Friday, April 25, 2008

Smokers' Rates of Depression Much Higher than Non-Smokers

According to new research from the University of Navarra, smokers have a 41% higher risk of suffering depression, in comparison with non-smokers.

This large and peer reviewed study was undertaken with more than 8,500 participants by scientists of the University of Navarra, in collaboration with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the Harvard School of Public Health. It shows the direct relationship between tobacco use and this disease.

The study is based on research undertaken over the course of 6 years on university graduates with an average age of 42. "Over the course of the tracking and data collection stage, 190 smokers who initially did not present depression were diagnosed with this disease by a doctor. In addition, 65 who were not diagnosed indicated that they were taking antidepressants during this period,” indicated author Miguel Ángel Martínez-González.

The authors point to “genetic and/or environmental disposition, which will increase the probability that the tobacco habit is retained and that the user will suffer depression as an independent issue,” and note as well that there is a great lessening of physical activity for these smokers as well, which may have something to do with the smokers' predisposition to depression.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chemical in Plastic Water Bottles is Dangerous

CNN and other news sources yesterday spoke of WalMart's decision to eliminate products made from a certain type of plastic. In the case of this giant retailer, it specifically referred to baby bottles. WalMart is concerned because new statements from the US Government have identified a chemical in some plastic food and drink packaging (including these baby products) that may be tied to early puberty and prostate and breast cancer.

This has been spoken of for years on Usenet discussion groups and in alternative healthcare forums. I have no idea why it takes the government so long to "catch on." But, based on draft findings by the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, senior congressional leaders asked the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its view that the chemical bisphenol A is safe in products for use by infants and children.

The chemical, also called BPA, is used in many baby bottles and as the plastic lining of cans of infant formula. The National Toxicology Program went further than previous U.S. government statements on possible health risks from BPA when it said that, "There is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures." The findings expressed concern about exposure in these populations, "based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females."

The National Toxicology Program said laboratory rodents exposed to BPA levels similar to human exposures developed precancerous lesions in the prostate and mammary glands, among other things.

Bisphenol A is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins and can be found in food and drink packaging as well as compact discs and some medical devices. Some dental sealants or composites contain it as well. The National Toxicology Program expressed "negligible concern" that exposure of pregnant women to BPA causes fetal or neonatal death, birth defects or reduced birth weight and growth in babies. It also had "negligible concern" that exposure causes reproductive problems in adults.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Danger of Formaldehyde Still With Us

In 1987, the USA Environmental Protection Agency listed formaldehyde as a possible human carcinogen. And yet, there are still products manufactured with the chemical, and plenty of human contact with the dangerous substance. Preliminary results now show that this common environmental chemical may increase the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This research was presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Chicago, April 12–19, 2008. Over one million people were asked to report their exposure to 12 types of chemicals. The participants were followed for 15 years, and the number of people who died during that time of ALS was tracked. A total of 617 men and 539 women died from ALS during the study.

Researchers found no significant link between ALS and exposure to most chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides. However, those who reported that they had regular exposure to formaldehyde were 34 percent more likely to develop ALS than those with no exposure to formaldehyde.

“People with longer exposure to formaldehyde had a greater risk of developing ALS than those with shorter exposures,” said study author Marc Weisskopf, PhD, of Harvard University in Boston. “People who reported 10 or more years of exposure were almost four times as likely to develop ALS as those with no exposure.” He continued by saying that “This finding was somewhat surprising, because formaldehyde has not been raised as an issue in ALS before."

Formaldehyde is used in particle board and other wood products, permanent press fabrics, glues, and other household products, such as cosmetics and shampoo. It is also used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries, and as an industrial disinfectant.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Study Finds Low Risk of Dietary Supplement and Prescription Drug Interactions

The pharmaceutical industry has warned of drug/supplement interactions for many years. This concern has even been the basis of potential legislation to limit your access to dietary supplements. However, recently it has been found that these "interactions" occur less frequently than had been thought. In fact, it is only a handful of products that seem to have this issue.

Courtney Cavaliere of the American Botanical Council recently reported on a study published in the March edition of the American Journal of Medicine which found very little actual risk of harm from dietary supplement and prescription drug interactions.

