NEWS BRIEFS – May 2015

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Mechanism Found for How Olive Oil Kills Cancer Cells in an Hour

The mechanism for how olive oil can induce rapid death in cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact has finally been revealed, completing the proof of this anti-cancer effect. (While scientists have previously proven that the oleocanthal compound found in extra virgin olive oil causes cell death in cancer cells, they have been unable to effectively confirm this because there has been no explanation for this phenomenon until now.)

Researchers have discovered that the key to understanding the toxic effect of oleocanthal (a key compound found in extra virgin olive oil) on cancerous cells lies in its reaction with the lysosomes of the cell. Lysosomes are subcellular units where cells store waste. The oleocanthal ruptures the membranes surrounding the lysosomes in cancer cells, causing cancer cell death within 30 minutes to an hour while leaving noncancerous cells unharm-ed. This suggests that the lysosomal membranes of cancerous cells are weaker than those of noncancerous cells.

The targeted damage to cancer cells from this olive oil constituent may prove an ideal option for therapeutic cancer treatment. These findings on the effects of oleocanthal on cancerous and noncancerous cells lead to larger implications about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in extra virgin olive oil. While the entire Mediterranean diet likely has many benefits, this study points directly to the olive oil phenolic, oleocanthal, as playing an especially important role.

This study was posted online ahead of publishing in an upcoming issue of the journal Molecular and Cellular Oncology. The study can now be read online at free of charge.


Scientists have found that for older people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia, cognitive decline might happen faster in those with low blood pressure. It may also happen faster for those on blood pressure medicine and whose systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) is low. The team analyzed 172 older people, most of whom had dementia and about a third of whom had only mild cognitive impairment. Almost 70% were taking medication for high blood pressure.

They recorded blood pressure and performance on a mental test. They repeated all measurements six to 18 months later, by which time mental function had declined for the whole group, on average, and disability had increased. They divided participants into three groups based on readings of systolic blood pressure. People in the lowest third of systolic blood pressure scores (below 128) had bigger decreases on their mental performance tests than those in the middle and high blood pressure groups. When researchers took blood pressure medications into account, only those on the medications who also had lower blood pressure experienced the greatest cognitive decline. These results suggest that excessive lowering of blood pressure with antihypertensive drugs (as opposed to naturally low blood pressure) seems to affect cognition negatively.

This study was posted online March 4, 2015, ahead of publication in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. An abstract can be viewed online for free at and the full study is available there for a fee.


Coronary artery calcification, a marker for cardiovascular disease, is seen in 27% of those who sleep five or fewer hours a night. Yet it is seen in only 6% of those who sleep seven or more hours a night.


Researchers have found that consuming a vegetarian diet could significantly lower the risk of developing colon cancer, rectal cancer, and colorectal cancer. (Colorectal cancer is a cancer that begins in either the colon or the rectum and is a collective term used for both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Individuals have a one in 20 chance of developing the disease at some point in their lives. It is expected to cause almost 50,000 deaths in the U.S. this year, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in the country.)

Numerous studies have suggested that a diet high in red and processed meats can raise the risk of colorectal cancer, while a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains has been associated with a reduced risk. To build on these findings, a team studied 77,659 men and women with a 7.3-year follow-up to see how consuming a vegetarian diet affected the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Participants who ate a vegetarian diet were found to have a 22% lower risk of colorectal cancer, with a 19% reduced risk of colon cancer and a 29% reduced risk of rectal cancer. The team also found that pescovegetarians (those who eat fish) had a 49% lower risk of colorectal cancer, lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat milk and eggs) had an 18% lower risk, vegans had a 16% reduced risk, and semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely to develop the disease.

On March 9, 2015, this study was early-released online, ahead of publication in a future issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The full report can now be accessed at for a fee.


Researchers have found that melatonin provides more sleep of better quality, compared to use of eye masks and earplugs, in noisy and illuminated environments. (This could have implications for intensive care patients, because research suggests that slower recovery can result from nighttime noise and light. Melatonin is the hormone secreted to regulate sleep, usually in periods of darkness. Synthetically produced melatonin is used to treat some sleep disorders and sometimes, jet lag.)

Researchers recruited 40 participants. For the first four nights, all participants slept in a lab where on alternating nights, a recording from an ICU night shift was played and light levels were the same as in the hospital. After four nights, participants were divided into four equal groups and continued to sleep in the simulated ICU. The first group received no sleep aid. The second used eye masks and earplugs. The third group took one mg of fast-release, oral melatonin at bedtime. The fourth group received a placebo pill. Melatonin levels were tested hourly by taking blood samples, and sleep quality was assessed using specialized equipment that measures brain activity, eye movement, and muscle tension. Eye masks and earplugs or oral melatonin improved sleep. Those taking melatonin had decreased awakenings during the night even compared to the eye mask and earplugs group, and had better sleep quality with lower anxiety levels and increased REM sleep.

This study was published online March 19, 2015 by the journal Critical Care. The complete study report can be read at free of charge.


