Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Face Masks - Some Guidance for Pandemic Use

Obviously, we all hope we'll look back on this brief blog post and laugh that we were so worried about the Swine Flu virus. However - just in case - here are some tips on proper face mask use.

First off, remember that face masks sold in drug stores are not very effective. The only type that the US Government would recommend are N95 masks, which are called "respirators." They filter out 95% of anything which is .3 microns and larger, which means that they will, if fitted properly, help with "close quarters" situations where the flu virus is lurking about.

As happened in the SARS scare a few years ago, face masks and respirators became very hard to find. People were hoarding them. Right now, doing a search for N95 Face Mask on eBay, you can find plenty of people selling them inexpensively and they have them in stock. Expect these prices to go up dramatically if a pandemic does take off -- that is, if you are lucky to find them. It wouldn't hurt to spend $10 or $15 on a box of N95's, so I'd suggest you go to eBay and grab a box or two.

Here are the USG comments on reducing the risk of infection during a pandemic:

• Avoid close contact and crowded conditions whenever possible, rather than relying on the use of masks or respirators;

• In crowded settings, consider using face masks to protect noses and mouths from other people's coughs and reduce the likelihood of coughing on others; and

• Use an N95 respirator when contact with an infectious person cannot be avoided, such as when caring for a sick person at home.

According to the guidance, people should consider wearing a face mask during an influenza pandemic if they are sick with the flu and think they might have close contact with other people, live with someone who has flu symptoms or will spend time in a crowded public place.

People should consider wearing a respirator during an influenza pandemic if they are well and expect to be in close contact with people who are sick with pandemic flu.

More information about masks and respirators and about community preventive measures is available at the U.S. government’s pandemic flu Web site.

More detail is available by clicking on the blog headline.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Immune Fighting Effects of Probiotics

Scientists from University College Cork (Ireland) have been using probiotics successfully against a number of animal diseases. This has helped them to understand some of the ways in which they work -- this knowledge could lead to new probiotics that prevent and even treat human diseases.

Presenting his work at the Society for General Microbiology meeting in early April, Dr Colin Hill described how his team had used three animal models of disease that have human counterparts – bovine mastitis, porcine salmonellosis (a gastrointestinal disease) and listeriosis in mice (an often fatal form of food poisoning) – to demonstrate the protective effects of probiotics.

“In all three animal diseases, we observed a positive effect in that the animals were significantly protected against infection," said Dr. Hill, whose team had blended their own probiotic substances together specifically for these experiments.

Probiotics were also used to control disease in animals that were already infected. The results of these tests proved that administering safe bacteria to an infected animal was as effective as the best available antibiotic therapies in eliminating the infectious agent and resolving the symptoms.

In each instance the protection was linked to a particular bacterial species, and the mechanism of action varied from direct antagonism (where the probiotic directly kills the pathogenic bacteria) to effects mediated by the host immune system. For example Lactobacillus salivarius UCC118 protected mice against listeriosis (a disease which can affect pregnant women) by producing an antimicrobial peptide that eliminates Listeria monocytogenes in the gut of the animal. In another mechanism, Lactococcus lactis could be used to treat mastitis by eliciting an immune response that overwhelmed the infectious

Dr Hill added, “It is likely that using probiotics rather than antibiotics will appeal to at-risk individuals since they are safe, non-invasive, do not create resistant bacteria and can even be administered in the form of tasty foods or beverages”.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Grapefruit Juice - Positive Effect in Combination with Cancer Drug

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center have found that combining eight ounces of grapefruit juice with the drug rapamycin can increase drug levels, allowing lower doses of the drug to be prescribed. They also showed that the combination can be effective in treating various types of cancer.

This is interesting information, because it now appears that studies are ongoing to take advantage of the drug interaction that occurs with grapefruit. For twenty years, pharmacists have pasted "DO NOT TAKE WITH GRAPEFRUIT JUICE" stickers on various pill bottles because the juice can interfere with the enzymes that break down and eliminate certain drugs. This interference has always been considered dangerous, because It can make the drugs more potent.

However, in data presented at the AACR 100th Annual Meeting in Denver last week, the Chicago researchers examine ways to exploit this fruit's medication-altering properties. They have identified a drug that can be reduced to much lower dosage levels when combined with this citrus juice.

"Grapefruit juice can increase blood levels of certain drugs by three to five times," said study director Ezra Cohen, MD, a cancer specialist at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "This has always been considered a hazard. We wanted to see if, and how much, it could amplify the availability, and perhaps the efficacy of rapamycin, a drug with promise for cancer treatment."

