Monday, June 30, 2008

Wham: Lavender Shows Mild Relaxation Effect as Aromatherapy

For many years, aromatherapy has been on the fringe of alternative medicine. And yet, many people (including the late Princess Diana) strongly believe that aromatherapy has a therapeutic value.

Recently, an open-label, single-blind controlled study was conducted in Japan to example volunteer patients who were undergoing an aromatherapy session. The subjects were healthy males ranging in age from 24 to 40 years, and they were evaluated on two separate evenings. They were put in a quiet, dark room and told to relax for 30 minutes. Then, their blood was tested in order to determine their level of serum cortisol (one measure of stress hormones). After getting that baseline measurement, the researchers administered the lavender aromatherapy for 30 minutes.

The blood was tested again after the aromatherapy. The following night, they had all the same procedures, but this time without the aromatherapy.

Scientists conducting this study found that mean serum cortisol was significantly lower after the aromatherapy than before. Coronary circulation was also improved after aromatherapy. Of course, this study only shows us the effect after a single aromatherapy session, but it does appear to confirm the traditional view of lavender, as a relaxing aromatherapy agent.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Have you had a stroke without realizing it?

Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, but a new study shows that there is a significant group of people who could suffer a stroke and not even know it. Perhaps you are one of these.

Ordinarily, the warning signs of a stroke include changes in balance, slurred speech or a droopy face, weakness in one side, partial vision loss and severe headache, according to the American Stroke Association. But sometimes there are no symptoms at all. In the study, routine brain scans were conducted on a group of middle-aged people, and these showed that 10 percent of them had suffered a stroke without knowing it. This raises their risk for further strokes and memory loss, researchers say.

People with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heart beat in people over 65, had more than twice the rate of these silent strokes. Silent cerebral infarctions (often called SCIs) are brain injuries caused by a blood clot that interrupts blood flow to the brain.

"The findings reinforce the need for early detection and treatment of cardiovascular risk factors in midlife," Dr. Sudha Seshadri of Boston University School of Medicine and colleagues wrote in the journal Stroke. This is especially true since SCIs have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment.

The researchers based their findings on routine MRI scans from about 2,000 people with an average age of 62. Brain scans of these people found that 10.7 percent had a stroke even though they showed no stroke symptoms. Of these, 84 percent had only a single lesion in the brain. The researchers then looked back to their medical records to see if these people had a risk profile that might predict a stroke.

What they found was that atrial fibrillation more than doubled the risk of silent stroke. In atrial fibrillation, the heart's two upper chambers do not pump effectively enough to empty properly, leaving blood to pool and raising the risk of blood clots. 3 to 5 percent of people over age 65 have this problem.

Silent stroke can also be triggered by high levels of blood homocysteine, a sulfur-containing amino acid found in the blood. Other factors include carotid artery disease or high blood pressure (especially high systolic blood pressure -- the top number in the blood pressure reading).

About two-thirds of people over the age of 65 have high blood pressure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. High blood pressure has long been implicated as a risk factor for silent strokes.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Government Regulations ALERT for US Citizens

GlaxoSmithKline, a major pharmaceutical company, has written a "citizen petition" to the US FDA in order to request that the FDA consider changing its rules about dietary supplement claims. In this writer's opinion, this is one of the first steps to giving unlimited power to the pharmaceutical industry.

The claims in question are those by dietary supplement companies regarding "weight loss." As it stands currently, supplement manufacturers of any product that aids in weight loss are allowed to make that claim. What GSK would like to do is to have the FDA make this supplement claim illegal, by declaring that being overweight is a disease. (For example, supplements can not claim to "cure cancer," or anything similar). This could be the first step in broadening of government powers to stop us from buying products that are natural or herbal in nature.

You can see why GSK is doing this . . . This is the manufacture of "Alli" which is an over the counter (OTC) non-prescription version of the drug orlistat, (Xenical®, Roche), the only FDA approved OTC drug for weight loss. Alli is one of the largest-selling weight loss products in the world, with cumulative sales at approximately $315 million (USD) since its launch in June 2007. I am sure that some natural products dampen GSK's sales levels each year, and the company is out to target dietary supplement makers.

