Friday, May 29, 2009

Latest News on Meat and Breast Cancer: Eating Meat is Not the Culprit

One of the frustrations of blogging about health topics is that scientists can't seen to make up their mind. One day, a link is discovered between red meat and breast cancer. The next, that link is found to have some problems. That's the way it looks today after an extensive study on women and their diets.

A large study has now been concluded by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The study was published this month in the International Journal of Cancer.Eating red or white meat, including meat cooked at high temperatures, does not increase the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Previous studies, some reported here at Sham vs. Wham, have found that eating red meat or meat cooked at high temperatures increases the risk of breast cancer. But a link between meat in the diet and breast cancer in women has not been established. “Previous epidemiologic studies in humans looking at the amount of meat in the diet have yielded inconsistent results,” says lead author Geoffrey C. Kabat, Ph.D., M.S., senior epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.

Dr. Kabat and his colleagues analyzed data on 120,755 postmenopausal women who participated in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and American Association of Retired Persons. When the women enrolled in the study (between 1995 and 1996), they gave detailed information on what types of food they ate and how often they ate certain foods. In addition, they provided information on meat-preparation methods. Most researchers feel that this particular data set is one of the most complete there is for such a review.

Over the next eight years, approximately three percent, or 3,818, of the women developed breast cancer. The researchers found no evidence that the amount of meat consumed, meat-cooking methods used, or meat-mutagen intake was associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. Reported meat intake included steak, hamburger, chicken, pork, processed meat and meat cooked at high temperatures.

Neither the current study nor earlier studies assessed the diets of younger women. “So we haven’t ruled out the possibility that eating meat and exposure to meat mutagens at a younger age — particularly during adolescence when the breasts are developing — may increase one’s risk of breast cancer,” says Dr. Kabat.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Use Rosemary or Thai Spices to Make Grilled Meats Safer

At this time of year, everyone is out in the backyard cooking on their grill. As a result, it's a good time to think about the potential exposure to carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). There’s a way to reduce the risk significantly by just adding some spices – rosemary extracts or Thai spices.

Inhibiting HCAs in cooked meat products is considered very important by most doctors. HCA levels increase as charring increases on meat skin and the moisture content decreases. The numbers vary on different meats after cooking. Bacon and rotisserie chicken had the highest HCA levels, with deli meats and hot dogs showing the lowest. Chicken skin and breast meat had all five types of HCA's that have been identified.

J. Scott Smith, a Kansas State University food chemistry professor who researched the issue for the Food Safety Consortium says that all you need to do is to add some spice to your backyard grilling. “Rosemary would work or one of the Thai spices would also be fine," says Smith.

Some commercial rosemary extracts can inhibit the formation of HCAs in cooked beef patties by 61 to 79 percent. Thai spices can inhibit the formation by about 40 to 43 percent. The key is the level of antioxidants present in each, and Thai spices have lower levels than rosemary.

Few consumers are aware that rosemary and Thai spices provide reliable ways to reduce risk from HCAs in cooked meat. Smith believes the industry should market the products to increase awareness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vitamin D and Calcium Combination Prevents Bone Fracture in Older Adults

Research teams in Europe and USA have shown that Vitamin D and Calcium taken daily reduces the rate of hip fracture in older people by 20%. In Vienna on May 27, Professor Bo Abrahamsen from the Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte in Denmark, described the results from a major study analyzing seven trials examining the effects of low doses of vitamin D with calcium in 68,500 patients. That's a large study, by anyone's standards.

Participants in the study were aged 47 – 107 years old and with an average age of 69. Their age, gender and fracture history were taken into account, together with medication such as hormone replacement therapy and bisphosphonates (used in the treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis and osteoporosis in males). Patients in all the trials included were randomised to receive either vitamin D (given alone or with calcium, usually in the form of 1000 mg calcium carbonate daily) or no active treatment.

The strength of this study was that the researchers were looking at groups and individuals and not just summary statistics. Often a study like this is simply data analysis.

After about 16 months, the reduction in hip fracture rates by 20% was seen in people who took vitamin D (400 IU) and calcium (1000 mg) together, regardless of age, gender and fracture history. Fracture rate in other bones was reduced by 10%. “Vitamin D on its own is not very effective, even if the dose is doubled,” said Professor Abrahamsen. "In people over fifty, the combination of vitamin D with calcium, however, seems to work equally well in people with or without a history of bone fractures – this is important new knowledge,” he said.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vitamin D as Brain Food

New research suggests that eating fish – long considered ‘brain food’ – may be as good for the old grey matter as is a healthy dose of sunshine.

