News Briefs – July/August 2015Michael Downey July 1, 2015
Vegetables, Fruits Lower Mortality in Prostate Cancer Patients
A study has found that after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, men who ate foods rich in processed meats, red meats, and high-fat dairy products had an increased risk for prostate cancer-related death and death from all causes. And men with prostate cancer whose diet was rich in vegetables and fruits had a lowered risk of death from prostate cancer and all causes. (Almost 3 million American men live with prostate cancer, but there is little information about how to manage lifestyles, such as diet, after a diagnosis to improve survival.)
Scientists followed patients for an average of 14 years following their prostate cancer diagnosis and assessed the impact of dietary patterns on mortality. They accounted for factors such as body mass index, smoking, prostate-specific antigen levels, tumour characteristics at diagnosis, and initial treatment. Compared with men who were in the lowest quartile of the Western diet pattern, those in the highest quartile of the Western diet pattern had a 153% higher risk for prostate cancer-specific death and a 67% increased risk for death from all causes. Men whose diet was predominantly vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes, and whole grains (called the ‘prudent diet pattern’), had a 36% lower risk for death from all causes and a lower but insignificant risk for prostate cancer-specific death. Results suggest that the same dietary recommendations offered for the prevention of cardiovascular disease may also decrease the risk of dying from diagnosed prostate cancer.
The study was released June 1, 2015 but will not be published until a future issue of Cancer Prevention Research. It can found by searching the journal site at https://tinyurl.com/plhvtq9
Supplements Help Obese, Vitamin D-Deficient People to Lose Weight
A new study suggests that those who are obese and low on vitamin D may find it easier to lose weight if they take a vitamin D supplement. (Prior research has shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of obesity and obesity-related complications. However, studies on the use of vitamin D supplements to curb obesity have been inconclusive until now. Vitamin D is produced by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight. People can also get vitamin D through such foods as eggs, milk, yogurt, tuna, salmon, cereal, and orange juice.)
The study included 400 overweight and obese people with vitamin D deficiency who were put on a low-calorie diet and then divided into three groups. One group took no vitamin D supplements, while the two other groups took either 25,000 international units (IU) or 100,000 IU of vitamin D per month. After six months, participants in both vitamin D supplementation groups had lost more weight and had greater reductions in their waistlines than those who had not taken the supplements.
According to the study presenter, about 40% of North American adults are vitamin D-deficient. It is important to note that the weight-loss effect of vitamin D supplementation appears to be limited to those people who are already vitamin D-deficient and likely has no effect on those with adequate vitamin D intake.
The study was presented May 9, 2015 at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague. Studies presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Longer Light Exposure Linked to Weight Gain
Researchers have found that for many people, prolonged daily exposure to light is the underlying cause of weight gain. Exposure to light during odd hours can cause people to gain weight, contributing to the many maladies. (Many people assume that their weight gain is caused by the added stress they feel due to long work hours and an irregular schedule. This study shows they may be right, but not in the way they think.)
The team placed lab mice in enclosures where the day and night durations were modified. Different groups lived with artificial daylight lasting for 12, 16, and even 24 hours for over a month. Suspecting that brown adipose tissue (BAT, a type of body fat) was playing a part, the team monitored efficiency of BAT in all mice in converting energy from food into heat. If energy from food is not converted to heat, it is instead stored as fat. Despite identical food intake and exercise levels, the mice exposed to longer amounts of light not only gained weight but their BAT efficiency declined. This shows that longer daily duration of light causes the body to store more food energy, increasing body weight. (This may have originated in our early history when the body used longer daylight hours of summer as a cue to start storing extra body weight in order to keep us warm during the coming winter.)
This study was released May 11, 2015 ahead of later publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The entire study can now be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/ncfodmy by journal subscribers, or by the public for a $10 fee.
Adult Diseases Linked to Childhood Use of Antibiotics
A new study has found a three-way association between antibiotic use in infants, changes in their gut bacteria, and disease later in life. (Imbalances in gut microbes have previously been tied to infectious diseases, allergies, and other autoimmune disorders, and even obesity, later in life. Immune system disorders have increased dramatically. Antibiotics are by far the most common prescription drugs given to children, accounting for about one-fourth of all child medications.)