Paul Dijkstra, CEO of InterHealth, a producer and marketer of clinically-researched, patented dietary supplement ingredients, submitted comments on behalf of his company earlier in June. He wrote (e-mail June 17, 2008):

"There are many reasons for people who are overweight to want to lose weight. Weight loss supplements are purchased and used by many people whose concern is not disease prevention, but appearance driven. Many people want to simply look better, feel better and have more energy. It is common for people to want to lose 10 to 20 pounds to help boost their self esteem or look good for an upcoming event such as a wedding, class reunion or bathing suit season. Ruling that weight loss claims are disease claims would be unjust and would give an immense power to the pharmaceutical industry, which would not be in the best interest of consumers trying to achieve improved body composition and weight loss goals with proven supplements. In addition, many people take these supplements to help maintain their healthy lifestyle, not to lose weight. For instance, some weight loss ingredients exert their effect by controlling appetite. These ingredients can help people sustain satiety, reduce daily caloric intake and have more energy and time to concentrate on their busy lives."

I agree 100% with this executive. But my biggest concern is that I do not want anyone in government to regulate my ability to buy natural products and herbs, which are a gift from the creator; they should be available freely to all who want them.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wham: Appetite Suppressing Protein Released During Aerobic Exercise

According to a new study, researchers believe that changes to a central nervous system factor are responsible for weight loss during aerobic exercise. In the study, three months of aerobic exercise decreased body fat and calorie intake in overweight and obese people.

While this isn't the first time that aerobic exercise has been linked to weight loss, it is likely the first time that the central nervous system has been pinpointed as the reason for the loss.

A research team at the University of Chile Clinical Hospital in Santiago, led by A. Veronica Araya, MD, assistant professor, showed that decreased food intake and reduced body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat, were linked to increased levels of a protein called "brain-derived neurotrophic factor", or what we'll call BDNF. Its main role is promoting the growth and survival of nerve cells, according to the authors.

However, this new evidence shows that BDNF also is also related to obesity and metabolism. The authors speculate after this study that it could suppress appetite. I see this work as potentially leading to new types of weight loss drugs.

The team evaluated blood levels of BDNF before and after a three-month program of aerobic exercise in 15 overweight or obese men and women. The seven men and eight women, ages 26 to 51, worked out on a treadmill and bicycle. They were asked about their calorie intake and told to continue eating their usual number of calories. The participants were unaware that one of the study’s objectives was to evaluate changes in food intake.

At the end of the study, the subjects had decreased BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure, the data showed. They also reported consuming fewer calories than at the beginning of the study. Over the three months, BDNF levels greatly increased. This higher the concentration of BDNF, the less the subject’s intake of calories and the greater the weight loss, the authors said.

Thus, it is possible that increases in BDNF suppress appetite.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Wham: Vitamin D for Aches and Pains?

According to an extensive review of clinical research on Vitamin D, a new report in Pain Treatment Topics says that inadequate vitamin D intake has been linked to a long list of chronic painful maladies, including bone and joint pain of various types, muscle pain, fibromyalgia syndrome, rheumatic disorders, osteoarthritis, and other complaints. Lack of vitamin D also has been implicated in the mood disturbances of chronic fatigue syndrome and seasonal affective disorder.

Pain is the most common complaint leading patients to seek medical care and much of it is chronic, lasting 3 months or longer. It now appears that a lot of this could be due to chronic Vitamin D shortages.

According to Dr. Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD, editor and author of the report, “our examination of the research, including 22 clinical investigations of patients with various chronic pain and fatigue syndromes, found that these persons almost always had inadequate levels of vitamin D. When sufficient vitamin D supplementation was provided, the aches, pains, weakness, and related problems in most of them either vanished or were at least helped to a significant extent.”

This report is entitled “Vitamin D – A Neglected ‘Analgesic’ for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain,” and it was peer-reviewed by a panel of 8 experts. While many close-minded doctors may say this is "kookie medicine," it resonated with my own personal experience.

The following important points were a part of this article:

>> Vitamin D is a complex nutrient that functions as a hormone to benefit numerous body tissues and organs, including bones, muscles, and nerves.

>> A surprising majority of persons in many parts of the world, including the United States, do not get adequate vitamin D from sun exposure or foods. Why such deficiencies are associated with pain in some persons but not others is not always known.

