News Briefs – October 2011

CURCUMIN HELPS ALLEVIATE TENDONITIS

Researchers have found that curcumin, the compound that gives the curry spice turmeric its trademark yellow colour, can suppress the biological signalling pathways involved in tendonitis that spark painful inflammation. (Aging and inflammatory diseases have increased, raising demand for anti-inflammatory treatments. Curcumin, or diferuloylmethane, is a naturally occurring polyphenol.) Although they stressed that curcumin is not a tendonitis cure, the researchers suggested that, after further study, the compound or altered versions of it could be a part of an effective tendonitis treatment program. If an anti-inflammatory treatment such as curcumin proved effective against tendonitis, it may also help treat other inflammatory disorders such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, psoriasis, and other pathologies. No negative side effects were noted in dosages as high as 12 grams a day. This study was published in the August 12, 2011 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. It is available online now at https://www.bit.ly/riXFwQ without fee.

VITAMIN D MAY INHIBIT LIVER DISEASE

A study has found that vitamin D therapy may help prevent liver cell fibrosis, the weaving together of which is the scarring that is the defining characteristic of cirrhosis of the liver. (Liver cirrhosis is caused by hepatitis, alcoholism or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD, the exact cause of which is not known.) Fibrosis, which is an accumulation of protein, including collagen, is a key symptom in the development of cirrhosis. Scientists found that the active form of vitamin D inhibited enzyme activity associated with fibrosis, and inhibited markers for fibrosis and collagen deposits. The success of vitamin D in a cell culture of liver cells was confirmed in test rats. Analysis of enzyme activity proved the anti-fibrosis effect was directly due to the vitamin D. The team suggested that vitamin D may have therapeutic value in preventing liver fibrosis in humans, but further study is required. This study was released August 4, 2011, but will not be published in print until a future issue of the journal, Gut.

PIPERINE BOOSTS BIOAVAILABILITY OF RESVERATROL

A study has found that piperine, a natural extract of black pepper, increases the bioavailability of resveratrol, a beneficial phenol largely unavailable to the body due to its low ability to reach the bloodstream. (Bioavailability is the amount of a substance that reaches the blood. Resveratrol is found in red grape skin and in knotweed; it has numerous healthful (and some suggest anti-aging) benefits but its effectiveness is limited by its very low bioavailability. Piperine has been found in previous studies to increase the bioavailability of some compounds; it boosts curcumin bioavailability in humans by 2,000%. It may help stimulate pigment production in patients with the pigment-destroying disease vitiligo.) Mice were given resveratrol with and without piperine. Those receiving piperine showed a 229% increase in exposure to resveratrol, and a 1,544% increase in resveratrol blood levels. Further research is needed to determine the mechanism by which piperine may be raising resveratrol bioavailability, and to test its effectiveness in humans. This study was published in the August 2011 issue of the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY RAISES RISK OF METABOLIC SYNDROME

A study has found that those with low vitamin D levels are 70% more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Also, those with low levels of vitamin D were 2.63 times as likely to be obese in the abdomen; 26% more likely to have low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol; 22% more likely to have high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels; 46% more likely to have high or abnormal blood triglycerides; and 43% more likely to have high or abnormal blood pressure readings. The results of this research on Asian volunteers in Kuala Lumpur confirm similar findings regarding vitamin D deficiencies among non-Asian Westerners. This study was published in a supplement of the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

INSUFFICIENCY OF FORGOTTEN NUTRIENT IS WIDESPREAD, ACCORDING TO STUDY

Information now flowing out of an ongoing study (on nutrition in pregnancy) has prompted the researchers to report separately, and before that study is completed, that choline has become the forgotten nutrient, and that almost no one is getting a sufficient intake for optimal health. Worse, it is difficult to get enough choline from dietary sources and many people assume that, because the liver does manufacture a small amount of choline, a dietary supply is not required. Choline is often left out of multivitamin supplements; among the first 600 Edmonton and Calgary women studied so far, only one was taking any supplement that contained choline. Eggs and liver are among the highest food sources; but a sufficient supply of choline would require about five ounces of liver, or 4-5 eggs, every day. Choline is linked to liver health, brain function, and may help prevent arteriosclerosis, neurological disorders, and muscle damage; it is especially important to fetal development. The researchers noted that even nutrition-related schools have largely ignored teaching about this essential nutrient. Women require 425 mg, and men 550 mg, daily. The study is ongoing and these results have not been published. (Editor’s note: Choline supplements are best taken in combination with a full B-vitamin complex for best absorption.)

