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8 January 2010

How to Waste Less Food

For many people, December included a lot of food. Think back to one of your December meals. Did you buy too much? Were there leftovers you couldn't eat within a week?

In the United States, we waste a lot of food. A recent study of food wastes in the U.S. estimated that 1,400 calories of food per person is wasted every day.

Wasted food and the environment

These wasted calories represent 39% of the available food supply in our country. Because growing and processing food uses significant freshwater and energy resources, wasted food means wasted resources.

There is an impact after the wasted food goes to a landfill, too. Food in a landfill is initially decomposed by aerobic bacteria, as it would be in a backyard compost pile, but after the oxygen has been depleted, the remaining waste is broken down by methane-producing anaerobic bacteria. Methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, significant methane production typically begins one or two years after waste disposal in a landfill and continues for 10 to 60 years.

Use all your food - here's how

Buying the proper amount of food and eating food before it spoils will save you money and reduce energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions. Wasting less requires small shifts in the way we plan our meals and store our food.

Here are things you can do to shift towards less waste:

· Buy proper portions. A website from the UK called Love Food Hate Waste will help calculate portions. It's a cool website, but unfortunately the portion sizes are listed in grams so you'll need to convert them to ounces or pounds. There are about 450 grams in a pound, but rather than remember that here's an online conversion tool:

· Learn to store your food so that it stays fresh. Most veggies keep longer in a humid environment, such as in a plastic bag or crisp drawer in the refrigerator.

· Learn recipes for tasty leftover meals. The Love Food Hate Waste website provides recipes that use small amounts of common ingredients. When searching for leftover recipes, look for ones that are flexible and allow you to use whatever vegetable is in the refrigerator.

· Plan ahead. If you plan your meals in advance, you can buy only what you need at the store. You can cook a meal or two on the weekends when you have time. You'll be less likely to eat out and let the food in the refrigerator spoil if you know that you have a quick and easy meal waiting at home.

· Be careful at restaurants. Portions at restaurants are sometimes too big for one person to eat. To avoid waste, share a main dish or bring a container for your leftovers.

· Compost. Rather than toss your peels and wilted leaves, compost your vegetable scraps in a backyard compost pile or worm bin.

No matter what you enjoy eating, you can reduce the amount you waste. Bon appétit!

7 January 2010

Finally, an excuse for pregnant women to eat bacon and eggs

New epigenetic study in the FASEB Journal shows a link between maternal diet and brain development in gestating mice
If you're pregnant and looking for an excuse to eat bacon and eggs, now you've got one: a new research study published in the January 2010 print issue of the FASEB Journal ( by a team of University of North Carolina researchers shows that choline plays a critical role in helping fetal brains develop regions associated with memory. Choline is found in meats, including pork, as well as chicken eggs.

"Our study in mice indicates that the diet of a pregnant mother, especially choline in that diet, can change the epigenetic switches that control brain development in the fetus" said Steven Zeisel, the senior scientist involved in the work and a senior member of the FASEB Journal's editorial board. "Understanding more about how diet modifies our genes could be very important for assuring optimal development."

Zeisel and colleagues made this discovery by feeding two groups of pregnant mice different diets during the window of time when a fetus develops its hippocampus, that part of the brain responsible for memory. The first group received no choline while the other received choline (1.1g/Kg). The group that received no choline had changes in epigenetic marks on the proteins (histones) that wrap genes in cells responsible for the creation of new brain cells (neural progenitor cells). Then, by isolating these cells from the developing brains and growing them in cell culture, the scientists determined the expression of genes for two proteins that regulate neuronal cell creation and maturation. These two proteins (G9a and Calb1) were changed in the brains of fetuses whose mothers were fed low choline diets.

"We may never be able to call bacon a health food with a straight face, but the emerging field of epigenetics is already making us rethink those things that we consider healthful and unhealthful," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. "This is yet another example showing that good prenatal nutrition is vitally important throughout a child's entire lifetime."

