13 June 2009
Many essential oils have been used to help prevent influenza and other viral infections, as well as to help treat symptoms in those who are ill. Some essential oils are thought to act in positive ways to help defend against influenza infections or shorten the time that flu symptoms are experienced. Some are used in baths, massage oils or applied to the body in various ways. Here are a few:
Angelica -- (Angelica archangelica or A. officinalis) Anti-infectious and strengthens the immune system, but is photosensitizing so do not used on areas of the skin that will be exposed to sunlight.
Bergamot -- (Citrus bergamia) An antiseptic essential oil that not only helps destroy infectious microbes, but also helps strengthen the immune system. Photosensitizing.
Black Pepper -- (Piper nigrum) A warming essential oil that acts against respiratory congestion, viruses and bacteria.
Eucalyptus -- (Eucalyptus globulus, E. radiata, E. citriodora) Helps clear respiratory congestion and kills bacteria as well as other germs.
Garlic -- (Allium sativum) Highly antiseptic, antibacterial and detoxifying.
Ginger -- (Zingiber officinale) Seems to increase natural immune defenses at the cellular level and is strong against viruses.
Peppermint -- (Mentha piperita) Diffused in the air to ease lung congestion and respiratory infections.
Rosemary -- (Rosmarinus officinalis) A very strong antiseptic, rosemary is also useful for respiratory ailments.
Tea Tree -- (Melaleuca alternifolia) Better against fungi and bacteria, tea tree is still effective against viral infections.
Some essential oils are contraindicated for people with certain medical conditions, so be sure to study more about individual essential oils before using. Most aromatherapists recommend starting with the smallest amount of essential oils possible.
11 June 2009
Supplements of vitamin K2 may improve bone health in prepubescent children, and potentially protect them from osteoporosis later in life, says a new study.
Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, Dutch scientists report that a daily supplement of vitamin K2 in the menaquinone-7 (MK-7) form improved levels of osteocalcin, a vitamin K-dependent protein and is essential for the body to utilise calcium in bone tissue. Without adequate vitamin K, the osteocalcin remains inactive, and thus not effective.
“The present study is the first one to demonstrate that increased vitamin K intake by supplement improves the osteocalcin activity in children,” said Professor Cees Vermeer at the VitaK research center in Maastricht.
“The next step must be that also an effect of MenaQ7 on bone strength or fracture risk is demonstrated in this age group. There is a growing awareness that maximizing bone strength at childhood is an important strategy to prevent osteoporosis at later age,” he added.
Osteoporosis is characterized by low bone mass, which leads to an increase risk of fractures, especially the hips, spine and wrists. An estimated 75 million people suffer from osteoporosis in Europe, the USA and Japan.
Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.
Potential reduction of osteoporosis has traditionally been a two-pronged approach by either attempting to boost bone density in high-risk post-menopausal women by improved diet or supplements, or by maximising the build up of bone during the highly important pubescent years.
About 35 per cent of a mature adult's peak bone mass is built-up during puberty.
Professor Vermeer and his cow-workers recruited 55 healthy children to participate in a double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled trial. Children were randomly assigned to receive either dailyMK-7 supplements (45 micrograms, MenaQ7 provided by NattoPharma, Norway), or placebo for eight weeks.
Using the ratio of undercarboxylated osteocalcin (ucOC) to carboxylated osteocalcin (cOC) as a measure of vitamin K status, the researchers found that, in the MK-7 group only, levels of ucOC decreased, and the ratio of ucOC to cOC improved.
No changes were observed in other measures, including bone markers and coagulation parameters.
“The present study indicates that supplementation with MK-7, one of the vitamin K2 species, during 8 weeks reduces the amount of circulating ucOC and thereby improves vitamin K status in healthy prepubertal children,” wrote the researchers.
“Additional dose-finding studies are needed to investigate optimal osteocalcin carboxylation in children. Thereafter, large longitudinal supplementation paediatric trials are required to confirm the beneficial effect of vitamin K supplementation via osteocalcin carboxylation on improved bone mass and diminished fracture risk,” they added.
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Kidney stones (renal lithiasis) can be one of the most excruciatingly painful conditions you can experience. In the United States, about 10-15 percent of adults will be diagnosed with a kidney stone in their lifetime. Roughly 1 million Americans develop kidney stones each year. Once you have had one kidney stone attack, your chance of recurrence is about 70 to 80 percent.
Family genetics can increase your risk. And the younger you are when you have your first attack, the greater your risk of recurrence.
Records of kidney stones can be found since the beginning of civilization. Lithotomy, a surgical procedure for removing stones, is one of the earliest known surgical procedures. In fact, a caution about the dangers of surgically removing stones is even found in the text of the Hippocratic Oath.
If you are a man, your risk for kidney stones is four times greater than if you are a woman. And if you live in the southeastern part of the U.S., also referred to as the “Kidney Stone Belt,” your risk is even greater due to higher rates of dehydration.
In the Middle East, kidney stone rates are nearly double what they are in the U.S., due to the warmer climate.
Kidney stones can range in size from a grain of sand to larger than a golf ball. If a stone fails to pass, permanent damage to your urinary tract can result.
This is not something to ignore -- not that you could easily ignore such a painful episode.
The number of cases of adult kidney stones appears to be on the rise, most likely as a result of modern diets. And now, kidney stones are being seen in children in unprecedented numbers ... just one more sad result of our modern dietary habits.
Fortunately, 90 to 95 percent of kidney stones pass within a number of days or weeks, without any intervention at all. And, even better news -- the best remedy is also the best prevention, and also happens to be the least expensive: simply drink more water.
Recognizing a Kidney Stone Attack
Your kidneys are responsible for removing excess fluid from your body and filtering out unneeded electrolytes and wastes from your blood, resulting in the production of urine.
Kidney stones form when the minerals and acid salts in your urine crystallize, stick together, and solidify into a mass. This happens when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances, such as calcium and uric acid, than the available fluid can dilute. This can happen when urine is highly acid or highly alkaline.
