News Briefs – June 2008

ANTIOXIDANT VALUES POSTED

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has posted online its 2007 report on the antioxidant ratings for various fruit juices and foods. The research places blueberry juice at the top of the list of juices, above more than a dozen other juices tested such as the juice of pomegranate, apple, prune, cranberry and Concord grape. Generally, however, many foods scored higher on the antioxidant scale than juices, which may surprise some people.

(Free radicals are unattached, molecular bits that – when present in excess – are implicated in the type of cellular damage seen in aging. They are natural byproducts of metabolism. Antioxidants, found in foods, attach themselves to some of these free radicals and render them harmless. Contrary to common belief, we do need some free radicals for normal body functioning.)

Using the Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) testing procedure – the gold standard for detecting the free-radical scavenging ability of foods – the USDA found blueberry juice to have the highest ORAC score (rated as “2,906 micromoles TE/100grams”) among juices.

Foods with the highest antioxidant values included: cocoa, chocolate, sorghum bran, ground cinnamon, sage, basil, marjoram and clove. By comparison to bran, spices and others, common fruits and vegetables scored relatively low in their ability to combat free radical activity.

The online report is significant because it gives the public a way to focus on foods and juices highest in antioxidants. Readers may find some surprises if they review the list. (The higher the number for “Total-ORAC” in the “Mean” column, the greater the food’s antioxidant capacity.) The ORAC database was prepared by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and is now available on the Internet at: www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/ORAC/ORAC07.pdf.
 

GREEN TEA REDUCES SLEEP APNEA DAMAGE

Compounds found in green tea may help ward off the neurological damage that can come with the common sleep-breathing disorder called sleep apnea, a new animal study suggests.

(Obstructive sleep apnea, OSA, is a common disorder in which soft tissues in the throat temporarily collapse and block the airway during sleep, causing sufferers repeatedly to stop breathing throughout the night. The immediate symptoms include chronic loud snoring and gasping, as well as daytime sleepiness. Left untreated, OSA eventually can have widespread effects on the body; it’s linked to high blood pressure, morning headaches, memory loss, daytime sleepiness and latent pulmonary hypertension, LPH, which results in serious breathing difficulties. Research suggests that these intermittent nighttime dips in oxygen to the brain may cause oxidative free radicals, which in part lead to memory and learning difficulties, as well as other cognitive problems.)

A team at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky found that green tea compounds called catechin polyphenols helped shield the brains of rats from the damage caused by this oxygen deprivation. (Catechin polyphenols act as antioxidants, which help neutralize cell-damaging oxygen free radicals.) Also, the animals given drinking water laced with green tea polyphenols performed better on a standard test of learning and memory – a water “maze” designed to encourage the rats to remember the location of an escape platform.

However, the team leader stated that, “Definitive proof that green tea would help will have to await a trial in human patients.” This study is important because it shows that green tea compounds eventually may prove beneficial, when taken alongside traditional OSA therapy.

The study appears in the May 15, 2008 issue of the Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

 

LEAF EXTRACT PREVENTS LIVER DAMAGE

The berries of sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) are well-known for their cholesterol-busting properties but scientists in India say that the leaves of the plant, rich in antioxidants, may help ward off liver disease. In a controlled experiment, rats were given an extract of the leaves of sea buckthorn before being administered a liver-damaging agent (carbon tetrachloride) while others were given a saline solution instead. The results showed that the leaf extract appeared to confer a “significant” protective mechanism on the liver – the normally serious damage to the liver from the chemical was severely restricted.

Indigenous to the mountainous regions of China and Russia, sea buckthorn has been shown to be rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, flavonoids and essential fatty acids. The leaves are also used to make tea. Sea buckthorn has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain the liver protection found in the new study. Although the study is preliminary and needs to be confirmed by further research, it suggests that sea buckthorn leaf extract may afford protection for the liver against a variety of damaging agents such as alcohol, too much fast food, and cadmium and other metals. Not yet published, the new study by India’s Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences is due to appear in the Society of Chemical Industry’s (SCI) Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

In another recent study on the plant, scientists from Finland reported that regular consumption of the berries of sea buckthorn (not the leaf) reduced levels of a protein that is associated with inflammation, diabetes and heart disease.

(Ed note: For an excellent Canadian manufacturer of seabuckthorn products, go to www.seabuckthorn.com, 1-877-767-6101.)