The clinical trial was designed to test whether doctors could use grapefruit juice to boost rapamycin's bioavailability to the patient's advantage -- to determine how much the juice altered drug levels, and then to assess its impact on anti-cancer activity and side effects.

Cancer specialists became interested in rapamycin when they learned that it disrupted a biochemical pathway involved in the development of the new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. But the drug is so expensive, and so poorly absorbed. Less than 15 percent of rapamycin goes to work in the body when taken by mouth.

That's why it is great that substances known a furanocoumarins, plentiful in grapefruit juice, can decrease the breakdown of rapamycin. This makes the drug reach higher levels in the bloodstream; in fact, two-to-four times the levels seen without a juice boost, and thus increases the amount of the drug that reaches its targets.

"That means more of the drug hits the target, so we need less of the drug," said Cohen. And when a drug like this is so expensive, that has a very serious bottom line benefit to all. "This is an opportunity for real savings," Cohen said. "A daily glass of juice could lower the cost by 50 percent."


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pomegranate for Prostate

There are new long-term research results being presented at the 104th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association. Researchers there have found that men who had undergone treatment for localized prostate cancer benefitted from drinking pomegranate juice.

In this two-stage clinical trial, researchers followed a total of 48 participants over six years. Eligible participants had a rising PSA after surgery or radiotherapy, and the patient treatment was to drink eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily. There are still patients who are currently in their sixth year of treatment; these active patients who remain on the study have a median total follow-up of 56 months. (These participants continue to experience a significant increase in PSA doubling time following treatment, from a mean of 15.4 months at baseline to 60 months post-treatment, with a median PSA slope decrease of 60 percent, 0.06 to 0.024. In other words, the drink appears to dramatically slow down the disease.)

There were important differences between this group which currently drinks pomegranate juice and those who had dropped out earlier. The drop out's have had a faster progression of the cancer.

“This study suggests that pomegranate juice may effectively slow the progression of prostate cancer after unsuccessful treatment,” said Christopher Amling, MD. “This finding and other ongoing research might one day reveal that pomegranate juice is an effective prostate cancer preventative agent as well.”

Parts of this ongoing study suggest that some patients may be more sensitive to the effects of pomegranate juice on PSA doubling time. Phase three of this study is currently underway to further evaluate the benefits of pomegranate juice in placebo-controlled trials.


Friday, April 24, 2009

As Hormone Replacement Therapy Use Goes Down, So Do Women's Heart Attacks

The number of myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks, in menopausal women each year appears to be going down because the popularity of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has declined. A new study, which appears in the May issue of the journal Medical Care, looked at whether the decreased use of HRT has affected the rate of cardiovascular health outcomes. It certainly looks like a positive trend for women's health.

Before 2002, physicians believed that HRT reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by up to 50 percent in menopausal women. However, a report by the Women’s Health Initiative in 2002 revealed that HRT actually had the opposite effect — it increased the risk of heart attack in these women. As a result, the use of HRT has "declined dramatically in women aged 50 to 69, going from more than 30 percent to less than 15 percent,” said lead study author Kanaka Shetty, M.D.

Shetty (RAND Corporation in Santa Monica) and colleagues evaluated data from 1990 to 2005 for women between the ages of 40 and 79. The researchers used U.S. death records, hospital discharge data and national surveys of medication usage.

They found that the decreased use of HRT did not reduce the number of hospitalizations or deaths from stroke. However, it was indeed linked to a decrease in heart attacks among women.

The study found that for every 10,000 additional HRT users in one year, there will be 25 more heart attacks.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vitamin D Insufficiency and Asthma

A new study is being reported on which provides evidence for a link between vitamin D insufficiency and asthma severity.

In Costa Rica, more than 600 children had their serum levels of Vitamin D tested, and these were inversely linked to several indicators of allergy and asthma severity. It seems that hospitalizations for asthma, use of inhaled steroids and total IgE levels were both shown to be much higher whenever Vitamin D was insufficient. This study will appear in the first issue for May of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine and is linked to the headline of this post.

Costa Rica is a country known to have a high prevalence of asthma. Juan Celedón, M.D. and his colleague Augusto Litonjua, M.D. of Harvard Medical School recruited 616 children with asthma to be assessed for allergic markers, including both allergen-specific and general sensitivity tests, and assessed for lung function and circulating vitamin D levels.

