News Briefs – December 2007

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New research has suggested a possible link between vitamin D and a slowing down in the aging of cells and tissues in women.

A King’s College London study involving 2,160 women found fewer age-related changes in the DNA of women who had higher vitamin D levels. They had longer telomeres (DNA strands that tend to shorten in conjunction with a faster rate of turnover of white blood cells, which takes place in the face of inflammation and which is associated with aging).

It is important to emphasize, said the researchers, that this link between aging and vitamin D levels is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. (Often two conditions occur together that are caused by a third factor.) However, further studies may yet help determine if this vitamin – and limited amounts of time in the sunshine that produces it in our skin – can retard the aging of cells.

The study, which could help explain the perceived protective effect of vitamin D for cancer and heart disease, appeared in the November 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Readers can view an abstract (summary) version of this journal study online at:


Research from France, published in the November 2007 issue of Neurology, suggests omega-3 fatty acids may lower dementia risk. A four-year study involving 8,085 men and women determined that a diet rich in omega-3 oils – which most participants got through salad dressing – was associated with a 60% lower risk. There was also a 30% decrease in dementia risk among regular fruit and vegetable eaters. Regular fish consumption reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s, specifically, by 35 % – but only among those who have a known genetic risk factor for the disease.

Also, a News Briefs investigation has found that a recently completed mouse study from Université Laval will be published in the April 2008 issue of the FASEB Journal, the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The research will show that omega-3 fatty acids protected rodent brains by preventing, and retarding the progress of, Parkinson’s disease. When mice were fed an omega-3-rich-diet, they seemed immune to the effect of MPTP, a toxic compound that causes the same damage to the brain as Parkinson’s.

By contrast, the Laval observations also suggest that a brain containing high levels of omega-6 fatty acid may be a fertile breeding ground for Parkinson’s disease. Omega-6 (abundant in foods rich in either vegetable oil or animal fat) are already under suspicion for their role in the body’s inflammatory response, cardiac disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. In a balanced diet, the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fats should be 4 to 1 but the average Western diet contains 10 to 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3.

“In North America, the average intake of DHA is between 60 to 80 mg a day, while experts recommend a daily minimum of 250 mg,” said a Laval study spokesman.

Although not directly applicable to humans, the Laval observations are the first to show a link between Parkinson’s protection and omega-3 fats. They are also in keeping with the dementia protection suggested in the French study above, as well as prior research results.

Readers can view an abstract of the French study online at:


Certain preparations taken to enhance athletic performance or stave off disease contain a specific antioxidant that could be harmful in the long term, according to new research from the University of Virginia Health System.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – commonly used in body-building supplements – can make a molecule from red blood cells. That molecule can cause blood vessels to think they are not getting enough oxygen. This leads to a serious condition called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which is characterized by high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs.

“NAC fools the body into thinking that it has an oxygen shortage,” explained lead researcher Ben Gaston, PhD, in an interview with News Briefs. “We found that an NAC product formed by red blood cells, known as a nitrosothiol, bypasses the normal regulation of oxygen sensing [falsely informing arteries there is an oxygen shortage]. It tells the arteries in the lung to ‘remodel’ and they become narrow, increasing the blood pressure in the lungs and causing the right side of the heart to swell.”

Could regular and excessive supplementation with NAC cause PAH? At this point, that’s not clear. The next step, said Gaston, is to determine a threshold past which (NAC) antioxidant use becomes detrimental to heart or lung function.

Also, further research may produce a new way to treat PAH if scientists can figure out how to stop ingested NAC from fooling the body into developing the condition, which is extremely debilitating and often fatal in its advanced stages.

(NAC is not found in significant amounts in any foods. Body-builders sometimes take this antioxidant supplement because it increases blood levels of another antioxidant, glutathione. Some people believe this will neutralize oxidants which would otherwise break down muscle tissue.)

The results appear in the September 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. This study can be read online at:


Health Canada has approved, for sale, a natural health product that reduces LDL (sometimes known as “bad”) cholesterol. The supplement became available across Canada in November.

A Canadian study published in the September 2007 issue of Alternative Medicine Review, examined the effect of Cholestol on reducing LDL cholesterol levels in patients who were healthy but had mild-to-moderately increased levels. Results showed that the supplement – in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle changes – decreased LDL by 17% in four weeks. Although further studies are needed, this is seen as a significant reduction.

This product contains red yeast rice, gugulipid and inositol hexaniacinate (an altered form of niacin) and has been marketed for some time in other countries. It appears to work by inhibiting the natural human enzyme that normally triggers the production of cholesterol in the liver.