CHINESE HERBS COMBAT FEVER OF INFLUENZA AS WELL AS DRUGS

Researchers have concluded that 4-times-daily 200 mL doses of Maxingshigan-Yinqiaosan (a blend of 12 Chinese herbs) works as effectively as 2-times-daily 75 mg doses of oseltamivir (also known as Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that slightly decreases the duration of influenza) at shortening the amount of time it takes to get rid of the fever of influenza. Just over 400 influenza patients with fever who were confined to hospital for quarantine reasons were divided into four groups: no treatment, oseltamivir, the Chinese herb mixture, or the herb mixture combined with the drug. Fever among the untreated patients passed in 26 hours; however, the drug, herb, and combined groups saw the time for their fever to pass reduced to the statistically equivalent times of 20, 16, 15 hours, respectively. In this study, no other symptoms were improved in any group. Two of the herb group reported nausea, a symptom that has been reported outside this study by users of Tamiflu. This study was published August 16, 2011 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and is available online now at https://www.bit.ly/oLYuq7 free to subscribers, or for a small access fee.

EVEN WOMEN WHO SUPPLEMENT HAVE SUB-OPTIMAL LEVELS OF VITAMIN D

New research reports that – although 80% of pregnant women tested take supplements – 65% did not have blood levels of vitamin D recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society for pregnant and breastfeeding women; and 24% did not have vitamin D levels recommended by Health Canada (the equivalent of the U.S. FDA) for women of all ages, pregnant or not. (Newborns with low levels of vitamin D have increased risk of Type 1 diabetes, asthma and low bone mass in later life. Low levels increase the risk of preeclampsia, a sudden onset of high blood pressure during pregnancy and a leading cause of maternal death.) This study shows that, no matter what recommended intake a woman follows, there is a substantial chance her blood will show insufficient vitamin D levels. Further research is needed to determine the optimum intake levels for pregnant women, and this must account for dietary levels, sunlight exposure, needs during pregnancy, and supplements. This study was just published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, but we are not permitted to reprint details; the full text is not available to non-subscribers, even by access fee.

RESVERATROL STUDY REVIEW FINDS ANTI-AGING, ANTI-CANCER BENEFIT

A study has reviewed previous research on resveratrol and determined that it has benefits against aging, inflammation, cancer, and free radicals. (Resveratrol is an antibiotic polyphenol produced by plants as a defence against microorganisms.) Although the evidence on humans is weak compared to evidence on cells, enzymes, and animals, the review did find that resveratrol prevents the growth of some cancers in mice, inhibits enzymes that cause inflammation, shrinks tumours and increases blood flow, thus reducing cardiovascular diseases. It also extends the life of obese animals. Some evidence also shows that resveratrol could one day be used to help regulate insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients. Resveratrol is easily tolerated but has low bioavailability; it is found in trace quantities in red grapes and peanuts, and in supplements. The study was published in the August, 2011 issue of the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

EXTRACT OF WHOLE GINGER HAS ANTI-CANCER EFFECTS

For the first time, scientists have studied the anti-cancer effects of whole ginger, in contrast to its constituents, and shown that it halts some cancers, and shrinks prostate cancer by as much as 60%. The research team suggests a possible synergistic anti-cancer effect of several ginger compounds, potentially including one or more chemicals that are found only in very small amounts, the importance of which might have been ignored. The study included both cancer cells and mice, and the chemical used came from a single batch of ginger freeze-dried over several weeks. Breast and cervical cancers all stopped growing in the presence of extract of whole ginger, and a spectrum of prostate cancer cells showed a process of cancer cell death. The amount of whole ginger that a human would have to consume to reproduce these anti-cancer benefits would be three and a half ounces daily; although this is a significant amount, it may yet prove an effective cancer treatment because the study found no toxic side effects. This just-released study will appear in a future issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, but is available online now at https://www.bit.ly/nH6umL without charge.

VITAMIN D PROTECTS AGAINST MORE AGGRESSIVE COLON CANCERS

Researchers have found that cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3, acts on a specific biological pathway that results in a protective effect against more aggressive forms of colon cancer. Evidence that vitamin D inhibits the growth of colon cancer cells is not new, but this study found that vitamin D slows down the action of beta-catenin, a key protein in the carcinogenic transformation process that can cause colon cancers to develop as the more aggressive type. The study was conducted on mice and also on human colon cancer cells. The scientists reported that treatment with vitamin D in the initial stages of colon cancer could prevent development of aggressive cancers and save lives, but they stressed that this would not be useful in the advanced stages. Vitamin D is available from some foods such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna), from direct sunlight on exposed skin, and from supplement pills or cod liver oil. The sole vegan source is UV-irradiated mushrooms. This study was just published electronically in the online journal PLoS, and the full text is now available at https://www.bit.ly/mYUAJ0 without cost.