>> The currently recommended adequate intake of vitamin D – up to 600 IU per day – is outdated and too low. According to the research, most children and adults need at least 1000 IU per day, and persons with chronic musculoskeletal pain would benefit from 2000 IU or more per day of supplemental vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol).

>> Vitamin D supplements have a highly favorable safety profile. They interact with very few drugs or other agents, and are usually not harmful unless extremely high doses – such as, 50,000 IU or more – are taken daily for an extended period of time.

>> Vitamin D supplements are easy for patients to self-administer, are well tolerated, and typically cost as little as 7 to 10 cents per day.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weight Loss Surgery: Dramatic Reduction in Cancer, Diabetes Risk and More

Reuters is reporting that morbidly obese patients who undergo weight-loss surgery greatly reduce their risk of cancer. This statement comes via a new study providing evidence of health benefits from these increasingly common operations.

At McGill University in Montreal, researchers found that the people who underwent bariatric surgery saw reductions in the risk for breast and colon cancer. Although many people see dramatic weight loss after such surgery, there are also those who (like the famous weatherman on TV) sink back into old habits and become obese once again.

The researchers tracked 1,035 such patients who were at least 100 lbs. overweight, and who had bariatric surgery. They watched them for five years. They also monitored 5,746 patients who matched the surgery group in age, sex and weight but who did not have this surgery.

The study showed that those who underwent bariatric surgery had about an 80 percent lower risk of developing cancer.

"The evidence is mounting that weight loss through weight-loss surgery, if you are extremely obese, is extremely beneficial both to your health as well as to your quality of life," Dr. Nicolas Christou, first author, told Reuters. Christou heads a surgical unit doing these kinds of operations so he has access to these patient records, but also a possible conflict of interest.

Still, in addition to cutting the incidence of breast cancer by about 85 percent and colon cancer by about 70 percent, those who underwent bariatric surgery also saw reductions in the risk for pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, uterine cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Obesity raises the risk for several types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus and kidney, as well as numerous other diseases.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Caesarean Births Associated with Much Higher Risk of Asthma

A new study based on data from 1.7 million births has shown that babies born by Caesarean section have a 50% increased risk of developing asthma compared to babies born naturally. The study was performed at the Medical Birth Registry at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The goal of the study was to investigate the possible link between being born by Caesarean section and later development of asthma.

Emergency Caesarean sections increase the risk even further. Compared to children born in the natural way (i.e. spontaneously and vaginally), children born by Caesarean section had an approximately 50% increased risk of developing asthma. Children born vaginally, but with assistance from vacuum or forceps, had a 20% increased risk of asthma. For children born between 1988 and 1998, planned Caesarean section was associated with an approximately 40% increased risk of asthma while emergency Caesarean section was associated with a 60% increased risk.

The first question I asked after reading the research summary was why do Caesarean sections give an increased risk of asthma? Mette Christophersen Tollånes, the doctor who works for both the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, is the first author of the article ”Cesarean Section and Risk of Severe Childhood Asthma: A Population-Based Cohort Study” which is published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

"Babies who are born by Caesarean section are not exposed to their mothers’ bacteria during birth, which is detrimental for development of the immune system. The other theory is that babies born by Caesarean section have more breathing problems after birth because they are less exposed to stress hormones and compression of the chest, since these mechanisms contribute to emptying the lungs of amniotic fluid. Maybe this can negatively affect lung function in the long term," says Tollånes.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wham: Another Knockout Punch for Vitamin D

A new study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute has found that patients diagnosed with colon cancer who had abundant vitamin D in their blood were less likely to die during a follow-up period than those who were deficient in the vitamin. This study was conducted by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study appears in the June 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In it, the authors note that previous research has shown that higher levels of vitamin D reduce the risk of developing colon and rectal cancer by about 50 percent, but the effect on their later life wasn't known. To examine this question, the investigators, led by Dr. Kimmie Ng, and Dr. Charles Fuchs, both of Dana-Farber, analyzed data from two long-running epidemiologic studies whose participants gave blood samples and whose health has been monitored for many years.

