Monday, February 25, 2008

Kava Dangers Exposed in New Research

In recent years, serious concerns about the dangers of kava and the effects on the liver have given rise to cautions about kava and kava products. Professor Iqbal Ramzan, Dean of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney, Australia, originally came from Fiji, where his culture regularly drinks kava. He wanted to investigate further the effects this natural product has on the liver.

His findings are published in the January 28, 2008 edition of the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Professor Ramzan spent one year investigating the cellular effects of kava on the liver. Kava has been used in ceremonies and for recreational and social purposes in the South Pacific since ancient times, much like alcohol, tea or coffee is in other societies today. But Ramzan had worries about the effects, and so he began his investigations. Recently, evidence began to emerge about the adverse affect kava could have on the liver.

To test these theories, the University of Sydney study focused on the major kavalactone (the ingredient in kava believed to affect the liver) -- kavain -- and investigated the effects it had on the ultrastructure (or biological structure) of the liver. The study found that following kavain treatment the liver tissue displayed an overall change in structure, including the narrowing of blood vessels, the constriction of blood vessel passages and the retraction of the cellular lining.

In other words, the kavain treatment disturbed the basic structure of the liver, consequently seriously impacting the normal functioning of the liver. Additional investigations into the effects of other major kavalactones on the liver, as well as studies on whether the effects of kava are reversible, are urgently needed.

Medicinal uses for kava began to emerge in the 1980's and it has been marketed in herbal form as a natural way to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, tension and restlessness, particularly in Europe and North America.

Obviously, it is not recommended to consume Kava until further research proves its safety in light of these studies.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Wham: Curcumin's Positive Effect on Heart Failure

Researchers at the Toronto General Hospital have discovered that eating curcumin, a natural ingredient in the spice turmeric, may dramatically reduce the chance of developing heart failure. I've written about curcumin on the forum here in the past (use the search function in the upper left corner of the site).

In this study, entitled “Curcumin prevents and reverses murine cardiac hypertrophy,” published in the February edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Canadian researchers found when the herb is given orally to a variety of mouse models with enlarged hearts (hypertrophy), it can prevent and reverse the condition, while restoring heart function and reducing scar formation.

The herb has been used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine to reduce scar formation, and the healing properties of turmeric have been well known in these cultures for some time. The authors state that when there is a cut or a bruise, the home remedy in these cultures is to reach for turmeric powder because it can help to heal without leaving a bad scar.

Unlike most natural compounds whose effects are minimal, curcumin works directly in the cell nucleus by preventing abnormal unraveling of the chromosome under stress, and preventing excessive abnormal protein production.

“Curcumin’s ability to shut off one of the major switches right at the chromosome source where the enlargement and scarring genes are being turned on is impressive,” says Dr. Peter Liu, cardiologist in the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Scientific Director at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health. However Dr. Liu cautions that moderation is important, “the beneficial effects of curcumin are not strengthened by eating more of it.”

And he also cautions about taking this approach without the knowledge of your doctor."We don’t recommend that patients take curcumin routinely. You are better off to take action today by lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, exercising and healthy eating,” says Dr. Liu. After reading about this new science, I wondered why the author would insert this puzzling "we don't recommend" statement into the equation. (I can only assume it is doctor-speak for "don't start taking our advice because we might get sued by someone." That's the only explanation I can put to such a wacky comment at the close of an article raving about curcumin).

I know that there are indeed some potential drug interactions with curcumin, so the advice to speak to a doctor first is probably valid for anyone on prescription medicines.

Dr. Liu, who holds the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Polo Chair Professor in Medicine and Physiology at the University of Toronto, does admit in the article that since curcumin is a naturally occurring compound that is readily available at a low cost, it could be considered a safe and effective future means of preventing heart failure.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sham: Antibiotics Once Again Overused

A new report published in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery (March, 2008 edition) show that when prescribed to children with middle ear infections, antibiotics are NOT associated with a significant reduction in fluid buildup in the ear. This work is a meta-analysis of previously published studies.

Ear infections are among the most common diseases in infants and children. Middle ear infections (technically called "acute otitis media") may lead to fluid buildup in the middle ear. The authors write that this problem may lead to a conductive hearing loss of 15 decibels to 40 decibels, presenting an adverse effect on language development, cognitive development, behavior and quality of life.

University Medical Center, located in Utrecht, the Netherlands, analyzed large amounts of clinical data and found that children taking antibiotics were 90 percent as likely to develop problems as those who did not take antibiotics. This difference was not statistically significant, and as a result, antibiotics are not recommended as a solution to this ear problem.

