News Briefs – April 2007Michael Downey April 1, 2007
POSSIBLE TREE BARK CANCER CURE
Writing in the March 15, 2007 issue of the journal Eye, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, reported on a study that found a rainforest tree bark extract may cure cancer.
Retinoblastoma affects 1 in 15,000 children, causing about three per cent of all child cancers. Developing cells in the retina, the eye’s main light sensor, go haywire and reproduce out of control. Most cases occur in developing countries, where it is usually fatal. Combination chemotherapy can cause hearing loss, kidney failure and leukemia. Radiation therapy, which is now less commonly used, disfigures the child. In children who have the cancer in only one eye, the eyeball is sometimes replaced with an implant.
“We can cure them, but at a cost,” said study leader Joan O’Brien, PhD, in an interview with Vitality. “It’s important to find a cheap, easily administered, nontoxic therapy.” However, much study must be done because the tree bark compound is indeed toxic.
O’Brien and colleagues wanted to see whether the rainforest tree bark-derived compound beta-lapachone could cause the abnormal eye cancer cells to commit suicide – something it has already been shown to do in a number of cancer types, including breast and prostate cells. The UCSF team tested beta-lapachone on human eye cancer cells and found that low doses caused the cells to kill themselves in a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. This supports earlier lab studies on other human cancer cell types. And if animal studies prove the substance is safe for healthy cells, it may lead to an effective cancer treatment for humans.
Despite evidence of anticancer, anti-tumour and antiviral properties, the usefulness of this tree bark extract in humans was limited because it is toxic and damaging to DNA. In fact, that’s how it works: by disrupting DNA replication in the cancer cells, which so damages them that they self-abort. For that reason, beta-lapachone has implications for both cancer and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The problem with substances that kill cancer cells is that they also damage healthy cells. “But the nice thing about this agent is that it kills at very low doses and it appears to be selective to cancer,” said O’Brien. Substances that zero in on cancer are less toxic because they do less harm to healthy cells. O’Brien’s lab is already testing the extract in mice with retinoblastoma to look for and judge the extent of possible toxic side effects.
For more than twenty years, scientists have known that normal cells are controlled by a system that signals them to detect and repair genetic damage or to commit suicide if that damage is irreparable. When this control system fails, cells carrying genetic mutations continue dividing unchecked and can lead to cancer. Researchers have long sought a way to rebuild this quality control system so it will detect and destroy tumour cells.
Beta-lapachone is one of several compounds derived decades ago from lapachone, a substance in the bark of the two-metre-high tree species called Tabebuia, of which there are several sub-species. It is a powerful DNA-damaging poison. But if it specifically targets cancer cell DNA, as this research suggests, it may be a safe way to eliminate cancer naturally – by cancer cell suicide.
For all you botany students, here are the details: This compound is a quinone derived from lapachol (a naphthoquinone), which can be isolated from the lapacho tree (Tabebuia avellanedae), a member of the catalpa family (Bignoniaceae). The inner bark has long been known as Pau d’Arco, which was used as a remedy for centuries by South American Indio tribes; lapachol is a chemical component of Pau d’Arco.
A number of cancer drugs have been derived from trees. For example, paclitaxel is sold as Taxol by Bristol-Myers Squibb; it was extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. And docetaxel has been trademarked as Taxotere by Rhone-Poulenc Rorer; it is a drug extracted from the needles of the English yew.
WATERCRESS CUTS CANCER RISK
Eating 85 grams of watercress regularly could help cut the chances of developing cancer, research suggests. University of Ulster research suggests this amount of watercress cuts by 23 per cent DNA damage to white blood cells – damage that is considered an important trigger in the development of cancer. Blood cell DNA damage is an indicator of whole body cancer risk – so watercress may lower risk of cancer at various body sites. Watercress raises levels of lutein and beta-carotene in the blood, while cutting levels of harmful triglycerides. The benefits appeared to be greater in smokers. The study was funded by the Watercress Alliance, but is published in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Papers published in this journal are checked by other scientists before they are published. Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, as is cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy and Brussels sprouts.
