Health News Briefs – September 2012Michael Downey September 1, 2012
TURMERIC LOWERS DIABETES RISK
A component of turmeric, known as curcumin, reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and improves beta-cell function in adults with prediabetes, according to a new study. Scientists randomly assigned 240 adults with prediabetes to receive oral curcumin or placebo twice a day. After nine months, 16.4 percent of the placebo group were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes mellitus. But among the treatment group, none of the subjects was diagnosed with diabetes. Also, curcumin treatment was associated with significantly improved beta-cell function. (Beta cells store and release insulin, a hormone that controls the level of glucose in the blood.) There were very few adverse effects.
This study was released July 6, 2012, by the journal Diabetes Care. It can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/6tcyxhw with subscription or fee.
NUTRIENT COCKTAIL IMPROVES MEMORY IN ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTS
Scientists have now confirmed prior research indicating that a particular nutrient cocktail improves memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease patients apparently by stimulating the growth of new synapses, which are key brain connections gradually lost by these patients. The results confirm and expand on the findings of an earlier trial of the nutritional supplement. (The ideal treatment would be to block the degradation of synapses, but this cocktail was designed to increase their formation to offset the loss.)
The cocktail, originally developed by the same researchers, includes a mixture of three naturally occurring dietary compounds: choline, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, and uridine. Choline is found in meats, nuts, and eggs; DHA is found in fish, eggs, flax seed and meat from grass-fed animals; and uridine is produced by the liver and kidneys, and is present in some foods as a component of RNA.
These nutrients are precursors to the lipid molecules that, along with specific proteins, make up brain-cell membranes, which form synapses. To be effective, all three precursors must be administered together. Souvenaid is not yet available as a product. Results of the clinical trial were released July 10, 2012 on the website of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Some supplementary data can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/7team4b without cost.
ASSOCIATION BETWEEN CALCIUM AND HEART ATTACK RISK CLARIFIED
Scientists have completed a large 11-year study which found that consumption of calcium-rich food lowers heart attack risk by 31 percent, while consumption of calcium supplements raise heart attack risk by 86 percent. (Over the past decade, calcium pill usage has climbed to the point where it is one of the most popular supplements. Several previous studies found the same results as the current study.) The current study included about 24,000 women aged 35 to 64 and free of heart disease. Researchers tracked their calcium intake from food, from supplements, and from both combined, for 11 years. They found that women who get their calcium exclusively from food, such as dark green leafy vegetables, showed no increased risk of heart attack. But they found that, if needed, calcium pills should be taken with caution, because supplemental calcium appears to cause calcification, or hardening, of the coronary arteries, triggering heart problems. For some reason, calcium consumed as food does not seem to have this negative effect.
This study was released early by the journal, Heart. It is available online at https://tinyurl.com/77zpk54
(Ed note: Dr. Zoltan Rona, MD, believes that this research is misleading. For his comments, see Letters to the Editor.)
ANTIOXIDANT REDUCES DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOUR IN AUTISTIC CHILDREN
Researchers have found that a specific antioxidant, called N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), may reduce irritability and repetitive behaviour in children with autism. (A key priority for researchers has been to find new medications to treat the associated symptoms of autism, which include aggression and irritability, often involving throwing, kicking, hitting others. Anti-psychotics are used but can cause adverse effects such as involuntary movements, metabolic syndrome, and weight gain.) The study investigated 31 children aged 3 to 12 years who had autism. The children were given either NAC or placebo for 12 weeks. They took 900 mg daily for four weeks, then 900 mg twice daily for four weeks, and finally, 900 mg three times daily for four weeks. Those taking NAC scored lower on a standard scale of irritability than the placebo group. Results were not quite as effective as standard autism medications but side effects were milder; NAC effects can include decreased appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. However, before NAC can be recommended for children with autism, larger trials are needed in order to verify these results. The study was published in the June 2012 issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry. It is available in its full-text version online now at https://tinyurl.com/cc3c3y3 without cost.