"Because of a marginal effect of antibiotic therapy on the development of asymptomatic middle ear effusion and the known negative effects of prescribing antibiotics, including the development of antibiotic resistance and adverse effects, we do not recommend prescribing antibiotics to prevent middle ear effusion," the authors write.


Wham: High Protein Diet for Infants Leads to Larger Brain, Higher IQ

In England, about one in ten babies are born prematurely. It has recently been published that premature babies there who have been given high protein food grow up to be more intelligent. Scientists from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the UCL Institute of Child Health followed a group of 76 children born several weeks early in the 1980's and then studied these developing children for many years.

After their birth, babies were randomly assigned either a high nutrient milk or a standard formula diet that most infants receive. In later years, they found that the preterm babies they had been studying (who were fed enriched formula milk in their first weeks) consistently outperformed other premature babies in IQ tests.

This has led to considerable discussion among scientists about the incredible value of early nutrition in infants. In this case, by the time they reached 15 years of age, the children who had been fed on the protein-rich diet had an average verbal IQ score about eight points higher than those on normal formula or breast milk. (In this hospital system, all premature babies are now fed the equivalent of the high-nutrient diet).

Principal author, Dr Elizabeth Isaacs, said "the structure of the human brain can be influenced by early nutrition." A close examination of the brains of those studied found that those who had been on the nutrient-rich diet tended to have a bigger caudate nucleus - a part of the brain linked to higher intelligence levels.

"The fact that early nutrition may program the development of specific brain structures is of fundamental biological importance," Dr Isaacs and her co-authors concluded.

The study is published in the March edition of the British journal, Paediatric Research.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Antidepressants: It Takes Months to Get Back a Feeling of Hopefulness

People taking medication for depression typically see improvement in their symptoms during the first few months, with the exception of one very important ingredient. Lagging behind other areas is a sense of hopefulness, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

People with depression may still feel a sense of hopelessness even while their condition is improving, which could lead them to stop taking their medication.

In this particular study, feelings of hopefulness did not improve until a number of weeks, or even months, had gone by. Lead author James E. Aikens, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Michigan, says that many patients "may become unduly pessimistic and stop adhering to an already-helpful therapy,” he notes. This finding is troubling, he says, because hopelessness is a strong risk factor for suicide.

And as most people know, many of these antidepressants are linked to suicides as well (most notably in young people).

The study appears in the January-February issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.The team studied 573 patients with depression from 37 practices. They were given an antidepressant, either fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) or sertraline (Zoloft). They were assessed one, three, six and nine months after the treatment began.

68 percent of the patient improvement occurred by the end of the first month, and 88 percent by three months. These numbers did not apply to "hopefulness," however. Here, the improvement was much more gradual, which remains a concern for doctors as their patients may require other kinds of assistance to start bringing this positive mood support back into the lives of their depressed patients.

One method of bringing this positive expectancy back is an herbal supplement, a product containing the clinically-tested plant extract SHR-5. SHR-5, the ingredient of Arctic Root®, has been tested in human clinical trials and has shown a significant mood uplift ability that doctors are now using on its own, or in combination with antidepressants, to increase the feeling of hopefulness and positive mood.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wham: Two for the price of one for men on heart-healthy diets

A new study reported on in the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that a heart-healthy diet, and even moderate alcohol intake, may help decrease the risk of prostate problems in men. This is great news for men who have been cautioned about heart issues because taking some of these dietary precautions will also help them with what is called symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia, known as BPH.

The study showed that a high-fat diet increased the risk of BPH, a condition associated with frequent and painful urination that affects about half of all men by the time they reach 50 and nearly all men by age 70. The daily consumption of red meat increased the risk of BPH by 38 percent. Bad news for all those hamburger eaters.

The study also found that eating four or more servings of vegetables daily was associated with a 32 percent reduction in risk; consuming high amounts of lean protein was linked to 15 percent risk reduction, and that regular, moderate alcohol consumption was linked to 38 percent decline in BPH risk.

It has long been known that obesity increases the risk of prostate difficulty. The dietary pattern that is associated with obesity among men in the United States is high fat consumption. The results of this study clearly show a link between a high-fat diet and increased risk of BPH.

In the study, researchers found small, incremental increases in BPH risk as fat intake increased, with the most substantial risk, more than 30 percent, among men who got about 40 percent of their calories from fat.

In contrast, a low fat, high vegetable and moderate alcohol consumption pattern is associated with less obesity, lower circulating estrogens and androgens and less stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Moderate alcohol use lowers circulating hormones and decreases muscle tone of the prostate.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Pot Smoking Can Lead to Early Periodontal Disease

A new study in the February 6 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) reports that regular use of marijuana in young adulthood is associated with periodontal (gum) disease.

