Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mediterranean Diet Confirmed to Increase Health and Lifespan

A Mediterranean diet with large amounts of vegetables and fish gives a longer life. This is the unanimous result of four studies to be published by the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, a highly regarded Swedish research institute. Research studies ever since the 1950s have shown that a Mediterranean diet, based on a high consumption of fish and vegetables and a low consumption of animal-based products such as meat and milk, leads to better health.

Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy have now studied the effects of a Mediterranean diet on older people in Sweden. They have used a unique study known as the “H70 study” to compare 70-year-olds who eat a Mediterranean diet with others who have eaten more meat and animal products. The H70 study has studied thousands of 70-year-olds in the Gothenburg region for more than 40 years. The results show that those who eat a Mediterranean diet have a 20% higher chance of living longer.

“This means in practice that older people who eat a Mediterranean diet live an estimated 2-3 years longer than those who don’t”, says Gianluca Tognon, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

These results are supported by three further as yet unpublished studies into Mediterranean diets and their health effects: one carried out on people in Denmark, the second on people in northern Sweden, and the third on children.

“The conclusion we can draw from these studies is that there is no doubt that a Mediterranean diet is linked to better health, not only for the elderly but also for youngsters”, says Gianluca Tognon.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Probiotics Shown Effective in Radiation Protection

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that taking a probiotic before radiation therapy can protect the intestine from damage — at least in mice. And as things usually work out, this implies a connection to the same protection in humans.

The new study suggests that taking a probiotic also may help cancer patients avoid intestinal injury, a common problem in those receiving radiation therapy for abdominal cancers. The research is published online in the journal Gut. Radiation therapy often is used to treat prostate, cervical, bladder, endometrial and other abdominal cancers. But the therapy can kill both cancer cells and healthy ones, leading to severe bouts of diarrhea if the lining of the intestine gets damaged.

“For many patients, this means radiation therapy must be discontinued, or the radiation dose reduced, while the intestine heals,” says senior investigator William F. Stenson, MD, Professor in Gastroenterology at Washington University. “Probiotics may provide a way to protect the lining of the small intestine from some of that damage.”

Stenson has been searching for ways to repair and protect healthy tissue from radiation. This study showed that the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG), among other Lactobacillus probiotic strains, protected the lining of the small intestine in mice receiving radiation.

“The lining of the intestine is only one cell-layer thick,” Stenson says. “This layer of epithelial cells separates the rest of the body from what’s inside the intestine. If the epithelium breaks down as the result of radiation, the bacteria that normally reside in the intestine can be released, travel through the body and cause serious problems such as sepsis.”

The researchers found that the probiotic was effective only if given to mice before radiation exposure. If the mice received the probiotic after damage to the intestinal lining had occurred, the LGG treatment could not repair it. Because the probiotic protected intestinal cells in mice exposed, the investigators believe it may be time to study probiotic use in patients receiving radiation therapy for abdominal cancers.

“In earlier human studies, patients usually took a probiotic after diarrhea developed when the cells in the intestine already were injured,” says first author Matthew A. Ciorba, MD. “Our study suggests we should give the probiotic prior to the onset of symptoms, or even before the initiation of radiation because, at least in this scenario, the key function of the probiotic seems to be preventing damage, rather than facilitating repair.”

The investigators sought to evaluate LGG’s protective effects in a way that would leave little doubt about whether it was preventing injury, and if so, how it was protecting the cells that line the intestine. “Some human studies have looked at the possibility that probiotics might reduce diarrhea, but most of those studies have not been quite as rigorous as we would like, and the mechanism by which the probiotics might work has not been addressed,” Stenson says.

If human studies are launched, Ciorba says one bit of encouraging news is that the doses of probiotic given to mice were not exceptionally large, and their intestines were protected. So people wouldn’t need mega-doses of the probiotic to get protection.
“The bacteria we use is similar to what’s found in yogurt or in commercially available probiotics,” he says. “So theoretically, there shouldn’t be risk associated with this preventative treatment strategy any more than there would be in a patient with abdominal cancer eating yogurt.”


