News Briefs – April 2010

WALNUTS MAY FIGHT PROSTATE CANCER

For the first time, a study has found that walnuts, previously shown to help prevent heart disease, might fight prostate cancer. After two months, the equivalent for humans of 14 shelled walnuts, or 2.5 ounces, kept prostate cancers in mice about 50% smaller than those in the no-walnut group. The cancers also grew 30% more slowly. (Earlier evidence suggested pomegranate juice and tomatoes lower the risk of prostate cancer, the most common non-skin cancer.) The study was presented March 24 at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco. Keep in mind that walnuts are high in calories and your intake of this nut should be limited if you are trying to avoid weight gain.

PESTICIDE LABELS MISLEADING

A study has found that misleading labels on household pesticides may cause consumers to use excessive amounts that could subject family members and pets to increased exposures. Labels often stipulate minimum amounts and minimum treatment time, but present no maximum levels, leading some consumers to assume “if a little is good, more is better.” Mothball labels, for example, fail to instruct users to air clothes outside for a specific period before wearing. The study was presented March 25 at the American Chemical Society’s 239th National Meeting in San Francisco. Ask your natural health physician if household pesticides are for you, whether there are alternatives, and how to use them.

UNSATURATED FAT CUTS HEART RISK

A new study has helped clarify previously mixed findings on heart disease risk resulting from increasing, or lowering, different types of fat in the diet. A meta-analysis – which combines results from previous studies – found that replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat cuts heart disease risk by 10% for every 5% increase in the proportion of calories obtained from polyunsaturated fat. Also, these benefits increased the longer the replacement continued. This study was released online March 23 by the journal PLoS (Proceedings of the Library of Science) Medicine, to be published in a future print issue.

VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENTS MAY PREVENT INFLUENZA A

A new study concludes that vitamin D supplementation in winter may reduce influenza A incidence, at least among children. Also, during the study, those previously diagnosed with asthma suffered substantially fewer asthma attacks if they were on vitamin D supplements. Specifically, the supplements were vitamin D3 and the Japanese study is the first scientifically rigorous trial to evaluate this link. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Influenza A can be transmitted from birds and poultry to humans as with swine flu and Spanish flu.

DIET LINKED TO BREAST CANCER RISK

Although research suggests links between diet and cancer generally, a new study suggests diet plays a role in the risk of breast cancer specifically. U.K. scientists divided subjects into three dietary patterns: prudent / healthy; Western / unhealthy; and drinker (meaning alcohol). All those in the Western / unhealthy group showed the same common risk; those in the prudent / healthy group showed a lower risk the healthier they ate; and those in the drinker group showed a greater risk the more they drank. Released online in March, this study will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

ANTI-DEPRESSANTS LINKED TO CATARACTS

One type of anti-depressant drug increases the risk of cataracts, according to a just-released Canadian study. Overall, the development of cataracts – a clouding of the eye lens – is 15% more common among people who take the class of anti-depressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, two specific SSRIs – Luvox and Effexor – carry a 51% and 34% greater cataract risk respectively. Following similar findings in animal research, this study is the first to establish this connection in humans. Released early online, the results will be published in a future issue of the journal Ophthalmology. It is important to keep in mind that the benefits of a medication may or may not outweigh the risks involved; this is a discussion you should have with your health practitioner.

SMOKERS LOW ON B VITAMINS

Previously, smoking was associated with lower concentrations of several antioxidants. Now, a study has found smokers have lower levels of several B vitamins circulating in their systems. Smokers and to some extent, ex-smokers, showed reduced levels of vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxal 5’phosphate) and B9 (folate). Concentrations increased significantly after several days without smoking and continued climbing for many months. The study suggested this effect stems from smoking-induced “oxidative stress,” meaning an overload of the body’s ability to detoxify the effects of free radicals. Released March 25, the study will appear in the upcoming print edition of the journal Clinical Chemistry. If you smoke, should you be taking vitamin B supplements? Ask your physician.