The conditions allowing kidney stones to form are created by problems in the way your body absorbs and eliminates calcium and other substances. Sometimes the underlying cause is a metabolic disorder or kidney disease.
Certain drugs can also promote kidney stones, such as Lasix (furosemide), Topomax (topiramate), and Xenical, among others. Many times, it is a combination of factors that create an environment favorable to stone formation.
You won’t know you have a stone until it moves into the urethra—the tube connecting your kidney and your bladder. Common symptoms include:
Pain in your side and back, below your ribs
Episodes of pain lasting 20 to 60 minutes, of varying intensity
Pain “waves” radiating from your side and back, to your lower abdomen and groin
Bloody, cloudy or foul-smelling urine
Pain with urination
Nausea and vomiting
“Urgency” (persistent urge to urinate)
Fever and chills (indicates an infection is also present)
The pain is a result of distention of the tissues above the stone, since it is blocking the passage of urine, rather than from the pressure of the stone itself.
Four Types of Kidney Stones
Most kidney stones contain crystals of multiple types. However, usually one type predominates, and determining the type helps you identify the underlying cause3:
1. Calcium stones. The most common type (four out of five cases)is usually in the form of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is found in some fruits and vegetables, but your liver produces most of your oxalate. If you are found to have oxalate stones, your doctor may recommend avoiding foods rich in oxalates, such as dark green vegetables, nuts and chocolate.
2. Struvite stones: Found more often in women, these are almost always the result of urinary tract infections.
3. Uric acid stones. These are a byproduct of protein metabolism.They’re commonly seen with gout,and may result from certain genetic factors and disorders of your blood-producing tissues.
4. Cystine stones. Represent a very small percentage of kidney stones.These are the result of a hereditary disorder that causes your kidneys to excrete massive amounts of certain amino acids (cystinuria).
Many Risk Factors are Under YOUR Control
The number one risk factor for kidney stones is not drinking enough water. If you aren’t drinking enough, your urine will simply have higher concentrations of substances that can form stones.
How do you know if you are drinking enough water?
You want your urine to be a light yellow. Every person’s water requirement is different, depending on your particular system and activity level, but simply keeping your urine light yellow will go a long way toward preventing kidney stones. Remember to increase your water intake whenever you increase your activity, and when you’re in a warmer climate.
If you happen to be taking any multivitamins or B supplements that contain vitamin B2 (riboflavin), the color of your urine will be a very bright nearly fluorescent yellow and this will not allow you to use the color of your urine as a guide to how well you are hydrated.
Waiting until you feel thirsty is often too late. Thirst usually signifies dehydration.
Healthy Lifestyle is KEY to Avoiding Kidney Stones
Another risk factor is being sedentary. You’re more prone to kidney stones if you’re bedridden or very sedentary for a long period of time, partly because limited activity can cause your bones to release more calcium.
High blood pressure doubles your risk for kidney stones.
Digestive problems also increase your risk, since changes in the digestive process affect your absorption of calcium and other minerals.
A diet high in sugar can set you up for stones, since sugar upsets the mineral relationships in your body by interfering with calcium and magnesium absorption. Not only does sugar and high fructose corn syrup lead to obesity and diabetes, but also the current over-the-top consumption of these unhealthy sugars by children is a large factor in why children as young as age 5 or 6 are now turning up with kidney stones.
A 1999 South African study found that drinking soda exacerbates conditions in the urine that lead to formation of calcium oxalate kidney stone problems.
Diets high in processed salt are also bad news. Salt increases the amount of calcium and oxalate in your urine. And processed foods are extremely high in salt.
Dr. Bruce L. Slaughenhoupt, co-director of pediatric urology at the University of Wisconsin, reports a huge increase in the salt load of children’s diets -- from salty chips, French fries, sandwich meats, canned soups, and sports drinks like Gatorade, which are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes. He believes the overconsumption of processed foods by children today is the cause of increased kidney stones in children2.
Not surprisingly, there also appears to be a connection between childhood obesity and kidney stones.. Children are notorious for not drinking enough water, adding to the problem.
Consumption of soy can predispose you to developing kidney stones due to high levels of oxalate present in many varieties of soybeans. One more nail in the coffin for non-fermented soy!
And finally, caffeine has been linked to kidney stones. In one study, caffeine was given to people with a history of kidney stones, after which their urine was examined. The subjects showed elevated urine calcium, putting them at higher risk for kidney stones.
What About Your Calcium Intake?
In the past, kidney stone sufferers have been warned to avoid foods rich in calcium. However, there is now evidence that avoiding calcium may do more harm than good. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of more than 45,000 men. The men who had diets rich in calcium had a one-third lower risk of kidney stones than those with lower calcium diets.
Why would this be? It seems counterintuitive. After all, calcium is the largest component in the stones.
The answer is that high dietary calcium actually blocks a chemical action that causes the formation of the stones. It binds with oxalates (from foods) in your intestine, which then prevents both from being absorbed into your blood and later transferred to your kidneys.
So, urinary oxalates may be more important to formation of calcium-oxalate kidney stone crystals than is urinary calcium.
It is important to note that it is the calcium from foods that is beneficial -- not calcium supplements, which have actually been found to increase your risk of kidney stones by 20 percent.
Busting the Myth That High Protein Diets Lead to Kidney Stones
In the 1990s when the Atkins diet reached huge popularity, critics claimed that high protein intake leads to kidney stones. This turned out to be a complete myth, but the misinformation is still being circulated.
Although protein restricted diets are helpful for people who already have kidney disease, eating meat does not cause kidney problems. Furthermore, the fat-soluble vitamins and saturated fat found in animal foods are pivotal for the proper functioning of your kidneys.
“Don’t Do Something -- Just Sit There!”
As with most things, the best approach is the safest and simplest--letting the stone pass on its own. This might take days, or weeks in some cases, but the key is to drink enough water -- NOT soda -- to decrease the concentration of solids in your urine to the point that the stone will be dissolved.
