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27 December 2007

Diabetes is More Nurture Than Nature

A study of twins suggests that the development of insulin resistance, a precursor to adult-onset diabetes, is influenced more by current body weight than by birth weight.

Low birth weight has been linked to high insulin levels. But this relationship may occur strictly in the womb, and not in later life.

Investigators studied the between birth weight, body mass index (BMI), and insulin resistance in almost 1200 female twins. They failed to find any significant relationship between weight at birth and the development of insulin resistance. There was, however, a significant relationship between insulin resistance and current weight.


Sources:

* Reuters December 21, 2007

26 December 2007

What Happens to Your Body Within an Hour of Drinking a Coke

Here’s just some of what happens when you drink a Coke:

Within the first 10 minutes, 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. This is 100 percent of your recommended daily intake, and the only reason you don’t vomit as a result of the overwhelming sweetness is because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor.

Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat.

Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream.

After 60 minutes, you’ll start to have a sugar crash.

For more on what goes on in your body during this period, click the link below.


Sources:

* Nutrition Research Center October 24, 2007

Are You a 'Cyberchondriac'?

Because of the Internet, many people have developed what used to be known as "medical student syndrome"; after getting some basic information, and little context, they self-diagnose in ways that can be far from the mark.

A sign of becoming a "cyberchondriac" may be that you feel worse after Web surfing instead of better.

Robin DiMatteo, a professor of psychology, says, "If research on the Internet helps to make you feel empowered, and engaged in a dialogue with your doctor, it's helpful.” By Dr. Vicki Rackner, surgeon and patient advocate, "If you feel more scared and confused after being on the computer for half an hour, that's not good."

If you quickly become convinced your shaking hands are Parkinson's disease, or your sore throat is an immune deficiency, you may need to back away from the computer for a while.


Sources:

* CNN Health December 20, 2007

18 December 2007

What if bad fat isn’t so bad?


Suppose you were forced to live on a diet of red meat and whole milk. A diet that, all told, was at least 60 percent fat — about half of it saturated. If your first thoughts are of statins and stents, you may want to consider the curious case of the Masai, a nomadic tribe in Kenya and Tanzania.

In the 1960s, a Vanderbilt University scientist named George Mann, M.D., found that Masai men consumed this very diet (supplemented with blood from the cattle they herded). Yet these nomads, who were also very lean, had some of the lowest levels of cholesterol ever measured and were virtually free of heart disease.

Scientists, confused by the finding, argued that the tribe must have certain genetic protections against developing high cholesterol. But when British researchers monitored a group of Masai men who moved to Nairobi and began consuming a more modern diet, they discovered that the men's cholesterol subsequently skyrocketed.

Similar observations were made of the Samburu — another Kenyan tribe — as well as the Fulani of Nigeria. While the findings from these cultures seem to contradict the fact that eating saturated fat leads to heart disease, it may surprise you to know that this "fact" isn't a fact at all. It is, more accurately, a hypothesis from the 1950s that's never been proved.

The first scientific indictment of saturated fat came in 1953. That's the year a physiologist named Ancel Keys, Ph.D., published a highly influential paper titled "Atherosclerosis, a Problem in Newer Public Health." Keys wrote that while the total death rate in the United States was declining, the number of deaths due to heart disease was steadily climbing. And to explain why, he presented a comparison of fat intake and heart disease mortality in six countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Italy, and Japan.

The Americans ate the most fat and had the greatest number of deaths from heart disease; the Japanese ate the least fat and had the fewest deaths from heart disease. The other countries fell neatly in between. The higher the fat intake, according to national diet surveys, the higher the rate of heart disease. And vice versa. Keys called this correlation a "remarkable relationship" and began to publicly hypothesize that consumption of fat causes heart disease. This became known as the diet-heart hypothesis.

At the time, plenty of scientists were skeptical of Keys's assertions. One such critic was Jacob Yerushalmy, Ph.D., founder of the biostatistics graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley. In a 1957 paper, Yerushalmy pointed out that while data from the six countries Keys examined seemed to support the diet-heart hypothesis, statistics were actually available for 22 countries. And when all 22 were analyzed, the apparent link between fat consumption and heart disease disappeared. For example, the death rate from heart disease in Finland was 24 times that of Mexico, even though fat-consumption rates in the two nations were similar.

The other salient criticism of Keys's study was that he had observed only a correlation between two phenomena, not a clear causative link. So this left open the possibility that something else — unmeasured or unimagined — was leading to heart disease. After all, Americans did eat more fat than the Japanese, but perhaps they also consumed more sugar and white bread, and watched more television.

Despite the apparent flaws in Keys's argument, the diet-heart hypothesis was compelling, and it was soon heavily promoted by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the media. It offered the worried public a highly educated guess as to why the country was in the midst of a heart-disease epidemic. "People should know the facts," Keys said in a 1961 interview with Time magazine, for which he appeared on the cover. "Then if they want to eat themselves to death, let them."

The seven-countries study, published in 1970, is considered Ancel Keys's landmark achievement. It seemed to lend further credence to the diet-heart hypothesis. In this study, Keys reported that in the seven countries he selected — the United States, Japan, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Finland, and the Netherlands — animal-fat intake was a strong predictor of heart attacks over a 5-year period. Just as important, he noted an association between total cholesterol and heart-disease mortality. This prompted him to conclude that the saturated fats in animal foods — and not other types of fat — raise cholesterol and ultimately lead to heart disease.

Naturally, proponents of the diet-heart hypothesis hailed the study as proof that eating saturated fat leads to heart attacks. But the data was far from rock solid. That's because in three countries (Finland, Greece, and Yugoslavia), the correlation wasn't seen.

For example, eastern Finland had five times as many heart-attack fatalities and twice as much heart disease as western Finland, despite only small differences between the two regions in animal-fat intake and cholesterol levels. And while Keys provided that raw data in his report, he glossed over it as a finding. Perhaps a larger problem, though, was his assumption that saturated fat has an unhealthy effect on cholesterol levels.

Trio of saturated fats
Although more than a dozen types of saturated fat exist, humans predominantly consume three: stearic acid, palmitic acid, and lauric acid. This trio comprises almost 95 percent of the saturated fat in a hunk of prime rib, a slice of bacon, or a piece of chicken skin, and nearly 70 percent of that in butter and whole milk.

Today, it's well established that stearic acid has no effect on cholesterol levels. In fact, stearic acid — which is found in high amounts in cocoa as well as animal fat — is converted to a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid in your liver. This is the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. As a result, scientists generally regard this saturated fatty acid as either benign or potentially beneficial to your health.

Palmitic and lauric acid, however, are known to raise total cholesterol. But here's what's rarely reported: Research shows that although both of these saturated fatty acids increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol, they raise HDL ("good") cholesterol just as much, if not more. And this lowers your risk of heart disease. That's because it's commonly believed that LDL cholesterol lays down plaque on your artery walls, while HDL removes it. So increasing both actually reduces the proportion of bad cholesterol in your blood to the good kind. This may explain why numerous studies have reported that this HDL/LDL ratio is a better predictor of future heart disease than LDL alone.

All of this muddies Keys's claim of a clear connection between saturated-fat intake, cholesterol, and heart disease. If saturated fat doesn't raise cholesterol in such a way that it increases heart-disease risk, then according to the scientific method, the diet-heart hypothesis must be rejected. However, in 1977 it was still a promising idea.

That was the year Congress made it government policy to recommend a low-fat diet, based primarily on the opinions of health experts who supported the diet-heart hypothesis. It was a decision met with much criticism from the scientific community, including the American Medical Association. After all, officially endorsing a low-fat diet could change the eating habits of millions of Americans, and the potential effects of this strategy were widely debated and certainly unproved.

We've spent billions of our tax dollars trying to prove the diet-heart hypothesis. Yet study after study has failed to provide definitive evidence that saturated-fat intake leads to heart disease. The most recent example is the Women's Health Initiative, the government's largest and most expensive ($725 million) diet study yet. The results, published last year, show that a diet low in total fat and saturated fat had no impact in reducing heart-disease and stroke rates in some 20,000 women who had adhered to the regimen for an average of 8 years.

But this paper, like many others, plays down its own findings and instead points to four studies that, many years ago, apparently did find a link between saturated fat and heart disease. Because of this, it's worth taking a closer look at each.

The Los Angeles VA Hospital Study (1969) This UCLA study of 850 men reported that those who replaced saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats were less likely to die of heart disease and stroke over a 5-year period than were men who didn't alter their diets. However, more of those who changed their diets died of cancer, and the average age of death was the same in both groups. What's more, "through an oversight," the study authors neglected to collect crucial data on smoking habits from about 100 men. They also reported that the men successfully adhered to the diet only half the time.

The Oslo Diet-Heart Study (1970) Two hundred men followed a diet low in saturated fat for 5 years while another group ate as they pleased. The dieters had fewer heart attacks, but there was no difference in total deaths between the two groups.