They found that children with lower vitamin D levels were significantly more likely to have been hospitalized for asthma in the previous year; these youngsters also tended to have airways with increased hyperreactivity and were likely to have used more inhaled corticosteroids. They were also significantly more likely to have several markers of allergy, including dust-mite sensitivity.

“This study suggests that there may be added health benefits to vitamin D supplementation” said Dr. Celedón. Current recommendations for optimal vitamin D levels are geared toward preserving bone health, such as preventing rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. But these levels may not be sufficient to deal with issues of allergies and asthma.

“This study also provides epidemiological support for a growing body of in vitro evidence that vitamin D insufficiency may worsen asthma severity, and we suspect that giving vitamin D supplements to asthma patients who are deficient may help with their asthma control” wrote the authors, noting that a clinical trial should be the next step in this research.

“Whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent the development of asthma in very young children is a separate question, which will be answered by clinical trials that are getting under way,” he said.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Binge Drinking in Teens Compromises Brain Development

Many parents don't realize the extent of alcohol consumption that goes on in high school. Sadly, new research shows that even relatively infrequent exposure to large amounts of alcohol during the teen years may compromise the integrity of the brain’s white matter, which is critical for the efficient relay of information within the brain.

The preliminary findings – published online in advance of the July issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research – indicate that binge drinking may be detrimental to the developing adolescent brain. This heavy drinking is common among adolescents, with 55% of high-school seniors reporting having gotten drunk, and a quarter of them reporting having consumed five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks. It's the intense nature of the drinking in each experience that leads to this problem.

“Because the brain is still developing during adolescence, there has been concern that it may be more vulnerable to high doses of alcohol,” said Susan F. Tapert, PhD, at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. “This study showed that teens with histories of binge drinking episodes have lower coherence of white matter fibers in a variety of brain regions.”

The article describes “White matter” as the part of the brain made up of the axons of neurons – long filaments that extend from the cell bodies and carry the electrical signals that relay messages between neurons. The area appears white because of the axons’ protective myelin covering.

Tapert and colleagues used an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging, or DTI, to measure the integrity of white matter in the brains of 28 teenagers – 14 who had and 14 who did not have histories of binge drinking. These tests allowed the researchers to observe alterations to the structure of fibers within the brain’s white matter.

The 28 participants were age 16 to 19, and none had a history of an alcohol or other drug use disorder. 14 of the teens who reported drinking at least four (for females) or five (for males) alcoholics beverages in one sitting during the three months prior to DTI imaging were considered "binge" drinkers. The control teens were matched on age, gender and level of education.

According to Tapert, the teen binge drinkers exhibited lower levels of white matter fiber coherence, as measured in 18 separate areas of the brain, relative to the controls.

“Those who reported engaging in binge drinking showed lower levels of brain organization,” said Tapert. She added that this could be either a risk factor for increased alcohol use or an effect of the alcohol. “While long-terms studies that follow teens over time are essential to clarify the cause and effect of these brain changes, I would say that drinking to the point of being drunk may be detrimental to the adolescent brain.”


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walnuts May Prevent Breast Cancer

This is the week of the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting in Denver. One interesting piece of research that appeared at that meeting concerned the lowly walnut, and how it appears that walnut consumption may provide the body with essential omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols that reduce the risk of breast cancer.

While the study was done with laboratory animals rather than humans, "People should heed the recommendation to eat more walnuts," said lead author Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Marshall University School of Medicine. “Walnuts are better than cookies, french fries or potato chips when you need a snack,” said Hardman. “We know that a healthy diet overall prevents all manner of chronic diseases.”

Mice were fed a diet that researchers estimated was the human equivalent of two ounces of walnuts per day. A separate group of mice were fed a control diet. Standard testing showed that walnut consumption significantly decreased breast tumor incidence, the number of glands with a tumor and tumor size.

Molecular analysis showed that increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids contributed to the decline in tumor incidence, but other parts of the walnut contributed as well. “With dietary interventions you see multiple mechanisms when working with the whole food,” said Hardman. “It is clear that walnuts contribute to a healthy diet that can reduce breast cancer.”

No supplementation can match the power of a whole food like walnuts.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Herb Found to Kill Pancreatic Cancer Cells

New data was presented at the AACR 100th Annual Meeting in Denver describing an herb that kills pancreatic cancer cells. This same herb also appears to inhibit development of pancreatic cancer as a result of its anti-inflammatory properties, according to researchers from the Kimmel Cancer Center at the Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.

