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20 June 2009
Sewage treatment plants fail to remove artificial sweeteners completely from waste water. What's more, these pollutants contaminate waters downstream and may still be present in our drinking water. Thanks to their new robust analytical method, which simultaneously extracts and analyses seven commonly used artificial sweeteners, Marco Scheurer, Heinz-Jürgen Brauch and Frank Thomas Lange from the Water Technology Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, were able to demonstrate the presence of several artificial sweeteners in waste water. Their findings(1) are published online this week in Springer's journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.
A range of artificial sweeteners are commonly used in food and drinks, as well as drugs and sanitary products. The potential health risks of artificial sweeteners have been debated for some time. Until now, only sucralose has been detected in aquatic environments. Through the use of a new analytical method, the researchers were able to look for seven different artificial sweeteners (cyclamate, acesulfame, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, neohesperidin dihydrochalcone and sucralose) simultaneously, and show, for the first time, that a number of commonly used artificial sweeteners are present in German waste and surface water.
Scheurer and colleagues collected water samples from two sewage treatment plants in Germany – Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen and Karlsruhe – as well as from a soil aquifer treatment site located in a Mediterranean country that treats secondary effluent from a sewage treatment plant.
They tested the water samples using their new analytical method and detected four (acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose) of seven artificial sweeteners in the waters from the two German sewage treatment plants, indicating incomplete elimination during waste water treatment. Their analyses also showed that these pollutants contaminate rivers and streams receiving water from the sewage treatment plants.
The authors then compared the conventional waste water treatment by sewage treatment plants with advanced waste water treatment by soil aquifer treatment. Traces of artificial sweeteners were present in both cases, proof that water purification was incomplete.
Marco Scheurer concludes: "Due to the use of artificial sweeteners as food additives, the occurrence of artificial sweetener traces in the aquatic environment might become a primary issue for consumer acceptance."
19 June 2009
The anti-cancer properties of carrots are more potent if the vegetable is not cut up before cooking, research shows.
Scientists found "boiled before cut" carrots contained 25% more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those chopped up first.
Experiments on rats fed falcarinol have shown they develop fewer tumours.
The Newcastle University study will be presented at NutrEvent, a conference on nutrition and health, to be held in France.
All you need is a bigger saucepan
Dr Kirsten Brandt
Lead researcher Dr Kirsten Brandt, from Newcastle University's School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said: "Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are cooked.
"By keeping them whole and chopping them up afterwards you are locking in nutrients and the taste, so the carrot is better for you all round."
The Newcastle scientist, along with colleagues at the University of Denmark, discovered the health benefits of falcarinol in carrots four years ago.
Rats fed on a diet containing carrots or falcarinol were found to be one-third less likely to develop full-scale tumours than those in the control group.
Since then the scientists in Newcastle have been studying what happens when carrots are chopped and cooked.
The latest findings show that when carrots are heated, the heat kills the cells, so they lose the ability to hold on to the water inside them, increasing the concentration of falcarinol as the carrots lose water.
However, the heat also softens the cell walls, allowing water-soluble compounds such as sugar and vitamin C to be lost via the surface of the tissue, leading to the leaching out of other compounds such as falcarinol.
If the carrot is cut before being boiled, the surface area becomes much greater - and so the loss of nutrients is increased.
Dr Brandt added that in blind taste studies the whole carrots also tasted much better.
Eight of ten people favoured the whole vegetables over those that were pre-chopped.
This is because the naturally occurring sugars which are responsible for giving the carrot its distinctively sweet flavour were also found in higher concentrations in the carrot that had been cooked whole.
Dr Brandt said: "The great thing about this is it's a simple way for people to increase their uptake of a compound we know is good for you.
"All you need is a bigger saucepan."
Dr Kat Arney, of the charity Cancer Research UK, remained unconvinced that keeping carrots whole would have any impact on cancer risk.
She said: "When it comes to eating, we know that a healthy balanced diet - rich in a range of fruit and vegetables - plays an important part in reducing the risk of many types of cancer, rather than any one specific food."