Saturday, November 12, 2011

How "Natural" Is This?

I was recently looking at Rhodiola supplements on Vitacost, one of those big discount vitamin and herb stores on the web. I couldn't find the quality brands but I saw something with their own brand name on it. I was OK with the price, it was about half of the norm. But when I looked at the ingredients, I was absolutely shocked. This was a "100% natural product" sold by a store that promotes healthy products and healthy lifestyles. And one of the major ingredients in this product (besides the herb) was something called Hydromellose.

Hypromellose turns out to be a very friendly sounding name for a very nasty sounding chemical ingredient. This is, to me, unbelievable that it shows up in the "other ingredients" and that their capsule is actually made from this stuff. Hypromellose is actually short for hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, otherwise known as HPMC. It is a semisynthetic, inert, viscoelastic polymer used as an ophthalmic lubricant and for other industrial purposes. That's right -- it's in the ingredients list of something that I would be swallowing three times a day every day of my life.

Next time you're thinking of cheapening up on your dietary supplements, think twice before you start downing products with ingredients like this or some of the other nasty items that show up in supplements, like stearic acid and magnesium stearate.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Use for Existing Drugs?

New research from Johns Hopkins suggests that brain-injured patients on cholesterol-lowering medications known as "statins" appear to be much more likely to survive a traumatic head injury. (Statins are sold under names like Lipitor and Crestor). This is exciting news because there has never been a medication given specifically to head trauma patients and the research here looks very promising.

Older patients who happened to have been taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs when admitted to the hospital with serious head injuries were 76 percent more likely to survive than those not taking the drugs, according to results of this study. Those taking statins also had a 13 percent greater likelihood of achieving good, functional recovery after one year.

The findings hold out the promise of a specific drug treatment for traumatic brain injury, for which there is none, the researchers say, and could increase use of what is already an incredibly popular class of drugs prescribed to more than four in 10 senior citizens in the United States alone.

“These data are intriguing,” says Eric B. Schneider, Ph.D., study leader and an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “We don’t think it’s the lowering of cholesterol that’s helping the brain recover in those who have been taking statins. We think there are other, less well-known properties of statins that are causing the benefits we seem to be seeing here.”

The results are reported in the October issue of The Journal of Trauma.

Schneider says he and his colleagues now want to do a clinical trial administering statins to brain-injured patients not already on the cholesterol-lowering drugs immediately upon arrival in the emergency department, to study whether the medication would have a direct beneficial impact on recovery. “If you get this drug into people very quickly after the injury, we may get the same effect as if the drug were in the body before the accident,” he says.

Let's hope that's the case.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Some Parents are Increasing Risk of Preventable Outbreaks

A national survey of parents of young children found more than 1 in 10 use an alternative vaccination schedule, and a large proportion of parents using the recommended schedule seem to be “at risk” for switching to an alternative schedule.

“Small decreases in vaccine coverage are known to lead to dramatic increases in the risk of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks,” says Amanda Dempsey, M.D., assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and communicable diseases and a member of the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Not following the recommended schedule leaves kids at risk for these diseases unnecessarily.”

Following a vaccination schedule that deviates from those recommended by recognized groups such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics leads to under-immunization. Under-immunization has been shown to significantly increase the risk of contracting and spreading vaccine preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough,” Dempsey adds.

This research shows that the problem of under-immunization is likely to continue to worsen in the future given that many parents have attitudes that indicate they are not convinced about the safety of having their kids vaccinated at recommended times. The study, “Alternative vaccination schedule preferences among parents of young children,” was published online today ahead print in the journal Pediatrics. It involved a survey of 771 parents of children ages 6 months to 6 years. Among this group, surveyed in May 2010, 13 percent reported deviating from the recommendations, though only 2 percent refused all vaccines.

Most of the parents using an alternative schedule said they themselves (41 percent) or a friend (15 percent) developed the schedule. Research has shown that using an alternative vaccine schedule is strongly associated with not having a regular health care provider for the child. The vaccines most commonly delayed were the measles-mumps-rubella (45 percent) and diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (43 percent) vaccines. A large minority (30 percent) of parents using an alternative schedule said they had initially followed the recommended vaccination schedule; most said they switched because it “seemed safer.”


