News Briefs – November 2007

WHEAT GERM EXTRACT BEATS ANTI-CANCER DRUGS

A Hungarian study has found that a fermented wheat germ extract inhibits human breast cancer cells more effectively than the top three breast cancer drugs. The study adds weight to earlier research suggesting the chemical compound may inhibit other cancers, such as those of the lung, skin, pancreas, blood, ovaries, thyroid, colon and others. In fact, the Hungarian Ministry of Health has approved a label claim for the product as a treatment for colorectal and other cancers.

Scientists at the Hungarian National Institute of Oncology implanted human breast cancer tumours into mice. They then treated the tumours with Avemar (the product of the fermentation of wheat germ by baker’s yeast through a patented process), or with one of three common anti-cancer drugs. Avemar inhibited growth by 50%, while the drugs Aromasin, Tamoxifen and Arimidex inhibited tumour growth by 46.7%, 34% and 29.3%, respectively.

The conventional drugs were tested only on the type of human breast cancer tumour known as estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) because these drugs are commonly considered ineffective against estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) tumours. However, Avemar was also tested on receptor-negative (ER-) tumours and found to inhibit their growth by 52 per cent. This suggested to researchers that Avemar’s anti-cancer mechanism is entirely different from that of cancer drugs.

Rather than blocking estrogen, as the drugs do, Avemar is believed to promote cellular metabolism and a more balanced immune system response. It may coordinate involvement of the immune system’s T-cells, B-cells and microphages, as well as optimize cell-targeting ability of the natural killer, or NK, cells.

Also, studies suggest Avemar inhibits “non-oxidative glucose metabolism,” a characteristic of cancer cells, and promotes “oxidative glucose metabolism.” In other words, it seems to slow tumour growth by making cancer cells behave more like normal cells. No adverse side effects for Avemar have been detected in any of the numerous studies. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified Avemar as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”) Earlier research, however, suggested the extract works better if not taken within two hours of vitamin C supplements.

Avemar is sold as a drink mix under the trade name Avé. Although retailed in several Canadian cities, it is not sold in Toronto. However, Avé is available by mail order at the website www.theharmonyco.com/.

The Hungarian study was presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

GARLIC’S SECRET UNRAVELLED

Although long touted for cardiovascular benefit, garlic and the allicin it contains haven’t always produced positive evidence in well-designed studies. One study shows pharmacological benefit and the next study finds none. But finally, a breakthrough study has discovered that the general assumptions about how garlic works may have been wrong all along – and understanding garlic’s correct mechanism could explain these contradictory research results, as well as allow us to standardize garlic supplements properly to derive consistent cardiovascular benefit.

Most research has focused on the various organic polysulphides found in garlic, the best known of which is allicin. However, a new study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that the bioactive compounds in garlic, including allicin, constitute only part of the puzzle.

The scientists discovered that red blood cells, especially the cell membranes, convert garlic-derived organic polysulphides into hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Hydrogen sulphide is a known vascular cell-signaling mechanism. It signals blood vessels to relax, increases blood flow, prevents blood clots and curbs oxidative damage, all of which constitutes a tremendous cardiovascular protection.

Different garlic extracts can contain different proportions of the various organic polysulphides. As a result, each garlic extract can produce a distinctly different amount of hydrogen sulphide, explaining the positive results of some studies and the negative results of many others.

If the supplement industry is paying attention, it will now be possible to standardize all garlic supplements – not on the basis of their allicin or other content – but on the basis of their ability to generate hydrogen sulphide during metabolism inside the body. (And if the media are paying attention, it might be time to stop parroting the disputed and unsuccessful notion that garlic works strictly by virtue of the amount of allicin it contains.)

OMEGA-3 THWARTS DIABETES I

Preliminary research on children at increased risk for type-1 diabetes found that a higher dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids resulted in a reduced risk of the disease. The fatty acids lowered the odds of pancreatic islet autoimmunity, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own insulin-producing cells and which is strongly linked to the development of diabetes 1.

Scientists at the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Florida reported on the 7 year study of 1,800 at-risk children in the October 1, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. These fatty acids, they confirmed, strongly support the production of anti-inflammatory molecules than can quell an immune attack on insulin-producing cells. The compounds that the body makes from the omega-3s are natural – the body’s own protective mechanisms for overt inflammation.

Omega-3 fats have long been touted for their heart-healthy and brain-boosting benefits. Vitamin D was added to milk as public health move, just as iodine was added to salt. And if further study confirms the diabetes-prevention findings, “dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids could become a mainstay for early intervention to safely prevent the development of type-1 diabetes” in much the same way, suggests the study team’s author in the JAMA article.