According to Ms. Cavaliere, the authors of the study based their results on responses to an 85-question survey administered to 1818 patients from 6 specialty clinics of the Mayo Clinic from September 2002 through July 2003. Of the 1795 patients who responded to the survey, 710 (or 39.6%) reported that they used dietary supplements. Survey respondents provided medical records with information on their prescription medications, and respondents indicated in the survey whether they concurrently used dietary supplements by choosing from a list of 52 dietary supplements or entering the names of unlisted supplements. Prescription medications included physician-prescribed pharmaceuticals, as well as aspirin.

The authors of the study compiled a master list of potential medication interactions based upon potential herb-drug interactions noted in the various databases and textbooks. Based on the survey data, the authors identified 369 potential interactions among 236 patients, and 107 of these interactions were considered to have potential clinical significance.

Here are the 5 most commonly used dietary supplements with a potential for interaction: Garlic [Allium sativum], Valerian [Valeriana officinalis], Kava [Piper methysticum], Ginkgo [Ginkgo biloba], and St. John’s wort [Hypericum perforatum]. These five accounted for nearly 70% of all possible interactions.

The 4 most common prescription medication classes with a potential for interaction with supplements include: Antithrombotic medications, Sedatives, Antidepressants, and Antidiabetic agents. These classes of drugs accounted for 94% of all possible interactions. However, not one patient who participated in the survey experienced serious harm from a possible interaction during the study period, as determined by the patients’ medical records. “Serious harm” was defined as hospitalization for an aggravated underlying medical condition or for a new medical problem caused by an interaction.

According to the researchers, the study showed that only a small number of prescription medications and dietary supplements accounted for most potential herb-drug interactions. Moreover, the fact that no actual interactions were noted during the survey period demonstrated that the real potential for harm is quite low. The authors added that some interactions included in the study may have even been considered speculative.


High Cholesterol in 40's Leads to Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

People with high cholesterol in their early 40s are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those with low cholesterol, according to research being presented this week in Chicago at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting.

The senior author of this study was Rachel Whitmer, PhD, a research scientist with Kaiser Permanente Division of Research (Oakland, CA). The findings of her team show it would be best for patients to attack high cholesterol levels while in their 40s to reduce the risk of dementia.

"High mid-life cholesterol increased the risk of Alzheimer's disease regardless of midlife diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and late-life stroke," said the authors.

The study involved 9,752 men and women in northern California who underwent health evaluations between 1964 and 1973 when they were between the ages of 40 and 45 and remained with the same health plan through 1994. From 1994 to 2007, researchers obtained the participants' most recent medical records to find 504 people had a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and 162 had vascular dementia.

The study found people with total cholesterol levels between 249 and 500 milligrams were one-and-a-half times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those people with cholesterol levels of less than 198 milligrams. People with total cholesterol levels of 221 to 248 milligrams were more than one-and-a-quarter times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wham: Extract of a Chinese Moss May Indeed Improve Cognition in Alzheimer's Patients

The Cochran Library is reporting today that an extract derived from the Chinese club moss plant extract may improve cognition in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The extract has been named Huperzine A and it appears that patients who have taken this extract have improved cognitive function, better functional performance and even reduced behavioral disturbances compared to patients taking placebos.

The research team came to this conclusion after studying data in six trials that involve a total of 454 patients. While this is still a relatively small number of patients, with a positive result such as this, we can assume that there will be larger trials in the near future.

Scientists know that Huperzine A can block acetyl cholinesterase and that it can work both in the peripheral and central nervous systems. This makes it a promising agent for treating various forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, because a part of the damage involved in Alzheimer’s is a loss of this important neurotransmitter, one that contains neurons in the basal forebrain.

Associate Professor Hongmei Wu, who led this research and who works in the Department of Geriatrics at the West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. was the lead author of the work.

Additionally, in a small study of teenagers, huperzine A appeared to enhance general mental functioning when it was taken consistently for as little as one month. However, more research is needed before huperzine A can be recommended for Alzheimer's, dementia or general memory improvement.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Alcohol Intake Raises Breast Cancer Risk Substantially

A new National Cancer Institute funded study has shown that alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of the most common type of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

More than 184,000 women were considered in this, the biggest of three major studies to conclude that drinking raises the risk of breast cancer for older women.