The Agricultural Research Service's Nutrient Data Laboratory makes a database available to the public in an effort to help them get healthful amounts of choline in their diets. The database provides researchers and consumers with the means to estimate daily choline intake from consumption of more than 400 different foods and can be accessed at The Agricultural Research Service says that "experts suggest that an adequate choline intake is 425 milligrams a day for women and 550 milligrams a day for men. Top sources of choline include meat, nuts, and eggs."

5 January 2010

Shea tree extract can reduce osteoarthritis linked inflammation, study

An extract of Vitellaria paradoxa called SheaFlex 70 could have potential for joint health according to the results of an Australian study that indicated a range of anti-inflammatory and chondroprotective effects for the active ingredient.

The findings of the research, published in the peer reviewed journal Phytotherapy Research, showed that in participants with elevated levels of osteoarthritis (OA) biomarkers, who were taking SheaFlex70, there were significant decreases in inflammation and cartilage breakdown, in addition to trend level decreases in bone remodelling as compared to the control group over the duration of the study.

The study, which was conducted at the Australian Centre for Complementary Medicine Education and Research in Brisbane, received funding from BSP Pharma, the holder of the worldwide rights for the ingredient.

The researchers claim that the study was triggered by the fact that while extracts from the seed of the African shea tree Vitellaria paradoxa have traditionally been used for the treatment of arthritic conditions, little is known about the mechanisms by which benefit is conferred.


OA costs more than $60bn per year in the US and is second only to ischemic heart disease as a cause of work disability in men over 50, while approximately seven million people in the UK are reported to have long-term health problems associated with arthritis, where it also results in billions of euro of lost working days.

Commenting on the results, Tonny Jorgensen, CSO of BSP Pharma said that there is a profound need in the market for a new effective joint health ingredient, after 15 years with glucosamine and chondroitin.

The joint health market is dominated by glucosamine, often used in combination with chondroitin sulphate, with sales worth $810m (€563m) in 2005 in the US, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

Jorgensen maintains that SheaFlex70 has the perfect profile to lift the joint health market to a much higher level. BSP Pharma said that the ingredient is currently being used in FlexNow Joint Formula, which sells in the US and Japan, and from the beginning of 2010 will also be on the maraket in Taiwan and Korea.

CEO Christian Buur said the active ingredient works within two to four weeks, and he claims this factor increases repurchase rates dramatically.

“We are looking for ways to expand the use of SheaFlex70 which includes finding new customers, brands, markets and uses of the ingredient,” he added.

Study details

The Australian research was conducted over a period of 15 weeks, and evaluated a range of biomarkers in 89 patients with OA of the knees and/or hips to determine potential modes of action of SheaFlex70.

After a minimum washout period of 3 weeks, participants were randomized to either placebo or SheaFlex70 once daily for 15 weeks, explained the researchers.

They said that blood and urine samples for safety and biomarker assays were taken at baseline, week 1, week 10, and week 15 and at the conclusion of the study, while between the start of the washout and completion of the study only investigator supplied paracetamol was allowed for additional pain relief, added the authors.

They said that eligible candidates had to over 18 years of age, to be in general good health and have X-ray and clinical evidence of OA in the hips or knees according to the American College of Rheumatology criteria.

The researchers added that participants were excluded if they had a history of trauma associated with the signal joint; rheumatoid or other inflammatory joint condition; gout; allergy to sheabutter; use of corticosteroids within four weeks prior to and throughout the study; or use of aspirin three weeks prior to for the duration of the study; or use of any other anti-arthritic complementary medicines six weeks prior to and for the duration of the study

Milk Thistle Herb Protects Cancer Patients from Chemotherapy-Associated Liver Toxicity

A new study finds that the herb milk thistle may help treat liver inflammation in cancer patients who receive chemotherapy. Published early online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study indicates that the herb could allow patients to take potent doses of chemotherapy without damaging their liver.

