News Briefs – December 2005

MINERAL DEFICIENCY LINKED TO ARTHRITIS

Insufficient levels of selenium may raise the risk of knee osteoarthritis, according to new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Scientists found that for every additional 1/10th ppm selenium in volunteers’ bodies, there was a 15-20% decrease in their risk of knee osteoarthritis. This work is thought to be the first to link the trace mineral to joint health. Arthritis severity was directly related to how low selenium levels were.

The team first suspected that selenium might play a role in preventing osteoarthritis after observing that in severely selenium-deficient areas of China, people frequently develop Kashin-Beck disease, which causes joint problems relatively early in life. They divided 940 participants into three groups based on the selenium levels measured in toenail clippings. Those with the highest selenium levels faced a 40% lower risk of knee osteoarthritis than those in the lowest-selenium group.

There appears to be a clear relationship between selenium and osteoarthritis. The mechanism behind this link needs to be further investigated in the laboratory, but the researchers believe the mineral might act as a protective antioxidant.

“Our results suggest that we might be able to prevent or delay osteoarthritis of the knees and possibly other joints in some people if they are not getting enough selenium,” said study leader Joanne Jordan, PhD. “Later, we’ll want to expand the study with larger samples and see whether selenium supplementation reduces pain or other symptoms.”

The findings were presented in San Diego on November 14 at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. Last year, a UK trial demonstrated selenium’s positive effects on the immune system.

COLA RISK NOT CAFFEINE-CAUSED

Cola soft drinks may increase the risk in women of high blood pressure that can lead to strokes and heart disease. This is the suggestion of a new medical study in the November 10, 2005 edition of the Journal of American Medicine. Extensive research involving 155,594 women over 12 years found a link between regular consumption of carbonated colas, including diet varieties, and increased risk of hypertension.

The scientists speculated that “it is not the caffeine [in colas] but perhaps some other compound contained in soda-type soft drinks that may be responsible for the increased risk.”

Hypertension is recognized as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and congestive heart failure. Around five million Canadians, about one sixth of the population, are thought to have hypertension and the number is increasing. Other factors are also associated with hypertension such as lifestyle, stress and certain other health conditions. Further study may help to determine the importance of soft drinks in relation to these.

DECAF COFFEE QUESTIONED

Fresh questions are percolating about the health effects of coffee, this time about the decaffeinated variety.

One of the first substantial studies to test decaf coffee like a drug (instead of just asking people how much of it they consumed) found higher blood levels of cholesterol-precursor fats in those drinking decaf, as opposed to regular coffee or no coffee at all, although the differences were small.

The 187 volunteers were put into three groups: no coffee; three to six cups a day of regular coffee a day; or three to six cups of decaf daily. Coffee was consumed black, no cream or sugar. Diet surveys were taken for a week at the beginning and the end so researchers could evaluate whether changes in eating habits might have affected results.

The results showed decaf drinkers had modestly higher levels  —  eight to 18%  —  of fatty acids and precursors of LDL, or bad cholesterol, than either the caffeinated coffee drinkers or those who avoided coffee altogether.

Nobody knows why. But fats often give coffee flavour, and a more flavourful species of beans called robusta is commonly used for decaf to make up for the flavonoids and other ingredients that are lost during the decaffeination process. Regular coffee uses a different less fatty bean, arabica.

The Stanford University study was reported Nov. 16 at an American Heart Association conference. It was one of the few coffee studies not funded by industry; US federal taxpayers picked up the more than $1 million tab.

RESVERATROL COMBATS ALZHEIMER’S

According to two separate, recently-published studies, resveratrol — a polyphenol found most notably in grapes, grape juice, red wine and in resveratrol supplements  —  may help prevent the plaque build-up linked to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as lower the risk of bone marrow cancer tumours.

Published in the November 1, 2005 issue of Cancer Research, the first study found the reduction in myelomas of bone marrow was greater for higher doses of resveratrol.

The second study, published in the November 11, 2005 edition of issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, investigated the mechanisms behind red wine’s epidemiological association with decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s. It concluded that resveratrol has a potentially therapeutic effect on this disease.

GARLIC FIGHTS MEAT CARCINOGENS

A particular component of garlic  —  responsible for its garlicky flavour  —  may inhibit the effects of a suspected carcinogen produced by meat cooked at high temperatures, say American researchers.

Cooking protein-rich foods like meats and eggs at high temperatures releases a chemical called PhIP, believed to be cancer-causing. It may be behind the established link between increased risk of breast cancer in women and eating large quantities of meat. Fat and caloric intake as well as hormone exposure could also play a role in this increased cancer risk but garlic seems to at least counter the effects of PhIP.

Diallyl sulphide (DAS), garlic’s flavour component, has been shown to inhibit the effects of PhIP, which when biologically active, can cause DNA damage or transform substances in the body into carcinogens.

