Monday, December 28, 2009

Pistachios Reduce Risk of Lung Cancer

“Pistachios are one of those good-for-you nuts, and 2 ounces per day could be incorporated into dietary strategies designed to reduce the risk of lung cancer without significant changes in body mass index,” said Ladia M. Hernandez, senior research dietitian in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

It's nice to know that there is a delicious tasting nut out there that actually has healthy properties, and in this case, is showing scientists a considerable benefit when consumed by those who would otherwise be at risk of certain cancers.

A diet that incorporates a daily dose of pistachios may help reduce the risk of lung and other cancers, according to data presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference, held Dec. 6-9. This is likely because vitamin E provides a degree of protection against certain forms of cancer. Higher intakes of gamma-tocopherol, which is a form of vitamin E, may reduce the risk of lung cancer. Pistachios are loaded with gamma-tocopherol.

“Pistachios are a good source of gamma-tocopherol. Eating them increases intake of gamma-tocopherol so pistachios may help to decrease lung cancer risk,” said Hernandez, the main author.

Pistachios are known to provide a heart-healthy benefit by producing a cholesterol-lowering effect and providing the antioxidants that are typically found in food products of plant origin. Hernandez and colleagues conducted a six-week, controlled clinical trial to evaluate if the consumption of pistachios would increase dietary intake and serum levels of gamma-tocopherol. Many experts will tell you that it is better to get your vitamin E through natural food sources than via supplements.

A pistachio-rich diet could potentially help reduce the risk of other cancers from developing as well, according to Hernandez.

“Because epidemiologic studies suggest gamma-tocopherol is protective against prostate cancer, pistachio intake may help,” she said. “Other food sources that are a rich source of gamma-tocopherol include nuts such as peanuts, pecans, walnuts, soybean and corn oils.” The study, conducted at Texas Woman’s University included 36 healthy participants who were randomized into either a control group or the intervention group consisting of a pistachio diet. There were 18 participants in the control group and 18 in the intervention group.

Hernandez and colleagues found a significant increase in energy-adjusted dietary intake of gamma-tocopherol at weeks three and four in those on the pistachio diet compared with those on the control diet. The similar effect was seen at weeks five and six among those on the pistachio diet compared with those on the control diet. For those on the pistachio diet, cholesterol-adjusted serum gamma-tocopherol was significantly higher at the end of the intervention period compared to baseline.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrex Undermines Aspirin’s Anti-Clotting Action

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System suggest that it may not be a good idea to combine the pharmaceutical drug Celebrex with a daily low-dose aspirin regimen. Millions of Americans take Celebrex for arthritis or other pain. Many, if they are middle-aged or older, also take a low-dose aspirin tablet daily to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Yet they may be getting little protection, because Celebrex keeps the aspirin from doing its job effectively.

Doctors frequently advise daily low-dose aspirin (81 mg) for patients who have heart conditions, notably a serious form of angina known as unstable angina, or for patients who are at risk of second heart attacks. Aspirin is well-known for its ability to discourage formation of blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke. In addition, arthritis patients who take Celebrex regularly are often put on low-dose aspirin because this is thought to counteract Celebrex’s own potential clot-promoting effect.

But there is a problem with this combination. In laboratory studies, University of Michigan researchers found that several drugs in the class to which Celebrex belongs interfere with aspirin’s ability to discourage blood clots, if the aspirin is taken in low doses. These results appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There are many people who take low-dose aspirin, perhaps as many as half of men over 50. If they are also prescribed Celebrex for arthritis or other pain, our results suggest that the Celebrex will probably interfere with the aspirin’s action,” says William L. Smith, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and chair of the biochemistry department at the University of Michigan Medical School.

“The greatest risk is having people take Celebrex who are taking aspirin for cardiovascular problems that are known to be mitigated by aspirin, including patients with unstable angina or those at risk for a second heart attack,” he says. In unstable angina, small clots form in arteries and interfere with blood flow. Previous studies of healthy subjects found no ill effect on blood clotting when Celebrex was combined with aspirin at higher doses, specifically a daily “regular” aspirin tablet (324 mg), Smith notes. So it may be that a higher aspirin dose, or spreading out the time between taking low-dose aspirin and Celebrex, will allow aspirin to be effective.

For many people, however, Aspirin’s undesirable effects on the gastrointestinal tract at higher doses when taken long-term would have to be taken into account.

More research is ongoing, as it will be important to determine if a balance in dose and/or dose regimens can be found so that aspirin and Celebrex can both be effective.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hibiscus a Possible Help for Hypertension

Hibiscus, an easily accessible and popular herb, has been shown in a recent study to be very good for reducing blood pressure in hypertensive people.

Hibiscus flowers have been used historically to treat high blood pressure, liver disease, and fever. It now turns out that in addition to ascorbic and citric acid (vitamin C), they contain a number of important vasoactive alkaloids, anthocyanins and quercetin, which may lay behind this blood-pressure benefit.

The study referred to was designed to compare the blood pressure lowering effects of “Sour tea,” made from Hibiscus sabdariffa, with ordinary black tea (Camellia sinensis) in type II diabetics with mild high blood pressure. Sixty such patients, none of whom were taking antihypertensive or lipid-lowering medications, were randomly assigned to drink one cup of Sour tea or black tea twice daily for one month. Each infusion was to be made with one tea sachet weighing 2 gm, placed in a teapot with 240 ml boiling water, and steeped for 20–30 minutes. They were permitted to add one cube of sugar.

The average systolic blood pressure (SBP) in the Hibiscus group decreased from 134.4 ± 11.8 mmHg at baseline to 112.7 ± 5.7 mmHg after 1 month, a robust 16% reduction. Among the black tea drinkers, the average SBP actually increased over the month, from 118.6 ± 14.9 mmHg at baseline to 127.3 ± 8.7 mmHg, a 7.3% rise. There were no statistically significant changes in mean diastolic blood pressure in either group.

Overall, the interventions were deemed “effective” (i.e., producing significant decreases in systolic pressure) in 48% of the Sour tea patients but only 15% of the black tea patients. The study was written up in the Journal of Human Hypertension, 2009; 23: 48–54). The findings are highly supportive of Hibiscus as a remedy for mild blood pressure elevations, in which the risks and costs of drug therapy may not be outweighed by their expected benefits, or in cases where a patient does not want to begin pharmaceutical treatment.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cigarettes Harbor Many Bacteria

A new international study conducted by centers in both the USA and France shows that cigarettes are "widely contaminated" with bacteria, including some known to cause disease in people. This work was done by researchers at the University of Maryland as well as at the Ecole Centrale de Lyon in France.

The research team describes the study as the first to show that "cigarettes themselves could be the direct source of exposure to a wide array of potentially pathogenic microbes among smokers and other people exposed to secondhand smoke." Their study will appear in an upcoming edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and the manuscript has been posted online.

Lead researcher Amy R. Sapkota, an assistant professor at UMD (Maryland) says, "We were quite surprised to identify such a wide variety of human bacterial pathogens in these products. The commercially-available cigarettes that we tested were chock full of bacteria, as we had hypothesized, but we didn't think we'd find so many that are infectious in humans," explains Sapkota, who holds a joint appointment with the University's Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health and the department of epidemiology and biostatistics.

"If these organisms can survive the smoking process - and we believe they can - then they could possibly go on to contribute to both infectious and chronic illnesses in both smokers and individuals who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke," Sapkota adds. Obviously scientists feel they need to learn more about the bacterial content of cigarettes, because these products are still used by more than a billion people worldwide.

Among the study's findings and conclusions:

* Commercially available cigarettes show a broad array of bacterial diversity, ranging from soil microorganisms to potential human pathogens;
* This is the first study to provide evidence that the numbers of microorganisms in a cigarette may be as "vast as the number of chemical constituents;"
* Hundreds of bacterial species were present in each cigarette, and additional testing is likely to increase that number significantly;
* No significant variability in bacterial diversity was observed across the four different cigarette brands examined: Camel; Kool Filter Kings; Lucky Strike Original Red; and Marlboro Red;
* Bacteria of medical significance to humans were identified in all of the tested cigarettes and included Acinetobacter (associated with lung and blood infections); Bacillus (some varieties associated with food borne illnesses and anthrax); Burkholderia (some forms responsible for respiratory infections); Clostridium(associated with foodborne illnesses and lung infections); Klebsiella (associated with a variety of lung, blood and other infections); and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (an organism that causes 10 percent of all hospital-acquired infections in the United States).

This research might account for the fact that the respiratory tracts of smokers are characterized by higher levels of bacterial pathogens.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Loneliness Can be Contagious

Research at the University of Chicago, the University of California San Diego and Harvard shows that loneliness can spread among groups of people like a bad cold.

Using data from a large-scale study that has been following health conditions for more than 60 years, a team of scholars found that lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. Gradually over time, a group of lonely, disconnected people moves to the fringes of social networks.

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,” said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left.”

Other members of the study team were James Fowler, Associate Professor at the University of California San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medicine in the Harvard Medical School. Before relationships are severed, people on the periphery transmit feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, who also become lonely. “These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater,” said Cacioppo.