Chemotherapy drugs frequently cause inflammation in the liver, and when they do, doctors must often lower patients' doses or stop administering the therapies altogether. Clinical studies have investigated using milk thistle to treat liver damage from cirrhosis (from alcohol) or toxins (such as mushroom poisoning). Despite limited study data, the herb is often used for the treatment of chemotherapy associated liver problems. To test whether milk thistle could help treat chemotherapy associated liver problems, Kara Kelly, MD, of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City and colleagues conducted a randomized, controlled, double blind study in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), who commonly experience this side effect.

Fifty children with ALL were enrolled in the study and were randomized to receive milk thistle or placebo for 28 days. At the start of the study, all of the children had evidence of liver inflammation as measured by elevations in blood levels of the liver enzymes, aspartate amino transferase (AST) and amino alanine transferase (ALT). When the investigators performed liver function tests on the children at day 56 (28 days after receiving the herb or placebo), children receiving milk thistle had improvements in their liver enzymes compared with children receiving a placebo. Specifically, the group that took milk thistle had significantly lower levels of AST and a trend towards significantly lower levels of ALT. Taking milk thistle also seemed to help keep fewer patients from having to lower the dose of their medications: chemotherapy doses were reduced in 61 percent of the group receiving milk thistle, compared with 72 percent of the placebo group. In addition, milk thistle appeared to be safe for consumption.

The researchers also studied the effects of combining milk thistle with chemotherapy on leukemia cells grown in the laboratory. They found that milk thistle does not interfere with the cancer-fighting properties of chemotherapy.

"Milk thistle needs to be studied further, to see how effective it is for a longer course of treatment, and whether it works well in reducing liver inflammation in other types of cancers and with other types of chemotherapy," said Dr. Kelly. "However, our results are promising as there are no substitute medications for treating liver toxicity."

Five Exercises Can Reduce Neck, Shoulder Pain of Women Office Workers

ScienceDaily (Dec. 28, 2009) — Strength training exercises using dumbbells can reduce pain and improve function in the trapezius muscle, the large muscle which extends from the back of the head, down the neck and into the upper back. The exercises also improve the muscle's ability to respond quickly and forcefully among women suffering trapezius myalgia, a tenderness and tightness in the upper trapezius muscle. The results are the latest findings from an ongoing Danish study aimed at reducing repetitive strain injury caused by office work.

Repetitive strain injury has become increasingly common. The authors cited two recent Danish surveys, one of which found that more than half of female office workers reported frequent neck pain. The other found that more than two-thirds of female office workers who reported neck pain suffered from trapezius myalgia.

Five Exercises Confirm Benefit for Office-Related Strains in Women

The team's latest finding confirms that that five strength exercises -- the one-arm row, shoulder abduction, shoulder elevation, reverse fly and upright row -- can substantially reduce perceived pain. By finding out more about how the muscle function has been impaired and how it improves with exercise, the team has developed a way to assess the muscle in the rehabilitation setting. In particular, the Danish team found that the women who had diminished ability to activate the muscle quickly and forcefully could benefit from the strength training.

Lars L. Andersen, Jesper L. Andersen, Charlotte Suetta, Michael Kjaer, Karen Sogaard and Gisela Sjogaard conducted the study. Lars Andersen is with the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen; Jesper Andersen, Charlotte Suetta and Michael Kjaer are with the Institute of Sports Medicine, Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen; and Karen Søgaard and Gisela Sjøgaard are with the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark. The study appears in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Five exercises

Forty-two women who worked in offices on repetitive tasks and did computer work participated in the 10-week study. They all had reported chronic or frequent pain in the neck area, and tightness and tenderness of the upper trapezius muscle. The researchers randomly divided the women into three groups:

Specific strength training. This group of 18 women did five exercises with dumbbells -- one-arm row, shoulder abduction, shoulder elevation, reverse fly and upright row. Photos showing these exercises are found by going to: These exercises strengthen the shoulder and the neck muscles, including the trapezius. The women in this group did three sets of three of these exercises three times per week. The amount of weight lifted depended upon each woman's strength level and was progressively increased throughout the 10 weeks.

