News Briefs – July 2009Michael Downey July 1, 2009
Vitamin D Suggested for Cancer Patients
Vitamin D deficiency was found to be prevalent in cancer patients regardless of nutritional status, according to the results of a recent study conducted at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), a network of cancer hospitals across the United States. Based on these results, CTCA researchers determined that screening for vitamin D deficiency and aggressive vitamin D repletion should be considered for all people with cancer.
“While emerging evidence suggests the protective role of vitamin D in cancer, vitamin D status is not routinely assessed in cancer patients despite the high prevalence of malnutrition in this population,” said Carolyn Lammersfeld, national director of nutrition for CTCA and a principal investigator in the study, in an e-mail interview. Before the study, researchers hypothesized that malnutrition could contribute to vitamin D deficiency and therefore expected mean serum 25-hydroxy-vitamin D [25(OH)D] levels to be significantly lower in malnourished oncology patients. However contrary to what they expected, vitamin D deficiency was found to be prevalent in cancer regardless of overall nutritional status.
In a separate study by CTCA, it was found that body mass index (BMI) should be taken into account when assessing a cancer patient’s vitamin D status. Researchers found that obese cancer patients had significantly lower levels of vitamin D compared to non-obese patients.
These studies were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, May 29, 2009.
Ginkgo for Neuropathic Pain?
An extract of Ginkgo biloba showed some scientific evidence of effectiveness against one common and hard-to-treat type of pain, according to animal data reported in the June, 2009 issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS).
Dr. Yee Suk Kim and colleagues of the Catholic University of Seoul, South Korea, performed experiments on rats to evaluate the effectiveness of ginkgo against neuropathic pain, a common pain problem associated with herpes zoster, limb injury or diabetes. Affected patients may feel severe pain in response to harmless stimuli like heat, cold or touch.
In the experiments, rats with neuropathic pain were treated with different doses of a standardized Ginkgo biloba extract or with an inactive solution. Objective tests were performed to see how ginkgo affected neuropathic pain responses to cold and pressure.
For both cold and pressure stimuli, pain responses were significantly reduced in ginkgo-treated rats. The higher the dose of ginkgo extract, the greater the pain-relieving effect. Pain was reduced for at least two hours after ginkgo treatment. The study provided no evidence as to how ginkgo works to reduce pain. Several mechanisms are possible, including antioxidant activity, an anti-inflammatory effect or protection against nerve injury – perhaps in combination.
The new study provided the first scientific evidence that ginkgo has a real effect in reducing neuropathic pain. (New treatments are needed for neuropathic pain, which does not always respond well to available treatments.)
Vitamins May Reduce Miscarriage Risk
Taking prenatal vitamin supplements early in pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of miscarriage, according to a study from the University of North Carolina.
In this study, which appeared in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, information about vitamin use was obtained from a first-trimester interview of 4,752 U.S. women between 2000 and 2008. Approximately 95% of participants reported using vitamins during early pregnancy and 524 of the women had miscarriages. The researchers found that the risk for miscarriage was 57% lower among women who took vitamins, compared to those who did not. However, the authors also suggest the results may be due to other healthy behaviours and practices associated with vitamin supplement users during pregnancy.
Vitamin C with Insulin May Prevent Damage
University of Oklahoma researchers say they’ve found a way to use vitamin C – in combination with insulin – to help stop the damage caused by Type 1 diabetes.
Michael Ihnat, a pharmacologist in the UO College of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology, was the principal investigator on the study. The study’s findings appeared in the June 6 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Ihnat says that the combination of insulin to control blood sugar and vitamin C stopped blood vessel damage cause by Type 1 diabetes in patients with poor glucose control. He says it was the first time the effectiveness of the therapy had been tested in humans and that a study is under way to see if a similar therapy might work in Type 2 diabetes patients. (Cardiovascular risk is a major problem with diabetic patients, especially if glucose levels are not maintained with a narrow range.)
Common Chemicals May Threaten Male Fertility
In a new report, a leading scientist has warned that chemicals found in many foods, cosmetic and cleaning products pose a real threat to male fertility.
Richard Sharpe, PhD, of the UK-based Medical Research Council, says that these hormone-disrupting chemicals are “feminizing” boys in the womb, leading to rising rates of birth defects, testicular cancer, and low sperm counts. It is thought that all these conditions, collectively called Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome (TDS), are linked to disruption of the male sex hormone testosterone. Sharpe concluded that exposure to a cocktail of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment is likely to be at least partly to blame by blocking the action of testosterone in the womb.
