Thursday, July 30, 2009

Black Tea and Diabetes

Do you know what the single most consumed beverage is in the world, besides water? It is tea. Long known for its antioxidants, immune boosting abilities and, most recently, antihypertensive properties, black tea could have another health benefit. Black tea may be used to control diabetes, according to a study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Researchers from the Tianjin Key Laboratory in China studied the polysaccharide levels of green, oolong and black teas and whether they could be used to treat diabetes. Polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that includes starch and cellulose, may benefit people with diabetes because they help retard absorption of glucose. The researchers found that of the three teas, the polysaccharides in black tea had the most glucose-inhibiting properties. The black tea polysaccharides also showed the highest scavenging effect on free radicals, which are involved in the onset of diseases such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Many efforts have been made to search for effective glucose inhibitors from natural materials,” says lead researcher Haixia Chen. “There is a potential for exploitation of black tea polysaccharide in managing diabetes.”

I'm sure we'll be seeing some products in the supplement category come out of this research.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Healthcare Reform: What Do We Do About Soaring Obesity Costs?

While it is great to hear of possible healthcare reform, I wonder how Congress feels about the topic of obesity. While I have no problem paying a slight surtax to help everyone get health insurance, like many others I would be quite upset to be paying for someone who is terribly obese, because the costs stemming from obesity are so high. In fact, in the USA, annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity have doubled in less than a decade. Currently, the costs of obesity in the US may be as high as $147 billion per year.

This number comes from a new study by researchers at RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The study, published on the Health Affairs' Web site, reports that, between 1998 and 2006, the prevalence of obesity (body mass index greater than 30) increased by 37 percent. That's a scary figure.

These results reveal that obesity is now responsible for 9.1 percent of annual medical expenditures, compared with 6.5 percent in 1998. The results also showed that an obese person has $1,429 per year more medical costs, or about 42 percent more costs, than someone of normal weight. Costs for an obese Medicare recipient are even greater. 8.5 percent of Medicare expenditures, 11.8 percent of Medicaid expenditures, and 12.9 percent of private payer expenditures are attributable to obesity.

This is why I think that healthcare reform has to consider the matter of obesity as one of the top targets for consumer education. It is a shame that healthy people of a normal weight would have to pick up the costs for those who have made the opposite lifestyle decisions.

"The medical costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes. Thus, obesity will continue to impose a significant burden on the health care system as long as the prevalence of obesity remains high," said Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., director of RTI's Public Health Economics Program and the study's lead author.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Outrageous Salt Levels in Packaged Foods

A survey of 260 global food products from manufacturers such as Nestle, KFC and Kellogg’s, found that people in some countries are being fed over twice as much salt in popular global brands as their counterparts in other parts of the world. This survey was done in the UK by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) and reported on in both Food Navigator and in Nutraingredients.

Kellogg’s All Bran, for example, contains 2.15g of salt per 100g in Canada, but only 0.65g of salt per 100g just over the border in the USA. Why would the USA version contain less than a third of the Canadian level? Do Canadians desire a much more salty tasting bran cereal for their breakfasts?

According to the report, menu items at KFC in New Zealand show how absurd some of these differences are. For example, a product called KFC Twister has the lowest salt content per portion in the global survey of KFC foods, while at the exact same time its Fillet Burger has the highest. This shows that there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason behind the inclusion of high salt levels on prepared and fast foods. The only conclusion drawn by WASH is that these differences are the result of random choices for local manufacturing.

Only in some cases were differences in legislation, consumer pressure, and local preferences reasonable explanations for the variations. In the UK and Australia, where there has been a concerted effort to reduce salt content, some of the lowest salt levels were observed.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Close Emotional Ties to Caregiver Gives Alzheimers Patients Results On Par with Drugs

Johns Hopkins and Utah State University researchers recently published that a particularly close relationship with caregivers may give people with Alzheimer’s disease a marked edge over those without one in retaining mind and brain function over time. In fact, the beneficial effect of what they call "emotional intimacy" between patient and caregiver was on par with some drugs used to treat the disease.

This report is published in the September 2009 Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences and is currently available online.

“We’ve shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may mean the difference between someone with AD staying at home or going to a nursing facility,” says Constantine Lyketsos, M.D. of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center.

Researchers have long been interested in the relationships between caregivers and Alzheimer’s disease patients, with many studies focusing on the well-being of caregivers. However, little was known about how the relationship affects the well-being of people with Alzheimer’s.

