due to sample pack labeling confusion.
_Tyzeka, for chronic hepatitis B, nerve damage.
_Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Blockers, for juvenile arthritis, cancers in children and young adults.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Fish Consumption and Decreased Macular Degeneration

Perhaps you know someone with macular degeneration. This occurs where there is damage or breakdown of the macula, that area in the back of the eye that controls vision in the center of your field of vision. Macular degeneration may be caused by injury or aging; and while it does not always progress to total blindness, patients with macular degeneration require special optical aids to enlarge distant and near objects. In the elderly, this is known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

AMD has become the major cause of blindness and poor vision in adults in western countries and the third cause of global blindness, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

There are two types of AMD, wet and dry. Of the two, wet AMD is the main cause of vision loss. A team of researchers across seven European countries and co-ordinated by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine sought to investigate the association between fish intake and omega 3 fatty acids with wet AMD. Participants were interviewed about their dietary habits including how much fish they ate and what type. Information on the main omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA was obtained by linking dietary data with food composition tables.

The findings show that people who habitually consume oily fish at least once a week compared with less than once a week are 50% less likely to have wet AMD. There was no benefit from consumption of non-oily white fish. There was a strong inverse association between levels of DHA and EPA and wet AMD. People in the top 25% of DHA and EPA levels (300 mg per day and above) were 70% less likely to have wet AMD.

Prof. Astrid Fletcher, Professor of Epidemiology (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) led the study. She commented: "This is the first study in Europeans to show a beneficial association on wet AMD from the consumption of oily fish and is consistent with results from studies in the USA and Australia. Two 3oz servings a week of oily fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, provides about 500 mg of DHA and EPA per day."

The research team did not investigate whether supplements would have the same benefit as dietary sources.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Quercetin Shown to Reduce Flu Occurrence In Research Study

Mice given quercetin, a naturally occurring substance found in fruits and vegetables, were less likely to contract the flu, according to a study published by The American Physiological Society. The study also found that stressful exercise increased the susceptibility of mice to the flu, but quercetin canceled out that negative effect.

Quercetin, a close chemical relative of resveratrol, is present in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including red onions, grapes, blueberries, tea, broccoli and red wine. It has been shown to have anti-viral properties in cell culture experiments and some animal studies, but none of these studies has looked specifically at the flu.

I find it fascinating how many scientific studies confirm that old advice, generally given by Mom, to "eat your fruits and vegetables because they are good for you."

This particular study, “Quercetin reduces susceptibility to influenza infection following stressful exercise,” was carried out by J. Mark Davis, E.A. Murphy, J.L. McClellan, and M.D. Carmichael, of the University of South Carolina and J.D. Gangemi of Clemson University and it appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

The study was conducted using mice, but if quercetin provides a similar benefit for humans, it could help endurance athletes, soldiers and others undergoing difficult training regimens, as well as people under psychological stress, according to the authors. Quercetin was used because of its documented widespread health benefits, which include antiviral activity, abundance in the diet and reported lack of side effects when used as a dietary supplement or food additive.

I won't go into all the details about how they stressed out these poor mice, but the experiments conducted did show a substantial benefit to the quercetin. Not only did it protect the mice who were stressing, but it also had protective effects for the mice that did not exercise.

It pays to eat your veggies.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Our Love for Bagged, Pre-Washed Veggies Leads to Increasing Threats from Salmonella and E. coli

New research on food pathogens is being presented this week at the 21st International ICFMH Symposium ‘Food Micro 2008’ Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Professor Gadi Frankel (Imperial College London) says that even though a small minority of salmonella and E. coli poisoning cases are currently linked to salads, the numbers are increasing. “In their efforts to eat healthy, people are eating more salad products, choosing to buy organic brands, and preferring ‘pre-washed’ bagged salads from supermarkets. All of these factors, together with the globalization of food markets, mean that cases of Salmonella and E. coli poisoning caused by salads are likely to rise in the future. This is why it’s important to get a head start with understanding how contamination occurs now,” he said.

It has long been a mystery as to how these bacteria cling so well to the leaves in these popular bagged salads. Frankel's new study, carried out with Dr Rob Shaw and colleagues at the University of Birmingham, shows how some Salmonella bacteria use the long stringy appendages they normally use to help them ‘swim’ and move about to attach themselves to salad leaves and other vegetables, causing contamination and a health risk. For example, in 2007 a Salmonella outbreak in the UK was traced back to imported basil, and an E. coli outbreak in the USA in 2006 was traced to contaminated pre-packed baby spinach.

Understanding the mechanism that pathogens such as salmonella use to bind themselves to salad leaves is important if scientists are to develop new methods of preventing this kind of contamination and the sickness it causes.

Scientists know that Salmonella and E. coli O157 – a strain of E. coli that can cause serious sickness in humans - can spread to salads and vegetables if they are fertilized with contaminated manure, irrigated with contaminated water, or if they come into contact with fecal matter during the cutting, washing, packing and preparation processes. Professor Frankel's research now shows that some bacteria have developed a new use for their flagella - the long stringy ‘propellers’ they use to move around. The flagella flatten out beneath the bacteria and cling onto salad leaves and vegetables like long, thin fingers.

Unfortunately, our love for bagged salads appears to be setting us on course for new and more challenging microbial illnesses in the future, until science can find a way to remove those sticky "fingers" holding onto the veggie's surface.