NEWS BRIEFS: Supplement Cuts Cardiac Risk; Diet Changes Preventing Kidney Failure; Triclosan Linked To Liver Cancer

COENZYME Q10: A COST EFFECTIVE WAY TO REDUCE HEART DISEASE RISK IN THOSE WHO HAD A LOW BIRTH WEIGHT?

Supplement Cuts Cardiac Risk in Those Born with Low Birth Weight

A study has concluded that a simple supplement may be a cost effective way to reduce cardiovascular disease risk in people who had a low weight when born.

Scientists have known for some years that babies with a low birth-weight who then grow quickly are more likely to develop heart disease than those with a normal birth-weight. This new study has identified a novel mechanism underlying this phenomenon and suggests a possible treatment. Co-enzyme Q is produced naturally in the body and is required to ensure that the mitochondria in cells work properly, and to protect cells from oxidative stress. Globally, cardiovascular disease is responsible for more deaths than any other disease.

In the study, carried out on rats, scientists fed low birth-weight rats a supplement of the nutrient known as coenzyme Q. They found that, in those rats that grew quickly after birth, extra coenzyme Q added to the diet after weaning prevented cells in the aorta from aging prematurely and from being damaged, which can lead to heart disease. Also, the mechanism of how birth weight relates to increased heart disease risk was suggested: when the researchers examined the aorta from low birth-weight rats, they found that their cells had aged more quickly than those from the normal birth weight offspring and that this was associated with a deficit in coenzyme Q in the aorta, which is the main artery in the human body.

This study has finally answered the question that has puzzled doctors for some time: why children of low birth-weight who grow quickly are prone to heart disease in later life. It appears to result from a deficiency in coenzyme Q within the blood cells.

Coenzyme Q is also known as coenzyme Q10, ubiquinone, ubidecarenone, CoQ10, or Q10.

This study was published in the December 2014 issue of the FASEB Journal. The entire study report was posted online and can now be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/oxoyt2m free of charge.


DIET CHANGES MAY HELP PREVENT KIDNEY FAILURE

Two new studies, released simultaneously, have concluded that simple, low-cost, dietary interventions can significantly protect the kidneys. Scientists analyzed questionnaires completed by 544,635 participants that assessed diet quality, as well as sodium and potassium intake. Higher-quality diets included those rich in fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, and potassium – and low in sodium.

A higher-quality diet, as measured using three different scoring systems for dietary qualities known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, was associated with a 16 to 23% reduced risk of later needing dialysis or dying from kidney problems. The researchers also found that high sodium intake (average of 4.7 grams daily) was linked with an increased risk of needing dialysis or dying from kidney problems. In contrast, high potassium intake was associated with a reduced future risk. (This definition of a higher quality diet also protects against cardiovascular disease.)

In another study, researchers found that reducing salt intake reduces albuminuria (excess protein in the urine), a hallmark of kidney dysfunction. Individuals who reduced sodium had a 33% decreased likelihood of having albuminuria. The two studies were presented at the Kidney Week meeting of the American Society of Nephrology on November 16, 2014 in Philadelphia. They have not yet been published or released online.


COMMON INGREDIENT IN CONVENTIONAL HYGIENE PRODUCTS LINKED TO LIVER CANCER

A study has found that triclosan – an antimicrobial commonly found in conventional soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, and many other household items – has potentially serious long-term health consequences. In this study, triclosan caused liver fibrosis and cancer in laboratory mice through molecular mechanisms that are similar to those humans. (Triclosan has increasingly been detected in environmental samples and is perhaps the most ubiquitous consumer antibacterial. Studies have found traces in 97% of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75% of people tested.)

In the study, triclosan disrupted liver integrity and compromised liver function. Mice exposed to triclosan for six months, which is roughly equivalent to 18 human years, were more susceptible to chemical-induced liver tumours. Their tumours were also larger and more frequent than in mice not exposed. This suggests triclosan may do its damage by interfering with a protein (constitutive androstane receptor) responsible for detoxifying (clearing away) foreign chemicals in the body. To compensate for this stress, liver cells proliferate and develop fibrosis over time, eventually promoting tumour formation.