ALGAE EXTRACT INCREASES GOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS
A new study has found that an extract from algae raises blood levels of the so-called good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein or HDL, something few agents can do, suggesting the algae extract could become an important tool for regulating cardiovascular disease. (Medications for the control of high plasma cholesterol levels, such as statins and numerous dietary supplements, primarily function by lowering levels of the so-called bad cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins, or LDL. Very few agents will raise blood levels of good cholesterol, which lowers cardiovascular risk, in part by carrying cholesterol out of the arterial wall.) In addition to boosted good cholesterol levels, the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol improved significantly.
This result was found in hamsters; if replicated in humans, it may decrease the risk of heart disease. The extract used is termed ProAlgaZyme.
This study was released ahead of print and has now been made available online at the site of the Journal of Nutrition and Dietary Supplements at https://tinyurl.com/8557c4l without cost.
DID YOU KNOW…?
Despite the famous five-second rule, food that has been on the floor for five seconds is as contaminated as food left much longer, says Loyola University expert Jorge Parada.
SLEEP-DEPRIVED BRAIN ACTIVATED BY SIGHT OF JUNK FOOD
Scientists have used MRI scans to prove that reward areas of the brain have a specific neuronal response to the sight of unhealthy food during periods of four hours of sleep nightly, resulting in the consumption of more food and more fatty food than during periods of nine hours of sleep nightly. The same reward-linked regions of the brain were not activated when sleep-restricted subjects were shown healthy food. This suggests a strong link between shorter sleep periods and brain-triggered consumption of unhealthy foods, modulated by the reward mechanism of the brain.
(Previous research had shown that restricted sleep leads to increased food consumption in healthy people and a self-reported increase in the desire for sweet and salty food after a period of sleep deprivation. The current study provides the brain imaging proof of this neurocognitive connection between greater consumption, higher fat intake, and obesity.)
This study was presented on Sunday, June 10, 2012 in Boston at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. It has not yet been journal-published or posted.
CHEMICALS IN TOILETRIES LINKED TO DIABETES RISK IN WOMEN
A new study has found a link between increased body concentrations of phthalates in women and an increased risk of diabetes. (Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly found in personal care products such as moisturizers, nail polishes, soaps, hairsprays, and perfumes. They are also used in adhesives, electronics, toys, and a variety of other products.)
The researchers analyzed urinary concentrations of phthalates in 2,350 women and found that those with higher levels of phthalates were more likely to also have diabetes. They broke these results down by type of phthalate. For instance, participants with the highest levels of mono-benzyl phthalate and mono-isobutyl phthalate had almost twice the risk of diabetes compared to those with the lowest levels of those specific phthalates. The scientists cautioned this does not show high phthalate levels cause diabetes; it could be the other way around, because phthalates are present in some medications and devices used to treat diabetics. More research is needed. This study was released July 13, 2012 in an ahead-of-print issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. An abstract is now available, and the full study will soon be available, at https://tinyurl.com/75ywt2l without cost.
BMI MEASURE HAS UNDERESTIMATED OBESITY RATES
A new study has found that despite the common estimate that about 35 percent of people are obese, the percentage is actually about 64 percent when measured properly, using a type of x-ray scan instead of the usual, outdated height-weight formula known as body mass index or BMI, with rates for men similarly underestimated. The study used a body scan known as the dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scan or DXA, a direct simultaneous measure of body fat, muscle mass, and bone density. In fact, some people classed as obese using the BMI index would not be obese using the scan, because it is the proportion of the body made up of fat that determines obesity, not muscle mass; the BMI index does not take muscle and fat proportions into account.
But using the DXA, as many as 39 percent of those people classed by their BMI number to be merely overweight, get shifted into the obese category when assessed by the more accurate DXA scan of their muscle, bone, and fat proportions. This study was published online April 2, 2012 by the journal PloS ONE, and is accessible online now at https://bit.ly/HbGKFn without cost.
