News Briefs – May 2017

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The Latest Research on Nutrition, Health, and Anti-Aging From Around the World


New research shows that a probiotic combination may reduce hay fever symptoms, if taken during allergy season. (Some previous studies suggested that particular probiotics might regulate the immune response to allergies. Seasonal allergies can reduce sleep and productivity and cause stress and embarrassment. Current allergy medications have unwanted potential side effects, including dry mouth and drowsiness.)
Scientists already knew that the combination of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria probiotics helps maintain parts of the immune system, and they suspected that probiotics might work by increasing the percentage of regulatory T-cells, which in turn might increase tolerance to hay fever symptoms.

At the height of spring allergy season, they enrolled 173 healthy adults who suffered from seasonal allergies and split them into two groups. Some took the combination probiotic, others took a placebo. Each week for eight weeks, participants reported discomfort levels and underwent DNA tests of stool samples to determine bacterial changes.

When the study was completed, participants who took the probiotic reported greater life quality improvement, compared to placebo subjects, including fewer allergy-related nose symptoms.

This study was published in the March 2017 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The full study can be read at free of charge.


A study has found that a high intake of Cheddar and cream cheeses may increase the risk of breast cancer among women, while high consumption of yogurt may reduce risk of this disease. (Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S. Diet is known to play a key role in breast cancer risk.)

Previous studies on the effects of dairy products on breast cancer risk have produced conflicting results, with some showing a risk reduction and others showing a risk increase. This study appears to explain the discrepancy. Not all dairy foods should be lumped together; different dairy foods include different nutrient and non-nutrient substances that could influence cancer etiology.

Scientists reviewed data on 1,941 women with breast cancer and 1,237 women without. After adjusting for confounding factors, they found that high total dairy intake produced a 15% reduction in breast cancer risk, but this was shown to be primarily attributable to yogurt consumption. When women with the highest yogurt intake were isolated, they were found to have a 39% lower risk of developing breast cancer. Conversely, a high intake of cheese, particularly Cheddar cheese and cream cheeses, were linked to a 53% increased risk of breast cancer.

This study was posted early by the journal, Current Developments in Nutrition, ahead of print publication in a future issue. It is available at


New research shows that cancer patients can improve their fatigue more effectively with exercise and psychotherapy than with medications. (Cancer-related fatigue is common, may be tied to the effects of either tumours or treatments, and can last for years. It can be worsened by depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and pain. Unlike other types of exhaustion, just getting more sleep or giving aching muscles a break from strenuous activities cannot address fatigue that is associated with cancer.)

Scientists examined data from more than 11,500 cancer patients with fatigue. Patients had been randomly assigned to treat their exhaustion with exercise, psychotherapy, or both, or stimulant drugs. Exercise and psychotherapy were associated with a 26 to 30% percent reduction in fatigue during and after cancer treatment, while drugs were related to only a 9% reduction in fatigue.

The study author indicated that cancer patients should try exercise or psychotherapy before they reach for a pharmaceutical. Why exercise works is not clear, but it may be due to its anti-inflammatory effects and improved physical function. The psychological treatment that worked best was a cognitive behavioural approach to change the way patients thought about fatigue.

This study was posted online first and will be published in a future issue of JAMA Oncology. The full report can be read at for a fee.


The same genes that cause an apple-shaped, rather than a pear-shaped, body were found to increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, suggesting that belly weight-loss lowers these risks. The full study is at free of charge.


New research shows that older individuals who use antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications more frequently than the general elderly population are more likely to fall and break a hip. Study participants were comprised of older hospital-admission patients who had suffered a fall and who had then broken a hip. The analysis measured drug levels in blood samples of the participants so that the investigators could more precisely measure if the volunteers took medications, what they were, and how much of the medication was present, rather than simply asking the participant or examining their medical records. (In fact, these drugs were often found in the samples even though the participants did not have them listed in their medical records.)

The scientists were quite surprised to find that so many patients had so many antidepressant and benzodiazepene drugs (i.e. diazepam) in their blood without their doctors apparently being aware of this use. Several of the detected drugs that fall into the antidepressant or anti-anxiety class were found in significantly higher levels and with higher frequency in these older persons than in their peers who did not suffer hip fracture.

This study was released online ahead of publication in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and can be read at free of charge.


Scientists have found that drinking concentrated blueberry juice improves brain function in seniors. (Blueberries are rich in flavonoids, which are both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Previous research showed that cognitive function is better preserved in older adults with a diet rich in plant-based foods.)

Compared to controls who drank a placebo beverage, healthy volunteers aged 65 to 77 who drank 30 ml. of blueberry concentrate daily for 12 weeks showed greater improvements in cognitive function, blood flow to the brain, and activation of the brain while undergoing cognitive testing (as measured by scans). This amount of concentrated blueberry juice is equivalent to one ounce of juice or about eight ounces of fresh blueberries.