Jasmine Lew, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute and the study's lead investigator said on Sunday that the research found women who had one to two small drinks a day were 32 percent more likely to develop a hormone-sensitive tumor. The risk goes up substantially, to more than 51 percent, with three or more drinks a day.

"Regardless of the type of alcohol, the risk was evident," said Lew, presenting the findings in San Diego at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

This work referred to hormone sensitive tumors. About 70 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have tumors that are positive for both the estrogen and progesterone receptors.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Wham: Milk -- Flavored or Plain, Boosts Kids Health

Just like your Mom used to tell you, milk appears to have a lot of nutrients that aid in keeping kids healthy. In fact, a new study released this week in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who drink flavored or plain milk consume more nutrients and have a lower or comparable body mass index (BMI) than children who don’t drink milk.

Milk does contain many nutrients that are important for children. This research shows that children who drink milk, including plain and flavored milk, have higher intakes of many nutrients that are often low in children’s diets. And kids will find something else to drink, with higher calories and less nutrition, if milk is not on the menu.

Mary Murphy, MS, RD, co-author of the study, says that “Limiting access to flavored milks in schools and elsewhere may have the undesirable effect of further reducing intakes of many essential nutrients provided by milk.”

The study compared nutrient intakes and body mass among 7,557 U.S. children and adolescents ages 2-18 years drinking flavored milk (with or without plain milk), exclusively plain milk and no milk. All comparisons were adjusted for the amount of calories reported as well as age allowing for differences to be examined based on equal consumption of calories and age distributions.

The study results showed milk drinkers had significantly higher intakes of vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium than non-milk drinkers. In addition, BMI measures of milk drinkers were comparable to or lower than measures of non-milk drinkers. Intake of added sugars did not differ between flavored milk drinkers and non-milk drinkers. Among females 12-18 years of age, average calcium intakes by flavored milk drinkers and exclusively plain milk drinkers were nearly double the calcium intakes of non-milk drinkers.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dietary Supplements: In Reality, Two Different Industries

US Marshals recently stormed the offices of LG Sciences LLC of Brighton, Michigan, to seize more than $1.3 million worth of dietary supplements. Reading about this matter really shows you how the dietary supplement industry is composed of two, almost completely different types of industries -- companies that follow the laws regarding product safety and health, and companies in what is primarily the body-building and "energy" categories that run on the fringe. And, sometimes they cross the line.

In this case, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it asked the U.S. Marshals to seize the products because they contain unapproved food additives or new dietary ingredients. These products were sold online and in retail stores as body builders under the names "Methyl 1-D," "Methyl 1-D XL," and "Formadrol Extreme XL."

The FDA said the products had been tested and found to contain one or more unapproved food additives or new dietary ingredients for which there is inadequate information to provide reasonable assurance that they do not present "a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury." Legal Gear, the predecessor of LG Sciences, had been warned in 2006 to cease distribution of another product that was also marketed as a dietary supplement, but was actually an unapproved new drug containing synthetic steroids. So, it appears the company has had ample warning.

For some reason, supplements in the body-builder marketplace seem to always be poised on the edge of what is allowed, and what isn't. Body builders, people who are so concerned with the appearance of their bodies, seem to care less about their health. Unscrupulous manufacturers (and importers, often from China) take advantage of this market by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on glossy advertising in certain publications to push these risky products with often unsubstantiated claims.

This flies in the face of the other supplement industry, the one where you buy your quality vitamins, minerals and herbs, through stores, Internet sites and doctors' offices.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Wham: Over-the-Counter Pain Medications Increase Muscle Mass and Strength

It's recently been reported by scientists at Ball State University that Ibuprofen or acetaminophen in long-term resistance training increases muscle mass and strength. This will be of great interest to anyone seeking better workouts, although the research was conducted in older adults.

It seems that taking daily recommended dosages of ibuprofen and acetaminophen caused a substantially greater increase over placebo in the amount of quadriceps muscle mass and muscle strength gained during three months of regular weight lifting. Dr. Chad Carroll, a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Todd Trappe at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University reported these study results at Experimental Biology 2008 in San Diego on April 6th.

