News Briefs – September 2017

The Latest Research on Nutrition, Health & Anti-Aging From Around the World

Curcumin, found in turmeric, is one of the compounds found to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer.

Turmeric, Apple Peel, Red Grapes Starve Cancer Cells

New research has identified several natural compounds found in certain foods as having the potential to starve prostate cancer cells and inhibit the growth of prostate cancer.

The researchers first tested 142 natural compounds on mouse and human cell lines to see which inhibited prostate cancer cell growth when administered alone or in combination with another nutrient. The most promising active ingredients were then further tested: ursolic acid, a waxy natural chemical found in apple peels and rosemary; curcumin, the bright yellow plant compound in turmeric; and resveratrol, a natural compound common to red grapes or berries. These nutrients proved to have anti-cancer properties, notably against prostate cancer cells.

The study author said that we only need to increase concentrations of these compounds beyond levels found in a healthy diet for an effect on prostate cancer cells. The paper also demonstrated how these plant-based chemicals work together: combining ursolic acid with either curcumin or resveratrol prevents cancer cells from gobbling up something that they need to grow, glutamine. So the uptake of a nutrient needed by prostate cancer cells is blocked by nutrients that are found in these foods.

This study was posted online ahead of publication in an upcoming issue of the npj Precision Oncology. The entire report is available at http://tinyurl.com/y9btsg4u free of charge.

Vegetarian Diet Twice as Effective at Reducing Body Fat

A new report has found that vegetarian dieters not only lose weight more effectively than those on conventional low-calorie diets, but they also improve their metabolism by reducing muscle fat. (Losing muscle fat improves glucose and lipid metabolism, which is important for people with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.)

Seventy-four volunteers with Type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to either a vegetarian diet or a conventional anti-diabetic diet. The vegetarian diet consisted of vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts, with animal products limited to one portion of low-fat yogurt daily. Both diets were 500 calories per day lower than an isocaloric intake for each individual. (An isocaloric diet allows unlimited calories as long as they are equally divided among fats, carbs, and proteins.)

At the end of the study, the vegetarian diet was found to be almost twice as effective in reducing body weight, resulting in an average loss of 13.64 pounds compared to 7 pounds for the conventional diet. Magnetic resonance imaging showed that both diets caused a similar reduction in subcutaneous fat, but subfascial fat (connective tissue covering the body) was only reduced by the vegetarian diet, and intramuscular fat (fat inside the muscle) was more greatly reduced by the vegetarian diet. This is critical for Type 2 diabetics because subfascial fat has been associated with insulin resistance; also reducing intramuscular fat helps improve muscular strength and mobility, particularly in older people with diabetes.

This study will be published in a coming issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. It was also posted online early at http://tinyurl.com/y9k5z2av

Acetaminophen During Pregnancy Inhibits Masculinity

Researchers have found that taking acetaminophen during pregnancy can inhibit the development of the male sex hormone testosterone in the male fetus, increase the risk of malformation of the testicles in infants, and affect future male behaviour. (Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is a popular pain-relieving substance sold under brand names such as Tylenol, Triaminic, or Acet. Testosterone is a male sex hormone that helps develop the male body and male programming of the brain.)

A mouse study demonstrated that a reduced level of testosterone means that male characteristics do not develop as they should, which also affects sex drive. Mice exposed to paracetamol at the fetal stage were simply unable to copulate in the same way as control animals. Male programming was not properly established during their fetal development, and this could be seen long afterwards in adult life. The treated males did not attack other males, were unable to copulate, and behaved more like female mice when it came to urinary territorial marking. Because the trials were restricted to mice, the results cannot be transferred directly to humans; but the harmful effects suggested in this research would make it improper to undertake the same trials on humans.

This study was published in the August 2017 issue of the journal Reproduction. The full study has been posted online at http://tinyurl.com/yb5cudss free of charge.

High Fish Intake as Effective as Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis

A new study suggests that eating fish at least twice a week may reduce the pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis. (Prior studies have shown the benefits of fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acid supplements, on rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, but the value of eating fish containing omega-3 has not been well-researched. In rheumatoid arthritis, which afflicts about 1.5 million Americans, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, creating swelling and pain, and can also affect body systems, such as the cardiovascular or respiratory systems.)

Generally, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish is lower than the doses given in the omega-3 supplement trials. Still, the more fish consumed by the study volunteers, the lower their disease-activity scores. The majority of participants were already taking drugs to improve symptoms but still experienced further improvement from fish consumption. This suggests that diet should be addressed before medications are prescribed. Cooked or raw fish was counted, including sashimi and sushi, but fried fish, shellfish, and fish in mixed dishes, such as stir-fries, were not included.