Because loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical diseases that can shorten life, Cacioppo said it is important for people to recognize loneliness and help those people connect with their social group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.

These findings were published in the article, “Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network,” published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. For the study, the team examined records of a study which has been ongoing since 1949, including more than 5,200 people in what was originally a study of cardiovascular risk.

The study has since been expanded to include about 12,000 people, as the children and the grandchildren of the original group and others have been included to diversify the population sample. This study now includes more tests, including measures of loneliness and depression. The second generation in the study, which includes 5,124 people, was the primary focus of the loneliness research.

Researchers kept in touch with the subjects every two to four years and collected names of friends who knew the subjects. Those records became an excellent source of information about the people’s social networks.

By constructing graphs that charted the subjects’ friendship histories and information about their reports of loneliness, researchers were able to establish a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported fewer close friends. The data showed that lonely people “infected” the people around them with loneliness, and those people moved to the edges of social circles. The team found that the next-door neighbors in the survey who experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an increase in loneliness among their neighbors who were their close friends. The loneliness spread as the neighbors spent less time together.

Women, who are more likely to need emotional support, were more likely to report “catching” loneliness from others than were men. People’s chances of becoming lonely were more likely to be caused by changes in friendship networks than changes in family networks.

Research also shows that as people become lonely, they become less trustful of others, and a cycle develops that makes it harder for them to form friendships. Societies seem to develop a natural tendency to shed these lonely people, a pattern which makes it all the more important to recognize loneliness and deal with it before it spreads.

“Society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in the periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network from unraveling,” the authors said.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Soy Products May be Important for Fighting Colon Cancer

Scientists at the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, have identified a new class of therapeutic agents found naturally in soy that can prevent and possibly treat colon cancer, the third most deadly form of cancer. "Sphingadienes" (SDs) are natural lipid molecules found in soy that research shows may be the key to fighting colon cancer.

The study, led by Dr. Julie Saba, director of the Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital Oakland, will be published in the December 15, 2009 issue of Cancer Research. Soy has long been touted as protective against colon cancer, but Dr. Saba’s team made the groundbreaking discovery that SDs naturally found in soy may underlie the benefits of soy products. It is important for science to find the mechanism of action behind a natural product claim on something like this -- it lends much more credibility to the concept.

“It’s very exciting,” said Dr. Saba. “First, we are encouraged to find a natural molecule that could be consumed through soy products as a strategy to help prevent colon cancer. Second, this information is important because we can build on our understanding of the structure and metabolism of SDs in terms of developing new drugs to treat people who already have colon cancer. Uncovering how SDs exert their effects also helps us to find the most likely combinations of drugs that may work synergistically to eliminate cancer cells and mutant cells that could give rise to cancer.”

Future research is needed to identify the best way to deliver SDs and to confirm the overall toxicity when the compounds are used for extended time periods and in combination with other agents. Dr. Saba, who has already received two grants to continue her research, also hopes to determine if SDs are effective in protection against other cancers. While Dr. Saba acknowledges that future research is needed to determine if there are other components of soy that are beneficial in fighting colon cancer, she has no concerns suggesting more soy in the diet.

“I would be comfortable recommending soy products as a change in the diet that could protect against cancer. The more that soy is studied, the more of these protective agents are found, so it’s a very healthy diet choice," said this author.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Report Damns Chinese Drywall as Unsafe

There has long been a suspected link between Chinese drywall and toxic effects reported by thousands of U.S. homeowners. Their stand on this faulty product was strengthened Monday by three preliminary reports issued by the federal government.

The strongest link came from an analysis of air sampled inside dozens of homes containing drywall made in China. The study of 51 homes detected hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The investigators also examined materials such as copper pipes and wiring for corrosion. In the homes containing the problem drywall, there was a "strong association" between the high levels of hydrogen sulfide and the corrosion of the metals, he said. Many home owners have experienced corrosion and have, in fact, moved out of their homes due to this issue with the Chinese drywall. Insurers have generally not paid them.

It is absolutely amazing to me why consumers in the USA and other regions of the world continue to buy cheap, Chinese made products. This drywall is just the latest in a long string of health problems caused by Chinese goods. Each day, tens of thousands of consumers go into vitamin shops and buy Chinese manufactured dietary supplements. Major brands contain Chinese vitamin C, as one example. (Think twice next time before you pour a package of fizzy Vitamin C powder into a glass of water. It's right off the boat from China, despite the big brand name.)

Companies will always tell you that "We control our manufacturing process -- while it may be from China, we do the quality control." That didn't help the children who died from tainted Chinese milk products, and the quality control by US importers didn't prevent people from building sick homes with Chinese drywall.

Stick with companies that buck the trend and use high-quality manufacturing methods and extracts. These will generally not be sourced from China.


Monday, November 23, 2009

New Environmentally Friendly Plastic On the Horizon

A recent win by a team of pioneering South Korean scientists may put the spotlight on good uses of genetic technologies. It seems this group has succeeded in producing the polymers used for everyday plastics through bioengineering, rather than through the use of fossil fuel based chemicals. This groundbreaking research, which may now allow for the production of environmentally conscious plastics, is published in two papers in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering to mark the journal’s 50th anniversary.

Polymers are molecules found in everyday life in the form of plastics and rubbers, and they originate as products of fossil fuels. The Korean team, from KAIST University and the Korean chemical company LG Chem, led by Professor Sang Yup Lee focused their research on Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bio-based polymer which holds the key to producing plastics through natural and renewable resources.

The head of this lab and author, Dr. Lee, commented “The polyesters and other polymers we use everyday are mostly derived from fossil oils made through the refinery or chemical process. The idea of producing polymers from renewable biomass has attracted much attention due to the increasing concerns of environmental problems and the limited nature of fossil resources. PLA is considered a good alternative to petroleum based plastics as it is both biodegradable and has a low toxicity to humans.”

However, up until now PLA has been produced in a complex and expensive process, which has yielded only a small amount of commercially available bio-degradable plastic, which remains expensive. Now, through the use of a new strain of E.coli bacteria, the team has developed a one-stage process which produces polylactic acid and its copolymers through fermentation, the same kind of process used to make beer. This makes the renewable production of PLA and lactate-containing copolymers cheaper and more commercially viable.

“By developing a strategy which combines metabolic engineering and enzyme engineering, we’ve developed an efficient bio-based one-step production process for PLA and its copolymers,” said Lee. “This new strategy should be generally useful for developing other engineered organisms capable of producing various unnatural polymers by direct fermentation from renewable resources."


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Confirming What Mom Told Us . . .

It's nice to see that high-tech research programs produce results that correlate with what we've been told since birth by our mothers and other health experts.

Researchers at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Heinrich-Heine University, Düsseldorf, Germany, investigated the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake, plasma antioxidant micronutrient status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects aged 45 to 102 years. The result of this study of 193 patients was published in the August issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,and indicated higher cognitive performance in individuals with high daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Subjects with a high daily intake (about 400 g) of fruits and vegetables had higher antioxidant levels, lower indicators of free radical-induced damage against lipids as well as better cognitive performance compared to healthy subjects of any age consuming low amounts (less than 100 g/day) of fruits and vegetables.

These scientists recommend the modification of nutritional guidelines, specifically those aimed at intake of fruits and vegetables. They believe that eating these fruits and veggies should be encouraged to lower the prevalence of cognitive impairment.

“It is known that there is a strong association between fruit and vegetable intake and the natural antioxidant defenses of the body against free radicals. It is also known that bad nutritional habits increase the risk of developing cognitive impairment with and without dementia," says Dr. M. Cristina Polidori, author. "With this work we show a multiple link between fruit and vegetable intake, antioxidant defenses and cognitive performance, in the absence of disease and independent of age. Among other lifestyle habits, it is recommended to improve nutrition in general and fruit and vegetable intake in particular at any age, beginning as early as possible. This may increase our chances to remain free of dementia in an advanced age.”

These findings are independent of age, gender, body mass index, level of education, lipid profile and albumin levels, all factors able to influence cognitive and antioxidant status. The relevance of the findings is also strengthened by the fact that this was a relatively large number of subjects.

Further studies are planned that will include larger subject cohorts, patients with Alzheimer’s disease at different stages and patients with mild cognitive impairment without dementia.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Selenium Supplements and High Cholesterol

I have a love-hate relationship with selenium. As you know if you read the research on supplements, some studies say that selenium has a strong anti-cancer effect. Other studies say that overall mortality goes UP when taking selenium supplements. Now, a new research study published in a peer-reviewed publication Nutrition indicates that selenium may be linked to higher cholesterol readings in those who supplement. This one may push it over the edge for me on taking selenium supplements . . .

Scientists at the University of Warwick Medical School said consuming too much selenium can have adverse effects. While it has strong antioxidant properties, and the above-mentioned perception that it can reduce cancer risks, there is now an apparently legitimate concern that higher quantities of selenium found in some supplements may be a bad thing.

The scientists reached this conclusion after examining the relationship between plasma selenium concentrations (levels of selenium in the blood) with blood lipids (fats in the blood). A cross-sectional study of the1042 participants in the 2000-2001 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (United Kingdom) revealed that among those with higher plasma selenium (more than 1.20 µmol/L) there was an increase in the average total cholesterol level of 8 per cent (0.39 mmol/L (i.e. 15.1 mg/dL). Researchers also found a 10 per cent increase in non-HDL cholesterol levels, which is the bad cholesterol most closely linked to heart disease.