Avoid drinking tea since it is high in oxalates.
There are several medical procedures and surgical techniques that can be used to treat kidney stones, but the risks are high enough that physicians typically shy away from them, unless there's no other choice. This is actually a good thing, considering the multitude of problems American patients face due to medical errors.
Pain medications will usually be offered, if your pain level is intolerable.
Some medicinal herbs have been identified to be helpful for acute episodes, including:
You should always consult the advice of an expert herbalist, since herbs can be every bit as potent as pharmaceuticals and may cause harm if used improperly.
Of course, even better than letting a kidney stone pass naturally would be if you never had to deal with this very painful problem in the first place.
Lifestyle Modifications for Healthy Kidneys
In summary, a few lifestyle modifications will go a long way toward preventing a painful kidney stone attack:
As discussed previously, stay well hydrated
Eat a diet based on your body’s unique nutritional type
Avoid taking prescription drugs that harm more than they heal
Avoid sugar, soy, caffeine, excess salt, and processed foods
Get plenty of exercise to keep your body’s fluids moving
Make sure you’re getting adequate magnesium and vitamin B6 in your diet, which have both been suggested to help prevent kidney stone formation
Lifestyle changes always take some effort and might seem inconvenient at first. But compared to the painful process of passing a kidney stone, a few lifestyle changes are a cinch!
ome people seem to be able to keep their wits well into old age. But what's their secret?
New research reveals a host of factors that may contribute to a sharper mind late in life, including exercise, education, non-smoking behavior and social activity.
While other research has shown that genetics play a role in whether people get dementia, the study adds to a growing body of research that is uncovering ways you can up the odds of keeping your brain healthy and your memory sharp now and later.
The study tested the cognitive ability of 2,500 people aged 70 to 79 over eight years. More than half of the subjects showed normal age-related decline in mind function and 16 percent had a considerable decline during the course of the study. But 30 percent of participants did not show a change in their cognitive skills, and some even improved on the tests.
The researchers then looked to see what could account for this difference.
EXERCISE: They found that people who exercised moderately to vigorously at least once a week were 30 percent more likely to maintain a sharp mind than those who did not work-out as often.
EDUCATION: People with at least a high school education were almost three times more likely to keep up their cognitive ability than those without this education. And those who had a ninth grade literacy level were nearly five times more likely to maintain the ability (a specific word recognition test was administered during the study to assess the subject's literacy level.)
NOT SMOKING: There was also a connection between smoking and brain function in old age. Non-smokers were almost twice as likely to stay quick-minded as those who smoked.
SOCIALIZING: Finally, some social activity may also be good for the mind. The results showed that subjects who volunteered, worked or lived with someone else were 24 percent more likely to keep up their cognitive function.
"Some of these factors such as exercise and smoking are behaviors that people can change," said Alexandra Fiocco, a study author and research at the University of California, San Francisco. "Discovering factors associated with cognitive maintenance may be very useful in prevention strategies that guard against or slow the onset of dementia."
The results were published in a June issue of Neurology. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The study supports past research that has pointed to exercise as a way to protect your brain and prevent the development of cognitive disorders. Exercise stresses your body, and causes it to release certain growth factors that can strength neurons and keep them healthy.
CINCINNATI—New research led by the University of Cincinnati (UC) suggests that the hunger hormone ghrelin is activated by fats from the foods we eat—not those made in the body—in order to optimize nutrient metabolism and promote the storage of body fat.
The findings, the study's author says, turn the current model about ghrelin on its head and point to a novel stomach enzyme (GOAT) responsible for the ghrelin activation process that could be targeted in future treatments for metabolic diseases.
The laboratory study, led by Matthias Tschöp, MD, UC associate professor of psychiatry and internal medicine, is published online ahead of print Friday, June 5, 2009, in the journal Nature Medicine.
Ghrelin is a hormone that was believed to accumulate during periods of fasting and is found in the body in high concentrations just before meals. It is dubbed the "hunger hormone" because it has been shown that administration of pharmacological doses acts in the brain to stimulate hunger and increase food intake in animal models and humans.
The ghrelin hormone is unique in that it requires acylation (the addition of a fatty acid) by a specific enzyme (ghrelin O-acyl transferase, or GOAT) for activation. Originally it was assumed that the fatty acids attached to ghrelin by GOAT were produced by the body during fasting.
The new data by Tschöp and his team suggests that the fatty acids needed for ghrelin activation actually come directly from ingested dietary fats. In a departure from an earlier model that was upheld for nearly a decade, Tschöp says, it appears that the ghrelin system is a lipid sensor in the stomach that informs the brain when calories are available—giving the green light to other calorie-consuming processes such as growing.
Tschöp and his team used mouse models to test the effects of over expressing the GOAT enzyme, or "knocking it out." They found that, when exposed to a lipid-rich diet, mice without GOAT accumulated less fat than normal mice, while those with over-expressed GOAT accumulated more fat mass than normal mice.
"When exposed to certain fatty foods, mice with more GOAT gain more fat," says Tschöp. "Mice without GOAT gain less fat since their brain does not receive the 'fats are here, store them' signal."
Tschöp says that although his study can't be immediately extrapolated to humans, recent human studies at the University of Virginia measured (separately) active and inactive ghrelin concentrations. Those studies showed that during fasting, active ghrelin levels were flat, but during the presence of fat from foods, ghrelin levels peaked with meals as previously described. Tschöp says these human studies support the new model for ghrelin.
"Our GOAT studies in mice offer an explanation of what could have been happening during the longer fasting periods in these human studies," Tschöp adds. "Without dietary fats, ghrelin peaks remain inactive and don't affect storage of fat.
"We are particularly interested in how ghrelin may be involved in the rapid benefits of gastric bypass surgery," says Tschöp. "This powerful obesity therapy frequently reduces appetite and improves metabolism before substantial weight loss occurs. Intriguingly, this procedure causes food to bypass the stomach and gut sections that contain GOAT/ghrelin cells, which, based on this newly described model, would prevent ghrelin activation."