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Link Between Smoking and Chronic Pain in Women

A new study led by University of Kentucky researchers seems to show that women who smoke heavily experience significantly more chronic musculoskeletal pain.

More than 6,000 Kentucky women over the age of 18 were surveyed on their smoking habits and symptoms of chronic pain. Syndromes included in the analysis were fibromyalgia, sciatica, chronic neck pain, chronic back pain, joint pain, chronic head pain, nerve problems, and pain all over the body.

Results showed that women who smoke, or who were former smokers, had a greater chance of reporting at least one chronic pain syndrome in comparison to nonsmokers. Former smokers showed a 20 percent increase, occasional smokers showed a 68 percent increase, and in daily smokers the odds more than doubled (104 percent). In addition, daily smoking was associated more strongly with chronic pain than older age, lower educational attainment, obesity, or living in an Appalachian county.

There's a definite connection, but the direction of it is uncertain, says Dr. David Mannino, a pulmonary physician in the UK College of Public Health and co-author of the study. "This study shows a strong relationship between heavy smoking and chronic pain in women," Mannino said. "But what is the direction of this association? Does smoking cause more chronic pain, or do more women take up smoking as a coping mechanism for experiencing chronic pain?"

Mannino describes acute pain as a "protective response" and theorizes that perhaps female smokers experience acute pain that develops into chronic pain because their normal protection and mechanisms are damaged by exposure to smoke.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saw Palmetto Study Shows No Benefit

According to new research, the fruit of the saw palmetto tree does not relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate, even when men take the herbal supplement in very high doses.

The research is published Sept. 28, 2011, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a journal which has often been decidedly negative about natural products and their effectiveness. Many older U.S. men take saw palmetto extract in an attempt to reduce bothersome symptoms of a swollen prostate, including frequent urination and a sense of urgency. Its use in Europe is even more widespread because doctors often recommend saw palmetto over more traditional drug treatments.

While the authors of this study believe that the results of their new study will settle an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of saw palmetto for a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, there will no doubt be protests from the millions of men who experience a reduction in prostate issues while taking saw palmetto. Earlier studies of the supplement have produced conflicting results, and none have evaluated the benefits of saw palmetto in high doses.

In the current study, however, men took many times the standard dose of saw palmetto. It's unclear to me why they would choose to ignore recommended doses and, instead, use "jumbo" doses of this extract. [DGJ comment: I would think that proper dosing is the issue, and not how much someone can tolerate. If you were stranded on a desert island and you ate a number of banana's off a tree, it would taste great and keep you alive. But, if you ate two hundred of them in one sitting, you'd be sick as a dog. What does taking massive doses prove?].

“Now we know that even very high doses of saw palmetto make absolutely no difference,” says co-author Gerald Andriole, MD, the Robert K. Royce Distinguished Professor and chief of urologic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Men should not spend their money on this herbal supplement as a way to reduce symptoms of enlarged prostate because it clearly does not work any better than a sugar pill.”

[DGJ: Another attempt at killing the supplement industry].

The multi-center study, led by Michael Barry, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, involved more than 300 men age 45 and older who had moderate symptoms suggestive of an enlarged prostate, such as frequent urination, difficulty emptying their bladders and a weak urine stream. The men were randomly selected to receive a daily dose of saw palmetto extract, beginning at 320 milligrams, or an identical-looking placebo pill with the same distinctive smell and taste.

After 24 weeks, the saw palmetto dosage was increased to 640 milligrams a day, and after another 24 weeks, to 960 milligrams a day – triple the standard dose. In all, men took saw palmetto or a placebo for nearly 17 months. Neither the physicians nor the patients knew who was taking what regimen until the end of the study.

The researchers found that among men who took saw palmetto, prostate problems improved slightly but not more than in men taking a placebo.

