News Briefs – September 2009

Asparagus Extract Relieves Hangovers

The amino acids and minerals found in asparagus extract may alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells against toxins, according to a study in the Aug. 14, 2009 issue of the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Asparagus officinalis is a common vegetable that is consumed worldwide and has long been used as an herbal medicine due to its anticancer effects. It also has antifungal, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. Researchers at the Institute of Medical Science and Jeju National University in Korea analyzed the essential components of young asparagus shoots and leaves to compare their biochemical effects on human and rat liver cells.

“The amino acid and mineral contents were found to be much higher in the leaves than the shoots,” said lead researcher B.Y. Kim, PhD. Chronic alcohol use causes oxidative stress on the liver, as well as unpleasant physical effects associated with a hangover. “Cellular toxicities were significantly alleviated in response to treatment with the extracts of asparagus leaves and shoots,” said Kim. “These results provide evidence of how the biological functions of asparagus can help alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells.”

Black Tea Helps Diabetics

If you’re a diabetic, it may be time to ditch the coffee in favour of tea. Researchers from the Tianjin Key Laboratory in China studying the polysaccharide levels of green, oolong and black teas, have found that one of these teas could be used to treat diabetes. Polysaccharides – a type of carbohydrate that includes starch and cellulose – may benefit people with diabetes because they help retard the absorption of glucose.

Reporting in the July 28, 2009 issue of the Journal of Food Science, the researchers found that of these three teas, the polysaccharides in black tea had the most glucose-inhibiting properties. The black tea polysaccharides also showed the highest scavenging effect on free radicals, which are involved in the onset of diseases, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
In an e-mail interview with News Briefs, lead researcher Haixia Chen said: “Many efforts have been made to search for effective glucose inhibitors from natural materials. There is a potential for exploitation of black tea polysaccharide in managing diabetes.”

Next to water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. Black tea has long been known for its antioxidants, immune boosting and antihypertensive properties. This latest research shows it could have another health benefit.

Lunch Box Ham Discouraged

Parents have been urged not to put ham and other smoked, salted or cured meat into their children’s lunch boxes to help them reduce the risk of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) said parents should act now to stop their children from developing a taste for processed meat. Eating too much over decades can raise the risk of bowel cancer, announced the WCRF.
It is only in recent years that the link between processed meats and bowel cancer in adults has been made, with some estimates suggesting that thousands of cases could be prevented if everyone limited intake to 70g a week – equivalent to three rashers of bacon.

Even though the available evidence looks only at adult diets rather than child diets, the WCRF believes that bad eating habits can start in childhood. It says curing, salting or adding preservatives to meat can introduce carcinogenic substances. WCRF wants the likes of ham and salami to be given the chop in favour of sandwich-fillers such as chicken, fish or cheese. Primarily, the problem with luncheon meats is their high content of fat, saturated fat and salt, although the WCRF conceded that highly prepared sandwich meats are still okay as “an occasional treat.”

Wine Helps Breast Cancer Patients

Drinking wine while undergoing radiation treatment for breast carcinoma may reduce the incidence of skin toxicity in breast cancer patients, according to a study in the August 2009 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics, the official journal of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

Preventing radiation therapy-induced side effects is an important part of a patient’s cancer treatment management. Several medications are available to help protect healthy organs from the effects of radiation, but they are often expensive, have side effects themselves and can provide protection to tumour cells as well as healthy cells. Italian researchers conducted the study to determine if the natural antioxidants in wine would provide a radio-protective effect in preventing acute skin toxicity in patients undergoing radiation therapy after conservative surgery for breast carcinoma.

Patients who drank one glass of wine per day had a 13.6% incidence of skin toxicity versus a 38.4% incidence in patients who did not drink wine.

“If wine can prevent radiotherapy-induced toxicity without affecting anti-tumour efficacy, as we observed, it also has the potential to enhance the therapeutic benefit in cancer patients without increasing their risk of serious adverse effects,” said study author Vincenzo Valentini, MD, a radiation oncologist at Catholic University in Rome, Italy, in an e-mail interview. “The possibility that particular dietary practices or interventions can reduce radiation-induced toxicity is very intriguing.”

