News Briefs – July 2006

ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH

While a recently-announced study on mice at the University of Toronto suggests a sugar-derived drug may yet prove effective in humans against Alzheimer’s disease (AD), fish oil has been found in a recent less-publicized study to help protect against AD by increasing levels of certain brain chemicals. Along with DHA the fat in fish oil these brain chemicals, called phosphatides, were found to be deficient in AD patients. The study was posted April 21 on the website of the journal Brain Research. Also, Japanese researchers are investigating the effect of plasmalogen – a compound contained in seafood such as the sea squirt – on Alzheimers. Tablets containing the compound are expected as early as next year. The research team has observed in cell studies that plasmalogen prevents the death of nerve cells and has a preventive effect on declining memory and learning ability. Previously, AD risk was found to be reduced with greater intake of red wine, apples, vitamin E, grape seed extract and green tea, and with higher HDL cholesterol and exercise levels.

KAMPO MEDICINE ON THE RISE

You’ve heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), right? Well, according to an article in the June 15, 2006 edition of The Japan Times, young women in Japan are turning increasingly to the Japanese version of TCM, known as “kampo.” The number of hospitals offering kampo has gone up. The popular therapy is now covered by health insurance and is available in multiple forms including powders, tablets and infusions. The article cites kampo medicine manufacturer Tsumura & Company reporting that the number of doctors taking the herbal medicine courses the company offers physicians has grown from about 1,300 in 1999 to about 4,000 last year.

FOUR PINE BARK STUDIES

A study published in the June 17, 2006 edition of the Journal of European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found a reduction of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children after supplementing with Maritime pine bark extract. Amount used was one mg for every kilogram of body weight every day for one month. In two other studies reported in the same month, pine bark extract was found to relieve cramps and pain after exercise. The extract seems to increase blood flow to the muscles, which speeds recovery and reduces discomfort after a strenuous physical workout. These two studies were conducted at L’Aquila University in Italy and at the University of Würzburg in Germany and were reported in the June 2006 issue of the journal Angiology. And in a fourth study, the bark successfully reduced the number of headache days and headache severity of migraine patients. This study appeared in the May 2006 issue of the journal, Headache.

COLOURED VEGETABLES AID ARTERIES

A diet rich in green and yellow vegetables could reduce the development of atherosclerosis by almost 40 per cent. It is further evidence for the benefits of eating your vegetables, according to researchers behind the study published in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. Working with mice, the University of California at Los Angeles scientists found that green and yellow vegetables reduced the risk by 38 per cent in 16 weeks. The foods used were peas, green beans, broccoli, corn and carrots. The exact mechanism is not known but these vegetables contain a variety of micronutrients, such as carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, all of which are powerful antioxidants. Broccoli is also a good source of sulforaphane, a compound that has been implicated in fighting inflammation. This study helps confirm a meta-analysis published in the January 2006 issue of The Lancet reporting that five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day could cut the risk of stroke by 26 per cent. Atherosclerosis occurs naturally in humans as part of the aging process but high blood cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes increase the risk.
In a separate study reported in the June 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a greater intake of nutrients from vegetables was found to reduce the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). The risk was lower with increased intake of vegetables generally and green vegetables specifically. Oral cancers were reduced with overall vegetable intake in another study in the same issue.

NEW HELP FOR DIABETICS

Researchers from Britain’s Reading University have reported in the June 2006 issue of the British Journal of General Practice that type 2 diabetes patients taking prescription drugs for their condition can benefit from the addition of daily hawthorn extract. In a placebo-controlled study of 79 people, diastolic blood pressure dropped by a significant 2.6 mmHg after 16 weeks.
In a second study, when insulin is present in a diabetic, as with diabetes 2, fish oil safely helps to more efficiently transport blood sugar into muscle cells, according to in vitro – or “artificial environment” – research at Texas A&M University. These results were released on June 10 at the 66th annual meeting of the American Diabetic Association in Washington, DC. The study used fish oil supplements.
Also, a third study in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation showed that cinnamon extract can positively affect glucose levels in type 2 diabetics.

AMERICANS SICKER THAN CANADIANS

Americans are generally less healthy than Canadians and many other foreigners. They’re 42 per cent more likely than Canadians to have diabetes, 32 per cent more likely to have high blood pressure and 12 per cent more likely to have arthritis, Harvard medical school researchers found. The study comes less than a month after other researchers reported that middle-aged, white Americans are much sicker than their counterparts in England. Canada’s health insurance system was dismissed as the reason for the results because even Americans with extensive health insurance were found to be in worse health shape. Americans are much more likely to be obese or to be sedentary – although Canadians are slightly more likely to be smokers.
The biggest differences between Americans and Canadians were in the areas of diabetes and high blood pressure, both more common in the US. The study was published in the June 2006 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

VEGANS HAVE FEWER TWINS

Vegans – strict vegetarians who avoid all animal products including milk and honey – have twins at one-fifth the rate of milk-drinking women, concludes an American study reported in the June 2006 issue of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

The reason may be related to a compound called insulin-like growth factor or IGF. It is found in milk and it increases the sensitivity of the ovaries to follicle stimulating hormone, thus increasing ovulation. Some studies also suggest that IGF may help embryos survive in the early stages of development.
Vegan women have about a 13 per cent lower level of IGF in the blood than women who consume dairy. Black women in the US have, on average, the highest rates of twin births – and they tend to have normally higher levels of IGF in their blood. Asian women have the lowest IGF levels and the lowest rate of twin births and Caucasian women fall in between, said the researchers.

LEGS ACHE A LOT?

The May 2006 issue of Atherosclerosis published a study suggesting that the Mediterranean diet (MD) may furnish strong protection against peripheral artery disease (PAD), “a highly prevalent and . . . ominous condition” that affects over a million Canadians. The most common symptom is cramping, pain or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs; it usually goes away with rest.

Traditional recommendations include moderate alcohol consumption, vitamin C, and a very-low-calorie diet. The Mediterranean Diet, on the other hand, stresses olive oil, fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables. (Ed: Mediterraneans do love their homemade wine though, and organic red wine is known to have many health benefits if consumed in moderation.)

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

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