Making the final step linking high selenium intake, supplementation, and high cholesterol, the scientists noted that among the participants, 48.2 per cent admitted they regularly took additional selenium in supplement form. Of course, you never know about these kinds of studies. This research team may have had an anti-supplement bias going into the study -- and perhaps they didn't explore what OTHER common indicators this population group may have had. Still, I think we all need to look at the available information on selenium before deciding if it is the right thing to do for our own personal situation.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Transcendental Meditation: Nearly 50% Lower Rates of Heart Attack, Stroke, and Death in Heart Patients

Patients with coronary heart disease who practiced the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and death compared to nonmeditating controls, according to the results of a first-ever study presented during the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla., on Nov.16, 2009.

The trial was sponsored by a $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health–National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and was conducted at The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

The nine-year, randomized control trial followed 201 African American men and women, average age 59 years, with narrowing of arteries in their hearts who were randomly assigned to either practice the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique or to participate in a control group which received health education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.
The study found a 47 percent reduction in the combination of death, heart attacks, and strokes in the participants, along with a clinically significant (5 mm Hg average) reduction in blood pressure associated with decrease in clinical events, and significant reductions in psychological stress in the high-stress subgroup.

“Previous research on Transcendental Meditation has shown reductions in blood pressure, psychological stress, and other risk factors for heart disease, irrespective of ethnicity. But this is the first controlled clinical trial to show that long-term practice of this particular stress reduction program reduces the incidence of clinical cardiovascular events, that is heart attacks, strokes and mortality," says Robert Schneider, M.D., lead author.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kicking the Smoking Habit Improves Surgical Outcomes

Going for surgery? If so, the scientific evidence is clear -- smoking has a direct negative impact on postoperative outcomes. Quitting smoking is one of the best things people can do to improve their chances of recovering from surgery without complications.

I've never been a smoker, but I have people in my family who smoke, and although its a sensitive subject, they've told me in the past that they are "too far along" as a smoker to quit now. They believe that their lungs are now permanently affected. But did you know that the body begins to heal within hours of quitting? Twelve hours after a person has given up the habit, his or her heart and lungs already begin to function better, as the nicotine and carbon monoxide levels start dropping. It takes less than a day for blood flow to improve, which reduces the likelihood for post-operative complications.

David O. Warner, M.D., is chair of the Smoking Cessation Initiative Task Force. He says, “Every year, we care for up to 10 million smokers in surgery. We see the immense toll that smoking takes on a person’s body, but we also witness the tremendous benefits patients who stop smoking before surgery experience in their healing process.”

Because patients are advised to abstain from smoking for as long as possible both before and after surgery, it represents a golden opportunity for people to take action to quit. When confronted with surgery, many patients decide to take stock of their lives and change their behaviors. This defining moment is a great opportunity to commit to quitting, as it will have a significant impact on one’s quality of life for years to come.

Besides, patients who quit smoking heal better! In one study, more than half of patients who continued smoking after surgery developed complications compared to less than 20 percent who quit.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Alternate-Day Fasting Shows Promise for Dieters

A new type of dieting was recently studied by the University of Illinois at Chicago. While restricting daily calorie intake is a common plan to help obese and overweight people slim down to healthier weights, this would generally require a 15-40 percent calorie reduction, which makes sticking to the diet hard for many.

Researchers in Chicago have found that a modified version of a plan called "alternate-day fasting" may be easier for most people and that it has the added bonus of improving cardio health. The findings appear in the November 1 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"This diet has been around about 20 years, but its effect on weight loss hadn't really been studied," said Krista Varady, assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition, who led the UIC research team. The 10-week trial studied 16 clinically obese people -- 12 women and four men -- between the ages of 35 and 65 who all weighed more than 210 pounds, had kept their weight stable for the previous three months, and had body mass indexes of between 30 and 39.9.

On fast days, participants ate the equivalent of between 20 and 25 percent of their normal daily energy needs. Weight loss ranged from 10 to 30 pounds; the researchers expected an average loss of only five pounds. Blood pressure and heart rate were also lowered, along with total cholesterol and circulating fat levels.

Varady hopes now to study the effects of staying on the diet for at least six months, looking for evidence of self-motivation and to see if the diet helps in maintaining proper weight. "Why are some able to do it but others not? It takes about two weeks to adjust to the diet, after which people don't feel hungry on the fast day," she said.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Children Who Drink Full-Fat Milk Weigh Less

A recent thesis presented at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that eight-year-old children who drink full-fat milk every day have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than those who seldom drink milk. The study showed that children who drink full-fat milk every day weigh on average just over 9 lbs less.

"This is an interesting observation, but we don't know why it is so. It may be the case that children who drink full-fat milk tend also to eat other things that affect their weight. Another possible explanation is that children who do not drink full-fat milk drink more soft drinks instead," says dietician Susanne Eriksson, author of the thesis.

The scientists also discovered a difference between overweight children who drink full-fat milk every day and those who do not. Children who often drink milk with a fat content of 3% are less overweight. The thesis shows also that the children eat more saturated fat than recommended, but those children who have a high intake of fat have a lower BMI than the children with a lower intake of fat.

Susanne Eriksson has investigated the nutrition, body composition and bone mineralization of 120 healthy 8-year-olds. Much of the results can now be used as a standard to determine what is normal for healthy children at that age. The children recounted what they had eaten during the previous day, and answered questions concerning how often they ate certain foods. Various risk markers in the children's blood were also measured.

"Many of these children had been examined when they were four years old, and we discovered that their eating habits were pretty much unchanged four years later. It appears to be the case that eating habits are established early", says Susanne Eriksson.

The thesis found that 62% of the children had low levels of vitamin D in their blood. The general guideline value for all people for vitamin D is 75-100 nmol/l, but most children had less than this. High levels of vitamin D are found in oily fish, while certain dairy products have been fortified with additional vitamin D. It can be difficult to obtain sufficient levels of the vitamin through the diet.

"We could not determine whether the children's level of vitamin D is correlated with their consumption of fish, but we did see that those children who ate oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, at least once a week have higher values of the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA in their blood. This shows how important it is to eat such fish, instead of processed fish such as fish fingers", says Susanne Eriksson.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green Tea Extract as Chemoprevention Agent for Oral Cancer

Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have been working with green tea extracts, and recently published the news that this extract has shown promise as a cancer prevention agent for oral cancer in patients with a pre-malignant condition known as oral leukoplakia.

Their study has been published online in Cancer Prevention Research, and is the first to examine green tea as a chemopreventative agent in this high-risk patient population. In studying the data after the study, researchers found that more than half of the oral leukoplakia patients who took the extract had a clinical response. This is significant because according to the American Cancer Society, more than 35,720 are expected to be diagnosed annually with oral and/or pharynx cancer and the five-year survival rate is less than 50 percent.

Green tea is rich in polyphenols, which have been known to inhibit carcinogenesis in preclinical models, and it has long been investigated in laboratory, epidemiological and clinical settings for several cancer types. We've written up many of these reports in this blog. Still, clinical results have been mixed.

"While still very early, and haven't yet had definitive proof that green tea is an effective preventive agent. These results certainly encourage more study for patients at the highest risk for oral cancer," said Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou, M.D., professor at M. D. Anderson and the study's senior author. "The extract's lack of toxicity is attractive - in prevention trials, it's very important to remember that these are otherwise healthy individuals and we need to ensure that agents studied produce no harm."

This was a Phase II dose-finding study, and 41 M. D. Anderson oral leukoplakia patients were randomized between August 2002 and March 2008 to receive either green tea extract or placebo. Participants took the extract, an oral agent, for three months at one of three doses, for three times daily. To best assess biomarkers, participants also underwent a baseline and 12-week biopsy, an important component in the design of the study, the researchers say.

Of those taking green tea at the two highest doses, 58.8 percent had a clinical response, compared with 36.4 percent in the lowest extract dose and 18.2 percent in the placebo arm. At an extended follow-up with a mean of 27.5 months, 15 participants had developed oral cancer, with a median time to disease development of 46.4 months.
Although not statistically significant, the green tea extract also improved histology and trended towards an improvement in a number of biomarkers that may play a vital role in predicting cancer development.

Another important finding, say the researchers, was that that the extract was well tolerated. Side effects, including insomnia and nervousness, were mostly seen in the high-dose group but produced no significant toxicity.The researchers said that the green tea extract studied in this trial was exclusively developed as a pharmaceutical.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reduction in Heat-Processing of Foods Reduces Risk of Chronic Disease

I found this particular news story fascinating. It appears that there is a dramatic health difference that one can make simply by eliminating certain types of cooking practices. I'm going to give this a try immediately. Antioxidants are great, but if one could eliminate the oxidants to begin with . . .

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine report that cutting back on the consumption of processed and fried foods, which are high in toxins called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs), can reduce inflammation and actually help restore the body’s natural defenses regardless of age or health status. These benefits are present even without changing caloric or nutrient intake.