Researchers at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee treated human breast epithelial cells with equal amounts of PhIP and DAS separately, and the two together, for periods ranging from three to 24 hours. The suspected meat carcinogen PhIP activated a cancer-causing enzyme at every time interval. But DAS completely prevented the enzyme from turning cancerous.

The study was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s “Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research” meeting in Baltimore on November 7. The finding demonstrates for the first time that DAS triggers a gene alteration in PhIP that may play a significant role in preventing cancer, notably breast cancer, induced by PhIP in well-done meats.

Consumption of garlic, chives and other allium vegetables has previously been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

COLORECTAL CANCER RISK

A new study published in the November 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has found that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may help prevent colorectal cancer. In the study, researchers examined high-fat dairy food and CLA intake in 60,708 women aged 40 to 76. During a 14.8 year follow-up, the researchers found that women who consumed four or more servings of high-fat dairy foods per day had half the risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to women who consumed less than one serving per day. They also found CLA was associated with an almost 30% reduction in colorectal cancer risk.

Although meat and dairy contain unhealthy saturated fats, they also contain the good fat CLA — until modern foods are manufactured in processes that strip the CLA right out. Without CLA, many aspects of our metabolism fail to operate efficiently. CLA is largely missing from our modern processed-foods diet.

As Mark Stengler explains in Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies, “(CLA) helps glucose get into muscle cells more effectively, thus preventing glucose from being converted into fat. It also helps fats enter the cell membranes of muscle and connective tissue, where the fat is burned for fuel.”

‘KATRINA COUGH’

A large number of people along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts are developing a condition dubbed “Katrina cough,” believed to be linked to mould and dust circulating in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Health officials are trying to determine how widespread the problem is but suggest that it is popping up among people who have returned to storm-ravaged areas, particularly New Orleans.

Kevin Jordan, MD, director of medical affairs at Touro Infirmary and Memorial Medical Center in downtown New Orleans, said the hospital has seen at least a 25% increase in sinus headaches, congestion, runny noses and sore throats since Katrina. In most cases, patients appear to be allergic to the mould and dust to which they are exposed. Allergies make the patients more susceptible to respiratory illness, including bacterial bronchitis and sinusitis, explained Jordan.

BIRD FLU – theories, stats, remedies

• Human cases of avian or bird flu continue to pop up in a variety of countries around the world, but as we go to press, the World Health Organization confirms that so far, none of the human cases is of the much-feared “human-to-human” variety. Currently, bird flu cases are transmissible only from bird-to-bird and from bird-to-mammal, which includes humans. Not until the virus mutates into a human-to-human form of bird flu would the world be at risk for a deadly pandemic.

• Chinese scientists report there have been some DNA changes in the bird flu virus, which could suggest mutations are already taking place. Is evolution of a human-to-human species imminent?

• The October 29, 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal suggests that a human-to-human species might never evolve.

• Some immunologists believe that the world will have only 30 days from the very first case of human-to-human bird flu, to isolate the resultant outbreak. If not contained locally, a pandemic could kill five million, maybe more.

• To keep these fears in perspective, experts predicted in 1976 that the coming swine flu epidemic would kill one million in the United States; in fact, there was only one death. Also, we were warned about this same scenario before with the identical virus — avian influenza type H5N1 — back in 1997; only six deaths were reported worldwide.

• Sales of kimchi, a Korean dish made with fermented cabbage and spices, have surged after scientists found back in February that a lactic acid bacteria in the dish helped poultry fight bird flu.

News reports of the effect of kimchi on some birds have also prompted sales increases in the Western version of the dish — sauerkraut. The original researchers say the lactic acid bacteria is strain-specific and the benefits of kimchi — for birds — do not necessarily suggest a similar benefit from sauerkraut. It’s important to keep in mind that neither kimchi nor sauerkraut has been tested on any human cases of bird flu.

NEWS NOTES

• Vitamin Strategy For Stroke Recurrence: A high-dose vitamin supplement may help reduce the risk of a second stroke — as well as death and cardiac events — according to a study published in the November 2005 issue of the journal, Stroke. The supplement consisted of vitamins B9 also known as folate, B6, and B12, which are known to reduce blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to heart disease. The study was conducted at the Ontario-based Stroke Prevention and Atherosclerosis Research Centre.

• This Food Fights Cancer
: Eating cabbage and other vegetables from the same family could help reduce the risk of lung cancer for some people with a particular genetic make-up, suggests research from the International Agency for Cancer Research. The cruciferous family includes cauliflower, broccoli, cress and Brussels sprouts — and sauerkraut.

• Canadian Ginseng Research
: Canadian scientists from several universities report a modest but significant effect of North American ginseng on viral respiratory illness. Those taking moderate doses of ginseng daily for a four-month period averaged fewer colds, which were also slightly reduced in severity and duration. The study appears in the October 2005 edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

• New FDA Health Claim
: Rarely does the FDA decide to permit a new health claim on a supplement. But after reviewing over 361 different studies examining calcium’s ability to treat high blood pressure, “the FDA concludes that there is some evidence for qualified health claims for calcium and hypertension, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and preeclampsia.” The FDA did not recommend a dosage but placed an upper limit at 2,500 mg per day.

