News Briefs – September 2007

VITAMIN DEFICIENCY LINKED TO DIABETES PROBLEMS

A simple vitamin deficiency may be the cause of many of the side effects of diabetes, new research suggests. It is the first time a deficiency of the vitamin – which is found in meat, yeast and grains – has been identified in people with diabetes.

In a study of 94 people, researchers found that those with diabetes expelled thiamine (vitamin B1) from their bodies at 15 times the normal rate. Thiamine blood levels were 75 per cent lower in those with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2). This vitamin works by helping to protect cells against the effect of high glucose (sugar) levels and is important for warding off vascular problems such as kidney, retina, and nerve damage as well as heart disease and stroke.

The U.K. research team reported that thiamine helped ward off common diabetes complications such as heart disease and eye problems. Potentially, dietary supplements of thiamine could help people with diabetes to head off common diabetic side effects. Although the scientists stressed that more research is needed, Matt Hunt, PhD, of Diabetes U.K. which helped to fund the study, said in an interview that: “Supplementing diets could be an effective way of minimizing the risk of these complications.”

Trials are now being carried out to see if supplementing the diet with thiamine could return levels to normal. About 80 per cent of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the working age population. The study appears in the August, 2007 issue of the journal, Diabetologia.

CALLS TO BAN CHINESE IMPORTS

On August 15 several U.S. Democratic presidential candidates called for restrictions on imports from China, including the suspension of all imports of food – both organic and conventional – and all toys.

The concerns arose after numerous problems with Chinese imports, including the recall of: toxic fish; 450,000 unsafe tires; carcinogen and antibiotic-contaminated shrimp, catfish and eels; toothpaste and juice containing unsafe additives; counterfeit medicines; contaminated pet food which killed numerous American pets; over 10 million toys contaminated with lead; and many tainted or counterfeit foods and drugs. Some Chinese candies and cookies tested positive for formaldehyde, an embalming chemical linked to cancer in humans.

More frightening, import inspection orders don’t work. An “import alert” was issued last fall by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – an order that every Chinese seafood shipment first be screened for previously-discovered drugs and chemicals that are banned for use in seafood in the U.S., such as the antifungal chemical Malachite Green and the antibiotic Cipro.

However, a new Associated Press study concluded that despite the order, at least one million pounds of suspect Chinese seafood (the quantity of seafood eaten annually by 66,000 Americans) escaped inspection and landed on American store shelves and dinner plates between October and May. Still, there was no recall of the suspect seafood.

Also, Chinese exporters of food have a tradition of mislabelling goods and shipping them illegally. The country’s food-safety program historically has been weak, even prone to corruption and bribery. (Statistics show that India and Mexico rank a close second to China in terms of food and medicine safety violations on shipments imported into the United States.)

Despite the election rhetoric south of the border, there are no plans to ban or inspect Chinese imports in Canada and products can be sold legally without any indication of the country of origin.

HIGH-DOSE FISH OIL IMPROVES ADHD

A study published in the August, 2007 issue of Nutrition Journal suggests that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can benefit from daily supplementation with high doses of purified fish oils. The eight-week study demonstrated that children who consumed between 8 and 16 grams per day of EPA and DHA (the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) showed significant improvements in their behaviour as rated by both their parents and the psychiatrist working with them.

The study monitored the ratio of two fatty acids in the blood: arachidonic acid (AA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It has been known from previous studies that children with ADHD have a high AA/EPA ratio in the blood compared to control children. The amount of purified fish oil for each child was adjusted until his or her AA/EPA ratio reached ideal levels.

There was a statistically significant reduction in inattention, hyperactivity, oppositional-defiant behaviour, and conduct disorders as the AA/EPA ratio in the blood was lowered. The findings were true for children taking their optimal dosage of drugs to manage their ADHD as well for the children who had voluntarily stopped taking their drugs during the study.

“This is an important study as it indicates that when adequate levels of fish oil are added to the diet, significant behavioural changes can occur. This study also indicates that the growing epidemic of ADHD may have a strong nutritional component — the lack of sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA,” said Barry Sears, MD, a co-author of the study, in an e-mail interview with Vitality. He stressed that the fish oil is compatible with ADHD medications.

ADHD is a neurological condition characterized by the inability to concentrate in a sustained manner, to pay attention to tasks and to control impulsive actions. It is estimated that 3 to 7 per cent of children have this disorder. For 60-80 per cent of children with ADHD, the condition continues into adulthood. Children in this study received up to a full 16.2 grams of fish oil daily.