 

DRUG-FREE, SURGERY-FREE CANCER CURE?

The Kanzius machine was invented over five years ago by John Kanzius, a terminal leukemia cancer patient with no science or medical training, to cure cancer without drugs or surgery. Sounds impossible? Well, today, the Kanzius machine is being developed at two major cancer research centres – the University of Pittsburgh and M.D. Anderson – where scientists have already completely cured test animals of cancer. No drugs. No surgery. No side effects. And all lurking cancer cells destroyed right in their remote hiding places. The machine sends radio waves from one box to another, thus creating an intensely focused radio wave beam. Tumours are then injected with microscopic nanoparticles – far smaller than human cells – made of metal. Since metal heats up when it’s exposed to high-powered radio waves, the focused radio waves then cook (only) the metal-containing cancer cells to death, without in any way harming the surrounding (non-metal-containing, non-cancerous) cells. Radio waves are harmless to healthy cells, meaning there are no negative side effects.

So far, cancers have been eliminated from rats and rabbits but human trials are a long way off – likely too far off to save the machine’s inventor, although he says he still hopes to live long enough to see just one person cured with his invention. Eventually, scientists hope to inject microscopic molecules designed to target – to latch onto – only individual cancer cells. These tiny cancer-seeking molecules can be used to carry the metallic nanoparticles through the bloodstream and right inside any cancer cells hiding anywhere within the body, preparing them for the blast of focused radio waves that will kill them.

Aside from being drug-free and noninvasive, the Kanzius machine would be the first treatment to target any individual cancer cells that have metastasized, or spread, to other parts of the body. Those undetectable rogue cells are what most often kill people with cancer and the trick is finding them.

With all the funds poured into cancer research over the decades, there may be some irony in the possibility of a cure being invented by a patient with no college degree, working from his home and eventually using just $200,000 of his own money. Sure, it may sound like science fiction. But M.D. Anderson liver cancer surgeon Steven Curley echoes the sentiments of a number of scientists when he says, “I’ve got to tell you – in 20 years of research, this is the most exciting thing that I’ve encountered.” And if, by chance, it eventually becomes the standard treatment for human cancers, remember you read it here first.

Readers can read more about this potential cancer cure at (and can even send donations for research through) the following Internet web link: www.kanziuscancerresearch.com