To find out, Lyketsos and colleagues at Johns Hopkins, Utah State, University of Washington, Duke University and Boston University examined 167 pairs of caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients. The pairs were recruited from the Cache County (Utah) Dementia Progression Study, which has tracked hundreds of people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia since 1994.

At the outset of the study, all patients scored similarly on cognitive and functional tests. However, as time progressed, the researchers found marked differences between patients whose caregivers had scored their relationships as close or more distant on the surveys. Patients with whose caregivers felt particularly close to them retained more of their cognitive function over the course of the study, losing less than half as many points on average by the end of the study on a common cognitive test called the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), compared to patients with more distant caregivers. Patients with close caregivers also scored better on a functional test called the Clinical Dementia Rating, remaining significantly closer to baseline over time compared to those with more distant caregivers.

Interestingly, the “closeness effect” was heightened where the caregiver was a spouse, as opposed to an adult child or in-law. Patients with close spouses declined the slowest overall, with scores on the MMSE showing changes over time similar to patients participating in recent clinical trials for FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.

“We’ve shown that the benefits of having a close caregiver, especially a spouse, may be substantial. The difference in cognitive and functional decline over time between close and not-as-close pairs can mean the difference between staying at home or going to a nursing facility,” says Lyketsos.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Perhaps Milk Isn't as Bad as We Thought?

I've been trying to steer clear of cow's milk for a few years. I have the impression that when I drink it, my head fills up with mucus and I get very uncomfortable. But I may just have to reexamine those feelings, because new research being done in England shows that there is a significant health benefit to drinking milk.

Research undertaken by the Universities of Reading, Cardiff and Bristol has found that drinking milk can lessen the chances of dying from illnesses such as coronary heart disease and stroke by up to 15-20%.

As I mentioned, milk has often been portrayed as an unhealthy food. The study, led by Prof. Peter Elwood (Cardiff) together with Prof. Ian Givens (Reading), aimed to establish whether the health benefits of drinking milk outweigh any dangers that lie in its consumption. This is the first time that disease risk associated with drinking milk has been looked at in relation to the number of deaths which the diseases are responsible for.

The review brought together published evidence from 324 studies of milk consumption as predictors of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and, diabetes. Data on milk consumption and cancer were based on the recent World Cancer Research Fund report. The outcomes were then compared with current death rates from these diseases.

Dr. Givens explained: “While growth and bone health are of great importance to health and function, it is the effects of milk and dairy consumption on chronic disease that are of the greatest relevance to reduced morbidity and survival. Our review made it possible to assess overall whether increased milk consumption provides a survival advantage or not. We believe it does."

He continued, “Our findings clearly show that when the numbers of deaths from CHD, stroke and colorectal cancer were taken into account, there is strong evidence of an overall reduction in the risk of dying from these chronic diseases due to milk consumption. We certainly found no evidence that drinking milk might increase the risk of developing any condition, with the exception of prostate cancer. Put together, there is convincing overall evidence that milk consumption is associated with an increase in survival in Western communities.”


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Infant's IQ Lowered by Urban Air Pollution in Mom

A new study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a component of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several private foundations, is reporting that a mother’s exposure to urban air pollutants can adversely affect a child’s intelligence quotient (IQ). Certain types of chemicals are released into the air from the burning of coal, diesel, oil and gas, or other organic substances such as tobacco -- this is made worse in urban areas by motor vehicles are a major source of the problem pollutants.

Researchers found that children exposed to high levels of these pollutants in New York City had full scale and verbal IQ scores that were 4.31 and 4.67 points lower than those of less-exposed children. A difference of four points, which was the average seen in this study, could be educationally meaningful in terms of school success, as reflected, for example, in standardized testing and other measures of academic performance. However, the researchers point out that the effects may vary among individual children.

“This research clearly shows that environmental PAHs [pollutants] at levels encountered in an urban setting can adversely affect a child’s IQ,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS. “This is the first study to report an association between PAH exposure and IQ, and it should serve as a warning bell to us all. We need to do more to prevent environmental exposures from harming our children.”

This was a major study, conducted by scientists from the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health. The children were followed from utero to 5 years of age. The mothers wore personal air monitors during pregnancy to measure exposure to pollutants and they responded to questionnaires.

249 children were given an intelligence test at age 5 years. The test is regarded as a well validated, reliable and sensitive instrument for assessing intelligence. The researchers developed models to calculate the associations between prenatal pollutant exposure and IQ. They accounted for other factors such as second-hand smoke exposure, lead, mother’s education and the quality of the home caretaking environment. Study participants exposed to air pollution levels below the average were designated as having low exposure, while those exposed to pollution levels above the median were identified as high exposure.