They identified 304 participants in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Followup Study who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1991 and 2002. All had had vitamin D levels measured in blood samples given at least two years prior to their diagnosis. Each patient's vitamin D measurement was ranked by "quartiles" -- the top 25 percent, the next lowest 25 percent, and so on. Those whose levels were in the lowest quartile were considered deficient in vitamin D.

The researchers followed the 304 patients until they died or until 2005, whichever occurred first. During that period, 123 patients died, with 96 of them dying from colon or rectal cancer. The researchers then looked for associations between the patients’ previously measured vitamin D blood levels and whether they had died or survived.

The results showed that individuals with the vitamin D levels in the highest quartile were 48 percent less likely to die (from any cause, including colon cancer) than those with the lowest vitamin D measurements. The odds of dying from colon cancer specifically were 39 percent lower.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wham: Resveratrol and Anti-Obesity, a Positive Connection

A new study shows that resveratrol (a compound present in grapes and red wine) reduces the number of fat cells and may one day be used to treat or prevent obesity. This is one more in a long list of recent press articles about this compound and its positive health benefits.

The results of this study will be presented at The Endocrine Society’s 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Previous research has found that resveratrol protected lab mice that were fed a high-calorie diet from the health problems of obesity, by mimicking the effects of calorie restriction (reported earlier in Sham vs. Wham). Researchers at the University of Ulm in Germany wanted to know if resveratrol could mimic the effects of calorie restriction in human fat cells by changing their size or function. The German team used a strain of human fat cell precursors, called preadipocytes. In the body, these cells develop into mature fat cells.

The study’s lead author, Pamela Fischer-Posovszky, PhD, a pediatric endocrinology research fellow in the university’s Diabetes and Obesity Unit, reports they found resveratrol inhibited the pre-fat cells from increasing, preventing them from converting into mature fat cells. Also, resveratrol hindered fat storage. Most interesting was that resveratrol reduced production of certain substances that may be linked to the development of obesity-related disorders, such as diabetes and clogged coronary arteries. Also, resveratrol stimulated formation of a protein known to decrease the risk of heart attack. (Obesity decreases this substance, called adiponectin).

The new finding is consistent with the theory that the resveratrol in red wine explains the French paradox, the observation that French people eat a relatively high-fat diet but have a low death rate from heart disease.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Testosterone Replacement Therapy Shows No Ties to Prostate Cancer

There's been a concern about prostate cancer on the part of older men who would like to receive testosterone replacement therapy. Good news for anyone in that situation . . . A new study, to be presented at the Endocrine Society’s 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, shows that men taking testosterone replacement have no more prostate cancer than similarly aged men not receiving testosterone.

Prostate cancer is a concern regarding testosterone therapy in older men, said lead author Aksam Yassin, MD, PhD, of the Clinic for Urology and Andrology of the Segeberger Clinics in Norderstedt, Germany. “Testosterone treatment stimulates the growth of an existing prostate cancer, but there is no evidence that it causes this type of cancer,” he said.

Therefore, it is a safe bet as long as you know that you do not have any existing cancer. A doctor's visit, including the digital rectal exam and a PSA test, would be required.

The risk of prostate cancer and testosterone deficiency increases with age. Therefore, it is possible that a prostate cancer may occur in an older man during testosterone replacement therapy, but these situations appear to be unrelated to treatment. His research, performed with scientists from Germany and the United Arab Emirates, aimed to determine if prostate cancer occurs more often with testosterone replacement therapy in men over 50. The average age of the 160+ men his group studied was 58 years.

There were no more prostate cancers in the group that received testosterone treatment than in the groups that did not. Moreover, the men receiving testosterone had smaller, less aggressive tumors than did the other men when they did show up with the cancer.

“There is increasing evidence that testosterone replacement therapy in testosterone-deficient men can improve their symptoms, such as decreased bone and muscle mass and low sex drive and depression,” he said. “In view of the many benefits of treatment and the results of our study, we believe it is acceptably safe to treat older men with testosterone if there is a good reason for treatment.”


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wham: Daytime Bright Lighting and Melatonin a Benefit to Dementia Patients

A lot of new research is going on in the area of natural treatments for dementia. Recently, the use of daytime bright lighting to improve the circadian rhythm of elderly persons was seen to be associated with a modest improvement in these adults' symptoms of dementia. It was interesting to see how the researchers also found that the use of melatonin supplements resulted in improved sleep. This research was reported in the June 11 issue of the journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA.

