Health News Briefs: November, 2012

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Health News Briefs - November 2012

A new study has found that an active lifestyle helps to reduce the chance of getting breast cancer.


The largest-ever study to analyze the links between cancer and lifestyle has found that an active lifestyle, one that includes moderate exercise activities such as housework, brisk walking, and gardening, helps to reduce the chance of getting breast cancer. Researchers looked at over 8,000 breast cancer cases in women and concluded that those who were most physically active were 13 percent less likely to develop breast cancer compared with those who were physically inactive; and women who were moderately active had an eight percent lower breast cancer risk.
Previous research had estimated that more than three percent of breast cancers, more than five percent of colon cancers, and around four percent of womb cancers are linked to people doing fewer than 150 minutes of at least moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
In a phone interview with News Briefs, the lead researcher warned that further study is needed to reveal the mechanisms behind these links. The team suggested that small changes make a big difference. This study was peer-reviewed by the International Journal of Cancer, but has not yet been edited for publication. A tentative copy has now been made available online at for a fee or subscription.


A new study shows that daily supplements of doco-sahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, improve the reading and behaviour of underperforming primary school children aged seven to nine, suggesting DHA may be a safe, simple and effective way to improve reading skills in some children. (DHA is a key omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and seafood, but in this study the source was algae.)
For students whose underperformance on standardized testing placed them in the poorest 10 percentile of readers, DHA supplementation led to an improvement in reading that was about 50 percent greater than would normally be expected over the 16-week period of the study. Those in the lowest 20 percentile of readers experienced an improvement that was 20 percent greater than would normally be expected. The treatment was a fixed dose of 600 mg per day of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA from algal oil. In addition to the improvements in reading seen in children whose initial performance in this area was lowest, parents of children supplemented with daily DHA reported an overall improvement in the form of less hyperactivity and defiant behaviour than reported by parents of children in the control group. A follow-up study is currently underway to explore the effects of DHA supplementation on a larger sample of underperforming children.
This study was published in the September 6, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE. The entire study has now been made accessible online at without cost.


Scientists have found that blood levels of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene are significantly lower in patients with mild dementia than in control persons, suggesting that it might be possible help treat Alzheimer’s disease with diet or dietary antioxidants. (Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease characterized by memory loss; oxidative stress is suspected to play a role in promoting its development, and antioxidants might prove protective.) Scientists compared 74 Alzheimer’s patients, who had mild dementia and an average age of 78.9 years, with a control group consisting of 158 healthy, gender-matched persons of the same age. The serum concentrations of vitamin C and beta-carotene in the Alzheimer’s patients were found to be significantly lower than in those of control subjects. No difference between the groups could be found for other antioxidants such as vitamin E, lycopene, or coenzyme Q10. Results need to be confirmed in larger studies, because the researchers warned that additional parameters such as the storage and preparation of food as well as stressors in the life of participants might have influenced the findings.
This study was published in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is available online at with fee payment or subscription.


A study found that 50 percent of all randomly sampled women have sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops for 10 seconds or more, five times an hour; and up to 80-84 percent of women who are obese or have high blood pressure are afflicted.


Researchers have found that when objectively measured, and in the absence of the condition known as obstructive sleep apnea, snoring itself does not significantly increase mortality or cardiovascular disease risk. (Previous work from the group had found that sleep apnea definitely increases mortality risk but until now it had not been clear whether snoring by itself might also increase cardiovascular disease. This clarifies the risk after some clinic or hospital-based studies that had found suggestions that snoring alone might increase stroke risk.) The study of 380 men and women, monitored with a home sleep apnea and snoring monitoring device, found that those who snored most of the night had no greater risk of death over the next 17 years than people who snored only 12 percent or less of the night or not at all. The team advised in its report that obstructive sleep apnea is a disease that practitioners and the general public need to take more seriously; but snoring alone, while an acoustic problem for bed partners, is not likely to cause cardiovascular harm. This report was published in the September 2012 issue of the journal Sleep. The complete study is now available online at with a small fee.


Losing or gaining weight will not change the number of fat cells in your body. They just get smaller or larger.