ENERGY DRINK FEARS
Promoters call it a “freaky scientific breakthrough,” a “fat incinerator” that satisfies “your craving for that killer jacked up burst of energy.” But its effects on the body are definitely drug-like – and could land you in the hospital’s ER. A review of records from a regional poison control center in Chicago found 265 cases of caffeine intoxication, including 31 hospitalizations and 20 ICU admissions. Most were sickened by caffeine taken in the form of dietary supplements, medications, or energy drinks.
Symptoms of caffeine intoxication include insomnia, heart palpitations, tremors, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, chest pain and neurological symptoms.
Caffeine is being added to a growing number of products, including sports drinks, energy drinks and gels, caffeinated waters and fruit juice. As the $3.4 billion caffeine energy-drink market explodes, apparent overdoses of the products are adding up too, with an increasing number of calls to poison control centers and visits to hospital emergency rooms.
Unlike the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which refuses to issue any caffeine intake guideline – Health Canada advises consumers to limit their caffeine intake to 400 to 450 mg per day, the equivalent of about three 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee, and less for women of child-bearing age and children.
As energy drinks go, Redline stands out for its caffeine content. A single can of Redline contains 250 milligrams (mg) of the drug. That’s more than three times the caffeine content of a same-sized can of the popular Red Bull, which contains 80 mg; or Jolt, which contains 71 mg. For comparison, an 8-ounce brewed coffee contains 80-135 mg of caffeine; a 16-ounce bottle of Celestial Seasonings Ginseng tea, 100 mg; 8 ounces of black tea, 35-50 mg; a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, 34 mg; and 8 ounces of green tea, 30 mg. But the energy drink Wired x505 takes the cake: 505 mg of caffeine in a 23.5 ounce can. If you weigh 150 pounds, it would take just 20 cans to kill you.
Got a headache from all that caffeine? Just two Excedrin tablets contain 100 mg of caffeine. And watch for beverage labels that do not list caffeine but do list the natural ingredient guarana – it also contains caffeine.
To compare caffeine contents of various drinks, caffeinated waters, frozen desserts, chocolates and over-the-counter drugs, visit: https://wilstar.com/caffeine.htm and https://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm.
Ever had a weird fascination with how much of a particular caffeinated energy drink or soda it would take to kill you? No problem. Visit the following web page, key in your weight and then just select the drink with which you want to kill yourself. Surf to: https://www.energyfiend.com/death-by-caffeine/. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, just down 95 cups of coffee – and you’re history.
ZINC LOWERS INFANT MORTALITY
A clinical trial has concluded that daily zinc supplements reduce the risk of death among children by seven per cent overall – but among children aged 1 to 4 years, by 18 per cent.
The goal of the study was to examine the benefit of zinc supplementation on children in areas where malaria is prevalent. Researchers did not find any significant reduction in mortality among children less than one year of age; but the team explained that infants might acquire sufficient amounts of zinc in utero and through breast feeding to last them during the first year of life.
This large trial involved 42,546 children living in Pemba, Zanzibar. It demonstrates that the benefits of zinc supplementation include mortality reduction – in addition to the reduction in cases of pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.
Conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this study was published in the March 17, 2007 edition of The Lancet. Zinc mediates many physiological functions and is essential for a healthy immune system.
• People still not eating veggies: A survey released March 15 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that less than a third of Americans are eating the government-recommended servings of two fruit and three vegetables a day. This means that despite efforts to encourage greater produce consumption, the actual percentage that meets the goal hasn’t changed since 1994. A serving is half a cup, except for leafy greens for which a serving is a cup.
• Canada’s Natural Health ‘talking paper’: Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) has announced the release of Charting A Course: Refining Canada’s Approach to Regulating Natural Health Products, a document intended to be a tool to introduce issues and trigger discussion about regulatory review. You can check it out at: https://www.hc-sc.gc.ca:80/ahc-asc/branch-dirgen/hpfb-dgpsa/blueprint-plan/chart-course_tracer-voie_e.html.
• TCM herb gets evidence boost: A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herb called berberine has long been touted as beneficial for diabetes 2 but without much hard evidence. Now, an Australian study reported in the journal Diabetes has found that this extract of the roots and bark of a number of plants has the effect – shown only in animals so far – of activating an enzyme in the muscle and liver that is involved in improving sensitivity of the tissue to insulin. This in turn, helps lower blood sugar levels.