University of Manchester (UK) scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from other European centers, have shown that higher levels of vitamin D – primarily synthesized in the skin following sun exposure but also found in certain foods such as oily fish – are associated with improved cognitive function in middle-aged and older men.

Good news for us older guys who like to eat fish!

The researchers found that men with higher levels of vitamin D performed consistently better in a simple and sensitive neuropsychological test that assesses an individual’s attention and speed of information processing. The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, where the researchers compared the cognitive performance of more than 3,000 men aged 40 and up at eight test centers across Europe.

“Previous studies exploring the relationship between vitamin D and cognitive performance in adults have produced inconsistent findings but we observed a significant, independent association between a slower information processing speed and lower levels of vitamin D,” said lead author Dr David Lee, in Manchester.

The authors credit their large population sample and took into account potential interfering factors, such as depression, season and levels of physical activity. “Interestingly, the association between increased vitamin D and faster information processing was more significant in men aged over 60 years, although the biological reasons for this remain unclear.”


Worst Offending Foods for Pesticide Content

Here's a list of the top ten worst foods to buy off the shelf in the grocery store with regards to pesticide residue . . . If you are going to buy organic, these are ten to focus on (according to the Environmental Working Group):

- Apples

- Celery

- Cherries

- Grapes

- Lettuce

- Nectarines

- Peaches

- Pears

- Strawberries

- Sweet bell peppers


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vitamin D and Asthma Relief

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that vitamin D may slow the progressive decline in the ability to breathe that can occur in people with asthma.

Calcitriol, a form of vitamin D synthesized within the body, reduced a proliferation of cells that is a part of process called airway remodeling, which occurs in many people with asthma, and leads to reduced lung function over time.

These PA researchers believe that by slowing airway "remodeling" they can prevent or forestall the irreversible decline in breathing that leaves many asthmatics even more vulnerable when they suffer an asthma attack.

“Calcitriol has recently earned prominence for its anti-inflammatory effects,” said Gautam Damera, Ph.D., who will present the research today at the American Thoracic Society’s 105th International Conference in San Diego. Their study is the first to reveal the potent role of how calcitriol inhibits proliferation of these "ASM" cells.

The experiments were conducted with cells from 12 subjects, and the researchers compared calcitriol with dexmethasone, a corticosteroid prescribed widely for the treatment of asthma. Although, dexmethasone is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, the researchers found that it had little effect in comparison to the vitamin D.

As part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Airway Biology Initiative, the researchers are planning a randomized control trial of this form of vitamin D in patients with severe asthma and expect to have data from the trial in about a year’s time.

With its anti-inflammatory qualities and its ability to inhibit smooth muscle proliferation, Dr. Damera said, calcitriol may become an important new therapy, used alone or in combination with already prescribed steroids, for treating steroid-resistant asthma.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Triglycerides Testing for Diabetics May Identify Those with Neuropathy Risks

Diabetic neuropathy is a very serious and quite common malady for those who have diabetes. But there hasn't been a good way to predict who would likely suffer from this illness. That is, until it was discovered that a common blood test for triglycerides – a well-known cardiovascular disease risk factor – could allow doctors to predict which patients with diabetes are more likely to develop neuropathy.

Triglycerides are a type of lipid, or fat, that the body makes from calories it doesn’t need immediately. Triglycerides are stored in fat cells until they are needed to provide energy. When higher-than-normal amounts circulate in the blood, a person is at higher risk of disease.

In a study now online in the journal Diabetes, University of Michigan and Wayne State University researchers analyzed data from 427 diabetes patients with neuropathy, a condition in which nerves are damaged or lost with resulting numbness, tingling and pain, often in the hands, arms, legs and feet. The data revealed that if a patient had elevated triglycerides, he or she was significantly more likely to experience worsening neuropathy over a period of one year. Other factors, such as higher levels of other fats in the blood or of blood glucose, did not turn out to be significant. The study will appear in print in the journal’s July issue.