Feeling Beat? Beets May Hold The Answer

Beetroot (beet) juice can boost physical stamina and increase exercise endurance by up to 16%, suggests a new British study. Researchers found that naturally occurring nitrate in beet juice could benefit endurance athletes, elderly people and those with cardiovascular, respiratory or metabolic diseases.

The study included eight men, aged 19 to 38, who drank 500 milliliters a day of organic beet juice for six consecutive days. They then completed a series of tests on an exercise bike. The same tests were repeated after the men drank the same amount of a placebo (blackcurrant cordial) for six days. After drinking the beet juice, the men were able to cycle for an average of 11.25 minutes – 92 seconds longer than after consuming the placebo drink. The men also had a lower resting blood pressure after they drank the beet juice. The study was published in the Aug. 6, 2009 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.

“Our study is the first to show that nitrate-rich food can increase exercise endurance,” corresponding author Andy Jones, a professor in the University of Exeter’s School of Sport and Health Sciences, said in a news release from the university.

“We were amazed by the effects of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training. I am sure professional and amateur athletes will be interested in the results of this research. I am also keen to explore the relevance of the findings to those people who suffer from poor fitness and may be able to use dietary supplements to help them go about their daily lives,” Jones added.

He and his colleagues don’t know the exact mechanism that causes nitrate in beetroot juice to increase stamina, but they suspect that nitrate may turn into nitric oxide in the body, leading to a reduction in oxygen uptake and making exercise less tiring.

Multivitamins May Lower Heart Disease Deaths

Multivitamins taken regularly over a long period may lower the risk of death from heart disease by 16%, according to a new study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington.

The study, published in the Aug. 8, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, also tied daily supplements of vitamin E over a 10-year period to a 28% decrease in the risk of death from heart disease.

The new research goes against two older, well-publicized reports, including a much debated 2004 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that said multivitamins – and vitamin E in particular – actually increased the risk of “all-cause mortality.” The other previous study, published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene could increase the risk of death by as much as 16%.

The new Washington study found that multivitamins did not decrease the risk of causes of non-heart-related deaths. It also showed that multivitamins and vitamin E were not linked to an increase in cancer deaths, and that vitamins E and C actually were associated with “small decreases” in the risk of overall mortality.

The researchers based their findings on questionnaires completed by more than 77,000 Washington State residents between the ages of 50 and 76. The results were correlated with a 10-year use of multivitamins and vitamins C and E, and with death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Roughly 35% of the U.S. adult population takes multivitamins regularly, according to a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