The Finnish Mental Hospital Study (1979) This trial took place from 1959 to 1971 and appeared to document a reduction in heart disease in psychiatric patients following a "cholesterol-lowering" diet. But the experiment was poorly controlled: Almost half of the 700 participants joined or left the study over its 12-year duration.

The St. Thomas' Atherosclerosis Regression Study (1992) Only 74 men completed this 3-year study conducted at St. Thomas' Hospital, in London. It found a reduction in cardiac events among men with heart disease who adopted a low-fat diet. There's a major caveat, though: Their prescribed diets were also low in sugar.

Flawed studies
These four studies, even though they have serious flaws and are tiny compared with the Women's Health Initiative, are often cited as definitive proof that saturated fats cause heart disease. Many other more recent trials cast doubt on the diet-heart hypothesis. These studies should be considered in the context of all the other research.

In 2000, a respected international group of scientists called the Cochrane Collaboration conducted a "meta-analysis" of the scientific literature on cholesterol-lowering diets. After applying rigorous selection criteria (219 trials were excluded), the group examined 27 studies involving more than 18,000 participants. Although the authors concluded that cutting back on dietary fat may help reduce heart disease, their published data actually shows that diets low in saturated fats have no significant effect on mortality, or even on deaths due to heart attacks.

"I was disappointed that we didn't find something more definitive," says Lee Hooper, Ph.D., who led the Cochrane review. If this exhaustive analysis didn't provide evidence of the dangers of saturated fat, says Hooper, it was probably because the studies reviewed didn't last long enough, or perhaps because the participants didn't lower their saturated-fat intake enough. Of course, there is a third possibility, which Hooper doesn't mention: The diet-heart hypothesis is incorrect.

Ronald Krauss, M.D., won't say saturated fats are good for you. "But," he concedes, "we don't have convincing evidence that they're bad, either."

For 30 years, Dr. Krauss — an adjunct professor of nutritional sciences at the University of California at Berkeley — has been studying the effect of diet and blood lipids on cardiovascular disease. He points out that while some studies show that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats lowers heart-disease risk, this doesn't mean that saturated fats lead to clogged arteries. "It may simply suggest that unsaturated fats are an even healthier option," he says.

But there's more to this story: In 1980, Dr. Krauss and his colleagues discovered that LDL cholesterol is far from the simple "bad" particle it's commonly thought to be. It actually comes in a series of different sizes, known as subfractions. Some LDL subfractions are large and fluffy. Others are small and dense. This distinction is important.

A decade ago, Canadian researchers reported that men with the highest number of small, dense LDL subfractions had four times the risk of developing clogged arteries than those with the fewest. Yet they found no such association for the large, fluffy particles. These findings were confirmed in subsequent studies.

Link to heart disease
Now here's the saturated-fat connection: Dr. Krauss found that when people replace the carbohydrates in their diet with fat — saturated or unsaturated — the number of small, dense LDL particles decreases. This leads to the highly counterintuitive notion that replacing your breakfast cereal with eggs and bacon could actually reduce your risk of heart disease.

Men, more than women, are predisposed to having small, dense LDL. However, the propensity is highly flexible and, according to Dr. Krauss, can be switched on when people eat high-carb, low-fat diets or switched off when they reduce carbs and eat diets high in fat, including the saturated variety. "There's a subgroup of people at high risk of heart disease who may respond well to diets low in fat," says Dr. Krauss. "But the majority of healthy people seem to derive very little benefit from these low-fat diets, in terms of heart-disease risk factors, unless they also lose weight and exercise. And if a low-fat diet is also loaded with carbs, it can actually result in adverse changes in blood lipids."

While Dr. Krauss is much published and highly respected — he has served twice as chairman of the writing committee of the AHA's dietary guidelines — the far-reaching implications of his work have not been generally acknowledged. "Academic scientists believe saturated fat is bad for you," says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., a distinguished professor of nutritional studies at Penn State University, citing as evidence the "many studies" she believes show it to be true. But not everyone accepts those studies, and their proponents find it hard to be heard. Kris-Etherton acknowledges that "there's a good deal of reluctance toward accepting evidence suggesting the contrary."

Take, for example, a 2004 Harvard University study of older women with heart disease. Researchers found that the more saturated fat these women consumed, the less likely it was their condition would worsen. Lead study author Dariush Mozaffarian, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Harvard's school of public health, recalls that before the paper was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, he encountered formidable politics from other journals.

"In the nutrition field, it's very difficult to get something published that goes against established dogma," says Mozaffarian. "The dogma says that saturated fat is harmful, but that is not based, to me, on unequivocal evidence." Mozaffarian says he believes it's critical that scientists remain open minded. "Our finding was surprising to us. And when there's a discovery that goes against what's established, it shouldn't be suppressed but rather disseminated and explored as much as possible."

Biased studies
Perhaps the apparent bias against saturated fat is most evident in studies on low-carbohydrate diets. Many versions of this approach are controversial because they place no limitations on saturated-fat intake. As a result, supporters of the diet-heart hypothesis have argued that low-carb diets will increase the risk of heart disease. But published research doesn't show this to be the case. When people on low-carb diets have been compared head-to-head with those on low-fat diets, the low-carb dieters typically scored significantly better on markers of heart disease, including small, dense LDL cholesterol, HDL/LDL ratio, and triglycerides, which are a measure of the amount of fat circulating in your blood.

For example, in a new 12-week study, University of Connecticut scientists placed overweight men and women on either a low-carb or low-fat diet. Those who followed the low-carb diet consumed 36 grams of saturated fat per day (22 percent of total calories), which represented more than three times the amount in the low-fat diet. Yet despite this considerably greater intake of saturated fat, the low-carb dieters reduced both their number of small, dense LDL cholesterol and their HDL/LDL ratio to a greater degree than those who ate a low-fat diet. In addition, triglycerides decreased by 51 percent in the low-carb group — compared with 19 percent in the low-fat group.

This finding is worth noting, because even though cholesterol is the most commonly cited risk factor for heart disease, triglyceride levels may be equally relevant. In a 40-year study at the University of Hawaii, scientists found that low triglyceride levels at middle age best predicted "exceptional survival" — defined as living until age 85 without suffering from a major disease.

According to lead study author Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., two factors influence the amount of fat coursing through your veins. The first, of course, is the amount of fat you eat. But the more important factor is less obvious. Turns out, your body makes fat from carbohydrates. It works like this: The carbs you eat (particularly starches and sugar) are absorbed into your bloodstream as sugar. As your carb intake rises, so does your blood sugar. This causes your body to release the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to return your blood sugar to normal, but it also signals your body to store fat. As a result, your liver starts converting excess blood sugar to triglycerides, or fat.

All of which helps explain why the low-carb dieters in Volek's study had a greater loss of fat in their blood. Restricting carbs keeps insulin levels low, which lowers your internal production of fat and allows more of the fat you do eat to be burned for energy.

Yet even with this emerging data and the lack of scientific support for the diet-heart hypothesis, the latest AHA dietary guidelines have reduced the recommended amount of saturated fat from 10 percent of daily calories to 7 percent or less. "The idea was to encourage people to decrease their saturated-fat intake even further, because there's a linear relationship between saturated-fat intake and LDL cholesterol," says Alice H. Lichtenstein, Ph.D., Sc.D., who led the AHA nutrition committee that wrote the recommendation.

What about Krauss's findings that not all LDL is equal? Lichtenstein says that her committee didn't address them, but that it might in the future.

It could be that it's not bad foods that cause heart disease, it's bad habits. After all, in Volek's study, participants who followed the low-fat diet — which was high in carbs — also decreased their triglycerides. "The key factor is that they weren't overeating," says Volek. "This allowed the carbohydrates to be used for energy rather than converted to fat." Perhaps this is the most important point of all. If you consistently consume more calories than you burn, and you gain weight, your risk of heart disease will increase — whether you favor eating saturated fats, carbs, or both.

But if you're living a healthy lifestyle — you aren't overweight, you don't smoke, you exercise regularly — then the composition of your diet may matter much less. And, based on the research of Volek and Dr. Krauss, a weight-loss or -maintenance diet in which some carbohydrates are replaced with fat — even if it's saturated — will reduce markers of heart-disease risk more than if you followed a low-fat, high-carb diet.

"The message isn't that you should gorge on butter, bacon, and cheese," says Volek. "It's that there's no scientific reason that natural foods containing saturated fat can't, or shouldn't, be part of a healthy diet."

14 December 2007

Exercise as Good as Surgery for Knee Pain

Patients who suffer from chronic patellofemoral syndrome (PFPS), which causes pain in the front part of the knee, gain no extra benefit arthroscopic surgery.

In a randomized controlled trial, patients were divided into two groups. The first group was treated with knee arthroscopy and an eight-week home exercise program, and the second group was treated with the exercise program only.

