Health News Briefs – April 2012

Health News Briefs - April 2012

Anthocyanin-rich foods such as acai berries have been found to reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes

ANTHOCYANIN-RICH FOODS LOWER RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES

Scientists have determined that plant compounds known as anthocyanins, and fruits rich in anthocyanins, reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes. (Anthocyanins are flavonoid pigments that serve as colouring and antioxidants in red-purplish fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, cherries, raspberries, grapes, bilberries, beets, and purple cabbage. Choke berries and acai berries are very rich in anthocyanins, which re-search has linked with protection against aging, neurological diseases, inflammation, and cancer. They should not be confused with anthocyanidins, which are sugar-free versions of this antioxidant pigment.)

This massive epidemiological research work included over 200,000 people who were free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Compared to subjects who consumed less than one serving of anthocyanin-rich foods (particularly blueberries) per week, those who consumed five or more servings a week showed a 23% lower risk of developing diabetes type 2. The overall intake of various types of flavonoids did not affect diabetes 2 risk. This study will be published in a future issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, but was pre-released on February 22, 2012. It is available online at https://bit.ly/zippLp with subscription or fee.

VITAMIN B12 AND FOLATE MAY HELP PREVENT COGNITIVE DECLINE

Researchers have found that daily supplementation with folate and vitamin B12 for a period of two years helps improve cognitive function, at least in older individuals with generally higher levels of psychological stress. The dosages indicated to produce this protective effect were 400 mcg of folic acid, or folate, and 100 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. (Another study released December 28, 2011 reported that B vitamins, along with vitamins C, D, and E, and omega-3 fatty acids, reduced brain shrinkage and improved cognition among older adults. Studies like these have encouraged some older adults to add B vitamin supplements to their daily routine to keep their brains sharp.)

The 2-year randomized controlled trial included 900 adults aged 60 to 74 years, and changes were assessed with several established tests of cognitive performance. The greatest improvement was seen in memory performance, both immediate recall and delayed recall. No changes were seen in several other cognitive factors, such as processing speed, or attention. This study was published in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

PLANT EXTRACT INHIBITS GROWTH MECHANISM IN COLON CANCER CELLS

Researchers have found that a plant flavonoid called luteolin blocks certain cell signaling pathways in colon cancer cells that promote their growth, suggesting a new way to naturally inhibit colon cancer activity. (Luteolin is a flavonoid compound, commonly found in fruit and vegetables, that has been shown in laboratory conditions to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties; however, specific or epidemiological studies have been less certain. Colon cancer is the second most frequent cancer-related cause of death in the Western world.)

Compared to normal colon cells, cancerous colon cells show increased levels of IGF-II, a factor used by cells to communicate with each other. However, when scientists treated colon cancer cells with luteolin, the secretion of IGF-II was blocked, and within two hours, there was a reduction in the protein related to signal reception. Blocking these signaling pathways stops cancer cells from dividing, leading to cell death. Luteolin is found in numerous plant leaves, bark, rinds, blossoms, and even pollen. This study will be published in a future edition of the journal BMC Gastroenterology. It was posted online January 23, 2012 and can now be accessed at https://bit.ly/zv7exy without subscription or cost.

PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS LINKED TO CHILDHOOD OBESITY RISK

A new study has concluded that phthalate exposure among young children may raise the risk of having a higher body-mass-index (BMI) or waist circumference. (Phthalates are man-made chemicals that can mimic the body’s natural hormones.) The researchers analyzed the urine of 387 children. Similar to the general population, 97% of samples showed exposure to monoethyl phthalate (MEP) and other phthalates. The scientists found those who showed the highest phthalate exposure also had the greatest BMI and waist circumference, a year later. Among others, phthalate sources include personal care products such as perfume, lotions, and cosmetics; varnishes; fatty foods such as butter and meat; emulsifiers, stabilizers, and gelling agents; IV tubes;  plastic flooring and wall coverings; and even the coatings on some drugs and nutritional supplements. (Phthalates are needed to make some pills dissolve more slowly or in the lower digestive tract. Pills sold as delayed-release, controlled-release, timed-release, targeted-release, or enteric coated, are those most likely to include phthalates, which are sometimes listed on the label as chemical compounds under inactive ingredients.) The exact degree of risk that phthalates represent is not known. This study will be published in a future issue of the journal Environmental Research, but is available online now at https://bit.ly/wQGkbf with subscription or fee.

