News Briefs – October 2005

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Veggie Pill for Lung Cancer?

A wide range of common vegetables contain a group of chemicals that appear to help slow the development of lung cancer, according to two new studies. Isothiocyanates are sulphur-containing chemicals that provide much of the flavour found in cruciferous vegetables, the family that includes cabbage and broccoli. Other cruciferous veggies are cauliflower, kale, turnips, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, rutabaga, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, horseradish, radishes and watercress.

“The important feature of these studies is that when you treat non-cancerous lesions with [isothiocyanates], the progression of benign lesions into malignancies is actually slowed,” said study co-author Fung-Lung Chung, PhD, in an e-mail interview with Vitality.

Chung is a professor of oncology at Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center.
One problem: One study was conducted on mice and the other on human cancer cells in test tubes, rather than in human subjects and therefore, cannot be applied necessarily to humans. However, other recent studies have indicated that consuming isothiocyanates may help to prevent cancer in humans by speeding up the removal of carcinogens from the body. It’s the overall burden of evidence that counts, suggests Chung.

The compound has also demonstrated a potential to inhibit remaining active carcinogens from instigating tumour growth, while actually preventing inactive carcinogens from mobilizing in the first place. Both studies were published in the September 15, 2005 issue of Cancer Research.

Lung cancer is a leading cause of death among American men and women. Late detection and general ineffectiveness of chemotherapy contribute to the disease’s relatively low survival rate.

In light of these studies, Chung concludes that future human trials might lead to development of a regimen of isothiocyanates — perhaps administered in the form of a “veggie pill” — to treat both smokers and ex-smokers diagnosed with early lung lesions. “So this is a very wide range of activity for these compounds, potentially to be used to prevent lung cancer in smokers even before the lesions are present in the lung,” Chung wrote. “But we need clinical trials to make sure that this benefit can be translated to humans.”

The question remains, in other words, whether isothiocyanates will kill cancer cells in humans once they’ve been removed from the whole plant. Until that question is answered, it may be best to consume more vegetables, especially from the cruciferous family. Eat your broccoli.

For more information on cancer and food, check out the American Cancer Society. at www.cancer.org.
anti-cancer compound found — guess where?

Eating a diet rich in beans, nuts and cereals could help to prevent cancer because the foods contain a natural compound that inhibits the growth of tumours. Scientists at University College London (UCL) announced in September that the substance called — take a deep breath here — inositol pentakisphosphate, which is also found in lentils and peas, could also help researchers develop new therapies against the disease.

“Our study suggests the importance of a diet rich in foods such as beans, nuts and cereals, which could help prevent cancer,” said Marco Falasca, PhD, in an e-mail interview. Falasca is with UCL’s Sackler Institute, and reported the finding in the September 15, 2005 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

He and his team discovered that the compound inhibits an enzyme called phosphoinositde 3-kinase, which promotes tumour growth. Scientists have been trying to develop drugs to inhibit the cancer-promoting enzyme but have had difficulty so far. When the researchers tested inositol pentakisphosphate in mice and cancer cells in the laboratory, it killed the animal tumours and enhanced the effect of drugs used against ovarian and lung cancer cells.

“Our work will now focus on establishing whether the phosphate inhibitor can be developed into an anti-cancer agent for human therapy,” Falasca wrote.

So far evidence is lacking that the phosphate inhibitor is effective in humans when removed from the beans, nuts and cereals that furnish it. But it would make sense to include these foods in your diet and to watch this space for further developments.

Vitamin E Boosts Mice Lifespan

Mice given high doses of vitamin E lived on average 40% longer than a control group, report Spanish and Argentinean researchers, who suggest the results are due to the vitamin’s antioxidant activity.

Although the study cannot be directly compared with effects in humans, it calls into question the results of a controversial meta-analysis published last year. That study suggested a higher risk of death for people that took vitamin E supplements.

In the new research, scientists used 300 mice bred to age rapidly that normally live for an average 61 weeks. Aged 28 weeks, half of the animals were given daily supplements of vitamin E, equivalent to a dosage of about 1200-2000 mg per day in humans — or 1,800-3,000 iu per day. Note that this amount was for test purposes only and is much higher than the recommended upper limit of 1000 mg — or 1500 iu; it could be a risky dosage for humans.

The mice given vitamin E supplements in the study lived an average of 85 weeks without any negative side effects being observed. The maximal lifespan increased 17% to 136 weeks. Further, the team from the University of Cadiz in Spain and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina found that vitamin E supplements appeared to improve the ability of mice to perform in neuromuscular tests, suggesting that the vitamin also improved quality of life as well as longevity.

Writing in the July 2005 issue of the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, the researchers said the findings supported the free radical theory of aging, just one of the currently prevailing theories of how and why we age. Mice given vitamin E had lower levels of free radical-mediated reactions and oxidative damage in their mitochondria, the energy source of all cells. Normally in aging there is an increase in products of oxidation. The vitamin E supplements were also “able to prevent the decrease in the activities of brain enzymes that are mitochondrial markers of aging” by substantial levels, said Alberto Boveris, PhD, from the University of Buenos Aires.