COLORECTAL CANCER: FIVE NEW STUDIES

New U.K. cancer research on 480,000 people suggests that drinking just one glass of alcohol daily increases the risk of developing bowel cancer by about 10 per cent. Also, the more you drink, the more your risk of cancer increases. Those who drank more than 30 grams of alcohol per day — less than two pints of beer — raised their cancer risk by about 25 per cent. The study appeared in the July 19, 2007 edition of the International Journal of Cancer.

A second new risk study focused on red meat. Colon cancer survivors with diets heavy in red meat and fatty foods are more than three times as likely to suffer a recurrence of their disease, or die from it, than those who avoid such foods, concludes the research. The study, which appears in the August 14, 2007 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, adds to previous studies showing a link between red meat and the first incidence of colon cancer, a leading killer. It is still not clear whether lean red meat in moderation is a risk factor.

A third study, presented at the August 19 national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, found that anthocyanins (the compounds that give colour to most red, purple and blue fruits and vegetables) slow the growth of colon cancer cells.

If the results of a fourth new study on mice can be translated eventually to humans, omega-3 fatty acids may be a more powerful tool for preventing colorectal cancer than current anti-inflammatory colorectal cancer (Cox-2) drugs. The research, which appeared in the August 2007 issue of the journal Carcinogenesis, found that omega-fed mice had a 15 per cent lower level of colonic inflammation. These results confirmed a sixth study (also on mice and published in the August 2007 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry) that found that omega-3 reduces colon tissue inflammation better than omega-6 oil.

NEWS NOTES

Three Antioxidants Fight Blindness – A high intake of three antioxidants (lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc) is associated with a reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, according to a study in the July, 2007 issue of the journal, Ophthalmology.

Soft Drink Study – Soft drinks may not be soft on the body if the associations uncovered in a recent study are later confirmed. A report in the August, 2007 edition of the journal Circulation found that consumption of one soft drink per day is linked with increased odds of developing metabolic syndrome, obesity, increased waist circumference, impaired fasting glucose, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low levels of HDL or good cholesterol.

Crucifers Protect Against Prostate Cancer

A research team has concluded that a high intake of cruciferous vegetables — such as spinach, broccoli and cauliflower — may be associated with reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer. The major prostate cancer study by a number of renowned cancer research centres looked at vegetable and fruit intake generally but only found a link to cruciferous vegetables specifically. The effect was only seen when the foods were consumed in the very early stages of prostate cancer. The study appeared in the August, 2007 edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Warning About Cold Meds for Children

The U.S. government is warning parents not to give over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines to children under two years of age, unless specifically instructed to do so by a medical practitioner. The Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory August 16 that cited serious adverse effects linked to children (particularly those two and younger) who have received OTC medications for coughs and colds.

Dietary Fat ‘Crucial’ for Kids – While, increasingly, parents may be worried about childhood obesity, they must ensure their offspring eat enough fat, research from the U.S. urges. Researchers found children burn substantially more dietary fat than adults relative to their calorie intake; and children need that fat to grow and thrive, they concluded. Over a third of a child’s energy intake should be made up of fat. The study was published in the August 2007 issue of Nutrition Journal.

Health Canada Warning – The Canadian health agency has warned the public about an “all-natural” herbal supplement that contains an illegal drug. Zencore Tabs, by Bodee, is advertised as a male sexual stimulant “without side effects” although it is laced with a drug similar to Cialis, says Health Canada. A previous version called Encore Tabs was also adulterated with the drug, which can pose a serious risk, especially to those with heart conditions. Questions have been also raised by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) about a similar herbal product called Axcil by Vitogen. A CSPI release stated that, “It’s unfortunate Americans must rely on Health Canada to learn about a dishonestly labeled, potentially dangerous American-made dietary supplement.”

Aquafina and Dasani are Just Tap Water

PepsiCo Inc. has agreed to add the words “public water source” to their Aquafina water labels. PepsiCo’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola Company’s Dasani bottled waters are both made of purified water from tap water. Most people assume that bottled water comes from natural springs but about 40 per cent actually comes from public water supplies; and the label may legally state that it is “spring water” (because all water originated at some point from springs). Critics claim that bottled water adds plastic to landfills and wastes energy and gas by producing and shipping bottles around the globe. In the U.S. alone, 30 million empty water bottles get tossed out every day.

Cashew Allergy Worse Than Peanut

Peanuts may be more notorious, but cashews seem to trigger more severe allergic reactions in children. In a study of 141 children with allergies to cashews or peanuts, British researchers found that cashew reactions were generally more serious. The study appeared in the August, 2007 issue of the journal Allergy. Besides being eaten whole, cashews can be found in a number of desserts, candies, many Asian dishes and commercially prepared pesto sauce. Other potential sources include cereals, granola bars, dressings, sauces and even shampoos and lotions.

