News Briefs – March 2010

NEW SUPPLEMENT FORMULA OFFSETS SYMPTOMS OF AGING

Researchers at McMaster University have developed a cocktail of ingredients that forestalls major aspects of the aging process, at least in mice. The formula maintained youthful levels of locomotor activity into old age (versus the normal 50 per cent loss in daily movement). Also, the supplement prevented the usual age-related losses in the activity of the cellular furnaces that provide energy, as well as slowing declines in brain signaling chemicals relevant to motion. This builds on the team’s earlier findings that the supplement extends longevity, prevents cognitive declines, and protects mice from radiation.

Ingredients consist of items that were purchased in local stores selling vitamin and health supplements for people, including vitamins B1, C, D, E, acetylsalicylic acid, beta carotene, folic acid, garlic, ginger root, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, green tea extract, magnesium, melatonin, potassium, cod liver oil and flax seed oil. Multiple ingredients were combined based on their ability to offset five mechanisms involved in aging.

Most of the primary causes of human mortality and decline are strongly correlated with age and free-radical processes, including heart disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, many cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Successful intervention into the aging process – such as shown in the current study, if the results can be replicated in humans – could consequently prevent or forestall all of these. The findings are published in the Feb/2010 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine.

SINGLE DEFICIENCY LINKED TO ‘ALL-CAUSES’ DEATH RISK

A study in the February 2010 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition appears to suggest that a deficiency of vitamin D can increase the risk of death from all causes. The seven-year study followed 1,000 Italians aged 65 and over and assessed levels of vitamin D among those who died during the trial compared to those who did not. The patient volunteers with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood were more than twice as likely to die from any cause when compared with the patients who had the highest levels of Vitamin D in their blood. The subjects with the lowest vitamin D levels were also nearly three times as likely to die from heart attacks and other complications related to cardiovascular disease, when compared to the patients with high levels of vitamin D in their blood.

The study is not an indicator of cause and effect because epidemiological studies (non-clinical, population-based surveys) simply define a link – one that can be explained by other common factors. However, this link held up even after the researchers made statistical adjustments for differences in the age, gender, education level, exercise habits, and other health-related factors among these two groups.

More important, a review of combined evidence (published in the February 2010 issue of the journal Maturitas) from 28 journal studies found that high levels of vitamin D among middle age and elderly populations are associated with a substantial decrease in cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. (Also, a study released February, 2010 that will appear in an upcoming issue of Cancer Research, found that vitamin D deficiency promotes breast cancer growth in mice.)

If the link is indeed causal, how could a D deficiency affect multiple causes of death? As we age, our bodies become less efficient in converting sunlight into vitamin D, and multiple research studies have shown that the majority of older adults are deficient in vitamin D. And a growing number of high-level clinical research studies continue to suggest that vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, bone fractures, and decreased muscle strength in older men and women.

STUDY SUGGESTS YEAST CURE FOR CANCER

A researcher at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science has suggested the potential use of baker’s yeast as a promising, natural therapy for cancer.

For more than two decades, scientist Mamdooh Ghoneum has pursued a theory that cancer cells self destruct when exposed to small quantities of non-pathogenic (does not cause disease or death) baker’s yeast. In lab tests, he exposed cancer cells to yeast and observed as they ingested the yeast – through a process known as phagocytosis – the cancer cells died. First, he investigated this phenomenon in vitro (in test tubes), introducing yeast to breast, tongue, colon, and skin cancer cells. Later, yeast was injected inside the tumours of mice, and again he observed a decrease in the size of the tumour mass. Then, in his most recent tests, he examined whether yeast could kill cancer cells in mice that had cancer metastasized to the lung. These tests also showed significant clearance of the cancer cells from the lung. Mamdooh Ghoneum, PhD, presented his findings Tuesday, February 2, 2010, at a special conference on “Cell Death Mechanism,” sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in San Diego. The next step, Ghoneum said in a February email interview, is to conduct clinical trials to determine baker’s yeast’s safety, efficacy of dosage and best method of treatment – in humans.

FISH OIL MAY BEAT PSYCHOSES

Taking daily fish oil capsules may forestall or prevent psychotic mental illnesses in those at the highest risk, a new study suggests. A three-month course of the supplement appeared to be as effective as drugs, cutting the rate of psychotic illness such as schizophrenia by 25 per cent. Based on the results, the investigators estimate that one high-risk adult could be protected from developing psychosis for every four treated over a year. Researchers reporting in the February 2010 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry believe it is the omega-3 in fish oil – already hailed for promoting healthy hearts – that has beneficial effects in the brain. They believe the omega-3 fatty acids found in the supplements may alter signalling in the brain with beneficial effects and may help prevent mental illness in “young people with sub-threshold psychotic states.” Dosage was 1.2 grams a day of omega-3 fatty acids.