After 9 months, both groups showed reduced pain and improvement in knee mobility. However, the improvements for patients treated with surgery and exercise were almost exactly the same as for the patients treated with exercise alone. A second follow up after two years showed the same results.

The average cost of treatment was more than $1,300 higher for patients who underwent both arthroscopy and exercise therapy.


Sources:

* Science Daily December 13, 2007

Sugary Drinks Linked to Alzheimer's

Mice who were given a sugar solution as part of their daily diet showed increased signs of developing Alzheimer's disease.

After 25 weeks, the sugar-fed mice had worse learning and memory retention, and their brains contained over twice as many amyloid plaque deposits. Amyloid plaque is a symptom of Alzheimer's.

It is unknown whether the symptoms were caused by a high-sugar diet specifically, or by a high-calorie diet in general. Obesity and diabetes have both already been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

Sources:

* FoodNavigator.com December 10, 2007

Nearly 40 Percent of Smokers are Mentally Ill

A new report shows that almost 1.3 million Australians with a mental illness are smokers. This means that 38 percent of Australians who smoke are mentally ill.

People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are three times more likely to smoke than other Australians, and there are few programs to help the large numbers who want to quit.

The mentally ill also tend to smoke more heavily than others, buying 42 percent of all cigarettes sold in Australia each year.

11 December 2007

Are Antibiotics Useless for Sinus Infections?

New research suggests that sinus infections aren't actually helped by antibiotics and other common medicines. In a British study, those suffering from sinus infections generally improved within about two weeks whether they took the standard antibiotic amoxicillin, a steroid nose spray or a placebo.

Researchers assigned 240 adults to one of four treatments: amoxicillin and a steroid spray, only amoxicillin, only steroid spray, or fake medicine. No group got better any quicker than the others.

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed medicines for sinus infections. Steroid sprays are also sometimes used.


Sources:

* Yahoo New December 4, 2007

Sunlight May Save Kids' Sight

Exposure to sunlight stop children from becoming near-sighted. Researchers have found that the time children spend outdoors is a critical factor.

A comparison of children of Chinese origin living in Singapore and Sydney, Australia, showed that the rate of myopia in Singaporean children is 10 times higher. But the children in Sydney spent significantly more time in near-work activity such as reading books, which has long been held to be the principle cause of myopia.

However, the Sydney-based children were also outside almost four times longer than their Singapore counterparts.

Exposure to sunlight may cut myopia rates by encouraging the release of dopamine, which is known to inhibit eye growth; myopia is a condition caused by excessive eye growth.


Sources:

* ABC Science Online December 5, 2007

Sugar - a Toxin?

YES! And it's also a very addicting DRUG!

Take a look at the definitions. A toxin is a chemical produced by
living organisms that causes harmful effects on the body at high
enough concentration. Sugar easily meets that definition. It is plant
derived and there are numerous studies that show a variety of harmful
health effects from excess dietary sugar.

OK, is sugar a drug? If you've ever had a feel-good high immediately
after eating sweet "comfort" foods, it's a psycho-active drug. If
you've ever had a "craving" for something sweet, it's an addicting
psycho-active drug.

So, my point is that we need to start thinking of refined sugar as a
toxin and drug. That makes sugar by far the most common and abundant
toxin and drug in the modern food world!

7 December 2007

Doctors Protect Their Incompetent Colleagues

A new survey suggests nearly half of all doctors don't report observed incompetence in their colleagues.

Researchers mailed a survey and a $20 incentive check to more than 3,000 doctors. More than 90 percent of the roughly 1,500 who answered said that physicians should always report an impaired or incompetent colleague to the proper authorities. But 45 percent also reported that they hadn't always done so.

A third of surveyed doctors also said they would order an unnecessary MRI scan just to get rid of a complaining patient, and eleven percent reported breaching patient confidentiality.


Sources:

* Yahoo News December 3, 2007

Doctors Protect Their Incompetent Colleagues

A new survey suggests nearly half of all doctors don't report observed incompetence in their colleagues.

Researchers mailed a survey and a $20 incentive check to more than 3,000 doctors. More than 90 percent of the roughly 1,500 who answered said that physicians should always report an impaired or incompetent colleague to the proper authorities. But 45 percent also reported that they hadn't always done so.

A third of surveyed doctors also said they would order an unnecessary MRI scan just to get rid of a complaining patient, and eleven percent reported breaching patient confidentiality.


Sources:

* Yahoo News December 3, 2007

Mercury in Vaccines -- A Medical Crisis

The FDA has claimed that a new report prepared by the Eastern Research Group (ERG) showed it is difficult to create advisory committees free from conflicts of interest, because industry advisers have greater expertise. However, an independent analysis of the data shows just the opposite.

It would have taken a single FDA official just one week to replace all the advisers who had conflicts of interest on the four advisory committees analyzed in the study. Furthermore, the FDA would have been able to choose from nearly two potential unconflicted experts for every open slot.

Analysis also showed that these easily identifiable unconflicted experts would actually have been more qualified than the ones eventually chosen.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), along with other prominent science and consumer groups, has urged the FDA to adopt conflict-of-interest guidelines, which would ban anyone with greater than $50,000 a year in financial ties to industry from advisory committees, and deny a vote to anyone with lesser conflicts.


Sources:

* Center for Science in the Public Interest December 3, 2007

Thousands Have Gotten Sick from Gardasil HPV Vaccine

More than 17 girls a week have had adverse reactions, including seizures and numbness, to the HPV vaccine Gardasil since it started being widely used.

There have been reports of young girls fainting, experiencing seizures, dizzy spells and paralysis, and at least seven deaths have been linked to the vaccine.
In the U.S., as many as 1700 women have suffered adverse reactions, as have hundreds more in other countries. The manufacturer has dismissed any association with the seven deaths, claiming the women died of unrelated thrombosis or heart attack.

Sources:

* News.com.au December 3, 2007

4 December 2007

When Doctors Take Their Own Advice




For years, when Minnesota physician Dr. Chris Balgobin saw patients with diabetes and high blood pressure, he found it difficult to counsel them about losing weight and exercise.
Before slimming down, Dr. Balgobin found it difficult to talk to patients about weight loss.

That’s because Dr. Balgobin was overweight himself — at his heaviest, he carried 304 pounds on his 5-foot-6-inch frame.

“It was hard for me to tell them about losing weight and exercise because I’ve been big all of my life,'’ said Dr. Balgobin. “I would say, ‘Yes, it’s a struggle.’ But then I would say ‘they’ say to reduce calories and exercise. I could never put it on me as the authority figure.”

But in January, Dr. Balgobin, a family practice doctor for Fairview Health Services in Apple Valley, Minn., says he was inspired by one of his own patients who had lost 60 pounds through diet and exercise. He talked to his wife and together they decided to change their eating habits, exercise more and try to lose weight together.
Since losing 120 pounds, Dr. Balgobin’s relationship with patients has markedly changed.

Dr. Balgobin said he used tools on DiscoveryHealth.com to calculate his metabolic rate and calorie needs. He cut out fast food and began counting calories, and he and his wife began working out at a health club together. He also began eating breakfast regularly.

Dr. Balgobin has since lost 120 pounds. He says weight loss has not only changed his life, but it has changed his relationship with his patients. A bulletin board filled with pictures of him with babies and patients allows patients to see “all the different sizes of me,’’ he said. “Now I can say, ‘This is what I’ve done.’ ”

Studies show that the health of your doctor does matter. Doctors who eat well and exercise regularly are more likely to counsel their patients to do the same thing, and patients are more likely to listen, research shows. Earlier this year, the medical journal Preventive Medicine published a survey of more than 2,300 graduating medical school students that showed student-doctors with healthy habits were more likely to talk to their patients about prevention strategies like diet and exercise. Another report, called the Women’s Physician Health Study, also found that doctors tend to advise patients about health issues that they themselves practice — like eating a low-fat diet or using sunscreen.

It may seem obvious, but lots of doctors don’t practice what they are supposed to be preaching. A 2004 study of 85,000 male physicians found that 44 percent were overweight and 6 percent were obese. Harvard physician Dr. JoAnn Manson, a co-author of that study, told Stanford Medicine magazine that physicians need to be role models. “We will have much more credibility promoting lifestyle modifications to our patients if we also ‘walk the walk,’” Dr. Manson told the magazine, which recently wrote about the link between doctor and patient health.

Dr. Balgobin said that since losing weight, he talks more to patients about healthful living and how it has not only improved his life, but improved his marriage. Some of his patients have even joined his health club, he said.

“Being a physician, people see you every day,’’ said Dr. Balgobin. “Everything is how you present yourself. I want to be an inspiration to them.’’

Edible, Sure. But Just How Incredible?


At breakfast recently a friend of mine passed on the scrambled eggs. “I’m watching my cholesterol,'’ he said. Another woman I know only orders Egg Beaters, which are essentially cholesterol-free orange-colored egg whites.