“In elderly patients with dementia, cognitive decline is frequently accompanied by disturbances of mood, behavior, sleep, and activities of daily living, which increase the caregiver burden and a risk of institutionalization,” the authors write. These symptoms have been associated with disturbances in circadian rhythm -- another word for our biological clock, that which gets us up in the morning and tells us its OK to be energetic in the daytime or sleepy at night.

Rixt F. Riemersma-van der Lek, M.D., of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam, and colleagues conducted a trial at 12 elderly group care facilities in the Netherlands that evaluated the effects of up to 3.5 years of daily supplementation of bright light and/or melatonin on a number of health outcomes, including symptoms of dementia and sleep disturbances. The study included 189 facility residents, average age 85.8 years; 90 percent were female and 87 percent had dementia.

Six of the facilities had bright lighting installed in ceiling-mounted fixtures. Lights were on daily between approximately 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Participants were randomized to receive evening melatonin (2.5 mg) or placebo and participated an average of 15 months (maximum period of 3.5 years) in the study. The researchers found that these bright lights lessened cognitive deterioration by 5 percent, and more significantlly reduced depressive symptoms by 19 percent. As you might imagine, lessening depressive symptoms in an elderly person has a lot to do with having less downstream ailments. The bright lights also slowed the onset of functional difficulties for these elderly patients by 53 percent.

Melatonin reduced the time to fall asleep by 19 percent and increased total sleep duration by 6 percent, but adversely affected caregiver ratings of withdrawn behavior and mood expressions. The addition of bright light turned around the adverse effect on mood. In combination with the bright light program, melatonin reduced aggressive behavior by 9 percent.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Traffic and Road Pollution Pushing Children into Allergies, Asthma

The closer your children live to roads, the higher their risk of developing allergies and asthma. New evidence blames traffic-related pollution for increasing these risks among children by more than fifty percent.

“Children living very close to a major road are likely to be exposed not only to a higher amount of traffic-derived particles and gases but also to a more freshly emitted aerosols which may be toxic,” wrote lead author of the research, Dr. Joachim Heinrich, of the German Research Center for Environment and Health at the Institute of Epidemiology, in Munich.

“Our findings provide strong evidence for the adverse effects of traffic-related air pollutants on atopic diseases as well as on allergic sensitization,” wrote Dr. Heinrich.

The results appeared in the second issue for June of the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study examined nearly 2,900 children at age four and more than 3,000 at age six to determine their rates of doctor-diagnosed asthma and/or allergy with relation to long-term exposure to traffic-related pollution. Their exposure to traffic pollutants was calculated as a function of the distance of their homes from major roads at birth and at two, three and six years of age. Parents were given questionnaires about their child’s respiratory diagnoses and symptoms, and their children were assessed for asthma, wheezing, sneezing and eczema.

Researchers found significant positive associations between distance to the nearest road and asthmatic bronchitis, hay fever, eczema and allergic sensitizations. They also found a distant-dependent relationship between proximity to the road and risk of allergic sensitization, with those living closest to major roads having a nearly 50 percent greater risk of allergic sensitization.

“We consistently found strong associations between the distance to the nearest main road and the allergic disease outcomes,” wrote Dr. Heinrich. “Children living closer than 50 meters to a busy street had the highest probability of getting allergic symptoms, compared to children living further away.”


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Too Much Weight Gain During Pregnancy Leads to Overweight, Unhealthy Babies

Children of mothers who gain more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy are more likely to be overweight at age seven, say researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in a study published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Children of mothers who are obese prior to pregnancy and gain excessive weight are at the greatest risk for obesity in their later childhood.

“Adherence to pregnancy weight gain recommendations may be a new and effective way to prevent childhood obesity, since currently almost half of U.S. women exceed these recommendations," says study leader Dr. Brian Wrotniak of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

The researchers reviewed data from 10,226 participants. This study looked at the children born at full-term gestation, and researchers evaluated socioeconomic and growth data during gestation, at birth and at age 7. Maternal data was collected at enrollment by using a questionnaire that included maternal pre-pregnancy weight, age and race. It appears that the first determinants of childhood obesity may begin when the baby is in the womb.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which makes recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy, the amount of weight women should gain during pregnancy depends on the mother’s weight status before pregnancy. Women at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight are encouraged to gain 25 to 35 pounds, while women who are overweight should stay between 15 to 25 pounds. Women who are underweight should gain more weight during pregnancy—between 28 and 40 pounds.