“The finding that treatment with a natural substance may prevent, or at least delay, the onset of psychotic disorder gives hope that there may be alternatives to antipsychotic drugs,” wrote the study authors. Antipsychotic drugs are potent and can have serious side effects, which puts some people off taking them. Fish oil supplements, on the other hand, are generally well tolerated and easy to take, reported the scientists.

MEDITERRANEAN DIET SUPPORTS BRAIN HEALTH

Following a Mediterranean diet may do more than trim pounds. It could help prevent brain damage linked to memory problems and strokes. In a study released February 10, 2010 – which will be formally presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 62nd annual meeting in Toronto between April 10 and 17, 2010 – people who followed the diet were less likely to suffer brain tissue damage. The diets of 712 people were assessed and separated into groups based on how closely participants followed the diet. MRI brain scans showed that those following the diet the closest were 36 per cent less likely to have areas of brain tissue damage than those following the diet the least closely.

Researchers say these findings support previous research that shows the Mediterranean diet could be associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and lengthen the lives of people with Alzheimer’s. The Mediterranean diet includes a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish and monounsaturated fatty acids. But saturated fatty acids, dairy, meat and poultry are discouraged.

MOM’S LIFESTYLE AFFECTS BABY’S SIZE

The lifestyle habits a woman brings into pregnancy can have lasting effects on her baby’s health, new research shows. A Dutch study found that women who smoked, had high blood pressure, or failed to take folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had babies that were smaller in the first trimester of pregnancy and had a higher risk of later complications such as such as preterm birth and low birth weight. First-trimester growth restriction is associated with higher risks of adverse birth outcomes and accelerated post-natal growth rates – it’s a very critical period for fetal growth and development. This study is important because it suggests that the fetus is already affected before pregnant women visit their obstetrician. It is believed that these lifestyle habits affect the development of the placenta, which in turn affects the fetus. Folic acid supplements should be taken, along with adopting other lifestyle changes during preconception – that is, before attempting to become pregnant. The study was published in the February 10, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

NEW TUNA TESTS SHOW HIGH MERCURY LEVELS

Tests on more than 300 samples of canned tuna in the United States revealed that more than half contained mercury levels above that considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and levels varied by tuna type. Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that 55 per cent of the samples had mercury levels higher than the EPA standard of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) and 5 per cent had levels higher than the 1.0 ppm safety level set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for commercially sold fish.

The researchers found significant differences in mercury concentration by type – white and light. White tuna had the highest concentrations of mercury. White tuna comes from albacore, which is actually a different species of fish than “light” tuna, which contained lower mercury levels.

The health effects of mercury poisoning include central nervous system damage, hearing loss and vision problems. Pregnant women and children are most susceptible to mercury poisoning – yet they are also among the biggest consumers of canned tuna. The study was published in the February 2010 issue of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

NEWS NOTES

• Homeopathic remedies vs. breast cancer: A study in the February 2010 issue of the International Journal of Oncology reported that homeopathic remedies had a beneficial effect on test tube cancer cells (similar to anti-cancer drugs) but without affecting nearby healthy cells. Highly diluted Carcinosin, Phytolacca, Conium and Thuja were tested.

• Functional foods still strong: Baby boomers’ lust for health is fuelling the fortunes of foods and drinks with health benefits – recording 20 per cent growth rates in a recession – according to Julian Mellentin’s new report 10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition and Health. Boomers seem interested in digestive health after age 40; cardiac health after 50; and joint health after 60. Since 1995, industry expert Julian Mellentin annually analyzes trends in nutrition.

• Coloured chick peas a ‘functional food’? A study in the February 18, 2010 issue of the Journal of Food Science assessed various chick peas and found that coloured strains hold 13 times more polyphenols, up to 11 times more flavonoids and up to 31 times more antioxidant activity than beige chickpeas. Packed with protein, polyphenols and flavonoids, chickpeas come in black, red, brown, green, rubiginous (rust), gray, yellow and of course, beige.

• Does beer build bones? A new analysis of 100 commercial beers shows the hoppy beverage is a significant source of dietary silicon, a key ingredient for bone health. Depending on brand, you could get 30 mg of silicon from two beers. Researchers concluded that moderate beer consumption helps prevent osteoporosis, a skeletal system disease characterized by deterioration of bone tissue mass. The study appears in the February, 2000 issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

• Can Resveratrol Combat Inflammatory Bowel Disease? A study involving mice with severe chronic colonic inflammation showed supplementation with resveratrol – a polyphenolic compound found in grapes and wine – alleviated clinical signs of ulcerative colitis and IBD, including weight loss, diarrhea and rectal bleeding. The study was released February 1, 2010 and will appear in a future issue of the European Journal of Pharmacology.

