Health NEWS BRIEFS – March 2012

New research links high levels of selenium with a dramatically reduced risk of pancreatic cancer

A study has reported that – compared to people with the lowest levels – those with the highest levels of selenium and nickel in their blood may lower their risk of the most common form of pancreatic cancer by between 33 and 95 percent. Furthermore, those with the highest levels of cadmium and arsenic appear to have a risk of pancreatic cancer that is 2 to 3.5 times higher. Those with the highest levels of lead showed a 6-times greater risk of this form of cancer.
These findings held true even after taking account of other known risk factors such as diabetes, overweight, and smoking. (Tobacco contains cadmium, and accounts for about a third of all cases of pancreatic cancer. Cadmium is also linked to lung, kidney and prostate cancers. The trace mineral selenium has been found previously to help counter the negative effects of cadmium, arsenic and lead.)
This study was released December 19, 2011 and will be published in a future issue of the journal Gut. It is available online now at with subscription or access fee.


Researchers investigating clotting risk factors have found that people who have lower levels of iron in their blood exhibit a greater risk of dangerous blood clots. (People who suffer from deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots that form in the legs, can experience pain and swelling; however, a clot, or thrombus, can become dislodged and move into one of the blood vessels in the lungs, a potentially fatal condition known as a pulmonary thrombosis.)
Although some risk factors for blood clots are recognized, such as major surgery, immobility and cancer, often there is no clear reason for the blood clot. The researchers found that low levels of iron in the blood were a strong risk factor for blood clots. Patients who took iron supplements did not have a higher risk of stroke, suggesting that nutritional treatment for iron deficiency can prevent blood clots. In evolution, an increased tendency to clot may have been the best way to prevent bleeding with its further loss of iron.
This study was released December 14, 2011 and will appear in a future issue of the journal Thorax. It is available online now at with subscription or access fee.


A study has found that both overall polyphenol intake, and intake of certain types of polyphenols during midlife, is associated with better verbal and language memory skills about 13 years later. (Polyphenols are the most common type of antioxidant in the diet, and although many of the over 4,000 types of polyphenols are not well absorbed by the body, some are linked with offsetting the damaging and aging effects of free oxygen radicals, which are produced by the metabolic processes of the human body. Polyphenols are found in many plant-based foods, ranging from cacao and dark coloured berries to red wine and olive oil.)
Although higher overall levels of polyphenols at midlife boosted memory skills in later years, the types of polyphenols that showed the greatest positive effect on verbal memory included catechins, thea flavins, flavonols, hydroxybenzoic acids, and phenolic acids. Verbal and language memory are often diminished during brain aging.
This study was published in the January 1, 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. It is available online now at without cost.


Researchers have found that, compared to women whose vitamin D intake falls within the highest quarter of the population, women whose D intake falls within the lowest quarter have a twofold higher risk of giving birth to children who develop childhood-onset Type 1 diabetes. Increasingly higher levels of vitamin D were related directly to lower levels of the risk of diabetes 1 development during early childhood. The exact vitamin D tested is known as 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25-OH D), and childhood-onset was defined as development of Type 1 diabetes before the age of 15. Vitamin D levels were tested during late pregnancy. (Earlier research had suggested that low levels of vitamin D both before birth and during early childhood raised the risk of type 1 diabetes.) The recently released study included data from 29,072 women, and appeared in the January 2012 issue of the journal Diabetes.


A study has found that the supplement acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) can protect neuron cells and assist overwhelmed mitochondria, preventing them from shutting down, which in turn can halt the normal death of neuron cells following a spinal cord injury. (ALC is a derivative of essential amino acids that can generate metabolic energy. Mitochondria are the energy-generating components inside cells. During spinal cord injury, local mitochondria are overwhelmed by chemical stresses and lose their normal ability to produce energy, leading to cell death, which causes paralysis.)
Administration of ALC shortly after spinal injury was found to supply alternative energy for cells, bypassing the reduced supply from mitochondria and protecting neuron cells from death. Protecting cells from death allowed treated subjects to fully recover from paralysis and walk normally within a month. This research was conducted on mice, but there could be huge implications for future treatment, and even reversal, of recent spinal cord paralysis in humans. (ALC can be given orally and high doses are well tolerated.)
This study was released September 30, 2011, and has now been publicly presented at the Washington, DC, meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. It has yet to be published or posted online.


Researchers analyzing national data have found that there is a link between adolescent obesity and the quality of the emotional bond between a mother and her toddler. A lower-quality relationship with the mother increased the chances of a child developing obesity by age fifteen. In fact, those toddlers who did not have a relationship with their mother that was assessed by the researchers as secure showed a greater risk of being obese by age four-and-a-half.
In this work, observers assessed child attachment security and maternal sensitivity by documenting interactions between mothers and their children at three time points: when the children were 15, 24 and 36 months old. These results suggest that areas of the brain that control emotions and stress responses could be working together with the known mechanisms of appetite and energy production to influence the risks that a child will become obese. The team suggested that strategies to reduce childhood obesity should include improving the mother-toddler bond and not focus exclusively on eating and exercise strategies. This study was published in the January 2012 issue of Pediatrics.