It is important to note that these studies involved animal studies only and no human data were included. His latest report highlights animal studies showing that testosterone-disrupting chemicals can cause TDS-like disorders.
The new report, Men Under Threat, comes from CHEM Trust, a group that lobbies for greater awareness of how chemical exposure may affect health. The report can be accessed online at: https://www.chemtrust.org.uk/documents/ProfRSHARPE-MaleReproductiveHealth-CHEMTrust09.pdf
Whole-Cooked Carrots Retain Nutrients Better
The anti-cancer properties of carrots are more potent if the vegetable is not cut up before cooking, shows research released June 16. Scientists found that “boiled before cut” carrots contained 25% more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those chopped up before cooking. (Experiments on rats fed falcarinol have shown they develop fewer tumours.)
The study was presented June 3 at NutrEvent, a conference on nutrition and health, held in France. Lead researcher Kirsten Brandt, PhD, from Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said: “Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are cooked. By keeping them whole and chopping them up afterwards you are locking in nutrients and taste, so the carrot is better for you all round.”
The Newcastle scientist, along with colleagues at the University of Denmark, discovered the health benefits of falcarinol in carrots four years ago. Rats fed on a diet containing carrots or falcarinol were found to be one-third less likely to develop full-scale tumours than those in the control group. Since then the scientists in Newcastle have been studying what happens when carrots are chopped and cooked.
The latest findings show that when carrots are heated, the heat kills the cells, so they lose the ability to hold on to the water inside them, thus increasing the concentration of falcarinol as the carrots lose water. However, the heat also softens the cell walls, allowing water-soluble compounds such as sugar and vitamin C to be lost via the surface of the tissue, leading to the leaching out of other compounds such as falcarinol. If the carrot is cut before being boiled, the surface area becomes much greater – and so the loss of nutrients is increased.
Brandt added that in blind taste studies the whole carrots also tasted much better. Eight of ten people favoured the whole vegetables over those that were pre-chopped. This is because the naturally-occurring sugars which are responsible for giving the carrot its distinctively sweet flavour were also found in higher concentrations in the carrot that had been cooked whole.
Experts have questioned the idea that whole carrots or any other food would have a significant impact on cancer risk, stressing that a variety of fruits and vegetables remain the best strategy. But the UK researchers contend that falcarinol is a beneficial compound.
• Child health linked to sleep and technology: Inadequate sleep – combined with increased electronic screen time and caffeine intake – may have negative implications for adolescents’ health, psychosocial well-being and academic performance. This was the conclusion of research presented at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, June 10, 2009.
• Supplement as statin alternative? A new study suggests that an over-the-counter dietary supplement sold at pharmacies and health-food stores may be a workable alternative for people who have statin-related muscle pain. It suggests that, when combined with diet and lifestyle changes, red yeast rice supplements can lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels by more than 20% without a substantial risk of muscle pain (also known as myalgia). The study was published June 15, 2009, in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
• Vitamin D deficiency linked to Alzheimer’s, dementia: Low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, depression, dental caries, osteoporosis and periodontal disease – all of which are considered either to be risk factors for dementia or to precede incidence of dementia. For example, several studies have correlated tooth loss with development of cognitive impairment. There are two primary ways that people lose teeth: dental caries and periodontal disease. Both conditions are linked to low vitamin D levels. (Sources include the May 2009 issues of both the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and the journal, Arthritis and Rheumatism, and Reuters.)
• ‘Forgotten’ nutrient protects bone health and more: Vitamin K has been linked to bone, heart and even prostate health; it also protects against hardening of the arteries. But joint health and cartilage could also be affected by this little-known vitamin, says Professor Cees Vermeer of Maastricht University of the Netherlands. Awareness of vitamin K from green vegetables, and the fermented soy products natto and cheese is increasing, although many are still unaware of the benefits.
• New Alzheimer’s test: A new mental agility quiz could help detect Alzheimer’s disease more accurately than the traditional test, say Cambridge researchers, writing in the June 10, 2009 issue of the British Medical Journal. The test can be carried out by patients themselves, potentially while sitting in a GP or hospital waiting room. Researchers say it provides more accurate results than the standard “mini mental-state examination,” or MMSE. The new test is not yet widely available.