A common chronic disease in adults, Periodontal disease begins with inflammation that extends deep into the dental tissues. This causes a loss of supporting connective tissue requiring painful surgery and the potential loss of teeth. Up until now, tobacco smoking has been considered to be the primary behavioral risk factor for the condition. It is now thought that cannabis smoking may have a similar, and possibly even stronger, effect.

W. Murray Thomson, Ph.D., of the Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin, New Zealand, and his colleagues conducted a study to determine whether cannabis smoking is a risk factor for periodontal disease. The study included 903 participants who were born in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973 and assessed periodically. The cannabis use from these patients was determined at ages 18, 21, 26, and 32 years and dental examinations were conducted at ages 26 and 32 years.

After controlling for tobacco smoking, sex, irregular use of dental services, and dental plaque, compared with those who had never smoked marijuana, those in the highest cannabis exposure group had a 60 percent increased risk for an onset of diseased gums.

Tobacco smoking was strongly associated with periodontal disease, but there was no interaction between marijuana use and tobacco smoking in predicting the condition’s occurrence.

The study demonstrates that long-term smoking of marijuana is detrimental to the periodontal tissues.

“Although definitively establishing the periodontal effects of exposure to cannabis smoke should await confirmation in other populations and settings, health promoters and dental and medical practitioners should take steps to raise awareness of the strong probability that regular cannabis users may be doing damage to the tissues that support their teeth," say the authors of the research paper.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Metabolic Syndrome Numbers Show Huge Difference Between USA and Europe

What is there about the high calorie, low fiber dietary pattern associated with the Western diet that has made Americans subject to a 25%-32% rate of Metabolic Syndrome? This compares with 15% of the European population. According to researchers, such a huge difference can only be blamed on the types of food we eat and the content of that food.

Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a condition characterized by obesity (generally around the waist), hypertension, and abnormal glucose and insulin metabolism. The syndrome has been linked to increased risks of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This new, large study was just published in the journal Circulation.

The research here adds to previous studies that blame the highly processed foods and meats consumed in our diet; these result in a range of conditions, anything from obesity to colorectal cancer.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina analyzed data from 9514 subjects aged between 45 and 64 who were participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. These subjects completed a 66-item food frequency questionnaire to judge their dietary intakes. According to the intake of 32 food groups, the participants' diets were classified according to their adherence to a "Western" or "prudent" dietary pattern.

The researchers followed the subjects over nine years, during which 3,782 cases of Metabolic Syndrome were identified. The authors stated: "Consumption of a Western dietary pattern was adversely associated with Metabolic Syndrome." They found that fried foods, diet soft drinks, and meat consumption were linked to this risk. Contrary to other studies, no benefits were observed for fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, refined grains, or coffee. Dairy showed a somewhat positive trend in this study.

Many doctors are now blaming the "toxic environment" of our Western diet to be the cause of hormonal imbalances that encourage overeating in children, as well.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Sham: Practices within the Consumer Packaged Meat Business

I don't eat a lot of meat, but my family does. But I do remember from my meat-eating days just how good bacon can taste. I used to love the taste of crispy, thick bacon slices, particularly the Danish kind (since that is my heritage).

Recently, we bought a large bag of Hormel "Real Bacon Bits" at Sam's Club. The packaged promised the "delicious taste of real, fresh premium bacon" and was a good buy for a year's supply (the way it usually goes when you buy something at one of those club stores like Sam's or Costco.)

It was when I looked a little closer that I became concerned about what my family had been adding to their salad and baked potatoes. On the front of the bag I found an interesting slogan, "Made from Picnic Bacon" which caught my curiosity. I don't recall ever hearing that term before, have you? "Picnic Bacon" sounds so nice -- it sounds like a summer outing on a beautiful day, eating a nice BLT sandwich under the trees and watching the ants carry away half of the meal.

Putting aside my winter thoughts of a pleasant picnic, I looked into what this meant. It turns out that "Picnic Bacon" is not a pretty thing. It may have a nice sounding name, but it is really not a meat you should consume. Picnic Bacon turns out to be the most undesirable parts of the pig -- seriously, you don't want to know what parts -- which has been "fabricated" to approach the appearance of bacon. It is just barely considered something fit for human consumption, and it wouldn't be eaten, not by you, me or anyone else, if it didn't have this pleasant little name and the "fabricated bacon" look.

Shame on you Hormel. I wonder how many other surprises there are in the consumer packaged food business? Got any other good ones? Just leave a comment below.


