News Briefs – June 2006

Saturated Fat: More Risks Uncovered

Recent studies serve as a reminder to eat less saturated fat. Previously, experts warned against saturated fat because of its direct relationship to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and heart disease risk. But now studies suggest that too much saturated fat may be risky even if your cholesterol isn’t high.

Research now shows saturated fat can have negative effects on insulin functions, potentially raising the risk of diabetes, cancer, ovarian disorders and other health problems.

One of the new studies that links saturated fat consumption with problems in proper functioning of insulin suggests that initially too much saturated fat might decrease pancreatic secretion of insulin. Less insulin might then cause a chain of events that leads to over-production of insulin, resistance to its functioning and ultimately to adult onset diabetes.

When high insulin levels become established, a host of other problems seem to develop. One problem is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which can cause fertility problems, irregular menstrual cycles and skin problems. An estimated 6-10% of all women have PCOS. Other problems include an increased risk of some cancers and possibly increased cognitive problems similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

North American adults consume on average about 12% of their calories from saturated fat. However, the newest guidelines recommend a maximum target of 10% of calories for most adults. This target translates to 20 grams per day for the average adult, which readers can calculate by adding grams of saturated fat listed on food labels. Individuals who are smaller, less active or trying to lose weight should have an 18 gram daily limit; those with higher calorie needs could eat 24 or 25 grams per day.

Americans Less Healthy Than Brits

A study in the May 3, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that no matter what their income or education level, white middle-aged Americans are considerably less healthy than their equivalents in England. They have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and cancer, despite the fact that US health care spending is twice that of England on a per citizen basis.

Americans had twice the rate of diabetes as the British and almost twice the rate of cancer. The health of rich Americans was similar to the health of lower-income British citizens.

This information is considered stunning by health care experts — although it coincides with the previously noted fact that US life expectancy is low among industrialized nations. The reasons for the health gap were not determined by the study.

New Natural Antibiotic Found

According to a report in the May 2006 issue of the journal Nature, researchers have found a potentially valuable new antibiotic in a scoop of soil from South Africa.

Using a novel screening technique, scientists have found a chemical compound effective against germs that have developed resistance to existing antibiotics. After testing 250,000 extracts of natural fungi and other substances, “platensimycin” was found to offer exceptional promise. It may become a key weapon in the battle against hospital-based infections, especially the deadly MRSA. When tested in mice infected with a common and troublesome strain of Staphylococcus aureus, the new antibiotic proved highly effective.

“I’m guessing that this is a very promising molecule,” said Eric D. Brown, a biochemist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, although he added that most potential compounds never reach the market.

Antioxidant Combo Suppresses Tumour Growth 73%

A new study has found that the combination of two well-known antioxidants — vitamin E and lycopene — may prove effective against prostate cancer. Previous research has shown that both lycopene and vitamin E help protect against prostate cancer.

Although researchers found that lycopene and vitamin E taken separately did not significantly reduce tumour volume, the combined treatment suppressed prostate tumour growth by 73% by day 42 in mice. The study was reported in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, an abstract of the study can be read online at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?CMD=search&DB=pubmed

Prostate cancer is the number one cancer killer of Canadian men. With a 100% five-year survival rate if found early, but only a 34% survival rate if the cancer has spread before diagnosis, a premium is placed on prevention.

Fibromyalgia: Intravenous Vitamins

Early clinical research suggests intravenous vitamins might be added to the list of effective therapies for fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition — primarily affecting women — that is characterized by severe musculoskeletal pain, general fatigue and significant sleep disturbances. It affects about one million people in Canada alone.

Although the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, the current theory suggests that there might be a “sensitization” of the central nervous system to the perception of pain. This sensitization process is activated or made worse by chronic stress, illness and other chronic pain conditions.

Early research suggested there might be a genetic shortcoming in some important vitamin B1-dependent enzymes in fibromyalgia patients. These enzymes are necessary for energy production and might malfunction even with normal levels of vitamin B1. Once the energy stores are depleted, then the fatigue, muscle pain and “fibro-fog” associated with the disease are revealed.

The vitamins most commonly used are the B vitamins and vitamin C. These vitamins are water-soluble and are not stored in any great quantity by the body.

Grape Seed Extract for Blood Pressure

You may want to consider adding grape seed extract to your diet to help lower your blood pressure. That’s the encouraging conclusion from cardiovascular researchers at University of California’s Davis School of Medicine, who have just completed the first human clinical trial on this subject.

Patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome — which is a combination of factors that add up to high risk for heart disease, including elevated blood pressure, excess abdominal body weight, high blood cholesterol fats and high blood sugar — were divided into three groups. The first group received a placebo while the second and third groups received 150 mgs and 300 mgs, respectively, of grape seed extract.

“Participants in the two groups receiving grape seed extract experienced an equal degree of reduced blood pressure. The average drop in systolic pressure was 12 mm. The average drop in diastolic pressure was 8 mm,” says the study’s lead researcher, C. Tissa Kappagoda, professor of cardiovascular medicine. The group taking the 300 mgs of grape seed extract also had reduced serum oxidized LDL cholesterol levels.

New Answer to Inflammation Risks

The April 2006 issue of Life Sciences has reported that two actions can curb excess inflammation in the body, which is a major contributing factor for many diseases including heart disease and aging: 1) reducing calorie intake by about a quarter; and, 2) adding fish oil to the diet. Fish oil and a calorie-restricted diet decreases age-related increases in cell damage by decreasing the activity of several inflammatory proteins. The impact was significantly greater when the fish oil and the calorie-reduced diet were used together.

Although regarded as a crucial protective mechanism that helps repair tissue and protect the body against infection, inflammation in the body can have disastrous health consequences that include heart disease, dementia, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. Also, because of its role in producing free radicals and disrupting cell function, inflammation is now regarded as a significant cause of aging.

Staph on Staff

According to a new study, infectious staphylococci bacteria lurk in computer keyboards, especially office keyboards that are shared.

The April 2006 issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, reports that researchers from University of North Carolina tested 25 keyboards taken from the school’s hospital burn unit. Every keyboard showed signs of staph bacteria, which causes many hospital infections and can lead to brain changes that spark mental illness. Diptheroids, which attack weakened immune systems, were also discovered. Scientists then tested cleaners, including water, alcohol, chlorine and Clorox wipes. All were 99.9% effective; the wipes lasted longest.

In February, a University of Arizona study found that phones are the workplace’s top bacteria harbours, followed by desks, keyboards, and computer “mice.” Researchers speculated that eating at one’s desk is the biggest cause.

People worry about doorknobs and toilets but they’re relatively safe. A wet sink however, can be a breeding ground and a desk shelters 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat. (You should definitely wash your hands after handling freshly folded laundry, if it was washed in cold water.)

Such knowledge may be particularly useful as experts warn that a pandemic of H5N1 avian influenza may be looming. While the virus currently infects birds almost exclusively, experts say it shows the greatest potential of any virus in decades to cause a human pandemic. If it begins to spread, basic hygiene would be essential to avoid infection.

Readers may want to wipe their work areas, eat away from their desks and wash hands periodically throughout the day.

Waterproof Boot Spray – Health Risk

United States health officials recently reported that nearly 200 people and dozens of pets have been sickened by waterproofing boot spray; most by Canadian products. One man was on a ventilator for 19 days, and three cats died. Most cases were linked to Jobsite Heavy Duty Bootmate or to Rocky Boot Weather and Stain Protector, both manufactured by Assured Packaging of Mississauga, Ontario. The US Centers for Disease Control detailed the investigation in its May 4 “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.” According to the report, even boots sprayed outdoors caused illness after being brought indoors.

Omega -3 Lowers Heart Rate

A recent study reported in the American Journal of Cardiology concludes that taking one gram per day of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil should improve cardiac health, especially in people with coronary heart disease. In test subjects the standing heartbeat rate dropped by five beats per minute after supplementation. The dramatic results suggest that omega-3s may improve the nervous system’s control of the heart.

A separate study in the April 2006 issue of Surgical Neurology concluded that supplements of omega-3 fatty acids could reduce the incidence of neck and back pain and eliminate the need for medication.

Previous studies found that omega-3 oil can improve ADHD and emotional health in children.

• Canadian study slams Vioxx: Merck, facing lawsuits over Vioxx, has contended that only long-term users were at heart risk. But a study in the May 3, 2006 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal concludes that the greatest risk of heart attack was during the first weeks of use.

• Food to fight cancer: Rutgers University announced that a new study on a mouse model shows that broccoli and cauliflower have natural ingredients including sulforaphane that may reduce the risk of developing hereditary cancers.

• Arthritis drugs linked to cancer: Rheumatoid arthritis patients taking Humira or Remicade face triple the risk of developing several kinds of cancer and double the risk of getting serious infections, a study led by the Mayo Clinic found.