• Greens lower prostate cancer risk: Robert Ma and K Chapman of the University of New South Wales conducted an evidence-based review of dietary recommendations in the prevention of prostate cancer and in the management of patients with prostate cancer. They found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low in fat and red meat, and reduced in dairy products may help prevent prostate cancer. This diet is helpful for patients diagnosed with prostate cancer as well. The study was published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
• Cherry juice cuts runners’ muscle pain: Those who drank tart cherry juice while training for a long-distance run reported significantly less pain after exercise, according to new research from Oregon Health & Science University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference in Seattle on May 28, 2009. Those who drank 10.5 oz. of cherry juice (CHERRish 100% Montmorency cherry juice) twice a day for seven days prior to, and on the day of, a long-distance relay had significantly less muscle pain following the race than those who drank another fruit juice beverage. On a scale from 0 to 10, the runners who drank cherry juice had a 2-point lower self-reported pain level at the completion of the race, a clinically significant difference. (Cherries’ post-exercise benefits are likely because of the fruit’s natural anti-inflammation power – attributed to antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins, which also give cherries their bright red colour.)
• Bacterial vaginosis linked to nutrient deficiency: A University of Pittsburgh study links bacterial vaginosis in pregnant women to a deficiency of vitamin D. The study appears in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition and notes that black women are three times as likely as white women to have bacterial vaginosis, in part because darker skin does not as readily convert sunlight into vitamin D.
• Tomato substance claimed to cut cholesterol: At the launch of a new supplement product known as Ateronon – a supplement containing the nutrient lycopene – the company lined up scientists to say that lycopene taken daily may help stave off heart disease and strokes. While research bought by a product manufacturer should be viewed skeptically, lycopene may block “bad” LDL cholesterol that can clog the arteries. Preliminary trials involving around 150 people with heart disease were interpreted to mean that Ateronon (lycopene) can reduce the oxidation of harmful fats in the blood to almost zero within eight weeks. This information was reported early June to a meeting of the British Cardiovascular Society during Ateronon’s launch.
• Higher vitamin D levels recommended: Writing in the June 2009 edition of the Annals of Epidemiology, Cedric Garland, PhD, and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego, called for an increase in vitamin D level recommendations. They wrote that if everyone took 2,000 IUs of vitamin D every day – the current “maximum” safe dosage recommended in Canada – it would save an estimated 200,000 cases of breast cancer and 250,000 cases of bowel cancer worldwide.
• Folic acid more protective than previously thought: Baby-protecting folic acid is getting renewed attention: Not only does it fight spina bifida and some related abnormalities, new research shows it also may prevent premature birth and heart defects. (There have been some concerns about possible cancer risks of excessive folic acid intake stemming from a combination of folic-acid-enriched foods among the general, non-pregnant, population.)
• Oily fish for D: University of Manchester scientists and other researchers have found that a higher level of vitamin D, synthesized in the skin following sun exposure, is also found in oily fish. In a separate study, scientists concluded that people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) should eat oily fish at least twice a week to keep their eye disease at bay.
• Aspirin therapy questioned: A May 28, 2009 issue of The Lancet reports that low-dose aspirin should not routinely be used to prevent heart attacks and strokes, contrary to official guidance. Analysis of data from over 100,000 clinical trial participants found the risk of harm largely cancelled out the benefits of taking the drug. Bleeding internally is a major concern. Only those who have already had a heart attack or stroke should take a daily aspirin, they found.
• Pesticide-Parkinson’s link suggested: A new epidemiological study of the exposure of French farm workers to pesticides, tied that exposure to Parkinson’s disease, especially for organochlorine insecticides. The study, published in the June 2009 issue of the Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association, involved individuals affiliated with the French health insurance organization for agricultural workers who were exposed frequently to pesticides in the course of their work. (The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown but is believed to involve a combination of environmental risk factors and genetic susceptibility in most cases.)
• Supplements boost exercise benefit – Think you have to grunt and sweat for an hour at the gym to stay healthy? Give yourself a break. One UCLA study found that moderate exercise alone was sufficient to provide benefit to mice bred to be prone to heart disease. And the right supplements can boost the cardio benefit of a shorter workout. Exercise was found to have a much greater effect on animals that were also given the amino acid L-arginine, and vitamins C and E. The combination of exercise and these supplements boosted levels of nitric oxide – which is known to protect the arteries and heart from damage.
• Myth: Potatoes are fattening. Truth: Spuds are not an especially fattening food so long as you don’t smother them in butter or sour cream. Potatoes furnish fewer calories per ounce than rice and less than half the calories per ounce of bread. Think “jackets required” – tater skins provide good fibre and nutrients. And in your quest to eat at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, one medium-size potato counts as two servings. (Ed note: if you’re going to eat the skins, always choose organic potatoes, as conventional potato crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides.)
• 130 million – That’s the number of Americans who swallow, inject, inhale, infuse, spray or pat on prescribed medication every month, according to a new report from the Atlanta-based US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).