Researchers reviewed previous studies and found links between antibiotic use and unbalanced gut bacteria. They also found links between unbalanced gut bacteria and the amount of adult disease. Their analysis showed evidence of strong correlations tying childhood use of antibiotics with adulthood experience of disease. In the case of allergies, for example, they found that the use of antibiotics may eradicate key gut bacteria that help immune cells to mature. If they had not been eliminated by antibiotic use, these cells would have kept the immune system at bay when confronted with allergens so the system did not overreact.
Also, researchers found that even if these gut bacteria return, the immune system still remains impaired. Related to obesity, antibiotic-induced changes in the gut microbiota resulted in increased levels of short-chain fatty acids that affect metabolism. This study was published in the May 13, 2015 issue of the journal Cell Host and Microbe. The full-text report is now available online at https://tinyurl.com/o5t5rtn free of charge.
Vitamin B3 Supplements Cut Skin Cancer Rates by 23 Percent
Scientists have found that a form of vitamin B called nicotinamide can reduce the occurrence of non-melanoma skin cancers by 23% when taken twice daily. (Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with about 5 million cases treated every year at a cost of about $4.8 billion. Ultraviolet rays cause most skin cancers by damaging the DNA of skin cells. Earlier studies indicated that nicotinamide can provide skin cells with an energy boost, enhancing DNA repair and strengthening the skin’s immune system. Nicotinamide should not be confused with a more commonly known form of B3 called niacin.)
This research was a clinical trial involving nearly 400 high-risk patients each of whom had experienced at least two non-melanoma skin cancers during the previous five years. Half of the group took nicotinamide twice daily for a year, and the other half took a placebo. Dermatologists checked for skin cancer every three months. The volunteers taking nicotinamide showed a reduction in skin cancers at the first three-month visit. By the end of the one-year study period, new non-melanoma skin cancer rates were down 23% in the nicotinamide group compared to the placebo group. This B-vitamin supplement also reduced the numbers of thick, scaly patches of skin, which can turn cancerous, by 11% at three months and by 20% at nine months of treatment. However, when people stopped taking their tablets after 12 months, the benefit disappeared; in other words, you need to keep taking the tablets for them to be effective. Nicotinamide did not cause any more adverse events than the placebo.
Further studies are planned to determine if nicotinamide can help reduce skin cancers in people with suppressed immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients who have to take lifelong immune suppressive medications. It is believed that this study will be presented between May 30 and June 2, 2015 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. It is not yet available online.
Alcohol in First Weeks of Pregnancy Permanently Alters Brain
New findings suggest that consuming alcohol as early as three to four into pregnancy, at a time before many women even realize that they are expecting, can cause permanent harm to the brain of the baby. At this early point, alcohol was found to affect embryonic stem cells, the earliest cells to emerge from the developing embryo. This appears to negatively alter gene functioning in the brain, leading to long-term changes in the hippocampus region of the brain structure. It also appears to cause changes in gene functioning in certain other body tissues as well. (Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has long been linked to increased risk of a number of health conditions for offspring, including growth restriction, intellectual and learning disabilities, poor memory, poor coordination and speech, language delays, and heart defects.)
The team fed alcohol to a group of pregnant mice during the first 8 days of gestation, which is equivalent to three to four weeks of gestation in humans, and analyzed its effects on genes. Compared to offspring of pregnant mice not exposed to alcohol, the offspring that were exposed to alcohol showed altered brain-cell gene functioning in the hippocampus. The researchers also identified changes in gene function in two other tissues: bone marrow and the olfactory bulb in the nose.
Other symptoms included reduced growth rate, structural changes to the face and skull, and hyperactivity.
This study was published online May 13, 2015 by the journal PLOS ONE. The entire text of this research can be read at https://tinyurl.com/luqlwcx without charge.
Did You Know…?
A recent review of 12 studies found that paper towels are far more hygienic than hand dryers, which simply blow bacteria all over your hands as well as the entire washroom.
Sunshine Alone Does Not Provide Enough Vitamin D During Pregnancy
Researchers have found that low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are common in Mediterranean women despite the fact that they receive many more hours of vitamin D-producing sunshine each day than women in northern European countries. This indicates that greater exposure to sunshine alone is insufficient to help reduce the prevalence of early childhood diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, disorders in bone formation, higher risk of emergency cesarean delivery, and premature birth. (It had been assumed that Mediterranean women are at reduced risk of low vitamin D than those living in Northern Europe due to their higher sun exposure.)
