News Briefs – February 2010

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After earlier statements that declared bisphenol A (BPA) safe for all uses, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admitted on January 17 that BPA affects human development and said it is working to take the chemical out of infant formula cans, feeding cups and baby bottles. The agency is also working to require BPA manufacturers to report how much of the chemical they are producing and where it is being used so that it can more easily regulate BPA.

The chemical is used to line nearly all food and beverage cans. It is used to make hard, clear plastic for baby bottles, tableware, eyeglasses, dental sealants, DVDs and hundreds of other household objects. The chemical, which leaches into food and drink when it is heated, has been linked to prostate and breast cancer, reproductive failure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and behavioural problems.


Daily supplements of calcium and vitamin D reduce the risk of fractures in women and men of all ages, even if they’ve suffered previous fractures. But vitamin D supplements alone don’t offer significant bone protection, a new study has found. The study analyzed data from 68,517 people, average age 70, who took part in seven studies that looked at the effect that vitamin D, or vitamin D plus calcium, had on reducing fractures. The analysis revealed that vitamin D given alone in doses of 10 to 20 micrograms per day doesn’t prevent fractures. However, calcium and vitamin D given together “reduce hip fractures and total fractures, and probably vertebral fractures, irrespective of age, sex, or previous fractures.”

The study, published online January 12, 2010 in the British Medical Journal, called for additional studies of vitamin D, especially vitamin D given at higher doses without calcium.


Blocking the function of an enzyme in the brain with a specific kind of vitamin E can prevent nerve cells from dying after a stroke, new research suggests. In a study using mouse brain cells, scientists found that the tocotrienol form of vitamin E (not the tocopherol form found in some supplements) stopped the enzyme from releasing fatty acids that eventually kill neurons.

“Our research suggests that the different forms of natural vitamin E have distinct functions,” wrote Chandan Sen, professor at Ohio State University and study leader, in a January 23rd email to News Briefs. “The relatively poorly studied tocotrienol form of natural vitamin E targets specific pathways to protect against neural cell death and rescues the brain after stroke injury.”

Vitamin E occurs naturally in eight different forms, half of which are tocopherols and half of which are tocotrienols. The best-known form of vitamin E, the form found in most supplements, belongs to the tocopherol group. The form of vitamin E in this study, tocotrienol, is not abundant in the Canadian diet but is available as a nutritional supplement.

The study could lead to this form of vitamin E being used as a stroke protection and the amount required to safeguard against stroke damage is small, according to researchers. Strokes are the leading cause of disability. While almost 75 per cent of strokes occur in people over the age of 65, they can strike at any age.

The research was posted online on January 12, 2010, but is scheduled for print publication at a later date in the Journal of Neurochemistry.


Eating pomegranates or drinking pomegranate juice may prevent estrogen-responsive breast cancers, says a new study published in the January 6, 2010 issue of Cancer Prevention Research. The pomegranate fruit is a rich source of the phytochemicals, ellagitannins (ET), which were shown to inhibit the growth of estrogen-responsive breast cancer in laboratory tests. In these tests, ET inhibited aromatase, a key enzyme used by the body to make estrogen that also plays a key role in breast cancer growth. A total of six different pomegranate enzymes were found to provide a protective effect against breast cancer.


Carrying extra weight on your hips, backside and thighs is good for your health, protecting against heart and metabolic problems, UK experts have found. Hip fat mops up harmful fatty acids and contains an anti-inflammatory agent that stops arteries from clogging. Big behinds are preferable to extra fat around the waistline, which gives no such protection, the Oxford University study team reported in the January issue of the International Journal of Obesity. Having too little fat around the hips can lead to serious metabolic problems, as occurs in Cushing’s syndrome. In the future, health practitioners might prescribe ways to redistribute body fat to the hips to protect against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

Evidence shows that fat around the thighs and backside is harder to shift than fat around the waist. Although this may sound undesirable, it is actually beneficial because when fat is broken down quickly, it releases a lot of cytokines which trigger inflammation in the body. These cytokines have been linked to cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and diabetes.

“Fat around the hips and thighs is good for you but around the tummy is bad,” wrote lead researcher Konstantinos Manolopoulos in an email interview. “It is shape that matters and where the fat gathers.” The slower burning hip fat also makes more of the hormone adiponectin, which protects the arteries and promotes better blood sugar control and fat burning.

By comparison, carrying excess fat around the stomach, being “apple shaped,” raises the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Manolopoulos said that, in an ideal world, the more fat around the thighs the better so long as the tummy stays slim. “Unfortunately, you tend not to get one without the other.”