General fitness training. This group of 16 women cycled upright on a stationary exercise bicycle. Other studies have shown that general fitness training can help alleviate a variety of ailments. In addition, the researchers earlier established that all round physical exercise including cycling can help reduce pain. The researchers wanted to see whether the general fitness exercise would help improve rapid force capacity (the ability to activate the muscle quickly and forcefully) among those suffering trapezius myalgia. The women in this group bicycled three sessions per week for 20 minutes per session.

Reference (Control). This group of eight women received individual and group counseling on ergonomics, diet, health, relaxation and stress management for a total of one hour per week. They did not receive any physical training.

The participants from all three groups performed shoulder abductions before the 10-week intervention began and after it ended. During this pre- and post-test, the participants were required to contract the muscles as fast and hard as they could. The researchers measured the force and speed of the lift. In particular, they wanted to measure rapid force capacity, that is, how quickly the women could activate their muscles to generate force.

They also obtained muscle biopsy samples to analyze how the training affected the muscle fibers and pain levels at each of the sessions. The pain data was compared to performance.


In this study, bicycling did not significantly affect rapid force capacity. The significant changes on this variable occurred only in the strength-training group. Strength training reduced pain levels by more than 50%, and also:

improved rapid force capacity

increased number of type II muscle fibers, the fibers important in generating power

Smoking, drinking up risks of gut, throat cancers

In a study that followed more than 120,000 Dutch adults for 16 years, researchers found that smoking increased the risk of the two main forms of stomach cancer, as well as the two forms of esophageal cancer -- by anywhere from 60 percent to 263 percent versus non-smokers.

Alcohol, in contrast, affected only the risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, the form found in the upper part of the esophagus.

People who, at the study's start, drank more than 30 grams of alcohol per day -- equivalent to two to three glasses of wine -- were nearly five times more likely to develop the cancer than abstainers were.

The findings, published in the journal Gut, underscore general health recommendations to drink only in moderation and to quit, or preferably never start, smoking.

In addition, they also suggest that smoking and drinking cannot account for the changing face of esophageal and stomach cancers in Western countries, according to Jessie Steevens of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and co-investigators.

In recent decades, the rate of esophageal adenocarcinoma, the other major form of esophageal cancer, has been rising in the U.S. and Europe. A similar trend has been seen with gastric cardia adenocarcinoma. (Most stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas, which arise in the stomach lining; gastric cardia adenocarcinoma and non-cardia adenocarcinoma are the two forms.)

However, because alcohol is not associated with either cancer, changes in drinking habits cannot explain these increases, Steevens and her colleagues point out. Nor can smoking, since rates of the habit have not been rising in Western countries.

"Therefore," the researchers write, "we suggest that further research should focus on other risk factors for (esophageal) and gastric cancer subtypes, to search for explanations for these increases."

The findings are based on a long-term study of 120,852 Dutch adults who were between the ages of 55 and 70 at the outset, in 1986. At that time, participants completed detailed questionnaires on their diets and other lifestyle habits.

Over the next 16 years, 491 people developed non-cardia adenocarcinoma of the stomach, and 164 were diagnosed with a cardia adenocarcinoma. Another 107 developed esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, while 145 developed esophageal adenocarcinoma.

People who, at the study's start, said they currently smoked had higher risks of all four cancers than those who had never smoked.

Former smokers also had elevated risks, though they were lower than current smokers' -- around 40 percent for each cancer, versus people who had never smoked.

Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma was the only cancer for which smoking and drinking were both risk factors. What's more, the two habits showed additive effects; current smokers who drank more than the equivalent of a glass or two of wine per day were eight times more likely to develop the cancer than non-smokers who drank little to no alcohol.

There was no such "synergistic" effect seen for the other three cancers, according to the researchers.

Other known or suspected risk factors for stomach cancer include family history of the disease, diets high in salted, smoked or pickled foods, and infection with the ulcer-causing bacterium H. pylori (though most people with this common infection never develop the cancer).

For esophageal cancer, other risk factors include obesity and chronic acid reflux. Men have higher rates of both stomach and esophageal cancers than women do.

4 January 2010

A burger or fried chicken with a side of diabetes?

Regularly eating "super sized" portions of high calorie fast foods is widely viewed as a contributing factor to the growing number of Americans with bulging waistlines.