PS -- See my comment in the comments section. I got literally pounded on the usenet after I published this article. I stand behind what I wrote -- I wouldn't touch this stuff. But some people evidently just love "picnic bacon"!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Folate Deficiencies Found Behind Many Dementia Cases

Research published ahead of print in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry shows that folate deficiency is associated with a tripling in the risk of developing dementia among elderly people.

These researchers tracked the development of dementia in 518 people over two years from 2001 to 2003. All participants were over the age of 65 and lived in one rural and one urban location. After setting up their study base, researchers conducted validated tests at the start of the two year period to find out if their patients had signs of dementia. These same tests were performed at the end of the two year study.

Similarly, blood tests were taken to assess levels of folate, vitamin B12, and the protein homocysteine, and how these changed over time. (High levels of homocysteine have been associated with cardiovascular disease. It is a very corrosive protein and has also been determined to affect bone fractures in the elderly).

At the start of the two year period, almost one in five people had high levels of homocysteine, while 17% had low vitamin B12 levels and 3.5% were folate deficient. It was discovered that the higher the levels of folate to begin with, the higher the vitamin B12 levels, and the lower those of homocysteine.

By the end of the study, 45 people had developed dementia. Of these, 34 had Alzheimer’s disease, seven had vascular dementia, and four had “other” types of dementia. Dementia was more likely in those who were older, relatively poorly educated, or inactive.

The onset of dementia was significantly more likely in those whose folate levels then fell further over the two years, while their homocysteine levels rose. People who were folate deficient to begin with, were almost 3.5 times more likely to develop dementia.

This study shows the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and daily vitamin supplementation. Many senior citizens do not care for themselves properly when it comes to preparing wholesome meals. It is important to buy a quality, health food store or doctor-recommended multiple vitamin instead of the big name advertised brands of vitamins found in drug stores (which are often of lower quality). Avoid the cheapie, dollar-store vitamins at all costs.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Wham: Potassium for Leg Cramps

I've been pestered by leg cramps at bed time for months. They sometimes send me right out of the bed, and I have to spend ten minutes walking around the house to get rid of the problem.

Last night I tried the "banana cure" that the National Football League recommends. Because bananas are high in potassium, they are an excellent source of this mineral which has been shown to reduce or eliminate muscle cramping. I saw the big pile of bananas on the bench at the Super Bowl and the camera panned across players eating them in order to reduce their chances of having these muscle difficulties during the big match.

Sure enough, a half-banana seemed to help last night and I slept without leg cramps for the first time in weeks. While in this case I am putting up a "Wham" without supporting scientific evidence, having the support of an organization like the NFL behind the recommendation means that it is something more than anecdotal.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Sham: Sugary Soft Drinks and High-Fructose Corn Syrup

There has been an abundance of media interest concerning the dangers of diet drinks and products using artificial sweeteners like aspartame. With all those soda drinkers potentially switching over to regular non-diet drinks, I thought it might be interesting to report on some current work going on in the study of regular soft drinks and their ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup.

As it turns out, sugary soft drinks were recently linked to increased risk of gout in men. Gout is a joint disease which causes extreme pain and swelling. It is most common in men aged 40 and older. It is caused by excess uric acid in the blood which leads to uric acid crystals collecting around the joints.

In the United States, levels of gout have doubled over the last few decades, which coincided with a substantial increase in the consumption of soft drinks and fructose. Fructose is a simple sugar and the only carbohydrate known to increase uric acid levels, so it's a natural to be investigated as a gout-causing agent.

Researchers in the US and Canada examined the relation between intake of sugar sweetened soft drinks and fructose and the risk of gout and have reported on their findings in British Medical Journal Online.

They followed over 46,000 men aged 40 years and over with no history of gout. The men completed regular questionnaires on their intake of more than 130 foods and beverages, including sugar sweetened soft drinks, over a period of 12 years. At the start of the study, and every two years thereafter, information on weight, regular use of medications and medical conditions were also recorded. Gout was diagnosed according to American College of Rheumatology criteria.

During 12 years of follow-up, the researchers documented 755 newly diagnosed cases of gout. The risk of gout increased with increasing intake of sugar sweetened soft drinks. The risk was significantly increased with an intake level of 5-6 servings per week and the risk was 85% higher among men who consumed two or more servings of sugar-sweetened soft drinks per day compared to those who consumed less than one serving per month.

These associations were independent of other risk factors for gout such as body mass index, age, diuretic use, high blood pressure, alcohol intake, and dietary factors.

In conclusion, this huge study found plenty of evidence that consumption of sugar sweetened soft drinks and fructose is strongly associated with an increased risk of gout.