SAFFRON ANTI-CANCER BENEFIT CONFIRMED AND MECHANISM EXPLAINED

New research has both confirmed previously observed benefits of the spice saffron against hepatocellular cancer, and determined that the mechanism for this effect is its ability to stop the proliferation of cells and to initiate apoptosis, a process of cell death. (Hepatocellular cancer, or HCC, is liver cancer, which is the third leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide; it is linked to chronic hepatitis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol abuse, and environmental toxins such as tobacco smoke. Prior studies have shown saffron to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties.) Rats were given 75, or 150, or 300mg per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg/day). Saffron reduced the incidence and number of liver cancer nodules in the groups with the lower doses, but furnished the 300 mg/kg/day rats with complete protection against HCC. Analysis showed this effect stemmed from blocking HCC cell proliferation, and from prompting these cancer cells to self-destruct. Saffron also decreased liver inflammation. This study will be published in the September 2011 issue of the journal Hepatology, but is available online now at https://www.bit.ly/qEOvHs.

ANTENATAL VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY INCREASES INSULIN RESISTANCE

Researchers have found that deficiency of vitamin B12 during pregnancy raises the risk of children developing insulin resistance by the time they reach 6-8 years of age, although pre-birth supplements of zinc, iron, and folate had no significant effect on later insulin resistance. Insulin resistance was measured in the children by means of fasting tests of glucose and insulin. This study of the offspring of 1,132 mothers was released online on August 24, 2011, but will not be published until the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. It is available online now at https://www.bit.ly/nITIGb to subscribers or fee-payers.

MAGNESIUM INTAKE LINKED TO REDUCED RISK OF DIABETES

A meta-study looked at different levels of magnesium intake and concluded that for every 100 mg increment in daily magnesium intake among overweight people, there was a 14% reduced risk of developing diabetes Type 2. There was no significant reduction in diabetes risk among normal-weight individuals. The research included 13 prior studies, including a total of 536,318 individuals. The relationship between diabetes and magnesium results was not affected by other factors, such as geographic location, sex, or family history of diabetes. This study was published in the September 2011 issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

FLAME RETARDANTS LINKED TO LOWER-BIRTH-WEIGHT BABIES

Researchers have found a link between polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), compounds in flame retardants commonly found in the home, and reduced baby weight at birth. (PBDE use began increasing after fire safety standards tightened in the 70s, but were phased out in 2004; they persist on foam furniture, baby products and carpet padding.) The scientists noted that very few of the babies in the study weighed less than 2500 grams, or 5.5 pounds, which is the definition of a low-birth-weight baby, a definition that carries greater health risks; however, the weights of babies from homes containing higher levels of flame retardant were generally lower than the weights of babies born to mothers from homes containing lower levels of retardant chemicals. For every tenfold increase in levels of PBDE in the blood of the mother, there was a 115-gram decrease in birth-weight of babies. (For comparison, smoking during pregnancy results in a 150- to 250-gram decrease in birth-weight.) This study was released August 30, 2011 but will not be published until a future issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. It is accessible online now at https://www.bit.ly/qbr2Wf with subscription or fee.

NATURAL BACTERIAL PEPTIDE KILLS FOOD BACTERIA

A scientist has discovered a naturally found lantibiotic that kills food-borne bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria – and is naturally occurring in a harmless bacterium, is non-toxic, is easily digested, does not produce allergic reactions, and discourages bacterial resistance to its specific strain. (A lantibiotic is a type of antibiotic that is made of amino acids, and is known as a peptide.) Unlike some other natural preservatives, it kills a much broader range of bacteria. In addition to being completely safe for use in food, it will work against bacteria in many food items, such as meats, processed cheeses, egg and dairy products, canned foods, seafood, salad dressings, and fermented beverages. Its eventual use in foods (the University of Minnesota, home of the research, will now attempt to license the technology) may protect against the allergic reactions suspected with some artificial preservatives. Also, it is expected to decrease the number of outbreaks of salmonella, a food poisoning that has increased more dramatically than other food-borne illnesses. (Salmonella kills 28% of the 3,000 Americans who die annually from food poisoning.) Details of the breakthrough study have not been published online or in print.

