News

 

 

May/June 2017

Research

 

Yoga Lowers Blood Pressure

A new Indian study presented at a meeting of the Cardiological Society of India suggests that 1 hour of yoga a day reduces blood pressure and may help patients with prehypertension avoid developing high blood pressure. Researchers examined the effect of hatha yoga on the blood pressure of 60 patients with prehypertension. They divided the participants into two groups of 30. One group practiced hatha yoga for 3 months in addition to making conventional lifestyle changes, while the control group only made lifestyle changes. Hatha yoga is at the basis of modern yoga, but it places less emphasis on physical postures than most yoga practices today. Participants practiced 1 hour of yoga daily for 1 month with an instructor. Then, patients practiced yoga at home at the same rate for the remaining 2 months. The patients were otherwise healthy, with an average age of 56 years in the yoga group and 52 years in the control group. The yoga group had 16 women and 14 men, while the control group comprised of 17 women and 13 men. The average baseline blood pressure over a period of 24 hours was 130/80 mmHg in the yoga group and 127/80 mmHg in the control group. The yoga practice included asanas - physical poses that sometimes involved stretching, as well as breathing control exercises, also called pranayama. Researchers found that both 24-hour diastolic blood pressure and night-time diastolic blood pressure fell by about 4.5 mmHg. The 24-hour mean arterial pressure also declined by approximately 4.9 mmHg. By comparison, the control group did not present any significant change in blood pressure.

 

Breathing Influences Memory Recall and Fear Response

New US research appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience claims that breathing can influence memory recall and regulate our response to fear, and that breathing synchronises activity in the human brain, producing varying effects on memory and fear response, depending on whether one inhales or exhales. For the study, the team recruited around 60 subjects and asked them to take part in experiments that tested memory function and fear response. For the first experiment, participants were shown pictures of faces representing either fear or surprise and asked to quickly indicate which emotion was being expressed. The researchers found that when participants inhaled, they were able to recognize fearful faces faster than when they exhaled, though this was not the case with surprised faces. However, when the subjects performed the same task just by breathing through their mouths, subjects were no quicker at identifying fearful faces, suggesting that only inhalation through the nasal passage boosts fear response. In another experiment, the participants were presented with pictures of different objects on a computer screen, which they were asked to remember. Later on, subjects were asked to recall the images. The researchers found that the subjects were better able to recall the images when they inhaled, compared with when they exhaled. Similar to the previous experiment, the link between better memory recall and breathing disappeared when subjects were breathing through the mouth. All in all, the authors believe their findings suggest breathing is not just necessary for oxygen, but that it also plays a role in brain activity and behaviour.

 

Heart Disease Risk Not Increased by Saturated Fat

The conventional wisdom on this has been that saturated fat consumption is linked to heart disease. Recent news from Norway published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has disproved this. Researchers tested the risk of saturated fat on 38 men with abdominal obesity. The participants were divided into two groups and followed either a very high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet or a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet for 12 weeks. The researchers measured fat mass in the abdominal region, liver, and heart. They also assessed cardiovascular risk factors. The current theory surrounding saturated fat would suggest that the high-fat, low-carbohydrate group would be at greater risk of heart disease than the low-fat, high-carbohydrate group. However, this was not the case; there was no difference between the groups. The very high intake of total and saturated fat did not increase the calculated risk of cardiovascular diseases. Participants on the very high-fat diet also had substantial improvements in several important cardiometabolic risk factors, such as ectopic fat storage, blood pressure, blood lipids (triglycerides), insulin and blood sugar. The team looked at the effects of total and saturated fat in the context of a healthy diet rich in fresh, minimally processed and nutritious foods, including high amounts of vegetables and rice instead of flour-based products. The fat sources were also minimally processed, mainly butter, cream, and cold-pressed oils. The intake of energy, proteins, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and food types was similar across both groups, with variation mainly in quantity. The intake of added sugar was kept to a minimum. The energy intake of both groups was mostly within normal range. Those participants who increased their energy intake still saw a reduction in fat stores and risk of disease. The authors stated that the overriding principle of a healthy diet is not the quantity of fat or carbohydrates, but the quality of the foods we eat. The study challenges the theory that the route to heart disease from saturated fat is paved by raising levels of "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. The study authors not only observed no significant rise in LDL cholesterol, but they also found that the high-fat diet was only associated with an increase in "good" cholesterol levels.

 

Chilli Pepper for Breast Cancer

A recent report from German researchers writing in the journal, Breast Cancer: Targets and Therapy, have found that a molecule in chilli peppers slows down triple negative breast cancer. The researchers tested the effect of an active ingredient commonly found in chilli or pepper, called capsaicin, on SUM149PT cell culture, which is a model for triple-negative breast cancer. The scientists were motivated by existing research, which suggests that several transient receptor potential (TRP) channels influence cancer cell growth. As the authors explain, TRP channels are membranous ion channels that conduct calcium and sodium ions, and which can be influenced by several stimuli including temperature or pH changes. One of the TRP channels that play a significant role in the development of several diseases is the olfactory receptor TRPV1. Capsaicin has also been shown to induce cell death and inhibit cancer cell growth in several types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic cancer. In this new study, the researchers aimed to investigate the expression of TRP channels in a vast amount of breast cancer tissue, as well as to analyse and understand how TRPV1 could be used in breast cancer therapy. Researchers found several typical olfactory receptors in the cultivated cells, Olfactory receptors are proteins that bind smell molecules together and are located on olfactory receptor cells lining the nose. The scientists found that the TRPV1 receptor appeared very frequently. TRPV1 is normally found in the fifth cranial nerve, which is called the trigeminal nerve. This olfactory receptor is activated by the spicy molecule capsaicin as well as by helional - a chemical compound giving the scent of fresh sea breeze. The team found TRPV1 in the tumour cells of nine different samples from breast cancer patients. Researchers added capsaicin and helional to the culture for several hours or days. This activated the TRPV1 receptor in the cell culture. As a result of TRPV1 being activated, the cancer cells died more slowly. Additionally, tumour cells died in larger numbers, and the remaining ones were not able to move as quickly as before. This suggests that their ability to metastasise was reduced.

 

Asthmatics to Avoid Cured Meats

According to a recent study published in the journal, Thorax, individuals with asthma who consume relatively high amounts of cured meats, such as ham, sausage, and salami, are more likely to experience worsening symptoms. Researchers believe that there are at least two pathways by which cured meats damage tissues in the body. Firstly, they are high in nitrites, which can lead to nitrosative stress and oxidative stress, both of which damage cells. Secondly, there is a relationship between consuming cured meats and increased levels of C-reactive protein, a key player in the immune system. C-reactive protein can induce inflammation, resulting in tissue damage over time. Taking data from the French Epidemiological study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma (EGEA), the team used information from 971 adult participants. The EGEA has tracked asthma patients using questionnaires and medical examinations for more than 20 years. Data on diet, weight, and asthma symptoms were collected. Demographic information and other lifestyle factors were also collated, such as exercise, smoking, sex, age, and educational attainment. On average, participants ate 2.5 servings of cured meat per week. Those who ate one or less per week were classified as low consumers, people consuming one to four weekly servings were classified as medium, and they were classified as high if they consumed more than four. The initial data was collected between 2003 and 2007, and a follow-up was carried out between 2011 and 2013. Overall, asthma had worsened in 20% of the group, improved in 27%, and seen no change in the remaining 53%. When cured meat intake was examined, the researchers found that 14% of low consumers, 20% of medium consumers, and 22% of high consumers had worsening symptoms.

 

Fish Oil During Pregnancy Reduces the Risk of Childhood Asthma

The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids from things such as fish oil are well-known and range from lowering the risk of heart disease to protecting cognitive function. New Danish/Canadian research suggests that supplements of fish oil may have an additional benefit: they may lower the risk of childhood asthma. The study authors suggest a link between the rising numbers of children affected by asthma in Western countries and the low levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 in their diet. The researchers therefore examined the effect of omega-3 supplements in pregnant women on the risk of wheeze and asthma in their offspring. The team selected 736 pregnant women who were 24 weeks into the gestation period. They randomly administered some of the women a daily dose of 2.4 grams of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in the form of fish oil. The control group received a daily dose of olive oil as a placebo. An analysis of results from offspring found a significant decrease in risk associated with the maternal intake of fish oil when compared to the placebo.

 

Brain Atrophy Prevented by the Mediterranean Diet

In more good news on the Mediterranean diet (MeDi), new Scottish research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that the diet helps to preserve brain volume in elderly adults. The study followed 967 people aged between 73 and 76 years, who lived in Scotland and who did not have dementia, over a period of 3 years. The 967 participants were asked to complete food questionnaires when they were 70 years old - 3 years prior to collecting data on their brain volume. Then, 562 of these people had a magnetic resonance imaging brain scan at the age of 73, in order to measure total brain volume, gray matter volume, and cortical thickness. Of these, 401 people had a second brain scan at age 76. People's dietary habits were calculated using a food frequency questionnaire. The brain measurements were compared with how well the participants adhered to the MeDi during the 3-year period. The scientists found an association between MeDi adherence and brain volume. Participants who did not follow the diet closely were likely to develop brain atrophy over the 3-year interval. More specifically, poor adherence to the diet was associated with a greater reduction in total brain volume than those who had followed the diet closely.

 

Traffic Exposure Increases the Risk of Dementia

Dementia affects tens of millions of people worldwide. Common risk factors include age, family history, and genetics. But new research from a Canadian team writing in the Lancet, points to an additional factor that might affect the chances of developing dementia: living near a major, busy road. Researchers from Public Health Ontario, Canada, in collaboration with several Canadian universities and Health Canada, set out to examine the link between residential proximity to major roads and the incidence of dementia, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis (MS), in Ontario. The team followed data from a total of 6.6 million Ontarians aged between 20 and 85 for over a decade, between 2001 and 2012, and used postal addresses to determine the proximity of the residents to major roadways. The researchers also used the participants' medical records to see if they developed dementia, Parkinson's, or MS over the years. Almost everyone (95 percent of the participants) in the study lived within 1 kilometre of a major road. Over the 10-year period, the researchers identified 243,611 cases of dementia, 31,577 cases of Parkinson's disease, and 9,247 cases of MS. Researchers found no association between living next to a major roadway and developing Parkinson's disease or MS. However, dementia was found to be more common among people who lived closer to busy roads. The study revealed that up to 1 in 10 cases of dementia among residents living within 50 metres of a major road could be attributed to traffic exposure. Additionally, the closer people lived to the busy roads, the higher their risk of developing dementia was. Between 7% and 11% of the dementia cases identified were attributable to major road proximity. This dropped to 4% for those living within 50-100 meters, 2% for those at 101-200 meters, and there was no increase in risk for those living more than 200 meters away. The team found a link between long-term exposure to two common pollutants - nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, and the incidence of dementia.

 

Breast Cancer Survivors at Risk from Grilled, Barbecued Meats

Previous studies have linked a high consumption of grilled, barbecued, or smoked meats to an increased risk of breast cancer. A new US study appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that it may also increase the risk of all-cause mortality for women who have survived the disease. Earlier research has shown that meats cooked at high temperatures through grilling or pan frying may increase the risk of developing certain cancers, including breast cancer. This is because such cooking methods can lead to the production of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, which are chemicals that can trigger changes to the DNA that increase cancer risk. The research team interviewed 1,508 women who had received a diagnosis of first primary invasive or in situ breast cancer in 1996 or 1997. At study baseline, all participants were asked about their consumption of four different types of grilled, barbecued, and smoked meats in each decade of life. Five years later, the women were asked about their intake of these meats during the intervening 5 years. Over a median 17.6 years of follow-up, 597 of the women died. Of these deaths, 237 (39.5%) were associated with breast cancer. Overall, compared with women who reported a low intake of grilled, barbecued, or smoked meats prior to a breast cancer diagnosis, those who reported a high intake of these meats were found to be at a 23% greater risk of all-cause mortality. Women who reported a high intake of smoked beef, lamb, or pork were at 17% increased risk of all-cause mortality and a 23% increased risk of breast cancer-specific mortality, compared with those who reported a low intake. Grilled, barbecued, and smoked meat intake over a lifetime was not linked to mortality, nor was annual intake of grilled and barbecued beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish prior to a breast cancer diagnosis. Compared with women who consumed low amounts of grilled, barbecued, and smoked meats prior to or after a breast cancer diagnosis, those who reported a continued high intake were at a 31% increased risk of all-cause mortality, the researchers report.

 

Breast Milk Antioxidant Prevents Liver Disease

Antioxidants are believed to prevent some chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer  due to their ability to protect against cell damage. New US research published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology suggests that a common antioxidant may also protect against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Antioxidants are believed to prevent some chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer due to their ability to protect against cell damage. The team fed a high-fat, high-sugar Western diet to pregnant mice in order to induce obesity. Another group of pregnant mice was fed a healthy diet. Additionally, a subgroup from each of the two groups received pyrroloquinolinequinone (PQQ), found in breast milk, kiwi fruit, soy, papaya, parsley and celery, in their drinking water. The mice's offspring were also fed the two diets for 20 weeks, as well as having received PQQ through their mothers' breast milk, according to the group they were a part of. As expected, the mice fed a Western diet gained more weight than those fed a healthy one. Supplemental PQQ, whether administered pre- or postnatally, had no impact on the weight gain. However, PQQ treatment reduced both liver and body fat in obese offspring. PQQ reduced liver fat in mice even before they were born. The researchers found decreased indicators of oxidative stress and proinflammatory genes in obese mice that had been given PQQ. This suggests that the antioxidant also reduced liver inflammation. Interestingly, these positive effects persevered in the offspring after the PQQ was withdrawn as part of the weaning process.

 

 

April/May 2017

Research

 

Good Cholesterol Supported by Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Researchers from China presenting their findings at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association state that consuming up to two alcoholic beverages daily may slow the decline of "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. The team analysed data from 80,081 Chinese adults who had an average age of 49 years. Participants' alcohol intake was assessed at study baseline in 2006, and based on this, they were allocated to one of five groups: never, past, light, moderate, and heavy drinkers. Moderate drinking was defined as 0.5-1 drink a day for women and one to two drinks daily for men. The researchers also looked at what types of alcohol the participants consumed. Subjects' HDL levels were also measured at study baseline in 2006 and again in 2008, 2010, and 2012. All adults were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and they did not use any bad (LDL) cholesterol lowering medications during follow-up. The HDL levels of all participants decreased during follow-up. However, the researchers found moderate drinkers experienced a slower decline, compared with never-drinkers and heavy drinkers. The researchers found that HDL levels fell more slowly with moderate beer intake, while among subjects who consumed hard liquor, only light and moderate drinkers saw slower HDL decline. The authors note that there was an insufficient number of wine drinkers to determine whether the beverage was associated with slower reduction of good cholesterol.

 

Older Women at Risk From High-Protein Diet

A number of studies have suggested that a diet high in protein is beneficial for health, boosting metabolism, and aiding weight loss. For older women, however, a high-protein diet may be more harmful than helpful. This was the view of US researchers speaking at the recent meeting of the American Heart Association, who suggested that it may raise their risk of heart failure, particularly if the majority of protein comes from meat. The researchers came to this conclusion after assessing data from 103,878 postmenopausal women aged 50-79 years. Participants were required to complete a food frequency questionnaire that assessed their daily intake of around 125 different food items between 1993-1998. The researchers looked at subjects' total daily protein intake, as well as the total amount of daily protein consumed from meat and vegetables. The researchers noted that self-reported dietary data can be inaccurate, so they also used biomarker data to get a more reliable indication of participants' protein intake. This involved assessing subjects' urinary nitrogen and doubly labelled water levels - a measure of metabolism. All women were free of heart failure at study baseline, and heart failure development was monitored until 2005. A total of 1,711 of the women in the study developed heart failure, the team reports. Compared with women who had low total protein intake, those who had a higher total protein intake were found to be at much greater risk of heart failure. The risk was greater among women who consumed most of their protein from meat.

 

Macular Degeneration and Gut Microbes

New Canadian research appearing in the journal, EMBO Molecular Medicine, reveals that microbes in the gut play an important role in the development of neovascular or wet age-related macular degeneration. The researchers say their study suggests high-fat diets alter gut microbes in a way that aggravates wet AMD, a disease of the aging eye that leads to blindness. They used mice to show that a high-fat diet can cause an imbalance in gut microbes that leads to more permeable intestines, chronic low-grade inflammation, and ultimately increased formation of new blood vessels under the retina - a feature of advancing wet age-related macular degeneration.

 

Artificial Sweetener Causes Weight Gain

Aspartame is a common sugar substitute used as a sweetener in many prepared foods and beverages, particularly diet soft drinks. It is a common choice for those trying to lose weight, as it lowers the number of calories in food. However, new US research published in the journal, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, suggests that the sweetener may be ineffective for weight loss, and it may even have the opposite effect.  One of the breakdown products of aspartame is phenylalanine, an inhibitor of a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP) that has been shown to prevent metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a generic name given to a group symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

 

Post-Diet Weight Gain and Gut Microbes

Many of those who diet in an effort to lose weight don't manage to  maintain long-term weight loss. In a new Israeli study published in the journal Nature, researchers reveal how the gut microbiome may play a crucial role in post-dieting weight regain (also known as yo-yo dieting), and they may have uncovered a way to stop this from happening. The researchers used a mouse model of recurrent obesity to reach their findings, whereby they repeatedly fed the rodents high amounts of fat, followed by normal chow, which triggered cycles of weight loss and weight gain. On assessing the gut microbiomes of the mice, the researchers identified specific alterations in response to the high-fat diet, and these remained even after the mice lost weight with the normal-chow diet. Interestingly, when the rodents were reintroduced to the high-fat diet, the researchers found that the altered gut microbiome appeared to accelerate their weight gain. To test their findings further, the team transferred the altered gut microbiome to mice that had not been exposed to yo-yo dieting, but which were subsequently exposed to a high-fat diet. Compared with control mice, the rodents with the altered gut microbiome experienced faster and greater weight gain. On further investigation, the researchers found that the altered gut microbiome played a role in reducing levels of two flavonoids, apigenin and naringenin, in response to dieting, which are plant compounds that boast a number of health benefits. The team also found that this reduction in flavonoids interfered with expression of UCP-1 - a gene that plays a role in energy expenditure, or the amount of calories we burn. It is this process, the researchers speculate, that likely drives recurrent weight gain. The researchers suggest a "post-biotic" therapy may be effective against weight regain after dieting, whereby flavonoids are introduced to the gut to replenish those lost by dieting. This strategy was found to be effective in mice, the team reports.

 

Vitamin D Levels At Birth Predict MS Risk

Recent research from Denmark appearing in the journal, Neurology, suggests that a mother's intake of Vitamin D during pregnancy may lower the risk of later-life multiple sclerosis (MS) in offspring. The research team conducted a large population-based, case-control study to examine the association between the neonatal status of 25-hydroxyVitamin D (25OHD), a marker of Vitamin D levels ,and MS risk. The researchers used data from the nationwide Danish MS registry and the Danish Newborn Screening Biobank (DNSB). The DNSB stores dried blood spots samples from newborn screening tests. They identified and selected everyone born after April 30, 1981, and who had developed MS by 2012. This resulted in a total of 521 people. Researchers then compared the blood from these people with that of 972 other people of the same sex who had been born on the same date, but who did not develop MS. Based on their Vitamin D level, study participants were divided into five groups. The bottom group had levels lower than 21 nanomoles per liter, while the top group had levels equal to or above 49 nanomoles per liter. The study summed up a total of 136 people with MS and 193 people without the condition in the bottom group of Vitamin D levels. In the top group, they gathered only 89 people with MS and 198 without. Overall, participants with the highest levels of Vitamin D were 47 percent less likely to develop MS later in life than those with the lowest levels. MS risk also seemed to decrease with the increase of 25OHD levels. In fact, for every 25 nanomole per liter increase in neonatal 25OHD, the risk of MS dropped by 30 percent.

 

Gut Microbiome Imbalance Contributes to Parkinson's Disease

In more news on the microbes in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract (the microbiome), US researchers writing in the journal, Cell,  reveal how gut microbes may play a key role in Parkinson's disease (PD), and that changes in the gut microbiome of a Parkinson's mouse model led to brain abnormalities and motor deficits that are characteristic of the disease. Previous studies have shown that the gut microbiome is altered in patients with PD, and these individuals often experience constipation and other gastrointestinal (GI) problems years before the onset of motor problems. Remarkably, 70 percent of all neurons in the peripheral nervous system, that is, not the brain or spinal cord, are in the intestines, and the gut's nervous system is directly connected to the central nervous system through the vagus nerve. Because GI problems often precede the motor symptoms by many years, and because most PD cases are caused by environmental factors, the team found that bacteria in the gut contribute to the development of PD.

 

Daily Nuts Reduce Disease Risk

New joint UK/Norwegian research from the journal, BMC Medicine, has shown that the health benefits of nuts may be even more wide-ranging than we think, with the researchers analysing a range of existing studies and finding associations between nut intake and the risk of various illnesses. The publication consisted of a meta-analysis of 29 existing studies that covered nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), total cancer cases, all-cause mortality rates, and cause-specific mortality rates published up to 19 July, 2016. The analysis included 819,448 participants and included over 12,300 cases of coronary heart disease, more than 9,200 cases of stroke, more than 18,600 cases of CVD, and around 18,400 cases of cancer. The research included all kinds of tree nuts including hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, and pine nuts, as well as peanuts. The analysis revealed that as little as 20 grams of nuts a day, the equivalent of a handful, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by almost 30 percent, the risk of CVD by 21 percent, and the risk of all cancers by 15 percent. Eating a handful of nuts every day also decreased the risk of diabetes by almost 40 percent and the risk of infectious diseases by 75 percent. Both peanuts and tree nuts seemed to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, CVD, and mortality, but only peanuts reduced the risk of stroke. Additionally, only tree nuts were linked to a decreased risk of cancer.

 

Optimism Boosts Women's Longevity

Recent US research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests women who have a positive outlook on life are less likely to die prematurely, when compared with those who are less optimistic. To reach their findings, the researchers analysed 2004-2012 data from around 70,000 women who were part of the Nurses; Health Study, an ongoing project that assesses women's health through surveys conducted every 2 years. The team looked at the self-reported optimism of each participant, as well as other factors that might contribute to mortality risk, such as high blood pressure, diet, and exercise. Compared with women in the lowest quartile of optimism, those in the highest quartile of optimism were found to be nearly 30 percent less likely to die from all causes. Looking at individual illnesses, the researchers found that women who were the most optimistic were 16 percent less likely to die from cancer, 38 percent less likely to die from heart disease,  and 39 percent less likely to die from stroke, compared with women who were the least optimistic. In addition,women in the top quartile of optimism were at 38 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease and were 52 percent less likely to die from infection, compared with those in the bottom quartile.

 

How High-Fat Diets Enhance The Spread of Cancer

Spanish researchers writing in a recent issues of the journal, Nature, have isolated a protein that's essential to the spread of cancer, and they found that dietary fat works with this protein to exacerbate the spread of cancer cells. Once cancer has spread to other areas of the body, a process known as metastasis, it can be much harder to control and treat. In metastasis, cancer cells break away from the primary site, where the tumour is first formed, and migrate to other areas of the body through the bloodstream or lymph system, where they form new tumours. While metastasis is known to be a main cause of cancer death, the precise mechanisms behind it remain unclear. In this new study, the researchers discovered a protein that plays a key role in cancer metastasis. For the study, the researchers first analysed metastatic and non-metastatic cells taken from the tumours of people with a range of different cancers. In metastatic cells, the team identified over-expression of a protein called CD36. When this protein was added to non-metastatic cancer cells, they started to metastasize, confirming the role of CD36 in the spread of cancer. Next, the researchers used mice with cancer to investigate how dietary fat might contribute to the spread of cancer. They fed mice a high-fat diet and compared with mice with cancer that were fed normal chow, those fed a high-fat diet showed greater cancer metastasis and the formation of larger tumours.

 

 

March/April 2017

Research

 

Balance Omega-3 and Omega-6 to Curb Obesity

New US research appearing in the online journal, Open Heart, suggests that to prevent and manage obesity, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids need to be balanced. The imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet, not solely energy intake and expenditure, is suggested to play a significant role in obesity. Humans evolved on a diet that had equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. This intrinsic balance is critical to babies' development during pregnancy and breast-feeding, and in preventing and managing chronic diseases. I recent times this 1:1 ratio has been replaced by an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 16:1. This substantial ratio difference has emerged as a consequence of significant changes in the food supply over the last 100 years. Food technology and modern agriculture have led to production of vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, soybean, and corn - rich in omega-6 fatty acids, and a swap in animal feeds from grass to grain. Traditionally, animals grazed on grass containing omega-3, whereas the grains, corn, and soy that they are now fed are high in omega-6. The high levels of omega-6 can lead to increased white fatty tissue and chronic inflammation, which are both hallmarks of obesity and linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and cancer. Omega-6 can also prevent the browning of white fatty tissue to "good" energy-burning brown fatty tissue and can increase the risk of blood clotting.  Substituting meat for fish, and changing cooking oils, may rebalance fats.

 

Cranberry for Infection

New research reveals fresh clues on the infection-fighting properties of cranberries. Researchers from Canada writing in the journal, Scientific Reports, showed how cranberry extract successfully disrupted cell-to-cell communication in bacteria responsible for hard-to-treat infections. Previous studies have already shown that cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), a class of compound that fends off illness through various antibacterial properties. For example, they can stop certain bacteria from sticking onto the wall of the bladder and causing a urinary tract infection. The team behind the new study also wanted to find out if cranberry compounds can control the virulence of bacteria, and therefore reduce the severity of an infection. The team used fruit flies as research subjects and found that the severity of bacterial infection was reduced in fruit flies fed on cranberry extract rich in PACs, compared with cranberry-free fruit flies. The cranberry-fed flies also lived longer. In addition, the cranberry PACs disrupted a cell communication process called "quorum sensing" that forms an essential link in a chain of events involved in the spread and severity of chronic bacterial infections. They found that while the cranberry PACs disrupted bacterial quorum sensing, this did not kill the cells, it just disrupted their communication and spread, which could be important in reducing the risk of  antibiotic drug resistance.

 

Mulberry Useful in Obesity

The humble mulberry, according to  Chinese researchers writing in The FASEB Journal, could play an important role in the treatment of obesity. They've found that a natural compound in the fruit, rutin, activates brown fat, boosting metabolism and aiding weight loss. To carry out this work, the researchers added rutin (1 mg per mL) to the drinking water of two groups of mice. One group of mice was genetically obese, while the other group had diet-induced obesity. Both groups of mice were fed a regular diet throughout the duration of the study. In both groups of mice, rutin was found to activate brown adipose tissue (BAT), or brown fat, which led to increased energy expenditure, better glucose homeostasis - the balance of insulin and glucagon to maintain glucose levels - and fat reduction. Brown fat is activated by cold, causing it to burn energy and produce heat. According to the researchers, rutin acts as a "cold mimetic" by activating a specific signalling cascade, which increases the activity of a gene called UCP1 and the number of mitochondria in brown fat. Additionally, the team found that rutin triggered the formation of brown-like fat cells in subcutaneous adipose tissue, the fat located under the skin, in both mouse models of obesity.

 

Energy Drinks Linked to Hepatitis

Although energy drinks are often perceived as harmless, a new case report appearing in the journal, BMJ Case Reports, links the beverage to liver damage, after a previously healthy man developed hepatitis from consuming too many. According to the report, a 50-year-old man was admitted to the hospital for acute hepatitis. The man had reportedly consumed four to five energy drinks, containing high doses of Vitamin B3, per day for more than 3 weeks. The man was previously healthy. He reported no changes in his diet or alcohol consumption, nor was he taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicine. He had also not consumed any illicit drugs and had no history of liver disease in his family. However, for 3 weeks leading up to his hospitalisation, he had started consuming energy drinks in order to keep up with his heavy workload as a construction worker. After the 3-week period, he started developing symptoms such as general malaise, anorexia, acute abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. He became alarmed when these symptoms were accompanied by jaundice and dark urine. Upon examination, it was revealed that the number of enzymes called transaminases was elevated, which indicates liver damage. A liver biopsy revealed acute hepatitis, and doctors also found evidence of chronic hepatitis C infection. The report author stated that the acute hepatitis was most likely induced by the excessive intake of Vitamin B3, also known as niacin. The man consumed around 160-200 milligrams of niacin per day, which is twice the recommended daily dose. The man's symptoms were cleared by the third day of hospitalization, following careful observation and treatment.

 

Obesity Reduced by Consuming an Early Dinner

The results of a recent US study presented at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting shows that eating the last meal of the day very early in the day has a positive effect on metabolism. The study examined the impact of early time restricted feeding (eTRF) schedules on overweight adults. eTRF is an eating schedule that involves eating in a short period of time, usually less than 9 hours, followed by a period of fasting of 15 hours or more. Previous studies on rodents have revealed that a restricted feeding schedule counters weight gain and increases energy expenditure. Studies in rodents showed that eTRF also decreases fat mass, as well as lowering the risk of chronic diseases. Without any calorie restriction, a TRF pattern can work against high-fat, high-fructose, and high-sucrose diets. TRF also had a positive therapeutic effect against several metabolic diseases. It stabilised and finally reversed the progression of metabolic diseases in mice with pre-existing obesity and type 2 diabetes. The effect eTRF has on the energy metabolism is connected with the body's circadian rhythm. The metabolism works at its best in the morning, so eating more in the morning can have positive effects on one's health. In this recent study, researchers recruited 11 overweight adults with no chronic illnesses, aged between 20-45. For 1 week, participants kept a regular sleep pattern. Half of the participants kept an 8 a.m.-8 p.m. eating schedule, whereas the other half ate between 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. and then did not eat anything until 8 a.m. the next day. In the interest of objectivity, participants tried both eating schedules and consumed the same number of calories on both eating schedules. On the last day of the trial, participants ate three identical meals while undergoing 24-hour metabolic testing. Their appetites were also measured with the help of a visual analogue scale. The study did not find any connection between eTRF and energy expenditure. Participants who were under an eTRF schedule did not burn more calories. However, researchers found higher levels of fat oxidations at night during eTRF, along with increased protein oxidation. They also noticed a decrease in hunger swings during the day, as well as positive changes in energy metabolism. Therefore, eTRF may positively impact body composition. It also improved metabolic flexibility, which is the body's ability to switch between burning carbs and fats.

 

Low Vitamin B12 in Pregnancy May Increase Offspring's Diabetes Risk

Children born to mothers who had Vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy may be at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, say UK researchers presenting their findings at a recent conference of the Society for Endocrinology. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin naturally present in animal products, such as milk, eggs, cheese, meat, poultry, and fish. It is also available as a dietary supplement and added to some non-animal products, such as breakfast cereals. Vitamin B12 aids a number of bodily functions, including red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and neurological functioning. Previous research has shown that women with low Vitamin B12 levels during pregnancy are more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) and have low-birth-weight babies with high cholesterol. Additionally, such research has shown these babies have greater insulin  resistance in childhood, raising their risk for type 2 diabetes. The research team set out to determine whether these previous observations might be associated with leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells. Often referred to as the "satiety hormone," leptin tells us when it is time to stop eating. Research has shown that excess weight can cause an increase in leptin levels in response to food intake. This can cause leptin resistance, which may lead to further overeating, weight gain, and insulin resistance, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. For their study, the researchers analysed 91 blood samples taken from mothers and their offspring at delivery to determine Vitamin B12 levels. Additionally, they analysed 42 maternal and neonate fat tissue samples and 83 placental tissue samples. The researchers found that children born to mothers with Vitamin B12 deficiency, defined as less than 150 picomoles per litre, were more likely to have higher-than-normal leptin levels, which may raise their risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

 

Food Additives Associated With Colorectal Cancer

A new US study published in the journal, Cancer Research, suggests that 2 common food additives, the emulsifiers carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, play a role in the development of colorectal cancer. The risk factors for developing the cancer include inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. An overview of recent scientific literature shows that changes in the human microbiota(the microorganisms in the human gut) have become increasingly associated with colorectal cancer. The authors of this study looked for a connection between carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 that alter intestinal microbiota, and colorectal cancer. Severe changes in the microbiota, either as a result of changing one's diet, lifestyle, or because of an infection, can alter the symbiotic relationship between the host microorganisms and the environmental ones, leading to IBD. IBD promotes the formation of tumours in the colon. Low-grade inflammation, which has been associated with changes in the microbiota and metabolic disease, has also been observed in many cases of colorectal cancer. Previous studies have hypothesised that since the mid-20th century, dietary emulsifiers might have been responsible for IBD. The authors of this study were able to show that the consumption of the two emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 in mice, in concentrations that equate to the normal human intake, induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in the mice. This created an environment favourable for the development of colorectal cancer, by changing the balance between cell proliferation and cell death, which enhances tumour development.

 

Vitamin D Deficiency and Bladder Cancer Risk

Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to a risk of bladder cancer, according to results presented by UK researchers at a recent Society for Endocrinology conference in England. Dietary sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish, dairy products, mushrooms, liver, and egg yolks. However, it is mostly synthesised when the body is exposed to sunlight. The study authors carried out a systematic review of seven studies to investigate the link between Vitamin D and bladder cancer. The number of participants per study ranged from 112 to 1,125. Some of the studies measured Vitamin D levels before diagnosis, some during, and some at the follow-up stage. Five out of the seven studies found that the risk of bladder cancer goes up when Vitamin D levels are low. Higher Vitamin D levels also correlated with better survival and outcomes in people with bladder cancer. The team also examined the cells that line the bladder, known as transitional epithelial cells. They found that these cells can activate and respond to Vitamin D, and that they can synthesize enough Vitamin D to trigger a local immune response. By recognizing abnormal cells before they develop further, the immune system may be able to use this information to prevent cancer formation.

 

Vitamin D Improves Survival from Breast Cancer

In more news on Vitamin D, a new US study published in the journal, JAMA Oncology, correlates breast cancer survival rates with levels of Vitamin D. Researchers analysed data from 1,666 women diagnosed with breast cancer. They looked at levels of the Vitamin D biomarker, 25-hydroxyVitamin D (25OHD) at the time of the diagnosis, and associated them with survival prognosis. The patients were checked for co-morbidities )other co-existing diseases), and overall health at regular intervals: 12, 24, 48, 72, and 96 months. They found that the average age of the patients monitored was 58.7 years. Overall, half of the patients were Vitamin D deficient, and over a third had insufficient levels of Vitamin D. Researchers found a lower level of the Vitamin D biomarker in women with advanced-stage tumours. The lowest levels were found in premenopausal women with triple-negative cancer. Lower levels of 25OHD were associated with higher tumour stage and grade, and women with the highest levels of 25OHD had higher survival rates overall.

 

Probiotics Boost Learning and Memory for Alzheimer's Sufferers

A research team from Iran writing in a new edition of the journal, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, have shown that a daily dose of probiotics for 3 months is effective for improving memory and thinking abilities in people with Alzheimer's disease. The study participants (52 men and women aged 60-95) were randomised to one of two groups. One group was required to drink 200 mL of normal milk every day for 12 weeks, while the other group drank 200 mL of milk containing four probiotic bacteria: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Before and after the 12-week study period, researchers collected blood samples from the participants, and the subjects' cognitive functioning was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scale. As part of this examination, subjects were required to complete a number of tasks that test learning and memory, such as naming objects, counting backward, and copying a picture. Compared with participants who consumed the untreated milk, those who received the probiotic-enriched milk demonstrated significant improvements in cognitive functioning. Subjects who consumed the treated milk saw average MMSE scores increase from 8.7 to 10.6 (out of a possible 30) during the 12-week study period, while scores dropped from 8.5 to 8.0 for those who drank the untreated milk.

 

 

February/March 2017

Research

 

Seniors Benefit from Moderate Alcohol Intake

US scientists writing in a new edition of the journal, Age and Ageing, have shown that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol could reduce frailty and other age-related conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The study assessed data from more than 26,000 adults who were part of the US Women's Health Study. It found that compared with abstainers and heavy drinkers, those who consumed 5-14.9 grams of alcohol daily, the equivalent to a small glass of wine or one bottle of beer, were found to be at much lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, the study identified a 21% reduction in markers of inflammation for moderate drinkers, compared with abstainers and occasional drinkers. Compared with heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers showed a 13 percent reduction in inflammation markers.

 

Children's Allergy Risk Increased by Antibiotics in Early Life

Recent US research appearing in the journal, Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, reports that  early antibiotic exposure could raise a child's risk of food allergies, possibly because of the damaging effects that antibiotics can have on the healthy microbes in the child's gut. Early antibiotic use has also been associated with increases in the risk of obesity and asthma. Using South Carolina Medicaid administrative data, the researchers identified 1,504 children born between 2007-2009 who had at least one food allergy, and these were matched by birth month/year, sex, and race/ethnicity to 5,995 healthy children - the controls. The team looked at the number of antibiotic prescriptions that were filled in the first year of life for all children; a total of 9,324 antibiotic prescriptions were dispensed, the most common being penicillin, cephalosporin, macrolide, and sulfonamide antibiotics. Overall, the results of the analysis revealed that children who were prescribed antibiotics by 12 months of age were more likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy, compared with children who received no antibiotic prescriptions in the first year of life. They also found that the risk of food allergy diagnosis increased with the number of antibiotic prescriptions a child received. Cephalosporin and sulfonamide antibiotics were found to have the strongest association with food allergy diagnosis, the researchers report.

 

Asthma Attacks Reduced by Vitamin D

A new Cochrane Review has shown that adding Vitamin D supplements to standard treatment may reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks. Analysing the available data, the research team looked at the pooled results of 7 studies that included data from 435 children and 658 adults. Most participants had moderate to severe asthma, though a small number had severe asthma. The majority of subjects continued their standard treatment. The results showed that the risk of hospital admission or emergency department visits due to severe asthma attacks was halved with oral Vitamin D supplementation, and no severe side effects were identified. The team also found that Vitamin D supplementation reduced the need for steroid treatment for asthma attacks.

 

Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever?

"Feed a cold, starve a fever," so the old saying goes, and according to a new US study published in the journal, Cell, it may hold some truth. Researchers found that the effect of food intake on infection may depend on whether the infection is bacterial or viral, as well as what foods are consumed- they found that mice with a bacterial infection died after being fed, while mice with a viral infection survived after eating.

 

Reading Skills Improved with Omega 3 and Omega 6

A new Swedish study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry states that taking a supplement with omega-3/6 could improve reading skills in schoolchildren. Although the human body can make most of the fats it needs from other fats or raw materials, omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fats that the body must acquire from the diet. Foods high in omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables. Meanwhile, most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils. To conduct their study, the researchers included 154 Swedish schoolchildren who were between 9 and 10 years of age. The researchers then measured their reading skills using a computer-based test, called the Logos test. It measured reading speed, ability to read nonsense words, and vocabulary. The team then randomly assigned the children to receive either capsules with both omega-3 and omega-6, or identical placebo capsules. The children took the capsules for 3 months, and they and their parents did not know whether they had received fatty acids or the placebo. After 3 months, all of the children received the real omega-3/6 capsules for the remaining 3 months of the study. The results showed  a strong association between improved reading skills and consumption of the two fatty acids.

 

Manuka Honey for Urinary Tract Infections

Manuka honey has long been hailed as a health food, with a number of studies reporting its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. A new UK study appearing in the Journal of Clinical Pathology provides further evidence of such benefits, after finding it can halt the development of bacterial biofilms - groups of microorganisms that can adhere to surfaces and facilitate transmission of infections, in catheters. Manuka honey is produced by bees that pollinate the Manuka tree, native to New Zealand. In carrying out this study, the researchers cultured two strains of bacteria on 96 plastic dishes in the laboratory: Escherichia coli and Proteus mirabilis. Both bacteria are key causes of urinary tract infections (UTIs) that can arise with long-term catheter use. The team diluted Manuka honey with distilled water before applying it to the bacteria, in order to test the effects of five different strengths: 3.3%, 6.6%, 10%, 13.3%, and 16.7%. The researchers added the various concentrations of honey to two wells of each "growth" dish, while plain medium honey or artificial half-strength Manuka honey was added to the remaining two wells of each dish. Each dish was sealed and incubated for 24, 48, and 72 hours, enabling the team to monitor how the honey impacted the development of biofilms. In a separate experiment, the researchers added the honey to the growth dishes 24 hours after incubation, before incubating them for a further 4 or 24 hours. This was to assess how the honey affected biofilm growth following development.  After 48 hours, the team found the lowest concentration of Manuka honey reduced the "stickiness" of E. coli and P. mirabilis bacteria by 35% - an indicator of reduced biofilm development, compared with plain medium honey or artificial half-strength Manuka honey. After 72 hours, the team found the highest dilution of honey - 16. 7%, had reduced the stickiness of bacteria by 77%, and all other dilutions had reduced stickiness by at least 70% by that point. In terms of biofilm growth, the researchers found all concentrations of Manuka honey had reduced growth after 4 hours; the highest concentration decreased growth by 38% after 4 hours, increasing to 46% after 24 hours. The higher concentrations had an even stronger effect on biofilm growth after 48 hours, the team reports, but this was not the case with the 3.3% and 6.6% concentrations.

 

Coffee Reduces Dementia Risk

A recent issue of the journal, The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, carries news of research showing that older women who drink two to three cups of coffee daily may be at lower risk of dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment. The results come from an analysis of data from 6,467 women aged 65 and older who were part of the US Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. The team analysed the participants' caffeine intake, as determined through self-reported consumption of tea, coffee, and cola. During up to 10 years of follow-up, all subjects underwent annual cognitive assessments, which the researchers analysed to pinpoint a diagnosis of probable dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment. A total of 388 women received such diagnoses. Compared with women who consumed a low amount of caffeine (defined in the study as less than 64 milligrams daily), those who consumed a higher amount (more than 261 milligrams daily) were found to be at 36% reduced risk of a diagnosis of probable dementia or cognitive impairment. The researchers note that 261 milligrams of caffeine is the equivalent of two to three cups of coffee daily, or five to six cups of black tea.

 

Wheat Proteins Cause Inflammation

New German research presented at a recent gastroenterology conference in Vienna reveals that a family of proteins in wheat may be responsible for activating inflammation in chronic health conditions such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Scientists discovered that the proteins might also contribute to the development of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. One group of proteins found in wheat- amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), has been shown to trigger an immune response in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body. ATIs are plant-derived proteins that inhibit enzymes of common parasites - such as mealworms and mealybugs - in wheat. ATIs also have an important role in metabolic processes that occur during seed development. ATIs only make up a small amount of wheat proteins, around 4%, yet the immune response they induce significantly affects the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain in some people, causing inflammation. ATIs have also been suggested to exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), asthma, lupus, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers demonstrated that ATIs from wheat activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory diseases.

 

Probiotics Assist in Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

US scientists writing in a new edition of the Journal of Experimental Medicine have shown that maintaining a healthy gut provides improvements in the recovery from spinal cord injury. Our gut microbiota communicates with the central nervous system (CNS) by interacting with immune cells and secreting metabolites that pass through the blood-brain barrier. Most immune cells in the body are located within gut-associated lymphoid tissues, and there, an ongoing dialogue between immune cells and gut bacteria produces cytokines that affect CNS function. This research was done on mice that were suffering from spinal cord injury. Mice that were given daily probiotic doses showed less spinal damage and were able to regain more hindlimb movement. The researchers indicate that the probiotics contained large numbers of lactic acid-producing bacteria, which activated gut-associated immune cells that can inhibit inflammation. The researchers say these immune cells, called regulatory T cells, could prevent extra damage to the spinal cord after injury. Additionally, by releasing molecules that promote neuronal growth, the probiotic bacteria may actually boost spinal cord recovery.

 

Red Wine for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that  is characterized by abnormal hormone levels leading to irregular period, ovarian cysts and androgen (testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate or DHEAS) excess. Research results from US and Polish scientists writing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism have shown that resveratrol, a natural compound found in red wine and grapes, can help address this hormone imbalance. For the study, 30 women with PCOS were given daily doses of either 1,500 milligrams of resveratrol or placebo. Evaluations in the form of blood samples were performed at the start of the study and repeated after 3 months of treatment to determine levels of testosterone and other androgen hormones. Participants also underwent a glucose tolerance test at the beginning and end of the study to measure diabetes risk factors. Many women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin in their body and produce higher levels of insulin to compensate. In the group that received the resveratrol supplement, the team observed a 23.1% decrease in testosterone levels, whereas the placebo group experienced a contrasting 2.9% increase in testosterone levels. DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate a  hormone that the body can convert into testosterone) reduced by 22.2% in the resveratrol group, while, in comparison, the placebo group experienced a 10.5% rise in DHEAS levels. The researchers found that resveratrol not only moderated androgen hormones, but it also improved diabetes risk factors. Among the women who received resveratrol, fasting insulin levels declined by 31.8% during the 3-month study. Furthermore, over the course of the research, the participants of the resveratrol group became more responsive to the hormone insulin.

 

 

January/February 2017

Research

 

Alzheimer's Associated with Low Weight

US scientists writing in a recent edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease have found that lower weight in seniors is associated with an increased risk of dementia, and weight loss correlated with a more rapid decline in Alzheimer's disease.  The investigation included data on 280 people aged 62-90 years, cognitively normal and in good health, who were among the first to enrol in Harvard Aging Brain Study (HABS). The researchers lead an analysis on the relationship between their Body Mass Index (BMI) and the levels of beta-amyloid ( a marker for Alzheimer's Disease) in their brains. Participants provided data such as medical histories, physical exams, testing for APOE4 gene - a gene associated with a higher risk of late-onset Alzheimer's disease, and PET imaging with Pittsburgh compound B (PiB), which can visualize amyloid plaques in the brain. The results showed that after adjusting for age, sex education, and APOE4 status,  lower BMI was associated with greater retention of PiB, which indicated a higher amount of amyloid brain deposits. The association between weight and extensive amyloid deposits was more prominent in normal-weight participants who had the lowest BMI of the group. Lower BMI and greater PiB retention were most significant in individuals with the APOE4 gene variant.

 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Diseases Prevented With Soy

According to a new Iranian study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, consuming soy may improve metabolic and cardiovascular health in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The study examined how a diet containing soy isoflavones could benefit women with PCOS. Soy isoflavones are naturally occurring, plant-based estrogens found in the soybean plant. To carry out this work, 70 women diagnosed with PCOS aged between 18-40 years were allocated into two groups taking either 50 milligrams of soy isoflavones or placebo every day for 12 weeks. The amount of soy is equivalent to the amount in 500 milliliters of soymilk. Metabolic, endocrine, inflammation, and oxidative stress biomarkers were observed in blood samples at the beginning of the study and after the 12-week intervention. The women were instructed to maintain current levels of exercise and to avoid taking other nutritional supplements for the duration of the research. Compared with the placebo group, soy isoflavone administration significantly decreased circulating levels of insulin and other biological markers associated with insulin resistance - a condition whereby the body's tissues are resistant to the effects of insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Supplementation with soy isoflavones also resulted in significant reductions in testosterone, harmful cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides - or fats in the blood - than their counterparts who received the placebo.

 

A High-Fat Diet In Pregnancy Reduces Good Gut Bugs In Children

Eating a high-fat diet during pregnancy could disrupt the population of gut microbes in offspring, which may have negative implications for nutrition and development. This is the conclusion of a new US study published in the journal, Genome Medicine. The researchers came to their findings after analysing the stool samples of 157 newborn babies, which were taken 24-48 hours after they were delivered. The stool samples of 75 of these babies were analysed again at 4-6 weeks of age. Using DNA sequencing, the researchers assessed the composition of bacteria in the stool samples - an indicator of the microbe population within the gut. Additionally, the team assessed the dietary habits of the children's mothers during pregnancy and from these, the researchers estimated their daily intake of calories from added sugar, fat, and fibre in the month prior to giving birth. The team found that mothers' intake of calories from fat ranged from 14-55.2 percent each day, while the average daily intake of calories from fat stood at 33.1 percent. Compared with the newborns of expectant mothers whose daily fat intake was lower in the month prior to giving birth, those whose mothers had a higher daily fat intake had reduced levels of Bacteroides bacteria in their guts shortly after birth and at 4-6 weeks of age. Bacteroides help break down and withdraw energy from specific carbohydrates, so a reduction in levels of these bacteria means these carbohydrates could become unusable. This, they say, could lead to poor energy removal from food and poor immune development, which may have negative consequences for health and development.

 

Mid-Range 'Good' Cholesterol Levels Associated With Life Extension

Low and high levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol increase the risk, while intermediate HDL cholesterol levels decrease the risk of premature death, according to a new US study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The research involved an analysis of data from 1,764,986 American males who had at least one measurement of kidney function and one measure of HDL cholesterol between October 2003 and September 2004, and they were followed until September 2013 or death. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), desirable levels of HDL cholesterol should be around 40mg/dl or above. The findings from the study indicate that both low HDL cholesterol levels less than 25 mg/dL and high HDL cholesterol levels above 50 mg/dL were linked to an increased risk of premature death during follow-up.

 

Acetaminophen Use In Pregnancy Linked to Behavioural Problems In Offspring

Acetaminophen is otherwise known as Paracetamol and is found in many medications on its own or as an ingredient in other products. The use of acetaminophen to relieve pain and fever has generally been considered safe during pregnancy, but recent research suggests a need for caution. Recent research published in JAMA Pediatrics has found that acetaminophen use in pregnancy may increase the risk of a range of behavioural problems in children. Previous research in animals has suggested that acetaminophen use during gestation can lead to neurodevelopmental problems, possibly due to a disruption in the endocrine function - the body system that regulates the hormones. Studies of children in Denmark and New Zealand have revealed higher levels of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or ADHD-type symptoms in those whose mothers used the drug during pregnancy. This study, carried out in the UK, used data for 7,796 mothers along with their children and partners. The team studied associations between behavioural problems in children and the use of acetaminophen by their mothers before and after giving birth. They also examined acetaminophen use by the women's partners. They distributed questionnaires to assess the use of acetaminophen at weeks 18 and 32 of pregnancy, and when the children were 5 years old. When the children were 7 years old, their mothers completed questionnaires about their behaviour. The findings indicate that children born to women who used of acetaminophen at 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to have behavioural and hyperactivity problems. Those whose mothers used acetaminophen at 32 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to have emotional and other challenges. The use of acetaminophen by mothers and partners after the child was born was not linked with any behavioural problems, and the team did not find a link between maternal ADHD and the behavioural problems of the children in the study. This, say the authors, suggests that the behavioural issues are not due to other, unmeasured social or behaviour factors related to acetaminophen use.

 

Obesity Duration Associated With Cancer Risk

According to a new French/US study published in PLOS Medicine, the longer a woman is overweight or obese, the more at risk she becomes for several forms of cancer. Recent studies have suggested that the risk of cancer related to obesity is accelerated by time. The aim of this new study was to assess the impact of adulthood overweight and obesity duration on the risk of cancer. Using multiple Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements over time, the team examined data from a total of 73,913 postmenopausal women. Around two thirds of the women were overweight or obese, and 6,301 obesity-related cancers were diagnosed during a mean follow-up of 12.6 years. Out of all included study participants, 40 percent were never overweight, and 60 percent were overweight for some time during their adult life, almost half of whom were also obese at some point. The study found that being overweight for a longer duration as an adult significantly increased the incidence of all obesity-related cancers by 7 percent for every 10-year increase in overweight adulthood period. An increase in risk was also seen for postmenopausal breast cancer, by 5 percent, and endometrial cancer, by 17 percent. After adjusting for the intensity of overweight - how overweight individuals were - these figures rose to 8 percent for postmenopausal breast cancer and 37 percent for endometrial cancer for every 10 years spent with BMI ten units above normal weight.

 

An Unhealthy Diet In Pregnancy Linked To ADHD

New UK research appearing in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy, after finding children with conduct disorder in early life may be more likely to develop symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) if their mother consumes a high-fat, high-sugar diet while expecting. The team analysed data from 164 children and their mothers. Of these children, 83 had early-onset conduct disorder, while 81 had low levels of conduct problems. The researchers assessed mothers' diets during pregnancy and found that  those whose mothers had a diet high in fat and sugar during pregnancy, compared with children whose mothers had a healthy diet in pregnancy, had children with more symptoms of ADHD between the ages of 7-13 years.

 

Obesity-Associated Chronic Diseases Prevented By Citrus Fruit Antioxidants

Antioxidants found in oranges, limes, and lemons can help prevent the harmful effects of obesity in mice fed a Western high-fat diet, according to Brazilian research presented at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.  The team treated 50 mice with antioxidants called flavanones- hesperidin, eriocitrin, and eriodictyol, found in oranges, lemons, and limes. The mice were split into categories, and over the course of a month, were fed a standard diet, a high-fat diet, a high-fat diet plus hesperidin, a high-fat diet plus eriocitrin, or a high-fat diet plus eriodictyol. Compared with the standard diet, the high-fat non-flavanone diet raised levels of cell-damage markers - thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) - by 80 percent in the blood and 57 percent in the liver of the mice. However, hesperidin, eriocitrin, and eriodictyol decreased levels of TBARS in the liver by 50 percent, 57 percent, and 64 percent, respectively, when compared with the high-fat non-flavanone diet. Mice treated with hesperidin and eriodictyol also had reduced fat accumulation and damage in the liver.

 

The Paleo Diet And Cardiovascular Disease

The Paleo diet, often dubbed "the caveman diet", has attracted its fair share of criticism. But the early results of a new study demonstrate its potential health benefits, suggesting that switching to the Paleo diet for just 8 weeks could aid heart health. This is according to US  scientists presenting their results at a recent conference of the American Physiological Society. The Paleo diet is based on foods believed to have been consumed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, and plant-based oils, such as olive oil. Processed foods, dairy products, potatoes, salt, refined sugar, grains, and legumes should be avoided, as should coffee and alcohol. For their study, the researchers enrolled eight healthy adults who normally consumed a Western diet - typically high in saturated fats and processed foods, and low in fruits, vegetables, and fish. After initial counselling on how to adhere to the Paleo diet, subjects were asked to switch to it for 8 weeks. They were given a Paleo diet menu and recipe guide to help them with food choices, and they were told that they could eat as many of these foods as they wished over the 8-week period. On assessing blood samples taken from the participants before and after the diet swap, the researchers found that they demonstrated an average 35% increase in the levels of a molecule called IL-10. The researchers explain that low levels of IL-10 indicate a greater risk of heart attack among individuals who have high inflammation levels. The researchers said that higher IL-10 levels, as seen with the Paleo diet, could lower inflammation, protecting blood vessels and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 

Folic Acid May Protect Against Congenital Heart Defects

Foods fortified with folic acid decrease rates of some types of congenital heart defects (CHDs), according to Canadian scientists presenting new research published in the journal, Circulation. The risk of the most common type of congenital heart disease could be reduced with foods fortified with folic acid. Researchers analysed data from almost 6 million births in Canada between 1990-2011 and controlled for influencing factors, such as maternal age, multiple births (twins, triplets), pregnancy complications, prenatal diagnosis, and pregnancy terminations. Findings indicated that folic acid food fortification was associated with an 11% decrease in rates of CHDs. The team also  noted that the beneficial effects of folic acid were only observed in some types of CHDs. For example, there was a 27 percent reduction in conotruncal defects, or severe heart outflow tract abnormalities, and a 23% decrease in coarctation of the aorta, which is a narrowing of the major artery that carries blood to the body. Also, a 15% reduction was seen in atrial and ventricular septal defects,

 

 

December 2016/January 2017

Research

 

Hydration Prevents Obesity

Drinking enough water every day has long been cited as important for health and new US research published in the Annals of Family Medicine has found that proper hydration is associated with reduced risk of obesity. The research team based their findings on data collected from a nationally representative sample of 9,528 adults and while the reason for the association between hydration and obesity is unclear, the team state that is may be due to individuals misinterpreting thirst as hunger.


Obesity And Artificial Sweeteners

In more obesity news, an Australian team writing in a recent edition of the journal, Cell Metabolism, revealed that widely used artificial sweeteners in foods and beverages marketed as "sugar-free" or "diet," affect the brain and the effect it has on regulating appetite and altering taste perceptions, and cause an increase in appetite. The study authors discovered that there is an area of the brain that senses and integrates the sweetness and energy content of food. Using fruit flies as experimental subjects, when exposed to a diet laced with high quantities of the artificial sweetener, sucralose, the researchers found that the flies consumed more food, which suggests that artificial sweeteners can make you feel hungrier and, as a result, eat significantly more. Sucralose is derived from sucrose and is up to 650 times sweeter than sugar. The researchers identified that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite by triggering a complex neuronal network that responds by alerting the diner that not enough energy has been consumed. In addition to identifying increased appetite in fruit flies, the researchers tested the theory in mice to see if mammals would have the same response. When exposed to a high sucralose-sweetened diet for 7 days, the mice increased their food consumption. Also revealed in the study was that hyperactivity, decreased sleep quality and insomnia were elevated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners. These behaviours are often displayed in those fasting or in a mild state of starvation and have been linked with artificial sweeteners in other human studies.

 

Red Meat and Kidney Disease

New Singaporean research, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, have found an association between kidney disease and red meat consumption. Scientists used data from the Singapore Chinese Health Study, which included data from more than 63,000 adults, aged 45-74. They linked the data with the Singapore Kidney Registry, which holds the records of all Singapore kidney disease patients. The overall aim was to uncover the role of different protein sources on kidney health outcomes. The participants were followed up for an average of 15.5 years. During that time, 951 cases of kidney disease occurred; and the resultant data showed a clear trend. Red meat intake was associated with a dose-dependent increase in kidney disease risk. Individuals who consumed the highest amounts of red meat, the top 25 percent, showed a 40% higher risk of developing kidney disease than those who consumed the least red meat- the bottom 25 percent. Other sources of protein: fish, eggs, dairy, and poultry, showed no associations with the development of kidney disease, and soy and legumes appeared to play a slightly protective role.

 

Toddlers Who Stay Up Late Are More Likely To Be Obese

A new US study appearing in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests that preschoolers who go to bed by 8 p.m. have a much lower risk of obesity when they are teenagers. The researchers used data from 977 children who were part of the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. This study followed healthy babies who were born at 10 sites in the U.S. in 1991. The team placed preschool bedtime information into three categories: before 8 p.m., between 8-9 p.m., and after 9 p.m. The children in the study were between 4-5 years of age when their mothers reported their weekday bedtimes. Later, when the preschoolers were teenagers, about 15 years of age, the researchers linked their bedtimes as preschoolers to the risk of obesity. The results showed that of the preschoolers who went to bed before 8 p.m., only 10% were obese as teens, compared with 16 percent of children with the mid-range bedtimes and 23 percent of children who went to bed after 9 p.m. Interestingly, half of the kids in the study went to bed between 8-9 p.m. Meanwhile, a quarter went to bed before 8 p.m., and the other quarter went to bed after 9 p.m.

 

Healthy Fats Reduce The Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Eating more unsaturated fats instead of carbohydrates decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, says US research published recently in the journal, PLOS Medicine. Previous US research done on population data from 2009-2012 showed that 65% of people with diagnosed diabetes who were aged 18 years and above either had high levels of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol in the blood, or they were using drugs to lower cholesterol, and some research has focused on how different carbohydrates and dietary fats impact metabolic health. This has been controversial, and it has led to confusion regarding dietary guidelines and health priorities. This new research looked at data for 4,660 adults that had been collected in 102 studies conducted in this area. In randomised, controlled trials, the adults were given meals containing various types and quantities of carbohydrate and fat. The researchers examined how these variations in diet impacted measures of metabolic health, and specifically, how saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates impact the development of type 2 diabetes. The study focused on key biological markers of glucose and insulin control. These were blood sugar, blood insulin, insulin resistance and sensitivity, and how well the body was able to produce insulin in response to blood sugar. The results suggested that consuming foods rich in monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat had a positive effect on blood glucose control, compared with consumption of dietary carbohydrate or saturated fat. For each 5 percent of dietary energy that was switched from carbohydrates or saturated fats to mono- or polyunsaturated fats, they found a drop of around 0.1 percent in HbA1c - a blood marker of long-term glucose control. Previous research has suggested that for each 0.1 percent decrease in HbA1c, the incidence of type 2 diabetes drops by 22 percent and the chance of developing cardiovascular diseases falls by 6.8 percent.

 

Breastfeeding Improves IQs, Memory And Motor Function In Preterm Babies

Preterm infants fed breast milk within the first 28 days of life have better brain development and neurocognitive outcomes, according to new US research data. The study authors collected information on 180 preterm infants from birth to 7 years old. The results showed that the preterm babies that received more breast milk within the first 28 days of life had larger deep nuclear gray matter volume at full term and better IQs, academic achievements, memory, and motor function by age 7.

 

Meat Consumption Linked To Premature Death

Minimising meat protein consumption has long been advocated by naturopaths and a new study focusing on the types of protein we eat, found that plant-based is better than animal-based protein, and that a higher risk of premature death accompanies consumption of animal protein, compared with eating plant-based protein. To carry out this work, the team examined data from two large studies in the United States that used repeated measures of diet through food questionnaires as well as 32 years of follow-up. In total, there were 131,342 study participants, 64.7 percent of whom were women; the average participant age was 49. The researchers examined risk for all-cause and cause-specific mortality in light of eating animal protein versus plant protein. The data showed that every 10 percent increase in animal protein from total calories was linked with a 2 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 8 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. This increased risk was more noticeable among the study participants who were obese and those who drank larger quantities of alcohol. Interestingly, eating more plant protein was linked with a 10 percent lower risk of death from all causes for every 3 percent segment of total calories and a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the link between eating more plant protein and lower risk of death was stronger among the participants who smoked, drank at least 14 grams of alcohol per day, were overweight or obese, were physically inactive, or were younger than 65 or older than 80.

 

Heart Attack Sufferers Benefit From Omega-3

Once a person has had a heart attack, their heart may be damaged, raising their risk of further heart-related problems. But according to a new US study appearing in the journal, Circulation, this risk could be reduced with a daily dose of omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids are deemed essential for human health, though the body is unable to produce them. As such, we need to get them through food sources, such as oily fish, including salmon and tuna, plants and nuts, and dietary supplements. Previous studies have found that omega-3 may improve survival after a heart attack but the mechanisms by which it does so have been unclear. To further investigate, the team enrolled 360 adults who had experienced a heart attack. For 6 months after their heart attack, half of the participants were randomized to take either a high daily dose of omega-3 (4 grams), along with their usual medications, while the remaining half took a placebo. Subjects' heart structure and function were assessed at the end of the study period, and during the study, patients were monitored for any adverse outcomes. Participants also underwent regular blood tests, which were used to ensure that the omega-3 was being taken. Compared with the heart attack patients who took a placebo, those who took omega-3 showed a 5.6 percent reduction in scarring of non-damaged heart muscle, as well as a 5.8 percent reduction in the left ventricular end-systolic volume index - an indicator of a patient's outcome following a heart attack. The study authors say that these benefits were due to a reduction in scar tissue formation that occurs in the heart as a result of tissue recovery following a heart attack.

 

Meat And Obesity

Researchers from the University of Adelaide found that protein in meat contributes to the prevalence of global obesity to the same degree as sugar. This work was presented at a recent International Conference on Nutrition and Food Sciences held in Switzerland. The team studied the correlation between meat consumption and obesity rates in 170 countries and found that sugar availability in a nation explains 50 percent of obesity variation while meat availability explains another 50 percent. They stated that because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the human body.

 

Obesity Accelerates Brain Ageing

Being overweight or obese in midlife may age the brain by around 10 years. This is the finding of a new UK study published in the journal, Neurobiology of Aging. It is well known that obesity can raise the risk of numerous health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. But increasingly, researchers are finding that being overweight may also have negative consequences for the brain. In particular, some studies have suggested that obesity can accelerate the onset and progression of brain shrinkage - the reduction in white and gray matter volume that naturally occurs as we age. In order to learn more about the link between weight and brain shrinkage, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional study in which they analysed data of 473 cognitively healthy adults aged 20-87. Based on participants' body mass index (BMI), 246 subjects were classified as lean (BMI of 18.5-25), 150 were overweight (BMI of 25-30), and 77 were obese (BMI higher than 30). The researchers assessed participants' cerebral white and gray matter volume using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Compared with the lean subjects, those who were overweight or obese were found to have significantly reduced white matter volume. The researchers then looked at how white matter volume was associated with the age and weight of subjects, and they found that overweight and obesity appeared to have the most detrimental impact on the brains of middle-aged adults. Middle-aged adults who were overweight or obese had a white matter volume that was comparable to those of lean adults who were 10 years older.

 

 

November/December 2016

Research

 

Overeating Leads to More of the Same

A recent edition of the journal, Nutrition & Diabetes, has carried a US study that found that when mice eat too many calories, their gut stops producing a hormone that tells the brain that they're full, which means that overeating can lead to more eating, setting up a vicious cycle that promotes obesity. The hormone, called uroguanylin, is produced in the small intestine and then travels to the brain where it signals satiety or fullness. This finding may provide an insight into one of the many causes of obesity in humans.

 

High Fibre Diet for Food Allergy

New Australian research appearing in the journal, Cell Reports, states that a high-fibre diet rich in Vitamin A alters gut bacteria in a way that could prevent or reverse food allergies. The research was carried out on mice that were allergic to peanuts The researchers fed some of the mice a high-fibre diet rich in Vitamin A, found in many fruits and vegetables, while others were fed a diet with average fibre, sugar, and calorie content (the controls). They found that the mice fed the high-fibre diet had less severe allergic reactions to peanuts than mice fed the control diet. On closer analysis, the researchers found that the high-fibre diet altered the gut bacteria of mice, which protected them against the allergy reactions. Next, the researchers took some altered gut bacteria from mice fed the high-fibre diet and transferred it to the guts of mice with a peanut allergy that were "germ-free" - that is, they had no gut microbes. Even though these germ-free mice were not fed a high-fibre diet, the team found that the addition of the altered gut bacteria protected them against allergic reactions to peanuts. The researchers explain that gut bacteria break down dietary fibre into short-chain fatty acids, and that increased levels of these fatty acids work with the body's immune system, preventing dendritic cells, which regulate food allergies, from triggering an allergic response. Vitamin A is also important for dendritic cell regulation. Their findings were supported when the team gave the allergic mice water enriched with short-chain fatty acids for 3 weeks, before exposing them to peanuts, and found that their allergic response was reduced.

 

Oral Cancer Risk Diminished by Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables belong to the cabbage family and include cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. They've been shown in previous research to have a role in the protection against cancer and a new US study published in the journal, Cancer Prevention Research, adds to this. It demonstrates how broccoli sprout extract activates a gene that detoxifies carcinogens in the body, serving to prevent cancer recurrence in people who have encountered head and neck cancer. Sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables, plays the primary role here. The team first treated human head and neck cancer cells with different doses of sulforaphane, as well as a control substance. They then compared them with healthy throat and mouth cells. The results showed that sulforaphane encouraged both cell types to increase the levels of a protein that turns on specific genes that induce carcinogen detoxification, protecting cells from cancer. Next, in a small preclinical trial, for several days, 10 healthy people drank or swished juice mixed with broccoli sprout extract. Not only did the study subjects have no significant problems tolerating the extract, but the lining of their mouths also showed that the same protective genetic pathway was activated in their mouths. The researchers say this means the sulforaphane was absorbed and focused on at-risk tissue. In a further experiment, the researchers used mice to see how the extract worked in those predisposed to head and neck cancer. Results showed that the mice that received the extract developed fewer tumours, compared with those that did not.

 

Heart Attack Risk Diminished by Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Researchers writing recently in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, say that Omega-3 fatty acids reduce risk of death from heart attack. Omega-3's are essential fatty acids that assist with a number of important functions in the body, including blood clotting, digestion, muscle activity, cell division and growth. However, the only way the body can get omega-3 is through the foods we eat. Fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, and anchovies, is a key source of omega-3s, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Other sources include leafy vegetables, walnuts, and some vegetable oils, which normally contain the omega-3, alphalinolenic acid. To do this work, researchers analysed the data from 19 studies that included 45,637 individuals from across 16 countries, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, and Australia. Over time, 7,973 of the participants experienced a first-time heart attack, with 2,781 dying as a result. The team found that participants who had higher concentrations of seafood and plant-based omega-3s in their blood were around 10% less likely to die from a heart attack compared with participants who had lower omega-3 concentrations.

 

Gut Microbes and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have an altered gut microbiome (gut bacteria) and this may play a role in the development of the disease, according to new US research published in the journal, Microbiome. To reach their findings, the researchers analysed the stool and blood samples of 48 people who had been diagnosed with CFS, alongside the samples of 39 healthy controls. Compared with the stool samples from the healthy controls, the stool samples from CFS patients showed reduced gut bacteria diversity, fewer anti-inflammatory bacteria, and more pro-inflammatory bacteria. The team notes that such abnormalities in gut bacteria are often seen in the stool samples of patients with Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis, which are inflammatory bowel diseases. Additionally, the researchers found that the blood samples of patients with CFS contained markers for inflammation. They say this is likely a result of bacteria entering the blood due to a leaky gut, which has been triggered by intestinal problems. The team explains that when such bacteria enter the blood, this can set off an immune response, which could exacerbate symptoms of CFS.

 

Diabetes Sufferers Benefit from Aloe Vera

US scientists writing recently in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary have shown that oral aloe vera can help people with diabetes and pre-diabetes. They came to this conclusion by performing an analysis of previous studies that have been carried out in this area. For their analysis, the team looked for studies of the effect of oral aloe vera on fasting blood glucose (FBG), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), and a number of other measures in pre-diabetic and diabetic populations. They found nine studies that had appropriate data for meta-analyses and covered FBG and HbA1c only. Of these, all nine measured FBG (total of 283 participants), and five measured HbA1c (89 participants). FBG (sometimes called fasting plasma glucose, FPG) measures the blood glucose level during a period when the patient has not had anything to eat or drink, except water, for at least 8 hours. A level in the range of 100-125 mg/dl is defined as pre-diabetic and 126 mg/dl or higher as diabetic. HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin, sometimes called haemoglobin A1c or simply A1c) is a measure of average blood glucose over the past 2-3 months. A level greater than or equal to 6.5 percent is considered diabetic. The meta-analysis showed aloe vera decreased FBG by 46.6 mg/dl and HbA1c by 1.05 in the populations studied. The researchers also note "the data suggest that patients with an FBG ≥200 mg/dl may see a greater benefit," and this population saw an average FBG reduction of 109.9 mg/dl.

 

Walnuts for Colon Cancer

Recent US research on mice has found that eating walnuts can reduce one's risk of getting colon cancer. In the study, mice that were fed walnuts (totalling seven percent to 10.5 percent of their total calories) developed fewer instances of colon cancer. This study showed that walnuts may also act as a probiotic to make the colon healthy, which in turn offers protection against colon tumours. Walnuts contain more polyunsaturated fatty acids than any of the commonly eaten tree nuts. They also contain significant amounts of Vitamin E. But walnuts are not merely the sum of their chemical parts, and it may be as a whole food that they pack the most significant anti-cancer punch against colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the world.

 

Exercise in Pregnancy is Good for Mother and Baby

Despite some of the advice that's been given to expectant mothers in the past, new US research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology has found that exercise during pregnancy is safe and can benefit both mother and baby. The research team pooled and analysed data from nine randomized controlled studies. Overall, the analysis included data from 2,059 women, with about half assigned to an aerobic exercise group and half assigned to a control group. The women in the exercise group did aerobic exercise for 35-90 minutes, three or four times a week for 10 weeks, or up until their delivery. The controls did no exercise. The results showed there was no significant difference between the exercise and control groups in terms of incidence of preterm delivery (before 37 completed weeks of gestation). There was also a higher incidence of vaginal delivery (73.6 percent versus 67.5 percent), and a significantly lower incidence of cesarean delivery (17.9 percent versus 22 percent) in the exercise group than in the control group. In addition, the researchers found a lower incidence of gestational diabetes and lower incidence of high blood pressure in the exercise group compared with the control group. Looking at the babies, the researchers found no differences in low birth weight and average birth weight between the exercise group and the control group.

 

Gut Bacteria Help Anti-Aging Benefits of Pomegranates

Swiss scientists writing in a recent edition of the journal, Nature Medicine, found that a compound produced when pomegranates are digested by gut bacteria prolonged lifespan in worms and improved exercise capacity in older mice. They are currently testing the compound's anti-aging effects in human trials. As we age, an important process that our cells rely on for energy slows down and begins to malfunction. This process, called "mitophagy", recycles worn-out mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that make the chemical units of energy that fuel their work. If worn-out mitochondria are not recycled, they and their decomposing components build up inside cells, eventually causing problems in many tissues, including muscle, which gradually becomes weaker. There is also evidence that a build-up of faulty or worn-out mitochondria plays a role in the diseases of aging, such as Parkinson's disease. Scientists have also found that defects in the Parkinson's gene Fbxo7 also disrupt mitiphagy. In the new study, the team established that urolithin A can restore mitophagy in cells where the process has become sluggish.

 

Magnesium Regulates Blood Pressure

New US research published in the journal, Hypertension, has identified magnesium as having a beneficial effect for people with hypertension, This adds to work that has previously confirmed this effect. Workers on this project looked at the data from 34 clinical trials, with a total of 2,028 participants. The researchers found that those participants who had a median intake of 368 mg of magnesium daily for an average of 3 months recorded a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 2.00 mm Hg and a decrease in diastolic blood pressure of 1.78 mm Hg. The team also observed that patients who had an intake of 300 mg of magnesium per day had elevated blood magnesium levels and reduced blood pressure within a month. Elevated blood magnesium levels were associated with an improvement in blood flow, which has been named as a factor linked to lowered blood pressure.

 

 

August/November 2016

Research

 

Pesticides Increase the Risk of ALS

The risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, may be increased with exposure to pesticides, particularly organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), methoxychlor, and benzene hexachloride, suggests a new US study published in JAMA Neurology. The research team enrolled 156 patients with ALS and 128 controls without the disease. Full data on occupational and residential exposure to pesticides, including OCPs, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and the presence of pollutants in the body were gathered for 101 ALS patients and 110 controls through surveys and blood sampling. The researchers found that both the presence of pesticides in the blood and residential and occupational pesticide exposure was associated with an increased risk of developing ALS. After accounting for possible confounding factors, including participants' age, sex, education level, smoking status, and information on occupational risk factors, the team found the link between pesticide exposure and increased ALS risk remained.

 

Artificial Sweetener Use During Pregnancy Associated with Infant Obesity

Research from Canada, published recently in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, demonstrates a link between the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy and an increase in the body mass index of infants. Using a questionnaire, the investigators examined data from 3,033 mothers and infants. They searched for connections between the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy and the future body mass index (BMI) of the child. The average age of the mothers was 32.4 years; the average BMI score was 0.19 at 12 months old, and 5.1 percent were overweight. Of the mothers, 29.5 percent drank artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy, and 5.1 percent drank artificially sweetened drinks on a daily basis. The researchers found that, compared with women who drank no artificially sweetened drinks, consuming them daily was associated with an increase in BMI, and the risk of an infant being overweight by the age of 1 year doubled.

 

Dementia Risk Reduced by Yoga and Meditation

A new US study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease has shown that completing a 3 month yoga and meditation course may reduce older adults' risk of mild cognitive impairment, considered a precursor for development of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. They were also found to improve verbal and visual-spatial memory for older adults. The researchers enrolled 25 participants aged 55 and older. For 12 weeks, 14 of the participants took part in a 1-hour Kundalini yoga (the "yoga of awareness," incorporating breathing techniques, meditation, and chanting) class once a week and practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation (chanting, hand movements, and light visualization) for 20 minutes every day. The remaining 11 participants engaged in 1 hour of memory enhancement training, through activities such as crossword puzzles or computer games, once a week for 12 weeks, and they also spent 20 minutes a day completing memory exercises. At the beginning and end of the 12-week study period, all participants completed memory tests and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), enabling the researchers to assess their cognitive function and brain activity. The team found that both groups showed improvements in verbal memory skills, the ability to remember names and lists of words, at the end of the 12 weeks. However, the participants who practiced yoga and meditation demonstrated a greater improvement in visual-spatial memory skills- the ability to navigate and remember locations, than those who engaged in memory enhancement training. Additionally, the yoga-meditation group fared better than the memory enhancement training group when it came to levels of anxiety and depression, as well as coping skills and stress resilience.

 

Increase Fruit and Reduce Alcohol to Minimise Breast Cancer Risk

Teenagers who eat fruit may be building up protection against breast cancer, but drinking alcohol later in life could aggravate the risk, say findings from two linked studies published in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal. Looking at fruit, the researchers used data from a study that followed 90,000 nurses over 20 years. The nurses had reported their nutritional habits in early adulthood, and half of them had also reported their usual diet in adolescence. High fruit and vegetable consumption was considered to be 2.9 servings a day, compared with low consumption of 0.5 servings. By 2013, 3,235 women had received a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer, and 1,347 of these had completed a questionnaire about their diet while they were 13-18 years old. Those who reported a high consumption of fruit and vegetables during adolescence had around a 25% lower risk of breast cancer diagnosis in middle age. In a linked study, another team looked at data for 22,000 post-menopausal women to see how modifying alcohol intake might impact the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. The results showed that women who increased their alcohol intake by two drinks per day over 5 years had around a 30 percent higher risk of breast cancer but a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared with those who did not change their alcohol consumption.