The study found that, in countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, vitamin D deficiency occurs in up to 90% of pregnant women. This may suggest that racial, social, and cultural habits counteract the benefits of sun exposure on vitamin D levels and that supplements may be a wise precaution for pregnant women no matter what their sun exposure or where they live. The scientists systematically reviewed case histories of 2,649 pregnant women and found that the best predictors of maternal vitamin D deficiency were dark skin, race, and dress habits. This study was presented to the 17th European Congress of Endocrinology in Dublin, which ran from May 16-20, 2015. It has not yet been published.
Did You Know…?
A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that the faster your normal resting heartbeat is, the greater your risk of developing diabetes.
Diet Type Linked to Metabolic Syndrome in Normal-Weight Persons
New research shows a link between the risk of metabolic syndrome in normal-weight people and the type of diet they consume. (Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess waist fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels. It usually strikes the obese but can also develop in those of normal weight. These patients are called metabolically obese normal weight or MONW. Estimates of the number of people with MONW range from 15 percent to 59 percent. Diet has been recognized as a critical factor in metabolic syndrome in the obese but studies have not examined the role of diet among MONW people until now.)
Over 13,000 men and women provided dietary information, and scientists found volunteers fell into four general diet types. The first was called healthy, which included the highest intake of produce, low-fat milk and foods, and whole grains. The second was called fat-meat-alcohol, which emphasized red meat, eggs, fried foods, and alcohol. The third was ‘prudent’, which was similar to the healthy group but also included fish and extremely low intake of refined grains, sugar, cured meats, and boiled potatoes. And the fourth group included high levels of cola, hard cheese, and french fries. Of all groups, those ranked in top third of the prudent diet showed a significantly lower risk of MONW and of low levels of HDL, the good cholesterol. Epidemiological studies of this type cannot prove cause-and-effect.
This study was posted online on May 30, 2015 and is still in production for a future issue of the Journal of Nutrition. Although subject to change before it is finalized for print, the entire study can now be read at https://tinyurl.com/otts88x without charge.
Air Purifiers Help People with Heart Conditions
Researchers have found that people with heart conditions may benefit from using indoor air purifiers. Whether the benefits may include prevention of heart attacks or other problems in this group could not be concluded from this study. However, several risk factors for heart disease were improved among young and healthy adults who were exposed to air cleaned by air purifiers. This may be especially critical in countries where air pollution is a problem. (Previous studies found that fine particles in the air are tied to an increased risk of heart-related problems, including heart attack and stroke.)
Healthy college students were randomly asked to use purifiers, some of which were real and some of which were fake, for 48 hours. Two weeks later, the students spent another two days using whichever type they had not used the first time. The setting was China, one of the most polluted cities in the world. When the students had the real air purifiers in their rooms, they had significant improvements in several measures of inflammation and blood clotting. They also had significant decreases in blood pressure and a reduction in a measure of airway inflammation known as exhaled nitrous oxide.
Home air purification systems range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The devices often require replacement filters on a regular basis. This study was published in the June 2015 issue of Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The full study can now be read at https://tinyurl.com/oq3cf2c for a fee.
Good Nutrition Critical to Mental Health
A scientific review has confirmed that a balanced diet and good nutrition are especially important for continued mental health. The human brain needs an adequate intake of key nutrients, such as omega-3s, essential amino acids, vitamin B12 and folate, vitamin D, and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and iron. The researchers suggest that a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean provides all of these, but in cases of deficiencies, nutritional supplements are advisable. The published article argues that expecting persons with mental health problems to recover with the aid of medicines alone is a limited view of reality and that the pharmacologically focused model of psychiatry has had only modest success. The future of psychiatry, suggested one of the study team members, requires a broader approach in which nutritional factors are essential in order to provide better health outcomes, functioning, and quality of life.
This study was recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry and is now available in full-text format at https://tinyurl.com/q5svv6v with free registration.