“The decrease in full-scale IQ score among the more exposed children is similar to that seen with low-level lead exposure,” said lead author Frederica P. Perera, PhD.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Weight Management

A small Australian clinical study shows a tantalizing promise -- that there may be a biological link for humans between weight management and their intact of omega-3 fatty acids.

New findings reported in the British Journal of Nutrition indicate that overweight and obese people have lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids than people of a healthy weight.

The researchers, led by Professor Monohar Garg from the University of Newcastle, recruited 124 people of varying weights. 21 of these were classified as having a healthy weight, 40 were classed as overweight, and 63 were obese. Those who consumed omega-3 supplements were excluded from their study.

It appears that previous studies have implicated omega-3 in protective benefits against obesity, and the new study adds to this small but growing body of evidence. A considerable number of studies already support the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for cardiovascular and cognitive health. Other areas of potential for the fatty acids include mood and behavior, eye health, cancer risk reduction, and improved development of infants in the womb.

When studying these patients, the authors recorded an inverse relationship between total omega-3 blood levels, as well as blood levels of DHA and EPA, with Body Mass Index, the subject’s waist size, and their hip circumference.

The Australia-based researchers noted that omega-3 fatty acids may aid weight management by increasing the production of heat by burning energy (thermogenesis). Another study suggested a role of omega-3s in boosting the feeling of fullness after a meal during weight loss in both overweight and obese individuals. Such observations are linked to changes in levels of hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin which impact on appetite, said the researchers.

“Thus, the idea that fish oil can regulate weight status via improved appetite control along with a subsequent reduction in energy intake is plausible and worthy of further investigation,” wrote Prof Garg and his co-workers.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How Stress Actually Makes You Sick

In a new report just published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychologist Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser from the Ohio State University College of Medicine reviews research investigating how stress can wreak havoc on our bodies and provides some suggestions to further our understanding of this connection. Anyone who's gotten a cold during exam time or who has felt run-down after a big meeting may suspect that feeling sick often follows a particularly stressful time at work or school.

In the publication, Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser asks, is this merely coincidence, or is it possible that stress can actually make us sick?

There is a developing field of study in this area, called "psychoneuroimmunology," (or PNI) that investigates how stress and negative emotions (such as depression and anxiety) affect our health. Over the past 30 years, researchers in this field have uncovered a number of ways that stress adversely affects our health, and specifically, how stress can damage our immune system. Kiecolt-Glaser refers to significant previous research about stress and its effect on vaccines and the immune system when she writes, "The evidence that stress and distress impair vaccine responses has obvious public health relevance because infectious diseases can be so deadly."

In other studies, stress and depression have been shown to increase the risk of getting infections. They have also resulted in delayed wound healing.

Our bodies use Inflammation as the body's way of removing harmful stimuli; this also starts the process of healing, via release of a variety of chemicals known as proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., interleukin-6). Too much of this inflammation can be a very bad thing. This has been implicated in the development of many age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, and Type II diabetes.

Negative emotions and psychological stressors increase the production of proinflammatory cytokines. A recent study revealed that men and women who serve as caregivers to spouses with dementia (a group of people who are under constant stress) have a four times larger annual rate of increase in serum interleukin-6 levels compared to individuals without caregiving responsibilities. Studies like this one prove the connection between stress and disease.

Sadly, even following the death of the impaired spouse, the changes in interleukin-6 levels among former caregivers did not differ from current caregivers, indicating that chronic stress may cause the immune system to age quickly. The effects of stress stay in the body, causing great harm. Kiecolt-Glaser says in her article, "These stress-related changes in inflammation provide evidence of one mechanism through which stressors may accelerate risk of a host of age-related diseases."

Kiecolt-Glaser argues that diet may modify interactions between psychological and immunological responses. Her suggestion is that Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and walnuts) can be used to reduce production of some of these proinflammtory chemicals. (Also, it has been shown that increasing levels of omega-3 fatty acids may result in positive effects on mood and the immune system). While the author does not delve further in this article into other methods of stress reduction, they would include exercise, meditation and even some natural products such as the herb Rhodiola rosea.

