Health News Briefs – February 2012

BISPHENOL A SPIKES AFTER EATING CANNED SOUP

After just five days of eating a 12-ounce serving of canned soup per day, subjects were found to have urine levels of bisphenol A (BPA) that were 1200 percent higher than the BPA levels in the urine of subjects who ate fresh soup during the same period. (BPA is an endocrine disruptor shown to interfere with reproductive development in animal studies at sufficiently high levels, although it remains uncertain if the same effects cross over to humans. BPA leaches from some types of plastics, paper cash register receipts, dental fillings, and the plastic lining of cans.) Because urine is the usual route through which the body gets rid of BPA, the study of urine levels did not determine how long the BPA actually continued to remain in the body, or at what levels; it is possible that the body flushes all BPA out of the system. Although not conclusive, previous research linked BPA to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. This study was published in the Nov. 23, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/sM5cWb with subscription to the journal or fee payment.

ANTIOXIDANT-RICH DIET LOWERS RISK OF STROKE

Acai

Antioxidant foods such as acai berries have been shown to reduce the risk of stroke.

Scientists have found that women whose diet is highest in total antioxidant capacity (TAC) have a 17% lower risk of stroke than women with the lowest antioxidant intake. (Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids and flavonoids can inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation by scavenging the free radicals. Antioxidants, especially flavonoids, may also help improve endothelial function and reduce blood clotting, blood pressure and inflammation.) The study looked at all of the thousands of antioxidants in the diet, and found that those who consume the greatest level of TAC received 50% of their antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, 18% from whole grains, 16% from tea, and 5% from chocolate. Also, women who had a history of cardiovascular disease and whose TAC levels placed them in the top 60% of the general population, showed a 46 to 57% lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke compared to those in the lowest 20% of TAC intake. This study was released on Dec. 1, 2011, but will not appear until a future issue of the journal Stroke. It is now available online at https://bit.ly/vOOJRX.

DEPRESSION & DIABETES TOGETHER INCREASE DEMENTIA RISK

Researchers have found that patients with Type II diabetes who also have clinical depression have double the risk of developing dementia during the 3 to 5 year follow-up period, compared to patients who have diabetes alone. (Both diabetes and depression have been associated with a higher risk of dementia, but it was not previously known whether the two factors together held an even greater overall risk of dementia.) The study is important because about 20% of diabetes patients are also affected by depression. Also, depression among diabetic patients has been linked with poorer adherence to proper diabetes control practices, including poor diet and exercise, inadequate blood sugar control, and increased smoking. It is now clear that depression, in addition to potentially contributing to poor control of diabetes, may contribute to the development of dementia. This study was released Dec. 5, 2011 by the Archives of General Psychiatry. It will appear in a future print issue of the journal but is accessible online now at https://bit.ly/tGS7qr with a subscription or payment of an access fee.

DIABETES AND OBESITY INCREASE RISK OF BREAST CANCER

A 10-year study involving over 23,000 women has concluded that being diabetic or obese after the age of 60 increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Specifically, obesity after 60 was found to increase the risk of getting breast cancer by a substantial 55%. Diabetes after age 60 was found to increase the risk of developing breast cancer by 37%. Perhaps surprising to some, women who had abnormally low levels of blood lipids, especially cholesterol, showed a 25% greater risk of developing breast cancer, while high blood lipid levels were associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. This study was presented Dec. 7, 2011 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. It has not yet been published or posted online.

HIGHER INTAKE OF STARCH LINKED TO BREAST CANCER RECURRENCE

Researchers have found that, although a higher consumption of refined carbohydrates in general is linked to breast cancer, a higher intake of starches in particular is related to about a 50% higher risk of recurrence of cancerous breast tumours. Also, the difference between a riskier high starch intake and a less-risky low starch intake was modest. In the study of 2,651 breast cancer survivors, the carbohydrate intake of the participants was a mean of 233 grams a day. A year later, those whose breast cancer had not returned had decreased their carbohydrate consumption by just 2.7 grams daily, while those whose breast cancer had returned had increased their carbohydrate intake by just 2.3 grams a day during the same period. However, changes in starch consumption were more significant. Among women who decreased their starch intake the most, 9.7% of the women saw their breast cancer return; but among women who increased their starch intake the most, 14.2% experienced a breast cancer recurrence. This study was presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on Dec. 8, 2011. It has not yet been published or posted online.

LOW VITAMIN C LEVELS RAISE RISK FOR HEART FAILURE PATIENTS

A study has concluded that, compared to heart failure patients with the highest levels of vitamin C, those patients with the lowest levels show a 2.4 times greater risk of having high levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or hsCRP, a marker for both inflammation and the risk of heart disease. This is the first study to specifically link low vitamin C levels with worse outcomes for heart failure patients. The study team suggested that low vitamin C may worsen heart failure outcomes for these patients by means of increased levels of inflammation, which is a factor in heart disease. Also, a substantial number of the patients showed low vitamin C levels, and this may have been related to the regular use by these patients of diuretic drugs, which carry water (and water-soluble vitamin C) out of the body. Presented Nov. 13, 2011 in Orlando at the Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association, this study is not yet available online or in print in the association journal, Circulation.