The researchers are about to begin a new study in mice to see if they can repeat their results with smaller doses of vitamin E.

Top Source of Antioxidants

The top source of the antioxidant ergothioneine is … mushrooms? Yes. Few people are aware of it but white button mushrooms have about four times more of the antioxidant ergothioneine than chicken liver, and about 12 times more ergothioneine than wheat germ. And exotic mushroom varieties contain about 40 times more than wheat germ. Penn State University researchers revealed their fungus finding at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington, DC, on September 1.

Copper: Even Marginal Deficiency Risky

A study published in the September 2005 edition of the Journal of Nutrition concludes that heart structure and function are closely linked to dietary copper intake — so much so that even a marginal deficiency can promote cardiomyopathy, a group of disorders of the heart muscle that impair pumping function. The new research was conducted by scientists from a facility of the US Department of Agriculture.

The study on rats found that those on long-term diets representing only a marginal copper deficiency experienced excessive collagen deposits in the heart, compared to those on adequate copper intake.

Although they showed no outward signs of copper deficiency, the rats also suffered from myocyte hypertrophy — abnormally enlarged heart muscle cells — as well as blood pressure and other problems.

The conclusion? Even the slightest dietary shortages of copper may produce no noticeable symptoms or markers but can cause serious heart dysfunction.

Copper is necessary — along with iron — for the formation of hemoglobin. It also helps keep bones, blood vessels and nerves healthy. To get ample copper in your diet, look to oysters and other shellfish, whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes and organ meats; other good sources of copper are dark leafy greens, dried fruits such as prunes, cocoa, black pepper and yeast. Some copper is ingested from tap water passing through copper pipes; and of course, supplements are available in health food stores.

But getting the right amount of copper may be tricky. Mild deficiencies can damage the heart but an excess can reduce lung capacity. Reporting a new study in the September 2005 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a team from the University of Nottingham concluded that those ingesting higher levels of copper are unable to exhale as much oxygen — referred to as lung expiratory volume — as those with lower copper intake.

In July, researchers at the University of California, Davis, reported research showing that copper supplements of 2 mg taken daily can overload the body and lower immune function and reduced antioxidant activity.

The best advice seems to be to make sure you get a sufficient supply of copper-rich foods and if you take supplements, keep daily intake below 2 mg per day, on average.

Pomegranate Extract Cuts Arthritis

Scientists have found signs that the specific antioxidants in pomegranates may thwart osteoarthritis. Pomegranate extract accomplished two things, it was found. It cut levels of an inflammatory chemical called interleukin-1b (IL-1b). It also curbed enzymes that erode cartilage.

The results “indicate the pomegranate fruit extract or compounds derived from it may inhibit cartilage degradation in osteoarthritis and may also be a useful nutritive supplement for maintaining joint integrity and function,” wrote the authors.

Note however, that the researchers didn’t just crack open a pomegranate and put it in a blender. They also didn’t use juice from the supermarket. Instead, they made their own pomegranate extract from powdered pomegranate. Sophisticated filtering and measuring was used for scientific purity. To duplicate the results, you may have to take pomegranate extract supplements rather than drinking the juice that is mostly water and sugar.

But it may be worth seeking out these capsules. In May of this year, researchers reported that pomegranate juice may help prevent the return of prostate cancer; and in March, another study showed that pomegranate juice may fight hardening of the arteries.

This study was done at Case Western Reserve University. The results appear in the September 2005 edition of the Journal of Nutrition. These were lab tests, not as reliable as human studies.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, with more than two million patients in Canada.

News Notes

Nutty Discovery: Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, published in the September 2005 issue of Nutrition, discovered walnuts to be a potent source of melatonin. Many people use melatonin as something to help fall asleep after long air flights; but together, melatonin and omega-3 — both found in walnuts — also prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Cures Lost? Some cutting edge research on heart disease, cancer, AIDS and other ailments may now be lost forever. As rising floodwaters swamped New Orleans, Louisiana’s chief epidemiologist enlisted state police on a mission to break into a high-security government lab and destroy any dangerous germs before they could escape or fall into the wrong hands. Not since the torrential floods from Tropical Storm Allison, which badly damaged the Texas Medical Center in 2001, has scientific research been disrupted on such a large scale.

Another Whey: Using hydrolyzed casein or whey formulas when breast milk is inadequately produced may help prevent at-risk infants from developing allergies, according to a review of studies on the topic. The report appears in the September 2005 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Massive Doses of Vitamin C Kill Cancer: The September 2005 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that a high quantity of vitamin C — so high it can be achieved only via intravenous infusion — boosts hydrogen peroxide, which kills cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. This mechanism was found in the 1970s but later studies showed no benefit. Scientists now suggest the reason may be that early studies used IV ascorbate infusion but later studies did not.

Junk Food Terminated: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation September 15 to ban carbonated pop from high schools, making California the first U.S. state to do so. Soft drinks were banned from California’s lower grades two years ago. Beginning next July, students will be allowed to buy only water, milk, and some fruit and sport drinks that have limited sweeteners. (Ed: Hopefully the neurotoxic Aspartame sweetener will also be banned from school beverages.)

