News Briefs – June 2011Michael Downey June 1, 2011
TWENTY-FIVE PER CENT AT RISK OF VITAMIN D INADEQUACY, GOVERNMENT REPORTS
About 25% of the population may be at risk for vitamin D inadequacy, 8% may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency, and 1% have vitamin D levels that could pose a health risk, according to a new study released by researchers at the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Vitamin D is important to help the body absorb calcium, to enable the proper functioning of nerves and muscles, and to assist the immune system to fight disease. It is available from direct sunlight, certain foods and supplements.) The survey analyzed health data for the period 2001 to 2006 and included people aged one year and older. The results included a breakdown by gender, age, race and ethnicity. The report on this study has just been posted online and is available at https://1.usa.gov/gtqGJc without fee.
MODEST DEFICIENCIES SHOWN TO CAUSE AGE-RELATED DISEASES
An analysis of patient records has found that a slightly inadequate intake of the essential mineral selenium – even deficiencies that are so occasional and brief in duration that they pose no threat of any negative effects throughout early life – may still be an underlying cause in later life of age-related conditions such as immune dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. This is the second study, following a similar finding for vitamin K, which appears to confirm the Triage Theory. (This revolutionary theory of the evolution-based interplay between micronutrient deficiencies and age-related diseases was conceived in 2006 by prominent US scientist Bruce Ames, PhD, inventor of the Ames Mutagenicity Test, the standard test for assaying the exact cancer-causing potential of different doses of any substance. Triage Theory suggests that age-related diseases may in fact, be the consequence of brief episodes accumulated over many years, of undetected micro-deficiencies in micronutrients, deficiencies so modest that they show no other ill effects in the short term, due to the body’s tendency to favour procreation over longevity.) This study, published in the March 2011 issue of the FASEB journal, is available in full-text format at https://bit.ly/edKE7I without fee.
PATIENTS WITH ADVERSE DRUG REACTIONS INCUR GREATER HEALTHCARE COSTS
A study has found that patients who arrive at hospital emergency departments with adverse drug reactions utilize more health services and incur greater healthcare costs over a six-month, follow-up period compared to patients arriving at emergency departments for other reasons. (An adverse drug reaction is one type of adverse drug event defined as an unintended response that occurred despite use of an appropriate drug dosage.) These emergency patients did not have a significantly different risk of mortality but did have a higher risk of spending more days per month in the hospital; a greater rate of outpatient healthcare visits; and over six months, a monthly cost of care almost three times the cost of other patients. The study was conducted at Vancouver General Hospital during a six-month period and results were examined by a panel of independent pharmacists and physicians. This study was just released by the Annals of Emergency Medicine but will not be published until a future issue. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/gKcSPl with subscription or fee.
NON-ALCOHOLIC LIVER DISEASE POISED FOR EPIDEMIC STATUS
A study projects that new cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) will soon push this type of chronic liver disease (CLD), one of the major worldwide causes of morbidity and mortality, into epidemic status. (NAFLD is a spectrum of disease in people who do not drink alcohol excessively and ranges from excess fat in the liver, to fat in combination with inflammation and liver cell injury, to cirrhosis and its complications, particularly liver cancer.) During the first cycle of statistics studied (1988-1994), NAFLD accounted for 46.8% of all CLD; but by the third cycle studied (2005-2008), NAFLD accounted for 75.1% of all CLD cases. At this rate, prevalence will increase a further 50% by 2030. The researchers concluded that it is urgent to alert the public to the importance of exercise, proper diet and avoiding obesity, all of which lower NAFLD risk. The study may also suggest a need to prevent the underlying causes of NAFLD, which in addition to obesity, include: metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance associated with diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This not-yet-published study was presented in Berlin, April 2, 2011, at the International Liver Congress.
PERIODIC FASTING REDUCES CARDIOVASCULAR RISK
A 24-hour fast lowers blood levels of triglycerides and sugar, reducing the risk of both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (Previous research linked people who fast with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease; but this link could have resulted from other lifestyle factors among people inclined to fast. The new study, however, measured various factors during a 24-hour fast, and then measured those factors in the same group during an additional 24 hours on their regular diet – assuring no other lifestyle factors were involved.) Fasting also raised blood levels of human growth hormone (HGH) by 1300% in women and 2000% in men; this metabolic protein protects lean muscle and metabolic balance. Also, 24-hour fasting did raise total blood cholesterol by increasing LDL or bad cholesterol by 14%, and HDL or good cholesterol by 6%; this indicates that, instead of utilizing blood sugar for fuel, the fasting body releases stored cholesterol to burn fat for fuel. This reduces fat cells, further reducing diabetes risk. This study was presented April 4, 2011 in New Orleans at the annual sessions of the American College of Cardiology.