Flame Retardents Found in Cats
Over 10% of older cats develop hyperthyroidism, and a new study in Environmental Science and Technology found that these cats have high levels of flame retardants in their bloodstream. Apparently the flame retardant chemicals (commonly used in the manufacture of conventional mattresses and furniture) accumulate in household dust, fall on cat fur, and are ingested during grooming. To view an abstract of the study, visit: https://tinyurl.com/ncmyjxy
Some Heartburn Medications Linked to Heart Attack Risk
Scientists conducting a large data review have found that the most popular class of heartburn treatment drugs may boost the risk of having a heart attack. The drug class known as proton-pump inhibitors, or PPIs, is widely prescribed and effectively lowers the acidity of the stomach, in turn preventing heartburn. (Heartburn, also known as acid reflux disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, is a burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid rises up into the esophagus.)
Studies of this type cannot determine whether this association is cause-and-effect or due to other related factors. However, this massive project involved data from electronic health records of nearly three million people and analyzed trillions of pieces of medical data, suggesting that these concerns should be taken seriously, especially since more than 100 million PPI prescriptions are filled every year in the U.S. Results linked PPI use to a 16 to 21% higher risk of later heart attack in adults under age 45. PPI users also showed more than double the risk of suffering some cardiovascular event, including not just heart attack but also such events as cardiac arrest or stroke.
Interestingly, another commonly prescribed and much older heartburn drug class, called H2 blockers, showed no association with elevated heart-attack risk. (It could be that PPIs interfere with production of nitric oxide, a substance that is critical to the health of the endothelial cells that line all of the body’s blood vessels.)
This study was published in the June 10, 2015 issue of the journal PLOS ONE. The complete study report can now be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/ox4eq6k without cost.
Regular Nut Consumption Linked to Reduced Risk of Death
Scientists have found a link between regularly eating peanuts and other nuts and lower mortality rates. (They found no protective effect for peanut butter.) Men and women who eat at least 10 grams of nuts or peanuts per day have a lower risk of dying from several different major causes of death than people who do not consume nuts or peanuts. The reduction in risk of death was strongest for respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes, followed by cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The effects are equal in men and women. Peanuts show at least as strong reductions in mortality as tree nuts, but peanut butter is not associated with mortality.
This study used data from over 120,000 men and women, aged 55-69. Previous research found that nuts and peanut intake reduced cardiovascular death, but this new study also found reduced mortality due to cancer, diabetes, respiratory, and neurodegenerative diseases. (Peanuts and tree nuts both contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds. Besides peanuts, some peanut butters can contain salt and vegetable oils, including trans fatty acids.)
This study was posted online by the International Journal of Epidemiology on June 11, 2015. It will be published in a later issue of the journal but can be read online now at https://tinyurl.com/nuz9bq9 for a fee.
(Editor’s note: Before going overboard eating bags of peanuts, be aware that peanuts can contain aflatoxins which have been linked to liver cancer. So choose only the freshest nuts from reputable sources.)
Trans Fats Linked to Poor Memory in Young to Middle-Aged Men
Higher consumption of dietary trans fatty acids have now been linked to worsened memory function in men who are 45 years old and younger. (Dietary trans fatty acids are commonly used in processed foods to improve taste, texture, and durability, and to improve shelf life. Trans fatty acids have previously been linked to negative effects on lipid profiles, metabolic function, insulin resistance, inflammation, mood, and cardiac and general health. This is the first study to link these fats to memory.)
Researchers evaluated dietary data from 1,018 men and women who completed a memory test involving word recall. On average, men aged 45 and younger recalled 86 words. For each additional gram of trans fats consumed daily, recall dropped by 0.76 words. This translates to 12 fewer words recalled by young men with trans fat intake levels matching the highest observed in the study, compared to otherwise similar men consuming no trans fats. This represents a 14% poorer word recall. Men under 45 years of age are considered to be, generally, in their high-productivity years. The researchers adjusted factors to ensure there was no effect from age, exercise, education, ethnicity, or mood.
This study focused predominantly on men, but when some women were included, it did not change the finding. Notably, an association of trans fatty acids with word memory was not observed in older populations. This is likely because brain injuries and insults that accrue with age can obscure the memory effects attributable to diet alone.
This study was posted online June 17, 2015 by the journal PLOS ONE. The full study can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/pg8ubw4 free of charge.
Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.