This study, published in the October/November issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, provides a simple dietary intervention that could result in weight loss and have significant impact on several epidemic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

The findings are the result of a clinical study involving over 350 people which was conducted in collaboration with, and with support from, the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The study builds on earlier research conducted in animal models that demonstrated the effective prevention of these diseases and even the extension of lifespan by consuming a reduced AGE diet.

“What is noteworthy about our findings is that reduced AGE consumption proved to be effective in all study participants, including healthy persons and persons who have a chronic condition such as kidney disease,” said the study’s lead author Helen Vlassara, MD, Professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“This suggests that oxidants may play a more active role than genetics in overwhelming our body’s defenses, which we need to fight off disease. It has been said that nature holds the power, but the environment pulls the trigger. The good news is that unlike genetics, we can control oxidant levels, which may not be an accompaniment to disease and aging, but instead due to the cumulative toxic influence of AGEs,” said Dr. Vlassara.

AGEs are harmful substances that are abundant in Western diets, and which proliferate when foods are heated, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried or grilled. Once absorbed in the body, AGEs adhere to tissues and oxidize them, causing inflammation which in turn can lead to disease. AGEs may increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and other chronic conditions.

For the study, a subset of 40 healthy participants who were either between the ages or 18 and 45 or older than 60, and another nine patients with kidney disease, were randomly assigned to one of two diets. One group followed their own regular Western diet that was rich in AGEs. The second group followed a diet of similar caloric and nutrient content, but with only one-half the amount of AGEs, known as the “AGE-less diet.” Participants in the AGE-less intervention were advised to avoid grilling, frying or baking their food and instead were instructed to poach, stew, or steam their meals. There was no change in calories or nutrient intake during this period.

After four months on the AGE-less diet, blood AGE levels, lipid peroxides, inflammatory markers, and biomarkers of vascular function declined by as much as 60 percent in healthy participants. A reduction of similar magnitude was found in kidney patients after only one month on the AGE-less diet.

The investigators believe that daily AGE consumption in the standard Western diet is at least three times higher than the safety limit for these oxidants. This could, in part, explain the changes seen in disease demographics.

Dr. Vlassara cautioned, “Even though the AGEs pose a more immediate health threat to older adults, they are a similar danger for younger people, including pregnant women and children, and this needs to be addressed. AGEs are ubiquitous and addictive, since they provide flavor to foods. But they can be controlled through simple methods of cooking, such as keeping the heat down and the water content up in food and by avoiding pre-packaged and fast foods when possible. Doing so reduces AGE levels in the blood and helps the body restore its own defenses.”


Monday, November 2, 2009

Lower Cholesterol in Men Lowers Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

As with any cancer, prostate cancer affects different people in different ways. My Dad, who died of prostate cancer in his early sixties, was unfortunate in that he had what is known as a "high-grade" version of the disease. It didn't take long from the time of discovery to his death, which is unusual because prostate cancer is so often treatable. But his tumors were fueled by this high-grade, aggressive nature.

New research from Johns Hopkins has shown that if men can lower their cholesterol levels, they are less likely than those with higher levels to develop this high-grade prostate cancer - a form of the disease with a poorer prognosis, according to results of this collaborative study.

In this study of more than 5,000 U.S. men, epidemiologists say they now have evidence that having lower levels of heart-clogging fat may cut a man's risk of this form of cancer by nearly 60 percent.

“For many reasons, we know that it’s good to have a cholesterol level within the normal range,” says Elizabeth Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H. (Johns Hopkins' Kimmel Cancer Center). “Now, we have more evidence that among the benefits of low cholesterol may be a lower risk for potentially deadly prostate cancers.”

For men at prostate cancer age, normal range is defined as less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) of total cholesterol. Platz and her colleagues found similar results in a study first published in 2008, and in 2006, she linked use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to lower risk of advanced prostate cancer. For the current study, Platz and her collaborators analyzed data from 5,586 men aged 55 and older enrolled in the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial from 1993 to 1996. Some 1,251 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer during the study period.

Men with cholesterol levels lower than 200 mg/dL had a 59 percent lower risk of developing high-grade prostate cancers, which tend to grow and spread rapidly. High-grade cancers are identified by a pathological ranking called the Gleason score. Scores at the highest end of the scale, between eight and 10, indicate cancers considered the most worrisome to pathologists who examine samples of the diseased prostate under the microscope.

In Platz’s study, cholesterol levels had no significant effect on the entire spectrum of prostate cancer incidence, only those that were high-grade, she says. Results of the study are expected to be published online Nov. 3 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Also in the journal is an accompanying paper from the National Cancer Institute showing that lower cholesterol in men conferred a 15 percent decrease in overall cancer cases.


Friday, October 30, 2009

"Energy Healings" - Hype or Healthy?

I live in Sedona, Arizona, a somewhat new-age community where there is an "energy healer" on every block. But in the off-chance that you may not have this luxury, let me describe what I'm talking about. There's a new study just published in a respected scientific journal that reviews the science behind a growing, worldwide interest in what the authors call "biofield therapies." These therapies are often practiced under common names such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch and Healing Touch.

Biofield therapies, which claim to use subtle energy to stimulate the body's healing process, are promising complementary interventions for pain reduction in a number of conditions, reducing anxiety for hospitalized patients and reducing agitated behaviors in dementia, over and above what standard treatments can achieve. However, longer-term effects are less clear. Dr. Shamini Jain (UCLA) and Dr. Paul Mills (University of California, San Diego) published their review of the science behind biofield therapies in this week's Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

A significant number of patients use Reiki, Therapeutic Touch or Healing Touch despite very little which proves that they work. These techniques have been used over millennia in various cultural communities to heal physical and mental disorders. They have only recently been under the scrutiny of current Western scientific methods.

Jain and Mills did a detailed review of 66 clinical studies looking at biofield therapies in different patient populations with a range of ailments. They examine the strength of the evidence for the efficacy of these complementary therapies. While they consider the published work on this science to be of average quality, in scientific terms, they do indeed find strong evidence that biofield therapies reduce pain intensity in free-living populations, and moderate evidence that they are effective at lowering pain in hospitalized patients as well as in patients with cancer.

There is also moderate evidence that these therapies ease agitated behaviors in dementia and moderate evidence that they reduce anxiety in hospitalized patients. The authors found inconclusive evidence for biofield therapies on symptoms of fatigue and quality of life in cancer patients, as well as for overall pain reduction, and anxiety management in cardiovascular patients. It is clear from this analysis of the data that something is going on with Biofield therapy work, and that some people can benefit greatly from the practice.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The War over Hormone Replacement Therapy Evens Out

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopausal estrogen deficiency has been in widespread use for over 60 years. Several observational studies over the years have shown that HRT use by younger postmenopausal women has been associated with a significant reduction in total mortality. Until 2002 and the publication of a large and negative study, HRT was supported by the available evidence because it appeared to increase longevity in postmenopausal women.

That changed after the publication of the "Women’s Health Initiative" or WHI study, which received a great deal of publicity. This trial indicated increased risk for negative outcomes in older women. Since then, there has been rigorous debate regarding whether Hormone Replacement Therapy is beneficial or harmful. Now, in an article published in the November 2009 issue of The American Journal of Medicine, researchers write about a very large review of all the available data using a scientific method of analysis called "Bayesian methods." During this new research it was concluded that HRT almost certainly decreases mortality in younger postmenopausal women.

The authors pooled results from 19 randomized trials that included age-specific data from the earlier WHI trial, with 16,000 younger postmenopausal women (mean age 55 years) followed for 83,000 patient-years, and showed that the mortality relative risk was much less than had been earlier stated.

Shelley R. Salpeter, MD, says in the article, “It is clear that these findings need to be interpreted in the light of potential benefits and harms of hormone therapy. The available evidence indicates that hormone therapy in younger postmenopausal women increases the risk of breast cancer and pulmonary embolism and reduces the risk of cardiovascular events, colon cancer, and hip fracture."

The reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease, fracture, and colon cancer outweighed the increase in deaths from breast cancer, stroke and pulmonary embolism. Is it a wash in your case? Talk to your doctor. He or she may tell you that in addition to this mortality benefit, hormone therapy in younger women provides an improvement in quality-of-life measures, at least in the first few years of treatment.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Propolis Products with Many Benefits

There has been a lot written about certain functional foods which prevent or reduce the risk of suffering from certain illnesses. One of them, propolis, has been known about for ages and was just recently written up in a review published by Basque Research. The identification and extraction of propolis from beehives is an industry in Basque country (Spain) and it enables the development of high value products worldwide -- products with uniquely high concentrations of biologically active compounds.

Propolis is the resinous substance that bees gather from the leaf buds of trees and certain vegetables. They transform it and use it to disinfect the beehive, seal cracks, or to build panels. Propolis is also used by bees as an anti-microbial agent and embalming substance for intruders. Propolis is directly responsible for guaranteeing the aseptic nature of the beehive. Were it not for propolis, beehives would develop viruses and bacteria given their conditions of temperature and humidity.

Most of the promising biologically active compounds (those with proven pharmacological abilities) come from the fractions of resins and balsams this compound contains. Due to the great number of active ingredients, a tincture (alcoholic extract) of propolis is the most often-used delivery form for its therapeutic properties. Notable amongst its properties are its antioxidant and anti-microbial action; in Basque country, it has been shown to have healing, analgesic, anaesthetic and anti-inflammatory activities.