News Notes

• Chocolate: Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never touch the stuff, scientists have reported. Smaller quantities confer less protection, but are still better than none, according to the study, which appears in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine.
• Stressed parents raise asthma risk in kids: A University of California team reported to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 21 that children of stressed parents who lived in polluted areas were far more likely to have asthma than friends in the same neighbourhood. The team found that parental anxieties combine with other known risk factors – such as traffic-related pollution and exposure to cigarette smoke in the womb – to increase a child’s asthma risk. (Stress is also known to trigger asthma attacks.)
• Depression often misdiagnosed as bipolar: A study in 2008 found that 57% of patients diagnosed with – and medicated for – bipolar disorder (also called manic depressive disorder) did not in fact have the condition when fully tested. These patients routinely wound up on lithium and similar drugs that would not be appropriate. A new study in the Aug. 15, 2009 edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that nearly half of these misdiagnosed patients actually had major clinical depression. (Borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety and social phobia were each diagnosed in the others.)
• Hepatitis C prevention? Japanese researchers say they have found a chemical in blueberry leaves that can block the replication of the hepatitis C virus. The study was published in the Aug. 14, 2009 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
• Alcohol causes oral cancer: Alcohol is largely to blame for an “alarming” rise in the rate of oral cancers among men and women in their 40s, say experts. Cigarette smoking is still the number one cause of oral cancers, but as smoking has declined, these cancers have risen – at the same time alcohol consumption doubled. Numbers of cancers of the lip, mouth, tongue and throat in the 40s age group have risen by 26% in the past decade. Alcohol consumption has doubled since the 1950’s and is the most likely culprit alongside smoking, says Cancer Research U.K.
• Stroke raises fracture risk: Stroke survivors have about twice the risk of breaking a hip or femur compared with those without stroke – and the risk is even greater for younger patients, women and those with recent strokes, according to Dutch researchers. The findings of highest risk of fracture in the first months after stroke confirm and reinforce other trials that showed “substantially higher” rates of bone mineral density loss within the first six months after stroke, the researchers said in their findings, reported in the August 2009 issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.
• Ghost-written journal articles? An article in the New York Times comments on the influence of the pharma industry in ghostwriting in medical literature. The paper suggested that practitioners rely on this reference material, which is not appropriately objective and in fact, that a “filter is missing.” The article focuses on court documents showing that ghostwriters paid by a drug company played a major role in producing 26 papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women – with the articles subsequently appearing as review articles in high profile medical journals.
• Mediterranean diet: According to a two-month study published in the August 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, close adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet, achieved by close dietary supervision, improves endothelial function in subjects with abdominal obesity. Endothelial function refers to the actions of the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels.
• Vitamin D shortage among most children: Seven out of 10 children (aged one to 21) have low levels of vitamin D, raising their risk of bone and heart disease, according to a study of more than 6,000 children by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The striking findings suggest vitamin D deficiency could place millions of children at risk for bone and heart disease. The study was published Aug. 3, 2009 in the online version of the journal Pediatrics. Vitamin D supplementation can help. In the study, children who took vitamin D supplements (400 IU) were less likely to be deficient in the vitamin. Study leader Michal L. Melamed, MD also suggested parents turn off the TV and send kids out to play in the sun – waiting about 15 minutes before applying sunscreen, to get “the good stuff” (vitamin D) without the sun damage.
• Fish during pregnancy: Eating omega-3-rich seafood may be a mood-lifter for women who are feeling depressed during pregnancy, suggests a study of British women. Although the researchers pointed to the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and iodine in fish are also known to minimize symptoms of depression. The researchers call for further investigation into ties between seafood intake and reduction of depression in pregnancy, particularly in light of recommendations for pregnant women to limit some seafood consumption due to its mercury content. The study appeared in the July 2009 issue of the journal Epidemiology.
• Diabetes complications common: People with Type 2 diabetes often live with a range of other problems, such as sexual dysfunction and anxiety about further complications, a poll suggests. A survey of 2,500 patients by Diabetes U.K. found nearly 25% had suffered sexual dysfunction and one in 10 had experienced eye damage. Most participants also said they were concerned about the risk of further complications, such as heart attacks.
• Moderate drinking fights osteoporosis in women: Women who drink moderate amounts of beer may be strengthening their bones, according to Spanish researchers. Their study of almost 1,700 women, published in the Aug. 16, 2009 issue of the journal Nutrition, found bone density was better in regular drinkers than non-drinkers. But the team added that plant hormones in the beer rather than the alcohol might be responsible for the effects. The scientists urged caution, warning that drinking more than two units of alcohol a day was known to harm a woman’s bone health.
• Redheads feel pain more: According to a study published in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, a genetic variation common to many redheaded people explains why redheads are much more likely to avoid the dentist: they feel pain more and require larger doses of pain relievers. The gene (the melanocortin-1 receptor, or MC1R gene), previously thought to affect only hair, eyes and pigmentation, also has an effect on the brain, where it may play a role in processing pain, anxiety and fear.
• Really – cheerleading? According to the most recent annual report of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, cheerleading is by far the most dangerous sport for females in high school and college. High school cheerleading accounted for more than 65% of all catastrophic sports injuries in women and girls over the past 25 years.

Health Notes

Hospitals kill more people than many diseases, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock – neurosurgeon, health practitioner, author and lecturer –  hospitals can be a risk to your health. He points out the following statistics:

• Hospital complications and errors comprise the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. (exceeding motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer and AIDS)
• Hospital-acquired infections account for 100,000 American deaths each year.
• Medical complications kill an additional 30,000 people a year
• Medication errors lead to an additional 7,000 deaths annually
• Protein myths: Many people believe a host of myths about protein, muscle and best protein sources. Here are some facts to dispel some of the fiction:
• No type of protein is superior to another (except that protein from non-meat sources will contain less harmful saturated fat).
• A healthy, active person needs only about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The average North American consumes more than 100 grams of protein a day, or about 0.67 grams of protein per pound – almost twice what he needs.
• Protein does not help develop or maintain muscle or mass; only exercise can do that.
• Muscles are not composed of protein, as most people assume.

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

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