Mercury Rising: Mercury levels above the legal limit were found in swordfish bought in supermarket chains, says a University of North Carolina lab. The U.S. and Canadian governments advise pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid fish with highest levels of mercury — shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and to a lesser extent, tuna steaks and albacore tuna. However, they also advise even at-risk people to eat up to 12 ounces — about two meals — a week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury: shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna.

Olive Oil: Oleocanthal, a compound found in olive oil, has an anti-inflammatory action similar to the popular painkiller ibuprofen, reported U.S. researchers. The findings could help explain the widely reported health benefits of olive oil. Numerous studies have pointed to a link between high consumption of the product and the low rates of heart disease in many south European countries. Other studies suggest it may prevent cancer.

Lethal Shellfish: Consumers risk being poisoned by a potentially lethal toxin found in some shellfish, according to a U.S. study. While the Duke University researchers note that seafood offers significant health benefits, their findings suggest the current threshold of toxin at which affected fisheries are closed should be lowered.

Stress and Breast Cancer: High levels of daily stress may lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer, suggests research reported in the September 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal. This contrasts with prior studies indicating stress doubles the risk. It may be that regular doses of moderate stress are good, while a short burst of acute stress such as bereavement, is bad.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to lose their sight in later life, experts warn. The link between age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and smoking is now as robust as that between smoking and lung cancer — with the risk being two to four times higher among smokers. Recent research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology confirms several previous studies.

Gluten-Free Trend: Restaurant chains south of the border are starting to give some attention to celiac patients by offering gluten-free menus and dishes. Latest in the trend are: Legal Sea Foods, Mitchell’s Fish Market, Outback Steakhouse — a 760-restaurant chain — and P. F. Chang’s. Canada lags behind.

Passive Smoke Protection: Eating fruit and soy fibre appears to protect adults who were exposed to second-hand smoke as children from some of the long-lasting damage to their respiratory systems. The new Singapore study appears in the September 2005 issue of Thorax.

News Bites

Are You Getting the Right Kind of Vitamin D?

You know vitamin D supports strong bones, prevents muscle weakness and has other key health benefits. But here is something you probably don’t know: Not all vitamin D is the same.
Do you know the difference between ergocalciferol and cholecaciferol? Two glasses of milk may look the same. Both have the same amount of calcium and vitamin D. But only one has what researchers now believe is the right kind of vitamin D — vitamin D3. Experts say it’s critical to get enough of the right kind in your diet.

Bess Dawson-Hughes, PhD, of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University is one of the world’s leading researchers on vitamin D. Dawson-Hughes says that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) — the agency that sets the standards for vitamin D consumption — is likely to increase its vitamin D requirements in the near future. The NAS may also specify that D-3 is optimum.

“For years, we thought vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 had equal effectiveness for humans,” says Dawson-Hughes. “It turns out that vitamin D2 doesn’t have as long a benefit as the vitamin D3.”

D2, also known as ergocalciferol, comes from plants. But D3, known as cholecaciferol, comes from animals. Expert now say we need vitamin D3 to help metabolize the calcium we take in.

Canadians are at particular risk of not getting enough D3. That’s because the best source comes from the sun — something we miss out on for about half the year. And sunscreens often interfere with the requisite 10 midday minutes of sun during summer.

Eating animal foods rich in vitamin D — such as the fatty fish mackerel, salmon and sardines — will help. Drinking four to five glasses daily of milk or orange juice fortified with vitamin D3 will also give you enough. Check the label for either the subscript 3 next to the D or the word cholecaciferol. Cod liver oil is a good winter source of D3.

Now go ahead. Check the type of D in your vitamin tablets.

Chocolate and Acne

Myth: Eating too much chocolate can cause acne.

Truth: Contrary to popular belief, there is no link between eating chocolate and acne breakouts. Several scientific studies have disproved this common myth.

Carrots for the Eyes?

Myth: Carrots can improve your vision.

Truth: Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which is important for maintaining eye health. But eating large quantities of carrots or other foods containing vitamin A will not give you 20/20 vision if you don‚t already have it. In fact, too much vitamin A can be harmful to your health. A well-balanced diet that includes carrots can protect your eyesight — but it won‚t make it any better.

71

That’s how many calories you’ll lose by just talking on the phone for one hour. Spending an equal amount of time making love — one full hour of sex — will burn just 22 calories more, or a total of 93 calories. Standing in line doing nothing for an hour will pare 85 calories. Want to burn off a whopping 286 calories? Take showers until you’ve racked up 60 minutes.

Trans Formation

With mandatory labelling of dangerous trans fats and increased awareness of the health risks, what difference could a wholesale avoidance of trans fats make? At least 30,000 — and as many as 100,000 cardiac — deaths a year in the United States could be prevented if people replaced trans fat with healthier oils, according to a 1999 joint report by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Brigham and Women‚s Hospital in Boston.

Michael Downey is a columnist with Vitality Magazine, contributing his News Briefs column every month.

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