Health News Briefs – June 2012Michael Downey June 1, 2012
CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES IMPROVE BREAST CANCER SURVIVAL
Researchers have found that greater consumption of cruciferous vegetables during the 36 months following a breast cancer diagnosis is associated with a lower risk of mortality from breast cancer, lower risk of mortality from all causes, and lower risk of breast cancer recurrence. (The cruciferous vegetable family includes cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and others.) The study included 4,886 women diagnosed with breast cancer ranging from stage 1 to stage 4. The improved survival rates with greater cruciferous intake were dose-dependent, meaning scientists found no cut-off point for benefit: every increase in intake was linked to reduced mortality.
It is important to note the difference in cruciferous choices between Western countries and the location of the research, which was China. The most commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables in China include mustard and turnip greens, Chinese cabbage (bok choy), and cauliflower; in Western countries, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are the more commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables. The level of beneficial bioactive compounds such as isothiocyanates and indoles do vary by type of cruciferous item. This study was presented April 3, 2012 in Chicago at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.
ROSEMARY MAY BOOST COGNITIVE POWER
For the first time, researchers have found that higher blood levels of a compound in rosemary are related to improved cognitive performance on mental tests. Chemicals known as turpenes can easily enter the bloodstream through nasal or lung tissues (mucosa). One of these chemicals, found in Rosmarinus officinalis or rosemary, is called 1,8-cineole (1,3,3-trimethyl-2-oxabicyclo[2,2,2]octane).
Scientists exposed subjects to the aroma of 1,8-cineole and then studied the results of mental tests of cognitive speed and accuracy for varying blood levels of this compound in rosemary following inhalation. They found that higher scores correlated with higher levels of this compound in the blood. These higher scores included both speed and accuracy, showing that the correlation did not involve a trade off between speed and accuracy. However, higher blood levels of 1,8-cineole also showed a slight reduction in measures of emotional contentment; this suggests that the compound works along two different neurochemical pathways.
Researchers warn the effect could result from another rosemary compound for which 1,8-cineole may just be a blood biomarker. This just-released study will be published in a future issue of the journal, Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharma-cology. It is available online at https://bit.ly/xfHXjz
DID YOU KNOW…?
The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) improves learning and memory in healthy, older adults with age-related cognitive decline (ARCD). The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia concluded that the key benefit may be seen when DHA is taken over time and before Alzheimer’s has developed.
SMOKING CAUSES FASTER COGNITIVE DECLINE
Scientists have determined that smoking not only raises the risk of mental decline with aging, but causes a more rapid decline, at least among men; and the risk of faster cognitive deterioration continued for ten years after smoking was discontinued. (Dementia cases are currently doubling every twenty years; smoking has increasingly been recognized as a strong risk factor for dementia or more impaired memory.) This long-term research focused on over 5,000 men and over 2,000 women who were transitioning from midlife to old age, and matched current and past smoking status with cognitive function and its rate of deterioration. The higher rate of cognitive decline among both smokers and those who had quit a decade earlier was not seen in those who had quit for longer periods of time. Also, the faster deterioration among smokers was not seen in women, which the study team suggested may be due to the fact that women smokers generally smoke fewer cigarettes, which may make the link more difficult to measure. This recently released will appear in a future issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry but is now online at https://bit.ly/x4Ri5R with subscription or fee.
ANTIDEPRESSANTS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD, REPORTS STUDY REVIEW
Scientists reviewing past studies have suggested that antidepressants known as SSRIs may cause more harm to different body areas than the potential benefit of improved emotion and mood. (Most antidepressants prescribed are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which cause the brain to retain more of the neurotransmitter serotonin, increasing levels and diminishing an abnormally negative-skewed outlook.) The research confirmed that the greatest proportion of the serotonin in the body is not used only in the brain to regulate mood; more is used to regulate many different processes such as digestion, forming blood clots at wound sites, reproduction, and early development. These other, non-brain functions are affected by changes in local levels of serotonin caused by SSRIs. The team found that drug-altered serotonin levels throughout the body increase the risk of problems with sexual stimulation and function, and sperm development; digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, and bloating; abnormal bleeding and stroke in the elderly; and, when antidepressants are used in infants, developmental problems. Released April 24, 2012, this study will not appear until a future issue of Psychology and Psychiatry, but is accessible online now at https://bit.ly/I88RKb without fee.
EXCESS BODY WEIGHT LINKED TO PROSTATE CANCER RECURRENCE
Scientists have uncovered a link between a higher level of excess body weight, as measured by the body mass index (BMI), and an increased risk of prostate cancer recurrence. The risk for prostate cancer recurrence was judged based on blood prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, physical exams and prostate cancer biopsy results. The higher prostate cancer risk was not limited to obese men, but was found in increasing BMI levels in overweight men as well. Men whose BMI placed them in the upper 25% of the population were nearly 8 times more likely to have prostate cancers that had a moderate-to-high risk for recurrence after treatment, compared with men whose BMI was in the lower 25% of the population. The recurrence rate increased directly as the BMI increased. The researchers stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life.
This study was presented April 4, 2012 at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago. It has not yet been published in a journal or posted online.