Of all the commonly consumed foods, eggs contain the highest amounts of cholesterol, and that’s why many people shun them. Now, the American Egg Board is bringing back its “Incredible Edible Egg” campaign to reiterate the health benefits.

So are eggs good for you or bad for you? I asked Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard University’s famed nutritionist, for his take.

“Dietary cholesterol has been greatly oversold as a health concern, in part because it has a small effect on blood cholesterol levels,'’ said Dr. Willett, who has never received funding from the egg industry. Eggs, in particular, have gotten a bad rap. “Some of the foods that contain high cholesterol, such as eggs, have many other healthy components,'’ he said.

Egg yolks, organ meat, shellfish, whole-fat dairy products and red meat are rich sources of dietary cholesterol. But the biggest influence on blood cholesterol level is the mix of fats in the diet, not how much cholesterol you eat in food.

The average person makes about 75 percent of blood cholesterol in his or her liver, while the rest is absorbed from food. One of the biggest problems with giving up eggs is that people turn to other breakfast foods like bagels with cream cheese, pastries and muffins. These are loaded with unhealthy saturated fat, which increases blood cholesterol levels far more than the dietary cholesterol found in eggs. The downside of eggs is that many people only eat them cooked in butter or oil, or with sausage, also loaded with saturated fat.

There are a few caveats. Egg consumption has been linked to a higher risk of heart trouble in people with diabetes. And a small number of people are unusually sensitive to dietary cholesterol — in them, foods like eggs can disproportionately increase blood cholesterol.

Still, said Dr. Willett, “the large majority can consume eggs in reasonable amounts.” For a more lengthy explanation of the impact of dietary cholesterol and fats on your health, check out The Nutrition Source from the Harvard School of Public Health. And Northwestern University has a useful fact sheet comparing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat in various foods.

The Case for Real Food


Is there more to a carrot than beta carotene? Is lycopene the best we get from tomatoes? And when we heap our plates with salmon, are we serving up something other than omega-3s?

For years the scientific community has viewed individual vitamins and nutrients as the best that food has to offer. Nutrition studies have isolated beta carotene, calcium, vitamin E and lycopene, among other nutrients, in order to study their health benefits in the body.

But now, after several vitamin studies have produced disappointing results, there’s a growing belief that food is more than just a sum of its nutrient parts. In a recent commentary for the journal Nutrition Reviews, University of Minnesota professor of epidemiology David R. Jacobs argues that nutrition researchers should focus on whole foods rather than only on single nutrients. “We argue for a need to return to food as the source of nutrition knowledge,'’ writes Dr. Jacobs with co-author Linda C. Tapsell, a nutrition researcher at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

Dr. Jacobs believes that nutrition science needs to consider the effects of “food synergy,'’ the notion that the health benefits of certain foods aren’t likely to come from a single nutrient but rather combinations of compounds that work better together than apart. “Every food is much more complicated than any drug,’’ said Dr. Jacobs. “It makes sense to want to break it down. But you get a lot of people talking in the popular press about carbohydrates and fats in particular as if they were unified entities. They’re not. They’re extremely complicated.’’

The narrow focus on the health effects of single nutrients stems from the earliest days of nutrition research. In 1937, two scientists won a Nobel Prize for identifying vitamin C as the essential component in citrus fruit that prevents scurvy. The finding spurred interest by the scientific community to study other biologically active nutrients in foods.

For as long as observational studies have shown that diets rich in fruits and vegetables, unsaturated fat and fish, among other things, are associated with better health, nutrition researchers have been busily deconstructing these foods to identify the most potent nutrients. For example, vitamin E has been widely studied as a heart protector.

But attributing the broad health benefits of a diet to a single compound has proven to be misguided. Several studies have suggested an association between diets rich in beta carotene and vitamin A, for instance, and lower risk for many types of cancer. But in a well-known 1994 Finnish study, smokers who took beta carotene were found to have an 18 percent higher incidence of lung cancer. In 1996, researchers gave beta carotene and vitamin A to smokers and workers exposed to asbestos. But the trial had to be stopped because the people taking the combined therapy showed markedly higher risks for lung cancer and heart attacks.

Since then, studies of other vitamins, notably vitamins E and B, have also failed to show a benefit. Manufacturers say the problem is that vitamins are too often examined in sick people while the real benefit may be in preventing disease. But Dr. Jacobs notes that the better explanation may simply be that food synergy, rather than the biological activity of a few key nutrients, is the real reason that certain diets, like those consumed in the parts of the Mediterranean and Japan, appear to lower the risks of heart disease and other health problems.

“People ask me what vitamins they should take,’’ said Dr. Jacobs. “I say ‘Don’t take any. Just make sure you have a nutrient-rich diet.’ ’’

3 December 2007

Doctors Are Clueless About Medication for Kids

A decade after the U.S. government began trying to ensure that prescription drugs used to treat children are safe, doctors still have very little information to guide them.

For many years, the testing of drugs on children was regarded as unnecessary and unethical, but this resulted in medications being given to children with no testing at all. In 1997, the FDA Modernization Act gave companies six extra months to sell a drug without competition if they studied it in children, and the 2003 Pediatric Research Equity Act authorized the FDA to require companies to test new drugs on children before they are approved for sale.

But even today, about two-thirds of the thousands of medications given to children remain untested on them.

What little has been discovered thus far has been troubling. A highly effective adult migraine drug turned out to be worthless in children, and sometimes caused serious side effects such as strokes. An asthma inhaler could stunt children's growth, and a narcotic patch routinely used to relieve pain could cause fatal overdoses.


Sources:

* Washington Post November 23, 2007

29 November 2007

What the World Eats

These photographs, shot by Peter Menzel from the book "Hungry Planet," were part of a previous Time Magazine story I posted about science confirming the secret key to weight loss. They didn't include these photos in their article at the time, and only printed four of them in the magazine.

This is a fascinating look at what's on people's dinner tables across the globe, and is a telling visual of why the health of the Western world is in rapid decline from all our prepackaged, chemically processed and sugar-laden goods, and how much we're actually paying for the privilege.

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat


Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City
Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25
Favorite foods: sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips


Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Favorite foods: fish, pasta with ragu, hot dogs, frozen fish sticks


China: The Dong family of Beijing
Food expenditure for one week: 1,233.76 Yuan or $155.06
Favorite foods: fried shredded pork with sweet and sour sauce


Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Family recipe: Mushroom, cheese and pork

Alzheimer drugs don't delay dementia onset: study


By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Giving Alzheimer's drugs to people with early memory problems does not seem to delay the onset of the disease, researchers said on Tuesday.

Three main drugs -- Aricept, or donepezil; Exelon, or rivastigmine; and Reminyl, or galantamine -- are currently approved for use in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease.

They are also often prescribed on a so-called "off-label" basis to people with pre-dementia.

But doctors are divided over their effectiveness, leading to differing rates of use and bitter arguments over patient access to treatment, notably in Britain where a dispute over their cost-effectiveness has led to legal clashes.

Some experts and patient groups have called for such anti-cholinesterase drugs to be given to people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) -- a condition where people have memory problems that are more severe than those normally seen in others of their age.

People with MCI are thought to be at high risk of developing Alzheimer's or dementia.

Italian researchers, however, found that in none of six clinical trials they examined did using the drugs significantly reduce the rate of progression from MCI to dementia.

Accurate assessment of the effect of anti-cholinesterase medicines was muddied by the lack of a precise definition for MCI, Roberto Raschetti and colleagues at the National Centre for Epidemiology, Surveillance and Health Promotion in Rome reported in the online journal PLoS Medicine.

Their findings may prompt a rethink among doctors who are currently using anti-cholinesterase drugs off-label in MCI. Off-label use refers to the common practice of prescribing drugs for uses for which they are not officially approved.

In Italy, an estimated 27 percent of patients diagnosed with MCI are given Alzheimer's drugs off-label and Raschetti said it was likely the situation was similar in other countries.

He argued more clinical trials were needed, using a single agreed definition of MCI, before there could be any justification for doctors to use the drugs in pre-dementia cases, especially as the drugs can have harmful side effects.

Aricept is marketed by Japan's Eisai Co Ltd and Pfizer Inc, while Novartis AG sells Exelon. Reminyl is sold by Shire Plc and also by Johnson & Johnson under the brand name Razadyne.

A row over who should get these drugs ended up in court in London earlier this year after Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said they should not be given to newly diagnosed patients with mild Alzheimer's disease.

Drugmakers claimed the agency's cost-effectiveness calculations were flawed but the court backed the restrictions in a ruling handed down in August.

Eat Grains and Sugars if You Want to go Blind

Carbohydrates that cause blood sugar levels to spike and fall rapidly could be a risk factor for central vision loss with aging. Central vision loss is one of the first signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness among the elderly.