VEGETABLE-RICH DIET REDUCES RISK OF PANCREATITIS
A study has determined that individuals who consume more than four servings of vegetables a day are 44 percent less likely to develop acute pancreatitis than people who eat one serving a day. The same relationship was not found for higher fruit intake.
(Acute pancreatitis, sometimes life-threatening, is the sudden onset of inflammation of the pancreas that sometimes causes a pain behind the breastbone, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea; it can be caused by gallstones, alcohol misuse, infection, autoimmune response, or digestive enzymes being activated too early, inside the pancreas where they are produced.)
The study of 80,000 adults sought to find out if an imbalance in antioxidant levels, associated with dietary factors, increased the risk. Earlier studies have associated acute pancreatitis with excessive production of free radicals; also, levels of antioxidant enzymes that remove free radicals often are increased during an attack. The failure to find a lower risk with higher fruit intake reinforces earlier research linking fructose with free radical production. This study was released ahead of print by the journal Gut, and will appear in a future issue. It is available to read online now at https://tinyurl.com/7k9mpya with subscription or fee.
DOGS MAY PROTECT BABIES FROM SOME TYPES OF INFECTION
New research has found that babies who spend more time with pet dogs inside the home are about 30 percent less likely to develop infectious respiratory ailments than those whose homes are animal-free. This supports the previous theory that during the first year of life, contact with animals leads to greater immune resistance during childhood. The effect was stronger in homes where a pet dog was inside the house for at least six hours a day, and the link was stronger for dogs than cats.
The respiratory symptoms observed in the study included coughing, wheezing, rhinitis (stuffy or runny nose), and fever. The reason for the link was not clear, but the scientists speculated that the contact with a wider selection of bacteria from exposure to these pets programmed maturing immune cells to react differently to bacteria. The improvement was significant, even after researchers ruled out other factors that could boost infection risk, such as not having been breastfed, attending daycare, being raised by smokers or parents with asthma, or having older siblings in the household. This study will be published in a future issue of the journal Pediatrics, but was released online on July 9, 2012. It can be read at https://tinyurl.com/6pwko7f without cost.
DID YOU KNOW…?
People who eat their food quickly are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes than those who take their time during meals, reports a June 2012 study.
BLUEBERRIES SPEED MUSCLE REPAIR AFTER STRESS OF EXERCISE
Researchers concluded that consumption of blueberries hastened repair of the normal minor damage incurred during from strenuous exercise. Subjects were given blueberry smoothies before, during, and for two days after the exercise strength tests designed to strain the thigh muscle of one leg. Blood samples were taken to monitor the leg’s recovery. Several weeks later, the exercise was repeated on the other leg, but a smoothie without blueberries, and therefore with different polyphenol content, was consumed instead. The blood samples showed that the blueberry smoothie, although possessing the same total antioxidant content as the control smoothie, produced a higher level of antioxidant defence in the blood. This was associated with improved rate of recovery. Scientists stressed the product was whole blueberries, not a supplement; and speculated anthocyanin content caused this result. This research was financed in part by the New Zealand government, but blueberry producers were not involved in any way. This study was released online early by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Although it will be published in a future print issue, it is available online now as a provisional full-text version at https://bit.ly/IVjJFp without cost.
SLOW WALKING CAN SIGNAL EARLY DEMENTIA
A slower pace of walking speed in later life has been found in a new study to signal the early stages of a form of dementia known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The study involved 93 people, age 70 or older, who lived alone, and used a new technique that included installing infrared sensors in the ceilings of homes to detect walking movement in hallways. This new monitoring method gave investigators an accurate idea of how even subtle changes in walking speed may correlate with the development of MCI. Over a three-year period, participants were given memory and thinking tests and had their walking speed monitored at their homes unobtrusively. They were placed in groups of slow, moderate, or fast based on their average weekly walking speed and how much their walking speed fluctuated. Researchers found that people with non-memory related MCI were nine times more likely to be in the slow walker group. This research appears in the June 12, 2012, print issue of the journal Neurology. It is available online now at https://tinyurl.com/7w5dhx4 with access fee or subscription to the journal.