 

Fruit for Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

UK researchers writing in  the journal, Diabetes, have stated that a daily supplement consisting of compounds derived from red grapes and oranges could offer a promising new treatment for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). For their study, the team investigated the effects of a compound called trans-resveratrol (tRES), found in red grapes, and a compound found in oranges called hesperetin (HESP). On testing a combination of the compounds in cell culture, the researchers found that it increased expression of glyoxalase 1 (Glo1), an enzyme that neutralizes a compound called methylglyoxal (MG). The team explains that MG is a key driver of sugar's harmful effects on the body; a combination of high MG levels and a high-calorie diet is a cause of insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. It also damages blood vessels and can drive high cholesterol levels - a risk factor for CVD. As such, the team hypothesised that blocking MG by increasing Glo1 expression could reverse these effects. Next, the team tested the tRES-HESP combination on 32 adults aged 18-80 who had a body mass index (BMI) of between 25-40, falling into the overweight or obese categories. Participants were given the fruit compound combination in the form of a supplement, which they were asked to take once a day for 8 weeks. During the study period, subjects were asked to continue with their usual diets and not to increase physical activity, enabling the researchers to gain a more accurate picture of the supplements' effects. Blood samples were taken from participants on a regular basis during the 8-week period and analysed for sugar levels and other blood markers. The artery health of the participants was assessed by measuring artery wall flexibility. The researchers found that participants who had a BMI of more than 27.5 demonstrated increased Glo1 activity with the supplement, as well as reduced insulin levels, improved insulin activity, better artery function, and reduced blood vessel inflammation. Subjects who were given a placebo showed no such effects, the researchers note.

 

Reduce Potato Intake to Reduce High Blood Pressure

The British Medical Journal recently published news of US study that links increased potato intake to high blood pressure in adults. The team looked at potatoes in all their forms - mashed, boiled, and chipped. Data were taken from three large American studies, spanning more than 20 years and charting the diets of 187,453 men and women. The team controlled for numerous factors, including weight, smoking status, level of physical activity, and current dietary habits. After controlling for these factors, the team found that eating four or more servings of mashed, baked, or boiled potatoes per week was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, or hypertension, when compared with less than one serving per week. The effect was not found in men. On further investigation, the team found that replacing one serving of potatoes per week with a portion of non-starchy vegetables was associated with a significant drop in blood pressure. Also, an increased intake of chips was associated with increased hypertension in  both men and women. More surprisingly, those who consumed higher amounts of potato crisps did not display an increased risk for hypertension and, in fact, the men who ate more crisps showed a reduced hypertension risk.

 

Increased Cardiovascular Disease Risk from Low Salt Intake

A high salt intake has been linked to increased blood pressure and greater risk for heart problems. But according to new US research published in the Lancet, low salt intake may be just as harmful. The study authors analysed data of more than 130,000 individuals spanning 49 countries. They looked at the sodium intake of participants and how this related to the risk of heart disease and stroke among those with and without high blood pressure. Compared with people who had an average sodium intake, the rates of heart attack, stroke, and death were higher among those who had a low sodium intake, regardless of whether participants had high blood pressure. Interestingly, low salt intake in the study was defined as an intake of less than 3,000 milligrams a day, which is above current recommendations in the United States. Furthermore, the researchers found that only individuals with high blood pressure appeared to be subject to the risks associated with high salt intake, defined as more than 6,000 milligrams daily.

 

Workaholics Experience More Psychiatric Disorders

Those who work excessively long hours experience more psychiatric disorders, according to a new Norwegian study appearing in the journal, Plos One. An analysis was carried out on data from 16,426 working adults of a median age of 37 years. The researchers used the Bergen Work Addiction Scale to identify "workaholism" among the subjects, which involved participants rating how they prioritise work over other aspects of their lives. Additionally, all participants were assessed for psychiatric symptoms through the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, the Obsession-Compulsive Inventory-Revised, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Compared with non-workaholics, the team found that workaholics were significantly more likely to have symptoms of a psychiatric disorder. A total of 32.7 percent of workaholics met ADHD criteria, compared with 12.7 percent of non-workaholics. OCD criteria were met for 25.6 percent of workaholics, while only 8.7 percent of non-workaholics met OCD criteria. Among workaholics, 33.8 percent met the criteria for anxiety and 8.9 percent met the criteria for depression, compared with 11.9 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, for non-workaholics.

 

Dietary Modification for MS

New US research published in the journal, Cell Reports, concludes that a diet mimicking the effects of fasting may act as a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases. The research team claim that they've found the fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) triggers a cellular death-and-life process that appears critical for bodily repair. During the fasting-mimicking diet, cortisone is produced and that initiates a killing of autoimmune cells. This process also leads to the production of new healthy cells, according to the team. MS is an autoimmune disease where the immune system gradually disrupts the blood-brain barrier and attacks the myelin sheath of proteins and fats that insulates nerve fibres in the spinal cord and brain. As the disease progresses, the onslaught on the myelin sheath eventually causes the electrical signals carried by the nerves to leak out. This gives rise to symptoms that get worse and worse, ranging from mild numbness in the arms and legs to paralysis and blindness. The research was carried out in two parts. First, the researchers started with two groups of mice with autoimmune disease. One group was put on a low-calorie and low-protein FMD comprising three cycles of fasting that lasted for 3 days out of every 7. The other group, the controls, were put on a normal diet. The FMD reduced symptoms in all the mice and "caused complete recovery for 20 percent of the animals." Further tests revealed the FMD mice had increased levels of corticosterone, a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands to control metabolism. The FMD mice also had increased levels of immune T cells and reduced levels of inflammation-causing cytokines - proteins that instruct other cells to repair sites of trauma, infection, or other pain. The researchers also found the FMD mice showed signs of regeneration of myelin that had been damaged by the autoimmunity. In the second part of the study, the researchers tested the safety and potential efficacy of the FMD on 60 patients with MS. The patients were randomly assigned to a control diet, a high-fat, ketogenic diet (KD group), or a modified human FMD for 7 days, followed by a Mediterranean diet for 6 months (FMD group). The researchers note the FMD and KD groups "displayed clinically meaningful improvements" in a scale that measures overall change in health, quality of life, physical health, and mental health.

 

Eye Fatigue Reduced by Coffee

Strenuous exercise can cause eye fatigue and recent research from New Zealand, published in the journal, Scientific Reports, suggests that drinking coffee might prevent such an effect. 11 well-trained cyclists took part in the study and cycled using exercise bikes for 3 hours. Some of the participants consumed caffeine during their 3-hour cycling session - at a dose equivalent to two cups of coffee while the remaining subjects consumed a decaffeinated placebo solution. The researchers explain that caffeine can indirectly boost the activity of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay signals between brains cells, and note that previous studies have suggested that impairments in neurotransmitter activity might be responsible for central fatigue. Once participants had finished cycling, the researchers tested their eye movement using a head-fixed eye-tracking system. The team found that the strenuous exercise the participants engaged in caused a neurotransmitter imbalance, which slowed down rapid eye movements. The researchers found that participants who consumed the caffeinated beverages saw their neurotransmitter balance restored, which improved their rapid eye movements. No such effect was found among subjects who drank the decaffeinated solution.

 

Kid's Teeth Damaged by Fungicides and Chemicals in Food Packaging

Early exposure to two chemicals often found in food packaging and fungicides may cause damage to children's teeth that can never be reversed, a new French study has found. Presenting their research at the 2016 European Congress of Endocrinology, the team found that exposure to the chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) and vinclozolin may interfere with hormones responsible for the growth of dental enamel. BPA and vinclozolin have been identified as endocrine disruptors (EDs) in numerous studies. This means they can interfere with hormone functioning in mammals, increasing the risk of reproductive problems, cancer, births defects, and various other conditions. BPA is used in the production of certain plastics and resins, many of which are used for food and drink packaging, while vinclozolin is a fungicide used to protect vineyards, orchards, and golf courses. The authors noted that previous animal studies have indicated that EDs may be related to a condition called molar incisor hypomineralisation (MIH), which is estimated to affect up to 18 percent of children aged 6-9 years. MIH is a developmental condition in which enamel defects occur in the first permanent teeth, most commonly the molars and incisors. Such a defect is irreversible; once tooth enamel is damaged, it cannot grow back. Children with MIH can experience heightened tooth sensitivity, particularly to cold foods and drinks, and they are at greater risk for dental caries. Their teeth may be creamy, yellow, or brown in appearance, and they may chip away easily. Firstly, the team exposed rats to daily doses of either BPA alone or a combination of BPA and vinclozolin from birth for 30 days. Doses were equivalent to the average daily dose a human would be exposed to. At the end of the 30 days, the researchers collected cells from the surface of the rats' teeth. On analysing the cells, they found that exposure to BPA and vinclozolin altered the expression of two genes, KLK4 and SLC5A8, that regulate tooth enamel mineralization. Next, the researchers cultured ameloblast cells of rats, which are cells that deposit enamel during tooth development. They found that these cells contain sex hormones - including oestrogen and testosterone, that increase the expression of genes that produce tooth enamel. They found that testosterone increases the expression of the KLK4 and SLC5A8 genes. Because both BPA and vinclozolin are known to inhibit the effect of male sex hormones, the authors say their findings indicate that the chemicals may lead to MIH by blocking the hormones needed for development of tooth enamel.

 

Healthy Aging Promoted by Fibre

Recent Australian research appearing in The Journal of Gerontology indicates that eating a diet rich in fibre, such as is found in breads, cereals, and fruits, helps consumers to reach old age free of disease and disability. The team used data from the Blue Mountain Eye Study (BMES), the first large population-based study to assess visual impairment and common eye diseases in a representative older Australian community sample. The data covered a total of 1,609 adults aged 49 years and older who were free of cancer, coronary artery disease, and stroke when the study started and who were followed for 10 years. The dietary information came from food-frequency surveys filled in by the participants, while information relevant to successful aging came from interviewer-administered questionnaires completed at regular follow-up visits. At the end of the 10 years, 249 (15.5 percent) of the participants achieved what the researchers defined as successful aging status. Of all the dietary factors they examined, such as total carbohydrate intake, total fibre intake, glycaemic index, glycaemic load, and sugar intake, the researchers found fibre had the biggest impact on successful aging. Those who had the highest intake of fibre or total fibre actually had an almost 80 percent greater likelihood of living a long and healthy life over a 10-year follow-up. That is, they were less likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, dementia, depression, and functional disability.

 

Green Tea Compound for Down Syndrome

A new Spanish study published in The Lancet Neurology states that a compound found in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has shown promise for the treatment of Down syndrome (DS), improving the cognitive function of individuals with the condition. DS occurs when an individual has a partial or full additional copy of chromosome 21, meaning they have three copies of this chromosome, rather than the normal two. This extra chromosome leads to overexpression of genes, which can cause a number of physical symptoms, including reduced muscle tone, a small head, ears, and mouth, a flattened facial profile, and upward-slanting eyes. Individuals with Down syndrome may also experience problems with cognitive function, such as delayed language and speech development, learning and memory impairment, and poor concentration. The researchers state that such cognitive impairments are down to overexpression of a gene called DYRK1A, and studies in mice have suggested the compound EGCG could reduce DYRK1A overexpression. The team enrolled 84 individuals aged 16-34 who had Down syndrome. For 12 months, participants were randomised to receive a daily dose of decaffeinated green tea containing EGCG - 9 milligrams per kilogram - or a placebo. Both groups also underwent weekly cognitive training. The trial was double-blind, meaning the researchers, the participants, and their families were unaware of what treatment each subject received. All participants underwent cognitive tests and brain imaging at 3, 6, and 12 months, as well as 6 months after treatment had ceased. Compared with participants who were treated with the placebo, the researchers found that those treated with EGCG scored much better in cognitive function. On assessing the brain scans of each participant, the team also found that those who were treated with EGCG showed greater functional connectivity between nerve cells than those who received the placebo.

 

Stroke and Air Pollution

New Zealand research from a recent edition of The Lancet Neurology implicates air pollution as a leading risk factor for stroke. Using data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, the researchers were able to estimate the disease burden of stroke associated with 17 risk factors across 188 countries. The team used global trends of stroke risk factors from 1990-2013 to estimate the proportion of disease burden in a population that would be averted if exposure to a risk factor were removed. They found that the 10 leading stroke risk factors around the world were high blood pressure, low fruit intake, high body mass index (BMI), high sodium intake, smoking, low vegetable intake, environmental air pollution, household pollution, low whole grain intake, and high blood sugar. In detail, the researchers discovered that around 30 percent of disability associated with stroke is linked to air pollution, which is especially high in developing countries compared with developed countries, at 33.7 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.

 

Whole Grains for Life Extension

Recent US research from the journal, Circulation, concludes that consuming whole grains regularly could extend human lifespan. The study authors analysed data from 12 already-published papers, alongside data from unpublished sources- the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III and NHANES 1999-2004. The studies included participants from the United Kingdom, United States, and Scandinavian countries. In all, the new analysis used data from 786,076 individuals between 1970 and 2010. The meta-analysis showed that, for each 16 gram serving of whole grains, there was a 7 percent decrease in total deaths, a 9 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease-related deaths, and a 5 percent reduction in deaths related to cancer. The results showed that the effect was more pronounced as whole grain consumption increased. Those individuals who ate 48 grams of whole grain per day had a 20 percent reduced risk of mortality, a 25 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, and a 14 percent lower risk of cancer mortality.

 

 

July/August 2016

Research

 

Obesity Linked to Chemical Exposure

Recent US research published in the journal, Toxicology in Vitro, has shown that the amount of fat stored in our bodies may be influenced by exposure chemicals called to phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that occur in a range of products, from nail polish to soap. They often feature in plastics, where they enhance elasticity. Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) and bisphenol A (BPA), are commonly used examples of phthalates. Using mouse cells, the researchers created in vitro models that enabled them to analyse how exposure to BBP affects the accumulation of oils and fats within cells. To quantify the lipid, or fat, accumulation, the team stained the cells, making it possible to examine them visually under a microscope. They also used a technique known as cellomics high-content analysis, a screening method that involves image processing algorithms and computer machine learning. The team compared the effects of BBP with those of bisphenol A (BPA), an environmental endocrine disruptor known to impact the development of fat cells. Both BBP and BBA caused lipid droplets to accumulate. However, when cells were treated with BBP, the fat droplets were larger, implying that BBP exposure could contribute to obesity.

 

Dark Chocolate Improves Athletic Performance

UK researchers writing in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggest that dark chocolate may improve performance in fitness training. The cocoa beans that are used to make chocolate contain components called flavanols, and one of these that is present in dark chocolate is epicatechin. Epicatechin increases the production of nitric oxide in the body and boosts blood circulation. A small group of cyclists was used to carry out the research. The cyclists underwent initial fitness tests to provide a baseline for comparison, and then they were put into two groups. All the participants swapped one of their daily snacks for around 42 grams of chocolate for 2 weeks. One group consumed a dark chocolate that was rich in flavanols, and the other group had white chocolate. After 2 weeks, the cyclists performed a series of cycling exercise tests, including moderate exercise and time trials. The researchers measured their heart rates and oxygen consumption levels. The participants then took a break for a week, before switching chocolate types and repeating the 2-week trial and exercise tests. After eating dark chocolate, the riders used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace. They also cycled further in a 2-minute flat-out time trial.

 

Yoga for Asthmatics

For people with asthma, yoga may help to improve symptoms and overall quality of life, according to a new Cochrane Review, recently published in the Cochrane Library. The review authors conducted a systematic review of 15 randomised, controlled trials involving 1,048 adults, most of whom had mild to moderate asthma. Ten of the studies assessed the impact of yoga interventions that incorporated posture, breathing, and meditation, while five of the studies included yoga that solely focused on breathing. The majority of participants continued to use their usual asthma medication during the study periods, which ranged from 2 weeks to over 4 years. The researchers identified evidence that yoga reduced some symptoms for people with asthma and improved overall quality of life.

 

Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk Reduced by Chocolate

In more good news for chocolate lovers, according to new UK research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, consuming a small amount of chocolate every day may lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Dark chocolate is known to have good levels of antioxidants, particularly of the antioxidant class known as flavanols. The team analysed the chocolate consumption of 1,153 people aged 18-69 who were part of the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk in Luxembourg (ORISCAV-LUX) study. Data on chocolate intake were gathered from participants' completion of a food frequency questionnaire. The team set out to investigate whether chocolate intake is associated with insulin resistance, where the body's cells don't effectively respond to insulin, raising the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also assessed how chocolate consumption affected liver enzyme levels, which is a measure of liver function. The researchers found that 81.8% of the study participants consumed chocolate, with an average consumption of 24.8 grams daily. Compared with participants who did not eat chocolate every day, those who did were found to have reduced insulin resistance and improved liver enzyme levels. The effect was stronger the higher the dark chocolate consumption, the team reports.

 

Gut Microbiome Health Improved by Beer and Chocolate

Belgian researchers recently released the results of a study in the journal, Science, that found that the microorganisms in the got, the gut microbiome, are healthier  in those who consume beer and chocolate. For their study, the team analysed the stool samples of more than 1,000 healthy individuals from Belgium who were part of the Flemish Gut Flora Project. Through their analysis, the team identified 69 factors that are linked to the diversity or composition of gut microbiota, many of which are associated with transit time; how long it takes for food to move from the mouth to the end of the intestine, diet, medication use, gender, age, and overall health. The researchers then combined their results with those of other analyses across the globe, from which they identified 14 bacterial species that make up the microbiota present in the intestine of each and every person. Transit time was found to be the heaviest influence on gut microbiota composition, according to the researchers, and diet, particularly fibre intake, was also found to play a key role. The team found that intake of dark chocolate drove the presence of a specific bacterial population, and beer intake was also a key influence on the composition of gut microbiota.

 

Antibiotic Overuse in America: "30% of Prescriptions Inappropriate'

Antibiotic resistance by bacteria is a large and growing issue around the world and is caused to a large degree by the overuse of antibiotics. New US research, published in the journal, JAMA, has attempted to quantify the problem. In the US alone, the article states that antibiotic-resistant infections affect 2 million people and are associated with an estimated 23,000 deaths. The population to disease ratio is probably the same here in Australia, where we see similar antibiotic prescribing patterns by doctors. The researchers in this study picked through data from the 2010-2011 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. They set out to uncover the number of antibiotic courses that were being prescribed for children and adults incorrectly. From the 184,032 visits that the researchers viewed, overall, 12.6% resulted in an antibiotic prescription. The complaints that most commonly received antibiotics include sinusitis, otitis media (ear infection), pharyngitis and other respiratory conditions. Overall, from 2010-2011, an estimated 506 antibiotic prescriptions were written per 1,000 people. Of these, 353 were deemed by the research team to have been appropriate, leaving 153 that were considered to be avoidable.

 

'Bad' Gut Microbes Promoted by Antibiotics

Antibiotic treatment can promote the growth of "bad" microbes, or pathogens, by disrupting oxygen levels and fibre processing in the gut lining, according to new US research published in the journal, Cell Host & Microbe. From tests on mice, the team identified a chain of pathogen-favouring events that occurs in the gut lining following treatment with the antibiotic, streptomycin.The chain of events that streptomycin triggers begins with reducing the population of "good" gut microbes. These include Clostridia that break down fibre in plant-based foods to make an organic acid called butyrate. Butyrate is an important resource for cells that line the gut because they use it as an energy source to absorb water. In the absence of butyrate, the gut-lining cells obtain energy by fermenting glucose to lactate, which is accompanied by an increase in oxygen, a condition that favours the growth of Salmonella. In essence, what was found here was that Salmonella virulence factors and antibiotic treatment promote pathogen expansion through the same mechanism: depletion of butyrate-producing Clostridia to elevate epithelial oxygenation, allowing aerobic Salmonella growth.

 

Medical Errors Cause 250,000 Deaths in the US Each Year

According to a new US study published in The British Medical Journal, each year more than 250,000 deaths in the United States occur as a result of medical error, making it the third leading cause of death in the country after heart disease and cancer. Each year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compile a list of the leading causes of death in the US, based on information recorded on death certificates. However, medical error does not currently feature on death certificates. This is because there is no International Classification of Disease (ICD) code - a tool used to classify causes of death, adopted in the U.S. in 1949 - assigned to medical error. Since the ICD system is used to inform mortality statistics for 117 countries, including the US, the UK, and Canada, there is limited data on the number of deaths attributable to medical error. The team analysed the results of four studies that assessed the rate of medical death in the US between 2000-2008. Combining that data with the number of hospital admission rates that occurred in the US in 2013, the researchers estimated that 251,454 deaths occur as a result of medical error each year. Information on medically-induced (also known as iatrogenic) death here in Australia is hard to come by, but on a population ratio basis, this would equate to around 28,000 Australian deaths annually, with an unknown but much higher rate of serious illness caused by medical error. The study states that the serious illness rate is probably in the area of forty times the death rate.

 

High Fructose Diets Linked to Poor Health Outcomes in Mothers and Babies

Consuming too much fructose has previously been linked to diabetes and obesity, but for expectant mothers, it could also lead to placental and foetal defects. This is according to a new US study published in the journal, Scientific Reports. Fructose is a form of sugar naturally found in fruits, honey, and some vegetables. It is commonly used by food manufacturers, who combine fructose with glucose to create high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is often added to foods and beverages to sweeten them. To gain a better understanding of this issue, the team first fed pregnant mice either a high-fructose diet or standard chow, and assessed the impact that each diet had on maternal and foetal health. Compared with other forms of sugar, fructose is processed differently in the body. The researchers explain that fructose is broken down by liver cells, which convert the sugar into triglycerides, a form of fat. At the same time, levels of uric acid, a waste product found in urine and faeces, increase. The team notes that excess uric acid levels can lead to a number of health problems, including obesity and type 2 diabetes The researchers found that mice fed a high-fructose diet during pregnancy had higher levels of triglycerides and uric acid than those fed standard chow, and that the mice fed a high-fructose diet had smaller foetuses and larger placentas than those fed standard chow. Next, the researchers set out to determine whether their findings were relevant to humans. They analysed the fructose intake of 18 pregnant women, finding that those who consumed high levels of fructose during pregnancy experienced similar effects to pregnant mice fed a high-fructose diet, including increased uric acid levels. The authors note that after birth, a baby that was smaller in the womb is likely to experience increased growth, compared with a baby that was a normal-sized foetus. The body tries to compensate for the small growth in utero, and these babies can become kids and then adults struggling with obesity and other health problems. It was also noted here that increased uric acid and triglyceride levels may raise a mother's risk of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

 

Breast Cancer Survival Reduced by Snoring and Poor Sleep

Women who sleep for shorter periods and experience frequent snoring prior to a breast cancer diagnosis may have a poorer prognosis. This is the finding of a new US study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. To do the research, the team analysed the data from 21,230 women who had been diagnosed with primary cancer, cancer that has not spread beyond the primary site, at some point during study follow-up. At the beginning of the study, each woman provided information on sleep duration, snoring, and other sleep characteristics. The team compared this data with information on the women's cancer outcomes, in order to establish whether cancer survival is influenced by sleep factors. Compared with women with breast cancer who rarely snored and slept for 7-8 hours each night, those with breast cancer who snored for more than 5 nights a week and slept for less than 6 hours each night were at least twice as likely to die from the disease. The team noted that previous studies have shown that sleep problems may boost tumour growth and reduce cancer survival, possibly because poor sleep negatively impacts inflammatory pathways.

 

 

June/July 2016

Research

 

Gut Microbes Benefit from a Diverse Diet

 In a paper published recently in the journal, Molecular Metabolism, scientists described how health is compromised when we reduce the diversity of nutrients in our diet because of the effect this has on the richness of our gut microbe population, called the gut microbiome. A significant amount of previous research has shown that healthy people have a diverse range of species in their gut microbiome populations, and that diseases such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and type 2 diabetes, are associated with a smaller than normal range of microbes in the gut. In addition, the microbiome also produces unique compounds that convey signals that are important for the body's metabolism - the set of chemical reactions that go on inside our cells that keep them working and alive. It follows, argue the authors of this paper, that if a varied diet becomes more specialised, then over time, this will change the gut microbiome. It also follows, that if we adhere to a diet that cuts out certain types of food, then we could also be changing, and perhaps diminishing, the species diversity of our gut microbiome.

 

Cataract Risk Reduced by Vitamin C

 A new UK study published in the journal, Ophthalmology, suggests that diet and lifestyle, rather than genetics, may have the most significant impact on cataract development, and Vitamin C could cut the risk of the disorder by one third. This work build on previous findings that confirm the connection between cataracts and Vitamin C. Researchers collected data from 1,000 pairs of female twins in the UK. Participants completed a questionnaire that tracked their intake of Vitamins A, B, C, D and E, of copper, manganese and zinc and other nutrients. Digital imaging enabled the researchers to assess the progression of cataracts by measuring the opacity of participants' lenses when the participants were around 60 years old. Repeat measurements were carried out on 324 pairs of the twins about 10 years later.  The first measurement linked a high Vitamin C intake with around 20% lower risk of cataracts. The 10-year assessment revealed a 33% lower risk of cataract progression in women whose diet was rich in foods containing Vitamin C. Genetic factors were responsible for 35% of the difference in cataract progression, while environmental factors, such as diet, accounted for 65%, suggesting that genetic impact on cataract development may be less significant than previously believed. The strength of Vitamin C in inhibiting cataracts progression may lie in its antioxidant properties. The fluid inside the eye is normally high in Vitamin C, which helps prevents oxidation that clouds the lens. The researchers speculate that eating food rich in Vitamin C may boost the levels of Vitamin C in the fluid around the lens, offering extra protection.

 

Miscarriage Risk Influenced by Couples' Caffeine Intake Before Pregnancy

US scientists writing in a recent edition of the journal, Fertility and Sterility, suggest that couples who are trying for a baby should take note of their caffeine intake, after finding that both male and female partners who consume at least two caffeinated beverages daily in the weeks before conception may be at greater risk for miscarriage. The team analysed 2005-2009 data of 344 couples with a single pregnancy who were part of the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) study. Of these couples, 98 (28%) experienced a miscarriage. The researchers assessed the lifestyle factors of each couple from the weeks before pregnancy up to 7 weeks' gestation, including cigarette use, consumption of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages and multivitamin use. The team found that couples' caffeine consumption was associated with miscarriage risk; female partners who consumed more than two caffeinated beverages daily prior to conception were 74% more likely to experience miscarriage than those who consumed less. They found the risk of miscarriage was just as strong when male partners consumed more than two caffeinated beverages a day in the weeks before conception; these men had a 73% greater risk, compared with those who drank less than two caffeinated beverages daily.

 

Legume Consumption Aids Weight Loss

Adding just one serving of legumes a day to the diet could help people lose weight and keep it off, concludes a new Canadian study published in The American Journal of Nutrition. Dietary legumes include beans, peas and lentils. The team conducted a meta-analysis of 21 clinical trials involving 940 participants. These trials compared the weight-loss effects of diets containing legumes with diets that did not, and each trial was conducted for a minimum of 3 weeks. Over a median duration of 6 weeks, the team found that individuals who consumed 130 g of legumes daily had an average weight loss of 0.34 kg compared with people who did not eat legumes daily. In addition, the team notes that the legume-consuming individuals who experienced weight loss made no other major changes to their diets.

 

Colorectal Cancer Risk Reduced by Coffee

Researchers from the US and Israel writing recently in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, have shown that drinking coffee every day, even decaffeinated coffee, may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. The researchers analysed the data of 5,145 individuals who had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, alongside 4,097 people who did not have the disease. All participants were part of the Molecular Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer (MECC) study, which is a population-based, case-control study conducted in northern Israel. As part of the study, subjects were required to complete a food frequency questionnaire, detailing their daily intake of espresso, instant, decaffeinated and filter coffee, as well as their daily consumption of other beverages. The participants also completed a questionnaire that disclosed information on family history of cancer, diet, physical activity levels, smoking habits and other factors that may affect their risk of colorectal cancer. The researchers found that drinking one to two servings of coffee a day, defined as moderate coffee consumption, reduced the risk of colorectal cancer by 26%, compared with participants who drank less coffee. And the risk reduced even further with an increase in coffee intake; participants who consumed more than 2.5 servings of coffee daily had up to a 50% lower risk of colorectal cancer. Not only did these findings remain after accounting for known colorectal cancer risk factors, but the researchers also found that the reduced risk was seen across all coffee types, even decaffeinated. If caffeine is not solely responsible for coffee's protective effect against colorectal cancer, what is? The researchers explain that both caffeine and polyphenol in coffee have antioxidant properties that can reduce the growth of colon cancer cells. Additionally, studies have suggested that compounds called melanoidins, which are produced during the roasting process, boost colon mobility, while the compound diterpene in coffee may boost the body's defence against oxidative damage, preventing cancer development.

 

Cardiovascular Health Predicted by Vitamin D Levels

According to work presented recently at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in Chicago, individuals with low levels of both total Vitamin D and bioavailable Vitamin D were more likely to experience poor cardiovascular outcomes. Bioavailable Vitamin D is Vitamin D that has been absorbed into the bloodstream but has not attached to surrounding proteins. To reach their results, the team analysed the Vitamin D levels of 4,200 individuals aged 52-76. Of these, around a quarter had diabetes and around 70% had coronary artery disease. The team focused on measuring the participants' levels of various Vitamin D metabolites - elements of the Vitamin that are produced during metabolism - and assessed whether they were associated with future cardiac events. The researchers explain that only 10-15% of total Vitamin D has the ability to act on target cells during metabolism; most Vitamin D metabolites are attached to Vitamin D binding proteins. The team said it is important to assess the proportion of these "unbound" Vitamin D metabolites, such as bioavailable Vitamin D, that is available to pursue target cells. From their analysis, the researchers found that measuring both total levels of Vitamin D and levels of bioavailable Vitamin D demonstrated the highest accuracy for predicting the risk of cardiac events. In other words, individuals with low levels of both total Vitamin D and bioavailable Vitamin D were at greatest risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and even cardiovascular death, compared with people whose levels of these Vitamins were high.

 

Cancer Risk is Increased by Highly Processed Carbohydrates

The consumption of highly processed  carbohydrate sources such sweet drinks, pizza and processed foods, can increase the risk of developing cancer, according to US researchers presenting their findings at a recent meeting of the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions. They examined health data for 3,100 volunteers. Data collection started in the early 1970s, and tracking of diets began in 1991. Participants provided dietary information by completing detailed food frequency questionnaires. The team categorised the subjects' food sources by glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL). GI measures the quality of a dietary carbohydrate based on an item's relative impact on blood sugar levels, compared with a reference food. GL measures the quantity and quality of carbohydrates in a specific food item. The researchers then looked for correlations between carbohydrate intake and cancer rates, adjusting for other cancer risk factors. Results revealed some strong associations between the consumption of highly processed carbohydrates and prostate cancer. Regular consumption of foods with a higher GL correlated with an 88% higher prostate cancer risk. Consumption of low-GI foods was associated with a 67% lower prevalence of breast cancer. Low-GI foods include legumes, non-starchy vegetables, most fruits and whole grains. The team noticed a lower rate of breast cancer among women whose total calorie intake involved a proportionally higher level of carbohydrates. Those with the highest levels of carbohydrate intake also ate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. This suggests that the type of carbohydrate matters more than the quantity. Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas were associated with a 32% lower risk of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, all of which are more likely to affect people who are overweight or

 

Cellular Body Clocks Altered by High-Fat Diets

"It's not just what you eat, but also when you eat it," say US researchers who suggest that consuming saturated fats at particular times may put internal body clocks out of synch, also causing inflammation. Writing in a recent edition of the journal, EBioMedicine, they say that eating food rich in saturated fat at night may play havoc with local circadian rhythms. Cells throughout the body have their own internal clocks. These clocks regulate the timing of important cellular processes that are essential if the body is to function correctly. They also help to control inflammatory responses. Inflammation is a normal reaction of the body, offering protection in times of injury or invading bacteria. However, a high-fat diet can lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation, and this has been linked with a higher risk of disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Previous research has found that consuming excessive amounts of fat causes the clocks in immune cells to slow down, reducing their ability to "tell" accurate time, and in this research, the team compared the effect of palmitate, a saturated fatty acid, with DHA, a common polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid. Palmitate occurs naturally in palm oil, palm kernel oil, butter, cheese, milk and meat, and it is one of the most common long chain saturated fats in the Western diet. While humans can easily travel through different time zones, because their whole body moves together, if some cells are shifted and others not, inflammation can occur. Findings indicate that palmitate "jet lags" body cells, effectively setting some of them to different "time zones," and causing confusion in the body, because different cell types reflect different "clocks." This disruption can lead to a number of health disorders, especially metabolic disease, and the likelihood of chronic inflammation depends on which saturated fats an individual consumes, and when he or she eats them.

 

Polyunsaturated or Saturated Fat?

The standard diet-heart hypothesis states that, for the sake of our hearts, we should replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid. Linoleic acid lowers cholesterol levels and prevents build-up on artery walls. This, therefore, prevents heart-related health issues and extends life. At least, that is the commonly held belief. New US research published in the British Medical Journal, reopening data sets collected almost half a century ago, casts doubts on this standard interpretation. Initially, randomised controlled trials demonstrated a reduction in blood cholesterol when saturated fats were replaced by linoleic acid. Next, observational evidence showed that elevated cholesterol levels are linked to coronary heart disease events. These two findings infer that increased intake of linoleic acid will reduce cholesterol and thus reduce heart risks. However, no randomised controlled trials have directly demonstrated that replacing saturated fats with linoleic acid reduces heart disease. The researchers took another look at a study that directly measured this theory. The study, called the Minnesota Coronary Experiment (MCE), was conducted 45 years ago. Data from the MCE were published at the time, but, because the results were not as expected, the investigators reported no difference between the groups, and the report was published without fanfare. The MCE was the largest (n=9,570) and perhaps the most rigorously executed dietary trial of cholesterol lowering by replacement of saturated fat with vegetable oil rich in linoleic acid. The MCE used participants from mental institutes and nursing homes for a maximum of 4.5 years. The control group ate a diet high in saturated fat while the experimental group's saturated fats were replaced by corn oil (rich in linoleic acid). Because the participants were living full-time in institutions, all of their meals were provided, giving the researchers an unparalleled control over their diets. Additionally, it was the only trial of this type to investigate coronary, aortic and cerebrovascular atherosclerosis after death with a post-mortem. As expected, the group that consumed the linoleic in preference to saturated fats showed a reduction in cholesterol; this was no surprise. What was a surprise was that this drop in cholesterol did not translate into improved survival rates; quite the reverse. Members of the linoleic group with the greatest reduction in blood cholesterol had the highest risk of death. Although it is tempting to consider the MCE results as an anomaly, they are not the first historical study that these researchers have reopened. In 2013, they looked at a similar trial - the Sydney Diet Heart Study. This earlier data-mining exercise pulled in similar findings. They found that deaths from coronary heart disease were higher in the group that replaced saturated fat with linoleic acid.

 

Fast Food Consumption Increases Phthalates

Eating fast food exposes people to higher levels of potentially noxious chemicals known as phthalates, says new US research published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. Phthalates come from a class of industrial chemicals that are used to make food packaging materials and other items involved in the manufacture of fast food and dairy produce, and they're associated with asthma and ADHD. Previous studies have suggested that these chemicals leach out of plastic food packaging, causing contamination of highly processed foods. The research team examined data from 8,877 participants. To gather the information, they distributed a questionnaire and collected a urinary sample from each respondent. The subjects answered detailed questions on what food they had eaten, including fast food, in the last 24 hours. They tested the urinary samples to see if they contained the breakdown products of two phthalates: di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) and di-2-ethylhexylphlatate (DEHP). The findings showed that the more fast food an individual reported eating, the higher their exposure to phthalates. Compared with those who had not consumed fast food, the urine of participants who ate the most fast food had 23.8% higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP, and the levels of DiNP metabolites were 40% higher. Another chemical used in plastic food packaging, Bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked with health and behavioural problems, especially among young children. The team found no association between total fast-food intake and BPA, but those who consumed fast-food meat products had higher BPA levels than those who had not eaten fast food.

 

Processed Meat and Alcohol Increase Stomach Cancer Risk

Drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight, increase the risk of developing stomach cancers, according to a new US report released by the American Institute for Cancer. Scientists analysed data relating to stomach cancer, after which a panel of leading international experts evaluated the results independently. The study used data from 89 meta-analyses and data for 17.5 million adults, 77,000 of whom had stomach cancers. The authors found strong evidence that certain products increase the risk of stomach cancer, and specifically, drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day, or more than 1.5 ounces of pure alcohol, eating foods preserved using salt, consuming meat processed by smoking, curing, salting, or by adding preservatives, such as ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, hot dogs and some sausages.

 

 

May/June 2016

Research

 

Mum's Vitamin D Status Influences MS Risk in Kids

Children may be at greater risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life if their mother lacked Vitamin D in the early stages of pregnancy, according to US research published recently in the journal, JAMA Neurology. There's already research that links MS with low levels of sun exposure, and therefore, low levels of Vitamin D. Scientists have subsequently thought that low Vitamin D during critical growth periods could create "weak myelin", making damage more likely for people with MS. To confirm this, the team identified 193 individuals with a diagnosis of MS, of whom 163 were female. The subjects' mothers were enrolled in the Finnish Maternity Cohort (FMC). The researchers compared 176 case patients with 326 control participants. Maternal blood samples were collected to measure Vitamin D levels, 70% of them taken during the first trimester. Average maternal Vitamin D levels were in the "insufficient" Vitamin D range, or 25(OH)D levels less than 12.02 ng/mL. Results indicated a 90% higher risk of MS among children whose mothers who were Vitamin-D deficient, compared with those whose mothers had adequate Vitamin D.

 

Fitness and Strength in Youth Act as Predictors for Diabetes

Weight, diet and a lack of activity in adulthood are known to increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. New Swedish research from the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that fitness and strength as a teen can also predict diabetes in later life. To do this work, the researchers used data obtained from Swedish military conscripts. More than 1.5 million young men were included in the analysis. The 18-year-olds were subjected to standardised tests measuring their aerobic capacity and muscle strength, and were followed through to later life. They found that, regardless of the recruit's weight, socioeconomic class or family history, lower cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength raised the risk for type 2 diabetes.

 

Gum Disease Accelerates Cognitive Decline for Alzheimer's Sufferers

UK researchers writing recently in the journal, PLOS One, have shown that, for people with Alzheimer's disease, gum disease may speed up cognitive decline. The study authors enrolled 59 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease to their study, and 52 of these participants were followed for an average of 6 months. At the beginning and end of the follow-up period, the dental health of the subjects was assessed by a dental hygienist, the researchers took blood samples from the participants and assessed them for inflammatory markers. Subjects also underwent cognitive tests at study baseline and after 6 months. Compared with participants who did not have gum disease at study baseline, those who did were found to have a six-fold increase in the rate of cognitive decline during the 6-month follow-up period. In addition, subjects who had gum disease at study baseline showed an increase in blood levels of pro-inflammatory markers over the follow-up period.

 

Probiotics for Dental Decay

Dealing with cavities could one day be as simple as taking a supplement to keep unwanted bacteria in check, according to US research published recently in the journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology. For the mouth to stay healthy, pH levels must be neutral. Too much acid can cause dental cavities or other disorders. Acid in the mouth causes bacteria on the teeth to create more acid, and acid dissolves the teeth. The researchers involved in this study wanted to know what causes high pH. Previous research by the same authors has found that two main compounds are broken down into ammonia, and this helps to neutralize acid in the mouth. The two compounds are urea, which everyone secretes in the mouth, and arginine, an amino acid. The researchers already knew that people who had few or no cavities were better at breaking down arginine than those with cavities. They knew that bacteria were responsible for breaking down these compounds, but did not know which bacteria do this best, or how this activity prevents cavities. Part of the answer is a previously unidentified strain of Streptococcus, currently called A12. Samples of dental plaque, the bacteria that grow on the surface of teeth and can contribute to the formation of cavities, were collected for the study. Over 2,000 bacteria were then screened to find the right one. The team characterized 54 bacteria that metabolized arginine. Of these, A12 had all the properties needed to prevent cavities probiotically. The fact that A12 helps to neutralize acid by metabolizing arginine was not the only discovery. The authors also found that A12 often kills Streptococcus mutans, an especially harmful kind of bacteria. Even when A12 did not kill S. mutans, it hindered it from causing disease by disrupting the processes, and growing A12 and S. mutans together reduced the ability of the bacterium to develop properly or to make dental plaque. S. mutans metabolizes sugar into lactic acid, and this contributes to the acidic conditions that form cavities.

 

Blueberries for Alzheimer's

US researchers recently presented findings at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) that indicates that blueberries may have a part to play in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. The deep blue colouring of blueberries is due to compounds called anthocyanins, which are also found in other fruits and vegetables with similar colours, such as cranberries, red cabbage and eggplants. Previous research has attributed protection against cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and some forms of cancer to anthocyanins. It is these anthocyanins, as well as high levels of antioxidants in the berries, that the researchers suggest are behind the beneficial effects they believe their studies illustrate. Two studies were carried out. The first study followed 47 adults with mild cognitive impairment aged 68 and older who received a portion of freeze-dried blueberry powder, equivalent to a serving of fresh blueberries, or a placebo powder once a day for a total of 16 weeks. Those who had the blueberry powder demonstrated an improvement in both cognitive performance and brain function in comparison with those who received the placebo. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) also indicated that this group had increased brain activity. A second study was less conclusive. A total of 94 people aged 62-80, who self-reported declining memories, were divided into four treatment groups. These groups received either blueberry powder, fish oil (containing omega-3 fatty acids believed to prevent Alzheimer's), a combination of fish oil and blueberry powder, or a placebo. Cognition was somewhat better for those with powder or fish oil separately, but there was little improvement with memory. The researchers also found that the fMRI results for participants given blueberry powder were less significant than those observed in the first study. The authors suggest that this finding could be due to the fact that the participants in the second study had less severe cognitive impairment at the onset of the study.

 

Yoga Assist Those With Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a condition where the heart pumps blood at an irregular and often abnormally fast rate. This disrupts the flow of blood in the chambers of the heart and increases the risk of blood clots, which can result in a stroke. New Swedish research has shown that people with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation may find that yoga helps them enjoy a better quality of life and reduce their blood pressure and heart rate. For their study, the researchers randomly assigned 80 patients with paroxysmal AF to attend yoga sessions or to a control group that did not do yoga. Both groups received standard treatment with medication, cardioversion and catheter ablation as needed. The yoga group had a single 1-hour, instructor-led session of yoga per week for 12 weeks. In the sessions, the patients practiced light movements, deep breathing and meditation. The researchers measured quality of life, heart rate and blood pressure in all the participants at the start and at the end of the study. To measure quality of life, both physical and mental, the participants filled in two questionnaires: the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the EuroQoL-5D (EQ-5D) Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). At the end of the 12 weeks, the yoga group had higher mental health scores on the SF-36 survey, lower heart rate and lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than the control group. Also, over the 12 weeks, the yoga group showed improvements in both the mental health scores on the SF-36 survey and the quality of life scores from the EQ-5D VAS survey, while the control group showed no change. The researchers suggested the yoga deep breathing exercises may have helped the AF patients balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, leading to less variation in heart rate. Also, breathing and movement exercises may also have beneficial effects on blood pressure.

 

Alcohol Triggers Breast Cancer Gene

A new US study published in the journal, PLOS One, indicates that there's adirect link between alcohol, oestrogen and a cancer-causing gene. Given the popularity of alcohol consumption in the US, the researchers wanted to investigate alcohol's effects on growth factor and oestrogen signalling, as well as gene regulatory networks that are involved in clinical outcomes in breast cancer patients, effects of alcohol on tamoxifen response and the role that alcohol-regulated genes play in breast cancer. Tamoxifen is a medication that is used to treat breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. The researchers were able to establish that alcohol increases oestrogen-induced cell proliferation. In detail, they discovered that alcohol promotes the expression of a cancer-causing gene called BRAF, even in the absence of oestrogen, and mimics and enhances oestrogen's effects, increasing the risk of breast cancer. They also found that alcohol weakened the ability of tamoxifen to suppress cancer cell growth.

 

When You Eat Could Be As Important As What You Eat

Mitochondria, the tiny power centres inside cells that burn nutrients like sugar to make energy, are tightly controlled by the body's biological or circadian clock. Recent joint Israeli and German research carried out on mice and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that there is an optimum time when sugar-burning is most efficient. suggesting when we eat may be as important as what we eat. To carry out this work, the team identified hundreds of proteins in the mitochondria of mice and measured their levels at different times of day and night. They found that 40% of the mitochondrial proteins peak once a day, although not necessarily at the same time. The team also identified the proteins that form the circadian clock of the mitochondria and control fluctuations in the other proteins. The researchers found that most of the circadian proteins in the mice's mitochondria peaked 4 hours into the daylight part of their cycle. (Note that mice are active at night). Of these circadian proteins, there was one, an enzyme, that appeared to be particularly important for controlling the rate of burning sugar for energy. This enzyme peaked 4 hours into daylight, suggesting the mitochondria's optimum time for sugar use was also around this time. The researchers checked this by giving mitochondria sugar at various times of day and found, indeed, that 4 hours into daylight was the time when respiration, the intake of oxygen needed for burning the sugar, and glucose use, were at their highest.The team also investigated the fat cycle in mitochondria. They found that the protein that lets fatty acids into the power centres peaks at a different time to the protein that controls the rate of sugar-burning. And again, they found that fat-burning was most efficient at this time. They then ran tests on mice genetically engineered so that their biological clocks did not work properly. They found the mitochondrial proteins in these mice did not show a rise and fall pattern, and they processed sugar and fat at a steady rate throughout the day and night. The researchers say their findings may explain why people who sleep and eat out of phase with their body clocks are more likely to become overweight and obese and develop chronic diseases, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

 

Poor Diet and a Lack of Exercise Accelerates Aging

An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise may speed up the aging of senescent cells, leading to an acceleration of diseases and conditions normally seen in older age, according to new US research findings published in the journal, Diabetes. The researchers wanted to find out whether exercise could prevent the accumulation of premature senescent cells and metabolic dysfunction caused by a fast-food diet. They tested their hypothesis on mice. One group consumed a "normal, healthy diet" and the other group was fed a "fast-food diet," consisting of food that was high in saturated fat and cholesterol plus sugar-sweetened beverages. Mice on the fast-food diet experienced unhealthy changes in body weight and composition. Their fat mass nearly tripled over a 4-month period. Most of the fat accumulated in the midsection of the body, around the internal organs - a phenomenon already associated with a number of obesity-related diseases. On the other hand, when the same mice began to exercise, their health started to improve significantly. Half the mice, whether on healthy or unhealthy diets, had access to an exercise wheel. Both groups benefitted from exercise, but those on the fast-food diet gained less body weight and fat mass than the fast-food consumers that did not exercise. They were also less likely to develop senescent cells. Those that ate fast food and did not exercise accumulated more senescent cells, increasing their risk of heart and metabolic function disorders. The researchers believe the findings provide evidence that poor diet and lack of exercise can accelerate aging, not only at a clinically observable level but also at a biological and cellular level.

 

High-Fat Diets Put Future Generations at Risk of Disease

Children whose parents consume a high-fat diet are more likely to develop obesity and diabetes, according to recent German research published in the journal, Nature Genetics. The study indicates that epigenetic factors are directly transmitted through sperm and eggs. While parents transmit genetic information to their children through DNA, scientists now believe that epigenetic modifications may also be passed on to the offspring's genetic material. Epigenetic inheritance refers to the passing on of traits that do not feature in the DNA, or genes. Epigenetic information is currently thought to involve RNA transcripts and chemical modifications of the chromatin. The team fed mice a high-fat, low-fat or normal diet over a period of 6 weeks. The mice were genetically identical. The team then created a new generation by implanting embryos using sperm and eggs from the mice that had eaten different diets into healthy surrogate mothers. The use of surrogates enabled them to separate environmental factors from the epigenetic factors that were present only in the sperm or eggs. The new generation of mice then consumed a high-fat diet. Offspring of two obese parents gained significantly more weight on a high-fat diet than those with only one obese parent. Offspring of two lean parents gained the least weight on a high-fat diet. Similar patterns emerged for glucose intolerance. However, female offspring were more prone to severe obesity, while males were more affected by blood glucose levels than females. Maternal influence also appeared to be greater than that of the father, which is often also true for humans.

 

 

April/May 2016

Research

 

How Does Your Body Respond to a Big Mac?

For a significant number of people, fast food has become a major factor in their diet, and a new infographic from a US journal, Fast Food Menu Price, has described what occurs within 1 hour of consuming a typical example of a fast food item, a McDonald's Big Mac. A regular Big Mac contains 540 calories and 25 grams of fat, and it may take up to 3 days to digest. On its own, without the usual addition of a soft drink and hot chips, it makes up more than 25% of an adult's daily calorie requirement. It also contains 940mg of salt, well over 60% of the 1500mg of a daily salt allowance recommended by many health authorities. Within 10 minutes of eating a Big Mac, the high calorie content begins to increase blood sugar levels to abnormal levels. It will also trigger the release of brain chemicals such as dopamine, which activate the brain's reward system and provide a feeling of pleasure. After 20 minutes, addictive ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup an sodium, present in high levels in the Big Mac bun, will set in, making us crave more. After another 10 minutes, the high salt content of the Big Mac begins to take its toll on the body, leading to dehydration, and because the symptoms of dehydration are similar to those of hunger, this may trigger the desire for more food.

 

Dried Plums Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

Recent US research presented at a meeting of the  US Society for Experimental Biology, showed that eating dried plums may help to decrease the risk of colon cancer. The scientists hypothesised that consuming dried plums would promote the retention of beneficial gut bacteria (gut microbiota) and patterns of microbial metabolism in the colon, which could in turn decrease the risk of colon cancer. Dried plums contain phenolic compounds, which have various effects on human health, such as serving as antioxidants that neutralize the oxidant effects of free radicals, which can damage DNA. The team tested the effect of phenolic compounds on a rat model of colon cancer. The rats were fed either a diet containing dried plums or a control diet. The diets were matched for total calories and macronutrient composition to ensure that any effect might be accurately attributed to the dried plums. The intestinal contents and tissues from different segments of the colon were examined. It was shown that the dried plum diet changed the levels of the two major types of bacteria in the gut. In the distal colon, it increased the level of Bacteroidetes, but reduced the amount of Firmicutes. However, in the proximal colon, the proportions were not affected. In contrast, the control diet led to a lower proportion of Bacteroidetes and increased Firmicutes in the distal colon. The rats that consumed the dried plums had significantly reduced numbers of aberrant crypts, aberrant crypt foci and high-multiplicity aberrant crypt foci compared with control rats. These aberrant crypt foci tend to be a strong indicator for cancer development, being one of the earliest observable pre-cancerous lesions.

 

Childhood Stress Increases the Risk for Diabetes and Heart Disease in Later Life

Children who experience high levels of stress may be at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease later in life, according to a new US study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The researchers analysed data from almost 7,000 people who were part of the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study. All participants were born in the same week and were followed for an average of 45 years. Information about the subjects' stress and mental health was collected at the ages of 7, 11, 16, 23, 33 and 42 years. At the age of 45, the participants' blood pressure was checked and blood samples were taken and assessed for nine biological markers. Together, this gave the researchers a cardiometabolic risk score that indicates an individual's risk for diabetes and heart disease. The results of the analysis revealed that, compared with individuals who experienced low levels of stress throughout childhood and adulthood, those who experienced high levels of stress during childhood and adulthood had higher cardiometabolic risk scores. The team found that the cardiometabolic risk for individuals who experienced stress from childhood right through to middle adulthood was higher than that commonly associated with childhood overweight and obesity. Individuals whose stress levels were highest in childhood and those whose stress levels were highest in adulthood were also found to have higher cardiometabolic risk scores.

 

Mediterranean Diet for a Healthy Gut

Recent research results published in the journal, Gut, have shown that, based on the production of health-promoting short-chain fatty acids, a vegan, vegetarian or Mediterranean diet, is best for health. Adding to the considerable volume of research that shows that eating a diet high in fibre is good for you, the new study shows a direct link between the amount of fibre-rich foods consumed. SCFAs are produced when fibre from dietary plant matter is fermented in the colon. and the production in the gut of important, health-promoting short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are the connection, the researchers say, to health benefits that include reducing the risk of inflammatory disease, diabetes and heart disease. SCFAs include acetate, propionate and butyrate. Butyrate, for example, is the primary energy source for colonic cells, making it vital to colon health. It has anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. The Mediterranean diet is high in fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes, compared with a Western diet that includes a lot of red meat and dairy products. For their study, the researchers analysed the diets of 153 adults from around Italy. Over a single week they noted everything the participants ate. They also analysed stool and urine samples - a way of assessing participants' gut bacteria and the "chemical fingerprints" of metabolites. Of the 153 people taking part, 51 of them were omnivores, 51 were vegetarians and 51 were vegans. A Mediterranean diet made up 88% of what vegans ate, 65% of what vegetarians ate and 30% of what omnivores ate. The researchers found that there were distinct patterns of microbial activity based on the eating patterns people had. For example, it was found that those who ate a predominantly plant-based diet, particularly those who were vegan, had higher levels of Bacteroidetes in their gut, while those who ate a predominantly animal-based diet had higher levels of Firmicutes. Differing microbial species in these categories of organism are better able to break down complex carbohydrates resulting in the all-important production of SCFAs. Higher levels of SCFAs were found among vegans and vegetarians, as well as those who consistently consumed a Mediterranean diet. It turns out that the quantity of fruit, vegetables, legumes and fibre consumed matters far more to the production of SCFAs than the type of dietary regime followed.

 

Sugary Drinks Increase the Risk of Heart Disease

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology recently published findings that clearly show the link between the consumption of sugary drinks, and the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It is already well documented that consuming one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day can cause weight gain and obesity. This is partly because liquid calories are not filling, which means that people drink them alongside their usual food intake. Sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup, produced from corn starch, are widely used in the US as a cheaper alternative to sucrose in foods and beverages. The researchers reviewed data from recent epidemiological studies and meta-analyses of studies done in this area. They found that consuming one or two servings a day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%, heightens the risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease by 35%, and raises the risk of stroke by 16%. They also explored how fructose is metabolised in the body and its link to weight gain and the development of metabolic and cardiovascular conditions. Unlike glucose, which is directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the gastrointestinal tract to provide fuel, fructose is metabolized in the liver. There, it can be converted to fatty compounds called triglycerides, which may lead to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance - a key risk factor for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Fructose can also cause an increase in uric acid in the blood, leading to gout.

 

Coffee Reduces the Risk of Developing Multiple Sclerosis

New joint US/Swedish research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, indicates that caffeine can protect against the nerve damage and inflammation associated with the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).  Caffeine's neuroprotective properties can suppress the production of chemicals involved in the inflammatory response. The dietary habits and health histories of over 6000 people were studied. The researchers then estimated coffee consumption at and before the onset of symptoms in those with MS, and they compared the results with those of the healthy groups. There was a consistently higher risk of MS among those who drank fewer cups of coffee every day in both studies, even after adjusting for factors such as smoking and weight during adolescence. Coffee consumption correlated with a lower risk of MS both at the onset of symptoms and 5-10 years beforehand. Those who consumed over six cups (900 ml+) daily had an approximately 30% lower risk.

 

Broccoli Lowers Liver Cancer Risk

Recent US research published in the Journal of Nutrition has shown an association between the consumption of broccoli and liver cancer risk. This adds to previous studies showing its protective effects against breast, prostate and colon cancer. The typical Western diet consists of high saturated fats and added sugars, both of which are stored in the liver and converted to fat. But eating such a diet, as well as having excess body fat, is linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and this disease can also lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Previous research showed that sulforaphane, broccoli's cancer-fighting compound, is best acquired by eating the vegetable chopped or lightly steamed. Broccoli, along with cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, is a brassica vegetable, and previous research has suggested that brassica vegetables could stop the accumulation of fat in the liver, protecting against NAFLD. As such, the researchers wanted to see what effect broccoli had on mice with a liver cancer-causing carcinogen. They studied four groups of mice. Some groups were on a control diet, and others were on a "Westernised diet,". Some groups were given broccoli, while others were not. The results showed that mice that were fed the Westernised diet had an increase in both the number and size of cancer nodules in the liver. When broccoli was added to the diet, however, the number of nodules decreased.

 

Water Reduces Sugar, Sodium and Saturated Fat Intake

A new US study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics has found that by increasing plain water consumption, we can control our weight and reduce intakes of sugar, sodium and saturated fat. To do the research, the team used data from more than 18,300 adults in the US from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2012. The researchers asked participants to recall all foods and drinks they consumed on 2 days that were between 3-10 days apart. They then calculated the amount of plain water that each participant consumed as a percentage of daily dietary water intake from both foods and drinks. Although drinks such as black tea, herbal tea and coffee were not assessed as sources of plain water, the team did include their water content in the calculations of total water consumption. On a daily basis, the participants consumed an average of about 4.2 cups of plain water. The average calorie intake for each participant was 2,157 calories, which included 125 calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and 432 calories from "discretionary foods" - desserts, pastries, snack mixes and other foods that are not essential. The results of the study revealed that people who increased their consumption of plain water by one to three cups daily lowered total energy intake by 68-205 calories each day and their sodium intake by 78-235 g each day.

 

A High-GI Diet Increases Lung Cancer Risk

Individuals who consume a diet with a high glycaemic index may be at significantly greater risk for lung cancer, according to a new US study published in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. Glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of carbohydrate in foods and how quickly it is likely to affect blood glucose levels. It's primarily used for diabetes prevention and management. High-GI foods increase blood glucose levels more than moderate, or low-GI foods. High-GI foods include white bread, short grain white rice, melon and pineapple, while low-GI foods include sweet potato, corn, legumes and lentils. Glycaemic load (GL) is a measure linked to GI, which uses the GI value of a food to calculate how much carbohydrate is in a specific food serving and how quickly that food serving will raise blood glucose levels. Previous research has investigated how the GI of a diet is associated with certain types of cancer, but less is known about how the GI of foods is linked to lung cancer. The researchers analysed the data from 1,905 participants with lung cancer and 2,413 healthy controls, and calculated the GI content of participants' diets using GI values given to foods in the 2008 International Tables of Glycaemic Index and Glycaemic Load Values. Participants were divided into quintiles based on their results. Compared with participants who were in the lowest quintile of GI, those who were in the highest quintile had a 49% greater risk for lung cancer, with a 92% higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the lung - which accounts for around 25-30% of lung cancers.

 

Yogurt for High Blood Pressure in Women

The results of a US studypresented at the American Heart Association's (AHA's) Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions in Arizona showed that women who consumed yogurt, especially as part of a healthy diet, had a lower risk of developing high blood pressure. The study used data from several hundred thousand people over an observation period of 18-30 years and found that, compared with women who ate fewer than one serving per month, women who ate five or more yogurt servings per week had a 20% lower risk of developing high blood pressure.

 

 

March/April 2016

Research

 

Good News on Red Wine Component and Alzheimer's Disease

A clinical trial published recently in the journal, Neurology, has found that resveratrol, a compound present in red wine, red grapes, chocolate and peanuts, stabilises a biomarker found to decline alongside the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The trial was conducted by US researchers and used a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind study design to look at the effects of resveratrol in isolation. The researchers used a pure synthetic form of resveratrol with a daily dosage equivalent to the amount found in 1,000 bottles of red wine. This compound was selected for analysis due to its capacity to activate a group of proteins known as sirtuins. These proteins are also activated by caloric restriction, which previous animal studies have demonstrated can prevent or delay age-related diseases. Aging is the biggest risk factor the development of Alzheimer's. In the study, a total of 119 participants were recruited to participate in the 1-year trial. Half of the participants received resveratrol and the other half received a placebo. The researchers noted that the patients treated with resveratrol experienced little or no change to the levels of amyloid-beta40 (Abeta40- a marker for Alzheimer's) in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid. In contrast, the participants who received the placebo experienced a decline in their Abeta40 levels over the 12 months of the trial.

 

Vegetables for Breast Cancer

A new US study published in Springer Plus shows that luteolin, present in vegetables such as celery, can be effective against breast cancer. In the study, breast cancer cells were exposed to varying concentrations of luteolin for 24 or 48 hours. The result was a markedly reduced cell viability, in terms of both time and dose. The blood vessels that were feeding the cancer cells decreased, causing them to die, and the stem cell-like properties of the cells, which normally promote cancer cell development, were reduced. Overall, luteolin was found to produce an anti-tumour effect. The  researchers went on to test this same substance on mice suffering from breast cancer and the same effect was observed.

 

Modified Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk of Breast Cancer

Recently released Spanish research published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, has found that the Mediterranean diet, rich in plant foods, fish and olive oil, may reduce the risk of breast cancer. The study aimed to evaluate the effect of three diet types- a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, and a low-fat diet as prescribed by a medical doctor. Participants were chosen who were already involved in the Prevención con Diet Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study, which was investigating how diet influences risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). The researchers included 4,282 participants from Spain aged 60-80 who were free of CVD at study baseline. However, they had either type 2 diabetes or at least three of the following major CVD risk factors: smoking, hypertension, elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, overweight or obesity, or family history of premature coronary heart disease. The group taking the Mediterranean diet with olive oil were given 1 litre per week of extra-virgin olive oil, for themselves and their families, while those taking the Mediterranean diet plus mixed nuts received 30 grams of mixed nuts per day, composed of 15 g of walnuts, 7.5 g of hazelnuts and 7.5 g of almonds. After nearly 5 years, 35 cases of breast cancer were confirmed for the whole group. Results showed that women who took the Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil had a 62% relatively lower risk of malignant breast cancer. The risk reduction for the Mediterranean diet with nuts was "nonsignificant," but the risk was still less than with the low-fat diet. Overall, the results showed an inverse association between the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil and the incidence of breast cancer, suggesting that extra-virgin olive oil can help prevent breast cancer.

 

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Associated with Prolonged Sitting

Nonalcoholic liver disease (NAFLD) is fast becoming a very common illness in Western societies and recent research published in the Journal of Hepatology has shown that prolonged inactivity such as sitting can increase the risk of developing this disease. For the study, data from 140,000 middle-aged Korean men and women were assessed. Physical activity and sitting times were established from a version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire Short Form, while ultrasound was used to establish the presence of fatty liver. Of the study participants, nearly 35% had NAFLD. Both sitting for long periods and less physical activity were independently associated with NAFLD. Of note here was that these same observations were made in people with a normal body weight, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of less than 23.

 

Alzheimer's Disease Risk Increases with Low Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with disorders as varied as osteoporosis, cancer, muscle weakness, heart disease and asthma in children. A recent study, published in the journal, JAMA Neurology, has confirmed that significantly low Vitamin D levels reflect a decline in cognitive ability. The findings indicate that low Vitamin D levels can also be responsible for brain structure abnormalities, cognitive decline and incident dementia, associated with Alzheimer's disease.

 
Antibacterial Soaps Are No More Effective Than Normal Soap

Antibacterial hand wash products are big business, but new US research published the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy has found that antibacterial soaps are no more effective at dealing with bacteria than hand washing with ordinary soap and water. The research compared standard antibacterial soaps using laboratory and human experiments. The soaps were exposed to 20 bacterial strains and tested under conditions that replicated hand washing recommendations and consumer habits. Both products contained the same ingredients, except for the addition of the standard agent used in antibacterial soaps- triclosan, to the antibacterial soap. Exposure to microbes was for 20 seconds, the time suggested for effective hand washing by bodies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Water temperatures used were 22 ºC and 40 ºC, to represent the "warm" temperature recommended for use with soaps. The in lab test was performed at 22 ºC and 40 ºC, and the 16 human participants washed their hands in tepid water of 40 ºC. The volunteers followed hand washing guidelines specified by the WHO, including lathering the soap vigorously for 30 seconds, and spreading it over the entire surface of the hands and the lower third of the forearms. The results showed no significant difference in bactericidal activity between plain and antibacterial soap at either 22 ºC or 40 ºC degrees during the 20 seconds allowed for the experiment. After 30 seconds, there was still no difference. It seems that under "real life" conditions, antibacterial soap is no more effective than plain soap at reducing bacterial contamination.

 

Arthritis Sufferers Benefit From Yoga

US researchers writing in a recent edition of the Journal of Rheumatology have found that yoga can improve the symptoms experienced by people suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The research team enrolled 75 sedentary adults aged 18 and older who had either knee osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the participants were randomly assigned to take part in twice-weekly 60-minute Hatha yoga sessions for a period of 8 weeks, alongside a home-based practice session once a week. The remaining participants were allocated to a waitlist. The researchers stressed that the poses incorporated in each yoga session were tailored to each individual's needs, noting that it was unclear how yoga may impact the vulnerable joints of patients with arthritis. All participants were also screened by their health care providers prior to taking part in the study, and they continued taking their regular arthritis medication throughout. Participants' physical and mental wellbeing were assessed during the study period. The team noted that this was done by researchers who did not know which group each subject had been assigned to. Outcomes for yoga participants were also assessed 9 months later. The researchers found that participants who took part in yoga reported a 20% improvement in pain, energy levels and mood, compared with participants on a waitlist. They also experienced a 20% improvement in physical function, such as the ability to perform day-to-day tasks at home and at work. These improvements remained evident 9 months later.

 

Stress in Pregnancy Associated with Increased Dental Decay in Kids

Chronic stress in pregnancy may increase a child's risk for dental caries, according to a new US report seen in the American Journal of Public Health. The research team analysed data from 716 children and their mothers who were part of the 1988-94 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Children included in the study were aged 2-6 years, while their mothers were aged 30 and older. Biological markers of chronic stress, as assessed by markers of allostatic load (AL), were analysed during mothers' pregnancy. Specifically, the team assessed blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and C-reactive protein, as well as their blood pressure and waist circumference. In addition to monitoring the incidence of dental caries among offspring, the researchers assessed mothers' socioeconomic status, the number of child dental visits, whether mothers breastfed their offspring and whether offspring ate breakfast daily, among other care-related behaviours. Compared with mothers who had no AL markers, those who had two or more were significantly more likely to have offspring with dental caries. In addition, they found that the incidence of dental caries among offspring was more common among those who were not breastfed, and lower incidence of breastfeeding was significantly more common among mothers with a lower income.

 

Beetroot Juice for Heart Failure

A diet high in nitrites, as can be found in beetroots, has improved muscle power people with heart failure, according to a recent report from US scientists writing in the journal, Circulation Heart Failure. Nitrates are found in beetroot juice, as well as spinach and other leafy vegetables, including celery. During exercise, these nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which has various beneficial effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. The benefits are most commonly found during aerobic exercise - that is, when breathing is increased to bring more oxygen into the body, for example, in walking, cycling or swimming. Working 9 people, the research team gave each of them a beetroot juice treatment. The participants acted as their own control group; everyone received what appeared to be the same beetroot juice, the difference being that the nitrate had been removed from some, making it a placebo beetroot juice. Neither those taking part in the trial nor the research team knew the order in which people received the treatment beetroot juice and placebo beetroot juice. Two hours after drinking the juice, those who consumed the beetroot juice containing nitrates showed a 13% increase in power in muscles that extend the knee, with the most benefit being seen when they moved at the greatest speed. The size of the benefit was estimated by the researchers by comparing the improvement in muscle power in an exercise program.

 

Probiotics Help Those with Dairy Allergy

New joint US and Italian research carried out on children with cow's milk allergy has shown that structural differences in gut bacteria may be the reason why some children do not acquire tolerance to cow's milk. In previous research, scientists studied the reaction of infants with cow's milk allergy to probiotic and nonprobiotic formulae. One group was given a formula containing a form of the milk protein casein, supplemented with the probiotic bacterial species Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG). The other group was treated with a nonprobiotic formula. Those who took the probiotic formula developed a higher level of tolerance, suggesting that the probiotic formula is more helpful in overcoming cow's milk allergy. For the new study, published in the ISME Journal, a team investigated the relationship between probiotic treatment and gut bacterial composition to see if it would increase tolerance to cow's milk. To do this, sequence analysis was used to identify bacteria in stool samples collected from three groups: healthy infants without allergy, infants with cow's milk allergy who had been fed the LGG enriched probiotic formula, and those who had been fed the same formula without added probiotics. Overall, the gut bacteria of infants with a cow's milk allergy was significantly different to that of the healthy control group, suggesting that differences in the bacterial structure do influence the development of allergies. Of those infants who were fed the probiotic formula, some developed tolerance to cow's milk while others did not. Those who developed tolerance were found to have higher levels of certain strains of bacteria, specifically the type that produce short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate. These bacteria help to control the internal conditions (homeostasis) in the gut. The team identified a common class of mucus-associated gut bacteria that are instrumental in regulating how dietary allergens reach the bloodstream. They now believe that the way normal friendly bacteria regulate allergic responses to food may be different than what was previously thought. The findings suggest that certain bacteria make children more likely to develop tolerance, and that tolerance is linked to the acquisition of specific strains of bacteria, including Blautia and Coprococcus, which produce butyrate.

 

 

February/March 2016

Research

 

How Does Our Body Clock Work?

US researchers writing in the journal, Cell, believe that they've discovered the mechanism for the sleep/wake cycle in fruit flies and mice, and believe that this same mechanism is at work in humans. The need for sleep is produced by a body system known as sleep/wake homeostasis. This system also helps people to stay asleep during the night to make up for the number of hours spent awake during the day. Cells in the brain known as circadian neurons are responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. In the new study, the researchers discovered that a simple oscillation mechanism in these neurons drove waking and sleeping. They found that high sodium channel activity early in the day led to the circadian neurons firing more, waking the animal up. In contrast, high potassium channel activity later in the day made the neurons less active, leading the animal to sleep. As this mechanism has two separate "pedals," the researchers refer to it as a "bicycle mechanism." These two pedals oscillate up and down across a period of 24 hours, governing when the creature's body clock tells it to wake up or go to sleep.

 

Coffee Improves Survival in Colon Cancer Sufferers

A new study reports that regular caffeinated coffee intake may be associated with significantly reduced cancer recurrence and improved survival in people with stage 3 colon cancer. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the US team that did this work looked at the dietary patterns of 953 patients with stage 3 colon cancer during and 6 months after receiving chemotherapy. The researchers specifically focused on the influence of coffee, non-herbal tea and caffeine on cancer recurrence and mortality. They found that patients who drank four or more cups of coffee a day, around 460 milligrams of caffeine, were 42% less likely to have their cancer recur than patients who did not drink coffee at all. Those who regularly drank four or more cups of coffee were also 33% less likely to die from cancer or any other cause during the follow-up period. Further analysis of their results suggested that the lower cancer risk was attributable to the amount of caffeine consumed by the patients rather than other components of the coffee. The precise mechanism behind these findings is currently unknown, although the researchers suggest it may be that caffeine consumption increases insulin sensitivity. This means that less insulin is required by the body, potentially reducing inflammation, a risk factor for both cancer and diabetes.

 

Eat Calmly to Lose Weight

New UK research published in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests that eating while "on the go" could lead to weight gain and obesity in people who are dieting. Previous research has suggested that distraction can have a significant impact on food intake, with studies indicating that watching TV while eating can both increase food intake while watching and lead to inaccurate evaluation of actual food intake, increasing the risk of subsequent overeating. Similar studies have also suggested that food environments and social interactions can provide forms of distraction that influence the amount of food eaten during a meal. For this study, data was taken from 60 female students categorized as dieters or non-dieters. The participants were each randomly assigned to eat a cereal bar under one of three different conditions. One group watched a 5-minute clip of a TV program while eating, another group had to walk along a corridor while eating and the final group ate while sitting with a friend and having a conversation. After eating the cereal bar, the participants completed a brief questionnaire about it before being asked to take part in an unsupervised taste test. Separate bowls of chocolate, carrot sticks, chips and grapes were presented to the participants, who were instructed to rate the foods according to how much they liked them and asked to "eat as much as you like." The researchers recorded how much of the food the participants had consumed after they had left the room. Dieters who ate their cereal bar while walking around went on to eat more snacks during the taste test. In particular, the researchers found that they ate around five times more chocolate than other participants. The researchers wrote that this finding supports the idea that higher levels of dietary restraint could make individuals more susceptible to the effects of distraction.

 

Access to Nature is Associated with Better Sleep Quality in Men and Seniors

Having access to natural environments in the form of a park, ocean vistas or sandy beaches is linked to significantly better sleep quality in men and seniors, according to a new US study seen in the journal, Preventive Medicine. The study used data from 255,171 adults recorded in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The team correlated self-reported data on sleep quality from the BRFSS with data from the US Department of Agriculture about the natural amenities in the vicinities of the respondents. What the team found suggests that poor quality sleep is linked to having fewer natural environments nearby. Specifically, their analysis shows that BRFSS respondents who reported having insufficient sleep on 21-29 days in the previous month had consistently lower odds of access to natural amenities compared to those who reported insufficient sleep on 1-6 days.

 

Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is strongly associated with genetically lower levels of Vitamin D, according to a new McGill University study produced by researchers from Canada. Previous studies have shown that the prevalence of MS is greater at higher latitudes where there is decreased levels of sunlight exposure. The team at McGill examined whether there is an association between genetically reduced Vitamin D levels and susceptibility to MS. The researchers measured the Vitamin D levels, as determined by 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, of 2,347 individuals who were part of the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium study, the largest genetic association study to date for MS, which includes 14,498 people with MS and 24,091 healthy controls. The findings showed that, among the participants, all of whom were of European ancestry, genetically lowered Vitamin D levels were strongly associated with increased susceptibility to MS.

 

Antibiotics Increase Diabetes Risk

Antibiotics are extremely useful medicines, but their overuse in the last few decades has left us with a number of problems. A new Danish study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has shown that the greater the number of antibiotic prescriptions an individual has each year, the higher their risk for type 2 diabetes. To do this work, the research team used data from three national health registries from Denmark. The team monitored antibiotic prescriptions for 170,504 individuals with type 2 diabetes, alongside those for 1.3 million individuals without the condition. The researchers identified a greater number of antibiotic prescriptions among individuals with type 2 diabetes, at 0.8 per year, compared with 0.5 antibiotic prescriptions annually for those without type 2 diabetes. From their analysis, the team found that individuals who filled more prescriptions for antibiotics were at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Previous research has found that antibiotic use can alter bacteria in the human gut and that changes in gut bacteria may lead to a reduced ability to metabolize sugar - a characteristic of type 2 diabetes.

 

Vitamin C and Obesity

The authors of a US study released at a recent meeting of the American Physiological Society conclude that "Vitamin C supplementation represents an effective lifestyle strategy" for reducing the blood vessel constriction that is increased in overweight and obese adults. The study of 35 obese or overweight adults compared the effects of Vitamin C and exercise on the protein known as endothelin-1, which has a constricting action on small blood vessels. The protein's activity is raised in overweight and obese people and because of this high endothelin-1 activity, small vessels are more prone to constricting, becoming less responsive to blood flow demand and increasing the risk of vascular disease. The researchers explained that exercise has been shown to reduce endothelin-1 activity, but including it in a daily routine can be challenging. The 35 sedentary, overweight/obese adults completed 3 months of either the supplementation with Vitamin C (20 participants) or aerobic exercise training (15 participants). Measures included forearm blood flow and responses to intra-arterial infusion of endothelin-1 before and after each intervention. Vitamin C supplementation was found to be more effective than exercise.

 

Sleep and Heart Disease

A new South Korean study, published in the journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, indicates that for young and middle-aged adults, inadequate sleep may increase the risk of early signs of heart disease developing. Previous research has demonstrated that sleeping for too long or not long enough is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) events. However, the association between sleep and the risk of CVD is not fully understood. To investigate, a team of researchers set out to evaluate the cardiovascular health of individuals alongside the quality of how they slept. 47,309 young and middle-aged adults had their sleep duration and sleep quality assessed with a sleep questionnaire. Each participant also underwent a health examination to measure coronary artery calcium and arterial stiffness, two subclinical measures of CVD. The presence of calcium in the coronary arteries indicated the presence of early coronary lesions. The researchers measured arterial stiffness by observing the speed of the pulse between the arteries of the upper arm and the ankle. Inadequate sleep was linked to raised levels of coronary artery calcium. Participants who slept 5 or fewer hours a day had 50% more coronary artery calcium than those who reported sleeping 7 hours a day. Likewise, participants who reported sleeping 9 or more hours a day had more than 70% more coronary artery calcium compared with those who slept 7 hours a day. Participants reporting poor quality of sleep had over 20% more coronary artery calcium than those who reported good sleep quality. The researchers uncovered similar findings when assessing arterial stiffness, and stated that adults with poor sleep quality have stiffer arteries than those who sleep 7 hours a day or had good sleep quality, and the lowest levels of vascular disease in adults sleeping 7 hours a day and reporting good sleep quality.