STUDY REVEALS HOW MEDITATION RELIEVES PAIN
Although research has suggested that meditation reduces the experience of physical pain, this has not been confirmed by identifying the mechanism, especially among individuals taught to meditate for this purpose. However, a new study has confirmed this process by measuring pain without and with meditation, exclusively among people who learned meditation during four 20-minute classes. Activity in the brain was measured by use of imaging known as arterial spin labelling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI), which captures longer duration brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI. When heat, high enough to be experienced generally as painful, was applied, meditating subjects reported a reduction in pain by 11 to 93 per cent. Confirming this, meditation blocked the otherwise high activity in the primary somatosensory cortex – an area that is crucially involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is – and increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex areas, which are used to build the experience of pain. This study was released April 6, 2011 by the Journal of Neuroscience and is now available online at https://bit.ly/i3h0Bg with subscription or fee.
Cognitive and memory problems are linked to unhealthy habits. A study in the September, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology found that memory loss was 200% more prevalent, and cognitive deficit 300% more prevalent, among the third of people having the greatest number of unhealthy habits and for the longest period. Unhealthy habits included not getting enough physical activity, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, smoking, and abstaining completely from alcohol (versus moderate drinking).
CITRUS PEEL FLAVONOID FIGHTS DIABETES, HEART DISEASE AND OBESITY
Researchers have discovered that the flavonoid nobiletin, found in peels of citrus fruits such as tangerine, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of most heart attacks and strokes. Two years ago, the same scientists discovered that the grapefruit flavonoid naringenin fights obesity and metabolic syndrome but the new study found that nobiletin is about ten times more potent than naringenin in its particular protective effects. Rats were fed a diet similar to the typical Western diet but some were also given nobiletin. In contrast to the control group, the nobiletin group experienced higher expression of genes that prevent the manufacture of fat and its accumulation in the liver; experienced no increase in cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, glucose, or weight gain; became much more sensitive to the effects of insulin; and in the long term, were protected against a buildup of arterial plaque, known as atherosclerosis. (Nobiletin was previously linked to anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.) This study was released April 6, 2011 and will be published in a future issue of the journal Diabetes.
(Ed. note: Because conventional citrus crops are often sprayed with pesticides, choose only organic citrus if you plan to munch on the peels.)
WHOLE GRAINS PREVENT HEART DISEASE, DIABETES AND CANCER
Consistent scientific evidence shows the phytonutrients, macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients found in whole grain foods contribute synergistically to a substantial reduction in the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and promote weight management, gastrointestinal health, and lower body mass index (BMI), according to the report produced by a symposium of scientists brought together by the American Society for Nutrition and now accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The group used the standard whole grains definition of “intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grain whose principal components, the starchy endosperm, germ and bran, are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain.” The report detailed how whole grains are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre, lignans, b-glucan, inulin, numerous phytochemicals, phytosterols, phytin and sphingolipids, and called for further research into the preventive effects of whole grains on specific diseases. Only 5% of Americans attain the recommended three one-ounce servings a day. This study, titled “Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together,” was released April 6, 2011 and will appear in a future print issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The free-access report is available online now at https://bit.ly/ekUlXG without charge.
REGULAR APPLE CONSUMPTION LOWERS CHOLESTEROL
Researchers have determined that eating 75 grams of dried apples a day for six months results in a 23% reduction in LDL, or bad, cholesterol, which may result in long-term protection against cardiovascular disease; and a modest 4% bump in HDL, or good, cholesterol. (Earlier research suggested that the pectin and polyphenols in apples improve certain elements of lipid metabolism, the process of creating and breaking down lipids, a chemical group that includes triglycerides.) The study also found that, despite the extra 240 daily calories, those given dried apple showed no weight gain and in fact, experienced an average weight loss of 3.3 pounds in six months. The reason for weight loss may have been pectin, which produces a satiety, or full-feeling, effect. Also, apples reduced lipid hydroperoxides, high levels of which are linked to cardiovascular problems; and lowered C-reactive protein levels, which are indicators of inflammation. The study was presented April 12, 2011 at the Experimental Biology meeting in Washington, DC. Details are not yet available but will be published in a future issue of the FASEB journal.