Thymoquinone, the major constituent of the oil extracted from a plant called Nigella sativa (a Middle Eastern herbal seed also known as Black Onion Seed or Black Caraway) exhibited anti-inflammatory properties that reduced the release of inflammatory mediators in pancreatic cancer cells, according to Hwyda Arafat, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Surgery at the Jefferson Medical College.

"Nigella sativa seeds and oil are used in traditional medicine by many Middle Eastern and Asian countries. It helps treat a broad array of diseases, including some immune and inflammatory disorders," Dr. Arafat said. Previous studies have also shown it to have anti-cancer effects on prostate and colon cancers. It is an herbal product that has had very little use, and interest to date, in the USA.

The herb also inhibited the activation and synthesis of a transcription factor that has been implicated in inflammation-associated cancer. Activation of this factor has been observed in pancreatic cancer and may be a factor in pancreatic cancer’s resistance to chemotherapeutic agents. When animal models of pancreatic cancer were treated with thymoquinone, 67 percent of the tumors were significantly shrunken, and the levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the tumors were significantly reduced.

Chronic pancreatitis is associated with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, which seems to implicate inflammation in the development of solid tumor malignancies.

“Not only patients with chronic pancreatitis could benefit from this, but also several other groups with risk of development or recurrence of pancreatic cancer, such as high-risk family members and post-surgical patients," said Dr. Arafat. "These potent effects show promise for the herb as a potential preventive and therapeutic strategy for pancreatic cancer. More importantly, the herb and oil are safe when used moderately, and have been used for thousands of years without reported toxic effects.”

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with approximately 32,000 deaths a year. Only five percent of individuals with pancreatic cancer live for at least one year after diagnosis.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oral Contraceptives Inhibit Muscle Gains and Affect Hormone Levels in Younger Women

Another interesting study has been reported at the American Physiological Society meeting held in New Orleans. A team of researchers has now examined the effects of oral contraceptives on female muscle mass, and found that oral contraceptive use impairs muscle gains in young women, and is associated with lower hormone levels. Many active young women use oral contraceptives (OC) yet this is the first time its effect on their body composition and exercise performance has been studied.

Dr. Chang-Woock Lee and Steven E. Riechman of Texas A&M University did this work, along with Mark A. Newman at the University of Pittsburgh. They studied seventy-three generally healthy women between the ages of 18-31 who completed a 10-week whole-body resistance exercise training program in two groups. Group 1 consisted of 34 women who used oral contraceptives (OC). Group 2 consisted of 39 women who did not take birth control pills (non-OC). The women were encouraged to consume at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (a third more than is called for by the U.S. government nutritional guidelines) to make sure they consumed enough calories and protein to promote muscle growth.

The young women were on a very aggressive muscle-building campaign; participants exercised three times per week for ten weeks under the supervision of exercise physiologists. They performed a variety of exercises to include chest press, lat pull down, leg extension, triceps extension, arm curl and abdominal crunch. Exercise was done using standard exercise machines and each volunteer performed three sets of 6-10 repetitions per exercise at 75 percent of their maximum strength. Body composition was determined using hydrostatic weighing.

At the conclusion, researchers found that there were significant differences in lean mass gains. However, other muscle responses such as strength gains and arm/leg circumferences were similar between the OC and non-OC users. Resting/fasting blood concentrations of the anabolic hormones were significantly lower in women taking OC vs. non-OC users throughout the study period. At the same time, plasma concentrations of cortisol (catabolic hormone) were elevated. In addition, those OC users had reduced DHEA hormone at the end of the training period. By contrast, the other participants’ levels did not change.

According to the researchers, “We were surprised at the magnitude of differences in muscle gains between the two groups, with the non-OC women gaining more than 60% greater muscle mass than their OC counterpart.”


Friday, April 17, 2009

Smoke Puts the Cardiovascular System into Overdrive -- And it's Not Just Cigarettes

Hey, campers, here's something that will really drive you crazy. One of your favorite things, sitting around a campfire getting smoke blown in your face, is terribly unhealthy.

According to a new study from University of Kentucky researchers,second hand tobacco smoke and smoke from cooking oil and wood fires affected cardiovascular function of men and women who were exposed to small doses of the smoke for as little as 10 minutes. It turns out that previous findings are correct -- that second hand tobacco smoke can indeed harm cardiovascular function. But some new information came to light as well. Here are the high points:

1) Cardiovascular responses during brief exposures were similar to those found during longer or higher-level exposures That second hand smoke on a short bus ride can indeed have a negative effect.