“We commonly see this in clinical trials,” Andriole explains. “Patients often report an improvement in symptoms because they are taking something, even if it is a placebo. But in this study, there was no benefit to taking saw palmetto over the placebo.”
The researchers found that saw palmetto had no greater effect than the placebo on BPH symptoms as well as other conditions related to an enlarged prostate such as waking at night to urinate, PSA level and bladder control.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Caffeine a Suitable Anti-Depressant?

Increased caffeinated coffee consumption has now been shown to be associated with decreased risk of depression in women. The risk of depression appears to decrease for women with increasing consumption of caffeinated coffee, according to a report in the September 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Caffeine is the most frequently used central nervous system stimulant in the world, and approximately 80 percent of consumption is in the form of coffee, according to background information in the article. Previous research, including one prospective study among men, has suggested an association between coffee consumption and depression risk. Because depression is a chronic and recurrent condition that affects twice as many women as men, the authors sought to examine whether, in women, consumption of caffeine or certain caffeinated beverages is associated with the risk of depression.

Michel Lucas, Ph.D., R.D., from the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and colleagues studied 50,739 U.S. women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study. Participants, who had a mean (average) age of 63, had no depression at the start of the study in 1996 and were prospectively followed up with through June 2006. Researchers measured caffeine consumption through questionnaires completed from May 1980 through April 2004, including the frequency that caffeinated and noncaffeinated coffee, nonherbal tea, caffeinated soft drinks (sugared or low-calorie colas), caffeine-free soft drinks (sugared or low-calorie caffeine-free colas or other carbonated beverages) and chocolate were usually consumed in the previous 12 months. The authors defined depression as reporting a new diagnosis of clinical depression and beginning regular use of antidepressants in the previous two years.

When compared with women who consumed one cup of caffeinated coffee or less per week, those who consumed two to three cups per day had a 15 percent decrease in relative risk for depression, and those consuming four cups or more per day had a 20 percent decrease in relative risk. Compared with women in the lowest (less than 100 milligrams [mg] per day) categories of caffeine consumption, those in the highest category (550 mg per day or more) had a 20 percent decrease in relative risk of depression. No association was found between intake of decaffeinated coffee and depression risk.

“In this large prospective cohort of older women free of clinical depression or severe depressive symptoms at baseline, risk of depression decreased in a dose-dependent manner with increasing consumption of caffeinated coffee,” write the authors.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stopping Smoking Boosts Working Memory

Here is some interesting research on smoking that was just published by Northumbria University in the UK.

They've found that giving up smoking isn’t just good for your health, it’s also good for your memory, according to research published in this month’s online edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. That paper reveals that stopping smoking can restore everyday memory to virtually the same level as non-smokers.

Academics from the Collaboration for Drug and Alcohol Research Group at Northumbria University tested 27 smokers, 18 previous smokers and 24 who had never smoked on a real-world memory test.

Participants were asked to remember pre-determined tasks at specific locations on a tour of a university campus. While smokers performed badly, remembering just 59% of tasks, those who had given up smoking remembered 74% of their required tasks compared to those who had never smoked who remembered 81% of tasks.

Dr Tom Heffernan at Northumbria said: “Given that there are up to 10 million smokers in the UK and as many as 45 million in the United States, it’s important to understand the effects smoking has on everyday cognitive function – of which prospective memory is an excellent example.”

He added: “This is the first time that a study has set out to examine whether giving up smoking has an impact on memory.We already know that giving up smoking has huge health benefits for the body but this study also shows how stopping smoking can have knock-on benefits for cognitive function too.’’


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back Pain? New Research Shows Movement Beats Couch Potato

A researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) says to "Move if you have back pain." Patients with acute low back pain who were advised to stay active despite the pain fared better than those who were told to adjust their activity in line with their pain.

The research paper looked at 109 patients with acute severe lowback pain who were randomly advised in one of two ways: “stay active even though it hurts” or “adjust your activity to the pain”. They were also asked to keep a diary for seven days and to note how many steps they took each day, to what extent they could carry out their day-to-day activities and how they felt physically. They also completed a form to show whether they felt depressed or not.

In spite of having more pain, the group that was advised to be as active as possible recovered more quickly and did not feel depressed at the end of the follow-up.