PEPPERMINT PROVEN TO ALLEVIATE IBS PAIN
Researchers have finally provided conclusive clinical proof that peppermint relieves the pain of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and have explained the exact underlying mechanism by which it works, confirming its long-standing use by natural health practitioners. (IBS is a gastrointestinal inflammatory disorder involving bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea, and depending on the patient, it can be triggered by fatty or spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, food poisoning, or stress. IBS is sometimes debilitating, is twice as common in women as men, and has no known cure. The true peppermint plant is a not a species and does not produce seeds; it is a hybrid of the spearmint and watermint plants, and has a long history of medicinal use.) The researchers showed that peppermint activates TRPM8, a specific anti-pain channel in the colon, and reduces the sensitivity of pain sensing fibres in that area. It particularly reduces the sensitivity of pain fibres activated by chilli peppers and mustard. This just-released study will not be published until a future issue of the journal Pain. Its full-text version can currently be read at https://bit.ly/gTnP4S without fee.
VITAMIN C LOWERS RISK OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE IN WOMEN
Researchers have found that, compared to those in the lowest fifth of vitamin C intake, women who rank in the highest fifth show a 30% reduced risk of stroke, a 37% lower risk of coronary heart disease, and a 21% lower risk for total cardiovascular disease, but they found only a weak and statistically insignificant risk reduction for men. Also, they found no reduced mortality risk from higher intakes of vitamin A or E for either men or women. (Vitamins A, C, and E are called antioxidant vitamins because they collect and neutralize electrons transferred by other molecules to an oxidizing agent, and can terminate the potentially damaging chain reaction.) Few studies have examined the link between antioxidant vitamins and cardiovascular risk, but this research included a median 16.5-year follow-up on 23,119 men and 35,611 women, aged 40 to 79, who had no history of cardiovascular disease or cancer at the outset of the survey. This study was released April 22, 2011 but will not appear in print until a future issue of the journal Stroke. It is available online at https://bit.ly/e5rsA4 with subscription or fee.
WEIGHT LOSS MYTH
Despite the promises of some diet plans, it is impossible for the average person to lose 12 pounds a month. To do so, you would have to exercise two hours every day and still decrease your daily food intake by 1,400 calories. If your present daily intake is 2,000 calories, a drop of 1,400 would leave you too little nourishment to survive.
FREQUENT SHOPPERS MAY LIVE LONGER
A study has found that frequent shopping trips by elderly people may be linked to longer life. A survey of 1,850 men and women aged 65 years and over found shopping frequencies of: every day (17%); between two and four times a week (22%); and from infrequently to never (48%). Accounting for potentially confounding factors – such as ethnicity, age, financial status and lifestyle – researchers found that those who frequently shopped enjoyed longer lives. Men and women who shopped daily were 28%, and 23%, respectively, less likely to die. It was not clear whether shopping was the direct cause of the lowered risk of death, or whether shopping itself is an indicator of pre-existing good health. The research team suggested that it is possible that shopping prolongs life by ensuring an adequate supply of food, by providing exercise that does not require the motivation of attending a gym, and by promoting social contact. This just-released study will appear in a future print issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, but it is available online now at https://bit.ly/h9LhOn with subscription or fee.
BROCCOLI COMPOUND CONSIDERED FOR COPD THERAPY
Scientists seeking a new therapeutic strategy for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have shown that lung inflammation can be decreased, and lung immune function increased, after treatment with sulforaphane, a compound for which a precursor is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. (The lung disease COPD, which encompasses conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and Canada. Its symptoms are exacerbated by frequent bacterial lung infections.) Researchers found that, when targeted at specific pathways, sulforaphane could improve the activity of certain receptors and in turn, boost the performance of macrophages, which are a type of white blood cell capable of binding with, and destroying, bacteria. The study findings suggest that this antibacterial action is compromised in COPD sufferers and that sulforaphane could get the bacteria-absorbing process to work more fully again. Determining whether a sulforaphane-rich diet could be an effective COPD treatment will require further research. Published April 13, 2011 in the journal Science Translational Medicine, this study is available online at https://bit.ly/eSh0TM with subscription or fee.
PEANUT ALLERGIES IN CHILDREN
Despite some government recommendations to the contrary, keeping peanuts away from infants to reduce their risk of developing a food allergy actually has the opposite effect. A study in the November, 2008 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that children under age two who were kept away from peanuts were 10 times as likely to develop a peanut allergy later on, compared to children who were exposed to peanuts in infancy.
ADEQUATE VITAMIN D LEVELS PROTECT AGAINST TYPE 2 DIABETES
A study has concluded that prevention of vitamin D deficiency may protect against type 2 diabetes, at least for elderly people, but that further research will be required to assess whether supplementation might help prevent this disorder. Vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for developing diabetes type 2, suggesting that elderly people in northern latitudes may be at risk. Researchers followed 668 people who were 70 to 74 years of age to determine their blood levels of vitamin D and glycated hemoglobin and whether they had or developed diabetes type 2. They allowed for potentially confounding factors, including gender, body mass index (BMI), blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, PCB levels, smoking status, and month of sampling. The team still found that those with lower blood levels of vitamin D (below 50 nmol/L) had double the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes 2; they also had increased glycated hemoglobin concentrations, which indicate poorer control of blood glucose levels and greater cardiovascular risk. Released April 22, 2011, this study will appear in a future print issue of Diabetes Care and is available online now at https://bit.ly/fY36Ld with subscription or fee.