Testing in Basque country showed strong antioxidant properties for propolis. The antioxidant activity trials provided knowledge about the capacity of the product for neutralizing free radicals. These radicals represent damaged molecules and are capable of causing damage at cell level --causing the onset of future degenerative illnesses, such as cancer, Alzeheimer, and so on.

Propolis also shows strong antimicrobial properties, and was tested against a variety of microbes. Microbial growth was shown to be inhibited in the presence of different concentrations of propolis. The minimum inhibitory concentrations were produced at very low concentrations of propolis, thus corroborating the high antimicrobial potential of the product.

It is my belief that propolis is another of nature's tools to protect humankind from the continued onslaught of new and nastier microorganisms.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hepatitis: Drinking Coffee Slows Progression of Liver Disease

Patients with chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease who drink three or more cups of coffee per day have a 53% lower risk of liver disease progression than non-coffee drinkers. This research has been published in a new study led by Neal Freedman, Ph.D., MPH (National Cancer Institute). The study found that patients with hepatitis C-related bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis who did not respond to standard disease treatment benefited from increased coffee intake. An effect on liver disease was not observed in patients who drank black or green tea. Findings of the study appear in the November issue of Hepatology, a journal published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects approximately 2.2% of the world’s population (with more than 3 million Americans infected). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites HCV as the leading cause of liver transplantation in the U.S. and accounts for 8,000 to 10,000 deaths in the country annually. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 3 to 4 million persons contract HCV each year with 70% becoming chronic cases that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

That's why this major study is important, as it shows a very significant effect for a very common beverage. This study included 766 participants who had hepatitis C-related bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis and failed to respond to standard treatment of the common anti-viral drugs. At the onset of the study, patients were asked to report their typical frequency of coffee intake and portion size over the past year.

Results showed that participants who drank 3 or more cups of coffee per day had a relative risk of .47 for reaching one of the clinical outcomes. Researchers did not observe any association between tea intake and liver disease progression, though tea consumption was low in the study. “Given the large number of people affected by HCV it is important to identify modifiable risk factors associated with the progression of liver disease,” said Dr. Freedman. “Although we cannot rule out a possible role for other factors that go along with drinking coffee, results from our study suggest that patients with high coffee intake had a lower risk of disease progression.”


Friday, October 23, 2009

Hookworms as an Allergy Cure?

A study conducted in Vietnam has added further weight to the view that parasitic gut worms, such as hookworm, may be able to help researchers develop new therapies for the prevention and treatment of asthma and allergies.

Dr Carsten Flohr (The University of Nottingham) and Dr Luc Nguyen Tuyen (Khanh Hoa Provincial Health Service, Vietnam) collaborated on this study, which is the largest double-blind placebo controlled clinical trial to date looking at the potential links between hookworm and other gut worm infections and allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema.

This research does not suggest that we all run out and find some gut parasites to infect us -- instead, it points out that in certain populations where poor hygiene practices allow the citizenry to catch these parasites, the amount of allergies and asthma is much lower than in more "developed" nations. In countries such as Vietnam, scientists find that as these hygienic practices improve, the incidence of allergies and asthma goes up. Experts believe that over millions of years of co-evolution worms have found methods to dampen down host immune responses to prolong their own survival inside humans. This relationship seems to have become so intertwined that without gut worms or other parasites, our immune system can become unbalanced, which in turn could contribute to the development of asthma and other allergies.

Dr Flohr’s study was conducted in a rural area of central Vietnam where two out of three children have hookworm and other gut parasite infections and where allergies are extremely rare. More than 1,500 schoolchildren aged 6-17 took part.

The team investigated whether repeated tablet treatments to clear the body of gut worms made it more likely for children to develop allergic conditions. The treated children were found to have a significantly increased risk of a positive allergy skin test to house-dust mites and cockroach. This suggests that gut worms have the potential to tone down human immune responses, and as a result further research is now needed to identify precisely how gut parasite infection can prevent allergic sensitization.

Dr Carsten Flohr of The University of Nottingham adds: “The next step is to understand exactly how and when gut parasites program the human immune system in a way that protects against allergic sensitization, and for such studies, follow-up from birth will be essential.”

We may someday soon discover something about the way that hookworms adapt our immune system which will allow us to develop a therapy to mimic that action, saving countless millions from the agony of allergies and asthma.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Social Isolation Actually Spurs Growth of Cancer

My apologies for the absence of new blog posts over the first part of October. My travel schedule was rough; at one point, I delivered one presentation each day while traveling to various universities on the East Coast, from the University of Maryland (Baltimore) to Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, Duke and UNC Chapel Hill. The Sham vs. Wham publication schedule at this point will go back to normal.

Recently a study was published in Cancer Prevention Research (a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research) which explored the health dangers of being isolated socially. It turns out that one's social environment can play an important role in the biology of disease, including breast cancer, and lead to significant differences in health outcomes.

"This study uses an elegant preclinical model and shows that social isolation alters expression of genes important in mammary gland tumor growth,” said the journal’s Deputy Editor, Dr. Caryn Lerman. The studies were done in mice, in a "model system" set up to mimic what happens in the human body.

Previous results from clinical studies have indicated that social support can improve the health outcome of patients with breast cancer. Epidemiological studies have suggested that social isolation increases the mortality risk from several chronic diseases, and not just breast cancer.

Author Suzanne D. Conzen, M.D. (University of Chicago) along with colleagues from the Institute of Mind and Biology at the same university, evaluated whether an unfavorable social environment could influence tumor growth in mice that are genetically predisposed to mammary gland cancer. They found that female mice that were chronically stressed because of social isolation (from the time they were first separated from their mothers) developed significantly larger mammary gland tumors compared to those mice that were group-housed. Additionally, the isolated mice developed a heightened corticosterone stress hormone response.

“... Living in the stressful environment was associated with greater tumor size, suggesting that the social environment may in fact alter the biology of cancer growth," Conzen said. Further research is needed to focus on which specific cell types the changes in gene expression are taking place. This knowledge could potentially lead to interventions that block similar pathways favoring the growth of human breast cancer.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Deceptive Practices in the Yogurt Business?

A recent class action lawsuit against Dannon resulted in a $35 million out of court settlement, which as you know, means that a lot of consumers will get a 50 cent discount on yogurt while the attorneys take home millions in legal fees. But, at least it taught this manufacturer a lesson that it cannot tout health benefits that are not there.

It has been announced that the same firm which succeeded with Dannon is now going after General Mills, which is being sued over probiotic claims once again (like Dannon) for its products in the Yo-Plus lineup. The action was brought to a Florida court and it claims that General Mills has made misleading and completely unsubstantiated gut health claims.

The lawsuit claims that the General Mills’ statements were “immoral, unethical, unscrupulous and substantially injurious to consumers”, and in breach of both its contract with consumers and its warranties. Wow, that's a fairly broad argument, especially throwing in morality and all. The claims in question suggest Yo-Plus could regulate digestive health benefits that other similar products could not.

General Mills told an industry reporter that it would not comment on ongoing litigation. Yo-Plus contains the Bifidobacterium lactis strain BB12 and is one of the best-selling probiotic products in the US, behind Dannon’s spoonable yougurt, Activia, and drinkable one-shot yogurt, DanAactive (the subjects of the earlier lawsuit). The lawyers state that not only do studies conducted by General Mills fail to support their claims, some of them, “flatly contradict” them.

I hate class action lawsuits. But I guess my opinion is that if there is no other way to clean up faulty claims, than a large penalty should make most companies pay attention. I just wish that someone would benefit other than the attorneys, or that they would give a significant portion of their earnings back to some non-profit in the natural products industry.

Let's face it -- you can't get a significant dose of probiotics from a yogurt. It just ain't there. You need BILLIONS of colony forming bacteria, and there isn't a yogurt manufacturer today putting that quantity of this expensive ingredient into a yogurt. If you want to try a great tasting product with 20 Billion CFU's per serving, try somethlng like Good Belly, the wonderful little fruit drink in a shot-glass sized container. (We have no affiliation - that's a personal recommendation only).


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Study Shows Probiotics Easing Anxiety

In a study done earlier this year, one of those "good bacteria," Lactobacillus casei (strain Shirota) has been shown to ease symptoms of anxiety in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It seems that two months of supplementation with the bacterial strain was associated with a decrease in anxiety symptoms, according to findings published in the journal Gut Pathogens.

University of Toronto researchers recruited 39 chronic fatigue patients and randomly assigned them to receive daily supplements of either Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota or placebo for two months. The probiotic used was a relatively strong one, with 24 billion colony forming units per dose.

At the end of the study, the researchers reported significant increases in the faecal levels of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in people receiving the bacterial strain, compared to placebo. A significant reduction in the symptoms of anxiety was recorded in the Lactobacillus group.

“These results lend further support to the presence of a gut-brain interface, one that may be mediated by microbes that reside or pass through the intestinal tract,” wrote the authors, led by Dr. Venket Rao from the University of Toronto.