Kelli A. Sullivan, Ph.D., co-first author of the study and a professor in neurology at the U-M Medical School, said “In our study, elevated serum triglycerides were the most accurate at predicting nerve fiber loss, compared to all other measures." Senior author, Dr. Eva Feldman, believes that these results set the stage for clinicians to be able to address lowering lipid counts with their diabetes patients with neuropathy as vigilantly as they pursue glucose control.

“Aggressive treatment can be very beneficial to patients in terms of their neuropathy,” says Feldman, who is also director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute and director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Center at U-M for the study of complications in diabetes.

With a readily available predictor for nerve damage – triglycerides are measured as part of routine blood testing – doctors and patients can take proactive steps when interventions can do some good. People can reduce blood triglyceride levels with the same measures that reduce cholesterol levels: by avoiding harmful fats in the diet and exercising regularly.

Diabetic neuropathy affects around 60 percent of the 23 million people in the United States who have diabetes. It is a complication in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Until now, doctors have lacked an effective way to predict which diabetes patients are at greatest risk of neuropathy. Most often, the condition becomes evident when irreversible nerve damage has already occurred. Neuropathy is the leading cause of diabetes-related hospital admissions and amputations that are not secondary to trauma.

The new finding adds to an emerging picture of the close connections between cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Elevated triglycerides are one of the most common features of the lipid disorders found in patients with type 2 diabetes, by far the most common form of diabetes, says Rodica Pop-Busui, M.D., Ph.D., one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor in the metabolism, endocrinology and diabetes division of the Department of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School.

“Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of excess mortality among patients with diabetes. Research also has shown that the presence of neuropathy is an important predictor of these deaths,” says Pop-Busui.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weight Loss and Dementia

My mother-in-law, a wonderful lady who I loved like my own Mom, had a weight problem most of her life. But, in her later years she had a remarkable loss of pounds and began looking very trim. I remember everyone complimenting her on losing that weight, and asking her about her diet plan. She didn't have one, she said. She had no idea why she was getting thin.

That was six months to a year before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

A new study has been published in the May 19, 2009 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology that discusses this phenomenon. The research shows that older people who are losing weight quickly are at a higher risk of developing dementia, especially if they started out overweight or obese.

For the study, researchers followed for eight years 1,836 people in Washington state with an average age of 72. During that time, 129 of them developed dementia.

Those who lost weight over the study period at a faster rate were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those who lost weight more slowly over time. “Our finding suggests that losing weight quickly in older age may be an early sign of dementia,” said study author Tiffany Hughes, PhD, MPH, who is with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine but conducted the research while she was a doctoral student at the University of South Florida. “This doesn’t mean that being obese or overweight is healthy for the mind or body, but losing weight may be a sign of emerging brain disease.”

“Dementia has been shown to develop in the brain decades before any symptoms develop,” Hughes said. “These findings likely reflect that process. In middle age, obesity may be a risk factor for dementia, while declining weight in late life may be considered one of the first changes from the disease that occurs before it actually affects a person’s memory.”


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Glutamine and its Effects on Gastric Problems

It has long been known that it is a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, that is the major culprit behind stomach ulcers. Doctors usually consider antibiotics to be the primary therapy against H. pylori infection, which is a problem because antibiotics are often overused and they deplete the body of its naturally occurring good bacteria which are so essential to immune and digestive health.

However, this infection now affects approximately six percent of the world population and is also a primary cause of stomach cancer. So it's been very bad news that the bacteria is growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

A new study led by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrates that the amino acid glutamine, found in many foods as well as in dietary supplements, may prove beneficial in offsetting gastric damage caused by H. pylori infection. Reported in the May 2009 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, the findings offer the possibility of an alternative to antibiotics for the treatment of stomach ulcers.

“Our findings suggest that extra glutamine in the diet could protect against gastric damage caused by H. pylori,” says senior author Susan Hagen, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. “Gastric damage develops when the bacteria weakens the stomach’s protective mucous coating, damages cells and elicits a robust immune response that is ineffective at ridding the infection.” Eventually, she notes, years of infection result in a combination of persistent gastritis, cell damage and an environment conducive to cancer development.

Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid naturally found in certain foods, including beef, chicken, fish eggs, dairy products and some fruits and vegetables. It is seen in wide use in the dietary supplement industry, and frequently used by bodybuilders to build muscle mass.