RETAIL MEAT WIDELY CONTAMINATED
Researchers conclude that drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a bacterium linked to many human diseases including pneumonia and sepsis, should be added to the list of drug-resistant bacteria known to be prevalent in meat and poultry products, a list which currently includes antibiotic-resistant E. coli and Enterococcus. While it is expected that bacteria found in meat would be resistant to antibiotics used in food animal farming, there was a high contamination of S. aureus that was resistant to drugs that have never been approved for farming, including vancomycin and daptomycin, leading to the disconcerting conclusion that some contamination of meat may be coming from sources other than domestic farm animals themselves. Meat samples included ground beef, chicken breasts and thighs, ground pork chops, and ground turkey cutlets, which were collected from 26 grocery stores in Chicago, Washington DC, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Flagstaff. Ninety-six per cent of the S. aureus collected were resistant to at least one antibiotic, with many resistant to several, especially the turkey and pork samples. Released April 15, 2011, this study will appear in a future print issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases and is available online at https://bit.ly/g6sNtJ without fee.
IMMUNE SYSTEM RESPONSE MAY CAUSE DIABETES 2
A study shows diabetes type 2, long believed to be a metabolic disorder caused by lifestyle factors, may in fact be caused by the immune system reacting to the inflammation that results from an excess of fat accumulated around the abdomen. Researchers placed mice on a high-fat diet and gave some a drug that kills certain immune cells called B cells. All mice developed insulin resistance except the group that was given the drug. The researchers suggest that when too much fat accumulates in the body, especially around the mid-section, fat cells eventually begin to run out of room, causing them to become inflamed, and in the case of some, to die. The immune system reacts by sending in B cells, which attack the fat cells, causing them to become insulin resistant – a condition that is the very definition of diabetes 2. The study also found that only half of 32 obese people tested showed insulin resistance, implying heredity plays a role in immune response to fat. Released April 17, 2011, this study will appear in a future issue of Nature Medicine and is available online now at https://bit.ly/eW512V with subscription or fee.
LOW-CARB DIET REVERSES DIABETES-CAUSED KIDNEY DISEASE
Although intensive diabetic therapy along with a protein-restricted diet have been shown to delay the development of diabetes-related nephropathy (kidney disease), a new study has found that the ketogenic diet can actually reverse this serious complication in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients. (The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, moderate protein, and high-fat diet, used to treat epilepsy. It causes body cells to get their fuel not from glucose but from ketones, molecules produced when the blood is high in fat and low in glucose; glucose metabolism is switched off.) The researchers theorized that since high glucose metabolism causes nephropathy in diabetics, the ketogenic diet may block the toxic effects of glucose for diabetics. The ketogenic diet is an extreme one that definitely should not be pursued long-term nor without the supervision of a health practitioner. However, the study found that only one month on this diet appears sufficient to reset the gene expression and process that normally leads to diabetic kidney failure. This study was released April 20, 2011 and will be published in a future issue of the PLoS One. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/gUdoXp without fee.
DATES BENEFICIAL TO HEALTH
Dates can protect against the risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, according to a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. They appear to work by improving cholesterol profiles and suppressing cholesterol oxygenation. Halawi dates were slightly more protective than the medjool, although both were shown to be beneficial.
RISING FOOD PRICES MAY BE THREAT TO CHILDREN:
A study warns that currently rising food prices, on top of the financial crisis, may result in lower caloric and nutritional values, which in the long term may cause stunted growth and cognitive deficits among children under two years of age. Using survey data, the researchers found that during a food crisis, households often reduce their caloric intake by an average of eight per cent and move toward food choices of lower nutritional quality, and away from meat, fish and dairy. This trend held for both urban and rural areas. A reduction in calories in itself could be beneficial in a climate of epidemic obesity, but the team suggested that any reduction in calories and nutritional values can be detrimental to the physical and cognitive health of children not yet two years old. Long term, this could negatively affect their educational progress and even future work productivity. This study was released April 25, 2011. It will be published in a future issue of the journal Food and Nutrition Bulletin but is not yet available online.
