News Briefs – October 2016

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New research has found the first evidence, based on work with mice, that cinnamon may have the potential to boost human intelligence. The learning improvement in poor-learning mice after cinnamon treatment was significant. As one example, poor-learning mice took about 150 seconds to find the right hole in a maze test called the Barnes test. After one month of cinnamon treatment, poor-learning mice were finding the right hole within 60 seconds, a remarkable improvement.

The effect appears to be due to sodium benzoate, a chemical produced as cinnamon breaks down in the body. (Sodium benzoate may sound familiar, because food makers use a synthetic form of it as a preservative. Also, it is approved by the U.S. FDA for treatment of hyperammonemia – too much ammonia in the blood.)

Various other compounds within cinnamon, including the cinnamaldehyde that gives the spice its distinctive flavour and aroma, stimulate activity in the hippocampus, the main memory centre in the brain. Cinnamon, like many spices, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This research has been posted in the Online First Articles section of the site of the journal Neuroimmune Pharmacology. The full report can be read at with access fee.


A large study now shows that individuals who eat more protein from plant sources, and less protein from animal sources, may live longer, even when they have unhealthy habits such as heavy drinking or smoking. This suggests that where protein comes from is more important than how much is consumed. The study also advised that the very worst source of protein is processed red meat.

Scientists followed over 130,000 persons, all of whom were age 49 at the outset, for several decades, which means these findings are fairly reliable. After accounting for lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity, and physical inactivity, they found that every 3% increase in calories from plant protein was associated with a 10% lower risk of death during the study period. By contrast, every 10% increase in calories from animal protein was associated with a 2% higher risk of death from any cause and an 8% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease during the study period. This link between animal protein and mortality was even stronger for obese or heavy-drinking subjects. (This may be due to an underlying metabolic or inflammatory condition that could enhance the adverse effects of animal protein.)

Because the study was observational, it cannot prove that a certain type of protein causes longer or shorter lifespan. This study was posted online August 1, 2016 by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. It can be read at free of charge.


A new analysis has found a strong correlation between fluoridation of public drinking water with supplemental sodium fluoride – and development of Type 2 diabetes. (Millions of North Americans drink and cook with fluoridated water daily. Fluoride was added to public drinking water in the 1940s in an effort to reduce cavities, but the practice has been a controversial subject for many decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association report that the fluoride-added drinking water is safe and effective. Some experts believe it may cause long-term health problems, and this new study provides added support for this view. Type 2 diabetes has grown to epidemic proportions in North America with the number of diabetics having almost quadrupled in the last 30 years.)

The researcher used mathematical models to analyze data on fluoride levels in water across 22 U.S. states, along with diabetes incidence rates across these same regions. Adjustments for obesity and physical inactivity were taken into consideration. The models suggested that supplemental water fluoridation was significantly associated with increases in diabetes between 2005 and 2010. A one-milligram increase in average county fluoride levels predicted a 0.17% increase in diabetes prevalence. The researcher examined the different fluoride compounds added to drinking water and found that the additives sodium fluoride and sodium fluorosilicate were positively linked to diabetes, while the additive fluorosilicic acid was negatively associated. In other words, unlike the other two compounds, fluorosilicic acid was linked to a reduced rate of diabetes.

As well, counties that relied only on naturally occurring fluoride in their water also had lower diabetes rates. The study author explained that fluoride found naturally in some waters appears to offer a protective effect. This type of study cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It will be published in a future issue of the Journal of Water and Health. In the meantime, it can be read in the early-release section of the journal website at for a fee.


A new study suggests that drinking soda drinks on a daily basis doubles the risk of developing gallbladder cancer compared to those who abstain from sweetened soft drinks. This includes both beverages sweetened with sugar and those sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Also, those who drank two or more soda drinks a day tended to be overweight and eat a less-healthy diet, meaning one with more calories, sugar, and carbohydrates and less protein and fat. The heavy soda-drinkers also had a 79% higher risk of having biliary tract cancer. These results do not prove that sweetened soft drinks cause cancer, because this study was not designed to determine cause-and-effect. A summary of this study was just released by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the full study will be published in the October 2016 issue. It is not yet available online.


A new study has found that a natural fruit extract can dissolve calcium oxalate crystals, the most common component of human kidney stones, suggesting the possibility of the first advance in the treatment of kidney stones in over 30 years. The compound, known as hydroxycitrate or HCA, is a derivative of the citrus acid found in a variety of tropical fruit plants such as Garcinia cambogia. (Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form inside the kidneys, affecting up to 12% of men and 7% of women. Preventive treatment has not changed much in over three decades with doctors telling at-risk patients to avoid oxalate-rich foods such as rhubarb, okra, spinach, and almonds. Some doctors recommend taking citrate, or CA, in the form of the supplement potassium citrate to help slow crystal growth, but many people cannot tolerate the side effects.)

A combination of experimental studies, computational studies, and human studies showed for the first time that HCA effectively inhibits the growth of calcium oxalate crystals, which can develop into kidney stones. Head-to-head studies found that HCA was much more potent than CA at inhibiting the growth of calcium oxalate crystals. Using a technique called atomic force microscopy, the team observed that the crystals not only slowed in their growth, but also shrank, when in contact with HCA. The study author suggested that HCA has the potential to reduce the incidence of chronic kidney stone disease.

This study was posted online on August 8, 2016 by Nature, ahead of publication in a future edition of this journal. The full study is available at with fee.


