News Briefs – September 2006

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Baked Fish Good for the Heart

A study conducted by several American universities and published in the August 2006 issue of Journal of the American College of Cardiology has concluded: “These findings in this large, population-based study suggest that dietary fish intake is associated with cardiac electrophysiology in humans, including heart rate . . . with potential implications for arrhythmic risk.”

That’s scientist-speak. What they mean is that large studies on humans show that the omega-3 oils found in broiled or baked fish appear to have a beneficial effect on the heart’s electrical system and seems to help prevent life-threatening heartbeat rhythm disorders. Previous studies on animals have shown that fish can directly affect the heart’s electrical circuitry and reduce irregular heartbeats but this latest study is larger and used human subjects.

The study also looked at those who ate fried fish and found there was no improvement in heart circuitry or rhythm. This suggests the improvement stems directly from the omega-3 fatty acids found in the broiled or baked fish.

Some experts caution pregnant women, and people generally, against too much tuna and other large fish because they contain small amounts of mercury accumulated up the food chain. However, this study found the same benefit to the heart’s circuitry regardless of source of the fish – so long as it wasn’t fried.

Chinese Medicine AIDS Diabetics

A traditional Chinese medicine may be beneficial for people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Berberine – found in the roots and barks of some plants – has been documented in Chinese literature to lower glucose levels in diabetics. Now western scientists have found that studies on rodents support this claim.

The researchers found that an oral dose of berberine lowered blood sugar levels, led to fewer fats circulating in the bloodstream, made insulin work much better, and lowered the animals’ body weights. Writing in the journal Diabetes, the team suggested that, because berberine reduced the test animals’ body weight, it might also be used to treat obesity.

Berberine is a compound found in several plants, including goldenseal, the Oregon grape and barberry. It has been used by a number of different cultures for medicinal purposes, most commonly to treat diarrhea. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat diabetes.

The team believes the plant product is “turning on” an enzyme found in body tissue, which improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This, in turn, may lower blood sugar levels and reduce the level of circulating fats.

In an August 12 interview with Vitality, professor David James, head of the diabetes and obesity research program at the Garvan Institute in Sydney, Australia remarked: “This is a very nice example of how there is validity to some of these traditional medicines… This represents a potential new therapy for treatment of diabetes and obesity.” However, he cautioned that more clinical studies were needed on humans before berberine should be recommended for diabetics, particularly to investigate how the compound interacts with other drugs.

Online Calculator for Green Eating

A new website calculator helps the public to see the effects of their food choices. Replacing just one serving of beef, one egg and one serving of cheese per day with fruit, vegetables or whole grains would save 1.8 acres of cropland, 40 pounds of fertilizer and three ounces of pesticides each year, according to the recently-launched interactive pages at the website of the 35-year-old Center for Science in the Public Interest.

To gauge the health, environmental and animal welfare impact of your food choices, you can use the Score Your Diet calculator at the site at:

Additionally, consumers can determine the environmental impact of eating meat and other animal products by using the Eating Green calculator at: You can also take an interactive tour of the food supply from the fertilizer factory to feedlot to the dinner plate, and learn about problems associated with modern meat production.

Supplement Cuts Blood Pressure Risk

A new study has found that calcium can play a significant role in helping you maintain normal blood pressure levels.

In the study, the researchers reviewed 42 studies examining calcium’s role in high blood pressure. The studies ranged from 3 to 208 weeks and used an average of 1200 mg of calcium per day. Overall, the 42 studies showed that an average of 1,000 mg of calcium supplementation per day “may significantly reduce [the top number in the blood pressure reading] by 1.9 mm Hg and [the bottom number] by 1.0 mm Hg.”

Low calcium levels can disrupt muscle function such as that in your arteries, impairing their ability to relax. There are also other factors involved in blood pressure levels, such as inflammation. Uncontrolled high blood pressure — considered a worldwide epidemic — can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney failure. The August 2006 issue of the Journal of Human Hypertension published the meta-analysis.

(Editor’s note: Calcium should always be taken in combination with magnesium, optimal ratios are either 1:1 or 2:1 (calcium:magnesium). For more on this, use the search function of the website and type “calcium” into the search engine.)