The researchers admitted the research was preliminary and raises many questions regarding the mechanism of action. “The results of the present study should be viewed simply as a stimulus for further research,” they added.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Can CoEnzyme Q-10 Slow Progression of Parkinson's Disease?

A large scale, multi-center clinical trial is underway on one of the supplement industry's hottest sellers -- the product CoEnzyme Q-10. Rush University Medical Center is participating in this trial taking place in the U.S. and Canada to determine whether this vitamin-like substance, in high doses, can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects about one million people in the United States.

“The very best therapies we have for Parkinson’s can only mask the symptoms – they do not alter the underlying disease,” said neurologist Dr. Katie Kompoliti, a specialist in movement disorders at Rush. “Finding a treatment that can slow the degenerative course of Parkinsons’s is the holy grail of Parkinson’s research.”

Coenzyme Q10 is produced naturally in the body and is an important link in the chain of chemical reactions that produce energy in mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of cells. The enzyme is also a potent antioxidant – a chemical that "mops up" potentially harmful chemicals generated during normal metabolism.

In the Phase III trial, the highest dose of 1,200 mg. appears promising. Over the course of 16 months, patients taking this dose experienced significantly less decline than other patients in motor (movement) function and ability to carry out activities of daily living, such as feeding or dressing themselves.

But researchers cited the need for a more extensive review to confirm the results. In the present trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological and Disorders and Stroke, 600 patients will be enrolled at 60 centers in the U.S. and Canada. Two dosages of coenzyme Q10 are being tested,1,200 mg and 2,400 mg, delivered in maple nut-flavored chewable wafers that also contain vitamin E.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Cocoa Benefits the Cardiovascular System

I enjoy reading "HerbClip," a summary of recent news about plant-based health benefits. The newsletter is published by the American Botanical Council, an important organization in the USA (and one that is very active globally as well). Plants have few champions -- I'd say that the ABC is one of the most important voices. (Click on the headline of this post to visit the homepage of non-profit ABC).

Herbclip recently described many of the findings on this plant, one that has been shown to have a great benefit to the cardiovascular system. An interesting piece of research was published earlier this year in the journal Circulation.

In the piece from Circulation, the authors describe a bit of history for cocoa. Cocoa consumption dates back to 1600 BCE and was introduced from the New World to the Europeans in the 16th century. Cocoa is processed in many different ways, and of course the major processing method led to the development of chocolate. Purported health benefits of cocoa consumption include improvements in heart function, digestion, and kidney and bowel function. However, in a discussion of cocoa's health benefits, It is very important to distinguish between the natural product cocoa and the processed product chocolate, because the fat and sugar content of chocolate really does nothing healthy. The authors note in their research article that the effects of cocoa may not apply to chocolate.

The Kuna Indians, a tribe indigenous to islands off the coast of Panama, was the first population to show health benefits from cocoa consumption. The Kunas consume what is considered to be huge amounts of cocoa and yet they have "markedly lower" cardiovascular mortality than other Pan-American citizens and no age-dependent increase in blood pressure or decline in kidney function. This by itself is a strong pointer to what could be gained by more cocoa consumption.

The authors point out that this mechanism is environmental and not genetic, because these cocoa benefits are lost after migration to urban Panama City where cocoa is replaced with lower flavanol content foods. A number of other cited studies shows that the health benefits of cocoa may be linked to its constituent flavonoids (e.g., flavanols and procyanidins)—a subgroup of polyphenols. Both the flavanol content and the total antioxidant capacity have been shown to increase plasma after cocoa consumption.

These same biocompounds (flavanols) can be found in high concentrations in grape juice, wine, and various berries. In cocoa, conventional chocolate processing can markedly reduce the levels of flavanols. Detrimental effects to the healthy content include roasting or fermenting the beans. In addition, the location where the cacao beans are grown also determines the flavanol content.

Research has shown that cocoa consumption affects nitric oxide levels in a positive way, increasing its production in humans. Cocoa flavanols have also been shown to improve circulation to the brain in elderly subjects, suggesting protection against dementia and stroke. A number of studies also appear to correlate cocoa consumption with lowered blood pressure, with some evidence for reduced insulin resistance. It has also displayed antioxidant properties, increasing overall antioxidant capacity and decreasing several markers of oxidation. Even cocoa butter, which is the fat portion of cocoa, appears to not affect cholesterol negatively as most fats would.

What a plant! If only chocolate brought with it all of the health benefits of cocoa.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Supplement Marketing Going Over the Top

I've been a supplement user for two decades. I've never seen anything like the wacky marketing of some supplements today -- I believe that companies selling this way are going to completely screw up their own industry. If firms don't stop with the exaggerated claims and the heavy-handed push that they use to market their products, they'll find themselves regulated to death.

It's not just sleaze operators in the berry business, those who use the names of unwitting personalities like Oprah, Dr. Oz and Britney Spears to sell their cheazy supplements. Even DOCTORS are going over the top now. I just got an email from Dr. Marcus Laux for a new product he sells, which looked interesting to me. I am a customer of his already.

So I clicked on the "more information" button to get more details, and I was directed to one of those long, never ending scrolling web pages with gobs and gobs of detail and claims about this product. Unfortunately, there was not a single picture on that page of the back of the bottle showing a clear description of what is in the product. In other words, a SUPPLEMENT PANEL, which is the first thing that a savvy consumer is going to look at on a supplement product. It was nowhere to be found.

When I called the company's 800#, the salesperson told me she didn't know what a supplement panel is. I asked her to read off the ingredients, and instead, she starts to read off the long list of claims. No way I could get her to even answer my question of WHAT IS IN IT???

There are rules in place right now that should work to prohibit this kind of behavior. For some reason, they don't. I don't want more rules. My fear is that the sleaze element in supplement marketing is going to spoil the industry for everyone.

As a consumer of supplements, PLEASE stick to products you know are sold by quality marketing. Do not fall prey to companies that make wild claims and then don't stick to the rules, or that avoid showing you what's in the product. Steer clear of buying products that show up on pop-up boxes on the Internet, and those sold by multi-level marketers, at least from those who exaggerate claims. Let's clean up the business ourselves, as consumers, by buying smart.


Monday, September 14, 2009

My Problems with Trader Joe's

I'm feeling very bad right now about one of my favorite companies in the world, Trader Joe's. For anyone who lives near a Trader Joe's store, you know the feeling of a visit to TJ's. It's like going to see old friends. Great products, friendly staff, reasonable prices, and I always thought that it was heads and shoulders above the big natural food chains.

That is, until my doctor reminded me to avoid foods that are high in sodium.

Trader Joe's makes its fortunes based upon the impression that anything you buy in the store is going to be natural, organic and healthy. Well, my friends I've got to tell you that this isn't necessarily true, and it breaks my heart. I live in a small town in Northern Arizona, and I have frequently arranged "Trader Joe trips" to the city, two hours each direction to Phoenix, just to pick up groceries for our family and often others as well.

Those came to a screaming halt when I started to look at the sodium content of the Trader Joe's brand foods. I'd suggest that you do the same. Even if you are a diehard Trader Joe's fan, as I have been, it's time to consider giving your local store some feedback about how displeased you are with their level of sodium. Take a look at those wonderful salads and wraps, for example. I would buy these delicious fresh treats and tuck them away for a quick and "healthy" lunch. Then, I started looking more closely.

Trader Joe's plays the same tricks that other companies do with sodium, except they play them even better. A sandwich or wrap that shows 400 mg. of sodium (high, but do-able if you are hungry) ends up being eaten before you notice that this tiny little wrap was TWO PORTIONS, and you actually just consumed 800 mg of sodium! A small tray of "Arabian Joe's" Middle Eastern treats that could be downed in five minutes by one adult ends up being two or three servings, each with nearly 1000 mg of sodium in it.

Crackers, frozen foods, deli items . . . they are all the same at Trader Joe's. As full as you can get of sodium, with no effort to provide a healthy sodium level ANYWHERE in the store.

Readers, it's time to let Trader Joe's know (or any other local store you have which plays the same portions-trickery that these guys do) that we aren't going to take it anymore. Today, I visited a new competitor, a place called Fresh 'n Easy, that seems to offer an alternative. While they aren't ideal, I found a lot of lower-sodium choices.

Let's get the word out.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Traffic Noise Adds to High Blood Pressure

Do you ever have a feeling that you are gritting your teeth together or tensing up when you are subjected to a constantly noisy environment? I know that I do. Recently I sat in a hotel room writing an article and it was right next to the freeway. Soon, I had a jaw ache and I didn't even realize where it had come from.

Now I do. That's because it's been proven that traffic noise raises blood pressure. And when blood pressure is up, you know that other parts of your body are being stressed at the same time.

Researchers writing in the journal Environmental Health have found that people exposed to high levels of noise from nearby roads are more likely to report suffering from hypertension.

Researchers from Lund University Hospital, Sweden, investigated the association between living close to noisy roads and having raised blood pressure. The main author said, “Road traffic is the most important source of community noise. Non-auditory physical health effects that are biologically plausible in relation to noise exposure include changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones. We found that exposure above 60 decibels was associated with high blood pressure among the relatively young and middle-aged, an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke”.