DRYCLEANING COMPOUND LINKED TO RISK OF MENTAL ILLNESS

A study has found that prenatal or early-life exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE), a solvent compound commonly used in the dry cleaning and textile industries, increases by 80 percent the risk of bipolar disorder and increases by 50 percent the risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), confirming previous suggested links. Until now, the link has been unclear although children working in the textile industry were found to have a higher incidence of schizophrenia. PCE is a neurotoxin that can cause anxiety, depression and mood changes in people who regularly work with it. Researchers examined the mental health history of adults who were exposed (before and shortly after birth) to drinking water in areas of Massachusetts where piping was discovered to have been installed that exposed drinking water consumers to PCE between 1968 and 1983. They found a significantly increased incidence of bipolar disorder among these adults, but not depression. Because PCE is found in some consumer products, the risk remains real. This study was released January 20, 2012 and will appear in a future edition of the journal Environmental Health. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/yNtI2k without subscription or access fee.

GRAPE SEED KILLS CANCER CELLS IN THE HEAD AND NECK

Researchers have found that grape seed extract kills head and neck cancer cells while having no harmful effect on healthy cells. The study was conducted on both cancer cells in the lab, and on mice, but has not been confirmed in human studies. There was absolutely no toxicity to the healthy cells, despite the death of nearby cancer cells. The scientists reported that cancer cells have numerous genetic weaknesses that normal, healthy cells do not have, and grape seed extract takes advantage of these weaknesses. Cancer cells are fast-growing cells but when conditions are not ideal, they simply die, while slow-growing healthy cells seem to have the staying power to wait out less-than-ideal conditions. Grape seed was found to damage cancer cell DNA, and also block the pathways of repair molecules.

The cancer studied was squamous cell carcinoma and only head and neck cancer cells were tested. Researchers hope that human clinical studies will be done with a view to future cancer therapies. This study was released early and will appear in a future issue of the journal Carcinogenesis. It is now accessible online at https://bit.ly/z1kXfu with subscription or access fee.

GREEN TEA LINKED TO LOWER RISK OF INCIDENT FUNCTIONAL DISABILITY

A study concludes that, aside from any link with diseases that can lead to disability, higher green tea consumption is associated with reduced risk of developing incident functional disability. (Incident functional disability is defined as onset of inability to do one or more major functional tasks, such as walking 0.25 mile, climbing 10 steps, performing household chores, shopping, or cooking meals, no matter what the cause.) It was already known that green tea reduces the risk of some diseases linked to functional disability, such as stroke, osteoporosis, and cognitive impairment. Scientists set out to determine whether green tea affects the risk of developing incident functional disability aside from these diseases. Studying almost 14,000 Japanese women, they found that, compared to those drinking less than one cup daily, individuals drinking three to four cups of green tea daily had a 25% lower risk of incident disability; and those drinking five or more cups of green tea daily showed a 33% reduced risk of developing incident functional disability. This study will appear in a future issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

ALCOHOL RAISES RISK IN PEOPLE WITH FAMILY HISTORY OF COLON CANCER

A large study has found that an amount equal to 30 or more grams of alcohol (2.5 typical drinks) per day increases the risk of colon cancer among those who have a family history of colon cancer. Especially at risk are those who exceed the recommended alcohol limit and also eat the most red meat, smoke the most, or have the lowest intake of folate, which likely indicates that they eat the least green vegetables and cereals. There was not a significant association between alcohol and colon cancer risk among those who did not have a family history of colon cancer. In general, those with the greatest risk of colon cancer were those who had the least healthy overall lifestyles.