2) The response occurs with different types of smoke, whether it be from tobacco, cooking oil or even wood smoke from a campfire.

3) Men respond to tobacco smoke with a greater intensity than do women.

The problem with inhalation of smoke is that the sympathetic nervous system produces the “fight or flight” response in humans, which drives the heart and blood pressure and may cause damage if activated too long. (Women have a different type of response, which makes the problem much more dangerous in men.)

Accumulating evidence indicates that an increase in air pollution is associated with an increase in heart attacks and deaths. Researchers say that many of these pollutants, including that which originates from tobacco and cooking oil smoke, contain fine particles that evoke responses from heart and blood vessels indicating effects on their function.

The study found that exposure to smoke changed breathing patterns, raised blood pressure oscillations in peripheral arteries and changed heart rates. The sympathetic nervous system becomes active during times of stress, but can cause harm to the heart and blood vessels if activated too often or too long.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Drinking Wine Increases Survival for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Patients

According to a new epidemiology study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting this week, wine consumption may reduce the risk of death and relapse among non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients.

Researcher Xuesong Han, first author (Yale School of Public Health) said these findings would need to be replicated before any public health recommendations are made, but the evidence is becoming clearer that moderate consumption of wine has numerous health benefits. Han believes this is a very controversial subject, because drinking can have a negative social impact.

“It is difficult to define what is moderate and what is excessive,” said Han. “However, we are continually seeing a link between wine and positive outcomes in many cancers.”

This study was the first to examine the link among patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Han and her colleagues analyzed data about 546 women with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and found that those who drank wine had a 76 percent five-year survival compared with 68 percent for non-wine drinkers. Further research found five-year, disease-free survival was 70 percent among those who drank wine compared with 65 percent among non-wine drinkers.

Beer and/or liquor consumption did not show a benefit.

While these are small differences in percentages, they would make the difference of many, many lives if this kind of information becomes a part of our public information routine.

The study team at Yale also looked at subgroups of lymphoma patients, and found the strongest link between wine consumption and favorable outcomes among patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. These patients had a 40 to 50 percent reduced risk of death, relapse or secondary cancer.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Carbohydrates are the Secret Behind True Energy Drinks

Recently, new research was published which sheds a fascinating light on how energy drinks work. This research shows us, quite clearly, that there are some benefits to these sugary drinks even if they are spat out and not swallowed. Who would have thought that just the taste of an energy drink in the mouth is all that is necessary to light that fire for extra performance?

Writing in the latest issue of The Journal of Physiology, Ed Chambers and his colleagues not only show that sugary drinks can significantly boost performance in an endurance event without being ingested, but so can a tasteless carbohydrate – and they do so in unexpected ways.

It has long been known that sugary drinks and sweets can significantly improve athletes' performance in endurance events. But the question has always been, how? Clearly, 'sports' drinks and tablets contain calories. But this alone is not enough to explain the boost, and the benefits are felt even if the drink is not consumed. Nor does the sugary taste solve the riddle, as artificial sweeteners do not boost performance even when they are indistinguishable from real sugars.

Chambers and his fellow researchers prepared drinks that contained either glucose (a sugar), maltodextrin (a tasteless carbohydrate) or neither, and then carefully laced them with artificial sweeteners until they tasted identical. Trained athletes were then asked to complete a challenging time-trial, during which they rinsed their mouths with one of the three concoctions. That's right, they did not drink these beverages.

The results were striking. Athletes given the glucose or maltodextrin drinks outperformed those on 'disguised' water by 2 - 3% and sustained a higher average power output and pulse rate, even though didn't feel they were working any harder. The authors conclude that as-yet unidentified receptors in the mouth independent from the usual 'sweet' taste buds must be responsible. “Much of the benefit from carbohydrate in sports drinks is provided by signalling directly from mouth to brain rather than providing energy for the working muscles,” explained Dr Chambers.

The working theory now is that it is not the muscles, heart or lungs that ultimately limits performance, but the brain itself, based on the information it receives from the body. Stimulating the brain in certain ways – such as swilling sugary drinks – can boost output, perhaps giving athletes that all-important edge over their rivals.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Top Five Functional Foods Highlighted by Dietetic Association

The New York State Dietetic Association has just released a list of their top five recommended "functional foods."