This study was released online on November 17, 2014, ahead of later publication in the Journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/lwalydo with subscription or access fee.


CALORIE-RESTRICTED DIETS FOUND TO SLOW AGING

New research shows that calorie-reduced diets stop the normal rise and fall in activity levels of close to 900 different genes linked to aging and memory formation in the brain, indicating that very-low-calorie diets can delay aging or at least, its effects. Although the study was conducted on mice, the dietary restriction was found to modulate so many genes related to the aging phenotype (the way some genes make changes as mice, people, and other mammals get old) that it is likely that it deters elements of aging and age-related diseases such as dementia in mammals as well, including humans.

Such a widespread genetic impact on the memory and learning regions of aging brains has never before been shown. Also, the results indicated that calorie restriction practically arrests expression of genes involved in aging, suggesting delayed aging. The diet used was reduced in calories by 30% from what is considered a normal calorie intake. The researchers stressed that this does not mean such diets are the fountain of youth.

This study was presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, DC on November 17, 2014. It has not yet been published or posted online.


ONE GRAM OF THIS SPICE DAILY CAN BOOST MEMORY

New research has demonstrated that adding one gram of the spice turmeric to breakfast could help improve the memory of people who are in the very early stages of diabetes and who may be at risk for dementia. (Turmeric is widely used in cooking in Asia, and its characteristic yellow colour is due to curcumin, which has been shown by experimental studies to reduce the risk of dementia.)

The scientists suggest that antioxidant compounds in this spice, notably curcumin, could halt the progression of dementia or reduce its impact. They tested the working memory of a group of men and women, aged 60 or older, who had recently been diagnosed with as-yet-untreated pre-diabetes. Participants were given one gram of turmeric with an otherwise nutritionally bland breakfast of white bread. Their working memory was tested before breakfast and again six hours after breakfast when the test group was found to have improved working memory. (Working memory is widely thought to be one of the most important mental faculties, critical for cognitive abilities such as planning, problem solving, and reasoning. Assessment of working memory is a simple procedure and is very predictive of future impairment and dementia.)

This study has been published in the December 2014 edition of Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The full-text version of the report is available online at https://tinyurl.com/oza42bl free of charge.


DID YOU KNOW…?

Breathing secondhand marijuana smoke could damage your heart and blood vessels as much as secondhand cigarette smoke, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014.


MODERATE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY LOWERS RISK OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE

A new study has found that a medium amount of physical activity lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD). The researchers followed 27,863 females and 15,505 males for an average of 12.6 years and analyzed comprehensive information on physical activity of all kinds, including household and commuting activity, occupational activity, leisure time exercise, and total daily physical activity according to data provided by an extensive questionnaire. All participants were free of PD as of October 1, 1997, the start of the study. Participants were followed until the date of PD diagnosis or date of death or end of the study, whichever came first. In that time, 286 cases of PD were identified. Compared with participants who spent less than two hours per week on household and commuting activity, those who spent more than six hours per week on the same activities had a 43% lower risk of developing PD. Compared with a low level of total activity, a medium level of total physical activity was associated with a 45% lower PD risk.

Surprisingly, leisure time exercise alone was not associated with PD. (A major strength of this study is that it considered the spectrum of daily energy output, rather than focusing on dedicated exercising.) This study was released early, ahead of publication in the journal Brain: A Journal of Neurology. Therefore, the full report can be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/mr5fgw5 free of charge.


DID YOU KNOW…?

In July, 2014, the National Research Council reaffirmed its 3-year-old finding that styrene, the key component of foam cups and other food service items, may cause cancer.


CANS LINED WITH BISPHENOL A (BPA) MAY INCREASE BLOOD PRESSURE

Researchers have found that drinking or eating from cans or bottles lined with Bisphenol A, also known as BPA, could raise your blood pressure. (BPA, a chemical used as an epoxy lining for cans and plastic bottles, is everywhere, and its consumption has been associated with high blood pressure and heart rate variability. Previous studies have shown that traces of BPA can leach into foods and drinks.)

This clinical trial recruited 60 adults over age 60, mostly women. On three different occasions, they were randomly provided with soy milk in either glass bottles or cans. (Cans are lined with BPA, but glass bottles are not.) Later, urine was collected and tested for BPA concentration. Blood pressure and heart rate variability was also measured two hours after consumption of each beverage.