 

Correcting Gut Bacteria Reduces the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Diarrhoea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, and early evidence from new US research conducted on mice, published in the journal Chemistry & Biology, suggests that microbes in the gut may be the cause. As the body tries to get rid of chemotherapy drugs in the gut, bacteria latch onto them to produce a toxic soup. It is this that leads to severe diarrhoea, according to the study authors. The researchers say that shutting down the way in which microbes in the gut turn chemotherapy drugs toxic is key to preventing it. Previous studies from the team found that blocking the enzymes beta-glucuronidase may help limit the gut toxicity associated with common chemotherapy drugs, and the new research finds that targeting those bacteria that are implicated here is a viable strategy.

 

Fish for Depression

Naturopaths have been recommending a diet high in fish for depression sufferers for many years and a recent meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, has examined the research in this area and has supported the recommendation. The researchers identified 16 suitable articles that were eligible for inclusion, incorporating data from 26 studies and a total of 150,278 participants. The data showed that fish consumption resulted in a reduction of depression of between 16 and 20%. The mechanism behind this is thought to be related to omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, which may change the structure of brain membranes and alter levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body, the two primary neurotransmitters that are believed to play a role in depression.

 

 

January/February 2016

Research

 

Childhood Stress, Gut Bacteria, Depression and Anxiety

Alterations to gut bacteria as a result of stress in early life may play a key role in the development of anxiety and depression in adulthood, according to the results of a new Canadian study published in Nature Communications. It has long been known that gut bacteria can influence behaviour, but, the majority of studies investigating this association have used healthy, normal mice. For this study, the team used two groups of mice; one group had normal gut bacteria while the other group had no gut bacteria. Some of the mice in each group were subjected to early-life stress, and this stress changed the nature of the gut bacteria in the mice, inducing anxiety and depression. In mice with normal gut bacteria, the team found stressed mice developed abnormal levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, alongside anxiety and depression-like behaviour, and these mice showed impaired gut function. However, while stressed mice with no gut bacteria still experienced a rise in corticosterone and impaired gut function, they did not develop anxiety and depression-like behaviour. The researchers then colonised stressed, germ-free mice, with bacteria from stressed mice with normal gut bacteria. They found this triggered anxiety and depression but this was not the case when they transferred gut bacteria from stressed mice into non-stressed germ-free mice.

 

Increased Coffee Consumption Reduces Cognitive Function

Previous studies have suggested that coffee consumption may lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment (characterised by a reduction in functions such as memory and thinking skills), but new Italian research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease suggests this protective effect may depend on how coffee consumption habits change over time. The study involved 1,445 people aged 65-84 who were part of the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging (ILSA). The results of the study revealed that cognitively normal participants who increased their coffee consumption during the study period to more than one cup daily were twice as likely to develop cognitive impairment than those who reduced their coffee consumption to less than one cup a day. Participants whose coffee consumption increased over time were also around 1.5 times more likely to develop cognitive impairment than those whose coffee consumption remained stable at no more or less than one cup of coffee each day. However, participants who consistently drank a moderate amount of coffee, defined as one or two cups daily, were at lower risk of cognitive impairment, compared with those who never or rarely consumed coffee. No significant link was found between coffee consumption and cognitive impairment incidence among participants who consistently drank higher amounts of coffee, defined as more than two cups daily, compared with participants who never or rarely drank the beverage.

 

Spicy Food Consumption Prolongs Life

Recent Chinese research findings published in the British Medical Journal suggest that regularly eating spicy food could also lower the risk of death from certain diseases. Fresh chillis contain capsaicin, which has been reported to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects. Previous studies have demonstrated health benefits from various spices and others have demonstrated that certain bioactive agents in spices such as capsaicin can have beneficial effects in conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. While these studies suggest that spices could play a prominent role in human health, there is currently a lack of evidence for the effects of daily spicy food consumption on disease-specific and all-cause mortality from population studies. To address this, a research team analysed data obtained from the China Kadoorie Biobank - a prospective cohort study of more than half a million adults from geographically diverse regions in China. They followed a total of 487,375 participants aged between 30 and 79 who were regularly assessed for illness. When each participant was enrolled to the study between 2004-2008, they completed a questionnaire about their health and consumption of spicy foods, red meat, vegetables and alcohol. During the follow-up period, 5% of surviving participants were randomly surveyed again in 2008 to assess whether the baseline questionnaire results accurately reflected spicy food consumption over time. The study authors report these questionnaires indicated that spicy food consumption was reported consistently. A total of 20,224 deaths were recorded during the follow-up period, with participants tracked for an average of 7.2 years. The researchers observed that participants who reported eating spicy foods 3-7 days a week were 14% less likely to have died than participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week. Participants who ate spicy foods once or twice a week were at a 10% reduced risk of dying compared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week.

 

Antioxidants Slow Age-related Immune System Decline

New US research published in Cell Reports, has demonstrated how the aging process damages the immune system, while showing how antioxidants in the diet could slow the build-up of this damage. The research team focused their attention on an organ located between the lungs called the thymus. It's responsible for the production of T lymphocytes, also referred to as T cells. T cells are white blood cells that control a large part of the body's immune response. These cells are continuously lost, and it is the job of the thymus to replenish them, enabling the body to respond to new infections. However, the thymus is unable to continuously produce high levels of T cells. The thymus begins to atrophy rapidly in very early adulthood, simultaneously losing its function. The researchers set out to explore the mechanisms behind the connection by developing a computational approach that they could use to assess gene activity in two types of thymus cell in mice - stromal cells and lymphoid cells. In the stromal cells, they observed that a deficiency in an antioxidant enzyme called catalase led to the production of reactive oxygen species through metabolism, which in turn sped up the rate at which damage occurred. The researchers then tested the role of this antioxidant by increasing catalase levels in genetically altered animal models. By doing this, they were able to maintain the size of the thymus for a longer period. In addition, the researchers were also able to preserve the size of the thymus in animals by giving them two common dietary antioxidants, including Vitamin C.

 

Music for Epilepsy

Music has been used in healing practices for a very long time and the results of a US study presented at a recent annual convention of the American Psychological Association suggests music could be useful for treating epilepsy. Around 80% of epilepsy cases are temporal lobe epilepsy, where seizures begin in the temporal lobe of the brain. The temporal lobe is home to the auditory cortex - the part of the brain that processes sound. With this in mind, the team set out to investigate how music impacts upon the brains of individuals with epilepsy. The researchers analysed data from 21 individuals who were admitted to the epilepsy monitoring unit at the Wexner Medical Center in Ohio between September 2012 and May 2014, alongside data from individuals without epilepsy. Subjects' brainwave patterns were measured via electroencephalogram (EEG) as they took part in a listening exercise. All participants were required to listen to silence for 10 minutes, before listening to one of three songs; Mozart's Sonata in D Major, Andante Movement II (K448) or John Coltrane's rendition of My Favorite Things, followed by another 10-minute silence. They then listened to the remaining two songs, before listening to another 10-minute silence. Participants with and without epilepsy demonstrated heightened brainwave activity when they listened to music. However, those with epilepsy showed greater synchronization with the music in the frontal and temporal lobes (associated with a lower risk of seizure)  than participants without the disorder.

 

Trans Fats Rather Than Saturated Fats Increase the Risk of Heart Disease and Death

US researchers conducting a systematic review of currently available observational studies, published recently in the British Medical Journal,  have concluded that, while trans fats are associated with a greater risk of death and coronary heart disease, saturated fats are not. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil and can be found in fast food, frozen pizza, margarine and packaged baked goods among other foods. Saturated fats typically come from animal products such as meat, egg yolks, butter, milk and salmon, contributing about 10% of energy to the North American diet. It's long been thought that saturated fats are a major contributor to heart disease and premature death but the results of the review indicate that saturated fats were not associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. In the studies involving trans fats, the researchers found that trans fat consumption was associated with a 34% increase in all-cause mortality, a 21% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease and a 28% increase in the risk of death from coronary heart disease.

 

Pain and Anxiety Associated with Surgery Reduced by Music

In more good news for music lovers, a new UK study published in the Lancet found that patients who listened to music before, during or after a surgical procedure, experienced less pain and anxiety than patients who did not listen to music. For the study, the team analysed data from 72 randomized controlled trials involving almost 7,000 patients undergoing surgery. The trials assessed how music, played either before, during or after surgery, affected the postoperative recovery of patients. Specifically, they looked at how music affected the pain and anxiety of patients following surgery, their need for pain medication and the length of their hospital stay. Compared with patients who were not played music, those who were, reported experiencing much less pain and anxiety following surgery, and they were also less likely to need pain medication. In addition, music appeared to increase patients' overall satisfaction after surgery. These results were the same regardless of whether patients were played music before, after or during surgery, though the effects were strongest among those who listened to music prior to surgery. The researchers were surprised to find patients who were played music during surgery while they were under general anaesthetic also reported reduced pain following the procedure, though the results were greater when the patient was conscious. In addition, the team identified slightly greater, though "non-significant", pain reduction and reduced use of pain relief after surgery if patients chose their own music to listen to.

 

Low Fat Diets Better Than Low Carb Diets for Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, opinions are divided as to what the best diet is for reducing body fat. To investigate this, a team of US researchers compared a low-fat diet with a low-carbohydrate diet, and published their findings in the journal, Cell Metabolism, which showed that cutting fat intake resulted in greater body fat loss.
To do this, the research team enrolled 19 obese adults into the study and they were confined to a hospital metabolic ward for two 2-week periods. During the first 2 week period, 30% of the participants' baseline calories were cut solely by restricting carbohydrates while fat intake remained the same. In the second period, 30% of baseline calories were cut by restricting fat intake while carbohydrate intake was unaffected. Body fat loss was calculated by measuring the difference between daily fat intake and net fat oxidation while participants were inside a metabolic chamber. With a mathematical model, researchers hypothesised that the low-carb diet would lead to changes in the amount of body fat burned by the body and that the low-fat diet would result in the greatest overall body fat loss. This hypothesis was confirmed. Although more fat was burned when participants were following the low-carb diet, more body fat was lost during the low-fat dietary period. The mathematical model suggests that over a longer period, the body will act to reduce body fat differences between diets that contain equal amounts of calories, regardless of their carbohydrate-to-fat ratios.

 

Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders Prevented by Fish Oil

New Australian research published in Nature Communications has revealed the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may be effective for reducing the risk of psychosis. The researchers analysed data from participants aged 13-25 years old who were deemed to be at risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia. A total of 81 individuals took part in the randomised and double-blind trial; 41 were assigned to take a 3-month daily course of fish oil, with the remaining group taking a placebo. After the 3 month intervention period, all participants were monitored for another 12 months. At this point, 76 of the 81 participants had successfully completed the study, and it was found only two of the 41 individuals in the group taking fish oil had transitioned to a psychotic disorder. In contrast, the figure for the placebo group was much higher, with 11 of the 40 participants going on to develop a psychotic disorder. 7 years from the original study, results revealed the majority of the individuals who undertook the fish oil still did not show signs of a psychotic disorder. Only four of the 41 from the group who had taken fish oil for 3 months had gone on to develop a psychotic disorder since. Again, the figure was much higher for the placebo group, where 16 of the 40 developed a psychotic disorder.

 

How Do Our Bodies Respond to Energy Drinks?

In 2014, the World Health Organization hailed energy drinks a "danger to public health," after they found that consumption of such beverages was on the rise. Energy drinks are marketed as beverages that boost mental and physical performance. Caffeine is the most common stimulant in these drinks, but some brands contain other plant-based stimulants, such as guarana and ginseng. The amount of caffeine in a can or bottle of energy drink can range from 80 mg to over 500 mg. For comparison, one 150ml cup of coffee contains around 100 mg of caffeine. Energy drinks are also high in sugar. A 250 ml can of Red Bull, for example, contains around 27.5 g of sugar. Caffeine enters the bloodstream within 10 minutes of consuming an energy drink, triggering a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. Over the next 15-45 minutes, caffeine levels in the bloodstream peak. As a result, an individual will feel more alert and experience improved concentration. Caffeine temporarily blocks adenosine (a chemical involved in how tired we feel) pathways, giving you a boost while allowing 'feel good' molecules in the brain,  such as dopamine, to be released more readily. At this point, users will feel more alert. All of the caffeine is absorbed within 30-50 minutes of consuming an energy drink and the liver responds to this by soaking up more sugar into the bloodstream. Within an hour, the effects of the caffeine will begin to subside and a sugar crash may occur. Energy levels will begin to fall and tiredness will set in. It will take around 5-6 hours for the body to achieve a 50% reduction in the amount of caffeine in the bloodstream - known as the "half-life" - and it is likely to take double this amount of time for women on oral contraceptive pills. It takes an average of 12 hours for the body to completely remove the caffeine from the bloodstream, though this does depend on individual factors. Pregnancy, liver damage and some drugs can also slow the rate at which caffeine is eliminated from the body, and children and teenagers have a significantly longer half-life, meaning caffeine will remain in their bloodstream for longer and at higher levels than for adults. This is why caffeinated drinks can cause behavioural problems and anxiety issues in children. People who consume energy drinks regularly may experience caffeine withdrawal in the 12-24 hours after consumption, which includes symptoms such as headache, irritability and constipation. Withdrawal symptoms can last up to 9 days and the severity depends on the amount of caffeine consumed. For regular energy drink consumers, it takes around 7-12 days for the body to adapt to a regular intake of caffeine. An individual is unlikely to experience a boost from the beverages once their body gets used to them.

 

December 2015/January 2016

Research

 

Men- Forget the Trans Fats

Trans fats are generally understood to be the worst type of fat to consume. Commonly found in processed foods, trans fats raise "bad" cholesterol levels while lowering "good" cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fats also increase the risk of cancer and inflammation. A new US study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, has identified another reason not to eat these fats - they may worsen memory for men aged 45 and younger. Naturally occurring trans fats, also referred to as trans fatty acids, are produced in the gut of many grazing animals, which is why they can be found in meats and dairy products in small amounts. However, the trans fats of concern are partially hydrogenated oils, which are manufactured forms added to foods in order to improve their taste, texture and shelf life. Potato, corn and tortilla chips, frozen pizzas, cakes, biscuits and fast foods are just some of the products that commonly contain manufactured trans fats. The largest source of trans fats for Australians is margarine. To reach their findings, the research team analysed data from 1,018 participants, the vast majority of whom were men, who completed a food questionnaire detailing their daily consumption of trans fats. The participants also completed a word recall test as a measure of memory. The researchers found that men aged 45 and younger could recall an average of 86 words in the test. However, for every 1 g increase in daily consumption of trans fats, they remembered 0.76 fewer words. Compared with men aged 45 and younger who consumed no trans fats, those who consumed the highest amounts remembered around 12 fewer words, according to the results.

 

Anxiety Increased by Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle is characterised as engaging in activities that require minimal body movement and result in low energy expenditure. Sedentary activities such as watching TV, playing video games, surfing the Internet, have long been associated with physical health problems such as obesity and heart disease. New Australian research appearing in the journal, BMC Public Health, suggests that it could also be associated with an increased risk of anxiety. For this research, the scientists conducted a systematic review of nine studies that looked specifically at the relationship between anxiety and sedentary behaviour. Seven of these focused on adults, with the other two including adolescents. The researchers discovered in five of the studies that an increase in sedentary behaviour was associated with an increased risk of developing anxiety. Four of the studies also suggested that increased time spent sitting was associated with an increased risk of anxiety. One study reported that 36% of high school students with more than 2 hours of computer or TV screen time a day were more likely to develop anxiety than those who had less than 2 hours. Of the studies that were available for analysis, 78% found at least one positive association between the risk of anxiety and sedentary behaviour.

 

Diets that Mimic Fasting  Promote Health and Longevity

A new US study published in Cell Metabolism suggests that following a calorie-restricted diet that mimics fasting for just 5 days a month for 3 months, may promote longevity and reduce a number of risk factors for cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The researchers developed a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) - a low-protein, low-fat diet high in healthy fats. By activating markers associated with prolonged fasting, such as low glucose levels and high levels of ketone bodies, the diet was able to simulate the effects of fasting. Firstly, the team tested the diet in middle-aged mice, feeding them the diet for 4 days, twice a month. Mice fed the FMD intervention were compared with mice fed a control diet. The team found mice fed the FMD intervention had much higher numbers of stem cells, and they experienced regeneration of an array of other cell types, including bone, muscle, liver, brain and immune cells, compared with mice fed the control diet. In addition, the FMD intervention appeared to extend the lifespan of mice and promote better overall health. They experienced better learning and memory, lower incidence of cancer and inflammatory diseases and fat loss without a reduction in lean body mass, compared with control mice.  Next, the team tested a similar FMD intervention in a group of 19 generally healthy people, aged 18-70. These participants were required to follow the diet for 5 days a month for 3 months. The diet provided them with between 34-54% of their normal caloric intake, as well as 11-14% proteins, 42-43% carbohydrates and 44-46% fat. The 19 participants following the FMD intervention were compared with a group of 18 generally healthy aged-matched individuals who continued to follow their normal diet. Compared with the participants who consumed their standard diet, those who followed the FMD intervention experienced a reduction in risk factors linked to aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, lowered blood glucose, reduced markers of inflammation and weight loss.

 

High Fat and Sugar Diets Reduce Cognitive Functioning by Altering Gut Bacteria

A diet high in fat or sugar may do more than expand our waistlines. A new US study published in the journal, Cell, found that such diets may lead to reduced cognitive functioning, with a high-sugar diet named as the biggest culprit. There is an increasing amount of evidence emerging that gut bacteria can communicate with the brain. Bacteria can release compounds that act as neurotransmitters, stimulate sensory nerves or the immune system, and affect a wide range of biological functions. For this research,  groups of mice were fed a high-fat diet (42% fat, 43% carbohydrate), a high-sugar diet (12% fat, 70% carbohydrate - mainly from sugars) or normal food. Prior to the dietary intervention and 2 weeks after, the researchers analysed the faeces of the mice in order to establish the composition of their gut bacteria. The short- and long-term memory and cognitive flexibility (problem solving ability) of the mice were assessed before and after dietary intervention via water maze testing and novel object and location tasks. Compared with mice fed normal diet, mice fed the high-fat or high-sugar diets experienced a significant reduction in cognitive functioning, particularly in cognitive flexibility. Reduction in cognitive flexibility was strongest for mice fed the high-sugar diet, according to the researchers, and this diet was also found to reduce short- and long-term memory. The team believes that the reduction in cognitive functioning following diets high in fat or sugar was driven by alterations to the composition of gut bacteria, or the gut microbiome. Both diets were linked to an increase in the numbers of a bacteria called Clostridiales and a reduction in bacteria known as Bacteroidales, with such changes associated with reduced cognitive flexibility. Mice fed the high-sugar diet experienced the highest increases in Clostridiales and the biggest reductions in Bacteroidales, consistent with the largest reductions in cognitive flexibility.

 

Eating Protein Before Carbohydrates Lowers Post-Meal Glucose

In a recent US study, researchers found that the order in which different types of food are consumed has a significant impact on post-meal glucose and insulin levels in obese people. Writing in the journal, Diabetes Care, the authors suggest that their findings may have dietary implications for diabetic and others at risk of developing this disease. For the research, 11 people with obesity and type 2 diabetes who were taking metformin, a drug that helps control glucose levels, ate the same meals in different orders 1 week apart, so that the researchers could observe how their glucose levels were affected. The set meal consisted of ciabatta bread, orange juice, chicken breast, lettuce and tomato salad with low-fat dressing and steamed broccoli with butter. The researchers checked the peoples'  glucose levels in the morning, 12 hours after they last ate. On the first day of the study, the participants were told to consume the carbohydrates in their meal (ciabatta bread and orange juice) first, and to follow this 15 minutes later by the protein, vegetables and fat in the meal. The participants' glucose levels were checked 30, 60 and 120 minutes after eating. The experiment was then repeated 1 week later, except this time the food order was reversed - the protein, vegetables and fat were eaten first, with the carbohydrates consumed 15 minutes later. When the vegetables and protein were eaten before the carbohydrates, the researchers found that glucose levels were 29%, 37% and 17% lower at the 30, 60 and 120-minute checks, compared with when carbohydrates were consumed first. Also, insulin was found to be significantly lower when the participants ate vegetables and protein first.

 

High Fibre Diets During Pregnancy Reduce Asthma Risk in Kids

Women who consume a high fibre diet during pregnancy may reduce the risk of their offspring developing asthma, according to the results of new Australian research published in Nature Communications. To get to these findings, the research team fed pregnant mice one of three diets during their third trimester: a high fibre diet, a moderate-fibre diet or a low-fibre diet. When the offspring of the mice were adults, they were exposed to house dust mites - a trigger for asthma in humans. The researchers found that the offspring of mice whose mothers were fed a high fibre diet during pregnancy did not develop asthma-like symptoms, while the offspring whose mothers were fed a low-fibre diet did. Further investigation revealed that the pregnant mice fed a high fibre diet experienced changes in gut bacteria; they possessed specific microbes that produced anti-inflammatory metabolites when the fibre was digested. These metabolites circulated the bloodstream and travelled through the uterus to the foetus, suppressing Foxp3 genes linked to asthma development. The researchers wanted to see whether a maternal high fibre diet in humans would have the same effect on offspring. They did so by analysing the blood samples and diet data of 40 pregnant women, as well as data detailing the frequency of doctor's visits due to respiratory symptoms in their offspring during the first year of life. The team found women who consumed a high fibre diet during pregnancy also had anti-inflammatory metabolites present in their blood, and the offspring of these women were significantly less likely to have visited the doctor two or more times as a result of respiratory complaints in their first year of life.

 

Athletes Should Only Drink When Thirsty

Keeping hydrated is important when exercising, but drinking too much can be hazardous and increase the risk of premature death. A panel of experts has published new guidelines in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, to avoid fatal overconsumption of fluids, recommending that athletes only drink when they are thirsty. The new guidelines suggest that only drinking when thirsty is the healthiest way for athletes to keep hydrated, reducing the risk of exercise-associated hyponatremia. Too much water or sports drinks can lead to a condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), whereby the kidneys are unable to excrete the excess water in the body completely. As a result, the sodium in the body becomes diluted, causing dangerous swelling in cells. While mild symptoms of EAH include dizziness, nausea and puffiness, in severe cases the condition can lead to confusion, seizures, come and even death. At present, at least 14 athletes are estimated to have died as a result of EAH. According to the authors, it is not just athletes engaging in strenuous exercise such as hiking and marathons that are susceptible to the condition. Cases have also been reported among people participating in lawn bowls and yoga.  The new 2015 EAH Consensus Guidelines, suggest that there is a simple way for athletes to avoid these risks - just follow the natural thirst stimulus when it comes to drinking. Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration. Many experts recommend drinking more water than usual in hot weather to improve the body's chances of keeping cool and reducing the risk of heat-related illness like heat cramps and heat stroke. Several groups have previously advised against waiting until feeling thirsty before drinking. However, the authors of this study state that this advice is largely meant for situations where people sweat much more frequently, and that the advice has helped foster the idea that thirst is a poor guide for knowing when to drink.

 

Hypertension From Food Container Plastics

Recent US research has shown that chemicals supposed to be safe replacements for harmful chemicals in plastics are linked to hypertension and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

The chemicals in question, phthalate compounds di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), are replacements for another chemical, di-2-ethylhexylphlatate (DEHP), which the same researchers proved in previous studies to have similar adverse effects. The phthalates are meant to strengthen plastic wraps and processed food containers, among other household items. The two recent pieces of research are published in the journals Hypertension and The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. In the Hypertension study, it was shown that for every 10-fold increase in the amount of phthalates consumed, there was a 1.1 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) increase in blood pressure. In the other study, it was shown that one in three adolescents with the highest DINP levels had the highest insulin resistance, while for those with the lowest concentrations of the chemicals, only 1 in 4 had insulin resistance. The research adds to growing concerns that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure and other metabolic disorders. To avoid phthalates, the authors advise us to not microwave food in plastic containers or covered by plastic wrap, not wash plastic food containers in the dishwasher, where plasticizers can leak out ad to avoid phthalates by avoiding plastic containers labelled with the numbers 3, 6 or 7 inside the recycle symbol.

 

Restaurant Food No Better Than Fast Food

A meal in a restaurant might seem to be healthier than one eaten in a fast-food outlet, but according to a new US study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating out at either location leads to a much greater consumption of calories than eating a meal prepared at home. Meals consumed in restaurants were also  judged to contain higher levels of sodium and cholesterol than those consumed in fast-food outlets and at home. The study found that Americans eating out at either fast-food outlets or full-service restaurants would typically consume 200 calories more per day than when staying at home for meals. The study was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 2003-10, looking at the eating habits of 18,098 adults living in the US, in particular, looking at the daily intake of total calories and 24 nutrients considered to be of public health concern, including sodium and cholesterol, and found that restaurant diners would typically consume more sodium and cholesterol in their meals than elsewhere. Another area of nutrition where both fast-food outlets and restaurants were found to perform badly was the fat content of their meals. Those who ate at either fast-food outlets or restaurants typically consume 3.49 g and 2.46 g more saturated fat respectively than people eating a meal prepared at home. Total fat consumption at these food venues was around 10 g higher than at home.

 

Bone Healing Promoted by Marijuana

Cannabidio (CBD)l, a nonpsychotropic component of marijuana, may enhance the healing process of bone fissures, according to new Israeli research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Bone formation is stimulated by cannabinoid receptors, receptors native to our bodies that can be activated by compounds in the cannabis plant, which suggests that cannabinoid drugs may be a useful treatment for bone diseases and fractures. Given the recent moves to legalise marijuana for medicinal purposes, researchers are now reinvestigating what beneficial properties this long-prohibited drug may have. In the study, rats were assessed for bone healing using either CBD, or a combination of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the main psychoactive component of marijuana. The team reported that CBD alone was associated with a "markedly enhanced" bone healing processes. It made bones stronger during healing, enhancing the maturation of the collagenous matrix, which provides the basis for new mineralization of bone tissue. It also made bones more resistant to fracture.

 

 

November/December 2015

Research

 

Western Diets Raise the Risk of Death From Prostate Cancer

New US research published in Cancer Prevention Research, suggests that following a Western diet, defined as one that's high in red and processed meats, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, could increase the risk of death for people with prostate cancer from both prostate cancer and all causes. The study looked at the diets of 926 men diagnosed with prostate cancer for an average of 14 years after their diagnosis. Participants were grouped into quartiles based on whether they followed a Western dietary pattern or a "prudent" dietary pattern, involving a higher consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, legumes and whole grains. During the follow-up period, 333 participants died, with 56 of these deaths (17%) attributed to prostate cancer. The researchers found that those who ate a predominantly Western diet (those in the highest quartile) were two-and-a-half times more likely to die from prostate cancer and had a 67% increased risk of all-cause mortality compared with participants in the lowest quartile. In comparison, the men who followed a "prudent" diet closely, had a 36% lower risk of all-cause mortality.

 

Music Improves Heart Health  

UK scientists presenting research findings at a recent British Cardiology Society Conference in Manchester. have noted that repeated musical phrases can affect the heart rate, raising the possibility that it could be used as a treatment for heart conditions. It's been observed by researchers studying the stress of mental arithmetic among a group of young medical students, that the Latin Ave Maria prayer had a 10-second phrase that coincided with Mayer waves - arterial pressure oscillations that some experts believe are a measure of sympathetic nervous activity. The prayer was being used in the study as a non-stressful verbal control, reducing the heart rate. The researchers then discovered that when recited in other languages such as Italian, the prayer did not have the same calming effect. In these translations, the rhythms all exceeded 10 seconds. Over the 20 years following this discovery, the researchers discovered that this 10-second rhythm also appeared in other musical compositions, particularly in the works of the composer Verdi.  To test the effects of different compositions, the researchers presented six different styles of music in a random order to 12 musically untrained medical students and to 12 conservatoire musicians. While playing the participants the different styles of music through headphones, the researchers analysed their cardiovascular responses, including their pulse and blood pressure. The researchers discovered that the cardiovascular responses to the six different styles were similar between the participants despite differences in individual music preferences, although participants with musical training had stronger responses.

 

Gut Reactions to Illness Assist Immunity  

UK researchers writing in a recent edition of the journal, Immunity, have discovered that immune system cells in mice are programmed in advance to either repair or protect the body after receiving signals from cells in the infected gut. Specialised cells called monocytes are produced in the bone marrow and circulate around the body in the bloodstream. When the body is injured or infected, monocytes are swiftly called to the precise area where they act according to the situation, either protecting the body from aggressive infection or aiding wound healing. Sometimes monocytes can be programmed incorrectly and, rather than defending the body, can cause inflammation that leads to severe conditions such as bowel disease or cancer. So far, scientists have been unable to identify how and why the monocytes are programmed as they are. To investigate, researchers examined how monocytes in mice responded to a parasitic infection, Toxoplasmosis, Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and can infect the gut through the consumption of undercooked meat. The parasite is also known to be present in the faeces of cats. The researchers discovered that as soon as the infection invaded the gut, the tissue began to communicate with other parts of the body in order to alter the immune system. This signalling meant that the monocytes already knew how to function before they had even reached the affected tissue.

 

Autism Influenced by the GI Content of Diets

Dietary glycaemic index or GI, a form of ranking given to foods containing carbohydrates according to the overall effect they have on blood sugar levels, is often monitored closely by people with diabetes. A new mouse study published in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry, suggests that dietary glycaemic index could have a significant impact on autism spectrum disorder symptoms. For the study, the researchers investigated whether lowering the level of a specific by-product of sugar metabolism would reduce the autism-like symptoms of in specially-bred mice. To assess this, two groups of pregnant mice and their offspring were fed with either high- or low-GI diets, consuming the same amount of calories. After the newborn mice had finished weaning, the researcher conducted a series of behavioural and biochemical tests. They found that the mice following a high-GI diet exhibited the expected symptoms of autism - impaired social interactions, repetitive actions with no apparent purpose, and extensive grooming. More dramatic than this, however, were the changes observed by the researchers in the brains of the mice eating the high-GI diet. Compared with the mice following the low-GI diet, these mice had less doublecortin, a protein indicator of newly developing neurons, in their brains, and particularly in the region of the brain associated with memory. The mice following the high-GI diet also had higher numbers of activated immune cells in the brain and more genes associated with inflammation were expressed in their brains, compared with the mice following the low-GI diet. The researchers found that the high-GI diet may have also altered thee gut microbiome - the population of microbes in the intestine. They found evidence in the blood of changes to the breaking down of complex starches by bacteria in the large intestine. The researchers found that following a high-GI diet led to higher numbers of activated immune cells in the brain and more genes associated with inflammation. The findings of the study, may also indicate a potential cause of the complex neurodevelopmental disorders.

 

Nuts Reduce the Risk of Death From Cancer and Other Diseases

Researchers from the Netherlands writing in the International Journal of Epidemiology state that eating peanuts and other nuts daily could lower death risk from cancer, as well as other diseases. To reach their findings, the researchers assessed data from more than 120,000 men and women aged 55-69 from the Netherlands, who were part of the Netherlands Cohort Study. All participants were asked how often they consumed peanuts, nuts and peanut butter and in what quantities. They then assessed the link between intake of these foods and cause-specific mortality among participants since 1986, when the study began. The study results revealed that participants who consumed around 15 grams of nuts or peanuts every day, the equivalent to half a handful, were at lower risk of death from numerous diseases, including cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease and neurodegenerative disease, compared with participants who did not consume nuts or peanuts. Reductions in mortality with peanut and nut consumption was strongest for respiratory and neurodegenerative disease, and the results were equal between men and women. Peanut butter consumption was found to have no effect on mortality among participants.

 

Sleep to Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

A new Russian study suggests that poor sleep can significantly increase our risk of heart attack and stroke, prompting researchers to call for it to be considered as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in prevention guidelines for the condition. For this study, the research team wanted to determine whether poor sleep may be tied to the risk of heart attack and stroke, which cause almost 80% of all deaths from cardiovascular disease. The study  included a nationally representative cohort of 657 men aged 25-64 from Russia, all of whom had no history of diabetes, stroke or heart attack. At study baseline, researchers used the Jenkins Sleep Scale to identify sleep frequency and any sleep difficulties among participants. Men whose ratings fell into the categories of "poor," "bad" or "very bad" were considered to have a sleeping disorder. The team assessed the incidence of heart attack and stroke among the participants over the next 14 years. Compared with men who did not have a sleeping disorder, those who did were found to be at 2-2.6 times greater risk of heart attack and 1.5-4 times higher risk of stroke.

 

Chocolate for Stroke and Heart Disease

Recent UK research that tracked the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women suggests eating up to 100 g of chocolate each day is linked to lower risks for heart disease and stroke. The study, published in the journal, Heart, was carried out using data from the EPIC-Norfolk study, which follows the health and dietary habits of men and women in Norfolk, England, using food frequency and lifestyle questionnaires. In addition to the EPIC study, the team also conducted a systematic review of all available published evidence on links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease (CVD), which involved almost 158,000 people internationally. Study participants were followed for an average of nearly 12 years, and during this time, 14% of them experienced either a stroke or coronary heart disease. Of the study participants, 20% said they did not eat any chocolate, while the others had an average daily consumption of 7 g. Some even ate up to 100 g each day. Compared with those who did not eat any chocolate, the people who ate more chocolate had an 11% lower risk of CVD and a 25% lower risk of associated death. They also had a 9% lower risk of hospital admission or death resulting from coronary heart disease and a 23% lower risk of stroke. Results also showed that among those whose inflammatory protein level was measured, those who ate the most chocolate had an 18% lower risk than those who ate the least. The systematic review likewise found a significantly lower risk of both stroke and CVD in people who regularly ate chocolate, and there was also a 25% lower risk of any episode of CVD and a 45% lower risk of associated death.

 

Leukemia Sufferers Benefit from Avocado

Canadian research appearing recently in the journal, Cancer Research, has identified a compound found in avocados that could help tackle acute myeloid leukemia. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer that begins in the bone marrow, where blood stem cells (immature cells) turn into mature blood cells. In AML, the blood stem cells in the bone marrow become abnormal myeloblasts, a form of white blood cell, red blood cells or platelets. The compound, Avocatin B, targets and destroys leukemia stem cells, according to the researchers. Using a high-throughput cell-based screen to assess the effects of avocatin B on human leukemia stem cells, the researchers found that the compound selectively targets and destroys them while leaving healthy blood cells unscathed.

 

Stress During Pregnancy Can Have a Negative Effect on the Child

Changes in a mother's vaginal microbiome (the collective name for the useful microorganisms found in the area) caused by stress during pregnancy may influence the gut microbiome and brain development of offspring, according to a new US study published in the journal, Endocrinology. During vaginal birth, microbiota that populate the mother's vagina are passed on to the baby. This microbiota aid normal colonization of the child's gut, helping immune system and metabolism development. The study was carried out by exposing pregnant mice to stress triggers during early pregnancy. The researchers collected tissue from the vaginal lavages of the mice 2 days after they gave birth, in order to assess their vaginal microbiome. The team investigated the gut microbiome of the mouse pups by analysing their faeces, and they also analysed the transportation of amino acids from the gut of the pups to their brain. The researchers found that mice exposed to stress during early pregnancy experienced alterations in their vaginal microbiome, which disrupted the gut microbiota composition of their offspring.

The team found that male offspring were particularly prone to gut microbiome disruption as a result of changes to a mother's vaginal microbiome.

 

 

October/November 2015

Research

 

Maple Syrup Helps Antibiotics Defeat Bacteria

Canadian researchers writing in a recent issue of the journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, appear to have found a method of assisting the effectiveness of antibiotics and in so doing, potentially contributing to a reduction in the overuse of these drugs that are causing a dramatic rise in the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The researchers made their discovery from working with lab-based colonies of bacteria and maple syrup, but they hope the maple syrup extract will have the same effect on bacterial infections in human patients. Maple syrup contains phenolic compounds, which are of considerable interest due to their antiseptic and antioxidant properties. Phenolic compounds play an important role in the growth and development of plants by helping to defend against bacteria that cause infections. The team put maple syrup through a series of steps to produce a phenolic-rich extract. They then tested the extract on a number of infection-causing bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Proteus mirabilis, common causes of urinary tract infections. On its own, the maple syrup extract was mildly effective against the infection-causing bacteria. But the maple syrup extract was even more effective against bacteria when combined with antibiotics. The maple syrup extract and antibiotic combination was particularly effective at destroying biofilms - resistant bacterial communities that inhabit surfaces and are particularly hard to shift with antibiotics. Biofilms commonly develop on catheters and cause difficult-to-treat urinary tract infections. The researchers say the maple syrup extract affected the bacteria in a number of ways to make them more susceptible to antibiotics. One effect that the extract had on bacteria was to make their cell membranes more porous. This makes it easier for the antibiotics to enter the microbial cells. The maple syrup extract also shut down the "efflux pumps" that the bacteria used to push any antibiotic that makes it through the membrane out of the cell. And a third way that the extract weakened the bacteria was by reducing the expression of genes linked to antibiotic resistance and virulence.

 

Gut Microbes Are Important for Serotonin Production

Serotonin is probably best known as a brain chemical that affects emotions and behaviour, an imbalance of which is thought to contribute to depression. Less well-known is that scientists estimate that 90% of serotonin is made in the gut, and imbalances in this peripheral serotonin have been linked to diseases ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and cardiovascular disease, to osteoporosis. Recent US research appearing in the journal, Cell,  shows that certain bacteria in the gut play an important role in the production of peripheral serotonin. Previous research with mice and other lab animals has shown that changes in gut microbes affect behaviour and in this study, scientists were interested in finding out more about how gut microbes and the nervous system talk to each other, and how normal gut microbes could influence levels of neurotransmitters in their hosts. In the gut, there are three types of cells that we know of that produce serotonin: immune cells, nerve cells or neurons, and enterochromaffin (EC) cell, and the research team wanted to find out which cells the gut microbes might be influencing to have an effect on serotonin levels. In the first part of the study, they compared peripheral serotonin levels produced from these cells in two groups of mice: one with normal gut microbes and another group of germ-free mice without gut bacteria. The team found that in the germ-free mice, their EC cells produced around 60% less serotonin than the mice with normal gut bacteria. When they restored bacteria colonies in the gut of the germ-free mice, their EC cells began producing normal levels of serotonin, showing the effect on the EC cells can be reversed. In the next part of the study the team set out to find which bacteria in particular were interacting with the EC cells to make serotonin. They introduced single species and groups of gut microbes one by one into the germ-free mice, and found that serotonin levels went up when there was a certain mix of about 20 species of spore-forming bacteria. Introducing this particular bacterial mix into the germ-free mice increased the movement of food through their digestive tract. It also changed activity in their blood platelets, which use serotonin to boost clotting. Further exploration in cell cultures revealed some of the molecular mechanisms underpinning the findings. The team found several metabolic by-products of gut bacteria are controlled by the mix of spore-forming bacteria and act on EC cells to alter serotonin production. When the researchers increased these metabolic by-products in germ-free mice, it increased their levels of peripheral serotonin. This work confirms that a lot of the serotonin in the body relies on the interaction between bacteria and host cells.

 

Air Pollution and Brain Damage

Previous research on air pollution has shown that it's associated with increased risk for anxiety, stroke and suicide.  New US research appearing in the journal, Stroke, found that long-term exposure to air pollution,  even at low levels, may lead to brain damage that is a marker of age-related cognitive impairment and other neurological conditions. Fine particle air pollution is particulate matter found in smoke and haze, from car exhausts, for example, or burning wood, that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, is referred to as PM2.5 and it's of significant concern in the US as small particles can easily pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, causing major health problems. The research team set out to assess the effects of long-term exposure to PM2.5 on brain structure. To do so, they used magnetic resonance imaging to analyse the brains of 943 healthy adults free of stroke and dementia who were a part of the Framingham Offspring Study. All participants lived in greater Boston, New England or New York, areas where pollution levels are low compared with other parts of the US, and the MRI scans were conducted between 1995 and 2005. The researchers found that an increase in PM2.5 of 2 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m3),  a pollution range common across metropolitan regions, was linked to a 0.32% reduction in total cerebral brain volume, as well as a 46% increased risk of covert brain infarcts- a form of silent stroke.  These effects were increase in older people. The team said that the reduction in brain volume seen was comparable to around 1 year of brain aging, and changes in brain structure and a reduction in its volume were indicators of age-related brain atrophy.

The covert brain infarcts have been linked to poorer cognitive function, dementia and other neurological problems, and are believed to be associated with small vessel disease.

 

Diet Swapping Shows How Westernisation Increase Colon Cancer Risk

Rates of colon cancer are much higher in African-Americans than in rural South Africans and new research reported in the journal, Nature Communications, confirms the use of dietary principles long-recommended by naturopaths, that the differences between the diets may be a factor in colon cancer. For the study, 20 African-American and 20 rural South African volunteers aged 50-65 spent 2 weeks under controlled conditions where they ate only each other's diets. The research team examined faecal and colon content sampled from each participant at the start and the end of the diet swap. The participants also underwent colonoscopy exams at the start and end of the period. Before the diet swap, the researchers had spent time with the participants in their own surroundings to learn about their diets and the ingredients. They then prepared and gave the participants meals using cooking ingredients and methods typical of the other group. The study took place at a university site in the US and a lodging facility in South Africa, allowing the researchers to control for the influence of smoking and other environmental factors on the cancer risk measurements. The results showed that despite the brief period of the diet swap, each group took on the other group's indicators for colon cancer risk. These included levels of fibre fermentation, turnover of cells in the lining of the gut, markers of metabolic activity in gut microbes and inflammation. Particularly marked was the increase in butyrate production in the gut of the African-Americans after 2 weeks on the African diet. Butyrate is a by-product of fibre metabolism with important anticancer properties.This finding suggests that the diet swap had a significant effect on the bacteria in the gut- the gut microbiome. The bacteria's metabolism changed to adapt to the new diet. The researchers also note that in the colonoscopy exams, they found and removed polyps in nine of the African-American volunteers but found none in the Africans.

 

High Blood Sugar Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

The development of Alzheimer's disease is associated with the accumulation of a protein called beta-amyloid. A new US study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation on mice shows that too much sugar in the blood can speed up the production of the protein. For their study, the team used mice bred to develop a condition that is like Alzheimer's in humans- as they age their brains accumulate amyloid plaques. When the research team infused glucose into the bloodstream of young mice, they found their brains produced beta-amyloid faster. A doubling of blood glucose led to 20% higher levels of beta-amyloid compared with mice that had normal blood glucose levels. When the team repeated the experiment in older mice that already had amyloid plaques in their brains, beta-amyloid levels rose by 40%. Closer examination revealed that sudden elevation of blood sugar increased brain cell activity, which stimulates them to make more beta-amyloid. The team found that openings called KATP channels were an important feature of increased beta-amyloid. These ATP-sensitive potassium channels sit on the surface of brain cells and close when glucose levels get too high. When the channels are closed, the neurons are more likely to fire. Under normal conditions, neurons fire to encode and send information; a basic function essential for learning and memory. But too much firing in certain areas of the brain increases beta-amyloid, which makes it more likely that plaques will form and encourage the development of Alzheimer's, the authors suggest.

 

Pycnogenol Improves Several Borderline Disease States

Pycnogenol appears to improve the health of people with borderline hypertension, hyperglycemia or hyperlipidemia, according to the results of an Italian study reported recently in the Journal of International Angiology. The study found that supplementation with the natural abstract significantly improved the blood vessel (endothelial) function associated with these diseases by 55% at eight weeks and 66% at 12 weeks. Pycnogenol is a standardized natural plant abstract derived from French maritime pine tree bark. The study enrolled 49 individuals with borderline hypertension, hyperlipidemia or hyperglycemia ranging from 40 to 60 years of age who were prescribed Pycnogenol, at a dose of 150 mg/d, in combination with recommendations that were considered at the time to be the best management and care available for their condition per international guidelines. The recommendations included daily exercise coupled with a reduction in carbohydrates, caffeinated drinks and salt. Forty-three individuals who were instructed to follow the best available management without Pycnogenol supplementation served as controls. Endothelial function was measured using flow-mediated dilation and laser Doppler for the assessment of the distal finger flux. The study found that as a result of supplementation with the natural abstract, blood pressure was normalised in subjects with borderline hypertension, cholesterol levels were reduced in participants with borderline hyperlipidemia, and fasting glucose levels were decreased in the cohort with borderline hyperglycemia.

 

Skipping Meals is Associated with Increased Belly Fat and Pre-diabetes

A new US study on mice from the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry suggests that skipping meals may disrupt metabolism in a way that leads to extra fat accumulating around the middle and signs of pre-diabetes. The team compared mice allowed to nibble their food throughout the day with mice that ate their food in one session and then fasted for the rest of the time. They found that the mice that gorged all their day's food in one session and fasted in between developed insulin resistance in their livers, an indicator of pre-diabetes, and more fat in their abdomens.

 

Coffee Reduces the Risk of Erectile Dysfunction

Drinking two to three cups of coffee every day could lower a man's risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) by up to 42%, according to a new University of Texas study published in the journal, PLOS ONE. The study authors used 2001-04 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a program of studies assessing the health and nutritional status of Americans, to investigate the role of caffeine intake in ED. The data used in the study was derived from 3,724 men aged 20 and older whose ED status was identified during a computer-assisted interview. Of these men, 40.9% were overweight, 30.7% were obese, 51% had high blood pressure and 12.4% were diabetic. The researchers estimated the men's caffeine intake by analysing 24-hour dietary recall data, gathered from asking participants to report all food and beverages consumed in the past day. The caffeine sources assessed included coffee, soft drinks, sports and energy drinks and tea. Overall, the team found that men who consumed 85-170 milligrams (mg) of caffeine daily (the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee) were 42% less likely to report ED, while those who consumed 170-303 mg of caffeine a day were 39% less likely to report ED, compared with men who consumed 0-7 mg of caffeine a day. In addition, higher caffeine intake was also found to reduce risk of ED in men who were overweight or obese and those who had high blood pressure; all of which are considered risk factors for the condition. However, caffeine did not lower the risk of ED for men with diabetes.

 

Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk of Endometrial Cancer

The Mediterranean diet, based around fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil, is often regarded as one of the healthiest diets around, and a newly published Italian study from the British Journal of Cancer adds further support to these claims. Researchers suggest that adhering closely to the diet can cut the risk of endometrial cancer in women by more than half. Researchers examined the diets of more than 5,000 women from various areas in Italy and the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland, obtaining data from three case-control studies conducted between 1983 and 2006. A total of 1,411 women had confirmed cases of endometrial cancer, and their diets were compared with 3,668 patients in hospital with acute diseases. The researchers assessed how closely the women adhered to the Mediterranean diet by splitting the diet into nine different components and measuring how many of these the women regularly consumed high intakes of vegetables, fruits and nuts, legumes, cereals and potatoes, fish, monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fatty acids, a moderate intake of alcohol and a low intake of meat and dairy products. They found that the women who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely, regularly consuming between seven and nine of these components, reduced their risk of endometrial cancer by 57%. Regularly eating six of the diet's components reduced the risk by 46% and women eating five reduced their risk by 34%. However, those whose diet featured fewer than five of the Mediterranean diet's components did not reduce their risk of endometrial cancer in any significant way.

 

 

September/October 2015

Research

 

Prostate Tumors Respond to Vitamin D

New research presented at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society suggests that taking Vitamin D supplements may slow or reverse the progression of low-grade prostate tumors, without the need for surgery or radiation therapy. The research team enrolled 37 men awaiting elective prostatectomies into a randomised controlled trial where one group received Vitamin D supplements each day and the other received placebos. According to the preliminary results from the trial, many of the men who received the supplements demonstrated improved outcomes. However, the men who received a placebo either had no change to their tumors or their tumors got worse. The researchers found dramatic changes in the levels of lipids and proteins involved in inflammation among the participants who received the Vitamin D. Cancer is associated with inflammation, especially in the prostate gland, and Vitamin D appeared to be fighting this inflammation within the gland. In particular, a protein called growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) was strongly induced by the Vitamin D. GDF15 has been found by previous studies to "dial down" inflammation and scientists know that aggressive prostate cancers make very little of this protein.

 

Remember the Nap

Recent UK research published in the journal, Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, has shown that a  daytime nap of around 45-60 minutes could improve learning and memory by fivefold. To reach their findings, the researchers enrolled 41 participants to take part in a learning task. Participants were shown a list of 90 single words and 120 unrelated word pairs and were asked to learn them. After the learning task, participants were immediately required to complete a memory recall test. Half of the participants were then asked to take a nap of up to 90 minutes, while the remaining subjects were asked to watch a DVD. The brain activity of the napping participants was measured via electroencephalogram (EEG) while they slept, with the team specifically focusing on "sleep spindles" - a burst of activity in the hippocampus region that plays a key role in memory consolidation. Next, all participants were asked to retake the memory recall test, requiring them to once again remember the words and word pairs shown to them prior to napping or watching a DVD. The researchers found that, compared with participants who watched the DVD, those who napped for around 45-60 minutes following the learning task performed approximately five times better when it came to remembering the word pairs. In fact, the researchers note that word pair recall of the napping participants was just as good as it was on the memory tests completed immediately after learning. What is more, the team found that better learning and memory recall was associated with a greater number of sleep spindles in the EEG, supporting their theory that sleep spindles play a role in specific forms of memory; in this case - associative memory.

 

Gut Symptom Associated with Autism

Mothers of infants aged up to 3 years who have autism are more likely to report that their children have gastrointestinal symptoms of constipation, diarrhoea and food allergy or intolerance, according to a US study published in the online journal, JAMA Psychiatry. The age group followed was infants aged 6 months to 3 years and the study compared gut symptoms in children with autism versus typical development. Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms reported by mothers were more common and more frequently persistent in the babies and small children with autism spectrum disorder than either in those with "typical" development for the age group, or in those with developmental delay. The authors believe their study is the first examination of a population to prospectively report GI symptoms and disorders in a comparison between children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with typical development (TD) or developmental delay (DD). Their aim was to "address the specific question of whether children with ASD are at greater risk of experiencing GI disturbances" than the other two groups in the large birth cohort of over 41,000 children followed from the age of 6 months through 36 months. The researchers found that children with ASD, most of whom had been diagnosed in a research clinic, were, compared with children with TD were  more likely to have constipation and food allergy/intolerance reported by their mothers in the 6- to 18-months age range, and were more likely to have diarrhoea, constipation and food allergy/intolerance in the 18- to 36-months range.

 

Blood Vessels Like Peanuts

A new study of peanut consumption by the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania State University shows that including peanuts as a part of a high-fat meal improved the post-meal triglyceride response and preserved endothelial function, leading to improved health of blood vessels. The research was conducted to evaluate vascular function after a high-fat meal challenge. A group of 15 overweight males were randomized into one of two groups to consume one of two shakes: a peanut meal containing a high proprtion of ground peanuts or a control meal without peanuts. Both of the shakes were high fat and matched for both energy and macronutrients. After each meal the individuals had their lipid profile, glucose and insulin measured five times. Vascular function was determined by measuring flow-mediated dilation (FMD). FMD is a noninvasive method of measuring vascular function through the use of a cuff worn on the forearm, which restrains blood flow. The cuff is then released to assess dilation of the brachial artery. The results of the test revealed that the control meal decreased FMD by 1.2% compared to baseline. However, in contrast, there was no decrease in FMD after the peanut meal. These findings highlight that the peanut meal maintained normal vascular function whereas the high fat-matched control meal impaired vascular function acutely. The findings from the research suggest that peanut consumption might be the critical ingredient to decrease this risk and may protect against the formation of atherosclerosis as part of a high-fat meal.

 

Methionine-Rich Diet Linked to Increased Risk of Memory Loss

Consuming a diet high in methionine, an amino acid found in meat, fish, dairy and egg products, may increase the risk of memory loss. This is according to a new study recently presented at the Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Boston, MA. Previous research has suggested that excess methylation, a system involved in the regulation of gene expression, protein function and other biological processes, can cause memory loss by "silencing" genes that play a role in cognitive function. This latest study builds on such findings, according to the team, suggesting that a diet high in methionine leads to increased methylation of netrins, a class of proteins involved in brain maintenance - which promotes memory loss. To carry out the study, the team fed mice a diet high in methionine and low in folate, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12, for 6 weeks. The memory function of the mice was monitored weekly, as assessed through a test that measured their response to a fear stimulant. Compared with a control group, after 4 weeks, the mice fed the high-methionine diet stopped responding to the stimulant that had previously induced fear, which suggests a loss in long-term memory. The team hypothesised that excess methionine leads to hypermethylation of the netrin gene, effectively "silencing" it and causing memory loss.

 

Pesticides in Fruit and Vegetables Reduces Sperm Quality

US researchers writing recently in the journal, Human Reproduction, reported that men who eat fruits and vegetables containing pesticide residues have a lower percentage of normal sperm, compared with those who eat food with lower levels of residue. The researchers analysed data from 155 men who were part of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded Environment and Reproductive Health study. As well as validated survey information on the participants' diets, a total of 338 semen samples were assessed as part of the study. Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program, the researchers categorised the following as fruits and vegetables that contained high amounts of pesticide residues: capsicums, spinach, strawberries, apples and pears. Fruits and vegetables that were considered to have low or moderate amounts of residue included: peas, beans, grapefruit and onions. The authors found that men who ate more than 1.5 servings per day of the fruits and vegetables considered to be high in pesticide residue had 49% lower sperm count and 32% lower percentage of normal sperm than men who ate less than 0.5 servings of these foods each day. Interestingly, men who ate the most amounts of fruits and vegetables with low-to-moderate amounts of pesticide residue had a higher percentage of normal sperm, compared with those who ate less fruits and vegetables with the same levels of residue.

 

Blood Pressure Increased by Eating Out

A recent edition of the American Journal of Hypertension states that eating meals away from home is associated with high blood pressure. The Singaporean researchers writing in the journal surveyed 501 university students aged 18-40. The surveys collected information on the subjects' blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), lifestyle, physical activity levels and how often they eat out. Statistical analysis of the data showed that 27.4% of the students had pre-hypertension, 49% of the male participants and 9% of the female participants had pre-hypertension an 38% of the students ate more than 12 meals away from home per week. The researchers found that students with hypertension or pre-hypertension were more likely than participants without hypertension or pre-hypertension to eat out more often, have a higher BMI, have lower levels of physical activity and be current smokers. Significantly, the study also found that eating just one extra meal out per week is associated with a 6% increase in risk for pre-hypertension.

 

Brain Damage Associated with Vitamin E Deficiency

A lack of Vitamin E could cause damage to the brain by disrupting the supply of nutrients to the brain that are crucial to neuronal health, according to a new US study published in the Journal of Lipid Research. The study involved examining zebrafish fed a diet deficient in Vitamin E throughout their lives. Zebrafish deficient in Vitamin E were found to have around 30% lower levels of DHA-PC, a component of the cellular membrane of brain cells (neurons). Previous research suggests that low levels of DHA-PC in humans are associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, the Vitamin E-deficient fish also had lower levels of an important group of compounds called lysoPLs - nutrients that are needed to get DHA into the brain as well as for assisting the repair of damaged membranes. LysoPL levels were, on average, 60% lower in the zebrafish deficient in Vitamin E.  Vitamin E is obtained from the oils of soybean, canola, corn and other vegetables. The best sources of the Vitamin are nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli also contain significant amounts of Vitamin E.

 

Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Associated with Cognitive Decline

Breathing problems during sleep, such as heavy snoring and sleep apnoea, may be associated with earlier decline in memory and thinking skills. This is the finding of a new US study published in the journal, Neurology. The team involved in this work analysed the medical histories of 2,470 people between the ages of 55 and 90, before dividing them into three groups: those with Alzheimer's disease, those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and those without any memory or cognitive problems. As well as assessing the presence of any breathing problems during sleep among the participants, the researchers looked at whether the subjects were receiving treatment for these problems. Compared with participants who were free of sleep-breathing problems, those with such problems were diagnosed with MCI much earlier, according to the analysis. In detail, participants with sleep-breathing problems were diagnosed with MCI at an average age of 77, while participants without sleep-breathing problems were diagnosed with MCI at an average age of 90. What is more, the researchers found that participants with sleep-breathing problems were likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's at an average age of 83, while those without sleep-breathing problems developed the disease around 5 years later - at an average age of 88.

 

Western Lifestyles are Bad for  Gut Bacteria Diversity

Bacteria in the gut, referred to as the gut microbiome, play an important role in maintaining the health of the body, While a Western lifestyle confers many health benefits, a new Canadian study published in the journal, Cell Reports, suggests that it may have a negative impact on the diversity of these crucial bacteria. To get to these findings, researchers analysed the gut bacteria of residents of the US and Papua New Guinea, one of the least urbanized countries in the world, in order to assess the effects of a Western lifestyle. They analysed the faecal bacteria of a total of 40 participants from two different societies in Papua New Guinea. These participants lived in traditional settings with no sewage facilities, wastewater or drinking water treatment. Their faecal bacteria were compared with faecal samples taken from 22 participants residing in Lincoln, New England, in the US. The researchers found that the microbiomes of the Papua New Guinean participants had a greater bacterial diversity, lower individual variation and different compositional profiles in comparison with the microbiomes of the US residents. Approximately 50 bacterial types were absent in the gut microbiomes of the US residents that were part of the core Papua New Guinean microbiome. The researchers noted that there were differences between the two societies in the relative importance of ecological processes that shape the gut microbiota. In the Papua New Guinea residents, the ability of bacteria to move from person to person, bacterial dispersal, was the most important process in structuring the microbiota.

 

August/September 2015

Research

 

Cola Drinks Increase Cancer Risk

The chemical process that's carried out during the manufacture of the caramel colouring used in soft drinks such as cola produces a carcinogen that could increase the risk of cancer, according to recent research reported in Consumer Reports by a team from Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Maryland. The colouring is not necessary for the production of soft drinks but is included purely for aesthetics and it contains a potentially cancer-causing substance known as 4-MEI (short for 4-methylimidazole). The daily safety limit for 4-MEI is 29 mcg of 4-MEI. Testing on 110 samples of soft drinks found that they contained levels ranging from 9.5 mcg per litre (mcg/L) to 963 mcg/L, and concentrations of 4-MEI varied considerably by brand and state of purchase.

 

Dishwashers Associated With Allergies

New research published in the journal, Pediatrics, states that children in families who wash their dishes by hand, rather than in a dishwasher, develop fewer allergies. The reasoning behind this is that hand-washing dishes is associated with a greater level of exposure to environmental microbes which enhances the health of the immune system. Without this exposure, the immune system misfires when it encounters these microorganisms, leading to allergies, eczema and asthma. For the study, the team surveyed the parents of 1,029 children aged 7-8 years who lived in two regions of Sweden. The parents answered questions on their children's allergies and whether they had asthma or eczema, and provided information on how the family washes their dishes and how often they eat fermented or farm-fresh foods. The data from the questionnaires showed that children from families that hand-washed their dishes had lower rates of allergies than children from families who used a dishwasher. The kids from families who did not use a dishwasher also had significantly lower rates of eczema and slightly lower rates of asthma and hay fever than their dishwasher-owning peers. Children who ate more fermented or farm-fresh foods also exhibited lower rates of allergies.

 

Coffee Reduces MS Risk

A study presented earlier this year at the American Academy of Neurology's 67th Annual Meeting suggests yet another potential health benefit of coffee consumption: it could reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). To reach their findings, the study authors analysed data from two separate studies that looked at the link between coffee consumption and MS. The first was a Swedish study involving 1,629 people with MS and 2,807 healthy controls, while the second study was a US study involving 1,159 people with MS and 1,172 healthy controls. Both studies recorded coffee consumption among people with MS at 1 and 5 years prior to onset of symptoms, and the Swedish study also recorded coffee consumption among these participants 10 years before symptoms began. The coffee intake of those with MS was compared with the healthy controls at similar time points. The results of the Swedish study revealed that participants who did not drink coffee in the year prior to symptom onset were around 1.5 times more likely to develop MS, compared with those who consumed six or more cups of coffee each day. The researchers also identified a protective effect against MS among participants who consumed large amounts of coffee at 5 and 10 years prior to onset of symptoms. From the US study, the team also found that participants who did not drink coffee in the year prior to symptom onset were approximately 1.5 times more likely to develop MS, compared with those who consumed at least four cups of coffee a day. The team says the protective effect of coffee consumption against MS may be down to the main ingredient of the beverage - caffeine. It should be noted that while this amount of coffee consumption showed a protective effect against MS, excess caffeine consumption is also associated with an increased risk of anxiety, insomnia, reproductive and other disorders.

 

Persistent Insomnia Increases the Risk of Early Death and Inflammation

A new University of Arizona study that examined the link between insomnia and premature death concluded that persistent insomnia poses a greater risk than intermittent insomnia. While previous studies have already shown links between insomnia and increased risk of premature death, they have not clarified whether the risk differs between persistent and intermittent insomnia. Intermittent or acute insomnia is of short duration and often linked to specific events - for instance, not being able to fall asleep the night before an exam or an important job interview. Persistent or chronic insomnia is a long-term pattern of disrupted sleep on several nights a week that lasts for months and years and can be due to a number of causes, including shift working, poor sleep habits and medication use. The research team examined data from 1,409 adults who took part in the Tucson Epidemiological Study of Airway Obstructive Disease (TESAOD). Participants were enrolled in 1972 and assessed until 1996. After that, deaths in the group continued to be monitored until 2011, making a total study period of 38 years. The researchers were able to test cryopreserved blood samples that were collected at the start and at intervals over the study period. The participants completed questionnaires about their sleep habits twice - once between 1984 and 1985 and again between 1990 and 1992. The team put the participants into one of three categories: persistent insomnia, intermittent insomnia, or those who never had insomnia. When they analysed the results, the researchers adjusted for factors that might influence any links between insomnia and risk of death, such as age, sex, weight, smoking status, use of sleep medication and exercise. After taking the potential confounders into account, they found that participants with persistent insomnia had a 58% higher chance of dying prematurely from cardiopulmonary factors than participants in the never insomnia group. From the blood sample analysis, the team also found that levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation that is also an independent risk factor for mortality, were higher in the persistent insomnia group.

 

Eating Nuts Reduces Risk of Premature Death

US researchers writing recently in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, have found that a diet high in nuts may reduce early death by as much as a fifth. The results were derived from three large studies that involved 71,764 people living in the southern US  and 134,265 Chinese people. Consistent across all three separate cohorts, the study showed that nut intake was linked to a lower risk of total mortality (death from any cause), and death from cardiovascular disease. In the US cohort of people, there was a 21% lower risk of death from any cause for individuals who ate the most peanuts and in the Chinese groups, high nut intake gave a 17% lower risk of death overall.

 

Arteries Like Coffee

A new South Korean study published in the journal, Heart, has suggested that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of clogged arteries and heart attacks. The findings come from a study of 25,138 people, measuring levels of calcium in their coronary arteries, to see if any association with coffee consumption habits was present. The presence of coronary artery calcium can indicate the early stages of coronary atherosclerosis, a condition whereby the arteries become clogged up, hardened and narrow. When this occurs, arteries are more susceptible to blood clots that can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Researchers assessed data from people attending regular health screening, including food frequency questionnaires and CT scanning to determine coronary artery calcium. The participants had an average age of 41 and no signs of heart disease. Coffee consumption was categorised into the following groups: no coffee consumed, less than one cup a day, 1-3 cups a day, 3-5 cups a day, or 5 or more cups a day. The researchers also took potential confounding factors into account when comparing coffee consumption with coronary artery calcium levels, including physical activity participation, smoking status, other dietary components and possible family history of cardiovascular disease. Among the participants, the prevalence of detectable coronary artery calcium was 13.4%. Average coffee consumption was 1.8 cups a day. The researchers observed the following calcium ratios for each group- less than one cup a day: 0.77, 1-3 cups a day: 0.66, 3-5 cups a day: 0.59 and 5 or more cups a day: 0.81, suggesting that the participants that consumed between 3 and 5 cups of coffee a day had the lowest prevalence of clogged arteries. As mentioned above, it should be noted that excess caffeine consumption is also associated with an increased risk of anxiety, insomnia, reproductive and other disorders.

 

Reduce the Risk of Colorectal Cancer With a Pescovegetarian Diet

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US and in a new US study published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers say that consuming a vegetarian diet, particularly a pescovegetarian diet, could significantly lower the risk of developing the disease. For their study, the team looked at the dietary risk factors for colorectal cancer from data received from 77,659 men and women who were recruited to the Adventist Health Study 2 between 2002 and 2007. All participants were required to complete a food frequency questionnaire and medical questionnaire at study baseline. Cancer incidence among participants was assessed until 2014 via computer-assisted record linked with state cancer registries, as well as a follow-up medical questionnaire. Over an average 7.3-year follow-up, 490 participants were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, of which 380 cases were colon cancer and 110 were rectal cancer. The results of the study revealed that individuals who ate a vegetarian diet were at a 22% lower risk of colorectal cancer, with a 19% reduced risk of colon cancer and a 29% reduced risk of rectal cancer, compared with participants who did not follow a vegetarian diet. Looking at the results by the type of vegetarian diet followed, the team found pescovegetarians (who eat fish) had a 49% lower risk of colorectal cancer, lacto-ovo vegetarians (who consume milk and eggs) had an 18% lower risk, vegans had a 16% reduced risk, and semi-vegetarians were 8% less likely to develop the disease.

 

Brain Function Protected by Mental and Physical Exercise

The results of the first ever randomised controlled trial investigating a comprehensive program to slow cognitive decline among older people were recently published in The Lancet. Researchers from Sweden and Finland examined the effects on brain function of an intervention addressing assorted risk factors for age-related dementia. These risk factors included high body mass index (BMI) and heart disease, and the intervention included healthy eating guidance, exercise, brain training and management of metabolic and vascular risk factors. Based on scores of standardised tests, all of the participants were considered to be at risk of dementia. Half were allocated into the intervention group and half formed a control group. Those in the intervention group participated in regular meetings over 2 years with health professionals, where participants were provided with comprehensive advice on maintaining a healthy diet, muscle and cardiovascular training, mental exercises and how to use blood tests and other means to manage metabolic and vascular risk factors. At the end of the study period, the researchers used the standardised Neuropsychological Test Battery to assess participants' mental function. They found that, overall, the intervention group scored an average of 25% higher on this test than the control group - a higher score corresponds to better mental functioning. The team also found that the intervention group scored 83% higher than the control group on the ability to organise and regulate thought processes (executive functioning) and 150% higher on processing speed.

 

Folic Acid Reduces Stroke Risk

A recent Chinese study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that a combination of folic acid supplementation and hypertension medication may be an effective way to reduce the risk of first stroke among adults with high blood pressure. The research team looked at data from 20,702 adults from China aged 45-75 years. All adults had hypertension, but they had no history of stroke or heart attack at study baseline. Variations in the MTHFR C677T genotypes (CC, CT or TT), which can affect folate levels, were assessed among participants, and their folate levels were measured at study baseline. Between May 2008 and August 2013, participants were randomised to receive either 10 mg of enalapril (a drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure) and 8 mg of folic acid daily, or a daily 10 mg dose of enalapril alone. During the median 4.5-year follow-up period, 282 (2.7%) participants who were treated with both enalapril and folic acid had a first stroke, compared with 355 (3.4%) participants treated with enalapril alone. The team calculated that participants treated with both enalapril and folic had a 21% lower risk of stroke, compared with participants treated with enalapril alone. A lower relative risk of ischemic stroke was also identified among participants treated with enalapril and folic acid, and these participants were also at lower risk of combinations of cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death. The team found that participants with TT genotypes were most likely to benefit from combination treatment with enalapril and folic acid, as were participants who had low folate levels at study baseline.

 

Alzheimer's Disease Risk Reduced with New Diet

A new study published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association and  conducted by workers from Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, even for those who don't follow it precisely. Labelled the MIND diet, it  focuses specifically on berries rather than consumption of all fruits. Blueberries and strawberries, in particular, have been hailed for their brain benefits. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It uses aspects of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, an eating plan based on studies supported by the National Institutes of Health, and the Mediterranean diet. The researchers claim that the diet is easier to follow than the Mediterranean and DASH diets. It consists of 15 dietary components: 10 "brain-healthy food groups" and five unhealthy food groups. Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine make up the brain-healthy foods, while red meats, butter, margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food are the food groups that should be limited. Unlike the DASH and Mediterranean diets, in which high consumption of all fruits is recommended, the MIND diet focuses specifically on berries, particularly blueberries and strawberries. For the study, the researchers analysed the food intake of 923 Chicago residents between the ages of 58 and 98 who were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing study that aims to identify factors that may protect cognitive health. Dietary information was gathered from food frequency questionnaires the participants completed between 2004 and 2013. The researchers scored participants on how closely their food intake matched either the MIND diet, Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, and incidence of Alzheimer's disease was assessed over an average follow-up period of 4.5 years. The researchers found that participants whose food intake closely followed either of the three diets were at lower risk of Alzheimer's. Participants who followed the Mediterranean diet were at 54% lower risk, those who followed the MIND diet were at 53% lower risk, while followers of the DASH diet had a 39% reduced risk for Alzheimer's. However, the team found that participants who had a moderate adherence to the Mediterranean or DASH diets showed no reduced risk for Alzheimer's, while moderate adherence to the MIND diet still put participants at 35% lower risk of developing the disease.

 

July/August 2015

Research

 

Sleeping Well When You’re Younger Protects Later-Life Memory

A recent issue of the journal, Perspectives on Psychological Science, carried a US report showing that good-quality sleep as a young or middle-aged adult may be essential for a good memory later in life. The association between sleep and cognitive functioning has been extensively researched, and it is becoming increasingly accepted that sleep affects learning and memory ability. As we age, we tend to sleep less and have less "slow-wave sleep," which is known to be important for memory. The authors of this study set out to see whether these age-related sleep changes affect cognitive functioning. They conducted a comprehensive review of more than 200 studies dating back more than half a century, which analysed the association between sleep and cognitive functioning. Study participants were divided into three age groups: young (18-29), middle age (30-60) and old age (60 and older) and the researchers assessed self-reported data on how many hours, on average, the participants slept each night, how long it took them to go to sleep, the frequency at which they awoke during the night and how tired they felt during the day. Results of the analysis revealed that young and middle-aged participants tended to get more sleep and better quality sleep than older adults, and this appeared to benefit their cognitive functioning later in life. Good sleep quality among participants in their 70s, 80s and 90s, however, appeared to have little effect on their memory, according to the team. This suggests that maintaining good sleep quality, at least in young adulthood and middle age, promotes better cognitive functioning and serves to protect against age-related cognitive declines.

 

Eating Fish During Pregnancy Boosts Baby's Development

Some dietary authorities state that fish should be avoided if you are pregnant, due to the developmental problems thought to be associated with mercury exposure. However, a new US study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that the developmental benefits conferred by the mother consuming fish while pregnant may offset the mercury-related risks. The fatty acids found in fish, such as omega 3, are essential for good brain development. Although a link between consumption of fish and childhood developmental problems has never been conclusively proved, experts have previously been concerned about the consequences of elevated mercury levels in pregnant women. The study was conducted using the Seychelles Child Development Study, one of the longest and largest population studies of its kind.  As the 89,000 residents of the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean consume approximately 10 times as much fish in their diet as people in the US or Europe, the region was considered to be an ideal location for measuring the public health impact of low-level mercury exposure over a long period. More than 1,500 mothers and children participated in the study. The development of the children was assessed using a variety of communication skills, behaviour and motor skills tests. The tests started at 20 months after birth and the children were followed into their 20s. Hair samples were also collected from the mothers while they were pregnant so that the team could measure levels of prenatal mercury exposure. Prenatal mercury exposure was not linked with lower test scores, the researchers found. As the children were followed into adulthood, it was established that there was no association between consumption of fish among pregnant mothers and impaired neurological development in their offspring. Levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) were also measured in the women while pregnant. The researchers found that the children of mothers with higher levels of the omega-3 (n3) fatty acid found in fish performed better on some tests. Another PUFA, n6, which comes from meats and cooking oils, is more prevalent in the US and Europe than it is in regions like the Seychelles. However, n6 is known to promote inflammation, unlike n3, which has anti-inflammatory properties. The results showed that the children of mothers with higher levels of n6 were found to perform less well on the motor skills tests than children with higher levels of n3. This finding supports a theory among some scientists that n3 counteracts the inflammatory effects of mercury.

 

Probiotics and Diabetes

New US research published in the journal, Diabetes, has found that it’s possible to reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic rats by using a common bacteria found in the human gut. Diabetes is associated with low levels of insulin and elevated levels of blood glucose, and insulin is required to get the glucose from the blood into cells. The researchers in this study engineered a common strain of "friendly" human gut bacteria called Lactobacillus to secrete Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) - a hormone that releases insulin in response to food. Lactobacillus is a probiotic often used to prevent and treat diarrhoea as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease and some skin disorders. Each day for 90 days, the research team orally administered the modified probiotic to a group of diabetic rats. They monitored its effects on blood glucose levels, comparing the outcomes with diabetic rats that did not receive it. At the end of the 90 days, the researchers found the rats that received the modified probiotic had blood glucose levels up to 30% lower than those that did not receive the probiotic. The team says the probiotic appeared to convert the rats' upper intestinal epithelial cells to cells that acted a lot like pancreatic beta cells, which, in healthy people, secrete insulin and regulate blood glucose levels.

 

US Research Shows That Most Commercial Infant Foods Contain Too Much Salt and Sugar

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention carried out an assessment recently which was published in the journal, Pediatrics, that found that the majority of pre-packaged meals and snacks for toddlers in the US contain high levels of salt or sugar, which researchers say could be putting children's health at risk. The research team used a 2012 US nutrient database to analyse the sodium and sugar content of 1,074 commercial foods for infants and toddlers. Within their analysis, they included pre-packaged dinners, such as macaroni cheese and mini hot dogs, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. Their findings revealed that 72% of the pre-packaged toddler meals assessed were high in sodium, containing an average of 361mg per serving. Pre-packaged toddler meals analysed in this study contained sodium at levels almost 1.5 times higher than the recommendations set by the US Institute of Medicine. The recommendations for school foods also state that children should consume no more than 35% of calories from sugar in each food portion. However, the researchers found that dry fruit-based snacks included in the study contained an average of 60g of sugar per portion, meaning that around 66% of calories were coming from sugar. Sugar made up an average of 47% of calories among mixed grains and fruit and accounted for more than 35% of calories in dairy-based desserts. At least one added sugar, including glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and dextrose, was found in around 32% of pre-packaged infant and toddler meals, as well as the majority of dry-based fruit snacks, cereal/breakfast bars and pastries, desserts and fruit juices.

 

Coffee Reduces the Risk of Endometrial Cancer

Recent UK research published in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention,. has found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of endometrial cancer by almost a fifth. The team assessed the diets of 1,303 women with endometrial cancer who were a part of the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. The women completed dietary questionnaires and the researchers assessed the link between 84 foods and nutrients consumed and the risk of endometrial cancer. From this, the team identified nine foods and nutrients that could be associated with an increased risk of endometrial cancer: total fat, monounsaturated fat, phosphorus, carbohydrates, yogurt, butter, potatoes, cheese and coffee. Next, the researchers analysed data from 1,531 women with endometrial cancer who were a part of the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) or Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII). These women also completed dietary questionnaires. To validate their findings from the EPIC cohort, the team assessed the association between consumption of the nine foods and nutrients and risk of endometrial cancer in the NHS/NHSII cohorts. The researchers found that drinking three cups of coffee a day reduced endometrial cancer risk by 19% among women in the EPIC study, compared with women who drank less than one cup of coffee a day. Among women in the NHS/NHSII cohorts, drinking four cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of endometrial cancer by 18%, compared with those who never drank coffee.

 

Meditation Reduces Brain Aging

US investigators writing in a new issue of the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, say that age-related cognitive decline can be slowed with meditation, and that this occurs by preserving the brain’s gray matter- the neuron-containing tissue responsible for processing information. Previous research has also associated meditation with improved cognitive functions, such as attention, memory and processing speed. In this latest study, scientists set out to see whether there is an association between meditation and brain tissue, specifically gray matter, that may help explain these previous findings. They recruited 100 subjects to the study aged 24-77. Of these, 50 had meditated for between 4 and 46 years and 50 had never engaged in the practice. Both groups were closely matched for age. Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers scanned the brains of each participant. While they identified reduced gray matter with increasing age, as they expected, they were surprised to find that individuals in the meditation group showed significantly lower gray matter loss in numerous brain regions, compared with those in the non-meditation group.

 

Stress Lowers Pain Thresholds

According to new Israeli research published in the journal, Pain, stress can reduce our ability to withstand physical pain. In a study of 29 men, the research team found that psychological stress significantly increases pain intensity while reducing the ability to cope with it. The participants were required to take part in the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST), a computer-based algorithm designed to induce psychological stress. The researchers describe MIST as a "psychological trick." It involves participants answering a number of test questions. Prior to responding to the questions, they are told that the average score a person achieves is 80-90%. However, participants are unable to score above 45%, no matter how hard they try, causing them to become psychologically stressed. Before and after the MIST test, the participants underwent a series of experiments that assessed their threshold to heat pain and their ability to cope with this type of pain. For example, in one experiment, the participants were exposed to a gradually increasing heat stimulus and were asked to indicate at what point they felt pain. The researchers divided the participants into groups based on their stress levels as measured by the MIST test, before assessing how stress affected their ability to withstand pain. The researchers found that the men who experienced higher levels of psychological stress had a much lower ability to withstand pain, compared with men who had lower stress levels.