OLIVE OIL AND FAT
Despite public perception that light or extra light olive oil has less fat or fewer calories, a tablespoon of extra light still contains the same 14 grams of fat and the same 120 calories as regular olive oil. These terms refer simply to the paler colour and milder flavour. Extra light will also withstand more heat before smoking, which is why it is preferred for baking.
LOW HEALTH LITERACY INCREASES RISK OF MORTALITY
Researchers have found that heart failure (HF) outpatients with the lowest health literacy have the highest risk of mortality, regardless of specific cause of death. (Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood for bodily needs.) Treatment for HF outpatients is primarily self-care, and compliance with guidelines. But data show a significant number of people have low health literacy, defined as being unable to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make health decisions. Of 2,156 HF patients assessed, 262 or 17.5 per cent had low health literacy scores. After researchers allowed for a number of characteristics shared by low scorers, such as greater age and lower socioeconomic status, they still found an independent link between poor health awareness and higher mortality from any cause. Three brief questions were sufficient to identify HF patients with low health literacy, suggesting that screening by practitioners, and health education, may reduce mortality among this group. This study was published in the April 27, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and is online at https://bit.ly/fL0BDo with subscription or fee.
VITAMIN D LINKED TO RACIAL DIFFERENCES IN BLOOD PRESSURE
A study has found that low vitamin D levels may strongly contribute to the racial disparity in the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) among blacks and has added weight to previous evidence that low D levels promote hypertension generally. The researchers compared systolic pressure readings (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) with blood levels of vitamin D among nearly 2,000 blacks and about 5,100 non-Hispanic whites, ages 20 and over. Among these subjects, 61 per cent of blacks fell into the lowest one-fifth of vitamin D levels, compared to 11 per cent of whites, which is consistent with evidence that darker skin limits vitamin D production from sunlight. The study author said that lower vitamin D levels explained only one quarter of the racial disparity in hypertension and that further study is needed to tease out other pieces of the puzzle, which may include factors such as psychological stress. (Prior research found that greater lactose intolerance reduces vitamin D-fortified milk consumption among blacks.) This just-released study will appear in a future issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/lnowzx with subscription or fee.
GRIEF AFFECTS IMMUNE SYSTEM
Despite the expression that an individual probably died of a broken heart, research shows that older, bereaved people often actually die because their immune systems have been fatally weakened by grief. Reported in a 2011 issue of the journal Brain Behaviour and Immunity, scientists found that the emotional stress of bereavement reduces the efficiency of white blood cells known as neutrophils, which normally fight infections such as pneumonia, a major cause of death in older adults.
MELATONIN LINKED TO WEIGHT CONTROL WITHOUT CALORIE REDUCTION
Researchers have uncovered evidence that melatonin, naturally produced by the body as a hormone with antioxidant properties and also found in some foods and supplements, may help control weight gain – even without reducing food intake – and may improve the profile of blood fats, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, and reducing triglycerides. These effects, if confirmed, would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other obesity-related disorders. The researchers suggest that, if this rodent study link can be duplicated in humans, melatonin may help fight obesity and its associated risks, whether taken as a supplement or in the form of melatonin-containing food. (However, although melatonin is found in some supplements taken for sleep disorders and in some foods, especially cherries, no food has been shown to raise blood levels of melatonin in humans.) The Journal of Pineal Research published only part of this research in its March 2011 issue, and online access to even this part requires either subscription or fee. However, the full study was posted online without charge at https://bit.ly/jpSooK April 27, 2011 by the University of Granada, where the international research team conducted the research.
GREATER HEIGHT RAISES RISK OF DANGEROUS BLOOD CLOTS
A study has concluded that in addition to the greater risk of serious clots from obesity, being taller may be a significant factor, especially for men, in the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), a collective term for clots in deep veins, usually in the legs, and pulmonary embolisms, which are clots in blood vessels of the lungs. Compared to men 5 feet 7.7 inches or shorter, the risk of VTE was 2.57 times greater among normal weight men who were 5 feet 11.7 inches or taller; 2.11 times greater among men who were short and obese; and 5.28 times greater among men who were both tall and obese. Compared to women 5 feet 2.6 inches or shorter, the risk of VTE was no greater among women of normal weight who were 5 feet 6 inches or taller; 1.83 times greater among women who were short and obese; and 2.77 times greater among women who were both tall and obese. Released April 28, 2011, this study will appear in a future issue of the journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. It is available online now at https://bit.ly/isb4IC with subscription or fee.
Women who take prenatal vitamin supplements early in pregnancy have a 57 per cent lower risk of miscarriage, according to a study that appeared in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. However, researchers cautioned that these results could have been due to other healthy behaviours commonly found in mothers who choose to take prenatal vitamins.
Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.