WESTCHESTER, Ill. – According to a research abstract that will be presented on Monday, June 8 at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, in the presence of free access to food, sleep restricted subjects reported decrease in appetite, food cravings and food consumption; however, they gained weight over the course of the study. Thus, the finding suggests that energy intake exceeded energy expenditure during the sleep restriction
Results indicate that people whose sleep was restricted experienced an average weight gain of 1.31 kilograms over the 11 days of the study. Of the subjects with restricted sleep who reported a change in their appetite and food consumption, more than 70 percent said that it decreased by day 5 of the study. A group of well rested control subjects did not experience the weight gain.
According to lead investigator Siobhan Banks, PhD, a research fellow at the University of South Australia and former assistant research professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, it was surprising that participants did not crave foods rich in carbohydrates after sleep restriction, as previous research suggested they might. Results indicate that even though physiologically the desire to eat was not increased by sleep loss in participants, other factors such as the sedentary environment of the laboratory and the ability to snack for longer due to reduction in time spent asleep might have influenced the weight gain.
"During real-world periods of sleep restriction (say during shift work), people should plan their calorie intake over the time they will be awake, eating small, healthy meals," said Banks. "Additionally, healthy low fat/sugar snacks should be available so the temptation to eat comfort foods is reduced. Finally, keeping up regular exercise is just as important as what food you eat, so even though people may feel tried, exercising will help regulate energy intake balance."
The study involved 92 healthy individuals (52 male) between the ages of 22 and 45 years who participated in laboratory controlled sleep restriction. Subjects underwent two nights of baseline sleep (10 hours in bed per night), five nights of sleep restriction and varying recovery for four nights. Nine well rested participants served as controls. Food consumption was ad libitum (subjects had three regular meals per day and access to healthy snacks, and during nights of sleep restriction subjects were given a small sandwich at one a.m.).
The annual SLEEP meeting brings together an international body of 6,000 leading researchers and clinicians in the field of sleep medicine to present and discuss new findings and medical developments related to sleep and sleep disorders.
More than 1,300 research abstracts will be presented at the SLEEP meeting, a joint venture of the AASM and the Sleep Research Society. The three-and-a-half-day scientific meeting will bring to light new findings that enhance the understanding of the processes of sleep and aid the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea.
9 June 2009
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The amount of fat accumulated around internal abdominal organs appears to affect the likelihood of a recurrence of liver cancer following treatment, Japanese researchers report.
Dr. H. Yoshida of the University of Tokyo and colleagues came to this conclusion after following 62 patients who had undergone treatment for liver cancer; 27 were classified as having high amounts of so-called "visceral" fat, while the other 35 had smaller amounts.
After a year, the recurrence rate was 15.9 percent in the high visceral fat group compared with 9.7 percent in the other patients.
After 3 years, the corresponding rates were 75.1 percent and 43.1 percent, the team reports in the issue of Gut
During the observation period, there were 14 deaths, 9 of which were due to progression of liver cancer. However, there was no significant difference in survival between those with high amounts of belly fat and those with small amounts.
Meanwhile, the team concludes, "it remains to be seen" whether reducing levels of visceral fat decreases the odds of liver cancer returning.
We all know that coughs and sneezes spread diseases – and that we should wash our hands to prevent passing on nasty viruses and bacteria. But how many of us just flick our hands under a dribbling tap and think that will do? Now hopeless hand washers will be caught – not red-handed, but with glowing green fingers, by the Society for General Microbiology’s (SGM) good hand washing test.
A team from the SGM will be at the Cheltenham Science Festival demonstrating their hand washing training kit that uses a cream containing a harmless dye that glows green in ultraviolet light to show up shoddy hand washing.
“Under finger nails and the cracks between fingers are the usual sites which get missed, said SGM’s Dariel Burdass, “We put a blob of cream on people’s hands and send them away to wash them. When they come back they are often amazed at how much glowing green dye remains on their fingers – if the dye was a nasty microbe they would be standing a good chance of infecting themselves and passing it on to other people.
The team also use the glowing cream to show how viruses such as those that cause colds and flu can survive on hard surfaces and be spread from hand to hand. Just touching a doorknob that has had a little of the special cream applied to it, can make people’s fingers turn green under UV light – and then when they touch another person’s hand the green glow gets passed on.
“Although this is great fun for children as it has a real “yuk” factor,” Dariel continued, “It has a serious side too. The current TV adverts about swine flu stress that we should use a tissue when we sneeze to stop virus-laden droplets spreading over a wide area. Our hand washing test shows very clearly how viruses can spread from hand to hand and by touching contaminated surfaces”.
The message seems to be hitting home. One participant remarked, “I hadn’t realised the huge difference that washing my hands could make to the spread of colds. Next time I sneeze I won’t be wiping my hands down my jumper!”
A new cancer study from India suggests that fluoride is a contributing factor to osteosarcoma, or bone cancer - but just how much fluoride intake causes the uncommon disease is not clear.
Fluoride in Americans’ tap water has spurred controversy since its introduction in 1945. Anti-fluoride activists say the risks are too high to add “medication” to the water, while government officials cite scientific studies that prove fewer cavities and no serious risk.
In Europe, most countries refuse to treat their water with fluoride with the exception of the United Kingdom. According to the British Medical Journal, fluoridation was introduced in 1963, and the Department of Health reports that rates of dental decay have been reduced 70 percent. But experts remain divided over epidemiological research that has suggested that water fluoridation might be linked to osteoporosis, dental fluorosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and other health problems.
The latest cancer study indicates blood fluoride levels were significantly higher in patients with osteosarcoma than in control groups, according to research published in Biological Trace Element Research (April 2009).
Osteosarcoma occurs mostly in children and young adults. According to the study, status of fluoride levels in the serum of osteosarcoma is still not clear. Other reports have also indicated that there is a link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma.