 

Fibre for Weight Loss

The Annals of Internal Medicine carried a University of Massachusetts study recently stating that increasing dietary fibre consumption could be a simple change to aid with weight loss and boost other areas of health, as opposed to the standard weight loss diet that many people find too restrictive to follow. The researchers enrolled 240 adult participants who were considered to be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Half of the participants were randomized to follow the high-fibre diet and half followed the standard weight loss diet. The standard diet was more complex with 13 components which limited calories by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods, consuming at least 30 g of fibre per day, choosing lean proteins, reducing sugar and salt consumption and drinking little or no alcohol. After 12 months, all participants demonstrated weight loss of 3-4kg, lower blood pressure, improved insulin resistance and fasting insulin.

 

Women with MS Need Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients

Compared with healthy individuals, women with multiple sclerosis may have a lower intake of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, including food folate, Vitamin E and magnesium, according to research presented at a recent American Academy of Neurology's meeting in Washington, DC. MS (Multiple Sclerosis) is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS). It occurs when the immune system triggers inflammation in the CNS. This damages or destroys myelin, a fatty substance that protects nerve fibers, allowing electric impulses to be sent between the brain and other parts of the body. The increase in MS prevalence in recent years has led to the theory that inflammation-related dietary or nutritional changes may play a role in the development of the condition, and the team wanted to investigate this theory further. They enrolled 57 women aged 18-60 with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or less who were part of a Vitamin D supplementation study. Of these women, 27 had MS and 30 were healthy controls. Prior to undergoing Vitamin D supplementation, all participants were required to complete a food frequency questionnaire, which gathered information on their diet and nutrition intake over the past 12 months. The researchers found that on average, the women with MS had lower levels of five anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients: food folate, Vitamin E, magnesium, lutein-zeaxanthin and quercetin, compared with the healthy controls.

 

Antibiotics Cause More Problems Than Was Previously Thought

Antibiotics are essential in the control of bacterial infections but their overuse can cause significant problems, not the least of which is disruption to normal, healthy colonies of gut bacteria, as well as changes to glucose metabolism, the immune system, food digestion and behaviour. There’s also a suspicion that antibiotic overuse is linked to obesity and stress. New US research published in the journal, Gut, suggests that the consequences of long-term antibiotic use could be even far-more reaching than was previously thought, and may be linked to the death of epithelial cells- the cells that line the intestines. For their study, the team used mice to look at the effects of four antibiotics commonly given to lab animals and confirmed that the antibiotics had had this effect. The intestinal epithelium is home to an abundance of immune cells that live alongside the trillions of gut bacteria with which they are in constant dialogue to maintain the delicate stability of the partnership between the host body and its bacterial colonies. The team also discovered that antibiotics affect a gene that’s critical to the communication between host and gut bacteria. Disruption in host-microbe dialogue can not only disrupt digestion, cause diarrhoea and ulcerative colitis, but new research is also linking it to immune function, obesity, food absorption, depression, sepsis, asthma and allergies.

 

June/July 2015

Research

 

Exercising for Parkinson's Disease

New research from the University of Sydney published in the journal, Neurology, claims that exercise can improve balance, mobility and overall quality of life for individuals with the Parkinson's disease. In patients with less severe Parkinson's, exercise may even reduce the risk of falls. Triggered by damaged neurons in an area of the brain that controls movement, Parkinson's disease can cause involuntary movements or tremors, impaired balance and coordination, and problems standing and walking. As such, falling is common among people with Parkinson's; around 60% of individuals with the disease experience a fall each year, and approximately two thirds of these fall frequently. The resulting injuries, pain, limitations of activity and fear of falling again can really affect people's health and well-being. The researchers set out to see whether exercise could reduce the risk of falls and improve balance, movement and overall life quality in 231 people with Parkinson's. They randomly assigned participants to either take part in a 40-60 minute exercise program three times a week for 6 months or to continue with their usual care. The exercise program consisted of balance and leg-strengthening exercises that were recommended and assessed by a physical therapist. The majority of exercises were performed at home under minimal supervision and around 13% of sessions were monitored by a physical therapist.  The team found that participants with less severe Parkinson's disease who took part in the exercise program saw a 70% reduction in falls, compared with those who continued with their usual care and participants who engaged in the exercise program reported improved mobility and balance, reduced fear of falls and better overall quality of life.

 

Grains Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Overall Premature Mortality Risk

Whole grains form a part of many diets deemed to be beneficial for health, such as the Mediterranean diet. According to recent US research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, eating more of them may reduce mortality, particularly deaths resulting from cardiovascular disease. Grains are made up of three parts: the bran layers, germ and endosperm. Refined grains often have the bran layers and germ removed, while whole grains contain all three elements. Foods that contain whole grains include whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, cornmeal, bulgur and brown rice. In general, whole grains are thought to be better for health than refined grains. As part of a healthy diet, whole grains have been associated with reduced blood cholesterol and improved weight maintenance and the team set out to assess the effect of whole grain intake on the risk of premature death. To do this, they analysed data from two large studies: the Nurses' Health Study, from which 74,341 women were assessed between 1984 and 2010, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, from which the data on 43,744 men were analysed between 1986 and 2010.  Every 2-4 years, participants were required to complete food frequency questionnaires, from which whole grain intakes were estimated based on the dry weight of whole grain ingredients in all grain-containing foods consumed, such as bread, rice, breakfast cereals and pasta. The researchers note that at the baseline of both studies, all participants were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Over both studies, the team identified 26,920 deaths. The results of the analysis revealed that a higher intake of whole grains was associated with reduced risk of overall mortality and lower risk of CVD mortality; each serving of whole grains (28 g) was linked to a 5% reduced total mortality risk or a 9% lower risk of CVD mortality. However, no association between whole grain intake and reduced cancer mortality was found. These findings remained even after accounting for factors that may influence mortality, such as smoking, age, body mass index and physical activity.

 

Avocados Lower 'Bad' Cholesterol

A new US study appearing in the Journal of the American Heart Association. claims that consuming one avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet could help lower bad cholesterol among people who are overweight or obese. The research team looked at how avocado consumption, by replacing saturated fatty acids, or "bad" fats, affected risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases. The team recruited 45 healthy participants aged 21-70 years who were either obese or overweight. Every participant was required to follow each of three cholesterol-lowering diets for 5 weeks. The diets consisted of a lower-fat diet without avocado, a moderate-fat diet without avocado or a moderate-fat diet with one avocado a day. Prior to starting each diet, subjects ate what the researchers deem an "average American diet," which was made up of 34% of calories from fat, 16% from protein, while around half of calories were from carbohydrates. From both of the moderate-fat diets, participants gained 34% of calories from fat, of which 17% were from monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). The lower-fat diet provided participants with 24% of calories from fat, of which 11% was from MUFAs. The researchers found that participants' levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) - referred to as the "bad" cholesterol, were an average of 8.3 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) lower after following the lower-fat diet without an avocado and 7.4 mg/dL lower after following the moderate-fat diet without an avocado, compared with their baseline average. However, after participants followed the moderate-fat diet with one avocado a day, their LDL levels were found to be an average of 13.5 mg/dL lower than their baseline average. The team also found that a number of additional blood measurements, such as total cholesterol, small dense LDL, triglycerides and non-HDL (high-density lipoprotein), were better after participants followed the moderate-fat diet with one avocado a day, compared with the other two diets.

 

Sunlight May Reduce Fertility and Lifespan

New research from Norway via the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggests that increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun for women could mean fewer children and grandchildren in the future. Church records from 1750-1900 taken from two different areas of Norway and involving 9,062 people were assessed by the researchers. They examined several life history variables such as the age at which women had their children, how many children survived after birth and how many of them went on to have children themselves. The team then compared this information with environmental data for the time periods in question. They discovered that children born in years with high levels of solar activity (measured by the number of sunspots observed on the surface of the sun) had a greater risk of mortality compared with children born in years with less solar activity. They calculated the amount of UVR for any given year based on this information. The more solar activity that occurs, the more UVR is present on Earth. The researchers found that the lifespan of children born during years with high solar activity was an average of 5.2 years shorter than other children. Differences in mortality were greater during the first 2 years of life. The authors suggest that the explanation for the relationship between solar activity and infant mortality may be an effect of folate (Vitamin B9) degradation caused by UVR. Folate is very important for pregnant women as it helps to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. The authors also found that children born in years with high solar activity tended to have fewer children, who in turn would reproduce less themselves.

 

A Lack of Exercise Can be Twice as Deadly as Obesity

Just 20 minutes a day brisk walking can cut risk of early death in inactive people. This was the conclusions of a UK research team writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, who analysed the data on over 334,000 men and women taking part in a large European study between 1992 and 2000 looking at the links between cancer and diet that also measured many other variables such as exercise and body mass index (BMI). The dataset included measures of height, weight, waist size and self-reported physical activity levels. The participants were followed for over 12 years, during which time 21,438 of them died. The team found the greatest reductions in risk of early death was seen when they compared inactive and moderately active participants. The researchers found that compared with the number of deaths linked to obesity, twice as many were linked to lack of physical activity, and just a modest increase in physical activity could make a difference, especially among inactive people. The analysis found that doing exercise that burned just 90-110 calories a day, the equivalent of a daily 20-minute brisk walk, was enough to move an individual from the inactive to the moderately inactive group and reduce their risk of early death by 16-30%. The team notes that while the effect of this was greatest among participants of normal weight, the analysis showed this also benefited overweight and obese participants.

 

Vitamin D Fights Colorectal Cancer

Researchers from the US writing in the journal, Gut, have shown in a new study that Vitamin D can help the body fight against colorectal cancer by boosting the immune system. This work contributes to a growing body of research in the area by identifying an association between Vitamin D and how the immune system responds to cancer cells among a large human population sample. Previous research has indicated that Vitamin D could have a preventive effect against colorectal cancer and boost the immune system. In this study, the team wanted to determine if these two phenomena are related. They assessed data from 170,000 participants of two long-term research projects - the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professional Follow-up Study.  The team hypothesized that if the two phenomena were related, colorectal tumours developing in participants with high levels of Vitamin D would likely be more resistant to the cells of the immune system than those developing in participants with lower levels of the vitamin. From the data pool, the researchers selected 942 participants - 318 with colorectal cancer and 624 who were cancer free. Each participant had had a blood sample taken in the 1990s, at a time before any of the participants had developed cancer. These samples were then tested for a substance produced in the liver from Vitamin D. Participants with high amounts of the substance - 25-hydroxyVitamin D (25(OH)D) - were found by the researchers to be less likely to develop colorectal tumours permeated with large numbers of immune system cells, suggesting that their hypothesis was correct.

 

Vitamin A Deficiency Associated With Type 2 Diabetes

A recent edition of The Journal of Biological Chemistry carries a report from US researchers that claims to have identified a potential driver of type 2 diabetes: Vitamin A deficiency. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, in which insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are unable to function effectively. Vitamin A aids cell growth and contributes to a healthy immune system and vision and previous studies have shown that, during foetal development, Vitamin A is essential for beta cell production, although it was unclear as to whether Vitamin A played such a role in adulthood. To find out, the team analysed the beta cell development among two groups of adult mice; one group of mice had been genetically modified to be unable to store dietary Vitamin A, while the other group was able to store the vitamin from foods as normal. The researchers found that the mice unable to store Vitamin A experienced beta cell death, meaning these mice were unable to produce insulin. What is more, when the researchers removed Vitamin A from the diets of healthy mice, they found that this led to significant beta cell loss, resulting in reduced insulin production and increased blood glucose levels - key factors involved in development of type 2 diabetes. When the researchers restored Vitamin A to the rodents' diets, beta cell production rose, insulin production increased and blood glucose levels returned to normal.

 

Beetroot Juice Reduces High Blood Pressure

UK researchers writing in the journal, Hypertension, say that one glass of beetroot juice a day is enough to significantly reduce blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure. Beetroot contains high levels of inorganic nitrate. Other leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage, also have high levels of the compound, which they take up from the soil through their roots. In the human body, inorganic nitrate converts to nitric oxide, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels. For the trial, the team recruited 64 patients aged 18-85. Half of the patients were taking prescribed medication for high blood pressure but were not managing to reach their target blood pressure, and the rest had been diagnosed with high blood pressure but were not yet taking medication for it. The patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group consumed a daily glass (250 ml) of beetroot juice, and the other group had the same except their beetroot juice was nitrate-free (the placebo). The patients consumed the juice every day for 4 weeks. They were also monitored for 2 weeks before and after the study, bringing the total trial period to 8 weeks. During the 4 weeks that they were taking the juice, patients in the active supplement group (whose beetroot juice contained inorganic nitrate) experienced a reduction in blood pressure of 8/4 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). The first figure is the reduction in systolic pressure (when the heart is pushing) and the second figure is reduction in diastolic pressure (when the heart is relaxing). For many patients, the 8/4 mmHg reduction brought their blood pressure back into the normal range. In the 2 weeks after they stopped taking the juice, the patients' blood pressure returned to their previous high levels. The patients in the active supplement group also experienced a 20% or so improvement in blood vessel dilation capacity and their artery stiffness reduced by around 10%. Studies show such changes are linked to reduced risk of heart disease. There were no changes to blood pressure, blood vessel function or artery stiffness in the placebo group.

 

Alcohol Protects Against Heart Failure

The health benefits of including a moderate amount of alcohol in the diet have been vigorously debated in research. A US study published recently in the European Heart Journal has found that drinking up to seven alcoholic drinks a week is linked to a lower risk of developing heart failure in the future. The study authors analysed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which included 14,629 participants aged between 45 and 64 years. The participants were recruited between 1987 and 1989 and they were followed for 24-25 years.  Interviews were conducted with the participants on their drinking habits at the start of the study and at follow-up interviews conducted at 3-yearly intervals. From this data, the researchers divided the participants into the following categories: abstainers (people who recorded having drunk no alcohol at every visit by the researchers), former drinkers, people who drank up to seven drinks a week, people who drank seven to 14 drinks a week, people who drank 14-21 drinks, a week, and people who drank 21 or more drinks a week. For the purposes of the study, one "drink" was defined as a beverage containing 14 g of alcohol, approximately equivalent to a small (125 ml) glass of wine, just over 300mL of beer or less than one shot of liquor.  Over the course of the study, 1,271 male participants and 1,237 female participants developed heart failure. The lowest rate of heart failure in the study was among participants who consumed up to seven drinks per week and the highest rate was among those who were former drinkers. The researchers calculated that men who consumed up to seven drinks a week had a 20% lower risk of developing heart failure compared to abstainers, and women consuming the same amount had a 16% lower risk. The study found former drinkers to have the highest risk of developing heart failure - 19% increased risk among men and 17% among women, compared with abstainers.  Although it might be expected that the highest risk for developing heart failure would be among the heaviest drinkers in the study, the researchers found that participants who drank 14 or more drinks per week did not have a significantly different risk of heart failure to that of the abstainers.  The researchers suggest that this result may be due to the study featuring a small number of participants who were very heavy drinkers, so the association may not have been fully detected. However, the authors did find an association between drinking 21 or more drinks a week and increased risk of death from all causes for 47% of men and 89% of women.

 

Coffee Reduces the Risk of Developing Melanoma

Researchers working in the US recently released the results of a study showing that consuming coffee  could reduce the risk of melanoma skin cancer by 20%. Writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. the team assessed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, involving 447,357 non-Hispanic white participants who were free of cancer at study baseline.  The participants completed a food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study, which detailed their coffee intake, and the incidence of melanoma among subjects was monitored over an average of 10.5 years. During this time, 2,905 participants developed melanoma. The researchers found that the more coffee participants consumed each day, the less likely they were to develop melanoma during the follow-up period. Drinking four cups of coffee a day, for example, was associated with a 20% lower risk of melanoma, the team reports. These results remained even after accounting for participants' age, sex, body mass index, alcohol intake, smoking history and ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure - a primary risk factor for skin cancer. The team noted the association was only found among participants who consumed caffeinated coffee, not decaffeinated. In addition, coffee only appeared to reduce the risk of malignant melanoma, not melanoma in situ - in which melanoma cells have not spread beyond the outer cells of the skin.

 

News

May/June 2015

Research

 

Bilberries Reduce inflammation and Blood Pressure

Finnish research released recently in the journal, Plos One, has shown that bilberries have beneficial effects on blood pressure and the nutrition-derived inflammatory responses that are caused by a high-fat diet. Bilberries have high levels of a plant polyphenol called anthocyanin. The study looked at the effect of bilberries on mice fed a high-fat diet 3 months, with 5-10% of the diets of some of the mice made up of bilberries. To measure the effects of the diets on the mice, the researchers measured inflammatory cell and cytokine levels, systolic blood pressure, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity and weight gain. The team found that the high-fat diet caused the mice to experience significant weight gain and adverse changes in glucose and lipid metabolism, inflammation factors and blood pressure. However, the mice who were fed bilberries had an altered cytokine profile and a lower prevalence of inflammation-supporting T-cells than the mice that did not receive bilberries. The researchers say the bilberries also prevented the elevated blood pressure caused by the high-fat diet.

 

Gut Bacteria are Influenced by Diet Rather Than Genes

More and more studies are revealing the important role that our gut bacteria play in our health. Their trillions of cells vastly outnumber ours. Fortunately, many of them are "friendly," in that they help us to digest food and crowd out bad bacteria that cause disease. But the mix of gut microbes varies considerably from person to person and also over time. And, until now, it has not been clear whether this variation is due mostly to genes, or things we can change, such as diet and lifestyle. In a new US study published in the journal, Cell Host & Microbe, on the link between gut microbes and health, researchers conclude that diet may have a stronger influence than genes in determining the mix of bacteria in the gut. US scientists reporting, In this new study, the researchers used hundreds of mice with a wide range of well-defined genetic backgrounds. They fed the mice two different diets, altering between a high-fat, high-sugar diet (14.8% protein, 44.6% fat and 40.6% carbohydrate) and a low-fat, plant-based diet (22.2% protein, 16.0% fat and 61.7% carbohydrate). The researchers discovered that switching the mice to a high-sugar, high-fat diet changed the mix of microbes in their gut to a new, stable mix within 3 days. The effect was repeatable and was mostly independent of the genetic variations among the mice, they note. Regardless of the mice's genetic makeup, the high-fat, high-sugar diet increased the abundance of Firmicutes bacteria and reduced the abundance of Bacteroidetes bacteria. The team found that varying diet had a much stronger influence on gut microbe mix than genetic variation. And the influence can last for several months. The team also found that when they returned the mice to their original diets, changes in the gut microbe mix were largely reversible, but not quite. It seems that imprints of past diets, as well as current diet, play a role in determining gut microbe mix.

 

Broccoli Useful in Progeria

Short for Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, progeria is a rare and fatal genetic disorder where children appear to age prematurely because of a faulty protein in their cell nuclei. As the defective protein, known as progerin, accumulates, it interferes with a number of cell functions. A new German study published in the journal, Aging Cell, has shown that the nuclei of cells in children affected by the disease are bad at breaking down and disposing of defective proteins. It showed that an antioxidant present in broccoli appears to give the protein-clearing system a boost, potentially reducing the effects of the disease. They did this using sulforaphane, an antioxidant found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts. The research team compared progeria-diseased cells with healthy cells to look for differences in the proteins in the cell nuclei. Most progeria patients carry a faulty gene that produces a faulty version of a protein called lamin A. This faulty version is what is known as progerin. Normal lamin A is an important component of the matrix that surrounds DNA in the cell nucleus and plays a key role in gene expression. But the progerin version of lamin A does not have a function; it just becomes a nuisance as it accumulates because the cell continues to make it as instructed by the faulty gene. However, as it collects in the nucleus, progerin causes the cell to "age," meaning patients with the disease develop classic health problems of old age, such as atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Using sophisticated protein analysis techniques, known as proteomics, the team compared the diseased and normal cells and found a surprising similarity. The healthy cells also contained progerin, but at much lower levels. It seems that progerin is a natural by-product in cells, but healthy cells get rid of it before it can accumulate to dangerous levels. The researchers state that progerin is also produced in healthy cells, probably as a by-product. A well-functioning cellular waste disposal system can break down these small quantities of progerin and that one of the main differences between the healthy and diseased cells was that levels of progerin in the nuclei of diseased cells were 10-20 times higher than levels in the nuclei of healthy cells. Thus, the nuclei of progeria-diseased cells appear to have a huge backlog of cell debris that is not removed. On further investigation, the team also found that the mechanism that removes debris from the cell nucleus, known as ubiquitin-proteasome system and autophagy, did not work properly in the progeria-diseased cells. These debris-clearing systems comprise huge complexes of proteins that do not appear to be produced in sufficient quantities in progeria-diseased cells. Altogether, the team found the progeria-diseased cell nuclei had over 28 proteins, each carrying out a number of cell functions, with faults in them, and all the faults came from the same mutation of the lamin A gene. In the second part of the study, the team searched the literature for substances that might activate the debris-clearing system in the cell nuclei and help rid the diseased cells of excess progerin. That's how they found the antioxidant sulforaphane that activates debris elimination in cells. When the researchers treated progeria-diseased cells with sulforaphane, they found it significantly reduced levels of progerin in their nuclei. Diseased cells treated with sulforaphane also appeared to have less DNA damage and nuclear deformations.

 

Red Wine Activates Stress Response to Promote Health Benefits

Red wine contains resveratrol, a compound that's also found in red grapes, that has been linked to an array of health benefits, such as reduced risk of age-related diseases. Researchers have long investigated how resveratrol promotes such benefits. Now, US scientists writing in the journal, Nature, suggest that the compound stimulates a stress response gene, which activates a number of other genes that protect the body. In this study the researchers set out to determine if resveratrol really is beneficial for health and if so, how the compound promotes such benefits. They investigated resveratrol's association with tRNA synthetases, enzymes that aid translation of genetic material during protein synthesis. In particular, the researchers focused on a specific tRNA synthetase called TyrRS , an enzyme that binds with an amino acid called tyrosine before linking up with encoding genetic material, after a former investigator at TSRI found that it can relocate to the cell nucleus under stressful conditions, effectively adopting a protective role. Since resveratrol has been shown to have similar properties to tyrosine and has been associated with a comparable stress response, the team wanted to see whether TyrRS is a target for the compound. Using X-ray crystallography and other tests to compare resveratrol with TyrRS, the researchers found that resveratrol mimics tyrosine, so much so that TyrRS was able to bind with resveratrol. The team explains that this attachment led TyrRS away from its protein translation activity and pushed it toward the cell nucleus. Once in the nucleus, the researchers found that the TyrRS-resveratrol combination switched on a gene called PARP-1, known to play a role in stress response and DNA repair and to have a major influence on aging. What is more, activating PARP-1 also switched on a number of other protective genes, including FOXO3A and SIRT6, associated with longevity, and the tumor-suppressor gene p53. The team notes that their findings were confirmed when they injected mice with resveratrol. Interestingly, the researchers found that the TyrRS-PARP1 pathway can be activated with doses of resveratrol up to 1,000 times lower than doses that have been used in past studies investigating the compound's health benefits, so it's conceivable that moderate consumption of a couple glasses of red wine would give a person enough resveratrol to evoke a protective effect via this pathway.

 

Weight Lifting is the Best Exercise to Eradicate Belly Fat

It's long been though that any form of exercise will get rid of belly fat but recent US research published in the journal, Obesity, suggests that, compared with aerobic activities, daily weight training is more effective in keeping abdominal fat at bay. The researchers studied 10,500 healthy men in the US over the age of 40 who were part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study between 1996-2008. After assessing the physical activity, waist circumference and body weight of the men, the team analysed changes in their activity levels during the 12-year period and how this affected their waistlines. The results showed that the men who increased the amount of time they spent lifting weights by 20 minutes a day had a smaller waistline gain during the time period (-0.67 cm), compared with those who increased their aerobic exercise by 20 minutes a day (-0.33 cm) or who increased yard work or stair climbing (-0.16 cm). Not surprisingly, those who increased sedentary behaviours including watching TV gained more weight in their belly area. The researchers also note that, although aerobic exercise by itself was linked to less weight gain compared with weight training, waist circumference is a better sign of health in older people. Additionally, combining weight training and aerobic activity yielded the best results, they say.

 

Yoghurt Reduces the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

New US research appearing in the open access journal, BMC Medicine, has found that a higher intake of yoghurt is linked to a lower risk of developing the type 2 diabetes. The research team pooled data from three large studies that gathered information on dairy food intake and health from over 195,000 health professionals over several decades, during which time 15,000 participants developed type 2 diabetes. The researchers found a high intake of yogurt is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and conclude the findings highlight the importance of including yogurt as part of a healthy diet. Further analysis of the data revealed that eating one serving of yogurt a day was linked to an 18% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One serving is defined as 28 g of yogurt, which is about 2 tablespoons.

 

Fast Food Associated With Poorer Academic Outcomes

The journal, Clinical Pediatrics, reported recently on US research that said that children who consumed fast food had diminished academic performance. The researchers in this study analysed data from 11,740 students who were part of the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. When the children were in fifth grade, they completed a food consumption questionnaire. From this, the team found that only 29% of children reported eating no fast food in the week prior to the questionnaire. Around 10% of children reported eating fast food every day, while 10% reported eating it four to six times a week. The remaining children reported eating fast food one to three times in the week before the questionnaire. The children completed tests in reading, math and science in fifth grade, and further tests in these three subjects were completed when they reached eighth grade. The study results revealed that children who consumed fast food four to six times a week or every day scored up to 20% lower on math, reading and science tests in eighth grade than those who did not eat any fast food. Children who ate fast food one to three times a week had lower scores on the math test only in eighth grade, compared with those who ate no fast food. The researchers say their results remained even after accounting for other potential contributing factors for lower test scores, such as exercise, television viewing time, their family's socioeconomic status, other food consumption, and school and neighbourhood characteristics.

 

Negative Thoughts Reduced By An Early Night

Scientists from Binghampton University in New York writing in the journal, Cognitive Therapy and Research, say that. going to bed late and experiencing interrupted sleep may contribute to more negative thoughts, compared with individuals who go to bed early. The study authors state that  individuals who have such thoughts typically suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, compulsive disorder or social anxiety disorder, and that these individuals typically experience sleep problems.  For their investigation, the researchers asked 100 students from the university to complete several questionnaires and two computerized assignments, which measured how much they worried, ruminated or obsessed about something, thus measuring repetitive negative thinking. Then, the team asked the students whether they were "morning or evening types" and whether they have regular sleep hours or whether they tend to have a later sleep-wake schedule. Results showed that the students who slept for shorter periods and went to bed later experienced more repetitive negative thoughts, compared with those who slept for longer periods and went to bed earlier. Additionally, the students who identified as "evening types" also experienced more repetitive negative thoughts. The researchers say their findings suggest that disruption to sleep may be associated with the development of repetitive negative thinking, and they believe individuals at risk of developing a disorder with such intrusive thoughts should focus on getting adequate sleep.

 

Animal-Specific Sugar May Be The Cause of Cancers Associated With Red Meat

US researchers recently reported findings on the role a sugar specific to red meat may play in forming tumours in humans. Red meats - beef, pork and lamb, are rich in a sugar called Neu5Gc and provide the primary sources of this sugar in the human diet. The researchers wanted to understand why people who eat a lot of red meat are at higher risk for certain cancers while people who eat other types of meat are not. The team first conducted a systematic survey of common foods and found that red meats - beef, pork and lamb, are rich in a sugar called Neu5Gc and provide the primary sources of this sugar in the human diet. From previous studies, the researchers had found that Neu5Gc can be absorbed into human tissues. From these findings, the team hypothesized that eating red meat could, therefore, promote potentially cancer-forming inflammation if the body is constantly generating antibodies against Neu5Gc, which is a foreign molecule. To test this, the team used mice engineered to have a deficiency of this sugar, and they found that feeding the mice Neu5Gc resulted in systemic inflammation, which was associated with a fivefold increase in spontaneous tumor formation. As the researchers did not expose the mice in the study to carcinogens or attempt to artificially induce cancers, they believe Neu5Gc is strongly associated with increased cancer risk. The research was published in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Pets Improve the Social Skills in Children with Autism

A new US research study suggests that not living with dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals as pets may help children with autism improve their social skills. The research team surveyed parents of 70 autistic patients with patients ranging in age from 8 to 18 years. Nearly 70% of the families had dogs and around 50% had cats. Smaller proportions also had other pets, including farm animals, reptiles, rodents, rabbits, fish, a bird and even a spider. They compared the survey results with assessments of the children's social skills and found those who lived with dogs appeared to have greater social skills. They also found that the longer the children had lived with a dog at home, the better their social skills. And it seems the strongest bonds were with smaller dogs. But the results also showed links between greater social skills and living with any kind of pet, not just dogs, and that children's assertiveness was also improved if they lived with a pet.

 

 

April/May 2015

Research

 

Gut Bacteria Help With Obesity

New US and UK research on twins published in the journal, Cell, suggests that our genes influence what type of bacteria we have in our gut, and that the abundance of bacteria could affect our weight. The research team said that the results may open the door to personalised probiotic treatments that could reduce the risk of obesity and its related diseases. For their study, the researchers sequenced the genes of microbes present in over 1,000 faecal samples taken from 416 pairs of twins who were part of the Twins UK data registry. Of these twins, 171 pairs were identical and 245 were non-identical. Identical twins share 100% of their genes, while non-identical twins share around 50% of their genes. Results of the analysis revealed that identical twins had a similar abundance of specific types of gut bacteria, compared with non-identical twins. The team said that this indicates that genes influence the type of bacteria present in the gut. What is more, the researchers found that the presence of a class of bacteria called Christensenellaceae was most influenced by genes. A certain strain of this bacteria,  Christensenellaceae minuta, was found to be more common among individuals of a low body weight. On introducing this bacteria to the guts of mice, the team found the animals gained less weight than those that did not receive the bacteria. This suggests that increasing the amount of Christensenellaceae minuta bacteria in the gut could help to reduce or prevent obesity.

 

Prostate Cancer Responds to Walnuts

US researchers working with mice have found that diets rich in walnuts or walnut oil could slow prostate cancer growth. The researchers say components of the walnut, not its omega-3 content, confer anti-prostate cancer health benefits.The study, which is published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, notes that previous research has suggested that intake of tree nuts is linked with reduced cardiovascular disease risk factors as well as cancer. Previous studies have shown that walnuts reduced prostate tumor size in mice, but there were questions about which parts of the nuts were responsible for this effect. To further examine this, the team used a mixture of fats with the same omega-3 fatty acid content as walnuts for their control diet. Mice were then fed either whole walnuts, walnut oil or the control fat diet for 18 weeks. Results revealed that the walnuts and walnut oil lowered cholesterol and slowed prostate cancer growth, but the control fat diet did not, suggesting it is other components of the walnut, not the omega-3s, that are conferring these benefits. Walnut consumption was also linked to increases in adiponectin and the tumor suppressor PSP94 and decreases in COX-2, which are all markers for a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

 

Moderate Exercise Reduces the Risk of Developing Parkinson's Disease

A new Swedish study recorded in the in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, found a moderate amount of daily physical activity is tied to a lower risk of Parkinson's disease. The research team analysed data from 43,000 men and women collected over 12 years as they participated in the Swedish National March Cohort. Through extensive questionnaires, the participants gave information on all kinds of physical activity, including that associated with household chores, commuting, job-related and leisure, as well as a daily total. To be able to analyse the data statistically, the researchers converted the activity information into metabolic equivalent (MET) hours per day, using estimated oxygen consumption associated with each type of activity. None of the participants had Parkinson's diseases at the start of the study follow-up period in October 1997. Over the follow-up, which lasted until the end of 2010, information was collected on each participant until either Parkinson's disease was diagnosed, they died, or left the country. During the follow-up, 286 of the participants were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In their statistical analysis, the researchers found that the participants who spent more than 6 hours a day doing physical activity related to household chores and commuting had a 43% lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, compared with counterparts who only spent 2 hours a day on the same physical activity.

 

Forget the Trans Fats

In a recent US study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, it was shown that for healthy working-age men, those who ate the most trans fats performed the worst on memory tests. Health studies have previously shown that trans fat consumption is linked to heart disease, aggression and higher body weight. Trans fats are the result of a process that converts liquid oils into solid fats. The food industry uses them to extend the shelf life of foods such as margarines, fast foods, various baked goods, frozen pizzas, snacks, coffee creamers and some refrigerated doughs. Trans fats increase oxidative stress, affecting cell energy. Oxidative stress arises when the balance between the reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defences are disturbed. It is associated with the development of diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. In this latest study, the research team found that trans fats were most strongly linked to poor memory in young and middle-aged men during their working and career-building years. They studied data from a group of 1,000 healthy people without heart disease, including nearly 700 men aged 20 and over. The remaining participants were postmenopausal women. The researchers note that their analysis focused primarily on the men as they were the only ones represented at all adult ages. From questionnaires the participants had completed about their diet, the researchers estimated their trans fat consumption. The participants also underwent assessments of memory performance. They were shown a series of 104 cards with words on them. For each card, they had to say whether they had seen the word before or whether this was the first time it had been shown to them. The results showed that for men under 45 years of age, eating more trans fats was linked to reduced performance on the word memory tests. This link was still strong when the researchers took into account potential influencers, such as age, education, depression and ethnicity. The analysis showed that each extra gram of trans fat consumed per day was linked to an estimated 0.76 fewer words recalled. For those who ate the most trans fats, this translated to 11, or more than 10%, fewer words remembered, compared with those who ate the least amount of trans fats. The average number of words correctly remembered was 86. When they repeated their analysis with the full sample - that is, including the postmenopausal women, the researchers found the same results, suggesting it is not just men who are affected.

 

Metabolic Syndrome and Gut Bacteria

Healthy bacteria that live in the intestine may help to treat or prevent metabolic syndrome, according to a new US study published in the journal, Gastroenterology. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of risk factors that increase risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It consists of a large waistline, elevated triglyceride (a type of fat found in the blood), reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and high fasting blood sugar. People with metabolic syndrome have an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. As well as promoting the inflammation that leads to metabolic syndrome, disturbances to gut bacteria promote chronic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn's disease and this new study explains the mechanisms involved. According to the lead study author, "It's the loss of TLR5 on the epithelium. The cells that line the surface of the intestine and their ability to quickly respond to bacteria. That ability goes away and results in a more aggressive bacterial population that gets closer in and produces substances that drive inflammation." The study used a model of mouse siblings, and demonstrated that the altered gut bacterial population that promotes inflammation is more aggressive than other bacteria in infiltrating the epithelium.

 

Yogurt for Type 2 Diabetes Risk

A recent US study, published in the journal, BMC Medicine, has found an association between yogurt consumption and type 2 diabetes risk, suggesting that increased consumption of the food could lower the risk of the condition developing. Yogurts contain probiotics- micro-organisms that play an important role in regulating digestion and intestinal function. The researchers compiled the results from three large cohort studies. These studies recorded the medical histories and lifestyle habits of health professionals, including dentists, nurses, pharmacists, podiatrists, physicians and vets. A total of 194,519 participants were eligible for the study. All participants filled out a health and lifestyle questionnaire at the beginning of the study and were followed up every 2 years with further questionnaires. All participants were free from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start of the study, and participants were excluded if they did not include information in their questionnaires about dairy consumption. Within the three samples, a total of 15,156 cases of type 2 diabetes were identified during the follow-up period. Overall, no association was found between total dairy consumption and type 2 diabetes. Consumption of individual dairy products such as cheese, skimmed milk, whole milk and yogurt was analysed. After adjusting their findings for dietary factors and chronic disease factors such as age and BMI, the researchers found an association between high yogurt intake and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes development. A meta-analysis was then carried out, comparing these findings with those from other studies that had examined the association between dairy products and type 2 diabetes up until March 2013. This analysis found that eating a 28g serving of yogurt every day was associated with an 18% lower risk of type 2 diabetes developing.

 

Vitamin B3 May Help to Prevent Hearing Loss

New US research reported in the journal, Cell Metabolism, and carried out on mice, suggests that noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented with a simple chemical compound that protects the nerves that stimulate the cochlea. The cochlea transmits sound messages through nerves to the spiral ganglion, which, in turn, passes those messages to the brain. When an individual is exposed to loud noises, the synapses connecting the cochlear nerves and hair cells become damaged, resulting in hearing loss. The scientists used the chemical nicotinamide riboside (NR), a precursor to Vitamin B3, on mice before or after exposing them to loud noises. From this, the researchers observed that NR successfully prevented damage to the synaptic connections in the mice, preventing both long- and short-term hearing loss. Additionally, the team found that NR was equally effective when given both before or after the mice were exposed to the noise.

 

Gut Bacteria and Malaria

Worldwide, malarial infection is responsible for over half a million deaths annually. New Portuguese research published  in the journal, Cell, has found that a specific bacteria in the gut may induce a natural defence against the infection. In recent years, researchers have learned more about the "friendly" bacteria that live in the human gut, known as gut microbiota. Rather than cause disease, these bacteria can trigger immune functions that protect against it. Studies have shown that in adults, certain strains of E. coli bacteria that live in the gut can protect against disease by expressing sugar molecules, or glycans, from their surface. The immune system recognizes these glycans and, in response, produces large numbers of natural antibodies that circulate throughout the body, staving off infection. In this latest study, the team found that the parasite that causes malaria, Plasmodium,  expresses a sugar molecule that is also expressed by a friendly strain of E. coli, called alpha gal (α-gal). When α-gal from E. coli was expressed in the guts of mice, it caused the immune system to produce natural circulating antibodies that recognized α-gal expressed by Plasmodium parasites immediately after a bite from a mosquito. Upon recognition of the α-gal expressed by Plasmodium parasites, the anti-α-gal antibodies produced by the immune system triggered what is called the "complement cascade" - a part of the innate immune system that kills pathogens. This process killed the Plasmodium parasites, preventing malaria transmission.

 

Vitamin D in Seasonal Affective Disorder

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of asthma, cancer and chronic pain, and many other medical conditions. A US research team writing in a recent issue of the journal, Medical Hypotheses, have associated low Vitamin D levels with a greater risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months. Although the exact cause of SAD is unclear, numerous studies have suggested the condition may be triggered by lack of sunlight. SAD is more common among people who live at high latitudes or areas with lots of cloud. One hypothesis behind SAD is that reduced sunlight exposure interferes with the body's biological clock that regulates mood, sleep and hormones. Another theory is that lack of sunlight causes an imbalance of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood. This current study presents the case for a link between Vitamin D deficiency and SAD. Firstly, the researchers noted that Vitamin D levels in the body fluctuate with the changing seasons in response to available sunlight. They state that there is a lag of about 8 weeks between the peak in intensity of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and the onset of SAD, and this correlates with the time it takes for UV radiation to be processed by the body into Vitamin D, and that Vitamin D also plays a part in the synthesis of both dopamine and serotonin, noting that past research has associated low levels of these neurotransmitters with depression. In addition, previous studies have found depressed patients commonly had lower levels of Vitamin D.

 

Sugar Rather Than Salt Contributes to High Blood Pressure

New evidence published in the online journal, Open Heart, suggests that added sugars probably matter more than dietary sodium for risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Research implicates sugars, and particularly the fructose (fruit sugar), as playing a major role in the development of hypertension and overall cardiovascular risk. Controlling hypertension is a major focus of public health initiatives, and dietary approaches to address hypertension have historically focused on sodium. Nonetheless, the potential benefits of sodium reduction are debatable; studies have shown that the reduction in blood pressure achieved by restricting salt is slim. Recent data encompassing over 100,000 people indicates that sodium intake between 3-6 g/day is associated with a lower risk of death and cardiovascular events compared with either a higher or lower level of intake. "Thus, guidelines advising restriction of sodium intake below 3 g/day may cause harm," the authors write. Processed foods happen to be major sources of not just sodium, but also of highly refined carbohydrates: that is, various sugars and the simple starches that give rise to them through digestion. Sucrose, or table sugar, is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides: glucose and fructose. Sucrose is a common ingredient in industrially processed foods, but not as common as another sweetener: high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Whereas sucrose is equal parts fructose and glucose, HFCS has more fructose (usually 55%) than glucose (the remaining 45%) and is the most frequently used sweetener in processed foods - particularly in fruit drinks and soft drinks. Ingesting one can of soft drink has been shown to cause an average maximum increase in blood pressure of 15/9 mm Hg and heart rate of 9 bpm. The researchers state "sugar may be much more meaningfully related to blood pressure than sodium, as suggested by a greater magnitude of effect with dietary manipulation." Higher sugar intake significantly increases systolic (6.9 mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (5.6 mm Hg) in trials of 8 weeks or more in duration. This effect is increased to 7.6/6.1 mm Hg, when studies that received funding from the sugar industry are excluded. Those who consume 25% or more calories from added sugar have an almost threefold increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, according to the research.

 

March/April 2015

Research

 

Catch the Sun for Obesity and Diabetes

Recent Australian research published in the journal, Diabetes, has found that moderate sun exposure may help prevent the development of obesity and diabetes. The study looked at how ultra violet (UV light exposure impacted the onset of obesity and diabetes in mice. To reach their findings, the researchers fed mice a high-fat diet to trigger the onset of obesity and diabetes. The mice were then exposed to moderate levels of UV radiation. The researchers say these mice showed reduced weight gain and had fewer indications of diabetes onset,  such as high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Further research showed that this effect was not down to Vitamin D but a compound called nitric oxide, which the skin releases after sun exposure.  They reached this conclusion by applying a cream that contained nitric oxide to the skin of the mice, while other mice received Vitamin D supplementation. The cream triggered the same obesity and diabetes slowing effects as UV exposure, while Vitamin D supplementation had no effect. The researchers note that previous research has suggested that nitric oxide production from UV exposure can lower blood pressure. They stated that these observations further indicate that the amounts of nitric oxide released from the skin may have beneficial effects, not only on heart and blood vessels, but also on the way our body regulates metabolism.

 

A Walnut-Rich Diet Slows Alzheimer's Disease

Previous research has linked walnuts to reduced risk of breast cancer and improved sperm quality. Now, a new  US study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, claims that a diet enriched with the nuts could help prevent or slow Alzheimer's disease. Earlier research done by the team that carried out this study found that a component in walnuts may have a protective effect against oxidative stress caused by beta-amyloid protein. Since a build-up of this protein can form beta-amyloid plaques, believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's, the team wanted to follow-up their research. In this latest study, they set out to determine the effects of a walnut-enriched diet on learning skills, memory, anxiety and motor coordination in Alzheimer's mouse models. To do this, for 9-10 months, mice were fed custom-mixed diets that contained either 6% or 9% walnuts each day. In humans, this is the equivalent to consuming either 28-42g of walnuts per day. To act as controls, other Alzheimer's mouse models were fed a diet without walnuts. At the end of the study, all mice were subject to experiments that tested their learning abilities, spatial memory, motor coordination and anxiety-related behaviour. The researchers found that the Alzheimer's mouse models fed the walnut-enriched diets showed significant improvements in all areas, compared with Alzheimer's mouse models fed the control diet. The team says it is possible that the high antioxidant content of walnuts helped protect brain degeneration in the mice. Furthermore, walnuts are known to be a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - a form of omega-3 that has been associated with heart and brain benefits.

 

Remember the Cocoa

A new US study published in Nature Neuroscience suggests that naturally occurring flavanols present in cocoa reversed age-related memory decline in older adults. Memory decline starts in early adulthood, although it does not become noticeable until we reach our 50s or 60s, when it becomes known as age-related memory decline. Previous research has suggested that this form of memory decline may stem from changes in the function of a brain region known as the dentate gyrus, but proving the association to be causal has been a challenge for researchers. Flavanols found in cocoa beans have been linked to improvements in brain connections in the dentate gyrus of mice. As such, the researchers wanted to see whether these flavanols would boost the function of the dentate gyrus in humans and improve memory. To do this, the team enrolled 37 healthy individuals aged 50-69 to their study. For 3 months, some of the participants were randomized to follow a high-flavanol diet, containing 900mg of flavanols each day. Other participants followed a low-flavanol diet, containing only 10mg of flavanols a day. Flavanols were consumed via a cocoa drink. The drink contained flavanols that are usually found in raw cocoa, many of which are lost when cocoa is processed. At the beginning and end of the study, each participant underwent brain imaging that allowed the researchers to assess the blood volume specific to the dentate gyrus, which they say is a measure of metabolism in this region. The subjects were also required to participate in memory tests at both time points, which involved completing a 20-minute pattern-recognition task. The task allowed researchers to assess a form of memory that the dentate gyrus controls. The team found that the participants who followed the high-flavanol diet demonstrated improved function in the dentate gyrus, compared with those who followed the low-flavanol diet. Furthermore, participants in the high-flavanol group performed much better on memory tests.

 

Black Tea and Citrus Reduce the Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Groups of chemicals called flavanols and flavanones, found in black tea and citrus fruit, have been linked to a decreased risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, the fifth largest cause of cancer death among women, according to recent UK research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Flavonols are found in tea, red wine, onions, apples and grapes, and flavanones are found in things such as citrus fruit and watermelons. The researchers studied the dietary habits of 171,940 women aged between 25-55 as part of the Nurses' Health Study and Nurses' Health Study II over the course of 3 decades. To calculate the participants' dietary intake, the researchers analysed validated food-frequency questionnaires that were collected every 4 years and found that main dietary sources of flavonols were black tea (31%), onions (20%) and apples, while the main sources for flavanones were citrus fruit (36%; 27% from orange intake) and juices (63%; 54% from orange juice). During the 16-22 years of follow-up, the researchers found that there were a total of 723 cases of medically confirmed ovarian cancer. The results show that participants who had the highest intakes of flavonol and flavanone had a lower risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer than those who had the lowest intakes.

 

Milk May Increase Fracture Risk and Overall Mortality

A new Swedish study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that a high intake of milk (3 or more glasses daily) is associated with a higher risk fractures and a higher rate of premature death in men and women. The researchers set out to determine if a high intake of milk may increase oxidative stress, and increasing the risk of mortality and bone fracture.The hypothesis is based on the indication that milk provides the main dietary source of D-galactose. Galactose makes up half of lactose, the sugar found in milk. Experimental evidence in various animal species indicates that a chronic exposure to D-galactose is detrimental to health- increasing aging and shortened lifespan. These consequences are due to oxidative stress damage, chronic inflammation, neurodegeneration, decreased immune response and gene transcriptional changes. To test the hypothesis, the investigators used data from over 106,000 men and women. In answer to a questionnaire, the participants reported their average consumption of up to 96 common foods and beverages, including milk, fermented milk, yogurt and cheese. Lifestyle information, weight and height were gathered and factors relating to education level and marital status were also taken into account. National registers were utilized to track fracture and mortality rates. The results showed that for women, no reduced risk of fracture with higher milk consumption was observed and women who drank more than three glasses of milk a day had a higher risk of death than women who drank less than one glass of milk a day. Although less pronounced than in the female group, men also had a higher risk of death with higher milk consumption. Further investigation was undertaken to determine whether milk was associated with oxidative stress and inflammation. The results proved positive in both sexes. However, consumption of fermented milk products, yogurt and cheese, indicated a negative relation with both the oxidative stress and the inflammatory markers and was associated with reduced rates of mortality and fracture, particularly in women.

 

Low Vitamin D Associated with an Increased Risk of Asthma

Adults with asthma who have Vitamin D deficiency may be much more likely to experience asthma attacks, according to new Israeli research published in the journal, Allergy. The research team assessed the medical records of almost 4 million individuals aged 22-50 who were members of Clalit Health Services, the largest health care provider in Israel. The Vitamin D levels of 307,900 individuals were measured. Among these, 21,237 people had physician-diagnosed asthma. The results of the analysis revealed that asthmatics who had low Vitamin D levels were 25% more likely to have an asthma attack than those whose Vitamin D levels were normal. These findings remained even after the team accounted for other risk factors for asthma, such as obesity, smoking and co-existing chronic illnesses.

 

Epilepsy Responds to Low-carb, High-fat Diets

A US review of current epilepsy research published in the journal, Neurology, presents a promising alternative treatment for epileptic seizure reduction- diets high in fats and low in carbohydrates. Researchers reviewed the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic and modified Atkins diets for the treatment of refractory epilepsy (drug-resistant epilepsy) in adults. Both diets have proved successful in children, yet they are studied in adults insufficiently. The modified Atkins diet and the ketogenic diet include high-fat foods such as bacon, eggs, mayonnaise, butter, hamburgers and heavy cream, with certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, avocados, cheeses and fish. The ketogenic diet is restrictive, not very palatable and logistically difficult to execute. The Atkins diet has been modified for use in patients with refractory epilepsy as an easier-to-execute variety of the ketogenic diet. The ratios of fat to carbohydrate and protein are as follows: Ketogenic diet: 3:1 or 4:1 [fat]:[carbohydrate 1 protein] ratio by weight, with 87-90% of calories derived from fat; Modified Atkins diet: 0.9:1 [fat]:[carbohydrate 1 protein] weight ratio, with approximately 50% of calories derived from fat. By contrast, the typical American diet derives about 50% of calories from carbohydrate, 35% from fat and 15% from protein. US government guidelines for adults recommend 45-65% calories from carbohydrates, 10-20% from fat and 10-35% from protein. The scientists examined five studies of ketogenic diet treatment in 47 adults and five studies of modified Atkins diet treatment in 85 adults with refractory epilepsy. Across all studies, 32% of ketogenic diet-treated patients and 29% of modified Atkins diet-treated patients achieved 50% or greater seizure reduction. Also, 9% of the ketogenic diet and 5% of the modified Atkins diet-treated patients achieved greater than 90% seizure reduction. While this seems promising for asthmatics, there are significant consequences from the long term use of high fat diets.

 

Mediterranean-style Diets Reduce the Risk of Kidney Disease

The results of new US research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology has shown that following a Mediterranean-style diet could significantly lower the risk of chronic kidney disease. The Mediterranean diet mainly consists of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It also includes the consumption of fish and poultry at least twice a week, and healthy fats, such as olive oil, to replace saturated fats. Red meat, processed foods and sweets are limited. The diet has been hailed for promoting numerous health benefits. For this study, the team analysed the dietary patterns of 900 participants and followed them for almost 7 years. Each participant received a Mediterranean diet score. The higher their score was, the more closely their dietary patterns resembled a Mediterranean diet. Results of the analysis revealed that participants with a score of five or more, indicating a very close adherence to a Mediterranean diet, were 50% less likely to develop chronic kidney disease and were 42% less likely to have a rapid decline in kidney function, compared with those who had a lower score. Furthermore, the team found that every one-point increase in the Mediterranean diet score was associated with a 17% lower risk of CKD.

 

Shift Work and Brain Function

Research published recently in the online journal, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, suggests that working in shifts rather than fixed hours could lead to impairment of the functioning of the brain. It found that working shifts rather than traditional office hours impaired memory and thought processing over time and that long-term shift work, for 10 or more years, had a strong negative impact on the health of the brain, and although the effects could be reversed, full recovery could take as long as 5 years. Circadian rhythms influence body temperature, sleep and wakefulness and various hormonal changes, helping the body to function to its full potential according to what time in the cycle (usually the length of a day) the brain thinks it is. Disruption to circadian rhythms has been linked to a range of health problems, including breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, reproductive difficulties and ulcers. It has also been associated with acute effects on safety and productivity at work. However, until now, little has been understood about how it could impact on the functioning of the brain. For the study, a team of researchers analysed data from a sample of over 3,000 people, taken from the patient lists of three occupational health doctors from different regions in southern France. The cognitive abilities of the patients were tracked in 1996, 2001 and 2006, using tests designed to assess long and short-term memory, processing speed and overall cognitive ability. A total of 1,197 of the participants were assessed at all three points in time. Participants were aged 32, 42, 52 or 62 at the time of the first tests. They were either working or retired, with 1,484 people reporting working shifts for at least 50 days of the year. Around 1 in 5 of those in work (18.5%) and those who had retired (17.9%) reported working a shift pattern that rotated between morning, afternoon and night shifts. The researchers initially looked to see whether any amount of shift work, referred to as "non-standard working hours", was linked to a decline in cognitive abilities. They found that participants who were currently or who had previously worked in shifts scored lower than those working normal office hours in the tests assessing memory, processing speed and overall brain power. Participants who had worked with a rotating shift pattern for 10 or more years were found to have much lower overall cognitive and memory scores than those who had never worked in that manner. The lower scores were found to be equivalent to 6.5 years of age-related cognitive decline. Analyses were also made to determine whether stopping shift work was associated with an improvement in cognitive abilities following impairment. Results suggested that recovery was possible, although this was found to take at least 5 years.

 

A High-Fat Diet Helps to  Slow Brain Aging

Danish scientists have found that aging can be delayed in mice if they are placed on a high-fat diet. Although human cells have a system for repairing damage to DNA, this repair function breaks down as we age. This damage to DNA has been linked with Alzheimer's and Cockayne syndrome, a premature aging disorder that results in death by the age of 10-12. This new study used a mouse model of Cockayne syndrome to investigate these defects to the DNA repair system. The researchers explain that sugar and "ketones" are sources of energy that our brains require a constant supply of. When blood sugar is low, ketones are produced by the body breaking down fat. The researchers found that the mice with Cockayne syndrome benefited from having an extra supply of similar brain fuel, provided here in the form of medium-chain fatty acids from coconut oil.

 

February/March 2015

Research

 

Vegetables For Autism

According to the results from recent US research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,  a chemical found in broccoli and other vegetables, sulforaphane, has shown promise for improving some behavioural symptoms of autism. Sulforaphane is a chemical found in a number of vegetables, including broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. For their study, the team enrolled 40 adolescents and young men aged 13-27 who had moderate to severe autism. Of the participants, 26 were randomly assigned to receive either a dose of sulforaphane (9-27 mg dependent on their weight) once a day, which was extracted from broccoli sprouts, while 14 received a daily dose of a placebo. The researchers note that the participants, their family and the study team, did not know what treatments each subject was receiving. At 4, 10 and 18 weeks after treatment started, a number of autism-related behaviours were measured in the participants using the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, the Social Responsiveness Scale and the Clinical Global Impression scale. Treatment was stopped at 18 weeks. The researchers found that 4 weeks into the treatment, many of the participants who received sulforaphane started to show improvements in behavioural symptoms, and these improvements continued until treatment ceased. By 18 weeks, participants who received sulforaphane saw their scores on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist reduce by 34%, while scores on the Social Responsiveness Scale reduced by 17%. Furthermore, assessments using the Clinical Global Impression scale revealed that 46% of participants who received sulforaphane showed noticeable improvements in social interaction, 54% showed improvements in aberrant behaviours, such as irritability, awareness, repetitive movements, hyperactivity and motivation, while 42% showed improvements in verbal communication.

 

Mediterranean Diet Reverses Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is defined as having three or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Risk factors include abdominal obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels. New Spanish research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal has shown that Metabolic syndrome could be reversed by following a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive or nuts. The research team analysed data from men and women aged 55-80 who were at high risk of cardiovascular disease. At the beginning of the study, 64% of participants had metabolic syndrome.  All individuals were a part of the PREDIMED trial, an ongoing study that aims to assess the effects of a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular diseases.  Participants were randomized to follow one of three diets: a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil. They were followed-up for an average of 4.8 years. The results of the study revealed that participants who followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts and the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil saw a reduction in blood glucose levels and abdominal obesity. Furthermore, 28.2% of participants who followed the Mediterranean diets did not meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome by the end of the study.

 

World Health Organisation (WHO) Concerned About Energy Drinks

The rise in the popularity of energy drinks is being matched by a rise in hospital emergency department admissions related to their consumption, doubling from 2007 to 2011. Each can of energy drink can contain the same amount of caffeine as 5 cups of coffee or more. Taken in one sitting, this can have significant adverse effects for some people say the WHO.  A WHO review team published their findings in a recent edition of the journal Frontiers in Public Health, and identified caffeine intoxication and the effects of mixing these drinks with alcohol, as being major health issues. The review authors explain the consumption of large amounts of caffeine contained within energy drinks reduces drowsiness without diminishing the effects of alcohol resulting in a state of 'wide awake drunkenness', keeping the individual awake longer with the opportunity to continue drinking.

 

Breakfast Reduces Overeating

A recent US study appearing in the Nutrition Journal, has found that when late-teen girls eat breakfast, it raises levels of a chemical in the brain, dopamine, that may help them stop craving sweet foods and overeating during the rest of the day. When we eat, our brain releases dopamine, which stimulates feelings of fullness. This response is an important part of eating because it helps to regulate food intake. The research team recruited 20 overweight girls aged between 18 and 20 who normally skipped breakfast. Each participant underwent three types of 7 day eating patterns. In one pattern, the participants ate a 350-calorie breakfast with normal amounts of protein, in another pattern they ate a 350-calorie breakfast with high protein, and in the third pattern, they skipped breakfast. After completing a 7 day pattern, they then had a 7 day "washing out period" before embarking on the next 7 day pattern. In each of the 7 day patterns, on the morning of the seventh day, the girls underwent assessments, which included filling in food craving questionnaires. Fluctuation in dopamine was also assessed by checking dopamine metabolite, homovanillic acid, levels in regular blood samples taken through the morning. The results showed that both breakfast meals were followed by reduced cravings for sweet and savory foods and higher levels of the dopamine metabolite. Also, compared to a normal-protein breakfast, the high-protein breakfast tended to be followed by greater reductions in cravings for savory food and sustained levels in dopamine metabolite up until lunch.

 

Soft Drinks Promote Cell Ageing

Regularly drinking high levels of sugar-sweetened soft drinks could lead to the premature ageing of immune cells, leaving the body vulnerable to chronic diseases in a similar manner to the effects of smoking, according to new US research published in the American Journal of Public Health.  The researchers assessed the dietary habits of 5,309 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) who took part from 1999 to 2002 and measured the length of their telomeres. Telomeres are the protective DNA that cap the ends of cell chromosomes, in this case  in the participants' white blood cells. Previous research has associated the length of telomeres within white blood cells with the human lifespan. In addition, short telomeres have been linked with tissue damage, inflammation and insulin resistance, along with chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, that are associated with aging. The trial participants were aged 20 to 65 years, with no prior history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The average soft drink consumption for the participants was 355mL, with 21% of the participants reporting drinking at least 592mL of soft drink every day.  Stored DNA was obtained for the participants, and their telomeres were measured. The researchers found that the amount of sot drink that the participants consumed was associated with the length of their telomeres. They calculated that consuming 592 mL of soft drink every day was associated with around 4.6 years of additional biological aging, based on how telomere length shortens with chronological aging. The effect that soft drinks appeared to have on telomere length was comparable to the same effect that smoking has on them. Regular exercise has been observed to have an opposite anti-aging effect.

 

Vitamin D Deficiency Associated with Poor Brain Function and Death After Heart Attack

People who have been resuscitated after sudden cardiac arrest are at higher risk of diminished brain function or death if they are Vitamin D deficient, according to a study presented a recent meeting of the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association in Switzerland. The research team analysed the Vitamin D levels and outcomes of 53 unconscious patients from the Severance Cardiovascular Hospital in Seoul, Korea, who had been resuscitated following cardiac arrest. Of these patients, 41 had received cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The researchers used the Cerebral Performance Category (CPC) score to assess patients' neurological outcomes 6 months after they were discharged from the hospital. A score of 1-2 represented a good neurological outcome, while a score of 3-5 was deemed a poor neurological outcome. The researchers defined patients as Vitamin D deficient if their 25-(OH) D levels were below 10 ng/mL. Results of the analysis revealed that 65% of patients with Vitamin D deficiency had a poor neurological outcome 6 months after being discharged from the hospital, compared with only 23% who had Vitamin D levels in the normal range. Patients who experienced poor brain function had a much lower average Vitamin D level, at 7.9ng/mL, compared with patients who had a good neurological outcome, who had an average Vitamin D level of 12.5 ng/mL. After conducting an analysis of the results, the team calculated that Vitamin D deficiency increased the likelihood of a poor brain function after cardiac arrest seven-fold. The only factors that had a greater impact on poor neurological outcome were the absence of bystander CPR. Furthermore, the team found that 6 months after hospital discharge, 29% of patients who were Vitamin D deficient had died, but all of the patients with normal Vitamin D levels were still alive.

 

Eating More Fish Improves the Effects of Antidepressants

Up to half of people with depression do not respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants and new research from the journal, Biological Psychiatry, found that increasing fatty fish intake may be one way to improve the response rate among depressed patients who do not find antidepressants beneficial. The researchers measured the fatty acid and cortisol (stress hormone) levels of 70 people with depression, comparing them with readings taken from 51 healthy controls. The people with depression were then administered a 20 mg dose of an SSRI every day for 6 weeks. Those who did not respond to the SSRIs were provided with a gradually increased dose of up to 50 mg per day. Taking measurements of fatty acid and cortisol levels throughout the trial, the researchers found that the depressed people who did not respond to the antidepressants tended to have an abnormal fatty acid metabolism. Because fatty fish is rich in fatty acids, such as Omega-3 DHA, the researchers examined the fish intake in the diet of the participants. They found that the participants who ate the least fish tended to have the weakest response to antidepressants, whereas patients who had the most fish in their diet had the strongest response. The team reported that participants who ate fatty fish at least once a week had a 75% chance of responding to antidepressants, while participants who never ate fatty fish had only a 23% chance of responding to them.

 

Kids on Non-Cow Milk Have Lower Vitamin D Levels

Non-cow's milk,  such as rice, almond, soy and goat's milk , have become increasingly popular due to their perceived health benefits or because of milk allergies or lactose intolerance. However, a new Canadian study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that children who drink such beverages have lower blood levels of Vitamin D, compared with those who drink cow's milk. To investigate this, the researchers assessed the differences in Vitamin D levels in 2,831 healthy children between the ages of 1-6 years old, who consumed cow's milk or alternative milk drinks. The children were all recruited from seven paediatric or family medicine practices in Toronto, and of these children, 85% drank cow's milk, while 12% drank non-cow's milk. The other 3% had unknown milk consumptions. The results show that children who only drank non-cow's milk were more than twice as likely to have a 25-hydroxyvitamin D level below 50 nmol/L, compared with children who drank only cow's milk. The researchers explained that normal Vitamin D levels are 50-150 nmol/L and higher. Additionally, among children who drank both milk types, the team found that each additional cup of non-cow's milk consumed was linked to a decrease in 25-hydroxyvitamin D level. The authors also write that "With the exception of goat's milk, beverages not fortified with Vitamin D will also likely not contain calcium. If parents do not understand this connection, children may also be at risk of reduced calcium intake."

 

Frying with Olive

There's no doubt that fired food is popular but oils used in frying differ in their ability to withstand heat and repeated use. Italian scientists writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have done some interesting work in determining which oil is best to cook with, finding that compared to several seed oils, olive oil remains the most stable at high temperature and thus likely to be better for health. Different cooking oils have different physical, chemical and nutritional properties, which change when heated, producing new compounds, some of which can be toxic or change the nutritional value of the oil. The purpose of the study was to find out which oil remained the most stable at high temperature with repeated use, which is important given that many people use the same batch of cooking oil several times for deep frying. The team cooked potatoes in three ways in four different refined oils: olive, corn, soybean and sunflower. The three cooking methods were: deep fried at 320 degrees F, deep fried at 374 degrees F and pan fried at 356 degrees F. The team repeated each method 10 times with the same batch of oil under conditions that reflected normal home use, and they used several methods to assess chemical changes in the oils during frying. The results showed that when used as a frying oil, refined olive oil was overall chemically more stable than refined seed oils. The authors note that the olive oil showed the "greatest resistance to oxidative deterioration, and its trans-fatty acid contents and percentages of total polar compounds were found to be lower at 160 degrees C [320 degrees F] during deep frying." They found the highest deterioration occurred in the refined sunflower oil during pan frying at 356 degrees F. They conclude that olive oil is superior to seed oil for food frying because it maintains quality and nutrition better.

 

Remember the Alcohol

Though drinking alcohol is not typically thought of as an activity that enhances memory, there is good news for alcohol drinkers over the age of 60. A new US study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias has found that light alcohol consumption later in life is linked to the ability to better recall memories of events. The researchers used data on over 660 people who were part of the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort to examine the link between midlife and late-life alcohol consumption, cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes in older adults who did not have dementia or a history of alcohol abuse. The subjects filled out surveys on alcohol consumption and demographics, and they underwent neuropsychological assessments and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In addition, the researchers assessed whether they had the presence or absence of the genetic Alzheimer's disease risk factor APOE e4. Results showed that light to moderate alcohol consumption in older individuals is linked with higher episodic memory, the ability to recall memories of events, and larger volume in the hippocampus, a region of the brain important for episodic memory. Additionally, the team found that alcohol consumption did not have any significant impact on executive function or overall mental ability.

 

 

January/February 2015

Research

 

Exercise Works for Depression- But How?

Exercise has well-known benefits against the symptoms of stress induced depression and now a new Swedish study, published in the journal, Cell, investigates the mechanisms behind this. We know that during exercise, there is an increase in skeletal muscle of a protein called PGC-1a1. The researchers behind the new study wanted to see whether this protein increase might be implicated in the protective benefits of exercise. To do this, genetically modified mice with high levels of PGC-1a1 in skeletal muscle (that showed many characteristics of well-trained muscles) were exposed, along with normal mice, to a stressful environment in the lab. After 5 weeks of being exposed to mild stress, the normal mice developed symptoms of depression, whereas the genetically modified mice displayed no depressive behaviour. Investigating further, the researchers made the discovery that the genetically modified mice, as well as having the elevated levels of PGC-1a1, the mice also had higher levels of KAT enzymes. These enzymes convert kynurenine, a substance formed during stress, into kynurenic acid. The exact function of this acid is not known, but patients with mental illness are known to have high levels of it. When normal mice were given kynurenine as part of the study, the researchers found that they exhibited symptoms of depression. However, when the elevated PGC-1a1 mice were given kynurenine, their behaviour seemed unaffected. The researchers also noticed that even when the PGC-1a1 mice were administered kynurenine, their blood did not show raised levels of kynurenine. This is because the KAT enzymes in the trained muscles of the PGC-1a1 mice were able to quickly convert it to kynurenic acid. The researchers think that this quick conversion process is a protective mechanism. The study authors say that this provides an explanation for the protective biochemical changes induced by physical exercise that prevent the brain from being damaged during stress.

 

Exercise for One Hour Linked to Better Cognitive Functioning in Children

According to US researchers writing in the journal, Pediatrics, at least 60 minutes of physical activity after school every day is not only beneficial for children's physical health, but it may also improve their cognitive functioning. The researchers enrolled 221 children aged 7-9 years to their 9-month study. Half of the children were randomly assigned to an exercise program called FITKids, while the other half were placed on a waiting list to act as controls. FITKids involved the children engaging in a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day after school. The children wore heart monitors and pedometers during exercise, and both the exercise group and control group underwent brain imaging and cognitive testing at study baseline and at the end of the study. The researchers were not surprised to find that, compared with children in the control group, those in the exercise group showed a significant increase in fitness during the study period. However, they also found that the children in the exercise group demonstrated improvements in "attentional inhibition", the ability to block out distractions and focus on tasks, compared with the control group. They also had better "cognitive flexibility," meaning they could move between intellectual tasks without compromising accuracy and speed. The children in the intervention group improved two-fold compared to the wait-list kids in terms of their accuracy on cognitive tasks and there were widespread changes in brain function, which relate to the allocation of attention during cognitive tasks and cognitive processing speed. These changes were significantly greater than those exhibited by the wait-list group. The researchers note that the overall improvements in cognitive functioning seen among the exercise group were also associated with increased attendance to the program.

 

Antibiotic Exposure Associated with Early Childhood Obesity

The results of recent US research published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, has found that the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics in children under 2 years old is associated with an increased risk of obesity in early childhood. The study authors examined electronic health records from a network of primary care clinics, spanning the period 2001-13. In total, the analysis included 64,580 children who had annual visits at a clinic at the ages of 0-23 months, as well as one or more visits at ages 24-58 months. The study followed the children up until the age of 5 years old. Of these children, 69% had received antibiotics before the age of 24 months, with an average of 2.3 antibiotic episodes per child. The authors found that there was an increased risk of childhood obesity among those who were exposed to antibiotics, particularly among children who had been prescribed antibiotics on four or more separate occasions. However, the researchers report no association between obesity and narrow-spectrum antibiotics, which are prescribed to kill only a narrow range of bacteria.

 

Alcohol Consumption Lowers Sperm Quality

After coming home from a stressful day at work, cracking open a cold beer to relax can be tempting. But a new Danish study published in the journal, BMJ Open, suggests that even a moderate weekly alcohol intake of five units is linked to lower sperm quality in men who are otherwise healthy. To conduct their study, they assessed 1,221 Danish men aged 18-28, who underwent a medical exam for military service between 2008 and 2012. The assessment included questions about how much alcohol the men drank in the week before their exam, whether this was typical, how often they binge drank (defined as more than five units in one sitting), and whether they had been drunk in the preceding month. Additionally, the men provided a semen sample and a blood sample, which assessed their reproductive hormone levels. They found that drinking alcohol in the preceding week was associated with changes in reproductive hormone levels, and these changes increased significantly as the number of weekly units increased. In detail, testosterone levels increased and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) decreased. Nearly half of the men said that the amount of alcohol they drank in the previous week was typical of their usual weekly consumption. Additionally, within this group of men, the higher the amount of weekly units, the lower the sperm quality. Assessments for sperm quality included total sperm count and the ratio of sperm that are of normal size and shape. The researchers say these effects were noticeable in men who drank five or more units a week, but they were most apparent in men who drank 25 or more units each week. In men who drank 40 units per week, total sperm counts were 33% lower, and the proportion of normal-looking sperm was 51% lower, compared with men who only drank one to five units. It seems that drinking between one and five units per week is the magic number for healthy sperm, as, interestingly, abstinence was also linked to poorer sperm quality.

 

Red Wine and Grapes for Acne

This isn’t a suggestion that teenagers suffering from acne should be drinking red wine, but new US research published in the journal, Dermatology and Therapy, claims that a compound derived from red grapes and found in red wine, resveratrol, may be an effective treatment for acne, particularly when combined with an already existing medication for the disorder. The resveratrol connection was made at least as early as 2007 but it’s good to see this research replicated. Acne can be caused by the overproduction of oil in the skin, blockage of hair follicles from which the oil is released, and growth of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes in the hair follicles. Medically, it’s often treated with benzoyl peroxide, an oxidant that produces free radicals that kill P. acnes bacteria. But the researchers in this latest study note that this medication can sometimes cause skin irritation, such as redness, itching and peeling skin. So the team applied resveratrol, benzoyl peroxide, and a combination of both compounds to colonies of P. acnes bacteria, and assessed their antibacterial effects for 10 days. They also cultured human skin cells and blood cells with the compounds. They found that all concentrations of benzoyl peroxide were able to kill P. acnes, but this effect lasted no longer than 24 hours. Resveratrol, however, appeared to kill P. acnes by weakening the outer membrane of the bacteria. Such effects lasted for 48 hours, although a concentration of at least 50 ug/mL was required for this to occur. But the team says they were surprised to find that the strongest effect against acne occurred when both resveratrol and benzoyl peroxide were combined. Not only did this combination kill bacteria at all concentrations, but the effects lasted longer. Benzoyl peroxide has a high level of toxicity, which is why it can cause skin irritation. This toxicity was reduced when both resveratrol and benzoyl peroxide were combined, indicating that both of the compounds together could treat acne more effectively but produce fewer side effects.

 

Probiotics Protect Children and Pregnant Women Against Heavy Metal Poisoning

According to a recent Canadian study published in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, yogurt containing probiotic bacteria successfully protected children and pregnant women against the effects of heavy metal exposure. The researchers had previously studied the protective effects of microbes against environmental health damage in poor regions of the world. They found that one bacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, was particularly adept at binding toxic heavy metals. The team had been working with kitchens in Mwanza, Tanzania, to produce a probiotic yogurt for the local communities. As Mwanza is built on the shores of a lake polluted with pesticides, mercury and other toxic metals, the team used this network to trial a new type of yogurt containing L. rhamnosus. The L. rhamnosus yogurt was distributed among pregnant women and children in Mwanza, and the researchers measured the levels of toxic metals in this group, both before and after the yogurt was distributed. A "significant protective effect" against mercury and arsenic was measured in the pregnant women and the researchers stated that a reduction in these compounds in the mothers could presumably decrease negative developmental effects in their foetus and newborns.

 

Grapefruit Juice Reduces the Effects of a High Fat Diet

Diets high in fat can lead to weight gain and new US study reported in the journal, PLOS ONE, claims that grapefruit juice given to mice that were fed a high-fat diet reduced weight gain, lowered blood glucose levels and improved insulin tolerance. The researchers tested the effects of clarified, pulp-free grapefruit juice diluted with water at different concentrations on five groups of mice fed either a high fat or low fat diet for 100 days. The grapefruit juice was sweetened with saccharin to make it less bitter. These effects were compared with one group of control mice, which were fed a high fat diet but were given water to replace grapefruit juice. The team added glucose and artificial sweeteners to the water so it had the same calorie and saccharin content as the grapefruit juice. At the end of the study, the researchers found that mice fed a high fat diet that drank grapefruit juice gained 18% less weight than mice on a high fat diet that drank water. As well as greater weight loss, grapefruit-drinking mice fed a high fat diet also showed a 13-17% reduction in blood glucose levels and a three-fold reduction in insulin levels.  Grapefruit juice had no effect on weight for mice fed a low fat diet, although these mice did show a two-fold reduction in insulin levels.

 

Regular and Decaf Coffee Is Good for the Liver

Previous research has shown that coffee consumption can benefit the liver, but a new US study published in the journal, Hepatology, indicates that drinking decaf also lowers liver enzyme levels, suggesting the benefits are not linked to caffeine content. Both regular and decaf coffee were shown to lower liver enzymes in study participants who drank at least three cups per day. To investigate the issue, the team employed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, carried out from 1999 to 2010. Participant numbers totalled over 27,000, and the subjects were 20 years of age and older. Each participant provided a 24-hour diet diary to report their coffee intake, and the researchers measured blood levels of liver function markers to assess liver health - including aminotransferase (ALT), aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and gamma glutamyl transaminase (GGT). The results revealed that participants who drank three or more cups of coffee per day had lower levels of all four liver enzymes, compared with those who did not drink any coffee. Additionally, the team found these same results in participants who only drank decaf coffee. So the data suggest that ingredients in coffee, other than caffeine, may promote liver health.

 

Yoga for Scoliosis

A new US study published in the journal, Global Advances in Health and Medicine, claims that performing a single yoga pose for 90 seconds for at least 3 days a week could reduce spine curvature in patients with scoliosis in as little as 3 months. The research team set out to determine the effectiveness of one basic yoga pose, known as the side plank, on 25 participants aged 14-85 with idiopathic scoliosis. The side plank involves lying on one side of the body with straight knees, and propping up the upper body with the elbow and forearm.  After undergoing an initial examination, an X-ray and an evaluation by a radiologist, patients were shown how to carry out the yoga pose. In the first week, they were instructed to do the pose on the side their spine was curved toward for 10-20 seconds each day. They were then asked to do the pose once daily for as long as possible, still on the side of their spine curvature. On average, participants did the side plank pose for 1.5 minutes a day, 6.1 days a week for 6.8 months. The researchers found that spine curvature improved by around 32% over all patients. Among 19 patients who did the yoga pose for at least 3 days a week, spine curvature improved by 40.9%. Of these patients, adolescents saw a 49.6% improvement in curvature, while adults saw a 38.4% improvement.

 

Flu Viruses Dealt A Blow by Honeysuckle  

Honeysuckle has been used for more than a century within traditional Chinese medicine, often consumed in the form of tea. Chinese researchers writing in the journal, Cell Research, have identified a molecule within the plant that directly targets influenza A viruses (IAV), a family of viruses that includes Spanish flu and avian flu. Exponents of traditional Chinese medicine have been drinking honeysuckle tea as a form of treatment for IAV for a very long time and this research has provided experimental evidence for the practice, showing that honeysuckle tea has broad-spectrum anti-viral activity. In particular, they’ve found that a component in the plant, known as MIR2911 may be responsible for this activity. The researchers found that the molecule was present in honeysuckle even after it had been mashed and boiled in water to make tea. Mice were given the honeysuckle to drink in the form of a soup, delivering the molecule into their plasma and lung tissue. The team was then able to demonstrate that MIR2911 represses IAV by targeting two specific genes that have been identified as being essential for influenza viral replication: PB2 and NS1. In addition, the researchers found that both synthetic MIR2911 and the natural form of the molecule in honeysuckle were able to protect animals effectively from H1N1 infection, an IAV also referred to as Spanish flu or swine flu. The researchers also stated that the molecule directly targets the Ebola virus.

