Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Obesity in Children Going Undiagnosed

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 29, 2008

High Fat Diets Affect Your Biological Clock

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Study Shows Valuable Effects of Probiotics Taken with Antibiotics Regimen

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shade Grown Coffee: Delicious and Better for the Planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 22, 2008

Ties Found Between Psoriasis and Coronary Disease

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Low Carb Dieting and Impact on Cognitive Ability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 19, 2008

Cough Medicine Could Treat Prostate Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 15, 2008

Fertility Drugs and Cancer Connection

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vision Improvement Seen in Children Who Play Outdoors

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Alzheimers Results Shown from Existing Epilepsy Drug

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 8, 2008

Wham: The Power of Selenium to Offset Bladder Cancer Risk

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cell Phone Damages Memory and Nerve Cells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 6, 2008

More Good News for Wine Drinkers

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 5, 2008

Vitamin E and Chronic Muscle Inflammation

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Link Between Oral Health and Cardiovascular Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Abdominal Fat Tied to Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 1, 2008

Fast Food Connection to Alzheimers?

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

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

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

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

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

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