Modest exposure effects were generally noted in all age groups at average road noise levels below 60 dB(A). More marked effects were seen at higher exposure levels primarily among relatively young and middle-aged people.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vitamin C Now Proven to Protect Skin Cells

Recently, scientists at the University of Leicester and Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology in Portugal studied new protective properties of vitamin C in cells from the human skin, which could lead to better skin regeneration.

Some manufacturers have included Vitamin C in skin preparations for years. But it wasn't until recently that science has actually shown a significant benefit for this vitamin when applied topically.

The work found that a form of Vitamin C helped to promote wound healing and also helped protect the DNA damage of skin cells. Their findings have been published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, the same journal that recently featured the news about Rhodiola protecting human cells from ultraviolet radiation (reported on here). This is the latest in a long line of publications from these researchers (University of Leicester) concerning vitamin C.

Tiago Duarte, formerly of the University of Leicester, and now at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology in Portugal, said: “The exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation increases in summer, often resulting in a higher incidence of skin lesions. Ultraviolet radiation is also a genotoxic agent responsible for skin cancer . . . Our study analyzed the effect of sustained exposure to a vitamin C derivative (ascorbic acid 2-phosphate) in human dermal fibroblasts. We investigated which genes are activated by vitamin C in these cells, which are responsible for skin regeneration. The results demonstrated that vitamin C may improve wound healing. . . and also protect the skin by increasing the capacity of fibroblasts to repair potentially mutagenic DNA lesions.”

Dr Marcus S. Cooke from the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine and Department of Genetics, at the University of Leicester, added: “The study indicates a mechanism by which vitamin C could contribute to the maintenance of a healthy skin by promoting wound healing and by protecting cellular DNA against damage caused by oxidation."

The study has the potential to lead to advances in the prevention and treatment of skin lesions specifically, as well as contributing to the fight against cancer.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Research on Rhodiola rosea - the Cold Weather Herb that Reduces Stress

A new piece of research on the arctic-grown Rhodiola rosea root has just been published in the Elsevier publication Free Radical Biology & Medicine ( 2009 Sep 1;47(5):577-84), done by the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California at Irvine. It is quite interesting work because it has been shown that there is protection developed for human cells cultured in the laboratory against oxidative stress -- this comes with strong anti-aging possibilities.

Generally, when an herb or nutrient acts on cells this way, it is through activation of antioxidant defenses. In this case, however, there was no such activation. Instead, the herb enhances oxidative stress protection to the human cells via another method, not determined in this research and still considered somewhat of a mystery. More work is ongoing in this laboratory.

The authors state that Rhodiola rosea root has been long used in traditional medical systems in Europe and Asia as an adaptogen to increase an organism's resistance to physical stress. Recent research has demonstrated its ability to improve mental and physical stamina, to improve mood, and to help alleviate high-altitude sickness. On the "mood uplift" front, many holistic psychiatrists now recommend Rhodiola much more frequently than St. Johns Wort to their patients to support mild-to-moderate depression, primarily because of mixed reviews and drug interactions with SJW. Rhodiola does not appear to have any of these drug interactions. (It is noted that Rhodiola is not to be used by the biopolar).

Previously this same laboratory at UCI found that R. rosea extends the life span of the fruit fly. In this new research, scientists found that R. rosea supplementation could protect cultured cells against ultraviolet light and even the toxin paraquat. These results suggest that more research is needed in order to determine the method of action of this mysterious herb, used for nearly 1,000 years, and to better understand its protection against oxidative stress and what could prove to be a significant anti-aging benefit to humans.


PS - Readers, my biosketch to the right makes it perfectly clear that I have an involvement in a business that produces world class Rhodiola rosea. My passion and enthusiasm for this plant goes back many years. ProActive BioProducts sells what is the purest (and most potent) form of Rhodiola. Click on the headline of this article to see that product from Verde Botanica brand . . . "Mind Body & Spirit".

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Low-Carb DIets and Possible Damage to Vascular System

There are some health concerns creeping into the previously good news about low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets. Researchers have discovered that atherosclerosis is a problem. While these diets have proven successful at helping individuals rapidly lose weight, little is known about the diets’ long-term effects on vascular health.

Now, a study led by a scientific team at Beth Israel Deaconess provides some of the first data on this subject, demonstrating that mice placed on a 12-week low carbohydrate/high-protein diet showed a significant increase in atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries (and an issue that remains a leading cause of heart attack and stroke). The findings also showed that the diet led to an impaired ability to form new blood vessels in tissues deprived of blood flow, as might occur during a heart attack.

This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s very difficult to know in clinical studies how diets affect vascular health,” says senior author Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, Director of Cardiovascular Research in BIDMC’s CardioVascular Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We, therefore, tend to rely on easily measured serum markers [such as cholesterol], which have been surprisingly reassuring in individuals on low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets, who do typically lose weight. But our research suggests that, at least in animals, these diets could be having adverse cardiovascular effects that are not reflected in simple serum markers.”

Rosenzweig and his coauthors found that the increase in plaque build-up in the blood vessels and the impaired ability to form new vessels were associated with a reduction in vascular progenitor cells, which some hypothesize could play a protective role in maintaining vascular health.

If you are like me, you know plenty of people who are on these low-carb, high-protein diets and who are losing weight. What they may not be clear on is their possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Rye Bread and Feelings of Fullness

Recently I read how the Swedes had been conducting clinical trials on rye and that they had discovered that eating rye bread in the morning led to feelings of satiety and that it held this feeling of fullness for several hours afterwards.

I've always gotten up in the morning before my spouse and had breakfast. Then, when she is awake and in the kitchen, I'd make the coffee for her and sit down to talk, along with a second breakfast. This "two breakfast" routine had led over the years to a weight gain which I was eventually able to get rid of with some dieting. But I was never able to completely shake my desire to have those two breakfasts.

Now, after reading about the Swedish trials, I have been experimenting with rye bread myself and it works just as described in the literature. The most recent Journal of Nutrition describes how Swedish researchers learned about rye's benefits when compared to wheat products in the morning. “The results show that rye bread can be used to decrease hunger feelings both before and after lunch when included in a breakfast meal,” said the researchers. “Rye bran induces a stronger effect on satiety than the other two rye fractions used when served in iso-caloric portions,” they concluded.

I found a wonderful rye bread product produced by French Meadow Bakery of Minnesota, made without salt and with only organic ingredients. I highly recommend it -- it is simply delicious, and after eating a slice of this rye toast with a light layer of cream cheese or some butter, I am not hungry again until lunch. My "two breakfasts" problem has been solved.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Low Levels of Vitamin D and Cardiovascular Diseases in Diabetics

It's been determined that low levels of vitamin D are known to nearly double the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with diabetes, and researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis now think they know why.

It appears that diabetics deficient in vitamin D can't process cholesterol normally, so it builds up in their blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. The new research has identified a mechanism linking low vitamin D levels to heart disease risk and may lead to ways to fix the problem, simply by increasing levels of vitamin D.

This is great news to anyone who has diabetes, because supplementation with D is inexpensive and readily available. "There is debate about whether any amount of sun exposure is safe, so oral vitamin D supplements may work best," says the lead author, "but perhaps if people were exposed to sunlight only for a few minutes at a time, that may be an option, too.".


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Severe Brain Degeneration Shown in Obese People

In the current online edition of the journal Human Brain Mapping, Paul Thompson, senior author and a UCLA professor of neurology, and lead author Cyrus A. Raji, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, compared the brains of people who were obese, overweight, and of normal weight, to see if they had differences in brain structure.

These researchers discovered that obese people had 8 percent less brain tissue than people with normal weight. (Overweight people had 4 percent less tissue). According to Thompson, who is also a member of UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, this is the first time anyone has established a link between being overweight and having what he describes as “severe brain degeneration.”

This could be a scary thought for the nation's millions of obese people. “That's a big loss of tissue and it depletes your cognitive reserves, putting you at much greater risk of Alzheimer's and other diseases that attack the brain,” said Thompson, who went on to say that the risk for Alzheimer's is greatly reduced if one eats healthily and keeps body mass under control.

In looking at both grey matter and white matter of the brain, they found that the people defined as obese had lost brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes (areas of the brain critical for planning and memory) and in the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), hippocampus (long term memory) and basal ganglia (movement is controlled here).

"The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than the brains of those who were lean," says Thompson. This research shows another reason for the extremely high cost to society of the ever-increasing obese population.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Daily Probiotics Regimen Reduces Colds, Fevers in Children

A new study from probiotics producer Danisco shows that daily supplement of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains may reduce the incidence of cold and flu-like symptoms in children by 50 per cent. Further, a combination of the two strains has been linked to reductions in fever incidence by 73 per cent, a reduction in the occurrence of runny noses by 59 per cent, and drop in the incidence of coughing by 62 per cent, according to findings published in the journal Pediatrics.

“Daily probiotic dietary supplementation during the winter months was a safe, effective way to reduce episodes of fever, rhinorrhea [nasal issues], and cough, the cumulative duration of those symptoms, the incidence of antibiotic prescriptions, and the number of missed school days attributable to illness,” wrote the authors, led by Gregory Leyer, an R&D scientist for Danisco in Madison, Wisconsin.