“The other category, who had been advised from the very start to adjust their activity to their pain, were less mobile and felt slightly depressed compared to the patients who were active,” says Olaya-Contreras, a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Department of Orthopaedics.

She believes that this could be because some people who are depressed and in pain experience the pain more acutely. Another explanation could be that the more acute the pain is perceived to be, the less a person wants or is able to move. This, according to Olaya-Contreras, is in line with previous research.

“I think that if you’re suffering with acute low back pain you should try to remain as active as possible and go about your daily business as well as you can. If you don’t keep moving, it’s easy to get locked into a downward spiral, as inactivity combined with pain can, in a worst case scenario, turn into long-term disability and an inability to work that, in turn, can lead to depressed mood and more pain.”

Low back pain affects up to 80% of people of working age at some time in their lives, though most will get better. Low back pain can be recurring, and some people will continue to suffer with some degree of pain. In 85-90% of cases the pain cannot be attributed to a specific illness or injury.

I've had severe lower back pain for years and I'm going to take this researcher's advice and start moving, stretching, walking. I'll report back and let you know how I'm doing,


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Buying Supplements from Think Twice.

Here's a clipping from a news article on which describes the conditions that employees faced this summer at the main warehouse for Because many people reading this blog are users of supplements, vitamins and herbs, take note of these conditions and ask yourself if these products are a smart investment when purchased from this company. After all, the only thing that can kill your supplements is heat and humidity.
Employees say they faced brutal heat at Amazon warehouse
By Liz Goodwin

Twenty current and former employees at an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania say they were forced to work in brutal heat at a breakneck pace while hired paramedics waited outside in case anyone became dangerously dehydrated.

Spencer Soper has published an exhaustive investigation into the massive online retailer's Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania operation. Soper reports that a local doctor treated employees at the facility for heat-related health problems, and wound up filing a complaint about conditions there with federal regulators. Many of the warehouse's employees were temporary and hired through a staffing company; if they did not meet packing quotas, they faced daily threats of termination, Soper writes.

He also notes that a corps of other temporary workers were poised to replace any freshly fired Amazon employee. "The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously," Amazon warehouse manager Vickie Mortimer told the paper.
I love Amazon and I buy from them two or three times a week. But I will never, ever buy a supplement or any other kind of heat-sensitive product from them again.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Vitamin D May Lower Risk of MS

All the cable TV doctors are out today reporting that people who spend more time in the sun and those with higher vitamin D levels may be less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS). This is according to a study published in the February 8, 2011, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. MS is a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord, usually with recurrent flare-ups of symptoms. It is often preceded by a first episode (or event) of similar symptoms lasting days to weeks.

“Previous studies have found similar results, but this is the first study to look at people who have just had the first symptoms of MS and haven’t even been diagnosed with the disease yet,” said study author Robyn Lucas, PhD, of Australian National University. “Other studies have looked at people who already have MS—then it’s hard to know whether having the disease led them to change their habits in the sun or in their diet.”

The multi-site study involved 216 people age 18 to 59 who had a first event with symptoms of the type seen in MS. Those people were matched with 395 people with no symptoms of possible MS who were of similar ages, of the same sex and from the same regions of Australia.

The participants reported how much sun they were exposed to during different periods of their lives, and researchers also measured the amount of skin damage participants had from sun exposure and the amount of melanin in their skin. Vitamin D levels (from sun exposure, diet and supplement use) were measured by blood tests. The risk of having a first event, diagnosed by a doctor, ranged from approximately 2 to 9 new cases for every 100,000 people per year in this study. The reported UV light exposure of participants ranged from about 500 to over 6,000 kilojoules per meter squared.

The researchers found that the risk of having a diagnosed first event decreased by 30 percent for each UV increase of 1,000 kilojoules. They also found that people with most evidence of skin damage from sun exposure were 60 percent less likely to develop a first event than the people with the least damage. People with the highest levels of vitamin D also were less likely to have a diagnosed first event than people with the lowest levels.

Studies have shown that MS is more common in latitudes further away from the equator, and this has been confirmed in Australia.

- Dave