It's worth nothing that you'll hear this term a lot more in the future. More and more doctors and health writers are picking it up, a term invented by marketers, to describe the benefits of certain types of foods that actually have valid medical claims behind them.

I'm not agreeing 100% with the list below . . . I believe that the inclusion of too much dairy into the diet is a bad thing, not a good thing. My family has noticed that whenever we drink a lot of cow's milk or eat a lot of yogurt, we become full of congestion and mucous. Anyone else notice this? Write in a comment, please.

Here's the NY State list:

Top Five Functional Foods

1. Salmon: Nutrition experts chose salmon as the top function food for omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids not only raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol, they may also lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The American Heart Association suggests that people with coronary heart disease consume about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids daily. They do not recommend supplements for healthy people; instead, they recommend eating fish twice a week.

2. Oats: Second on the list, oats were chosen for their fiber content. This powerhouse nutrient, known for aiding with digestion, also helps fight disease, and may lower risk for high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Most Americans get about 15 grams of fiber daily, but to fight disease and keep digestion in check, you should aim to get at least 30 grams, which is equivalent to about two cups of oats.

3. Blueberries: Coming in third, blueberries where chosen for antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to help protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals and the chronic diseases associated with the aging process. Blueberries are among the fruits with the highest antioxidant activity containing 14 mg of vitamin C and 0.8 mg vitamin E per cup.

4. Low-Fat Milk: Low-fat milk came in fourth for both its calcium and vitamin D content. Instrumental in lowering high blood pressure, helping with regular heart beat, and building strong bones, calcium is a nutrient most Americans are not getting enough of. The same is true for vitamin D, a nutrient receiving a substantial amount of attention and found to have numerous health benefits including prevention of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The current recommendation for low-fat milk and dairy products is three servings per day, which is equal to three 8-oz cups of milk.

5. Low-Fat Yogurt: Rounding out the top five functional food list is low-fat yogurt with probiotics. Probiotic, which literally means ''for life,'' refers to living organisms that can aid in digestion and immune function when eaten in adequate amounts. Look for brands that say "live and active cultures" on the label.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Vitamin D in the News Again

Swiss researchers wrote recently that higher doses of vitamin D daily may reduce bone fracture risk for the elderly. Their analysis of research studies, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found doses higher than 400 I.U. per day reduced non-vertebral fractures by 20 percent and hip fractures by 18 percent.

Dr. Heike A. Bischoff-Ferrari of the University of Zurich Hospital in Switzerland and colleagues examined research involving non-spinal fractures in over 42,000 participants -- including eight trials of 40,886 participants specifically studying hip fractures. When the researchers studied the results of the trials, vitamin D supplements doses of 400 international units per day or lower did not reduce non-spinal or hip fracture risks.

The greater reduction in risk was seen among trial participants whose blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D -- a measure of blood vitamin D levels -- achieved a greater increase.

"Higher doses of vitamin D should be explored in future research to optimize anti-fracture efficacy," the study authors said in a statement. "Our results do not support use of low-dose vitamin D with or without calcium in the prevention of fractures among older individuals."

Other news regarding Vitamin D . . .

Researchers at the California-based non-profit Autoimmunity Research Foundation say that vitamin D may provide short-term relief by lowering inflammation, but it may exacerbate disease symptoms over the long-term in certain auto-immune diseases.

Under such circumstances, supplementation with extra vitamin D may not only be counterproductive but harmful also. They urge people with autoimmune disease to talk to their doctor before taking large doses of supplemental Vitamin D.

A research article on this study has been published in Autoimmunity Reviews.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tiny Broccoli Sprouts Have Huge Effect Against Nasty Gut Microbes

Many people are infected by a gut microbe, Helicobacter pylori, which left untreated can cause all kinds of health difficulties in the digestive tract, including gastritis, ulcers and even stomach cancer.

Recently, research has been done in Japan where there is high incidence of chronic H. pylori infection. Reearchers there gave H. pylori-infected subjects two and a half ounces per day of broccoli sprouts to eat over a period of two months. Another group of infected people consumed an equivalent amount of alfalfa sprouts which, although rich in phytochemicals, don’t contain sulforaphane which is a component of broccoli sprouts.