Diets high in carbohydrates that are quickly digested and absorbed, such as white bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, sugars and corn syrups is also suspected of being involved in the vision loss that sometimes accompanies diabetes.

The type of damage to eye tissue produced by these “fast” carbs could be similar in both AMD and diabetic eye disease.


Sources:

* Science Daily November 27, 2007

Processed Meat Unsafe For Human Consumption; Cancer Experts Warn of Dietary Dangers


World cancer experts have finally declared what NewsTarget readers learned nearly four years ago: That processed meats cause cancer, and anyone seeking to avoid cancer should avoid eating all processed meats for life.

Hundreds of cancer researchers took part in a five-year project spanning more than 7,000 clinical studies and designed to document the links between diet and cancer. Their conclusion, published in the World Cancer Research Fund's report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective (2007), has rocked the health world with a declaration that all people should immediately stop buying and eating processed meat products and that all processed meat should be avoided for life!

Processed meats, the report explains, are simply too dangerous for human consumption. And why? Because they contain chemical additives that are known to greatly increase the risk of various cancers, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, brain tumors, pancreatic cancer and many more. The report, published at this DietAndCancerReport.org website also recommends that consumers:

• Avoid all sugary soft drinks for life.
• Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
• Get lean and fit, without becoming underweight.
• Limit consumption of ALL meats (even fresh meat).
• Breastfeed all infants for their first six months, avoiding infant formula.

Sadly, the WCRF still does not recommend that consumers use nutritional supplements to help protect themselves from cancer, indicating that the group still has a lot to learn about the role of medicinal mushrooms, sea vegetables, microalgae, Chinese herbs, rainforest herbs and superfood extracts in preventing and reversing cancer. But at least the group's recommendation that consumers now avoid all processed meat products is a huge step in the right direction. It is the first time that any internationally-recognized cancer organization has found the courage to make a partial proclaimation about the health hazards of the chemicals found in processed meat products. It's almost as big a deal as when the American Medical Association, after years of taking millions of dollars from tobacco companies, finally admitted that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. (A decade after the scientific evidence was irrefutable, of course, but then again, the AMA was making money off Big Tobacco by running tobacco ads in JAMA...)

What is "processed meat" exactly?
A woman asked me this question at a recent live event where I was warning the audience about the dangers of chemicals found in popular grocery products. Frankly, I was surprised to hear the question. But I've since learned that many people really don't know the difference between processed meat and non-processed meat ("fresh" meat).

Here's the difference:

Fresh meat usually has only one ingredient: The meat! Fresh meat is refrigerated and has a very short shelf life (just a few days, usually). It's usually packaged in simple wrappers, with no fancy logos or color printing.

Processed meat has many ingredients and is usually packaged for long-term shelf life. These products almost always contain sodium nitrite, the cancer-causing chemical additive that meat companies use as a color fixer to turn their meat products a bright red "fresh-looking" color. Processed meat products include:

• Bacon
• Sausage
• Pepperoni
• Beef jerky
• Deli slices
• Hot dogs
• Sandwich meat (including those served at restaurants)
• Ham
• Meat "gift" products like Christmas sausages
• Meat used in canned soups
• Meat used in frozen pizza
• Meat used in kid's lunch products
• Meat used in ravioli, spaghetti or Italian pasta products

... and many more meat products.

Unless it says "NITRITE FREE" on the front label, you can bet it's made with cancer-causing sodium nitrite!

(Hint: You will only find nitrite-free meat products in two places in the grocery store: 1) In the fresh meat section where you can buy freshly-ground hamburger, for example, and 2) In the freezer, where you can find "natural" meat products that are nitrite-free.

What are the dangerous chemicals in processed meats?
Sodium nitrite is one of the most dangerous chemicals added to processed meats. Please be aware:

• You MUST read the ingredients list to find the sodium nitrite! Meat product companies do not list this ingredient on the front of the package.

• Even ORGANIC meat products and NATURAL meat products can still contain sodium nitrite. So read the labels to be sure, and avoid buying any meat product made with sodium nitrite.

• Be especially careful of food for kids! Virtually all packaged food products containing meat and marketed to children contain sodium nitrite! (Read the ingredients to protect your children.)

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a second dangerous chemical found in virtually all processed meat products. MSG is a dangerous excitotoxin linked to neurological disorders such as migraine headaches, Alzheimer's disease, loss of appetite control, obesity and many other serious health conditions. Manufacturers use MSG to add flavor to dead-tasting processed meat products.

Essentially, dead meat products look and taste dead (because they are), so meat companies use the following three ingredients to make them look fresh and taste interesting:

Sodium nitrite makes the meat look red and fresh. (But it promotes cancer.)

MSG makes the meat taste savory. (But it causes neurological disorders.)

Processed salt makes the meat taste more interesting. (But it causes nutritional problems and high blood pressure.)

On top of these three chemical additives, processed meats also contain saturated animal fat that is often contaminated with PCBs, heavy metals, pesticide residues and other dangerous substances.

27 November 2007

High omega-3 fatty acid diet may lower Parkinson’s disease risk

Researchers at Université Laval in Quebec have demonstrated for the first time that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) confer a protective benefit against the development of Parkinson’s disease. The finding was reported online on November 21, 2007 in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology ( FASEB).

Frédéric Calon, of Laval’s center for research in molecular and oncologic endocrinology, and his associates fed mice a diet enriched with the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and linolenic acid, or a control diet deficient in these fatty acids. After ten months on the diets, the animals were injected over a five day period with an inert substance or MPTP, a neurotoxin that damages the brain in a manner similar to Parkinson’s disease. “This compound, which has been used for more than 20 years in Parkinson’s research, works faster than the disease itself and is just as effective in targeting and destroying the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain,” Dr Calon explained.

Two weeks following the administration of MPTP, examination of the animals’ brains revealed an increase in frontal cortex levels of DHA and a decline in the omega-6 fatty acid DPA in those that received the omega-3 fatty acid rich diet. In mice that received the control diet, treatment with MPTP resulted in a 31 percent reduction in the substantia nigra’s dopaminergic neurons, which are progressively destroyed in humans with Parkinson’s disease. This effect was prevented in mice that received high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids also appeared to help protect against the decrease in dopamine transporter levels observed in MPTP-treated mice that received the control diets. (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced by dopaminergic cells, and is involved with movement control.)

Because the brains of the omega-3 group did not show significant changes in arachidonic acid, linolenic acid, or EPA levels, the authors suggest that DHA is the primary omega-3 fatty acid involved in the protective effect demonstrated in this study, or, alternately, that the relatively high omega-6 fatty acid content of the control diet may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

“In North America, the average intake of DHA is between 60 to 80 mg a day, while experts recommend a daily minimum of 250 mg,” Dr Calon observed. “Our results suggest that this DHA deficiency is a risk factor for developing Parkinson’s disease, and that we would benefit from evaluating omega-3’s potential for preventing and treating this disease in humans.”

“As our present results suggest, this prevalent low consumption of DHA might be an important modifiable risk factor for Parkinson’s disease,” the authors conclude. “Fortunately, it is easy to treat omega-3 PUFA deficiency by changes in dietary habits or by administration of inexpensive supplements. Indeed, omega-3 PUFA are nonpatentable, widely available at low cost, and have an excellent safety profile.”

Dr. Drug Rep

During a year of being paid to give talks to doctors about an antidepressant, a psychiatrist comes to terms with the fact that taking pharmaceutical money can cloud your judgment.

New York Times

Pine Bark Extract Shows Arthritis Benefits

Extracts from French maritime pine bark may reduce the pain associated with arthritis of the knee by about 40 percent. It can also result in about a 52 percent improvement in physical function.

Researchers used the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities (WOMAC) Osteoarthritis Index as a measure of arthritis symptoms. Pain and physical function scores improved after 60 and 90 days of supplementation with pine bark extract, and after 90 days of supplementation the WOMAC scores for self-reported pain, stiffness, and physical function were reduced by 43, 35, and 52 percent, respectively.

The beneficial effects of pine bark extract might be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Sources:

* BeverageDaily.com November 20, 2007

How Does Stress Worsen Blood Cancer?

In cell cultures, the stress hormone norepinephrine promotes the signals that cause certain tumor cells to grow and spread. This means that stress hormones may play a completely different role in cancer development than researchers once thought.

Researchers looking at multiple myeloma, one of several types of cancers of the blood, found that a tumor cell line known as FLAM-76 responded strongly to the hormone. The norepinephrine bonded to receptors on the surface of the cells, causing them to produce a compound known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that is key to the formation of the new blood vessels which the tumor needs in order to grow.

The researchers are now working with other forms of cancer to test the effects of stress hormones like norepinephrine on their growth. In the past, it was believed that stress hormones worsened cancer by weakening the immune system.


Sources:

* Science Daily November 21, 2007

Cigarette Smoke Negates Heart Benefits of Alcohol


Breathing tobacco smoke is bad for cardiovascular health, and drinking alcohol at the same time only makes it worse, in spite of the reputed heart-protective qualities of moderate alcohol consumption.

