News Briefs – October 2008


According to a study that has been accepted by, and will be published soon in, the journal Atherosclerosis, a higher intake of vitamin K2 is associated with less calcification of coronary arteries. For vitamin K1, no such link was found.

Researchers of the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands examined 564 post-menopausal women to determine if a daily intake of vitamin K1 and K2 is associated with a degree of coronary calcification. The results indicate that daily consumption of 45 micrograms (mcg.) of K2, compared with the very low intake of 18 mcg, is important to prevent diseases of the heart and arteries. A higher intake of vitamin K2 was associated with 20 per cent reduction of coronary calcification.

(Note that this study measured actual dietary consumption of K2 – not the body levels. This is important because the bacteria in our gut produce K2, which is why dietary consumption is not necessary to avoid an all-out deficiency unless the intestines have been heavily damaged. And this vitamin can be stored by the body like any other fat-soluble vitamin. But government health authorities hold that for optimum health, we require both internally-produced vitamin K and dietary sources.)

Artery calcification is hardening of the arteries caused by the gradual impregnation of the coronary arteries by calcium salts. It is a serious heart disease risk.

Vitamin K1 (which failed to show an arterial benefit) is also called phylloquinones. It can be derived from leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin K2 (also called menaquinones) can be found in forms known as MK-4 and as MK-7. Because K2 normally is made by bacteria (often in the intestines), MK-4 is found in meat, eggs, dairy and natto, the traditional Japanese breakfast food comprised of fermented soybeans. MK-7, however, is found only in fermented dairy food products such as curd cheese and in natto, the richest source. MK-7 is available in supplements containing 45 mcg.


A substance found in broccoli may limit the damage which leads to serious lung disease, research suggests.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is often caused by smoking. Toxins build up in the lungs and the cells are insufficiently protected by normal functioning of a gene called NRF2. US scientists found that the sulforaphane in broccoli increases the activity of the NRF2 gene in human lung cells.

In the September, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine wrote that the gene is responsible for turning on several mechanisms for removing toxins and pollutants which can damage cells.

In August, the same broccoli compound was found to protect blood vessels from damage caused by diabetes. Brassica, or cruciferous, vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.


A University of Oxford study, published in the September 9, 2008 edition of the journal Neurology, found that older people with lower than average B12 levels are over six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage.

Shrinkage of the brain has been linked strongly with a higher risk of developing dementia.

Many foods are now fortified with folic acid, which has caused concern because folic acid can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency in older people.

The vitamin is found in meat, fish, milk and supplements. Liver and shellfish are especially rich sources.


Folic acid is recommended to pregnant women to prevent birth detects. But it may be time to look at how much is enough and how much is too much, suggests a new study.

Researchers in Colorado and North Carolina fed pregnant mice diets either high or low in folic acid. The offspring of the mice on the highest dose of folic acid had more severe asthma, were more likely to have allergic inflammation in their airways, and had more immune cells associated with allergies.

“Our findings suggest the dramatic increase in asthma during the past two decades may be related in part to recent changes in dietary supplementation among women of childbearing age,” said David Schwartz, PhD, lead author of the study published in the September 18, 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Although both genes and environment are believed to play a role in the development of asthma, scientists have been unable to definitively identify specific causes of the disease or explain the rise in asthma rates.

Asthma rates have nearly doubled from 25 years ago – and for most of that period, the government recommended pregnant women take folic acid supplements. It has been included as well in flours, grains and breads. The trick may be finding a balance between an amount that will prevent birth defects and an amount that may result in childhood asthma.


You’ve heard that, if you’re taking any medications, you should avoid grapefruit juice because it can render them ineffective or produce an overdose reaction. New research by David G. Bailey, PhD, the scientist who discovered the grapefruit-drug conflict, shows we should add orange juice and apple juice to that list.

Grapefruit juice contains a substance called naringin, which researchers believe slows down an enzyme in the liver that processes at least 40 drugs. The result of the slow processing could mean that a normal pill could turn into an overdose. Orange juice contains a similar compound, probably hesperidin, while the substance in apple juice remains unknown.