• Cinnamon: A rat study from Georgetown University found cinnamon can lower blood pressure and improve insulin function. The report in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition can be read online at: www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/25/2/144.

• Hurricanes cause emotional problems: New study findings show that 1992 hurricane Andrew indirectly affected the mental well-being of survivors for up to seven years afterwards, primarily with psychological problems associated with long-term stress.

• Lung cancer supplement: Pomegranate may have chemopreventive effects against lung and prostate carcinomas, according to abstracts of two studies. The research was presented at the recent 97th Annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

• Sesame supplement: Researchers have concluded that ingesting sesame in the form of a supplemental powder benefits postmenopausal women by improving blood fats, antioxidant status and possibly sex hormone status. The report appeared in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

• Preventing cognitive decline in diabetics: Taken together, intake of vitamin E and melatonin may lessen cognitive impairment that is caused by diabetes mellitus, according to a study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology. The researchers concluded oxidative stress may contribute to learning and memory deficits in diabetes; and that the antioxidants melatonin and vitamin E can help offset this oxidation.

• TCM skyrocketing: The China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine reports traditional Chinese Medicine exports reached an all-time high at $830 million (USD) to 164 countries, a 14.6% increase over last year.

• Vegetarian diet a risk to teeth? Research in the May 2006 European Journal of Prosthodontics and Restorative Dentistry found some roasted vegetables are as acidic — damaging to teeth — as carbonated pop. Eggplant, green peppers and zucchinis are especially acidic when roasted. Ditto for veggie ratatouille when oven-roasted versus stewing. Cooking method had no effect on acidity of onions or tomatoes.

• Garlic breakthrough? Water-soluble garlic compounds — as opposed to allicin and other oil-based garlic components, which break down quickly — may stop liver cancer growth, reducing cancer cell size by a factor of three, says a new Italian study. The lab results may not translate to human benefit and further work is needed.

• Contacts — got fungus in your eyes? Contact lens wearers in 17 US states have developed the fungal eye infection Fusarium keratitis, causing them pain and blurred vision. Without treatment, blindness could result. Most victims cleaned their contacts with “ReNu with MoistureLoc” eye solution.

• Vitamin C vs. chemotherapy: A hospital study concluded that extremely large doses of vitamin C — when given intravenously (IV) — raise blood concentrations more than 25 times higher than with oral supplements, permitting a level toxic to cancer cells. A study in the March 28, 2006 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal reports that some hospitals offer IV vitamin C treatment instead of chemotherapy and patient survival has improved. The study can be read online at: www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/abstract/174/7/937.

• Omega cocktail for Alzheimer’s: MIT research on gerbils, reported in the May 9, 2006 issue of Brain Research, suggests that a cocktail treatment of omega-3 fatty acids and two other compounds normally present in the blood — uridine and choline — could delay the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease.

Newsbites [Non-news: interesting facts and myths]

Is fish always a healthy choice?

Myth? Fish is good for your heart and health. How you cook it isn’t going to change that.

Fact: Eating broiled or baked fish can help keep the heart strong. But eating fried fish might make your heart less healthy. Fried fish frequently are prepared with partially hydrogenated oils — containing trans fats — or in the case of fast foods, with oils reused in multiple frying cycles. Eating trans fats is linked to an increased heart disease risk. High-temperature frying destroys some of the omega-3 oils and causes harmful compounds to form instead. Eating fried fish is linked to less blood pumped per beat, greater systemic vascular resistance, and abnormal motion of the left ventricle wall.

Drop 12 pounds by July?

You want to look good in a swimsuit by Canada Day. An unspoken question echoes in your head: How can I lose 12 pounds in the next month? The honest answer is you can’t. And you should avoid diets that promise you that rate of weight loss. To lose that much weight in a month, you’d have to exercise two hours a day and somehow still decrease your daily food intake by 1,400 calories. If your current calorie intake is 2,000 or even 1,800, a drop of 1,400 calories would leave you with too little nourishment to live. No one could keep up this regimen for long — and if you somehow managed it, your health might not survive. Even if you could lose weight that fast, you’d be losing muscle as well as fat; you’d end up thinner and flabbier. Aim for a gradual, and healthy, weight loss of about a pound a week.

Michael Vertolli is a Registered Herbalist practising in Vaughan (just north of Toronto). He is the Director of Living Earth School of Herbalism, which offers in-class and online general interest courses, certificate, and diploma programs. For more information: 905-303-8723, ext. 1. Visit his website: www.livingearthschool.ca Blog: michaelvertolli.blogspot.com

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