News Briefs – July 2008

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While many people associate protein intake with maintaining muscle size, a newly released study by US Agricultural Research Service (ARS)-funded scientists suggests that it is fruits and vegetables – not proteins or cereal grains – that preserve muscle mass in older men and women. The typical Western diet is rich in protein, cereal grains and other acid-forming foods. In general, this diet generates tiny amounts of acid each day. With aging, a mild but slowly increasing metabolic “acidosis” develops, according to the ARS researchers. Acidosis appears to trigger a muscle-wasting response.

The research team looked at links between measures of lean body mass and diets relatively high in potassium-rich, alkaline-residue producing, fruits and vegetables. Such diets could help neutralize acidosis. (Foods can be considered alkaline or acidic based on the residues they produce in the body, rather than whether they are alkaline or acidic themselves. For example, acidic grapefruits are metabolized to alkaline residues.)

The researchers conducted an analysis of a subset of nearly 400 male and female volunteers aged 65 or older. The volunteers’ physical activity, height and weight, and percentage of lean body mass were measured at the start of the study and again, after three years. Their urinary potassium was measured and their dietary data collected.

Volunteers whose diets were rich in potassium – that is, high in fruits and vegetables – showed an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than volunteers with half that level of potassium intake. That almost offsets the 4.4 pounds of lean tissue that is typically lost in a decade in healthy men and women aged 65 and above, according to the study authors.

Sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle mass, often leads to poor walking ability and general muscle loss in the elderly. It frequently causes falls due to weakened leg muscles. This study is important because it suggests (for the first time) that frailty and falls in the elderly can be prevented by a long-term diet heavily invested in fruits and vegetables.

The authors encourage future studies that look into the effects of increasing overall intake of foods that metabolize to alkaline residues (alkaline-producing fruits and vegetables, instead of acid-producing proteins and grains) on muscle mass and functionality. The study was led by physician and nutrition specialist Bess Dawson-Hughes at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.


Previous research has suggested that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of developing colon and rectal cancer, also known as colorectal cancer. Now, a new study published in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that colorectal cancer patients with the highest blood levels of vitamin D, have (as a group) a greater survival rate than those with the lowest blood-D levels. The correlation is considered weak and, “Definitive evidence of a benefit of vitamin D in treating colon cancer would have to come from a clinical trial,” said study lead Kimmie Ng, PhD, in a telephone interview.

In addition, a study published June 9, 2008 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found that men with low levels of vitamin D had an elevated risk for heart attack. A number of recent studies have indicated vitamin D also may offer a variety of other health benefits, including protecting against types of cancer such as breast cancer, peripheral artery disease and tuberculosis.

The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, thus earning its nickname the “sunshine vitamin.” Milk commonly is fortified with it and it is found in fatty fish like salmon. But many people do not get enough of it, especially Canadians during the winter months (says the Canadian Cancer Society). The American Medical Association, the largest doctors group in the US, voted this week to urge the US Food and Drug Administration to re-examine recommendations for vitamin D intake in light of new scientific findings showing its benefits.


A Japanese study has found that taking pycnogenol, which is bark extract from the French maritime pine tree, can reduce the number of painful days for those suffering from dysmenorrhea, a condition that causes extremely painful menstrual periods and affects millions of women each year.

The multi-centre field study, published in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, indicates that women with dysmenorrhea who supplemented with pycnogenol experienced a reduction in painful days from an average of 2.1 days to 1.3 days. The improvement took place at the third and fourth cycles after the commencement of treatment.

Also, test subjects reported using lower quantities of pain medications during menstruation. Discontinuation of pycnogenol did not cause an immediate relapse in pain duration; and pain medication use did not increase even after treatment stopped.

Dysmenorrhea, which affects millions of women each year and which may reach incapacitating severity, is thought to be caused by elevated levels of inflammation. Other studies reveal that pycnogenol, which has been patented for sales for menstrual pain, is a natural anti-inflammatory. (It also contains a unique combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids.)

In an interview with News Briefs, lead researcher Nobutaka Suzuki, PhD, said: “Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen provide temporary help against menstrual pain. Unfortunately, they are generally ineffective for resolving spasmodic events and commonly cause side effects, particularly gastric problems.”


Supplement risk: If you use dietary supplements to assist with muscle-building, you should avoid the products 6-OXO and 1-AD or any other products containing their key ingredients, which are “4-androstene-3,6,17-trione” and “1-androstenediol”. That’s the latest warning from Health Canada. A Canadian with no predisposing medical conditions developed seizures and blood clots in his brain after using the Illinois-produced supplements.