Mice exposed to smoky air and fed a diet containing alcohol had a nearly five-fold increase in artery lesions. Mice on a normal diet who were exposed to the smoky air had only a 2.3-fold increase in artery lesions. Artery lesions are a key sign of advancing cardiovascular disease, and a common problem in heavy smokers.

The blood-alcohol concentrations of the mice were the equivalent of a 150-pound adult consuming 2 drinks per hour, and they experienced cigarette smoke exposure similar to being in an automobile with a chain smoker, with the windows closed.


Sources:

* Eurekalert November 21, 2007

24 November 2007

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs: What Are Drugmakers Hiding?

Almost 800,000 prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin are written each week, but it is still unclear how well the drugs work. Even though the medicines’ makers, Merck and Schering-Plough, completed a clinical trial of the drugs two years ago, they have yet to release the findings. Responding to increasing complaints from cardiologists, the companies promised to publish only a portion of the data next March.

This decision is highly unusual and has increased concerns about the trial, as well as the effectiveness of the drugs. If Zetia and Vytorin are ineffective, patients taking them are increasing their risk of heart attacks for no reason.
Drug makers have received sharp criticism for failing to disclose trials that had negative results, and two years ago drug companies agreed to publicly register clinical trials in advance and promptly disclose findings. But they face few, if any, penalties for failing to meet those promises.

Sources:

* New York Times November 21, 2007

Get Your B Vitamins to Stave Off Colon Cancer

A new study on mice shows that a deficiency in folate, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12 may increase the risk of DNA damage and colorectal cancers.

Researchers examined the Wnt pathway (a cellular signaling pathway linked to more than 85 per cent of colorectal cancers) and found that mild depletion of all four B vitamins was promoted the risk of tumor formation. Previous research suggested that folate deficiency alone increase the risk, but this new study suggests a more complex interaction.

However, some studies have reported that the B-vitamin may in fact increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer accounts for 9 per cent of cancer cases worldwide. The highest rate of incidence is in the industrialized world.

Sources:

* NutraIngredients.com November 21, 2007

Food Makers Pressured to Cut Sodium

Americans consume nearly two teaspoons of salt daily, which is more than double what they need. Seventy-five percent of that sodium comes from common processed foods.

Public health specialists are currently pressuring the FDA to require food makers to cut the sodium. The American Medical Association says cutting sodium in processed and restaurant foods in half could save 150,000 lives each year.

One in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. While being overweight and inactive can raise blood pressure, too much salt can do so as well.
Government guidelines set 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day as the safe upper limit, and the Institute of Medicine says that 1,500 mg a day is sufficient for health. But the average American consumes between 3,300 and 4,000 mg of sodium each day.

Sources:

* SFGate November 20, 2007

23 November 2007

Most Physicians Are Clueless About Obesity


University of Alberta researcher Tim Caulfield believes that most physicians are not prepared to deal with the current and worsening epidemic of obesity.

Physicians play a vital role in managing and identifying obesity. And in North America, by law, overweight and obese patients are entitled to the same level of care as the general public. But there are reasons to believe that the population of overweight patients is not, in many cases, receiving optimal care and advice.

Studies have shown that 83 percent of doctors are less likely to perform physical examinations on reluctant obese patients, and 17 percent admitted being reluctant to perform pelvic exams on obese patients. Another study found that a full quarter of physicians think that they are not competent or only slightly competent at recommending treatment for obese patients.

Steps should be taken, according to Caulfield, to ensure family physicians have the skills, tools and resources necessary to help their patients.
Sources:

* Science Daily November 21, 2007

22 November 2007

Study links WiFi with childhood autism


While there seems to be relatively few things that WiFi hasn't been linked to, it seems that a new study has managed to turn up yet another potential peril, in this case a link to childhood autism. According to the study published in the Australasian Journal of Clinical Environmental Medicine, the electromagnetic radiation from WiFi devices supposedly causes metals to be trapped in individuals' brain cells, which the researchers say slows clearance and accelerates the onset of autism symptoms. As Computer Weekly points out, however, a number of health agencies, including the World Health Organization, have repeatedly examined the issue and found no danger from WiFi devices (or cellphones, for that matter) operating at levels below international guidelines. Still, we have a sneaking suspicion that this is far from the last study of this sort we'll see, at least until each WiFi router shipped comes bundled with a tinfoil bodysuit.

[Via Switched]

Stem cell news is a step forward for regenerative medicine

This morning's pair of announcements on human stem cell research marks a step forward for regenerative medicine -- the study of regrowing or repairing body parts, using the body's own processes. Alan Russell's 2006 TEDTalk is a fascinating roundup of what regenerative medicine could bring: revolutionary treatments for heart disease, severe burns, even the loss of a part of the body.

Human stem cells are a vital tool in this discipline -- as are many other bits and pieces. Esquire magazine has an in-depth and charming story about another doctor in Alan Russell's Pittsburgh lab, Dr. Stephen Badylak, and his work with what the magazine calls "pixie dust" ... ground-up pig bladder.

21 November 2007

Hair regrowth discovery in mice may lead to hair loss solution in humans

(NewsTarget) Scientists have found a way to induce the regeneration of hair follicles and the regrowth of hair in mice. This new research that may provide clues to regrowing hair in humans, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

Researchers inflicted large, shallow wounds in the backs of mice. Once the wounds had reached a certain size, a process similar to embryonic development was activated. Stem cells were transported to the damaged skin, and actual regeneration of the removed hair follicles occurred. These follicles then grew hair normally, although the hair was lacking in pigmentation (and therefore white). The regeneration worked better when the scientists artificially applied a certain signaling protein to the skin.

"[The stem cells are] actually coming from epidermal cells that don't normally make hair follicles. So they're somehow reprogrammed and told to make a follicle," said lead researcher George Cotsarelis of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Cotsarelis said that the study disproved the widespread belief that mammal skin is incapable of regenerating hair follicles.

In an accompanying review, Cheng-Ming Chuong of the University of Southern California speculated as to why this effect has never before been observed in humans or other mammals. It is possible, Cheng-Ming wrote, the regeneration can only occur in larger wounds, the kind that are normally bandaged or stitched up in humans.

It is also possible that the regeneration would not work the same way in mammals other than mice.

Cotsarelis warned people not to try stimulating hair growth by inflicting wounds on themselves. "I'm kind of afraid of people misinterpreting this and incising the scalp," he said. "Don't try this at home."

Furthermore, he said, without the application of the same signaling protein, hair growth would probably be fairly sparse.

Cotsarelis has helped to set up a company called Follica, which hopes to develop a human hair regrowth treatment based on the findings of the study and a patent being filed by the University of Pennsylvania.

NewsTarget remains adamantly against all experimentation on animals and believes that these researchers are engaged in cruel actions that cause unnecessary pain and suffering to mice (which are warm-blooded mammals).

Avoid Spinal Surgery - First in Singapore to use Meditrac!

video

Dr Kevin's thought:

Im proud to announce that we are the first to bring this innovative medical equipment to Singapore. Designed by orthopaedic surgeons this device alleviates spinal problems such as disc herniation, nerve pain and low back/neck pain through a 3 dimensional abulatory traction.

Helping sufferers the option to avoid surgery or drugs and all the related complications that it usually entails!

20 November 2007

Are Your Children Allergic to Skin Care Products?

Children with skin allergies may be allergic to the oat proteins commonly found in skin care products. Of about 300 children with eczema seen at a pediatric dermatology unit in France, nearly a third had a skin reaction to oats.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin disorder that causes scaly and itchy rashes.

None of the parents had suspected an oat allergy in their child, and previous clinical examinations had not identified the allergies. Twenty-eight percent of children who were tested for the allergy by the application of oat cream to the skin developed eczema or other skin eruptions on the tested area.

75 percent of the children had been previously treated with oat-containing emollients.
Sources:

* Reuters November 14, 2007

Sunlight Deficiency Causes Endometrial Cancer

Using newly available worldwide data, researchers have shown a clear association between deficiency in exposure to sunlight and endometrial cancer.

The UV-B radiation in sunlight triggers photosynthesis of vitamin D3 in the body. Previous studies have shown associations between higher levels of vitamin D3 and lower risk of cancers of the breast, colon, kidney and ovary.

The new study used a new tool called GLOBOCAN, a database of cancer incidence, mortality and prevalence for 175 countries. Endometrial cancer incidence was higher at higher latitudes, even after controlling for known variables such as cloud cover and weight.
This is the third environmental paper from this research team to show a strong association between vitamin D and cancer using GLOBOCAN. The first paper showed a similar pattern for kidney cancer, and the second showed such a pattern for ovarian cancer.
Sources:

* Science Daily November 16, 2007

New Stem Cell Method Could Ease Ethical Concerns

By GINA KOLATA
Published: November 21, 2007

Two teams of scientists are reporting today that they turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today’s drawbacks will prove to be temporary.

Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work should reshape the stem cell field. At some time in the near future, they said, today’s debate over whether it is morally acceptable to create and destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells should be moot.

“Everyone was waiting for this day to come,” said the Rev. Tadeiusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. “You should have a solution here that will address the moral objections that have been percolating for years,” he added.

The two independent teams, from Japan and Wisconsin, note that their method also creates stem cells that genetically match the donor without having to resort to the controversial step of cloning. If stem cells are used to make replacement cells and tissues for patients, it would be invaluable to have genetically matched cells because they would not be rejected by the immune system. Even more important, scientists say, is that genetically matched cells from patients will enable them to study complex diseases, like Alzheimer’s, in the lab.

Until now, the only way to get embryonic stem cells that genetically matched an individual would be to create embryos that were clones of that person and extract their stem cells. Just last week, scientists in Oregon reported that they did this with monkeys, but the prospect of doing such experiments in humans has been ethically fraught.

But with the new method, human cloning for stem cell research, like the creation of human embryos to extract stem cells, may be unnecessary.

“It really is amazing,” said Dr. Leonard Zon, director of the stem cell program at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital.

And, said Dr. Douglas Melton, co-director of the Stem Cell Institute at Harvard University, it is “ethically uncomplicated.”

For all the hopes invested in it over the past decade, embryonic stem cell research has not yet produced any cures or major therapeutic discoveries. Stem cells are so malleable that they may pose risk of cancer, and the new method of obtaining stem cells includes steps that raise their own safety concerns.

Still, the new work could allow the field to vault significant problems, including the shortage of human embryonic stem cells and restrictions on federal funding for such research. Even when scientists have other sources of funding, they report that it is expensive and difficult to find women who will provide eggs for such research.

The new discovery is being published online today in Cell, in a paper by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institute for Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, and in Science, in a paper by James Thomson and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin.

While both groups used just four genes to reprogram human skin cells, two of the four genes used by the Japanese scientists were different from two of the four used by the American group. All the genes in question, though, act in a similar way – they are master regulator genes whose role is to turn other genes on or off.

The reprogrammed cells, the scientists report, appear to behave exactly like human embryonic stem cells.

“By any means we test them they are the same as embryonic stem cells,” Dr. Thomson says.

He and Dr. Yamanaka caution, though, that they still must confirm that the reprogrammed human skin cells really are the same as stem cells they get from embryos. And while those studies are underway, Dr. Thomson and others say, it would be premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos.

Another caveat is that , so far, scientists use a type of virus, a retrovirus, to insert the genes into the cells’ chromosomes. Retroviruses slip genes into chromosomes at random, sometimes causing mutations that can make normal cells turn into cancers.

In addition, one of the genes that the Japanese scientists insert actually is a cancer gene.

The cancer risk means that the resulting stem cells would not be suitable for replacement cells or tissues for patients with diseases, like diabetes, in which their own cells die. They would, though, be ideal for the sort of studies that many researchers say are the real promise of this endeavor — studying the causes and treatments of complex diseases.

For example, researchers want to make embryonic stem cells from a person with a disease like Alzheimer’s and turn the stem cells into nerve cells in a petri dish. Then, scientists hope, they may be able to understand what goes awry in Alzheimer’s patients when their brain cells die and how to prevent or treat the disease.

But even the retrovirus drawback may be temporary, scientists say. Dr. Yamanaka and several other researchers are trying to get the same effect by adding chemicals or using more benign viruses to get the genes into cells. They say they are starting to see success.

It is only a matter of time until retroviruses are not needed, Dr. Melton predicted.

“Anyone who is going to suggest that this is just a side show and that it won’t work is wrong,” Dr. Melton said.

The new discovery was preceded by work in mice. Last year, Dr. Yamanaka published a paper showing that he could add four genes to mouse cells and turn them into mouse embryonic stem cells.

He even completed the ultimate test to show that the resulting stem cells could become any type of mouse cell. He used them to create new mice, whose every cell came from one of those stem cells. Twenty percent of those mice, though, developed cancer, illustrating the risk of using retroviruses and a cancer gene to make cells for replacement parts.

Scientists were electrified by the reprogramming discovery, Dr. Melton said. “Once it worked, I hit my forehead and said, ‘it’s so obvious,’ ”he said. “But it’s not obvious until it’s done.”

Some were skeptical about Dr. Yamanaka’s work and questioned whether such an approach would ever work in humans.

“They said, ‘That’s very good with mice. But let’s see if you can do it with a human,”’ Dr. Zon recalled.

But others set off in what became an international race to repeat the work with human cells.

“Dozens, if not hundreds of labs, have been attempting to do this,” said Dr. George Daley, associate director of the stem cell program at Children’s Hospital.

Few expected Dr. Yamanka would succeed so soon. Nor did they expect that the same four genes would reprogram human cells.

“This shows it’s not an esoteric thing that happened in the mouse,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a stem cell researcher at M.I.T.

Ever since the birth of Dolly the sheep, scientists knew that adult cells could, in theory, turn into embryonic stem cells. But they had no idea how to do it without cloning, the way Dolly was created.

With cloning, researchers put an adult cell’s chromosomes into an unfertilized egg whose genetic material was removed. The egg, by some mysterious process, then does all the work. It reprograms the adult cell’s chromosomes, bringing them back to the state they were in just after the egg was fertilized. Those reprogrammed genes then direct the development of an embryo. A few days later, a ball of stem cells emerges in the embryo. Since the embryo’s chromosomes came from the adult cell, every cell of the embryo, including its stem cells, are exact genetic matches of the adult.

The abiding question, though, was, How did the egg reprogram the adult cell’s chromosomes? Would it be possible to reprogram an adult cell without using an egg?

About four years ago, Dr. Yamanaka and Dr. Thomson independently hit upon the same idea. They would search for genes that are being used in an embryonic stem cell that are not being used in an adult cell. Then they would see if those genes would reprogram an adult cell.

Dr. Yamanaka worked with mouse cells and Dr. Thomson worked with human cells from foreskins.

The researchers found more than 1,000 candidate genes. So both groups took educated guesses, trying to whittle down the genes to the few dozen they thought might be the crucial ones and then asking whether any combinations of those genes could turn a skin cell into a stem cell.

It was laborious work, with no guarantee of a payoff.

“The number of factors could have been one or ten or 100 or more,” Dr. Yamanaka said in a telephone interview from his lab in Japan.

If many genes were required, the experiments would have failed, Dr. Thomson said, because it would be impossible to test all the gene combinations.

The mouse work went more quickly than Dr. Thomson’s work with human cells. As soon as Dr. Yamanaka saw that the mouse experiments succeeded, he began trying the same brute force method in human skin cells that he ordered from a commercial laboratory. Some were face cells from a 36 year old white woman and others were connective tissue cells from joints of a 69 year old white man.

Dr. Yamanaka said he thought it would take a few years to find the right genes and the right conditions to make the human experiments work. Feeling the hot breath of competitors on his neck, he was in his lab every day for 12 to 14 hours a day, he said.

A few months later, he succeeded.

“We did work very hard,” Dr. Yamanaka said. “But we were very surprised.”

No Review of Sweetener Over Cancer Fears

By Maggie Fox
Reuters

June 26, 2007

The US Food and Drug Administration says there is no need for an urgent review of the safety of aspartame, despite a new study showing the sweetener may cause cancer.

A US consumer group today called for the review after Italian researchers published a new study last week that showed aspartame - widely used in soft drinks - might cause leukemia, lymphoma and breast cancer in rats.

"This is the second study by the same lab showing that aspartame causes cancer in rats," Centre for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael Jacobson said.

Aspartame is used mostly in soft drinks but is also sold in packets to use in coffee, tea or on food.

Morando Soffritti of the Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy, and colleagues tested aspartame in rats, which they allowed to live until they died naturally.

Their study of more than 4000 rats showed a lifetime of eating high doses of the sweetener raised the likelihood of several types of cancer.

"On the basis of the present findings, we believe that a review of the current regulations governing the use of aspartame cannot be delayed," Soffritti's team wrote in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which is published by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"This review is particularly urgent with regard to aspartame-containing beverages, heavily consumed by children."

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said the agency had not yet reviewed the study.

"However, the conclusions from this second European Ramazzini Foundation are not consistent with those from the large number of studies on aspartame that have been evaluated by FDA, including five previously conducted negative chronic carcinogenicity studies," Mr Herndon said.

"Therefore, at this time, FDA finds no reason to alter its previous conclusion that aspartame is safe as a general purpose sweetener in food."

Mr. Jacobson said researchers in previous studies all killed rats at the age of two years.

Allowing the rats to live longer may have been a better way to assess the natural risk of cancer, he said.