This research showed that L acidophilus alone was effective, but also indicated a trend for a broader protective effect when it is combined with Bifidobacterium.

Indeed, used by itself, L. acidophilus cut the fever incidence by 53 per cent, the occurrence of runny noses by 28 per cent, and the incidence of coughing by 41 per cent.

Leyer and his co-investigators from Tongji University (Shanghai), the University of Texas (Houston), and Sprim USA recruited 326 children aged between three and five in a child care centre in China. The children were randomly assigned to one of three groups, and received twice a day for six months the single L. acidophilus NCFM strain, the combination of the strains, or a placebo.

In addition to the reductions in the incidence in fever, coughing, and runny noses, the researchers noted a reduction in the use of antibiotics in children either of the probiotic interventions, while these children also missed fewer days of child care.

“Although the reduced incidence of antibiotic prescriptions for all indications noted in an earlier study was confirmed, this study is the first to indicate a trend toward more-significant results with a combination versus single strain preparation,” wrote the authors.

I think it is important to note here that getting a good dose of probiotics into a child means something more than just eating some yogurt. (In fact, one major yogurt manufacturer is being sued because their claims for probiotic content are so overblown.) Always check the amount of "CFU's" (colony-forming units) in your probiotics product and go for those that show billions and not millions of these good bugs.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

High Blood Pressure Linked to Memory Problems

New research published in the August 25, 2009, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, shows how high blood pressure is linked to memory problems in people over age 45.

The study found that people with high diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a blood pressure reading) were more likely to have cognitive impairment, or problems with their memory and thinking skills, than people with normal readings. For every 10-point increase in that bottom number, the odds of a person having cognitive problems was seven percent higher. The results were valid after adjusting for other factors that could affect cognitive abilities, such as age, smoking status, exercise level, education, diabetes or high cholesterol.

This was a very large study and it involved nearly 20,000 people age 45 and older across the country who had participated in a study about stroke, and who had never had a stroke. A total of 1,505 of the participants, or 7.6 percent, had cognitive problems, and 9,844, or 49.6 percent, were taking medication for high blood pressure.

“It’s possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia,” said study author Georgios Tsivgoulis, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The reason that high blood pressure issue appears to be linked to memory could be that research has shown high diastolic blood pressure leads to weakening of the small arteries in the brain; this weakening of arteries can actually result in the development of brain damage in small, random areas that contain memories.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Overblown Claims and Unethical Marketing Games in the "Berry" Business

There were lawsuits filed recently by Harpo Inc, producers of The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Dr Oz Show, targeting manufacturers of acai berry products among others.

“Consumers should be aware that neither Oprah Winfrey nor Dr Oz are associated with nor do they endorse any acai berry product, company or online solicitation of such products, including MonaVie juice products,” reads a statement on Winfrey’s website. Harpo attorneys are also pursuing marketers of resveratrol products who have taken the same liberties with Oprah's and Dr. Oz's names.

I'm happy to see the alleged deceptive practices of these companies exposed. I'm sure Britney Spears will follow with her own lawsuits -- the same "berry" manufacturers are using images of the young star on their obnoxious Internet popup ads.

“The acai berry supplement sales programs are among the most aggressive that we have seen using misleading sales tactics to scam consumers,” said one of those involved in the Oprah lawsuits. I agree -- I've never seen anything like the sleazy tactics used by these acai berry marketers. While its true that the antioxidants in acai are indeed quite powerful, the difference between them and other berries just doesn't merit this kind of crazy push. It's a fad-- pyramid marketers and even stores are going to be left with cases and cases of acai berry and other "miracle" berry products before the year is out.

“Consumers should always be skeptical and educate themselves instead of blindly believing any endorsement claims. Also, consumers need to be very wary of weight loss and health claims that sound too good to be true" warn those involved with the Harpo case.

As these lawyers and state officials are now discovering, the "acai berry revolution" turns out to be just another great, big Internet marketing scam.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Economic Downturn May Leave Major Health Problems in its Wake

The current economic downturn, most specifically the nation’s home foreclosure epidemic, appears to be taking its toll on Americans’ health as well as their wallets. A study was done of those people undergoing foreclosure which reported that nearly half of them showed serious signs of depression. A full 37 percent met clinical screening criteria for major depression.

This study was done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and was published online this week in the American Journal of Public Health. Many of those studied also reported an inability to afford prescription drugs; many also described poor eating habits, including skipping meals.

“The foreclosure crisis is also a health crisis,” says lead author Craig E. Pollack, MD, who conducted the research while working as an internist at Penn. “We need to do more to ensure that if people lose their homes, they don’t also lose their health.”

In addition to the high number of participants reporting depression symptoms, the study of 250 Philadelphia homeowners undergoing foreclosure also shed light on other health care problems that may be spurred by difficulties keeping up with housing costs. The authors say that the data collected in Philadelphia may be only the tip of the iceberg when compared to other cities that have experienced a sharp spike in housing foreclosures.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Friendly Gut Bacteria Aid Immune System in Fighting off Infection

Research published by scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center has found that bacteria present in the human gut help initiate the body’s defense mechanisms against Toxoplasma gondii, a nasty parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis. While generally considered to be mild, a T gondi infection can have serious and potentially fatal effects in pregnant women, their fetuses and anyone else with a weakened immune system.

How it is that the body first senses the presence of this parasite has been somewhat of a mystery for a long time. But in this new UT Southwestern study (appearing online and in the Aug. 20 issue of Cell Host & Microbe), researchers suggest that instead of activating receptors directly, T gondii’s first interaction in the human gut is with the helpful bacteria that live inside us. Those bacteria then release signaling molecules, alerting the human host to the invader.

What an important role this is for those friendly, probiotic gut bacteria that we need to have living inside of us! This is why it is a travesty that antibiotics are so overprescribed and that we so often casually knock out our entire flora for no good reason at all.

“While this is very early data, our results suggest that looking at the bacteria present in each patient’s gut could help physicians understand their susceptibility to infectious diseases,” said Dr. Felix Yarovinsky, assistant professor of immunology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the paper. “It also suggests the possibility of developing novel probiotic strategies for treating parasitic infections."

T gondii affects more than 1 billion people worldwide. The protozoan parasite can infect most warm-blooded animals, but the primary host is the house cat. Animals are generally infected with T gondii by ingesting contaminated meat, water or the feces of a cat that has recently been infected; however, the parasite also can be passed from mother to fetus.

Toxoplasmosis is often passed to humans through contaminated cat feces; therefore, pregnant women are encouraged to keep all house cats indoors and recruit someone who is not pregnant to clean the litter box daily. Once a person is infected, the parasite penetrates the intestine and spreads throughout all organs.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Popcorn loaded with antioxidants?

Every time we go to the movies, my wife makes a snide comment about my popcorn eating habit. (Usually, the large size popcorn bag is empty about the time the trailers end . . .). Now, thanks to some new research being reported on in NutraIngredients, I can tell her that I am eating a health food.

It turns out that certain cereals and snacks like popcorn may be healthier than previously thought thanks to their unusually high antioxidant content. At a meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists from the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania) indicated these items have “surprisingly large” amounts of antioxidants called polyphenols.

According to the poster presentation at the ACS, whole grains are responsible for the polyphenol content, which is high enough even after baking to rival established antioxidant sources such as fruit and veggies.

Lead researcher Joe Vinson, a chemist at the University of Scranton, said the research revealed higher polyphenol levels than previous studies because it looked at the total antioxidant content rather than just focusing on free antioxidants, which are the ones not bound to sugar. Cereals made with oats were found to have the highest antioxidant content with corn in second place and wheat coming third.

Certain snack foods made from corn are over-processed, which removes all the antioxidant possibilities. This would include corn chips or Tortilla chips, as one example. Popcorn, however, is indeed full of antioxidants!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Headache Risk in Children

A German scientist, Dr. Jennifer Gassmann (and her coauthors) has done a recent study on risk factors for childrens' headaches -- she and her team have determined that it is family quarrels and a lack of free time which seem to promote these health problems in children. This work appears in the current issue of the Deutsches Ärzteblatt International.

This investigation was a component of a large-scale study entitled “Children, Adolescents, and Headaches” in which data were collected in four annual “waves” from 2003 to 2006. Up to 30% of all children around the world complain of headache symptoms arising at least once per week. It can be heartbreaking when you hear your child complain regularly of headaches -- because it appears there is nothing you can do.

Now, it does indeed look as if there are some family changes that can help these kids. Boys who experienced more than one family quarrel per week had a 1.8 times higher risk of developing headaches. The amount of free time available to them seemed to be even more important: boys who only sometimes had time to themselves had a 2.1 times higher risk of developing headaches.

Parents’ behavior when their child complains of headache also seemed to play a major role. Either positive or negative reinforcement from the parents teaches the child that he or she can gain certain advantages from headache symptoms. The parents’ responses had a particularly strong effect on the frequency of symptoms in girls: reinforcing parental responses raised their risk of recurrent headaches by 25%.

The sexes also differed with respect to the frequency of headache. Twice as many girls as boys had their symptoms at least once a week. The children’s age, however, seemed to have no more than a minor effect on headache manifestations.