Moreover, "it is well established that becoming overweight or obese greatly increases a person's chance of developing (type 2) diabetes," Dr. Julie R. Palmer of Boston University in Massachusetts commented in an email to Reuters Health.

Now Palmer and colleagues report that black women who ate fast food burgers or fried chicken at least twice a week were 40 to 70 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes over 10 years than their counterparts who never ate these calorie-laden foods.

According to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Palmer's team looked at fast food consumption, lifestyle habits, and the development of diabetes in 44,072 black women who filled out biennial questionnaires, beginning in 1995.

Compared with women who claimed, in 1995 and again in 2001, to never eat fast foods, those who ate burgers, fried chicken or fish, or Chinese food more than once a week had higher body mass index (BMI) on average.

BMI is a standard measure used to gauge how fat or thin a person is. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.

According to Palmer and colleagues, not only was the BMI of the fast food eaters in the 28 to 29 range - clearly overweight according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control -- this group also gained more weight during the course of the study.

In the 2,873 women who developed diabetes over 10 years, the researchers noted greater likelihood for the blood sugar disorder in frequent burger and fried chicken eaters, but not eaters of other fast foods, when they allowed for age, education, family history of diabetes, and lifestyle and dietary factors linked to diabetes risk.

However, allowing for body mass reduced the burgers/fried chicken and diabetes link, indicating that associated weight gain that comes with eating too much fast food explains most of the diabetes cases.

Palmer's team suggests similar associations are likely for other women and men, and highlight the need for further investigations into any fast food/diabetes link among other populations.

Aerobic Exercise No Big Stretch For Older Adults But Helps Elasticity Of Arteries

ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2009) — Just three months of physical activity reaps heart health benefits for older adults with type 2 diabetes by improving the elasticity in their arteries -- reducing risk of heart disease and stroke, Dr. Kenneth Madden told the 2009 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Dr. Madden studied adults between the ages of 65 to 83 with controlled Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol to see how increased activity might affect stiffness of the arteries.

"The theory is that aerobic activity makes your arteries less stiff and makes artery walls more elastic," says Dr. Madden, a geriatric specialist at the University of British Columbia.

An improvement was seen in the elasticity of the arteries of the group that performed the activity compared to those who didn't exercise. "There was an impressive drop in arterial stiffness after just three months of exercise. In that time we saw a 15 to 20 per cent reduction."

The subjects were divided into two groups to either receive three months of vigorous physical activity (one hour, three times per week) or to get no aerobic exercise at all. Subjects were classified as sedentary at the beginning of the study but gradually increased their fitness levels until they were working at 70 per cent of their maximum heart rate, using treadmills and cycling machines. They were supervised by a certified exercise trainer.

Dr. Beth Abramson, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, stresses the importance of lifestyle factors on heart health, especially with our aging population. "Almost everyone can benefit from active living," she says. "The Foundation recommends that, like adults of any age, older adults -- with the consent of their physicians − need 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week."

Dr. Madden says that the exercise requirements may be viewed as controversial because of the age of the participants but the exercise level was safe and well tolerated. "There seems to be a knee-jerk reluctance to getting these older adults to exercise yet we used a vigorous level of activity and didn't have any trouble keeping participants in our study. They enjoyed the activity," Dr. Madden says. "People always underestimate what older adults can do."

Dr. Madden notes that realistically, seniors need someone to help them get started. "We need to learn how to do it effectively and how to do it safely," he says. "It could mean visiting your family doctor to find out about provincially funded programs, or joining programs for seniors that are offered at many local community centres."

Dr. Abramson recommends that seniors choose activities they enjoy, such as walking, gardening, golfing, dancing, or joining a yoga or tai chi class. If weather is a barrier, she suggests climbing stairs at home, joining a mall-walking group, or strolling the halls of their apartment building or retirement residence.