Thirty-six men and women, between 60 and 78 years of age (average age 65), were randomly assigned to daily dosages of either ibuprofen (such as that in Advil), acetaminophen (such as that in Tylenol), or a placebo. The dosages were identical to those recommended by the manufacturers and were selected to most closely mimic what chronic users of these medicines were likely to be taking. Neither the volunteers nor the scientists knew who was receiving which treatment until the end of the study.

The weight training consisted of 15-20 minute sessions conducted in the Human Performance Laboratory three times per week. The researchers were surprised to find that the groups using either ibuprofen or acetaminophen did even better than the normal, expected increases from these workouts. The chronic consumption of ibuprofen or acetaminophen during resistance training appears to have induced intramuscular changes that enhance the metabolic response to resistance exercise, allowing the body to add substantially more new protein to muscle.

The amount of change was measured in quadricep muscles using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the gold standard for determining muscle mass.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sham: Trader Joe's Takes Stand Against Chinese Supplements

Functional Ingredients Magazine reports that as of earlier this year, the popular grocery and supplements retailer Trader Joe's has joined the backlash against Chinese contamination by completely blocking all "single-ingredient" products such as supplements and rice. While this still allows multi-ingredient products to have a Chinese component, it is widely believed that this kind of action will be popular with consumers who are rallying in huge numbers against the poor quality control and contamination found in many kinds of "healthy" Chinese goods.

Congratulations to Trader Joe's management team on this one! We love the chain, but have long been concerned that they were not listening to concerns about Chinese products.

Unfortunately, Whole Foods (a major competitor of Trader Joe's) has no plans to follow the lead. That's a shame -- I urge anyone in a marketplace with both stores to support the retailer who has made a clear decision in favor of your health. Hopefully, Whole Foods (another wonderful retailer) will soon recognize the positive impact of such a move.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Nasty Bugs Continue to Change and Adapt: An Update on Antibiotic Resistance

Recently Reuters wrote about a "startling new finding," one in which scientists discovered strains of bacteria in the soil that can make a meal of the world's most potent antibiotics. Our biggest weapons in the arsenal against bacteria, these antibiotic germ-fighting drugs now appear to be losing the war against superbugs.

A study of soil microbes taken from 11 sites uncovered bacteria that could withstand antibiotics 50 times stronger than the standard for bacterial resistance.

Dr. George Church and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School in Boston published this recent research in the journal Science. This is the #1 most respected journal in the scientific world, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Many bacteria in many different soil isolates can not only tolerate antibiotics, they can actually live on them as their sole source of nutrition," Church said in an audio interview on the journal's Web site.

While antibiotic-eating strains of bacteria have been discovered before, Church's study is among the most complete and it appears to offer more clues about why bacteria quickly develop resistance to antibiotics, and why drug companies must constantly develop new antibiotics to defeat them. Sadly, the bugs are winning.

When the researchers tested the microbes against antibiotics, something they thought would be toxic, they found them to actually grow on the bed of antibiotics.

Surprised by how easily the microbes devoured the antibiotics, Church and colleagues did a broader test, exposing hundreds of microbes to 18 antibiotics representing most of the major classes of naturally occurring and synthetic antibiotics, including penicillin and the widely prescribed antibiotic ciprofloxacin.

"We could find ... bacteria that could grow on almost all of them," depending on the bacteria and the source of the soil, Church said.

Some of these bacteria were close relatives of germs that can cause blood infections in people with compromised immune systems. Church said the finding underscores the extent to which bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a process that started almost as soon as penicillin was introduced in the 1940s.

This site has written previously about the overuse of antibiotics, and how this practice has since fueled the rise of drug-resistant superbugs. Many scientists believe that the rise of "anti-microbial" compounds in soaps, kitchen products, hand gels, etc, has also fueled the wrong side of this war.

One antibiotic resistant infection, caused by a strain known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is blamed for killing 19,000 people in the United States in 2005.


Trans Fats: Still Out There, Still A Killer

The April issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource has an interesting feature article that helps us better understand the health risks posed by trans fats as well as tips to avoid consuming them.