The authors say that encouraging pregnant women to adopt healthy eating practices and engage in aerobic physical activity could help them achieve appropriate weight gain and also help prevent obesity in their children.

Children whose mothers exceeded the recommended weight gain were 48 percent more likely to be overweight than children whose mothers stayed within the recommended weight gain.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

St. John's Wort Not Effective for ADHD

ADHD affects 3 to 12 percent of children in the United States. Up to 30 percent of these children do not respond to pharmaceutical medications or they have adverse effects such as nausea, insomnia, or weight loss from the medications. For these reasons, many parents seek alternative medicine for their children with ADHD. Complementary or alternative medicine treatments used for pediatric ADHD include massage, dietary changes, dietary supplements, and herbal treatments. In the United States, the most common herbal treatments used by children with ADHD are St John’s wort, Echinacea species, and Ginkgo biloba. Rhodiola rosea has also been reported to have an effect for ADHD.

However, recent research reported on in the June 11th issue of JAMA shows that children and teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who were treated with the herb St. John’s wort did not have any greater improvement in ADHD symptoms compared to those who received placebo.

Wendy Weber, N.D., Ph.D., of Bastyr University (Kenmore, WA) and colleagues conducted a clinical trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) with 54 children and adolescents with ADHD, age 6 to 17 years, to determine whether this agent was effective in lessening the severity of ADHD symptoms. Twenty-seven participants were randomly assigned to receive 300 mg standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin and 27 participants received a matched placebo, three times daily for eight weeks. Other medications for ADHD were not allowed during the trial.

The researchers found that there were no significant differences between the two groups in the change in ADHD rating scale scores from the start of the trial to week 8 and in change in scores rating inattentiveness and hyperactivity. There was also no difference in the proportion of participants who were rated as much or very much improved regarding ADHD symptoms on another measurement scale. No statistically significant difference was found between the two groups in the proportion of participants who experienced rashes, nausea/vomiting, headache, or sunburn during the trial.

“To our knowledge, this is the first placebo-controlled trial of H perforatum in children and adolescents. The results of this study suggest that administration of H perforatum has no additional benefit beyond that of placebo for treating symptoms of child and adolescent ADHD,” the authors write.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wham: Soy Supplement Reduces Hot Flashes in Menopausal Women

Researchers have found that a compound in soybeans is effective in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes in menopausal women.

The findings, by scientists at at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), appear in the first 2008 issue of Menopause, and they show a 52 percent reduction in the number of hot flashes among patients who consumed a soy supplement without evidence of negative side effects.

The medical world is always seeking a safe and effective alternative to hormone therapy. Hormone therapy yields the best results in treating hot flashes, but its long-term use could increase the risk of certain medical disorders such as coronary heart disease or stroke. In this case, the study found that patients who consumed the soy supplement showed a reduction in the number of hot flashes without taking hormones.

About 75 percent of all menopausal women are affected by hot flashes which are marked by the sudden, intense, feeling of heat caused by a decline in estrogen levels. With evidence that hot flashes are often uncommon in countries where a lot of soybeans are consumed, the research team at BIDMC decided to test a compound found abundantly in soy germ.

Researchers studied 147 menopausal women who were divided into three groups and instructed to take one soft-gel soy capsule a day. They tested two different concentrations, 40 mg or 60 mg, and compared them to a group taking a placebo. After 12 weeks, hot flash frequency was reduced by 52 percent in the 40 mg group and 51percent in the 60 mg group. (This compares with 39 percent in the placebo group, a rather high % for a placebo).

This study was funded by a research grant from Nichimo Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan. The company makes the soy ingredient which is available in the US as the supplement Effisoy®.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Wham: Steaming Food Can be a Nutritious Change of Pace

At our house, one of our summer rituals is the outdoor grill. I used to believe that nothing tasted better than a nice piece of fish cooked outdoors along with a variety of grilled veggies.