NEWSNOTES

  • Low vitamin D – link to depression? A study in the May 2008 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found a lower level of vitamin D values in those suffering from minor depression or major depressive disorder. The finding is important because it suggests an alternative route for preventing depression. The level of depression was self-reported, however, and the vitamin D levels were only 14% lower than the non-depressed population; further study is needed to confirm the link. (Coincidentally, a Toronto study by Mt. Sinai Hospital, which was released in May by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, found that breast cancer patients who also had low levels of vitamin D were more likely to die of the disease, or have it spread, than patients getting enough of the nutrient.)
  • Hair dyes linked to bladder cancer: A panel of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, reviewed the evidence in previous studies and found a “small but consistent” risk of bladder cancer in male hairdressers and barbers who dyed their customers’ hair. A second review of the evidence on hair dye applied by individuals themselves found a possible association with bladder cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. The panel described the evidence of carcinogenicity as “limited”. But the study is important because it establishes the need for further research on hair dye carcinogenicity.
  • Natural schizophrenia treatment? According to a study published in the May 2008 journal Biological Psychiatry –  involving a four-week trial with 84 people with chronic schizophrenia – those who received two grams a day of N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) had a significant reduction in symptoms. Lower levels of motivation, drive and initiative, as well as social withdrawal, are the common symptoms that were reduced by NAC; volunteers who received a non-active placebo showed no improvement. This is significant because it may offer an alternative, drug-free therapy for some people prone to depression.
  • Paint chemicals affect fertility: Men regularly exposed to paint chemicals known as glycol solvents may be two-and-a-half times more likely to develop fertility problems, research suggests. The UK study looked at more than 2,000 men attending 14 fertility clinics. However, the study, reported in the May 2008 issue of the journal Occupational and Environment Medicine, found a wide range of other industrial chemicals had no impact on fertility. The significance of this study is two-fold: regular paint exposure may reduce male fertility; and the fertility risk from most other (non-paint) workplace chemical exposure is low.
  • Cocoa ‘normalizes’ diabetic arteries: In a German study featured in the June 3, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, doctors prescribed three mugs of specially formulated cocoa a day for a month and found “severely impaired” arteries of diabetics regained normal function. Diabetics are at higher risk for heart disease because high blood sugar causes arteries to lose elasticity. But the flavonols in cocoa returned full elasticity—within two hours. (Flavonols have been commonly hailed for their antioxidant activity but it is now known that the health benefits they provide against cancer and heart disease are the result of other mechanisms in which they directly modify the body’s responses.) The cocoa used contained higher-than-normal flavonol levels. The study stressed that chocolate would not work—only cocoa.
  • Fat cell numbers set for life: A study in the May 2008 issue of the journal, Nature, has concluded that the total number of fat cells in your body is established during adolescence and doesn’t change later no matter how obese you become or how much you diet. When we gain weight, we do not acquire more fact cells, says the Swedish research team; our fat cells simply get bigger. Similarly, weight loss results in smaller – but the same number – of fats cells in the body. Further study is needed to confirm this conclusion.
  • BPA safety fears rise: Pressure is mounting on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review the safety of food products that contain bisphenol-A, or BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical used in the linings of some canned food containers and infant formula cans, and in polycarbonate water bottles and baby bottles. News Briefs reported earlier that reusable water bottle maker Nalgene – whose reusable polycarbonate bottles contain BPA – announced it will phase out those products over the next several months. Also, dangerous levels of BPA are present in many infant formulas, according to a January report from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group; the chemical leaches into formula because it is used to line product cans, the report said.
  • Grapefruit inhibits hep C: The grapefruit flavonoid naringenin inhibits the secretion in infected cells, of the hepatitis C virus (HCV), according to a Harvard Medical School study in the May 2008 issue of Hepatology. The importance of this finding is that it could offer a new, drug-free approach for treating the disease. Researchers found that the grapefruit flavonoid naringenin reduced HCV secretion in infected cells by 80 per cent. (However, the intestinal wall doesn’t absorb naringenin well, which means therapeutic doses of the flavonoid may have to be given by injection or combined with other compounds to boost its absorption by the intestines.)
  • Car exhaust may cause blood clots: Breathing in air pollution from traffic fumes can raise the risk of potentially deadly blood clots, says a study in the May 2008 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Exposure to small particulates – tiny chemicals caused by burning fossil fuels – are already known to increase the risk of heart disease or stroke. But the Harvard School of Public Health found it also affected development of deep vein thrombosis – sometimes fatal blood clots in the legs – in a study of 2,000 people. Researchers said the pollution made the blood stickier and more likely to clot.
  • Grape juice prevents artery plaque: Juices made from apples or purple grapes, and the fruits themselves, reduce the risk of developing clogged arteries, a new study suggests. Researchers fed hamsters the fruit and juice or water, plus a fatty diet. But the animals that were fed purple grape juice – compared to grapes, apples or apple juice – had the lowest risk of developing artery problems, according to the May 2008 edition of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. The grape juice fed to the hamsters translates to the equivalent of four glasses a day. Earlier studies already had shown a coronary benefit from fruits and juices; but this study is important because it provides confirmation and more important, suggests that the phenol content of a food—phenols are particularly high in grape juice – has a direct effect on the food’s antioxidant activity.
  • Curcumin for diabetics? In a recent study at Sunchon National University in South Korea, researchers found that the spice curcumin lowered blood sugar, and elevated plasma insulin levels, in type 2 diabetic mice. Curcumin also significantly lowered cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations. However, curcumin showed no effect on any of these levels in non-diabetic mice. The study appeared in the May 2008 issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. It is important because it suggests the need for further research into the benefits of curcumin for diabetics; but it also shows no benefits for non-diabetics.

 

HEALTHNOTES

An apple a day? Try a pear

An apple a day may help lower cholesterol – but a recent study shows that an Asian pear a day is better. One large Asian pear has nearly 10 g of cholesterol-lowering fibre, which is about 40 per cent of your daily need. A large apple has about half that much. People who ate the most fibre had the lowest total and “bad” cholesterol levels, according to a Baltimore study. Also, you will curb your risk of weight gain. The same researchers found that people who ate the most fibre weighed the least and had the lowest body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.

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

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