The study confirms previous links between alcohol consumption and colon cancer risk; but this research also suggests that the risk of colon cancer from alcohol consumption, at least among those most at risk due to potential genetic factors, is substantially increased or lowered by the quality of diet.

This study was published in the February 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

CANCER DRUGS CAUSE SUBSTANTIAL MUTATIONS IN DNA OF OFFSPRING

Scientists have found that mice given cancer drugs sire pups that have twice as many mutations in their DNA as their fathers do. Researcher have previously investigated the after-effects of cancer therapy for over a decade, but focused their studies on the cancer survivor, and primarily on the effects of radiation, which is known to cause DNA damage. But the new study suggests that cancer drugs can cause DNA damage, and not just for the patient taking the drugs, but apparently for the offspring and potentially future generations. It is important to note substantial differences between this research conducted on mice and the implications for humans. First, humans often receive cancer dug therapy after their reproductive years have ended. Second, future studies may show that the many years human survivors live following cancer therapy see the reversal of drug-related DNA damage; mice only live several years in total, not long enough for DNA repair.

This study was released January 30, 2012 and will appear in a future issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is accessible online now at https://bit.ly/w4jNmk with access fee or subscription.

PROCESSED MEAT LINKED TO DIABETES IN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

A study of rural-living American Indians has concluded that the consumption of processed meat is associated with a higher risk of diabetes. The research focused strictly on the non-urban native population, which has a greater incidence of diabetes and has more limited access to healthy foods, but results may have implications for other populations. Processed meat was defined as any manufactured meat product such as spam. After adjusting for other factors that could affect the risk of diabetes, scientists observed a 63 percent higher risk of Type II diabetes among the quarter of the study group who ate the most processed meat compared with the quarter of the population consuming the least amount of processed meat. The risk of diabetes was highest for the processed meat product called spam: diabetes risk among the highest-quarter of spam consumers was found to be more than double the risk among the lowest quarter. No increase in diabetes risk was found with increased consumption of unprocessed red meat. Released January 25, 2012 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this study is available at https://bit.ly/xwImlm for an access fee.

MORE ANTIOXIDANTS IN BLUEBERRY WINE THAN MOST GRAPE WINES

Research has found that the antioxidant content is higher in blueberry wine than in all of the white wines studied, and in all but 20 percent of the red wines studied. (The dark colour of some fruit, such as blackberries or red grapes, often indicates the presence of antioxidants, compounds that may protect cells from damaging molecular garbage called free radicals.) Content of anthocyanins, one type of antioxidant, was higher in red and blueberry wines than in rose and white wines. Content of phenolics, another type of antioxidant, was higher in red wine than blueberry wine, which in turn surpassed the phenolic content of rose and white wines.

Scientists assessed the overall relative antioxidant potency of the blueberry and grape wines using a method known as oxygen radical absorbance capacity, or ORAC. This assessment scored blueberry wine antioxidant capacity greater than all of the white and rose wines, and greater than 80% of red wines, indicating greater overall health enhancement and disease prevention. This study was published in the February 2012 issue of the journal Sustainable Agriculture Research. It is now available online at https://bit.ly/yeW9zh

POST-INJURY MASSAGE DAMPENS INFLAMMATION, REBUILDS MITOCHONDRIA

A study has found that, following the acute muscle injury that results from intense exercise, massage therapy works on a cellular level within skeletal muscles to reduce inflammation and promote the growth of mitochondria, which are the energy-producing units in the cells. The study involved the genetic analysis of muscle biopsies taken from the quadriceps of eleven young males after they had exercised to exhaustion on a stationary bicycle. One leg of each subject was randomly chosen to be massaged. Biopsies were taken from both legs prior to the exercise, immediately after 10 minutes of massage treatment, and after a 2.5 hour recovery period. This research provides evidence that massage provides a benefit that exceeds just feeling good or inducing relaxation. The scientists suggest that various manipulative therapies, such as massage, may provide important regenerative function in medical practice, and may benefit a broad spectrum of individuals including the elderly, those suffering from musculoskeletal injuries and patients with chronic inflammatory disease. This study was published in the February 2012 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