• Biological Brake For Appetite
: Scientists have long known about ghrelin, an appetite-boosting hormone. However, a new discovery at Stanford University has pinpointed a natural hormone — obestatin — that is responsible for suppressing appetite. The research, reported in the November 2005 issue of Science, could help enable scientists to fully control appetite within the next 10 years.

• Olive Oil Benefits Explained?
The reason behind the known heart-health benefits of olive oil consumption has never been fully understood. Olive oil contains hundreds of biologically active ingredients — including various fatty acids — and they vary from brand to brand. But a new Spanish study in the November 2005 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiologyhas found that the likely explanation for the Mediterranean diet’s advantages is olive oil’s plant chemicals called phenols. “Virgin olive oil is more than fat because it is a real juice with other healthy micronutrients,” wrote one of the study authors. Not all olive oils contain high phenol levels.

• Probiotics Reduce Sick Absences
: Workers who take probiotics daily are less likely to be off work with common illnesses, such as colds and gastroenteritis, than workers who don’t. An exploratory study conducted in Sweden and published November 7, 2005 in the journal Environmental Health, shows that workers who took a daily dose of the probiotic bacteriaLactobacillus reuteri were 2.5 times less likely to book off sick, than workers who took a placebo.

• HIV Patient Cured
: Doctors are hoping to get a chance to investigate the unusual case of a British man whose HIV-positive condition has spontaneously reversed itself after 14 months and who is now completely HIV virus-free. Faulty initial testing has been ruled out in this “well-documented” case. Andrew Stimpson, 25, was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2002 but was found to be negative in October 2003 by Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS Trust. So far, Stimpson has been reluctant to cooperate with scientists who believe his immune system may hold the key to a cure — or prevention.

• GLA and Breast Cancer
: Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), one of the fats in evening primrose oil and several other plant oils, inhibits the action of Her-2/neu — a cancer gene that is responsible for almost 30% of all breast cancers — reported US researchers in the November 2, 2005 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

• Cancer-Vitamin Link
: The active metabolite of vitamin D — calcitriol — and other vitamin D analogs are promising chemopreventive agents that may prevent prostate cancer, according to a study presented November 1 at the American Association for Cancer Research’s 4th annual “Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research” meeting.

• Diet Alters Genes
: An article in the November 19, 2005 edition of New Scientist reports on several new studies, all suggesting nutrients and supplements can change the genetics of animals by switching on or off certain genes. It is possible the same holds true for humans and that our diet alters our DNA in such a way that it triggers certain diseases.

• Green Tea and E. coli
: Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are investigating the anti-bacterial properties of green tea. They have found that polyphenols in green tea are somewhat effective against E. coli and salmonella. Green tea’s biggest effect is on staphylococcus aureus, which also causes an udder inflammation in cows — which explains the agency’s interest.

• Add Three Years To Life
: People who exercise can add three years to their life, and their hearts reap benefits from something as simple as brisk walking a half-hour a day, two studies suggest. They found several routines worked: Walking for 30 minutes five or more days a week — either moderately or briskly — improved cardio-respiratory fitness. It worked just as well to walk briskly three to four days a week.

• Bitter Melon Fights Obesity
: Bitter melon may counteract obesity through increased certain metabolic changes — known as lipid oxidation and mitochondrial uncoupling — according to a study in the November 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The tests were not conducted on humans.

• Too Much Calcium
: Men with a high intake of dietary calcium may be at greater risk of developing prostate cancer, according to a National Cancer Institute study presented November 14 during the American Association for Cancer Research’s 4th annual “Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research” meeting.

• Low Carb Heart Risk
: High fat-low carb diets — such as the once-trendy Atkins diet — reduce the heart’s energy stores, shows new research from Oxford University presented November 13 at the American Heart Association conference in Dallas. The exact risk is unclear; but a severe drop in heart energy stores is seen in patients with heart failure and type 2 diabetics. Previously, experts had criticized the Atkins approach for its high-fat content and consequent artery and heart risk.

• Sweet Cancer Cure?
British scientists with the Association for International Cancer Research found a natural sugar can block the growth of cancerous tumours. It inhibits hormones sent out by the tumours to make blood vessels grow in the area so the tumour can be nourished. The technique uses a complex natural glucose sugar called heparin, the November 2005 issue of the Clinical Cancer Research journal reported. But the cancer must be caught early, before the tumour gets large.

Ginkgo: Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have noted that ginkgo biloba may be associated with a lower incidence of ovarian cancer. They observed that a low dose of ginkgolide slowed the growth of ovarian cancer cells. The news was announced at a cancer prevention conference held in Baltimore in November.

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