Urinary BPA concentration increased by up to 1,600 percent after consuming canned beverages compared to bottled, and systolic blood pressure (the upper number in your blood pressure reading) increased about 4.5 mm Hg. This increase, while modest, could be critical for those with existing high blood pressure. Soy milk was the ideal beverage for the test, because it has no known ingredient that elevates blood pressure. This was a crossover study, considered especially reliable for controlling confounding factors. In an interview, the lead researcher said that consumers should focus on foods that are fresh or glass bottle-contained rather than canned.

This study was posted online December 8, 2014, ahead of later print publication in the journal Hypertension. In the meantime, you can read the entire report online at https://tinyurl.com/kvnkzf7 with payment of an access fee.


MEDITERRANEAN DIET MAY LENGTHEN TELOMERES AND EXTEND LIFESPAN

The largest study of its kind concludes that eating a Mediterranean diet may help extend your lifespan, because it appears to be linked to longer telomere length, which is an established marker of slower aging. (Telomeres sit on the end of chromosomes like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces, stopping them from fraying and scrambling the genetic codes they contain. In healthy people, telomeres shorten progressively throughout life, more than halving in length from infancy to adulthood, and halving again in the very elderly.

The Mediterranean diet has been consistently linked with health benefits, including reduced mortality and reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease. It is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and mainly-unrefined grains; high olive oil intake; low saturated-fat intake; moderately high fish intake, a low intake of dairy, meat, and poultry; and regular but moderate intake of alcohol, specifically wine with meals.)

An analysis of data on 4,676 healthy middle-aged women showed that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with longer telomeres. Each one point drop in diet score (where greater adherence to the diet was scored higher on a scale from one to ten) corresponded to an average 1.5 years of telomere aging. However, no individual Med diet component was associated with telomere length, underlining the importance of overall diet and not just separate foods.

This study was released online December 2, 2014 by the British Medical Journal (the BMJ), where it can be read in full at https://tinyurl.com/m6da3np free of charge.


CHINESE MEDICINAL PLANT COMPOUND CAN TREAT OBESITY

New research suggests that the compound berberine (BBR) derived from the Chinese medicinal plant Coptis chinensis increases energy expenditure, limits weight gain, improves cold tolerance, and enhances brown adipose tissue activity in obese mice.

Problems of obesity pose serious health risks linked to medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and increased cancer risk. Berberine is a naturally occurring plant alkaloid present in many Chinese herbal medicines, commonly used for diarrhea, and it can bring about improvements in metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance and hyperlipidemia. People have been taking berberine in China for 2000 years.

The team gave the mice berberine every three days for a month. Scans showed that the brown fat between the shoulder blades burned more calories than that in mice not given the extract. There were also signs that the white fat in their groin had begun to act like brown fat. As a result, the mice fed a high-fat diet had better control over their weight. Basically, it helped weight control in obese mice by both activating brown fat, and by helping turn ordinary white fat brown.

But is obesity not just a simple matter of reducing one’s calories in daily food intake? The authors said that, while reducing calories is the first line of defense against obesity, berberine can also help modify metabolic efficiency and increase the energy expenditure in key metabolic organs, such as adipose tissue.

This study was recently published online in the journal Nature Communications, where it can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/nltfxdy for a fee.


DID YOU KNOW…?

Fish oil may help prevent psychosis among young people at high risk for psychosis, even up to seven years after stopping supplementation, reported scientists at a November 2014 conference in Tokyo. To see a brief abstract, prior to journal publication or posting, visit https://www.iepaconference.org/blank/?page=talk_sessions#6 and scroll down to “Longer-term follow-up in the Vienna omega-3 psychosis prevention trial.”


VITAMIN E DEFICIENCY RAISES RISK OF MISCARRIAGE

A new study has found that the level of vitamin E in a mother’s body during her first trimester may influence the risk of early pregnancy miscarriage. In rural Bangladesh, where people are typically undernourished, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol) plasma status was measured in 1,605 women. (Many experts believe there is no vitamin E deficiency in modern Western diets, but in rural Bangladesh, deficiency is a well-known fact of life.)