MEDITERRANEAN DIET CUTS RISK OF DIABETES AND HEART DISEASE

A study has confirmed previous research, by suggesting that swapping out some bread and pasta choices for unsaturated fat from olive, oils, and nuts, choices typical of the Mediterranean diet, improves insulin use in the body, cutting the risk of both diabetes and heart disease. (People whose bodies do not effectively utilize insulin often go on to develop diabetes type 2, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.) The diet that was high in unsaturated fats was favorably compared to a diet high in protein, and another diet high in carbohydrates. Similar studies have included weight loss from similar dietary changes, but scientists conducting this study took steps to ensure that the weights of study participants remained at their starting levels, so that the health improvement could be pegged to diet choices alone. At the start of the study, all subjects had mildly elevated blood pressure, but they did not have diabetes. This study was presented Nov. 16, 2011 in Orlando at the Scientific Sessions meeting of the American Heart Association. It has not yet been published, or posted online.

LATITUDE AND VITAMIN D INTAKE AFFECT CROHN’S DISEASE

 A study of women has found the risk of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis ranges from highest to lowest in line with the northernmost to southernmost latitudes of Americans. And a separate study presented on the same day found that high doses of vitamin D for 26 weeks improve symptoms of Crohn’s disease patients. (Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are chronic diseases involving different inflammatory digestive system conditions.) Women who live at the latitudes furthest south, when compared to women who live in northernmost regions, experienced a 49% lower risk of Crohn’s and a 35% reduced risk of ulcerative colitis. Although reduced exposure to the vitamin-D-producing sunlight may be a factor, it is not known whether pollution or lifestyle factors are also responsible. In a separate study, Crohn’s patients were given extremely high dosages of vitamin D and monitored closely. It was found that as much as 10,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D supplementation significantly improved symptoms. Both studies were presented Oct. 31, 2011 in Washington DC at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology. Neither study has yet been published, or is available online.

PROBIOTICS PROVE EFFECTIVE AGAINST SEVERAL DISEASES

Taken together, four separate studies, all presented last November, show that probiotics (good bacteria) have an anti-inflammatory effect which makes them an effective treatment for psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), ulcerative colitis, and some mild cases of abdominal discomfort; and that probiotics help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). (Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, believed to be beneficial to the host body; they are found in small amounts in foods such as yogurt, and in higher amounts in supplements. Ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and CFS all have an inflammatory component. AAD can be triggered in some people by long-term use of antibiotics, which kill off beneficial bacteria along with the bad bacteria.)

Cases of AAD decreased 60% among those on long-term antibiotic use who also ingested probiotics. Also, ingesting Bifidobacterium Infantis 35624 triggered an increase in the blood levels of one inflammation-reducing factor among CFS and ulcerative colitis patients, and of two inflammation-reducing factors among psoriasis patients. This suggests probiotics can alter immune response and help prevent or treat these conditions. All four studies were presented Nov. 1, 2011 in Washington DC at 76th annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology. None have yet been published or posted online.

DID YOU KNOW … ?

Drinking green tea seems to cut bad cholesterol, according to a new review published in July 2011 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This may explain why green tea has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

SAFFRON COMPONENT FOUND TO PREVENT NERVE DETERIORATION, MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS

Scientists have found that a substance known as crocin, found in the Persian spice saffron, prevents damage within the brain, to cells that make myelin, the material that protects brain cells from the deterioration that underlies inflammation of brain cells, the underlying cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neuroinflammatory diseases. (Myelin is the insulation that normally surrounds neurons in the brain; without myelin, neurons become inflamed and this, combined with a particular type of cell stress that is more prominent in some people, results in MS.) Although this finding holds promise for a new future treatment for MS, the researchers are still a long way from the clinical trials required to refine a specific treatment. Will saffron help MS patients now? The study team did not speculate, but this spice has been found to have other health benefits, and may help prevent further progression of MS. This study was published in the November, 2011 issue of the Journal of Immunology. It is now accessible online at https://bit.ly/siL3Pa with a subscription or payment of an article access fee.

DID YOU KNOW … ?