What should you know about the mango fruit? It’s been found to prevent or stop the growth of certain colon and breast cancer cells in the lab, according to a new study by Texas AgriLife Research food scientists who examined the five varieties most common in North America: Kent, Francine, Ataulfo, Tommy /Atkins and Haden. An ancient fruit heavily consumed in many parts of the world, the mango has been found to prevent or stop cancer growth in certain breast and colon cell lines.

“If you look at it from the physiological and nutritional standpoint, taking everything together, it would be a high-ranking super food,” said researcher Susanne Talcott. “It would be good to include mangoes as part of the regular diet.” Mango showed some impact on lung, leukemia and prostate cancers but was most effective on the most common breast and colon cancers. “Additionally, we found that when we tested normal colon cells side by side with the colon cancer cells, the mango polyphenolics did not harm the normal cells; so mango is not expected to be damaging in the body… For cells that may be on the verge of mutating or being damaged, mango polyphenolics prevent this kind of damage.”


Red wine may stain your teeth but new research shows it also keeps them from decaying. Italian scientists demonstrated that red wine made it difficult for harmful bacteria to cling to teeth, and in a statement on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service site, concluded that the prevention of tooth decay “may be another beneficial effect of the moderate consumption of red wine.” The bacteria that causes the most dental damage is streptococcus mutans, which sets up housekeeping in the mouth by sticking to tooth enamel and living off sugar. Once this bad bacterium takes hold, it triggers demineralization and acid begins making pits.

Following the lead of US scientists who last year discovered that chemicals in the seeds and skins of wine grapes blocked the ability of bacteria to bind with tooth enamel, researchers at Italy’s Pavia University conducted experiments using red wine. In order to rule out any effect of alcohol on the research, they used an Italian wine with all its alcohol removed and found that it had the same effect of making it difficult for bacteria to attach themselves and also kept them from forming a layer of biofilm on teeth.

The active protective ingredient is a group of compounds found mainly in grape skins called proanthocyanidins, which are high in antioxidants. Scientists are now investigating the possibility of extracting the compounds and using them as a form of treatment on their own. Besides the dental benefits, even more studies suggest that moderate drinkers of red wine score higher on mental acuity tests than teetotalers, and that it can improve the immune system as well as battle diabetes, obesity, and the onset of aging.

If red wine is so good for teeth, what about white wine? It turns out that those who prefer white wine are out of luck at least as far as dental health is concerned. Another recent study demonstrated that white wine could actually be harmful to teeth because its high acid content erodes tooth enamel.


 Three Monsanto brands of genetically modified (GM) maize can damage the liver and kidneys in mammals, according to a new study posted online December 10, 2009, ahead of the print version of the International Journal of Biological Science. Although previous studies found no problem, rats in this study were fed three specific GM maize products: NK 603, MON 810 and MON 863, for four and half months. Compared to rats consuming non-GM feed, the GM-fed rats experienced adverse impacts to many organs but particularly the liver and kidneys.

Scientists cautioned that results with rats may not necessarily mean humans or other animals would be similarly affected; and that the damage in this case may not be from the GM event itself but rather from the three unique pesticides built right into each of the three GM corn brands. The team called for 2-year tests on three different mammal species.

By far, most GM corn is used for animal feed but if you are concerned about eating GM corn altogether, you will have to avoid any food products that indicate they contain corn or corn gluten. Also, you may want to avoid animal products because many farm animals consume GM corn feed regularly.


· Self-control is contagious: Trouble keeping those New Year’s resolution? Now you can blame others. Self-control – or the lack of it – has been found to be contagious. That means that thinking about someone who exercises self-control by regularly exercising, for example, can make you more likely to stick with your financial goals, career goals or anything else that takes self-control on your part. Five separate studies over two years were analyzed together and published January 15, 2010 in the early online edition of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

· St. John’s Wort reduces hot flashes? The popular herbal remedy St. John’s Wort may help ease menopausal hot flashes, a small study suggests. The study, which appeared in the February 2010 issue of the journal Menopause, showed a mild positive effect on reducing the number of hot flashes and the team suggested further tests be done. St. John’s Wort contains estrogen-like plant compounds called phytoestrogens, and it’s possible that these compounds explain the benefits seen in this study.

· High blood pressure linked to later dementia: High blood pressure in youth or middle age may put women at greater risk for dementia later in life, by increasing white matter abnormalities in the brain. This is the conclusion of a report from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in a study published online January 14, 2010 in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension.