MODERN WESTERN DIET MAY TRIGGER COLITIS
Scientists have found that some saturated fats in the modern Western diet trigger events that alter composition of intestinal bacteria. This upsets the immune-bacteria balance; unleashes an unregulated, tissue-damaging immune response; and produces inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). There appears to be a genetic link to IBD, but researchers found that a second event is often needed to elevate that increased genetic risk to actual disease. That second event may be initiated by lifestyle changes such as environmental triggers or dietary changes.
In the mouse study, diets high in concentrated milk fats produced higher inflammatory levels than low-fat diets or diets high in polyunsaturated fats. (Concentrated milk fat is a powdered substance that remains when fat has been separated from butter and dehydrated.) Progress understanding IBD has stressed gene variants that increase risk. But this study puts the focus on changing environmental factors that might trigger IBD in high-risk patients. It is important to remember that this research was conducted on mice.
This study was released June 13, 2012 by Nature. It is available online now at https://tinyurl.com/dxu59c9.
DID YOU KNOW?
A Journal of the American Medical Association study found that smoking males, smoking females, and nonsmoking males all have a four times higher bladder cancer risk than nonsmoking females.
OLIVE OIL LINKED WITH LOWER MORTALITY IN POPULATION STUDY
Researchers have used a population-based survey of over 40,000 people to find an association between the highest consumption of olive oil and a lower mortality rate. (Olive oil consumption has been associated with a decreased risk of several chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease or CVD. However, data on the effects of olive oil on overall mortality are scarce.) In comparison with those who never consumed olive oil, those who consumed the highest levels were associated with a 26 percent lower risk of mortality and a 44 percent reduced risk of dying specifically of CVD. Also, for each increase in olive oil intake of 10 grams per 2,000 calories, there was a corresponding decrease of 7 percent in mortality rate and a 13 percent reduction in CVD risk. This provides further evidence on the beneficial effects of one of the key Mediterranean dietary components; but because it is an epidemiological report, the link should not be taken to necessarily be one of cause-and-effect.
This study was published in the July 1, 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It has been made available online now at https://tinyurl.com/6o5v48x with subscription or fee.
TART CHERRIES HAVE HIGHEST ANTI-INFLAMMATORY EFFECT OF ANY FOOD
A study has found that tart cherries greatly reduce inflammation, especially for people afflicted with joint disease and arthritis. (Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, and is characterized by inflammatory pain.) The researchers reported tart cherries to be superior to all other foods in both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In a study of women aged 40 to 70 with osteoarthritis, the researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks led to significant reductions in important inflammation markers, most especially for women who had the highest inflammation levels at the start of the study. Responsible for the bright red color of tart cherries, antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins have been specifically linked to high antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation, at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications. In a 2010 study, subjects who drank tart cherry juice while training for a long-distance run reported significantly less pain after exercise than those who did not.
This study was presented May 30, 2012 in San Francisco at the annual conference of the American College of Sports Medicine conference. It has not yet been published or made available online.
FATHERS WHO SMOKE BEFORE CONCEPTION DAMAGE OFFSPRING DNA
Scientists have found that men who smoke before conception of their child cause damage to the genes of their offspring that increases the risk of cancer, especially leukemia, and other diseases. (It was previously shown that smoking can cause damage to a fetus during pregnancy, but this is the first study to find that the damaged DNA of male smokers is itself a risk even before conception.) This confirms that smoking is a human gene mutagen, and further reveals that smoke-damaged DNA material can be passed to future generations. Because fertile sperm cells take about three months to fully develop, it would be necessary for future fathers to quit smoking well in advance of conception to avoid passing on damaged genetic material. This study was released online June 22, 2012 on the website of the FASEB Journal, in advance of being published in a future issue. It can be accessed now at https://tinyurl.com/7fhpjbw with subscription or access fee payment.
