Health Archives: Vitamins Reduce Risk of ASD; Zinc Inhibits Cancer; Cholesterol Drugs Boost Diabetes Risk

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(Originally published December 2017; Updated May 1st, 2022)

Multivitamin Use During Pregnancy Linked to Lower Risk of Autism

A study has found that taking multivitamins during early pregnancy may reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. (ASD includes a range of conditions that affect social interaction, communication, interests, and behaviour. Research indicates that it may develop in the womb and that maternal diet during pregnancy could have an influence. But results from previous studies have been inconsistent.)

An international research team set out to assess whether nutrient supplementation during pregnancy is associated with reduced risk of ASD, with and without intellectual disability. The team analyzed over a quarter-million mother-child pairs in which the children were four to 15 years of age by 2011. After adjusting for potential influencing factors in both mothers and children, the researchers found that multivitamin use, with or without additional iron or folic acid, was associated with a lower likelihood of child ASD with intellectual disability, compared to mothers who did not use folic acid, iron, and multivitamins. There was no consistent evidence that either iron or folic acid use were associated with a reduced risk of ASD. (This type of study doesn’t, however, prove cause-and-effect.) The study was published online October 4, 2017 by the British Medical Journal, and is available now at Free of charge.

Mechanism Found for Zinc Inhibition of Esophogeal Cancer

New research suggests a way that zinc apparently halts the growth of esophageal cancer cells, potentially paving the way for new prevention and treatment methods. (Esophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of human cancer deaths around the world. The average five-year survival rate for the disease is less than 20%. Earlier work suggested zinc inhibits this cancer, but without an understanding of the mechanism, this protection cannot be verified.)

Scientists set out to uncover why zinc appears to have the ability to prevent cancer in the esophagus by looking at the effect of zinc supplementation on cells. The results showed that zinc selectively halts the growth of cancer cells, but not normal esophageal epithelial cells, a finding that could now lead to new ways of treating, and even preventing, esophageal cancer. Pinpointing the mechanism revealed that zinc impedes overactive calcium signals in cancer cells, signals which are absent in normal cells, and thus zinc selectively inhibits cancer cell growth.

The researchers stressed that an insufficient amount of zinc can also lead to the development of other, non-cancer diseases. The benefits of zinc also include improve reproductive and sexual health. Zinc is available in supplements and is present in foods such as spinach, flax seeds, beef, pumpkin seeds, and seafood such as shrimp and oysters.

This study was posted online ahead of publication in the FASEB Journal. The full report can be viewed now at for a fee.

Cholesterol-lowering Drugs Boost Risk of Diabetes Type 2

A new study has found that taking cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins can raise the risk of developing Type II diabetes by 30% in some vulnerable people. For the study, obese people were given standard advice on healthy eating and exercise. They were then randomly divided into three groups that randomly assigned to an intensive lifestyle program, or treatment with metformin, or a placebo drug.

Their blood fats and blood pressure were measured annually, and blood glucose was measured twice a year, at which time any new statin prescriptions were recorded. At the beginning of the trial fewer than 4% of volunteers were taking statin drugs, but usage gradually increased so that by the end of the 10-year study period, about a third of patients were taking them. Analysis showed that, regardless of what group the participants had been assigned to, taking a statin was associated with a 30% higher risk of Type II diabetes, compared to those who had not been prescribed these drugs.

The most commonly prescribed statins were simvastatin and atorvastatin. The likelihood of being prescribed a statin drug rose substantially after a diagnosis of diabetes. There was no difference in increased diabetes risk between weaker statins such lovastatin or fluvastatin and stronger statins such as simvastatin or rouvastatin. The results did not differ whether cholesterol decreased or not. The researchers theorize that statins contribute to the development of diabetes by impairing the production of insulin, the hormone that lowers blood glucose. The study author suggested that statins may “uncover” diabetes in individuals already at high risk. This study was published in the October 2017 issue of BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care. The study can be read online now at free of charge.

Higher Water Intake Reduces Urinary Tract Infections

A new study reports that women who are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cut their infections in half by drinking an additional three pints (48 ounces) of water a day. (Up to 60% of women will have a UTI in their lifetime. Doctors have often recommended that women at risk for UTIs increase their fluid intake, but this advice has never undergone a prospective trial before. Women are more likely to get UTIs than men, in part because the urethra is shorter, meaning it is easier for bacteria to travel from the rectum and vagina to the bladder.)

The study included 140 healthy premenopausal women who had at least three UTIs in the last year and reported low daily fluid intake. Half of the women who served as the control group continued their usual daily fluid intake, while the other half were told to drink 1.5 litres of water a day (about three 16-ounce glasses) in addition to their usual daily fluid intake. After one year, women in the control group had 3.1 UTIs on average, while those in the water group had 1.6 UTIs on average, a 48% reduction. As a result, the water group required 47% fewer rounds of antibiotics. (Reducing the use of antibiotics helps decrease the risk of antibiotic resistance.) Water does not need to be consumed by itself: the water in other beverages still counts. Drinking more fluids increases the rate of flushing of bacteria from the bladder and also reduces the concentration of bacteria that enter the bladder from the vagina. This reduces the opportunities for bacteria to attach to cells that line the urinary tract, which is necessary to cause an infection. This study was presented October 8, 2017 at the IDWeek 2017 conference in San Diego.