Cholestol is the brand name of a supplement, developed in the 1990s at the University of Sherbrooke, that contains enzymatic polychitosamine hydrolysate (HEP-40), which is a chemical made from chitosan. Chitosan is a compound found in the exoskeleton of crustaceans, such as shrimp shells.

Those with high LDL cholesterol readings should seek and follow the advice of their health practitioners. Cholestol is marketed by Santé Naturelle A.G. Ltd. of Québec. The new Canadian government approval should not be seen as an endorsement by either Health Canada or Vitality. Product details are available at the company’s website at: .


Christmas safety tips: As the Christmas season kicks off, the US FDA has posted on its website a list of safety tips to help the public avoid food poisoning. Typical symptoms are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, often starting a few days after consuming contaminated food or drink. Sometimes disappearing in a few hours, symptoms can be life-threatening to those most at risk. Intended to coincide with the American Thanksgiving, the tips can be viewed at: _Events/NR_ 111407_01/ index.asp .

Christmas trees may be a health risk: A Texas study has found that Christmas trees can be a big source of indoor mould with mould spore levels increasing the longer the tree is indoors. For the first three days, counts remained at a relatively normal 800 spores per cubic metre of air; but then, they escalated quickly, reaching a maximum of 5,000 spores per cubic metre by day 14. Doctors notice a dramatic increase in asthma and sinus complaints every year around Christmas. Mould allergies affect about 15% of the population. The study was presented November 12, 2007 in Dallas, at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s annual meeting.

Nutrient may aid memory: Research published in the November, 2007 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that beta carotene taken as a dietary supplement for many years may protect against declines in the memory, thinking and learning skills that often precede Alzheimer’s disease. Further research is needed, however.

Folic acid warning: For decades, enriched grain products have been fortified (in North America but not in the UK) with synthetic folic acid to help prevent neural tube problems during pregnancy. But the UK Institute of Food Research has issued a warning about fortification after a study in the October 2007 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition contended that the synthetic form, called folic acid, is digested in the liver (unlike the natural form known as folate, which is digested in the small intestines). The liver can become saturated easily, causing unmetabolized folic acid to float around in the bloodstream, resulting in many health problems that can take 20 years to become apparent. Vegetables are a rich source of folate, although it is also found in most food groups.

B12 lower in dementia patients:  A lower level of vitamin B12 was found in people who experienced an age-related cognitive decline compared to those who did not, according to a study published in the November 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is not clear yet whether the lower level is a contributing cause or merely a symptom. (People generally absorb B12 less efficiently as they age.) The scientists also looked for differences in folate levels in those with cognitive decline but found none. An abstract of the study is available online at: abstract/86/5/1384 .

The Pill’s cancer risk reversible – after 10 years: According to a 52,000-woman study published in the November 9, 2007 issue of The Lancet, the risk of cancer of the breast, ovary and womb for those taking contraceptive pills increases with the number of years the pills are taken. But after a ten year break from the pill, the risk falls to the level it would have been if the pill had never been used, says the Oxford University study.

Food frauds: The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI), a US group that lobbies for greater government control over the food supply, has named 8 supermarket foods as “food frauds”. Take Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Juice Treats. The label shows a wide assortment of fruits, but its only fruity ingredient is grape juice concentrate. Multigrain Tostitos contains more sugar than any of its “four wholesome grains”. And Kellogg’s says its Special K Fruit & Yogurt combines “whole grain goodness” with “the sweet taste of berries”; but it contains almost no whole grain wheat (mostly refined rice) and no berries at all – just dyed pieces of apple. The full list of “food frauds” can be read online at: .

Fatty foods may trigger insomnia: A study published in Cell Metabolism’s November 2007 issue found that a high-fat diet disrupted the internal body clocks of mice and caused sleep disturbances similar to insomnia in humans. High-fat foods also disrupted the appetite mechanism, causing the mice to eat when they would otherwise have been resting or sleeping, and resulting in weight gain, which is an accepted risk factor for cancer.


150,000 – That’s the number of lives that could be saved in the United States alone, according to the lobby group The Center for Science in the Public Interest, if the amount of salt added to processed and restaurant foods were simply cut in half. Although salt is not harmful to health in limited quantities, excess salt consumption has been implicated in high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. It may also increase the risk of stomach cancer. On November 29, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began hearings to determine whether, and how, the government should step in to reduce salt consumption.

54 per cent – That’s the portion of Canadians who used alternative medicine at some point during 2006, according to a report by the Fraser Institute.