• Health Canada warning: Health Canada is advising consumers not to use MIAOZI Slimming Capsules because they have been found to contain sibutramine, which is a prescription medication that should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, consumers are advised to avoid the herbal sleep supplement Sleepees which contains a habit-forming drug. Consumers requiring more information about either of these advisories can contact Health Canada’s public enquiries line at (613) 957-2991, or toll free at 1-866-225-0709.
• E. coli spinach outbreak traced: The investigation into the exact origin of last September’s deadly outbreak from E. coli-contaminated spinach finally concluded on March 1. California officials have now determined that the spinach originated on a 50-acre organic farm in San Benito County. The lawyer handling the lawsuit for 90 plaintiffs identified the farm as Mission Organics. Three people were killed and 200 made seriously ill; 23 suffered liver failure.
• First juice with fish oil: Oasis, a new line of 100 per cent juices that has just been launched in Canada by A. Lassonde Inc., includes a juice that contains omega-3 fish oil. The omega juice is strawberry-kiwi; three other flavour combinations contain probiotics, calcium or antioxidants. More information is available at: https://www.oasishealthbreak.com/.
• Orange tomatoes healthier: Food scientists at Ohio State University in Columbus have grown a special variety of orange tomatoes that contain a lycopene much more readily absorbed than the lycopene in normal red tomatoes. About five hours after eating some orange tomato sauce, test subjects’ blood levels of lycopene were 200 times higher than those seen after eating a red tomato sauce. The orange tomatoes are not readily available at grocery stores; they were grown at an Ohio State-affiliated agricultural research centre. The study team suggested consumers seek out orange or gold-coloured heirloom tomatoes as an alternative – although they haven’t tested how much or what kind of lycopene these varieties contain.
• Omega? Fish still best bet: A UK study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic chicken than in conventional chicken. The explanation may be that vitamin supplements, which are routinely added to conventional feed, are banned under organic farming rules.
• Acupuncture for hot flashes: New research confirms that properly performed acupuncture reduces the intensity of nighttime hot flashes. Researchers gave menopausal women either authentic or fake acupuncture. After seven weeks, evening sweats were 28 per cent less severe in those who got the real deal. The others saw only a six per cent improvement.
• Garlic beneficial – but not for cholesterol: While studies suggest various health benefits from eating garlic, a new study has found no effect on LDL, or bad, cholesterol. Test subjects were assigned the equivalent of one average-sized clove as raw garlic, powdered garlic, aged garlic extract (AGE) or placebo to be taken six days a week for six months. The Stanford University study was published February 26, 2007 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Benefits exhibited in numerous other studies include immune support and possible risk reduction for some cancers and hypertension.
• 40 per cent take herbs: This news may surprise you. According to a new CBS News poll, nearly four in ten Americans have used herbal supplements such as Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, Saw Palmetto and others to help a medical problem or as part of their regular diet – and most who have tried them think herbs are effective. Women are most likely to use herbs, as well as those between 30 and 44 years of age.
• Painkillers raise heart risk: Popular painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can raise blood pressure and therefore, the risk of heart disease among men. That’s the conclusion of research reported in the February 27, 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. Men taking such drugs for most days ( 4 – 6) in a week were about one-third more likely to get high blood pressure. This reinforces a study published in 2002 showing these commonly used drugs raise blood pressure in women.
• Choline helps FAS babies: According to research published in March 2007 in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, giving supplemental choline to babies whose mothers drank too much alcohol while pregnant might help overcome some of their resulting deficits associated with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
• Consumers rate vitamin brands: ConsumerLab.com announced February 22 that 77 per cent of consumers they recently surveyed reported being highly satisfied with the brands of dietary supplements they use, as well as the retail source. The provider of consumer information published figures on how many buy supplements from each source—Internet, health food stores, pharmacy, etc.—and what brands were the favourite in each case. That information is available in a report but is summarized online at: https://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=17799&zoneid=2 .