Many prescription medications have labels warning consumers against drinking grapefruit juice, and now apple and orange juice might join their fellow fruit on the sticker. Caffeine and some supplements can interfere with medication too.

Best bet? If you’re taking any meds, drink no juices of any kind, or coffee, for a couple of hours before and after.


High-dose injections of vitamin C reduce tumour weight and growth rate by about 50%  in mouse models of brain, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers. Researchers from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported the finding on September 4.

Interest in vitamin C as a potential cancer therapy peaked 30 years ago when data suggested possible benefit. In 1979 and 1985, however, researchers found no benefit for cancer patients taking high oral doses of vitamin C in two double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

But natural physiologic controls precisely limit the amount of ascorbate (vitamin C) that is absorbed by the body when it is taken orally. To bypass these limits, NIH scientists injected ascorbate into the veins or abdominal cavities of rodents with cancerous tumours. This way, they were able to deliver high doses of ascorbate – up to whopping 4 grams per kilogram of body weight daily.

Although the mouse study was not conclusive, it raises the possibility that vitamin C therapy might work in humans – but only if it is injected. Extensive studies would be required.

(Editor’s Note: For prevention of cancer, Vitamin C taken orally is still at the top of the recommended list, as proven by the research of both Linus Pauling and Dr. Abram Hoffer.)


Asthma? No sweat: An unpublished study by University of Michigan researchers concludes that those who make less sweat, tears and saliva while exercising may have more breathing problems and exercise-related asthma. There may be too little fluid in their airways. The link is a hypothesis at this point, not yet conclusive.

Crib death due to infection?
The September 2008 issue of the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood, carries a study suggesting that crib death or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) may be due to bacterial infection. Samples from babies who died of crib death carried potentially harmful bacteria in various body sites that are usually sterile. The researchers suggest some SIDS deaths may result when bacteria trigger “a chemical storm,” overwhelming the baby and causing death.

Plastic risk? A major study of health effects from a chemical used in plastic water bottles, food cans and other products – bisphenol A or BPA – hints at a possible link to risks for heart disease and diabetes. Because of public health implications, the results “deserve scientific follow-up,” the study authors wrote in the September 16, 2008 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. But the study is preliminary, far from proof that the chemical causes heart disease and diabetes. In fact, separate scientific reviews by the German, European and Japanese governments found no risk to babies and infants.

Clean living slows aging: Getting more exercise and eating the right foods may help increase levels of an enzyme vital for guarding against age-related cell damage. A study program included a diet high in fruit and vegetables, supplements of vitamins and fish oils, an exercise regimen and classes in stress management, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. The US study, published in the September 15, 2008 issue of The Lancet Oncology, found levels of telomerase increased by 29%, on average, in study participants. (Telomerase repairs and lengthens telomeres, which cap and protect the ends of chromosomes housing DNA; as telomeres shorten, we age.)

Motrin heart risk? Ibuprofen may raise the risk of heart attacks when taken daily by elderly people, says a new study by Boston scientists, released September 9. The study did not find a heart risk from aspirin or any other over-the counter pain relievers. (Researchers warned that, until further work is done, they could only say the heart risk applies to older white women.) Ibuprofen is sold in Canada as Motrin and Advil.

Ayurveda contamination: According to a Boston University study published in the September 11, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 20 per cent of the ayurveda medicine sold via the Internet contains toxic levels of lead, arsenic and mercury. The finding is significant because the research team was made up of advocates of alternative medicine and included an ayurvedic practitioner. Sometimes the presence of metals was a result of sloppy manufacturing; other times the metals were added deliberately as part of the cure. The JAMA report targets an Ayurveda practice called rasa shastra, which uses mercury and other metals as curatives. Nearly half of the rasa shastra remedies tested had dangerous levels of metals – several were 10,000 times over the US  safety limit.

Mineral Oil and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Linked to Skin Cancer? Moisturizers used by millions induced skin cancer in experiments on mice, concludes a study in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Researchers tested four common skin creams on hairless mice, exposed to ultraviolet light. Non-melanoma skin cancers increased 24 to 95% compared to mice not treated with creams. When tests were repeated with a made-to-order cream lacking suspect ingredients (mineral oil and sodium lauryl sulfate), cancer rates dropped sharply. However, be aware that rodent skin is more sensitive than human skin. Non-melanoma skin cancer is curable surgically; in rare cases, it can prove fatal.