A medical journal editorial, drawing conclusions from studies previously published in the journal, asserts that the poor dietary habits of those who work on a rotating-shift schedule should be considered an occupational work hazard because of the known link between these diets and the risk of diabetes Type 2. (Up to 20% of workers in Europe and the U.S. do shift work, and these schedules have long been associated with poor eating patterns and greater intake of junk food choices. A proven, increased risk of diabetes among shift workers has been speculatively linked to disruption of the circadian rhythms that regulate metabolic and cardiovascular systems, a negative effect on diet and exercise, and an effect on both quality and quantity of sleep.) The editors admit that some factors of shift work, such as a disruption of circadian (24-hour cycle) rhythms, cannot be altered. However, they suggest that other issues, such as dietary patterns and food choices, represent a key intervention target. This editorial was made available on December 27, 2011, and can now be accessed online at free of charge.


Optimal vitamin D levels reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 52%, according to research presented in November 2011 at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association. As we age, the body becomes much less efficient at converting sunlight into vitamin D, and supplementation of vitamin D is often required.


A scientific review of previous studies has concluded that consumption of three or more cups of black tea a day lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, and that one to four cups of black tea a day reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Some studies suggested a possible link between black tea consumption and the risk of stroke, although no method of action could be found. (Type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease represent major causes of morbidity, with extensive healthcare costs. Clinical studies previously suggested that the wide range of bioactive compounds found in black tea can inhibit oxidative damage and improve the function of endothelial cells.)
This study was released December 22, 2011 and will be published in a future issue of Nutrition Bulletin. It is accessible online now at with subscription or payment of an access fee.


A study has found that a lack of manganese may be the root cause of osteoporosis, and not the calcium deficiency commonly believed to be the problem. Studying deer antlers led scientists to the new theory that an insufficient supply of the mineral manganese results in the bones being unable to absorb calcium, promoting calcium deficiency within the bones, which in turn weakens bones and makes them porous. The new hypothesis holds that when the human body is deficient in manganese, the body will draw from its manganese stores in the skeleton and send it to organs that require it, such as the brain. The calcium that is extracted from the bones at the same time as the manganese is then not properly reabsorbed and is excreted in the urine. It is in this way that osteoporosis can slowly strike. This theory needs further study and medical trials, but it suggests that low calcium is a symptom, not a cause, of osteoporosis.
The conclusion stemmed from a dramatic increase in the breakage of deer antlers in Spain in 2005, which was traced to a stress-induced reduction in manganese levels in the plants that the deer consume. Released January 1, 2012, this study is now available online at with subscription or fee.


A study has found that adiponectin, a hormone derived from visceral or abdominal fat, may pose another risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, at least in women. (Visceral fat, also known as organ fat or intra-abdominal fat or gut fat, is located inside the abdominal cavity packed in-between organs such as the stomach and liver. Adiponectin, derived from visceral fat, is a hormone that sensitizes the body to insulin, has anti-inflammatory properties, and plays a role in the metabolism of glucose and lipids.)
Insulin signaling is dysfunctional in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and since adiponectin enhances insulin sensitivity, it would be natural to expect that adiponectin would help protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. However, surprisingly, this study found that elevated adiponectin levels were associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in women. This study was released January 2, 2012 and will be published in a future issue of the Archives of Neurology.


Researchers have found that mothers who take antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) double the risk that their babies will be born with persistent pulmonary hypertension, which is a condition of hypertension in the lungs. (Persistent pulmonary hypertension is a rare, but severe, disease involving increased blood pressure in the lungs, which leads to shortness of breath, dizziness, and fainting.) The risk of this condition among newborns is normally very low at about 1.2 cases per 1000 newborns. But risk increased to about 3 cases per 1000 newborns among those whose mothers took the SSRI antidepressants. The increased risk was highest among babies born to mothers who took the drug in late pregnancy. Adjustments were made for different pregnancy characteristics so that the results were reliable. The research included over 1.6 million births and the scientists advise doctors to use caution when treating depression among pregnant patients. This study was released January 12, 2012 by the British Medical Journal and the full-text study is available online now at without subscription or access fee.