Lutein Linked to Hearth Health

A new Swedish study has found that both zeaxanthin and lutein may help improve heart health. In the study, researchers obtained blood samples from 89 patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) – due to either Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS), a condition characterized by decreased blood flow in heart, or Stable Angina (SA), a condition also characterized by decreased blood flow but which elicits chest pain with physical exertion – and compared them to 50 healthy controls. They proceeded to measure levels of various carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin.

The scientists found that both the ACS and SA patients had “significantly lower levels” of lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin compared to controls, while levels of beta-carotene were lower in the SA patients than controls. Finally, levels of lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin were “significantly correlated” to CAD.

The researchers explained that “our main finding was the significantly lower plasma concentrations of carotenoids in patients with CAD” and that their role in CAD may lie in helping strengthen the immune system.

Many readers will already be familiar with the other carotenoids: carotene, shown to promote heart health; and lycopene, shown to help maintain healthy cell division. Also, almonds have been shown to protect cholesterol from oxidation. Lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in cooked spinach, broccoli, peas and supplements. Zeaxanthin is also abundant in cooked kale and cooked collard greens. All yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as persimmons and yellow peppers, are good sources of beta-cryptoxanthin.

The study appeared in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases and was made available online June 30, 2006

Another study in the July 2006 issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology found that lutein protects chromosomes against mutation and does so more effectively as the dose of lutein increases.

B6 and Parkinson’s

Dietary vitamin B6 may decrease the risk of Parkinson disease.

For 10 years, Dutch researchers followed 5,289 men and women aged 55 and older, who were free of Parkinson’s disease at the outset, to determine whether a higher intake of three B vitamins would reduce disease risk. They tested folate, B6 and B12. No link was found for folate or B12 but those with the highest levels of B6 had the lowest chance of developing Parkinson’s – about half the risk.

However, a second examination revealed that, statistically, the protective effect only held for smokers. This suggests that B6 helps prevent Parkinson’s disease by protecting brain cells from the damage caused by harmful by-products of metabolism, including smoking.

The study was published in the July 2006 issue of the journal Neurology.

Vegan Diet Reverses Diabetes

People who eat a low-fat vegan diet – cutting out all meat and dairy – lower their blood sugar more and lose more weight than people on the standard American Diabetes Association diet, researchers concluded in a study reported in August.

Vegans lower their cholesterol more, and end up with better kidney function, according to the report published in Diabetes Care, a journal published by the American Diabetes Association. The vegan dieters lost 14 pounds on average while the diabetes association dieters lost 6.8 pounds.

The study was conducted jointly by the University of Toronto, University of North Carolina and George Washington University.

News Notes

Hole in one theory: The August 2006 issue of Golf Digest published a survey of amateur golfers that, surprisingly, shows golfers are not generally in good health. Three in 10 male golfers and 43% of female golfers are usually too tired or in too much pain to finish an entire round and two-thirds are overweight. This does not mean golf is not good exercise. It means that golfers, like many of us, are abusing their health in other ways. (Editor’s note: Perhaps some day scientists will conduct blood tests for pesticides and herbicides in golfers who frequent the heavily sprayed fairways. That may explain some of their health problems.)

Closer watch on bird flu: Monitoring of wild migratory birds to prevent a deadly bird flu virus is expanding to cover the entire United States. Canada does not have a similar program. Typically, the virus is spread by direct contact with contaminated birds. Scientists fear the virus could mutate and pass from person to person, leading to a pandemic.

White as good as red? A new study about to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry concludes that the flesh of grapes may be as beneficial to health as the skins. This suggests that white wine may be as heart-healthy as red, challenging a long-held theory that moderately consumed red wine is better. Red wine is made from the whole grape, including the skin; white wine is made from only the grape flesh, after the skins have been removed.

Want to lose weight? Try eating off smaller plates. A new study shows that using smaller bowls and spoons may curb the amount of food eaten. “People could try using the size of their bowls and possibly serving spoons to help them better control how much they consume,” write researchers in the August 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The Cornell University team found that people automatically serve and eat less food when given smaller bowls. People pour – and are satisfied with – less juice into tall, narrow tumblers than into short fat tumblers. The study found the same applied to bartenders, which is not necessarily good news. Try eating off smaller plates. A new study shows that using smaller bowls and spoons may curb the amount of food eaten.