Type-1 diabetes mellitus is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreatic islets. In the past few decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of cases of this autoimmune disorder, possibly due to changes in food manufacturing processes that have reduced the supply of omega-3 fats and raised the supply of omega-6 fats

NEWS NOTES:

– Risky herb-drug combining is common: A study of 5,052 people has concluded that an average of over 93 per cent of those taking complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) products also take conventional drugs, sometimes putting themselves at risk for serious adverse herb-drug interactions. The September 2007 issue of the Annals of Pharmacotherapy reported that the most common risky combinations were any of ginkgo, garlic or ginseng, taken with any of aspirin, warfarin, ticlopidine or pentoxifylline.

– Slashing pancreatic cancer risk: A Hawaiian study of 183,518 individuals has found a dramatic 25 per cent decrease in the risk of pancreatic cancer, which is usually fatal, from consumption of three flavonols: quercetin, kaempferol and myricetin. The risk reduction for smokers was even higher at 59 per cent; this effect is presumed to be because smokers already have a higher risk for pancreatic cancer. The research – which appeared in the October 15, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology and was the first to examine specific flavonols and pancreatic cancer – suggests these chemicals might reduce oxidative stress or inhibit cancer’s cell cycle and cell multiplication. Quercetin is found in black tea, red wine, apples, red onions and grapefruit. Kaempferol is found in broccoli, grapefruit, spinach and tea. And myricetin is found in walnuts, red onions and berries.

– Herbs better for period pain: An Australian review of 39 small studies, involving nearly 3,500 women in several countries, suggests Chinese herbs might be more effective in relieving menstrual cramps than drugs, acupuncture or heat compression. The study included Chinese angelica root (danggui), Szechuan lovage root (chuanxiong), red peony root (chishao), white peony root (baishao), Chinese motherwort (yimucao), fennel fruit (huixiang), nut-grass rhizome (xiangfu), licorice root (gancao) and cinnamon bark (rougui). Herb-taking participants were prescribed herbs specifically indicated by each patient’s pain pattern, in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine’s regulation of qi (energy), blood, body warmth and kidney or liver functions. Further research is needed due to the small number of participants in each of these studies. The review was reported in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4.

– Capers – Overlooked star of the Mediterranean diet: Scientists have found that the tiny caper packs a nutritional punch. In the study, published in the October 17, 2007 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, extract of capers helped prevent formation of certain byproducts of digesting meat that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Even the tiny amounts of caper used on food are sufficient to provide some protection to those who indulge in fatty or red meats.

– Black tea stabilizes blood sugar: A study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that black tea near mealtime blunts sudden spikes in blood sugar. Ninety minutes after a meal, the tea-drinking subjects’ serum insulin levels were higher compared to those who drank water or caffeinated water. And after two hours, the tea drinkers’ glucose levels were significantly reduced. The UK researchers speculate that certain polyphenols in the tea may have an insulin-stimulating effect on pancreatic B-cells – cells responsible for insulin production.

– Fights bad bacteria – but leaves the good: A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that red grape juice and red wines – cabernets, zinfandels and merlots in particular – have anti-microbial properties that help fight food-borne pathogens. And, surprisingly, they do not harm naturally useful, probiotic bacteria. The study, presented at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual conference in October, speculates that phytochemicals in red wine – but not in white wine – are responsible for the bacteria-inhibiting effect observed against E. coli, salmonella Typhimurium, Listeria monocytogenes and H. pylori.

– Food preferences inherited: Healthy-eating campaigns may have limited usefulness, suggests a new study that found our food preferences are about 41-48 per cent determined by genetics and not by our upbringing or social factors, as previously thought. The UK scientists, publishing strong evidence of their findings in the October 2007 issue of Twin Research and Human Genetics, found that our DNA is also a key determinant of our like or dislike for fruits and vegetables, garlic, red meat, coffee and alcohol. The strongest link between individual preference and genes involved a taste for coffee and garlic.

– Does a positive attitude aid cancer survival? A study published in the November 2007 issue of Cancer found that cancer patients with a positive attitude about conquering the disease do not live any longer than those who are negative. The researchers said patients needing counseling should still seek therapy but they should not do so solely on the expectation that it will extend their lives.

– Viagra — hearing loss risk? The FDA warned October 18 that Viagra, Cialis and Levitra may be a potential risk for sudden hearing loss and will soon be labelled to reflect that risk. The risk may be small because it is based on only 29 cases since 1996.

NEWSBITES

– The more you eat ’em…

Many readers will remember their childhood chants about beans: “Beans, beans, good for the heart – the more you eat ’em, the more you…” But did that first part of the rhyme have any basis in fact?