Calcium may lower lead levels: A study published online in Environmental Health Perspectives on September 18, 2008, found pregnant women who take 1,200 mg of calcium supplement a day have up to a 31 per cent chance of reducing lead levels in their blood (in addition to decreasing fetal and infant exposure).

Does stevia cause DNA damage? Coca-Cola and Pepsi are seeking FDA approval for stevia and planning to introduce new drinks made with rebiana, an extract of stevia leaves that’s 200 times sweeter than sugar. But according to a new 26-page report by toxicologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, several laboratory tests show that the sweetener causes mutations and DNA damage, which raises the prospect that it causes cancer. Stevia is legal in foods in Japan and several other countries but the United States, Canada and the European Union bar stevia in foods because of older but inconclusive tests that suggest it might interfere with reproduction. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says approval should be forestalled until further research is done.

Down in the dark? The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is not known. Is it depression, lack of sunlight or seasonal? A study implicates light (not just sunlight) deprivation, disrupting our internal clock. The research by Gary Aston-Jones, PhD, then at the University of Pennsylvania, appeared in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He kept rats in stress-free darkness for 6 weeks and determined they became depressive—and suffered damage in the exact area of the brain that is under-active in humans when depressed. We asked Aston-Jones how well the rat study applied to humans. “Some evidence indicates that nocturnal animals may be less sensitive to light deprivation than diurnal animals,” he wrote in an e-mail to News Briefs. “So the effects we saw might be more pronounced in diurnal humans than in our nocturnal rats.”

Chamomile for diabetes: Drinking chamomile tea daily with meals may help prevent the complications of diabetes, which include loss of vision, nerve damage and kidney damage, report researchers in Japan and the United Kingdom in the September 10, 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. A chamomile extract fed to diabetic rats lowered levels of two substances associated with increased diabetic complications.

Resveratrol studies: A study published in the July 2008 issue of Cell Metabolism followed up on 2006 findings (reported here) that resveratrol improves health and longevity of overweight, aged mice. It found that, although resveratrol does slow age-related deterioration and functional decline of mice on a standard diet, it does not increase longevity when started at middle age. Also, a study published in the same month in Cancer Prevention Research, measured the effect of resveratrol on cellular functions known to contribute to breast cancer, observing that the compound suppresses the abnormal cell formation that leads to most types of breast cancer.


Ever wondered if an e-mail circulating the Internet—and suggesting that raisins and grapes are deadly for dogs—is true? News Briefs has confirmed that it is.

Even a single grape can destroy a dog’s or cat’s kidneys, leading to death. The type doesn’t matter—organic or conventional, commercial or home-grown, dried or fresh. And grapes are just one human food that can be toxic or even fatal to dogs, cats and other pets. The ingredient that kills pets isn’t always clear; but their systems are not the same as ours and a human treat as a simple act of love can kill your pet.

Dogs are carnivores—they need meat—but are partly omnivores; they can survive on a balanced meat-plant food diet.

Cats, however, are strict carnivore obligates, incapable of digesting or receiving nutrition from plant foods. They need lots of animal-source protein and fat—or they will die. Cats have lost the ability to manufacture the vitamins and enzymes they need. Nutrients, fat and protein must be present in their food in correct proportions, which is why commercial food is best.

Here are more human foods potentially fatal to pets.

  • Chocolate (cats and dogs)
  • Onion and garlic (very toxic to cats)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pear pips, plum kernels, apple seeds (causes cyanide poisoning)
  • Peaches and apricots
  • Potato peelings and green looking potatoes
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Moldy/spoiled foods
  • Alcohol
  • Yeast dough
  • Coffee grounds, beans & tea (caffeine)
  • Hops (used in home brewing)
  • Tomato leaves & stems
  • Broccoli
  • Raisins and grapes
  • Cigarettes, tobacco, cigars
  • Tomatoes & tomato/spaghetti sauce (very toxic to cats)

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

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