Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Soy Products May be Important for Fighting Colon Cancer

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Report Damns Chinese Drywall as Unsafe

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 23, 2009

New Environmentally Friendly Plastic On the Horizon

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Confirming What Mom Told Us . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Selenium Supplements and High Cholesterol

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kicking the Smoking Habit Improves Surgical Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 9, 2009

Alternate-Day Fasting Shows Promise for Dieters

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 6, 2009

Children Who Drink Full-Fat Milk Weigh Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green Tea Extract as Chemoprevention Agent for Oral Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 2, 2009

Lower Cholesterol in Men Lowers Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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