Updated News Briefs – Dietary Fibre for Asthma; Cranberry for UTI’s; Probiotics Alleviate Infant Gastrointestinal Problems

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(Originally published in March 2014; Updated August 2022)

Return to Your Roots: Celebrate Underground Eating This Winter with Rugged TubersDietary Fibre Can Help Protect Against Asthma

Researchers have reported that the Western diet probably has more to do with the current asthma epidemic than has been assumed so far, and that a higher risk of developing asthma is closely related to a lower amount of fruit and vegetables consumed in the Western diet.

Gut bacteria ferment the dietary fibres contained in produce and then fatty acids enter the blood as a result, which in turn influences the immune response in the lungs. (In the West, an increasing number of people have developed allergic asthma in the past fifty years. Dietary habits have also changed during the same period – fruit and vegetables are playing an ever smaller role in diets. The new results suggest these two are in fact causally linked. Also, microbial diversity in the gut when digesting and fermenting fibres has been known to play a role in preventing intestinal cancer.)

In experiments with mice, a lack of fermentable fibres in the diet paved the way for allergic inflammatory reactions in the lungs. The team put mice on either a standard diet with 4% fermentable fibre or gave them low-fibre food with merely 0.3% fermentable fibre, comparable to the Western diet containing no more than 0.6% fibre on average.  When the mice were exposed to an extract of house dust mites, the mice with the low-fibre food developed a stronger allergic reaction with more mucus in the lungs than those on the high-fibre diet.

(Fermentable fibre is fibre that is readily digested by the bacteria that normally inhabit the colon. This type of fibre tends to feed, and therefore increase, colon bacteria. The fermentation results in short-chain fatty acids that are used by the body for energy. Cereals such as oats and barley, as well as fruits and vegetables, are generally rich in fermentable fibre.)

(Editor’s note: In a 2013 episode of CBC’s the Nature of Things, David Suzuki looked at the research linking a deficiency of friendly bacteria in the bowels to the onset of autism. Overall, evidence is indicated that a lack of healthy probiotic bacteria in the intestines can be a contributing factor toward both asthma and autism.)

Tree Nut Consumption Linked to Lower Risk of Obesity

Researchers have found a significant association between a higher consumption of tree nuts and a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity. (Tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors associated with a twofold increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a fivefold increased risk for Type II diabetes, and an increased risk of all-cause mortality. Presence of any three of the following conditions results in a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. An estimated 34.3% of the population has metabolic syndrome.)

In this study, mean tree nut intake was 16 grams a day among the high tree nut consumers and 5 grams a day among low tree nut consumers. (Doubling this consumption could potentially reduce metabolic syndrome risk by 14%.)

Results showed that one serving, defined as 28 grams or 1 ounce, of tree nuts per week was significantly associated with 7% less risk of metabolic syndrome. While overall nut consumption has been associated with lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome, tree nuts appear to provide especially beneficial effects on this syndrome, instead of lifestyle and other dietary factors. High tree nut consumers had significantly lower prevalence of obesity compared to the low tree nut consumers.

This study was released January 8, 2014 by the journal PLOS ONE. The full study details can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/kdtlwbm free of charge

Cranberry is Now Confirmed Effective Against Urinary Tract Infections

A study has found that, while daily antibiotic use is the most effective method for preventing recurrent urinary tract infections in women, the alternative treatments of daily cranberry pills and monthly acupuncture treatments are also beneficial and may be preferable for some patients. (More than half of women suffer from a urinary tract infection at some time in their lives, often requiring antibiotics or other treatments to recover from the infections. A smaller group of women will have three or more urinary tract infections per year and may require a more pro-active course of treatment to prevent these recurrent infections. Urinary tract infections cause pain and often require women to miss work or school.)

This is the first study to use a modeling approach to compare the effectiveness of all of the most commonly used prophylactic measures. The researchers found that daily antibiotic usage reduced the urinary tract infection recurrence rate to 0.4 infections per year. Acupuncture therapy reduced the recurrence rate to 0.7 per year, but the study data are somewhat limited. Cranberry pills, as well as estrogen therapy, reduced the recurrence rate to 1.1 infections per year and the data are significant.

This full study report laid out the benefits and costs of each approach to help patients and healthcare providers choose an approach that best suits the lifestyle and preferences of the patient. This study was published January 15, 2014 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. It can be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/ndyozpc with fee.

Vitamin D Supplements Reduce Pain in Fibromyalgia Patients

Vitamin D supplements can reduce pain and may be a cost-effective alternative or adjunct to other treatment, according to a study. (Patients with fibromyalgia syndrome, or FMS, typically have widespread chronic pain and fatigue and may experience sleep disorders, morning stiffness, poor concentration, and occasionally mild-to-severe mental symptoms such as anxiety or depression. There is no medical cure, and no treatment will address all of the symptoms. The concentration of calcifediol in blood is considered the best indicator of vitamin D status, and low blood levels of calcifediol are especially common in patients with severe pain and fibromyalgia.)