Recently, however, we bought one of those Chinese bamboo steamers -- a simple set of bamboo containers that stack on top of each other and which are placed over a wok or a pan of boiling water. The steam goes up through the interlocking bamboo racks and cooks your food in a short period of time.

We decided to put our wild salmon in the bamboo steamer, along with some of the veggies that would normally go alongside the fish on the grill.

WOW was it good. In fact, we are going to switch over permanently to cooking fish and vegetables via our bamboo steamer. The fish was so tasty - it didn't dry out as it often does via the grill and it had a wonderful flavor thanks to the fish sauce (available at any Chinese grocery) that we sprinkled on the small plate holding the fish inside the steamer rack.

Steaming food can be very nutritious, because little of the water soluble vitamins (B, C) escape as they would otherwise, and much of the extra fat in the fish is cooked out (you pour it off the plate you use in the steamer). While veggies can be overcooked easily, the stacking trays on the bamboo steamer allow you to put items such as potatoes closer to the steam than other, more sensitive foods. For us, steaming food has been a great change.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Sham: Grapefruit Seed Extract Adulteration - A Story of Deceit

The May 30th issue of HerbClip, a publication of the American Botanical Council, describes the horrible situation revolving around extracts of Grapefruit seed. As it turns out, there are few products if any that actually contain what the label says they are supposed to contain. The marketing of most Grapefruit seed extracts is a sham.

Grapefruit seed extract has been promoted over the years as a product with a very strong antimicrobial effect -- one that can heal a variety of diseases. It has also been considered an up-and-coming natural preservative for food and dietary supplements. Many of these claims appear to be true -- the problem is that most products sold in this category have bogus ingredient lists.

Many studies show that Grapefruit seed extracts are often adulterated with other antimicrobials, and they do not have much of the promised Grapefruit in them at all. One study referred to in the HerbClip article showed that 7 out of 9 of the products tested contained traditional antimicrobial preservatives.

There have been adverse events reported that deal with these adulterated Grapefruit seed extracts. For example, an interaction with the drug warfarin resulted in a man and woman in serious medical difficulties within three days of ingesting the adulterated extracts. Of the three brands of Grapefruit seed extract these two were taking, two showed no traces of Grapefruit seeds at all (one of the labels said 33% and another said it contained 100% Grapefruit seed extract). Based on the drug interaction with warfarin, we're not even certain that Grapefruit seeds had anything to do with the medical issues because these products contained little to none.

Luckily for us all, there are few products in the dietary supplement industry which have this same record of shame. Always buy from a reputable company, one that is known to be a supplier of quality-controlled extracts.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Wham: Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Have Strong Impact in Children with Diabetes

New findings by researchers at the Moores Cancer Center at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine show a strong connection between sun exposure and vitamin D on the risk of type 1 diabetes in children. This association comes on the heels of similar research findings by this same group regarding vitamin D levels and several major cancers.

Vitamin D is, once again, a major news item on the health front. This is the first study to show that higher serum levels of vitamin D are associated with reduced incidence rates of type 1 diabetes worldwide.

In this new study, the researchers found that populations living at or near the equator, where there is abundant sunshine (and ultraviolet B irradiance) have low incidence rates of type 1 diabetes. Conversely, populations at higher latitudes, where available sunlight is scarcer, have higher incidence rates. These findings add new support to the concept of a role of vitamin D in reducing risk of this disease.

Ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure triggers photosynthesis of vitamin D3 in the skin. This form of vitamin D also is available through diet and supplements. The study is published June 5 in the online version of the scientific journal Diabetologia.

Type 1 diabetes is the second most common chronic disease in children, second only to asthma. Every day, 1.5 million Americans deal with type 1 diabetes and its complications. About 15,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, where this disease is the main cause of blindness in young and middle-aged adults and is among the top reasons for kidney failure and transplants in youth and midlife.

“This research suggests that childhood type 1 diabetes may be preventable with a modest intake of vitamin D3 (1000 IU/day) for children, ideally with 5 to 10 minutes of sunlight around noontime, when good weather allows,” said the lead author. “Infants less than a year old should not be given more than 400 IU per day without consulting a doctor. Hats and dark glasses are a good idea to wear when in the sun at any age, and can be used if the child will tolerate them.”