Also known as trans-fatty acids, trans fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol. In other words, it affects you negatively on both sides of the "good and bad cholesterol" equation.

Most doctors and scientists consider trans fat the worst type of dietary fat. Trans fat contributes to heart disease by promoting low-grade inflammation in the blood vessels. And, trans fats are associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There are very few health recommendations as strong as the one given by your doctor when he or she says, "Don't eat these trans fats."

These fats are formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats such as shortening and hard margarine. Because of their long shelf life and appealing texture, synthetic trans fats have been favored ingredients in commercially baked goods such as cakes, cookies, crackers and crusts. Commercially fried foods, such as doughnuts and french fries, also often contain trans fats. The use of trans fats may be starting to change, however. New York City made headlines when it banned trans fats in restaurants.

While other cities are considering going trans-fat free, and a few packaged food manufacturers are reducing or eliminating trans fats in their products, avoiding the nasty fat still takes diligence.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fats to less than 1 percent of daily calories. That’s just 20 calories (2 grams) in a 2,000-calorie per day diet. That amount can easily come from naturally occurring trans-fatty acids in dairy products and meat from cows, goats and sheep.

At the grocery store, product nutrition labels contain trans fat information. However, a product that has less than ½ gram of trans fat can be labeled as zero. Eating modest amounts of these products easily can add up to more than 2 grams of trans fats. Keys words such as “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” indicate the food contains trans fats even when the chart on the label indicates none. Many restaurants continue to use trans fats for deep-fried foods. Grilled or baked foods are more likely to be trans-fat free.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sham: Use of Blood Thinner Drugs Dangerous in Some Cases

Drugs like heparin or warfarin are often prescribed after surgery. In at least one type of surgery, researchers are finding that this is a very dangerous practice. Some doctors are now saying that the U.S. guidelines to give drugs to prevent blood clots in joint surgery patients should be changed.

UPI is reporting that Dr. Nigel Sharrock and a team of colleagues at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York reviewed 20 studies involving a total of more than 28,000 patients and found patients receiving powerful anti-coagulants were 60 percent to 70 percent more likely to have a non-fatal embolism.

Many say that the current guidelines to prescribe anti-coagulants have been developed to avoid potential litigation. It is now clear that these drugs could be doing more harm than good, and it is wise to review the practice before more people suffer an untimely death.

The research was specific to those having joint surgery. Those patients had been treated with either a potent anti-coagulant like heparin or an anti-coagulant like warfarin were more than twice as likely to have died than those having joint surgery with local spinal anesthesia, pneumatic compression and an aspirin regimen.

Good old, reliable aspirin!

The paper was published in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. As a side note, this news has shown up with a very low profile, and when seen in newspapers, it is generally buried somewhere way back in the paper. Just imagine the news coverage that this article would have had if it were an herb that caused this HUGE rate of increased morbidity. It would have been on the radio and front page news in most markets because pharmaceutical company doctors would be pushing it hard -- real hard.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wham: Green Tea in Combination with Antibiotics

At the Society for General Microbiology's 162nd meeting in Edinburgh the other day, Dr M. Kassem said the research she has been working on has demonstrated antibiotics are far more effective when taken in conjunction with green tea. Her studies analyzed the effect of this combination in fighting more than 28 disease-causing micro-organisms.

NutraIngredients, reporters for the healthy beverage industry, interviewed these scientists immediately, as green tea is such a popular beverage in Egypt. Researchers there sought to determine if it had any positive or negative effect on the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease, and were pleasantly surprised at how strong the positive effects were in their study (now under peer-review). Future publication will likely be in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and the work apparently shows the potential of green tea to reduce antibiotic dosage.

Different classes of antibiotics were tested separately and in combination with green tea against strains of many nasty bugs. Green tea enhanced the bactericidal activity of all tested antibiotics.

"In every case green tea enhanced the bacteria-killing activity of the antibiotics," said Dr Kassem in the NutraIngredients interview. Kassem is from the Faculty of Pharmacy at Alexandria University in Egypt. "For example, the killing effect of chloramphenicol was 99.99 per cent better when taken with green tea than when taken on its own in some circumstances."

It sounds like I'm going to be drinking a healthy quantity of green tea whenever I am next prescribed an antibiotic.