The CSPI said the Acceptable Daily Intake of aspartame in the United States was 50 mg per kilogram of body weight, equivalent to a 20 kg child drinking 2.5 cans of diet softdrink a day, or a 68 kilogram adult drinking about 7.5 cans a day.

The Italian researchers found a cancer risk at the very highest doses - double the US acceptable daily Intake.

Merisant, which makes Equal, said in a statement on its website: "The safety of aspartame has been confirmed by regulatory authorities in more than 100 countries, including the US Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food, as well as by experts with the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation and World Health Organisation."

Mr. Jacobson said people should avoid the product for now. "People shouldn't panic, but they should stop buying beverages and foods containing aspartame," he said.

Canadians Advocate Boosting Vitamin D in Pregnancy


A Canadian medical society recommends pregnant women and nursing moms boost their intake of vitamin D dramatically

Janet Raloff

Canadian pediatricians certainly aren't shirking controversy when it comes to a vitamin guideline they've developed for pregnant women and nursing moms. They're asking these women to boost their intake of vitamin D dramatically—to 10 times the daily doses advocated by most health organizations in the States. This new prescription is aimed at combating rickets—leg deformations caused by soft bones—in youngsters who get too little of the sunshine vitamin.

Vitamin D helps build strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium. Getting pregnant and nursing women to take more of the vitamin ensures that plenty will reach developing children.

In the past, most people had little trouble getting enough vitamin D—they just went outdoors where ultraviolet rays from the sun trigger chemical reactions in skin to make this vital nutrient. However, some people always had trouble making enough. Canadian kids at highest risk of vitamin deficits generally live in First Nations and Inuit communities. With sun-filtering pigments in their skin, and living at high latitudes, they must glean most of their vitamin D from the diet—generally a poor source—not the sun.

Most North American women—including those in the United States—eat diets delivering only about 100 international units, or IU, of vitamin D daily, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in Washington, D.C. That is half of what IOM recommends and a mere 5 percent of what Canadian pediatricians are now advocating for new and soon-to-be moms.

Although IOM's dietary recommendations are for the United States, the Canadian health establishment has tended to rubber stamp them. In this case, though, Canada's health agency took the unusual tack of signing off on a Canadian Paediatric Society proposal to boost the recommended intake by women who are pregnant or breast feeding to 2,000 IU per day. This new guideline appears in a consensus statement published in September by the society in its journal, Paediatrics & Child Health.

Soon the society will begin sending its new guideline to every provincial, territorial, and aboriginal health department across Canada, notes Marie Adèle Davis, the group's executive director. The goal, she told Science News Online, is to make sure all public health officials learn about it—not just pediatricians.

The higher recommendation equals the amount that IOM has designated as the safe upper limit for vitamin D's daily consumption. Most nutritionists don't really consider that value is a true ceiling for safe intake—especially since sunbathing on a bright summer day can generate 10,000 to 20,000 IU in the body without harm. Still, for political and legal reasons, most organizations shy away from advocating intakes near what IOM has flagged as a potential maximum for safe consumption.

Now a number of researchers suspect that intakes by pregnant and lactating women much below 2,000 IU per day could actually prove unsafe for child health.

Reinhold Vieth of the University of Toronto explained why, recently, to officials with Health Canada, a counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To prevent rickets, he argued, a baby needs 400 IU of vitamin D per day. And in many parts of Canada, he said, nursing women may require several thousand IU of vitamin D per day to get 400 IU into their breast milk. Vieth had been recruited by the Canadian Paediatric Society to help defend its proposed guideline to government officials.

U.S. physicians won't quibble over the 400 IU figure for babies and young children, notes pediatrician Frank R. Greer, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) committee on nutrition. Although the 1997 IOM report says 200 IU of vitamin D per day should be sufficient for anyone under 50—including children—few researchers buy that. "Everybody feels that we should be taking more than 200 IU," says Greer, of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Unlike the Canadian Paediatric Society, though, "We [at AAP] don't really have any influence on what pregnant and lactating women take," Greer says. "However, I can say that AAP's committee on nutrition has recommended to the board that we go back to [recommending] 400 IU for all children." That's the amount in a teaspoon of cod liver oil—the vitamin D supplement of choice throughout the early 20th century. Greer expects his committee's recommendation to be approved by AAP's board, perhaps within the next month.

Optimal needs vary

For most of the past century, nutrient guidelines have been set to prevent gross deficiencies—shortfalls that could cause disease. Those recommendations tended to represent minimally adequate intakes. Over the past decade, however, considerable debate has surrounded what vitamin D consumption levels would be optimal versus merely adequate.

The controversy has been fueled by a steady stream of studies that have emerged since the IOM set its vitamin D guidelines. Nearly all demonstrate substantial health benefits from relatively high intakes of vitamin D—amounts well in excess of what most individuals now get. Moreover, those benefits extend well beyond protecting bone. More vitamin D seems to diminish the risk of cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, muscle loss, viral infections—even gum disease.

Researchers gauge vitamin D sufficiency on the basis of 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25-HD). This is not the form of the vitamin that is consumed—nor the hormonal form that the body actually uses—but an intermediary. To achieve optimal concentrations of 25-HD, growing numbers of nutrition and health scientists suggest, most of us would need intakes of 800 to 4,000 IU per day (see Vitamin D: What's Enough?).

How much vitamin D someone needs can vary widely, largely depending on the amount of skin that gets exposed to the sun each day—and for how long. Further complicating the picture, some skin is heavily pigmented, filtering sunlight out. Many people cover up with clothes or sunblock when they go outdoors. Still others live at high latitudes—as Canadians do—where little ultraviolet radiation makes it through the atmosphere during much of the year.

Even for women in the southern United States, however, "we've found that lactating women need about 6,000 IU a day to transfer enough vitamin D into their milk to supply adequate amounts to a nursing infant," says Bruce W. Hollis of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Nor are nursing moms the only individuals who may need relatively large doses of the vitamin. Hollis' research has shown that black women may sometimes need 4,000 IU a day for months at a time to compensate for little time outdoors, heavy skin pigmentation, and/or obesity—a factor that appears to diminish the body's ability to use vitamin D efficiently (see Understanding Vitamin D Deficiency).

Another reason for moms' supplementation?

In March, researchers at Harvard Medical School reported evidence that ample vitamin D diminishes the chance a child will develop asthma, a scourge who's incidence has been rising, especially in black and low-income communities (see Childhood Vitamin D—A New Benefit?). Recently, an additional putative benefit has emerged for pregnant women and their developing babies.

A study linked elevated risk of preeclampsia—high blood pressure that develops in some women during the last half of pregnancy—with low intakes of vitamin D. This condition, which can lead to miscarriage and even the death of the mother—ordinarily develops in some three to seven percent of first pregnancies.

Pittsburgh researchers enrolled 1,198 women who were pregnant for the first time and measured their blood concentrations of vitamin D within the first 22 weeks of gestation. Subsequently, 59 women developed preeclampsia. Blood values from all but four were compared to a similar group of recruits who maintained normal blood pressure throughout their pregnancies.

The higher a woman's blood concentrations of 25-HD, the lower her chance of developing preeclampsia—and that risk fell steadily and "strikingly" with increasing vitamin D values, Lisa M. Bodnar of the University of Pittsburgh and her colleagues found.

Moreover, babies whose moms had developed preeclampsia were far more likely to have low vitamin-D values than were children whose moms had maintained normal blood pressure. "These differences were found in our population despite widespread prenatal/multivitamin use in the 3 months before delivery," Bodnar's group reports in the September Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Black women face far higher risks of developing this hypertensive syndrome. Overall, black women are also far likelier than other ethnic or racial groups to have low blood levels of vitamin D. Against this backdrop, Bodnar's group says, "our data linking vitamin D deficiency and preeclampsia risk raises the intriguing possibility that vitamin D may contribute to racial disparities in this [syndrome]."

"The story of deficiency begins with vitamin D itself and its primary mode of synthesis, which is from sunlight," argue Adekunle Dawodu of the University of Cincinnati and Carol L. Wagner of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. In a commentary in the September Archives of Disease in Childhood, they report a resurgence of rickets around the world, not only in children at high latitudes, but also in the Arab world and Asia where culture or excessive temperatures may keep women and children indoors or covered up.

A shift from vitamin-D sufficiency to widespread deficiency has occurred rapidly—mostly throughout a half-century. The reason for it is clear, Dawodu and Wagner say: "insufficient sun exposure and inadequate corrective vitamin-D supplementation." They conclude, much as the Canadian Paediatric Society just has, that dosing moms during pregnancy and lactation "would achieve the double effect of preventing vitamin-D deficiency in both mothers and children." But unlike the Canadian society, they note that doses considerably higher than 2,000 IU may be necessary for some individuals and communities.

As a goal, achieving population-wide vitamin D sufficiency "may be one of the more important preventative public health initiatives," conclude Dawodu and Wagner.

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