Taking prenatal vitamin supplements early in pregnancy appears to lower the risk of miscarriage, according to a study that appeared in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

YOGA IMPROVES FUNCTION IN CHRONIC BACK PAIN SUFFERERS

A study has concluded that, although a 12-week yoga program has only a mild effect on back pain itself, it significantly improves back mobility and function, compared to conventional medical treatments, among patients who had reported chronic or recurrent pain in the lower back. (Back function is defined as the measured abilities to undertake activities without being limited by back pain. These activities include walking quickly, getting dressed and standing for long periods of time.) Back pain and general health were similar in the yoga and control groups when measured at 3, 6, and 12 months. However, the yoga group showed better mobility and back function at each of these intervals. Surprisingly, despite the improvements observed at the end of the 3-month yoga program, back function continued to improve even as long as 9 months after patients had switched over to at-home sessions. Strongly confirming previous research, this is the largest study on yoga and back pain ever conducted in the UK. This study was published in the Nov. 1, 2011 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. Details are available online now at https://bit.ly/ufYGPF without cost.

MIGRAINES OFTEN LEAD TO MAJOR EPISODES OF CLINICAL DEPRESSION

Researchers have found strong evidence that people who suffer from migraines are much more likely to develop major depressive episodes, or clinical depression. (Migraines are a specific type of severe headache that appears to occur when nerve fibers surrounding blood vessels outside the skull release certain chemicals. These chemicals trigger inflammation, pain and dilation of the nearby blood vessels. Frequently, migraines give warning signs, such as flashes of light, tingling in the limbs, nausea, or heightened sensitivity to light. About one in ten North Americans suffer from migraines, women more often than men.) Although migraines were previously linked to depression, this is the first study to prove that migraine sufferers are indeed at a substantially increased risk of depression. However, the researchers are uncertain whether depression can cause migraines. The team speculated that childhood stress and trauma may shape this relationship. This research may help identify those at risk for later major depressive episodes, and lead to earlier or preventive treatment. The study, which will not be published until a future issue of the journal Headache, was released early and is accessible at https://bit.ly/sfxDJx with subscription or fee.

DID YOU KNOW … ?

Some polyphenols found in grapes have the ability to prevent the production of a substance that is associated with development of Alzheimer’s disease. This was reported in July 2011 by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

FIRST HUMAN TRIAL: RESVERATROL IMPROVES METABOLIC HEALTH

The first-ever human trial of effects of resveratrol on obese volunteers has found that 150 mg of 99%-purified supplements of this polyphenolic chemical – found in red wine, peanuts, supplements, and other sources – improve energy metabolism, inflammation, and metabolic profile, which are risk factors for age-related diseases including metabolic syndrome, Type II diabetes, and cancer. (Previously, the only non-drug intervention known to lower the risks of developing age-related and obesity-related diseases has been substantial calorie restriction, or CR. Resveratrol was shown in lab cells and in animals to provide metabolic effects similar to CR, but this is the first human clinical trial systematically studying the effects of resveratrol on human metabolism.) Resveratrol taken daily for 30 days produced numerous CR-mimicking metabolic benefits including improved mitochondrial function, energy metabolism, liver fat content, sleep metabolic rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. The scientists concluded that resveratrol works by altering gene expression within the mitochondria. This lowers mitochondrial energy generation, producing anti-aging benefits, and helps prevent cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. This study was published in the November 2011 issue of Cell Metabolism; it is now available online at https://bit.ly/vlcWqL without subscription or cost.

DID YOU KNOW … ?

You can get 1/4 of your recommended daily fibre, 7 grams, by adding just one of the following servings: one large apple, or one cup of lentil soup, or half a cup of baked beans.

FISH CONSUMPTION LOWERS RISK OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

A study has found that those eating baked or boiled fish at least once a week have better preservation of grey brain matter in areas related to Alzheimer’s disease, which in turn causes a five-fold lower the risk of developing both mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s disease. (Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills, afflicting about 5.1 million Americans. In MCI, memory loss is present but to a lesser extent than in Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI often go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.) The scientists discovered that once-weekly consumption of boiled or baked fish resulted in healthier, stronger, and larger neurons (brain nerve cells) in the gray matter portion of the brain, which substantially reduces the risk of these memory-affecting diseases, and improves cognition. However, the researchers found no cognitive improvement or reduced risk of disease with consumption of fried fish. This study was presented in Chicago on Nov. 30, 2011 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

MILK THISTLE BLOCKS SIGNAL THAT CAN TRIGGER COLORECTAL CANCER

Researchers have found that silibinin, a compound in the herb Milk Thistle, has the ability to stop a long and complicated chain of cellular signals, which is usually triggered initially by the body following detection of wounded cells, and which may result ultimately in the development of colorectal cancer tumours. Molecular billboards often signal that tissue cells have been damaged and this sets in motion a chain of signals within the body cells that leads to the production of enzymes involved in an inflammatory response. The inflammatory mechanism can sometimes result in colorectal cells becoming cancerous. Drugs are marketed to block this series of cellular signaling, but when scientists tested these medications against silibinin, they found that the Milk Thistle compound, which was equally effective, also blocked the migration of existing cancer cells. This study, conducted in the lab using lung cells from mice, was released Nov. 15, 2011 but will not be published until a future issue of Molecular Carcinogenesis. It is now available online at https://bit.ly/ty2BqY with journal subscription or payment of the access fee.

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

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