• Prenatal vitamins: Expectant mothers who take folic acid-fortified prenatal vitamins before and during the first three months of pregnancy lower the risk their babies will develop leukemia, brain tumours and neuroblastoma by as much as 47 per cent. That’s the finding of a study at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids published in the February 21, 2007 issue of the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
• MRI dyes linked to skin disease: Federal health officials are warning doctors that certain types of metallic dye injected for MRI scans have been linked to a rare and dangerous skin disease in kidney patients. The dyes in question contain gadolinium; the disease is called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis and its symptoms include burning and itching that can lead to discolouration and stiffening of the skin. The studies were done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Disappointing anti-aging study: Contrary to opinion, a massive meta-study published in the February 28, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found supplements of vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene and selenium do not help people live longer—at various dosages, whether taken separately or in combination. In fact, beta-carotene, A and E seem to shorten lifespan. This does not imply these nutrients have no benefit; merely that they are not in themselves “anti-aging,” as is often claimed; also supplements may work best synergistically, as part of a comprehensive spectrum of nutrients. Affiliated with Copenhagen University, the team investigated all former research work on the subject in 385 journals and analyzed 68 studies, which included 232,606 test subjects. The abstract of the study can be read at: https://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/297/8/842 .
Myth: There are no hangover cures, except of course, time.
Truth: The proof may not be conclusive but one study by researchers at Tulane University has found that extract from prickly pears—a species of cactus—ameliorates a few hangover symptoms such as nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite. Check out health food stores for supplements. Prickly pear extract doesn’t work on headaches, however; so you’re on your own there.
Lower levels of vitamins B6 and B12 can intensify a hangover, says David Katz, PhD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. Alcohol inhibits absorption of these compounds. These supplements taken before bed may speed your recovery—but don’t take them all the time, warns Katz: Excessive amounts have been linked to long-term nerve damage.
Alcohol dehydrates you. Beer is mostly water but the alcohol in it blocks certain hormones—and without those hormones, you tend to race to the bathroom more often. With each drink, you lose more water than you take in. As your body dries out, bad things happen, including those searing headaches. Drinking water the next morning helps; but it’s far better to interrupt your imbibing with a few glasses of water along the way.
In other countries, people swear by two extremely spicy soups: a beef-bone and beef-blood soup in Korea called haejangguk; and a spicy tripe soup in Mexico, made with cow stomach. Both contain a collection of spices that would make most Canadians scream in pain. Do these soups work? There’s zero evidence of it. More likely, the stinging spices provide a welcome distraction from hangover pain.
Myth: While some chemicals may cause cancer when ingested in sufficiently high quantities, naturally grown fruits and vegetables will not. And while some plants are poisonous, commonly eaten foods are not.
Truth: Extensive tests conducted on a vast assortment of substances—whether found in nature, synthetically made, or components of healthy plant foods—show that the same portion of all compounds can cause cancer when consumed in large volumes: about half. There are many carcinogens in natural foods. They include quercetin glycosides (tomatoes); tannins (in tea); furfural (potatoes); heterocyclic amines (beef and turkey); aflatoxin, which is one of the most powerful toxins on Earth (nuts); caffeic acid (grapes); catechol (coffee); safrole (cinnamon and nutmeg); psoralens (celery); benzene (butter); allyl isothiocyanate (broccoli and mustard); acrylamide (bread); pyperadine (black pepper); hydrazine (mushrooms); and acetaldehyde (apples). The list is endless.
A number of other commonly consumed and nutritious, natural foods contain neurotoxins, hallucinogens, mutagens and flat-out deadly poisons. Potatoes contain arsenic and bananas are chocked with it. Lima beans furnish cyanide, as do apple seeds. Think herbs are different? Nightshade contains the deadly poison hemlock.
But don’t avoid fruits and vegetables. A 1992 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that the quarter of the population with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables has roughly half the cancer rate as the quarter with the lowest intake, for most types of cancer. Numerous health experts, from the Canadian Cancer Society to the CDC, consistently recommend a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as one of the best ways to prevent cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.
Bottom line? Fruits and vegetables—despite containing numerous cancer-causing chemicals (and poisons)—also furnish a vast army of anti-carcinogens.