“The more studies that we have which talk about osteosarcoma with fluoride, the more the scientific community will take notice and eventually blind politicians will do the same,” said Paul Beeber, president of the New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation.
So far U.S. government health officials don’t agree.
The American Dental Association issued a statement that community water fluoridation is a safe, effective public health measure for preventing tooth decay after a similar study appeared in 2006.
After more than 60 years of rigorous scientific study of water fluoridation, ADA officials said “the overwhelming weight of scientific evidences does not show an association with osteosarcoma.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Janis Winogradsky said they don’t comment on outside studies. But she referred to a National Research Study done for the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 in which researchers reviewed the literature on fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma. The report states that the literature does not clearly indicate that fluoride is carcinogenic in humans.
According to the American Cancer Society, osteosarcoma is a rare cancer, which means it can be hard to gather enough cases to do large studies. Smaller studies can usually detect large differences in cancer rates between two groups, but they may not be able to detect a smaller difference.
Nearly 70 percent of U.S. residents who get water from public water systems now have fluoridated water, according to the CDC. The rationale: Water fluoridation is a low-cost way to bring the benefits of fluoride to all residents.
8 June 2009
Conventional wisdom says that the meteoric rise in obesity and related health conditions – the early stages of which are now called metabolic syndrome – is due to the West having a bad case of “couch potato syndrome.” That is, over the past few decades, we have been eating too much and not exercising enough.
While poor diet and inactivity play an undeniable role in fostering metabolic syndrome, that’s not the whole story. Clinical and epidemiological evidence increasingly implicates another culprit: the environment.
An insufficient explanation
Some scientists suspect that a combination of environmental factors, including a group of chemicals called obesogens, share the blame for the explosion of metabolic syndrome and its later stages: diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimer’s.
“Despite what we’ve heard,” said Dr. Bruce Blumberg, Professor of Developmental and Cell Biology and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Univeristy of California, Irvine, “diet and exercise alone are insufficient to explain the obesity epidemic.”
A May 7 teleconference presented by the nonprofit Collaborative on Health and the Environment explored this urgent and compelling topic. This article is based upon that teleconference.
Metabolic syndrome is estimated to affect more than one-third of U.S. adults, 60% of them under 65 years old.
When environment collides with human biology
Speaker Dr. David Jacobs, Professor of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, a chronic-disease epidemiologist, defined metabolic syndrome as “a constellation of related metabolic abnormalities (body fatness, blood fat handling, insulin, glucose).”
Environmental factors suspected to contribute to metabolic syndrome include the food system, the transportation system, the built environment, air pollution, obesogens, other environmental contaminants, and socioeconomic stress.
These stressors alter pathways in the body, causing inflammation, oxidative stress, and disrupted insulin signaling. Altered pathways can, in turn, lead to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and abnormal lipids (tied to dementia and Alzheimer’s).
You can think of metabolic syndrome as a crossroads, said speaker Dr. Jill Stein, co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, board member of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, and co-author of the recent report Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging (www.agehealthy.org).
“This is where the environment meets human biology in the early stages of the disease process. You can think of environmental factors as kind of colliding with human biology here."
The obesity epidemic, as Dr. Bruce Blumberg pointed out, roughly correlates with the rise in the use of industrial chemicals (plastics, pesticides, etc.) in the years since World War Two.
Though, he reminded listeners, “correlation is not causation."
Also, many environmental contaminants affect the endocrine system, which plays a big part in determining weight by controlling the appetite and metabolism, fat cell development, and lipid balance. These basic facts, plus suggestive laboratory research, has led scientists to propose an additional label for certain chemicals: obesogen.
Some time ago, Dr. Blumberg and his colleagues proposed “the obesogen hypothesis,” which defined obesogens as “chemicals that inappropriately stimulate adipogenesis and fat storage, exist and contribute to the obesity epidemic.”
Varioius studies have found that pre- and post-natal exposure to obesogens reprograms the metabolism of exposed animals, predisposing them to obesity later in life.
Dr. Pete Myers, founder, CEO, and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, began the teleconference by describing one such study, by Soo Lim et al., published in the journal PLoS One in April 2009.
You can access the study at www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0005186
ATS 2009, SAN DIEGO—Vitamin D may slow the progressive decline in the ability to breathe that can occur in people with asthma as a result of human airway smooth muscle (HASM) proliferation, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
The group found that calcitriol, a form of vitamin D synthesized within the body, reduced growth-factor-induced HASM proliferation in cells isolated from both persons with asthma and from persons without the disease. The proliferation is a part of process called airway remodeling, which occurs in many people with asthma, and leads to reduced lung function over time.
The researchers believe that by slowing airway remodeling, they can prevent or forestall the irreversible decline in breathing that leaves many asthmatics even more vulnerable when they suffer an asthma attack.
"Calcitriol has recently earned prominence for its anti-inflammatory effects," said Gautam Damera, Ph.D., who will present the research at the American Thoracic Society's 105th International Conference in San Diego on Wednesday, May 20. "But our study is the first to reveal the potent role of calcitriol in inhibiting ASM proliferation."
The experiments were conducted with cells from 12 subjects, and the researchers compared calcitriol with dexmethasone, a corticosteroid prescribed widely for the treatment of asthma. Although, dexmethasone is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, the researchers found that it had little effect on HASM growth.
Dr. Damera and his colleagues found calcitriol inhibits HASM in a dose-dependent manner, with a maximum inhibitory effect of 60 percent ± 3 percent at 100nM.
As part of the University of Pennsylvania's Airway Biology Initiative, the researchers are planning a randomized control trial of calcitriol in patients with severe asthma and expect to have data from the trial in about a year's time.
With its anti-inflammatory qualities and its ability to inhibit smooth muscle proliferation, Dr. Damera said, calcitriol may become an important new therapy, used alone or in combination with already prescribed steroids, for treating steroid-resistant asthma.