Hagen and her coauthors had previously shown that glutamine protects against cell death from H. pylori-produced ammonia. “Our work demonstrated that the damaging effects of ammonia on gastric cells could be reversed completely by the administration of L-glutamine,” explains Hagen. “The amino acid stimulated ammonia detoxification in the stomach – as it does in the liver – so that the effective concentration of ammonia was reduced, thereby blocking cell damage.”

This research team did extensive experimentation in mice that were fed the L-glutamine diet; these animals exhibited lower levels of inflammation than did the mice that received the standard control diet.

“Because many of the stomach pathologies during H. pylori infection [including cancer progression] are linked to high levels of inflammation, this result provides us with preliminary evidence that glutamine supplementation may be an alternative therapy for reducing the severity of infection,” explains Hagen, adding that studies in human subjects will be the next step to determine the relevance of this finding in the clinical setting.

“H. pylori bacteria infect more than half of the world’s population and were recently identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization,” she adds. “Approximately 5.5 percent of the entire global cancer burden is attributed to H. pylori infection and, worldwide, over 900,000 new cases of gastric cancer develop each year. The possibility that an inexpensive, easy-to-use treatment could be used to modify the damaging effects of H. pylori infection warrants further study in clinical trials.”


Friday, May 15, 2009

DASH Diet Promotes Heart Health

A large study led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) demonstrates that women who followed the DASH diet significantly reduced their risk of developing heart failure. The DASH diet was initially developed to help patients lower their blood pressure, but it now appears it has led to other positive outcomes.

This study was published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine-- the findings offer still more evidence that a diet high in plant foods and low in sugar and saturated fats is good for heart health.

DASH starts out as a good thing, because, as senior author Dr. Emily Levitan says, “High blood pressure is always of concern because it has the potential to lead to major adverse events, including strokes, heart attacks and heart failure.” Levitan is a research fellow in the Cardiovascular Epidemiology. She and her coauthors hypothesized that the DASH diet (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) would also reduce a woman’s risk of heart failure through its blood pressure lowering effects as well as its secondary effects on cholesterol and other heart-disease risk factors. The DASH diet, which has been shown to lower blood pressure in randomized clinical studies, is plentiful in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains.

“These DASH foods are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber, moderately high in protein, and low in saturated fat and total fat,” explains Levitan.

A life-threatening condition that develops when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure) is usually caused by existing cardiac conditions, including high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among patients 65 and older, and is characterized by such symptoms as fatigue and weakness, difficulty walking, rapid or irregular heartbeat, and persistent cough or wheezing.

In the fall of 1997, 36,019 women aged 48 to 83 completed food frequency questionnaires in Sweden to determine how closely their diets matched the DASH guidelines. Each participant was given a “score” based on their diet’s similarity to the DASH diet.

“We then used records from the Swedish national healthcare system to determine whether the women went on to be hospitalized or to die from heart failure,” explains Levitan. “We compared women with diets most similar to the DASH diet to women with diets that were not similar and found that those women whose diets most closely resembled DASH had the lowest risk of heart failure.”

Of particular note, adds Levitan, a woman’s diet did not have to precisely mimic the DASH diet in order to be of benefit. “Very few of the women we looked at had diets that shared all aspects of the DASH diet,” she adds. “But we found that the closer they were, the lower their risk of heart failure. This suggests that making even moderate adjustments to your diet to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, and less salt and sugar and less red meat and processed meats, can help improve cardiac health.”


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Older Adults Need More Time in the Sun

Older adults could really help reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes if they would get out in the sun more often. Exposure to sunlight stimulates vitamin D in the skin and older people are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency due to the natural aging process, along with changes in lifestyle.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have shown vitamin D deficiency is significantly associated with metabolic syndrome, a combination of medical and metabolic disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Dr Oscar Franco at Warwick led this team which investigated the association between vitamin D levels in the blood and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in 3,262 people aged 50-70 years old in China. The group found a high correlation between low vitamin D levels and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. In fact, 42.3% of these people shown with low vitamin D levels also had metabolic syndrome.

The results of the study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, are consistent with the findings of other studies in Western populations and the Franco team suggests that vitamin D deficiency could become a global health concern.

"Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a condition that is causing a large burden of disease across the globe with particular deleterious impact among the elderly. Our results are consistent with those found in British and American populations. We found that low vitamin D levels were associated with an increased risk of having metabolic syndrome," he said. Vitamin D deficiency was also significantly associated with increased insulin resistance.