“The highlight of the study is that we identified a food that, if eaten regularly, might potentially have an effect on the cause of a lot of gastric problems and perhaps even ultimately help prevent stomach cancer,” says Jed W. Fahey, M.S., Sc.D., an author of the paper who is a nutritional biochemist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The study does show that eating a daily dose of broccoli sprouts reduced by more than 40 percent the level of H. pylori in the stool of infected people. There was no change in control subjects who ate alfalfa sprouts. The H. pylori levels returned to pretreatment levels eight weeks after people stopped eating the broccoli sprouts, suggesting that although the sprouts reduce H. pylori colonization, they do not eradicate it.

The discovery that sulforaphane is a potent antibiotic against H. pylori was reported in 2002 by Fahey and colleagues at Johns Hopkins. “Broccoli sprouts have a much higher concentration of sulforaphane than mature heads,” Fahey explains, adding that further investigation is needed to affirm the results of this clinical trial and move the research forward. The study, published April 6 in Cancer Prevention Research, builds on earlier test-tube and mouse studies at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere about the potential value of sulforaphane, a naturally occurring biochemical found in relative abundance in fresh broccoli sprouts.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Flax in Diet Found to Prevent or Reduce Tumors

There is new research out this morning from South Dakota State University which offers evidence that including flax in the diet may help prevent colorectal tumors or keep tumors from growing as quickly when they do form. Professor C. Dwivedi, head of SDSU’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, directed the study.

The study was conducted in mice that develop spontaneous intestinal tumors. This strain of mouse is often used as a model by cancer researchers due to this mutation.

“Results indicated that mice on diets supplemented with flaxseed meal and flaxseed oil had, on average, 45 percent fewer tumors in the small intestine and the colon compared to the control group,” said Prof. Dwivedi. The scientists published their research findings in February's Journal of Nutrition and Cancer.

Interestingly, the results showed that tumors in dietary flaxseed-treated groups, besides being few, were also very small in size when compared with what was found in the mice that hadn't been eating the flax.

Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Current statistics from the American Cancer Society showed that in 2008, 108,070 new colon and 40,740 new rectal cases were diagnosed in the United States, while colorectal cancers caused 49,960 deaths. Flaxseed contains a high percentage of alpha-linolenic acid, omega-3 fatty acid, and lignans, a group of chemical compounds found in plants that act as antioxidants.

“Further studies are needed to establish the optimal amount of flaxseed that should be incorporated into human diets to get an anti-tumor benefit and to explore the possible mechanism of action by which flaxseed can help prevent colon cancer,” said the authors.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Antibiotics of the Future Can be both Effective and Safe

Much has been written about antibiotics on this site, and how dangerous they are to the normal flora of the body. Each time you take an antibiotic, your body's healthy bacterial colonies suffer the consequences. And so does your overall health, because the loss of good bacteria can sometimes lead to a sudden and dramatic loss in your immune system. But, antibiotics are sometimes necessary to save lives.

Recently, scientists have been working on developing a solution for antibiotics; this work involves a narrow-spectrum antibiotic that can target a particular species of bacteria without harming the other “good” bacteria present. The research was presented last week at the Society for General Microbiology meeting in the UK. Professor Kim Brogden from the University of Iowa attached a broad-spectrum antibiotic to a protein that targets a receptor on a particular bacterium’s surface. When this newly-formed "narrow-spectrum" antibiotic was tested on a mix of bacteria that included the target organism, Porphyromonas gingivalis, a cause of gum disease, low concentrations of the antibiotic killed the P. gingivalis bacteria but left the other two bacterial species in the mix untouched.

This is really significant, because antibiotics have never been "targeted" in such a manner. This is like taking a nuclear bomb and making it effective only in a one-block area, leaving everything else intact and healthy.

Antibiotics have clear clinical benefits in treating oral infections like gum (periodontal) disease. This therapy reduces the number of harmful bacteria in patients who have received non-surgical and surgical treatments. Hard and soft tissue damage is much less in patients who have received antibiotics than in patients who have not received these drugs. Unfortunately, complications are associated with antibiotic use. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, allergic skin rashes and fever can be caused by penicillin and related drugs. Overuse of antibiotics leads to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. And antibiotics can kill the normal bacterial population of the mouth, urogenital tract, and gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to infections by opportunistic Candida albicans yeast in the mouth and urogenital tract or the bacterium Clostridium difficile in the gastrointestinal tract.

A targeted approach is needed to kill specific disease-causing bacteria in complex environments, said Professor Brogden. “We are developing an antibiotic that can target and kill a particular pathogen without harming or altering the composition of the normal, more beneficial bacteria in the body."