18 June 2009
Depression is an established risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease (CHD) in healthy patients and for adverse cardiovascular outcomes in patients with existing CHD. Dietary factors resulting in lower levels of omega–3 fatty acids not only increase CHD risk, but may also be involved in the pathophysiology of depression.
The investigators assessed current depression using the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire. They evaluated the association between omega –3 fatty acid levels and depressive symptoms as continuous variables using linear regression.
The investigators also examined the association of omega–3 fatty acid tertiles with depression as a dichotomous variable using X2 analysis and logistic regression. All statistical tests were two-sided, and p<0.05 was considered statistically significant. The prevalence of depression ranged from 23% in participants in the lowest tertile of omega –3 fatty acids (< 3.1% of total blood fatty acids) to 13% in participants in the highest tertile ( >4.3% of total blood fatty acids; p for trend = 0.004). Each unit decrease in EPA + DHA was inversely associated with depressive symptoms as a continuous variable, and these associations persisted after adjustment for age, sex and race. Similarly, each SD decrease in EPA + DHA was associated with significantly greater odds of depression as a dichotomous variable (Patient Health Questionnaire score >10).
However, in both analyses, omega–3 fatty acid levels were no longer associated with depression after adjustment for education and household income level. This study extends this existing literature by finding a strong association between low omega–3 fatty acids and depression in outpatients with stable CHD, a population distinct from sicker, hospitalized patients with acute coronary syndrome. In addition, the investigators examined the role of several important potential confounders and measured erythrocyte membrane levels of fatty acids rather than using less accurate serum measurements or dietary questionnaires. However, the cross-sectional nature of this study precluded the investigators from making any definitive comments on causality.
Additionally, the cohort participants were mostly older, urban men and thus are not entirely reflective of the general population. To better understand the potential efficacy of omega –3 fatty acid supplementation for improving depressive symptoms in patients with CHD, future studies should carefully consider the role of socioeconomic status (SES) in this association.
Exercise improves functional and psychological ability and reduces steroid need in rheumatoid arthritis
Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday 11 June 2009: Undertaking a supervised exercise programme can have beneficial effects on functional status and physical function, reduce the need for daily corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory intake and improve levels of depression and anxiety in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a new study presented today at EULAR 2009, the Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism in Copenhagen, Denmark.
A three-month programme, comprising moderate aerobic and strengthening exercises, conducted for 50-60 minutes three times per week, proved not only to be safe and beneficial both physically and in terms of quality of life for patients, but was also associated with a stabilising effect in disease activity measured by DAS28*. During the Portuguese study's three month period, researchers observed the following:
A 33% improvement in the HAQ (Health Assessment Questionnaire) disability index measurement of physical functioning (assessing ability to undertake everyday activities such as dressing, eating and walking, and whether assistance from another person or disability aids is required) (p < 0.023)
An improvement in physical function, as outlined below:
55% improvement in the 'sit and stand' test (p=0.018)
10% improvement in the right-hand grip test (p=0.025) and 15% in the left-hand grip test (p=0.035)
19% improvement in the walk time test (p=0.063)
62% of patients reported a reduced need for daily corticosteroid intake, from a mean dosage of 5.3mg/day of prednisone to 3.1mg/day (p=0.038)
32% of patients reported stopping concurrent NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) treatment altogether following the exercise programme (p=0.083)
Mean LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol increased from 90mg/dl to 125mg/dl (p=0.018)
40% improvement in the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS), a self-reported assessment of negative emotional states, with 28% in the depression and 48% in the anxiety component respectively (p=0.078)
Dr Miguel Sousa of Instituto Português de Rheumatology, Lisbon, Portugal, who led the study, said: "When joints are stiff and painful, proactively taking exercise might seem undesirable for people with RA. However, our study has demonstrated that regular and supervised moderate aerobic workouts and strengthening exercises may be extremely beneficial for both a patient's physical and mental health, with a corresponding effect on quality of life. The challenge for physicians is to provide suitable motivation and reassurance to their RA patients in order that they initiate and stick with such a programme."