LOW VITAMIN D LEVELS LINKED TO ALLERGY AND ECZEMA

Researchers have concluded that people who live at higher latitudes have twice the risk of developing food allergies and eczema, compared to those who live at lower latitudes. Due to the greater exposure to sunlight at lower latitudes, this suggests that vitamin D may help prevent these conditions. (Eczema is a form of dermatitis, or inflammation of the epidermis. Sunlight provides the body with the fuel to create vitamin D in the skin.) Also, the scientists found a similar link between higher (or reduced-sunlight) latitudes and a greater risk of allergies to peanut or egg. It is possible, the team suggested, that other factors beyond vitamin D may be at work: temperature, behaviour, or infectious diseases vary by latitude as well. Future studies will determine whether vitamin D or some other driver is behind this allergy-sunlight relationship. As always, caution must be exercised to avoid too much sunlight. This study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It has been made available online now at https://bit.ly/AsKkpa with subscription or access fee.

TAI CHI IMPROVES BALANCE, FUNCTION IN PARKINSON’S PATIENTS

Scientists have discovered that a tailored program of 60-minute sessions of the Chinese mind-body practice tai chi, twice a week for 24 weeks, significantly and safely improves balance and other functional abilities in Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients, compared to spending the same amount of time on either resistance training or on stretching exercises. Other than a strong effect on balance, the benefits of tai chi to PD patients included increased walking ability, greater directional body control, better posture, improved range of motion, and fewer falls. Those assigned to the tai chi group were eventually better able to lean in any direction without losing their balance, and took long strides when walking. There were no serious side effects of the training sessions, and the benefits persisted for three months following the termination of the program. The tai chi sessions focused more on weight-shifting, natural breathing, stepping front-to-back and sideways, and ankle sway. This study was released February 9, 2012 but will not be published until a future issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Available online now at https://bit.ly/yey1hP with subscription or fee.

AIR POLLUTION LINKED TO COGNITIVE DECLINE IN OLDER AGED WOMEN

Researchers have confirmed earlier research and concluded that there is a significant association between chronic exposure to both small and large particulate air pollution and accelerated cognitive decline among older adults. In the large study, 19,409 US women aged 70 to 81 who were exposed to higher levels of either fine or coarse ambient air-pollution particulate over a four-year period showed a faster rate of cognitive decline. These results are similar to previous studies finding a general association between air pollution and cognitive decline, but this study is the first to determine the risk for a specific period of time; it is also the first to show that the risk applies to both large and small particles. Exposure to particulate air pollution is associated with cardiovascular risk, which itself may play a role in causing or accelerating cognitive decline. The team suggested that air pollution reduction is a potential means for reducing the future population burden of age-related cognitive decline, and eventually, dementia. This study was published in the February 13, 2012 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/wNd4jj with subscription or access fee.

LEAD IN LIPSTICK MAY POSE THREAT TO PREGNANT WOMEN

A study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found that average levels of lead in 400 popular brands of lipstick are twice as high as previously believed, and that the brand with the highest level contains 275 times the amount of lead as the brand tested to have the lowest level. (Lead is a metal that can accumulate in the body and in sufficient quantities can be fatal. Lipstick is a product that involves very low levels of bodily absorption; however, lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development. The government does not limit the lead content of these products, but in January 2012, the FDA urged pregnant women to be cautious about lead.)

The brand with the most lead was Maybelline Color Sensation by L’Oreal USA; the brand with the lowest lead level was Wet & Wild Mega Mixers Lip Balm. The study will be published in the May-June 2012 issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Science. The table showing results of all 400 tested brands is available now at the FDA website at https://1.usa.gov/wVon9F without cost.

DID YOU KNOW…?

Eating two rashers of bacon, or one sausage, per day increases your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 19 percent, reported the British Journal of Cancer in January 2012. Eating 1.8 ounces of any other processed meat daily has the same effect.

Michael Downey is a columnist with Vitality Magazine, contributing his News Briefs column every month.

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