 

December 2014/January 2015

Research

 

Stress and Memory Loss in Aging Adults

Most of us are aware that stress can increase the risks for certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, impaired immune function and psychological disorders. A new US study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests a link between high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and short-term memory loss in older individuals. They note that although short-term boosts in cortisol are important for our survival,  by making us more alert in the moment,  exceptionally high or extended spikes in the stress hormone can yield negative effects, such as digestion problems, anxiety, weight gain and high blood pressure. Though previous studies have shown cortisol produces similar effects in other regions of the brain, theirs is the first to assess how it affects the prefrontal cortex- the area of the brain linked to short-term memory. Investigators studied 21-month-old rats, which is the rodent equivalent to 65-year-old humans. The researchers explain that short-term memory lapses related to cortisol start around this age in humans. Older rats with high cortisol levels performed worst. The team then compared the aging rats to 4-month-old rats, the equivalent to a 20-year-old person. These groups were then further separated based on naturally high or naturally low levels of corticosterone, which is the hormone equivalent of cortisol in humans. Next, the team placed the rats in a T-shaped maze that required use of short-term memory; to receive a treat, the rats had to remember which direction they had turned at the top of the T either 30, 60 or 120 seconds previously, and then turn the opposite way each time. Results showed that, although memory depreciated across all groups as the time the rats waited before running the maze again increased, the older rats with high corticosterone levels performed the worst. In detail, the older rats with high stress hormone levels chose the correct direction only 58% of the time, compared with the older rats with low stress levels that chose it 80% of the time. It was also shown that the rats that performed poorly had smaller and 20% fewer synapses, compared with all other groups. The researchers explain that this indicates memory loss, as synapses are the connections in the brain that help us process, store and remember information. When they shrink and disappear due to repeated, long-term cortisol exposure, short-term memory likewise diminishes. By comparison, the older rats with low corticosterone levels exhibited little memory loss and performed in the maze almost as well as the younger rats that were not impacted by either low or high stress levels.

 

Short Sleep Ages the Brain

Shortness of sleep speeds up the aging of the brain in older people, say Singaporean scientists writing in the journal, Sleep. The research was done on 66 healthy adults, aged 55 years or older using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neuropsychological assessment, every 2 years, to investigate changes in the brain associated with aging. For every hour of reduced sleep duration, the researchers found an incremental annual expansion of the brain ventricles and an annual incremental decline in global cognitive performance. The age-related brain atrophy was seen in the ventricles, a series of interconnected, fluid-filled spaces in the core of the forebrain and brainstem Though faster brain ventricle enlargement is a marker for cognitive decline and the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's," the researchers say, "the effects of sleep on this marker have never been measured."  They found that each hour of reduced sleep duration at baseline augmented the annual expansion rate of the ventricles by 0.59%, and the annual decline rate in global cognitive performance by 0.67% in the subsequent 2 years, after controlling for the effects of age, sex, education and body mass index.

 

Weekly Fish for a Healthy Brain

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish offer numerous health benefits. A new US study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that eating baked or broiled fish weekly is good for the brain, no matter how much omega-3 fatty acid it has, and it could ward off dementia later in life. Previous studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, seeds, nuts and certain oils, have an anti-oxidant effect that is linked to improved brain health. But to further investigate the link between dietary intake and brain health, the researchers analysed data from 260 cognitively normal participants over 10 years. These participants provided dietary intake information as well as how they cooked their food, and underwent high-resolution brain magnetic resonance imaging scans. The team found that the participants who ate baked or broiled fish at least once each week had larger grey matter brain volumes in regions of the brain responsible for memory and cognition. Interestingly, they were also more likely to have a college education than those who did not regularly eat fish.

 

Female Coffee Drinkers Avoid Tinnitus

A recent US study published in The American Journal of Medicine has found that women who consume more caffeine are less likely to have tinnitus, a condition where a person perceives noise in one or both ears, or in the head, even though there is no external sound. For the study, the researchers analysed data on over 65,000 women with and without tinnitus. The women were aged between 30 and 44 at the start of the study in 1991, when researchers collected a wealth of information on medical history, lifestyle and diet. At this point, the average caffeine intake was 242.3 mg per day, the equivalent of nearly two and a half cups of coffee. Most of the caffeine consumed came from coffee drinking. In 2009, 18 years after they joined the study, the women were asked questions about tinnitus, including date of onset, where applicable. When a woman reported experiencing symptoms either daily or on a few days per week, the researchers counted it as a case. They identified a total of 5,289 cases of reported incident tinnitus. When they analysed the results, the team found the more caffeine women consumed, the less likely they were to be among the tinnitus cases and that regardless of age, rates of tinnitus were 15% lower among women who consumed 450-599 mg a day of caffeine, compared with women who drank less than 150 mg a day (about one and a half cups of coffee).

 

Better Brain Function with Yoga

New research from the University of Illinois has found that practicing hatha yoga three times a week for 8 weeks boosted the everyday cognitive ability of sedentary seniors. Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through yoga poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate and it's possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalised to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention. For the study, 108 participants aged 55-79 were recruited. A group of 61 participants were assigned to attend hatha yoga classes, while the others took part in non-yoga stretching and toning exercises. At the end of the 8-week study period, the yoga participants were reporting more accurate scores on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than they had reported before the yoga classes. However, the participants who took part in stretching and toning showed no cognitive improvements. The researchers say that the differences between the two groups were not the result of discrepancies in age, gender, social status or other demographic factors. Participants in the yoga intervention group showed significant improvements in working memory capacity, which involves continually updating and manipulating information.

 

Salt Aggravates MS Symptoms

New research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry claims a link between salt consumption and multiple sclerosis (MS) disease activity. Previous studies have found that salt may alter the autoimmune response so in this study two groups of participants with relapsing-remitting MS were enrolled. The first group involved 70 patients. Clinical, radiological and sodium intake data was collected over the follow-up period of 2 years. Blood and urine samples were taken 12 months after enrolment. Levels of salt and a marker of inflammatory activity called creatinine were measured in urine, together with measurements of serum sodium (the concentration of sodium in the blood) and Vitamin D levels, low levels of which have been linked to MS. The second group consisted of 52 patients. Casual urine samples were collected and analysed by following the same procedures as those used for the first group. Both groups averaged an intake of just over 4 g of salt a day, ranging from under 2 g (low), 2-4.8 g (moderate) to 4.8 g or more per day (high). Group one had a higher proportion of males with higher levels of sodium intake, whereas the results of the second replication group did not differ between sexes. Influential factors including age, gender, disease duration, smoking status, Vitamin D levels, body mass index and treatment were taken into consideration, and the analysis shows a link between dietary salt and MS symptoms becoming more severe. When compared with the individuals in the group who consumed the least salt per day, people consuming moderate or high intakes of salt had around three more episodes of symptoms progressing and were 4 times as likely to have exacerbating symptoms. X-rays and scans were observed to look for signs of disease progression. This radiological evidence showed further signs of deterioration with higher dietary salt intake levels. People with high salt intake were 3.5 times as likely to have radiological signs of further progression.

 

An Hour's Exercise Reduces Heart Failure Risk

There's already a significant amount of research to validate this but Swedish scientists writing  in the journal, Circulation: Heart Failure, have found that as little as 1 hour of moderate exercise or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day could be enough to reduce the risk of heart failure by 46%. The research team studied the characteristics of 39,805 people who had completed a lifestyle and medical history questionnaire in 1997. The participants at this date were between 20-90 years old, and at the beginning of the study, none of them had heart failure. The questionnaires examined the participants' levels of physical activity both at work and during leisure time and divided this into three categories: light, moderate and heavy. The questionnaires also recorded lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption. The researchers used the participants' medical records to verify any diagnoses, hospitalisations and deaths during the follow-up period. After assessing their total and leisure time activity at the beginning of the study, the researchers followed them until the end of 2010 to see how their activity related to their risk of developing heart failure. They found that the more active a person was, the lower their risk of heart failure.

 

Potassium Foods Lower Stroke Risk

A recent study published in the journal, Stroke, states that older women whose diets involve potassium-rich foods may be at a reduced risk of stroke and have a greater life expectancy than women consuming less potassium-rich foods. Potassium is used by the body to maintain a normal water balance between cells and body fluids. This element is also essential for muscle contraction, how nerves respond to stimulation and for the efficient working of cellular enzymes and previous studies have shown that potassium consumption may lower blood pressure. Whether potassium intake could prevent stroke or death wasn't clear so the researchers followed a total of 90,137 postmenopausal women, aged from 50 to 79, for an average of 11 years. During this period, they monitored how much potassium the participants consumed as well as the incidence of different stroke types and death. All of the women were stroke-free when the study began. Their average dietary potassium intake was 2,611 mg per day, and the researchers based the results of the study on potassium intake from foods rather than supplements. The researchers found that the women who consumed the most potassium (more than 3193.6 mg a day) were 16% less likely to have an ischemic stroke and 12% less likely to have a stroke in general than the women who ate the least (less than 1925.5 mg of potassium a day). The women who ate the most potassium were also less likely to die during the follow-up period than those who had the lowest potassium consumption. The women who ate the most potassium were 27% less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke and 21% less likely to have a stroke in general than those who ate the least potassium. The women who did suffer from hypertension did not lower their stroke risk through a high intake of potassium, although they did have a lower risk of death during the follow-up period than those who ate a lower amount of potassium.

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Meditation for Migraine

US researchers reporting in the journal, Headache, say that while larger studies need to be conducted to confirm the findings, a small randomized controlled trial of patients suggests that migraine sufferers might find relief in a type of meditation designed to reduce stress. The main purpose of the study, which involved 19 adult participants, was to evaluate the safety, feasibility and effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for migraine sufferers. The study participants were randomly allocated to 2 groups. One group received standard medical care, and the other group took part in an 8-week MBSR program during which they attended one instruction class a week and practiced MBSR at home for 45 minutes on at least another 5 days a week. Before and after the trial period, the participants completed evaluations of disability, self-efficacy and mindfulness. During the trial, they logged their headaches, noting their frequency, severity and duration. The researchers found that the patients who completed the MBSR program tended to have 1.4 fewer headaches per month that were less severe. MBSR is a standardized 8-week program that teaches people to become more mindful through learning mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga. It was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as a way to help people cope with stress, anxiety pain and illness.

 

Fruit and Veg for Mental Health

It should come as no surprise that eating fruits and vegetables is good for our physical health. But a new UK study published in the journal, BMJ Open, suggests that eating five portions of fruit or veg per day is linked to better mental well-being. The researchers used data from nearly 14,000 adults over the age of 16. This survey collected detailed information on the mental and physical health of the participants, as well as their health-related behaviours, demographics and socio-economic characteristics. In addition, the team assessed the participants' mental well-being using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, putting the top 15% of participants in the "high mental well-being" group, the bottom 15% in the low group, and those between 16-84% in the middle group. Overall, the researchers found that high and low mental well-being were typically associated with the participants' fruit and vegetable intake. In detail, 35.5% of participants with high mental well-being ate five or more portions of fruits and vegetables a day, compared with only 6.8% who consumed less than one portion. Additionally, 31.4% of the individuals from the high mental well-being group ate three to four fruit and veg portions per day, and 28.4% ate one to two. The data suggest that the higher an individual's fruit and vegetable intake, the lower the chance of their having low mental well-being.

 

 

November/December 2014

Research

 

Olive Oil and Greens Explain the Mediterranean Diet's Beneficial Effect on Blood Pressure

The typical Mediterranean diet comprises foods rich in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, fish, nuts and avocados, plus foods rich in nitrites and nitrates, such as leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, and other vegetables like celery and carrots. The results of a new UK study reported in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may explain why a Mediterranean diet is so often linked to good health. The combination of unsaturated fats and vegetables rich in nitrites and nitrates in the diet produces a group of fatty acids whose blocking of an enzyme helps to lower blood pressure. The researchers found that consuming foods from these two groups together results in the unsaturated fatty acids reacting with the nitrogen compounds in the vegetables to make a group of compounds known as nitro fatty acids. They ran a series of experiments on normal and genetically engineered mice to show that the nitro fatty acids help lower blood pressure by inhibiting an enzyme known as soluble epoxide hydrolase. The authors note that previous studies have already suggested blocking soluble epoxide hydrolase lowers blood pressure. The compounds that can do this "adduct" or attach themselves to a point on the enzyme molecule that is close to its "catalytic centre." This inhibits a series of reactions that in turn results in dilation of blood vessels to lower blood pressure. For their study, the researchers engineered mice with a version of the enzyme that could not bind with nitro fatty acids and compared them with normal mice. After administering a hormone to induce high blood pressure in the two groups of mice, the researchers then gave them nitro fatty acid supplied directly or generated via the Mediterranean diet. Blood pressure went down in the normal mice but not in the genetically modified mice. They suggest that these results show nitro fatty acids, as produced when people eat the food combinations present in the typical Mediterranean diet, block the action of the enzyme soluble epoxide hydrolase. And, this in turn leads to a series of signalling reactions that lower blood pressure.

 

Vegan Diets for Heart Disease

A recently generated diet referred to as the Eco-Atkins diet, which is focused on a low-carbohydrate vegan diet, was found t be effective for weight loss. New US research published in the journal, BMJ Open, has shown that the diet may also reduce the risk of heart disease by 10% over 10 years. The study authors assessed the effects of the diet on 39 overweight men and women. The participants were divided into two groups; one group followed the Eco-Atkins diet for 6 months while the other group followed a high-carbohydrate low-fat diet. The researchers encouraged those who followed the Eco-Atkins diet to eat around 60% of their estimated caloric requirements; the calories that should be consumed each day to maintain current weight. In addition, they were told they should aim to get 26% of calories from carbohydrates, 31% from proteins and 43% from fats- mainly vegetable oils. At the end of the study period, the team found that participants who followed the Eco-Atkins diet had 10% lower cholesterol and lost an average of around one and half kilos in weight, compared with participants who followed the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. The team calculated the reduction in cholesterol and weight as a 10% reduced risk of heart disease over a 10-year period. High-fibre foods, such as oats and barley, formed part of the Eco-Atkins diet, as did low-starch vegetables, including okra and eggplant. Protein came from vegetables, nuts, cereals, gluten and soy while the main fat sources were vegetable oils, nuts, avocado and soy products.

 

Stress Reduces Male Reproductive Capacity

The value of stress reduction for male and female reproductive capacity has been talked about by naturopaths for years, Now, US research published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, has validated this by indicating that stress can reduce sperm and semen quality, which could have implications for male fertility. To reach their findings, the researchers assessed the sperm and semen characteristics of 193 men aged 38 to 49 between 2005 and 2008. All men were enrolled in the Study of the Environment and Reproduction at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in California. Men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the previous year had lower sperm quality than men who did not experience any stressful life events, according to researchers. As part of the study, the men were required to complete a series of tests that measured levels of stress, including that from the workplace, stressful life events and overall perceived stress, and to provide semen samples. The researchers analysed semen concentration, and sperm shape (morphology) and movement (motility) in each sample. They found that men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year had a lower percentage of sperm motility and a lower percentage of sperm of normal morphology, compared with men who did not experience any stressful life events. They note this finding remained even after accounting for other factors that may influence semen quality, such as age, other health problems and history of reproductive health problems. Although workplace stress did not directly affect semen quality in the men, it was associated with lower levels of the hormone testosterone in their semen, which could affect reproductive health. In addition, they found that regardless of the levels of stress experienced, men who were unemployed had lower semen quality than those who were employed. The study authors say stress may activate the release of glucocorticoids - steroid hormones that affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which could reduce testosterone levels and sperm production. Furthermore, they say stress could trigger oxidative stress - physiological stress on the body caused by damage from unneutralized free radicals. which has been associated with semen quality and fertility.

 

Green Tea and Cancer- How Does it Work?

A new study reported in the journal, Metabolomics, reveals how an active component of green tea disrupts the metabolism of cancer cells in pancreatic cancer, offering an explanation for its effect on reducing the risk of cancer and slowing its progression. The researchers believe the discovery signals a new approach to studying cancer prevention. It looked at the effect of epigallocatechin gallate or "EGCG," an active biological agent of green tea and showed that EGCG changes the metabolism of pancreatic cancer cells by suppressing the expression of lactate dehydrogenase A or LDHA, a critical enzyme required for cancer cell growth.

 

Prolonged Fasting Boosts The Immune System

The results of a new US study published in the journal, Cell Stem Cell, on mice and humans suggest that prolonged cycles of fasting for 2-4 days at a time not only protect against toxic effects of chemotherapy, but also triggers stem cell regeneration of new immune cells and clearing out of old, damaged cells. The study is the first to show that a natural intervention can trigger regeneration of an organ or system through stem cells and the findings could benefit people with immune system damage, for example if they have received chemotherapy treatment for cancer. It could also benefit the elderly, whose immune systems are weakened through aging, making them more susceptible to disease. The researchers found that fasting for 2-4 days reduced PKA, an enzyme that is involved in extending lifespan in simple organisms. In mice, prolonged periods of fasting - repeated cycles of 2-4 days with no food - over the course of 6 months, killed older and damaged immune cells and generated new ones. During each fasting cycle, the drop in white cell levels triggered a stem-cell based regeneration of new immune cells. Prolonged fasting also led to a drop in IGF-1, a growth factor hormone linked to aging, cancer and tumor progression.

 

Sleep Improved Memory After Learning

Recent US research published in the journal, Science, provides important physical evidence to support the idea that sleep helps to cement and strengthen new memories. The study showed that sleep after learning causes very specific structural changes in the brain, namely growth of connections between brain cells that help them pass information to each other. In experiments with mice, the research team showed for the first time that learning and sleep cause physical changes in the motor cortex, a brain region involved with voluntary movements. While we may appear restful as we slumber, our cells are not. The brain cells that actively taking on new information during waking hours, reactivate during deep sleep or slow-wave sleep, a phase when brain waves slow right down, and rapid eye movement, and dreaming, come to a halt. For some time now, scientists have believed slow-wave sleep is when we form and recall new memories. But exactly how this happens physically is what this study shows for the first time, using mice genetically modified so a particular protein in their brain cells fluoresces when seen with a laser-scanning microscope. Using this approach, the team could track the growth of new spines along individual branches of dendrites. A brain cell typically has many thousands of dendrites. These connect to other neurons via synapses and carry information in the form of electrical impulses. The researchers got the mice to learn to balance on a spin rod. Eventually, the mice learned to balance on the rod as it spun faster and faster. They noted that the mice sprouted new dendritic spines within 6 hours of training on the rod. They then investigated the effect of sleep. They trained two groups of mice: one group trained on the spinning rod for an hour and then slept for 7 hours, while the other trained for the same time but were kept awake for 7 hours. The mice that did not sleep after training showed significantly less new dendritic spine growth than the mice that slept after learning. The researchers also noticed that different types of growth occurred for different types of learning. For example, running forward on the spinning rod was followed by dendritic spine growth on one set of branches, while running backwards was followed by growth on another set. The researchers suggest this means learning specific tasks is linked to specific structural changes in the brain. In a final set of experiments, the team showed that motor cortex brain cells that are active during wakeful learning reactivate during slow-wave sleep. And disrupting this prevents new dendritic spine growth. They conclude this finding sheds light on "neuronal replay," where during sleep, the brain "practices" what has been learned during the day and consolidates it by growing specific connections within the motor cortex.

 

Exercise Improves Gut Bacteria Diversity

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the stomach and intestines, is home to a complex community of bacteria referred to as the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota contributes to the metabolism and the development of the immune system, and previous research has linked changes in its composition with conditions such as diabetes, GI diseases and obesity. Reduced variation in microbiota has been associated with these health problems, while increased diversity has been linked to a favourable metabolic profile and immune system response. New Irish research published in the journal, Gut, has found that exercise boosts the diversity of bacteria found in the gut, which can have positive long-term health implications. The researchers focused their study on a group of athletes. They analysed faecal and blood samples from 40 professional rugby players during their preseason training program in order to assess the range of their gut microbiota. Two control groups were also assessed; one group matched with the athletes by size with a comparable body mass index (BMI), and one group matched by age but with lower BMI scores. Each participant in the study completed a food frequency questionnaire and answered questions about their normal levels of physical activity. The questionnaire detailed how much and how often they had eaten different food items over the preceding 4 weeks. The results showed that the athletes had a significantly wider range of gut microbiota than the men in the comparison groups, and in particular the control group containing men with a high BMI. Athletes undergoing a rigorous training program were found to have a high diversity of gut bacteria. The athletes also had better metabolic profiles than the men with a high BMI and much higher proportions of Akkermansiaceae, a type of bacteria that is known to be linked with lower rates of obesity and associated metabolic disorders. The dietary analysis found that the athletes ate more of all of the food groups than the control participants. Protein accounted for more of their energy intake (22%) than the comparison groups (15-16%), and they also ate more fruits and vegetables and fewer snacks.

 

Tomato Component Improves Blood Vessel Function in Cardiovascular Disease

UK researchers looking into the reasons for the benefits of a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease (CVD), have recently identified Lycopene, found in tomatoes, as being an important factor. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that is 10 times more potent than vitamin E. It’s a naturally occurring compound that gives tomatoes and other fruits, such as watermelons and pink grapefruits, their colour. Tomatoes and tomato products have the highest concentrations of lycopene. To investigate the effects of lycopene on cardiovascular health, the research team conducted a randomized, double-blind study on 36 patients with CVD and 36 healthy volunteers. Participants were given either a supplement called Ateronon, containing 7 mg of lycopene, or a placebo, once daily for 2 months. Subjects were asked to continue with their regular diets throughout the study period. At the beginning and end of the study, subjects' forearm blood flow, arterial stiffness, blood pressure and blood lipid levels were measured. Lycopene was found to improve blood vessel function for patients with CVD. The researchers explained that endothelial function is determined by blood vessels' response to a naturally occurring molecule called acetylcholine. Patients who received lycopene supplementation showed improved blood vessel response to acetylcholine, compared with healthy volunteers, which indicated normalized endothelial function.

 

Red Meat Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk

A new US study published in the British Medical Journal has found that high red meat intake during early adulthood is a risk factors for breast cancer. The research team set out to investigate the association between dietary protein sources in early adulthood with the risk of breast cancer, as other previous work has indicated that lifestyle factors, including diet, may have a greater impact during early adulthood on the chances of developing breast cancer. Data from 88,803 premenopausal women (aged 26 to 45) was analysed from a questionnaire on diet completed as part of the Nurses' Health Study II in 1991. The diet questionnaire listed different types of food against nine categories of intake frequency, ranging from "never or less than once per month" to "six or more per day." The foods included unprocessed and processed red meats, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, as well as foods that were commonly eaten from 1960 to 1980 when the participants would have been in high school. Along with adolescent food intake, other health factors were taken into account when compiling the results, such as height, weight, personal and family history, race and smoking habits. During 20 years of follow-up investigation, the researchers identified 2,830 cases of breast cancer from their participants' medical records. The study found that a high intake of red meat products during early adulthood was associated with a 22% increased risk of breast cancer. Conversely, a high intake of poultry during early adulthood was associated with a lower incidence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Replacing one portion of red meat a day with a portion of another high-protein food such as legumes, poultry, nuts and fish was associated with a 14% lower risk of breast cancer overall and premenopausal breast cancer. The researchers conclude that "replacing red meat with a combination of legumes, poultry, nuts and fish may reduce the risk of breast cancer."

 

High Protein Diets Reduce Stroke Risk

Recent Chinese research has indicated that high protein diets may reduce stroke risk. To do this, the research team conducted a meta-analysis of all available research in the field. The analysis included seven studies involving a total of 254,489 participants. All subjects were followed for an average of 14 years. The team found that the participants with the highest protein intake, particularly from fish, were 20% less likely to experience a stroke than those with the lowest protein intake. The researchers found that at the end of the study period, participants who had the highest levels of protein in their diets were 20% less likely to experience a stroke, compared with subjects who had the lowest levels of protein in their diets. In addition, the team found that for every additional 20 g of protein consumed each day, stroke risk decreased by 26%. These findings remained even after taking other factors into account that may influence the risk of stroke, such as smoking and high cholesterol. Although the team could not pinpoint the exact reasons as to why dietary protein appears to reduce stroke risk, they believe that in part, it could be attributable to a blood pressure-lowering effect of protein. They add that in one study, higher protein levels significantly reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol), compared with participants who followed a high-carbohydrate diet, which could explain the reduced risk of stroke. Furthermore, they note that dietary protein could reduce stroke risk through a "substitution effect" in that protein may replace the intake of other potentially harmful foods.

 

October/November 2014

Research

 

Fibre Prolongs Survival After a Heart Attack

New US research published in the British Medical Journal has found that increasing dietary fibre intake after a heart attack may prolong survival. Scientists assessed data from the Nurses' Health Study involving 121,700 female nurses, alongside data from the Health Professional Follow-up Study involving 51,529 male health professionals. Both studies required participants to complete questionnaires regarding their lifestyle habits every 2 years. The team identified 2,258 women and 1,840 men who survived a first heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI). During the 9-year follow-up, 682 of the women and 451 of the men died. All subjects were divided into one of five groups depending on their fibre intake after a heart attack. Results of the study revealed that participants in the top quintile; those who had the highest fibre intake,  had a 25% reduced risk of dying from any cause in the 9 years after their heart attack, compared with those in the bottom quintile who ate the lowest amount of fibre. The top quintile also had a 13% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular causes alone, such as heart attack, stroke and heart disease, during the follow-up period. Overall, the team found that the higher a patient's fibre intake after a heart attack, the longer they were likely to live. These results remained significant even after adjusting for other factors that may influence long-term survival after a heart attack, such as age, medical history, diet and lifestyle factors. The researchers then assessed the effects of three different fibre types - cereal, fruit and vegetable. They found that only cereal fibre was strongly linked to increased long-term survival following a heart attack. The participants' main source of fibre was from breakfast cereal.

 

Prostate Cancer Aggression and Vitamin D Deficiency

A recent US study published in the journal, Clinical Cancer Research, suggests that Vitamin D deficiency may be an indicator for aggressive prostate cancer. Vitamin D is known to impact the growth and differentiation of benign and malignant prostate cells, both in prostate cell lines used in research and animal models of prostate cancer. However, this study revealed that low levels of the vitamin in men appeared to predict the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. To reach their findings, the team enrolled 275 European-American men and 273 African-American men to the study between 2009 and 2013. The men were aged between 40 and 79 years and were undergoing an initial prostate biopsy after abnormal prostate-specific antigen (PSA) or digital rectal examination (DRE) test results. A prostate cancer diagnosis from their biopsy was given to 168 men from each group. In order to determine the levels of Vitamin D in the men, the researchers measured levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH D) in their blood. The normal range of 25-OH D is 30 to 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). Researchers found an association between low Vitamin D levels and increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer, particularly for African-American men.The team found that the mean 25-OH D levels of African-American men were much lower than that of European-American men, at 16.7 ng/ml and 19.3 ng/ml, respectively. The highest 25-OH D level found in European-American men was 71 ng/ml, while the highest level found in African-American men was only 45 ng/ml. The researchers then divided the men into groups dependent on their 25-OH D levels. They were: less than 12 ng/ml, less than 16 ng/ml, less than 20 ng/ml and less than 30 ng/ml. They found that the lower a man's Vitamin D levels, the higher their risk of prostate cancer. With 25-OH D levels lower than 12 ng/ml, European-American men were 3.66 times more likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer (Gleason grade 4+4 or higher), while African-American men were 4.89 times more likely to develop an aggressive form of the disease. European-American men were also 2.42 times more likely to have a stage T2b tumor (when cancer can be felt or seen on scans but is contained within the prostate) if 25-OH D were less than 12 ng/ml, while African-American men were 4.22 times more likely to have a stage T2b tumor. Furthermore, the researchers found that African-American men were also 2.43 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer if their 25-OH D levels were less than 20 ng/ml. No association was found between Vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of prostate cancer diagnosis in European-American men.

 

Vitamin E Diminishes Brain Damage From Stroke

A new study from the US suggests that Vitamin E may help to prevent or reduce brain damage during stroke. Stroke occurs when an artery or blood vessel is blocked by clots or fat accumulation, restricting blood flow to the brain and it’s critical to ensure that any clots in the area are dissolved to prevent a recurrence of stroke. Medically, this is often done using aspirin but animal research has shown that tocotrienol, a type of Vitamin E, offers a "collateral" blood supply during stroke, bypassing the blocked blood vessel. After 10 weeks of supplementation with the vitamin, the team found that it activated arteriogenesis, an increase in the diameter of existing arteries in response to oxygen demand. This process can prevent brain damage, as it effectively offers a "collateral" blood supply.

 

Yoga Reduces Expectant Mothers' Stress

Yoga could reduce the risk of expectant mothers developing anxiety and depression, according to UK research published in the journal, Depression and Anxiety. Stress during pregnancy is related to negative outcomes for both mother and child such as maternal postnatal depression, premature birth, low birth weight and increased developmental and behavioural problems in the child as a toddler and adolescent. The researchers studied 59 women who were pregnant with their first child. The researchers asked these expectant moms to self-report their emotional state throughout the yoga course. The women were split into groups, some of whom took part in a weekly yoga session for 8 weeks, while the others had normal prenatal treatment. From analysing questionnaires completed by the participants, and performing stress hormone assessments on the yoga group, the researchers calculated that a single session of yoga reduced self-reported anxiety by a third and stress hormone levels by 14%. The stress-defeating powers of yoga also did not diminish across the duration of the 8-week course. The researchers found that the participants' stress and anxiety scores at the end of the course were similar to those reported in the first week of the intervention.

 

Behavioural Problems in Adolescents Linked to Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks

A study by US researchers published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior has found an association between weekly consumption of sports and energy drinks and higher consumption of other sugary drinks, cigarette smoking and use of screen media. The team gathered data from 2,793 adolescents across 20 public middle and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the 2009-10 school year. The students reported data on their height, weight, how often they drink sports and energy drinks, how often they eat breakfast, how much physical activity they engage in, how much time they spend playing video games and watching TV, and whether or not they smoke. Despite consumption of sports drinks being linked to higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, overall, the researchers found that the consumption of sports and energy drinks contributes to a growing cluster of unhealthy behaviours among adolescents. These included a link between smoking, high consumption of other sugary drinks, and prolonged time watching TV or playing video games with weekly sports and energy drinks consumption.

 

Coffee and Eyesight

New US research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicates that drinking coffee may protect against deteriorating eyesight and even blindness.Raw coffee beans contain around 7-9% chlorogenic acid (CGA) - an antioxidant that has been associated with many health benefits, such as weight loss and reduction of blood pressure. Previous research has shown that CGA may be a powerful neuroprotectant, and there has been great interest in identifying neuroprotective compounds that block hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen in areas of the body).In this study, the research team looked into the effects of CGA on hypoxia and degeneration of the retina. They tested the effects of CGA on mouse retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the neurons located near the inner surface of the retina that were exposed to hypoxia and found that cell damage was reduced if cells were pretreated with CGA.

 

Mum’s Gluten-Free Diet Protects Offspring Against Type 1 Diabetes

New research published in the journal, Diabetes, suggests that mothers may be able to curb the prevalence of type 1 diabetes in children by adopting a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation.In the study, researchers from Denmark compared 30 mouse pups from gluten-fed mothers with 30 pups from mothers fed a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale. The researchers found that when mouse mothers ate a gluten-free diet, the intestinal bacteria in both the mothers and pups changed, which appeared to have a protective effect against development of type 1 diabetes in the pups.The researchers noted that in mice, the onset of type 1 diabetes usually occurs around 13 weeks of age. But the offspring of mothers who were fed a gluten-free diet did not develop the condition, even though they ate a normal diet themselves that contained gluten.

 

Breastfeeding Helps Kids Grow Good Gut Bacteria

A new Danish study published in the journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, has found that breastfeeding encouraging the development of friendly bacteria in the baby's gut. Researchers followed 330 Danish children for their first 3 years of life and analysed stool samples collected at age 9, 18 and 36 months of age. Using new culture-independent techniques, the team extracted DNA "signature sequences" of the gut bacteria and observed how they changed over time. The results showed significant differences in bacteria composition between infants either breastfed or no longer breastfed at 9 months. In addition, they also showed that the gut bacteria changed significantly between the ages of 9 months and 18 months as breastfeeding ceased and infants were weaned onto other foods. For example, there was a shift away from lactic acid bacteria. The researchers found that the composition of the gut bacteria was "most pronouncedly influenced by the time of cessation of breastfeeding," with clear links between increase in body mass index and increase in bacteria that tend to dominate when breastfeeding ceases.

 

Fruits and Veg Reduces Stroke Risk

In seems obvious but it’s always good to see these things scientifically confirmed, and a new US study published in the journal, Stroke, looking at global trends, has done just that. American Heart Association (AHA) researchers performed a meta-analysis of 20 studies published over the last 19 years to assess the global effect that fruit and vegetable consumption has on stroke. In total, the meta-analysis covered 760,629 participants and 16,981 cases of stroke. The meta-analysis found a decrease of 32% in stroke risk for every 200 g of fruits consumed each day, and a decrease in stroke risk of 11% for every 200 g of vegetables consumed each day.


Workplace Solvent Exposure and Cognitive Decline

Previous research has associated exposure to chemical solvents with diseases of the liver, kidneys, respiratory and reproductive systems, as well as cancer. A new US study published in the journal, Neurology, suggests that individuals exposed to solvents, such as paint, glue and degreasers, may increase their risk of memory and thinking problems later in life.The research team analysed data from 2,143 retirees from the French national utility company Electricite de France/Gaz de France (EDF-GDF) and assessed their lifetime exposure to benzene (used in plastics, rubber, dye, detergents and other synthetic materials), chlorinated solvents (used in dry cleaning products, engine cleaners, paint removers and degreasers), and petroleum solvents (used in carpet glue, furniture polish, paint, paint thinner and varnish). They found that 26% of the participants were exposed to benzene, 33% were exposed to chlorinated solvents, 25% were exposed to petroleum solvents and the remaining 16% had no solvent exposure. For an average of 10 years following retirement and when participants were an average age of 66 years, they were required to take eight memory and thinking skills tests. The team found that 59% of participants had impairments on up to three of the eight tests, 23% had impairments on four or more tests and 18% had no impairments. The researchers calculated each participant's lifetime exposure to the solvents using company records. Subjects were then divided into three groups; no exposure, moderate exposure and high exposure. Participants were also divided depending on their last chemical exposure. Recent exposure was associated with those who had worked with the chemicals in the previous 12 to 30 years, while those who last worked with the chemicals 31 to 50 years previously were considered to have distant exposure. The results of the study revealed that participants with high, recent exposure to solvents were most likely to have impairments in all areas of memory and thinking, even areas that are not usually linked with such exposure and that those with high, recent exposure to chlorinated solvents, for example, were 65% more likely to have impaired scores on memory, visual attention and task switching, compared with those with no solvent exposure. However, the team notes they were surprised to find that even individuals with high, distant exposure to solvents showed some cognitive impairments.

 

Spetember/October 2014

Research

 

Coffee Reduces the Risk of Death from Liver Cirrhosis

New Singaporean research published in the journal, Hepatology, suggests that drinking two or more cups of coffee every day can reduce the risk of death from liver cirrhosis by 66%. To do this, the researchers used a prospective population-based study called The Singapore Chinese Health Study, which involved over 63,000 Chinese subjects living in Singapore who were between 45 and 74 years old. These participants provided researchers with data on diet, lifestyle and medical histories through interviews and questionnaires between 1993 and 1998, and the researchers followed them for an average of 15 years. The researchers recorded that a total of 14,928 of the study participants died in this time, of which 114 died from liver cirrhosis. A closer examination of the dietary and other history from those who died from this condition showed that participants who drank two or more cups of coffee each day had a mortality risk that was 66% lower than that of non-daily coffee drinkers.

 

Insomnia Linked to an Increase in Stroke Risk

According to recent Taiwanese research published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Stroke, insomnia increases the risk of developing stroke. To reach their findings, the investigators analysed randomly selected medical records of more than 21,000 people with insomnia in Taiwan, alongside the health records of 64,000 individuals without the disorder. All participants were followed-up for 4 years. At the end of the follow-up period, individuals with insomnia were divided into different groups. Those with chronic or persistent insomnia (lasting 1 to 6 months), those with relapse insomnia (return of insomnia after being free of the condition for more than 6 months at any evaluation point in the study), and those with remission insomnia (a change from a diagnosis of insomnia to non-insomnia at any point during the study period) made up 3 distinct groups. Researchers found that insomniacs, particularly those aged between 18 and 35 years at diagnosis, have a much higher stroke risk than those without the sleep disorder. Relative to the number of study participants, the researchers found that individuals with insomnia had a 54% increased risk of hospitalization for stroke, compared with non-insomniacs. Insomniacs who were diagnosed with the disorder between 18 and 35 years old were eight times more likely to be hospitalized for stroke than those without insomnia. Although the research team says it is not fully clear as to why insomnia may increase stroke risk, past research has suggested that the sleep disorder can interfere with cardiovascular health by causing inflammation, increasing blood pressure and impairing blood glucose levels. They add that certain behaviours, such as diet, exercise, alcohol use, smoking as well as stress, could also influence the association between insomnia and stroke risk.

 

Increase Legumes to Reduce Cholesterol

Chickpeas, beans, lentils or peas can keep away "bad cholesterol" (LDL cholesterol) with just one serving per day, according to a new Canadian study published in the journal, CMAJ. The researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effects of legume consumption on reducing LDL cholesterol. The review drew its data from 26 RCTs, looking at 1,037 people altogether. Overall, the review found that people who ate one serving (3/4 cup) of non-oil-seed legumes a day exhibited a 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol.

 

Green Tea Boosts Memory

Green tea has been many health benefits, including its effects against cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. New Swiss research published in the journal, Psychopharmacology, suggests the beverage can enhance our brain's cognitive functions, particularly the working memory. The team conducted a study using 12 healthy male volunteers with a mean age of 24.1 years. Participants were given a milk whey-based soft drink containing 27.5 g of green tea extract, while others were given a soft drink without the green tea extract. Volunteers were unaware of which drink they had been given. The participants were then required to carry out a series of working memory tasks. During these tasks, their brain activity was measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers found that the participants who consumed the soft drink with the green tea extract showed increased connectivity between the right superior parietal lobule and the frontal cortex of the brain. This activity correlated with improved performance on the working memory tasks. The research team leader also said that green tea could be promising in the treatment of cognitive impairments associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, such as dementia.

 

Blueberries for Parkinson's Disease

Previous research suggested that blueberries may help to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart attack. Now, Canadian researchers have shown that the fruit could help to treat Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Exactly what causes the Parkinson’s disease is unclear, but past research has indicated that a gene called alpha-synuclein may play a role in its development. This gene plays a critical role in regulating the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in motor control that is believed to be lacking in patients with Parkinson's. Furthermore, studies have shown that individuals who have an accumulation of alpha-synuclein are more likely to experience oxidative stress. This is an imbalance between the production of free radicals, molecules that can cause cell damage or death, and the body's ability to protect from cell damage with antioxidants. To study alpha-synuclein further, the researchers put the gene into fruit flies. They found that it caused the flies to experience a series of defects, including retinal degeneration and reduced lifespan. The team then wanted to see whether blueberry extract would improve these defects in the flies so they compared the effects with those of a standard control diet. In fruit fly models that had a gene linked to Parkinson's, blueberry extract increased lifespan and improved eye defects. The researchers found that flies that were fed the blueberry extract had up to an 8-day (15%) greater lifespan than flies that had been fed a standard diet. The increase in lifespan seen in the fruit flies is the equivalent to an 8-year extended lifespan in humans. In addition, blueberry extract appeared to improve eye defects in the flies.

 

Coffee May Reduce the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

A new US study published in the journal, Diabetologia, has found that increasing coffee consumption may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. They did this by gathering data from three studies. The participants included 48,464 women in the Brigham and Women's Hospital-based Nurses' Health Study (1986-2006), 47,510 women in the Nurses' Health Study II (1991-2007) and 27,759 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2006). In these studies, the diets of the participants were evaluated using questionnaires every 4 years, with participants who reported having type 2 diabetes filling out additional questionnaires. In total, 7,269 study participants had type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that the participants who increased their coffee intake by more than one cup a day (on average, an increase of 1.69 cups per day) over a 4-year period had an 11% lower type 2 diabetes risk over the subsequent 4 years, compared with people who did not change their intake. Also, people who lowered their daily consumption by more than one cup of coffee (on average, a decrease of two cups per day) showed a 17% higher risk for type 2 diabetes. In the study, a "cup of coffee" was defined as being roughly 240mL and either black or with a small amount of milk or sugar.

 

Low Seafood Intake Linked to Cognitive Decline

New research presented at a recent Experimental Biology conference in the US found that low dietary intake of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’S) can predict cognitive decline. PUFAs include alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), and are found in seafood. To come to this conclusion, the researchers put 895 participants through "an intensive series of cognitive tests." These included an attention test to repeat lists of numbers forward and backward, and tests of organization and planning that involved copying complex figures. The tests were repeated as part of a 2-year follow-up. The participants also gave details of their dietary intake via

questionnaires. The researchers found that the lower the PUFA intake, the poorer were the results for the cognitive tests.

 

Keep Laughing to Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss

We’re all familiar with the saying, "laughter is the best medicine." And this motto may ring true when it comes to tackling age-related memory loss, say the authors US research, released recently at an Experimental Biology conference in San Diego that found that humour may reduce brain damage caused by the "stress hormone" cortisol, which in turn, improves memory. The researchers analysed data from observing one group of elderly individuals who had diabetes and another group of elderly people who were healthy. Both groups were required to view a 20-minute humorous video, before completing a memory test that measured their visual recognition, learning ability and memory recall. A third group of elderly individuals were asked to complete the memory test without watching the funny video. The team then compared the results of all three groups and cortisol levels for all participants were recorded before and after the experiments. The investigators found that both groups who watched the humorous video showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels, compared with the group that did not view the video. The groups that watched the funny video also showed a greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition, compared with those who did not watch the video. The diabetic group demonstrated the greatest improvement in both cortisol levels and memory test scores.

 

Kids Who Chew Behave Better

New US research appearing in the journal, Eating Behaviors, has shown that children are better behaved if they chew their food rather than eating chunks that they can swallow. Apparently, kids are more socially aggressive and disobedient when they have to hold and bite their food than when they can use utensils and chew it. For their study, the team observed twelve 6-10 year olds for 2 days during a summer camp. On the first day, they arranged for half the children to sit at a picnic table where they were served with chicken on the bone that they had to bite into with their front teeth. The other six children sat at another table nearby and were served with boneless chicken cut into bite-sized pieces. On the second day, they swapped the children over. On both days, they also asked the camp counsellors to instruct the children to remain inside a 3 metre perimeter around the table. The researchers filmed both groups eating on both days and then invited trained coders to evaluate the children's behaviours in terms of aggressiveness and compliance and any boisterous or rowdy behaviour, such as jumping or standing on the tables. The results showed that children behaved twice as aggressively when given chicken on the bone to eat as when they were given bite-sized pieces. They were also twice as likely to disobey adults. In addition, when given food they had to bite, the children left the circle without permission more frequently and were more likely to engage in boisterous behaviour.

 

Men Suffering from Chronic Pain May Benefit from Vitamin D

A study presented at a recent UK conference run by the British Society for Rheumatology suggests that low levels of Vitamin D in the body are linked to chronic widespread pain. Researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK used data on over 2,300 men, followed for an average of 4.3 years, in the European Male Ageing Study. The results showed that those with Vitamin D deficiency at the start of the study were more than twice as likely to experience chronic widespread pain, compared with those who had the highest levels. The men who had a Vitamin D deficiency at the start of the study were more likely to have chronic widespread pain than those with adequate levels of the vitamin.

 

August/September 2014

Research

 

Grilled Meat Eaters at Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease and Diabetes

New US research published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that consuming heat-processed animal products, such as grilled meat, may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, claiming that heat-processed meats contain high levels of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). These compounds have been associated with the worsening of many degenerative diseases, including diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. For most of us our bodies contain AGEs at low levels but the researchers found that consuming foods with high levels of AGEs increases the risk of associated diseases. To reach their findings, the investigators monitored the cognitive health of mice that consumed foods with high levels of AGEs - foods that are commonly found in the Western diet. This diet is high is saturated fats, red meats and "empty" carbohydrates, and low in seafood, poultry, whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables. Mice that consumed foods with high levels of AGEs demonstrated high levels of AGEs in their brains, compared with mice that ate a diet low in AGEs. Researchers found that eating grilled meat may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. High levels of AGEs were found to suppress a substance called SIRT1 in the blood and brain tissue of the mice. SIRT1 is a deacetylase responsible for regulating neuronal, immune and endocrine function. People with metabolic diseases,  such as diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases, tend to have suppressed SIRT1. Mice with high levels of AGEs were found to develop problems with cognitive and motor abilities. They also had deposits of amyloid-beta in their brains; amino acids crucial to the development of Alzheimer's disease, which form amyloid plaques in the brain. Furthermore, mice with high AGE levels developed metabolic syndrome, therefore increasing their risk of diabetes and heart disease. To see how high levels of AGEs affected humans, the researchers carried out a clinical health study of healthy individuals over the age of 60, some of whom had high AGE levels in their blood and some who had low levels. After monitoring these subjects for 9 months, the investigators found that the subjects with high AGE levels in their blood developed cognitive decline, showed SIRT1 suppression in their blood and demonstrated signs of insulin resistance. Individuals with low AGE levels in their blood remained healthy.

 

Chemical Exposure and Infant Brain Development

There are more than 80,000 industrial chemicals in widespread use across the US and probably here in Aiustralia. Around 3,000 of these chemicals are in products that we come into contact with every day, including clothing, carpets, toys, cleaning products and cosmetics. But is it safe to be so frequently exposed to these chemicals? It seems logical to assume that toxic chemicals are not good for us, particularly during our most significant growth phase, infancy. According to a 2006 US study, some toxic chemicals can interfere with the natural function of genes, proteins and other small molecules in the brain. This interference can lead to the onset of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy and dyslexia. The paper states that the immature brain is much more vulnerable to toxic exposure than the brain of an adult. The mature brain has a barrier of cells that stops chemicals in the blood stream from entering brain tissue. But the developing foetus does not have this protective barrier, meaning it is more vulnerable to toxic substances. These include lead, mercury, fluoride, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), manganese, chlorpyrifos (a pesticide) and tetrachloroethylene (a solvent recently implicated in soil contamination cases here in South Australia).

 

Minimise Your Protein Intake in Middle Age

Two new studies, one from the US and one from Australia, published in the journal, Cell Metabolism, conclude that low protein intake may hold the key to a long and healthy life, at least until old age. They also emphasize the need to examine not only calories when deciding what constitutes a healthy diet, but also where those calories come from, such as whether protein is animal or plant-based. Another key finding is the suggestion that while a high-protein diet may in the short term help people lose weight and body fat, in the long term it may harm health and reduce lifespan. The first study showed that high protein consumption is linked to an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and death in middle-aged adults, although this was not the case for older adults who may benefit from moderate protein consumption. Also, the effect is much reduced when the protein comes from plant sources. The second study, using mice, concluded that diets low in protein and high in carbohydrates are linked to the longest lifespans. Both studies suggest it is not just calories, but also diet composition, particularly in terms of amount and type of protein, that may determine the length and health of a lifespan.

 

Vitamin D Increases Survival from Breast Cancer

Previous research has shown that Vitamin D may reduce the risk of heart disease, bone fractures and even depression. Now, new US research published in the journal, Anticancer Research, suggests that breast cancer patients with high levels of the vitamin in their blood are more likely to survive the disease than patients with low levels. The research team conducted a statistical analysis of five studies that looked at the link between 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the body’s metabolite of Vitamin D) and breast cancer. The studies included a total of 4,443 patients with breast cancer and were performed between 1966 and 2010. All patients were followed for an average of 9 years. Patients were divided into groups dependent on the levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood. Women in the "high" group had an average of 30 nanograms per ml (ng/ml) of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood, while women in the "low" group had an average of 17 ng/ml in their blood. The investigators note that the average blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for breast cancer patients in the US is 17 ng/ml. The team found that women who had high levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood had around a 50% lower fatality rate, compared with women who had low levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood.

 

Animal Protein Consumption Could Prevent Functional Decline in Older Men

Researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggest that consuming a diet high in animal protein could help older men function at higher physical, psychological and social levels because aging could reduce the ability of the body to absorb or process proteins. They say this could mean our requirement for protein increases with age. The researchers conducted their study using residents of the general elderly community-dwelling population of Japan. In total, they followed 1,007 individuals who were an average age of 67.4 years old. The participants completed food questionnaires at the beginning of the study and then again 7 years later. Dividing the participants into quartiles according to intake levels of total, animal and plant protein, the researchers then performed tests of higher-level functional capacity, which included social and intellectual components, as well as tests related to daily living activities. Their results showed that men from the group who consumed the most animal protein had a 39% decreased risk of encountering higher-level functional decline, compared with those who consumed the least amount of animal protein.

 

Environmental Toxin Exposure Linked to Autism Incidence Rates

US researchers writing in the journal, PLOS Computational Biology, have found that rates of autism and intellectual disability in the US correlate with the incidence of genital malformation in newborn males at county level; an indicator of foetus exposure to harmful environmental factors, such as pesticides. To investigate this association further, the researchers analysed medical information from an insurance claims database that involved almost 100 million patients across the US. As an indicator of parental exposure to environmental toxins, the team looked at the levels of congenital malformations of the reproductive system in males. They note that male foetuses are very sensitive to certain environmental toxins, and such exposure is believed to lead to reproductive malformations existing at birth, including micropenis and undescended testicles. On assessing the incidence rates of autism and intellectual disability (ID) in their dataset county by county, the team found that every 1% increase in malformations was linked to a 283% increase in autism and a 94% increase in ID in that same county. They also found that almost all areas with higher autism rates had higher ID rates. The researchers say this supports the presence of harmful environmental factors in these areas. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that male children with autism were almost six times more likely to have genital malformations at birth. The research team also found that viral infections in males were linked to significant increases in incidence rates of autism and ID and that since exposure to environmental toxins is associated with the weakening of human immune systems, the researchers say this finding supports the theory that environmental exposure may be linked to autism and ID incidence.

 

Stress Reduces Conception Rates

While naturopaths have been saying this for years, US researchers recently reporting in the journal, Human Reproduction, say stress may be a reason why women trying to conceive experience difficulty getting pregnant. The research team examined data on 501 couples trying to conceive who were enrolled in the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study between 2005 and 2009 at two research centres in the US.The couples were followed for up to 12 months as they tried to conceive. As part of the data collection, the female participants, aged between 18 and 40, and free from fertility problems, gave saliva samples the morning after they were enrolled and also the morning after their first period after enrolment. From these samples, the researchers could measure levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase, known biomarkers of stress. Over the 12 months of the study period, of the 401 women who completed it, 347 (87%) became pregnant and 54 (13%) did not. When they analysed the data, the researchers found the women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase had a 29% lower chance of becoming pregnant each month, compared with women with the lowest levels. Also, the women with the highest indicated stress levels were more than twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility, which is not conceiving despite 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse. These links remained despite adjusting for possible factors like age, race, income and use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco while trying to conceive.

 

Fruit and Veg Reduces Early Death Risk

The results of a recent UK study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggest that we should be eating at least seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The research team analysed lifestyle data from annual national health surveys for England between 2001 and 2008. The data of more than 65,000 randomly selected people aged 35 and over went into the study. On average, survey respondents reported eating just under four portions of fruit and vegetables the previous day. During the monitoring period of the study, 4,399 of the tracked people (6.7% of the sample) had died. The researchers worked out what effect fruit and vegetable intake had on the respondents' risk of death. They found that people who ate at least seven portions a day had a 42% lower risk of death from all causes. The seven-a-day group specifically also had a 31% lower risk of death caused by heart disease and stroke, and a 25% lower risk of death from cancer. Vegetables seem to offer more protective benefits than fruit. Eating 2-3 portions of vegetables a day was linked with 19% lower risk of death, while an equivalent intake of fruit only provided a 10% lower risk of death. The researchers found that the protective benefits of fruit extend to fresh and dried fruit, but not frozen or tinned fruit, which actually increased the risk of death by an alarming 17%. The researchers hypothesize that the added sugars in processed fruit are behind this jump in risk.

 

Allergies Aggravated by Stress

In another area that naturopaths have been telling their clients for some time, US researchers, writing in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, have found a link between allergies and stress. To do this, researchers observed 179 allergy sufferers over 12 weeks. Within this period, 39% of the participants had more than one flare-up of allergy symptoms. The researchers found that the group with allergy symptoms had higher stress levels. Although there was no clear association between allergy attacks occurring immediately as a result of stress, many of the people with allergy symptoms did report that their allergies flared up within days of an increase to their daily stress levels. They also found those with more frequent allergy attacks also have a greater negative mood, which may be leading to these attacks.

 

Chocolate Could Prevent Obesity and Diabetes

New US research published in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry suggests a surprising prevention strategy for obesity and diabetes - eating chocolate. In this mouse study, researchers discovered that an antioxidant in cocoa, a flavanol, the main ingredient in chocolate, prevented mice from gaining weight and lowered their blood sugar levels. The team set out to determine exactly which flavanol may be responsible for preventing weight gain and lowering blood glucose levels. The investigators assigned mice to one of six different diets for 12 weeks. These consisted of high- and low-fat diets, and high-fat diets supplemented with either monomeric, oligomeric or polymeric procyandins (PCs) - types of flavanols. Mice were given 25 milligrams of these flavanols each day for every kilogram of their body weight (25 mg/kg). The research team found that a high-fat diet supplemented with oligomeric PCs was the most effective for maintaining weight of the mice and improving glucose tolerance - a factor that could help prevent type 2 diabetes. The data suggest that moderate doses of cocoa flavanols or cocoa powder have the potential to be more effective in human clinical trials than previously thought.

 

July/August 2014

Research

 

High-Protein Diets and Kidney Disease

High-protein diets, are a popular alternative to the traditional calorie-counting forms of dieting. But recent Spanish research has shown through tests in rats that a high-protein diet increases the risk of kidney stones and other renal diseases. In the new study, the scientists fed 10 rats a diet with a 45% protein level, while a control group of another 10 rats were fed a diet of normal protein levels. The rats were placed on their respective diets for 12 weeks - the equivalent of 9 years in human terms. Over the 12 weeks, rats on the high-protein diet lost 10% of their body weight. But the weight of the kidneys in these rats increased by 22%, the capillaries filtering blood to the kidneys increased in size by 13%, and the collagen around the capillaries by 32%. The citrate levels in the rat’s urine was 88% lower and their urinary pH was 15% more acidic. A low amount of citrate in the urine and swollen kidneys are risk factors for kidney stone formation. High urinary pH is also a symptom of kidney failure and kidney tubular acidosis, amoung other kidney diseases.

 

Preeclampsia Risk Increased by Vitamin D Deficiency

Recent US research published in the journal, Epidemiology, suggests that women who have a Vitamin D deficiency in the first 26 weeks of pregnancy are more likely to develop severe preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication that usually occurs after the first 20 weeks of gestation or shortly after birth and 5-8% of pregnancies are affected by the condition. Early signs of the condition include fluid retention, headaches, vision problems, high blood pressure and albuminuria; excess protein that leaks into the urine. Pregnancy is a known risk factor for Vitamin D deficiency and to determine whether there is an association between Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and risk of preeclampsia, the research team analysed the blood samples of 700 pregnant women who later developed preeclampsia, alongside the blood samples of 3,000 pregnant women who did not develop the condition. The analysis revealed that women who had insufficient levels of Vitamin D during the first 26 weeks of pregnancy were 40% more likely to develop severe preeclampsia, compared with women who had adequate levels of the Vitamin in the first 26 weeks' gestation.

 

Poor Breakfast Habits in Childhood Linked to Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a collective term for a group of risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes and stroke. A person is diagnosed as having metabolic syndrome if they have three or more of the following metabolic risk factors: a large waistline, a high level of a type of fat in the blood called triglycerides, a low level of HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure or high fasting blood sugar. New Swedish research published in the journal, Public Health Nutrition, reports a link between the incidence of metabolic syndrome in adults and the kinds of breakfasts those adults ate as children. In the study, a group of Swedish schoolchildren were asked questions about what they ate for breakfast. The children were followed up 27 years later when, as adults, they were checked for signs of any metabolic risk factors. The study found that the people who did not eat breakfast (or who ate an insubstantial breakfast) as children were 68% more likely to have adulthood metabolic syndrome than their peers who ate substantial breakfasts.

 

Effects of Chemotherapy Boosted by Vitamin C

A new US study reported in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, suggests that giving some cancer sufferers high doses of intravenous Vitamin C alongside conventional chemotherapy, may help kill cancer cells and also reduce some of its toxic side effects. The researchers recruited 27 people who had just been diagnosed with stage 3 or stage 4 ovarian cancer. They all underwent conventional chemotherapy with paclitaxel or carboplatin, but some also received high doses of Vitamin C intravenously. They were then followed for 5 years. The researchers found that, compared with the people who did not receive Vitamin C in addition to conventional chemotherapy, the toxic effects of the therapy tended to be less in the people given Vitamin C. In another experiment, the researchers found Vitamin C killed cancer cells in mice with ovarian cancer, but only at concentrations that can be achieved if given intravenously. They noticed no toxic effects or changes due to chemotherapy in the animals' livers, kidneys and spleens. When they looked at what was happening at the molecular level, they found Vitamin C in the fluid surrounding tumor cells acts as a "pro-oxidant," spurring the formation of hydrogen peroxide, which kills cancer cells. On further investigation of this path, the researchers found a number of mechanisms through which, acting as a pro-oxidant, Vitamin C induced cell death in ovarian cancer cells, including promoting damage to their DNA, without affecting healthy tissue.

 

Minimise Fruit Juice Intake

Scottish researchers writing in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology argue that because of its high sugar content, fruit juice could be just as bad for us as sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks. Fruit juice is on the list of many government dietary recommendations as being something we should be consuming regularly. The researchers argue that it leads people to consider fruit juice as a healthy food that does not need to be limited, as is the case with less healthy foods. They also urge food companies to improve container labelling of fruit juices to inform consumers they should drink no more than 150 ml a day of the product. They said that unlike solid fruit intake, for which high consumption appears linked either to reduced or neutral risk for diabetes, high fruit juice intake is linked to an increased risk of diabetes.


Stress Increases the Risk of Mental Illness

We already know that people suffering from chronic stress are prone to experiencing mental health problems, such as anxiety and mood disorders. Now, a new study from US researchers explains why. Previous research has shown that people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress-related conditions have abnormalities in the brain. The human brain is made up of "gray matter" and "white matter" and scientists have noticed that the proportion of white versus gray matter is different in people with stress illnesses, compared with other people. But so far, scientists have not been able to explain why these differences in the brain occur. White matter gets its name from the white, fatty "sheath" of myelin coating it; the electrically insulating layer that forms around nerves and accelerates the transmission of electrical signals between cells. The new study focused on cells in the brain that produce myelin; the electrically insulating layer that forms around nerves. The researchers found that an excess of white matter is found in some areas of the brain in people who experience chronic stress. It seems that the experience of chronic stress causes more myelin-producing cells to be generated, with fewer neurons than normal. The consequence of this is that the excess of myelin causes the delicate balance of the brain to be disrupted, with communication between brain cells slipping out of their normal timing. To see how this happens, the researchers conducted tests on the hippocampus region in the brains of adult rats. But they found that the neural stem cells in the rats' hippocampi behaved in unexpected ways. Previously, it was thought that these stem cells would only mature into neurons, or a type of cell called an astrocyte. However, when the rats were experiencing chronic stress, these stem cells matured into another form of cell, an oligodendrocyte. Oligodendrocytes are the cells that produce myelin. As well as producing the myelin in white matter, oligodendrocytes also aid in the formation of synapses; the structures that allow nerve cells to connect and exchange information with each other. This increase in oligodendrocytes may change the level of brain connectivity and increases the speed of the “flight or fight” response in people suffering from chronic stress.

 

Increase Vitamin C to Reduce the Risk of Stroke

A study presented at a recent conference held by the American Academy of Neurology suggests that eating foods containing high levels of Vitamin C, such as oranges, capsicum, strawberries, pawpaw and broccoli, may be linked to a reduced risk for stroke. The study compared 65 patients who had experienced a stroke with 65 healthy counterparts. Both groups underwent blood tests that checked their Vitamin C levels. The results showed that 41% of all participants had normal levels, 45% had depleted levels, and 14% had levels so low they were considered deficient in Vitamin C. On average, the participants who had experienced a stroke had depleted levels, while the ones who had not had a stroke had normal levels of vitamin C in their blood. The researchers suggest that one way that Vitamin C might reduce stroke risk could be by reducing blood pressure, and it may also reduce stroke risk by helping to make collagen, a protein that gives structure to skin, bones and tissue.

 

Avoid Food Packaging Chemicals

Naturopaths have been warning of this for decades but in a paper published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, it’s been stated that many of the synthetic chemicals involved in packaging and storing the food we eat can leak into it, potentially harming our long-term health. Although some of these chemicals are regulated, people come into contact with them almost every day through packaged or processed foods. The authors of the commentary note that exposure is low, but it is chronic, as many of us eat such foods throughout our lives. Food contact materials (FCMs) are usually made of plastic or contain a synthetic material that is in direct contact with foods. This includes coating, laminate in beverage cartons or the closures of glass jars. Known toxicants involved here include formaldehyde, a substance known to cause cancer. Plastic bottles used for carbonated drinks, for example, usually contain low levels of formaldehyde. Other chemicals involved here are hormone production-disrupting chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), tributyltin, triclosan and phthalates. The number of known chemical substances intentionally used in FCMs is over 4,000 and little is known about their potential toxicity, either alone or with the componants of the foods with which they may interact.

 

Multivitamins Reduce Cataract Risk for Men

A new US study published in the journal, Opthalmology, has found that the long-term daily use of multivitamin supplements could reduce the risk of cataract for men. The research team analysed data from 12,641 male doctors from the US who were aged 50 years or older. All men were part of the Physicians' Health Study II (PHS II) and were assessed from 1997 to 2011. Half of the men were randomly assigned to receive a common daily multivitamin, alongside Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta carotene supplements, while the other half of the participants took a placebo. Vitamins were given to participants at doses in line with US dietary allowance recommendations. The researchers followed the men for an average of 11.2 years to determine how many in each group developed new cases of cataract or age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The results of the study revealed that in the placebo group, there were 945 new cases of cataract reported. However, the multivitamin group reported 872 new cases of cataract, showing a 9% risk reduction for the condition. The development of AMD appeared to be unaffected by the supplementation. 


Vegetarian Diets Reduce Blood Pressure

In line with standard naturopathic advice, vegetarian diets lower blood pressure. This advice was recently validated in a Japanese study published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers analysed the findings of seven clinical trials (looking at 311 participants in total) and 32 observational studies (looking at 21,604 participants in total). In this review, "vegetarian diets" were defined as excluding or rarely including meat, but including dairy products, eggs and fish. The meta-analysis found that vegetarian diets are associated with lower blood pressure, compared with omnivorous diets. In terms of systolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats), the researchers found that the blood pressure of vegetarians was 4.8 mm Hg lower overall than omnivores in clinical trials and 6.9 mm Hg lower in observational studies. In terms of diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats), the researchers found that the blood pressure of those following a vegetarian diet overall was 2.2 mm Hg lower in clinical trials and 4.7 mm Hg lower in observational studies. This reduction, the researchers say, is similar to the health benefits of a low-sodium diet or a weight reduction of 5 kg. Reducing systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg is also associated with a 9% lower risk of death from coronary heart disease and a 14% lower risk of death from stroke.

 

June/July 2014

Research

 

Vitamin E Protects Against Functional Decline from Alzheimer's Disease

New research published in the journal, JAMA, suggests that a daily dose of Vitamin E may help to slow functional decline for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and may help reduce the amount of care they need. Previous studies have shown that the Vitamin was effective in slowing the progression of moderately severe Alzheimer's disease but the use of Vitamin E had not been studied in people with a mild to moderate form of the disease. With this in mind, the researchers analysed data from 613 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, all of whom were taking an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor to increase the level and duration of action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Of these, 155 received 20 mg a day of memantine, a class of drugs used to treat Alzheimer's, while 152 received 2,000 international units a day (IU/day) of Vitamin E, 154 received a combination of both and 152 had a placebo. The investigators monitored people' changes in functional decline using the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study/Activities of Daily Living (ADCS-ADL) Inventory score, and people were followed-up for an average of 2.3 years. The results revealed that the people who received Vitamin E had a 19% reduction in functional decline, compared with people who received the placebo. The researchers say this is the equivalent to a "clinically meaningful delay in progression" of 6.2 months. The investigators also found that people who received Vitamin E needed 2 hours less assistance from a caregiver each day. Vitamin E is naturally found in many foods, including eggs, fortified cereals, fruit, green leafy vegetables, meat, nuts, poultry and vegetable oils. It can also be taken as a supplement and acts as an antioxidant in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Vitamin D Levels In Pregnancy Linked to Offspring Muscle Strength

Vitamin D is known to help regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream, as well as help cells to communicate. New research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that mothers who have a higher intake of Vitamin D during pregnancy are more likely to have children with stronger muscles. Previous research has linked low Vitamin D levels to decreased muscle strength in children and adults, but the researchers said there is little knowledge on how a child may be affected by their mother's Vitamin D intake during pregnancy. To find out more, the researchers measured the Vitamin D levels of 678 pregnant women from the Southampton Women's Survey at 34 weeks gestation. Their child's grip strength and muscle mass were measured when they were 4-years-old. The study authors found that mothers who had high levels of Vitamin D at 34 weeks gestation had children with increased grip strength and muscle mass compared with the children of mothers who had low Vitamin D levels. The body's main source of Vitamin D comes from sunlight, but foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and powdered milk are good sources of the Vitamin, or it can be used as a supplement.

 

Diet and Exercise- Useful Tools Against Cancer in Women

The recently released results of a large study of women's health have shown that postmenopausal women who followed a healthy lifestyle were at a third lower risk of death, including a 20% smaller chance of dying from cancer, than women who did not follow guidance on diet, weight, physical activity, or alcohol intake. This work was coordinated by the US National Institutes of Health and looked at data from nearly 66 thousand women over 15 years, and the development of cancers over that period. It confirmed advice that has been given by naturopaths for years and found specifically that cancer risk reduces significantly in women who achieve and maintain a healthy weight, remain physically active, eat a predominantly plant-based diet and minimise their alcohol intake.

 

Avocado For Weight Management

New US research published in the Nutrition Journal suggests that half a fresh avocado with lunch may satisfy hunger in overweight individuals, reducing their need to snack after a meal. One fresh avocado contains around 250 calories and 23g of fat and although the fat content of avocados is high, the variety of fat they contain is good monounsaturated fat. Research has shown this type of fat can reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, as well as reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. For this study, the researchers wanted to see how avocado consumption impacted a person's satiety, blood sugar and insulin response, and food consumption, following a meal. They recruited 26 healthy, overweight adults and over five sessions, participants were required to eat their normal breakfast followed by one of three lunch test meals. These were; a standard lunch with no avocado, a lunch containing avocado (the avocado replaced other foods), or a standard lunch with half of a fresh avocado added. The results showed that participants who ate half of a fresh avocado with their lunch reported a 40% decreased desire to eat during the 3 hours after their lunch, and a 28% decreased desire to eat 5 hours after, compared with individuals who ate a standard lunch with no avocado.

 

Fibre for Asthma

Over the last 50 years, fruits and vegetables have featured less and less in the Western diet. Over the same period, the rates of allergic asthma have gone up. A new Swiss study published online in the journal, Nature Medicine, suggests that these trends are not coincidental, but are causally linked. Using laboratory mice, researchers found that when gut bacteria digest dietary fibre, such as that contained in fruits and vegetables, they release fatty acids into the bloodstream, and these affect how the immune system behaves in the lungs. For their study, researchers tested three groups of lab mice. They put one group on a low-fibre diet, comparable to a Western diet, averaging no more than 0.6% fibre, another group on a standard diet comprising 4% fermentable fibre, and the third group on a standard diet enriched with a higher level of fermentable fibre. To provoke an allergic response, the researchers exposed the mice to an extract of house dust mites. They found that the mice on the low-fibre diet had a much stronger allergic reaction, with more mucus in the lungs, than the mice on standard diet with more fibre and that the mice on the enriched fibre diet showed an even stronger protective effect than the mice on the standard diet. On further investigation, the team found that the protective effect is the result of a series of reactions that ensue when the fibre reaches the intestines, are fermented by gut bacteria, and are transformed into short-chain fatty acids. The short-chain fatty acids enter the bloodstream and affect the development of immune cells in the bone marrow. Once the dust mites are detected in the lungs, the immune cells are summoned, where they trigger an allergic response, the strength of which depends on the effect of the short-chain fatty acids.

 

Remember the Coffee

Recent US research published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience, suggests that a dose of caffeine after a learning session may help to boost long-term memory. To do this, scientists enrolled 160 participants aged between 18 and 30 years. On the first day of the study, the participants were shown pictures of different objects and were asked to identify them as "indoor" or "outdoor" items.Soon after this task, they were randomised to receive either 200 mg of caffeine in the form of a pill, or a placebo tablet. The next day, the participants were shown the same pictures as well as some new ones. The researchers asked them to identify whether the pictures were "new," "old" or "similar to the original pictures”. From this, the researchers found that subjects who took the caffeine were better at identifying pictures that were similar, compared with participants who took the placebo. It was also shown that using more than 200mg of caffeine did not improve this effect. Nor was any benefit seen when using caffeine before the test. A 168mL cup of brewed coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine and a 168mL cup of instant coffee contains 65 mg of caffeine. It was suggested that caffeine may block a molecule called adenosine, preventing it from stopping the function of norepinephrine, a hormone that has been shown to have positive effects on memory.

 

Vitamin B3 Reduces the Risk of Colon Cancer and Inflammation For People on Low Fibre Diets

Previous research has suggested that a diet rich in fibre may reduce the risk of colon inflammation and cancer. But new US research published in the journal, Immunity, suggests that niacin, also known as Vitamin B3, may also help protect against these conditions. To do the research, the team used mice that were missing a receptor called Gpr109a which makes them susceptible to the development of inflammation and cancer of the colon. But on giving niacin to mice that had no healthy colonic bacteria because of antibiotic consumption, the vitamin pushed immune cells into an anti-inflammatory mode. This suggests that niacin can keep the colon healthy for people who have low-fibre diets.

 

Vitamin D Prevents Cognitive Impairment in Parkinson's Disease

Vitamin D is known to benefit our health by regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which helps keep our bones and teeth healthy. Parkinson’s disease is associated with high levels of depression and dementia. Recent US research published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease, suggests that for people with the disease, Vitamin D may help prevent or delay the onset of cognitive impairment and depressive symptoms. Previous research has found that Vitamin D appears to play an important role in the central nervous system, assisting with neurodevelopment and stabilizing mitochondrial function and with this in mind, the investigators decided to see how levels of the vitamin affected the cognitive impairment and mood of 286 people with Parkinson's disease. All subjects were tested for measures of global cognitive function, verbal memory, semantic verbal fluency, executive function and depression. The researchers also measured their Vitamin D levels on the same day. The researchers found that 225 people suffered from symptoms of dementia, while 61 did not. For all of the subjects, those who had higher levels of Vitamin D were better able to recall names and experienced a shorter delay in remembering items on a verbal learning test although higher levels of Vitamin D only appeared to improve fluency and verbal learning for Parkinson's people who were free of dementia.

 

Type 2 Diabetes Risk Reduced by Chocolate, Wine and Berries

Good news if you’re a fan of berries, chocolate or wine. New UK research suggests that consuming high levels of flavonoids, found in foods such as chocolate, tea, berries and wine, may help protect against type 2 diabetes. This is according to a study recently published in The Journal of Nutrition that found that a high intake of these dietary compounds is linked to reduced insulin resistance and improved glucose regulation associated with type 2 diabetes. To reach their findings, the research team analysed data from 1,997 female volunteers aged between 18 and 76 years from TwinsUK - the largest UK twin registry used for research into genetics, the environment and common diseases. All women completed a food questionnaire. This estimated their total dietary flavonoid intake and their intake from six flavonoid subclasses - anthocyanins, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, polymeric flavonoids, flavonols, and flavones. The study revealed that women who consumed high levels of anthocyanins and flavones - compounds found in foods such as berries, herbs, red grapes, chocolate and wine - demonstrated lower insulin resistance. Women who consumed the highest levels of flavones also had improved levels of a protein called adiponectin - a regulator of glucose levels, among other metabolic mechanisms.Furthermore, the investigators discovered that volunteers who consumed the most anthocyanins were the least likely to have chronic inflammation, a condition linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.

 

Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk of Peripheral Artery Disease

Past studies have suggested that following a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Now, a new analysis of previous research published in the journal, JAMA, suggests that the diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, may reduce the risk of peripheral artery disease. Peripheral Artery Disease or PAD is a condition in which fatty deposits build up in the arteries, restricting blood supply to the arms, legs, stomach or kidneys. To reach their findings, the investigators analysed data from 7,477 participants. Men were aged between 55 and 80 years, while women were aged between 60 and 80 years. At the start of the study, all participants were free from PAD or baseline cardiovascular disease, but they did have type 2 diabetes or a minimum of three other cardiovascular risk factors. The subjects were randomized to one of three diet groups; a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, or a low-fat diet with counselling. All participants were followed for 7 years and received a detailed dietary educational program every 3 months. At the midpoint of the study (4.8 years), 89 of the participants developed PAD. However, the researchers found that groups who followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts had a significantly lower risk of developing PAD, compared with the group following the low-fat diet.

 

 

May/June 2014

Research

 

Brain Health Dependant on Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining bone health, but a new US study published in the journal, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, claims that a deficiency of this vitamin may cause damage to the brain and other organs. Low levels of Vitamin D have previously been linked to Alzheimer's disease, the development of certain cancers and heart disease, and the results of this recent research showed that when middle-aged rats were fed a diet low in Vitamin D for several months, they developed free radical damage to the brain. They also performed less well in cognitive functioning tests for learning and memory. The researchers say that several brain proteins were found to have significantly higher levels than normal and that this contributes to significant nitrosative stress in the brain, possibly leading to cognitive decline.

 

Meditation is Good for Your Genes

Practitioners have been attesting to it for years, and now medical science is waking up to the idea that meditation really does have health benefits. A new study, published in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology, has discovered specific molecular changes in the body after a period of mindful meditation. Researchers compared the effects of a day of intensive mindful-meditation in a group of experienced meditators with a group of untrained subjects who enjoyed a day of quiet, non-meditative activities. After 8 hours, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes. This correlates with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation. Molecular analysis showed that the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 were affected, together with several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which control the activity of other genes by removing a chemical tag. Moreover, the results showed that the extent to which some of the genes were down-regulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test, where participants were challenged to make an impromptu speech or complete mental calculations in front of an audience.

 

Dads Need Folate for Healthy Babies

Previous research has shown that what mothers eat during pregnancy affects the health of their offspring. But a new study published in the journal, Nature Communications, suggests that a father's diet prior to conception could also play an important role in their child's health, particularly when it comes to consumption of folate or Vitamin B9. This new research has revealed that a man's diet could impact the health of his child, and low levels of folate could significantly increase the risk of their infant having birth defects. Folate is found naturally in a broad variety of foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, fruit and fruit juices, dairy products, poultry and meat, eggs, seafood and grains. The research team conducted a mouse study in which they compared the offspring of fathers who had sufficient folate levels to the offspring of fathers who had low folate levels. This revealed that the offspring of mice fathers who had insufficient folate levels had a 30% increase in birth defects, such as cranio-facial and spinal deformities, compared with the offspring of fathers who had adequate levels of the vitamin. Explaining the reasons behind their findings, the researchers note that there are areas of the sperm epigenome that are sensitive to lifestyle choices, particularly diet. The epigenome can influence the way in which genes are activated and how certain information is passed on to offspring. They say that the sperm can carry a "memory" of a father's lifestyle choices and diet, and the information from a father's diet is transferred to an "epigenomic map," which can influence a child's development.

 

Antacid Use Linked to Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Antacids are commonly used to neutralize the acid in the stomach, helping many individuals who have acid reflux. Naturopaths have been warning about this for years but recent US research, published in the journal, JAMA, suggests that using this medication consistently for 2 years or more is linked to a deficiency of vitamin B12, which can have adverse effects for the nervous system. The investigators say that antacids, including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine 2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs), are some of the most commonly used pharmaceuticals in the US. However, because they suppress the creation of gastric acid, the team says antacids may lead to malabsorption of Vitamin B12. This vitamin helps to keep the nervous system- healthy. To conduct their study, the researchers looked at the link between using antacids and vitamin B12 deficiency within a Northern California population of 25,956 vitamin B12-deficient patients and 184,199 control patients without the deficiency, the researchers compared their use of acid inhibitors by using electronic pharmacy, laboratory and diagnostic databases. They found that among the patients who were newly diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency, 12% were given a 2-year or more supply of PPIs, compared with 7.2% of patients who were exposed to PPIs in the control group. Similarly, 4.2% of the vitamin-deficient patients had a 2-year or more supply of H2RAs, versus 3.2% in the control group. The association decreased after patients stopped using the antacids.