Changes in lifestyle factors such as clothing and reduced outdoor activity could certainly be a part of the problem, said this report. As we age, our skin is less efficient at forming vitamin D and our diet may also become less varied, with a lower natural vitamin D content.

Franco recommends that older adults need to spend more time outdoors to stimulate the same levels of vitamin D that most people have when they are younger.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Link Between Overweight Children and Allergies Later in Life

A new study published in the May issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that obese children and adolescents are at increased risk of having some kind of allergy, especially to a food. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), both parts of the National Institutes of Health.

“We found a positive association between obesity and allergies,” said Darryl Zeldin, M.D., senior author on the paper. The researchers analyzed data on children and young adults ages 2 to19 from a new national dataset designed to obtain information about allergies and asthma. The size of the data involved makes it the largest nationally representative dataset of allergy and asthma information ever assembled in the United States.

“We have all the pieces of the puzzle in this dataset,” said Zeldin. “The allergy and asthma component of NHANES provides allergen exposure information, allergic sensitization information, as well as disease outcome information. There is a wealth of knowledge we will be able to gain by analyzing these data that will be useful to allergy and asthma sufferers.”

In this study, the researchers analyzed data from 4,111 children and young adults aged 2-19 years of age. They looked at total and allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) or antibody levels to a large panel of indoor, outdoor and food allergens, body weight, and responses to a questionnaire about diagnoses of hay fever, eczema, and allergies. Obesity was defined as being in the 95th percentile of the body mass index for the child’s age. The researchers found the IgE levels were higher among children who were obese or overweight. Obese children were about 26 percent more likely to have allergies than children of normal weight.

The signal for allergies seemed to be coming mostly from food allergies. The rate of having a food allergy was 59 percent higher for obese children,” said NIEHS researcher Stephanie London, M.D., a co-author on the study.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Curcumin and the Fight Against Obesity

The Journal of Nutrition reports that curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow color, may prevent and reduce body weight gain. This new data comes from a study with mice -- mice fed a high-fat diet and supplemented with curcumin were found to have reduced body weight gain, as well as lowered blood cholesterol levels.

“The curcumin suppression of angiogenesis in adipose tissue together with its effect on lipid metabolism in adipocytes may contribute to lower body fat and body weight gain,” wrote the authors, of which Asma Ejaz at Tufts University was the lead author. “Our findings suggest that dietary curcumin may have a potential benefit in preventing obesity.”

With 62 per cent of Americans already in the overweight category, there is a huge and growing market for all things that promise weight reduction.

Curcumin was also associated with significantly lower cholesterol levels and a reduction in the expression of a protein that plays a role in metabolic functions. This ancient spice ingredient may have a new role to play in the future of weight management and overall health.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Folic Acid May Suppress Allergies and Asthma

Asthma affects more than 7 percent of adults and children in the United States, and is the most common chronic condition among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Environmental allergies are estimated to affect 25 million Americans, according to the CDC.

That's why it is fascinating that folic acid, or vitamin B9 (a vitamin that is essential for red blood cell health and long known to reduce the risk of spinal birth defects) may also suppress allergic reactions and lessen the severity of allergy and asthma symptoms, according to new research from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Scientists now say that the results of recent studies in humans examining the link between blood levels of folate – the naturally occurring form of folic acid — and allergies shows that folate can help regulate inflammation. Recent studies, including research from Hopkins, have found a link between folate levels and inflammation-mediated diseases, including heart disease. A report on the Hopkins Children’s findings appears online ahead of print in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

Reviewing the medical records of more than 8,000 people ages 2 to 85 the investigators tracked the effect of folate levels on respiratory and allergic symptoms and on levels of IgE antibodies, immune system markers that rise in response to an allergen. People with higher blood levels of folate had fewer IgE antibodies, fewer reported allergies, less wheezing and lower likelihood of asthma, researchers report.

“Our findings are a clear indication that folic acid may indeed help regulate immune response to allergens, and may reduce allergy and asthma symptoms,” says lead investigator Elizabeth Matsui, M.D.

The current recommendation for daily dietary intake of folic acid is 400 micrograms for healthy men and non-pregnant women. Many cereals and grain products are already fortified with folate, and folate is found naturally in green, leafy vegetables, beans and nuts.