The researchers admitted that cause-and-effect could not be established; they speculated that people who regularly consumed fish could have a healthier lifestyle overall, contributing to their lower disease activity score; but they also suggested that those who hate fish should consider an omega-3 supplement. The most critical finding was that the percentage difference in improvement between those eating the most fish and those eating the least fish was the same percentage improvement as between those taking methotrexate and those taking placebo; methotrexate is the standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

The study report was posted June 21, 2017 at the site of the journal Arthritis Care and Research, where it can now be read at http://tinyurl.com/ycpf7bxp free of charge.

Popular Prostate Drugs Boost Diabetes and Heart Risks

Researchers have reported that popular, hormone-based drugs used for treating an enlarged prostate could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. Men spending three years on Avodart (dutasteride), a drug that affects male hormones, wound up with higher blood sugar and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, suggesting that there are adverse effects on metabolic function from these drugs that have not been reported previously. (The prostate is a walnut-sized gland surrounding the urethra where it connects to the bladder. The prostate produces fluid that goes into semen and is essential for male fertility. As men age, the prostate tends to enlarge, in turn pinching the urethra and making urination more difficult or frequent. These drugs reduce production of dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, a hormone linked to enlargement of the prostate gland. However, DHT also plays an important role in the function of organs such as the liver.)

The study author believes that urologists should talk about these new results with patients before prescribing either Avodart or another hormone-based prostate drug called Proscar (finasteride). Both of these drugs are in the class of drugs known as 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors. The association seen in the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, and the finding needs to be verified in a controlled setting with a larger pool of patients.

This study was published in the June 2017 issue of the journal Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation. The abstract is available at http://tinyurl.com/y9h6pwlh and the full study is available by submitting a request at this link.

Heartburn and Ulcer Medications Linked to 50% Increased Mortality

Scientists have concluded that long-term use of popular heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) is associated with an increased risk of death. (Previous studies had linked PPIs to other health issues, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures, and dementia. This is the first study to link these drugs with greater mortality risk. Millions of people take PPIs, which are widely prescribed to treat heartburn, ulcers, and other gastrointestinal problems. Some are available over-the-counter such as Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium.)

The researchers examined medical records of about 275,000 PPI users along with those of nearly 75,000 people who took a different class of drugs, known as H2 blockers, to reduce stomach acid. Those on PPIs for one to two years had a 50% increased risk of dying over the next five years. Both PPIs and H2 blockers are prescribed for serious medical conditions such as upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and esophageal cancer, but over-the-counter PPIs are most often used for simple heartburn and indigestion and are one of the most commonly used classes of drugs in the U.S. For every 500 people taking PPIs for a year, there is one extra death that would not have otherwise occurred, translating into thousands of needless deaths every year.

This study was published online July 4, 2017 by the journal BMJ Open. The full report is available athttp://tinyurl.com/y9n99535 free of charge.

Sugar Intake During Pregnancy Linked to Allergies, Asthma in Children

A new study suggests that a high sugar intake by mothers during pregnancy may increase the risk of allergy and allergic asthma in their children. The research involved almost 9,000 mothers who were pregnant in the early 1990s. The study assessed maternal intake of free sugars during pregnancy along with allergies and asthma in their children at seven years, as defined by positive skin tests to common allergens, namely dust mite, cat, and grass. (Until now, the relation between sugar intake during pregnancy and allergy and asthma in the offspring has received little attention.)

Comparing the 20% of mothers with the highest sugar intake versus the 20% of mothers with the lowest sugar intake, there was a 38% increased risk of allergy in the offspring and a 101% higher risk of allergic asthma. The study team found no association with eczema or hay fever. They speculated that the associations may be explained by a high maternal intake of fructose, causing a persistent postnatal allergic immune response, which in turn may be leading to allergic inflammation in the developing lung. This type of study cannot prove cause-and-effect. Interestingly, the sugar intake of the children themselves during early childhood was found to have no link to the risk of allergies or asthma, only the maternal intake of free sugar.

This study was published July 6, 2017 by the European Respiratory Journal, and the full-text study is available now at http://tinyurl.com/y82cck27 free of charge.

Did You Know…?

After testing dozens of home blood pressure monitors, a study in the American Journal of Hypertensionfound that they were wrong by at least five points (five mmHg) 70% of the time and wrong by a critical 10 points 30% of the time.

Reduced Iron Level May Raise Risk of Coronary Artery Disease

A new study has reported that people with lower iron levels may be at greater risk of heart disease. Researchers analyzed genetic data and uncovered a potential protective effect of iron in coronary artery disease, suggesting that having a higher iron status reduces the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is a type of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in which clogged arteries reduce the amount of blood reaching the heart. (CVD is the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, resulting in more than seven million deaths a year.) Some past studies have shown that high iron status may have a protective effect, while have others pointed to high levels of iron increasing the risk of heart attacks.