‘Dummy’ risk for babies? Parents should avoid using a dummy in infants who are prone to ear infections, research suggests. In a five-year study of almost 500 Dutch children, researchers found almost double the risk of recurrent ear infections in those who used a dummy. Writing in the June 2008 issue of Family Practice journal, they said doctors should advise parents of the risk.

Cloned cells have cured skin cancer: For the first time, after two years of waiting to be sure, scientists can finally say it: They have cured advanced skin cancer—using the patient’s own cells cloned outside the body. The 52-year-old man involved is free of melanoma two years after this treatment. US researchers, reports the June 20, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, took cancer-fighting immune cells, made five billion copies and then put them all back. Experts contacted by News Briefs say that further trials on more people need to be done to prove how well the treatment worked but that this is another interesting demonstration of the huge power of the immune system to fight some kinds of cancer.

Bacteria in the crook of your elbow: Six very active and beneficial (“commensal”) bacterial cultures live in the crook of virtually everyone’s elbow, even after the area has been washed thoroughly, research shows. They moisturize the body’s skin by processing the raw fats that it produces. The bacteria were discovered as part of the Human Microbiome Project, a study researching all of the various microbes that live in people, and this elbow report was published online on May 23, 2008 at the website for the journal Genome Research. Bacterial cells in our bodies outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 and – because we could not survive without them – scientists conclude humans should really be seen as superorganisms. You can read more about these friendly hitchhikers in the study summary posted at:

Grape seed extract for Alzheimer’s? A compound found in grape seed extract reduces plaque formation (and its resulting cognitive impairment) in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease, new research shows. The study appears in the June 18, 2008 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. The study team found that the grape seed extract prevents amyloid beta accumulation in cells, suggesting that it may block the formation of plaques. (In Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid beta accumulates to form toxic plaques that disrupt normal brain function.) The researchers tested a grape seed polyphenolic extract product sold as MegaNatural-AZ, made by Polyphenolics, which in part supported the study. Polyphenolic compounds are antioxidants naturally found in wine, tea, cocoa and some fruits and vegetables.

Sandals are better: Researchers at Auburn University have found that wearing flip-flops alters the way one walks, changing the gait in subtle ways that can lead to serious sole, heel and ankle problems. They presented these findings earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.

Curry for diabetes? Curcumin, an ingredient in turmeric, is known to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is thought to be involved in the development of diabetes. So could this curry spice help prevent diabetes? A study at Columbia University has shown that turmeric-treated mice were less susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes, based on their blood glucose levels, and glucose and insulin tolerance tests. In other words, curcumin may lower insulin resistance and help prevent diabetes – at least in mice. Further study would be necessary to see if it had the same effect on humans and at what dosage. The study forms the basis of a paper that soon will be published in the journal Endocrinology. It was presented in a talk given in early June in San Francisco, at ENDO 2008, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting.

Ubiquinone protects heart? A study done on guinea pigs suggests that coenzyme Q10 and coenzyme Q9 – by itself or after it has been converted to CoQ10 by the body – protect the heart from the injury caused by myocardial ischemia. In other words, these supplements reduce the size of the area of damaged heart muscle that results from insufficient blood flow to the heart, which in its extreme form is a heart attack. It is important to remember this study does not necessarily prove these supplements will help protect the hearts of humans. Further studies are needed. The work was published in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry.

Vitamin D does not increase prostate cancer risk: There have long been concerns about a higher risk of an aggressive form of prostate cancer when men supplement with vitamin D. But a new study found that the link between high D levels and aggressive prostate cancers is inconsistent and “not statistically significant.” The study appears in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Vitamin D & leg pain: In a new study, average vitamin D levels were significantly lower in people with peripheral artery disease (PAD) than in people without PAD – a disorder in which blood flow in the leg arteries is slowed, causing leg cramps. The study was published in the June 2008 edition of the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

Fish oil may prevent blindness: Fish oil fatty acids again demonstrated beneficial effects on coronary heart disease, according to a study reported in the June 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The tests were done on patients with implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICDs). Although not new, it adds to the growing body of evidence showing a coronary benefit for omega-3 fatty acids. Also, eating foods rich in omega-3 oils could help some people avoid blindness, suggests new research published in the June 9, 2008 edition of the Annals of Ophthalmology. Those who consumed more fish or omega-3 oil cut their risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by a third. However, the Australian scientists stopped short of recommending the public consume more of the oil, saying the study is premature.