Such a product would provide a variety of new treatments for disease as well as a means of prevention.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Source of Olive Oil's Health Benefits Revealed

Readers of this column know that there are many health benefits that come from the mediterranean diet, and one source of those benefits has been a reliance on olive oil in the foods of the region. In new research, scientists from Portugal have pinned down the constituent of olive oil that gives the greatest protection from heart attack and stroke.

Specifically, in a study of the major antioxidants in olive oil, Portuguese researchers showed that one of these ingredients, DHPEA-EDA, protects red blood cells from damage more than any other part of the oil. The Portuguese findings appear to provide the scientific basis for the health benefits that have been seen in people of these countries who have significant amounts of olive oil in their diet.

Lead researcher Dr. Fatima Paiva-Martins, University of Porto (Portugal) and colleagues compared the effects of four related polyphenolic compounds on red blood cells subjected to oxidative stress by a chemical that is known to damage such cells. Red blood cells are the body's oxygen carriers.

DHPEA-EDA was the most effective and protected red blood cells even at low concentrations. The researchers say the study provides the first evidence that this compound is the major source of the health benefit associated with virgin olive oils, which contain increased levels of DHPEA-EDA compared to other oils. In virgin olive oils, DHPEA-EDA may make up as much as half the total antioxidant component of the oil. What a tremendous, and delicious, healthy punch it is that high quality olive oils bring a meal!

"Now that we have identified the importance of these compounds, producers can start to care more about the polyphenolic composition of their oils," she says. It is certainly possible to see functional olive oils on the market in the not-too-distant future, speaking on their label of heart protective claims and the percentages of DHPEA-EDA inside the bottle.

This study was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.


Omega 3 Found to Kill Cancer Cells

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils, has been shown to reduce the size of tumors and enhance the positive effects of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, while limiting its harmful side effects. These experiments, described in the journal Cell Division, provide some support for the many health benefits often suggested for omega-3 acids.

Professor A. M. El-Mowafy and his team from Mansoura University (Egypt) studied DHA’s effects on solid tumors growing in mice, and investigated how this fatty acid interacts with cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug that is known to cause kidney damage. El-Mowafy said, “DHA elicited prominent chemopreventive effects on its own, and appreciably augmented those of cisplatin as well." He went further and indicated that DHA can obliterate certain cisplatin-induced toxicity and damage to kidney tissue.

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is commonly found in cold-water fish oil, and some vegetable oils. It is a major component of brain gray matter and of the retina in most mammalian species and is considered essential for normal neurological and cellular developments. This study found that, at the molecular level, DHA acts by reducing white blood cell accumulation, inflammation, and oxidative stress – all processes that have been linked with tumor growth.

El-Mowafy and his colleagues have called for greater deployment of omega-3 in the fight against cancer.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dancing Helps Keep You Young

There's new clinical research showing that older people can dance their way towards improved health and happiness, according to a report from the Changing Aging Partnership in the UK.

The research, by Dr. Jonathan Skinner from Queen’s University (Belfast, Ireland) reveals the social, mental and physical benefits of social dancing for older adults. It suggests that dancing staves off illness, and even counteracts many kinds of aging decline.

In his study, Dr. Skinner recommends expanding the social dance opportunities for senior citizens in order to aid them in successful aging, and to help them enjoy longer and healthier lives. Skinner, a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Queen’s, studied the effects of social dancing amongst older people in Northern Ireland, Blackpool and Sacramento, California.

"I have found that social dancing leads to a continued engagement with life - past, present, and future - and holds the promise for successful aging. It contributes to the longevity of the dancers, giving them something to enjoy and focus upon - something to live for. It alleviates social isolation and quite literally helps take away the aches and pains associated with older age," said the author.

One of his subjects, Sarah, is a 70-year-old from Ireland and a regular ice-dancer, who took part in the study because her daughters brought her down to the ice rink. "I have to say, after years of dancing on a Ballroom floor, I was very impressed with this type of dancing due to its great flow and speed. I’ve been doing it for twelve years now. We do the rumba, quickstep, foxtrot and tango [on ice]. My instructor even wanted me to compete. My friends have commented that my energy is overwhelming, ‘what’s the secret?’ they ask, and I just say ‘keep dancing’.”

All I can wish for my 85 year old Mom is that she finds a group like Sarah did and continues her love of dancing, which she has neglected since my father's death. If you know a senior who once loved to dance but who has been away from that passion, find a way to get them involved again. It's just plain healthy.