Dr. Damera and his colleagues have also conducted experiments to determine the mechanism by which calcitriol retards HASM proliferation. They believe the vitamin works by inhibiting activation of distinct set of proteins responsible for cell-cycle progression.
The investigators have also conducted experiments to determine whether calcitriol, which is currently used to treat psoriasis, could be an effective therapy for COPD. Although preliminary, their data shows that calcitriol appears to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine secretions in COPD. As with asthma, the researchers believe, calcitriol may also have the added benefit of slowing, if not stopping, the progression of airway remodeling. Others in the field believe calcitriol may also have the potential to inhibit the development and growth of several types of cancer.
We all need to start eating closer to home, and with all due respect, I don’t mean down at the corner KFC.
I’m talking about finding fresh, locally grown produce for home cooking. Do we even need to list the reasons? Buying local food cuts down on polluting “food miles”, bypasses refrigeration trucks, supports local farmers and puts nutrient-rich foods on our plates.
But unless you grow a lot of your own food, how can you distinguish what came from your friendly local farmer in Illinois (or Texas or California) from what came from a rain forest-encroaching big-Ag operation 2,000 miles away?
Increasingly, grocery stores are helping us get smarter about food. They are labeling produce as local, organic and “conventionally grown”. Recently, I found myself bathed in info at a large Whole Foods Market. There I gaped before a mouth-watering, six-foot-high tower of neatly sorted cruciferous and root vegetables, squash and herbs stacked and organized according to the Dewey Decimal system. There were many signs. Some of the food was local, some was organic, and some, but only some, was local and organic. And because experts say that choosing organic is important, and also that choosing local is vital, I thought my head might explode.
That same week, I found myself at a farmer’s market being handed green beans that were supposed to be local. But it didn’t seem quite possible that they actually could be…unless they’d been planted very early…in a greenhouse. Maybe they meant loco?
It’s not always so easy, greenies. So how do you nail down what’s local?
Obviously, you can grow some of your own — it’s guaranteed local. You can join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) network. You could lurk at your farmer’s market and eavesdrop on people who appear knowledgeable and drug-free. And you can learn the seasons. It needs to be in season to be local, and if it’s local it is certainly in season. See a tautology! This will only trip you up when someone ships apples from Washington to sell in New York, which harvests apples at the same time. Because of our complex food system, this sort of thing happens regularly. At least you can compare apples to apples.
If you want to skip the Farmer’s Almanac portion of this learning process, go straight to this great resource: The Natural Resource Defense Council’s Local Food database. There you can type in your state and the month and pop up a list of produce that a shopper could reasonably expect to see harvested somewhere in that state at that time.
In Illinois, by late May, for instance, you could expect to find: Asparagus,Cabbage,Cherries, Greens, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Sprouts, Squash, Strawberries.
But in Texas, in late May, look for a fruitier selection: Blackberries, Blueberries, Cabbage, Cantaloupes, Carrots, Cucumber, Grapefruit, Herbs, Honeydew Melon, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Nectarines, Onions, Oranges, Peaches, Pears, Peppers, Potatoes, Summer squash, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watermelon
ScienceDaily (May 26, 2009) — In studying the preventive effects of vitamin D, researchers at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, have proposed a new model of cancer development that hinges on a loss of cancer cells' ability to stick together. The model, dubbed DINOMIT, differs substantially from the current model of cancer development, which suggests genetic mutations as the earliest driving forces behind cancer.
Health & Medicine
Embryonic stem cell
Tumor suppressor gene
"The first event in cancer is loss of communication among cells due to, among other things, low vitamin D and calcium levels," said epidemiologist Cedric Garland, DrPH, professor of family and preventive medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, who led the work. "In this new model, we propose that this loss may play a key role in cancer by disrupting the communication between cells that is essential to healthy cell turnover, allowing more aggressive cancer cells to take over."
Reporting online May 22, 2009 in the Annals of Epidemiology, Garland suggests that such cellular disruption could account for the earliest stages of many cancers. He said that previous theories linking vitamin D to certain cancers have been tested and confirmed in more than 200 epidemiological studies, and understanding of its physiological basis stems from more than 2,500 laboratory studies.
"Competition and natural selection among disjoined cells within a tissue compartment, such as might occur in the breast's terminal ductal lobular unit, for example, are the engine of cancer," Garland said. "The DINOMIT model provides new avenues for preventing and improving the success of cancer treatment."
Garland went on to explain that each letter in DINOMIT stands for a different phase of cancer development. "D" stands for disjunction, or loss of intercellular communication; "I," for initiation, where genetic mutations begin to play a role; "N" for natural selection of the fastest-reproducing cancer cells; "O" for overgrowth of cells; "M" for metastasis, when cancer cells migrate to other tissues, where cancer can kill; "I" refers to involution, and "T" for transition, both dormant states that may occur in cancer and potentially be driven by replacing vitamin D.
While there is not yet definitive scientific proof, Garland suggests that much of the evolutionary process in cancer could be arrested at the outset by maintaining vitamin D adequacy. "Vitamin D may halt the first stage of the cancer process by re-establishing intercellular junctions in malignancies having an intact vitamin D receptor," he said.
According to Garland, other scientists have found that the cells adhere to one another in tissue with adequate vitamin D, acting as mature epithelial cells. Without enough vitamin D, they may lose this stickiness along with their identity as differentiated cells, and revert to a stem cell-like state.
Garland said that diet and supplements can restore appropriate vitamin D levels, and perhaps help in preventing cancer development. "Vitamin D levels can be increased by modest supplementation with vitamin D3 in the range of 2000 IU/day," he noted.
The researchers noted that many studies show an apparent beneficial effect of vitamin D and calcium on cancer risk and survival of patients with breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. However, there are some studies that have not found such benefit, especially when taking smoking, alcohol and viruses into account. While more research needs to be done, Garland recommends that individuals should have their vitamin D level tested during an annual check up.