A study has determined that low doses of a lipidated extract of curcumin may produce improvements in a broad range of underlying health factors – from reducing triglyceride levels, amyloid levels, and inflammatory activity to increasing salivary free-radical scavenging activity. (Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid of the popular Indian spice turmeric; it has been shown in some studies to produce improvement among people with various existing health problems when given in extremely high doses; but this is the first study to establish a beneficial role for curcumin supplements among healthy individuals when given in lower dosages. A lipidated curcumin is one that is prepared in a lipid-based compound.)
Lipidated curcumin, expected to enhance absorption of the curcumin, was given to healthy middle-aged subjects in low doses of 80 mg a day for four weeks. Blood and saliva samples showed that curcumin, but not placebo, produced the following statistically significant changes: a lowering of plasma triglycerides, salivary amylase levels, blood beta amyloid concentrations, and other factors that represent positive benefits; and an increase in plasma activity of catalase and myeloperoxidase (potent, primary antioxidants), as well as an increase in nitric oxide, and in the radical scavenging capacity of the saliva. This study was released September 26, 2012 by Nutrition Journal and the full study is now available online at


By increasing leptin and decreasing ghrelin, insufficient sleep makes us feel abnormally hungry, which leads to overeating and excess weight.


Scientists have found that certain measures can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease until advanced age. These include, for example, plenty of exercise, avoiding cigarette smoke, and the increased intake of fruits and vegetables. In the study, people who did little exercise showed an 80 percent greater risk of developing this neurological disease. (Even reducing this risk by 25 percent would save around a million people worldwide from having to experience Alzheimer’s disease; in other words, the condition would not develop before their death from old age.) Other factors that can accelerate the onset of the condition include being overweight, having diabetes mellitus or high blood pressure, smoking, as well as having a lower level of education, and depression. The researchers noted that if just these latter seven factors were eliminated, Alzheimer cases would drop by half. Diet changes proved particularly effective for those who are forgetful or have a familial risk of the disease; these included increased fruit and vegetable intake, especially leafy produce such as spinach or chard, as well as fatty, cold-water fish (at least twice weekly) such as mackerel, herring, tuna bluefin, sardine, Atlantic sturgeon, tuna albacore, whitefish, or anchovy.
This study was released on September 21, 2012 for World Alzheimer’s Day and has not yet been published.


A study has found that use of certain antibiotics may put children at higher risk for later development of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; and the link appears to be dose-dependent. (Earlier studies had suggested a link between bowel disease and antibiotic use, but most of those studies had limitations. Common symptoms of these lifelong conditions include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.)
The study looked at data on over one million UK children, ranging up to age 17, and followed them for more than two years. Although there was an 84 percent increased risk of developing the bowel diseases for those who took antibiotics, there were still only 750 cases of bowel disease per one million children in total, which is considered a very low risk overall. Researchers stressed this is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. If the link turns out to be causal, it may be mediated by a change in the bacterial environment of the gut, which might trigger inflammation. (The bowel diseases are marked by chronic intestinal inflammation.) The team suggested that parents tell the pediatrician if the family has a history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This study was released by the journal Pediatrics, on September 24, 2012. It is now available online at with fee or subscription.


Extreme temperatures during heat waves and cold spells may increase the risk of premature cardiovascular disease (CVD) death, according to new research. This study is the first in which researchers examined the association between daily average temperature and years of life lost due to CVD. (Years of life lost measures premature death by estimating average years of life lost relative to average life expectancy. Earlier studies found that temperature extremes can trigger changes in blood pressure, blood thickness, cholesterol, and heart rate.) The findings are important considering the growing obesity trend and world climate changes. Researchers collected their data in Brisbane, Australia between 1996 and 2004. Risk of premature CVD death rose more when extreme temperature was sustained for two or more days. Spending a few hours daily in a temperate environment may help offset the effect. The researchers suggested the findings may not apply to other communities, or may have a different effect on other causes of death. This study was published in the Sept. 2012 issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal. It can be read online now at with subscription or fee.