A study concludes that the sensory deprivation and distraction of headphones is linked to a threefold increase in serious injuries to pedestrians, as a result of involvement with both cars and trains, with death resulting from about three quarters of those injuries. The researchers found that headphone wearers frequently miss hearing horns, warnings and other sounds that would otherwise alert them to an imminent risk. More than two-thirds of pedestrian accident victims were male (68%) and under the age of 30 (67%). More than half of the moving vehicles involved in the accidents were trains (55%), and nearly a third (29%) of the vehicles reported sounding some type of warning horn prior to the crash. In addition to the loss of auditory clues of nearby vehicles or horns, a special type of distraction caused by the use of electronic devices has been coined “inattentional blindness,” in which multiple stimuli divide the resource allocation of the brain. Released January 16, 2012, this study will appear in a future issue of Injury Prevention, and is available online now at x4L1tA with subscription or fee.


Researchers have found that compounds found in red wine are aromatase inhibitors, which means they help to inhibit the conversion of androgens to estrogens, thus helping to prevent breast cancer. (Last year, breast cancer accounted for 30% of all female cancer diagnoses.) Alcohol consumption, including wine, has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, but the study found that compounds in the skins and seeds of grapes, in grape juice, and in red wine appear to result in reduced estrogen levels, which represents a reduced breast cancer risk. These compounds, which act as aromatase inhibitors, do not exist in white wine, which is made without using the grape skin. Alcohol increases estrogen levels, an implied risk for breast cancer; but the study team suggested that women who already consume white wine may want to consider switching to red for this potentially offsetting benefit. These findings support lab tests in which red wine stemmed the growth of cancer cells. This study was released early, but will not be published until a future issue of the Journal of Women’s Health. It is available online now at without fee.


Researchers have concluded that omega-3 fatty acids, found in some types of fish oil, can prevent or treat nerve damage by decreasing the number of cells that die after an injury. (Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for normal growth and development and have been widely researched for their health benefits. Because the body cannot manufacture omega-3 fatty acids, they have to be consumed in foods such as oily fish.) Omega-3 oil has been associated with beneficial effects for a number of neurological conditions, but this is the first study to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may also have a role in treating peripheral nerve injuries. When nerves are damaged because of an accident or injury, patients experience pain, weakness and muscle paralysis, which can leave them disabled, and recovery rates are poor. The study team found that a high level of omega-3 fats helped mice recover from sciatic nerve injury more quickly and more fully, and that their muscles were less likely to waste following nerve damage. This study was published January 11, 2012 by the Journal of Neuroscience. It is available online at with subscription or fee.


A study has uncovered one of the mechanisms by which a mother’s poor diet apparently increases the risk of her child developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Although it has been known for years that the diet of a mother has a significant effect on the adult health of her offspring, this research may help identify those who are at increased risk for diabetes, which would allow earlier intervention to help prevent onset of this metabolic disorder. The research, which looked at both rats and humans, found that those who experience a poor diet while in the womb become less able to properly store fats later in life. Usually, excess fat intake is stored in fat cells. But when these cells become unable to store the excess, the body learns to stuff the extra fat into the liver and muscle, where fat is much more dangerous and can lead to Type 2 diabetes. This study was released January 6, 2012, but will not appear in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation until a future issue.


A study by 11 international scientists using European data has found that there has been an alarming decrease in vitamin D levels, and concluded that between 50 and 79% of Europeans have insufficient levels of vitamin D in their blood. (Vitamin D is essential to the immune system and processes such as calcium absorption.) The scientists reported that chronic deficiencies in vitamin D aggravate many diseases and conditions. The team reported that people are getting far less vitamin D-producing sunlight, presumably due to greater periods of time spent indoors and fewer outdoor activities. The study also looked at vitamin D deficiency and disease effects and found that low levels are linked to rickets, osteomalacia, osteoporosis and the risk of bone fracture, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, infections and degenerative diseases. The ideal would be to maintain blood levels above 30 ng/ml (30 nanograms per milliliter). There is scientific evidence that a daily dose of 4,000 IU (international units) per day is safe for healthy people.
This study was published in the just-released January 2012 issue of the journal Maturitas, and is available online now at without fee or subscription required.


A study has found that grape-enriched diets provide dramatic protection against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the elderly, and that even grapes consumed early in life helped prevent AMD much later in life. (Age-related macular degeneration, known better as AMD, is a progressive blindness affecting millions of elderly people worldwide; it involves deterioration of the retinal pigment epithelium, or RPE, and is associated with oxidative damage, which results in the buildup of the waste product lipofuscin. Grapes are rich in antioxidants.) Adding grapes to the diet of mice prevented the buildup of lipofuscin, which prevented blindness. Aside from the strong degree of protection, the most remarkable aspect of the research was that a grape-enriched diet consumed only early in life provided protection even in late life. Supplementing instead with the dominant grape antioxidant lutein provided some protection, but grapes themselves provided significantly greater prevention of age-related blindness. Human studies are needed to verify these results.
This recently released study will appear in a future issue of the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine. However, it is accessible online now at with an access fee or subscription.
(Ed. note: Due to the presence of pesticides in conventional grapes, it is recommended that consumers choose organic.)

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