•  Supplement prevents gestational diabetes: In a study involving 256 pregnant women, probiotic supplementation (combined with dietary counseling) during pregnancy improved pregnancy outcomes and reduced risk of gestational diabetes and larger birth size. In the study group that took probiotics (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12), 13 per cent were diagnosed with gestational diabetes compared to 36 per cent in the placebo group. The study, released February 4, 2010, will appear in a future issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

•  Dark chocolate chases wrinkles: Scientists at European Dermatology London, a private clinic, say a few squares daily of high-flavanol chocolate helps prevent wrinkles caused by ultraviolet sun rays – and might lower the risk of skin cancer. But they emphasized it has to be high-flavanol chocolate, such as Dove Dark, and cautioned that more than an ounce daily may be unhealthy. In a February 10, 2010 media release, the researchers wrote, “The mechanism is likely to be anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Conventional chocolate had no such effect.” (Flavanols – with an “a” – are not to be confused with flavonols – with an “o,” which are another class of flavonoids.)

•  CAM therapies popular with breast cancer patients: Biological-based therapies such as diet supplements and vitamins are the most popular complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) for women recovering from breast cancer, according to a Michigan State University (MSU) researcher. Gwen Wyatt of MSU’s College of Nursing, in research published in the February 2010 edition of Nursing Research, found that 57 per cent of women are using CAM therapies such as massage, reflexology and especially, supplements.

•  Probiotics improve constipation: In a study in the February 2010 issue of Nutrition Journal, scientists report that the probiotics known as Lactic Acid Bacteria improve health in those who suffer from regular constipation by increasing the frequency, amount and state of stools.

•  Soft drinks linked to pancreatic cancer risk: People who down two or more sugar-sweetened soft drinks a week may have an 87 per cent greater risk of developing deadly pancreatic cancer, compared to non-soda drinkers, suggests new research in the February, 2010 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. However, the study team cautioned against assuming a cause and effect relationship because soft drink consumers – as a group – may engage in other lifestyle risk-raising habits.

•  Extract combats breast cancer: Bitter melon extract (Momordica charantia) exerts a significant effect against the growth of breast cancer cells in the lab. It may eventually become a chemopreventive agent against this form of cancer, according to results of a recent study, which was released February 23, 2010 and will be published in a future edition of Cancer Research. (The extract has long been used in folk medicines as a remedy for diabetes.)

•  Osteoarthritis help: Arthritis Research & Therapy reported February 12, 2010 that “progressive walking” combined with glucosamine sulphate has been shown to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Patients who walked 1500 steps, at least twice per day, on three days of the week, reported significantly less arthritis pain and significantly improved physical function.

•  Acupuncture effective against depression: A study presented February 4, 2010 at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s (SMFM) annual meeting in Chicago showed that acupuncture may be effective for depression during pregnancy. Women who received depression-specific acupuncture experienced a greater decrease in depression severity. The significance? Pregnant women are reluctant to take anti-depressants, fearing harm to the fetus.

• Obesity offsets heart disease progress: Decades of progress at cutting cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking are being stalled by rising obesity rates, according to a study released February 1, 2010 and appearing in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) weekly publication. A study by British scientists found that half of heart disease deaths could be averted if people ate healthier food and quit smoking. Nearly one billion adults are overweight.

• Citrus fruit may fight cancer: A new study suggests consumption of citrus fruits such as grapefruit or oranges may help prevent all types of cancer, particularly in individuals who drink green tea. Researchers found a 17 per cent reduced risk in patients who drank a cup of green tea daily. The study, released January 26, 2010, will appear in a future issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

HEALTH NOTES

Salt: Are you being fooled by your taste buds?

Did you know that a cup of corn flakes has about the same amount of sodium as a cup of potato chips? So it’s important to trust labels – not taste buds – to control salt intake. According to their own labels, a single 32-gram serving of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes contains 200 milligrams (mg) of sodium; a single 28-gram serving of Lays Classic Potato Chips contains 180 mg. Lowering sodium intake can reduce your chances of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. Taste, however, isn’t the best way to tell how much sodium is in the foods you eat. Many bland foods are saltier than your taste buds might tell you. The potato chips taste saltier than cereal because the salt is on the surface, not mixed throughout the product.

Even labels can be tricky. Campbell’s Microwavable Bowls of soup are packaged in one container yet labelled as two servings. A “serving” contains 750 mg of sodium, meaning the bowl contains 1,500 mg, most of a day’s worth of salt. Other foods with high sodium levels include wheat flakes cereal, cheese, canned soups, processed meat and cocoa, margarine, dill pickles and most salad dressings.

Exercise: What supplements boost the benefit?

The right supplements can boost the cardio benefit of a short workout. In a UCLA study, exercise was found to have a much greater effect on animals that were also given the amino acid L-arginine, as well as vitamins C and E. The combination of exercise and these supplements boosted levels of nitric oxide—which is known to protect the arteries and heart from damage.

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