In this study, thirty patients with FMS and low blood levels of calcifediol were given vitamin D supplements to raise their calcifediol levels for 24 weeks. There was a marked reduction in the level of perceived pain in the treatment group and a significant improvement on a scale of physical role functioning, while the placebo group remained unchanged. The treatment group also experienced reduced morning fatigue.  FMS is a very extensive symptom complex that cannot be explained by a vitamin D deficiency alone. However, vitamin D supplementation may be a relatively safe and economical treatment. Further studies with more patients were suggested.

This research was published in the February 2014 issue of the journal Pain. The study can now be read at https://tinyurl.com/njo94p4 with fee.

Probiotics Can Reduce Infant Risk of Gastrointestinal Disorders

A study suggests that giving probiotics to children in the first three months of life may reduce their risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders. (Past studies have suggested that consuming probiotics on a daily basis can benefit digestive health. Probiotics are microorganisms believed to play a role in regulating intestinal function and digestion by balancing the microflora of the gut. During the first six months of life, infant colic, acid reflux, and constipation are the most common gastrointestinal disorders leading to pediatrician referral or, if the problem is serious, a trip to a nearby pediatric urgent care facility. These disorders can result in hospitalization, use of medication, changes in food intake, parental anxiety and loss of parental working days.)

In this study, infants were randomized to receive either a probiotic containing Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 bacteria, or a placebo supplement, each day for a period of 90 days. They were followed for three months. Children who received probiotics emptied their bowels more times each day, and had a lower average vomiting and crying rate each day. The probiotic use did not cause any adverse effects. The researchers also reported that probiotic use in infants may lead to lower health costs associated with gastrointestinal disorders.

Earlier in 2014, another study reported that probiotics may reduce the risk of diarrhea from antibiotics. This study was released online on January 13, 2014, in advance of print publication in the journal JAMA Pediatric. It can be read at https://tinyurl.com/my3zumc free of charge.

Flavonoids – Including Anthocyanins – May Guard Against Diabetes

A study has found that eating high levels of flavonoids, including anthocyanins and other compounds found in berries, tea, and chocolate could offer protection from Type II diabetes. This finding concludes that high intakes of these dietary compounds are associated with lower insulin resistance and better blood glucose regulation. This study of almost 2,000 people also found that these food groups lower inflammation which, when chronic, is associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

(This is one of the first large-scale human studies to look at how these powerful bioactive compounds might reduce the risk of diabetes. Laboratory studies have shown these types of foods might modulate blood glucose regulation, affecting the risk of Type II diabetes. But until now little has been known about how habitual intakes might affect insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation and inflammation in humans.)

Those who ate the most anthocyanins were least likely to suffer chronic inflammation, which is associated with many of the most pressing health concerns including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Scientists found that those who consumed plenty of anthocyanins and flavones, found in chocolate, tea, berries, herbs, and red grapes and wine, had lower insulin resistance, which is associated with a reduced risk of Type II diabetes. And those who consumed the most flavone compounds had improved levels of a protein called adiponectin that helps regulate a number of metabolic processes including glucose levels.

These findings were published in the January 20, 2014 print issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The study has now been made available at https://tinyurl.com/l6cdou2 for an access fee.

Study Confirms Risk to Retina from Energy-Saving LED Bulbs

An animal study has found confirming evidence of previous lab studies suggesting that LED light bulbs, which emit more light from the blue end of the light range, may cause long-term damage to the retina of the eye. (Among the wide variety of artificial lighting selections, light-emitting diodes or LEDs emit higher levels of blue light compared to conventional incandescent light sources, although they appear white. This is also the first time that humans have experienced such extensive blue-light exposure. More exposure to blue light has health implications, including disruption of circadian rhythms. Free radical production could cause photodynamic damage to photoreceptors and other retinal tissues. Lab studies have shown retina damage, but until now, testing on normally pigmented eyes has been needed for confirmation.)

Testing the new bulbs on normally pigmented rats resulted in significant retinal damage. This research shows that LED lights carry energy that is strong enough to generate oxidative stress and raises questions about damage to the human retina from chronic LED light bulb exposure compared to current incandescent light bulbs that emit less blue light. The researchers advise a precautionary approach to the universal introduction of blue-rich “white” LEDs for general lighting.

This study will be published in a future issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. In the meantime, the full-text study can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/p5fr85n without charge.