· Diet may prevent lung cancer in smokers: Leafy green vegetables, folate and multivitamins could serve as protective factors against gene changes that cause lung cancer in current and former smokers, according to a study released January 12, 2010, that will appear in a future issue of the journal Cancer Research. The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

· Fish oil helps type 2 diabetics: A study published in the January 13, 2010 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that just 6 weeks of supplementation with 2 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acid – the type of oil found in fish – improves the post-meal function of large and small blood vessels in those with type 2 diabetes. It had no effect on vessel function during fasting or between meals.

· Pear shaped people live longer: People with fat in their thighs and backsides may live longer because the fat traps harmful fatty particles and actively secretes helpful compounds, according to a report published on January 12, 2010 in the International Journal of Obesity. Many studies have shown that people who accumulate fat around the abdomen and stomach are more likely to die of heart disease and other causes than bottom-heavy people, but the reasons are not clear. Thigh fat in pear-shaped people may be more stable and less likely to break down and cause bodily damage.

· Extract prevents hemorrhoid attacks: About half of the North American population will have hemorrhoids by the age of 50. While the most common prescription to treat hemorrhoids is over-the-counter remedies, most patients do not report symptoms of acute hemorrhoidal attacks to their doctor until they are in severe distress, including bleeding. A study published in the January 2010 issue of Phytotherapy Research reveals that pycnogenol, an antioxidant plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, has important anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties that may be beneficial in patients with hemorrhoids, both for acute and chronic treatment, and in preventing new attacks.

· Vitamins and minerals may prevent bladder cancer: Total intake of various vitamins and minerals were found to reduce the risk of bladder cancer. Specifically, higher intakes of carotenoids, vitamin D, thiamin, niacin, phosphorus and vitamin E were all associated with a reduced bladder cancer risk. The study was published in the December 31, 2009 issue of the journal, Cancer Causes Control. The authors conclude, “Future studies should focus on high risk groups such as heavy smokers and older individuals.”

· Small amounts of lead damage children’s kidneys: Even small amounts of lead in the bodies of healthy children and teens – amounts well below the levels defined as “concerning” by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – may worsen kidney function, according to a Johns Hopkins Children’s Center study published in the January 11/2010 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

· TV time may cut life short: Couch potatoes beware: every hour of television watched per day may increase the risk of dying earlier from cardiovascular disease, according to research reported in the January 2010 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

· Exercise can prevent cognitive impairment: Moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later appears to be associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment. And a six-month, high-intensity aerobic exercise program may improve cognitive function in individuals who already have the condition, according to two reports in the January 2010 issue of Archives of Neurology.

· Tea may prevent uterine cancer: Drinking tea – particularly green tea – may offer some protection against endometrial cancer, according to an analysis of seven studies, which was published in the January, 2010 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Researchers found that an increase in tea consumption of two cups daily was associated with a 25 per cent reduced risk of developing endometrial cancer. The association was significant for green tea but not for black tea.

· Vitamin D deficiency higher risk to blacks: According to a study that will appear in a future issue of the journal Annals of Family Medicine, vitamin D deficiency may contribute to a higher number of heart and stroke-related deaths among blacks compared to whites. The study showed that a vitamin D deficiency was associated with higher rates of death among all people. But importantly, when researchers adjusted the statistics to look at race, blacks had a 38 per cent higher risk of death from vitamin D deficiency than whites.

· Quit smoking & risk diabetes? Giving up smoking sharply increases the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, a US study suggests. Researchers found quitters had a 70 per cent increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes in the first six years without cigarettes compared with non-smokers. This is because they tend to put on weight. However, the study in the January 2010 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine stressed that this should not be used as an excuse to carry on smoking. The Johns Hopkins University team also stressed that smoking itself is a well known risk factor for type-2 diabetes as well as many other health problems such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. If you quit smoking, watch your weight.

· 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.)


Can potatoes cause cancer?

Yes, potatoes contain a strong carcinogenic substance. But before you throw out that sack of spuds, put things into perspective. Glycoalkaloid (GA), found in all potatoes, is toxic. When given to animals in large quantities, GA definitely causes cancer. But there are natural pesticides such as GA in most plant foods, used by plants to fight off bacteria, animals and even other plants. Our exposure to them may be as much as 10,000 times our exposure to synthetic pesticides. Should you be worried? Nope. As with all toxins, what matters is dosage. In the quantities we encounter in taters, GA is harmless. In fact, some of the health benefits from produce are believed to come from the plants’ own toxins.

Myth: Certain foods, like grapefruit, celery, or cabbage soup, can burn fat and make you lose weight.

Truth: No foods can burn fat. Some foods with caffeine may speed up your metabolism (the way your body uses energy or calories) for a short time but they do not cause weight loss. The best way to lose weight is to cut back on the number of calories you eat and be more physically active.

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