Scientists have found that a greater intake of dietary omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of diabetic retinopathy, which can occur in individuals with Type 2 diabetes. (The increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes mellitus, coupled with an increased lifespan, has resulted in a steady rise of disability in older individuals with diabetes. A major concern for this population group is diabetic retinopathy or DR, a leading global cause of vision loss. Some evidence has suggested a link between omega-3 and lower risk of age-related macular degeneration or AMD, the most common blindness in the elderly.)

Full data for 3,482 participants with a previous diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes was available for analysis. In middle-aged and older individuals with Type 2 diabetes, an intake of at least 500 mg per day of dietary, long-chain, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was linked to a 48% reduced risk of sight-threatening DR, relative to those who did not get this level of omega-3 in their diet. This level of omega-3 intake is easily achievable with two weekly servings of oily fish.

This study was released August 18, 2016 in the Online First section of the site of JAMA Ophthalmology. The full study report can be read at free of charge.

(Editor’s note: Due to concerns about mercury contamination in fish, it is likely safer to get your omega-3s from supplements as they are required by law to have the mercury removed.)


Researchers have found that women who take acetaminophen (Tylenol or paracetamol) during pregnancy may be more likely to give birth to a child with behaviour problems such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) than those who do not use the common pain reliever while pregnant. The team analyzed data from about 7,800 mothers and found that over half of them took acetaminophen at some point during pregnancy. The odds of developing hyperactivity, conduct issues, and emotional problems by age seven were all higher among the children of women who reported using acetaminophen while pregnant.

The study found no link between postnatal use of the drug by either parent and behaviour issues in children and no link between Tylenol use by the father pre- or post-natal. This type of study does not prove that acetaminophen directly causes developmental issues in children. Also, behavioural disorders are multifactorial and difficult to associate with a single cause. The report advised against any unnecessary exposure to medications during pregnancy. This study was posted August 15, 2016 in the Online First section of JAMA Pediatrics. The entire study report is available at free of charge.


Researchers have found that stress opens “cancer highways” in the lymphatic system that allow cancer to spread throughout the body six times faster.


Researchers have found that too little sleep – which can involve sleep disturbances such as apnea – as well as too much sleep, may be risk factors for stroke and might hinder stroke recovery. They reviewed 29 previously published studies and found that the incidence of disturbances such as sleep apnea and insomnia are more prevalent in stroke patients than in the general population. Some studies showed that the sleep apnea was present before the stroke and may have contributed to the risk. Also, patients with more severe sleep apnea appeared to have more severe strokes. (Treating sleep apnea by using a continuous positive airway pressure or a CPAP machine may reduce stroke risk.)

Other sleep disorders, such as insomnia, hypersomnia (excessive sleep), and restless leg syndrome were also shown to be risk factors for stroke, likely because they can raise blood pressure, which in turn increases stroke risk. It is not clear whether treating these sleep issues would lower stroke risk, because the study was not designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The researchers reported that sleep promotes the ability of brain neurons to connect, and after a stroke, these neurons have to reconnect to compensate for the lost function; interrupted sleep interferes with this critical reconnecting process. They advised that medications are not the best way to deal with sleep problems and recommended practical therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

This study was posted in the Online Early section of the site of the journal Neurology on August 3, 2016 and will be published in the journal at a later time. The full study can be read now at free of charge.


A new study has found that the most important risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease seem to be linked to diet, especially the meat, sweets, and high-fat dairy products that characterize the Western Diet. (About 42 million people have dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type. Rates of Alzheimer’s disease are rising worldwide.) Examining past ecological and observational studies, researchers determined that fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat dairy products, legumes, and fish are associated with reduced dementia risk. (An ecological study investigates risk-modifying factors on health.)

For example, when Japan made the nutrition transition from the traditional Japanese diet to the Western diet, Alzheimer’s disease rates rose from 1% in 1985 to 7% in 2008, with dementia rates lagging the nutrition transition by 20-25 years.

Researchers also conducted a new ecological study assessing data from 10 countries and found that higher dietary intake of meat and animal products (with the exception of milk) showed a higher correlation to developing Alzheimer’s disease five years later. Although the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%, the very-low-meat traditional diets of India, Japan, and Nigeria reduced that lower risk by a further 50%. The study author commented that reducing meat consumption could not only lower the risk of Alzheimer’s but also of several cancers, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and likely, chronic kidney disease. This study will appear in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, but the full report is already available at free of charge.


New research suggests that older adults who engage in regular physical activity can develop greater brain volumes and a reduced risk of dementia. Using data from the massive 1948 Framingham study, scientists assessed the connections between physical activity level, the size of the brain, and the risk for developing dementia. They found an association between low physical activity and a higher risk for dementia in older individuals.

Physical activity particularly affected the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain controlling short-term memory. Also, the protective effect of regular physical activity against dementia was strongest in people age 75 and older. (Some previous studies found higher levels of physical activity were linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, but other studies found no link. The Framingham study, on which this new study was based, is a massive database, and the new study ran for a full decade, making it more reliable.)

This study was published in the August 2016 edition of the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. It can be read at for a fee.


• Osaka researchers reported in the journal Circulation that binge-watching Netflix or TV box-sets via online streaming is linked to a sharply greater risk of dying from a blood clot in the lungs. (A summary of this study is at, where the full report is also available for a fee.)

• A new study in the journal Toxins shows that the fins and meat of 10 different species of sharks contain a high concentration of toxins linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


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