Chemical Preservative in Baby Wipes Linked to Rashes in Children

Scientists have pinpointed a preservative found in many conventional wet wipes and baby wipes as the cause of allergic skin reactions in some children. They have further reported on a new study of six cases where stopping use of wipes resolved skin reaction. (Reports of skin reactions have ranged from disfiguring patches to crusting, swelling, blistering and tiny cracks in the mouth, cheeks, hands or buttocks of young patients.)

The six cases investigated took place between March 2011 and January 2013 and all involved two brands of wipes: Huggies and Cottenelle. The children were between the ages of 3 and 8, and none were wearing diapers. Both brands, which are manufactured by Kimberly-Clark Corp., contain a well-known preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MI), a chemical that investigators believe is found in roughly half of all the baby wipes sold in North America.

Contacted by News Briefs for comment, a Kimberly-Clark official indicated that the company has been evaluating alternative preservative options over the past few years and will start introducing new wet wipes that are MI-free across its entire product range in all global markets. In the latest cases, standard antibiotic and corticosteroid treatments were initially given for what doctors had incorrectly diagnosed as one of a number of common skin conditions. The drug treatments did not work, but when the children stopped using the baby wipes, their skin recovered quickly.

The rashes were proven to be caused by the preservative through skin patch testing. The preservative is used in a wide range of personal care, cosmetic and household consumer products. This study was released online January 13, 2014 by the journal Pediatric in advance of being published in a future print issue. It can now be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/plge92l with subscription or fee.


Scientists have concluded that people who enjoy life maintain better physical function in daily activities and keep up faster walking speeds as they age, compared with people who enjoy life less. A study of 3,199 men and women aged 60 years or over looked at the link between positive well-being and physical well-being, following participants over 8 years. Participants were divided into three age categories: 60-69, 70-79, and 80 or over. Enjoyment of life was assessed with a four-point scale, rating the personal truth of these statements:
I enjoy the things I do; I enjoy being in the company of others; on balance, I look back on my life with a sense of happiness; and I feel full of energy these days. Interviewers also determined whether participants had impairments in daily activities such as getting out of bed, getting dressed, bathing or showering, and they measured walking speed.

Older people who are happier and enjoy life more showed slower declines in physical function as they aged and were less likely to develop impairments in activities of daily living and walking speed. People with low well-being were more than three times as likely to develop problems with daily physical activities. This was not because the happier people were in better health, or younger, or richer, because these factors were taken into account at the outset. (Previous studies showed older people with greater life enjoyment are more likely to survive over the next 8 years. But this study showed that they also keep up better physical function.)  This study was released January 20, 2014 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal and will be published in a print issue of the journal. The full study can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/lyjprgv at no cost.


New evidence suggests that higher levels of melatonin, a hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle, may decrease the risk for developing advanced prostate cancer. (Melatonin is a hormone that is produced exclusively at night in the dark and is an important output of the circadian rhythm, or the inherent 24-hour clock. Many biological processes are regulated by the circadian rhythm, including the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin may play a role in regulating a range of other hormones that influence certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancers.) Sleep loss and other factors can influence the amount of melatonin secretion or block it altogether, and health problems associated with low melatonin, disrupted sleep, or disruption of the circadian rhythm are broad, including a potential risk factor for cancer.
To investigate the association between urine levels of the main breakdown product of melatonin, 6-sulfatoxymelatonin, and the risk of prostate cancer, the researchers conducted a study of 928 men. The study team found that men who had higher levels of melatonin had a 75% reduced risk for developing advanced prostate cancer compared with men who had lower levels of melatonin.

These results were presented in San Diego on January 20, 2014 at the AACR-Prostate Cancer Foundation Conference on Advances in Prostate Cancer Research. The study has not yet been published in a journal or posted online.


A study has found that people with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may also have larger brain volumes in old age that are equivalent to preserving one to two years of brain health. (Shrinking brain volume is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease as well as normal aging. Higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids can be achieved by consuming fatty cold water fish and by supplements.)
Levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in red blood cells were tested in 1,111 women. Eight years later, when the women were an average age of 78, MRI scans were taken to measure their brain volume. Those with higher levels of omega-3s at the outset had larger total brain volumes eight years later. Those levels of fatty acids that were twice as high as others (7.5 vs. 3.4 percent) had a 0.7% larger brain volume, which is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years. Those with higher levels of omega-3s also had a 2.7% larger volume in the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays an important role in memory. (In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to atrophy even before symptoms appear.)
This study was just released online by Neurology, but it will not be published until a future print issue of the journal. In the interim, it can be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/mgzxwkw with fee.

When sleeping, the brain is able to remove much more amyloid-beta, the plaque-building protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, than when awake.


Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.

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