Two decades after its introduction, scientists have largely overturned the controversial hygiene hypothesis, which had suggested that our increasingly sanitized environments may be behind the rise in allergic, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders. One of the scientists who first helped introduce the hygiene hypothesis, Graham Rook, coauthored this new report. He reported that the rise in allergies and inflammatory diseases still seems at least partly due to gradually losing contact with the range of microbes with which our immune systems co-evolved, going back in the Stone Age. Our decreased immune contact with these key microbes has been due to 20th-century shifts to cleaner water, safer food, sanitation and sewers, obsessions with cleanliness, and maybe overuse of antibiotics, antiseptics, and disinfectant cleansers. As a result, people today have grown up with inadequately trained, and therefore inadequately regulated, immune systems that are much less able to cope.
But, on the other hand, the report suggests that a relaxation of cleanliness only opens the door to newer microbes such as E. coli O104. This has nothing to do with cleaning habits: even the cleanest-looking homes still abound with bacteria, viruses, fungi, moulds, and dust mites. This is mainly because microbes come in from outside, and the microbes in towns and cities are very much different from those on farms and in the countryside where most people used to live. Essentially, the report authors correct previous theories that we should reconnect with dirt; the new scientific attitude is that the trick is not to get dirty, but to reconnect with the right kind of dirt. This study by the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene was presented October 3, 2012 in Liverpool at the medical conference, Infection Prevention 2012. The report has now been posted online on the Home Hygiene and Health Internet portal for cost-free viewing at
Editor’s note: In my opinion, one worthwhile line of research would study the connection between allergies, asthma, cancer, and the use of conventional laundry detergents, household cleaners, chemical air fresheners, and other sources of indoor air pollution. Anecdotal evidence is currently pointing toward a link between lung disease and indoor air quality (for example, people are getting lung cancer who never smoked a day in their life), and now it’s time for the scientific community to step up and do new research. According to “An EPA study stated that the toxic chemicals in household cleaners are 3 times more likely to cause cancer than outdoor air. CMHC reports that houses today are so energy efficient that “out-gassing” of chemicals has nowhere to go, so it builds up inside the home. We spend 90% of our time indoors, and 65% of that time at home. Moms, infants and the elderly spend 90% of their time in the home. The National Cancer Association released results of a 15-year study concluding that women who work in the home are at a 54% higher risk of developing cancer than women who work outside the home.” Needless to say, switching to eco-friendly, biodegradable cleaning products is a good first step towards eliminating the toxic assault on you and your family, not to mention the lakes and rivers where all of our chemical cleaners end up.


Nearly two-thirds of North Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women; scientists are not sure why.


Nonsmokers who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke lose 20 percent more of their memory over a four and a half year period than unexposed nonsmokers; that is almost as much as the 30 percent more memory loss of smokers relative to unexposed nonsmokers. (While secondhand smoke has been found in prior studies to be detrimental to various elements of the health of nonsmokers, this is the first study to explore the link between secondhand smoke and everyday memory problems.)
The deficits exhibited by nonsmokers, who were exposed to secondhand smoke for 25 hours per week over a four and a half year term, amounted to significant loss of thinking skills and memory function. Those nonsmokers were exposed to smoke while living with smokers, or while spending a substantial amount of time in designated smoking areas. The researchers suggested further studies are needed to better understand the links between secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke and mental status. This study was released October 12, 2012 by the journal Addiction, although it will not appear in print until a future issue. It can be accessed in full at with payment of a fee or with journal subscription.


A study has found that there is a link between higher consumption of fructose among obese people with Type 2 diabetes on the one hand, and increased uric acid levels and reduced liver energy stores on the other hand. (High uric acid, or hyperuricemia, is linked to lower levels of liver adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, a compound involved in transferring energy between cells. In North America, there has been an alarming trend toward increased rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD. Fructose is a simple sugar found in fruits and vegetables; it is also combined with glucose to manufacture high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener in many packaged foods such as cereal and soda.)
High fructose consumption was defined as above 15 grams a day. Energy depletion in the liver can result in liver damage for those who have, or are at risk for, the metabolic condition NAFLD. They stressed that this is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship.
The study was published in the September 2012 issue of the journal Hepatology. It is accessible online at with fee payment.


Only about 5 to 8 percent of cancers, depending on cancer site, are due to an inherited gene.


Researchers have found that a high-calorie, high-sugar, high-sodium Western diet, sometimes nicknamed the cafeteria diet, induced most of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome in rats after only two months. (Metabolic syndrome is a combination of high levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and obesity. It is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.)
Rats received nutritional food pellets along with a selection of junk food items, including sausages, cookies, and cupcakes. They received both water and a 30 percent sucrose solution designed to imitate soft drinks. At the time that the test animals on the two-month Western diet developed metabolic syndrome, they were at an age roughly equivalent to 16 to 22 years in human terms. This suggests that high-fat and high-sugar diets trigger lifetime health problems and higher risk of stroke or death at a younger age.
The lead researcher predicted that society will soon begin to see people in their 30s and 40s having the same strokes and dementia commonly associated with seniors. This study was presented in Calgary on October 1, 2012 at the Canadian Stroke Congress. It has not yet been published or web-posted.



Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.

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