Now, U.K. researchers have used a different method (Mendelian randomization) to try to establish if there is a direct or causal link between levels of iron and the risk of CAD, which shows that those with lower iron status are at greater risk. This investigative method looks at the link between iron and heart disease by comparing a specific genetic variation of each individual to a public genomic database. This single, tiny difference in DNA (called a single nucleotide polymorphism) can make the iron status of that individual slightly increased or slightly decreased. The team used this indicator of iron, rather than looking at iron intake levels. The researchers explain that the next step would be to validate the findings in a randomized controlled trial, where patients would be given either an iron supplement or a placebo and then followed up to see if the supplements have any impact on their risk of CVD. If the findings are validated, it could mean that supplementing people with low iron status would potentially offer a simple way to help them reduce their risk of CAD.

This study was published July 6, 2017 in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. Details available at http://tinyurl.com/ycgkdd6f with access fee.

Baby’s Exposure to Antidepressants in the Womb Linked to Higher Risk of Autism

Scientists have found that babies exposed to antidepressants in the womb are at a higher risk of autism than children of mothers not treated with antidepressants during pregnancy. (Depression is common in women of childbearing age. About 3 to 8% of women are prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy, and several studies previously reported associations between antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism in offspring.)

Researchers analyzed data from 254,610 individuals aged 4 to 17, including those born to mothers with and without depression who did not take antidepressants, and those born to mothers who did take antidepressants. Of the 3,342 children exposed to antidepressants in the womb, 4.1% had a diagnosis of autism compared with 2.9% of children not exposed to antidepressants in the womb.

It is important to note that the overall risk for both groups was still small and that there appears to be a kaleidoscope of possible causes of autism. This study was posted online July 19, 2017, and will be published in  a future issue of BMJ. The report can be read now at http://tinyurl.com/yd269bj3

Did You Know…?

A recent study showed that lutein, a pigment found in some brightly coloured vegetables, is the only carotenoid that reduces IL6, an inflammatory immune molecule. The more lutein, the less IL6. Excess inflammation is a concern for the prospects of heart attack survivors.

Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Diabetes, Weight Gain

New research links artificial sweeteners with a range of health issues, including the risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Investigators reviewed 37 studies that followed over 400,000 people for an average of 10 years. First, the team found that the clinical trials did not show a clear benefit against weight loss for artificial sweeteners, despite often being promoted for this reason. Analysis also linked artificial sweeteners with higher risks of weight gain and the other disorders mentioned above. The study lead author recommended that consumers be wary of the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners until further research has been completed.

This study was published in the July 17, 2017 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The full study is available now at http://tinyurl.com/y8fvuvzq free of charge.

Sleep Quality Reduced Significantly by Blue Light from Devices

A new study has found that the blue light emitted from devices such as smart phones, tablets, TVs, or even desk lamps may be contributing to the reportedly high prevalence of sleep dysfunction. In this study, participants aged 17 to 42 wore blue light-blocking glasses three hours before bedtime for two weeks, while still performing their nightly digital routines. Results showed about a 58% increase in their night time melatonin levels, the chemical that signals the body when it is time to sleep. Those levels, resulting from blocking the blue light of digital devices, are even higher than the increases that result from taking over-the-counter melatonin supplements. The implication is that blue light at night time definitely decreases sleep quality.

Wearing activity and sleep monitors 24 hours a day, the 22 study participants also reported that they were sleeping better and falling asleep faster and had even increased their sleep duration by 24 minutes a night. (The largest source of blue light is sunlight, but it is also found in most LED-based devices. Blue light boosts alertness and dysregulates our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, that tells our bodies when to sleep. This artificial blue light activates photoreceptors called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, or ipRGCs, which suppress melatonin levels.)

The author recommends limiting screen time, applying screen filters, wearing special glasses that block blue light, or using anti-reflective lenses to offset the effects of artificial light at night time. Some devices even include night mode settings that limit blue light exposure.

This study was posted online June 27, 2017 and will be published in a future issue of the journalOphthalmic and Physiological Optics. The full study report can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/y7ggzjb8for an access fee.

Overweight Teens Have Greater Risk of Colorectal Cancer as Adults

A large study has found that being overweight or obese as a teenager can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer as an adult. Long-term follow-up of 1.79 million men and women examined for military service as teenagers showed that overweight and obese males and females were 53 and 54%, respectively, more likely to develop colon or rectal cancer by middle age, compared to their normal-weight peers. Obesity as a teenager was also noted to increase the risk of rectal cancer by 71% in adult men and over 100% in women. The young men and women were between the ages of 16 and 19 at the time of the examinations. The study could not assess whether risk of colorectal cancer was related to adult obesity independent of teenage obesity. Also, other risk factors that may affect the risk of colorectal cancer such as family history, physical activity, diet, and smoking were not reported in the study.

The journal Cancer posted a version of this study online July 24, 2017 and will later print-publish the final study report. Find details at: http://tinyurl.com/y6uukl8c for a fee.

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