A total of 72.3% of the women had low-to-deficient vitamin E status defined by plasma alpha-tocopherol concentration. (The Institutes of Medicine reports that alpha-tocopherol is the key measure of vitamin E activity.) These women had a two times greater incidence of miscarriage; in other words, their risk of miscarrying was three times the risk of women with normal vitamin E status. To a lesser degree, women with low gamma-tocopherol status were also significantly more likely to miscarry than those with higher concentrations. More study is needed. However, there is no consensus on the definition of vitamin E deficiency in mothers, because alpha-tocopherol concentrations increase over the course of pregnancy. (These findings mirror those in 1922 animal studies, which led to this vitamin being called tocopherol, which is drawn from the Greek, meaning “to bear offspring.”)

This study is publishing in the February 2015 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. However, it was released early online and can be accessed now at https://tinyurl.com/ltgtw7w with an access fee.


LOWER FAT INTAKE CUTS MORTALITY IN CERTAIN BREAST CANCER PATIENTS

A research team has reported their finding that death rates from all causes were significantly reduced, over 15 years of follow-up, among early-stage breast cancer patients who lowered their overall dietary fat intake for the five years following their diagnoses. While the 15-year death rate was 13.6% in the lower-fat group and 17% in the control group, this difference is not statistically significant. However, when only women with estrogen receptor-negative (ER-negative) cancers were considered, there was a statistically significant 36% reduction in deaths among the lower-fat group. After five years, fat calories were lowered by 9.2%, and body weight was lowered by nearly 6 pounds in the intervention group, compared with the control group. The goal of dietary intervention was to lower total fat intake for five years while maintaining nutritional adequacy. (While some fats are healthier than other fats, it is the overall total of all dietary fats that was linked in this study to reduced risk of mortality among specific breast-cancer patients.)

This suggests that targeting total dietary-fat intake, along with losing weight, could substantially increase the chances of survival for a woman with this type of cancer, aside from any other medical interventions. This study was presented at the Breast Cancer Symposium press briefing on December 12, 2014 in San Antonio. It has not yet been published or posted online.


YOGA COULD REDUCE RISK FACTORS OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE

Researchers have reported promising evidence that the mind-body practice of yoga may manage and improve the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, making it a potentially effective therapy for cardiovascular health. (Yoga is an ancient mind-body practice that originated in India and incorporates physical, mental, and spiritual elements.) They conducted a systematic review of 37 randomized controlled human studies and found that yoga may provide the same benefits in risk factor reduction as such traditional physical activities as biking or brisk walking. When compared to no exercise, yoga was associated with significant improvement in each of the primary outcome risk factors measured: body mass index (BMI) was reduced, systolic blood pressure was reduced, low-density (bad) lipoprotein cholesterol was reduced, and high-density (good) lipoprotein cholesterol was increased.There were also improvements in body weight, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, and heart rate.

This finding is significant, because individuals who cannot, or prefer not to, perform traditional aerobic exercise might still achieve similar benefits via yoga. In comparisons with exercise itself, yoga was found to have comparable effects on risk factors. The investigators noted that the findings might stem from the impact of yoga on stress reduction, leading to positive impacts on neuroendocrine status, metabolic, and cardio function. This study was posted online December 15, 2014, and it will be published in a future issue of the journal European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The full study report can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/kee3lq4 with fee payment.


NATURAL QUIT-SMOKING REMEDY BEATS NICOTINE REPLACEMENT OPTIONS

A clinical human trial has found that a low cost, plant-based product is measurably better than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) at helping tobacco smokers quit. Cytisine is a natural, plant chemical that has been used in smoking cessation for more than 40 years in Eastern Europe and is commercially produced in Bulgaria and Poland. (Cytisine is an alkaloid that naturally occurs in the Golden Rain and other members of the Fabaceae plant family.) The trial followed 1310 adult daily smokers who were randomly assigned to receive either cytisine for 25 days or eight weeks of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Cytosine-supplemented smokers were almost twice as likely to have quit smoking at six months, compared to those using NRT.