 

Goji for Flu

Driven by the increasing awareness that flu vaccines do not completely protect against influenza infection, researchers have been looking for alternative measures. A recent US study recorded in the Journal of Nutrition present the results of a new mouse study has shown that older mice are given extra protection from the flu with a diet that incorporates goji berries. To investigate the effects of goji berries, also known as wolfberries, researchers fed older male mice, aged 20-22 months, either a control diet or a 5% goji berry diet for 30 days. During this time, the mice were given two flu vaccines before the researchers infected them with the flu virus. The team then tested the mice for certain flu antibodies and assessed symptoms of the infection, including weight loss. The researchers observed a higher antibody response in the mice that were fed the goji berries, as well as less weight loss, compared with the control group that only received the vaccine. In addition to observing the effects of the berries on mice, the researchers isolated dendritic cells, immune cells that activate T-cells to fight infections, and treated them with a goji berry concentrate, allowing them to incubate for 1 week. They found that this concentrate "enhanced maturation and activity of antigen-presenting dendritic cells," which basically suggests an enriched immune response.

 

An Apple a Day Keeps Cardiovascular Disease at Bay

New research suggests that eating an apple once a day may be just as beneficial as daily statin use when it comes to preventing vascular deaths in individuals over the age of 50. This is according to a UK study published in the British Medical Journal. The investigators decided to see how widespread use of statins would impact the rate of vascular mortality in the over-50 UK population, and they compared this with the effects of apple consumption. They used a mathematical model to estimate the number of annual vascular deaths that would be reduced if the total over-50 UK population were prescribed either a statin, if not already taking them, or an apple once a day. The investigators based their estimates on a 70% adherence and assumed that the population's overall calorie intake would be maintained. They estimated that approximately 5.2 million people in the UK are eligible for treatment with statins, and that 17.6 million people who are currently not using the drugs would be offered them as a form of treatment if they were recommended as primary treatment for those aged over 50. From their calculations, they found that if 17.6 million people in the UK took a statin a day, this would reduce the number of vascular deaths by 9,400. If the whole over-50 UK population (22 million) ate an apple a day, this could reduce the annual number of vascular deaths by 8,500. But the researchers took into account the side effects of statin use, stating that prescribing a statin to everyone over the age of 50 could lead to over 1,000 extra cases of muscle disease (myopathy) and more than 10,000 additional cases of diabetes. When applying the mathematic model to the UK population over the age of 30, this revealed a further 3% reduction in the annual number of vascular deaths if individuals were prescribed with either a statin or an apple once a day.

 

Alcohol for Immunity

Many of us enjoy a drink or two from time to time and now, according to findings published in the journal, Vaccine, US researchers say the odd glass of wine with dinner may actually benefit our health as it can boost the immune system and improve its response to vaccination. To reach their findings, the researchers trained 12 monkeys to consume alcohol freely. Prior to this, the monkeys were vaccinated against smallpox. One group of the monkeys was then allowed access to either 4% alcohol, while the other group had access to sugar water. All monkeys also had access to normal water and food. The monkeys were then monitored for a 14-month period and were vaccinated again 7 months into the experiment. During this time, the investigators found that the monkeys' voluntary alcohol intake varied, just as it does in humans. This led the investigators to divide them into two groups. The first group consisted of monkeys that were "heavy drinkers" - defined as having a blood ethanol concentration (BEC) more than 0.08%. The second group was deemed "moderate drinkers," with a BEC of between 0.02-0.04%. The researchers found that before the monkeys had free access to alcohol, they all demonstrated comparable responses to the vaccinations. But after alcohol consumption, they all showed different vaccine responses. The monkeys classed as heavy drinkers showed diminished responses to the vaccine, compared with the monkeys that consumed sugar water. But the investigators were surprised to find that the monkeys deemed as moderate drinkers demonstrated an enhanced vaccine response. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than four alcoholic drinks on any single day for men and no more than 14 in total over a week. For women, this reduces to three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks over a week.

 

Dog Gone Asthma and Allergies

Previous research has suggested that when exposed to a dog regularly in early infancy, children's risk for developing allergies and asthma decreases (unless of course the child is directly allergic to dogs). And now, US researchers have published the results of a mouse study in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pointing to changes in gut microbes as the mechanism behind this. In this study, when mice were exposed to dust from houses in which dogs lived, the community of microbes in their gut, known as the gastrointestinal microbiome, was "reshaped." This also resulted in decreased reactivity by the immune system to common allergens. In particular, the researchers singled out one species of bacteria called Lactobacillus johnsonii. When fed to the mice, it prevented airway inflammation attributed to allergens or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, which is linked with elevated asthma risk when experienced in infancy. The study leader said that the level of protection that L. johnsonii offers on its own is less than that achieved from the full dust microbe catalogue from dog owners' homes and that this suggests that other bacterial species are necessary for full protection in the airway.

 

Tomato Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

It’s long been known that postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than would otherwise be the case. According to a new US study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, research suggests that adopting a diet rich in tomatoes may reduce this risk. Postmenopausal women increase their risk of breast cancer further as their body mass index (BMI)) climbs and this latest study suggests that this risk may be reduced simply by adopting a different diet. To reach their findings, the investigators worked with 70 postmenopausal women for a period of 20 weeks. For the first 10 weeks, the women were required to follow a tomato-rich diet. This involved consuming a minimum of 25 mg of lycopene each day. Lycopene is an antioxidant found in tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. For the remaining 10 weeks, the women followed a soy-rich diet. This required them to consume at least 40 g of soy protein daily. All of the women were asked to refrain from eating any soy or tomato products 2 weeks prior to each diet. Postmenopausal women showed a 9% increase in levels of adiponectin, a fat and blood sugar regulating hormone, after following a tomato-rich diet for 10 weeks, lowering their risk of breast cancer.

 

Peanuts in Pregnancy Reduces Peanut Allergy Risk

Allergic reactions to peanuts and tree nuts can range from mild to life-threatening. New US research published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, suggests that pregnant women who are not allergic to the nuts/legumes and who eat more of them during pregnancy lower the risk of their child developing an allergy to the food. The study was based on observations of children born to mothers who reported their diet during, before, or after their pregnancy. This was part of the Nurses' Health Study II. In total, there were 8,205 children in the study, 308 of whom had food allergies, with 140 cases of peanut/tree nut (P/TH) allergies. It was found that children whose mothers did not have an allergy and who consumed the highest amount of peanuts or tree nuts, which was five times a week or more, had the lowest risk of developing an allergy to the food. However, the researchers note that this lower risk of P/TN allergies was not found in children whose mothers had the allergy.

 

April/May 2014

Research

 

More Tea?

Scientists writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition say that tea may provide significant benefits and was shown to promote weight loss, prevent chronic illnesses and improve mood. 12 different studies were published here and though there have been a multitude of studies about antioxidants in tea and the resulting human health effects, these recent studies go further. Researchers who looked at polyphenols, natural compounds in tea, found that they, along with the caffeine content, increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation, which resulted in weight loss and helped maintain a healthy body weight. One study shows that subjects who consumed green tea and caffeine lost an average of 2.9 pounds over 12 weeks, all while maintaining their normal diet. Other studies show that regular tea drinkers have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and waist-to-hip ratios, along with less body fat, compared with non-tea drinkers. Additionally, another review showed that the increase in calories burned as a result of drinking tea equates to around 100 calories during a 24-hour period. Another set of researchers found that the polyphenols in green tea may help to stop the progression of certain cancers. In one study, scientists observed that after a year, 30% of men in a placebo group progressed to prostate cancer, compared with only 9% of men who were in a tea-supplemented group. Other cancers for which tea provides protective health benefits are cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, lung, breast and skin, researchers say. Another study conducted in Italy showed that black tea reduced blood pressure and also neutralized the negative effects of high-fat meals on arterial blood flow and blood pressure. Another benefit of the polyphenols in green tea includes improving bone quality and strength, particularly in the wake of osteoporosis. Tea drinking in one study was associated with a 30% reduced risk of hip fractures in men and women aged 50 years or older. And if that fails to put individuals in a good mood, drinking tea will. In one study in particular, drinking tea was found to improve attention and facilitate better focus on tasks. Subjects in the study drank 2-3 cups of tea within 90 minutes, and this resulted in more accurate results during an attention task and feelings of being more alert, compared with subjects drinking a placebo. Researchers note that an amino acid and caffeine in tea are thought to confer psychological benefits to drinkers, strengthening attention, mood and performance.

 

Gut bacteria Boosts Reduce Inflammation

Japanese research on mice published in the journal, Nature, reveals a mechanism through which gut bacteria influence the immune system's role in reducing inflammation. The mechanism works via a fatty acid known as butyrate, which forms when the bacteria digest dietary fibre. The researchers believe their findings make a case for using butyrate to treat inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. There is already evidence that the gut bacteria in patients with inflammatory bowel disease do not make butyrate, and that they have low levels of the fatty acid in their gut. But those studies concluded that the reason butyrate helped to reduce inflammation was because it acted as an energy source for cells lining the colon. This new research describes how, by switching on genes ("epigenetic switching") the fatty acid causes the immune system to produce more regulatory T cells in the gut. They showed how it acts on precursor or "naïve" T cells to promote their differentiation into regulatory T cells and that this occurred by changing expression of the genes responsible for turning the naïve T cells into regulatory T cells. The researchers also found that the guts of mice with colitis increased in regulatory T cells, and their inflammatory symptoms improved after they were given butyrate in their diets.

 

Spearmint and Rosemary Extracts Improve Memory

The health benefits of spearmint and rosemary have been described for years in numerous studies, but new US research on mice presented at a meeting hosted by the Society for Neuroscience suggests that antioxidants from spearmint and rosemary made into an enhanced extract can improve learning and memory, potentially helping with age-related cognitive decline. Using new antioxidant-based extracts made from spearmint and also a similar antioxidant from rosemary extract, the research team tested the effects on mice with age-associated cognitive decline and in terms of improving memory and learning in three tested behaviours, the higher dose rosemary compound was the most successful. Additionally, the lower dose of rosemary extract, as well as the spearmint extract compound, improved memory in two of the behavioural tests. They also observed reduced oxidative stress in the part of the mice brains that controls learning and memory, which is a marker of age-related decline.

 

Low-Fat Diet and Omega-3 May Reduce Prostate Cancer Aggression

According to US research published in the journal, Cancer Prevention Research, men suffering from prostate cancer who take fish oil supplements alongside a low-fat diet demonstrated changes in their cancer tissue that may indicate reduced cancer aggression. Previous research done in this area showed that men with prostate cancer who used a low-fat diet consisting of 15% of calories from fat, and 5 g of fish oil a day, experienced a slowed growth of cancer cells, compared with the men who followed a normal Western high-fat diet, and that men following the low-fat diet showed changes in the composition of their cell membranes in both healthy cells and cancer cells in the prostate. These men showed increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids as a result of the fish oil supplements but showed reduced levels of omega-6 fatty acids in the cell membranes, which could directly affect the cell's biology, the researchers say. For this most recent study, the investigators wanted to determine exactly how the low-fat fish oil diet works to produce the effects found in their previous research. Therefore, they measured the levels of pro-inflammatory substances in the blood and analysed the men's prostate cancer tissue in order to find out their cell cycle progression (CCP) scores - a measure of aggression within prostate cancer cells used to determine a patient's likelihood of recurrence. On analysing one particular pro-inflammatory substance called leukotriene B4 (LTB4), it was found that men with lower levels of this substance after following the low-fat diet also had lower CCP scores.

 

Insomnia Associated with an Increased Risk of Death

In a recent issue of the journal, Circulation, scientists described how they found that among men experiencing specific sleep problems, such as non-restorative sleep and difficulty falling asleep, there is an increased risk of death from heart-related problems. Earlier research on how sleep is linked to heart health through a healthy lifestyle showed the effect of sufficient sleep on heart-related deaths could be as strong as not smoking, however, the link between sleep and lifespan is unclear. This recent study examined data on self-reported insomnia symptoms collected in 2004 from nearly 23,500 men taking part in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were followed for 6 years. Using information from the government and the men's families, they established that 2,025 of the participants died over the follow-up. When they analysed the links between the insomnia symptoms and deaths, and adjusted for lifestyle, age, and other chronic conditions, they found that over the 6 years of follow-up, men who reported having difficulty falling asleep and non-restorative sleep had a 55% and 32% increased risk of death due to heart-related causes, respectively, compared with men who did not report experiencing these sleep problems.

 

Live Longer with Nuts

In the largest study of its kind, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that people who eat a handful of nuts every day live longer than those who do not eat them at all. The US team who did this work came to this conclusion after analysing data on nearly 120,000 people collected over 30 years. The analysis also showed that regular nut eaters tended to be slimmer than those who ate no nuts, putting to rest the notion that eating nuts leads to weight gain. The study authors also found a reduction of 29% in deaths from heart disease and an 11% reduction in the risk of dying from cancer. Peanuts and tree nuts (cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts) showed a similar effect, and the longevity benefits increased as the nut intake increased. Eating nuts less than once a week was linked to a 7% reduction in risk of death, once a week was linked to an 11% reduction, two to four times a week to a 13% reduction, five to six times a week to a 15% reduction, and seven or more times a week, to a 20% reduction.

 

Sugary Drinks Increase the Risk of Endometrial Cancer After Menopause

Women who consume sugary drinks regularly have a higher risk of developing oestrogen-dependent type I endometrial cancer after the menopause compared to other women of the same age, according to a US study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Oestrogen-dependent type I is the most common type of endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is also known as uterine cancer. The study team reported a 78% higher risk for endometrial cancer, which appears to be dose-dependent; and the more sugary drinks the woman consumes the higher her risk. The research team gathered and analysed data from the Iowa Women's Health Study, which contained information on 23,039 postmenopausal females before they were diagnosed with endometrial cancer. They had all completed questionnaires on their dietary habits, where they lived and their medical histories in 1986. The Harvard Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) had been used to assess the respondents' dietary intake. The FFQ includes a person's eating habits regarding 127 food items during the previous 12 months. The researchers categorized sugary drinks consumption patterns of the women into quintiles, ranging from zero (the lowest quintile) to 60.5 servings per week (the highest quintile). Of the 23,039 women in the study, 506 developed type I and 89 type II endometrial cancers. The team had also assessed whether the consumption of sugar-free soft drinks, sweets and baked goods, and starch, might be associated with endometrial cancer risk. No link was identified.

 

High-Fat Diets in Puberty Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer

US research, published in a recent online issue of Breast Cancer Research, suggests that eating a diet high in saturated animal fats not only speeds up the development of breast cancer, but also may increase the risk of developing the disease. Experimenting on mice, the researchers found that just 3 weeks after embarking on the high-fat diet, mice showed changes in the breast, including increased cell growth and alterations in the immune cells. They note that these changes are permanent and may lead to the rapid development of precancerous lesions, and ultimately, breast cancer. Another worrying factor the researchers unearthed is that this type of diet produced a distinct gene signature in tumors consistent with a small group of cancer known as basal-like or triple negative breast cancers. Basal-like cancers are particularly aggressive and the study authors note that at least half of all breast cancer sufferers in the US are women under 50 years of age.

 

Heart Disease and Energy Drinks

Energy drinks have become a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow, yet regulation of this enterprise remains largely unchecked. A new study recently presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America shows that healthy adults who consume energy drinks have "significantly increased" heart contraction rates an hour later and that energy drinks were shown to increase peak strain and peak systolic strain rates in the heart's left ventricle. The researchers measured the effect of energy drinks on heart function using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Study participants consisted of 15 healthy men and three healthy women, with an average age of 27.5 years. The team took cardiac MRIs of the participants both before and 1 hour after they consumed an energy drink, which contained 400 mg/100 ml taurine and 32 mg/100 ml caffeine.

 

Exercising Dementia

Researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, claim dementia sufferers benefit greatly from regular exercise, demonstrating improvements in cognitive functioning and their ability to perform daily activities. The review revisited the results of 16 previous trials that had tested 937 people to see if exercise improved cognition, activities of daily life, behaviour, depression and mortality of older people with dementia. The research team stated that by improving a patient's ability to carry out everyday tasks, such as getting up from a chair or walking a short distance, exercise brought about positive changes on mental processes such as memory and attention, known collectively as cognitive functioning.

 

 

March/April 2014

Research

 

Omega-3 for Skin Cancer

Consuming omega-3 fish oils can help to prevent skin cancer, according to a recent UK study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The research team examined the effect of taking omega-3 on 79 healthy participants. The volunteers consumed a 4g dose of omega-3 - approximately one and a half portions of oily fish each day. Then they were exposed to either 8, 15, or 30 minutes of summer midday sun in Manchester using a light machine designed for this purpose. A number of other participants took a placebo before being exposed to the sunlight machine. Immunosuppression (a measure of resistance to the effects of sunlight) was shown to be 50 percent lower in the subjects that took the omega-3 and were exposed to 8 and 15 minutes of sunshine compared with the volunteers who did not take the supplement. Little to no impact on those in the 30 minute group was shown. The findings of the study revealed that consuming regular doses of fish oils increases immunity to sunlight.

Pregnancy Benefits from Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation

US researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have found that the infants of mothers who were given 600 milligrams of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, during pregnancy, weighed more at birth and were less likely to be very low birth weight and born before 34 weeks gestation than infants of mothers who were given a placebo. This result greatly strengthens the case for using the dietary supplement during pregnancy. The study looked at results from the first five years of a 10-year, double-blind randomized controlled trial designed to determine whether prenatal DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) nutritional supplementation will benefit children's intelligence and school readiness. During the first five years of the study, children of women enrolled in the study received multiple developmental assessments at regular intervals throughout infancy and at 18 months of age. In the next phase of the study, the children will receive twice-yearly assessments until they are 6 years old. The researchers will measure developmental milestones that occur in later childhood and are linked to lifelong health and welfare. DHA occurs naturally in cell membranes with the highest levels in brain cells, but levels can be increased by diet or supplements. An infant obtains DHA from his or her mother in-utero and postnatally from human milk, but the amount received depends upon the mother's DHA status.

 
Exercise in Teenage Years Improves Academic Performance

In the US and probably most other places, many teenagers are more interested in watching TV and playing video games than exercising. But new UK research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has presented them with another reason to get active - regular moderate to vigorous exercise could boost their academic performance.The research team analysed a sample of 5,000 children who were a part of a Children of the 90s study. The children, aged 11, were required to wear an accelerometer on an elastic belt for a period of 3-7 days, in order for the researchers to monitor their daily duration and intensity of physical activity. Results from the accelerometer showed that on average, boys carried out 29 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day, while girls carried out 18 minutes. The researchers note that this is significantly less than the 60 minutes of exercise each day recommended by health officials. These results were then compared with the children's academic performance in English, mathematics and science in the compulsory national test key stage 1 at age 11, key stage 2 at age 13, and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) at ages 15/16. The findings revealed that at age 11, higher levels of moderate to vigorous exercise correlated with better academic performance across all three subjects for both boys and girls. Girls in particular demonstrated a significant improvement in science performance as a result of physical activity. At age 13, better academic performance was also linked to increased physical activity. At age 15/16, every additional 17 minutes of exercise a day for boys and 12 minutes for girls was linked to better examination results. Again, females demonstrated the highest benefit of exercise through their science results

 
Insomnia May Increase the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

A new US study published in the journal, JAMA Neurology, suggests that reduced sleep and poor sleep quality may be linked to increased build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of older adults - a sign of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Previous research has linked disturbed sleep to cognitive impairment in older individuals and that those with AD have been shown to spend more time awake and have higher levels of fragmented sleep, compared with those who do not have the disorder. The research team analysed data from 70 adults with a mean age of 76 years, taken from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. All participants were free of any form of dementia. The participants were required to self-report their sleep patterns, disclosing the mean hours of sleep they had each night, how often they woke throughout the night, whether they had trouble falling asleep and whether they woke earlier than planned. Their beta-amyloid deposition in the brain was measured using various brain imaging techniques. The participants reported sleep duration ranging from no more than 5 hours, to more than 7 hours each night. When comparing sleep duration with brain imaging showing the participant's beta-amyloid deposition, it was found that shorter overall nights' sleep duration and poor sleep quality were linked to increased beta-amyloid build-up. However, the researchers note that the number of times a person woke during the night was not linked to an increase in beta-amyloid build-up.

 
Kids With Low Vitamin D at Risk of Anaemia

Recent US research from the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that children who do not get enough Vitamin D may be at higher risk for anaemia. Anaemia, a condition where the body does not have enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells, is thought to affect around 20% of children at some point in their lives. Several large studies estimate that nearly 7 out of 10 American children do not have enough vitamin D, with around 1 in 10 suffering from severe deficiency. For their study, the team looked for links between Vitamin D and haemoglobin in the blood samples of over 10,400 children and adolescents (aged between 1 and 21 years) who took part in the 2001-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found children with low haemoglobin levels consistently had lower levels of Vitamin D, compared with children who had normal haemoglobin levels and that children whose Vitamin D levels were below 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), defined as mild Vitamin D deficiency, had nearly double the risk of anaemia than counterparts with normal Vitamin D levels. They say the results highlight the complex relationship between Vitamin D and haemoglobin, the protein that holds oxygen in red blood cells. They suggest that low Vitamin D might be linked to anaemia via several mechanisms, for example, the link might be the way the vitamin affects the production of red blood cells in bone marrow. Or it could be Vitamin D's role in regulating immune inflammation, which is known to trigger anaemia.

 
Liver Cancer Risk May Be Reduced by Coffee

In what may be good news for coffee drinkers: researchers from Italy writing in the journal, Clinical Gastronenterology and Hepatology, have shown that coffee consumption is associated with a reduction in the risk of liver cancer by about 40%. Some of the results indicate that if you drink three cups a day, the risks may be reduced by more than 50%. For this study, researchers performed a meta-analysis using data collected from articles published between 1996 and 2012. From this, researchers selected 16 high-quality studies involving a total of 3,153 cases. Even though the results across studies, time periods and populations have returned consistent results, researchers cannot "prove" a cause and effect relation between drinking coffee and liver cancer.

 
Sweet Memory Loss

New German research suggests that people with high blood sugar levels, even those who do not have diabetes, may have an increased risk for developing cognitive impairment. This is according to a recent study published in the journal, Neurology. To reach their findings, the researchers enrolled 143 people with an average age of 63, who were free of diabetes or pre-diabetes (impaired glucose intolerance). The researchers excluded those who were overweight, consumed more than 3.5 servings of alcohol per day, and those who already had memory and thinking impairment. The participants underwent blood glucose tests and were required to carry out memory tests. One of the tests required subjects to recall a list of 15 words 30 minutes after hearing them. The researchers also carried out scans of the participants' brains in order measure the size of the hippocampus - a region of the brain linked to memory. The results showed that participants who had lower blood sugar levels obtained higher scores on the memory tests, compared with those who had higher blood sugar levels. Previous research has shown that people with type 2 diabetes - a disorder that causes a person's blood sugar levels to become too high - may increase the risk of dementia. Diabetes is considered a risk factor for vascular dementia as it can damage blood vessels in the brain. This form of dementia is often caused by reduced or blocked blood flow to the brain.

 
Red Meat Eaters at Higher Risk of Cancer

People with a common genetic variant who consume red or processed meat may increase their risk of colorectal cancer. This is according to a US study presented at a recent meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. The researchers also found another specific genetic variant that suggests eating more fruit, vegetables and fiber may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. To reach their findings, the researchers looked at the habits of  9,287 patients suffering from colorectal cancer, alongside a control group of 9,117 healthy individuals. They also analysed 2.7 million genetic sequences to determine whether there was a link between consumption of red and processed meat and colorectal cancer. The study shows that individuals with the genetic variant rs4143094 - a variant that affects 1 in 3 people - demonstrate a significantly increased risk of colorectal cancer linked to the consumption of red and processed meat. The researchers explain that this genetic variant is located on the same chromosome 10 region that has a transcription factor gene called GATA3 - a gene that has previously been linked to many forms of cancer. The transcription factor encoded by this gene usually plays a part in the immune system, say the researchers. Speculating on the link with processed meat, the researchers say that when the body digests it, this may trigger an "immunological or inflammatory" response. But if the GATA3 gene region consists of a genetic variant, it is possible it could encode a dysregulated transcription factor, making it hard to overthrow the response.

 
Kids Sleep Slim

The results of a new US study published in the journal, Paediatrics, has found that children who sleep more may eat fewer calories and put on less weight, strengthening the idea that obesity risk and a lack of sleep are linked. The researchers enrolled 37 children aged from 8 to 11, among whom 27% were overweight or obese, to take part in the 3-week study. For the first week the children slept as normal, but for the second and third week they were randomized to either sleep longer per night for one week and then less for another week, or sleep less for one week and then longer for another week. The children were weighed and asked about what they ate during the study period. They also had tests to measure fasting levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates hunger and is closely linked to body fat.The results show that compared with the week of reduced sleep, for the week when the children slept more, they reported consuming an average of 134 fewer calories per day. They also weighed less and had lower levels of leptin.

 
Pesticides Increase the Riosk of Endometriosis

New US research from the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, has found that two organochlorine pesticides, once widely used in the US for pest control and agriculture but now banned, are linked to an increased risk of the chronic condition. Endometriosis is a condition led by oestrogen, and the research team were interested in investigating the role of environmental chemicals that have estrogenic properties, such as organochlorine pesticides, on the risk of the disease. To conduct their study, the researchers used data from the Women's Risk of Endometriosis study, which is a population-based case-control study of endometriosis in women aged 18- to 49-years-old. There were 248 women who had recently been diagnosed with endometriosis and 538 women without the condition who served as controls. Results of the research showed that women who had higher exposures to two organochlorine pesticides - beta-hexachlorocyclohexane and mirex - had a 30-70% increased risk of endometriosis.The study authors say they found it interesting that these types of chemicals were found in the blood samples of women from the study, despite the fact that organochlorine pesticides have been banned in the US for several decades.

 

 

 

 

February/March 2014

Research


Fruit and Veg Reduce Bladder Cancer Risk

Recent research by US scientists writing in the Journal of Nutrition has shown that women who increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables probably reduce their risk of developing invasive bladder cancer. Fruits and vegetables contain several nutrients, phytochemicals, as well as antioxidants which potentially protect against cancer. The research team in this case carried out a prospective analysis involving 185,885 older adults who participated in the Multiethnic Cohort Study. The study was set up in 1993 to examine the relationship between dietary, lifestyle, genetic factors, and the risk of cancer. The researchers gathered and analysed data over a 12.5-year period. During that time 152 females and 429 males developed invasive bladder cancer. The results showed that high fruit and vegetable intake may help protect women from bladder cancer, but not men. They also showed that women with the highest yellow-orange vegetable intake had a 52% lower risk of developing invasive bladder cancer compared to women with the lowest consumption and that women with the highest consumption of vitamins A, C, and E were the least likely to develop bladder cancer.

 

Broccoli for Osteoarthritis Prevention

New UK research published in the journal, Arthritis & Rheumatism, suggests that sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, could help fight osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. The study used cell and tissue tests to show that sulforaphane blocked cartilage-destroying enzymes by intercepting a molecule that causes inflammation. The researchers also found that mice fed a sulforaphane-rich diet suffered significantly less cartilage damage and osteoarthritis compared with mice whose diet did not contain the compound. Other cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, radish, turnips and Bok choy. Previous studies have already suggested that the compound has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties but this new study is the first to show in a major way how the compound influences joint health.

 

Reduce Diabetes Risk with Blueberries, Grapes and Apples

A large cohort study involving researchers from the US, UK and SIngapore, which focused on individual fruit consumption and risk of diabetes, reveals that certain fruits - but not juices - may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in adults. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, pooled data from three studies: the Nurses' Health Study (NHS 1984-2008), the Nurses' Health Study II (NHS II 1991-2009) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS 1986-2008). In total, there were 187,382 participants, both men and women, who took part in the study, and participants who had diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start were not included. The researchers used food frequency questionnaires every 4 years in order to analyse the participants' diet, and a consumption analysis of ten fruits (and their juices) were used in the study. These were grapes or raisins, peaches, plums or apricots, prunes, bananas, rock melon, apples or pears, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries and blueberries. Over the course of the study, 6.5% of the participants developed diabetes, but the researchers found that consuming three servings per week of blueberries, grapes, raisins, apples or pears reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 7%. Interestingly, the results also showed that the greater amount of fruit juice an individual drank, the more their risk for type 2 diabetes increased.

 

Drinking for Depression

It’s pretty well known that drinking a glass of red wine in moderation may be good for our health. But now, researchers have found that drinking wine may also reduce the risk of depression, according to a Spanish study published in the journal, BMC Medicine. Researchers assessed the wine intake of 2,683 men and 2,822 women over a 7-year period. All participants were between 55 and 80 years of age, with no history of depression or alcohol-related problems when the study began. They were required to complete a validated 137-item food frequency questionnaire annually in order to assess their alcohol intake, and their mental health and lifestyle was analysed throughout the study period. The findings of the study revealed that those who drank 2-7 glasses of wine per week, containing 5 to 15 g of alcohol a day, were less likely to suffer from depression. The researchers say these results remained the same even when accounting for lifestyle and social factors, such as marital status, smoking and diet. However, further findings suggest that wine consumption exceeding seven glasses a week could increase the risk of depression.

 

25% of the Population Have a “Good Gut Bacteria” Deficiency

European scientists writing in the journal, Nature, say that around a quarter of the population, particularly those who are obese, have 40% less intestinal bacteria than is needed to maintain good health. Researchers conducted a genetic analysis on human gut microbial composition on 292 people from Denmark. Of the subjects, 169 were obese and 123 were at a normal, healthy weight. Results of the analysis revealed that a quarter of the participants had 40% fewer gut bacteria genes and correspondingly less bacteria than average, reduced bacterial diversity, and harboured more bacteria causing a low-grade inflammation of the body. An appropriate quantity and quality of gut bacteria strengthens our immune system, produces essential vitamins and communicates with the nerve cells and hormone-producing cells within the intestinal system. The researchers add that gut bacteria also produces a variety of "bioactive substances" which enter the bloodstream, affecting our biology.

 

Insomniacs Buy More Food

It can sometimes be difficult to resist buying tasty snacks while doing the weekly grocery shopping, but according to new Swedish research published in the journal, Obesity, a bad night's sleep could make the temptation even harder and lead to increased food purchasing. The study assessed the habits of 14 men of normal, healthy weight and whether sleep deprivation would impair or alter an individual's shopping habits, based on the notion that sleep deprivation can decrease higher-level thinking and increase hunger. At the baseline of the study, all of the participants enrolled were confirmed to have normal sleep-wake rhythms. The subjects were asked to have one full night of normal sleep and one night of total sleep deprivation (TSD). On the morning after both occasions, the men were given a fixed budget of $50 to buy food from a supermarket. The subjects were instructed to purchase as much as possible from a list of 40 food items. This consisted of 20 high-calorie foods and 20 low-calorie foods. Before the task, all of the men were given a standardized breakfast to limit the effect of hunger on their food purchases. The results showed that when the men were sleep deprived, they purchased 9% more calories and 18% more food, compared with their purchases after a good night's sleep. The men's blood levels of various metabolic substances were also measured, both after one good night's sleep and one night of sleep deprivation. The results revealed that after sleep deprivation, concentrations of the hormone, ghrelin, a hormone that increases hunger, were significantly higher. The researchers add, however, that this did not correlate with food purchasing behaviour.

 

Fish Oil for the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Dementia

Omega-3 fish oil could help protect against alcohol-related dementia, according the results of a US study presented at a recent meeting of the European Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism in Warsaw, Poland. The study looked at hippocampal and cortical brain cell cultures of rats that had been exposed to large quantities of alcohol. The cells were then compared with brain cells that had been exposed to the fish oil derived omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the same large quantity of alcohol. The results showed that the brain cells exposed to the combination of fish oil and alcohol showed as much as 95% less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells, compared with the brain cells that were exposed to alcohol alone.

 

Childhood Obesity Associated with Hypertension in Adulthood

Children who are obese or overweight are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure in adulthood, compared with children of a healthy weight, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions late last year. Researchers studied the blood pressure and growth of over 1000 healthy adolescents over a 27-year period from 1986. Of the participants, 68% were at a normal weight, 16% were overweight and 16% were obese. At adulthood, 119 of the participants were diagnosed with hypertension. Of these, 6% were normal weight as children, 14% were overweight, while 26% were obese as children. These results show that obesity during childhood may increase the risk of high blood pressure four-fold in adulthood, and children who are overweight may double their risk of high blood pressure as adults.

 

B Complex Vitamins and Stroke Reduction

Chinese research published in the journal, Neurology, has found evidence that suggests that B complex vitamin supplements, particularly B9, could help to reduce the risk of stroke. The research team analysed 14 randomized clinical trials involving a total of 54,913 participants. All studies compared use of vitamin B supplements with a placebo, or a very low dosage of the supplement. All participants were then followed for a period of 6 months. During this time, there were 2,471 reported strokes over all of the studies. Results of the analysis revealed that the participants taking the vitamin B supplements had a 7% reduced risk of stroke, compared with those taking the placebo supplements or a low dosage of B complex vitamins. However, the findings showed that taking vitamin B supplements did not reduce the severity of strokes or the risk of death. The study authors explain that the mechanism responsible for this effect of B complex vitamins is their capacity to lower levels of homocysteine, which is implicated in stroke and a number of other diseases.

 

Stress in Mid-Life Associated with an Increased Risk of Dementia

A large, long-term Swedish study published online in the journal, BMJ Open, reveals that dealing with stress during middle age may trigger lasting physiological brain changes, increasing the risk of developing dementia later in life. This finding comes from the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, Sweden, which started in 1968 and followed over 800 Swedish women for around 40 years. The women who were part of this recent study were all born in 1914, 1918, 1922 and 1930. In 1968, at the start of the study, the women were asked about the psychological impact of 18 common stressors, including divorce, widowhood, illness or death of a child, mental illness or alcoholism, in a family member, unemployment and poor social support. They were then assessed again in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2005. At each follow-up visit, researchers documented how many symptoms of distress - irritability, fear or sleep disturbances - each woman had experienced in the preceding 5 years. Between the monitoring period of 1968 and 2006, about one in five - 153 in total - of the women developed dementia, and 104 of them developed Alzheimer’s disease. In summary, the study showed that women who experienced certain stressors during middle age had a 21% increased risk for Alzheimer's disease and a 15% increased risk for dementia.

 

 

January/February 2014

Research

 

Aneamia Study Finds that Dementia Risk is Reduced by Iron-rich Foods

Researchers have discovered that low iron levels in blood and associated anaemia could be linked to increased risks for dementia, according to a US study published in the journal, Neurology. Anaemia occurs when the number of red blood cells or the concentration of haemoglobin, a protein inside red blood cells, are low. Researchers analysed 2,552 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 who were participating in a Health, Aging and Body Composition study. The study, which was carried out over an 11-year period, required the adults to participate in memory and thinking tests during this time.  At the beginning of the study, all patients were free of dementia. At the start of the research, 393 were diagnosed with anaemia and 445 had developed it by the end of the study. The results were that the patients with anaemia had a higher risk of developing dementia compared with those who were not anaemic. Anaemia was associated with a 41% higher risk of dementia. The association persisted even after the researchers took other factors into account, such as age, sex, race and education. Researchers suspect that low oxygen levels resulting from anaemia may play a role in the connection or that anaemia may be a marker for poor health in general. Iron-rich foods include dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, chick peas, tofu, fish, shellfish, red and other forms of meat.

 

Cancer Risk and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids may help in the prevention of early and late-stage oral and skin cancers, according to a University of London study published in the journal Carcinogenesis. The team working on this grew cell cultures in the laboratory from several different cell lines. These included both malignant oral and skin cancers, alongside pre-malignant cells and normal skin and oral cells. The focus was mainly on a type of cancer called squamous-cell carcinoma. This is one of the major forms of skin cancer affecting the outer layers of the skin (mainly made up of squamous cells). The researchers pointed out that squamous-cell carcinoma can also occur in the lining of the digestive tract, lungs and other areas of the body. When the researchers carried out in vitro tests by adding fatty acids into the cell cultures, results showed that omega-3 fatty acids induced cell death in malignant and pre-malignant cells in doses that did not affect normal cells. They found that the omega-3 fatty acid selectively inhibited the growth of the malignant and pre-malignant cells at doses which did not affect the normal cells. Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in oily, fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as walnuts, flax seeds, soy, scallops, prawns and tofu.

 

Food Preferences and Stress after Birth

The results of a study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior have shown that rats exposed to heightened levels of stress during their first few days of life are more likely to be prone to anxiety and stress in later life, and prefer to consume sugary and high-fat foods. Adult rats that experienced stressful neonatal environments are more likely to feel stressed and seek "comfort" foods throughout adulthood."Comfort foods" are consumed in response to stress or anxiety, and they are believed to play a huge role in the ever-growing obesity pandemic. 

 

Obesity in Childhood Linked to Asthma

Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop asthma compared with children of a healthy weight, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The US scientists carrying out this work examined the electronic health records of 623,358 children between the ages of 6 and 19. The children were divided into four groups based on their measured height and weight; normal weight, overweight, moderately obese and extremely obese. All children were monitored over the course of 1 year in order to analyse the prevalence of asthma. The results of the study revealed that children who were overweight were 1.16 times more likely to develop asthma compared with children who were of a normal weight. Moderately obese children were 1.23 times more likely to develop the condition, while extremely obese children were 1.37 times more at risk. Of the children who developed asthma, it was found that moderately obese and extremely obese children were more likely to develop regular and aggressive forms of asthma compared with children of normal weight. 

 

Eat Earlier

Israeli researchers writing in a new edition of the journal, Obesity, have found that eating a big breakfast of 700 calories promotes weight loss and reduces risks for diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol. The study looked at the impact of different caloric intake at varying times of day. What they found is that the time of day we eat has a significant impact on how our bodies process food. To study how this timing affects our bodies, the team put 93 obese women into two different groups: These were a "Big breakfast group", who consumed 700 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 200 at dinner, and "Big dinner group", who consumed 200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 at dinner. The women's diets consisted of moderate fats and carbohydrates, totalling 1,400 calories, and they followed the diets for 12 weeks. The 700-calorie meals, whether eaten for breakfast or dinner, contained the exact same foods, and included a dessert item such as a piece of chocolate cake or a biscuit. The women in the big breakfast group lost, on average, 8kg and 7.6cm from their waists. The women in the big dinner group, on the other hand, only lost 4kg and 3.6cm from their waists. Additionally, the women from the big breakfast group had larger decreases in insulin, glucose and triglyceride levels than the women from the big dinner group. The researchers note that one of the most important findings is that the women from the big breakfast group did not experience blood glucose level spikes that normally occur after a meal. They also found that although the big dinner group was eating a sensible diet and losing weight, their triglycerides - a type of fat found in the body - increased, putting them at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes hypertension and high cholesterol.

 

Soft Drinks May Make Children More Aggressive and Distracted

Soft drinks may cause young children to become aggressive and develop attention problems, according to a US study published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics. In this paper, the research team studied around 3,000 children aged 5. All children were enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study - a cohort study that follows mothers and children from 20 large cities in the US. The researchers asked the mothers of the children to report their child's soft drink consumption. Their child's behaviour in the 2 months prior to the study was reported through a "Child Behavior Checklist." Just over 40% of the children consumed a minimum of one serving of soft drinks a day, while 4% consumed four or more soft drinks a day. The study results found that any level of soft drink consumption was linked to higher levels of aggressive behaviour, as well as more attention and withdrawal problems. Compared with children who did not consume any soft drinks, those who had four or more soft drinks a day were over twice as likely to destroy other people's belongings, physically attack others, and get into fights. It was also shown that the child's aggressive behaviour score increased with every increase in soft drinks servings per day.

 

The Use of Junk food in Pregnancy Associated with Childhood Mental Disorders

Researchers from Australia and Norway writing in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry analysed the eating habits of more than 23,000 mothers who were a part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort study. The study authors gathered information regarding the mothers' diets throughout pregnancy and their children's diets at both 18 months and 3 years of age. The mothers were also asked to complete questionnaires when their children were 18 months, 3-years and 5-years-old, to establish symptoms of depression, anxiety, conduct disorders and ADHD.  The researchers then analysed the relationship between the mothers' and children's diets, and the mental health symptoms and behaviours in the children aged 18 months to five-years-old. The results of the study reveal that mothers who ate more unhealthy foods during pregnancy, such as sweet drinks, refined cereals and salty foods, had children with increased behavioural problems, such as aggression and tantrums. Additionally, the findings showed that children who ate more unhealthy foods in their first years of life, or who lacked nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, also showed increased aggression and behavioural problems, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.

 

Fruit Reduces the Risk of Aneurysm

Swedish scientists recently released the results of a study, published in the journal, Circulation, finding that eating more fruit could lower risks for an often-lethal form of aneurysm. After dividing over 80,000 people between the ages of 46 and 84 years into four groups based on the amount of fruit and vegetables they ate each day, the researchers then embarked on a 13-year follow-up study. During that time, they found that 1,086 people had abdominal aortic aneurisms, 222 of which ruptured. This type of aortic aneurysm involves a swelling of the lower part of the aorta, the body's main artery. Though rare, the researchers note, it is lethal in many cases. Men in the study accounted for over 80% of aneurysms, ruptured aneurysms included. Compared with the group who ate the least amount of fruit (less than one daily serving), those who ate the most fruit (over two servings) had a 25% lower risk of developing an aneurysm and a 43% lower risk of one that ruptured. Fruit juice did not count towards servings in the study. Additionally, compared with the group who did not eat any fruit at all, the high fruit-eaters had a 31% lower risk of an aneurysm and a 39% lower risk of a ruptured one. The types of fruits the subjects ate were mainly apples and pears, followed by bananas, oranges and other citrus fruits.  

 

Women Live Longer on a Calcium-Rich Diet

A calcium-rich diet, whether from supplements or high-calcium foods, may increase lifespans for women, according to a Canadian study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Researchers analysed data from a large-scale study called the Canadian Multicenter Osteoporosis Study. The researchers monitored the health of 9,033 men and women between 1996 and 2007 and then analysed whether calcium supplements had any beneficial effects on their health. The results suggest that women who take calcium supplement doses of up to 1,000 mg per day may live longer, compared with women who do not take the supplements. The researchers say that although the results showed that women who took calcium supplements had a lower mortality risk, the same was not seen in men. In fact, other research from the US National Institutes of Health has found that men who take calcium supplements are actually more likely to die of heart disease than men who do not take the supplements. In women, higher amounts of calcium in the present study were linked to longer lifespans, regardless of whether the source came from supplements or calcium-rich food.

 

Alzheimer's Risk May Be Raised by Red Meat

Scientists from the University of California Los Angeles reported in recent edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that eating too much red meat, which raises brain levels of iron, may heighten the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. As background information, the authors explained that iron can accelerate the damaging reactions of free radicals. Over time, iron builds up in brain gray matter regions and appears to contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related illnesses. Most scientists and specialists agree that Alzheimer's is caused by one of two proteins; Tau or Beta-amyloid. As we get older, these two proteins either disrupt signalling between neurons or kill them off. The lead author of this study believes there is a third likely cause of Alzheimer's - iron accumulation. The team compared the hippocampus and the thalamus using sophisticated brain-imaging high- and low-field strength MRI instruments. The hippocampus is a brain region that is damaged early on in Alzheimer's, while the thalamus is only affected during the late stages. In early stage Alzheimer's, iron has built up in the hippocampus but not the thalamus. The MRI scans showed that iron builds up over time in the hippocampus but not the thalamus. They also saw an association between iron accumulation levels in the hippocampus and tissue damage in that area. Iron is vital for cell function. However, too much of it encourages oxidative damage, something to which the brain is particularly susceptible and in this study, it was shown that iron is associated with the tissue breakdown seen in Alzheimer's. The team added that the build up of iron in the brain could be the result of some modifying environmental factors, including how much red meat the person consumes, or their intake of iron dietary supplements. Another factor that can raise iron levels in the brain is having a hysterectomy before the menopause.

 

 

December 2013/January 2014

Research

 

Resist Stress with Exercise

Physical exercise reorganizes the human brain so that it responds better to stress and normal brain function is less likely to be affected by anxiety, US researchers wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. The authors found that when very physically active mice were exposed to a stressor - cold water - neurons in their brains that shut off excitement in the ventral hippocampus became much more active. The ventral hippocampus is a region in the brain that regulates stress. Exercise should, in theory, lead to more anxiety, not less, because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their older equivalents. However, this study found that physical activity also enhances the mechanisms that stop these neurons from firing.

 

Confirmation of Fruit And Veg "5 A Day"

In case you hadn’t heard, fruit and vegetables are good for you. If we needed further proof of this, a new large Swedish study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a link between fruit and vegetable consumption and lifespan. People who ate fewer than the recommended "5 a day" portions of fruit and vegetables tended not to live as long as people who ate 5 portions a day or more, say the researchers.For their study, they looked at the relationship between different amounts of daily fruit and vegetable consumption and timing and rate of deaths in a population of 71,706 Swedish men and women who completed questionnaires about their food intake. The participants, who were followed for 13 years, were aged from 45 to 83. During the follow-up, just under 11,500 of the men and women died. When they analysed the results, the researchers found that eating fewer than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day was progressively linked to shorter lifespan and higher rates of death, compared with those who ate 5 or more a day. Thus, the less fruits and vegetables they ate under the 5 a day threshold, the shorter their lives. Those who said they never ate fruit and vegetables had lives cut short by an average of 3 years, and were 53% more likely to die during the follow-up, compared with those who said they ate 5 servings a day or more. Those who never ate fruit lived on average 19 months less than those who ate one portion of fruit per day. Those who said they ate three servings of vegetables per day lived 32 months longer than those who said they never ate vegetables. 5 a day roughly equates to 400g a day of fruit and veg in 5 portions of 80g each. This would constitute, for example, half a fresh grapefruit, two dried figs, eight cauliflower florets, three heaped tablespoons of baked beans and an apple.

 

Keep Calm with Fish During Pregnancy

Pregnant women have many choices to make when eating for two. What supplements to take, how much (if any) alcohol is safe to consume, and many more. With so many decisions to make just over their food, it's no wonder pregnant women can experience anxiety. But a recent study from UK and Brazilian scientists published in the journal, Plos One, have shown that pregnant women who eat seafood frequently will likely have lower levels of overall anxiety than those who do not. The study followed 9,530 pregnant women who kept a food questionnaire documenting their dietary intake over the course of their pregnancy. At 32 weeks, their anxiety symptoms were measured by the team. Those women who never ate seafood were 53% more likely to have high levels of anxiety, compared with those women who did eat seafood regularly. In addition, the study shows that pregnant women who ate a vegetarian diet were 25% more likely to have high anxiety than those who ate meat and fish.

 

Sugary Foods Raise Bowel Cancer Risk

Sugary snacks increase the risk of bowel cancer, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention. The Scottish study authors found that the consumption of soft drinks, cakes, biscuits, snacks and desserts is linked to an increased risk in colorectal cancer. The study included 2,063 patients suffering from bowel cancer and 2,776 controls from Scotland. The research team analysed over 170 foods, including fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, as well as chocolate, nuts, crisps and fruit drinks. They also looked at links between some established risks of bowel cancer, such as family history of cancer, physical activity and smoking. Results revealed that the healthy diet was associated with a decreased risk of bowel cancer, while the high fat and sugar diet is associated with an increased risk. Other research has shown that the consumption of fish and fibre is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

 

More on Cranberries For Urinary Tract Infections

Naturopaths have been recommending various forms of cranberries for urinary tract infections (UTI’s) for a long time. Canadian researchers have validated this, finding a new use for cranberries in combating bacterial infections, including preventing bacterial colonization in urinary catheters. Two studies published in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology and the journal, Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, revealed that cranberry powder can inhibit the growth of Proteus mirabilis, a bug commonly found in complicated UTI’s. The research showed that increasing the concentration of cranberry powder reduced the bacteria's production of urease, an enzyme that helps the infection to spread. Previous studies from the same researchers found that cranberry materials can limit the motility (movement) of bacteria found in UTIs, thereby reducing their colonisation capacity.

 

Gut Bacteria Linked to Lymphoma

US scientists writing in The Journal of Cancer Research say they have discovered that specific bacteria found in the intestines are major contributors to lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells in the immune system. The researchers studied mice with ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a genetic disease that is associated with a high rate of B-cell lymphoma in humans and mice. The human gut has around 100 trillion bacterial cells from up to 1,000 different species, the researchers say. They add that every person's microbiome (the body's bacterial make-up) is different as a result of the effects of diet and lifestyle, and the childhood source of bacteria. From this, the scientists wanted to see whether the differences in people's microbiomes would affect their risk of developing lymphoma, and whether changing the bacteria could reduce this risk. The results showed that mice that had a certain type of intestinal bacteria lived much longer before developing lymphoma than those with other types of bacteria, and also had less of the genotoxicity (gene damage) that causes lymphoma.

 

Keep Chewing

Chewing your food more can help you to retain energy levels, according to a study presented at the 2013 US Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago. In the study, participants were required to chew almonds, while the amount of fecal fat and energy lost was measured. The participants chewed the almonds either 10 times, 25 times or 40 times. Results showed that in participants who chewed the almonds more, the smaller particles were absorbed into the system at a faster pace. In those participants who chewed the almonds less, the body eliminated the larger particles. Particle size affects the bioaccessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body.

 

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Risk Higher in Vegetarians, Vegans and the Elderly 

A recent Japanese review of scientific studies published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that vegetarians, vegans and the elderly are at high risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency through changes in their diets. Researchers reviewed nearly 100 scientific studies analysing Vitamin B12. The study authors say the usual dietary sources of the vitamin are animal-based foods such as eggs, milk, meat and fish, but there are some plant-based foods which contain a high amount. However, the scientists found that the only living things that can create vitamin B12 are particular bacteria, which live in the digestive tracts of animals. The bacteria can live on or near some types of plants, providing them with the vitamin. But results of the study review showed that the human body is actually unable to use the plant-based form of vitamin B12, meaning that vegetarians and vegans are at high risk of developing a deficiency in this vitamin. Additionally, elderly people who suffer from certain gastrointestinal disorders are at risk because their bodies are unable to absorb the normal type of B12 that is in food. Interestingly, this most recent study review shows that although there are dietary supplements of B12 available in stores, such as Spirulina - a blue-green algae - and some shellfish, these actually contains a "false" form of vitamin B12 that the human body is unable to use. In conclusion to the study review, the researchers recommend that vegans and vegetarians add vitamin B12 to their diet by eating fermented foods and B12-enriched vegetables. They recommend that the elderly should eat B12-fortified foods, fish or shellfish. In addition, they say that the heat to which vitamin B12 foods are exposed during storing and cooking can lead to the loss of the vitamin.  

 

Drink Water for a Faster brain

We all know that drinking water regularly is good for the body. But new UK researchpublished in the journal, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has revealed that drinking water when we feel thirsty boosts our brain's performance in mental tests. Researchers analysed the potential effects of water on cognitive performance and mood among 34 participants with an average age of 29 years. The study involved participants taking part in a "water" and a "no water" experiment one week apart. The "water" experiment required the people to complete a number of mental tests after eating a cereal bar and drinking some water. The "no water" test meant the participants consumed just the cereal bar alone. The amount of water drunk by the participants in the "water" test depended on their level of thirst.

The study found that reaction times were faster after people drank water, particularly if they were thirsty before drinking. Drinking three cups of water before completing a task was found to increase the brain's reaction time by 14%. It was also found that when participants were dehydrated, they were more tense, sad and confused.

 

Eat a Hearty Breakfast

A new study published in the journal, Circulation, appears to confirm thatwhen you eat is just as important for health as what andhow much you eat. US researchers asked men to complete questionnaires about what they ate and when they ate it, then tracked their health for 16 years. Those who said they skipped breakfast were found to have a higher risk of heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease. The authors wrote that skipping breakfast may lead to an increase in one or more risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time. For their study the researchers analysed food frequency questionnaires completed by 26,902 male health professionals aged between 45 and 82 years and tracked their health for 16 years from 1992 to 2008. The men were free of heart disease and cancer at the start of the study. Over the follow-up, 1,572 men experienced non-fatal heart attacks or died of coronary heart disease. When they assessed the data the researchers found men who said they did not have breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than men who said they ate breakfast. In addition, the authors of this study found a link, between eating late at night and coronary heart disease. Compared with men who said they did not eat late at night, among those who did, there was a 55% higher risk of coronary heart disease.

 

 

November/December 2013

Research

 

Probiotics Reduce Diarrhoea Caused by Antibiotics

Naturopaths have been providing this advice to clients for decades but a recent scientific review from The Cochrane Library has confirmed that probiotic supplements can prevent or lower the risk of diarrhoea caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics interfere with the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and permit other dangerous bacteria like C. difficile to take hold. Some people who have C. difficile do not have symptoms, while others are afflicted with diarrhoea or colitis. The "good bacteria" or yeast found in probiotic foods and supplements can offer a safe, inexpensive method to help prevent C.difficile diarrhea. The authors point out this is a significant finding because this type of diarrhoea is costly to treat. The investigators examined 23 trials that reported on C.difficile involving 4,213 adults and children and found that patients who took probiotics developed C.difficile-associated diarrhea had a 67% reduction in this condition compared with patients who were taking placebos.

 

Prostate Cancer Death Risk Reduced by Vegetable Fats

Prostate cancer patients who replace animal fats and some carbohydrates with vegetable fats have a lower risk of premature death, according to US research reported in JAMA Internal Medicine. A research team carried out a study involving 4,577 men from the Health Professional Follow-up Study with non-metastatic prostate cancer between 1986 and 2010. They focused on the patients' dietary fat intake after diagnosis. Every four years, they completed questionnaires which asked how often they ate and drank over 130 different types of foods and drinks. Over a follow-up period of 8.4 years, 315 men died from prostate cancer and 1,064 died from any cause. Those who replaced 10% of their dietary calorific intake of carbohydrates with vegetable fat had a 29% lower risk of lethal prostate cancer and a 26% lower risk of death from any cause.

 

Vitamin D for Hypertension Prevention

The world's largest study to examine the link between vitamin D levels and hypertension has found that low levels of Vitamin D can be a major cause of hypertension. Researchers presented their findings at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics. Data were gathered from 35 studies, which included more than 155,000 participants from different parts of Europe and North America. What they found was that participants with high levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) (active Vitamin D) had reduced blood pressure and were at a lower risk of developing hypertension.  While there are risks in having too much Vitamin D, the researchers found that for every 10% increase in 25(OH)D concentrations the risk of developing hypertension decreased by 8.1%.

 

Vitamin C for Asthma

New Swiss research published in the journal, BMJ Open, reveals that Vitamin C consumption can reduce the risk of developing bronchoconstriction caused by exercise, and therefore, asthma. After doing exercise the airways can sometimes severely narrow and cause symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing and cough. Previously known as exercise-induced asthma, exercise-induced bronchoconstriction results in a decline of more than 10% in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), caused by exercise. The new study looked at the effects that Vitamin C intake had on bronchoconstriction caused by exercise, using data gathered from three relevant randomized placebo-controlled trials. All of the trials revealed that vitamin C reduced FEV1 decline by over 50 percent following an exercise challenge test.

 

Diabetes Risk from Red Meat

Increasing your intake of red meat puts you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, researchers from the National University of Singapore reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported recently. The authors carried out a follow-up of three studies involving approximately 149,000 Americans and identified 7,540 incident cases of type 2 diabetes. What the data showed was that compared to those with no change in how much meat they ate, the participants whose meat consumption rose by more than 0.50 servings per day had a 48% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes during the subsequent four years.

 

Sleep Well to Prevent Diabetes

Men who don't have enough sleep during the working week and catch up at the weekend could be reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This was the message from a study presented at a recent meeting of the US Endocrine Society. The study authors tested men whose lifestyles meant they had chronic sleep restriction during the working week. They found the men's insulin sensitivity, or ability to clear blood sugar or glucose from their bloodstream, significantly improved after three nights of "catch-up" sleep at the weekend. The study found extending the hours of sleep can improve the body's use of insulin, thereby reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes in adult men.

 

Antibiotic Effect Boosted by Silver

While it’s been recommended by Naturopaths for a long time, new research published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, shows that low doses of colloidal silver can massively boost the effect of antibiotics on bacteria, making them up to 1,000 times more sensitive to the drugs. The researchers hope their discovery will give new life to old antibiotics, including those to which microbes have become resistant. Using mice as research subjects, the team found not only did silver boost the ability of a broad range of commonly used antibiotics, but it made at least one resistant bacterium succumb to antibiotics again. The addition of silver also broadened the effect of vancomycin, an antibiotic that is usually only effective at killing Gram-positive bacteria like Staph and Strep; aided by silver it killed Gram-negative bacteria such as those that cause food poisoning and dangerous hospital-acquired infections.

 

Fish Oils Shown to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer

Consuming fish oils can significantly lower a person's risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new Chinese study published in the British Medical Journal. The researchers reviewed 21 different independent prospective cohort studies, and found that a high intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oils was associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of breast cancer. The research team stated that for people to actually reduce their risk they should consume at least 1-2 portions of oily fish per week, such as sardines, salmon or tuna. In order to find out whether these oils have anti-cancer properties, researchers set out to assess the link between fish and fish oil intake and the risk of breast cancer, by reviewing and analyzing the results of 26 different international studies. The team analyzed data on approximately 800,000 participants and more than 20,000 cases of breast cancer. Comparing the lowest and highest category of oil intake, the investigators identified that high fish oil intake was associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of breast cancer and that for every 0.1 g per day increase in the consumption of oil from fish, the risk of breast cancer decreased by 5 percent.

 

Lifestyle Change Reduces the Risk of Prostate Cancer

The adherence of eight new World Cancer Research Fund lifestyle recommendations has been found to significantly reduce the risk of developing highly aggressive prostate cancer, according to a US study published in the journal, Nutrition and Cancer. The eight recommendations are:

  •     Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  •     Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
  •     Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
  •     Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
  •     Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
  •     If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
  •     Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
  •     Don't use supplements to protect against cancer.

The research team set out to determine what impact adherence to the recommendations had on highly aggressive prostate cancer risk, using the Gleason grading system scores and blood levels of prostate-specific antigen to determine the aggressiveness of the cancer, with a total of 2,212 white and African-American men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer enrolled in the North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Project (the men were between 40 to 70 years old). They found that men who adhered to fewer than four of the recommendations were at a much higher risk (38% higher) of developing aggressive tumors than those who adhered to more than four.

 

Sleeping for a Healthy Heart

A good night's sleep benefits the heart, according to a recent study from the Netherlands published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The researchers found that not smoking, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption protects against cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, they also found sufficient sleep further increases the heart benefits of these four traditional healthy lifestyle habits. Their analysis suggests the effect of sufficient sleep on heart-related deaths could be as strong as not smoking. In their study, the authors found that the combination of the four traditional lifestyle factors was linked to a 57% lower risk of both fatal and non-fatal CVD, and a 67% lower risk of fatal events. But when they added sufficient sleep to the four factors, the heart benefit increased further: the risk of composite CVD was 65% lower and the risk of fatal events was 83% lower. They defined "sufficient sleep" as 7 or more hours per night.

 

 

October/November 2013

Research

 

Reduce Sugar to Reduce Kidney Stones

In the US, and the situation is probably similar here, 20% of males and 10% of females will experience a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime. Often, these patients will be advised to drink more fluids as a way to prevent future stone formation. Now, new US research published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology finds that some beverages may be more helpful than others when it comes to preventing recurrent kidney stones. Researchers report that the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with a higher risk of stone formation. The study found that the relation between fluid intake and kidney stones may be dependent on the type of beverage consumed and that higher consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks was associated with a higher incidence of kidney stones. The researchers analysed data from 194,095 participants over a median follow-up of more than 8 years. Participants were asked to complete biennial questionnaires with information on medical history, lifestyle, and medication. Questions on diet were updated every four years. They found that participants who consumed one or more sugar-sweetened drinks per day had a 23 percent higher risk of developing kidney stones compared with those participants consuming less than one serving per week. They also found that some beverages, such as coffee, tea and orange juice, were associated with a lower risk of stone formation.

 

Yoga Bends Blood Pressure Lower

Research from the University of Pennsylvania presented recently at a scientific conference found that yoga can help lower a person's blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is normally considered to be 120 over 80, where 120 represents the systolic measurement and 80 represents the diastolic measurement. High blood pressure or hypertension affects approximately one billion people worldwide, and yoga is becoming increasingly popular and is viewed as a possible alternative treatment. In this study, researchers evaluated the effect yoga had on blood pressure among a total of 58 women and men, aged 38 to 62. What was studied was the effects of yoga alone, or with dietary intervention, on blood pressure reduction in subjects with mild hypertension and moderate hypertension in unmedicated, healthy, yoga naive subjects. The 58 participants were divided into three different groups; a supervised 'Diet'/weight reduction and walking program, a 'Yoga' practice in a studio 2 to 3 per week for 24 weeks, and 'Combo' program consisting of both Yoga and Dietary intervention. The team found that patients who did yoga in a studio 2 to 3 times per week for 24 weeks experienced a statistically significant drop in their blood pressure, greater than the diet only group. Patients who followed a specialized diet but didn't participate in the yoga program also experienced a drop in blood pressure, although it was smaller compared to those in the yoga group. The yoga group experienced an average of three points for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, from 133/80 to 130/77, whereas the controlled diet group - who did not practice yoga - saw only a decrease of one point, from 134/83 to 132/82. Surprisingly, those who followed both a special diet as well as the yoga program didn't experience a greater drop in blood pressure compared to those who were part of the yoga group alone.  The researchers believe that the reason why yoga is able to lower blood pressure so successfully is because of the relaxation and mindfulness associated with it.

 

Depression Increases Stroke Risk

Depression doubles the risk of having a stroke in middle-aged women, according to a new University of Queensland study in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. The research, a 12-year examination of 10,547 Australian females between the ages of 47 and 52 years old, showed that depressed women had a 2.4 times higher likelihood of stroke than those who were not suffering from depression. After adjusting for factors known to increase stroke risk, results showed that depressed women were still 1.9 times more likely to experience a stroke.  For the current research, data were gathered and examined from the nationally representative Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Every three years between 1998 and 2010, the subjects were asked about their mental and physical health and other personal information. After analysing the participants' responses to a standardized depression scale and looking at their recent use of anti-depressants, the experts found that approximately 24% of the women were depressed. Self-reported responses as well as death records showed that 177 first-time strokes took place during the investigation. In order to examine the association between suffering from depression and having a stroke, the scientists used statistical software and repeated measures at every survey point. The researchers controlled for variables that can affect stroke risks in order to distinguish the independent effects of depression. Although it is not known why depression is strongly associated with stroke in this age group, the lead study author suggests that the body's inflammatory and immunological processes and their impact on our blood vessels may play a part.

 

Vitamin D for Asthma

More and more uses are being found for this valuable vitamin and now, researchers in London writing in the  Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology have identified a mechanism through which vitamin D can significantly reduce the symptoms of asthma. It concerns the activity of a natural compound called interleukin-17A (IL-17A) which is part of the immune system. IL-17A protects the body against infection but is also known to worsen asthma symptoms and, in large amounts, to decrease the impact of steroids. For the study, the team examined three groups of people: 18 patients with steroid-resistant asthma, 10 patients with asthma that responded to treatment with steroids, and 10 healthy people without asthma (the controls). IL-17A is produced by a group of immune cells called TH17 (T helper 17 cells). The researchers examined these cells in each group of patients and looked at how they produced IL-17A and the amounts they produced. They found that compared to cells from the healthy controls without asthma, cells from both of the asthma groups had higher levels of IL-17A, with the steroid-resistant group showing the highest levels. And, they found vitamin D significantly lowered production of IL-17A in cells from all three groups, including the two groups with asthma. Steroids, on the other hand, had little effect on IL-17A production in the cells from patients with asthma. The team concludes that Vitamin D inhibited IL-17A production in all the patients they studied, "irrespective of their clinical responsiveness to steroids", and these results thus identify "novel steroid-enhancing properties of vitamin D in asthmatic patients". The lead author of the study said that the findings were "so positive" that they are already starting a clinical trial in steroid resistant asthma patients to find out more about using vitamin D as a treatment for asthma.

 

Mediterranean Diet Beats Low Fat Diet for Aging Brains

Brain power in older people at risk for vascular dementia seems to improve more from a Mediterranean diet with added mixed nuts or extra virgin olive oil than from a low-fat diet that is typically followed to prevent heart attack and stroke, according to the results of a Spanish trial published recently in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. People on a Mediterranean diet consume virgin olive oil as their main source of fat, and eat lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables and pulses. They also consume a moderate to high amount of fish and seafood, a moderate amount of red wine, but low quantities of dairy products and red meat. The participants of the trial, 522 men and women aged between 55 and 80, were taking part in the PREDIMED trial to investigate how best to ward off heart disease. When they enrolled on the study, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease but were considered to be at high vascular risk because of other pre-existing diseases or conditions. The researchers counted having type 2 diabetes, or any three of the following conditions, as being at high risk for vascular disease: being a smoker, having high blood pressure, having an unhealthy blood fat profile, being overweight, or having a family history of developing cardiovascular disease early in life. The team randomly allocated the participants at the start of the study to one of three groups. In one group, the participants followed a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, in a second group, they followed a Mediterranean diet with added mixed nuts, and in the third group (the controls) they were given advice on how to follow a low fat diet that is usually recommended for reducing risk of heart attack and stroke. The team followed the participants for an average of 6.5 years, during which they visited the family doctor for regular check-ups, and every three months, had checks to see if they were following the diet plan they had been allocated. All participants underwent assessments of memory, attention, language, orientation, spatial awareness, abstract thinking, and other brain functions. The results showed that at the end of the trial 60 participants had developed mild cognitive impairment. 18 of the 60 were on the Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, 19 were on the Mediterranean diet with added mixed nuts, and 23 were in the low fat diet group (the controls). Another 35 of the participants developed dementia over the follow up. These included 12 on the Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, 6 on the Mediterranean diet with added mixed nuts, and 17 in the control group on the low fat diet. Brain function test score averages were significantly higher for the two Mediterranean diet groups than for the control group on the low fat diet.

 

Drug-Resistant TB Bacteria Killed by Vitamin C

Research from the US Yeshiva University, published in the journal Nature Communications recently, has shown that Vitamin C can kill drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) bacteria in laboratory culture, The results indicate that adding Vitamin C to existing TB drugs could shorten TB therapy. TB results from infection with the bacterium M. tuberculosis. About 8.7 million people were affected by TB in 2011, according to the World Health Organization, while approximately 1.4 million died from it.  An increasing number of people who have infections do not react to TB drugs. An estimated 650,000 people currently have multi-drug resistant TB, and of these patients, 9% have extensively drug-resistant TB. The research team found that Vitamin C not only added to the effectiveness of isoniazid, the drug normally used to treat the disease, but it had a direct killing effect on the bacteria.

 

Coenzyme Q10 Reduces Death from Heart Failure

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) cuts mortality by half in patients with heart failure, researchers from Denmark reported at the recent annual meeting  of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology. The lead researcher stated that CoQ10 is the first medication to improve heart failure mortality in over ten years and should be included in standard treatment. CoQ10 is an essential enzyme that occurs naturally in the body. It works as an electron carrier in the mitochondria, the energy-producing powerhouse of cells, to produce energy. CoQ10 is also a potent antioxidant. Studies have found that patients with heart failure have lower levels of CoQ10. As heart failure severity gets worse, so does CoQ10 deficiency. This is particularly important as statin drugs, prescribed for people with heart failure because they reduce the production of cholesterol, also block CoQ10 synthesis, further exacerbating the problem. Other studies show that CoQ10 improves symptoms and functional capacity of patients with heart failure and that CoQ10 reduced the risk of a major cardiovascular event occurring by 50%. CoQ10 is available as a supplement and can be found in certain foods, especially red meat, fish and poultry. Soybean oil, canola oil, peanuts, sesame seeds, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, eggs, pistachios and eggs also have varying amounts of CoQ10. However, dietary sources of the enzyme are not enough to have a significant impact on heart failure.

 

Probiotics Beneficial For Brain Function

Recent US research published in the journal Gastroenterology has shown that bacteria in food can affect brain function. The study found that brain function changed among healthy women who consumed probiotics in yogurt.  36 women between the ages of 18 and 55 were included in the study and were split into three different groups. Group one ate a yogurt containing a mix of several probiotics twice a day for four weeks. Group two consumed a diary product that contained no probiotics. Group three ate no product at all, and all underwent functional MRI scans in response to an emotion-recognition task before and after the four week study period. The emotion-recognition task involved making the women look at pictures of angry or frightened faces and matching them to other faces with the same expressions. This was done in order to measure the affective and cognitive brain regions' response to visual stimulus.  They found that during the emotional reactivity task, those who consumed the probiotic yogurt experienced less activity in both the insula and the somatosensory cortex - which processes internal body sensations. In addition, women who consumed the probiotic yogurt had decreased activity in emotion-, cognition- and sensory-related areas of the brain compared to those in the two other groups.

 

Probiotics Reduce Diarrhoea From Antibiotics

Naturopaths have been telling people this for decades but new research from The Cochrane Library has validated the notion that taking probiotics alongside antibiotics can prevent diarrhoea associated with antibiotic use. Antibiotics interfere with the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and permit other dangerous bacteria like C. difficile to take hold. Some people who have C. difficile do not have symptoms, while others are afflicted with diarrhoea or colitis. The "good bacteria" or yeast found in probiotic foods and supplements can offer a safe, inexpensive method to help prevent C.difficile diarrhoea. The authors point out this is a significant finding because this type of diarrhoea is costly to treat. The use of probiotics also reduces the risk of an antibiotic-associated overgrowth of micro-organisms such as Candida, a bug that can produce a range of gut and other problems.

 

Vegetarians Live Longer

Vegetarians may live longer than meat-eaters, according to a new study published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine. The research involved over 70,000 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and showed that vegetarian diets are linked to reduced death rates with more favourable results for males than females. Vegetarian diets have been linked to a lower risk of several chronic diseases, such as metabolic syndrome, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and diabetes. Dietary patients were evaluated using a questionnaire that categorized the subjects into 5 groups:, non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian - includes seafood, lacto-ovo-vegetarian - includes dairy and egg products, and vegan - excludes all animal products

A previous study involving over 60,000 Britons suggested that vegetarians have a lower risk of developing cancer than meat-eaters and other UK research has shown that vegetarians put on less weight than meat eaters, and vegans put on less weight than vegetarians.

 

September/October 2013 

Research

 

Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic

Australia is in the grip of a hidden epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency, according to one of the world's foremost experts, US Professor Michael F. Holick, speaking at a recent Sydney seminar. He stated that up to 58% of Australians could be Vitamin D deficient during the spring months. He also released research findings indicating that increasing vitamin D levels may not only support healthy bones but improve immune function and reduce the risk for many diseases. He said that improving Vitamin D levels could positively impact the genes associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases and that broad gene expression analysis found that 291 genes were altered simply by increasing vitamin D levels. These 291 genes are related to 80 biological pathways linked to cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cardiovascular disease.

 

Grapes and Heart Health

A recent US study appearing in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry demonstrates that grapes are able to reduce heart failure associated with chronic hypertension by increasing the activity of several genes responsible for antioxidant defense in the heart tissue. Grapes are a known natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols, which researchers believe to be responsible for the beneficial effects observed with grape consumption. This study uncovered a novel way that grapes exert beneficial effects in the heart: influencing gene activities and metabolic pathways that improve the levels of glutathione, the most abundant cellular antioxidant in the heart. In this study, hypertensive, heart failure-prone rats were fed a grape-enriched diet for 18 weeks. The results reproduced earlier findings that grape consumption reduced the occurrence of heart muscle enlargement and fibrosis, and improved the diastolic function of the heart. Furthermore, the mechanism of action was uncovered. Grape intake "turned on" antioxidant defence pathways, increasing the activity of related genes that boost production of glutathione.

 

Magnesium for Kids Improves Bone Density

The results of a recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC has shown that children who consume foods that are high in magnesium, such as salmon or almonds, have healthier bones. While it is known that magnesium is important for bone health in adults, few studies have looked at whether magnesium intake and absorption are related to bone mineral content in young children. This study aimed to fill that gap. Researchers recruited 63 healthy children ages 4 to 8 years old who were not taking any multivitamins or minerals to participate in the study. Children were hospitalized overnight twice so their calcium and magnesium levels could be measured. Participants filled out food diaries prior to hospitalization. All foods and beverages served during their hospital stay contained the same amount of calcium and magnesium they consumed in a typical day based on the diaries. Foods and beverages were weighed before and after each meal to determine how much calcium and magnesium the subjects actually consumed. In addition, parents were given scales to weigh their child's food for three days at home after the first inpatient stay and for three days at home prior to the second inpatient stay so that dietary intake of calcium and magnesium could be calculated accurately. While hospitalized, children's levels of calcium and magnesium were measured using a technique that involved giving them non-radioactive forms of magnesium and calcium, called stable isotopes, intravenously and orally. Urine was collected for 72 hours. By measuring the stable isotopes in the urine, the researchers could determine how much calcium and magnesium were absorbed into the body. Bone mineral content and density were measured using total body dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Results showed that the amounts of magnesium consumed and absorbed were key predictors of how much bone children had.

 

Walnuts Lower Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease Risk 

US research published in a new issue of the Journal of Nutrition has shown that as well as lowering cholesterol, consuming whole walnuts and walnut oil reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in other ways. For the study, researchers randomly assigned 15 volunteers to one of four treatments, each comprising one-time consumption of whole walnuts (85 gms), their skin (6 gms), defatted nutmeat (34 gms), or oil (51 gms). The volunteers were healthy overweight and obese adults with moderate high blood cholesterol. They underwent a number of biochemical and physiological tests, both before ingestion and at various times after (30 minutes, one hour, two hours, four hours and six hours after). The study was a cross-over study, so each volunteer eventually underwent all four treatments, and the associated tests. The test results showed that a one-time consumption of walnut oil boosted blood vessel functioning. Also, consumption of whole walnuts helped "good cholesterol" (HDL) transport and remove excess cholesterol from the body more effectively. Speculating on which compounds may be involved, the researchers point to the alpha-linolenic acid, gamma-tocopherol and phytosterols in walnuts. Alpha-linolenic acid is a type of omega fatty acid found in plants. Gamma-tocopherol is a major form of Vitamin E found in many plant seeds, and phytosterols are cholesterol-like molecules found in plants that can lower cholesterol levels.

 

Exercise Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

Exercise is beneficial for just about every physical, mental and emotional aspect of our lives. A new study published in a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, called Cancer Epidemiology shows that breast cancer risk can be reduced through aerobic exercise may prove to be a very effective means of lowering one's risk of developing breast cancer. The study authors discovered that one of the ways in which aerobic exercise reduces the risk of developing breast cancer is by altering the way that oestrogen is broken down and metabolized. Aerobic exercise increases the ratio of "good" to "bad" metabolites of oestrogen. The study included a total of 391 young and healthy premenopausal women and split the women into two groups with matching age and body mass indexes (BMIs).  The control group (179) led a sedentary lifestyle throughout the whole study period, whereas the intervention group (212) did half an hour of aerobic exercise five times a week for a period of 16 weeks. The researchers made sure that the intensity of the exercise was the same for all the women. As part of their workout routine, the women used treadmills, stair steppers or elliptical machines. Most of the participants completed the study (86% from the control group and 78 percent from the intervention group). 24-hour urine samples were collected on three consecutive days before the study and on three at the end and measured the E1, E2 and E3 forms of oestrogen as well as nine metabolites. A reduction of breast cancer risk has been associated with the increased production of a metabolite called 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) as opposed to one called 16alpha-hydroxyestrone (16alpha-OHE1). The researchers found that aerobic exercise caused an increase in the amount of 2-OHE1 and a decrease in amount of 16alpha-OHE1, which subsequently meant that their risk of breast cancer decreased.

 

Sleep and Prostate Cancer

Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, double the risk of prostate cancer in men, according to new Iceland research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The scientists observed 2,102 men from the prospective Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility-Reykjavik study - which consisted of a population-based cohort of 2,425 males between the ages of 67 and 96. At the start of the investigation, the subjects were asked to answer four questions regarding sleep disruptions; whether they took medicine to sleep, whether they had difficulty falling asleep, whether they woke up during the night with difficulty going back to sleep, and whether they woke up early in the morning with a hard time going back to sleep. Among the subjects examined, 8.7% reported severe sleep problems and 5.7% reported very severe sleep problems. At the start of the study, none of the volunteers had prostate cancer. The subjects were followed for five years - during this time, 6.4% received a prostate cancer diagnosis. After adjusting for age, the experts discovered that with reported severity of difficulty falling and staying asleep, the risk of prostate cancer elevated proportionately, from 1.6-fold to 2.1-fold, compared to men with no problems sleeping. Additionally, the scientists found that the link was stronger for advanced prostate cancer compared to overall prostate cancer - with more than a three times higher likelihood for advanced prostate cancer linked to "very severe" sleep problems.