Scientists have reported on a review study suggesting that vitamin D may play a vital role in the prevention and treatment of diseases associated with aging. The study team reviewed past evidence and found an association between vitamin D deficiency on the one hand, and chronic diseases associated with aging on the other hand. These would include diseases such as cognitive decline, depression, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. (Older adults are at risk for vitamin D deficiency due to diet, reduced time outdoors, and poor skin absorption of the nutrient from sunlight. With the number of people ages 65 and older expected to more than double from 2012 to 2060, the problem will become much more prevalent.)

The study authors concluded that as the older population continues to grow, research to examine the proper dosing of vitamin D supplements necessary to prevent the chronic diseases of aging would have significant benefit. This study was published in the latest issue of the twice yearly Journal of Aging and Gerontology. The full study can now be downloaded at without charge.


New research details a discovery explaining why the 100 million Americans estimated to be taking prescription and over-the-counter antacid and heartburn medications may be at an increased risk of bone fractures. The report shows that stomach acid in the gastrointestinal tract plays an important role in helping the intestines absorb and transfer calcium to the skeletal system. While the introduction of common antacid medications (known as proton pump inhibitor-based antacids) reduces the level of acidity in the stomach to bring symptomatic relief to patients, this acid reduction also interrupts and even stops the gut from absorbing much-needed calcium. (A connection between this type of antacid and bone fractures has been well established, but until this study it was not known how or why this was happening in the body. Over-the-counter and prescription antacids are used to treat heartburn and related conditions and are the third highest-selling drug category.) Fractures at the hip, wrist, arm, ribs, and even vertebrae, especially in individuals aged 50 and older, can permanently impair quality of life.

This study was published online March 26, 2015 by the PLOS Genetics. The full-text report can be accessed online at without charge.


A new study has found that high levels of blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides can hold onto vitamin E in the blood and prevent it from reaching the tissues that require it. The findings suggest that checking only blood levels of vitamin E may not show whether a person has adequate levels of vitamin E where it is vital, beyond the bloodstream. They also suggest that past methods used to measure vitamin E levels in tissues are flawed. (Data shows that 90% of Americans who do not take vitamin E supplements lack the recommended amount of the vitamin in their diet.)

The study included 41 young and older adult women and men who ate collard greens treated with a chemical that enabled the researchers to track vitamin E as it moved through the body. The researchers believe that less than one-third of ingested vitamin E is actually making it to the tissues where it is critically needed. People with elevated fats in their blood plasma face increased inflammation as a result, and almost every body tissue is under oxidative attack and needs more vitamin E. But this study shows that the vitamin E needed to protect these tissues is stuck on the freeway, in the circulatory system. It is going round and round instead of getting to the tissues where it is needed. Further study is needed to determine whether supplementing with E could break through this roadblock.

This study was released online ahead of future publication in the journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It can be read in full at for a fee.


Figures show that every hour of the day, someone dies at home from errors in taking and prescribing medications.


Teenagers who eat at least three small handfuls of nuts a week cut, by half, their risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that heighten the risk of early heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.


A just-released study reports that regular consumption of spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens helps slow the cognitive decline often associated with aging. This research also investigated the nutrients in these leafy, green vegetables that may be responsible for this brain-supporting effect and for the first time, linked vitamin K (phylloquinone) to slower cognitive decline. This means that, since declining cognitive ability is central to Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables could offer a simple, affordable, and non-invasive way to protect the aging brain from these diseases.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the scientists tracked the diets and cognitive abilities of more than 950 persons with an average age of 81 for two to 10 years (average five years), testing them annually with a battery of 19 tests that were adjusted for age, sex, education, smoking, genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and physical activity. They found a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline for study participants who consumed greater amounts of green, leafy vegetables. Those individuals who ate one to two servings per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none. After examining the individual nutrients linked with slowing cognitive decline, the researchers found that vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene were most likely responsible for helping to keep the brain healthy. No association was found for lycopene.

In addition to green leafy vegetables, other good sources of vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene include brightly coloured fruits and vegetables.

This research was presented on March 31, 2015 in Las Vegas to international nutrition scientists gathered for the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. The full study is available to subscribers to the FASEB Journal in the April 2015 edition.


A simple, regular walking routine is enough of a lifestyle change to reduce, by a full 25%, the chances of developing metabolic syndrome from a moderate to a low risk, which in turn lowers the odds of developing heart disease, strokes, and cancer. (Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for a combination of risk factors including elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, and large waist circumference. The syndrome puts people in danger of a list of life-threatening and debilitating conditions.)

A total of 38,000 men and women were involved in this analysis. Those in the moderate fitness category showed a markedly reduced prevalence of metabolic syndrome, compared to those in the low fitness category. Results showed that people do not have to commit to a structured exercise program, or take up jogging. The researchers found that simple activities, including a walk, for 30 minutes three to five times a week produced this benefit.

This study was released online February 5, 2013, and was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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