Garland and his colleagues have published epidemiological studies about the potential preventive effects of vitamin D for some two decades. Last year, his team showed an association between deficiency in sunlight exposure, low vitamin D and breast cancer. In previous work, they showed associations between increased levels of vitamin D3 or markers of vitamin D and a lower risk for breast, colon, ovarian and kidney cancers.
Other authors on the study include Edward D. Gorham, Sharif B. Mohr and Frank C. Garland, UC San Diego.
For almost a century, eye exercises have been promoted as a way to strengthen vision and ease nearsightedness and astigmatism, much like exercise for the body trims fat and improves health.
Some of the most popular techniques include eye-hand coordination drills, eye movement routines and focusing on blinking lights. The techniques are widely promoted online and advocated by various companies, some even claiming that they can reduce the need for glasses and ease learning disabilities. But several studies have concluded that many of these do-it-yourself techniques are baseless.
One of the latest studies, published in 2009, found little evidence in support of vision exercises that supposedly slow or reduce myopia, ease dyslexia and correct conditions caused by physiological problems, like blurred vision. A similar conclusion had been reached in a 2005 report that reviewed 43 previous studies, finding “no clear scientific evidence” for most of the methods reviewed.
But there are some areas of vision therapy that have been scientifically validated, including one called orthoptics. In this therapy, eye doctors prescribe exercises that can relieve double vision, focus problems and conditions like strabismus, also known as crossed eyes. Orthoptics can treat convergence insufficiency, in which the eyes have trouble working together. It affects as many as 1 in 5 people, but with the right exercises it can be all but cured, studies show.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Eye exercises are useful for some problems, but they do not seem to relieve myopia or dyslexia.
ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic researchers are reporting positive results in early leukemia clinical trials using the chemical epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an active ingredient in green tea. The trial determined that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) can tolerate the chemical fairly well when high doses are administered in capsule form and that lymphocyte count was reduced in one-third of participants. The findings appear today online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"We found not only that patients tolerated the green tea extract at very high doses, but that many of them saw regression to some degree of their chronic lymphocytic leukemia," says Tait Shanafelt, M.D., Mayo Clinic hematologist and lead author of the study. "The majority of individuals who entered the study with enlarged lymph nodes saw a 50 percent or greater decline in their lymph node size."
CLL is the most common subtype of leukemia in the United States. Currently it has no cure. Blood tests have enabled early diagnosis in many instances; however, treatment consists of watchful waiting until the disease progresses. Statistics show that about half of patients with early stage diseases have an aggressive form of CLL that leads to early death. Researchers hope that EGCG can stabilize CLL for early stage patients or perhaps improve the effectiveness of treatment when combined with other therapies.
The research has moved to the second phase of clinical testing in a follow-up trial -- already fully enrolled -- involving roughly the same number of patients. All will receive the highest dose administered from the previous trial.
These clinical studies are the latest steps in a multiyear bench-to-bedside project that began with tests of the green tea extract on cancer cells in the laboratory of Mayo hematologist Neil Kay, M.D., a co-author on this article. After laboratory research showed dramatic effectiveness in killing leukemia cells, the findings were applied to studies on animal tissues and then on human cells in the lab. (See "Green Tea and Leukemia" in Discovery's Edge magazine.)
In the first clinical trial, 33 patients received variations of eight different oral doses of Polyphenon E, a proprietary compound whose primary active ingredient is EGCG. Doses ranged from 400 milligrams (mg) to 2,000 mg administered twice a day. Researchers determined that they had not reached a maximum tolerated dose, even at 2,000 mg twice per day.
Americans with diabetes have high levels of selenium in their bodies, prompting some health experts to suspect that it could contribute to development of the disease. In response to their new findings, a research team has recommended that U.S. residents stop taking supplements that contain selenium.
Most Americans ingest large amounts of the mineral—substantially more than people elsewhere—because soil in much of the country contains high levels that are absorbed by crops. Selenium occurs naturally in soil and leaches onto farm fields from irrigation and streams.
The research team, led by Johns Hopkins University epidemiologists, examined the diabetes rate and selenium levels of 917 people over the age of 40 who participated in a national health study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003 and 2004. They found that most had a lot of selenium in their blood, but those with diabetes had substantially more.
The benefits and dangers of selenium have been debated in recent years because some studies show it might help protect people from cancer and heart disease. Selenium is an essential element and antioxidant, but medical experts say there is a fine line between the amount that the body needs and the amount that is harmful.
“Given the current diabetes epidemic, the high selenium intake from naturally occurring selenium in U.S. soil and the popularity of multivitamin/mineral supplements containing selenium in the U.S., these findings call for a thorough evaluation of the risk and benefits associated with high selenium status in the U.S.,” the researchers wrote in a study published online in Environmental Health Perspectives on May 15.
“Furthermore,” they wrote, “our findings suggest that selenium supplements should not be used in the U.S. until there is a better understanding of their potential risks and benefits.”
Supplements containing selenium have gained popularity in the United States because of anti-cancer claims, and selenium levels in people have been rising. Nearly one-quarter of Americans over the age of 40 take selenium supplements or multivitamin supplements that include selenium.
New research suggests diabetes is becoming a global problem, with more than 60% of all cases likely to occur in Asia.
A study in the Journal of the American Medicine Association shows those hit in Asia are younger and less likely to be overweight than those in the West.
The study says numbers worldwide could grow by a third by 2025, with low and middle income countries worst hit.
The disease is expensive to treat and could hit Asian economies hard.
The study said trends of diabetes in Asia are influenced by everything from genetic and cultural differences, to smoking and rates of urbanisation.
While in the West, type-2 diabetes is often seen as a consequence of diet, age and obesity, researchers say those affected in Asia are relatively young and less likely to be struggling with weight gain.
Citing figures from the International Diabetes Federation, researchers say while people from Japan to Pakistan generally have lower rates of fat, they can have a similar or even higher prevalence of diabetes than in the West.
The problem is that although Asian obesity rates are low, changing diets and sedentary lifestyles, associated with rapid economic development, are taking their toll.