The observational longitudinal study followed eight physically-inactive patients (7 female; mean age of 59 (46-71) years; mean disease duration of 16 (3-30) years) with relatively stable RA (stable medication taken for at least three months; mean dose of methotrexate 17.5mg/week) for three months.
* DAS28 (Disease Activity Score) is an index used by physicians to measure how active an individual's RA is. It assesses number of tender and swollen joints (out of a total of 28), the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, a blood marker of inflammation), and the patient's 'global assessment of global health'. A higher score indicates more active disease.
For further information on this study, or to request an interview with the study lead, please do not hesitate to contact the EULAR congress press office on:
Rory Berrie: Onsite tel: +44 (0) 7894 386 425
Camilla Dormer: Onsite tel: +44 (0) 7876 190 439
Abstract number: AB0724
The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) is the organisation which represents the patient, health professional and scientific societies of rheumatology of all the European nations.
In line with The European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS), EULAR defines rheumatology as including rheumatic diseases of the connective tissue, locomotor and musculoskeletal systems.
The aims of EULAR are to stimulate, promote, and support the research, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of rheumatic diseases. To this end, EULAR fosters excellence in education and research in the field of rheumatology. It promotes the translation of research advances into daily care and fights for the recognition of the needs of people with rheumatic diseases.
In 2009, The EULAR Executive Committee launched the EULAR Orphan Disease Programme (ODP) which aims to provide funding to research programmes focused on furthering understanding of the disease mechanisms behind systemic sclerosis. Please see www.eular.org for further information.
Diseases of the bone and joints such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis cause disability in 4-5% of the adult population and are predicted to rise as people live longer.
As new treatments emerge and cellular mechanisms are discovered, EULAR 2009 is set to be the biggest rheumatology event in Europe with over 13,500 scientists, physicians, allied health professionals, and related audiences in attendance from over 100 countries. Over the course of the congress, more than 300 oral and 1700 poster abstract presentations will be featured, with 780 invited speaker lectures taking place in more than 150 sessions.
In the name of science, eight men and seven women drank alcohol through a straw while lying in an MRI scanner, presumably not all together, to see what would happen.
It went to their heads. Quickly, the researchers say.
Only 6 minutes after consuming an amount of alcohol equivalent to three beers — leading to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.06 percent, which impairs driving ability — changes had already taken place in the brain cells.
For one thing, the brain begins to run on the sugar in alcohol instead of using glucose, the normal brain food.
"Our study provides evidence for alternative energy utilization upon alcohol ingestion," said researcher Armin Biller at Heidelberg University Hospital "The brain uses an alcohol breakdown product instead of glucose for energy demands."
The concentration of substances such as creatine (energy metabolism), which protect brain cells, decreases as the concentration of alcohol increases. Choline, a component of cell membranes, was also reduced.
"That probably indicates that alcohol triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes," Biller said.
Whether there are long-term effects remains to be studied.
"Our follow-ups on the next day showed that the shifts in brain metabolites after moderate consumption of alcohol by healthy persons are completely reversible," Biller said. "However, we assume that the brain's ability to recover from the effect of alcohol decreases or is eliminated as the consumption of alcohol increases. The acute effects demonstrated in our study could possibly form the basis for the permanent brain damage that is known to occur in alcoholics. This should be clarified in future studies."
17 June 2009
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Researchers in China appear to have uncovered how nanoparticles which are used in medicine for diagnosis and delivering drugs may cause lung damage.
Nanotechnology, or the science of the extremely tiny, is an important industry. One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.
Apart from medicine, it is used in products like sporting goods, cosmetics, tires and electronics and has a projected annual market of around US$1 trillion by 2015.
However, concerns are growing that it may have toxic effects, particularly to the lungs. But it has never been clear how the damage is caused.
In an article published in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, the Chinese experts said a class of nanoparticles used in medicine, ployamidoamine dendrimers (PAMAMs), may cause lung damage by triggering a type of programed cell death known as autophagic cell death.