COMPOUND MIMICS CALORIE RESTRICTION, INCREASES LONGEVITY

A study has found that a patented molecule known as SR1720 improved health and extended the lifespan of obese mice by up to 44 percent, suggesting the compound might dramatically slow aging in humans. (SR1720, also called SRT-1720, is a compound previously shown to activate an enzyme called SIRT1, one of a class of enzymes called sirtuins that have been implicated in the aging process and are thought to contribute to the positive effects of calorie restriction. The red wine compound resveratrol provides a weaker but similar effect.) In the mouse study, this compound mimicked the anti-aging effects of calorie restriction despite obesity induced by a high-fat diet. It increased longevity, reduced fat accumulation in the liver, decreased insulin resistance in the pancreas, raised HDL (good) cholesterol levels, suppressed inflammation and cell death in the heart, lowered oxygen consumption during periods of rest, and inhibited expression of genes associated with aging of the liver, kidney, and brain. Determining whether this molecule will have a similar anti-aging, anti-obesity effect on humans will require much more research. This study was conducted by the US National Institutes of Health and was published in the August 18, 2011 issue of the online journal Scientific Reports. It is accessible at https://www.bit.ly/nAwsvu without charge.

LEVELS OF VITAMIN C LINKED TO LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE

A study has concluded that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, for which a greater blood concentration of vitamin C was used as an indicator, decreases the risk of developing high blood pressure by up to 22 percent for those in the top quarter of vitamin C levels. The large epidemiological study adjusted for numerous potentially confounding factors, such as age, sex, body mass, alcohol consumption, smoking, blood pressure medications, and even vitamin C supplementation. In other words, the link between higher vitamin C levels and reduced blood pressure risk was found whether the subjects took supplements or not, so long as the vitamin C concentrations were high. Only the systolic blood pressure reading (the number on the top) was included in the study. This research will not be published until the September 2011 issue of the journal Hypertension, but it is available online now at https://www.bit.ly/qZlsRX with subscription or access fee.

ELDERLY MAY BE AT CARDIOVASCULAR RISK DUE TO VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY

Researchers have found that almost 5% of Canadians aged 6 to 79 are vitamin B12 deficient, suggesting a possible cardiovascular risk in Canada and the U.S. among the elderly, a group at greater risk of B12 malabsorption. (Deficiencies of both B12 and folate are linked with high levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a powerful risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Metabolism of B12 and folate is interdependent; if folate is sufficient, B12 deficiency alone can cause high homocysteine. After widespread folate fortification in both countries, researchers examined folate, B12, and homocysteine levels.)
Folate levels were sufficient, but B12 levels were deficient in 4.6% of the general population, confirmed by high homocysteine levels in these individuals. The researchers concluded that in folate-fortified populations, including Canada and the U.S., vitamin B12 deficiency is a major cause of high homocysteine and a key factor in cardiovascular disease. The deficiency and cardiovascular risk would be much greater among the elderly. Released September 7, 2011 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this study will appear in a future issue. It is available now at https://bit.ly/r2kulz with subscription or fee.

DID YOU KNOW…?

Testosterone levels do not decrease with age as many doctors believe. Nor do these decreases cause disease—it is the other way around. Testosterone levels decrease only in response to disease, reported a study presented June 7, 2011 at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

Lactose intolerance is not an allergy. Those who suffer from an allergy to milk will have a reaction to even a very small amount of milk or dairy product, but someone with lactose intolerance can consume quite a lot of milk or dairy products without reaction.

Hand sanitizers may be partly responsible for outbreaks of seriously contagious viruses, according to experts. Hospitals that show a preference for sanitizers over regular soap and water were found to have a greater risk of outbreak. The US Centers for Disease Control has issued new guidelines for controlling norovirus outbreaks, and those guidelines include a recommendation against the use of hand sanitizers as an alternative to regular soap and water.

Treatment with vitamin C may slow or reverse the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease. In lab research on brain tissue, vitamin C dissolved toxic protein aggregates, the type of plaque that causes nerve cell death in the memory area of the brain. This study was reported in the August 5, 2010 issue of the Journal of Biochemistry.

If consumed at the same meal as high-fat foods, spices with high antioxidant values–such as rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika–block the higher levels of triglycerides that are caused by ingestion of fat. This research was reported in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Although usually linked to a greater risk of high blood pressure, a high intake of salt or sodium also increases the risk of cognitive decline in older, sedentary adults. Low sodium intake protects against cognitive decline, found a 2011 study at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto.

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

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