Smoking harms hearing: Smoking and obesity could both cause permanent hearing damage, scientists have concluded after a study reported in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of the Association for Research into Otolaryngology. Either could threaten blood flow to the ear with damage levels clearly linked to the level of obesity or the length of a smoking habit. Previous studies have found the same but the current study, involving over 4,000 people, produced the most convincing evidence to date, said the researchers. In a separate study, mid-life smoking was found to diminish memory and hasten dementia in later life.

Alcohol cuts Rheumatoid Arthritis risk: A Swedish study that appears in the June 2008 issue of the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that drinking alcohol can reduce the risk of the very crippling disease known as rheumatoid arthritis. In this disease, the immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and damage to the cartilage and bone. A mixture of environmental factors – especially smoking and genetic heritage – are the deemed causes of the disease. But the study found that (compared to non-drinkers and compared to occasional drinkers, respectively) moderate drinkers had a 40 to 45 per cent reduced risk while heavier drinkers had a 50 to 55 per cent lower risk.

Fresh garlic better: The next time you use garlic for its renowned antibacterial effects, consider fresh garlic instead of those bottles of chopped garlic. Researchers in Japan report that fresh garlic maintains higher levels of allicin, the key healthy ingredient, than preserved versions and may be better for you. Their study appeared in the June 25, 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Garlic stored in water at room temperature lost about half its allicin in 6 days and garlic in vegetable oil lost half its allicin in less than an hour. The garlic lost its antibacterial action as allicin broke down.

Wine drops heart risk: In a mouse study published in the June 3, 2008 issue of the scientific journal known as PLoS ONE, researchers supplemented the diet of mice with resveratrol (a key substance in red wine) starting at their equivalent of middle age until old age. They observed that the resveratrol blocked the decline in heart function typically associated with aging. The effect was similar to calorie restriction or CR. (In numerous studies, animals given a diet with greatly reduced caloric intake have lived much longer than animals with normal diets.) Although there is the “likelihood” that the benefits extend to humans, the study author stressed it is still to early to be sure and did not recommend wine consumption for this potential benefit.

Beta-carotene protects against sunburn: The May 28, 2008 issue of the journal Photochemical Photobiology reported on a meta-analysis of seven studies that suggests that supplementation with beta-carotene protects against sunburn. A minimum of 10 weeks of beta-carotene supplementation was required before the protective effect was seen and protection rose slightly for each additional month of supplementation.

Ban to food dyes urged: Yellow 5, Red 40 and six other widely used artificial colourings are linked to hyperactivity and behaviour problems in children and should be prohibited from use in foods, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. On June 3, the group formally petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the dyes, several of which are already being phased out in the United Kingdom. The other six dyes are Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, and Yellow 6.

Yogurt fights gum disease: According to a Japanese study published in the June 2008 edition of the Journal of Periodontology, consuming yogurt and lactic acid drinks is significantly associated with better periodontal health. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial condition associated with receding gums and tooth loss in adults.

Purple carrots may be better: A special class of phytochemicals, which are found in purple carrots, has been linked to powerful anti-inflammatory properties, according to findings reported in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. The study is important because it is the first time this specific anti-inflammatory link has been found. Inflammation is the starting point or cause for numerous disorders.


Put a Lid On It: If you hair is graying prematurely, consider wearing a hat when you’re in the sun. One unproven theory holds that the sun’s ultraviolet rays cause pigment cells on your scalp to work overtime. It has been suggested that this could make them burn out early. At the very least, a hat will help hide all those grays.

Something Fishy About This Species

Myth: Sardines are a species of fish
Fact: There’s no such fish as a sardine.
“Sardine” is actually a term that refers to a variety of small fish—of various species—that have been processed and canned. The name derives from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

So-called sardines from Denmark and Norway, for example, are usually brisling and silds. Those from Maine are, in fact, small herrings. When you buy sardines from France, Portugal or Spain, you’re really getting pilchards, a smaller and fatter variety of herring.

Also, have you ever heard of a scrod? You guessed it: there’s no such thing as a scrod either. The name comes from a Middle Dutch word, “schrode”, meaning a strip or shred. In New England, scrod are just very young cod or haddock, weighing only a pound or two.

And while we’re on the subject, Atlantic salmon isn’t really a salmon at all. It’s actually a member of the genus salmo—the trout family. The misnomer is now so widely accepted that it would only cause confusion to rename the species. So those who buy Atlantic salmon aren’t getting salmon at all.

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