News Briefs – April 2016

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A natural extract of the Indian neem tree has the potential to successfully treat pancreatic cancer

Tree Extract Targets and Kills Pancreatic Cancer Cells

A new study has concluded that a natural extract of the neem tree has the potential to treat pancreatic cancer. (The neem tree is native to India. Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all cancers with 94% of patients dying within five years of diagnosis. This cancer grows quickly, with no effective treatments currently available, underscoring the importance of finding new therapies.)

Scientists tested nimbolide, a compound found in neem leaves, against pancreatic cancer in cells and in mice. The results revealed that nimbolide can stop the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer cells without harming normal, healthy cells. Nimbolide was able to reduce the migration and invasion capabilities of pancreatic cancer cells by 70%, meaning the cancer cells did not become aggressive and spread. (In humans, this migration and invasion, or metastasis, of pancreatic cancer to other regions of the body is the chief cause of mortality.)

Nimbolide also induced cancer cell death, causing the size and number of pancreatic cancer cell colonies to drop by 80%. The lead researcher noted that many people in India actually eat neem, and it does not have harmful side effects, further suggesting that using nimbolide for pancreatic cancer will not cause the adverse effects common with chemotherapy and radiation.

The journal Scientific Reports recently posted this new study on its site, where the full version can be viewed at free of charge.

Beet Juice Improves Endurance and Blood Pressure

Scientists have found that a daily dose of beetroot juice significantly improves exercise endurance and blood pressure in elderly patients with a particular heart failure condition. The condition is known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or HFPEF, and involves shortness of breath and fatigue with only normal levels of exertion. (It is the most common form of heart failure, occurs more often in older women, and is the most rapidly growing cardiovascular disorder.)

First, aerobic endurance and blood pressure were measured in 19 volunteers after the participants received either a single dose of beetroot juice or a placebo. The researchers then administered a daily dose of beetroot juice to all 19 patients for an average of seven days and measured endurance and blood pressure again. The juice dose in the study was equivalent to 2.4 ounces. The daily dosing of beetroot juice improved aerobic endurance by 24 percent after one week, while the single dose produced no improvement. Also, consumption of the juice significantly reduced resting systolic blood pressure in both the single and daily dose groups by five to 10 mmHg. These findings suggest that one week of consuming daily beetroot juice could be a powerful therapeutic option to improve aerobic endurance in patients with this type of heart failure.

This study was released early as a Corrected Proof on February 10, 2016 before being reviewed for publication in a future issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. To read the full study for a fee, visit

Heartburn Drugs Linked to Higher Dementia Risk

A newly released study reports that people who use a type of popular heartburn medication known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat gastroesophageal reflux and peptic ulcers may have a greater risk of developing dementia. (PPIs are among the most popular drugs on the market. Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec are some examples of PPIs. They are used to treat gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is also known as GERD, and other excessive gastrointestinal acid secretory disorders.)

Scientists examined the association between PPI use and dementia risk using data from 2004 to 2011 on in-patient and outpatient diagnoses and drug prescriptions of 218,493 individuals aged 75 or older. Regular users of PPIs had a 44% increased risk of dementia compared with those not receiving PPI medication. The possible underlying causal biological mechanism is not known and needs to be explored in future studies. This research cannot prove cause-and-effect.

This study was released online February 15, 2016 by JAMA Neurology. It will not be published until a future issue of the journal. The full study can now be read at for a fee.

High-Fibre Intake in Youth Reduces Adult Breast Cancer Risk

A new study has found that girls who consume a high-fibre diet, especially one rich in fruits and vegetables, during adolescence and young adulthood have a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer than those with a lower intake of fibre when young. (Fibre is the indigestible portion of plant foods and is also available as a supplement. Fibre supplements were not included in this study, only food fibre. This is believed to be the first published study to examine diet during adolescence in relation to breast cancer risk factors.)

The researchers looked at food questionnaires completed by a large group (90,534) of women who were aged 27 to 44 at the time, and then assessed them every four years after that. They analyzed fibre intake while adjusting for other factors such as race, family history of breast cancer, body mass index, weight change over time, menstruation history, alcohol use, and other dietary factors. High fibre intake during adolescence was associated with a 16% lower risk of breast cancer overall and a 24% lower risk of breast cancer before menopause.

Also, for each additional 10 grams of fibre intake daily during early adulthood, breast cancer risk dropped by an additional 13%. (It may be that fibre lessens cancer risk partly by reducing blood estrogen levels which are strongly linked with breast cancer development.)

This study was published in the March 2016 issue of the journal Pediatrics. It is posted online at, where it can be read free of charge.

Antibiotics Linked to Delirium and Other Brain Symptoms

A new report suggests that antibiotics may cause a serious disruption in brain function, known as delirium, as well as other brain problems to a greater extent than previously believed. (Delirium causes confusion and may be accompanied by hallucinations and agitation. Medications are often the cause of delirium, but antibiotics are not normally suspected. People with delirium are more likely to have other complications, go into a nursing home instead of going home after hospitalization, or are more likely to die than people without delirium.)