 

Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Omega-3 Supplementation and Eye Health

A new study published in the journal,  JAMA Ophthalmology, indicates that the dietary intake of lutein (found in red algae, kale and spinach), zeaxanthin (also found in red algae) and omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) may be beneficial for patients affected by age-related macular degeneration (AMD), providing  a significant improvement in the optical density of the macular pigment. Carried out over a 12 month period, the clinical trial took place at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany. A total of 172 individuals with nonexudative (dry form) AMD were recruited to evaluate the effects of the administration of either a capsule containing 10+1 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin and 100 mg DHA + 30 mg EPA or twice these dosages (20/2/200/60) on the plasma xanthophyll concentrations and fatty acid profiles, antioxidant capacity in plasma, and optical density of the macular pigment. The results demonstrate that the study supplementation significantly improved the plasma antioxidant capacity, circulating macular xanthophyll levels, and the optical density of the macular pigment. These are important factors that could help reducing the risk of progression to wet AMD, what would be particularly relevant in the studied population.

 

Carnitine of Benefit for Children With Heart Defects

Carnitine, found in meat, cow’s milk, and seafood and available as a dietary supplement, is a compound that helps transport fat inside cells where it can be used for energy production, is currently used for purposes ranging from weight loss to chest pain. New research published in the journal Pediatric Research has shown that it appears to normalize the blood vessel dysfunction that can accompany congenital heart defects and linger even after corrective surgery, said Dr. Stephen M. Black, cell and molecular physiologist at the Vascular Biology Center at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.  About half of the babies born with heart defects have excessive, continuous high pressure on their lungs from misdirected blood flow. Early surgery can prevent full-blown pulmonary vascular disease, but scientists are finding more subtle disruptions in the signaling inside blood vessels walls that can be problematic - even deadly - up to 72 hours after surgery.  The good news is the changes are reversible and that carnitine speeds recovery and can even prevent the damage in a lamb model of these human heart defects. Diet,

 

Daytime Sleepiness and Alertness
A new study published recently in an online supplement to the journal, Sleep, suggests that your level of sleepiness or alertness during the day may be related to the type of food that you eat. The study group comprised 31 healthy, non-obese normal sleepers without sleep apnea, ranging in age from 18-65 years, who spent four consecutive nights in a sleep lab. On the fourth day objective sleepiness was assessed with the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), and meals were provided five times to assess diet. Results show that higher fat consumption was associated with increased objective daytime sleepiness, while higher carbohydrate intake was associated with increased alertness. There was no relationship between protein consumption and sleepiness or alertness. These findings were independent of the subjects' gender, age, and body mass index as well as the total amount of sleep they were getting and their total caloric intake.

 

Exercise Reduces the Risk of Lung and Colorectal Cancer

In more exercise related news, recent US research reveals that middle-aged men who engage in a lot of cardiovascular exercise are at a reduced risk of suffering from lung and colorectal cancer. In addition, those who exercise are less likely to die from prostate cancer (although their risk of contracting the disease remained the same). A total of 17,049 men participated in the study. They each received a cardiovascular fitness assessment at a median age of 50. The test involved walking on a treadmill with a variation of different speeds and elevations. They recorded the men's performance with the ratio of metabolic rate (the rate of energy consumption), known as metabolic equivalents or METs. The team divided the participants into different groups based on their level of fitness. The researchers then analysed their medical histories to determine whether they had developed either lung, colorectal, or prostate cancer. In this study, men who were in their 40s who achieved 13.5 minutes in the fitness test belonged to the lowest quintile for fitness as well as men in their 50s who achieved less than 11 minutes. During the follow-up period of 20 to 25 years, a total of 2,332 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, 277 were diagnosed with lung cancer and 276 were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. They adjusted the results of the study for factors such as BMI, smoking habits and age. The risk of lung or colorectal cancer decreased by 68 and 38 percent respectively among men who were the most physically fit and active compared to those who were not active at all.

 

August/September 2013 

Research

 

Vitamin E Helps Obesity-Related Liver Disease

US researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have discovered that Vitamin E can alleviate symptoms of liver disease brought on by obesity. In a presentation given at a conference recently in Boston, the scientists stated that while doing unrelated research with mice, they found that Vitamin E deficient mice developed a liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Known as NASH for short, it's a common complication of obesity characterized by fat accumulation, oxidative stress and inflammation in the liver. It is the most severe form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and is a major cause of tissue scarring known as cirrhosis that leads to liver failure and may progress to liver cancer. An essential antioxidant, Vitamin E had been shown by recent studies to alleviate some symptoms of NASH in human patients, suggesting that there is a link between adequate vitamin E levels and liver disease.  To test this hypothesis, the research team studied mice that lack a protein that regulates the levels of vitamin E in the body. As expected, they observed increased oxidative stress, fat deposition and other signs of liver injury in the mice. Supplementation with Vitamin E averted the majority of NASH-related symptoms in these animals, confirming the relationship between vitamin E deficiency and liver disease.

 

Mushrooming Benefits

New research published in the FASEB Journal has recorded the health benefits of mushrooms, and it makes interesting reading. 

-A one-year, randomized clinical trial found that substituting white button mushrooms for red meat can be a useful strategy for enhancing and maintaining weight loss.

-Mushroom consumption is associated with a better diet quality and increased intake of some nutrients according to an analysis of adult participants of the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

-Randomized studies of healthy adults show that eating dried white button mushroom extract containing Vitamin D2 can be as effective at increasing and maintaining vitamin D levels (25-hydroxyvitamin D) as taking supplemental vitamin D2 or vitamin D3.

  • -Results from a human nutrition intervention show that supplementing the diet with one or two servings of dried shiitake mushrooms is immuno-modulatory and suggests positive impact on human immunity.
  • -Dietary supplementation of white button mushrooms in mice may enhance the adaptive immunity response to salmonella.

 

Pine Bark Extract and Cataract

A study published recently in the journal, Current Eye Research, says that treating cataracts with dietary pycnogenol, derived from pine bark, shows positive results on eye lense changes associated with cataracts, and has no negative short-term impact. The researchers stated that it works best when combined with anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, and Vitamins C and E. They also pointed out that the use of pycnogenol with beta carotene and Vitamin C have already shown promising results for reducing cataracts caused by space radiation in Mars mission simulations.

 

Mangos Help to Regulate Blood Sugar Levels in Obesity

The positive health effects of mangos have been recently explored and presented by researchers at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). They found that mangos have properties that can help regulate blood sugar levels among people suffering from obesity. The study evaluated what effect eating mangos every day would have on a total of twenty obese adult people. The participants ate 10 grams of freeze-dried mango every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the study period they found that the blood sugar levels of the participants were much lower than at the start of the study.  At this stage, the researchers are unsure why mangos have this effect, but stated that it may be due to the action of a complex mixture of chemicals called polyphenolic compounds. Research has shown that several other plants and their polyphenolic compounds, such as isoflavone from soy, epigallocatechin gallate from green tea, and proanthocyanidin from grape seeds, have a positive effect on fatty tissue. Mangos are naturally high in prebiotic dietary fiber (substances that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria, not to be confused with probiotics), Vitamin C, Vitamin A, as well as Vitamin B6. Mango contains triterpene and lupeol, which have been found to be effective inhibitors in laboratory models of prostate and skin cancer.

 

Vitamin D and Liver Fibrosis

Liver fibrosis results from an excessive accumulation of tough, fibrous scar tissue and occurs in most types of chronic liver diseases. In industrialized countries, the main causes of liver injury leading to fibrosis include chronic hepatitis virus infection, excess alcohol consumption and, increasingly, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) mentioned in a previous entry above. In a new study published in the journal, Cell, US scientists have discovered that a synthetic form of Vitamin D, calcipotriol, deactivates the switch governing the fibrotic response in mouse liver cells, suggesting a potential new therapy for fibrotic diseases in humans. The researchers focused on a star-shaped "stellate" cell in the liver that serves as a beacon for damage. When called into action, stellate cells produce fibrotic proteins in an attempt to heal an injury. Under chronic stress, however, localized fibrosis expands, eventually leading to cirrhosis, increased risk of liver cancer, and the need for a liver transplant in advanced cases. The scientists found that a genetic switch through which Vitamin D-related ligands such as calcitriol, a hormonally active form of the vitamin operate, can stop fibrosis.

 

Exercise Against Cancer

Regular exercise has been proven to reduce the chance of developing liver cancer in mice, according to Swiss scientists presenting their findings at a recent International Liver Congress. The study conducted by these scientists involved two groups of mice fed a low fat control diet and a high fat diet then divided into separate exercise and sedentary groups. The exercise groups ran on a motorised treadmill for 60 minutes per day, five days a week. After 32 weeks of regular exercise, 71% of mice on the controlled diet developed tumours larger than 10mm versus 100% in the sedentary group. The mean number and volume of tumours per liver was also reduced in the exercise group compared to the sedentary group.

 

Brain Preservation on the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet appears to be associated with preserving memory and cognitive abilities, according to US researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), writing in a recent edition of the journal, Neurology. The researchers explained that diets that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are linked to better memory and cognitive function in humans. The Mediterranean diet has plenty of fish, chicken and salad dressing - all of which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The research team collected data from the REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) study, which is housed at UAB. The study included data on over 30 thousand people aged 45+ years between January 2003 and October 2007. They were all followed up regularly for health changes. The participants also underwent tests to measure their memory and cognitive abilities over a period of four years. Seventeen percent of them had diabetes. The researchers found that among those without diabetes who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely, the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking skills was 19% lower, compared to the rest of the population sample.

 

New Research on Diet and Heart Disease

A diet low in grains, beans and certain vegetables, combined with "anti-aging" supplements, improved blood vessel function, in a study presented earlier this year at the American Heart Association's Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology 2013 Scientific Sessions. The blood vessel abnormality, or endothelial dysfunction, occurs when cells lining the interior wall of blood vessels malfunction. It's a serious condition that's often one of the first signs of heart disease. The study authors enrolled 200 fifty one to eighty six year old people, all of whom had risk factors for blood vessel disease and nearly three-quarters had endothelial dysfunction. The diet restricted foods high in the sugar-binding protein lectin, generally regarded as a healthy nutrient. The restricted foods included grains, beans, fruit, poultry and plants belonging to the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes. At the same time, patients consumed plenty of leafy greens, shellfish and fish, olive oil and grass-fed animal protein, while taking supplements containing the antioxidant polyphenol from fish oil, grape seed extract and antioxidant vitamins. Antioxidants are thought to slow cell aging.

 

Vitamin D Necessary to Prevent Pneumonia

The results of a Finnish study published in a recent edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health have shown that low serum Vitamin D levels are a risk factor for pneumonia. The risk of contracting pneumonia was more than 2.5 times greater in subjects with the lowest Vitamin D levels than in subjects with high vitamin D levels. The study involved 1,421 subjects living in the Kuopio region in Eastern Finland. The serum vitamin D3 levels of the subjects were measured from blood samples drawn in 1998-2001, and these data were compared with reported cases of pneumonia in hospital records in the same set of subjects in 1998-2009. The results showed that during the follow-up, subjects with serum vitamin D3 levels representing the lowest third were more than 2.5 times more likely to contract pneumonia than subjects with high vitamin D3 levels.

 

Mild Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy Can Harm Baby's Neurological Development

Children who did not receive enough iodine in the womb performed worse on literacy tests as 9-year-olds than their peers, according to a recent University of Tasmania study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.Iodine is absorbed from food and plays a key role in brain development. Even mild deficiency during pregnancy can harm the baby's neurological development. The study examined standardized test scores of 228 children whose mothers attended The Royal Hobart Hospital's antenatal clinics in Tasmania between 1999 and 2001. The children were born during a period of mild iodine deficiency in the population. Conditions were reversed when bread manufacturers began using iodized salt in October 2001 as part of a voluntary iodine fortification program. Researchers theorize iodine deficiency may take more of a toll on the development of auditory pathways and, consequently, auditory working memory and so had more of an impact on students' spelling ability than their mathematical reasoning ability.

 

July/August 2013

Research

 

Vegies  and Blood Pressure

A cup of beetroot juice a day can help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension, according to a new study. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of London and was published in the American Heart Association journal, Hypertension. The scientists examined the impact that consuming nitrate has on blood pressure in rats and then confirmed their findings in a small study involving 15 people with high blood pressure. Vegetables rich in nitrates include beetroot, lettuce, cabbage and fennel.  In this study, the participants drank 250mL of beetroot juice per day. Vegetables take in nitrate through their roots in the soil where the chemical is naturally found. Nitrate is crucial to the growth of vegetables. The authors explained that when it is converted to a gas called nitric oxide, it has a relaxing effect on blood vessels and may help lower blood pressure.

 

Meat Contaminated with Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria 

It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the case here in Australia, but in the US, a large proportion of meat is contaminated with superbugs - antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to an Environmental Working Group analysis of recently released government tests. US meat producers regularly give their livestock drugs to promote growth or treat infections. According to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, around 80 percent of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are sold for meat production. The last test results from a US federal report published last year found that 81 percent of raw ground turkey, 55 percent of raw ground beef, and 39 percent of raw chicken parts were infected with antibiotic-resistant microbes. These are the germs that have been the cause of thousands of cases of infection and food poisoning. When they develop the ability to resist antibiotics, the illnesses become a great deal more difficult to treat medically and are in some cases lethal. Experts say that antibiotic overuse in intensive livestock farming is one of the main reasons these so-called superbugs develop.

 

Exercise for Alzheimer’s Disease

A randomized controlled trial done recently at the University of Helsinki in Finland suggests that an intensive and long-term exercise program has beneficial effects on the physical functioning of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, without increasing costs of health and social services or causing any significant adverse effects. In the study, a total of 210 home-dwelling patients with Alzheimer’s Disease living with their spouse caregiver participated in the trial. The 3 trial groups included group-based exercise (GE; 4-hour sessions with approximately 1-hour training), tailored home-based exercise (HE; 1-hour training), both twice a week for one year, and a control group (CG) receiving the usual community care. All groups deteriorated in functioning during the year after randomization, but deterioration was significantly faster in the CG than in the HE or GE group at 6 and 12 months.

 

Low Vitamin E Epidemic

It may also be the case here in Australia but recent research has found that the 90% of US citizens have inadequate levels of Vitamin E in their diet. Despite concerns that have been expressed about the possible health risks from high intake of Vitamin E, a new review concludes that biological mechanisms exist to routinely eliminate excess levels of the vitamin, and they make it almost impossible to take a harmful amount. No level of vitamin E in the diet or from any normal use of supplements should be a concern, according to a review just published in the Journal of Lipid Research. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and a very important nutrient for proper function of many organs, nerves and muscles, and is also an anticoagulant that can reduce blood clotting. It can be found in oils, meat and some other foods, but is often consumed at inadequate dietary levels, especially with an increasing emphasis in most developed countries on low-fat diets. Vitamin

 

D Reduces the Risk of Developing Uterine Fibroids

Women who had sufficient amounts of Vitamin D were 32% less likely to develop fibroids than women with insufficient Vitamin D, according to a new study done by researchers at the US National Institutes of Health.  Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors of the uterus. Fibroids often result in pain and bleeding in premenopausal women, and are the leading cause of hysterectomy in the United States. The study group of 1,036 women, aged 35-49, were screened for fibroids using ultrasound. Researchers used blood samples to measure the primary circulating form of vitamin D, known as 25-hydroxy D. Those with more than 20 nanograms per milliliter of 25-hydroxy D were categorized as sufficient, though some experts think even higher levels may be required for good health. The body can make vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun, or vitamin D can come from food and supplements. Study participants also completed a questionnaire on sun exposure. Those who reported spending more than one hour outside per day also had a decreased risk of fibroids. The estimated reduction was 40 percent. Although fewer black than white participants had sufficient 25-hydroxy D levels, the estimated reduction in prevalence of fibroids was about the same for both ethnic groups.

 

High Levels of Unnecessary Pharmaceutical Drugs Given to Children

In the US, forty percent of parents are still giving children under the age of 4 cough medications they should not receive, according to a University of Michigan poll. Despite advice from healthcare practitioners, many parents still turn to OTC (over-the-counter) pharmaceutical cough medicines for their very young kids. It is not surprising that parents get medications for their young children, especially as most of them catch colds from five to ten times per year. The problem is that 40% of parents are giving these little ones drugs they should not be taking, researchers from the University of Michigan wrote. In the study, over 40% of parents said they give their child under 4 years of age cough medicines or multi-symptom medications. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they gave their young kids decongestants. The US Food and Drug Administration have said that these drugs have not been proven effective for very young children and are associated with serious side effects, such as convulsions, allergic reactions, arrhythmia, confusion, constipation, drowsiness, hallucinations, nausea, shallow and slow breathing.

 

Grapes Help Protect Against Metabolic Syndrome

Natural components in grapes, called polyphenols, have been found to have properties that can help protect organ damage caused by metabolic syndrome. The research done on rats, presented at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston, reveals even more health benefits of consuming grapes. Metabolic syndrome is a major public health concern in the U.S and here in Australia. It is characterized as being a group of conditions, including high blood sugar level, increased blood pressure, Increased blood triglycerides - which increases heart attack and stroke risk, low levels of HDL cholesterol - the good cholesterol, and excess body fat around the waist. The grapes used in the study were a mix of green, red, and black and were part of the rats’ diet for a total duration of 90 days. At the end of the 90-day period, the researchers noted that the rats on the added grape diet had reduced inflammatory markers in their body, in particular in the abdominal fat tissue and liver. In addition, they found that those on the grape-enriched diet had lower kidney, liver and abdominal fat weight than those who didn't eat grapes. The research team also found that grape intake increased markers of antioxidant defence, particularly in the liver and kidneys.

 

More On The Good Egg

Findings presented at a recent biology conference in the US said some interesting things about eggs. Several studies presented at the conference looked specifically at the role of whole egg consumption in high-risk groups, including those with metabolic syndrome and heart disease, as well as the satiating effects of high-protein breakfast consumption for overweight adolescents.

 

Research from Yale University explored the impact of daily whole egg consumption in men and women with coronary heart disease. The subjects were randomized to consume two eggs, ½ cup of egg substitute or a high-carbohydrate breakfast for six weeks as part of their typical diet. The subjects who ate either whole eggs or egg substitute did not experience any negative impact in total cholesterol, blood pressure, body weight or endothelial function. The researchers concluded that whole eggs can be a part of a heart healthy diet, even in those with existing coronary heart disease.

Research from the University of Connecticut suggested that daily whole egg consumption may have a positive effect on the function and composition of HDL cholesterol in adults with metabolic syndrome. Subjects followed a carbohydrate-restricted diet, and consumed either three eggs per day or an equivalent amount of egg substitutes. After 12 weeks, subjects consuming whole eggs experienced improvements in HDL (good cholesterol) composition and ability to remove cholesterol from the blood.

 

Researchers at University of Missouri presented data comparing the effects of a normal-protein cereal breakfast (15% meal calories), high-protein egg and pork breakfast (40% meal calories), or no breakfast, on satiety in overweight/obese adolescents who normally skip breakfast. The group that consumed the high protein egg and pork breakfast reported a decrease in hunger and an increase in fullness compared to the normal protein and breakfast-skipping group. The individuals eating a high protein breakfast also voluntarily reduced their intake by more than 400 calories per day over the 12-week study. No significant differences were seen in weight between groups; however, breakfast skippers were found to have significant increases in percent body fat mass compared to those who ate the normal and high protein breakfasts. This study supports the benefits of a high protein breakfast as a weight management strategy among overweight and obese adolescents.

 

Mango Benefits

Two of the most serious health conditions facing the developed world today, obesity and cancer, were the subject of new mango research presented recently at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in Boston. This preliminary research identifies important findings that merit further investigation to determine whether mangos can potentially have a positive effect on blood sugar in obese individuals and help to limit inflammation. Preliminary research examined the effects on blood sugar, and one study examined the effects of daily mango consumption on clinical parameters and body composition in obese subjects. Twenty adults (11 males and 9 females) participated in the study, which included daily dietary supplementation with 10 grams of freeze dried mango (equivalent to approximately 100 grams of fresh mango) for 12 weeks. Blood sugar levels at the conclusion of the study were significantly lower than the baseline in both male and female subjects. There were no significant changes in body composition for either gender, and BMI increased significantly in female subjects but not male subjects compared to baseline. Another study   exploring anti-inflammatory properties of mango polyphenols suggests that mango polyphenols may limit inflammatory response in both cancerous and non-cancerous breast cells.

 

 

June/July 2013

Research

 

Dietary Oils Help Metabolic Syndrome

Canola oils can reduce abdominal fat when used in place of other selected oil blends, according to a team of American and Canadian researchers. The researchers also found that consuming certain vegetable oils may be a simple way of reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome, which affects about one in three U.S. adults and one in five Canadian adults. In the randomized, controlled trial, 121 participants at risk for metabolic syndrome received a daily smoothie containing 40 g of one of five oils as part of a weight maintenance, heart-healthy, 2000-calorie per day diet. Members of the group had five risk factors characterized by increased belly fat, low "good" hdl cholesterol and above average blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The researchers repeated this process for the remaining four oils. The results showed that those who consumed canola or high-oleic canola oils on a daily basis for four weeks lowered their belly fat by 1.6 percent compared to those who consumed a flax/safflower oil blend. Abdominal fat was unchanged by the other two oils, which included a corn/safflower oil blend and high-oleic canola oil enriched with an algal source of the omega- 3. Both the flax/safflower and corn/safflower oil blends were low in monounsaturated fat.

 

High-Fat Foods and Blood Glucose Control

In a recent study of patients with type 1 diabetes published in the journal, Diabetes Care, researchers found that dietary fat can affect glucose levels and insulin requirements.  Research has shown that dietary fat and free fatty acids impair insulin sensitivity and increase glucose production. Most studies have focused on the role of fat in the development of type 2 diabetes. However, studies of people with type 1 diabetes have shown that higher-fat pizza meals cause hyperglycemia hours after being consumed. In the study, 7 participants (adults with type 1 diabetes with an average age of 55) spent two days at a Medical Center eating carefully controlled meals and having their glucose and insulin levels monitored. All breakfasts and lunches featured identical low-fat content. The two dinners had identical carbohydrate and protein content but one was low-fat and the other high-fat. For two 18-hour periods beginning before dinner, participants had their insulin automatically regulated by a closed-loop system and their glucose and plasma insulin levels tested at frequent intervals. Study results showed that participants required more insulin after eating the high-fat dinner than the low-fat dinner (12.6 units compared to 9 units). In contrast, the two breakfast meals required similar insulin doses.

 

Fish Oil Boosts Immunity

Fish Oil rich in fatty acids called DHA and EPA is widely believed to help prevent disease by reducing inflammation, but until now, scientists were not entirely sure about its immune enhancing effects. A new report using research conducted on mice, appearing in a recent issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, helps provide clarity on this by showing that DHA-rich fish oil enhances B cell activity, a white blood cell, challenging the notion that fish oil is only immunosuppressive. This discovery is important as it shows that fish oil does not necessarily reduce the overall immune response to lower inflammation, possibly opening the way for the use of fish oil among those with compromised immune systems.

 

Fish Consumption Reduces the Risk of Premature Death

In more good news on fish, older adults who have higher levels of blood omega  levels - fatty acids found almost exclusively in fatty fish and seafood - may be able to lower their overall mortality risk by as much as 27% and their mortality risk from heart disease by about 35%, according to a new study from the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers looked at the data from nearly 3000 older Americans and found that those who had the highest blood levels of the fatty acids found in fish lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with lower levels. The study participants were generally healthy at baseline. At baseline and regularly during follow-up, participants had blood drawn, underwent physical examinations and diagnostic testing, and were questioned about their health status, medical history, and lifestyle. Overall, study participants with the highest levels of all three types of fatty acids had a 27% lower risk of total mortality due to all causes. Previous studies have found that fish, which is rich in protein and heart-healthy fatty acids, reduces the risk of dying from heart disease. But the effect on other causes of death or on total mortality has been unclear. With this new study, the researchers sought to paint a clearer picture by examining biomarkers in the blood of adults not taking fish oil supplements, in order to provide the best assessments of the potential effects of dietary consumption of fish on multiple causes of death.

 

Salt, Potassium and Stroke

New research published in the British Medical Journal has shown that consuming less salt and more potassium in a person's diet can lower blood pressure and the risk of stroke. We’ve known for some time that reducing the amount of salt people eat can lower their blood pressure, which ultimately reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. This research looked at the results of 123 studies done in this area and these confirmed the notion that for people with high blood pressure, four or more weeks of modest salt reduction produces notable decreases in blood pressure and has no negative impact on hormone levels, blood lipids, or kidney function, and that an increased potassium intake was associated with a 24% reduced probability of stroke in adults and may also have an advantageous impact on blood pressure in children.

 

Walking Can Reduce the Risk Of Heart Disease As Much As Running

It’s long been thought that those whose exercise regime consists of running are healthier than those who walk. New research appearing in the journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, has found otherwise. It showed that brisk walking can reduce a person's risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol just as much as running can. This comes from data collected from 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers living in the US (all of whom were between 18 and 80), with energy expenditure evaluated over distance rather than time. The data was collected over a period of 6 years, showing that the same energy used for moderate intensity walking and vigorous intensity running lead to comparable reductions in the likelihood for diabetes, hypertension and potentially, coronary heart disease.  Specifically, what the data showed was that

  • The risk for first-time hypertension was notably reduced 4.2% by running and 7.2% by walking.
  • The risk for first-time high cholesterol was reduced 4.3% by running and 7% by walking.
  • The risk for first-time diabetes was lowered 12.1% by running and 12.3% by walking.
  • The risk for coronary heart disease was lowered 4.5% by running and 9.3% by walking.

 

The Connection Between Foetal Stress and Mood Disorders

There are clearly lots of reasons why women who are pregnant should avoid stress.  A conference held earlier this year in the UK was presented with the findings of research carried out on mice confirming the connection for at least one aspect of this. Adverse environments experienced while in the womb, such as in cases of stress, bereavement or abuse, will increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the mother, which may harm the growing baby. Cortisol may be a key factor in programming the foetus, baby or child to be at risk of disease in later life. Cortisol causes reduced growth and modifies the timing of tissue development, is associated with mood disorders, and has long lasting effects on gene expression. The potential effects of excessive levels of stress hormones on the developing foetus are also of relevance to individuals involved in antenatal care. Within the past 20 years, the majority of women at risk of premature delivery have been given synthetic cortisol to accelerate foetal lung development to allow the premature babies to survive early birth.

 

Component in Red Meat and Energy Drinks Increases Heart Disease Risk

US Researchers writing in the journal, Nature Medicine, recently discovered a new connection between red meat and heart risk that involves bacteria living in the gut. Gut bacteria digest L-carnitine, an amino acid abundant in red meat and added to popular energy drinks, to produce trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a metabolite suspected of helping to clog up arteries, causing atherosclerosis. Fat, salt and cholesterol in red meat have long been blamed for atherosclerosis but not exclusively, and this research confirms the link with the amino acid, L-carnitine. This research also found that L-carnitine encouraged the growth of the bacteria that converts it into TMAO, thereby producing more of the bugs that produce this substance and causing even more TMAO. In a further experiment, the researchers found that TMAO and L-carnitine may accelerate atherosclerosis by interfering with the body's ability to transport cholesterol out of cells.
 

Blood Pressure Reduced by Egg White Protein

Scientists presenting their work at a recent meeting on the American Chemical Society have stated that they’ve confirmed that egg whites reduce blood pressure. Work done in their lab at Clemson University in the US has shown that a peptide, a protein building block, found in egg whites, has the same capacity to reduce hypertension as that of Captopril, a leading anti-hypertensive drug and one of the group of drugs known as ACE inhibitors. In fact the egg white peptide appears works in the same way as an ACE inhibitor, by inhibiting the action on angiotensin-converting-enzyme,  a substance produced in the body that raises blood pressure. 

 

Sleeping Teenagers Lose Weight

Increasing the number of hours of sleep teenagers get each night may reduce the prevalence of teenage obesity, according to a new study by researchers writing in a recent issue of the journal,Pediatrics.  Results of the study show that reduced hours of sleep is associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI) for participants between 14 and 18-years-old. The findings suggest that increasing the sleep duration to 10 hours per day, especially for those with a high BMI, could help to reduce the prevalence of adolescent obesity.  The study was able to rule out variables such as time spent watching television and being physically active, as contributors to BMI.

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer

Cancer researchers released the results of laboratory work done on specific cancer cell lines in a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research which backs up earlier studies on the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on breast cancer cells. This confirms that foods such as sardines, tuna, trout, salmon (oily fish), flax and hemp, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, undermine several of the critical mechanisms required for the metabolism of cancer cells, specifically those responsible for apoptosis (programmed cell death) and proliferation.

 

A Western Style Diet Increases Risk Of Premature Death

A new French study published in The American Journal of Medicine has found that following a western style diet, high in fried and sweet foods, increases a person's risk of premature death. Using data from over 5000 people over 16 years, the study authors examined whether diet, assessed in midlife, was associated with premature ageing, chronic disease and premature death.  They used a rating scale looking at the consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts and soy, white meat (seafood and poultry) to red meat ratios, cereal fibre (which was recorded with total fibre), trans fat, the ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats, long-term multivitamin use (less than five years or five years or longer) and alcohol consumption. Cross referencing these with indices for ageing, chronic disease and premature death, the relationship between a western style diet and an increase in the risk of these factors was clear.

 

 

May/June 2013

Research 

 

Energy Drinks Increase Blood Pressure

Most energy drinks have very high levels of caffeine and taurine. Both of these ingredients can greatly elevate blood pressure and contribute to increased cardiovascular disease risk and recent research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions has shown that these drinks can drastically increase blood pressure and disturb the heart's natural rhythm.  Analysing previously published data, US researchers were able to determine the effects that energy drink consumption has on cardiovascular health. One study found that people who consumed energy drinks developed an irregular heart beat and were at a much higher risk of developing cardiac arrhythmia. In another study, the use of energy drinks was associated with an average systolic blood pressure increase of 3.5 points.

 

Get Down and Dirty

It’s often been thought that allowing children to be exposed to mild infectious diseases and potential sources of infection had long term health benefits. Now, a Greek study published in the journal Acta Diabetologica using results drawn from 3 large international pieces of research has found that countries with lower death rates from infectious diseases have higher incidences of type 1 diabetes. This increase in reported cases has occurred mainly in rich nations. However, so far nobody has understood why. Experts have offered various theories, including the “hygiene hypothesis”, which suggests we are genetically designed to be in contact with micro-organisms - if babies and young children are over-protected from germs and dirt their immune system does not develop properly and the risk of auto-immunity increases, and therefore the risk of autoimmune disease, such as type 1 diabetes, is increased. This latest research lends a great deal of credibility to the hygiene hypothesis, by providing support for the notion that the immune system can somehow become disordered and attack the body's own cells if it is not trained by regular exposure to micro-organisms.

 

Vitamin D and Health Issues in Pregnancy

Recent Canadian research published in the British Medical Journal has found a link between a number of health issues and vitamin D deficiency. Data from 31 separate studies carried out over 32 years was analysed. Researchers found that low levels of Vitamin D were linked to an increased risk of infections, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight, foetal growth restriction, and an increased risk of maternal multiple sclerosis. The study authors noted that women at higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency include those with limited sun exposure, vegetarians and women with darker skin.

 

Bacteria and Obesity

How much a person eats may be only one of many factors that determine weight gain. A recent study suggests that a breath test profile of microorganisms inhabiting the gut may be able to tell healthcare practitioners how susceptible a person is to developing obesity. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, analysed the breath results of 792 people. This showed that those whose breath had a high concentration of both hydrogen and methane gasses were more likely to have a higher body mass index and higher percentage of body fat. The reason for this is that high concentrations of these gases are associated with the growth of specific bacteria that allow us to extract more nutrients from our food, thereby increasing the risk of obesity.

 

Roll Over for a Better Pregnancy

Pregnant women in Ghana who slept on their back (supine sleep) were at an increased risk of stillbirth compared to women who did not sleep on their back, according to new research published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Researchers found that sleeping on the back increased the risk of low birth weight by a factor of 5 and that it was the low birth weight that explained the high risk for stillbirth in these women. This appears to occur because of uterine compression on the inferior vena cava, a major blood vessel, resulting in reduced venous filling and cardiac output. The US researchers conducted the study in a maternity hospital in Ghana; a country that has high perinatal mortality. A recent case-control study from New Zealand also found a link between maternal supine sleep and stillbirth. Vitamin D and Lung Function

Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can help people breathe better and may even protect against tuberculosis (TB), according to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study of more than 10,000 Korean adults found that lung function improved when people had absorbed more vitamin D into their bodies. Without enough vitamin D to aid calcium absorption, children and adults can develop bone and muscle conditions. The study found people who had a history of TB had significantly lower levels of the vitamin D biomarker, called 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), in their blood. Lung function improved in this population when 25(OH)D levels rose. Researchers theorize that vitamin D could enhance patients' innate immunity, help them recover from infection and regulate lung tissue function.

 

Fibre Protects You From Stroke

If you eat more fibre you will probably have a lower risk of first time stroke, researchers from the University of Leeds' School of Food Science & Nutrition in Leeds, United Kingdom, reported in the journal Stroke. These findings, gleaned from a study of 22 years of research results, showed that for every seven-grams more fibre we consume daily, our risk of first time stroke goes down 7%. Dietary fibre comes from plants such as whole-grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and is the part that our body does not absorb when digesting food. Fibre can be insoluble or soluble). No fibre can be digested, but soluble fibre as it goes through the digestive tract, changes its form when it is fermented by bacteria. Soluble fibre absorbs water and becomes gelatinous as it does so. However, the form of insoluble fibre remains unchanged as it goes through the gut. Earlier research has shown that dietary fibre can help reduce some of the risk factors associated with stroke, including hypertension and high blood levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein), also known as "bad cholesterol".

 

Musical Benefits

Playing and listening to music benefits both mental and physical health. The finding came from a study published in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, which reviewed 400 research papers on the neurochemistry of music which found that music can improve the function of the body's immune system and reduce levels of stress. Listening to music was shown to be more successful than prescription drugs in decreasing a person's anxiety before undergoing surgery. Results also showed that music increases the levels of an antibody that plays an important role in immunity of the mucous system, known as immunoglobulin A, as well as levels of natural killer cells, the cells that attack germs and bacteria invading the body. In addition, it was found that listening to and playing music can lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Previous research has shown that music can help to reduce depression.

 

A Protein-Rich Breakfast Reduces the Desire for Snacks

I’m often asked to help people with weight gain and one of the first things I do is to examine the diet to see what sorts of things may be contributing to the problem. Interestingly, there’s almost always something amiss with breakfast; either it consists of the wrong foods or there’s nothing eaten for breakfast at all. Making changes in this area can be really useful and scientific support for this was noted recently in US research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  showing that eating a breakfast rich in protein significantly improves appetite control and reduces unhealthy snacking on high-fat or high-sugar foods in the evening. In this study, 20 overweight or obese adolescent females ages 18-20 skipped breakfast, or consumed a high-protein breakfast consisting of eggs and lean beef, or ate a normal-protein breakfast of ready-to-eat cereal. Every breakfast consisted of 350 calories and was matched for dietary fat, fibre, sugar and energy density. The high-protein breakfast contained 35 grams of protein. Participants completed questionnaires and provided blood samples throughout the day. Prior to dinner, a brain scan using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed to track brain signals that control food motivation and reward-driven eating behaviour. Consumption of the high-protein breakfast led to increased fullness or "satiety" along with reductions in brain activity that is responsible for controlling food cravings. The high-protein breakfast also reduced evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods compared to when breakfast was skipped or when a normal protein, ready-to-eat cereal breakfast was consumed.

 

Keep on the Go to Avoid Flushes

A recent study published in the journal Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society, has found that higher levels of routine daily physical activity are associated with a better night's sleep for many women who have hot flashes or night sweats from menopause. Although exercise is known to improve sleep for people in general, studies in menopausal women haven't been conclusive, so researchers focused on women with hot flashes or night sweats and also drew the distinction between leisure time and household activity. The 27 white and 25 African American women in the study, who were 54 to 63 years old, kept diaries rating their sleep and wore sleep monitors. They also completed questionnaires about their physical activity, including routine household and care giving chores requiring light, moderate, or vigorous effort as well as sports and exercise. The results showed that the women who had higher levels of activity reported better sleep and fewer night time awakenings. The positive effects were mainly associated with household and care giving activity rather than sports or exercise.

 

Living Longer with Fish

Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids as a regular part of your diet, can add years to your life, according to a new US study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Results of the study showed that elderly adults who have greater blood levels of omega-3- fatty acids - found almost uniquely in seafood and fatty fish - could decrease their total mortality risk by nearly 27% and their mortality risk from heart disease by 35%. The authors analysed 16 years of data from nearly 2,700 adults in the U.S. who were 65 years of age or older  At baseline, all subjects were healthy. They had blood taken, underwent physical examinations and diagnostic testing, and were also asked about their lifestyle, health status, and medical history at baseline and follow-up. The investigators examined the total proportion of blood omega-3 fatty acids, including three specific ones, in the volunteers' blood samples at baseline.  They adjusted for cardiovascular, demographic, dietary, and lifestyle factors and found that the three fatty acids, DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), DAP (Docosapentaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) - by themselves and together - were linked to a significant lower risk of mortality.  DHA was the specific fatty acid most significantly linked to lower risk of coronary heart disease by 40%. DPA was most significantly linked to lower risk of stroke death, and EPA was most significantly linked to decreased risk of nonfatal heart attack.

 

 

Meditation Reduces Stress Hormone

Focusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research produced by a team from the University of California, Davis and  published in the journal Health Psychology. High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, are associated with physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of the hormone contributes to wide-ranging, adverse effects on a number of physiological systems. The ability to focus mental resources on immediate experience is an aspect of mindfulness, which can be improved by meditation training.  In this new study, researchers used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers' saliva. During the retreat, Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies trained participants in such skills as mindfulness of breathing, observing mental events, and observing the nature of consciousness. Participants also practiced cultivating benevolent mental states, including loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity. At an individual level, there was a correlation between a high score for mindfulness and a low score in cortisol both before and after the retreat. Individuals whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat showed a decrease in cortisol.

 

 

April/May 2013

Research

 

The Good Oil on Skin Cancer

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils can help to prevent skin cancer, according to the results of a clinical trial published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that explored the impact of 4000mg of fish oil a day on the skin immunity of humans. The study was conducted by a team from the University of Manchester and examined the effect of taking omega 3 fatty acids on 79 healthy participants. Findings from the study revealed that consuming regular doses of fish oil was associated with a 50% increase in immunity to sunlight by decreasing sunlight-induced immunity suppression - called immunosuppression - which affects the body's power to fight skin cancer and infections.

 

Omega 3’s Good for Babies As Well

Recent research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that the infants of mothers who were given 600 milligrams of the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, during pregnancy weighed more at birth and were less likely to be very low birth weight and born before 34 weeks gestation than infants of mothers who were given a placebo. DHA is otherwise known as docosahexaenoic acid, and it occurs naturally in cell membranes with the highest levels in brain cells, but levels can be increased by diet or supplements. An infant obtains DHA from his or her mother in utero and postnatally from human milk, but the amount received depends upon the mother's DHA status. Fish oils are one of the best dietary sources of DHA.

 

Drinking to Reduce Stroke Risk

Not alcohol, but green tea or coffee, on a regular basis is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, says new research published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. This was based on a study conducted on more than 83 thousand Japanese adults aged 45 to 74 years, who monitored their green tea and coffee consumption for an average of 13 years to see whether it had any effect on cardiovascular health. The results of the study indicated that there's a link between high consumption of green tea and coffee and a lower stroke risk. Specifically, those who drank green tea regularly- at least four cups per day- were about 20 to 30 percent less likely to experience a certain type of stroke compared to those who didn't and daily coffee drinkers were at a 20 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who rarely drank it.

 

An Antioxidant for Schizophrenia And Depression
A deficiency of gamma-amino butyric acid, otherwise known as GABA, has been implicated in schizophrenia and depression because of its role in the function of specialised nerve cells that are required for proper cognitive and emotional functioning. What’s been discovered as a result of recent research from the Center for Psychiatric Neurosciences of Lausanne University in Switzerland and published in the journalBiological Psychiatry, is that GABA provides an antioxidant effect that protects these nerve cells from damage that normally occurs in the development of these two diseases. GABA can be found in Reishi mushrooms or can be accessed as a supplement, but should only be used under the supervision of practitioner.

Stress and Inflammatory Disease

Dwelling on negative and/or stressful events can raise levels of inflammation in the human body, according to researchers from Ohio University, presenting their findings at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Florida. The scientists recruited 34 healthy young adult females. They were all asked to give a speech about their candidacy for a job to two interviewers. The interviewers wore white laboratory coats and listened to them with blank, stone-faced expressions - a stressful experience even for the best of us. Afterwards, half of the participants were asked to think about what their performance was like in their public speaking tasks, while the other half were asked to think about neutral activities and pictures, including trips to the local shops and sailing ships. Blood samples were taken from the 34 volunteers. The team found that C-reactive protein levels were considerably higher among those who were asked to dwell on their speech (a stressful event). C-reactive protein is a marker of tissue inflammation, i.e. the more C-reactive protein you have in your system, the more inflammation you will have.

 

Probiotics, IBS and Stress

For those with IBS or irritable bowel syndrome who wonder if stress aggravates the disease, a recent study from the University of Michigan published in the journal, Gastroenterology, has found that there is a connection. The researchers showed that while stress does not cause IBS directly, it does alter brain-gut interactions and induces the intestinal inflammation that often leads to IBS symptoms. Stress suppresses an important substance in the body called an inflammasome which is needed to maintain normal gut micro-organisms, and this research showed that probiotics reversed the effect. Probiotics are live bacteria such as acidophilus that help grow the gut-dwelling "good" bacteria that keep potentially dangerous bugs in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption and contribute to immune function.

 

Vitamin E Prevents Cancer

Researchers at Ohio State University writing in the journal, Science Signalling, have identified an elusive anti-cancer property of vitamin E that has long been thought to exist, but hard to find. Using human prostate cancer cells as the research model, scientists showed that one form of vitamin E inhibits the activation of an enzyme that is essential for cancer cell survival. The loss of the enzyme, called Akt, led to tumor cell death. The vitamin had no negative effect on normal cells. there is a catch to this though; the study authors pointed out that taking a typical vitamin E supplement won't offer this benefit for at least two reasons: The most affordable supplements are synthetic and based predominantly on a form of the vitamin that did not fight cancer as effectively in this study, and the human body can't absorb the high doses that appear to be required to achieve the anti-cancer effect. What these researchers have developed is a very high potency form of the vitamin and they’re in the process of patenting it.

 

Do Oils and Fats Reduce Hunger?

Yes they do. "Natural" oils and fats regulate the sensation of feeling full after eating, with olive oil leading the way. Scientists from Germany studied four different edible fats and oils: lard, butterfat, rapeseed oil and olive oil. Over a period of three months, the study participants ate 500 grams of low-fat yoghurt enriched with one of the four fats or oils every day - as a supplement to their normal diet. Of all of them, olive oil was the most effective at reducing appetite. The olive oil group showed a higher concentration of the satiety hormone serotonin in their blood. Subjectively, these participants also reported that they found the olive oil yoghurt very filling, and during the study period, no member of this group recorded an increase in their body fat percentage or their weight. The olive oil group's calorie intake remained the same, but the control group had been consuming an extra 176 kilocalories per day. How long the feeling of satiety lasts after eating fats or oils depends on a number of factors, but blood sugar level is particularly significant. The faster it falls after a meal, the sooner the person will start to feel hungry again, and olive oil was shown to have excellent blood glucose stabilising properties.

 

Greek Coffee Drinkers Live Longer

Scientists from University of Athens Medical School, writing in the journal, Vascular Medicine, have found that a cup of boiled Greek coffee could improve cardiovascular health and increase longevity. The research focused on observing the residents of Ikaria, a Greek Island, where they have the longest lifespans in the world. Only 0.1 percent of Europeans live to be older than 90 years - but on the island of Ikaria that number is 1 percent. Greek coffee is commonly boiled in a pot and served in a cup where the grounds are allowed to settle to the bottom. The researchers recruited 142 Ikarians (71 women and 71 men) who were over the age of 65 years and had lived on the island all their lives. They carried out their analysis using health check data and questionnaires to measure the participants' lifestyles, coffee drinking, medical health, and tested the functional capacity of their blood vessels. Participants who drank more Greek coffee had better blood vessel function than those who drank other types of coffee, and the study authors claimed that it’s this that is mainly responsible for their longevity.

 

Vitamin D Benefits

New research from the Boston University School of Medicine published in PLOS ONE adds to previous work showing that improvement in the vitamin D status of healthy adults significantly improves health. Vitamin D impacts 291 different genes involved in 160 different biologic pathways associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases. One of the interesting things this study did was to highlight the fact that the current recommended intake figures are far too low. The trial involved eight healthy men and women with an average age of 27 who were vitamin D deficient at the start of the trial. Three participants received 400 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D per day and five received 2,000 IUs per day for a two-month period. Samples of white blood cells (immune cells) were collected at the beginning of the two-month period and again at the end. A broad gene expression analysis was conducted on these samples and more than 22,500 genes were investigated to see if their activity increased or decreased as a result of the vitamin D intake. At the end of the pilot, the group that received 2000 IUs achieved a vitamin D status of 34 ng/mL, which is considered sufficient, while the group that received 400 IUs achieved an insufficient status of 25 ng/mL. The current recommended intake for vitamin D is 200IU.

 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Protects Against Alzheimer's Disease

Extra virgin olive oil helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease because one of its componants, oleocanthal, helps to remove one of the proteins involved in the disease out of the brain. A new study appearing in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience has confirmed this and the study authors noted that this substance may also have the capacity to reduce the risk of related neurodegenerative dementias.

 

Soybeans May Inhibit Cancer Growth

A study published recently in Food Research International reports that proteins found in soybeans could inhibit the growth of colon, liver and lung cancer. Using isolated cancer cell lines in the laboratory, the research team exposed cancer cells to protein componants from soy beans. The study showed that these protein componants (peptides) derived from soybean meal significantly inhibited cell growth by 73% for colon cancer cells, 70% for liver cancer cells and 68% for lung cancer cells.

 

 

March/April 2013

Research

 

Iron and PMS

A recent report from the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that women who reported eating a diet rich in iron were 30 to 40 percent less likely to develop pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) than women who consumed lower amounts. The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences and Harvard who assessed mineral intake in approximately 3,000 women free from PMS at baseline. The study participants completed three food frequency questionnaires over a 10-year study period. By this time, 1,057 women were diagnosed with PMS and 1,968 remained free from PMS. Adjusting for calcium intake and other factors, the researchers then compared previous mineral intake reported by the women diagnosed with PMS with that of women who had few or no menstrual symptoms. It was shown that women who consumed the most non-heme iron, the form found primarily in plant foods and in supplements, had a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of developing PMS than women who consumed the lowest amount of non-heme iron. It was also found that a high intake of zinc was associated with lower risk of PMS.

 

Remooove the Acne

There’s been debate on the potential for dairy foods to influence acne for some time and while naturopaths have known about the connection for many years, the scientific research community is now catching up. A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has determined that there is increasing evidence of a connection between diet and acne, particularly from high glycemic load diets and dairy products, and that diet overall can play an important role in acne treatment. Scientists from New York Medical College and New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, conducted a review of the medical literature from 1960 to 2012 to evaluate evidence for the diet-acne connection. They concluded that a high glycemic index/glycemic load diet and frequent dairy consumption are the leading factors in establishing the link between diet and acne.

 

Dietary Fat, ADHD and Learning Problems

Diets that are high in fat are possibly linked to childhood health issues such as memory-dependent learning disabilities and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers from the University of Illinois College of Medicine reported in a recent edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. These findings were generated via research on 4 week old mice fed either a high fat or a low fat diet and the behaviour they exhibited while on these diets. In the high-fat diet, 60% of the calories came from fat, while in the low fat one only 10% came from fat. Typical diets in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia contain between 35% to 45% fat. The researchers noticed a marked difference in the behaviour of the mice on the high-fat diet within a week, even before they were able to detect any weight gain. The high-fat diet mice started burrowing and wheel running more frequently. They also became more and more reluctant to explore open spaces. Certain memory and learning deficits became noticeable among the mice on the high-fat diet - their ability to negotiate a maze started to deteriorate; their ability to recognize objects also got worse. The mice on the high-fat diet were then switched to a low-fat one. Even though impaired recognition continued among those that remained on the high-fat diet, the researchers explained that previous studies had shown that the brain biochemistry of mice starts to normalize after about ten weeks as the body begins to compensate for the high-fat diet. Although the mice grew out of these anxious behaviours and learning deficiencies, the study suggests that a high-fat diet could trigger anxiety and memory disorders in a child who is genetically or environmentally susceptible to them.

 

Sleep Light

When people don't get enough sleep they tend to eat more, causing them to gain weight. This was the conclusion of a new study led by University of Colorado Boulder in the US that was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers found that volunteers who slept for only 5 hours a night during a working week put on almost 1 kilo in weight if they had unlimited access to food. The issue isn’t that less sleep leads to more weight directly, but when people get insufficient sleep, it leads them to eat more than they actually need and the extra calories consumed are more than the extra calories burned, resulting in weight gain.

 

Active Kids are Calmer Kids

Exercise may play a key role in helping children cope with stressful situations, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. When they are exposed to everyday stressors, the study found sedentary children had surges of cortisol - a hormone linked to stress. The most active children had little or no increase in their cortisol levels in similar situations, which suggests that physical activity plays a role in mental health by protecting children from the effects of daily stressors. The cross-sectional study monitored physical activity and cortisol levels in a birth cohort of eight-year-old children. The 252 participants wore accelerometer devices on their wrists to measure physical activity. Saliva samples were taken to measure cortisol levels. To measure reactions to stress, children were assigned arithmetic and story-telling tasks. The study is one of the first to find a link between physical activity and stress hormone responses in children.

 

Industrial Chemicals in Food

Naturopaths talk a lot about the benefits of fresh organic food and there are lots of good reasons for this. As a recent example of why this is important, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have discovered phthalates, industrial chemicals, in common foods purchased in the United States. Phthalates can be found in a variety of products and food packaging material, child-care articles and medical devices. The study was published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, and is one of the first to compile an analysis of phthalates in foods found in the United States. The situation will be the same here in Australia because we use the same food packaging materials. Phthalates are synthetic compounds that are used as a plasticizers and in personal care products such a shampoo, soap, perfumes and other common household products. Exposure to phthalates has been reported to be associated with a number of issues including reproductive changes such as damage in sperm, various other reproductive disorders and premature birth.

 

Why is a Healthy Lifestyle Good for You?

Overweight couch potatoes live a dangerous life: Epidemiologists estimate that about 80 percent of the most common diseases we experience are linked to being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle. Obese people are at an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, vascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. The links between body weight, lifestyle and the risks of developing cancer and other chronic diseases are not yet understood in every detail. However, changes in hormonal signalling are believed to be among the culprits of these processes. Adipose or fat tissue produces various hormones which have a great impact on metabolism. The important ones are anti-inflammatory adiponectin, which increases the effect of insulin, and leptin, which can promote cancer. The more fatty tissue we have, the higher the levels of these hormones become.

 

Alzheimer's Disease Risk Reduced by Green Tea

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found a new potential benefit of a molecule in green tea: preventing the misfolding of specific proteins in the brain. The aggregation of these proteins, called metal-associated amyloids, is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Research published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explained how scientists used green tea extract to control the generation of metal-associated amyloid-β aggregates associated with Alzheimer's disease in the lab. They found that a specific molecule in green tea, (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, also known as EGCG, prevented aggregate formation and broke down existing aggregate structures in the proteins that contained metals - specifically copper, iron and zinc.

 

Salt and Autoimmune Disease

A healthy immune system is a finely balanced thing: too little activity and we fall prey to infections, too much, and it attacks our own tissue, triggering autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, to name just a few. Now three studies published recently in the journal, Nature, suggest that the amount of salt we eat may influence this balance by indirectly encouraging the overproduction of immune cells. What was found in these studies was that salt influences the production of a particular type of white blood cell called TH17 cells. Salt is associated with an overproduction of these cells and this can increase our rate of development of autoimmune disease.

 

Processed Meat Associated with Cardiovascular Disease & Early Death

Processed meats such as sausages, bacon, hot dogs, mettwurst, salami and liverwurst, are linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a new, large scale study published in the journal BMC Medicine. Past research has shown that processed meats increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer and this recent research, looking at the dietary habits and health outcomes of nearly half a million people, has found that these commonly consumed foods could be responsible for one in thirty premature deaths and that the risk of all cause mortality (premature death) rose with the amount of processed meat people consumed. The authors estimated that if people decreased their daily processed meat intake to under 20 grams - for example a matchbook-sized portion - per day, close to 3 percent of premature deaths in a year could be avoided.

 

A Good Reason to Get Back to Walking

Lower back pain is a common complaint, and treatment often requires many hours of physical therapy treatment over multiple weekly clinic visits - a costly commitment. Recent research in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation has shown that a simple aerobic walking program is as effective in alleviating lower back pain as muscle strengthening programs that require specialized equipment in rehabilitation clinics. The program includes walking two to three times a week for a period of 20 to 40 minutes. When people walk actively, abdominal and back muscles work in much the same way as when they complete exercises that target these areas and unlike muscle strengthening programs, which often call for specific equipment and can involve exercises that require expert supervision, walking is a simple activity that can be done alone. For the study, the researchers recruited 52 patients with lower back pain to participate in a randomized control trial. Through questionnaires, they were initially assessed for pain levels, feelings of disability, and avoidance of daily activities, as well as muscle and walking endurance. Then, half of the participants completed a typical clinic-based muscle strengthening program, with two to three exercise sessions a week for six weeks. The other half completed a six-week aerobic walking program, walking two to three times weekly. Participants started with 20 minutes of walking, progressing to 40 minutes as their endurance improved. Results showed that both groups improved significantly in all areas of assessment, demonstrating that the walking program was as effective as treatment that could have been received in the clinic.

 

Green is Good

Eating your greens may be even more important than previously thought, with the discovery that an immune cell population essential for intestinal health could be controlled by leafy greens in your diet. These immune cells, named innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), are found in the lining of the digestive system and protect the body from 'bad' bacteria in the intestine. They are also believed to play an important role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases and obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancer. The research was published in a recent edition of the journal Nature Immunology and the authors discovered the gene T-bet which is essential for producing a population of these critical immune cells and that the gene responds to signals in the food we eat. The proteins in green leafy (cruciferous) vegetables are known to interact with a cell surface receptor that switches on T-bet, and might play a role in producing these critical immune cells. ILCs produce a hormone called interleukin-22, which can protect the body from invading bacteria. Without the gene T-bet, the body is more susceptible to bacterial infections that enter through the digestive system. ILCs also help to maintain a healthy environment in the intestines by promoting good bacteria and healing small wounds and abrasions that are common in the tissues of the gut. They may also have a role in resolving cancerous lesions.

 

February/March 2013

Research

 

Have a Heart for Vegetarians

Most naturopaths are vigorous promoters of a vegetarian diet, particularly for people suffering from or at risk of heart disease or chronic inflammatory disease. There’s lots of evidence to support this but recent research from a University of Oxford study looking at the health and dietary habits of 45 thousand people, has found that the risk of hospitalisation or death from heart disease is 32% lower in vegetarians than in people who eat meat and fish. The reason for this, according to the authors of the study, is related to the risk that’s caused by the effects of the different diets on cholesterol and blood pressure. The study also noted that vegetarians typically had lower body mass indices and fewer cases of diabetes as a result of their diets.

 

Low Magnesium Linked To Heart Disease

It’s traditionally been the view that cholesterol or saturated fats play the biggest roles in predicting heart disease, but new research shows that low magnesium levels are a better indicator. A US study looking at over 80 years of cardiovascular disease data found that a low level of magnesium is potentially linked to high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, calcification of soft tissues, high blood cholesterol and a hardening of the arteries. The authors cite the reasons for this as a high dietary calcium intake, a focus on cholesterol rather than magnesium status, and a diet low in magnesium, particularly where there’s a high intake of processed foods and high stress lifestyles that increase the need for magnesium.


Move with the Sun

Routine exposure to the sun, especially ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, is associated with a decrease in the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a new study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. The positive outcomes of UVB exposure were demonstrated in mostly older women, possibly because younger females are educated on the dangers of sunlight and protect themselves with sunscreen, the authors suggest. The authors drew their conclusions from two phases of the U.S. Nurses' Health Study (NHS). The first phase followed the health of over 120,000 nurses starting in 1976, when they were between the ages of 30 and 55, until 2008, and the second phase followed the health of an additional 115,500 nurses starting in 1989, between the ages of 25 and 42, until the year 2009. Throughout the duration of the study, 1314 women developed rheumatoid arthritis. Among nurses in the NHS group, higher cumulative exposure to UVB was linked with a decreased risk of developing the disease, with the finding that those nurses with the most elevated rates of exposure were 21 percent less inclined to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those with the least.

Don’t Stop Moving

There’s abundant evidence that exercise is essential for good health and if you needed more proof of this, a recent US study from the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that people who exercise and have higher physical fitness levels during middle age have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia later in life. In this work, over 19 thousand non-elderly adults were asked to take a regular exercise treadmill test between 1971 and 2009, so that the researchers could evaluate their baseline and subsequent fitness levels. The data showed that the individuals who were physically fit earlier in life had a significantly reduced chance of developing dementia, compared to those were not as physically fit.

Remember the Green Tea and Red Wine

Natural chemicals found in green tea and red wine may disrupt a key step of the Alzheimer’s Disease pathway, according to new research from the University of Leeds. This research is only in its early stages but the researchers identified the process which allows harmful clumps of protein, known as amyloid, to latch on to brain cells, causing them to die. They were able to interrupt this pathway using the purified extracts of EGCG from green tea and resveratrol from red wine. The findings, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, offer potential new solutions to treat Alzheimer's disease, which affects a sizeable portion of the Australian population.

 

Organic Pollutants and Diabetes

Naturopaths are well known for their promotion of detoxification products and protocols to assist in the removal of accumulated heavy metals, chemical and pesticide residues, and there are sound reasons for doing this. Recent research conducted at the University of Granada and published in the journal,Environmental Research, has revealed that there is a direct relationship between exposure to pesticides (Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs) in food, air and water and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adults, regardless of age, gender and body mass index. These substances tend to concentrate in body fat, and they might be one of the reasons why obese people are more likely to develop diabetes, since the more fat the higher the POP concentrations in the body. Researchers demonstrated that people with higher concentrations of DDE - the main metabolite in the pesticide DDT, are four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than other people. In addition, the risk of type 2 diabetes is also associated with exposure to β-HCH (beta-Hexachlorocyclohexane), which is present in the formula of the pesticide Lindane.

Zinc, Infection and Inflammation

Zinc has numerous complex jobs to do in the body and interacts with thousands of proteins to sustain human life. It’s one of the key nutrients required to deal with infections and lots of research has been done to confirm its activity in this area. New evidence published in the journal Cell Reports suggests that zinc helps control infections by gently tapping the brakes on the immune response in a way that prevents out-of-control inflammation that can be damaging to health and even deadly. Scientists determined in human cell culture and animal studies that a protein lures zinc into key cells that are first-responders against infection. The zinc then interacts with a process that is vital to the fight against infection and by doing so helps balance the immune response. This study revealed for the first time that zinc homes in on this pathway and helps shut it down, effectively ensuring that the immune response does not spiral out of control.

 

More D Benefits

News on the benefits of vitamin D just keep on coming, and in more on this, results of a University of Nebraska Medical Center research study published in the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology suggest that vitamin D may be important for humans exposed to agricultural organic dust. In the study, mice were exposed to pig barn dust. One group received a high vitamin D diet and the other a low vitamin D diet, and researchers found a significant decrease in lung inflammation in mice exposed to hog barn dust that received high doses of vitamin D. Agricultural workers on today's farms are exposed to a variety of high levels of agricultural organic dust - dust that comes from feed, bedding and livestock, which includes moulds, pollen, bacteria, pesticides, and chemicals. Exposure can lead to inflammation in the lungs and a risk of developing chronic airways diseases and over time, exposure to organic dust can result in serious respiratory illnesses, such as organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS) and Farmer's lung.

 

Exercise Reduces Prostate Cancer Risk

Recent research from the journal, Cancer, adds to earlier work done in this area by concluding that exercise is linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer. Specifically, the study showed that men who were moderately or highly active were 53% less likely to have prostate cancer compared to males who were sedentary or mildly active. In addition, it was found that men affected by prostate cancer who exercised had a 13% lower chance of having high grade disease - when cancer cells look especially abnormal and can rapidly grow and spread.

 

Vitamin C and the Common Cold

Debate has raged for decades about the worth of Vitamin C and whether or not it can help with the common cold. Now, an updated review from The Cochrane Library of placebo-controlled trials on Vitamin C and the common cold finds the vitamin may help people under heavy physical stress, such as marathon runners and skiers, to reduce their risk of catching a cold and that it can help to reduce the duration and severity of illness. I’d add to this the fact that for anyone suffering from any degree of stress who catches lots of colds, that you don’t have to be a marathon runner or skier to derive great benefit from Vitamin C in reducing the duration and severity of viral respiratory diseases such as the common cold.

 

Stressed Kids Eat More

Children who overreact to stressors may be at risk of becoming overweight or obese by increasing their calorie intake, according to researchers at Penn State and Johns Hopkins University, writing in a recent issue of the journal, Appetite. 43 children aged 5 to 9 years, and their parents, participated in this study using the Trier Social Stress Test for Children, which consists of a five-minute anticipation period followed by a 10-minute stress period. During the stress period, the children were asked to deliver a speech and perform a mathematics task. The team measured the children's responses to these stressors by comparing the cortisol content of their saliva before and after the procedure. The researchers also measured the extent to which the children ate after saying they were not hungry using a protocol known as the Free Access Procedure. The team provided the children with lunch, asked them to indicate their hunger level and then gave them free access to generous portions of 10 snack foods, along with a variety of toys and activities. The children were told they could play or eat while the researchers were out of the room. The researchers found that children who exhibited greater cortisol release over the course of the procedure had significantly higher body-mass indices and consumed significantly more calories in the absence of hunger than kids whose cortisol levels rose only slightly in response to the stressor. This suggests that children who have poor responses to stressors already are or are at risk of becoming overweight or obese.

 

Don’t Just Sit There- Do Something

It makes perfect sense but in case we needed proof, research from Kansas State University published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has shown that compared with people who reported sitting four hours or less per day, those who sat for more than four hours per day were significantly more likely to report having a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension..The reporting of chronic diseases rose as participants indicated they sat more. Those sitting for at least six hours were significantly more likely to report having diabetes. The study used data from over 63 thousand males aged 45-65 from New South Wales.


Organic Is Best

There’s always been fierce debate over whether or not it’s better to eat organic produce that to eat produce from modern conventional farming techniques. I see the advantages of organic produce in clients I deal with every day but recent research has gone some way to validating this practice in at least one area- tomatoes.  Tomatoes grown on organic farms accumulate higher concentrations of sugars, vitamin C and compounds associated with oxidative stress, compared to those grown on conventional farms, according to new research published in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Brazilian researchers.  In this study, the researchers compared the weights and biochemical properties of tomatoes from organic and conventional farms. They found that tomatoes grown on organic farms were approximately 40% smaller than those grown by conventional techniques, and they also accumulated more compounds linked to stress resistance. According to the authors, organic farming exposes plants to greater stress than conventional farming. They suggest that this increased stress may be the reason organic tomatoes had higher levels sugars, vitamin C and pigment molecules like lycopene, an anti-oxidant compound - all of which are associated with the biological response to stress.

Omega-3 Fats and Stroke Recovery

A new study carried out on mice by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center published in the journal PLoS One may have relevance for people recovering from stroke. The researchers report that a triglyceride lipid emulsions rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), given within a few hours of an ischemic stroke can decrease the amount of damaged brain tissue by 50 percent or more. Omega-3 fatty acids may also have potential as neuroprotectants because they affect multiple biochemical processes in the brain that are disturbed by stroke. The effects of the omega-3 fatty acids include increasing the production of natural neuroprotectants in the brain, reducing inflammation and cell death, and activating genes that may protect brain cells. Omega-3 fatty acids also markedly reduce the release of harmful oxidants into the brain after stroke.

 

January/February 2013

Research

 

Fruit And Veg Help Smokers Quit

According to a new study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research and conducted by researchers at the University of Buffalo, eating fruits and veggies may curb the urge to smoke, making it easier to kick the habit and keep it away. The study involved 1,000 smokers from around the U.S who were aged 25 or older. The researchers conducted a survey using an over-the-phone method, and did a follow-up interview with the volunteers 14 months after the original study to find out if the smokers had remained strong in their quest to quit smoking. The outcome of the study showed that the people who ate the most fruit and veggies had a 3-fold increased chance of not smoking, when questioned at follow up, than the people who ate the least amount of fruits and veg.  Other results of the study showed that those who ate the most fruits and veggies did not smoke their first cigarette until later in the day, smoked fewer cigarettes throughout the day and had had lower scores on a nicotine dependance test.

 

To Dress or Not to Dress

Vegetables are loaded with fat-soluble carotenoids - compounds, such as lutein, beta-carotene, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are associated with a lower risk of developing diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration. Salads without the right type and amount of salad dressing could leave you missing out on several disease-fighting vitamins and nutrients, according to researchers at Purdue University in a study published recently in the Journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. The researchers fed 29 study participants salads with different types of dressings in order to determine which kinds and amounts increased carotenoid levels in the bloodstream. The dressings used were butter-based dressings (as a saturated fat), canola oil-based dressings (as a monounsaturated fat) and corn oil-based dressings (as a polyunsaturated fat) Each salad was served with 3 grams, 8 grams or 20 grams of fat from the dressing. They discovered that dressings rich in monounsaturated fat required the least amount of fat to get the most carotenoid absorption and that dressings rich in saturated and polyunsaturated fat required higher amounts of fat to produce the same benefit. They also found that fat-free dressings do not enhance carotenoid absorption. In addition, the researchers found that both corn oil and butter, with higher amounts of fat in the dressing, led to better absorption of carotenoids. However, canola and olive oil-based dressings led to the same absorption of carotenoids at 3 grams of fat as it did 20 grams. What does all this mean? Salad dressings with monounsaturated fat may be a good choice for individuals' craving lower fat options, but still wanting to optimize absorption of health-promoting carotenoids from fresh vegetables.

 

Smart Tai Chi and a Chat

Scientists from the University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai found increases in brain volume and improvements on tests of memory and thinking in Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week, reports a recent article in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. These findings were based on an 8-month trial comparing those who practiced Tai Chi to a group who received no intervention. The same trial showed increases in brain volume and more limited cognitive improvements in a group that participated in lively discussions three times per week over the same time period. The group that did not participate in either intervention showed brain shrinkage over the same time period, consistent with what generally has been observed for persons in their 60s and 70s. A number of studies have shown that dementia and the syndrome of gradual cognitive deterioration that precedes it is associated with increasing shrinkage of the brain as nerve cells and their connections are gradually lost.

 

Prostate Cancer May Not Be Your Cup of Tea

A new study from the University of Glasgow published in the journal, Nutrition and Cancer, has found that men who are heavy tea drinkers may be at higher risk for prostate cancer. However, the researchers point out their study was not designed to find causes, so all they can say is that heavy tea drinking is linked to a higher risk for prostate cancer and is not necessarily the cause of it. The data they used covered 6,016 Scottish men aged from 21 to 75 years who were enrolled on the Midspan Collaborative Study between 1970 and 1973 and were followed for up to 37 years. The men had filled in questionnaires about their general health, smoking habits, and usual consumption of tea, coffee, and alcohol, and they also attended a screening examination. When they analysed the data the researchers found a statistically significant link between tea drinking and overall risk of developing prostate cancer. They found the men who drank the most tea (more than seven cups a day, just under a quarter of all the men) had a 50% higher risk of developing prostate cancer than those who drank the least (0 to 3 cups a day). Overall, 6.4% of the men who drank the most tea developed prostate cancer during the study period, compared with 4.6% of those who consumed the least.

 

Alcohol During Early Pregnancy

A new Danish study showed that low and moderate drinking during early pregnancy does not have noticeable adverse effects on children after they are born. The study looked at neuropsychological differences in children age five, compared with their mothers drinking habits while pregnant. Researchers did note, however, that higher amounts of alcohol resulted in lower attention spans amongst five year olds, and since one drink often leads to another, expectant mothers still  need to be cautious about their drinking habits. Researchers recruited women from the Danish National Birth Cohort during their first antenatal visit and gathered information from over 1,600 participants. They defined low drinking as 1-4 drinks per week, moderate at 5-8 drinks per week and high level consumption as 9 or more drinks per week. Binge drinking was defined as more than 5 drinks during a single occasion. Mothers who chose to abstain entirely were included in the group and were used as a reference point for comparison. Having gathered data in regard to the mothers’ drinking habits while pregnant, the researchers then went on to test the children at the age of five to determine any adverse effects from their mothers’ alcohol consumption. It’s important to note that the definition of a drink in this study comes from the Danish National Board of Health, which states one standard drink is equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol. The level of alcohol in one standard drink in Australia is 10 grams.

 

Fight Obesity and Diabetes with Nectarines, Plums and Peaches

Stone fruits, also known as drupes, such as nectarines, plums and peaches, may contain useful compounds that help fight-off metabolic syndrome, a condition that can lead to diabetes, heart attack and stroke, say researchers presenting their findings at the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia. The team showed that compounds that exist in stone fruits could be useful in the fight against metabolic syndrome, in which inflammation and obesity eventually lead to serious illnesses and health problems. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions, including high blood sugar levels, hypertension, too much fat around the waist, and excessively high cholesterol levels - together, they considerably raise the risk of developing diabetes, having a stroke, or a heart attack. The compounds in question are referred to as bioactive phenolics and include anthocyanins, chlorogenic acids, quercetin derivatives and catechins. These appear to work on different cells - fat cells, macrophages and vascular endothelial cells and modulate different expressions of genes and proteins, depending on the type of compound.

 

Death From Stroke More Likely If You Suffer From Psychological Distress

While it’s been known for some time that psychological distress is linked to coronary artery disease, psychological distress is also associated with a higher risk of death from stroke, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Psychological distress includes factors such as anxiety, depression, sleeping problems and loss of confidence, and is common in approximately 15%-20% of the general population. The study used  data from over 68 thousand men and women who participated in the Health Survey for England. To measure psychological distress, the researchers used the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), a widely used measure in population studies. Psychological distress was evident in 14.7% of participants, and those reporting distress were younger and more likely to be female, to be from lower income groups, to smoke and to use anti-hypertension medications. Over an average of 8.1 years' follow-up, there were 2367 deaths from cardiovascular disease (1010 from ischemic heart disease, 562 from cerebrovascular disease and 795 from other cardiovascular-related deaths). The study authors stated that "Psychological distress was associated with death from cardiovascular disease, and the relation remained consistent for specific disease outcomes, including ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease,"

 

Aussies Low on D

Almost one in three Australian adults has inadequate Vitamin D status, according to a recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia. According to the authors, inadequate vitamin D status occurred in more than 50% of women during winter and spring, and in people residing in southern states. They said for that people with moderately fair skin, adequate vitamin D levels are likely to be maintained in summer by a walk outside with arms (or equivalent area) exposed for 6-7 minutes mid morning or mid afternoon on most days. "Short UV radiation exposures (of a few minutes) may be more efficient at producing vitamin D and cause less skin damage", they wrote. "In winter, the task is more difficult, and in many parts of the country, there is only sufficient UVB radiation to produce vitamin D around noon." The authors cautioned that vitamin D supplementation may be more appropriate than sun exposure for people at high risk of skin cancer. Most adults are unlikely to obtain more than 5%-10% of their vitamin D requirement from dietary sources, according to the authors.

 

Kids’ Diets Found Wanting

The dietary intake of Australian preschoolers may lead to poor long term health outcomes according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia earlier this year. The study authors concluded that dietary intakes among the 300 children who participated in the study were adequate in macronutrients (like energy, protein and carbohydrate) and in most micronutrients (like iron, zinc and calcium). However, the authors found that the children were not getting enough fibre or omega 3 fatty acids and they ate too much saturated fat, a dietary pattern that they said is associated with health problems in adults. The researchers also found that 14% of the children studied were obese - but they found no association between BMI and energy intake. "These data suggest that in this age group physical activity may be a main determinant of weight and BMI status", the authors wrote.


Play It Again

Studies by the University Hospital San Raffaele in Italy presented at a recent meeting of the European Neurological Society (ENS) in Prague demonstrated that people with no musical background were not only visibly more skilled after completing two weeks of regular exercise on a piano keyboard, but their brains also changed measurably and that practicing music drastically and effectively accelerates self-optimization of certain brain activities. The study also provides evidence that even a short period of ambidextrous training leads to better coordination and more balanced action between the left and right brain hemisphere. The training also leads to enhanced responses to the nerve impulses in the muscles of the fingers. Furthermore, the musical stimuli also prompted a structural reconstruction of gray matter in those brain regions that are involved in coordinated movement. The study revealed that the more complex the task was, the better. Scientists have only recently researched the brains 'neuroplasticity' a process in which the brain automatically reconstructs itself in response to a given task so that its internal structure and organization are best suited to a demand. Neuroplasticity functions by automatically establishing better interconnection of frequently used areas of the brain, whilst resources are drawn down from those less used.

 

Stress, Concentration, Multitasking and Meditation

A study by researchers from the University of Washington published recently in Proceedings of Graphics Interface suggests that meditation training can help people working with information stay on tasks longer with fewer distractions and also improves memory and reduces stress. The researchers recruited three groups of 12-15 human resource managers for the study. One group received eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training and another received eight weeks of body relaxation training. Members of the third, a control group, received no training at first, then after eight weeks were given the same training as the first group. Before and after each eight-week period, the participants were given a stressful test of their multitasking abilities, requiring them to use email, calendars, instant-messaging, telephone and word-processing tools to perform common office tasks. Researchers measured the participants' speed, accuracy and the extent to which they switched tasks. The participants' self-reported levels of stress and memory while performing the tasks were also noted. The results were significant: The meditation group reported lower levels of stress during the multitasking test while those in the control group or who received only relaxation training did not. When the control group was given meditation training, however, its members reported lower stress during the test just as had the original meditation group. The meditation training seemed to help participants concentrate longer without their attention being diverted.  

 

Fishy Vision

Loss of vision due to advancing age can potentially be prevented by DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish according to a recent study. The study, which was published in the journal, Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, demonstrated that lab models fed with DHA did not accumulate the toxic molecule that usually builds up in the retina with age and therefore preventing age-related loss of vision.

 

Stress May Delay Development in Kids

Research published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience from workers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that stress may affect brain development in children, altering growth of a specific piece of the brain and the abilities associated with it. The researchers determined stress levels through interviews with children ages 9 to 14 and their parents. Exposure to excessive stress is appears to affect issues with involving certain kinds of cognitive processes such as holding on to important information for quick recall and use. Children who had experienced more intense and lasting stressful events in their lives posted lower scores on tests of what the researchers refer to as spatial working memory. They had more trouble navigating tests of short-term memory such as finding a token in a series of boxes, according to the study. Brain scans revealed that the anterior cingulate, a portion of the prefrontal cortex believed to play key roles in spatial working memory, takes up less space in children with greater exposure to very stressful situations.

 

December 2012/January 2013

Research

 

Remember the Fish- but Why?

In a study published in the journal, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers at the University of Alberta say they have discovered a potential explanation for why a diet high in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, improves memory. DHA stands for Docosahexaenoic acid – it’s an omega-3 fatty acid that is a main structural component of the retina, sperm, testicles, and human brain cerebral cortex. Lead researcher Yves Sauve explained: "We wanted to find out how fish intake improves memory. What we discovered is that memory cells in the hippocampus could communicate better with each other and better relay messages when DHA levels in that region of the brain were higher”. This could explain why memory improves on a high-DHA diet. Cold-water oceanic fish oils are rich in DHA. There are a number of foods that are rich in DHA. These include algae, anchovies, bluefin or albacore tuna, breast milk (also infant formula milk), caviar or fish roe, herring, salmon, sardines, and swordfish.

 

Vitamin D Gets You Out of Hospital Sooner

In the United States, hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the leading cause of death in the health care arena, with over 1.7 million cases per year and 100,000 deaths. Now, new research shows that the risk of hospital-acquired infections could be significantly reduced by increasing vitamin D concentrations among hospital patients. According to the study, published by Dermato-Endocrinology, HAIs generate around $US28.4 billion to $US45 billion in excess health care costs each year in the US. Why is Vitamin D important here? Low vitamin D concentrations are associated with diseases such as fractures, respiratory infections, heart disease, and cancer. Pneumonia, bacteremias, urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, and sepsis are the most common hospital-acquired infections. Vitamin D plays a significant antimicrobial role. According to the researchers, vitamin D strengthens the innate immune response by overcoming the antibiotic resistance of many bacteria encountered in hospitals.