That transition, which took about 200 years in Europe, has taken just half a century in Asia, experts noted.
The age differential was also stark. Diabetes most often affects people in the West at the age of 60 to 79 years, compared to the age range of 20 to 59 years in Asia.
The study suggested that this appears to be the result of both low birth weights and over-nutrition in later life, partly because Asian women are two- to three-times as likely to have gestational diabetes as their white counterparts.
India will see its numbers grow from 40 million to nearly 70 million; China 39 million to 59 million; and Bangladesh 3.8 million to 7.4 million; the numbers for Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and others will also rise dramatically.
The findings were based on analysis of hundreds of articles, data and studies published between January 1980 and March 2009.
Hypothesis explored in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, May 26, 2009 – There are several risk factors for the development of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Based on an increasing number of studies linking these risk factors with Vitamin D deficiency, an article in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (May 2009) by William B. Grant, PhD of the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC) suggests that further investigation of possible direct or indirect linkages between Vitamin D and these dementias is needed.
Low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, depression, dental caries, osteoporosis, and periodontal disease, all of which are either considered risk factors for dementia or have preceded incidence of dementia. In 2008, a number of studies reported that those with higher serum 25(OH)D levels had greatly reduced risk of incidence or death from cardiovascular diseases.
Several studies have correlated tooth loss with development of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia. There are two primary ways that people lose teeth: dental caries and periodontal disease. Both conditions are linked to low vitamin D levels, with induction of human cathelicidin by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D being the mechanism.
There is also laboratory evidence for the role of vitamin D in neuroprotection and reducing inflammation, and ample biological evidence to suggest an important role for vitamin D in brain development and function.
Given these supportive lines of evidence, Dr. Grant suggests that studies of incidence of dementia with respect to prediagnostic serum 25(OH)D or vitamin D supplementation are warranted. In addition, since the elderly are generally vitamin D deficient and since vitamin D has so many health benefits, those over the age of 60 years should consider having their serum 25(OH)D tested, looking for a level of at least 30 ng/mL but preferably over 40 ng/mL, and supplementing with 1000-2000 IU/day of vitamin D3 or increased time in the sun spring, summer, and fall if below those values.
Writing in the article, Dr. Grant states, "There are established criteria for causality in a biological system. The important criteria include strength of association, consistency of findings, determination of the dose-response relation, an understanding of the mechanisms, and experimental verification. To date, the evidence includes observational studies supporting a beneficial role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of diseases linked to dementia such as vascular and metabolic diseases, as well as an understanding of the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of several mechanisms that lead to dementia."
A new review published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics assessed whether certain modifications in diet have a beneficial effect on the prevention of prostate cancer. Results suggest that a diet low in fat and red meat and high in fruits and vegetables is beneficial in preventing and treating prostate cancer. Robert W.-L. Ma and K. Chapman conducted an evidence-based review of dietary recommendations in the prevention of prostate cancer as well as in the management of patients with prostate cancer.
The researchers found that a diet low in fat, high in vegetables and fruit, and avoiding high energy intake, excessive meat, and excessive dairy products and calcium intake may be helpful in preventing prostate cancer, and for patients diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Specifically, consumption of tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, green tea, and vitamins including Vitamin E and selenium seemed to propose a decreased risk of prostate cancer. Consumption of highly processed or charcoaled meats, dairy products, and fats seemed to be correlated with prostate cancer.
"Although not conclusive, results suggest that general dietary modification has a beneficial effect on the prevention of prostate cancer," the authors conclude. "In patients with prostate cancer, dietary therapy allows patients to be an active participant in their treatment."
Eating a curry once or twice a week could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, a US researcher suggests.
The key ingredient is curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric.
Curcumin appears to prevent the spread of amyloid protein plaques - thought to cause dementia - in the brain.
But the theory, presented at the Royal College of Psychiatrists' annual meeting, has been given a lukewarm reception by UK experts.
Amyloid plaques, along with tangles of nerve fibres, are thought to contribute to the degradation of the wiring in brain cells, eventually leading to symptoms of dementia.
Professor Murali Doraiswamy, of Duke University in North Carolina, said there was evidence that people who eat a curry meal two or three times a week have a lower risk of dementia.
He said researchers were testing the impact of higher doses - the equivalent of going on a curry spree for a week - to see if they could maximise the effect.
Professor Doraiswamy told the meeting: "There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits."
"You can modify a mouse so that at about 12 months its brain is riddled with plaques.
"If you feed this rat a curcumin-rich diet it dissolves these plaques. The same diet prevented younger mice from forming new plaques.
"The next step is to test curcumin on human amyloid plaque formation using newer brain scans and there are plans for that."
Professor Doraiswamy said a clinical trial was now underway at the University of California, Los Angeles, to test curcumin's effects in Alzheimer's patients.
He said research had also examined turmeric's therapeutic potential for treating conditions such as cancer and arthritis.
He stressed that eating a curry could not counter-balance the increased risk of dementia associated with a poor diet.
Indian communities that regularly eat curcumin have a surprisingly low incidence of Alzheimer's disease but we don't yet know why
Dr Susanne Sorensen
However, he said: "If you have a good diet and take plenty of exercise, eating curry regularly could help prevent dementia."
Professor Doraiswamy predicted it might be possible to develop a curry pill which had the same therapeutic effect.
However, Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, stressed that people would need to eat a lot of curry - over 100g of turmeric curry powder - to get a clinical dose of curcumin.
She said: "Professor Doraiswamy's unpublished research applies only to animal models; his hypothesis has not been confirmed in human clinical trials.
"We look forward to the results of the human curcumin trial at UCLA."
Dr Susanne Sorensen, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Indian communities that regularly eat curcumin have a surprisingly low incidence of Alzheimer's disease but we don't yet know why.
"Alzheimer's Society is keen to explore the potential benefits of curcumin in protecting the brain and we are conducting our own research into this area.
"A cheap, accessible and safe treatment could transform the quality of life of thousands of people with the condition."