Researchers reviewed case reports on 391 patients over seven decades, who were given oral antibiotics such as sulfonamides and ciprofloxacin and intravenous antibiotics such as cefepime and penicillin, and later developed delirium and other brain problems. A total of 54 different antibiotics were involved. About 47% had delusions or hallucinations, 14% had seizures, 15% had involuntary muscle twitching, and 5% had loss of control of body movements. The researchers identified three types of brain problems related to antibiotics: seizures – most often associated with penicillin and cephalosporins; psychotic symptoms – associated with procaine, penicillin, sulfonamides, fluoroquinolones, and macrolides; and abnormal brain scans and impaired muscle coordination – associated only with the drug metronidazole. However, all patients had an active infection that could not be ruled out as the cause of the delirium and other brain problems.

This study was published online February 17, 2016 ahead of being published in the journal Neurology. The full-text study is available now at for a fee.

Up to Four Times the Risk of Diabetes Among Poor Sleepers

Researchers have found that women who have one of four different sleeping problems have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. They analyzed data from 133,353 women without diabetes (and without cardiovascular disease or cancer), and then did a follow-up 10 years later to compare those who developed Type 2 diabetes against subjects who did not.

After adjusting for other lifestyle factors, they scored the women who originally had sleeping disorders to determine how many such disorders they had. Sleep disorders included difficulty getting to or staying asleep, frequent snoring, inability to sleep longer than six hours, and sleep apnea.

Compared to women who had originally shown no sleep problems at all, those with any one of these sleep disorders were found to have about one-and-a-half times the risk of developing diabetes over the 10-year period; women who had two sleep disorders were found to have double the risk of getting diabetes; women who had three sleep disorders were found to have three times the risk of diabetes; and women with all four sleep disorders were found to have four times the risk (a 300% increased risk) of developing diabetes. The findings show the importance of sleep to diabetes prevention. Researchers also suggested that medical science and physicians have an opportunity to intervene to help prevent diabetes among high-risk patients with multiple sleep disorders.

This study was recently pre-released online and is scheduled to be published in a future issue of the journal Diabetologia. The full report can be read now online at for a fee.

High-Fibre Diet Wards Off Lung Diseases, COPD

New research suggests that dietary fibre improves lung function both in smokers and nonsmokers and may help prevent lung diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Adopting a high-fibre diet has almost as much lung benefit as quitting smoking, although the report strongly recommends doing both. (Fibre is known for its benefits in preventing heart attacks, diabetes, and some cancers. This is the first study linking fibre to lung health. COPD is the third-leading cause of death in North America. COPD includes chronic bronchitis or emphysema or a mix of the two, and it is often eventually fatal.)

Scientists warn that eating more fibre may not offset the effects of smoking, but it does improve lung function in smokers as it was found to do in nonsmokers. Specialists reviewed records of 1,921 adults aged 40 to 79, and they found that 68.3% of the fibre-eaters had normal lung function compared to just 50.1% of those who did not eat a lot of fibre. Just 14.8% of those with fiber-rich diets had airway restriction compared to 29.8% of those who did not follow high-fibre diets. Those with the highest fiber intake also had greater lung capacity and could exhale more air in one second, important indicators of lung health. At its highest intake level, dietary fibre did not quite offset smoking damage. The author speculated that the lung benefits of fibre might be due to anti-inflammatory benefits, which may also explain why fibre helps prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers as well. (People with higher fibre intakes usually have lower markers for inflammation.) Fibre may also play a role in formation of beneficial gut bacteria. Rich fibre sources include beans, lentils, unpeeled vegetables and fruits, as well as nuts and berries.

This study posted online by the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. The full study can be downloaded at for a fee.

Yoga and Meditation Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk

Scientists report that meditation, yoga, and other forms of training that involve ‘mindfulness’ have been found to lower blood sugar. Studying 399 people, researchers found that those with higher scores for everyday mindfulness were significantly more likely than people with low scores to have healthy glucose levels. The researchers theorized that people who practice higher degrees of mindfulness may be better able to motivate themselves to exercise, and to resist cravings for high-fat, high-sugar treats, and stick with diet and exercise regimens.

The lead researcher speculated that, because mindfulness is likely a modifiable trait, this study provides preliminary evidence for a novel and modifiable factor for diabetes risk. The study did not show a direct cause-and-effect link between mindfulness and Type 2 diabetes risk, but participants with high levels of mindfulness were found to be about 20% less likely to have the disease.

This study was published in the March 2016 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior. The full-text report can be accessed now at for a fee.

Exercise May Help Shrink Cancerous Tumours

A new study has found that tumours in mice who exercised on a running wheel were decreased in size by 50% compared to tumours in non-exercising mice. Researchers found that the surge of adrenaline that comes with a high-intensity workout helped to move cancer-killing immune cells, known as natural killer (NK) cells, toward lung, liver, or skin tumours that had been implanted into the mice.

The effect of the exercise on the immunosuppression of cancer cells was shown when the team injected the mice with adrenaline to mimic the adrenaline increase that normally occurs during exercise. The NK cells moved to the bloodstream following the injection, and whenever a tumour was present they found it and honed in on it. The team also found that blocking the function of adrenaline blunted the cancer cell-killing effects of exercise, further showing that the exercise benefits involve both adrenaline and its effect on NK cells.

Further study using humans is needed, which may lead to recommendations for cancer patients to take part in higher-intensity forms of exercise.  This study was posted February 16, 2016 in the Online Now section of the site of the journal Cell Metabolism, which will publish the study in a future issue. Meanwhile, the full study can be read online at free of charge.


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