Time to replace that summer sun

Now that we’ve moved into winter, it might be time to think about vitamin D supplements. The need for higher levels of vitamin D has been gradually recognized over the past few years. In fact, more vitamin D may offer a beneficial preventive effect for a wide variety of illnesses, including heart disease, pre-eclampsia, diabetes and overall mortality risk.

Could more D help prevent cancer? A large scientific review of previous research on the subject found no overall link between higher vitamin D levels and a reduced number of cancer deaths. This review was published online on October 30, 2007 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute with the heading, “Note to Media”. On the other hand, research at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California at San Diego found a possible link between a reduced risk of breast and colorectal cancers and increased levels of vitamin D3.

(Vitamin D3 is the form usually added to vitamin-D-fortified foods. Supplements can contain either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2. D3 is 3-10 times more potent and longer-lasting than D2 but the body cannot ingest as much D3 as D2, which limits the effectiveness of D3 supplementation compared to D2. It is commonly advised to get supplemental doses of each form of D during the winter months in countries north of the equator such as Canada.)

Aside from heart disease prevention, vitamin D may have some effect on mortality generally. A meta-analysis reported in the September 2007 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine examined 18 separate studies involving 57,311 participants and found that over the course of the studies, those who took vitamin D had a modest 7 per cent lower risk of death than those who did not. Also, a study in the November 2007 issue of the journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a possible link between higher D levels and a slower rate of cellular aging. (See the report in newsupdates above).

Also, a recent study—published in the September 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism—suggests a link between vitamin D supplementation and a lower risk of pre-eclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy.

To increase vitamin D levels, researchers recommend a combination of dietary methods, supplements and sunlight exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes a day, with at least 40 per cent of your skin exposed.

In addition to supplements, vitamin D can be found in these food sources: pork fat, pickled Atlantic herring, steamed Eastern oysters, steamed or poached catfish, skinless water-packed sardines, mackerel, smoked Chinook salmon, sturgeon roe, shrimp and egg yolk.

Overall intakes of up to 2400 iu a day are considered safe. And to answer your next question, no, you cannot get an overdose of vitamin D from sun exposure. The skin reaches an equilibrium point after about 20 minutes and all further vitamin D produced by the sun on your skin is destroyed.

Cweet is coming: A sweet protein called “brazzein” from the berries of an African plant named Pentadiplandra Brazzeana may soon appear in sugar-free food options as the newest “natural” alternative to sugar. The product, which will be marketed globally as Cweet, tastes like sugar, has no aftertaste, is heat stable and water soluble and has zero calories. Is it safe? That’s for you to decide but Natur Research Ingredients is submitting study documents to secure a GRAS designation (Generally Recognized As Safe) from the US FDA before its launch in about 12-18 months.


After a massive, five-year review of over 7,000 cancer studies, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have released a 517-page report detailing the key risk factors for developing cancer and what you can do to reduce each of those risks. Best advice? Stop smoking, lose weight, restrict alcohol and red meat intake and exercise.

After smoking – still the greatest single cause – the report stressed weight gain and body fat as strong causes of a number of cancer types. This emphasis on weight as a risk factor is a key distinction between the 1997 and 2007 report.

(Because of rapidly unfolding research on diet and cancer, the groups do not intend to wait a full 10 years for the next report.)

On various pages, the report includes the details of dietary nutrients affecting cancer incidence, as gleaned from the 7,000 studies. Each section includes a summary and readers can access the entire report online, cost-free, at:

Organic studies: A British newspaper reported on October 28 that a European group has found evidence that organic foods contain higher levels of antioxidants, up to 40 per cent more in some cases. If true, that finding would contradict a review of all previous studies that was published in the June 2007 issue of the journal Nutrition Bulletin, a massive review that found no significant difference in nutritional values. The European study reported by the British newspaper was—unlike most studies—neither peer-reviewed, nor published in any journal. The newer study’s coordinator did not respond to several requests by News Briefs for either an interview or a copy of the study.

Ban on omega-3 label claims? The US FDA proposed in November, a possible prohibition on food labels that bear health claims for omega-3 fats – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The rationale is that label health claims for omega-3s frequently are misleading because there is no authoritative statement from the Institute of Medicine or other body stipulating that omega-3s are required for health or providing the minimum daily amount required to achieve the claimed benefit. (By comparison, it’s worth noting that the omega-3 content of the food item is often extremely low.) An international body for the promotion of omega-3 oil has called on the FDA to review the many, more recent studies and issue a recommendation on omega-3 intake.

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