My family has taken Rhodiola rosea for more than seven or eight years, as a daily tonic. Each of us now relies on that herb to melt away the extraordinary levels of stress that modern life can bring on. My son, age 21 now and a senior in college, uses additional MIND BODY & SPIRIT, a quality Rhodiola rosea product, during exam times, as Rhodiola's other benefit is the additional mental clarity that it brings. Personally, I can feel it within 30 minutes or so as it lifts the burden of stress off my shoulders. Like any herb, however, you may need to take Rhodiola rosea for a few weeks in order to start reaping the advantages. We combine Omega-3 fatty acids and MIND BODY & SPIRIT in our home to great effect.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baby Bath Products Found to Contain Dangerous or Allergenic Chemicals

A group of Spanish chemists (University of Santiago de Compostela) has recently developed and published a method to quantify the fragrance allergens found in baby bath products. The researchers have analyzed real samples and detected up to 15 allergen compounds in cosmetics and personal hygiene items currently being sold for use with infants.

A team of scientists from the Department of Analytical Chemistry at this university has developed a method to detect and quantify the 15 most common fragrance allergens included in soap, gel, cologne and other personal hygiene categories.

Dr. MarĂ­a Llompart, co-author, said: "Applying the method to eight real samples obtained from the daily baths of a series of babies aged between six months and two years old, we discovered the presence of all the compounds under study in at least one of the samples." The study was published this month in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.

The scientists point to at least six dangerous compounds that were seen in all the samples. In some cases, concentrations were "extremely high", exceeding 100ppm (parts per million). Some of these substances were benzyl salicylate, linalol, coumarin and hydroxycitronellal.

"The presence and levels of these chemical agents in bathwater should be cause for concern," Llompart said, "bearing in mind that babies spend up to 15 minutes or more a day playing in the bath and that they can absorb these and other chemicals not only through their skin, but also by inhalation and often ingestion, intentional or not."


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine Beats Pharma for Endometriosis Care After Surgery

A systematic review by Cochrane Researchers found that Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) may relieve symptoms in the treatment of endometriosis. The evidence shows that women had comparable benefits following laparoscopic surgery and suffered fewer adverse effects if they were given Chinese herbs compared with conventional pharmaceutical drug treatments.

Endometriosis is a gynaecological disorder that can cause pelvic pain, irregular and painful periods, and infertility in one out of six women. Surgical treatments do not always lead to long-term improvement in symptoms and drug treatments can have unpleasant side effects such as hot flushes, acne and weight gain.

This was the first ever English language systematic review of CHM for treatment of endometriosis. Two trials, which together focused on a total of 158 women, were included in the review. In one, the Chinese herbs provided symptomatic relief comparable to that provided by the hormonal drug gestrinone, but with fewer side effects. In the other trial, CHM was more effective than the hormonal drug danazol, and also resulted in fewer side effects.

"These findings suggest that Chinese herbs may be just as effective as certain conventional drug treatments for women suffering from endometriosis, but at present we don't have enough evidence to generalize the results," says lead researcher Andrew Flower of the Complementary Medicine Research Unit at the University of Southampton in the UK.

The problem with most Chinese herbal medicine studies is that they are not done well. The methodology needs work, and is a serious detraction to studying the success of these herbs. In this case, 110 studies were originally considered for review but most were of poor methodological quality and had to be excluded. The researchers stress the need for Chinese researchers to adopt more rigorous methods in carrying out trials and reporting them. "Poor quality reporting has the potential to confuse and undermine research in Chinese herbal medicine," says Flower.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Migraines with Aura May Indicate Stroke Risk

According to new research published in the June, 2009, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, women who have migraines with aura may be more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than women who don’t have the condition. An aura is a visual/sensory disturbance that occurs before the migraine starts, such as seeing bright lights. People who have migraines will know what this is.

The study found that women with this type of migraine, whose migraines occur at least once a week, are more than four times as likely to have a stroke as women who do not have migraines. Women with migraine and an aura who have migraines less than once a month were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack and nearly twice as likely to have had heart procedures such as coronary artery bypass surgery or angioplasty. In contrast, women who had migraines with aura once a month had no increased risk of stroke or heart problems. So the tie to stroke and heart attack seems to lie in the frequency of the migraine/aura.

The Women’s Health Study involved 27,798 U.S. women health professionals age 45 and older. The women had no heart or cerebrovascular problems at the start of the study and were followed for about 12 years. During that time, 706 women, or 2.5 percent of the group had cerebrovascular events, including 305 heart attacks and 310 strokes. In addition, 655 women had heart procedures such as bypass surgery.