In experiments, they observed how several types of PAMAMs killed human lung cells but found no evidence that the cells were dying by apoptosis, a natural and common type of cell death.
In a subsequent experiment in mice, they injected an autophagy inhibitor in mice and later exposed the rodents to nanoparticles and found that it "significantly ameliorated the lung damage and improved survival rates."
"This provides us with a promising lead for developing strategies to prevent lung damage caused by nanoparticles," said the leader of the team, Chengyu Jiang, a molecular biologist at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing.
Scientists hope nanoparticles will be able to improve the effectiveness of drugs and gene therapy by carrying them to the right place in the body and by targeting specific tissues, regulating the release of drugs and reducing damage to healthy tissues.
16 June 2009
A new study has suggested that acupuncture can help ease the symptoms of indigestion in pregnancy.
Digestive disorders are one of the most frequent complaints in pregnancy, with 45 to 80 per cent of women reporting heartburn, pain or discomfort, egurgitation, belching and bloating.
Researchers from Sao Paulo University in Brazil say that such symptoms tend to get worse as a pregnancy progresses.
For the study, they involved 36 women aged 15 to 39 who were 15 to 30 weeks into their pregnancy.
All were suffering symptoms of indigestion and none had had acupuncture in the previous year or had an underlying condition that could have caused the symptoms, and none had a history of similar problems before they fell pregnant.
On average, 12 needles were used and were left in the body for about 25 minutes per session.
The researchers found that average heartburn intensity fell by at least a half in 75 per cent women receiving acupuncture compared with 44 per cent women not receiving it.
"In our cohort, acupuncture proved to exert a great influence in minimising the heartburn in pregnancy during treatment," the Scotsman quoted the authors a saying.
* Minister orders Coke Zero withdrawn from market
* Socialist government increasing scrutiny of business
CARACAS, June 10 (Reuters) - The Venezuelan government of U.S.-critic President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday ordered Coca-Cola Co
The decision follows a wave of nationalizations and increased scrutiny of businesses in South America's top oil exporter.
Health Minister Jesus Mantilla said the zero-calorie Coke Zero should no longer be sold and stocks of the drink removed from store shelves.
"The product should be withdrawn from circulation to preserve the health of Venezuelans," the minister said in comments reported by the government's news agency.
Despite Chavez's anti-capitalist policies and rhetoric against consumerism, oil-exporting Venezuela remains one of Latin America's most Americanized cultures, with U.S. fast-food chains, shopping malls and baseball all highly popular.
Mantilla did not say what health risks Coke Zero, which contains artificial sweeteners, posed to the population.
Coke Zero was launched in Venezuela in April and Coca-Cola Femsa
Neither Coca-Cola nor the bottler responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.
The bottler was plagued with labor problems last year in Venezuela when former workers repeatedly blocked its plants demanding back pay.
The government this year has seized a rice mill and pasta factory belonging to U.S. food giant Cargill and has threatened action against U.S. drug company Pfizer
15 June 2009
Dreaded milk or peanut allergies might not be forever. Researchers have found some success treating kids with very, very low doses of the allergenic substances.
One study had 33 children with peanut allergies eat peanut protein powder equivalent to one-thousandth of a peanut. Four of the children had to drop out because of allergic reactions, but six of nine children who stuck with the program for a few years are currently reaction-free regarding peanuts.
This oral immunotherapy is clearly a promising approach for some, if not all. Previous attempts to desensitize people to food allergies failed, and often triggered potentially life-threatening reactions. The difference in the new studies involves using just the protein within foods such as milk and peanuts which trigger allergic reactions.
Researchers still consider this to be a very early and experimental method, and note in the article that parents should NOT try this at home. There is still always the risk of triggering dangerous allergic reactions.
Food allergies continue to affect millions of Americans, and studies have only begun to tease out when and why they develop. But some researchers suggest that avoiding peanuts or other foods early in life may only make matters worse.