BERRIES REDUCE PARKINSON’S RISK IN MEN
Scientists have found that men who regularly consume flavonoid-rich foods may significantly reduce their risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.
(Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds, in-cluding anthocyanins, present in many plant foods and drinks, including berries, apples, certain vegetables, tea and red wine. Parkinson’s is a neurological disease caused by the death of certain brain cells, resulting in insufficient dopa-mine, which affects ability to control movement.)
In this research, the main protective effect appeared to come from a subclass of flavonoids known as anthocyanins, which are present in berries such as acai berries, black currants and blackberries, maca roots, other fruits, and in certain vegetables such as aubergines.) The study adds weight to the growing body of evidence that regular consumption of certain flavonoids may lower the risk for developing a wide range of human diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, and some cancers. However, it is the first to show that the compounds may protect neurons against brain diseases such as Parkinson’s. Released early by the journal Neurology, this study will appear in a future issue but is available online now at https://bit.ly/HpPFXP with subscription or access fee.
DISRUPTED SLEEP INCREASES DIABETES RISK
Scientists have learned that short sleep duration, or sleep that disrupts the circadian clock, impairs glucose regulation and metabolism, possibly increasing the risk of obesity or diabetes. Volunteers were tested in labs for over five weeks. Sleeping only 5.6 hours a day, in conjunction with sleeping at a variety of times during each day, was seen as equivalent to a shift worker who has trouble getting sufficient sleep by day in addition to sleeping at a time not in keeping with his normal circadian sleep rhythm; it is also similar to repeated jet lag. People who maintained this regime for three weeks developed a lower metabolic rate and a higher level of blood sugar after meals, which is the normal result of the pancreas producing an insufficient supply of insulin. This pattern can increase the risk of being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes.
This research is considered superior to epidemiological studies of larger populations, because there was a controlled intervention allowing a before-and-after measurement. This study was published online April 11, 2012 by the journal, Science Transactional Medicine. It is available online at https://bit.ly/HyvKW8 with subscription or fee.
VITAMIN C MODERATELY LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
A review and meta-analysis of studies has found that supplemental doses of vitamin C have some effect on high blood pressure, although the benefit is moderate and further study is required. (Other non-drug hypertension interventions include exercise, weight loss, and reduced salt intake. A meta-analysis amalgamates previous results.) Of 29 trials, the median dose was 500mg of supplemental vitamin C, median duration of supplementation was 8 weeks, and the number of test participants was 10 to 120. Overall, there was a mild average lowering of systolic blood pressure, the upper blood pressure number, of 3.84 mm Hg; diastolic blood pressure, the lower number, dropped by an average of 1.48 mm Hg. Singling out those persons who had been diagnosed hypertensive, there was a more significant decrease in systolic pressure of 4.85 mm Hg, and a decrease in the diastolic reading of 1.67 mm Hg. The 500 mg average dose of vitamin C is equivalent to 6 cups of orange juice. This study was released early and is published in the May 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is accessible now at https://bit.ly/J6NJPU with a fee or journal subscription.
PHTHALATES LINKED TO DIABETES RISK
Researchers have found a link between moderate exposure of seniors to chemicals known as phthalates*, and a doubling of their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, although they warned that further studies are needed to draw conclusions. They also found that certain phthalates were associated with disrupted insulin production in the pancreas. It was not apparent what biological mechanisms might underlie these connections. (Most people come into daily contact with phthalates because they are used as softening agents in plastics and as carriers of perfumes in cosmetics and self-care products.) As expected, diabetes was more common among participants who were overweight and had high blood-fat levels. But the study of 1,000 people also found a connection between blood levels of some phthalates and increased prevalence of diabetes even after adjusting for obesity, blood lipids, smoking, and exercise. Individuals with elevated phthalate levels had roughly twice the risk of developing diabetes compared with those with lower levels. This study was released April 12, 2012 and will be published in a future issue of the journal Diabetes Care. Meanwhile, it is available online at https://bit.ly/HFheMp with journal subscription or article access fee.
(*Editor’s note: according to a report by Dr. Sat Dharam Kaur, ND, “Phthalates are a family of over 20 different compounds used as ingredients in plastic food wraps and packaging, paints, inks, and adhesives, blood bags, syringes, heart valves, medical tubing and cosmetics. Fatty foods, such as cheese and oils, are easily contaminated with phthalates and bisphenol-A when packaged in plastic. Phthalates may be present and can be absorbed from plastic baby bottles, nipples, and plastic ‘soothers’.” For a list of all sources, visit: https://bit.ly/AaJZIb)
AIR POLLUTION INCREASES RISK OF HOSPITALIZATION FOR LUNG, HEART DISEASE
Researchers have found that long-term exposure to a type of air pollution, known as fine particles, increases the risk of being hospitalized as an older adult for heart disease, pneumonia, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. This is the first study to look at the link between long-term effects of exposure to fine particles in the air and rates of hospital admission. Prior studies have reported an association between hospitalization and exposure to air particles on the day of hospital admission or several days before, leaving unclear how many extra admissions occurred in the long run; they also included primarily urban patients. The researchers estimated concentrations in different geographical areas, of fine air particles known as PM2.5, which are air matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. This is narrower than a human hair and includes particles such as soot from vehicles, wood burning, and certain industrial processes. These can be quite risky when they lodge in the lungs, causing inflammation there and in the rest of the body, and contributing to lung and heart disease. This research was published online April 17, 2012 in the journal PLoS ONE. The full-text study is accessible online at https://bit.ly/HQrIJG
CHILDREN EXPOSED TO TOO MUCH HARMFUL BACKGROUND TV
Researchers have concluded that children from the age of 8 months to 8 years are being exposed to a high 4 hours per day of harmful background TV noise. (Previous research has shown that children with a high exposure to background TV noise have been linked to poor performance in cognitive and reading tasks. This is the time spent in the presence of TV noise at a time when the child is not actively watching TV.) The study found that exposure to harmful amounts of background TV was more common among the younger children and among Asian-American children.