Super-bug skin infections spreading fast: A once-rare drug-resistant germ now appears to cause more than half of all skin infections treated in U.S. emergency rooms, say researchers who documented the super-bug’s startling spread in the general population. Previously, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, infections were seldom seen outside hospitals. But the study in the August 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that many MSRA victims now arrive at hospitals with what they think is a spider bite or an infected pimple.

Fish oil aids weight loss: An Australian study has determined that daily doses of fish oil containing omega-3 fats can, when combined with exercise, act as an aid to weight loss. The test subjects exercising while taking fish oil lost an average 4.5 pounds over the course of the three-month study. The group that took sunflower oil – which does not contain omega-3 oil – did not lose any weight despite exercising. The report was presented July 31st at the Congress of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids in Cairns, Australia.

Prescription hard sell: The August 2006 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine provides detail about how drug companies push their products in far more subtle ways than simple advertising. One tactic identifies certain doctors as “thought leaders” or “key influencers” – those whose opinions influence the prescribing pattern of other doctors. Those whose views converge with the company goals are then showered with honoraria, research and educational grants. The marketing strategies are outlined at

Skin test for Alzheimer’s: There is no definitive test to distinguish Alzheimer’s disease from other disorders affecting memory, such as Parkinson’s. Psychiatric tests are used instead to attempt to diagnose AD. But a new test may not only pinpoint the disease –  it may involve only a simple and painless skin test. The idea follows discovery of enzymes that react abnormally in the skin of Alzheimer’s patients. The study appears in the August 14, 2006 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chromium picolinate may improve diabetes 2: A new study on type 2 diabetes patients demonstrates that daily supplementation with 1000 mcg of chromium as chromium picolinate—in combination with a common oral anti-diabetic medication—improves insulin sensitivity and glucose control better than the oral anti-diabetic agent alone. The study was conducted by researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC) and the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and published in the August 2006 issue of Diabetes Care.

Flavonoids linked to cancer prevention: A diet rich in certain flavonoids, from eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, could reduce the risk of at least one type of cancer, according to a large observational study. The highest intake of flavonols was associated with a 46 per cent reduction in the risk of colorectal cancer, compared to people in the lowest veggie-flavonoid intake group. The Italian study was published in the August 2006 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.

Obesity-cancer link little-known: Too many people are unaware that obesity is linked to cancer, suggests a new survey, and most believe the main reason to lose weight is to look good. Cancer Research UK, which polled 4,000 people, says its findings show a worrying lack of knowledge. Losing weight reduces heart disease risk and experts warn that being obese or overweight is one of the most significant preventable causes of cancer in non-smokers.

Supplement for women on the pill: A recent study shows that women who use oral contraceptives (OCs) had lower levels of CoQ10 and alpha-tocopherols than women who do not use OCs. It is possible that supplementation of these two nutrients may be beneficial. The study appeared in the May 2006 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Grape news: A new study, appearing in the July 2006 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, provides a listing of the total concentration of antioxidants for 1,113 foods and beverages commonly consumed. The food with the highest overall level per serving was blackberries. The juice with the highest level was Welch’s 100% grape juice, which is made with antioxidant-rich Concord grapes and which ranked almost twice as high as any other grape juice. Of the 50 food products highest in antioxidant concentrations, 13 were spices, eight were in the fruit and vegetables category, five were berries, five were chocolate-based, five were breakfast cereals, and four were nuts or seeds. Blackberries, walnuts, strawberries, artichokes, cranberries, brewed coffee, raspberries, pecans, blueberries, ground cloves, grape juice, and unsweetened baking chocolate were at the top of the ranked list.

Make watermelon more nutritious

How should you serve watermelon? At room temperature. Government researchers have recently found that ice-cold watermelon is actually much less nutritious. The carotenoids are more available when warmer.

130 million

That’s the number of Americans who swallow, inject, inhale, infuse, spray or pat on prescribed medication every month, according to a new report from the Atlanta-based US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One Potato, Two

Myth: Potatoes are fattening.

Fact: Spuds are not an especially fattening food as long as you don’t smother them in butter or sour cream. Potatoes furnish fewer calories per ounce than rice and less than half the calories per ounce of bread. Think “jackets required” – tater skins provide good fibre. And in your quest to eat at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, one medium-size potato – with skin – counts as two servings.

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