VITAMIN D REDUCES HEART DISEASE RISK

Vitamin D helps prevent heart disease and other conditions, reports two studies presented March 17 at the American College of Cardiology’s 59th annual scientific session in Atlanta. In the first study, those who increased their initially low vitamin D levels showed a lower cardiovascular disease risk. The second study found that those who raised their blood levels of vitamin D to 43 nanograms per milliliter had lower rates of diabetes, depression, heart attack, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. A blood level of 30 nanograms per milliliter is considered “normal.” Ask your health practitioner whether your intake of vitamin D is sufficient to protect you from heart disease and whether there are other lifestyle and dietary steps you should take.

SHOES TO TREAT OSTEOARTHRITIS?

Flip-flops and sneakers with flexible soles are easier on the knees than clogs or even special walking shoes, a study by Rush University Medical Center has found. And that’s important, because loading on the knee joints is a key factor in the development of osteoarthritis. The study was published online March 24, in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. “Traditionally, footwear has been engineered to provide maximum support and comfort for the foot, with little attention paid to the biomechanical effects on the rest of the leg,” said Najia Shakoor, MD, a rheumatologist at Rush and the primary author of the study. “But the shoes we wear have a substantial impact on the load on the knee joints, particularly when we walk. Our study demonstrated that flat, flexible footwear significantly reduces the load on the knee joints compared with supportive, stable shoes with less flexible soles.”

But the author issued a special warning to the elderly: “For the elderly and infirm individuals, flip-flops could contribute to falls because of their loose-fitting design. Factors like that have to be taken into account.” Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and a significant source of disability and impaired quality of life.

FAILED ROMANCE? PACK YOUR TROUBLES AWAY

A new study from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto suggests you might want to stick something related to your disappointment in a box or envelope if you want to feel better. In four separate experiments, researchers found that the physical act of enclosing materials related to an unpleasant experience, such as a written recollection about it, improved people’s negative feelings towards the event and created psychological closure. Enclosing materials unrelated to the experience did not work as well. “If you tell people, ‘You’ve got to move on,’ that doesn’t work,” said Dilip Soman, who holds the Corus Chair in Communication Strategy at the Rotman School and is also a professor of marketing. “What works is when people enclose materials that are relevant to the negative memories they have. It works because people aren’t trying to explicitly control their emotions.” The study will be published in a future issue of the journal Psychological Science.

CURCUMIN PROTECTS AGAINST LIVER CIRRHOSIS

Curcumin – one of the principal components of the Indian spice turmeric – seems to delay the liver damage that eventually causes cirrhosis, suggests preliminary experimental research to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Gut. Curcumin, which gives turmeric its bright yellow pigment, has long been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat a wide range of gastrointestinal disorders. Previous research has indicated that it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which may be helpful in combating disease. The research team analyzed tissue and blood samples from mice with chronic liver inflammation before and after adding curcumin to their diet for a period of four and eight weeks. The results were compared with the equivalent samples from mice with the same condition, but not fed curcumin.

The findings showed that the curcumin diet significantly reduced bile duct blockage and curbed liver cell damage and scarring by interfering with several chemical signalling pathways involved in the inflammatory process. These effects were shown at both four and eight weeks. No such effects were seen in mice fed a normal diet. The authors point out that the current treatment for inflammatory liver disease involves ursodeoxycholic acid, the long term effects of which remain unclear. The other alternative is a liver transplant.

Curcumin is a natural product, say the study authors. It seems to target several different parts of the inflammatory process and may therefore offer a very promising treatment in the future. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the British Medical Journal.

NEWSNOTES

• Vitamin recommended for COPD: Vitamin D deficiency occurs frequently in patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), according to a new Belgian study reported in the March 24 issue of the journal Thorax. Also, the severity of deficiency correlates with the severity of symptoms of COPD. The study team suggested that, “The data warrant vitamin D supplementation in patients with severe COPD,” especially in patients who show a genetic tendency towards COPD.

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