Low Calcium Linked to Increased Risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

New evidence suggests that people with low levels of calcium in their blood may be at greater risk of sudden cardiac arrest or SCA. (SCA, one of the leading causes of death, occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, usually due to a malfunction in electrical activity which causes a deadly, irregular heartbeat. It kills 90% of people who experience it, many of whom have no history of heart disease. Calcium is best known for its role in bone health, and researchers have linked high calcium levels to greater risk of heart attack. These new and surprising findings may pave the way for new diagnostic and treatment strategies for SCA.)

Researchers gathered data from 267 people who experienced SCA as well as 445 healthy controls. The blood calcium levels of each patient had been measured in the 90 days before their cardiac arrest. The results revealed that SCA risk was more than tripled (increased 2.3-fold) for participants with the lowest blood calcium levels (under 8.95 mg per deciliter), compared with those who had the highest blood calcium levels (9.55 mg per deciliter). The team noted that the link between blood calcium levels and SCA risk should be investigated in future research. This study was published in the October 2017 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The full study can be read at for a fee.

Green Tea Extract Inhibits Toxins Linked to Cognition Decline

New research suggests that the green tea compound known as EGCG interferes with the formation of toxic assemblies. These assemblies, also known as oligomers, are prime suspects in the early stages of the molecular cascade that leads to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease patients. (Scientists have never fully understood how oligomers work at the molecular level and how they could be harnessed to find better treatments for cognitive decline.)

The study found evidence that the green tea compound EGCG coats toxic oligomers and changes their ability to grow and interact with healthy cells. These findings are the fruit of a decade of advancements in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methodology. The scientists suggested that, if validated with further research, green tea extracts or their derivatives may have some effect against Alzheimer’s if taken 15 to 25 years before any symptoms ever set in. This study was published October 4, 2017 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The full-text study is available at with an access fee.

Over the Hill - Tai ChiTai Chi Proves an Effective Option for Cardiac Rehab

Evidence now suggests that the slow and gentle movements of Tai Chi hold promise as an alternative exercise option for patients who decline traditional cardiac rehabilitation, the physical exercise generally recommended after a heart attack.

Researchers adapted a Tai Chi routine for use in heart disease patients from a protocol previously used in patients with lung disease and heart failure. They compared the safety and compliance of two regimes: LITE, a shorter program with 24 classes over 12 weeks and PLUS, a longer program with 52 classes over 24 weeks. The majority of volunteers had experienced a previous heart attack or procedure to open a blocked artery, but all had declined cardiac rehabilitation and continued to have many high-risk characteristics, including smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, and being overweight or obese.

Researchers found that Tai Chi was safe, well-liked by participants, and did not raise aerobic fitness. They also found that it did raise the weekly amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity at three months and at six months, but only in the group that participated in the six-month program. They suggested that Tai Chi may be an effective option for cardiac rehab.

This study was published online on October 11, 2017 by the Journal of the American Heart Association. The full study can be read now at free of charge.

Higher Fluoride Levels in Mothers Linked to Lower IQ Levels in Children

Scientists have found a correlation between fluoride exposure in the womb and subsequent reductions in IQ and cognitive function at the ages of four and six through age 12. A child of a mother drinking water with one part per million (ppm) of fluoride would be predicted to have an IQ that is 5 to 6 points lower than a child born to a mother who drank fluoride-free water. This is a substantial difference in IQ. (Earlier, over 300 studies suggested that fluoride can reduce IQ and impair fetal brain development.

Then, in 2015, the U.S. government admitted that the optimal fluoridation level recommended since 1962 had in fact been too high, resulting in over 40% of American teens having dental fluorosis, a sign of fluoride overexposure. Therefore, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services lowered its recommended level of fluoride in drinking water by 40%, from an upper limit of 1.2 to 0.7 milligrams per litre. However, even if a 0.7 mg/L concentration lowers dental fluorosis, the current study suggests that it is still unsafe for brain function.)

This study took into account potentially confounding factors such as lead, mercury, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol use, and pregnancy-related problems. Each 0.5 mg/L increase in fluoride over 0.8 mg/L in the urine of the mother was associated with a 2.5-point reduction in IQ. However, there was no level of fluoridation in the urine that did not have at least some effect on cognition or IQ. Prenatal exposure to fluoride was shown to have a far greater effect on cognitive function than fluoride exposure during childhood. The American Dental Association argued that these effects are not relevant, because the study was conducted on Mexican women; however, the levels of fluoride detected in the Mexican mothers were similar to those that would be expected in American mothers in water-fluoridated areas.

A study of this type cannot prove cause-and-effect. But this is one of the largest, longest, and most rigorous studies on fluoride and neurodevelopment ever conducted, according to the lead study author. It was also funded by the U.S. government. This study was published in the September 2017 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. The full study report can be read online now at free of charge. Further information on fluoridation risks can be found at


Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.

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