In the paper the researchers call for public health action to address widespread vitamin D inadequacy in U.S. children.

“This study presents strong epidemiological evidence to suggest that we may be able to prevent new cases of type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Garland, lead author. “By preventing this disease, we would prevent its many devastating consequences.”


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wham: Resveratrol in Small Doses Has a Large Effect on Cardiac Health

A new study by an international team of researchers reports that low doses of resveratrol in the diet of middle-aged mice has a widespread influence on the genetic levers of aging and may confer special protection on the heart.

As you know by know, resveratrol is a key compound in red wine. We've had other articles here on the blog about the health value of red wine -- use the "search" function to pull them up.

Specifically, the researchers found that low doses of resveratrol mimic the effects of what is known as caloric restriction - diets with 20-30 percent fewer calories than a typical diet - that in numerous studies has been shown to extend lifespan and blunt the effects of aging.

Previous research has shown that resveratrol in high doses extends lifespan in invertebrates and prevents early mortality in mice given a high-fat diet. The new study, conducted by researchers from academia and industry, extends those findings, showing that resveratrol in low doses and beginning in middle age can elicit many of the same benefits as a reduced-calorie diet.

"Resveratrol is active in much lower doses than previously thought," says Tomas Prolla, a UW-Madison professor of genetics and a senior author of the new report.

The group explored the influence of the agent on heart, muscle and brain by looking for changes in gene expression in those tissues. As animals age, gene expression in the different tissues of the body changes as genes are switched on and off.

In short, a glass of wine or food or supplements that contain even small doses of resveratrol are likely to represent "a robust intervention in the retardation of cardiac aging," the authors note.

That finding may also explain the remarkable heart health of people who live in some regions of France where diets are soaked in saturated fats but the incidence of heart disease, a major cause of mortality in the United States, is low. In France, meals are traditionally complemented with a glass of red wine.

The new resveratrol study is also important because it suggests that caloric restriction, which has been widely studied in animals from spiders to humans, and resveratrol may govern the same master genetic pathways related to aging.

Personally, I'd rather enjoy a glass of red wine with a meal anytime as opposed to restricting my calorie intact to get the same effect!


Monday, June 2, 2008

Heavy Pot Smoking May Cause Structural Brain Damage

New research being published in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA publications, shows that ong-term, heavy cannabis use may be associated with structural abnormalities in areas of the brain known as the hippocampus and amygdala.

There has long been conflicting evidence regarding the long-term effects of cannabis use. The authors write, “Although growing literature suggests that long-term cannabis use is associated with a wide range of adverse health consequences, many people in the community, as well as cannabis users themselves, believe that cannabis is relatively harmless and should be legally available,” the authors write.

With nearly 15 million Americans using cannabis in a given month, 3.4 million using cannabis daily for 12 months or more and 2.1 million commencing use every year, there is a clear need to conduct robust investigations that clarify the long-term effect of cannabis use.

The research was conducted by Murat Yücel, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne, Australia, along with those from the University of Wollongong. They performed high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging on men who smoked more than five joints daily for more than 10 years. Their results were then compared with images from individuals who were not cannabis users. All participants also took a verbal memory test and were assessed for subthreshold (below the standard of disease diagnosis) symptoms of psychotic disorders, which include schizophrenia and mania.

The hippocampus, thought to regulate emotion and memory, and the amygdala, involved with fear and aggression, tended to be smaller in cannabis users than in controls (volume was reduced by an average of 12 percent in the hippocampus and 7.1 percent in the amygdala). Cannabis use also was associated with sub-threshold symptoms of psychotic disorders. “Although cannabis users performed significantly worse than controls on verbal learning, this did not correlate with regional brain volumes in either group,” the authors write.

There is ongoing controversy concerning the long-term effects of cannabis on the brain. These new findings challenge the widespread perception of cannabis as having limited effect on the health. Although modest use may not lead to significant neurotoxic effects, these results suggest that heavy daily use might indeed be toxic to human brain tissue. It's clear to me that those who seek a daily "buzz" need to reconsider the effect this habit is having on their body and mind.