The U.S. National Institutes of Health reported in the November 26, 2001 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, a study involving 9,600 men and women who were followed for 19 years. The researchers concluded that consumption of legumes – beans, peas, peanuts and peanut butter – four or more times per week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 22 per cent, compared with eating legumes less than once a week. That means that beans are an important strategy in combating heart disease. And it means that old saying is true. Yes, both parts.

New vitamin discovered – and ignored

Back in 2003, News Briefs reported on a study that concluded that a compound previously thought to be an antioxidant is in fact, a new vitamin – the first discovered since 1948. Four years after we published the news, you still won’t find it listed on your one-a-day label. In case you were wondering, we thought we’d follow up.

The micronutrient PQQ – or pyrroloquinoline quinone – was discovered in 1979 but wasn’t recognized as a vitamin. In 1995, a study in Nutrition Review discussed PQQ’s usefulness as an antioxidant in fighting cellular damage, but still didn’t recognize its full nutritive value. Finally, a study published in the May 1, 2003 edition of Nature concluded that PQQ is important for immune response, reproduction, skin health and amino-acid breakdown – and is, therefore, a vitamin. Recent research suggests it has neuro-protective benefits. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Corporation is now producing PQQ, using a natural fermentation process; and Maypro Industries is marketing it to manufacturers who wish to incorporate PQQ in their products.

And yet, you’ll still have to rely on food sources to get your PQQ. Why?

Part of the answer is that, due to a lack of studies, there still has been no convincing evidence that corroborates earlier reports that PQQ is an essential cofactor in enzymatic activity within the body, despite the fact that it is accepted as an important biological factor. Another part of the answer is that marketers of one-a-day supplements simply haven’t bothered to add this nutrient to their products because customers haven’t demanded it; both mainstream and alternative health media have ignored this new nutrient.

Four years later, you’ll still have to get PQQ from food. The best known source is natto, a pungent Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans. Other PQQ-rich foods include parsley, green tea, green peppers, kiwi fruit and papaya.

Vitamins are defined as organic compounds required in the diet in small quantities for health and growth. PQQ appears to belong to the B-complex family of vitamins.

LONGEVITY LINKED TO SUGAR-FREE DIET

Cutting out sugar completely could extend your life by up to 15 years, suggests a new study on nematode worms – but the full benefit may require skipping antioxidant supplements as well. (Nematodes are used because their systems react in much the same way as the human body.)

German research, reported in the October 2007 issue of Cell Metabolism, found that blocking ingestion of glucose, a form of sugar, increased metabolic activity in mitochondria – certain cells used for fuel – substantially hiking longevity. (The sugar used in many foods is sucrose, a combination of fructose and glucose.) The longevity benefit from a glucose-free diet translates to 15 additional years of life in humans.

This increased mitochondrial activity boosted cellular oxygen consumption and, temporarily, the number of radicals (often unnecessarily called “free radicals”) – unstable molecules that can damage cells. But the study found that the body responded to this increased level of radicals with a broad secondary mechanism (“mitohormetically increased catalase activity”). This natural mechanism is an evolutionary, long-lasting, enzyme-based defence against radicals in general – and it boosts lifespan.

(This may explain the longevity benefit of calorie-restriction diets, or CR, which lower blood glucose levels.)

However, when supplemental antioxidants were ingested by test groups, they neutralized the radicals required to trigger this secondary, antioxidant-defence mechanism. Not only did antioxidants short-circuit the body’s natural defence, but they completely wiped out the no-glucose longevity benefit.

From this and other studies, the scientists suggest an increase in radicals must go hand-in-hand with glucose restriction to spark the longevity response. This may confuse some readers because they’ve been taught they should eliminate “free radicals” to prevent cell damage. However, few realize that some radicals are required for a number of biological processes, some of which are necessary for life, such as the killing of bacteria or the signalling to a body cell that it’s time to divide.

Popular theory says that mopping-up “free radicals” retards aging. However, research increasingly shows that, especially on a low-glucose diet, a threshold level of radicals is required to turn on the body’s natural antioxidant mechanism – and to permit a naturally-extended lifespan. Excess antioxidant intake appears self-defeating. (In fact, in our October issue, News Briefs reported on two studies showing excess levels of two antioxidant supplements cause heart disease and pulmonary hypertension, respectively.)

As the author of the new study wrote: “The widespread [and long-term] use of antioxidants as human food supplements may exert undesirable effects, i.e., decreased cellular and possibly impaired systemic stress resistance that may decrease life expectancy.”

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