To the brain, cytisine looks like nicotine, and so it works to alleviate any urges to smoke and reduces the severity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Also, if you do smoke while using cytisine, it will be less satisfying, making quitting easier. Cytisine, also known as sophorine or baphitoxine, is similar to the drug varenicline, the most common smoking cessation treatment, and to nicotine patches, but cytisine is substantially cheaper than either and is sold without prescription. This study was published in the December 18, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The full report has now been posted online where it can be read at https://tinyurl.com/q2p8el6 without cost.


DID YOU KNOW…?

Using the biofuel known as corn ethanol to power vehicles is worse for public health than using gasoline, according to a study in the journal PNAS.


RESVERATROL’S ANTI-AGING AND TUMOUR-SUPPRESSING LONGEVITY EFFECTS

A new study has uncovered, for the first time, a new and fundamental mechanism that explains how resveratrol provides anti-aging, tumour-suppressing, and other key health benefits. The finding should dispel much of the mystery and controversy about how resveratrol really works. The study found that resveratrol, once touted as an elixir of youth, powerfully activates an evolutionarily ancient stress response in human cells. This stress response represents a layer of biology that has been largely overlooked, and resveratrol turns out to activate it at much lower concentrations than those used in prior studies. This constitutes a new mechanism for the known beneficial effects of resveratrol. (Resveratrol is a compound produced in grapes, cacao beans, Japanese knotweed, and some other plants in response to plant stresses, including infection, drought, and ultraviolet radiation. Early research suggested that it extended lifespan, prevented diabetes, and boosted stamina in obese mice. More recently, however, scientists have disagreed about the signaling pathways resveratrol activates to promote health, calling into question some of the supposed health benefits – particularly given the unrealistically high doses used in some experiments.)

The first studies of resveratrol in the early 2000s suggested that it exerts positive effects on health by activating SIRT1, a longevity gene; but later research called this into question. This new study showed that resveratrol mimics the amino acid tyrosine well enough to work like tyrosine. So it can mimic tyrosine by moving to the nuclei of cells under stressful conditions, where it apparently provides a protective, stress-response role. In this way, resveratrol has a major beneficial effect on stress response, tumour suppression, and longevity. Most important, the team found this pathway can be measurably activated by much lower doses of resveratrol, as much as 1,000 times lower, than were used in prior studies focused on SIRT1. In fact, the study suggested that moderate consumption of a couple of glasses of red wine could supply enough resveratrol to evoke a protective effect via this new pathway.

These study results were posted December 22, 2014 on the website of the journal Nature and will be published in a future issue of the print journal. The full report can be found at https://tinyurl.com/nau5v9q and read in full for a fee.


THE LINK BETWEEN RED MEAT AND CANCER / DIABETES NOW EXPLAINED

A landmark study has finally discovered the likely mechanism behind the known link between red meat consumption and a greater risk of cancer, and may explain the link between red meat and a higher risk of other inflammation-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. (People who eat a lot of pork, beef, and lamb are known to be at higher risk for deadly tumours, certain cancers, diabetes, and other diseases. But researchers have always been puzzled about how other carnivores such as cats, wolves, and bears can eat a diet high in red meat without these consequences.)

The link now appears to come down to a special type of sugar molecule, called Neu5Gc, naturally found in the flesh of all carnivores except humans. Only the human immune system, it seems, recognizes this sugar as a foreign invader and launches a toxic immune response if that flesh is consumed, producing antibodies that spark inflammation and eventually, cancer. In this study, scientists genetically engineered mice so that they, like humans, lacked Neu5Gc. When the mice were then fed this sugar molecule, they spontaneously developed cancers just as humans do. Tumour formation increased fivefold in the mice. In normal carnivorous mammals the immune system does not kick in when red meat is consumed, because the Neu5Gc is already a part of, and familiar to, their bodies.

Neu5Gc was found to very bioavailable, meaning it is delivered widely to tissues throughout the body. The mice were not exposed to any carcinogens that could otherwise have induced the cancers.

This study was released online December 29, 2014, ahead of publication in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The full report can now be read at https://tinyurl.com/p8j7xfs for a fee.

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Michael Downey is a columnist with Vitality Magazine, contributing his News Briefs column every month.

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