The new study from the University of Exeter isn’t the first study to associate blueberries with better brain function in older people. This finding adds to those of an earlier study, conducted in 2016, that found consuming freeze-dried blueberry powder, equivalent to one cup of fresh berries, for 16 weeks, boosted the memories of those who already had mild cognitive impairment. This study was conducted at the University of Exeter in the UK but has not yet been accepted for publication in a medical journal.


New evidence suggests that a diet high in antioxidants protects both smokers and nonsmokers from lung cancer, and that a diet high in carotenoids and vitamin C reduces the risk of lung cancer in heavy smokers. Some antioxidants, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lycopene, were associated with a lower lung cancer risk in female moderate smokers and nonsmokers. Evidence was found that vitamin C protects against lung cancer in women, something that was never before known. (Previously, adults with higher blood levels of B6 were found to have an impressive 50% reduced risk of developing lung cancer than those with low B6 levels. Another study found that smokers who drank no green tea had a 13-fold higher risk of lung cancer than their tea drinking counterparts.)

This was the first study to consider duration of smoking and elapsed time since quitting, both key smoking-related factors for lung cancer. Specifically, high intakes of beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and vitamin C were associated with a reduced risk of squamous cell carcinoma; high intakes of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene lowered the risk of adenocarcinoma; and both medium and high intakes of beta-cryptoxanthin and lycopene reduced the risk of small cell carcinoma.

This study was posted online, ahead of publication in the journal Frontiers in Oncology. The entire study can be read now at free of charge.


A new review has prompted the American Heart Association to issue a new recommendation that doctors consider prescribing fish oil capsules to heart attack survivors and patients with chronic heart failure. The AHA suggested that fish oil may extend the lives of these patients. The recommendations are based on a review of 15 clinical trials; 13 were conducted after 2002, which was the last time the association issued recommendations on fish oil. The AHA has long recommended that people eat fatty fish at least twice a week. Overall, patients on fish oil had an 8% lower risk of being hospitalized or dying over four years. The study stressed that its conclusions could not recommend fish oil for preventing heart problems, because none of the clinical trials assessed in this review tested the effects of fish oil in people who are free of heart disease. (Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are generally thought to be heart-healthy. Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are good sources, but many people turn to supplements for a regular daily supply. One previous study found that about 8% of U.S. adults, 19 million people, had used fish oil in the last month. Omega-3 is sometimes used to treat very high triglycerides.)

The evidence suggests that fish oil does not prevent artery-clogging plaque but might help by curbing the risk of a life-threatening, heart-rhythm disturbance. The report was posted March 13 at and will eventually appear in the journal Circulation.


Researchers have found that low vitamin B12 levels in babies are associated with a decrease in cognitive test scores at five years of age. They have also found that small children with low levels of vitamin B12 have more difficulties solving cognitive tests, such as the ability to do puzzles, recognize letters, interpret complex geometrical figures, and interpret the feelings of other children. (In low-income countries, and in particular South Asia, poor vitamin B12 status is widespread. Previous findings indicate that vitamin B12 is important for the developing brain.)

The researchers collected blood from infants in Nepal and measured their B12 status. Approximately five years later, they contacted these children and conducted various developmental and cognitive tests with them. The study author suggested that suboptimal vitamin B12 is a hidden deficiency in the bodies of these children, making their cells work rigorously to signal imminent danger.

This study was posted on the site of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on March 23, 2017. It will be published in a future issue of the journal, but the full report can now be accessed at for a fee.


Researchers have found that an active component of the leaves of the Indian herb Ashwagandha can significantly induce sleep. (Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is a central herb in Ayurveda. Its Latin name, somnifera, means sleep-inducing. Although studies show that Ashwagandha powder promotes sleep, science has yet to determine what active component of this herb causes this effect. Sleeplessness and other sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome are common complaints among the middle-aged population.)

The research group investigated the effect of various components of Ashwagandha on sleep in mice by using electronic recordings (electroencephalogram and electromyography). The water extract of Ashwagandha leaf, which contains triethylene glycol, or TEG, promoted non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep significantly and changed rapid eye movement (REM) sleep slightly, while the alcohol extract showed no effect on sleep. The sleep induced by TEG was similar to normal sleep. Commercially available TEG also increased the amount of NREM sleep. This shows that TEG is the previously unknown component that induces physiologically sound sleep. This study could revolutionize the natural plant-based therapies for insomnia and sleep related disorders.

The abstract of this study was first posted online at the website of the journal PLoS ONE. It will appear in a future issue of the print journal and has just been made accessible at free of charge.

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