 

Not So Fast with the Fast Food

The dangers of fast food are well documented; the portions are often larger than a regular meal and the food is generally high in calories and low in nutrients. University of Minnesota School of Public Health researchers have examined the eating habits of 52,000 Chinese residents of Singapore and found new evidence that a diet heavy in fast food increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. To arrive at their results, researchers worked alongside researchers from the National University of Singapore. Together, they examined results of a study conducted over a period of 16 years beginning in 1993, which looked at the eating habits of people who have experienced a recent and sudden transition from traditional foods to Western-style fast food. The research, which was published the journal, Circulation, found that people who consume fast food even once a week increase their risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 20 percent in comparison to people who avoid fast food. For people eating fast food two to three times each week, the risk increases by 50 percent, and the risk climbs to nearly 80 percent for people who consume fast food items four or more times each week. Eating fast food two or more times a week was also found to increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 27 percent.

 

Sleep and Immunity

Animal tudies in this area have found a link between lack of sleep and the development of certain diseases and conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Other studies have demonstrated that adequate sleep helps keep the immune system working properly, and that long-term sleep loss is a major risk factor for immune system problems. Now, researchers from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom reported in the journal, Sleep, that sleep deprivation and physical stress have similar effects on the immune system of human beings. Both physical stress and severe sleep loss jolt the immune system into action, the authors explained. To get to this conclusion they compared the number of white blood cells in 15 healthy young adult males who were subjected to normal sleep and severe sleep loss. The scientist compared the participants' white cell counts during their normal sleep/wake cycle week to the count during the second part of the experiment when the subjects were made to spend 29 hours without any sleep at all. They found the greatest impact was on granulocytes (types of white blood cells) which lost their day-to-night time rhythmicity as numbers shot up, especially during night time.

 

Is Sleep Deprivation Associated with Health Risks?

Absolutely. Here’s a quick rundown on the health issues associated with poor sleep. The results of research done published this year from the University of California demonstrated how sleep deprivation can undermine regions in the brain which are responsible for making food choices. They said that their findings might explain why sleep deprivation is linked to a higher risk of becoming obese. Normal weight adults who sleep less than six hours per night have a much greater risk of stroke symptoms during middle-to-older age than normal weight people who sleep more hours, researchers from the University of Alabama reported. Scientists from the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that sleep deprivation considerably exaggerates how much we anticipate impending emotional events, especially among those who are already highly anxious individuals. People who have not had enough sleep and have "tired brains" are more likely to find junk foods appealing, researchers from Columbia University in New York, revealed. In addition to all of these issues, a lack of adequate sleep is associated with an increased risk of workplace and other accidents, memory lapses, growth retardation, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and a range of digestive disorders.

 

Advertising and Impulse Eating

In case you weren’t convinced that junk food advertising works, researchers have discovered that looking at images of high-calorie foods stimulates the brain's appetite control centre, which leads to an elevated desire for food. This research, conducted at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, found that stimulating of the brain's reward areas may contribute to overeating and obesity. The research was done by examining brain responses in 13 obese, Hispanic women via the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), as obese, Hispanic young women are at "high risk for continued weight gain and obesity." The researchers performed two fMRIs in each participant whilst they looked at a series of high- and low-calorie food images and non-food items. The participants were asked to rate their hunger and desire for sweet or savoury foods on a scale from 1 to 10 after each series of similar images, and were asked to drink 50 grams of glucose halfway through the scans on one occasion and the equivalent amount of fructose on another occasion. The amount of glucose was based on sugar content in a can of soft drink, and both sugars represent table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. The team used fMRI to measure the blood flow in the brain, given that areas with increased blood flow suggest greater activity. They discovered the areas of the brain that were activated in response to viewing the images and how sugar consumption impacted activation in the brain as well as the participants' rating of appetite and hunger.

 

Coffee Power for the Elderly

The results of a study presented at the Society for Experimental Biology earlier this year have shown that caffeine boosts power in older muscles, suggesting the stimulant could aid elderly people to maintain their strength, reducing the incidence of falls and injuries. The decline in muscle strength that occurs as we age contributes to injuries and reduces quality of life and while the process is not well understood, it is clear that preserving muscle tone is very important. The researchers isolated muscles from mice ranging in age from juvenile to elderly, then tested their performance before and after caffeine treatment. They looked at two different skeletal muscles, which are the muscles we can control voluntarily. The first was the diaphragm, a core muscle used for respiration; the second was a leg muscle called the extensor digitorum longus (EDL), used for locomotion.

 

Live Better with Moderate Drinking

In more on the vexed issue of alcohol consumption, recent research has found that middle-aged people who consume alcohol in moderation appear to have a better quality of life than those who abstain. The study, which involved 5,404 Canadians aged 50 years or more, found that those who drank in moderation - no more than 14 drinks per week with no more than three a day for women and four a day for men - had a better quality of life than those who abstained from alcohol. The researchers assessed health quality of life with the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 (HUI3.) According to the researchers, those who consumed alcohol in moderation had the highest quality of life at baseline. They found that those who reduced their alcohol intake from moderate levels showed the greatest reduction in their level of health-related quality of life than those who consumed alcohol in moderation on a regular basis.

 

You’re Happier with Vitamin D

Research reported recently at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Houston, Texas, has shown that providing treatment for Vitamin D deficiency considerably improves depression in moderate and even severe cases. The clinically depressed women who participated in the study received treatment for their vitamin D deficiency without changing any of their antidepressant medication regimes or any other influential factors in their environment. The authors of the study stated that fixing the deficiency of vitamin D alone might have beneficial effects on depression. The lead study author said that, "Screening at-risk depressed patients for vitamin D deficiency and treating it appropriately may be an easy and cost-effective adjunct to mainstream therapies for depression."

 

Eating Vegetables Reduces the Risk of Pancreatic Disease

A recent piece of research published in the journal, Gut, examined 80,000 adults in Sweden in order to determine if an imbalance in antioxidant levels, associated with dietary factors, increased the risk of developing acute pancreatitis. Pancreatitis refers to inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas releases hormones as well as digestive enzymes to break down food. However, these enzymes can sometimes activate inside the pancreas, and start to digest the gland itself. Symptoms of acute pancreatitis can be severe and potentially life threatening. Earlier studies have associated acute pancreatitis with excessive production of free radicals. In addition, levels of antioxidant enzymes, which remove free radicals, are increased during an attack. The consumption of vegetables, which contain antioxidants, appear to assist in the free radical removal process and while consuming more vegetables appeared to reduce the risk of acute pancreatitis in this study, consuming more fruit did not, possibly because the fructose in fruit offsets the benefits of the antioxidants that they contain. According to the researchers, individuals who consumed more than 4 servings of vegetables per day were 44% less likely to develop acute pancreatitis than people who ate 1 serving per day and the risk of developing acute pancreatic decreased by 71% among drinkers and by 51% among those who were overweight.

 

Dietary Fibre Keeps Gut Bugs Happy

A recent University of Illinois study has shown that dietary fibre promotes a shift in the gut toward different types of beneficial bacteria. The microbes that live in the gut, scientists now believe, can support a healthy gastrointestinal tract as well as affect our susceptibility to conditions as varied as type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. As these microbes ferment fibre in the intestine, short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites are produced, resulting in many health benefits. In the study, 20 healthy men with an average fibre intake of 14 grams per day were given snack bars to supplement their diet. The control group received bars that contained no fibre; a second group ate bars that contained 21 grams of polydextrose, which is a common fibre food additive; and a third group received bars with 21 grams of soluble corn fibre. On days 16-21, faecal samples were collected from the participants, and researchers used the microbial DNA they obtained to identify which bacteria were present. This information was then cross-referenced with the known health benefits associated with those specific microbes to generate the conclusions arrived at by the researchers.

 

Stress Can Help The Immune System

Chronic stress is known to have a suppressive effect on the immune system. But, a new study on rats published in the Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology and conducted by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and two other universities, adds weight to evidence that immune responsiveness is heightened by the so-called "fight or flight" response and that short-term stress actually stimulates immune activity. The immune system plays a vital role in protecting our bodies against diseases, fighting infection and in healing wounds. According to the researchers, the findings describe the body's finely coordinated system to detect danger and prepare to protect itself. The lead researcher stated that, "You don't want to keep your immune system on high alert at all times. So nature uses the brain, the organ most capable of detecting an approaching challenge, to signal that detection to the rest of the body by directing the release of stress hormones. Without them, a lion couldn't kill, and an impala couldn't escape."

 

Spinach Power

If you’re old enough to remember the cartoon character Popeye, you might recall that he used spinach to boost his strength in times of crisis. Popeye wasn’t the first to think of this and it’s been known for some time that spinach is associated with an increase in muscle strength. Recent research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has found that nitrate, found naturally in spinach and several other vegetables such as beetroot and to a lesser degree in lettuce, significantly increases muscle strength. In the study, the researchers placed nitrate directly into the drinking water of a group of mice for seven days and then compared their muscle strength to a control group. The amount of nitrate given to the mice was roughly the equivalent to that which a human would obtain by consuming 200 to 300 grams of fresh spinach or 2 to 3 beetroots a day. The researchers found that after 7 days, the mice given nitrate had significantly stronger muscles than mice in the control group. The research team found that the nitrate mice had higher concentrations of two different proteins, CASQ1 and DHPR, found naturally in the muscles. These proteins are used for storing and releasing calcium, which is essential for making muscles contract and this may explain the greater muscle strength seen in the mice given nitrite.

 

 

November/December 2012

Research

 

Vitamin C Intake, Heart Disease, Stroke and Cancer
There are things called RDA’s or Recommended Daily Allowances listed for most human nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. They’re also occasionally called RDI’s (Recommended Daily Intakes) and indicate the quantities that our bodies require of these nutrients for normal health. These are usually set by government bodies after the subject has been discussed with dieticians and medical specialists, and the quantities recommended often vary from country to country. They’re normally very conservative and decided upon based on two assumptions- that we can get most of what we need from the food and drink that we consume, and that we all have the same level of need for these nutrients at all times. I, and most other people working in this area, have large problems with both of these assumptions. The nutrient levels in our foods are a long way from being what they should be, and the need for these nutrients vary from person to person and from week to week. Breakthroughs do occasionally occur in this area though that give some of us hope that RDA’s will one day be revised to better reflect the needs of the people using them. The latest breakthrough occurred with the recent publication of research showing a need to increase the RDA for Vitamin C. The researchers, writing in the journal, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, say there's compelling evidence that the RDA for Vitamin C should be raised to 200 milligrams per day for adults, up from its current levels in the United States of 75 milligrams for women and 90 for men. The reason that they’re suggesting this is that a large body of evidence now exists to show that higher levels of Vitamin C could help to reduce the chronic diseases that today kill most people in the developed world, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and the underlying issues that lead to them, such as high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, poor immune response and atherosclerosis. I personally think that an RDA of 200mg a day of Vitamin C is still too low, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

 

Reduce Stress to Relieve MS
In what looks like good news for those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), US researchers writing in the journal, Neurology, have discovered that a weekly stress management program for people with MS prevented the development of new brain lesions, which often precede a flare-up of MS symptoms, like pain, loss of vision or .loss of the use of limbs. This discovery is important because these brain lesions are a marker of the disease's activity in the brain. 121 people suffering from MS were enrolled in the study, which ran for 26 weeks and the stress management program involved training that helped patients to more realistically evaluate potentially stressful events but also involved meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

Relax and Get Older Later

There’s lots to be gained by avoiding anxiety. Researchers from the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School in the US writing in the journal, PLoS ONE, have identified yet another. Using data from over 5000 women aged between 42 and 69 years, the research suggests that middle-aged and older women who experience high levels of a common form of anxiety known as phobic anxiety, such as being unreasonably fearful of crowds and heights, are more likely to carry a risk factor tied to premature aging: The effects of this form of anxiety are such that it appears to add the equivalent to another six years of age compared to a person with no phobic symptoms.

 

Breathe Easier with D

In yet another addition to the things we currently know about Vitamin D, scientists at Harvard Medical School recently released research showing that children with asthma who have particularly poor lung function, often have a deficiency of this vitamin. These findings were derived from the observations of over one thousand 5 to 12 year old children diagnosed with asthma and it was shown that those children who were deficient in Vitamin D had a much lower response to conventional inhaled steroid medication than those children who were Vitamin D replete. The authors of the study didn’t go so far as to recommend that children with asthma may benefit from Vitamin D supplementation, but at the very least it’d sensible to have the levels of this vitamin assessed to determine if it’s required.

 

Water Quality and Pregnancy

There’s lots of information around on the things to do and not to do when pregnant, and diet is a significant consideration. Recent research from the Boston University School of Public Health highlights more useful things to know in the form of water quality. What they’ve found is that prenatal and early childhood exposure to the chemical solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE) found in drinking water may be associated with long-term visual impairments, particularly in the area of colour discrimination. The primary sources of tetrachloroethylene are the industries that manufacture it or use it in dry-cleaning, chemical production, rubber manufacturing, heavy equipment manufacturing (for degreasing), electroplating (for degreasing), pulp and paper manufacturing (for de-inking paper), and ink manufacturing. It’s also found in degreasing agents, paint, varnish and lacquer removal agents, aerosol paints, agricultural chemicals, automotive chemicals, furniture polish and cleaners, hard surface cleaners, rug, carpet and upholstery cleaners, lubricating greases and oils, thinners, textile finishes, typewriter correction fluids and waterproofing compounds.

 

Low Fat Diet and Menopause
In case you haven’t seen it, there’s an entire medical journal dedicated to research on menopause, which is a great idea. In a recent edition of this journal, Menopause, workers from a Californian medical research institute called Kaiser Permanente, report that weight loss that occurs in conjunction with a low-fat, high fruit and vegetable diet may help to reduce or eliminate hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause. This builds on previous work done in this area and was based on a large amount of data was that collected over 5 years from more than 17 thousand women. It specifically found that  women who used a diet low in fat and high in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, who had menopausal symptoms, who were not taking hormone replacement therapy, and who lost weight (10 or more pounds or 10 or more percent of their baseline body weight) were more likely to reduce or eliminate hot flashes and night sweats after one year, compared to those in a control group who maintained their weight.

Alcohol and Bone Loss

You could be forgiven if you’re confused about the advice on alcohol consumption for humans. Some sources say that we should be consuming a certain amount, some say that this should only be in the form of red wine, others say that the best level to consume is zero. My own view on this is that unless there’s a medical reason not to use it, then alcohol use in moderation is fine (with a preference for red wine). However, scientists at the Oregon State University had more to say on this recently in the journal, Menopause. What they’ve concluded after reviewing the bone density of 40 menopausal women and cross-referencing this with their diet and lifestyle histories, is that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle may benefit women's bone health, lowering their risk of developing osteoporosis.

 

Alcohol and Arthritis

There’s lots of different information coming through the medical journals that indicates that in many cases, alcohol consumption isn’t as bad for humans as it was once thought to be. The British Medical Journal carried an article in a recent edition outlining the benefits, particularly for women with rheumatoid arthritis, of alcohol consumption. According to the study results, taken over 10 years from over 34 thousand Swedish women, the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women with an alcohol consumption of over three alcoholic drinks per week, for a minimum period of 10 years, is 50% lower than that of women who drink no alcohol.  However, the researchers warn that the impact of higher alcohol doses on the risk of rheumatoid arthritis has not yet been established.

 

Cranberries For Urinary Tract Infections

Cranberries have been a medicine of choice for naturopaths in the treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections for a very long time. As always, it’s good to see these kinds of practices validated by orthodox medicine and in the case of cranberries, and there’s now a significant body of evidence for their use in this area. In recent research that adds to this, scientists from the National Taiwan University Hospital and National Taiwan University College of Medicine, writing in Archives of Internal Medicine, presented the results of a review of most of the more robust clinical trials that had been carried out on the use of cranberries for urinary tract infections and found that (with some cautions regarding the quality of the evidence they studied) the research  supported the notion that the consumption of cranberry-containing products may protect against urinary tract infections in certain populations.

 

High Fat Diets Associated with Poor Sleep

There are lots of reasons why a diet that’s high in saturated fats is bad for you. Scientists from the Tubningen University, the University of Lubek in Germany, and Uppsala University in Sweden, presenting research findings at a recent meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, have given us another one. They’ve been doing work with mice to show that prolonged exposure to a high-fat diet reduces the quality of sleep in rats. Using radio-telemetry, the scientists measured 24-hour sleep and waking states after rats consumed a high fat diet for 8 weeks. Compared to rats that consumed a standard laboratory chow, the rats on the high-fat diet slept more but sleep was fragmented. The increased sleep time of the rats on the high-fat diet occurred mainly during the normally active phase of the day, resembling excessive daytime sleepiness observed in obese humans and while these results have yet to be duplicated in human research, they indicate the possibility that the situation will be similar in humans.

Coffee- Good, Bad or In Between?

The news on coffee is mixed. Historically, the view has been that coffee is generally bad for us. However, a number of different studies have been done over the last decade or so on the potential benefits of this substance and while this isn’t an ad for coffee, the results make interesting reading. Many of the benefits attributed to coffee may have more to do with its antioxidant levels than anything else.

 

A 2005 trial from the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants who reported drinking more than 6 or 7 cups of coffee a day were 35% less likely to have type 2 diabetes, compared with those who reported drinking under 2 cups a day. For those drinking 4 to 6 cups a day, the risk was reduced by 28%. This was echoed in 2009, when an international study led by researchers in Australia, reviewed 18 studies covering nearly 458,000 people and found that for every extra daily cup of coffee consumed, there was a 7% reduction in risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

 

In 2007, and Italian study that used a pooled analysis of ten other studies that included observations from over 2,200 people with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), reported that among coffee drinkers overall, there was a 41% reduction in the risk of developing HCC compared to those who never drank coffee. HCC is the most common liver cancer and accounts for about 90% of them. But the researchers concluded that while they found this link, they could not say if it was coffee that was reducing the risk of liver cancer, or if it was that people with liver cancer tended to drink less coffee for other reasons. Again in 2008, a study involving over 60,000 Finns followed for an average of 19 years, confirmed that higher coffee consumption was linked to lower risk of developing liver cancer.


In 2008, workers writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine released the results of a 20 year study that found that regularly consuming up to 6 cups of coffee per day (containing around 100 mg caffeine per 8 oz cup) was not linked with increased deaths in either men or women, from any cause, including death from cancer, or from cardiovascular disease.

 

In 2009, researchers in Finland and Sweden released the results of a study that followed over 1,400 people over 20 years, finding that those who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day in their midlife years had a 65% lower chance of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease compared with those who reported drinking no coffee at all or only occasionally.

 

A 2009 US study and a 2011 Swedish study showed that coffee consumption may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Further work in 2012 in the US found that drinking coffee in moderation, may also protect slightly against heart failure.

 

Other research released in 2010 found that coffee drinkers were less likely to be hospitalized for heart rhythm disturbances than non-coffee drinkers. The researchers examined data on more than 130,000 health plan members and found that people who reported drinking between 1 and 3 cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of developing these diseases than non-drinkers, regardless of other risk factors.

 

In 2010, workers from the University of Lisbon, writing in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease Portugal, presented an analysis of 26 studies that suggests an inverse association between coffee drinking and the chance of developing Parkinson's disease. They found that for every increase of 300 mg per day in caffeine intake, there was a drop of 24% in the relative risk of developing Parkinson's. Among those who regularly drank two to three cups of coffee a day, there was a 25% lower chance of developing the disease compared to non-coffee drinkers. However, among women coffee drinkers only, this fell to 14%. In another 2010 study on caffeine and the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease, published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease by researchers from the University of North Dakota in the US suggest that the connection between coffee and this disorder might be something to do with a protective effect that caffeine has in preserving the blood-brain-barrier.

 

In 2011, researchers working at the Harvard School of Public Health, writing in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, presented data from a large body of research called the Nurses' Health Study published findings that showed that coffee drinkers who consumed more than 4 cups a day had a 25% lower risk of developing endometrial cancer.

Another 2011 study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men who regularly drink coffee appear to have a lower risk of developing an aggressive and lethal form of prostate cancer. They also found the lower risk was the same for caffeinated as it was for decaffeinated coffee.

 

A 2011 study by workers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that women who drank coffee had a lower incidence of breast cancer than women who rarely drank coffee, although when they took into account other risk factors, including lifestyle and age, they found the lower risk was only measurable for estrogen-negative breast cancer.

In February 2012, researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine who did a syidy on mice, found that mice given decaffeinated coffee showed a reduced risk for dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders, which was interesting because it indicates that the benefits that may be gained from the use of coffee may be related to something other than the caffeine in the coffee.

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In June 2012, researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Miami, published a paper describing how they monitored the memory and thinking processes of 124 people, aged 65 to 88, and found all those with higher blood levels of caffeine (mostly from drinking coffee) avoided the onset of Alzheimer's disease in the 2-4 year follow up. This was even true of those who had mild cognitive impairment; a precursor of Alzheimer's.

In a final 2012 paper published in the journal, Cancer Research, a review of the lifestyle habits and health issues experienced by 110,000 people in the US, found that the more caffeine there was in their diets, the lower their risk of developing basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

 

Babies Breath Easier with Pets

While it may seem counter-intuitive from some angles, researchers from the Kuopio University Hospital, Finland, writing in the journal. Pediatrics, report that babies who are in close contact with dogs or cats during their first twelve months of life were found to enjoy better health and were less likely to suffer from respiratory infections, than those without any pets in the house or no close contact with these animals. These researchers came to this conclusion after an analysis of the health and lifestyle histories from 397 children from birth up to 12 months of age. The study found an overall reduction in the susceptibility to illness, and the more contact there was, the lower the morbidity. In particular, the babies were found to have fewer infections and it appeared that the protective effect from dogs was greater than that from cats.

 

 

October/November 2012

Research

 

Choline During Pregnancy May Prevent Stress-Related Problems In Kids

Choline has been used as a dietary tool by healthcare practitioners for quite a while. It has a beneficial impact on the functions of the adrenal glands, the cardiovascular system, as well as the nervous and reproductive systems. Scientists from New York’s Cornell University, writing in the FASEB Journal, have documented another potential benefit provided by this valuable nutrient. This research suggests that choline supplementation in pregnant women lowers cortisol in the foetus by changing epigenetic expression of genes involved in cortisol production and by doing this it reduces the potential for the development of stress related disease after birth. Epigenetic changes affect how a gene functions, even if the gene itself is not changed. Lowering cortisol is important as high levels of cortisol are linked to a wide range of problems ranging from stress, mental health issues, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders. The participants in the 12 week study, involving pregnant women in their third trimester, consumed either a control diet providing 480 mg choline per day, a level that approximates current dietary recommendations, or the treatment diet which provided 930 mg of choline per day. Maternal blood, cord blood and placenta tissue were collected to measure the blood levels of cortisol, the expression levels of genes that regulate cortisol, and the number of methyl groups attached to the DNA of the cortisol regulating genes (the epigenetic changes). Those from mothers who consumed the higher levels of choline showed reduced levels of cortisol.

 

Exercise Gives Heart Failure Patients a Lift

It’s hard to oversell the benefits of regular exercise and scientists writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently released findings confirming yet another potential benefit, in this case for people suffering from heart failure. Heart failure and many other serious illnesses are often complicated by depression and in this study, the authors enrolled over 2000 stable patients that were being treated for heart failure at 82 different medical centres in the U.S., Canada, and France to participate in the randomized control trial. The experts measured the patients' depressive symptoms by a questionnaire. The patients were chosen randomly to receive either supervised aerobic exercise (goal of 90 min/week for months 1-3 followed by home exercise with a goal of greater than or equal to 120 min/week for months 4-12) or to education and usual guideline-based heart failure care. After 12 months, it was shown that the patients participating in the exercise program had a statistically significant reduction in depression when compared to those who didn’t exercise.

 

Raisin Energy

Energy gels or chews are fast becoming the popular choice as a source of carbohydrates for runners and other endurance athletes. As an alternative, raisins provide a good alternative to sport chews or gels as they also provide fibre and micronutrients, such as potassium and iron and are free from artificial flavour or colours. As an added bonus, raisins are the most economical dried fruit according to the United States Department of Agriculture, so they are cost effective and convenient for use during exercise. In a recent study designed to investigate this, researchers from the from California-Davis University writing in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition performed three randomized trials on runners, with a 7-day break between trials. The participants were assigned to consume raisins, chews or water as a supplement. In the first trial, they depleted their glycogen (fuel reserve) stores in an 80-minute (75%VO2max) run followed by a 5k time-trial. The trial was repeated twice with a 7-day interval in between trials. The results showed that the participants who consumed raisins or sports chews were on average 1 minute faster in the 5k run compared with those who drank just water.

 

Live Longer with D

Over the last few years there’s been lots of good research done on Vitamin D. Some of the recent highlights are reported in various areas on this page and scientists from the Oregon State University have just published more on this in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. What they found was that older adults - especially those who are frail, have a much greater risk of death when their Vitamin D levels are low. The study used data from more than 4000 US adults older than 60 and divided them into four groups, depending on their Vitamin D levels. The low group had levels less than 50 nanograms per millilitre; the highest group had vitamin D of 84 or higher. The low group had the highest mortality rate and the highest had the lowest rate. The authors of this study at Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute recommends adults take 2,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D daily. The US dietary intake guidelines advise 600 IU for most adults, and 800 for those older than 70. Here in Australia the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D is 200IU for those under 60 years of age and 600IU for those over 60. It would seem from this study and other research done on this vitamin that these recommendations may be a little low.

 

Bugs Protect the Skin

Since bird flu and several other viral diseases have become more widely publicised, people are washing their skin more than ever. While it’s good policy not to give viruses and other potential agents of infection too much of a free ride, it’s possible that some of us may be keeping our skin too clean. Researchers from the US National Institutes of Health reported recently in the journal Science that the bacteria that normally inhabit the skin have a significant role to play in protecting us against infection from potentially dangerous micro-organisms. To determine this they colonized germ-free mice (mice bred with no naturally occurring microbes in the gut or skin) with a bacteria normally found on human skin (Staphylococcus epidermidis). The team observed that colonizing the mice with this one species of good bacteria enabled an immune cell in the mouse skin to produce a cell-signalling molecule needed to protect against harmful microbes. The researchers subsequently infected both colonized and non-colonized germ-free mice with a parasite. Mice that were not colonized with the bacteria did not mount an effective immune response to the parasite; mice that were colonized did.

 

Pregnancy, Low-Protein Diets and Hypertension

There’s lots of data around now that highlights the influence that a mother’s diet has on the health of her child in later life. In a recent addition to this, scientists from the University of Texas released news of work done with rats showing that a low protein diet in pregnancy may increase the risk of the child developing hypertension in adult life. Protein restriction increases plasma testosterone levels. Elevated testosterone levels are associated with pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia and polycystic ovarian syndrome in humans, and emerging evidence suggests that testosterone may play a role in foetal programming for hypertension by reducing the activity of an enzyme that inactivates testosterone, allowing more testosterone to reach the foetus.

 

Tap Water May Not Be So Smart 

If you’re one of the people drinking tap water that’s been treated with fluoride, it may be useful to be aware of research from Harvard University published recently in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. This research suggests that fluoride may lower IQ, and adds to doubt already cast on the public health benefits of its inclusion in water supplies. The researchers involved in this study performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous research to examine the effects of increased fluoride exposure and delayed neurobehavioral development and as a result made the statement that, "our results support the possibility of adverse effects of fluoride exposures on children's neurodevelopment." The paper also states that according to the US Environment Protection Agency, fluoride is a chemical "with substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity".

 

High Sodium and Low Calcium

Sodium is one of several essential elements that our bodies need to function. Without it we have a very limited future. As with most things though, we can have too much of it and this is the case for people with many different illnesses from hypertension, PMT, cataracts and lots of other problems that can be exacerbated by excessive amounts of sodium. It’s been known for some time that excess sodium is also associated with kidney stones and osteoporosis but the reason why this happens has, up until now, been a mystery. Scientists from the University of Alberta writing in the American Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology may have come up with the answer. It seems that both calcium and sodium are regulated by the same molecule in the body. When sodium intake becomes too high, the body gets rid of sodium via the urine, taking calcium with it, which depletes calcium stores in the body. High levels of calcium in the urine lead to the development of kidney stones, while inadequate levels of calcium in the body lead to thin bones and osteoporosis.

 

Lights Out for a Lift

Sunlight, day and night light cycles, and the way our bodies work are all connected and scientists are constantly verifying these connections. A team from Ohio State University writing in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry, recently came up with moire evidence of another connection.  What they’ve confirmed is that chronic exposure to artificial light at night may play a role in the rising rates of depression. They’ve also found that depression from this cause can be reversed simply by returning to a standard light-dark cycle over a 2 week period. So for the people who stay up late in front of a television or computer, some of the harmful effects that this can cause can be corrected just by going back to a regular light-dark cycle and minimizing their exposure to artificial light at night.

 

Salt and Stomach Cancer

Salt is essential for lots of the normal functions carried out within the human body. Consuming too little can be a bad thing but so can consuming too much. A high salt intake in some people has been found to aggravate or increase the risk of hypertension, which in itself is a risk factor for stroke and heart disease, and salt is also associated with osteoporosis and kidney disease. Lots of research has been done in this area over the last few decades and in a recent addition to this, cancer researchers in the UK released data that links salt to stomach cancer. What they’ve found is a statistically significant connection between high salt intake (more than 6 grams per day) and a risk increase of approximately 14% above what would normally be expected.

 

Live Longer with Antioxidants

One of the most popular theories doing the rounds at the moment regarding why we age is the accumulation of oxygen “radicals” in our bodies. Oxygen radicals are chemically reactive molecules that can damage cellular components such as fats, proteins and nucleic acids, resulting in "oxidative stress." The possible link between oxidative stress and aging has led to the proliferation of antioxidant products ranging from dietary supplements to anti-aging creams. In recent research published in the journal Molecular Cell, University of Michigan researchers used worms to find out whether there was any truth to this proposed link. In doing so, they found something quite remarkable, which was that the exposure to antioxidants in early life led to a significant increase in life span. It’ll be interesting to see if further research confirms that this discovery has a parallel in humans.

 

Vitamin E and Liver Cancer

Vitamin E does some great things and performs several essential functions in the body. Chinese scientists writing in a recent edition of theJournal of the National Cancer Institute have contributed to our knowledge of Vitamin E by adding to work done over the last 15 years that shows a connection between this vitamin and liver cancer. To do this, the researchers analysed the diet and health data from nearly 133 thousand people. What they found was an inverse dose-response relationship that showed that consuming adequate levels of Vitamin E in the diet or via supplements, was strongly associated with a reduction in the risk of developing liver cancer.

 

Ancient Medicine

It’s been well documented that herbal medicine has been used by humans for a long time, its use dating back in China for example for at least 5000 years. This history has now been extended significantly thanks to the work of scientists from universities in Spain, Australia and the UK writing in the German journal Naturwissenschaften recently. This team managed to analyse the calcified food deposits (dental calculus) found around the teeth of Neanderthals living in caves in Northern Spain between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago. In these deposits they found evidence of the use of medicinal plants that were probably chamomile or yarrow.

 

Obesity, Vitamin D and Diabetes Risk

In most cases Vitamin D is thought of as a vitamin that needs sunlight to work and it’s necessary for bone formation, and that’s the extent of most people’s knowledge of it. Lots of research has been done on this valuable nutrient over the last couple of decades that shows that it’s capable of very much more than this. Recently, scientists from Drexel University reporting in the journal Diabetes Care have added to this by confirming a link between obesity, low levels of Vitamin D and an increase in the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. It’s long been known that obesity can increase the risk of diabetes by around 20 times, but this team, using data from nearly 6,000 people, found that when obesity is coupled with low levels of Vitamin D, the level of risk jumps to a 32 fold increase.

 

Couch Potatoes Might As Well Be Smoking

It’s probably obvious from this column that I’m a big believer in exercise. There are lots of reasons for this belief and just about every function of the body and mind gets enormous benefit from regular exercise. To find out exactly how much we benefit isn’t an easy thing to do but US researchers writing in the Lancet recently have come close to this by examining the increase in potential fatalities from coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colon and breast cancer associated with low levels of exercise. What they found was that people not spending at least 150 minutes a week doing moderate exercise (walking for 30 minutes 5 times a week), is causing from approximately 6% to 10% of deaths from these four conditions. They also reported findings confirmed in 2008 that showed that a lack of exercise was responsible for the deaths of 5.3 million of the 57 million people who died that year globally. In addition, the researchers compared this to the increased mortality from smoking tobacco, and found that the mortality increase from this was pretty much the same as the mortality increase associated with low levels of exercise.

 

September/October 2012

Research

 

Walnuts and Reproduction

In the never ending search for aids to human reproduction, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles have turned to walnuts and in doing so have found a friend. What they discovered was that healthy men in their 20’s and 30’s who ate at least 75g of walnuts a day exhibited a significant increase in the vitality, motility and structure of their sperm, as well as fewer chromosomal abnormalities, compared to men who did not eat walnuts. The study ran for 12 weeks and while they’re not completely sure, the scientists suggested that these benefits may be due to the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the nuts.

 

Red Wine May Help To Keep You Standing

Mention has been made in earlier entries in this page of the benefits of a compound found in red wine, nuts and dark skinned fruits, known as resveratrol. Research presented at a recent American Chemical Society conference claimed that experiments using this substance with mice exhibited improved mobility and a fewer falls. Old and young mice were given either resveratrol or a placebo over a period of 8 weeks and tested for their ability to remain upright. By the fourth week into the trial it was shown that the older mice given resveratrol performed as well as the younger mice in mobility and balance tests, while those given the placebo performed as old mice would be expected to perform.

 

Turmeric and Viruses

Modern science can be very good at validating the therapeutic use of natural products and often what it’s validating is a capacity it’s been known for for thousands of years. This has occurred recently with Turmeric, a culinary herb that’s been used in India for a very long time not only as an ingredient in curry but as a means of fighting colds and flu. Scientists writing in the Journal of Biological Chemistry released research recently showing that curcumin, one of the major componants of turmeric, may provide a significant boost to our defence capacity against number of viruses including things such as Rift Valley Fever virus and several other viruses that are associated with serious and often life threatening diseases.

 

Easy on the Heat

Research from the University of Southern California and Cancer Prevention Institute of California found that eating red meat cooked at high temperatures, especially pan-fried red meat, may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer by as much as 40 percent. For “pan-fried” we can also read, barbeque. Researchers cross-referenced prostate cancer development data from nearly 2000 American men with their eating and cooking habits and found that any cooking of any type of meat that involves this sort of heat appears to be implicated. The research showed that men who ate more than 1.5 servings of pan-fried red meat per week increased their risk of prostate cancer by 30 percent and that men who ate more than 2.5 servings of red meat cooked at high temperatures were 40 percent more likely to have prostate cancer. When considering specific types of red meats involved here, hamburgers rather than steak were linked to the highest increase in the risk of prostate cancer. The reason for the connection between these factors is still obscure but it’s thought to be associated with DNA-damaging carcinogens, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), formed during the cooking of red meat and poultry. HCAs are formed when sugars and amino acids are cooked at higher temperatures for longer periods of time. Other carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed during the grilling or smoking of meat. When fat from the meat drips on an open flame, the rising smoke leaves deposits of PAHs on the meat. There is strong experimental evidence that HCAs and PAHs contribute to certain cancers, including prostate cancer.

 

Couch Drivers are Clumsier

In case we needed to be told this, a study published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Human Biology shows that children who are sedentary for over three-quarters of their time, watching TV or spending time in front of the computer have up to nine times poorer motor coordination than those children who are active. Researchers collected data from 110 girls and 103 boys, between the ages of 9 and 10 years, from 13 urban Portuguese elementary schools, and objectively measured the children's sedentary behaviour and physical activity over 5 consecutive days. The data showed that the children spent an average of 75.6% of their time being sedentary and that it doesn’t take much of a shift in behaviour to increase the risk factors. Girls who spent 77.3% or more time being sedentary had a 4 to 5 times higher risk of not having normal motor coordination compared with girls that were more active, yet the risk for boys who were sedentary for over 76% is 5 to 9 times higher of having normal motor coordination compared with boys who are active.

 

Meditation Relieves Loneliness

It’s difficult to overstate the negative health effects of loneliness, particularly for the elderly. Meditation has been used for a long time as a means of relieving loneliness and a recent study published in the journal, Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, has gone some way towards providing scientific validation for this practice. Researchers enrolled 40 adults aged between 55 and 85 and randomly assigned them to either a mindfulness meditation group or a control group that did not meditate, for 8 weeks. All the participants were evaluated at the start and the end of the study using an established loneliness scale. In addition, the researchers took blood samples at the beginning and the end of the study to measure gene expression and levels of any inflammation present in their bodies, to assess the effects of meditation on the development of inflammatory diseases. The results of the study showed a strong association between meditation and a reduction in loneliness, and a reduction in the potential development of inflammatory as well as cardiovascular diseases.

 

Gut Bugs, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

Naturopaths have long been proponents of the use of probiotics; friendly gut micro-organisms such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and others, as a means of dealing with various illness and assisting in the return of good health. Recent research published in PLOS ONE, the online journal from the US Public Library of Science, adds to its already well established scientific validation. The research involved the analysis of the bacteria in faecal samples of 310 members of the Old Order Amish community in the US, using a process that enabled researchers to identify a marker gene that serves as a something similar to a bar code for each type of bacteria. Participants in the study ranged from lean to overweight to obese; some of the obese participants also had features of metabolic syndrome. Researchers found a strong association between 26 specific bacteria and obesity, inflammation and metabolic syndrome. The use of probiotics may play a role in controlling the proliferation of these specific bacteria.

 

Mediterraneans Have Good Bones

There are numerous examples of the benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet and scientists writing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism have identified another one. The traditional Mediterranean diet tends to be high in fruits and vegetables, monosaturated fat and dietary fibre, and low in saturated fats. It also uses liberal amounts of olive oil and it’s this last factor that has been shown to increase the levels of osteocalcin, a protein produced by bone building cells called osteoblasts, as well as other bone-formation factors that are important in the prevention of osteoporosis.

 

Remember the Cocoa

A new study published online in the journal, Hypertension, brings us the good news that cognitive function in elderly people with early memory decline can be improved by the regular consumption of cocoa, or more specifically by the dietary flavonols contained within it. The improvements in cognitive function found in the study were seen over a relatively short period of time; and, while further research is required to confirm these findings, this provides encouraging evidence that a natural product may be helpful in dealing with this issue.

 

The Indirect Effects of Exercise on Cancer

The benefits of exercise for everybody are obvious and research has found that those benefits extend to most people with mild or even severe illness. This has been highlighted again recently in two reviews of all of the research carried out to date on the effects of exercise such as walking, cycling, yoga, Qigong, resistance training and strength training carried out by people who are undergoing or have completed treatment for cancer. These 2 reviews looked at the results from 96 individual studies that comprised data from over 8000 people. The results show that exercise can improve health-related quality of life for people with cancer. In addition, results from both reviews showed that exercise improved social functioning and tiredness. Benefits were also seen in the physical well-being of participants undergoing treatment and in self-esteem, emotional well-being, sleep, anxiety and pain in people who had completed treatment.

 

Depressurise with Cocoa

Mention has been made elsewhere on this page of the benefits of the group of componants in cocoa called flavonols. A review of the effects of cocoa on blood pressure was carried out recently and once again, the news is good. The flavonols that appear to be useful in reducing the slide into age-related cognitive and memory decline also, according to the review, help to reduce blood pressure. The way that this occurs appears to be via nitric oxide molecules formed by the cocoa flavonols, which cause a relaxation of blood vessels and a corresponding fall in blood pressure.

 

Nutrition and Physical Fitness

Given the vital roles that vitamins and minerals play in our health, it’ll probably come as no surprise that the levels of these nutrients in our blood will have a strong association with our general level of physical fitness. Spanish researchers reporting in the Journal of Applied Physiology recently set out to investigate this with a large group of adolescents and found that blood levels of certain micronutrients were intimately connected with performance in physical fitness tests. For cardio-respiratory fitness, concentrations of iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C in males and beta-carotene and vitamin D in females were associated with VO2max. For muscular fitness, concentrations of iron, vitamin A and vitamin E in males and beta-carotene and vitamin D in females was associated with performing better on the standing long jump test.

 

Kids, Nutrition and Adult IQ

Researchers from the University of Adelaide recently released the results of research that tracked the diets of 7000 children and compared a range of dietary patterns, including traditional and contemporary home-prepared food, ready-prepared baby foods, breastfeeding, and 'discretionary' or junk foods. What they found was that children who were breastfed up to six months and had a healthy diet regularly including foods such as legumes, cheese, fruit and vegetables at 15 and 24 months, had an IQ up to two points higher by age eight than they otherwise would have had. In addition, the children who had a diet regularly involving biscuits, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life had IQs up to two points lower by age eight.

 

Iced Tea, Summer and Kidney Stones

During the warmer weather, iced tea is a popular drink. Unfortunately though, it can cause problems, particularly for males who have a history of kidney stone formation and are dehydrated. The combination of these two factors and iced tea mean that chemicals called oxalates, present in tea, may cause an increase in the formation of kidney stones, many of which are formed from calcium and those same oxalates. If you’re thirsty and have a personal or family history of kidney stone formation, water is a far better choice.

 

Caffeine for Motor Impairment in Parkinson's Disease

Elsewhere on this page you’ll find mention of the benefits of caffeine for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Additional news on this was recently published in the journal, Neurology, and the news is good for people with Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine, which is widely consumed around the world in coffee, tea and soft drinks, may help control aberrant movement in people suffering from Parkinson's. The published study involved 61 people suffering from Parkinson’s disease; half were given a placebo and the other half were given 100mg of caffeine twice a day for 3 weeks and then 200mg twice a day for 3 weeks. The trial ran for 6 weeks and on analysis of the results it was shown that the people who received caffeine supplements experienced an improvement in their motor symptoms over those who received the placebo, specifically in their speed of movement and reduction in stiffness.

 

Calm Mums Have Healthier Kids

There are lots of reasons why the stress levels experienced by pregnant women should be as low as possible. Scientists from the University of Minnesota have reported on another one recently in the FASEB Journal. Using pregnant mice as subjects, they found that that those mice that were exposed to stressful situations had offspring that developed a statistically significant increase in abdominal obesity, and were at higher risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, when compared to the offspring born from calmer mice. These findings have yet to be confirmed in humans but the results from this study tend to indicate that this is something we should certainly be aware of.


August/September 2012

Research


Which D?

For the uninitiated, there are a couple of different types of Vitamin D. There’s Vitamins D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5. D2 (also known as ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholacalciferol) are the common forms used as supplements and D5 is the biologically active form. Vitamin D can be ingested or made by the body from cholesterol but either way, light, specifically UVB, is needed for the vitamin to become active. There’s been some debate about which is the best of the D2 and D3 forms, and recent UK research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has clarified this and has found that our bodies react slightly differently to D2 versus D3 when converting to the active form and the reaction to D3 appears to be superior.

 

Get Up and Ginseng

The powers of ginseng have been known for thousands of years but it’s only recently that scientists have put these powers to the test. Scientists at the cancer centre at the famous Mayo Clinic in the US reported on the results of trials using American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) with people suffering from fatigue related to the treatment of their cancers. For anyone familiar with the actions of this plant it’d probably come as no surprise that when compared to placebo, the people who’d taken the ginseng had a significant reduction in the perceived levels of fatigue, with the added benefit of an absence of side effects. The scientists involved in the study wisely cautioned that while their study produced this result, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all ginsengs will have this property and ginseng preparations made by using ethanol as an extraction solvent may have oestrogenic properties, making them problematic for anyone suffering from active breast cancer.

 

Exercising Restraint

The benefits of exercise are well known but what was less well known is that fact that too much exercise can be less than beneficial. Recent research from the Mayo Clinic in the US has found that while regular exercise is highly effective for the prevention and treatment of many common chronic diseases, the more extreme forms of exercise such as marathons, long distance triathlons and other forms of extended endurance exercise may cause structural changes to the heart and large arteries such as scarring and enlargement, leading to heart injury, heart rhythm disorders and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The article’s authors pointed out that exercising for 30-60 minutes a day provides the greatest benefits and these benefits diminish once this duration is extended.


Keeping it Simple

Popular healthcare journal, the American Journal of Medicine, recently reported on the benefits of sticking to several simple healthy habits as a means of retaining good health and prolonging a healthy life. Regular teeth cleaning is one that seems obvious but the authors of this study were able to show a direct association between this practice and a significant reduction in stroke and heart disease. Also shown was a clear connection between the regular consumption of fish and a significant reduction in colorectal cancer.

 

Antioxidants and Autism

The journal Biological Psychiatry brings us results of research on the use of an antioxidant called N-Acetylcysteine. Scientists using this nutrient with 3 to 12 year old children diagnosed with autism found that it was associated with a marked reduction in the irritability, aggression and repetitive behaviour often experienced by the children suffering from this condition. While this was only a pilot study and larger trials will be required to verify these findings, it’s a significant piece of research as the current pharmaceutical drugs used to control these problems have serious adverse effects and while N-Acetylcysteine has been used for some time by naturopaths treating children with autism, there’s been little research to validate this practice.

 

Early Eating Habits Predict Later Eating Disorders

In rarely performed research, scientists from the US Cincinnati Children’s Hospital have found a way to predict adult women’s eating disorders by monitoring the eating habits of young girls. These scientists followed the eating habits of 800 girls from the age of 9 to 20 years. What they found was that girls whose eating habits were driven by an obsession to be “skinny”, had a higher risk of developing eating habits that were associated with obesity, later in life. Those particularly at risk of this were girls whose obsession was taken to the point of perfectionism. The study overall provides valuable insights for parents, carers and counsellors and serves as a useful predictor of outcomes that can be avoided by some timely guidance.

High Fibre Teens

Most of us probably don’t need to be reminded of the benefits of fibre, but these benefits are generally understood to relate to bowel habits. US researchers writing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism report on the effects of fibre, or a lack of it, in 14-18 year olds. What they found was a strong correlation between a low level of dietary fibre from foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and an increased risk of diabetes, inflammatory diseases and cardiovascular disease, and higher levels of abdominal fat. Of the nearly 600 teenagers surveyed for the report, only about 1% were consuming the recommended daily intake of fibre, leaving much of the rest of the population studied at risk for these diseases.

 

Cherries for Osteoarthritis

Few of us need an excuse to eat cherries and scientists from Oregon Health and Science University have given us a good one, particularly if we have osteoarthritis. A study carried out at this University with 20 women aged 40-70 suffering from inflammatory osteoarthritis found that drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for 3 weeks was associated with a significant reduction in inflammatory markers. In addition, researchers noted that endurance runners who consumed good quantities of tart cherry juice while training experienced less pain than normal.

 

Yet More Reasons to Eat Chocolate

Do we need more? Probably- and here’s another. If you’d like an additional weapon against heart disease apart from the regular diet, smoking, exercise and stress advice, Australian scientists writing in the British Medical Journal suggest you think about dark chocolate. Using mathematic models to predict outcomes and using a group they recruited of 2013 people at risk for heart disease, it seems that regular consumption of dark chocolate (the one with 60-70% cocoa solids) would have been associated with the prevention of 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal stroke or heart attack events per 100,000 people.

Kids Need Zinc

Most naturopaths will include zinc in a prescription for a patient suffering from an infection and researchers in India have provided us with some nice validation for this. In a study published recently in The Lancet, 700 Indian children suffering from a bacterial infection who’d been given antibiotics for it were randomly assigned to receive either 10mg of zinc per day or a placebo and monitored for 21 days. An analysis of the results showed that the use of zinc was associated with a 40% reduction in failure of the antibiotic treatment.

 

Gout Foods

In more validation of routine naturopathic practice, researchers writing in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases have validated the established practice of advising people with gout to avoid the sources of purines; chemicals in some foods that are converted in the body to uric acid that can trigger an attack of gout. To do this, the researchers followed the dietary habits of 633 people suffering from gout for 12 months and mapped these against their gout attacks. After crunching the numbers they found a strong association between these two factors. The foods with the highest levels of these chemicals are kidneys, liver, sardines, anchovies and caviar.

 

Seeing Fish

The list of benefits to be gained from eating fish gets longer every day. In this latest piece of research, published in the journal, Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, scientists from the University of Alberta looked at the capacity of a component in fish oil called Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) to prevent age-related vision loss. This loss is normally associated with the development of a toxin that builds up in the retina as we age and test subjects given DHA demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in the accumulation of this toxin.

 

Mediterraneans Smarter and Healthier

Well, at least those using the Mediterranean diet appear to be. It’s been known for quite a while now that the Mediterranean diet, typically one that’s high in fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, vegetables, water and fruit, is associated with a lower mortality and less chronic illness.  A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the impact of this type of diet on the health and wellbeing of 11,000 Spanish university students over a period of 4 years, after which time the researchers found that participants who stuck more closely to the diet had better physical and mental well-being and a significantly better physical quality of life.


July/August 2012

Research

 

D Keeps You Moving

If you’re one of the people using Vitamin D for its role in the health of bones, you might be happy to learn that as you age, it’ll probably also help to keep you mobile. US research from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Department of Geriatrics and Gerontology has found a strong association between low levels of Vitamin D and mobility limitations and disability, mainly due to its role in muscle strength. They found after analysing the results of a 6 year study of the health and habits of more than 2000 70-79 years olds’, those whose Vitamin D levels were low had a two-fold higher risk of mobility disability and a 30% increased risk of mobility limitations.

 

Too Much Vitamin D?

Too much of a good thing can often become a bad thing and this seems to apply to Vitamin D. While it’s got a vital role to play in bone and muscle health, and the health of the cardiovascular, nervous, digestive and many other systems in the body, researchers at the University of Copenhagen looking at the mortality data from nearly 248,000 Copenhagens have identified an association between high levels of Vitamin D in the blood and an increased general risk of mortality. At this stage, the specific cause for that mortality has yet to be determined but it has been known for some time that an excess of Vitamin D, known as Hypervitaminosis D, is associated with a number of issues such as muscle weakness, diarrhoea, vomiting and headaches.

 

D Stroke

It’s been quite a month for Vitamin D research. In more on this interesting nutrient, a 34 year study, reported in the journal, Stroke, followed the Vitamin D intake history of nearly 8000 45-68 year old Japanese-American men living in Hawaii. After accounting for every possible variable that could influence their calculations, the researchers determined that the men who had the lowest intake of foods that contained high levels of the vitamin had a 22% higher risk of succumbing to cerebral stroke in later life.


Vitamin D Cover-Up

We’re all pretty familiar with the campaign that’s gone on for years now about covering up when we’re out in the sun. Sensible advice since Australia’s one of the world’s leaders in sun-related skin cancers. It seems that the campaign may have become too successful though as research from several sources now indicates that the cover-up has left many of us deficient in Vitamin D, which needs our skin to be exposed to UV-B light from the sun for its activation. This has been noted most recently by organisers of the Sunlight Campaign from the UK National Osteoporosis Society, who are now advising people to spend a few minutes of each day in the sun without sunscreens and encouraging an awareness of the need for regular sun exposure.

Skin Exercises

There are very few chronic health problems that don’t benefit from exercise, but chronic skin diseases may not be the first thing you think of here. Researchers writing in a recent edition of the Archives of Dermatology have been thinking about this and have put some good work together to confirm the connection. They obtained data from over 86,000 women over a 10 year period and analysed heir exercise output and development of psoriasis. After correcting the results for as many external variables as possible, what they found was a strong association between the performance of at least 105-180 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, and a 25-30% reduction in the risk of developing psoriasis.

 

Exercise and ADHD

Exercise clearly has a lot going for it. It’s performance is associated with a reduction in the risk of numerous health problems and a significant improvement in the quality of life. We also know that it has a significant impact on brain and nerve function and US researchers writing in the journal, Neuroscience, recently have added to this knowledge.  A team from Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences set out to determine the effects of exercise on memory in children by analysing observations taken from summer camps in Vermont. From an analysis of these observation they found that the more children with ADHD participated in athletics or team sports events, the better they responded to behavioural intervention therapy for their ADHD.

 

Meal Time

The notion of a circadian rhythm or body clock has been around for about 2500 years and these days there’s a lot of good research that’s been done to confirm it and to confirm lots of its component parts. To add to this, scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, writing in the journal, Cell Metabolism, looked at the effects of restricting feeding times for mice to 8 hours a day, at a time that suiting the circadian rhythm of their digestive organs, to see how their body weights would compare with mice at liberty to eat whenever they felt like it. An analysis of the results showed that the mice on the restricted feeding time were protected against obesity and other metabolic illnesses, far more so than the mice that were free to eat ad lib. This is useful information for anyone looking to lose weight without necessarily eating less.

 

Kudzu for Binge Drinking

There’s no doubt that binge drinking by teenagers and young adults causes serious problems and the strategies currently used to deal with it still have a long way to go before they’ll make any significant progress in curbing it. Scientists at the Harvard Medical School in the US may have provided some hope with the recent release of findings from a study of the use of a compound from the Chinese herbal medicine, Kudzu, with binge drinkers.  10 typical binge drinkers were given a fully-stocked fridge and an environment conducive to binge drinking, and given either a placebo or the herbal compound. They were then let loose on the fridge for 90 minutes, and after a wash-out phase the groups were crossed over, with those who’d received the placebo now given the herbal compound and vice versa. After an analysis of the results it was clear that, when compared to the placebo, the use of the compound from Kudzu was associated with a reduced desire for beer.

 

Don’t Forget the Fat

By now you’re probably familiar with the classification of good and bad fats; the good fat being unsaturated and the bad fat being the saturated. There are lots of sensible reasons for the classification and research from the Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US has confirmed another one. Writing in the Annals of Neurology, they analysed 4 years of data from 6,000 women aged 65 years or more, and confirmed the connection between a diet high in saturated fat and a reduction in cognitive function and memory. The researchers said in part that it wasn’t the volume of fat that was important, but the type of fat.

 

Weight for Pregnancy

Logic tends to indicate that if you’re pregnant, you need to increase your food intake, but a recent report in the British Medical Journal may have you thinking otherwise. UK researchers, analysing the data from over 7,000 women, looked at the impact of diet, exercise, or both on weight gain during pregnancy and any adverse effects on the expectant mother and their unborn baby. What they found was that serious complications such as pre-eclampsia, diabetes and premature birth can be safely reduced even in overweight and obese pregnant women by following a healthy calorie-controlled diet during pregnancy.

 

Sweet, Stupid and Something Fishy

Lots of serious illnesses are linked to sugar intake and our general physical and mental wellbeing doesn’t escape the influence of sugar either. Recent research from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, looked into the effects of dietary sugar on learning capacity and memory. Using rats and their capacity to learn and remember their way through a maze, some were fed a high sugar diet and some a low sugar diet, and their activities in the maze monitored. The rats on the low sugar diet did better in all aspects of the test than the rats on the high sugar diet and this effect by the high sugar diet was significantly mitigated by omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil.


Start with an Egg

Participants at a recent conference on obesity in France were greeted with the news that some breakfasts are better at helping you to feel full than others. The scientists from Pennington, Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana presenting this work, were able to show that people who had egg proteins for breakfast had the feelings of hunger delayed far more than people who’d consumed wheat protein in a regular ready-to-eat breakfast cereal. In addition, because the egg protein breakfast was associated with reduced hunger, people who used it instead of a wheat based breakfast tended to want to eat less at lunch.

 

Waist to Height Ratio Better Than Body Mass Index

While at the same French conference on obesity, the findings of more weighty research were presented, this time on whether waist to height ratios (WTHR) provide a more realistic indicator of obesity or weight status than the more generally used Body mass Index or BMI. The BMI is often used as a partial predictor for the development of cardiovascular disease or diabetes and to test the theory that WHTR is superior to BMI for this purpose, the health details of 300,000 people were tracked for WTHR and BMI and their illness development and on analysis, the superiority of the WTHR as a more reliable predictor for these disorders was confirmed.

 

Soaking Soy

There’s been lots of interest over the last decade or so in unravelling the health benefits of soy. For several decades it’s been known that it contains a component called Bowman-Birk Protease Inhibitor (BBI), which has been shown to possess anti-cancer properties, particularly against breast, colon and prostate cancer. This information hasn’t made it very far past the research labs because getting BBI out of soy beans is a somewhat complicated process. At least it was until research was published recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. What was shown here was that simply soaking soy beans overnight in water, at a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius, causes BBI to be very successfully liberated, allowing the kitchen scientist access to this valuable compound.

 

 

June /July 2012

Research

 

Weighting for Sleep

If you’ve been dieting and exercising without success and you’re looking for the missing link to weight loss, French scientists at the University of Strasbourg may be able to help. It seems weight gain is associated with any damage or disruption of a gene that’s responsible for the proper regulation of our internal body clock. While this doesn’t point to a direct connection yet, it does indicate that there’s an association between adequate night-time sleep and body weight regulation.

 

Sleeping for Weight

As an extension to the article referred to above, researchers at the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Centre recently put the notion of a sleep and weight association to the test. They compared the bodyweight characteristics of over 1000 human twins and found that the twin who routinely slept longer weighed less; sleeping for more than 9 hours a night minimised the genetic potential for being overweight, and sleeping for less than 7 hours maximised this potential.

 

Exercise Wins

In a recent edition of the scientific journal, Circulation, researchers described the outcomes of research done on aerobic exercise and its effects of age-related muscle wasting, muscle strength and inflammation. The research compared the effects of exercise in people suffering from heart failure with a similar group undergoing no exercise, and exercise and no exercise groups drawn from healthy volunteers. The results from the study confirmed that regular sessions of aerobic exercise, even in people with heart failure, lead to muscle gain, increased muscle strength and a reduction in inflammation.

 

Of Bees and Men

Naturopaths have been banging on about the benefits of propolis for quite a while and recently a paper published in the science journal Cancer Prevention Research provides possible evidence for one of them. While human trials have yet to confirm the findings, initial research indicates that a compound found in propolis has the capacity to halt the proliferation of prostate tumours.


Zinc for a Cold

It’s long been recognised that zinc is one of several key nutrients that can be relied on to shorten the duration of a cold. It’s not normally used in isolation for this but a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has summarised the results of a number of research studies and confirmed that while they were overly enthusiastic about the quality of the studies, they did indicated that when compared to placebo, zinc, in isolation did reduce the duration of cold symptoms.


Sports & Energy Drinks Won’t Help you Smile

The growing popularity of sports and energy drinks, sometimes as a replacement for water, has led to a closer look at the implications of this phenomenon.  Researchers in the journal, General Dentistry, noted the acidic nature of these drinks and have reminded us that acids erode tooth enamel, and once this occurs, tooth decay is just around the corner. In fact, what was reported was that using 4 of these drinks per day for 5 days did actually produce visible dental decay and that if people must use these drinks, their mouths should be thoroughly washed out immediately after using them. It was also noted that tooth brushing after using one of these drinks should be avoided as it promotes the decay caused by the drinks.


Would you like Pepper with That?

Black pepper has a long history of use in Eastern medicine for a range of health problems and a recent article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry highlights some interesting research that’s been done on it. Piperine, the substance that gives pepper its characteristic peppery taste, has the capacity to inhibit the activity of genes responsible for the production of fat cells in the body. As a consequence, black pepper may have a valuable role in the prevention of obesity.

 

Nature’s Antibiotic

If you’ve been concerned about the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria that are now spreading through the community, help may be as close as your garden. Researchers at Washington State University have been working on garlic and looking into its anti-microbial properties. What they’ve found is a compound that’s 100 times more effective, and faster acting, than common antibiotics at fighting a bacteria that is often responsible for food poisoning. The compound is diallyl sulphide, one of the things in garlic that’s associated with the typical garlic smell. Previous research has found that it’s very effective against other commonly occurring disease-causing bacteria.

 

Red Wine Drinkers- Age Doesn’t Weary Them

It’s been known for some time, at least anecdotally, that a component in red wine known as resveratrol has some useful health benefits. Research on mice carried out at the Harvard Medical School recently confirmed this by determining that resveratrol has an impact on a gene that has a specific role in longevity, thereby confirming the belief that this compound has anti-aging properties and possibly also diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Senile Dementia.

 

Winter and Vitamin D

Bone health is normally what Vitamin D is associated with but a recent report in the Journal of Leucocyte Biology confirms other important uses involved in protection against infections, cancer and auto-immune disease, and highlights an increased need for this vitamin during the colder months. Because the vitamin doesn’t normally become active until it’s exposed to sunlight on the skin, there’s a good argument for supplementation with the active form, Vitamin D3, when our sun exposure is reduced. The authors of the study suggest that a Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with an increase in the rate of infections, particularly viral infections, during the colder weather.

Breast is Best

In case we needed to be reminded that breastfeeding is the way to feed an infant, a new study published in Genome Biology demonstrates substantial differences between the micro-organisms in the bowels of children fed via the two methods. These findings are significant because the range of organisms found in the intestines of breastfed babies supported the development of a healthy digestive system and healthy immune system far better than the range of organisms found in the intestines of formula-fed babies.
 

Bugs Beat Asthma and Allergies

Living in close proximity to natural environments has lots of advantages. One of these has recently been identified by a team at the University of Helsinki’s Department of Biosciences. This group have found a link to asthma and allergies and the number of different species of micro-organisms living on our skin and it seems that the higher the level of biodiversity of these bugs on our skin, the lower our risk of suffering from asthma or allergy. They also found that the closer you live to a naturally vegetated environment, the greater the biodiversity of micro-organisms on your skin. There’s another important issue here which was noted by the lead researcher in this study- the more frequently we wash our skin, the greater the reduction in the biodiversity of the organisms living on it.


Salute to the Sun

While looking into the sun is definitely not good for your eyes, a lack of sunlight isn’t good for them either. A recent study published in The Lancet looking at the habits of East Asian schoolchildren has found that a lack of sunlight can lead to a reduction in the production of dopamine, a chemical made in the body and used for a number of important functions, one of which is to help maintain the shape of the eyeball. It seems that without adequate levels of dopamine, the eyeball becomes elongated, the light entering it becomes distorted, and the owner of the eyes experiences myopia or short-sightedness.

 

It’s Green, So It Must Be Good for You

Three billion kilos of green tea are made every year. We’ve built our knowledge of the benefits of green tea quite considerably over the last few years, and recent research from Japan adds nicely to this. They carried out an 11 year study with over 40,000 participants and among other things found conclusive evidence of reduced heart disease risk and reduced stroke risk, although the benefits only started kicking in seriously at 3-4 cups a day for women and 5 a day for men.

 

Don’t Forget your Coffee

The news on coffee oscillates between good and bad and in a recently published study from scientists at the Universities of South Florida and Miami, there’s good news, at least for coffee drinkers anyway. The group conducting this research found that amongst the people enrolled in the study, who were aged 65 years or older, those with the highest circulating levels of caffeine in their blood had a later onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia than those with lower or no circulating caffeine. Coffee appeared to be the major and in most cases only source of caffeine for these individuals and intake averaged 3 cups a day. There’s also early indications that caffeine intake correlates to a reduction in the risk of other disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, breast cancer and stroke.

 

 

May /June 2012

 Research

 

Eating Berries is a Smart Thing to Do

The results of a US study following the eating habits of more than 16,000 women over 26 years was released recently. One of the more interesting discoveries was that women who ate blueberries and strawberries on a regular basis had a marked delay in the onset of age-related mental decline. The components in berries that may be responsible for this effect are antioxidants called flavonoids, and these have a lot to do with the colours exhibited by berries. They’re found in most berries and can also be found in persimmons, passionfruit, cherries, as well as red cabbage, eggplant and even Kiwi fruit. In addition to the effects discovered by this research, antioxidants have proved their worth over many years in reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

 

Bugs Fight Back

Infectious diseases experts recently declared that the rate of antibiotic drug usage in Australia has now risen to more than double that of international benchmark countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark. This situation is thought to be responsible for the rampant spread of antibiotic resistant strains of E coli and Staph. How has the rise in resistant bugs happened? Simply because our over-exposure to antibiotics, through medical prescription and some foods that may contain small amounts of antibiotics, knock out the weak bacteria and leave the resistant varieties still standing. GP’s and other medical prescribers treating bacterial infections are then forced to use stronger drugs, and small number of bacteria that are resistant to these drugs remain, and then these proliferate through the community, requiring yet more powerful drugs when they take over in an infection. As the options diminish the situation becomes more serious. Where once the “golden staph” and more virulent forms of E.coli were confined to some hospitals, they’re now spread through the community.  We all swap bacteria with each other through physical contact, droplet contact via inhaled air, and other means and if we then get ill and create an internal environment for these bacteria to proliferate, what used to be a relatively easy situation to deal with medically has now become potentially life-threatening. This is one of many reasons why it’s essential to maintain not only a good level of health but also a level of immunity that’s sufficient to protect you against harmful bacteria.

 

Dads Get Down Too

Postnatal depression is a well recognised and described clinical condition suffered by many mums within the first year after giving birth. While it’s not been recognised as a medical condition, recent Australian research has found that dads are just as likely to suffer from this condition. This is important because on the whole, the average Australian male is unlikely to acknowledge that he’s suffering from a problem such as depression, and even less likely to seek help for it, than his average female partner. The depression rates found in the study showed a 9.7% risk of postnatal depression in males and a 9.4% risk in females. The research also found that new fathers under the age of 30 had a greater chance of developing the problem than those over 30. These findings highlight the need to have fathers involved in all aspects of pre-natal classes and planning as well as early parenting support schemes and post-natal screening for stress and mental health.

 

Adding Weight to Lead Awareness

A new study has found a link between childhood exposure to atmospheric lead and violent behaviour later in on in the life of the exposed child. Co-ordinated research carried out across several cities in the US noted that for every 1 percent increase in the concentration of lead in the air, the rate of detected assaults increases by nearly half of 1 percent. Researchers in this study also estimated that 90% of the differences between the detected assault rates in different cities could be blamed on lead. This confirms previous research in this area. The primary sources of lead; at least as far as children are concerned, are mining operations and old paint.

 

A Message from your Baby- Keep Breathing

Results from research released earlier this year have highlighted the importance of the oxygen levels in mothers’ blood for the health and wellbeing of babies. Low foetal oxygen levels were found to be associated with an increased risk of genetic conditions such as scoliosis and heart disease. What kinds of situations contribute to reduced maternal oxygen levels? These can be as diverse as spending inordinate amounts of time at high altitudes and other areas where the oxygen levels in the air may be diminished such as high-rise office buildings, to the use of some prescription drugs or smoking, to living in areas of high air pollution. Health conditions such as anaemia and various respiratory disorders may also be implicated here.

 

Bursting the Bubble

Research from the University of Sydney published earlier this year has found that kids who had a higher than average intake of fizzy drinks had an increased risk of heart disease and hypertension later in life. This is yet another problem with carbonated drinks.  Other considerations in area that have been confirmed by scientific research include an increased risk of diseases such as pancreatic cancer, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes as well as osteoporosis, to name but a few.

 

Pitching in for Pistachios

Many of us don’t need a reason to eat pistachio nuts, but if we did, researchers writing for the American Society of Nutrition have just given us one. It appears that pistachios contain a number of componants that promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, and eating them regularly benefits both our immune system and our digestive system. Need more? Pistachios are also capable of assisting in the reduction of bad cholesterol and serve as good sources of minerals such as iron, potassium, manganese, copper and many of the vitamins that we need for good health.

 

The Good Egg

Eggs come in for considerable criticism from time to time and some of this has been related to the assumption that eggs increase bad cholesterol So it’s interesting to see news that the opposite is true. In this news snippet, US researchers have discovered that eggs increase HDL cholesterol- the good variety. What they found was that the use of 3 eggs per day for 12 weeks was associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. Associated research has also found that the use of high protein foods such as eggs for breakfast was linked to a reduced desire for high-fat snacks throughout the day.  

 

Well Of Course Chocolate is Good for You

Not all chocolate and perhaps not in the quantities you might like, but if you ever needed a reason to feel good about consuming chocolate, researchers from San Diego State University might be able to help. Their research has contributed to previous findings that confirm the presence of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals called flavonols in dark chocolate. These flavonols have the capacity to benefit sufferers of chronic inflammation, blood vessel disease, hypertension and high cholesterol. The researchers of this study did, however, point out that chocolate should be eaten in moderation due to the risks posed by the fats and sugars present in it.

 

More Soy Benefits

There are lots of good reasons to consume soy. Its use has been associated with a reduction in the incidence of various cancers, a reduction in bad cholesterol and blood lipids, the prevention of osteoporosis, the relief of some menopause symptoms and even the ageing effects produced by sun exposure. US researchers have now found that the regular use of soy may be associated with an improvement in the liver function of people suffering from fatty liver disease, particularly in those people who may be overweight. Fatty liver disease is a poorly diagnosed condition that can lead to liver failure if untreated.

 

Vitamin C and Hypertension

In more research to come out of the US, scientists from Johns Hopkins Medical School have recently carried out a large study, collating and analysing previous work done in this area and found a very useful connection between high blood pressure and Vitamin C. Their analysis found that people with high blood pressure using at least 500mg of Vitamin C per day reduced their blood pressure by between about 4 and 6 percent. While this reduction is about half of what you’re expect from routine pharmaceutical blood pressure drugs, the fact that this reduction can be produced by natural means is good news

 

Smokers Need Fish

Greek scientists looking into the effects of nutrition on the impact of cigarette smoking have come up with some useful information that reinforces work done in this area back in the 1990’s. These researchers found that the use of 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (derived from fish) per day for 4 weeks by smokers improved the health of their arteries, and so went some way towards mitigating the cardiovascular effects of tobacco smoking. The only way to protect yourself from the effects of smoking is not to smoke, but if this isn’t an option, a diet high in fish or supplementation with fish oil containing good levels of omega 3 fatty acids, will help to minimise the damage it causes.

 

Smart Water

Naturopaths make a lot of noise about hydration- the need to supply your body with adequate amounts of good quality water. There are lots of good reasons why we do this and here’s another one. Scientists from the Universities of East London and Westminster have found a strong connection between taking water into university exams and getting good exam marks. This assumes that the students actually drank the water but the scientists presenting the research findings speculated that adequate hydration may be associated with a better ability to think clearly and a reduction in anxiety.

 

Autism and Diet

The rate of diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has exploded in the last decade. Recent figures in the US indicate that 1 child in 88 will have an ASD. The only good thing about this situation is the amount of research that’s now being carried out on the causes of these conditions and therefore the kinds of things that parents and carers may be able to do to counteract or prevent them. Diet has been identified in the latest US research as a contributing factor. What’s been found is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is found in many processed or “convenience” foods, inhibits the ability of the body to rid itself of things such as pesticides and heavy metals (arsenic, mercury and cadmium) and that these may be contributing to the problem. Te important point for ASD’s is that an accumulation of these heavy metals has been associated with an increased risk of ASD. In addition, the use of HFCS leads to a loss of zinc, which is also required by the body to help eliminate these toxins. HFCS also leads to a loss of calcium, which is essential for brain development and is required for the removal of pesticides.


Food

Cooking Oils- Which One?

There’s been quite a lot of advice around over the last few years about cooking oils, and their superiority over things such as butter or lard. This is largely because most oils have lower levels of saturated fats than their more solid alternatives, and as such are kinder to our hearts and arteries. But the advice has tended to stop long before any informed comment is made about the best type of oil to use. If you were happy to use it for all culinary applications, extra virgin olive oil is the best of them (and cold-pressed is even better) and this is primarily because of the fact that it’s largely unrefined, so the benefits that can be had from the olives used to make it, continue to be found in the oil. These benefits are delivered by the anti-oxidants in the oil, and substances that normalise blood clotting, improve cardiovascular health, enhance immunity, reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, constipation and gallstone formation, help to reduce harmful cholesterol and enhance mental function. The optimum amount of extra virgin olive oil is 2-3 tablespoons daily and it’s useful to bear in mind that oils and their benefits degrade as they age, so fresh is best and local is best because light, heat and exposure to air (all of which are more likely to happen during transport) will hasten the decay of this oil, as with they will with most other cooking oils. One last thing on this- the more cooking heat you apply to olive oil the less benefit you’ll derive from it and if it’s heated to excess, it can become harmful.

 

Vegetables- Fresh or Frozen?

The answer to this may seem obvious and it is. Fresh is best. But the more important questions to ask may be, why? What is fresh and what are the pro’s and con’s of either?

 

We rely on vegetables as good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre and clearly, the freshest veggies are the ones you grow yourself. Given that the soil you’re growing them in is replete in the appropriate minerals and organic material, it’s properly aerated, the soil and air are free from toxins or pollutants, and your plants get the appropriate levels of sun, shade and water, home-grown veggies are unbeatable. The only things that stop most of us from growing our own are the available space and the time to set up and maintain it. If that’s the situation you’re in, you’re generally faced with just 3 other choices; someone else’s fresh veggies, the frozen, or the canned variety.

 

Although they can be more expensive than frozen or canned, fresh is usually thought of as best, but fresh is a word that’s often used a little loosely when it comes to vegetables and other produce. In most cases, the best you can hope for, even if the veg you’re after is in season, is that it’s a week old and during the time that it takes vegetables to get from the farm to your kitchen, the levels of some of the more important nutrients, particularly the water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and the B vitamins, have started to degrade. Vegetables that have been sitting around for a while may also have a thin growth of mould over them, and this can be a problem for anyone with a pre-existing mould problem, such as Candida, or can stir up allergies. Frozen vegetables are snap-frozen soon after picking, so their vitamins remain largely intact, and the mould issue is mostly absent. Canned vegetables are often deficient in vitamins but will still have their fibre and minerals in place, although access to those minerals is only possible if you consume the vegetables as well as the water they’re sitting in. As a result of the way they’re processed, they may have less flavour than fresh or frozen and many contain added salt. On the upside though, canned veggies can be stored for longer than either of the other options and on average, are often the cheapest.

 

Veggies are great sources of fibre and if they’re grown in good soil, one of our primary sources of minerals. There’s not much difference between fresh or frozen vegetables in these areas. One major area of difference noticed by many people is taste and because freezing can damage the cells in the vegetable, affecting “mouth feel” and flavour, fresh often wins over frozen in the taste department. Finally on this, not all frozen vegetables are alone in the pack. The manufacturer may have added salt or sugar so it’s a good idea to check the pack before you buy.

 

So there are a few things to think about when choosing which version of vegetable to buy. Once you’ve bought them though, there’s one more really important thing to keep in mind, and that’s how you cook them.

 

The amount of heat used, the cooking time and the exposure to the water they’re cooked in, will all significantly affect both their taste and their benefits. The best way to eat them is uncooked. The next best method is microwaving vegetables for the minimum time needed, and then finally steaming. If you have to boil them, you may want to save the water and render it down to use as a stock. In this way you’ll still get whatever minerals were removed from the veggies by boiling.

 

The Cow or the Beans- Cows’ Milk or Soy Milk and are there any Other Options?

For the last couple of decades there’s been furious debate over the merits of cows’ milk. This has been fuelled by a number of things. Primarily, these have been the discovery that saturated fats (such as those found in dairy foods) contribute to disease, the discovery of lactose intolerance and allergies to dairy proteins, and the recognition that dairy foods can increase mucus production.

 

Both milks are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, although one mineral in particular, Calcium, is more likely to be found in cows’ rather than soy milk. Cows’ milk has been linked with aggression and some behavioural disorders and may increase your chances of becoming constipated. Soy milk contains some dietary fibre, some useful amino acids, minerals and vitamins, particularly Vitamin E, although it doesn’t have the range of vitamins found in cows’ milk. Soy also contains components called isoflavones, which help to reduce the risk of some cancers, osteoporosis and some of the symptoms of menopause, as well as lowering bad cholesterol. Soy may also cause flatulence.

 

So if you have concerns about lactose or saturated fats and don’t want to use low fat dairy, you want the benefits of the isoflavones and you get calcium from other sources, either as a supplement or via foods such as whey powder, or you don’t want to use any animal products, soy may be a good alternative to cows’ milk. If you’re planning on using it to avoid dairy allergies, sadly, you may find that soy causes the same problems. If you don’t want to use either, what’s on offer?

 

Rice milk may be one way to go. It’s usually made from brown rice and compared to dairy, it doesn’t contain much protein or calcium, although commercial varieties of rice milk are often fortified with these and other useful things. Another option may be goats’ milk. This has lactose in it but it doesn’t have the proteins that may be associated with dairy allergy. It has levels of protein, saturated fats, minerals vitamins that are similar to those found in cows’ milk but less calcium, less saturated fats and less sugar.

 

Unless you suffer from nut allergies, almond milk is another alternative that’s becoming increasingly popular here although it’s been used in places like Europe and the Middle East for hundreds of years. It has a slightly different colour to cows’ milk, a slightly nutty flavour and a creamy texture. Almond milk is a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. It also contains components that help to reduce blood sugar levels and bad cholesterol and is useful in managing constipation. It’s low in saturated fats and the commercial varieties can last for quite a while out of the fridge. It doesn’t have as much calcium as cows’ milk, so if you want to use it as a substitute, you’ll need to ensure that you’re getting adequate calcium from other sources. You can buy it in health food stores and other places but it’s much more fun to make yourself, and you’ll avoid some of the additives and sweeteners used in the commercial versions if you do.

 

Here’s how you do it.

Soak 1 cup of fresh, raw almonds in 2 cups of water overnight. Use blanched almonds if you don’t want the almond skins (some people find them a bit gritty) or if you want extra flavour, lightly toast them.

The next morning, tip everything into a blender and blend until creamy.

Feel free to add honey, cinnamon or anything else you like to this while you’re blending to make it more exotic.

Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove the pulp. It’s now ready to drink.