Of the 3,568 women with migraine at the start of the study, 1,428 had migraine with aura.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Walnuts Cut Cholesterol

Harvard scientists have found that diets rich in walnuts can significantly reduce cholesterol levels. This new research supports a growing stack of evidence that suggests these wonderful nuts can improve healthy blood lipid ratios.

In their investigation of thirteen studies, the researchers demonstrated that walnut-rich consumption decreased total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol during short term trials. While they did recommend that larger trials were needed, their analysis joins a growing body of science that has linked nut consumption to improvements in markers of cardiovascular health.

The work was published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, where researchers Dr. Deirdre Banel and Dr. Frank Hu conducted the meta-analysis to estimate the effect of walnuts on blood lipids.

Literature databases were searched and the researchers then conducted a random-effects meta-analysis of weighted mean differences of lipid outcomes. The 13 studies selected represented some 365 participants, with diets lasting between four and 24 weeks; walnuts represented 10 - 24 per cent of their total calories.

The authors concluded, "When compared with control diets, diets supplemented with walnuts resulted in a significantly greater decrease in total cholesterol and in LDL-cholesterol concentrations."


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lack of Sleep More Dangerous for Women than Men

New research from Warwick University and University College (London) in the UK shows that women who get less than the recommended eight hours sleep a night are at higher risk of heart disease and heart-related problems than men with the same sleeping patterns.

It appears that levels of inflammatory markers vary significantly with sleep duration in women, but not men.

The study, published today in the journal SLEEP, found levels of Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a marker related to coronary heart disease, were significantly lower in women who reported sleeping eight hours as compared with 7hours. This 8-hour number appears to be the goal that women of any age should set for themselves.

A second marker, High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), is predictive of future cardiovascular morbidity. Levels of hs-CRP were significantly higher in women who reported sleeping five hours or less.

Michelle Miller, lead author of the study and Associate Professor at Warwick Medical School, said short-term sleep deprivation studies have shown that inflammatory markers are elevated in sleep-deprived individuals, suggesting that inflammatory mechanisms may play a role in the cardiovascular risk associated with sleep deprivation.

“Our study may provide some insight into a potential mechanism for the observation in previous studies which indicates an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease in individuals who have less than five hours sleep per night and increased risk of non-cardiovascular death in long sleepers," said Miller.

This is the first large-scale study to describe the associations between measures of inflammation and sleep duration in both men and women.

The study involved more than 4,600 participants from the University College London-based Whitehall II cohort study, so it was indeed a large one.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Celiac Disease Much More Common Today

Celiac disease is an immune system reaction to gluten in the diet, and according to new research from the Mayo Clinic, it is now over four times more common than it was 50 years ago. The original Mayo research was published in the journal Gastroenterology.

It was also reported in this study that subjects who did not know they had celiac disease were nearly four times more likely than celiac-free subjects to have died during the 45 years of follow-up.

Joseph Murray, M.D., the Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who led the study, says "Celiac disease has become much more common in the last 50 years, and we don’t know why. It now affects about one in a hundred people. We also have shown that undiagnosed or ‘silent’ celiac disease may have a significant impact on survival. The increasing prevalence, combined with the mortality impact, suggests celiac disease could be a significant public health issue.”

I'm sure you've seen, as I have, an increasingly large selection of "gluten free" products on the shelves at health food stores, and often at large chain groceries as well. This can only be due to an increasing number of aware patients in the marketplace.

In patients with celiac disease, the presence of a protein called gluten from wheat, barley or rye triggers an immune system attack, damaging the villi in the small intestine. Villi are fingerlike projections that increase the intestine’s surface area for nutrient absorption. Celiac disease symptoms may include diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, anemia, unexplained infertility, loss of teeth or even premature or severe osteoporosis.

Researchers at the Mayo found that young people today are 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease than young people were in the 1950's. "It’s no longer rare,” says Dr. Murray. “Something has changed in our environment to make it much more common. Until recently, the standard approach to finding celiac disease has been to wait for people to complain of symptoms and to come to the doctor for investigation. This study suggests that we may need to consider looking for celiac disease in the general population, more like we do in testing for cholesterol or blood pressure.”

Dr. Murray says the study findings highlight the need for increased awareness of celiac disease, both among physicians and patients. “Part of the problem is that celiac disease symptoms are variable and can be mistaken for other diseases that are more common, such as irritable bowel syndrome,” he says. “Some studies have suggested that for every person who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, there are likely 30 who have it but are not diagnosed. And given the nearly quadrupled mortality risk for silent celiac disease we have shown in our study, getting more patients and health professionals to consider the possibility of celiac disease is important.”