In his next project, Dr. Madden wants to find out if there is a less expensive but equally effective way to reduce the stiffness of arteries in older adults. "Our first step was to prove that it was at all possible for older adults to have reduced narrowing in their arteries due to exercise," he says. "Now we want to find out just how rigorous the levels of activity need to be to demonstrate the same results. The next step is to try studying a home-based walking program using pedometers. This is something easy for doctors to prescribe and cheap and easy for participants."

The HeartWalk Workout, a special activity program developed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation to help people with cardiovascular problems get regular, healthy physical activity is available online at It helps people slowly build up exercise tolerance until they can walk at least 30 minutes, five times a week.

Putting limits on vitamin E

The potent antioxidant may do more harm than good, Tel Aviv University research suggests
Vitamin-fortified foods and dietary health supplements can ease health worries. But what kinds of vitamins are right for you? And how much of them should you take, and how often?

A research group from Tel Aviv University has done the most comprehensive and accurate study of clinical data on Vitamin E use and heart disease to date, and it warns that indiscriminate use of high-dose Vitamin E supplementation does more harm than good. Their results were recently reported in ATVB, a leading journal of cardiology, and discussed in the journal BioFactors.

"There were so many conflicting reports about Vitamin E and its effect on various diseases, particularly heart disease, that we wanted to set the record straight," says Prof. Dov Lichtenberg of TAU's Sackler School of Medicine.

"Our new study shows that some people may be harmed by the treatment, whereas others may benefit from it. Now we're trying to identify groups of people that are most likely to benefit from the effects of Vitamin E," adds study co-researcher Dr. Ilya Pinchuk. The TAU research team also included decision analyst Dr. Moshe Leshno of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Leon Recanati Faculty of Management and Dr. Yedidya (Didi) Dotan, whose PhD thesis is the basis for this analysis.

A longer life without it?

Applying a very different approach than any previous study, the team of researchers put their heads together to draw definitive conclusions about Vitamin E. In their publication in ATVB the Tel Aviv University researchers evaluated the results of the prominent studies measuring the health benefits of Vitamin E but reached varying conclusions. There have been many previous publications on the subject. Analysis of the results of all these past publications together revealed that subjects who did not take a Vitamin E supplement enjoyed more quality-adjusted-life-years (QALY), a standard parameter used in medicine to assess the effect of medical interventions.

"To explain the meaning of this parameter," says Dr. Pinchuk, "consider a participant who was healthy during the first 10 out of 20 years of the study, but then suffered a stroke and became dependent on others throughout the following 10 years. The QALY during the first 10 years of healthy life is 10, but after the stroke the quality of life is only half of what this person had before. Therefore, the second decade is considered the equivalent of merely 5 years of healthy life and in sum a person's QALY is 15.

The researchers examined data from more than 300,000 subjects in the US, Europe and Israel. "Our major finding," says Dr. Pinchuk, "was that the average quality-adjusted life years (QALY) of Vitamin E- supplemented individuals was 0.30 less than that of untreated people. This, of course, does not mean that everybody consuming Vitamin E shortens their life by almost 4 months. But on average, the quality-adjusted longevity is lower for vitamin-treated people. This says something significant."

Overturning earlier studies

In the BioFactors article, the TAU researchers defined "the real challenge as being able to identify who is likely to benefit taking Vitamin E." They also explored the first hypothesis of the oxidative theory of atherosclerosis published more than 20 years ago, which was the basis for the widespread use of antioxidants today. At first, this hypothesis raised great enthusiasm that anti-oxidants like Vitamins E and C and flavonoids could be used to prevent disease or its progression. In this respect, the new findings are very disappointing.

"We've now concluded that going to the grocery or to a health food store to buy Vitamin E supplements, for the most part, won't do you good. In some cases it can do harm," says Dr. Pinchuk. "A doctor wouldn't prescribe anti-hypertension drugs to the whole population, only to those with low blood pressure. It seems this is true for antioxidants, too. When you give them to everybody, you may be doing more harm than good. Some people may benefit from it, but more may be harmed."

The researchers are now building sets of criteria that detail under what conditions Vitamin E supplements should be taken. They are also investigating the chemical mechanisms of antioxidants in general to better understand how they work.