SKIPPING MEALS LINKED TO HIGHER RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
A study has found that people who skip breakfast have a 21 percent greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and those who ate only one or two times a day showed a 25 percent higher risk of getting diabetes compared to those who ate three meals daily. These differences in diabetes risk persisted after taking into account the differences in diet quality and in body mass index (BMI). Also, those who have three meals a day but also snack between meals have a greater diabetes risk than those who do not snack, but only if they also have a higher BMI. The study included a total of 29,206 men who were followed for 16 years. Until now, little has been known about the effect of meal patterns on the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This study was published in the May 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is accessible online now at https://bit.ly/IaBAtw with subscription to the journal or payment of an article access fee.
LOW VITAMIN D LEVELS LINKED TO HIGHER RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
Scientists have found an association between low blood levels of vitamin D in those with pre-diabetes and the odds of developing metabolic syndrome, a group of related risk factors that often lead to Type 2 diabetes or heart disease. (Pre-diabetes is a condition of high blood sugar levels, not yet high enough to be classified as diabetes, with increased risk of acquiring the diabetes.) People with the highest levels of serum vitamin D showed a 48 percent lower risk of having metabolic syndrome than did those with the lowest vitamin D levels. Researchers measured blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the common way to determine vitamin D levels in the body; adequate levels according to the Institute of Medicine are between 20 and 30 ng per mL. Those with the highest levels, a median of 30.6 ng per mL, were found to have about one half the odds of having metabolic syndrome, compared to those with the lowest levels, whose median was 12.1 ng per mL. This study was presented June 25, 2012 in Houston at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society. It has not yet been published or posted.
NUT-RICH, LOW-CALORIE DIET REDUCES WEIGHT AS WELL AS LOW-CAL DIET
Scientists have found that an almond-enriched diet produced the same weight loss after 18 months as a low-calorie diet; the almond-enriched diet produced slightly less weight loss after six months but showed improved blood fat profiles. (Increased nut consumption has been advocated due to health benefits, but their high-calorie content has prompted concern they may not be appropriate for obese individuals.)
This study enlisted overweight and obese individuals who were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group followed a low-calorie diet completely free of nuts while the other group pursued a low-calorie diet but also consumed a substantial intake of almonds. After six months, the nut-free diet had produced a weight loss of 16.28 pounds while the almond-enriched diet produced a significantly lower weight loss of 12.1 pounds. However, the almond group were also found to have greater reductions in total cholesterol, HDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides compared to the nut-free group. After 18 months, weight loss had become equal among the two groups, as did lipid profiles. Released June 27, 2012, this study will be published in a future issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It can be accessed online now at https://tinyurl.com/6ljsfy4 without cost.
DID YOU KNOW?
Wind farms in the US kill more than 400,000 birds a year, including many eagles. By 2030, that mortality is expected to reach one million annually.
FIVE CUPS OF COFFEE DAILY LOWERS CHANCES OF IVF SUCCESS
A new study has clarified the contradictory results of previous studies concerning the effects of caffeine on the chances of success with in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. The study found that the consumption of five cups of caffeinated coffee daily marks the point above which IVF success is diminished, by about 50 percent, and below which it has no effect. (Many studies found no effect of caffeine on IVF results; others suggested an effect; the current study explains the contradiction.)
Although coffee was the vehicle of caffeine delivery studied in the almost 4,000 women pursuing IVF treatment, it was the caffeine content in five or more cups of coffee daily that reduced the odds of success; in other words, no effect on IVF success has been observed for decaffeinated coffee. The study described the extent of this effect as “comparable to the effect of smoking,” which has been found in earlier studies to lower IVF success ratio. This study was presented in Istanbul on July 3, 2012 at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. It will not be published or posted until a later date.
DID YOU KNOW?
Vitamin D3 is significantly better than vitamin D2 at raising blood levels of the active form of vitamin D, reports a study in the June 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DID YOU KNOW?
The ancient Tibetan goji berry could help fight blindness caused by long-term diabetes, according to studies conducted by University of Sydney researchers.
Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.