This study was presented May 24, 2012 at the annual conference of the International Communication Association in Phoenix. The study team stressed that the finding should be a warning to parents and daycare providers to shut off the television when no one is watching, and consider the consequences of having a television in the bedroom of a child. The full study is not accessible, because it has not yet been published or posted online.
DID YOU KNOW…?
Supplementing with 400 mcg of folic acid daily for 16 weeks lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow in those with peripheral artery disease (PAD), according to a study in the British Journal of Surgery.
NEEM TREE EXTRACTS MAY BLOCK SPREAD OF HIV VIRUS WITHIN THE BODY
Preliminary results suggest there are compounds in neem tree extracts that target a protein essential for HIV to replicate. (Extracts from the leaves, bark, and flowers of the neem tree are used in India as an alternative medicine to fight against pathogenic bacteria and fungi; the tree grows in India and East Africa.) Two earlier studies had shown that when HIV-AIDS patients in Nigeria and India were given neem extracts, the amount of HIV particles in their blood dropped. This study investigated further, first by making computer models of the HIV proteins that are key to the life cycle of the virus. Then, investigators also modeled 20 compounds present in various types of neem extracts.
The research team discovered that most of the neem compounds attacked the HIV protease, a protein essential for making new copies of the virus. The scientists are now working on test-tube experiments to see if actual neem compounds have the same effect suggested by the computer models. This study was presented at the April 22, 2012 session of the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego. It has not yet been posted or published.
DARK CHOCOLATE IMPROVES CARDIOVASCULAR RISK FACTORS
Researchers have concluded that dark chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving levels of blood sugar and profiles of fats, although it must be eaten in moderation because it can easily increase daily intake of saturated fat and calories. (Dark chocolate contains higher levels of flavonols than milk chocolate. Animal studies suggest that flavonols may improve chronic inflammation, blood vessel health, and circulating lipid levels. However, few controlled human intervention studies have been conducted.) In the study, dark chocolate increased HDL or good cholesterol levels; and decreased LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels. Subjects were assigned randomly to consume 50 grams daily of either regular dark chocolate containing 70 percent cocoa; or 50 grams daily of the same dark chocolate that had been overheated; or 50 grams daily of white chocolate, which contains no cocoa. After 15 days, compared to participants assigned to the white chocolate group, those consuming either form of dark chocolate had lower blood glucose and LDL, and higher HDL. Results from this study were presented on April 24, 2012 at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego. It has not yet been published or posted online.
FISH OIL MAY REDUCE PERIODONTAL DISEASE SYMPTOMS
A review of past studies has found accumulating evidence that omega-3 fatty fish oil may be effective in reducing periodontal symptoms, but there is a need for more well-designed studies that evaluate the supplement alone, instead of in combination with aspirin as in many past studies. (Periodontitis is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the teeth; it affects more than half of adults and is linked to an increased risk of stroke and other heart problems. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty cold water fish, and in flaxseed oil and other sources. Many studies have tested fish oil against gum disease but often in conjunction with aspirin, complicating the findings.) The evidence was not conclusive, although the researchers noted that the intake of fish oil is separately recommended for health benefits beyond the teeth. There are no serious dangers to consuming fish oil, although very high levels may delay clotting time or cause gastric upset. Results from this study were presented on April 24, 2012 at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego. They have not yet been published or posted online.
OREGANO COMPOUND KILLS PROSTATE CANCER CELLS
A study has found that carvacrol, a constituent in oregano, induces apoptosis or a form of cell suicide, in prostate cancer cells, suggesting it may have some potential to treat this disease. (Prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death among men, is a type of cancer that starts in the prostate gland and usually occurs in older men. Recent data show that about 1 in 36 men will die of prostate cancer. Oregano, the common seasoning herb, has long been known to possess a variety of beneficial health effects including anti-bacterial as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Apoptosis occurs when a cell internally programs its own death.)
The research is continuing so that scientists can determine the signaling pathways that the compound uses. The ability of oregano to instigate the death of prostate cancer cells suggests potential as an anticancer agent, making it similar to turmeric in effect. Oregano is classified by the government as GRAS, meaning generally recognized as safe.
The results of the study were presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting on April 24, 2012 in San Diego. It has not yet been published or posted online.
Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.