Cannabis Worse Than Tobacco

A single marijuana joint could damage the lungs as much as smoking up to five tobacco cigarettes one after another, according to New Zealand scientists whose study appeared in the July, 2007 issue of the journal Thorax. Cannabis was found to damage the large airways in the lungs and the ability of the lungs to get oxygen to, and remove waste products from, lung tissues. A separate study published in the July 30, 2007 issue of the medical journal The Lancet found that cannabis smokers were 40 per cent more likely than non-users to suffer psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Canadian Gym Innovation

A Canadian health club is offering a new form of exercise for people bored with the treadmill or cycling classes —the Wii Workout Station. In mid-July, Studeo 55 in Vancouver incorporated a Nintendo Wii workout station with a large projection screen into its circuit training, where users can punch, run and jump with the system’s movement-sensitive controller.

Low Cholesterol Risks Cancer

Lowering cholesterol as much as possible may reduce the risk of heart disease — but with a price. Taking it too low could raise the risk of cancer, U.S. researchers reported in the July 24, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. People with extra-low cholesterol also have a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Soy Fights Hot Flashes

Daidzein-rich isoflavone (DRI) aglycones are potentially effective in reducing hot flashes in menopausal women, according to a new study in the August, 2007 issue of the journal, Menopause. Flashes dropped by about 50 per cent in frequency and intensity after 12 weeks of 40 mg of supplemental DRIs, which are found naturally in fermented soy.

Vitamin C Does Not Prevent Colds

An analysis of previous studies by the prominent Cochrane Collaboration has concluded that ongoing mega-dose supplementation with vitamin C does not prevent the common cold. The study combined the results of 30 clinical trials involving 11,350 participants, taking doses ranging from 200-2000 mg, and found no reduction in the number of colds compared to those who took no supplements.

However, a news release by Orthomolecular.org, a group that wants the RDA for vitamin C raised, complained the review excluded studies that were not placebo-controlled. (Studies without a placebo group provide no basis of comparison and are considered unreliable.) Also, cold duration may have been reduced 7 per cent — a half-day difference not considered by Cochrane to be clinically useful. A study summary can be read at: https://www.mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD000980/frame.html.

NEWSBITES

What Lifestyle Factors Boost Life Span?

Ever wondered what key factors are shared by those who live the longest? Longevity factors include: living in the mountains, speaking two or more languages and — if you can arrange it — winning a Nobel prize. Here’s the list of seven common elements, along with the presumed reasons for the longevity benefit:

The High Life: Living in the mountains helps you live longer because adapting to higher altitudes helps your body learn to cope with lower levels of oxygen. Also, uphill walking provides a more strenuous exercise, which is better for your heart.

Speaking in tongues: Lifelong use of two languages promotes longevity by delaying the onset of dementia by four years. Bilingualism enhances brain vasculature and neural plasticity.

Grape Expectations: The phytonutrient resveratrol, found in red grapes and red wine, counters aging the same way calorie restriction does. Both activate a family of enzymes called sirtuins that slow the body’s metabolic machinery and offset the damage of a high-calorie diet.

Physical activity and stretching: More than your actual health status, maintaining physical activity as you age — whether taking a stroll, dancing or working in the garden — adds years to your life, even if you were previously sedentary. Physical activity benefits mood and promotes a sense of self-efficacy, spurring you to keep on trucking. Six months of regular aerobic exercise also reverses loss of brain tissue that occurs with age.

Winning the Big One: Winning a Nobel prize — not just being nominated or toiling in the trenches like everyone else — adds nearly two years to your life span. No, it’s not the cash; research suggests it is the sheer boost to status that offers health-giving magic. (If you have trouble winning a Nobel, a Pulitzer would do.)

Supportive Spouse: A good marriage counteracts the wear and tear of life on multiple body systems, psychologists say. Note: a “good” marriage.

Good Friends: Family ties are fine but a close network of friends increases life span. Friends keep us from doing unhealthy things like smoking, and nudge us to get medical help for troubling symptoms. Feeling connected has positive physiologic effects on many systems, counteracting stress.

Sushi Link to Liver Cancer

Researchers have urged people to stop eating raw freshwater fish from Asia because they risk becoming infected with a parasitic worm that may predispose them to developing liver cancer. Publishing in the July 2007 edition of the Public Library of Science, the team wrote that most people infected with the worm, called fluke, showed no symptoms but some went on to develop liver cancer years later. Liver cancer is usually diagnosed when it is far advanced because symptoms surface late; most deaths occur within a year of diagnosis; and no patients survive beyond five years.

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

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